Archive for the ‘My Maxims’ Category


Organization for Creativity

July 7, 2012

Creating is difficult for me when I’m surrounded by chaos. Creative messes I can handle, but if I can’t see the project I’m working on for the supplies and unrelated paraphernalia, I get distracted. When I get distracted, I can’t give my full attention to my work, and to be creative, I need ALL my emotions, brain, and soul.

Maybe you work differently. In fact, you probably do, because we are different people. But at some point cleaning up becomes necessary. The following principles grew from my heart out of necessity. You may think it weird that my heart would come up with something as mundane as rules. But like I said, order helps my inner being.

My hierarchy for sorting and organizing:

#1 – Put stuff you use often where you use it: tools and supplies, files and books, phone numbers and data, etc.

I constantly use paper bags for patterns, so I keep a supply of them in my studio. (The rest are by the recycling in the garage with all the other bags.) This saves time and steps for rounding up supplies.

And it motivates me! Think of it this way– if an elf came into your studio, office, or home and put everything you need right where you need it to get started, wouldn’t you just love to jump right in and make something?

Getting organized, however, can also take away an excuse for procrastinating. You’ll HAVE to start creating if everything is waiting and ready!

#2 – Group items according to type.

All writing implements go together. Bills to be paid are in one box. Supplies for baking (flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, spice, oil) live in one cabinet. Writing resources are in one computer file. Supplier sites are in one bookmark folder. Etc.

I group my collage “found” supplies by material: tin can tops and old keys are in a box marked “metal”; plastic tags, lids, and old credit cards are in another marked “plastic”.

Your stuff will be easier to find, making creating more enjoyable and faster.

NOTE: There is a negative corollary to this principle: if it’s not related to near-by items, put it elsewhere where it is. Screwdrivers go with other screwdrivers, not next to the laundry detergent on top of the washing machine.

OTHER NOTE: Rule #1 overrides Rule #2. For instance, if you always use a screwdriver to pry off the laundry detergent lid, leave it by the tub.

#3 – If stuff in containers is hard to find, split the category.

Too many writing utensils making it difficult to find your favorite highlighter? Separate the group into sub-groups: pencils, markers, pens, crayons. Tiny brushes always getting lost among the big ones? Grab another can or jar out of the recycling for the 00’s. Scrap wood pile to big to see what’s on the bottom? Stand longer boards near-by with 2’ or less in the pile.

#4 – Keep your absolute favorites close.

This is a variation on #1, but sometimes hard to define until you pay attention next time you are working. As you create (or during a break if you are on a roll and can’t attend to something else) notice what you use all the time. Make a space or container for these items near your workspace. This is what I call my tool kit. Everything I use constantly and can’t work without is in this category.

For baking, it’s my recipe card file, spices and measuring cups. For painting it’s a rag, my favorite brushes, paint can opener, stir stick, and plastic cups. For paper art I have a box with rulers, scissors, masking tape, my favorite markers, and a craft knife.


The info above is to explain two simply-stated concepts:

  1. Keep the tools and items you use most frequently together and in a convenient place.
  2. For everything else, put like items together.

Practical Suggestions

These two concepts are simply stated, but more difficult to implement.  You could tackle your studio or home in one grand organizational effort– that would overwhelm most of us!  More realistically, work in stages, and your workspace and supplies will gradually become easier to use and find.

  1. Work on small areas at a time. The one or two where you work the most often make a good starting point.
  2. Always (ALWAYS) put items where they belong when you are done with them in the areas you have organized. If you don’t, you’ll lose the ground you’ve gained.
  3. Analyze how you work until you know what your favorites are. Gather them together. For other tasks notice what supplies need gathering and could be stored near the appropriate workstation.
  4. Organize other, less-used areas once a week until you’re done.
  5. Have a garage sale with all the stuff you find you don’t want anymore.
  6. Create with clutter-free freedom!
  7. Share your success stories and questions here.


Black Socks

June 20, 2012

A creative project can seem like an amorphous glob of Jell-o in a vat of vegetable oil— difficult to get a handle on with no obvious place to start.

When I have a creativity Jell-o mess, I apply one of my creativity maxims:



Today I was doing a dark load of laundry, folding the jeans and t-shirts, when I came to the Dreaded Knot of Socks—a mass of mismatched confusion bonded by a systemic hair-raising charge of static.

After reprimanding myself for forgetting to add a drier sheet to the load, I began applying today’s maxim, thereby reducing inaction and confusion.  I picked out the most obvious socks— four navy blue ones— from the black ball.  Separating the blue socks from the black was an easy and obvious first step.  With those out of the way, I was able to see the subtle distinctions between the nine remaining black socks.

By DOING WHAT YOU KNOW you clear away the creative decision-making fog one layer at a time.  You can see the details of the next phase more clearly if you take care of the obvious ones first.

Let’s move from the sock pile to creating.  How does this work in a project?


These two steps clear away a LOT of fog.  While they won’t eliminate every creative block, they are extremely useful when you aren’t able to proceed because you are overwhelmed with the enormity of the project.

DEFINE known parameters.  Write down, or make a mental list of everything you DO know about the project: size, medium, materials, function, time constraints, color, etc; and any ideas you already have no matter how seemingly unrelated or trivial.

ACT on what you know.  The size of the finished painting will be 45×62—cut the canvas and begin stretching.  The palate will be pastel—go buy a big tube of white paint.  The article will include an interview—call the subject up to make and appointment.  The grant is due in two weeks—fill out everything you can on the application.

The magic of Doing What You Know is that while you are acting on what you know, the next steps become clearer.

The reason for this is two fold.  First, Mary Poppins’ wisdom, “Well-begun is half done,” is creative wisdom.   By starting the creative process (sometimes that is simply the mundane prep) ideas and next steps begin to emerge.  Doing the tasks and making the decisions you recognize builds a kind of ladder with each idea building on the previous one.

The second reason is found within the Four Stages of Creativity (look for a future post).  By DOING WHAT YOU KNOW and letting the tougher decisions incubate while your hands are occupied, your unconscious thinking continues, often resulting in an “AHA!” moment, seemingly from out of nowhere.

The secret to finishing an overwhelming project is to continue repeating these two steps.  The creative process is a series of decisions with moments (flashes) of inspiration.  Continue DEFINING and ACTING— DOING WHAT YOU KNOW— until the next decision comes into focus, giving space and life for inspiration, and eventually your project will be finished!

Now if I could just figure out a maxim to find the tenth black sock.

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