Every so often we do a pivotal project that marks a before and after in our creative direction.
It may not be financially viable.
Other people might wonder why we did it.
Perhaps we won't do anything remotely similar again.
But we'll never be quite the same artists we were. Something profound and important has been liberated.
There have been a number of pivotal projects in the last 10 years of my creative life. Out of the Box is one of them.
Backstory to the Grow Wings and Fly series
I was working on a series called Grow Wings and Fly developing mixed-media pieces from sketches I’d made of ballerinas combined with semi-abstract forms.
I decided to work next from a sketch of a figure jumping out of a series of boxes.
I didn't want to put the image on canvas but that didn’t mean I knew what I did want to do with it.
All I knew was that I wanted to explore the idea of transcending linear boundaries which had already surfaced in my work a number of times.
Start with what you know
My mantra on these occasions is: "Start with what you know." So I began by scaling up the sketch to the size I wanted, and cutting out the figure.
Despite wanting to change the physical format, I still wanted to keep the dance theme of the series, so I added a tutu. I decided the tutu should be covered with dried flower petals.
So far, so good. But what could the boxes be?
It came to me that the boxes could be frames.
"Simple," I thought. "I'll pop down to the bargain store and pick up some little frames and string them together somehow.
How naive, I was! I couldn't find even a single frame the size and dimensions I was after.
So I resigned myself to creating the frames from scratch.
Making them out of wood would have been the most sensible thing to do but, although I am handy enough with a saw, mitring frames is a skill in itself. I opted for cardboard frames with paper clay on top.
Unexpected twists of the creative journey
Several months later, I emerged from the frame-making experience exhilarated, if a little exhausted! It was way more work than I had ever anticipated.
Despite this, I had thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
I had reconnected to a former version of myself that made three dimensional objects.
I admitted to myself that I had never really been comfortable with the format of a canvas and that I had pursued it because I thought it was what ‘real artists’ do.
I didn’t know what would come next but I knew that my work was about to take a new turn. In order to really grow wings and fly, I had needed to jump out of the box I had confined myself in.
Emerging into a new direction
The Grow Wings and Fly series eventually led me to nail the theme of my work as an artist, as well as a coach, under the strapline Grow Creative Wings.
And it propelled me permanently away from works on canvas, into something three dimensional:Artist’s Books.
It really hammered home for me that it’s not always necessary to know where you’re going to end up when you set off on a creative journey - although some people prefer it that way.
Sometimes it’s more important to get out of your own way and let your instincts guide the process.
You may not have a clue where you’ll end up - and there’s always the possibility that your journey will end in a creative cul-de-sac - but you’ll most certainly have learned interesting lessons. And explored some artistic territory you normally regard as off-limits.
It might even result in an irrevocable change in your creative trajectory the way that Out of the Box did for me.
Are the parameters you've defined for your creative work too restricting?
What might happen if you stepped outside them?
What's stopping you?
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