So You Want To Be A Jewelry Designer… Creativity: How Do You Get It, How Do You Enhance It?
Abstract: Creativity isn’t found, it is developed. Creativity is a phenomenon where both something new and, at the same time, somehow valuable is created. While some people come to creativity naturally, in fact, everyone can develop their creative ability. Thinking creatively involves the integration and leveraging of three different kinds of ideas — insight and inspiration, establishing value, and implementing something. We work through creative thinking through divergence (that is, generating many possibilities), and convergence (that is, reducing the number of these possibilities). There are ten attributes associated with creative problem solving: fluency, flexibility, elaboration, originality, complexity, risk-taking, imagination, curiosity, assessment, and implementation. Last, different strategies are discussed for enhancing creativity and overcoming creative blocks.
CREATIVITY ISN’T FOUND, IT’S DEVELOPED
Kierkegaard — and I apologize for getting a little show-off-y with my reference — once described Creativity as “a passionate sense of the potential.” And I love this definition. Passion is very important. Passion and creativity can be summed up as some kind of intuitive sense made operational by bringing all your capabilities and wonderings and technical know-how to the fore. All your mechanical, imaginative and knowledge and skills grow over time, as do your abilities for creative thinking and applications. Creativity isn’t inherently natural. It is something that is developed over time as you get more and more experience designing jewelry.
You sit down, and you ask, what should I create? For most people, especially those getting started, they look for patterns and instructions in bead magazines or how-to books or websites online. They let someone else make all the creative choices for them. The singular creative choice here is picking what you want to make. And, when you’re starting, this is OK.
When you feel more comfortable with the materials and the techniques, you can begin to make additional choices. You can choose your own colors. You can make simple adaptations, such as changing out the bead, or changing the dimensions, or changing out a row, or adding a different clasp.
Eventually, however, you will want to confront the Creativity issue head on. You will want to decide that pursuing your innermost jewelry designer, no matter what pathway this takes you along, is the next thing, and right thing, to do. That means you want your jewelry and your beadwork to reflect your artistic hand. You want to develop a personal style. You want to come up with your own projects.
But applying yourself creatively is also work. It can be fun at times, but scary at others. There is an element of risk. You might not like what you end up doing. Your friends might not like it. Nor your family. You might not finish it. Or you might do it wrong. It always will seem easier to go with someone else’s project, already proven to be liked and tested — because it’s been published, and passed around, and done over and over again by many different people. Sometimes it seems insurmountable, after finishing one project, to decide what to do next. Exercising your creative abilities can sometimes be a bear.
But it’s important to keep pushing on. Challenging yourself. Developing yourself. Turning yourself into a bead artist or jewelry designer. And pursuing opportunities to exercise your creative talents even more, as you enter the world of design.
What Is Creativity?
We create. Invent. Discover. Imagine. Suppose. Predict. Delve into unknown or unpredictable situations and figure out fix-it strategies for resolution and to move forward. All of these are examples of creativity. We synthesize. Generate new or novel ideas. Find new arrangements of things. Seek out challenging tasks. Broaden our knowledge. Surround ourselves with interesting objects and interesting people. Again, these are examples of creativity.
Yet, creativity scares people. They are afraid they don’t have it. Or not enough of it. Or not as much as those other people, whom they think are creative, have. They don’t know how to bring it to the fore, or apply it.
But creativity shouldn’t scare you. Everyone has some creative abilities within themselves. For most people, they need to develop it. Cultivate it. Nourish it. They need to learn various tools and skills and understandings for developing it, applying it and managing it. Creativity is a process. We think, we try, we explore, we fall down and pick ourselves up again. Creativity involves work and commitment. It requires a lot of self-awareness — what we call metacognition. It takes some knowledge, skill and understanding. It can overwhelm at times. It can be blocked at other times.
But it is nothing to be scared about. Creativity is something we want to embrace because it can bring so much self-fulfillment, as well as bring joy and fulfillment to others. Creativity is not some divine gift. It is actually the skilled application of knowledge in new and exciting ways to create something which is valued. Creativity can be acquired and honed at any age or any experience level.
