Studio Musings

Friday, May 29, 2015

Book Review: Creativity Inc.

I've been doing a bit more reading lately, and have been working my way through Creativity Inc. by Ed Catmul, president of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation.   My husband picked up the book before Christmas, and it's been floating around the house ever since.  While the book focuses on the lessons Catmul (and Pixar) have learned about fostering creativity in a large, corporate environment, I found many parallels to my personal experiences as a solo artist.  His candid look into Pixar's creative process is both refreshing and thought-provoking.  I found myself alternating between "YES! Exactly" and "Huh! I hadn't thought of that" as I read.  My copy looks like a ticker-tape parade with all its little post-it flags pointing to passages that struck me. 

Through the book, Catmul reminds the reader that creativity is a process, and there WILL be lumps and bumps along the way.  Creation is a messy process, and most projects start out ugly. He stresses that understanding this, and protecting the 'ugly baby' is important to allow for it to potentially grow into something beautiful.   He also reminds us that starting on a project is a journey into the unknown.   That at the beginning "There is no movie.  We are making decisions, one by one, to create it".  Sound familiar?  The parallels to any creative endeavor are unmistakable. 

In his introduction, Catmul states "The making of Toy Story - the first feature film to be animated entirely on a computer - had required every ounce of our tenacity, artistry, technical wizardry, and endurance.  The hundred or so men and women who produced it had weathered countless ups and downs as well as the ever-present, hair-raising knowledge that or survival depended on this 80-minute experiment.  For five straight years we'd fought to do Toy Story our way." 

As solo artists, our art can make the same demands - drawing on our tenacity, endurance and technical skills, as well as our creativity - without the support network of a larger creative environment.  We have complete creative control, but often have little in the way of back-up or support.  The book reminded me of the importance of establishing a personal a creative support network.  

Creativity Inc. stresses that an atmosphere of fear is anathema to a truly creative environment.  Mistakes will happen.  Some big, some little.  Fear of the repercussions from those mistakes cripples the creative flow.  Accountability is important.  But so is an understanding that mistakes happen, and a willingness to think outside the box not only in creation, but in response to the unexpected of the less pleasant sort.

A safe environment is crucial to developing one's vision, as is constructive criticism. Constructive being the key word hear.  Catmul devotes an entire chapter to "Honesty and Candor", focusing on Pixar's Braintrust, which meets several times a year to assess each movie they're making.  Introducing this chapter, Catmul states "People who take on complicated creative projects become lost at some point in the process. It is the nature of things - in order to create, you must internalize and almost become the project for a while, and that near-fusing with the project is an essential part of its emergence.  But it is also confusing."

His anecdotes from Braintrust meetings provide beautiful examples of the power of constructive criticism.   Criticism can be difficult for me, no matter which 'side of the table' I happen to be on.  It's difficult for most of us, I think.  Reading through their process gave me powerful insight and examples of how truly constructive criticism can be given and received, and how it can work to improve a project.  Lot's of food for thought.

Other powerful concepts he explores through the lens of his time with Pixar and later Disney Animation include The Hidden, looking at the creative process of going from the unknown to the known; The Power of Limits, how boundaries help us to create; and Post Mortems, looking at what we've done to see what worked, what didn't and what could be done better, then using that information to add to personal and corporate knowledge.  This last resonated with me as what I've been trying to do with my Lessons Learned blog series.  The series looks back at the past year, solidifying what I've learned in a series of essays, then sharing that knowledge with my Internet 'braintrust'.

I could go on; did I mention how heavily I bookmarked my copy?  But I'll end this here:  Creativity Inc would be a great commuter book - it can be easily picked up and put down, while providing a veritable feast for anyone interested in thinking about how they relate to their creative process, no matter the setting. 

Have you read Creativity Inc?  I'd love to hear what stuck you most, what you took away, where it made you think, where it made you exclaim "exactly" to the empty air, at the risk of startling those around you. 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Lessons Learned: Brainstorming and Outlines

I’m a little behind on everything right now.  Last week I took a nosedive down my basement stairs and am still dealing with the repercussions.  Teach me to try to do laundry!

This week, while waiting to determine if I need surgery on my broken foot, my thoughts keep turning to the importance of planning and organization.  Outlining is the first, and one of the most important steps in developing a manuscript.  Outlines help you define both the scope of work (which can also be summarized as your mission statement) and the breadth that you wish to cover.  If you hope to approach a traditional publisher with your book idea, most will expect to see a polished outline. 

Start by giving yourself a one-sentence mission statement outlining your goal.  Then brainstorm, writing down everything you think you might want to include.  You can do this in as much or as little detail as you please.  Once you have your ideas down where you can see them, look for common patterns and themes.  Does one idea build upon another?  Treat your notes as pieces of an ever-expanding puzzle and move things around until they 'fit'.  Your goal is to start sorting like with like to see how the pieces might all work together as a future whole. 

My first mission statement for Explorations went something like this:  “I want to showcase the breadth of what can be done with freeform peyote beading”.   Pretty basic and far too open-ended, but it was a place to start.  From there, I asked myself, what could that look like?   My earliest outline only had a few points:
  • Showcase the breadth of what might be done with Freeform Peyote Beading
  • Basic to advanced techniques
  • More in-depth primer to the creation process
  • New projects
  • More projects
  • Not all jewelry
  • Include works by other artists

My next goal was to fill things in the who, what, how, why, where and when.  What techniques did I want to include, what did people need to be successful with the stitch, what types of projects, what work did I already have completed, what would I need to create, how would other artists and their work fit into the overall theme of the book?  As I answered these questions, I arranged and rearranged the pieces until they started to form an overall picture.  Some bullet points translated into chapters and sections of my manuscript.  Others simply helped illuminate or better define the overall project.  

