Monthly Archives: June 2012

Understanding Your Creative Environment – Part 1 (a)

Understanding Your Creative Environment Part 1(a)

Understanding Your Creative Environment.

When we speak of our creative environment what is it that we mean? For most of us what might initially come to mind is the artists studio, the laboratory, the office or in my own case, the bedroom studio. However, my intention is to expand the conversation of the creative environment beyond, without negating, the purely physical surroundings in which one tends to spend the majority of their creative time. The creative environment is and should be different for everyone and yet, I feel, there are some understandings that when applied should allow most anyone attempting to be creative to improve upon their present situation.

As this notion of creative environment is quite substantial, requiring some depth of study, we will be breaking Understanding Your Creative Environment into a mini series, still, it is likely each post will have much cross over with the others in the series. This first section is in relation to the physical creative environment and will be broken up into two posts, each considering different points: (1-this post) is with regard to workflow and (2) is in relation to sensory input. We will also be considering in later posts what we might term our ‘cognitive’ creative environment, our ‘temporal’ creative environment, and the ‘subjective and objective’ creative environment. And so, we will begin the conversation with the consideration of workflow.

Physical Creative Environment

When I think of my own creative environment (I invite you to substitute mine for your own) what initially comes to mind is my studio. My studio consists of some monitors, a laptop, some microphones, some production hardware etc., and unfortunately, my bed, my clothes and so on. Admittedly, not the most conducive environment considering its multi-functionary attributes, nevertheless, how is it possible to best organize and optimise this space and the workflow that centers around it to assist me in being as creative as possible?         

We will ascribe this creative physical environment the operational definition of workspace. Of course, any explication of the optimal workspace can never be truly homogenized or considered applicable across the population. Indeed, we all have very different tastes and preferences. Consider the case of the German poet Freidrich Von Schiller, who filled the drawers in his study with rotten apples, which he would sniff from time to time for inspiration. Obviously not a method the majority of us would wish to employ and an extreme example no doubt, but it does highlight the point.

And so, what are some important factors when one is considering their workspace and its relationship with a concatenated workflow?

Workspace Workflow

To illuminate my understanding of workflow I will walk you, step by step, through my own optimal workflow and any considerations I have with regard to its success and where it might be modified.
Next to my bed I keep my iPod touch. Over the years I have had everything from notebooks hanging from the roof, to chalkboards on my wall and dictaphones under my pillow. However, the advent, and my purchase, of both the iPod touch and a smart phone has replaced all of these. The vast majority of us are aware of how creative we appear to be be once we are dreaming in the REM state. My reasons for having the iPod, or indeed the notebooks or dictaphone in the past, is to capitalize on this abundant source of creativity. Quite often words or imagery derived from our dreams form the basis of new ideas, or offer solutions to incubating problems.                                 

