Winter is a natural time of rest, silence, stillness. Underground seeds slowly absorb nourishment. No hurry, waiting for their renaissance – that we name spring. I would like to invite you to welcome this special time of the year. So please, not consider it as a workshop, but a collective ritual to celebrate the rebirth and the new beginning that follows each end.
First, let’s prepare what needed. Cover the entire surface of a table with a sheet of paper (better if a 200 gram cardboard) and fix it so that it will not move. Then draw randomly scattered colored dots on the sheet. Finally, display some artistic materials on another table or support (markers, colored pencils, oil or wax crayons, watercolors, etc.). A variable number of people of all ages can participate, but it is also possible to have a more intimate and contemplative experience on your own. Of course, the size of the table will be proportional to the number of the participants.
Each colored dot is like a seed that, after resting for the whole winter, is now ready to bloom and expand into whatever shape, not necessarily the realistic shape of a flower. Color can finally release its energy and flow, occupying a space. Each partecipant can move around the table and choose a seed at a time.
How can the chosen color-seed you grow up and develop? Try to listen to it, to leisurely observe it for a moment… What is its expansion strategy? Through points, lines, areas, shapes? How and where is it going to move?
The development of any plant element depends on both the seed and the soil where it is located. Similarly, signs and shapes will be influenced by both the artistic tools used for drawing and the type of paper that covers the table. For example, on a smooth paper markers will trace a kind of line different than on a rough or wet paper.
Very different shapes will probably emerge and will gradually occupy the space of the sheet, getting closer to each other. How do they react?
Finally, the whole sheet will turn into a large flower garden. The work can be considered completed when all participants are satisfied with the result and perceive an overall harmony of the composition.
Above all, do not rush. You cannot force any blade of grass to grow … Enjoy the spring!
Many thanks to Adriana, Antonella, Rita and Viviana for the garden in the picture above.
What do you think about “copying”? Is it anti-creative making a product by following the instructions? How important is the knowledge of the technique? What is its role in the creative process? This are far from obvious questions, which can open a discussion in art and educational sphere as well, between the function of rules and free exploration, between structured and unstructured activities.
I don’t think there is a choice that is always right. I would rather like to open a reflection starting from a concrete example. Let’s consider a very simple and well-known technique, which consists of joining some pieces of cardboard (or another material) by inserting them through cuts at the ends of each piece.
It is illustrated in the image above, taken from a book I really loved in my childhood, “Così per gioco …” by Elve Fortis de Hieronymis. But there are infinite applications of this technique also on the artistic level: from the futurist flowers by Giacomo Balla (1918-1925) to the animals by Junzo Terada published by Chronicle books, just to name a few (you can see in the images below).
If you know these sources, you could decide to copy one of the models or to invent a new one, thus applying the technique in a creative way. I think neither of these two choices is absolutely “good” or “bad” at all. In fact, sometimes “copying” does not necessarily result from laziness, but from some particular emotional or cognitive need (of security, strengthening knowledge, imitation as a social strategy, etc.). Furthermore, a new creative reworking does not always correspond to a relevant objective of the context.
For example, I designed these animals for a workshop in a women’s prison. Participating women could sell the cardboard animals to earn some money: they were not interested in creating new ones, but to build the maximum number of nice animales in the limited time available. Thus, I think the question is not about copying vs inventing, but about the reasons of the choice, its accessibility and connection with the context.
Another example: for celebrations and collective events, an extemporary garden with large “futurist” plants can be a functional exhibition of great effect. In the photo above of a preschool’s opening, you can see how the original idea of futurist flowers has been “copied” but in the meantime re-contextualized and, according to the new context, variated through new size, shapes, mode of use. Visitors – both children and adults – could stop and make paper flowers for the trees.
The same idea of “futurist plants” can be proposed in different ways, depending on where they are placed. In the case of the “Literary Forest”, set up for the birthday of a public library, each tree was dedicated to a poet. I had inserted some sheets of paper with poems in the branches (through cuts) and the participants of the workshop could choose a poem, cut it out and use the words to decorate some special flower-pencils. But let’s go further: of course, flowers and animals are not the only thematic application of this technique. Unexpressed potential can be explored to respond to new needs and contexts. For example… a big game with a path on the ground to be crossed by jumping (you see in the picture below), during a children festival dedicated to the movement playing.
What value does your social, cultural background assign to tradition and innovation ? Our implicit way of using the technique – following what we already know rather than exploring the unknown – is influenced by this further fundamental aspect.
If you reach a high level of a creative techique, you know that, at a certain point, you will find yourself along a continuum between adherence to the canon, on the one hand, and free experimentation, on the other, explains the psychotherapist and art therapist Estella Guerrera. When you know how to do something very well (or let’s say “well enough”) you have, at least, two perspectives: continuing to do it in the same way or breaking the pattern, using your skills to do something different. Both ways make sense, but this apparent dichotomy puts us in contact with the concept of “evolutionary change” and with the concept of risk. In the psychology of the life cycle, we are called to precisely pronounce ourselves on these issues in the various existential phases: do you stay that way (and “you know to know”) or do you change and risk of failure?
