Creativity The Elephant in the workroom


How ever perfect your workspace


However beautifully equipped you are

link creativity

You are on your own when it comes to creativity

You can’t buy it

You can’t learn it

Its the Elephant in your workroom

 Do Craftspeople need to be creative?

Nope, you don’t. Lots aren’t

Enjoyment in making things does not make you creative. Many craftspeople are attracted to repetition and want nothing more than to run quietly along  in their groove. Their skills increase over time and they can have a good  business producing well crafted objects  “The public wants it, I make it”  They may introduce variations in terms of new colour-ways or sizes but they see no reason to reinvent the wheel.

However there is a different sort of crafts person, the artist-craftsman, who is driven by the desire to make something more and more exceptional. These run on creative energy, they are volatile and vulnerable to its whims. Their heart is always in the next piece. This article is for you guys


Accept that creativity is destructive and wasteful

Creativity wastes huge amounts of time. You just have to accept that most good ideas turnout to be bad ones. But you have to try them out to find  out if they are any good.

Be careful  not to dismiss try outs too quickly.

You are trying to reproduce something in your head. There will be a  disappointing gap between the imagined and the real, but the result could be truly worthwhile even though it is not what you  meant


Many creatives run on a depressive cycle, the low tending to herald a creative surge.

You need to accept that and block any negative actions at your low point.

Its pointless to drive on through a low, better take a break, it just needs waiting out, not fighting, as your subconscious brain is really busy. The low is a way of allowing it to concentrate.

Think of creativity as a lover; when it arrives you drop everything and serve it . It is an opportunity.

When you are making and you have a ‘what if ?’ thought,  let it in, try it out, expect disappointment, but it just might open a different door ‘by misdirections finding directions out’ that leads to a real step forward

Don’t judge, just get on with it


Judging needs different skills than creating and its really important to give your new born space and respect

American creativity business coach Tom Monahan said that you shouldn’t try to test the validity of an idea in its fragile early stages, all new ideas have flaws. If you judge too quickly you drag down the whole creative process. Look for what is good about it


Your judgement can be behind the creative curve.  Sometimes  American Expressionist painter Philip Guston found himself painting  what he had destroyed five years earlier because when it first  appeared he was not ready to accept it.

Boosting Creativity

Yeah this is the bit you think I can’t deliver but I can, watch me. Some of it might be placebo stuff ( you think it helps so it does)

crazily lined notebook inspires creativity

Here’s some wacky stuff. try to break out of the norm it helps to unrestrict the mind . So an oddly lined notebook frees you up.

Absolute silence hinders creativity, research shows coffee shop noise  at no higher than 70 decibels is perfect. You  can get it here and I have been using it to write this and its great.

Research also shows that dimming the lights makes you feel safe so more ready to take risks

Don’t take responsibility for creative outcomes –let your imagination entertain you, with something unexpected.

Let projects stew, don’t try and think about solutions  directly. They have a way of growing in the dark.

Trying to control and direct deadens what you are trying to achieve. For Gods sake forget the need to sell that’s the cyanide pill of creativity.


You can’t grow as a artist-craftsman without exposing yourself to visual stimulus and Nature alone will not do. You are not a gardener, you are making something man made.

You must expose yourself to the past of your speciality and the contemporary best makers.

You also need to be contrary. If you respond to nature, then walk the city streets. Leave your comfort zone. Bump start your thoughts.

Go to the exhibitions that leave you spaced out and mystified, that make you feel as if you are in a vacuum of something bigger than you.

Seek out unexpected experiences, altering daily routines, abandoning the well travelled neural pathways

Do as many courses as you can afford, adding new techniques to your skill set.


Using Creativity

Creativity belongs right across your work. Its not just about product but also about marketing, display, websites; the whole gamut.

Being creatively driven means you assume that everything you touch is up for improvement, you need to look and re look. Sometimes you change something and realise it was better before. That is the cost of always trying to drive things forward.

You must spend time trying to come up with the right questions. What do you need to sort?  Forget the solution achieve absolute clarity on the problem. Also look for the assumptions and challenge them.

Here’s an example:

A maker’s problem is they need to create a reliable low cost market stall product to add to their product mix

They examine the fundamentals of that task. One of the assumptions is that the new product must use low cost materials. But what if you turned that on its head and used high cost materials but very little labour so you could make ten in an hour instead of five? Suddenly your creative energy is working in a new and exciting place.

Lone maker and Creativity


Business works with creative teams. Craftspeople mostly don’t have that comfort.

Do not ask your friends and family for opinions, they are terribly unlikely to be truthful or informed.

Seek friendships ( proper ones) with other craftspeople and artists, but paddle your own canoe.

Be an understanding and sympathetic boss to yourself .

Dismiss self doubt on principle.

If you spent all day trying out a new idea that didn’t work consider you had a particularly  hard working day, when things work out it feels like play. Just  don’t turn it into a melodrama of failure. Its just another working day.


How is it for You?

Creativity makes me hungry, distracted, thirsty, cold, wound up.

I like to approach it at arms length, I collect elements for a post in my ipad notes. I don’t bother about form or headings I just jam it down. I don’t read any of  it until I can’t think of any more.

Then I read the stuff and try to see what sections would contain what I have. Then off to Google images to see what could work .

Then its out of creative and into judgement mode putting it all together.

What about you, how do you work it?


Want to see how you come out on a creativity test then try this one

Listen to artist Philip Guston talking for two mins on video about how his paintings emerge here

Check out what sort of crafts  person stereotype you think you are   here 


17 thoughts on “Creativity The Elephant in the workroom

  1. David Halfpenny says:


    I’m a Design Engineer by trade, working in a team but facing that scary blank sheet of draughting film alone, and protecting that fragile idea until it’s robust enough to withstand a team Brainstorm.

