The creative process – from a scientist’s point of view

Where does the time go? I have been busily travelling over the last few weeks and have so much to share with you all. First, at the end of September I headed to Adelaide for the Beating Around the Bush embroidery convention. I will write more about this in future posts, but for now it is sufficient to say that I had a wonderful time and learnt so much.

And then almost as soon as I was home from BATB, we were on the road to beautiful Denmark in the southwest of Western Australia for a wonderful week of relaxation with family and friends. I talked embroidery a lot with my Mum (as we always do) but barely put a stitch in anything for a week. Instead, I kayaked, hiked, biked and swam until my muscles ached. It was great to take a complete break from my sewing and creativity, and to give my brain a rest from thinking so much!

Beautiful beach near Denmark, Western Australia.
Beautiful beach near Denmark, Western Australia.

Now that I am well and truly back on deck I am working on tidying up my workspace (again – why does this job never seem to go away 🙂 ). And I have come back from BATB with a new and exciting perspective on the best way forward for Beautiful Stitches. I’ll write more about that in a special post next week, but in the meantime it got me thinking about the creative process again and I wanted to share the following little bit of insight with you all…..

Recently, my meanderings through the internet led me to stumble across this gem…

If you haven’t seen this video, then do yourself a favour and make time to watch it. It is absolutely superb. As the TED blurb says, “It’s a message that will resonate, no matter what your field.”

Uri recounts that whilst studying for his PhD, his research became stuck – he simply couldn’t see a way forward, and in the scientific world this felt like failure. And the more he asked around, the more he realised that fellow students were experiencing the same thing. Scientists report their findings as a direct line from question to answer; a completely objective pursuit with no room for subjectivity and emotion. The absolutely key point is that they only report results – not process – and thus if your research is stuck and not producing results, then you feel like you are failing.

And yet, of course science is not like this at all. In common with many other fields of endeavour it encounters false starts, road blocks, hiccups, and diversions. But if you are lucky, what started off as a journey from Question A to Answer B, may actually lead to a completely new and unknown Answer C.

Uri now counsels his students to expect the process of research to be messy (think Austin Kleon here too – “Process is messy!”) and he has two key tools to help them. First, when they get stuck he describes it as being in “the cloud”. This is not a scary or bad place to be, even if it is frustrating and sometimes depressing. Rather it is an opportunity to try something new, different, creative, playful, etc to find a way out of the cloud. Second, you need someone to keep you company in “the cloud” – one or more supportive collaborators. And these people have a very important job to do – they need to say “Yes… and” (a technique Uri learned from taking part in improvisational theatre classes) – never “No”.

“Yes… and” encourages people to keep exploring and being creative, whereas “No” simply makes you stop and feel defeated.

I love the fact that Uri’s video reminds me that I don’t need to be scared of the “messiness” of the creative process. As someone who comes from a very traditional scientific background in physics and maths, it can sometimes feel like I am jumping around in a very haphazard way as I flit from idea to idea, trying one thing and then moving on to something different. But you do sometimes need to do this – to go exploring in “the cloud” until you find that thing that goes “Aha! – this is where I wanted to be”.

And you really need to find those supportive friends to keep you company along the way. When I was in Adelaide I caught up with wonderful friends, some whom I hadn’t seen for over twenty years – since we were all at University together. It sounds scary but actually it was fantastic! Most only knew me as the science student I was in my late teens and at first glance my switch to a creative career in textiles might have seemed rather odd. But these friends were wonderful – there were “Yes…and” conversations going all week to the point where my head was so full of ideas I simply couldn’t hold any more (hence the need for all that kayaking and hiking).

So, I have learnt a really wonderful lesson in the last few weeks. Be open about what you do – share it with everyone and don’t be afraid to let people know when you are stuck in your “cloud” or going round and round in circles. And then listen out for the “Yes… and” conversations – you might be surprised by just how many there are and the odd sources that they come from.

Messy workroom
And now I really NEED to sort out my workroom – again 🙂


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  1. This is such a wonderful thought Ann !
    Good luck with the work room sorting 🙂

  2. Ann-Marie, I love this!!! What a great post. Thanks for reminding me about the importance of honesty in the creative process. The more we admit we are “in the cloud” the more we open up to the opportunities and people that can lead us in the right direction. Beautiful! xoxo, Jen

    1. Jen, I am so glad you like this. I feel like we have all found a whole lot more supporters “in the cloud” this week (at least I know I have). April does such an amazing job of connecting people I think 🙂

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