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I read something recently that really spoke to me. It was an article by a young novelist who was talking about imposter syndrome, which is where you feel as though you’re not as clever or talented as people think you are. You feel as though somehow you’ve managed to pull the wool over people’s eyes and you’re convinced that any minute you’re going to get found out for the fraud you are.

This article put a name to something I have felt for as long as I can remember. A good friend of mine is a hard working, talented and successful headteacher. She told me once that she keeps expecting someone in authority to come along and say ‘Alright love, you’ve had a good run, now hand the keys to the school over. We’re onto you, we know you’re a fraud. We’ve got a proper grown-up who really knows how to run a school to come and do it, The game is up.’ And I know exactly what she means, especially when it comes to art and creativity.

This weekend I put some of my jewellery work into an exhibition in a gallery. This was a weird feeling. I had to put prices on my work and display them for all to see. Several people told me that the jewellery was too reasonably priced, but I simply couldn’t justify  charging any more for it as I have this irrational, nagging fear that my workmanship is going to be called into question. I’m not a professional artist you see, I don’t have an art degree or anything like that, and I work from a bench in my spare room. I’m terrified that someone is going to look at my work and say ‘Ahhh, who are you trying to kid? You’re not a real jewellery maker, this stuff isn’t any good.’

I’m really not fishing for compliments here. I’m giving you an insight into the strange hinterland you enter when your put your creativity out there for the world to see…and buy. The minute you attach a monetary value to something you’ve created you feel as though you have to justify it. I’m hoping to start seeing my jewellery making as an income stream, which means I will have to overcome these fears. To balance the scales I will continue to pursue creative ends for their own sake, to prevent losing the feeling of pure pleasure of creativity. So, whatever you do, always save some of your creations purely for yourself.

An article I saw via Twitter this morning got me thinking about why more adults don’t consider themselves creative. The article suggests that we are all born with creative abilities and somehow these get lost along the way for many people. I would agree with this, and I think the reason why this is the case is this – as we grow up we become more and more fixated on always getting things right and being judged on the things we produce. This starts at school where children are being assessed at younger and younger ages and assessment, generally speaking, does not nurture creativity, it stifles it. How can you be brave enough to try something new if your future success in life is deemed to rest on this or that test? And this continues throughout our lives. It is a rare and valuable employer that fosters creativity in their workforce. More typically they want people to conform to a standard way of doing things, to ensure consistency. Creative thinking may be seen as volatile and dangerous, and not to be encouraged. You want to keep your job, you produce results, not waste your time taking chances on crazy ideas….and yet we all know crazy ideas are usually the best ones.

Young children have no such fear, they create joyfully and without any concern over how ‘good’ it is. Children see their creative works from their own, internal, point of view. They don’t look at something and judge it critically from an observer’s point of view. Ok, this may be because they don’t yet possess the reflective capabilities to view the world as another would, but I think we can learn something from them. Being creative is a process, not a result. I once took a class called ‘Drawing for the Terrified’. The name summed me up. The tutor, Kerry Lemon, was excellent and tried really hard to get us to focus on paying attention only to the sensations that occurred as we moved the pencil over the paper, rather than worrying about what it would look like when we were done. I learnt a lot from the class, however, I did find it incredibly difficult to shift my anxieties and pre-occupation with how I was doing compared to others in the class. It didn’t help that many of the others there said they weren’t terrified at all, but went to every art class they could, so I felt like the odd one out. And, inevitably people wanted to compare end results which meant I ended up feeling like a talentless numpty. But it was a valuable lesson to me to try and let go of any notion of success when being creative, which, of course, is easier said than done.

I’m continuing to work on shifting my focus to enjoying being in my creative flow and letting the end product stand alone. Don’t create for other people…yet….start by creating for yourself. If you are nervous I would recommend saving your early creativity for your own enjoyment only. Don’t share these precious jewels with anyone else. I have some poems I wrote, utterly unselfconsciously, when I was 17 which I have never shown anyone and they feel special to me. As soon as someone else were to read them I would start thinking about how ‘good’ they are and worrying about syntax and rhythm etc, whereas now they evoke priceless memories of how it felt to be the 17 year old version of me.

