The creative routine

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One of my favourite books about the creative process is Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit. In this book she posits that consistent, quality creativity comes from having a routine and following it. Basically you get better by putting the time in, long and consistent hours of work.

Many artists, myself included, have trouble with this simple idea. They work sporadically, slacking off in the quiet times and pushing themselves relentlessly before a big show. I must admit that procrastination could be my middle name, but the way to get around this flaw is to commit to a lot of shows. Deadlines have a way of forcing that structure on your routine. And that structure is where you can mine the true gold of creativity.

For the past few months, I’ve been working on the paintings for the Half & Half show at the Japanese Canadian National Museum, and the installation takes place in less than two weeks. (Insert panicked yelp here). The whip of the deadline forces me to take risks and make decisions on the spot, rather than delaying as I like to. I tend to work on four or five paintings at one time, so I can hang the unfinished ones on the wall and speculate on what is needed next. Sometimes that results in paintings that remain unfinished for months as I ponder. But beyond one week, I’m not sure that the paintings are any better for the time spent unfinished.

My usual painting process is one of layers, images painted upon images and then torn back to reveal what is underneath. However, while creating this series, I have made two new paintings that are quite different from my usual style, but I find them extremely satisfying and beautiful. Both are based on images of children in the old Japantown.

I made the photos into squares and then combined them in a grid with origami paper.  Then, unsure of the colourfast quality of the paper, I repainted each square matching the colour exactly, since I think that origami paper has distinctly Japanese colours.  Finally I added a symbol of the present, Hello Kitty heads done in glitter. It’s probably better not to know how my mind works, but they do look cool and that’s the key, right?  Finish off the panels with resin, and I have two new works in an intriguing new direction that I plan to explore more this year. All a result of plugging away in the studio.

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4 thoughts on “The creative routine

  1. I like the slightly ironic idea that creativity requires structure, routine and constraints. Most people think of creativity as requiring total freedom but it turns out to need limits on that freedom, a problem to solve, in order to be be more fully realized.

  2. Limits definitely aid creativity! Nothing is more paralyzing than too much freedom. Julia, I'd love to see you in the studio.This week is totally stressed out as I am trying finish up everything for the show, but after April 20th, anytime.

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