Creative Destruction for Unsettling Times.

One of the barriers I hear about a lot from students is that they struggle with a need to make things “perfect” in their work.  

I’ve got first hand experience of this, and I’ve often found myself feeling that my work isn’t valuable or “correct” unless it is perfect.  It usually happens when I’m learning a new technique – I want to learn the correct ways of making something then practice over and over again until I even out any sense of it being rough or strange or idiosyncratic.  I refine anything that stands out.  While I will always argue that learning solid fundamentals is an important way to give yourself a strong foundation to work from, a drive to be perfect will always lead to disappointment.  Perfection isn’t possible, and when it comes to creativity, trying to be perfect robs us of the chance to explore the full potential of what is possible in the work we’re doing and within ourselves.

In recent months I’ve felt the urge to do perfect, predictable, beautiful work that has an outcome I can plan, because the world around me has felt so unfamiliar and threatening.  Although many of us are living in relative safety, the world feels unstable and chaotic, and the idea of creating something predictable and perfect feels like it should be soothing . When I try to do this though, what I end up with is disappointment.  The work feels stale, which makes me feel frustrated, which leads to more striving for perfection. 

What I have found is that when the world feels chaotic, the most fulfilling work I can do comes from leaning into that chaos and using techniques and methods that allow me to connect with those feelings in a creative way. When you deliberately work in destructive ways, you start out knowing that whatever you do, it will never be perfect!  It can’t be.  It’ll be messy and difficult and unpredictable.  In short, you are free to fuck up.  

One of my first year art school tutors used to say “you are the most anonymous person you know”.  As an eighteen year old, I had no idea what he meant by this, but I look back now and see my own students largely unaware of what unique strengths and challenges they bring to their work.  To them their strengths are anonymous, and the things they struggle with are problems and obstacles that need to be ironed out and perfected.   When we are anonymous to ourselves, we sometimes seek our identity in control and perfection, and this inevitably leads to less of the sense of self we need.  

Seeking perfection also puts us under immense pressure before we’ve even begun. 

How many times have you wanted to start something but felt that you needed to wait until the perfect time, have the perfect materials, the perfect work space and the perfect idea?  How often have you put off working because the circumstances weren’t exactly as perfect as they could be?  How often have you given up because the expectations that have built up have been so overwhelming that you knew you’d never be able to live up to the way it looks in your head?  

The way I overcame this, (and still need to overcome from time to time) is to engage with what I will loosely describe as creative destruction.  When I feel my work becoming uptight, self conscious, controlled and striving towards perfection, I have learned to let go and throw it into some sort of chaotic process that loosens my grip on the work and lets it breathe a little on it’s own.  This usually takes the form of some sort of creative destruction – deconstructing the fabric or stitches, taking the work apart, burning, dying, sanding, tearing. From there I get to see unexpected possibilities that can take the work in a direction I could never have predicted or planned.  From here my intuition can kick in. 

I had to put this into practice recently when I decided to reconnect with Life Drawing after a year and a bit of not bothering to make time for it in my regular art practice.  I’m good at life drawing.  I’ve always been good at it, and it was by far my favourite class at art school.  I’ve even taught life drawing in several colleges and art schools.  In my head, because I can do it well, I feel that every time I begin a life drawing it has to demonstrate my technical ability to its fullest. I need to draw a perfectly proportioned, anatomically correct figure with a strong sense of line and form, and clear, realistic tone.  This is not always a good thing…..I become so uptight that I can lose the sense of who the figure is, their subtle gestures and the dynamism of the pose rather than just its proportions.  The drawing might be correct, but it has little sense of character or expression.  This is when I need to throw some chaos into the mix, something that will not allow me to keep control and instead allow something a little freer to emerge.  I use my left hand, which is less precise than my right.  I use pen and ink and then run the drawing under water.  I tape my pen to the end of my finger.  Sometimes (and I only do this with statues or close friends) I close my eyes and draw by touch rather than sight.  I put myself and sometimes the drawing through some sort of process where control and precision isn’t an option.  It frees me up, it allows me to make intuitive decisions rather than purely technical ones.  

Left handed drawing from a session with @atynudes, featuring life model @ivorylovelust

So I’ve written a new email course with all of this in mind. What I want to offer is the chance to safely explore your work in a chaotic, intuitive, unpredictable way.  I want you to see what you can achieve and bring out of yourself through letting go of perfection and safe, dependable methods, how to roll with destruction and recreate from ashes.  

In this course we will work through a series of projects that will allow you, gently at first, to step out of your comfort zone and work in ways that feel unfamiliar and unpredictable.  The lessons will help you let go of a need for perfection, help you to tap into then harness your intuition as a creative tool.  We will focus on exploring processes rather than making one “thing”.  

You’ll receive ten lessons, two a week for five weeks.  I keep class numbers small enough to allow for one to one email tuition with every student.  

We’ll be working with;

  • Free form doll making
  • Fabric manipulation and deconstruction
  • Collage
  • Photography
  • Embroidery
  • Drawing
  • Character development
  • Journalling and reflection exercises
  • Basic sewing pattern design and construction for simple dolls.
  • Tools to break through creative block and tap into creative intuition.

Think of this course as a creative bootcamp, something intense that might just throw you out of your comfort zone in a way that gives you a boost, a creative clear out, and a chance to see what happens when you do not care about perfection.  See this as a chance to flex those wild impulses and see where they take you, even for a short time.   You won’t need any fancy or expensive materials or equipment, and you can work at your own pace.

Given the unstable financial situation for many in the world right now, the course is offered on a sliding fee scale, from £50 – £120.   You will never be asked to justify or explain what you choose to pay,  and everyone will receive the same lessons and tuition.  

Registration will open at 8pm (UK time) on Sunday the 1st of November. To register for a place, please go to the course page here, at that time to find the registration form (the form will not be there until 8pm, and you may need to refresh the page to find it). Unfortunately I cannot take bookings before this, and class numbers will be limited, but I will take requests for waiting list places once the course is full.

I’m seriously looking forward to working on this course. I’ll be sharing methods that work for me, and methods I’ve found help my students out of their own creative ruts, and I can’t think of a better time to bring some creative liberation to those who need it.

Please keep in mind that this course will focus on basic doll making, and the emphasis will be on exploring creative processes –  not complex doll making processes. This is a course where you will learn to develop your own way of working and designing.  There will be no instructions on how to make a Pale Rook style doll.  I cannot offer tuition for any projects that are not covered within the course material. I can however, offer  individual, heart felt tuition for the projects and lessons within the course.  Please respect that I will not be teaching how to make specific dolls from my collection.