Just prior to falling asleep we pass through a state known as the hypnogogic state, as we awaken we transition through a similar state known as the hypnopompic state. Additionally, most of us when we transition through our sleep cycles each night have the experience of dreams in the state of REM sleep. Each of these conscious states is rife with creative potential. The objective is for the physical environment to reflect, enable and assist the creative opportunities that often present themselves by making any insight or idea easily and quickly captured for later reference and review. Having a notebook and pen, an iPod/Pad or Dictaphone just next to your bed will allow you to easily record for later consideration any ideas that may arises while you lay in bed. Additionally, being consciously aware of the environment you have created for yourself may promote insights, and ignite your motivation to record them.
Another opportunity exists just succeeding the hypnopompic state. Subsequent to waking the mind appears to be more readily able to draw upon what might normally remain more compartmentalized ideas or frames of reference, the interaction of which is often very creative. For a number of years, on and off, I have engaged in a practice as do many “creative people” know as morning pages. The idea behind the practice of morning pages is to write stream of conscious drivel from your mind onto a couple of pages in an effort to “open the creative passages in your mind”. Fruity as it sounds, I must admit, I did, somewhat ironically, find this practice rather fruitful. What it appears to do, at least in my experience, is to entrust you with the permission to write drivel, and consequently fight off any procrastination that is the result of a fear of failure thus, having an easier time when facing the blank page. However, I have modified this practice a little for myself having taking into consideration the conscious state when this would normally be practiced. Rather than engaging in the morning pages and writing drivel in a time that is potentially very fertile to genuine insight, I now, first thing upon waking make a beat on my iPod using an application called iMaschine. This application allows me to sketch very quickly, a beat, a melody, a bass line, record a vocal line, add some effects and do some basic mixing. Having the iPod beside my bed allows me to quickly draft any ideas that are generated in this semi-conscious state that exists just upon waking. This has turned out to be an incredibly effective enterprise. In the course of a month you may have generated thirty ideas, each potentially the foundations of a complete creative work. What I like about this is that the ideas you generate in this state are often really imaginative, each one tending to be very different from those preceding. You are not approaching it in the same way you would if it were later in the day, when you already have ideas about what you “should” be creating. There is a sense of autonomy, in that you are less likely to be conscious of the social constraints, constructs and influences in which you are normally creating and quite often this allows for the communication of normally disparate ideas. Your thinking whilst in this state is also much more divergent and spontaneous. Of course if you are a writer, a poet, a designer, an architect or a scientist you may also recognize the value of this. The only thing different being your tool; or as GTD guru David Allen refers to it your “capture tool”. Depending on your own taste and your particular creative endeavors, you might be using a notebook and pen, an iPad or iPod, your phone, a dictphone, or your laptop. There are also many apps available to help streamline and organize this capture process and the ideas you amass. It is worth noting, that, although this is a very creative state it is not any substitute for daily practice etc. For instance, I would not be able to make anything even remotely interesting (maybe I don’t regardless) if I had not spent some years practicing and working on my art (understanding composition and musical theory etc.). I can attest that the quality of my ‘morning pages’ has always being indicative of my conscious efforts and the practice I put in, and has always being, although the basis for many ideas, really only the initiations of any process.
Just to return to the morning pages for a second. I do think these are a useful tool, only I think they may be employed at any time of the day (say just before writing) and for the most part are not as crucial as the process just outlined. I will do a post at some time in the future that focuses directly on morning pages and the psychology that they entail.

To capture ideas such as notes, voice memos, picture ideas, website or blog posts I use Evernote. Evernote is a really useful cross platform app that allows you to sync information across your devices. Again, I have my phone next to my bed and with me all day and any ideas that come to mind are usually saved via voice memos or text with Evernote. At your convenience it is then possible to review and catalog anything that is worth saving. It is worth mentioning that Evernote is a cloud storagesque application and negates the possibility of loosing ideas even if you loose your phone or computer. A system worth mentioning, which I myself use, that can be incorporated into Evernote and allows it to become a very useful to-do manager is called The Secret Weapon (I Know). Although it requires a little setting up initially, it combines Evernote with David Allen’s GTD system in a very intuitive and user-friendly manner.  As well as this technology I employ the use of something a little more old fashioned. I always carry a Moleskine notebook. Sometimes having the notebook allows me to jot down ideas quick if they are in my head and need a little bit of massaging to get out. I find the tactile notebook and a pen to be better tools for this than typing on my phone in Evernote. It also allows me to sketch ideas as images and manipulate them more freely than would any app I am presently aware of.

Combining my iPod, my phone and a Moleskine notebook, I then have an easily portable workstation. I will often play some of my early morning beats in my headphones or in the car during the day and make little alterations or add new vocals etc. And again, any other ideas I have during the day can be quickly captured and organized with the Evernote app for later review. Consciously making these efforts also directs your attention, what psychologists call having an attention bias, toward ideas that fall within your scope of what might be utilized as potentially creative.

