Not too long ago I worked for a little while as a creativity and small business coach. One of the things I used to do with my clients when they were trying to solve a problem was ask them to create 10 solutions and list them for me–didn’t matter how crazy they sounded or if the client had no idea how to implement them. The only criteria was that it was something that could be done if one had all the right resources. Usually there were not more than 2 or 3 even remotely viable solutions but that wasn’t the point of the exercise. The idea was to make the client really push themselves, think of anything and everything possible even if they knew they wouldn’t want to.
I had one client who was debating about how to package an herbal bath mix. This was a very small line so mass produced packaging wasn’t an option and she wanted to be environmentally friendly so I asked her make me a list of 15 ways to package it. She made a list that included hand sewn bags, origami boxes and recycled glass jars among more common things. But because she had to push the idea she ended up online and found a company that made envelopes from recycled papers embedded with wildflower seeds. The buyers could use the herbal mix then plant the packaging in a pot and later would have flowers from it. No waste and it very much represented the harmony and cycle of life philosophy of her business. It was brilliant. But if she hadn’t kept pushing the ideas available, she would never have come up with that.
Working on variation can do the same thing for you. We often discover new ways to do things when we are forced to create an new item for commision or a challenge. But you don’t need to wait for these motivational circumstances to push yourself. Do the same kind of assignment I would give my small business clients only instead of a list, do inchies or beads or cover a dozen little bottles for the Bottles of Hope. Explore just one technique or skill and do it over and over but different every time. You can come up with amazing things you would never have thought of doing or never thought you’d like by pushing yourself this way.
Here’s just a small sample of such a thing you can do in the studio. Here Belén Moreno Alberca created a dozen pendants all a variation on textured and stacked shapes. Very little is repeated–basically shaped combinations recur in the butterflies but I think that is because of the narrower shape in the middle. I do suppose she could have pushed it by allowing the interior shapes to break out beyond the boundary of the base shape but this is still a good example of pushing a basic idea.
Belen actually does a lot of this, making a multitude of items with slight variation. You can explore her exploratory world on her Flickr page. I’m sure she makes as much as she does for sales but if you are trying to break through and discover just how far you can push a technique, don’t make things thinking they will be items you’ll sell. You might be able to in the end but this is an exercise and you need the freedom to go nuts and not worry about your market. Make a couple dozen of something and see what you come up with. If you worry about the expense, don’t bake it. Toss anything you don’t like in the scrap clay bin for later recycling Just don’t do anything that will limit your creativity and freedom to explore. Let go and have fun. That’s often when the big discoveries come along!