Posts tagged creative process
Holly + Kevin \\ Durham, NC

This was such a special shoot.  Holly and Kevin are the parents of Max who I taught for 4 years at an art school in Durham.  Holly contacted me about doing the very first couples shoot of her and her husband Kevin.  After a ton of re-scheduling, we finally did it!

How To Assess Creativity

Have you ever heard that you can’t assess or test someone’s creativity?  Well you can.  Read on.

I am a teacher so “assessments” are always a hot topic among my colleagues...and my students.

I know that students are so concerned with assessments that I started letting them make their own assessments.  Your mind probably responded by asking “but how can they be trusted?”. Good question.  If you’re an educator, I challenge you to test this out with your students.  Ask yourself if they’re really trying to “pull one by me” or maybe you need to let go of some control and allow curiosity to lead.

Anyways, when I let my students make their own assessments for projects there is usually someone who throws out that “creativity” should be an objective.  It’s usually followed by another student saying “you can’t grade that though!”.  I initially agreed with this but have recently discovered a “deeper truth” to this.  

First off, creativity can only be assessed over time.  It must be compared to previous work or examples.  Simply by looking at an art piece, business, project or presentation doesn’t give me enough evidence to evaluate whether an individual is demonstrating “creativity”.  I need a portfolio of something to respond to.  


If you’re assessing yourself then you already have this.  If you’re assessing others for creativity then you might need to do some digging. Just look at and think about your/their most recent projects.  Compare and reflect.  There are some specific questions to ask when doing this:

Do I/they have the ability to produce a large number of ideas?

Do I/they have the ability to produce a variety of approaches to solve a problem?

Do I/they have the ability to develop, embellish, or fill out an idea?

Do I/they have the ability to  produce ideas that are unusual, statistically infrequent, not banal or obvious?


The four components of “assessing creativity” are:

  1. Fluency

  2. Flexibility

  3. Elaboration

  4. Originality


I stumbled upon these four areas while going through an Adobe Education course called “Assessing Creativity in Today’s Classroom”.   They come from a psychologist named Ellis Paul Torrance.  Torrance has spent his entire life devoting himself to research in “creativity”.


Fluency: The Ability To Produce A Large Number Of Ideas

I’m all about the “process”.  You probably know this if you follow my work.  I believe that the process is more important than the product.  

I challenge my students (and you...and me) to generally spend more time in the beginning of the creative process.  It’s tempting to come up with an idea that you know will “change the world” and then quickly move on to planning it and rapidly executing it.  It’s important that we discipline ourselves to “hang out” in the idea generation part of the process.  Or at least be willing to revisit it throughout the whole process.  You might have a journal and want to give yourself a number of ideas to come up with before you move on to choosing which ones to execute. You might say “I’m going to brainstorm for 30 minutes without stopping” and then afterwards choose your favorite ideas. You might need to spend some more time researching inspiring work from other artists or creative people.  Maybe just walk outside and look around.  You might have a way of generating ideas that can be expanded on.  Think about it.  You’re smart!



Flexibility: The Ability To Consider A Variety Of Approaches To A Problem Simultaneously

Basically,  how many different ways can you execute your idea to completion.  If you come up with an idea and after thinking about it for a minute or two decide that it can’t be done then I would challenge you to see if there are similar ways that others have done the same thing or something like your idea.  Sometimes this sparks better ideas.

In my classroom the situation I just mentioned happens often because of the culture that young people are generally educated in.  If something is too difficult then my students are caught in a dilemma:  think of another idea or figure it out.

Most of the time our default is to just think of another idea (or easier idea).  The most creative people can look at a problem, situation or idea from multiple perspectives and they will always find a way to solve or complete it (even if they only figure out some of it).   Sometimes this means letting go of ‘perfect’ and doing some “hard” thinking.  You can do it though!



Elaboration: The Ability To Develop, Embellish, Or Fill Out An Idea

Time is so limited in our world.  We feel we have to be on all of the social networks, be reading all of the creative blogs and hanging out with the coolest people.  It’s basically a form of multitasking and it kills our creative process and our ability to “elaborate”.

