Friday, November 23, 2012

Fusion Mentorship - October Meeting

Well I had 5 weeks to ponder, to make and to fire my pieces for the October meeting. The whole meeting was sort of like Christmas morning with the opening of presents - each participant took their turn unwrapping and presenting their pots - it was so exciting as I couldn't wait to see what they had come up with! My fellow journey women all came up with brilliant ideas! I was totally blown away by some of the creativity - wish I had thought of some of those things!

There are several  themes that I decided to pursue. First I decided to continue with the stone fence theme from our farm. The huge fences remain as evidence of an earlier age when hard work was the norm. The fences are made from glacial granite boulders and as there were few flat stones building these fences was not easy. I often look at those carefully placed stones and imagine how the calloused hands of the farmer were the last ones to touch those stones over 100 years ago.

I thought I might start the stone fence and then turn it into a pot and then  turned it back into the fence again. However that prototype turned out rather ungainly and so I abandoned it, though I will think about it some more. I decided to do what I had done previously, the fence coming from just one side - so not very original but I think right now it is to get as many things out there and see where they will lead. I find the forest on our farm very magical - mysterious at times and full of spirits of the past as many areas of what once were fields have now returned back to the forest, with only overgrown stone fences cutting straight lines through the trees. It is certainly easy to breathe the air there - it is pure and cleansing. So I keep coming back to stone fences and trees. Some suggestions from the meeting were to extend the vase - add wings to make it bigger. That reminded me that I had really gotten into a rut with these slab vases - all basically the same shape. So will have to work on that.
Forest vase with stone fence at end
It was suggested that pot shape had
 possibilities without the stones - will try to
make bottoms more interesting,
So the second theme was to be based on a book that I had read - The Bottom Billion - about how a billion people today live in conditions that existed during the 12th century. I have been thinking of doing something with that idea for quite some time. I made a sketch but what developed was very different again from what I had sketched - it ended up sort of like forest spirits. Keith's comment was that it had lots of movement - with which I agree - however the overall idea that it projects is not very clear - certainly not people in need nor forest spirits.

Sketch - lots of faces with hands reaching out for a dangling fish. -
kind of representing the bottom billion.

What I ended up with - not sure what it represents.
The third theme that I decided to follow came from Keith's comment on some of my applique work - that I could carry it further and the pot would actually become the figure. Again I had made sketches of people pots but surprise, surprise - again diverged greatly from the sketch. It ended up a bottle that became a woman singing - it was done with slabs and when joined it was pushed out to round it out and to create the fullness of the body.
On left - the slab template was to be another stone fence theme.
On right  a singing lady from thrown pot

Trio of pots - trying to show lots of movement -
sort of go-go girls from the 1960's.
Slab pot from stone fence template - ended
rounding up the areas to fill them out. It ended up
rather stilted as the top stick up too stiffly-
I think thrown will give it more movement.
The last theme that I thought I would try to work on was some sort of connection to the nuclear industry. Deep River is the company town for Atomic Energy of Canada's Chalk River Labs - sort of the Los Alamos of Canada. Our town welcome sign says - Home to Canada's Atomic Pioneers.  Nuclear energy is something that I am familiar with as I worked for over twenty years in Public Affairs at Chalk River giving tours of the reactors. This theme will be hard one - as there is a lot of negative connotation to the nuclear theme - but of course that is not what I want to convey. This will require some serious thinking on my part - will need lots of alpha waves for this as I am totally in the dark on how I should start. As a result I did not do any pots for this one, but put in lots of thinking and research on ideas and  images on the web.
Nuclear? Be happy!
So next meeting on Nov 24 - so will really have to think, sketch, plan and work to pull something further from those themes.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Imagine - How Creativity Works - Part 2: Unconcealing the Working Memory

In his book Johan Lehrer explains about the second essential tool of the creative process - the working memory. The prefrontal cortex of the brain is where the working memory is located - this is where it connects all the ideas, experiences that we have had. It allows us to unconceal their connections and allow us to reject or choose the ones we want to express. The more things and experiences you are exposed to, the more unconcealing there is to do and the more you will have to choose from.

Once you have an insight, you need lots of work to refine it. You need persistence to fine tune that flash of insight. This is where the unconcealing of the working memory comes in. You need to be focused and you need to persevere in examining the problem - trying this and that to get the best possible outcome. This is where caffeine or amphetamines can be of use - they allow you to stay alert and to concentrate on unconcealing all those connections in the working memory. Also if you are unhappy, though you are less likely to have an insight, unhappiness can act like a small dose of amphetamines and you become more observant and persistent - so it helps in refining an idea. Severe sadness if often associated with creativity.

