Increasing creativity through mindless drawing

When I was sketching in Venice in 2017, a small crowd gathered around me, watching.  As the crowd grew in size, there was even a person directing people.  At first, I felt very conscious of the people staring at me and then as I suffer from fear of crowds, I started feeling fearful. In an age when people use their smartphones to take selfies and photos, it must seem very archaic and time wasting to sketch.  But recently I discovered that it also helps others to watch people sketching.  There is a South Korean artist, Kim Jung Gi, who draws fantasy art and many people pay to spend hours watching him. It is said to be therapeutic, and induces a feeling of stillness and calm in the viewers.

There is another way that ‘mindless’ drawing can help- this is with increasing creativity.   Just like sleeping on problems and dreams can help with solving problems, using drawing (especially organic shapes) can help with problem solving and increasing creativity.  The Nobel Laureate, polymath, poet, musician, painter and author corrected his texts by doodling over mistakes.  His wooden seal with his initials is also of an organic shape.

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Even when feeling tired, I have found that doodling and drawing can be done when reading is too difficult.  These drawings are no practical use but to me, they are part of my creative self.  I’ve given myself two different rewards each day- when the weather is bad, I draw, and when the weather is good, I go out and take photos.  Sometimes I draw without my glasses and sometimes I use both hands (I’m right handed). It’s always good for me to see what I create and how well I feel after that.

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Organic shapes just joined together
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Who is she? Why is she smiling?Why are her eyes closed shut? I don’t know- she came out of my head after a busy and tiring day. Maybe I’d like to be her!ption
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One of the good weather days when I photographed this spectacular sunset

Kettle’s Yard: a reflection

I recently visited Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge, UK.  Kettle’s Yard was the home of Jim and Helen Ede during 1958 to 1973 . Jim had been a curator at the Tate Gallery in London 1920-30s.  Collecting and curating art and nature in his home, became his cure for undiagnosed PTSD brought on by the Great War.  He became a patron, collector and buyer of works by then unknown (and some famous) artists- paintings by Ben and Winifred Nicholson, Alfred Wallis, Christopher Wood, David Jones and Joan Miró, as well as sculptures by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Constantin Brancusi, Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth.

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This work, called ‘Bird swallows a fish’ by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, made a profound impression on me. Very pertinent for our ecological crisis.

Jim did not distinguish between high art, naive art, and nature.  There are no labels, so the visitor enjoys the work as it is.  Surprisingly for a curator’s home, there no curatorial statements either.  Alongside carefully positioned valued artworks, we find broken and old furniture, glass, ceramics and natural objects. The aim was to create creating a harmonic whole, not perfection. He was influenced by his visit to India after the war and his work reflects his interests in Eastern religions and folk art.  He invited students for talks at the end of each term and in the end, left the house to Cambridge University.  He meant this humble home to be neither ‘an art gallery or museum, nor … simply a collection of works of art reflecting my taste or the taste of a given period. It is, rather, a continuing way of life from these last fifty years, in which stray objects, stones, glass, pictures, sculpture, in light and in space, have been used to make manifest the underlying stability.’

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Humble collections of stones, arranged carefully, give a peaceful ‘zen-like’ calm to the home.

Looking and reflecting on the interiors, as an architect and home maker, I came to realise that to create a home you have to know yourself and your own needs deeply.  And to create such an harmonious home, you don’t need expensive things- just things that reflect who you are.  So Jim and Helen Ede’s home could be viewed by some as eccentric and unsophisticated but the abiding impression is that of a couple who consciously chose to eschew the materially rich for that which is soulfully rich.  A lesson indeed for these chaotic times and materialistic culture.  Such expression where someone’s inner life has been thrown open public gaze requires inner confidence, critical thinking and unwavering certainty.  This is the home of someone who has absolute happiness, not relative one.  In the end, the lesson for me wasn’t from the art but from the collection and the home as one.

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Works of art by famous artists are placed deliberately low on the floor so that the viewer can sit down and contemplate these.
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Light and shadows play a part in how sculptures are placed
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Plants also part of the display- a living natural art
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You are invited to sit on the chairs to contemplate the space and art

Lessons on design and interiors from Kettle’s Yard

  1. Make the design work for you, don’t follow others blindly.
  2. Choose things that enhance the spaces- these might be cheap things like plants, rocks, books and sea shells. They could be things that you love to touch and see.
  3. Follow the design through as you walk from space to space.  It might be simpler and cheaper to have a flow, rather than each space having its own ‘theme’.
  4. Remove and hide things seasonally.  This gives a sense of the home through the seasons.
  5. Eclectic collections have a charm of their own.  Many design magazines feature empty monastic looking spaces but as this home shows, you can have many things if displayed well.

