Creativity: Why You Need to Master the Skills, Part 2

On Friday, we were talking about the importance of developing a set of skills for whatever-it-is you want to make. I was talking about my childhood frustration in making things~~

After the frustrations of childhood and my inability to build a boat from two 2×4’s and a coil of rope, I quit making things. I entered adulthood, and who needs the added pressure of Being Bad at Glueing on top of the day job and trying to learn to make casseroles? In fact, I didn’t make much of anything for years until I began to write for a living, which is also when I began to interview artists and talk to them about what they did and what excited them. That was when I realized that you could actually learn to do stuff, like making books and soldering jewelry and creating things out of clay. It took a while to find instructions–this was before art retreats, before the internet, way before online classes and tutorials and webinars. This was, yes, in the dark ages. But I ordered kits and instructions and slowly, slowly, learned to do everything I wanted to do. I learned to bind books “the right way,” spending an entire year making books every. Single. Day. I learned to solder until I could do it “the right way,” working at it over and over, trying different kinds of solder and various kinds of flux, trying soldering irons and soldering guns, including the one my husband gave me for Christmas one year, one that was so powerful it terrified me.  I worked with polymer clay, making batch after batch of stamped pieces, pieces with transfers, pieces embossed with texture and images. I painted it, I drilled it, I sanded it. I made art quilts–big ones, little ones. I bought an old machine and learned free-motion embroidery.

In short, I worked. I developed sets of skills, one for each thing I thought might be The Thing for me. I worked at it long enough and intently enough that I could do whatever-it-was to my satisfaction, until I could look at the thing I made–the soldered necklace, the quilt, the clay jewelry–and say, “Yep, I did that. And it’s not bad.” In the process, I learned what it was that called to me (working with fabric) and what didn’t (pretty much everything else). But the most important thing I learned was that creativity, the desire to make stuff, that passion and drive, can’t go anywhere by itself. People talk about the frustration of wanting to make something but not being able to bring to life what it is they see in their heads. They have the ideas, they have the tools and supplies, but they just can’t figure out how to make it happen. Perhaps it’s the myth that the truly creative person doesn’t need instruction or classes, that they can just sit down and create whatever they imagine on the first attempt. Don’t believe it. The people who draw effortlessly? They draw all the time, every day, ever since they can remember. The workshop instructors who make what they do seem so simple? They’ve been doing that thing–riveting, glazing, sawing, painting–far longer and more intently than most of us can imagine. Making stuff from nothing is hard work, and to be able to take the wisp of an idea and turn it into something concrete that other people can see, you’ve got to have the skills required. Once you’ve mastered the skills and made them second nature, you don’t have to agonize over cold connections or coptic binding and can focus, instead, on creating. On bringing to life what you see in your head.

So here’s the key: if you know what it is that calls to you–paper, or fabric, or metal–learn how to do everything with that material. Read books and how-to articles in magazines. Watch online tutorials. Take workshops, both In Real Life and online. Ask questions. Practice. Make mistakes. Try again. If you’re not sure what it is that you want to work with? Then you get to do the same thing, but with a variety of media–you get to find out about soldering and quilting, weaving and paper-making. You find out about everything that seems remotely interesting, and then you narrow it down. And then you focus and learn everything you can. And practice. Always practice. It’s mastering the skills that allows you to bring your dreams to life.

And that leads right into discipline, which is what we’ll talk about next time~~


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9 Responses to Creativity: Why You Need to Master the Skills, Part 2

  1. Zom says:

    I like reading about your creative history. When do we get the interview of Rice?

  2. CarolineA says:

    I struggled to learn things before the internet too, but I’m older than you and was brought up knowing how to knit, sew, draw, cook and the other basic skills that were part of growing up at that time and place, and was privileged to have parents and a school who encouraged me in this. It doesn’t by-pass the necessity to work hard at what you are doing, or even help in deciding what it is you want to do, but it taught me that practice makes perfect once my decision was made. I’m still a Jill-of-all-trades; I know my limitations and accept them, but I do work at constantly expanding my knowledge and experience. I do it for the sheer pleasure of creating something out of nothing and to learn how to do it better or differently next time. I can’t tell you how I know how to do it or how I make my choices; its the sum total of my artistic development over many years, born out of instinct, not formal learning.
    I do suspect that knowing the basics before I went to school made a great difference, and that its the lack of learning in the home that makes it much harder for anyone today to learn as easily as I did.

    • Rice Freeman-Zachery says:

      I’m sure that’s a huge part of it: that kids don’t learn the skills early on. While my mother didn’t teach me to sew, I picked up more than I realized just by being in the room while she was doing it.

  3. Thank you so much for this! I used to think ‘ I wish I could do that’ and now I think ‘ I’m going to try doing that’. The difference is that I now realise that people are not born with arty and creative skills, people don’t just know inately how to draw and paint, and so I’m currently on a mission/journey to find my ‘voice’ and what I like to do (I draw, paint and create) by constantly trying new things and learning new art skills. Personally I believe that creativity is a process, and I’m documenting my creative process and journey on my blog.

    • Rice Freeman-Zachery says:

      Yay! This is it, exactly: you can learn to do the things you want to do. You don’t have to say, “Oh, well, maybe next time around.” Good luck with the adventures–

  4. Katie Holmes says:

    I think we may have been crafted from somewhat similar material, because, I too want to try EVERYTHING. Problem is, learning how to focus is a rather difficult concept for me. I’m so glad your next installment is on discipline! Edge of my seat!!

  5. thecreativebeast says:

    Hello! Found this site through contributor Karen Wallace and artist Brian Kastle and I’m SO excited that I could access this site at the office =-)

    Thank you SO MUCH for addressing this topic – I believe that EVERYONE is creative but as your article states, it comes from practicing the skills. We do not spring fully grown and fully skilled, as Athena from the head of Zeus! We work on our skills, usually from a very early age, which often takes DISCIPLINE so I’m really looking forward to your next post on that subject!

    Thank you for sharing your own story here as well – I think it’s fascinating that you began your writing career by interviewing artists about their process. I’m about to start an interview series on my blog on the same lines, asking about early creative influences and how the artists feel about the process of creating. I think that many folks are very interested in the process of artists and I also think they find it inspiring to see how much work is behind the creating =-)

    I”m off to explore CreateMixedMedia!