Understanding Creativity As A Process

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There is a certain mystique that shrouds creative works as well as their creators. When the public sees a master painter displaying art worth millions of dollars, or a pianist performing an original composition, we become wowed by the magnitude of their accomplishments. I have frequently had someone say to me. “I don’t know how they do that” or “they’re so lucky to have such talent”. Basically, such statements indicate the opinion that creative works are magically constructed by a sudden burst of insight bestowed upon the creator. The stereotypical master painter sits down and the painting manifests itself before his eyes as a result of his talent. The stereotypical author types away as fast as his fingers can fly because the thoughts are already in his head. However, that could not be further from the truth. Yes, talent is a factor. Yes, talent enables individuals to create marvelous works, but talent does not create the work itself. Creativity can be described as a process, which is methodical and labor intensive. Often times the creator’s audiences only view the final product. Therefore it becomes easy to underestimate the sheer amount of hard work put forth into creative milestones, towering over the creator’s natural talents. Understanding creativity as a process destroys the false reality that creative works are inaccessible or conceived in some supernatural fashion. There exists a logical description of this process. Many creative individuals may not be able to describe the finer details of this phenomenon to you clearly (which adds to the misconception), but they have formed their own processes regardless.

Transforming Ideas Into Creations

Creativity starts with an idea that sparks the urge to conceive it in physical form. It is a rough thought that is miles away from becoming reality, but has potential to achieve a vague endpoint that the creator can somewhat imagine. That endpoint becomes a driving force into what I call a drafting stage. Here the creator brainstorms ideas, adding on to the original thought. One thought never formed an entire work by itself, so additional ideas have to be compiled together. Those brainstormed ideas then become tested in whatever medium the creator uses. The brainstorming needs to be complete enough that ideas can be experimented with and have enough substance to form a tangible, physical representation. I incorporate brainstorming and experimenting into a single drafting stage because from my experience the way people build upon initial thoughts and start playing with it is very different. Some individuals need to literally sit down to write ideas on paper, others keep a couple of thoughts in their heads, which is enough to start experimenting, and others start experimenting with representations of their ideas right away. The drafting stage highly varies and sometimes even a single person can alternate between different degrees of brainstorming and experimenting in order to adapt to certain tasks. The main goal is to build upon initial thoughts and start transferring them over to a physical representation. Then comes the revision stage. After drafting has produced a decent quantity of ideas to represent ideas sparked by initial thoughts, it is necessary to evaluate the current direction the creation is taking. The creator usually has certain expectations associated with requirements of the final product. The creator takes the results currently achieved and compares them with the expectations of the finished product. This can be a long and arduous step or in rare cases one can get lucky or have enough skill to achieve the expected results with minimal revision. Revising simply entails altering or deleting parts of the work that do not fit into the artists visualization of the endpoint or their general standards. Some back and forth between revising and drafting is required when the initial draft needs to be reworked before it is finalized. Finalizing a work doesn’t mean the work is perfect (what is perfect?). It simply means the creator chose to accept a particular representation of the idea as a finished product.

Methodically Improving

The previous process described the methodology behind creating a single work. Creators normally create more than a single work or art galleries would be filled with kindergarten doodles if that were the case. The next step is to continuously improve upon achieved results. First and foremost this requires practice to establish a certain level of familiarity. Repeatedly transforming ideas into creations acclimates the mind through repetition and a basic understanding of how the process works for that individual. Equally important is tracking the results achieved while noting areas where representations of ideas did not meet expectations. Only then can the creator start to identify necessary changes to help meet similar expectations in another work. Ample repetition will cause a state where the creator understands their process, can identify certain struggles in failing to meet expectations in their works, and now has the ability to understand possible changes to their process that can yield better results. From there comes the importance of learning. Certain skill sets will yield the results the creator desires. Observing the work of others, how they work, reading literature concerning developing skills, or going through tutorials are all great ways to learn. Being open to learning from others and also accepting their feedback on work greatly expedites the grind of succesful creation. The perspective of another individual sometimes gives answers to solutions one cannot find on their own. From creating often, identifying room for improvement, and learning how to improve the creator can reach more difficult goals over time. Consider methodically improving the macro scale of the creative process and transforming ideas into creations the micro scale.

I think it is really important to consider that initial frustrations can hide the fact that grinding through this process can yield improved results over time. Another point I would like to make is that creativity is unique to an individual by definition. Comparing personal results and technique to someone else may not be as helpful as accepting a personal style that is born out of creating an individualized process.

Example: Drawing Tintin

So far I have talked in completely abstract terms. Now I would like to demonstrate the creative process in action. Last summer I took up drawing as a serious hobby for the first time. I had always wanted to be decent at drawing, but I gave up out of frustration when I was younger. I documented several stages of the Tintin drawing so we can discuss the micro perspective of creating a single work, in detail. For those of you unfamiliar with Tintin, he is the main protagonist of a comic book series created by Hergé called The Adventures Of Tintin.

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Even this initial pencil sketch of Tintin is deceiving. My initial thought was rather simple, I wanted to draw Tintin. I brainstormed by viewing various poses on Google Images. I observed his facial features, the iconic hair, and the characteristics of his clothing. Forming the pencil drawing was not a smooth process. I remember having trouble defining the width of his torso in relation to his upper body. The jacket has a particular shape that I associate with Tintin so I was determined to capture that. I erased many initial lines and reworked them until I was satisfied.

