The Amazing Thing about Creativity

by julie swanson

I’ve been doing drawings on my computer, drawings to put up by the chapter headings in my lastest middle grade novel. I do them in black-and -white and fairly large so I can get the detail I want in them, and then I shrink them down to fit in the space on the page. Doing art on the computer is amazing, makes it so much easier to transfer the image into your work, resize it. But that’s not the amazing thing about creativity that I wanted to write about. This is:

So I was doing a sketch on Sketchbook Pro the other day, a sketch of a little character who means a lot to me but who is purely out of my imagination. I’ve held him in my imagination in one form or another since I was little (I call him Mickey), and I have at other times tried to draw or paint or sculpt what he looks like, too. But every time I do, even though the end product might be something someone else would think was a good representation of a little preschool boy, it’s never quite right. It doesn’t quite look like Mickey or the expression on his face doesn’t capture his spirit somehow, and I think I’ve failed again. Not sure how I could fail when I’m not even certain what he looks like, but I guess that’s why I try to draw or paint or sculpt him, to figure out what he looks like. I know he is very young and cute, has blue eyes and blond or sandy-colored hair, but I’m not sure if it’s straight or curly, not exactly sure what his features look like, although I imagine him as rosey-cheeked and rounded, with sort of finely-etched features, an elfin nose and lips. I imagine he has a twinkle in his eye. But I’ve never had a clear image of him in my mind, and when I try to create that image, he always ends up looking like Chucky, that scary, evil doll from the series of movies are called Child’s Play, 1, 2, 3… don’t know how many there are now). There’s always something dark and sinister about his expression in my drawings or paintings of him.

So anyway, I was trying to draw Mickey on the computer, and having fun making him look better. I was getting excited when I saw him transforming from weird and scary looking to cute, cuter than I knew I was capable of making him look on my own. I found myself smiling and punching the air and saying, “Yes!” (aloud) and, “Aww, look how cute you are! Look how cute he’s getting!” There was no one else in the room but I was delighted and noticing it because I don’t normally talk to myself.  His transformation seemed lucky, like it was just happening, and I was like, Wow, look at how cute he is! Good think I just kept trying or I would’ve never stumbled upon that swipe of the cursor or whatever it was that caused that suble change in his look. And then I realized that’s how art is for me, that’s how creativity is—I try something, I dare to put pen to paper, and if it doesn’t look good, I add something or erase something, I alter it. If I like it, I keep that change and keep going, adding to it, stepping back and looking to see if it gives me the desired effect or a pleasing effect,… and so on. It’s really just a crapshoot, trying, experimenting, keeping what you get when you luck out and going on trying and experimenting, adding on and keeping whatever little bits you get (somehow) that work. And you build like that, little lucky gift by little lucky gift. Sometimes you get on a roll and it flows, but lots of times you just have to keep going and hope you hit upon that amazing accidental stroke of pen or cursor or brush…

But then, I wondered as I was drawing, if it comes like this, almost magically, accidentally, how can you dare say the work it results in is ‘mine’ …? Except for the daring and the keeping-going, it’s really not yours; it’s a series of little gifts you got because you made yourself open to receiving them. Maybe that’s what they mean when they say ‘listen’ or ‘let it flow through you.’

Anyway, that’s the amazing thing about creativity that occurred to me. And it made me think how, if it’s true that creativity comes to you when you’re open and you just dare to try–and you keep what’s good and get rid of what you don’t like and try again until you happen to make another lucky curve or whatever, if you just trust that if you keep at it you’re bound to do something pleasing to the eye even if it’s by accident, well, then anyone–ANYONE–could be an artist and create something beautiful. And that the difference between people who are artists (or consider themselves artistic) and those who are not, may be that artistic people have come to have confidence that the gift will come to them if they just sit down and start moving their pen or brush or start smooshing the clay around. We trust because we’ve seen it happen enough times, and guess that it will probably happen to us again. And the difference between really great artists and people like me, I suspect, is the level of that confidence, that trust, the willingness to put perfectionism aside until they see the perfection staring back at them. And then they know to stop, that their work is complete.

So with that, I’m going to go try to get lucky again! Only in my writing this time.