It seems rather pompous and arrogant to write a blog about creativity or “being creative”. I have altruistic reasons for publishing it, however. It’s not because I believe myself to be a Michelangelo or Beethoven incarnate. It is that, because I work in a creative field, and have for a long time, I get asked numerous questions about the process.
Since I’m no expert on creativity (I don’t think any really exist) because I couldn’t tell you for the life of me from whence it originates, nor has anyone else convinced me that they know (yet numerous have tried). I can tell you what I believe though and it is not what I believed a decade ago and I have a sneaking suspicion it is not what I’m going to believe a decade from now.
My own belief system is that we (human-types) are spiritual vessels of something much larger than ourselves (I call that much bigger thing “God”) but I don’t insist you do; nor even believe as I do. I’ve met many very talented creative individuals who believe my theory is full of fault, and that’s okay with me. It’s a free country.
So whatever your belief system of how “creativity sparks”; just know that there is an energy; made of magnetism and/or electricity (the brain produces plenty of both…ask any brain surgeon) and the more we can rid that organ of “junk” or as many often call them “cobwebs”, the more our “vessel” is open to creativity.
So if you are new to creativity, or thinking about it as a hobby or even a career, you might ask, “Rick, the cobwebs are gone…the creativity is here..Now what?”.
But how. What do I do?
That actually should be my question to you. What *do* you do? Do you sing? Play the guitar? Write poetry? Take photographs? Write books or articles? The list of possibilities goes on and on.
My wife Lee is an amazing nature/wildlife photographer. She was not taught how. She didn’t have a known mentor to my knowledge; she simply picked up a camera and learned “on the job”. She’s a published author and has thousands of licensed products with her photography and artwork (which she also taught herself) images which sell worldwide. She is teaching me photography now and I must say I’m getting fairly good. In any case I surely enjoy it, not to mention the health consequences of our mountain hikes.
In my case, Let’s take writing because that is what I do? Nearly every writer has an influence (or group of influences). Not to worry; there is a huge difference between influence and plagiarism. An influence may be someone who has been dead for years or someone still alive. It may be someone you know or have never met. But it is someone with whom you can identify in one way or another. When they sing, write, paint, or whatever they do, your brain says to you, “I understand how he/she thinks”.
A lot of people call that “being on the same wave length”. I call it “having opened the vessel in a similar way.
Let’s say you loved the piano as a child, took lessons, but reality bit and you stopped, got married, raised a family, and never looked back. But in the back of your mind, you asked yourself, “I wonder how far I could have gone if I’d pursued my music?” I asked myself that several years ago as I’d played and loved the guitar in my teens. I told my wife Lee and for my next birthday was a beautiful acoustic guitar.
I am probably best known for my cartoons, Londons Times. But I don’t even draw my cartoons; I think them up (the concepts, write them and assign them to one of my team illustrators). I spend a lot more time designing and creating our licensed gifts than I do thinking up “funny things”. I get great enjoyment out of that, but I didn’t at first.
After about a decade of having fun with my creativity, it suddenly occurred to me this might also be a business (this creativity thing). So I read biographies of creative people I’ve admired such as Walt Disney, Thomas Edison, various Beatles, etc. I learned I had a lot to learn.
So I took my creativity a step further. I was almost 50 by then when I re-enrolled into college to learn business and Internet Technology (IT). That, in combination with my now-honed humor writing skills might take me places. At first, I was a bit disappointed. Then I realized I was not enjoying the creative process, enjoying “its magic”, but projecting into the future trying to know the outcome. There’s little or no pleasure in that.
Needless to say, being mid-life and taking the first step is the scariest part. There is a tendency to “do it perfect”, “have some kind of degree in it”, “conquer the world overnight”, “where’s my overnight fame/success”, etc. Generally it does not work that way. There’s some walls to walk (no actually BANG into). And that’s a good thing. All of the “doing it half-a$$” etc is all part of the learning experience. And the whole “success thing” in creativity is not what we learned in school; though, yes; it’s great to make money with it, as long as that is not the focus and primary motivator”. If you get it in your mind, “This is going to be about fun and learning, not fame and fortune, then you are more likely to find fame and fortune than those willfully looking for it. Really. No I’m not wealthy, nor the most famous guy on the planet, but I’m very happy. That was not always the case. My quality of life is very good, and continues to get better. I love the creative work I’m blessed to do, and love that I have time to mountain hike with my beloved wife Lee. I believe creativity to be “a gift”, and if we dare to use it, we get rewarded (in one way or another…sometimes in numerous ways).
My cartoon “became famous” when I’d already stopped doing it for over a year. i was back in school. Suddenly charities were calling and emailing for signed prints to sell at auctions. Fans were emailing from around the world for my autograph. I thought it was a joke (at first). That was around 2005. So I asked my manager to put up a counter on the site. Since that time, Londons Times main website has lured 7.8 million visitors. We’ve created 1/4 million gifts, tees, mugs, cards etc that are sold by Sears, Amazon (and hundreds of associates there). I still didn’t know what all that meant. Then Twitter gave me a verified account (then reserved for celebrities and major corporations). I thought that was a joke. Now I have 30,000+ followers at Twitter. It all happened while I was not in the least “seeking fame or anything like it”. I was in school and occasionally writing cartoons and enjoying that creative process. It’s been 15 years since I started. I have two books out. One is number one in its genre at Amazon and I have one at Barnes & Noble. Still, its the creative process that fulfills and if one is enjoying that, generally one is paying the bills. For many years I took jobs and I didn’t necessarily like them. In fact I hated some of them. But they enabled me to tweak my skills. It took years. I’ll be 58 next year and just getting started.
I know if I can do what I did, anyone can. And I say that with no faux humility. If they will but practice getting in touch with that “inner creativity”. One need not understand or even attempt to. Just make a pledge to spend a few quiet hours a day or night with oneself and write ideas, think ideas, or do your ideas. Repetition builds professionalism, and professionalism builds clientele; if that’s what you want. Or, it can be a wonderful hobby if that’s not what you want. Personally, I enjoy keeping the lights on. 🙂
I went back to creating and enjoying it. When people labeled me “a cartoonist”, it didn’t anger me, but that is only a tiny part of what and who I am. I am a person who collaborates to create cartoons. I’m a songwriter and musician. I’m an editor. I’m a writer. I am a designer. I am better at some of those things than others, and some of them bring in an income and some don’t. But when one makes the income part the only part that motivates them, they catch themselves in a trap, losing touch of the magic of “opening the inner vessel to the universe to allow the creative process to take place.
I do my best writing while hiking in the forest which I do often. But that’s not the only place to create. Some do best in a quiet bedroom. Some after meditating. Others in a library full of books with lots of people around. Some in a park. Creativity is not a one-size-fits-all activity.
Creativity can be a double-edged sword I must warn. If you don’t want to really know yourself, don’t delve deeply into the world of creativity. You will begin to examine your life (whether you want to or not), and in my opinion we all really want to, most of us have never been given lessons as to how.
Of course we know Socrates is cited as quoting, “The unexamined life is not worth living”. And though I agree with the spirit of his quotation, I wouldn’t go that far. I would say though that “The examined life is a lot less confusing and happier…and if all it takes is pursuing something creative for an extended period of time, even an hour or two a day, then why not?”
Rick London is a writer, musician, and designer. He founded Londons Times Offbeat Cartoons which are Google and Bing’s number one offbeat webcomics and funny gifts. His wife Lee Hiller-London is a designer and nature photographer with the popular blog HikeOurPlanet.com.