So, go be creative, and if you find it hard, don’t worry, it’s not that you can’t do it, or that you’re not ‘a creative type’, it’s just that you’ve forgotten how to.

In this safe, non-judgemental forum I hope you’ll join with me in sharing your creative efforts. There is to be no notion of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ work, just positive reinforcement of any and all creative efforts.
Let’s start with colour.
At pre-school we learn that mixing red and yellow together makes orange and we have no qualms about smearing great daubs of paint across a page. It was all about as many colours, in as great a quantity as possible. What happened to the pride with which we used to run home waving our colourful creations above our head demanding inspection and appreciation? Somewhere along the line we became self-conscious and the notion of standards and achievement tainted the process. Not here my friends. I want to see your glorious celebrations of colour! Next time you are out shopping I command thee to purchase some crayons, paints, felt tip pens, coloured pencils or any other colourful creative medium you like. When you get home, don’t even unpack the shopping (ok, you can put the cold stuff away first) fill a sheet with as many colours as you can. Just go for it. Don’t spend ages debating what shapes to make or how your work should look, just pick the colour that most appeals to you and set it free on the page (or whatever you are choosing to enliven with colour, it could be an egg box, a t-shirt, a wall or a face…..)
Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock understood how pleasing the juxtaposition of colours can be. Just look at these pieces, pure, fabulous colour.
rothko
pollock
Email me (helenbracey@gmail.com) with a picture of your own foray into colour. Remember, this is NOT an opportunity to show off or a competition to see who can produce the ‘best’ piece; I simply want to see you enjoy putting colours on a page. Now go do it!

I feel I should introduce myself properly, my creative self that is…..

When I was a small person I was seriously into books. I used to nag my poor parents to read to me, until I could read myself (which I’m told I achieved before I even started school) and letters to Father Christmas always included a long list of books I wanted.

The natural progression from reading stories was creating stories. I remember one based around my Sylvanian Families toys which was an account of a birthday party with all sorts of weird and wonderful arboreal themed food and drink. I’m quite sure I bored my family senseless with my relentless quest to share my stories. Well, I have always liked to be heard….

I also remember art classes with a friend of my parents who was an art teacher at the same school they taught at. I’m not sure what prompted these, maybe my Mum’s particular drive to see others become creative, which is responsible for where I am today 🙂 The one thing that stands out from those sessions is learning that trees don’t really look like lollipops, but that they have many, many lines and it’s beautiful to show them all.

The quilt of creativity

So, we now reach my late childhood/early teens and by now I’m being persuaded by Mum to do patchwork. Mum is a simply unbelievable quilter. She crafted a patchwork quilt whilst I was poorly (I will come back to that, I promise) and gave it to me on my 30th birthday. That’s it there, on the left. Nice huh?! Of course what I created was nothing like this. Although I adore my quilt, and the art form itself, my appreciation only really extends as far as being an observer. Actually creating patchwork pieces never really struck a chord with me. Needlecrafts weren’t out altogether though. The somewhat ubiquitous cross stitch became a staple of family Sunday evenings. Mum, Becky (my sister) and I would sit around watching House of Elliott, or some such costume loveliness, all industriously stitching away.

Lots of people are quite disparaging of cross stitch. I think it has a bit of a painting-by-numbers reputation. However, it’s fairly easy to master and can produce some pleasing results. In fact, I can still be found nibbling away at long standing cross stitch projects to this day. However, as I tend to follow patterns created by other people, I can’t really claim this involves any creativity on my part. (Although this does raise the debate of Design Vs. Execution….another day for sure…)

So, to the present day. During my ‘poorly’ phase (I know, I’m teasing you with it now) I went a bit nuts for the lack of any productive way to fill my days. I really don’t remember what initiated it, but I went shopping for some basic bead supplies and created a couple of necklaces, using other people’s patterns. I quite enjoyed this and that Christmas Santa brought me lots of other jewellery making goodies. So, I tinkered about with this for a bit but something was missing…..

Then my wonderful husband, who loves surprising me with nice treats, booked me onto a silver jewellery making class at Farnham Maltings and I haven’t looked back.

So, currently I make various kinds of jewellery and have produced enough to open my own little shop. After all, there’s only so much jewellery you can actually wear yourself!

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