My Four Rules of Outlines: 

I.  Outlines can be as simple or as complex as you desire.  In the early stages of my book planning, I had very clear ideas of what I wanted to include in some areas.  I made extensive notes as ideas came to me, including full paragraphs where necessary.  It’s easy to forget things over the weeks, months and even years it takes to turn an idea into a finished book. If you think it might possibly be important later, write it down somewhere that it’s easy to find (so you don’t kick yourself later as you wrack your brain trying to remember that great idea you once had!) 

II. Outlines are never set in stone.   Consider your outline a living document that will continue to change and evolve along with you and your manuscript. 

I originally divided Explorations into five chapters with these headings: 
  1. Getting Started
  2. Starting Small - Test Subjects & Little Beauties
  3. Bracelets and Cuffs
  4. Designing Larger Jewelry Projects
  5. Beyond Jewelry - Beaded Forms and Freeform Sculptures
I liked how this outline built from simpler to more complex projects.  But I couldn’t find a good place for an in-depth look at creating freeform ruffles.  This is a very powerful technique, but because it’s more advanced I didn’t want to include it in Chapter 1.   Ruffles use the basic technique in different ways, with their own distinct challenges and rewards.  After much thought, I repurposed Chapter 3.  The new chapter, Working with Ruffles, became a bridge between the simpler projects of Chapter 2, and the larger, more complex designs in the later chapters.

Rather than dividing my book solely by project types, it’s organized more by building skills and how I thought about the creation process surrounding each item.  Smaller projects like rings require significantly less planning and forethought than a freeform collar or beaded bottle.   My final outline doesn’t look that different, but represents a shift in my thought process. 

III. Outlines keep you focused.  It’s surprisingly easy to get lost and wander off on random tangents when working on a long project.  The ‘wouldn’t it be cool to include X’ factor.  I use my outline to keep me focused by periodically pausing to see how and where my current work fits into the overall whole.  If it doesn’t fit in my current outline, then I force myself to pause and ask if truly fits into my current manuscript, or if it should be set aside for a future project. 

IV. Outlines help you track your progress. I’ll talk about developing your production timeline in more detail in a later post, but your outline is an excellent way to track how well you are progressing towards your goal. 

As an example, say you’ve given yourself a twelve-month timeline to develop your manuscript.  Let’s also say your outline is divided into five chapters.  Here’s a sample timeline:  one month for outlining/gathering data, and building your style-guides and templates; two months per chapter (5 chapters x 2 months = 10 months); and another month for proofing at the end.  This is a tight production schedule, but it shows how the outline might be divided into a timeline.

In Summary

Outlines are living documents, not stone tablets.  Whether simple or complex, their role is to act as goal posts and guides.  If you've used outlines - what other ways have they helped you? 

While you work on your outline, you should also brainstorm ideas about the overall look and feel of your finished book, things you need to learn, and resources you could potentially tap to help you along the way.  In my next few posts, I’ll talk more about these topics, including how I collected and organized my data for ease of use, setting up a more concrete timeline, and establishing style-guides for my finished book. 

Friday, May 1, 2015

NW Bead Society's 2015 Seedbeaders Meeting Schedule

 If you are a beader living anywhere around the Puget Sound, then you should definitely check out the Northwest Bead Society.  And if you're like me and love seed beads, then you definitely need to check out the Seedbeaders' group.  This includes anyone who might be visiting the area.  If your trip coincides with one of the meetings, consider dropping by;  guests are always welcome! 

To make it easier to visit, I'm including the schedule for upcoming Seedbeaders Programs through early February 16th.  Each meeting, one of our members agrees to host a mini-tutorial, sharing a project or technique.  Everyone's welcome to work on the project of the month, or bring your own project (or simply visit with everyone else).  We meet from 10:30-3:00 on the fourth Sunday of the month.  Supply lists are generally posted to the Yahoo group (search for 'seedbeaders') about a month before each tutorial. 

2015-2016 Schedule

Mosaic bracelet by Jennifer Brown, photography by Karen Williams

May 24 2015  Jennifer Brown - Mosaic Bracelet
Note: This is Memorial Day Weekend - the meeting cannot be moved to May 17 due to the NWBS retreat.  This meeting may be moved to May 31.

June 28, 2015 Karen Williams - Flame Pendant or Earrings

Patchwork bracelet by Jennifer Brown, photography by Karen Williams
July 26, 2015 Jennifer Brown - Tila Patchwork Bracelet

Vivian E.'s wonderful 'Birds of a Feather', photography by Karen Williams
August 23, 2015 Vivian E. - Birds of a Feather 

Marla Baer-Peckham's Holiday Bell Earrings, photography by Karen Williams
September 27, 2015 Marla Baer-Peckham - Holiday Bell Earrings

Twin Bead Snowflakes by Debby Zook, photography by Karen Williams
October 25, 2015 Debby Zook - Twin Bead Snowflakes

Zig-Zag peyote earrings by Marla Baer-Peckham, photography by Karen Williams
January 24, 2016 Marla Baer-Peckham - Zig-Zag Peyote Earrings

February 28, 2016 Jennifer Brown - Super Duo Triangle Earrings (no photo available right now)

There's something powerful about beading in the company of friends.  Personally, I feel incredibly fortunate to be part of a group like the Seedbeader's.  Their camaraderie, inspiration and support is fantastic.  

One caveat regarding the schedule - since scheduled workshops may change due to all sorts of circumstances beyond anyone's control, it's a good idea to join the Yahoo groups if you are hoping/planning to attend.  That way you'll get the most up-to-date info.