Well that didn't work out—creative life
June 7, 2022
Is graphic design my lifelong love? I would not say that, instead I would say that creativity, whether my own or others, is a lifelong love. As time passes, we can reflect—“What throughout our lives has always brought joy?” The answer for me is creativity within art, architecture, writing—and yes, good design. I am able to take this a step further to include my enjoyment of flea markets, styling and book stores. I love being in the midst of creativity.
Creativity has been connected to suffering. I find this a bit severe, although I do tell young designers that fear is part of the design process.
As designers, we excitedly begin a new project by research, exploration and sketching. Our ideas can not be put on paper fast enough. We work to refine the ideas, now realizing we are unsure of ourselves. The fear begins. Further exploration of solutions builds confidence. We take a break to clear our heads. Coming back to our ideas—“Do we still feel confident? Or has the fear crept back?” The creative process continues and we haven’t even shown anyone the work yet!
Creatives are continually presenting their work to the viewer hoping for an expected reaction putting us at emotional risk. Sometimes, we do not get the reaction we want. How we handle these unexpected reactions to our work is usually based on personality, frame of mind or experience. As designers, we need to realize that the work is not “me”. A criticism of the work is not a criticism of “me”. We must have faith that there is always more in our creative arsenal— reducing fear and minimizing emotional risk. My work is better when I objectively receive input, whether I execute the input or gain confidence through ignoring the input.
The life of a creative will be filled with exciting successes and times of doubt. If a project is met with great success, I am thrilled but the success does not effect the next project’s process. I look at my work as specific to the project at hand. The author of “Eat, Love, Pray”, Elizabeth Gilbert, discussed in a TedTalk her realization that her most appreciated work might be behind her. Similar to Gilbert, I received early national success with a package design. I joke, “I peaked early” but I see each project as an individual. I try to do good work consistently. A successful design project seen by many, does not devalue the work for another project seen or appreciated by few.
And how does failure work into the creative process? I don’t believe in failure. I believe in “well, that didn’t work out.”
When a decision goes awry, I like to evaluate what I learned for next time. As a designer in the field, experience tells me there will always be a next time. Recently, I had to sever a creative working relationship. I don’t see it as a failure. I discovered that I require creative passion from those I collaborate with and that I can not teach passion. Lesson learned—move on.
A frustrating part of the creative process can be the elusiveness of inspiration. Personally, my issue is trying to remember the brilliant idea I had while on the treadmill but I usually do. Writing is where I have true moments of “elusive inspiration” (several while writing this essay). When writing, I feel the perfect expression of words are so close to the page but I can’t get to them. When this happens, I start impulsively writing, as if I am talking, which helps me get back to the original thought.
Creativity is hard work. I am a firm believer in putting in the time, doing your best and creativity will happen.
Sometimes an idea comes in minutes, sometimes it comes in days. An accountant can confidently estimate the time required to add up a row of numbers. Estimating the time needed to spark creativity is a little more difficult (but certainly more fun than a row of numbers). Referring back to Elizabeth Gilbert’s TedTalk, she said, “show up and do your job, regardless”. In other words, the process is the action of being creative. You take the steps to be present, become the creative individual you strive to be and eventually the creative genius appears.