I think that finding your creativity should not be approached as a search. It is more like archeological dig. Many of us have a great advantage in that we know how we like to create. WE want to hook rugs. Knowing your medium puts you ahead of the game. The biggest part of your creative self has already been uncovered. We have all kinds of clues around us as to what might incite us to create. It is much more about uncovering yourself, and getting to know yourself than it is about a big search through the whole wide world of ideas. It is important to ask ourselves what are our likes and dislikes? What colors make us feel good and give us energy? What ideas are important to us?
One of the biggest myths about creative people is that they gather ideas out of thin air. Most new ideas are a combination of two existing ideas. For example french fries happened because someone understood potatoes, and deep fat frying, and put the two so nicely together. My own ideas grow from watching, listening, smelling, thinking, feeling, touching. I use my senses to understand what is going on in the world. I let whatever they gather rest in my mind, and I wait to see what happens. Sometimes I work at it a bit. I sketch. I write. Mostly, I remain open to the emergence of an idea. I like to lie in wait, and like to be caught by surprise. Our unconscious self is always gathering and filing away information. This information is ours waiting in a kind of secret filing cabinet inside ourselves. This information mixes with the new stimuli we are constantly getting and allows new ideas to develop.
As I go about my daily life I remember that I am making ideas for later on. I try to live fully and see what is in front of me and around me because I believe they will be important later on. I think that ideas develop because we live whole lives. Though I respond instantly to things sometimes, their inspiration does not always hold. A few weeks ago I saw the northern nights. My instant response was that would be my next rug. When I came home, finished what I had been working on I no longer wanted to make the northern lights rug. Inspiration takes time to gestate. It was not ready to be born as a rug. I put my image of the northern lights away with the only other time I had ever seen them. I can see my small self under that big starry sky. I know it may emerge as a rug but I am not sure how. I await, patient and anxious at the same time. Rainer Maria Rilke, in his book, Letters to a Young Poet wrote "Everything is gestation and then bringing forth." Our ideas fully ripen in the darkness of our unconscious, where they are lost to us, until they emerge one day as a complete surprise. Rilke suggests that an artist cannot count time because with patience our ideas will emerge freely from our soul. I agree we must sit and wait, but, like Rilke, I do not believe we have to wait idly.
There are many things we can do to get in touch with our creativity and apply it to our rug hooking. The best part of this is that many of these ideas and activities can be both fun and part of our daily living. We must live creatively to be creative. If we want to express ourselves through rug hooking we must put some effort into it.
The most common way of developing ideas is through the use of Brainstorming. You can do this on your own or with a group. For example, if you are trying to think of themes for your next rug, you would write down every idea that comes to your head, good or bad, and generate a list to work from. If your rug hooking group is trying to think of a title for a group show at the local museum you would do the same, working as a group generating a long list of possibilities. Once you come up with and decide on an idea, share it. Inspiration, when it is shared around, just grows and grows. Ideas get bigger. Sometimes they are better for the sharing, sometimes they are worse. A good idea well developed is often unidentifiable from the original thought that created it. Sometimes an idea can become overdeveloped and what we need to do is to get back to the root of the thing that you began working on. Ideas need to be worked a reworked. Do not be afraid to play with them you can always go back to the original thought.
Many people feel that art creates art. Every time we create a new thing we have built upon the last thing we created. Sometimes I take a theme, and I work it in different ways as an exercise. The working of the theme can sometimes lead you to new levels in your work. Other times it may lead you back to the roots of it. If for example you have chosen a night sky as a theme to work on, try making three mats with three different night skies. Deliberately choose different wools, hook in different directions, and try to create three different effects. There is no way you can carry out this activity and not learn things about hooking night skies that you did not learn before. You may also find you like the first one the best, and this could lead you to have better trust in your initial instincts. When you finish a mat live with it for a while so that you can learn from it. Hang it, or place it in a place where you can visit it daily. Take note of what you are thinking when you look at it. Think about what you are thinking, and learn from your own rugs. What would you not change about it? What could you have done better? What is working in terms of color?