When working in the studio, anything I have made earlier on the iPod is easily transferable to my laptop for more detailed work. That is not to say all my ideas come purely from my iPod but that if necessary there is a seamless transition from one to the other hardly disrupting the workflow at all. Again if I am in the process of working on something and need to get out of the studio or go somewhere for a few days, I can again bring everything back to my mobile devices and continue to adjust and augment when away from my workspace. This I believe is important (as I will go into in more detail in a future post on cognitive environment) as often the most insightful ideas come to us when our mind is not focused directly and analytically on a task. Getting out of your immediate workspace often takes a certain amount of pressure and expectation of your task and allows you to approach it from differing points of view. It is good maybe to have some areas or places in mind that allow you to do this i.e. Again, downloading your work onto your iPod etc. and putting it on while you make your dinner, take a walk or go for a drive allows for a change in atmosphere and sensory input and can often lead to minor, or quite possibly major breakthroughs; or moments of satori as the Japanese would say. It may be a good idea to work with some of these ideas and figure out for yourself what would best suit your own workflow.
Once a week I will do a review. Taking all the notes, ideas, memos etc. I have collected during the week, and possibly began developing, I will dump the ones I don’t feel are up to scratch and organize those I do. I do this with both Evernote and iTunes. I can easily sync any tracks from my iPod into iTunes and organize them into distinct playlists or folders (I also do a radio show and use the same techniques, both Evernote and my iPod  to collect and review tracks and notes and then organizing playlists with iTunes). I will do a complete breakdown of this in a future posts as it tends to streamline your workflow and allows you to be creative straight away without loosing the spark trudging through endless bits and pieces in various places across your “capture tools”. Another important thing to remember about workflow is to try and get things finished. Initially when we engage in a creative project our mind is (hopefully) working from a state known as divergent thinking, however, as we move through a project we move to a state known as convergent thinking. This is a completely different state of mind and every bit as relevant to creative production and needs to be understood and practiced. It is good to think for yourself about what is necessary for you yourself to do in relation to having your works completed. i.e. Is there further stages that your work must go through before being presented to the public? What are the best ways to present and promote it? Etc. Understanding some of these processes and who, where and how they will get done will take some of the stress off this stage of the process and assist you in being more productive and creative overall – allowing you to focus on being creative.

To summaries lets review quickly our thoughts about workspace:

  1. Capture tools available at all times, in bed, in the car, when out walking etc.   
  2. Become conscious of and utilize naturally creative states (e.g. just upon walking) and have these     opportunities reflected in your environment.
  3. Utilise available apps such as iMaschine, Evernote etc.
  4. Have other spaces that you can easily access besides your workspace to allow for transition between different states of mind and atmospheres and possibly new and fresh insights.
  5. Do weekly reviews to stop things getting out of hand. If you are gathering ideas all the time they will quickly build up and get messy without some intervention.
  6. Finish projects as often as possible. 
  7. Know what is necessary to get your work from ‘the studio to the gallery’ and have these channels set up and easily accessible (e.g. having a Dropbox account set up and ready if your sending off large music files to have mastered).

Next post is in relation to physical environment also but i the second part and to be titled Sensory Input. . . .

 

 

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Understanding Your Creative Environment – Part 1 (a)

Understanding Your Creative Environment Part 1(a)

Understanding Your Creative Environment.

When we speak of our creative environment what is it that we mean? For most of us what might initially come to mind is the artists studio, the laboratory, the office or in my own case, the bedroom studio. However, my intention is to expand the conversation of the creative environment beyond, without negating, the purely physical surroundings in which one tends to spend the majority of their creative time. The creative environment is and should be different for everyone and yet, I feel, there are some understandings that when applied should allow most anyone attempting to be creative to improve upon their present situation.

As this notion of creative environment is quite substantial, requiring some depth of study, we will be breaking Understanding Your Creative Environment into a mini series, still, it is likely each post will have much cross over with the others in the series. This first section is in relation to the physical creative environment and will be broken up into two posts, each considering different points: (1-this post) is with regard to workflow and (2) is in relation to sensory input. We will also be considering in later posts what we might term our ‘cognitive’ creative environment, our ‘temporal’ creative environment, and the ‘subjective and objective’ creative environment. And so, we will begin the conversation with the consideration of workflow.

Physical Creative Environment

When I think of my own creative environment (I invite you to substitute mine for your own) what initially comes to mind is my studio. My studio consists of some monitors, a laptop, some microphones, some production hardware etc., and unfortunately, my bed, my clothes and so on. Admittedly, not the most conducive environment considering its multi-functionary attributes, nevertheless, how is it possible to best organize and optimise this space and the workflow that centers around it to assist me in being as creative as possible?         

We will ascribe this creative physical environment the operational definition of workspace. Of course, any explication of the optimal workspace can never be truly homogenized or considered applicable across the population. Indeed, we all have very different tastes and preferences. Consider the case of the German poet Freidrich Von Schiller, who filled the drawers in his study with rotten apples, which he would sniff from time to time for inspiration. Obviously not a method the majority of us would wish to employ and an extreme example no doubt, but it does highlight the point.

And so, what are some important factors when one is considering their workspace and its relationship with a concatenated workflow?