 

Your dreams can come true

I found this piece of paper while clearing out my parents’ home. I had written it more than thirty years ago. I had no money, we barely had enough to eat and no proper clothes and I lived in one bedroom with my parents and sisters in India.  This was an excerpt from Thornton Wilder’s, The Bridge of San Luis Rey.

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This was the best selling novella by Thornton Wilder, published in 1927 that won the Pulitzer Prize. It recounts a fictional event when an Inca rope bridge collapses between Cusco and Lima, Peru; and takes down five people with it.  A friar who witnesses the tragedy reflects on why these people were there on that day and time on that bridge; and whether their fates were connected in some way, and seeks a cosmic answer to the question of why each had to die in that way at that spot and time.

The same year that I copied this paragraph was the year I took up Buddhism and by strange chance, was asked to design a mural which was then later inaugurated by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth.  Four years later, competing against thousands of applicants, I won a scholarship to do my post graduate degree at UK’s prestigious Cambridge University.  This year I was able to go to Peru and see the Inca bridge at Machu Picchu. It wasn’t the same bridge but for me it was the bridge between my young teenage hopes and dreams and where I have got to.

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I often think that life is really connected- there are events and things happening that you may think are unconnected but years later, you will see a pattern.  That scrap of paper was my connection, my bridge to the past which inspired me to take an action to visit a place where I thought I’d never go. It is never too late to dream and somehow life will turn out to make that dream come true.

A poem about mornings

I read recently about people who write ‘morning journals’ to capture their streams of consciousness after waking up. I didn’t realise what a powerful tool it is to capture your ideas, inspirations and aspirations. I used to think that if I checked the morning news, it might give me some idea on what to concentrate on for the rest of the day. But that is reactive thinking.  Morning journals and thoughts which help me to prioritise not only my day but also a way of future planning, are a much best way.  As I am not a morning person, here is a poem that I read each morning to inspire myself.  It is not written by a new age guru or the latest ‘Tim Ferriss’, this was written in 5th Century AD-

Listen to the Exhortation of the Dawn!
Look to this Day!
For it is Life, the very Life of Life.
In its brief course lie all the
Verities and Realities of your Existence.
The Bliss of Growth,
The Glory of Action,
The Splendor of Beauty;
For Yesterday is but a Dream,
And To-morrow is only a Vision;
But To-day well lived makes
Every Yesterday a Dream of Happiness,
And every Tomorrow a Vision of Hope.
Look well therefore to this Day!
Such is the Salutation of the Dawn!

Only Plan A

Plan B types

I have read that the best way to pursue your creative ideals to divide your sources of income- i.e., to have a day job and also a creative evening job.  The intention is that if your creative job isn’t paying the bills, the day job will pay until one day you hit jackpot with your creative venture; and eventually that will become your only source of income.  So your day job would get you ‘passive income’ while you pursue your true vocation.  So you see the bank clerk who plays the piano in the evening at a bar, or the painter who pays his bills through his teaching job.  You can see this from many historical examples- Alexander Porfiryevich Borodin, the Russian: Georgian Romantic composer whose day jobs were as a doctor and chemist, Phillip Larkin, a librarian who was a poet and many others.

Plan A types

On the other hand, artist Paul Klein says that you should have only Plan A and you should put all your energy into pursuing it.  By having too many eggs (and perhaps even too many baskets), you are exhausted with nothing left for creativity.  In this video on Youtube, he says only have Plan A- having Plan Bs are distractions.  By having only Plan A, you focus almost desperately because there is no other way- you have to make it succeed.  Paul Gaugin comes under this category but he never made any money from painting while he was alive- only after death did his paintings sell well.  Do you agree with this approach?  Personally, I am very risk averse and currently do a few jobs while I pursue my creative ideas.  What about you?  Let me know. Here is a lovely video on finding your passion from Ken Robinson, who says it is not enough to be good at something, you need to be passionate too.