The idea of keeping a creativity journal has become very popular with the rise of current books on creativity. It is a useful tool because it forces you to sit and reflect on your work. If we just sit and think about what we might like to express over a cup of tea we have no record of our ideas. As often as not they become lost to us. Writing down thoughts and ideas is a way of learning about yourself from yourself. You can go over the ideas you have written down months later. I feel that creativity journals should be kept in nice unlined sketch books so there is room to draw. Rug hooking is a visual medium, and all your notes can be accompanied by rough sketches and drawings. Do not say "I can't draw" because you know that I am one of those aggravating people who is going to say, "You can't draw because you don't draw." Drawing, like rug hooking, or creativity in general is a practice, and practice makes all things possible, not necessarily perfect. Who needs perfect? No one, but we can all use a little practice.
When you go out to buy yourself that beautiful sketch book full of clean white sheets, think of it as a new year in school when you opened your fresh new exercise books. Remember the feelings you got of a fresh clean start. You might want to pick up good pencils and a basic sharpener, a black ink drawing pen, and a glue stick. If you like, on the first page of the book you can use the glue stick to past in a picture of yourself when you were a child. I say this because small children own creativity. They know how to play and are uninhibited in their drawing. It is important for us to stay in touch with that part of ourselves, and to nurture it. You can also use the glue stick to paste in bits of inspiration that you see as you open your eyes to the world around you in search for creative rug hooking ideas. This special book can become your inspiration sourcebook. It is a place to recount all the things that inspire you. I can see filling it with bits of fabric, art postcards, new paper articles, your own writings and drawings, and of course the doodles that you did on your napkin at the luncheon meeting you had at work. Those doodles can sometimes be too good to throw away. After a little while of keeping this book you will be able to go to it when you are working out a color or design problem in a rug and use it as a tool to help you figure things out.
As for living creatively, who does not want to? We all want to experience as much as we can in the one life we are graced with. Enriching our lives is our responsibility. It is an essential part of making our lives whole. Our approach to rug hooking will be enhanced if we live creatively, and try out new ideas. There is no need to shake up our lives, but there is a need to fill them up with healthy creative ideas. Simple thing matter. Try changing your routines. If you hook in front of the television try turning it off and listening to classical music. If you always listen to classical try some jazz. I like to think about what I am hooking while I hook it. Not constantly but some of the time. I find that instrumental music lets me get closer to my ideas about what I am working than does listening to the news.
A lot of inspiration can be gathered from going to the library and checking out a pile of big coffee table art books. Take out a bunch, not just of the artists you know but discover some new ones. I find it fascinating how closely rug hooking approximates the brush strokes of a painter when I look at these types of books. I find that pouring over books of black and white photography really gets me looking at composition and design. These thick books are mind candy, and soul food for you if you want to approach rug hooking creatively.
Find out the gallery that is closest to you and make a practice of visiting it once in a while. If you can get to the city, or have access to galleries that focus on contemporary art, check out those too. It may seem that huge pieces of modern art, or conceptual installations have no relevance to our simple craft, but what is relevant is color, shape, form, and the development of ideas. Once I was working with a group of modern artists at a symposium creating art on-site in a contemporary gallery. I was not quite sure why I had been chosen for the project but I was curious and happy to be part of it. In talking with one of the artists, I said, "Sometimes I just stand in front of it and I just don't get it." The much older well-established modern artist said, "I just stand there 'til I do". I was nicely put in my place. The next time I went to see an installation, I stood there until it made some sense to me. It did not matter what the artists' intentions had been. What mattered was my understanding of it. Understanding art is about what you bring to it. Do not be intimidated by it. Keep your feet firmly planted on the ground and really look at it. Think about it, whether you are at the Louvre smiling at Mona Lisa, or you are trying to figure out three stripes on a sheet of canvas. You relationship with art is your own.
Change your habits whatever they might be. Wash your sheets, yell in the forest, smile at strangers on the street, flirt (don't go too far), stay up 'til midnight and howl at the full moon. Put some energy into living and that energy will emerge in your rugs. It is impossible for it not to. It is bound to happen.
©2006 Deanne Fitzpatrick. All rights reserved.
Deanne Fitzpatrick is a member of the Editorial Board of Rug Hooking magazine and has been the subject of a television documentary and features on national radio shows. More
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