I would like to offer you a small gift which is in the same time a kind of provocation. If you ask it by e-mail to email@example.com, I will send you the templates of the bunny and the rocking bird, which you can copy and build with cardboard. After that, I invite you to invent a new animal or any other subject, figurative or abstract, with the same technique. Which experience did you like most? Which was simpler? Which would you propose in your educational contexts, how and why?
You are very welcome to share your works and reflections. Enjoy!
How many shapes are hidden in a plastic bottle? Have you ever tried to break it down? Rings, cylinders, cones, hemispheres, spirals, towers, domes and others will unexpectedly come out of it… Then, these elements can be combined together in order to create more complex structures. Let’s play with them, without already having a specific goal in mind. The shapes themselves will guide us, revealing unexpected paths. It is a dialogue between us and matter, a mutual interaction in which the material is not forced in our “a priori” idea.
Some of the bottle’s pieces can be used as a module, that is a repeated element forming more complex structures. For example, I made a curtain among trees (you can see below) using a plastic ring as a module.
The interaction between colored plastic and natural or artificial light can generate interesting, almost magical effects.
After having explored “the rules of its grammar”, we will be able to use the material in a creative way, consistent either with its nature and our purpose in a specific context. Here is a short example: some pencil flowers I designed to celebrate the birthday of a public Library.
I did not have in my mind images of real flowers to be copied: the shape of the final flowers was inspired by the shapes and characteristics of the various parts of the bottles, recombining them. In many cases, the cap was drilled and used as a connector between the pencil and the plastic part. What is your favorite one? Many other species are waiting to be discovered… You are very welcome to send a picture of new flowers, in order to broaden a common Plastic Herbarium. Enjoy!
When can a process be defined “creative”? What does it mean “to be creative”? It is a very complex subject and there are several definitions. I have chosen one I like. The French mathematician Henry Poincaré defined creativity as “the capacity to join scattered elements in new and useful combinations”. This means that a creative result establishes a useful link between elements that were already known before but apparently unrelated. It often happens that we can not choose the starting elements, we just have them; but – according to Poincaré – this does not limit our creativity, as it comes from the quality of the relations: from the way to put together the elements rather than from the elements themselves. Let’s see how this theory can be applied to a concrete example from my work. Many years ago, I was asked to project a workshop in a public library. Of course, there were some established conditions I had to consider: the workshop was supposed to last about one hour, for children from 6 to 10 years old, celebrating the library’s birthday and using simple stationery or recycled materials (paper, fabric, plastic bottles, pensils, markers, scissors, glue). Moreover, we had a large amount of pencils available (thanks to a sponsor).
Starting from these initial elements, the workshop idea I found was a “writing-flower”, built with a pencil and paper or fabric petals. It was also possible to cut and paste words from photocopied papers with poems, that were placed in some carboard trees (you can see these trees in the post “Technique or imagination?” clicking here). At the end of the workhop, children could give some of the flowers to the library users as an unexpected gift.
The writing-flower holds together all the initial conditions in a useful and pleasant way: it exploites the materials’ potential, it is appropriate to the age of the children and to the duration of the workshop, connected to the specific place of the library (as it concerns writing) and to its birthday, as flowers are typical gift-objects. How did this idea originate? It was not a sudden inspiration but formed through the observation of the initial elements, that suggested which solutions were possible and which not, which one fitted better to all the conditions. For example, we had a lot of pencils: what does a pencil suggest by its shape? Or thinking about the library’s birthday: what kind of object could be preferably used as a gift for a birthday’s celebration? If an idea does not meet all the conditions, it has to be discarded, even if sometimes it is not easy to leave it.
The choice of how to present materials is an important part of the project. In this case, I chose to make available pre-cut shapes because we had a short time, so I preferred to simplify the construction and focus on composition, formal or chromatic choices, combinations of different flowers.
The worshop went well and they asked me another one, with the same theme but a bit different. I designed other pencil-flowers using another recycled material: plastic bottles. If you are interested in, have a look to the post “The grammar of plastic bottles” clicking here. Finally, I think that the design process of this workshop can be defined “creative”. Nevertheless, was the workshop a creative experience itself for the children (according to the initial definition)? I think that in the flowers’ construction creativity had a relatively small component, as well as there was a small margin of choice (concerning colours, shapes and sequences of petals). After all, the aim of the laboratory was not the development of creativity and children enjoyed the experience very much.
So I think that an handmade or artistic activity is not necessarily “creative” (it is a common stereotyped idea). Of course, it is important to share the same definition of creativity as well.
Some years later, it happened that I proposed a workshop about pencil-flowers in a very different context, where the partecipants were asked to develop a more creative process. In that case, we had a longer available time and the theme of “words” was not connected to the context. I invited the partecipants to explore different kind of paper in order to create different shapes of flowers. We used colored pencils, so that the color itself could inspire a certain kind of flower.
Coming back to the initial definition of creativity (as the capacity to join scattered elements in new and useful combinations), there is something Poincaré discovered about it that surprised me very much: the intuitive criterion to recognize the usefulness of the elements’ combination is its beauty. In other words: the most useful idea is also the most beautiful.