 

 

 

In search of perfection

Many artists like to produce perfect artworks- that is understandable.  They see beautiful works of art before them in museums, cities and in homes; and now in the media.  So the quest for perfection is ‘even more in your face’- if your work is not perfect, perhaps you are not perfect.  I have now heard from two artists who are suffering from depression and exhaustion, trying to be perfect, and trying to produce perfect pieces of art.  There is a Japanese concept of Wabi-Sabi, which actually elevates imperfection

But there is a Japanese concept of Wabi-Sabi, which actually elevates imperfection.  So cracks in pottery are filled with gold, literally emphasizing and embellishing the imperfection, instead of hiding it.  The Wabi-Sabi aesthetic is a beauty that is ‘imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete’. It is quite like our physical selves- our bodies are not perfect but using clothes, shoes and make-up we make them look perfect.  But the most memorable faces are those that highlight imperfection- such as David Bowie’s mismatched eyes.  The actress Jennifer Grey who had her nose done, regretted it- she felt she had lost herself or her unique character.

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These are two pieces of pottery that I found destined for the skip.  The creator had discarded them in this bin in a pottery workshop.IMG_3517.jpg

I took them home and I have used them regularly for the last three years. They have not broken or cracked (and I have washed them in the dishwasher) and were perfect the way I have used them.  As I use them, I thank the creator of these two pieces and sometimes feel sorry that in the quest for perfection, the artist threw away two little gems.  I am pleased they came my way- each time I look at them, I think about the imperfection of life and how we can create value of each imperfection through acceptance, patience and love.

The Autotelic personality

A few days ago, I attended an event where a very well known British journalist, broadcaster and political aide was speaking. He is a polished and entertaining speaker. He illustrated his talk with anecdotes and stories from various high profile people ranging from Diego Maradona to Barack Obama, many of whom he had interviewed for his bestselling book about winning. It was as to be expected- a very successful event.

However, for me the unexpected star of that evening was the person, Gert, who organised the evening. The story of how this came about is also bizarre- it seems that  Gert had been holidaying at a French ski resort when he came across this famous personality. Gert invited him to do a lecture. Upon return to the UK, Gert wrote to him but the broadcaster told him that he had never been to the ski resort in his life and worst of all, had never met him either. Not the person to give up, Gert thought that he had perhaps been forgotten but he persisted. However, the man was adamant. In the end, they both agreed that Gert had met a look-alike but to his credit, the broadcaster agreed to speak despite the mistake.  So what did I learn from Gert and that evening?

First, a lesson about networking: that Gert had used an opportunity to make contact with someone and even though, this person turned out to be not someone he had thought to be, he still was able to create a connection. Your next business opportunity is more likely to come from a loose or weak connection (one of the many people you met at the recent event or at a ski resort) than from Jo/Joe in your office.

Second, lesson about persistence: Gert’s polite, humorous and optimistic way of being persistent was important factor. If either of them had lost their cool, it would have been an embarrassingly different story. So if you are going to be persistent, then use humour, politeness and humility- and know when to back off. Persistence is a game played on the edge of the card- if you’ve shown your trump card and that’s not worked, then it is time to leave. But with two seasoned networkers who respect each other, then like this evening showed, it can be a win-win situation for all.

Third, a lesson about creating something bigger: Gert didn’t just use that opportunity for himself but used it to bring the speaker to a wider audience. That included not just his own colleagues but also invitees such as me who had never had any interaction with him before. There is an expression in Buddhism called ‘Jigyo keta’ which roughly translates from Japanese as ‘benefiting oneself and benefiting others’. Any action that benefits you as well as others is a great success, a win-win event. Such successes also make you happier than ones just for your self only.

Gert is a typical example of an autotelic personality. The word ‘autotelic’ comes from the Greek words Auto, meaning ‘self’ and telos, meaning ‘goal’. Autotelic activity is about having a purpose in and not apart from itself. Applied to personality types, autotelic person is someone who does things for their own sake, rather than in order to achieve an external marker of success. The autotelic personality is a yin yang person- a combination of receptive qualities such as openness and flexibility; as well as active qualities such as engagement and persistence. To succeed in today’s world of chaos and complexity, it is essential to have an autotelic personality. In the cast of characters for that evening- the speaker, Gert and everyone who was involved, even the doppelganger- had autotelic personalities, otherwise the evening wouldn’t have succeeded!