For the jewelry designer, it’s all about how to think creatively. Thinking creatively involves the integration and leveraging of three different kinds of ideas — insight and inspiration, establishing value, and implementing something.
(1) Seeing something out of nothing (perception). Technically, we talk about this as controlling the relationship of space to mass. You begin with a negative space. Within this space, you add points, lines, planes and shapes. As you add and arrange more stuff, the mass takes on meaning and content. The designer has to apply creative thinking in finding inspiration, choosing design elements, arranging them, constructing them, and manipulating them.
(2) Valuing something (cognition). Connections are made. Meaning and content, when experienced by people, result in a sense of appeal and value. We refer to this as desire and expression. Value can relate to the worth or cost of the materials, the intuitive application of ideas and techniques by the artist, the usefulness or functionality of the piece, or something rare about the piece. Value can center on the power to leverage the strengths of materials or techniques, and minimize their weaknesses. The designer has to apply creative thinking to anticipate how various audiences will judge the piece.
(3) Implementing something (acceptance). Jewelry design occurs within a particular interactive context and dialog. The designer translates inspirations into aspirations. Aspirations are then translated into design ideas. Design ideas are implemented, refined, changed, and implemented again until the finished product is introduced publicly. The design process has to be managed. When problems or road-blocks arise, fix-it strategies and solutions need to be accessed and applied. All this occurs in anticipation of how various audiences will respond to the jewelry, and convey their reactions to the artist, their friends, family and acquaintances, and make choices about wearing it and buying it and displaying it publicly. The designer has to apply creative thinking in determining why anyone would like the piece, want the piece, buy the piece, wear the piece, wear it publicly, and wear it again and again, or give it as a gift to someone else.
Types of Creativity
Creativity has two primary components: (1) originality, and (2) functionality or value.
The idea of originality can be off-putting. It doesn’t have to be. The jewelry, so creatively designed, does not have to be a totally and completely new and original design. The included design elements and arrangements do not have to be solely unique and never been done before.
Originality can be seen in making something stimulating, interesting or unusual. It can represent an incremental change which makes something better or more personal or a fresh perspective. It can be something that is a clever or unexpected rearrangement, or a great idea, insight, meaningful interpretation or emotion which shines through. It can include the design of new patterns and textures. It can accomplish connections between seemingly unrelated phenomena, and generate solutions. It can be a variation on a technique or how material gets used. It can be something that enhances the functionality or value of the piece.
Creativity in jewelry design marries that which is original to that which is functional, valued, useful, worthwhile, desired. These things are co-dependent, if any creative project is to be seen as successful. For jewelry designers, creativity is not the sketch or computer aided drawing. It is not the inspiration. It is not the piece which never sees the light of day, because then it would represent a mere object, not jewelry. Creativity requires implementation. And for jewelry designers, implementation is a very public enterprise.
What Does It Take To Be Creative?
Creative people tend to possess a high level of energy, intuitiveness, and discipline. They are also comfortable spending a great deal of time quietly thinking and reflecting. They understand what it means to cultivate emotions, both within themselves, as well as relative to the various audiences they interact with. They are able to stay engaged with their piece for as long as it takes to bring it to completion. They fall in love with their work and their work process.
Creativity is not something that you can use up. To the contrary, the more you use your creativity, the more you have it. It is developmental, and for the better jewelry designer, development is a continual, life long process of learning, playing, experimenting and doing.
To be creative, one must have the ability to identify new problems, rather than depending on others to define them. The designer must be good at transferring knowledge gained in one context to another in order to solve a problem or overcome something that is unknown. I call this developing a designer tool box of fix-it strategies which the designer takes everywhere. The designer is very goal-oriented and determined in his or her pursuit. But, at the same time, the jewelry designer also understands and expects that the design process is very incremental with a lot of non-linear, back-and-forth thinking and application. There is an underlying confidence and belief, however, that eventually all of this effort will lead to success.
How Do We Create?
It’s not what we create, but how we create!
