Cultivating a Creative Practice


What does it mean to have a creative practice?

It means putting a little time, perhaps every day or perhaps once a week into making things. This could be art or photos or flower arrangements. It means allowing yourself time and space to explore, be that: writing TTRPG campaigns, creating pottery, woodworking, weaving, drawing, making personal software projects or playing the banjo.

I casually threw 'making personal software projects' above. I really do believe this is a creative practice, or that it can be. I have a personal practice of creating mostly web-based digital code sketches. These are small coding projects that result in visual art, mostly generative art, sometimes games, or experimental works that live on a corner of my website and on github. I have a past partner who is a painter. She would always do colored pencil sketches before moving to paint on large canvases. I do the the coding equivalent: just trying out some small code thing that might be good or bad or who knows. It could become something big, or not. I've been doing this for about 2 years and have created about 200 small web-based projects of this type. Sometimes I spend 30 minutes. Other times 2 hours. Occasionally I spend 8 or 20 hours and they go on to become much bigger projects. Working small and open-ended produces positive feelings. It's a pleasure. It's my 'practice.'

I also think that for those of us that make software it's important to also work with your hands on something away from the computer. You don't have to become an expert. It's okay to have hobbies and to try many things. But it's important to garden or work on your bike or take walks or build crossword puzzles or juggle. I'd also suggest that having a hobby that makes a mess is important. Cooking could be this area for you. Or painting. Or tie dying clothes. Or doing collaged zines.

Your creative practice doesn't need to be for anyone else. It could be for you. It maybe should be mostly for you. It's okay to be more self-focused. It's a way to relax and tap into flow. Taking photographs or screenshots or finding some way to document informally as you go can really feel great when you look back in a year or several years later. You won't regret having documentation.

Your creative practice can be shared with others too. In fact meeting up with friends that share your interests is really nice, and a way to learn and grow. Recently I sat with a friend, plugged our computers into the same mixer, and made heavy doom ambient music together, each of us plugged into each others' pedals and feeding back our output into the same input in a loop. We created wailing beautiful longform ambient compositions, pieces that never existed before and will never exist again. We could mess up, and we could create beautiful messes of sound. Sometimes our sound layered in ways that were sublime elegiac walls of drones. Jamming together feels good. It's healing. If you don't have any friends locally sharing your interests, look for places where people gather. During the pandemic there are a million online forums and chat groups dedicated to many creative pursuits. It can be nice to join one of these, though investing too much time online takes away from your artmaking too. There's a balance to be found.

Making time for your creative practice can be difficult. It's the last thing many people feel they have time for. There are chores and homework and job tasks and kids to take care of and food to prepare and deadlines always deadlines. But a creative practice is essential to life too. And it needs to be supported by giving yourself time. Having a studio can be helpful if you need it, or even just a corner of a desk.

Leaving your tools out really helps to get started. I have my modular synth and recording device set up all the time, on half of my desk. The other half of my desk is my work computer. I can just push down the lid and immediately slide my chair over, turn on the speaker and synth and recorder with a switch and just start making music. I almost always leave my previous patches plugged in so I have a way to jump in immediately without having to do prep, since prep gives an excuse to postpone creative time.

The last thing to say is that one's creative practice doesn't need to be toward a particular end or goal. The practice in and of itself is the goal. The journey is the destination. Most modern societies have made it difficult to pursue creative acts, or educated us that if we aren't masterful virtuosic creators then we shouldn't be creating. But that kind of thinking is flat wrong. We create because we're humans and because it makes us happy and healthy.

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