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The next step was to expand upon my initial realized idea, which was simply drawing Tintin. I enjoyed creating a background since it added more character to the drawing and this step was relatively easy for me. I first came up with the idea that Tintin would be standing by a wall with water on the other side. There are many illustrations in the comic book series depicting Tintin standing by a harbor. Then I established a horizon line to break the water and the sky. I added the fishing boat on the right, then the steamer, and finally the island. The island took a fair bit of revision because I didn’t have much experience drawing landscape objects at the time. I experimented with different cloud like shapes to outline tree tops while leaving enough space to indicate some land underneath. Finally I wrapped things up with Tintin’s dog Snowy! I kept the background additions relatively simplistic and that helps a lot with creating accurate representations. I had the basic goal in mind of creating a harbor like atmosphere.

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Once all the line work done with pencil met my expectations, I inked the entire drawing. This makes the colored pencil stand out quite nicely. Also from previous experience drawing cartoon characters is easier with inked lines because the shapes are very rigid and having a solid black line helps with coloring strictly within the boundaries. There really is no room for error with inking since its permanent. That reinforces the idea that drafting should yield a satisfactory product and taking the time to revise before moving on never hurts. From the previous stage of the drawing you can see that I established all my lines in pencil before I went in and inked them permanently.

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All Tintin illustrations in the comics use clear lines and solid colors so I stayed true to that while coloring in my drawing. Once again I kept things very simply so coloring in my drawing was quite easy. I would like to mention that the time I spent drafting and revising initially allowed me to obtain a clear vision of the final product and once the initial lines were finished, the rest was smooth sailing.

As far as the macro perspective is concerned, I had to create many drawings before I could dream of drawing even something as simplistic as this. When I first started drawing I did not understand that there was a technical process involved to realize a mental image as a drawing. Through practice I learned more about how I liked to draw and the process of making mixed media sketches like this one. A good example of this is how I like my pencil lines to be pretty much finalized before I move on. Some people make initial sketches “loose”, which means they get their initial ideas down and that is enough to accurately draw permanent lines or mark the perimeter of an object when the time to finalize comes. Inking my drawing demonstrates how I improved my process to yield better results. Previous sketches were completed with pencil and colored pencil and the pencil disappeared after coloring. So i knew I needed black ink to make distinctive lines for cartoon like characters. As far as learning goes, I discovered a variety of ways to improve my drawing skills in preparation for trying to draw Tintin. I practiced drawing human figures under time pressure from a website applet. I studied from a book concerned with the general practice of drawing figures. I also watched countless Youtube videos of artists demonstrating how they approached mixed media cartoon sketches as well. Even though I am proud of this drawing, I still realize how basic it is and it is quite obvious there is room for improvement. For example the background would be aided by additional detail, which I simply wasn’t capable of at that time. Hopefully from all the steps I shared with you, you can see that I did follow a process to achieve my final results.

My main message is that creativity does concern talent, but it requires a ton of hard work to realize creative desires into creative works. Sometimes the existence of a process gets overlooked and realizing creativity as a process can inspire people to try creative tasks and make systematic progress when they thought they never had a chance. The hardest part is probably getting started and committing to creating regularly. Good results don’t come without dedication to the process.

6 comments on “Understanding Creativity As A Process

  1. iggy23 says:

    That’s a very good way of illustrating (figuratively and literally) the idea of how creativity works. I would think that most people try but fail to bypass the stage where most of the work gets done. They just want to skip to the part where the finished product is as stellar as they imagined it to be. Yet, it doesn’t work that way as you explained, simply because everyone is different and many people believe that they can achieve immediate results. In my earlier days of writing I used to go through my work so many times that it became tiring as hell but I stuck to it because I had the privilege of being in the presence of some very good writers who were my age. I just didn’t want to lose out just because their innate talent were way above mine.

    I think that now my style has changed a little. I prefer to go through all the thought processes first before even typing a single word. What I did in the past was to write and think at the same time – I still can manage that now but I prefer not to, for quality’s sake. Now, I only do minor editing after the story is finished because I know for sure that this is the best plot I can come up with and whatever improvements I want to make will be done in the next story. After all, it’s the writing skill and not the story itself that needs improvement.

    Liked by 1 person

    • royyman32 says:

      I agree, the process itself is flexible, but the core principles stay the same. The writing process was my first introduction to being able to describe creativity. I like hearing how your process changed, because some writing teachers are such sticklers about keeping a rigid process, which is highly ineffective. I feel the same way that people try to bypass doing the actual work because it’s incredibly tedious. The big picture always helps because a story is just a story, as you said, and improving writing makes better results. There are many times that I have gotten caught up in a particular project instead of working on general improvements.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I love how a story transforms from an idea into a life of it’s own. The entire process, for me, is exciting because I am in the world of the story. And even when I think I like what is happening, I tend to go back and change it because it’s always evolving. That’s why I never seem to finish. LOL I used to watch my aunt paint and it seemed like it just flowed from her brush, but there was a huge process that took place prior and during the actual painting. The same with my dad and his photography. I thought he snapped the picture and it was gorgeous and perfect. I never considered the set up of the shot, the set-up of the multiple cameras, the editing process afterwards. Creativity is a process, and it can be so enjoyable. Thanks for the insight!

    Liked by 1 person

    • royyman32 says:

      I’m glad you think the same way. It’s strange how writing is usually the most accessible creative example. People can deal with writing as a process, but not think of art or photography in the same way. Interesting to hear about your aunt and your dad, they fit this idea well. Thanks for your detailed thought, they’re much appreciated 🙂

      Like

  3. dustandinkk says:

    Reblogged this on The Write Stuff and commented:
    So insightful.

    Liked by 1 person

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