Workspace Workflow

To illuminate my understanding of workflow I will walk you, step by step, through my own optimal workflow and any considerations I have with regard to its success and where it might be modified.
Next to my bed I keep my iPod touch. Over the years I have had everything from notebooks hanging from the roof, to chalkboards on my wall and dictaphones under my pillow. However, the advent, and my purchase, of both the iPod touch and a smart phone has replaced all of these. The vast majority of us are aware of how creative we appear to be be once we are dreaming in the REM state. My reasons for having the iPod, or indeed the notebooks or dictaphone in the past, is to capitalize on this abundant source of creativity. Quite often words or imagery derived from our dreams form the basis of new ideas, or offer solutions to incubating problems.                                 

Just prior to falling asleep we pass through a state known as the hypnogogic state, as we awaken we transition through a similar state known as the hypnopompic state. Additionally, most of us when we transition through our sleep cycles each night have the experience of dreams in the state of REM sleep. Each of these conscious states is rife with creative potential. The objective is for the physical environment to reflect, enable and assist the creative opportunities that often present themselves by making any insight or idea easily and quickly captured for later reference and review. Having a notebook and pen, an iPod/Pad or Dictaphone just next to your bed will allow you to easily record for later consideration any ideas that may arises while you lay in bed. Additionally, being consciously aware of the environment you have created for yourself may promote insights, and ignite your motivation to record them.
Another opportunity exists just succeeding the hypnopompic state. Subsequent to waking the mind appears to be more readily able to draw upon what might normally remain more compartmentalized ideas or frames of reference, the interaction of which is often very creative. For a number of years, on and off, I have engaged in a practice as do many “creative people” know as morning pages. The idea behind the practice of morning pages is to write stream of conscious drivel from your mind onto a couple of pages in an effort to “open the creative passages in your mind”. Fruity as it sounds, I must admit, I did, somewhat ironically, find this practice rather fruitful. What it appears to do, at least in my experience, is to entrust you with the permission to write drivel, and consequently fight off any procrastination that is the result of a fear of failure thus, having an easier time when facing the blank page. However, I have modified this practice a little for myself having taking into consideration the conscious state when this would normally be practiced. Rather than engaging in the morning pages and writing drivel in a time that is potentially very fertile to genuine insight, I now, first thing upon waking make a beat on my iPod using an application called iMaschine. This application allows me to sketch very quickly, a beat, a melody, a bass line, record a vocal line, add some effects and do some basic mixing. Having the iPod beside my bed allows me to quickly draft any ideas that are generated in this semi-conscious state that exists just upon waking. This has turned out to be an incredibly effective enterprise. In the course of a month you may have generated thirty ideas, each potentially the foundations of a complete creative work. What I like about this is that the ideas you generate in this state are often really imaginative, each one tending to be very different from those preceding. You are not approaching it in the same way you would if it were later in the day, when you already have ideas about what you “should” be creating. There is a sense of autonomy, in that you are less likely to be conscious of the social constraints, constructs and influences in which you are normally creating and quite often this allows for the communication of normally disparate ideas. Your thinking whilst in this state is also much more divergent and spontaneous. Of course if you are a writer, a poet, a designer, an architect or a scientist you may also recognize the value of this. The only thing different being your tool; or as GTD guru David Allen refers to it your “capture tool”. Depending on your own taste and your particular creative endeavors, you might be using a notebook and pen, an iPad or iPod, your phone, a dictphone, or your laptop. There are also many apps available to help streamline and organize this capture process and the ideas you amass. It is worth noting, that, although this is a very creative state it is not any substitute for daily practice etc. For instance, I would not be able to make anything even remotely interesting (maybe I don’t regardless) if I had not spent some years practicing and working on my art (understanding composition and musical theory etc.). I can attest that the quality of my ‘morning pages’ has always being indicative of my conscious efforts and the practice I put in, and has always being, although the basis for many ideas, really only the initiations of any process.
Just to return to the morning pages for a second. I do think these are a useful tool, only I think they may be employed at any time of the day (say just before writing) and for the most part are not as crucial as the process just outlined. I will do a post at some time in the future that focuses directly on morning pages and the psychology that they entail.

