Creativity, Procrastination & Making Mistakes

IMG_1777I try not to assume everyone operates the same way I do.

I am in awe of quick decision makers and impulse driven, speed demons. I do see the benefits of things moving forward quickly and “sucking and seeing”. But so far, despite trying to mimic some of these styles over the years, I have yet to master the dark arts of rapid, pragmatic progress.

I am your more considered worker. I take time to ponder. I like to think through most processes from start to end and often have worked on solutions to most of the potential problems and pitfalls along the way.

I always feel better about big decisions when I have really thought them through. I don’t regret outcomes, as I know I have considered the options well.

This process is self-fulfilling though, as with most self-protecting. It can also cause the protagonist to indulge in procrastination and dither over making any decision.  Some things must be learned by just doing. Some potential pitfalls may never actually become real problems.

People seriously do not agree on this subject, but I don’t think it is enough to accept procrastination as the condition…it is merely a symptom.

Inside the Painter's StudioInspiration is for amateurs — the rest of us just show up and get to work. And the belief that things will grow out of the activity itself and that you will — through work — bump into other possibilities and kick open other doors that you would never have dreamt of if you were just sitting around looking for a great ‘art idea.’ And the belief that process, in a sense, is liberating and that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every day. Today, you know what you’ll do, you could be doing what you were doing yesterday, and tomorrow you are gonna do what you did today, and at least for a certain period of time you can just work. If you hang in there, you will get somewhere.” Chuck Close (From Inside the Painter’s Studio – by Joe Fig)


The theory is that rather than waiting for inspiration to strike or this perfect condition to occur, our most amazing work comes out of persistence and a solid work ethic – not just magic after all.

Drake Baer from Fastcompany says “If we want to be super creative, we have to learn to be super dedicated. The ‘aha’ moment isn’t always so all of a sudden: showing up – and keeping focused – enables creative insight.”


But we can still get stuck sometimes and can be unsure how to proceed, due to a lack of process or the lack of confidence to answer for ourselves.

“It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”   Albert Einstein


…and that may be the answer. Have systems in place to keep you moving forward and you will find the answer to the thing that seems so unanswerable.

How do you keep things moving when a job seems to stump you?

1.     Make a good record of what you are starting with

Notes, photographs of both details and the whole piece. This will start you thinking about what details and finishes you might change and exactly how something tricky has been achieved if you are going to repeat it. Depths of seats and backs and arms etc are best recorded. Make decisions if these measurements should be enhanced, by sitting in it and experiencing it.

2.     Do a bit of research

If you are anything like us, you will have plenty of books, they are a great source of inspiration and will also help you to talk through any details with your client. The internet will also be full of pictures of this very chair or one just like it. Have a discerning eye. There is a lot of very badly upholstered furniture on the internet (and in some books to be fair) use this to highlight some of the things you may need to be careful of when you upholster your piece. Print off several pale images of the chair and sketch your ideas over them.

3.     Communicate with your client and finalise the details

Now you have performed a full inspection, prepare your client for what to expect from your endeavors, including any additional work you may have unearthed. Use your research, sketches or explanations to tell them what you think they should go for. We often make samples and invite the client in to see how something could look.

4.     Document the decisions you have made

For your sake as a reminder, and also so that the client is clear about what they have asked for, make a list and share it with your client. You are now confident to move forward, because you are sure that this is what has been agreed and is what the client wants.

This seems like a lot of steps and you haven’t even started yet! But don’t forget that this is your industrious thinking period. You should already have started to be inspired about how you are going to problem solve and what sort of finish you will achieve and how.

Students often don’t quite know how their finished piece will look, or they are put off making a decision about the top fabric. We always tell them that this will slow them down, the uncertainty creates a sticky void and you are slow to move forward as a result.

But it’s not just students, you can free up some serious procrastinating if you get you your decisions made right at the start.

wrongWhat happens if something goes wrong?

We often talk about worst case scenarios to help move students forward… afraid to start or finish something, commit to a cut or a stuffing height perhaps. Your planning steps above should have been informed and thorough, you don’t decide on the height of a seat on a whim, you research the age of the chair, the original height, the height of the table it will sit under or if there are indications on the frame.

If we then realise the best decision was not made, what’s the worst that can happen? It can be very freeing to appreciate and accept that you just simply undo and start again.  Or even worse, you order more fabric.  These should be things that end up happening very rarely, because they cost you time and money, but making mistakes is a quick way to learn and facing your fears of making a mistake is quite likely to release some serious happiness chemicals when your plan comes together.

That awful moment when you have made a cut and you also cut the fabric underneath… there is nothing for it, your fabric is screwed and your finely tuned cutting plan with no wriggle room needs a review! At this point, you will surprise yourself that everything can be moved around and the problem quickly solved.

Trying something new.

There are normally several ways one thing can be done. Perhaps you have been doing something the same way since you started, but maybe there’s a better finish or quicker way.  Sometimes, you have to just experiment and take a calculated risk to move your skills forward.

I recently inserted a zip into some striped fabric by sewing the pieces together first and top stitching the zip behind, before unpicking the first stitch line. The stripes then always remained aligned and the process was quick and accurate.

It wasn’t a complicated notion, it was something I had done in a dress making class. I had often thought about doing it for boxed cushions but I had never tried.  After that positive epiphany, I started doing all my zips in this way.

However sometimes the fabric didn’t lend itself to being messed around, and it didn’t always stay closed when unpicked if it was thick or jumpy…. I had found a nice, simple, new technique and although it clearly wasn’t a fix all solution, it was still one that would likely save me lots of time in the future.

Stage 1Everyone is different

Everyone thinks, works and learns differently. The above ramblings are a result of me taking the time to assess how I personally think, work and learn. Having understood all this about myself, it’s made it far easier for me to find the processes and systems that work best for me and allow me to make productive, creative decisions.

This will all work differently for different people but what seems to be certain is that the very process of analyzing how you think, work and learn is the best way to help you understand how best to be creative.

 “The Muse takes note of our dedication. She approves. We have earned favor in her sight. When we sit down and work, we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. Insights accrete”. Drake Baer from Fastcompany


Louise Boyland, Shoreditch Design Rooms.


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