I’ve been thinking a lot about the creative process lately, no matter what the genre. Partly it’s because I live with my 94 year old dad who has been a photographer all his life. Now he’s having a little trouble with things like focusing the camera, and grabbing the right chemical off the shelf in the darkroom. He keeps exploring new ways to stay engaged.

At a party recently, a woman asked him, “What is the most important thing about your process?”

He thought for a moment, and then said, “Imagination.”

“What kind of ritual do you use to get started?” she asked.

My father was completely mystified by her question. “Ritual” is inconceivable to him.

Since I live with him, I can say he is actually as active in the world of imagination as he is in the real, solid world. And not because he’s old. He’s always been like this.

Right now, he rambles around and finds flowers (we’re in California) and leaves that appeal to him. The shape, the color, the who-knows-what. He brings them home and spreads them out on newspapers laid open all over the place. The flowers and leaves blow off the table and chairs, get crushed underfoot and carried throughout the house.

He chooses ones that appeal to him, and arranges them in picture frames. To me, they are like living photographs. He’s obsessed right now with trying to figure out how to preserve the plants’ suppleness and color. Rather than just go to a craft store and get a product for this, he is trying out every home product he can think of.

He’s got the whole project spread out on the huge dining room table, on the desk nearby, and all the living room couches. He constantly goes to his latest part of his project and works on it for 15 minutes to 2 hours, wanders away, has a cup of coffee, comes back again. There is no ritual to move in and out of this space.

So here’s my take away about creativity:

Make a mess.

Have fun.

If you are really lucky, you’ll still be doing it when you are 94.


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2 responses to “Imagination

  1. Laura Kvasnosky

    Betsy. What a wonderful post. Imagination. Make a mess. I love projects, like quilting, where I can lay out all the potential pieces to view and consider. When I’m working on a novel, I like to make a big collage of related photos, maps, etc. Something about the physical presence of the material stokes the creative engine.

    Your dad’s framed flowers and leaves are beautiful. I can only hope I can still make stuff when I am 94. Happy holidays!

  2. jeannineatkins

    I love this story about a wonderful man, and love the takeaway. Yesterday I was making wreaths with friends and some of us had a hard time letting them stay wild and beautiful, keeping away from the clippers. I’m remembering that as I write (well, there will be clippers) but.. and going to the table with found leaves, keeping them pliable. Thank you!

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