Travel drawings

Before the advent of digital cameras and the art of selfies, were the simple tools of sketching and notes.  Recently  I was looking at my quick sketches and paintings made in five different continents in the 1990s.  Most were made in no more than 15 minutes, and yet looking at them more than 20 years later, I can remember how I made the drawing, how hot/sunny or cold it was, how I was feeling and what the place felt like.  This can done even today.  It is sometimes good to get your head out of the camera and observe what is going on. Find a bit of time to sketch and paint. I used all sorts of things- one painting was done using cherry juice.  Travel is also time for creative rejuvenation!

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Children, creativity and rules

Many books have been written about creativity and how it helps us.  But how is creativity fostered from an early age?  Children need boundaries and rules when they are little.  But after a certain age, they need to know more about values than rules.  What age would that be?  Each child is different but there is way to tell when they are ready to learn about the difference between rules and values.  That happens when you find them breaking rules too often- usually around the age of six.  That’s because they are actually asking to understand values that are behind the rules.  They internalise values more than a list of rules.  This understanding also results in the child being more creative because they can empower themselves to make up their own rules related to the values or principles.

Recently my son was being bullied which resulted in his coat being torn.  He was afraid of telling me or the teachers because he didn’t want to be ostracised from his group of friends.  When I found out, instead of being angry or telling him that he should have reported it, we had a discussion about bullying and why it is bad for everyone, including the bully.  He now understands how he will deal with it in the future.  We agreed that this is to be done progressively and according to the situation.  This may mean he ignores it if the bullying behaviour is small (or a just a ‘friendly tease’); if it is not, he tells the other child to stop, or he gets his friends together to help him with the situation and then finally if it does not stop, to get the teacher to intervene.  I am not there in the school with him but as long as he remembers the principle that ‘bullying is bad for everyone’, then he can deal with it by making his own rules and boundaries of what is acceptable to him.

The more rules there are at home, the more the risk they will be broken and followed by disappointment, anger and even retribution.  According to a study in a book, Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant, children who scored in the top 5% in creativity tended to come from households with, on average, less than one rule. The families of kids who were less creative typically had six rules.  The parents who talked to their children about principles leaving them to make up their own rules, found that the children were able to internalise that principle very well and find their own way around the world, instead of the parent ‘micro-managing’ them.  ‘Instead of enforcing them, [creative] parents got their children to endorse the rules themselves because they helped to generate them’, according to Grant. I had parents who loved us but always tended to help us out while dealing with problems.  It is only now that I am learning about the world and dealing with the difficulties it presents.  So now I am determined not to do everything for my children, because I love them.

Help for the distracted

I am naturally a person who gets easily distracted.  I might check my emails, or look at an social media post or read the online news many times while working on my computer.  This is not a good habit because work  interrupted is the flow of thought stilled.  It stops being thoughtful and perceptive.  For me being creative, for being ‘in the flow’ as described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, comes from having inner peace, free of distractions.  So I had to write every day, despite a lot of resistance internally.  What helped me was reading bits of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations every night. Marcus Aurelius was the 16th emperor of the Roman empire, often called the Philosopher-King. The Stoic Meditations, written in Greek while on campaign between 170 and 180, describes how to find equanimity in the midst of conflict and how to overcome common human problems. In particular one passage that is a must read for all would be procrastinators or for those easily detracted is this-

Do not waste what remains of your life in speculating about your neighbours, unless with a view to some mutual benefit. To wonder what so and so is doing and why or what he is saying, or thinking, or scheming- in a word, anything that detracts you from fidelity to the Ruler within you- means a loss of opportunity for some other task. See then the flow of your thoughts is kept free from idle or random fancies, particularly those of an inquisitive or uncharitable nature.  A man should habituate himself to such a way of thinking that if suddenly asked, ‘What is in your mind at his minute?’ he could respond frankly and without hesitation; thus proving that all thoughts were simple and kindly.’

I have highlighted in the above passage the bits that struck me strongly- about wasting time, about keeping flow free from distraction and the discipline of having only simple and kindly thoughts.

I kept my wandering mind on a leash by imagining that someone would suddenly appear and ask what I was thinking and I could say honestly that I was being creative and thinking about my project.  Simple and kindly thoughts are actually the creative person’s best allies- I imagined brushing away negativity that was holding me back, every time I was feeling down or bad.  However, thinking like this is a skill that must be built up daily by the minute- so it goes on for me, although I have finished my book for now.