To capture ideas such as notes, voice memos, picture ideas, website or blog posts I use Evernote. Evernote is a really useful cross platform app that allows you to sync information across your devices. Again, I have my phone next to my bed and with me all day and any ideas that come to mind are usually saved via voice memos or text with Evernote. At your convenience it is then possible to review and catalog anything that is worth saving. It is worth mentioning that Evernote is a cloud storagesque application and negates the possibility of loosing ideas even if you loose your phone or computer. A system worth mentioning, which I myself use, that can be incorporated into Evernote and allows it to become a very useful to-do manager is called The Secret Weapon (I Know). Although it requires a little setting up initially, it combines Evernote with David Allen’s GTD system in a very intuitive and user-friendly manner.  As well as this technology I employ the use of something a little more old fashioned. I always carry a Moleskine notebook. Sometimes having the notebook allows me to jot down ideas quick if they are in my head and need a little bit of massaging to get out. I find the tactile notebook and a pen to be better tools for this than typing on my phone in Evernote. It also allows me to sketch ideas as images and manipulate them more freely than would any app I am presently aware of.

Combining my iPod, my phone and a Moleskine notebook, I then have an easily portable workstation. I will often play some of my early morning beats in my headphones or in the car during the day and make little alterations or add new vocals etc. And again, any other ideas I have during the day can be quickly captured and organized with the Evernote app for later review. Consciously making these efforts also directs your attention, what psychologists call having an attention bias, toward ideas that fall within your scope of what might be utilized as potentially creative.

When working in the studio, anything I have made earlier on the iPod is easily transferable to my laptop for more detailed work. That is not to say all my ideas come purely from my iPod but that if necessary there is a seamless transition from one to the other hardly disrupting the workflow at all. Again if I am in the process of working on something and need to get out of the studio or go somewhere for a few days, I can again bring everything back to my mobile devices and continue to adjust and augment when away from my workspace. This I believe is important (as I will go into in more detail in a future post on cognitive environment) as often the most insightful ideas come to us when our mind is not focused directly and analytically on a task. Getting out of your immediate workspace often takes a certain amount of pressure and expectation of your task and allows you to approach it from differing points of view. It is good maybe to have some areas or places in mind that allow you to do this i.e. Again, downloading your work onto your iPod etc. and putting it on while you make your dinner, take a walk or go for a drive allows for a change in atmosphere and sensory input and can often lead to minor, or quite possibly major breakthroughs; or moments of satori as the Japanese would say. It may be a good idea to work with some of these ideas and figure out for yourself what would best suit your own workflow.
Once a week I will do a review. Taking all the notes, ideas, memos etc. I have collected during the week, and possibly began developing, I will dump the ones I don’t feel are up to scratch and organize those I do. I do this with both Evernote and iTunes. I can easily sync any tracks from my iPod into iTunes and organize them into distinct playlists or folders (I also do a radio show and use the same techniques, both Evernote and my iPod  to collect and review tracks and notes and then organizing playlists with iTunes). I will do a complete breakdown of this in a future posts as it tends to streamline your workflow and allows you to be creative straight away without loosing the spark trudging through endless bits and pieces in various places across your “capture tools”. Another important thing to remember about workflow is to try and get things finished. Initially when we engage in a creative project our mind is (hopefully) working from a state known as divergent thinking, however, as we move through a project we move to a state known as convergent thinking. This is a completely different state of mind and every bit as relevant to creative production and needs to be understood and practiced. It is good to think for yourself about what is necessary for you yourself to do in relation to having your works completed. i.e. Is there further stages that your work must go through before being presented to the public? What are the best ways to present and promote it? Etc. Understanding some of these processes and who, where and how they will get done will take some of the stress off this stage of the process and assist you in being more productive and creative overall – allowing you to focus on being creative.

To summaries lets review quickly our thoughts about workspace:

  1. Capture tools available at all times, in bed, in the car, when out walking etc.   
  2. Become conscious of and utilize naturally creative states (e.g. just upon walking) and have these     opportunities reflected in your environment.
  3. Utilise available apps such as iMaschine, Evernote etc.
  4. Have other spaces that you can easily access besides your workspace to allow for transition between different states of mind and atmospheres and possibly new and fresh insights.
  5. Do weekly reviews to stop things getting out of hand. If you are gathering ideas all the time they will quickly build up and get messy without some intervention.
  6. Finish projects as often as possible. 
  7. Know what is necessary to get your work from ‘the studio to the gallery’ and have these channels set up and easily accessible (e.g. having a Dropbox account set up and ready if your sending off large music files to have mastered).

Next post is in relation to physical environment also but i the second part and to be titled Sensory Input. . . .