There is a third aspect to the creative process that Lehrer talks about - letting go. It means that we need to be able to make mistakes, we do not need to be perfect. The area of the brain called DLPFC  is associated with impulse control. It is the last area of the brain to fully develop in children and it stops us doing things like stealing, grabbing at food, etc. It acts like mental handcuffs. When we worry about making mistakes, about what people will think when we make art - those are the DLPFC handcuffs. Jazz musicians - once they start improv, their DLPFC becomes deactivated. Improve comedians at Second City are taught to do the same. Once you are free - so to speak - you now need to have something to say - art, song, jokes etc. - you need to start creating.

When do you know what kind of creativity you need - insight or unconcealing?
If you feel you are getting closer to the solution, then unconcealing is needed - so go get a coffee and mope over your bad luck as you work on the problem. If you feel you have hit a brick wall, then you need an insight so go do something different like take a stroll on the beach, listening to you favorite relaxing music.

So analyze your problem - insight or unconcealing and let go!  And do not worry about what people will think!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Imagine - How Creativity Works. Part I: Insights

The Fusion mentorship program has made me think about creativity and so when I came across this book in our library - 'Imagine - How Creativity Works', by Johan Lehrer,  I just had to take it out. What an amazing book! He writes that our most important talent is our ability to imagine what has never existed! 

It explains various types of creativity (that it is a catchall phrase for several distinct types of thought processes.), their the biological connections in the brain, how to increase your chances of having creative thoughts, etc, etc. and he gives lots of examples.

The first part deals with insight creativity - those moments of insight when out of the blue a totally new solution comes to us. He explains how those will never happen until you are totally stumped in trying to solve a problem and have given up and then - and only then, will you perhaps end up with an insight that will lead to the solution. Feeling frustrated is essential to the creative process.

Brain studies have shown that scientists can predict up to 8 seconds before a creative insight occurs - there is a huge firing of steady alpha waves in the right hemisphere and then, as well, just before the insight occurs the visual cortex often is silenced. (We've often seen people cover their eyes when thinking hard.). If there are no alpha waves in the right hemisphere then the problem will never be solved, even if people are given obvious clues to the problem.

How to increase your chances of insight? Be happy, (watch funny movies, shows), relax,  no caffeine, no alcohol or drugs, (which all dampen activity in the right hemisphere), day dream (but it must the right kind of day dreaming where you are still somewhat aware so you can capture the daydream,) lay in bed when first waking up (that is when your right hemisphere is most active) and let your mind wander (set your alarm a bit early so you do not have to rush out of bed in the morning). I wrote about this in an earlier post - the creative writing course students at MISSA were instructed to take a nap in the afternoon to increase their creativity. Also by adding constraints to how a problem can be solved you are more likely to get stumped and so need to become more inventive - have to look beyond the obvious - like in Haiku vs "usual" poetry. Inability to focus - where you are open to all sorts of ideas and possibilities also results in more creative ideas. Being surrounded by a blue background rather than a red one also helps - just thinking of far horizons (blue sky) or beaches (blue water) increases the alpha waves in the right hemisphere.

Trying to force an insight - relentlessly focusing on it - has the opposite effect. It never gets you to the creative insight. You need to go away and do something different, forget about the problem. Do something to get you to relax and into a happy positive mood.
So do whatever it takes and let those alpha waves roll in!

Friday, November 9, 2012

What if?

I often make a bunch of little kiln fillers that I don't spend a lot of time on - like small extruded vases and olive canoes - usually from a mixture of leftover clays. For the little vases I normally just paddle the tops to thicken the rims. Then I cut a circle slightly bigger than the tube and paddle it onto the bottom, paddling up the edge. Soon however Keith's voice from our first mentorship meeting started echoing in my head - "what if?" I decided then to use whatever bits and pieces were left over for the bottoms, as long as the piece was big enough to cover the it. Then when I paddled up the bottom edge, it made the bottom much more interesting and casual. Then I asked another what if ? What if rather then just randomly cut leftovers, what if I cut out a pattern? Another different look.

I had spent the late Sept afternoon working on these little vases on the porch of the little cabin that we had spent all summer building. It is up the hill from the wood kiln and overlooks the Ottawa Valley. As I finished each vase I lined up them upon the railing. It was a wonderful sight with the fall colours in the valley as a backdrop. It had been a glorious day to work with clay and to spend asking "What if?"
Not the best photo to see details of bottoms, but you can see the progression from the plain bottom on the right to more intricate cutout bottom pieces on left.