Spending time chewing on a concept is what I recommend to my students once they make a decision and move forward.  

It’s so easy to jump in and try to quickly make our project, business or creative endeavor happen in a day or two.  I would challenge you to “pull back on the reins” and say whoooaaaa Nelly!

Similar to mediation is “elaboration”.  We allow our minds to think on a deeper level with a heightened sense of awareness regarding our creative work.  

If you’re struggling to “fill out an idea” then try turning off all of your devices, sit in a quiet space and write down the name of your idea on piece of paper.  Then just stare at it.  When thoughts come into your mind then write them down around the idea.  This a form of mind-mapping and can be used for any idea that you want to develop and elaborate on a deeper level.  

This is a challenge in our society so you have to be intentional to demonstrate this level of creativity.  You can do it though!



Originality - The Ability To Produce Ideas That Are Unusual, Statistically Infrequent, Or Obvious

This might also be called “individuality”, “finding your niche” or “being you” in your work.  It’s one thing to be able to imitate another artist but to imitate, replicate, twist, shape and convert it into your work is a demonstration of deep creativity.  Austin Kleon writes about this in “How to Steal Like An Artist”.

Don’t get me wrong, imitating others work is a great first step to finding your most creative self but it’s not a means to an end.  It’s a small step towards you as a creative person where you come out in your work.  Some artists who have taught me about this are Ben Haggerty (AKA Macklemore), Jeremy Cowart, Chase Jarvis and Casey Niestat.  They all have taken what was already happening and made it their own to become highly successful and creative humans.

As you attempt to assess yourself or others regarding this thing we call “creativity”, I would challenge you not to judge but to simply “notice” and if you want to...make a change in your life.  What’s one thing that you can do to be more creative? Think about the people you consider to be the most creative in your life.  Why do you think that?  How can you begin to incorporate what they’re doing into your life?

CHALLENGE: assess your creativity or someone else’s creativity and write down these four questions in a journal or paste them into a document and (in a non-judgmental way) respond with writing or drawing for 30 minutes.  

  • Do I/they have the ability to produce a large number of ideas?
  • Do I/they have the ability to produce a variety of approaches to solve a problem?
  • Do I/they have the ability to develop, embellish, or fill out an idea?
  • Do I/they have the ability to  produce ideas that are unusual, statistically infrequent, or obvious?


Let me know how that works out for you.



P.S. you might enjoy these other articles that I've written:



4 Things Andy Goldsworthy Taught Me About Creativity

When I was going through my master's program studying "educational media production" I had to produce an art piece inspired by Andy Goldsworthy.  My instructor for this course was probably the most influential educator of my life: Jeff Goodman (check out his viral YouTube video here).  

Anyways, I recently listened to an interview on NPR where Goldsworthy was discussing his creative processes.  This inspired me to create a similar project for my digital art students.  

As we were exploring Goldsworthy's work, his processes and discussing our curiosities I was reflecting on what his work has taught me about art and creativity.  I started journaling about this and here are the 4 main points that stand out concerning "creativity":


Time Is Key

Time affects us all and everything around us.  Our art is affected over time if its on paper, in nature, around humans, etc.  It's an element of life that we have to consider to maximize our creativity and lives.  Allowing this element to interact with our art and minds is difficult to do but it's slowly becoming more and more important in my creative life. As someone who is ultra-driven and hyper-productive, I am challenged everyday to allow myself the "time" I need to boost my creativity and art.  

Even while I'm writing this, I reflect on the most important projects and moments in my life.  They all have one common element that was painstakingly intertwined in them: Time was allowed to interact with the outcome.


It's About the Process

If you have watched Rivers and Tides, the short documentary about Andy Goldsworthy, you were probably heartbroken when you saw him work on a piece for several hours only to watch it all collapse at the hand of one mistake.  

I watched this segment again and starting thinking about how unimportant the "end product" is.  It's the journey that has true value.  What did we learn? How did I connect with others?  What will I do differently next time?  Did I give my all?

