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Cultivating creativity with creative “compost”

There we were: seven artists and me gathered at the Denman Island Arts Centre for a two-day art workshop called Altered Images with Victoria-based photographer and artist Tony Bounsall.  I tried to swallow my panic as I wondered, “What the heck am I doing here?”

Everyone else was an experienced artist. Two of them were professionals. One couple had enough art supplies to outfit a small store. And then there was me. Me, whose last forays with fine arts took place 40 years ago in elementary school and were completely forgettable. Me, who felt self-conscious drawing stick figures when pressed to do so in professional development workshop exercises.

What was I thinking?
I was thinking that I needed to challenge myself in new ways. I was thinking that I’m always encouraging my two sons to try new things and I needed to model that behavior. I was thinking that this workshop took photographs as its starting point (and then did weird and wild things with them) so I would have a foundation that didn’t rely on my artistic abilities.

But as the workshop introductions got underway these grand thoughts quickly morphed into panic as it dawned on me what experienced and talented company I was keeping.

Introducing the concept of creative compost

Tony Bounsall took the edge off my panic, however, when he introduced the notion of “creative compost”.

“You don’t expect your garden to grow without compost,” he said, “why would your artistic output be any different? Think of all your cast-offs as creative compost that serve to nurture the little seedlings of great ideas!”

That notion of creative compost was very freeing for me. “Guess I’ll be making a lot of compost this weekend,” I thought – and dug in without worrying too much about the outcome.

Guess what? Some of the pieces I initially dubbed ‘duds’ turned into my favorites. That’s because I figured they were toast, so I  cut loose and experimented with unlikely colours, combinations and techniques.  I was proving Tony’s point that “good ideas often come from collections of mistakes, experiments and discards.”

Tony offered other guidelines I think are helpful for cultivating creativity in any field. Here’s an amended list in his words with my observations in italics:

  • Do not judge! The key to creative expression and experimentation is freedom. Placing judgments on those explorations will only limit you.
  • Don’t fall in love with any one idea or process. Variety is the spice of an artist’s life. I’ve heard this described in the marketing sector as “kill your babies!” A horrific analogy but one that aptly captures how enamored we can become with a notion, at risk of crowding out other creative ideas.
  • Be open to the creative process. Allow yourself time to process information and come up with ideas. Tony, for example, finds creative inspiration comes most readily during his early morning showers. Others recommend a solitary walk.
  • Cultivate a lifestyle of creativity. Creativity is like a muscle: you have to exercise it. Tony recommends a journal to help foster creative ideas. These can be in the form of words, drawings, clippings – anything that sparks your imagination.
  • Be an explorer. Look for creative potential wherever you go. Tony finds inspiration in kitchen stores (“what artistic effect can I get from basting brushes?”). Writing coach Daphne Gray Grant even used her stroke as an inspiration for one of her writing columns!
  • Be supportive of other people’s creative efforts. You never know, the person next to you could be someone like me who just needs a little encouragement to get her creative juices flowing!

"Buddha and Boys" is one of the pieces I've created recently in Tony Bounsall's collage course. The "altered image" at the top of this post was one I'd initially written off. Its starting point was a photo of a rooftop garden in Scotland.

My fellow workshop participants were kind and supportive.  I enjoyed seeing their work. Each piece was unique and lovely. Instead of this being overwhelming, it was inspiring. In fact, I was so inspired I went on to take a collage course with Tony at the University of Victoria (the next one starts April 12 at the Victoria College of Art) and a weekend art workshop called Fearless Strokes with Marlyn Farrell at Royal Roads University.

I will never be a Picasso or a Bounsall but the creative compost I churn out will nourish me in many fields. It’s fun, too!

So what are you doing to create creative compost?


1 ping

  1. debbie says:

    I love your creation Steph. The colours and images are gorgeous! My buddy the artist!

    1. Stephanie Slater says:

      Who knew, eh? Certainly not me! I think it’s proof that anyone can find creative success if they wish to try!

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