    I completely recognise all you say about this damnable Elephant.
    And there’s no ‘kick’ quite like it [ well, almost :-) ].

    My guess is that Jennifer would agree, had she only read it differently.

    Call it ‘stimulation’ rather than ‘provocation’.
    Your style reminds me of an article in CRAFTS magazine – sometime last century. It was called “Weaving is Easy” and it whipped up a right little teacup of a storm.
    I know you’ve got a platform here, but think this piece is worth Offset Litho on art paper too.


  2. Planet Penny says:

    I didn’t leave a comment the last time I read this article even though I really appreciated the content. Now, having read the odd and unnecessary comment left via UK Handmade I have come back to add my appreciation for a thoughtful and encouraging post. Keep up the good work!

    • Dixie Nichols says:

      Thank you Penny.

      Its a funny thing but those random attacks do more to boost your support than anything else, especially if you reply to them in an ultra reasonable way. But it keeps so many people down under the parapet because they fear one of those events, which is sad.

      As although I hate the kissey- kissey spread the love rubbish I do think engaging directly is really beneficial and I have made a handful of proper friends through it who are part of my offline life.

  3. Chrissi Matusevics says:

    I know if I can’t get going on a project- and there have been a few over the years I just ‘doodle’ in scrap wire or sketch the idea then if I can’t go further I keep it until I can- it does mean I have a few boxes of wire ‘bits’ as well as a folder or two of sketches some with wire pieces attached but if I get a completely blank period I have a quick look to see if anything comes – if not I wander off with my camera go for a walk or go out for the day- sometimes that works sometimes not- and I also keep a pad by my bed just in case

  4. Monica Rose says:

    Hi, I found your article so useful! I am a disabled person (long-term) and recently had a stroke to make matters more difficult. I was in my ‘younger days’ a designer of anything knitted, crocheted, woven etc, but my worsening illness put a stop to that in 2001. One day a friend came by and said ‘instead of sitting there thinking of what you used to do, see what you can do now.. Well that made me think!! So I purchased materials and had a go at knitting a simple garment and really enjoyed it, but the pattern, needles/wood dropping etc seemed so frustrating so I thought about how I could make life easier for myself but also for others with difficulties like mine. This led me to think outside the box and I ended up after a few months with a perfect solution to my problems. Now I am once again designing knitted items but this time only for babies and reborn dolls as I can’t hold bigger pieces of work. I am so thrilled to have got back part of my life. Anybody who would like to read my story can check my website at Blue Butterfly Creations UK and see how I achieved this. Now I am experimenting with colour combinations and having great fun. So thank you for your encouraging words – I hope they make others realise they can do things if they just look in a different direction.

    • Dixie Nichols says:

      Monica That’s so good, finding a bit of private world where get absorbed in making must really help. There is an exceptional knitting blog which if you are not already a follower I am sure you would enjoy I suggest it because it is knowledgeable, beautifully written, and there is an honest thread through handling Kates own fight back from a stroke

  5. Cath says:

    Great article. Makes me feel less alone. When I’m trying to work on my jewellery designs, some of the ideas come from just looking at and handling the materials. Other ideas are less forthcoming and I can be working on them in my head for years sometimes. I am also extremely antisocial while I am working out ideas. When I have succeeded working something out, then I can go and play.

    • Dixie Nichols says:

      Cath You know that thing about working on something for years that’s a way of working as a creative team. It gets so its almost somebody else’s ideas because of the time lapse, which allows you to spark off the earlier thoughts. I think keeping a note book of questions/ ideas can help, so you revisit old stuff as a newcomer.

      • Cath says:

        Mmm, I have tried that in the past as a way of declogging my head. But ended up with loads of notebooks that didn’t make any sense when I went back to them. Now I work on the hoof more, even if I am English, I do have a bit of a brain left ! I tend now to carry long term projects in my head. They’ll be ready when thay are ready. I thought your article was great, by the way.

  6. Beth Bowkett says:

    Brilliant article, I am a painter and I am experiencing this right now! I get so frustrated when the picture in my head doesn’t work on canvas! I also think as an artist/craftswoman/person we are all our own worst critics at times too!

    • Dixie Nichols says:

      Beth, I’m with Guston its not the maker’s task to judge its the maker’s task to produce If you had the mindset of doing a series of pictures, each trying to reach that something in your head, you might feel freer.

    • Chrissi Matusevics says:

      I also remember if the ‘inner critic’ raises it’s nasty little head something my old art teacher said to me – she said ‘ you can never judge a piece of art -of any kind, before the artist feels that it is finished whatever medium it is in ‘

      • Dixie Nichols says:

        That’s true,Chrissi, work comes and goes as you make it. Often you can push on through the rubbish phase and something much better suddenly emerges. In fact the rubbish phase annoys you into taking more risks and its that energy that sometimes lodges in the final piece and makes it appealing.

  7. Shirley McCann says:

    For me, with many balls to juggle in life, the main thing is simply to make time and make a start. It’s often easier, faced with a creative task to start, to do that really urgent ironing. Once underway, things flow. it’s overcoming inertia that matters in this household.

    • Dixie Nichols says:

      I agree its easy to fragment the time you have with other tasks once you finally get into it its fine. But maybe that procrastination has a purpose and your ideas are still in the slow cooker.

  8. ninastudio77 says:

    Thank you, i read your article just in the right time, I am a polymer clay artist and I found myself immerse in the creative process of the designing my the winter collection and so far the process have been very erratic, as you called in your article a “depressive cycle”. Thank you for the insights and from now on I’ll try to take it easy in my way to be “artist-craftswoman”

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