As our society becomes more and more real, this becomes equally more and more important for us as creatives.  People want to hear how you did something.  They want know what struggles you went through and how you overcame them.  There lies the value that we all look for in our creative lives.


Failure Is Imminent

Start all of your creative endeavors with the understanding that everything you try will fail in some way, shape or form.  That's difficult for me because I plan to not fail.  I plan a lot actually.  Sometimes too much.  

I'm curious what would happen if we (I) entered into our creative projects actually planning to fail.  Planning to learn from those failures.  And ultimately giving ourselves the freedom to non-judgmentally all that is "failure". 

*Don't agree with this one? Watch this video from Seth Godin entitled "Quieting the Lizard".


Use What You Have 

Goldsworthy literally walks into nature with nothing and makes something.  He looks around. He's curious.  He's resourceful. 

So many times I've told myself "if I learn this then I can do ..." or "if I only had this then I could make...".  What a waste of time that was.  We are in 2015.  If you want to do something or make something then you can.  You have EVERYTHING you need to produce any creative project that you want.  You have more information, resources and tools available at your fingertips then anyone else in the history of the world.  

If your like me then that's overwhelming at times.  To know that if I wanted to I could go out and learn how to open beer with paper or learn how to be a ninja this afternoon is all pretty overwhelming.  Maybe take some time to journal or involve others in your ideas.  This helps me to "use what I have".




P.S. I recently wrote some blog posts on how I live as an artist with Borderline Personality Disorder . Please share them if they help you or if you know someone who might benefit from them.  Thank you in advance.






3 Tips on Moving Forward with Your Creative Ideas

I just got done “scoping”. That’s what the folks on the new social network “Periscope” call broadcasting live.

I asked my followers what I should blog about today for #motivationmonday (I wonder if that will help more people to read my post).

Let me back up. I actually don’t have any followers yet…that’s where you come in (que to “follow” me). Their ideas (when I say “their” I actually mean the one person that suggested the idea. Find him at were writing a blog post on “simplicity” and “where to begin in the creative process”.

I figured the first idea was too simple.


Involve Other People

If you follow me then you know that I value letting others in to my creative process. Heck I even got the idea for this blog post from another person.

You might want to snapchat, periscope, tweet, FB, IG (here’s mine from this morning) your ideas or lack of ideas. You’d be surprised by how your family, friends and social acquaintances want to help you in your creative endeavors.

Don’t be scared to ask for what you want and to say that “I need help”.


Get Down Your Ideas

Journal, write, sketch out, record your ideas. Everyday.

You don’t have to just write your thoughts out anymore. Grab your phone and create a note, recording or both. Get a manly journal or girly journal (so you actually want to write in it) and in a non-judgemental fashion, put down your ideas. Don’t think about. Just do it.

Do this for 7 minutes everyday and see how much more clarity you have as you move forward in your projects.


Be Vulnerable

Brené Brown.

Nuff said.

3 Things I'm Learning About the Creative Process

3 things that I’m learning about creativity through my creative business process are:

1. Time could be very important.

As an ultra productive person I like to finish projects quickly but at the same time I want them to be really creative and high quality. It seems that is not working out very well as time is my ally. Time is the my mentor that questions me through the creative process. It allows me to go deeper when I think I can’t. This reminds me of a quote that one of my instructors gave me when I was going through my master's program in “educational media production”: when you think you’re stuck, go get ice cream”


2. I am my own worst enemy

Even as I’m writing this I reflect upon my sleeping pattern last night. Every time I woke up, which was about every hour on the hour, I was thinking about a new idea. I didn’t write it down. I didn’t reflect on it. I didn’t plan or try to think about my business plan. I’m curious if my mind would actually be more focused right now had I actually allowed my ideas to separate from “me”.


3. I need other people to help me

As a type A artist, my life is is focused around work, creativity, family and thinking about these continual features that I experience every day. It never fails that the governing coalition of “chiiiiiiiilll” is other people’s perspectives.

This is an excerpt from a post I wrote on Medium where I responded to an inspiring quote.  Check the full story out here!