What I have learned

I have often felt that I should have attended design school when I was younger. Unfortunately, I didn’t have this clarity when I finished school, or even college. But as I write this, my mind wanders back to an even earlier time in my childhood and the warm afternoons we spent at home with my mother- making a happy mess with scissors, glue and newspaper, empty cartons and cotton wool, plastic straws and ice candy sticks.

Though I can’t recall many of the ‘projects’ we worked on, I can still remember the feeling behind it all- there is an unmistakable depth and intensity to it. I realize that my mother was my first (and perhaps best) design mentor, and all those precious afternoons had been our own design school- relaxed, unstructured and free; punctuated with jokes, silly squabbles, “what ifs” and much laughter. This school taught me some important lessons that I have unknowingly lived my life by.

This is what I learned:

1) Everyone can be creative. It is not a special gift that only a chosen few are born with. This lesson has been very empowering. I learned to trust in my ability to make or do things on my own, to keep trying and to keep myself open to possibilities. HOWEVER, creativity is also very hard work. You have to keep at it, be willing to fail and to try again.

2) Being creative doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated. You can create something new and useful with the most basic tools and materials.

3) The creative process is active, present and transformative. To me, the process of creating something is just as valuable as the final creation. Every problem solved, every question answered, every restless night and frustrating day, every sudden insight and the thrill of finding a way where there was no obvious path, is a reward in itself. I have also found that a relaxed and flexible approach really helps, where I am not too heavily invested in one specific outcome or method at the cost of finding a better solution.

4) Even junk can be wealth to a creative mind. Almost everything has the potential to be re-used in a new way. Functional fixedness often gets in the way of us seeing new and unconventional uses for everyday objects.

5) Constraints can be a deterrent, or an impetus to creativity depending on how you look at it. Working within constraints helped me develop the ability to think laterally. When I want to make something new, I often impose rules and constraints such as the materials I can use, or the amount of time or money I can spend on it. I find myself coming up with interesting and unusual solutions, and the process is immensely satisfying and insightful.

These lessons equipped me to venture into woodworking more readily, with more curiosity than fear, and with as strong an interest in the process as in the end product.

I needed a night lamp for my bedroom and instead of buying one, I decided to make one myself, using odds and ends that I had at home. The night lamp in the image at the beginning of the post is made with an empty whiskey carton, a piece of scrap rubber wood and an old batten holder that I found lying at home. To add a little bit of drama, I punched a series of holes in two walls of the carton, and the light passing through these holes creates the interesting discs of light that you see on the wall behind the lamp. I am using this as an example because I think it includes most of the points I have mentioned above.