The creative process involves managing the interplay of two types of thinking — Convergence and Divergence. Both are necessary for thinking creatively.
Divergent thinking is defined as the ability to generate or expand upon options and alternatives, no matter the goal, situation or context.
Convergent thinking is the opposite. This is defined as the ability to narrow down all these options and alternatives.
The fluent jewelry designer is able to comfortably weave back and forth between divergence and convergence, and know when the final choices are parsimonious and the piece is finished, and when the final choices will be judged as resonant and successful.
Brainstorming is a great example of how creative thinking is used. We ask ourselves What If…? How about…? Could we try this or that idea…? The primary exercise here is to think of all the possibilities, then whittle these down to a small set of solutions.
Creative thinking first involves cultivating divergent thinking skills and exposing ourselves to the new, the different, the unknown, the unexpected. It is, in part, a learning process. Then next, through our set of convergent thinking skills, we criticize, and meld, and synthesize, and connect ideas, and blend, and analyze, and test practicality, as we steer our thinking towards a singular, realistic, do-able solution in design.
Partly, what we always need to remember, is that this process of creative thinking in jewelry design also assists us finding that potential audience or audiences — weaver, buyer, exhibitor, collector — for our creative work. Jewelry is one of those special art forms which require going beyond a set of ideas, to recognizing how these ideas will be used. Jewelry is only art only when it is worn. Otherwise, it is a sculptural object.
There are 10 aspects to creative thought. Each should be considered as a separate set of skills, both for divergent as well as convergent thinking, which the jewelry designer wants to develop within him- or herself. Initially, the designer wants to learn, experiment with and apply these skills. Over time, the designer wants to develop a level of comprehension and fluency to the point that the application of each of this skills is somewhat automatic.
Fluency: Having a basic vocabulary in jewelry design, and the ability to see how these concepts and design elements are present (decoding) and arranged (composition, construction and manipulation).
Divergence: to generate as many possible elements and combinations to increase number of possible designs.
Flexibility: Ability to adapt selections and arrangements, given new, unfamiliar or unknown situations.
Divergence: generate a range and variety of possible configurations leading to same solution.
Elaboration: Ability to add to, embellish or build upon ideas incorporated into any jewelry design.
Divergence: generate the widest variety of attributes of design elements and combinations which have value-added qualities, given a particular design.
Originality: Ability to create something new or different which has usefulness and value.
Divergence: to delineate many ideas and concepts which are both new and have value.
Complexity: Ability to conceptualize difficult, multi-faceted, intricate, many-layered ideas and designs.
Divergence: to take a solution and break it down or reinterpret it into as many multiple facets or multiple layers as possible.
Risk-Taking: Willingness to try new things or think of new possibilities in order to show the artist’s hand publicly and stand apart.
Divergence: to elaborate the widest possible scenarios for publicly introducing the piece, given various design options, as well as all the ways these potential audiences might interact and use the jewelry, and all the ways these audiences might influence others, as well.
Imagination: Ability to be inspired, and to translate that inspiration into an aspiration.
Divergence: to think of many ways an inspiration might be described, interpreted, or experienced physically and emotionally, and to identify the many different ways inspirations might be interpreted into a jewelry design.
Curiosity: Ability to probe, question, search, wanting to know more about something.
Divergence: questioning the situation from many angles and perspectives.
Assessment: Ability to anticipate shared understandings, values and desires of various audiences for any piece of jewelry.
Divergence: identifying all the possible audiences a piece of jewelry might have, and all the different ways they might judge the piece as finished (parsimonious) and successful (resonant).
Implementation: Ability to translate aspirations into a finished jewelry design and design process.
Divergence: delineating all the possibilities an aspiration might get translated into a design, evaluated against all the possibilities the design could be successfully, practically and realistically implemented.
Enhancing Creativity and Overcoming Creativity Block
So, what kinds of creative advice can I offer you about enhancing your creativity? How can you nurture your creative impulses? How can you overcome roadblocks that might impede you?
Here is some of my advice:
Success Stories. While you are fiddling with beads and wire and clasps and everything else, try to be as aware as you can of why your successes are successful. What are all the things you did to succeed? On what points does everyone agree the project succeeds?
Un-Block. Don’t set up any road blocks. Many people, rather than venture onto an unknown highway of creativity, put up walls to delay their path. If they just had the right beads. Or the right colors. Or sufficient time. Or had learned one more technique. Or had taken one more class. Or could find a better clasp. These are excuses. Excuses to avoid getting creative.
Adapt. Anticipate contingencies. It amazes me how many people come into my shop with a picture out of a magazine. We probably can find over half the components, but for the remaining components pictured which we don’t have in stock, we suggest substitutes. But, NO, the customer has to have it exactly like the picture, or not at all. Not every store has every bead and component. Many beads and components are not made all the time. Many colors vary from batch to batch. Many established companies have components especially made up for them — and not available to the general public. The supplies of many beads and components are very limited — not unlimited. Always be prepared to make substitutions and adapt.
Play. Be a kid again. Let your imagination run wild. Try things. Try anything. If the world says your color combination is ugly, don’t listen to them. Do it anyway. Ignore all restrictions. Forget about social and art conventions.
Be Curious. Play “What If…” games. What if a different color? What if a different technique? What if a different width or length? What if a different style of clasp. Re-arrange things. Tweak. Take out a bead board, and lay out beads and findings on the board, and re-order everything — Ask yourself: More or less satisfying?
Embrace the New / Challenge yourself. Don’t do the same project over and over again, simply because you have proven to yourself that you can make it. While you might want to repeat a project, with some variations, to learn more things, too much doing of the same-ole, same-ole, can be very stifling.
Create An Imaginative Working Space / Manage Disruptions and Disruptors. You need comfortable seating, good lighting, smart organization of parts and tools and projects-in-process. Some people like music playing. If family or friends tend to interrupt you, explain to them you need some boundaries at certain times of the day or days of the week.
Evaluate / Be metacognitive. Learn from failures. You have invested time, money and effort into making these pieces. And not everything works out, or works out well. Figure out why, and turn these failed pieces into lessons and insights. Give yourself permission to be wrong. Build up your skills for self-awareness, self-management and self-assessment.
Take a break / Break your daily routine / Incubate it / Sleep on it. And if you suddenly find your productivity interrupted by Bead-Block and Artist-Block and Jeweler’s-Block, put your project down. Take a break. Mull on things awhile. Put yourself in a different environment. Take a walk. Sleep. A period of interruption or rest from a problem may aid creative problem-solving in that it lets us let go of or forget some misleading cues, thoughts, feelings and ideas.
Network / Connect With Other Jewelry Designers and Artists / Collaborate on a Project. Here you want to tap into and absorb someone else’s energy, knowledge and insights. Surround yourself with interesting and creative people. Learn different ways of knowing and doing. Get encouragement. Find a mentor. The fastest way to become creative is to hang around with creative people.
Do something out of the ordinary. Something unexpected. Or something just not done. This will shock your system to think in different ways. To see things in a new light. To recognize contradictions. Robert Alan Black gives great advice.
He shouts at the blocked: Break A Crayon.
He shouts again: Draw Outside The Lines.
And I would add and shout: Stick your hands into a bowl full of mud or jello.
These are all great advice.
Make creativity a habit. Make it routine in your daily life.
- Keep a journal. Write down your thoughts and experiences and insights.
- As you create a new piece, keep a running written log of all the choices you are making.
- Challenge yourself. Change colors, arrangements, sizes and shapes. Create forms and new components. Think of different silhouettes.
- Expand your knowledge base and skills. Look for connections with other disciplines.
-Surround yourself with interesting things and interesting people. Get together regularly. Collaborate. Take a field trip together.
What Should I Create?
The process of jewelry making begins with the question, What Should I Create?
You want to create something which results in an emotional engagement. That means, when you or someone else interacts with your piece, they should feel some kind of connection. They might see something as useful. It may have meaning. Or it may speak to a personal desire. It may increase a sense of self-esteem. It may persuade someone to buy it. It may feel especially powerful or beautiful or entertaining. They may want to share it with someone else.
You want to create something that you care about. It should not be about following trends. It should be about reflecting your inner artist and designer — what you like, how you see the world, what you want to do. Love what you are making. Otherwise, you run the risk of burning out.
It is easier to create work with someone specific in mind. This is called backwards design. You anticipate how someone else would like what you do, want to wear it, buy it, and then let this influence you in your selection about materials, techniques and composition. This might be a specific person, or a type of person, such as a potential class of buyers.
Keep things simple and parsimonious. Edit your ideas. You do not want to over-do or under-do your pieces. You do not have to include everything in one piece. You can do several pieces. Showing restraint allows for better communication with your audiences. Each piece you make should not look like you are frantically trying to prove yourself. They should look like you have given a lot of thought about how others should emotionally engage with your piece.
There is always a lot of pressure to brand yourself. That means sticking with certain themes, designs or materials. But this can be a little stifling, if you want to develop your creativity. Take the time to explore new avenues of work.
You want to give yourself some time to find inspirations. A walk in nature. A visit to a museum. Involvement with a social cause. Participation in a ritual or ceremony. Studying color samples at a paint store. A dream. A sense of spirituality or other feeling. A translation of something verbal into something visual. Inspirations are all around you.
Final Words of Wisdom
We don’t learn to be creative We become creative. We develop a host of creative thinking skills. We reflect and make ourselves aware of all the various choices we make, the connections we see, the reactions we get, and the implications which result.
We need to be open to possibility.
We need to have a comfort level in taking the unknown or unexpected, and bridging the differences. That is, connecting what we know and feel and project to ideas for integrating all the pieces before us into a completed jewelry design. We need to become good translators, managing our choices from inspiration to aspiration to completed design.
We need to be able to hold on to the paradoxes between mass and space, form and freedom, thought and feeling, long enough so that we can complete each jewelry making project. We need to be comfortable while designing during what often become long periods of solitude.
We need to know jewelry and jewelry making materials and techniques inside and out. We need to know how to maximize their strengths and minimize their weaknesses. We need to be able to discover new ways of designing with them. It is critical that we put ourselves on a path towards greater fluency, flexibility and originality.
We must be willing to give and receive criticism.
We must be aware, not only of our desires, goals and understandings, but those of our various audiences, as well.
Be motivated by the design process itself, and not its possible and potential external rewards.
We must be very reflective and metacognitive of how we think, speak and work as jewelry designers.
We need to give ourselves permission to make mistakes.
We must design things we care about.
Besemer, S.P. and D.J. Treffinger. Analysis of Creative Products: Review and Synthesis. Wiley Online
Black, Robert Alan. Blog: http://www.cre8ng.com/blog/
Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention. Harper
Perennial; Reprint edition (August 6, 2013)
Guilford, J.P. Creativity. American Psychologist, 5, 444–454, 1950.
Koestler, Arthur. The Act of Creation. Last Century Media (April 1, 2014).
Lucy Lamp. “Inspiration in Visual Art Where Do Artists Get Their Ideas. As reference in:
Maital, Shlomo. “How IBM’s Executive School Fostered Creativity,” Global Crisis Blog, April 7, 2014.
Summarizes Louis R. Mobley’s writings on creativity, 1956.
March, Anna Craft. Creativity in Education. Report prepared for the Qualifications and Curriculum
Authority, March, 2001.
Seltzer, Kimberly and Tom Bentley. The Creative Age: Knowledge and Skills for the New Economy.
Torrance, E. P. The Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking-Norms-Technical Manual Research Edition-
Verbal Tests, Forms A and B-Figural Tests, Forms A and B. Princeton, NJ: Personnel Press, 1966.
Torrance, E. P. The Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking-Norms-Technical Manual Research Edition-
Verbal Tests, Forms A and B- Figural Tests, Forms A and B. Princeton, NJ: Personnel Press, 1974.
Turak, August. “Can Creativity Be Taught,” Forbes, May 22, 2011.
Other Articles of Interest by Warren Feld:
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