Creating a Creative Environment

The creative thinking class I’m auditing recently focused on environments that support creativity.  In articles and posts, the focus is primarily on creative work environments; however, rarely do we hear anything about creative home environments. What are the traits that makes a person creative, and how can we create home environments that support these characteristics?

Creative environments need to be playful to help the artists who live there maintain a sense of wonder and curiosity. Creativity demands a sense of humor and sensuality.  Places that include unexpected surprises, like  a swing in the shower, wake us up and help us look at things with fresh eyes.  (I love my swing.)

Swing

 

I just moved.  It was not a planned move, and it was short notice.  My rented house was put on the market.  I had to cancel an airline ticket to Madrid, and I had a guest coming in seven weeks but no place for her to stay.  When life throws something like this at someone creative,  they yell “plot twist”, and start working on the solution.  Necessity is a tough mother, but it creates conditions for creative solutions.  Survival is good, but thriving is elegant; the optimal solution must be better than conditions before the problem occurred.

My new place is perfect – and funky.  It shocked my friends when they first saw it, but it had two characteristics that appeal to working artists: it was cheap and it was big. Creative people need space to work, and we would rather spend money on art supplies than a new sofa.  Showplaces hold no interest.  Our status comes from what we do, not what we own.

Creative people have vision, and bringing a work to fruition requires energy.  Although my new pad was a dump and would take a load of work to fix up, it had good bones.  There were a lot of obstacles, time was short, and my budget was tight. I would have to buy used, barter and trade, borrow, make it, repurpose it, get it given to me as a gift, or do without.  Luckily, we as artists are good at this. 

Obstacle is the path

Spaces are like theater sets; the fundamental purpose of each room is to support activities of those who live there.  Some spaces, like majestic cathedrals with their soaring towers, elicit a sense of awe; other spaces, like dark nightclubs with throbbing music, support carnality.

The first question to ask is always this: what is the purpose of the space – what activities will it support?  People sometimes complain that they watch too much TV, but all the furniture in their living room faces a wide screen television and the light is too dim for reading.  In other words, the living room supports television viewing and little else.  The worst is having a TV in the bedroom, right next to the ironing board.  Nobody is going to get lucky in a room like that!

Creative people usually set up their surroundings to encourage learning and imagination.  I envisioned the new place as a series of creative spaces that would support film, dance, community, painting, photography, cuisine, study, meditation and sensuality.  I also wanted the environment to reflect playfulness, humor and spontaneity.

I live in the beautiful colonial city of San Miguel de Allende in Mexico.  My apartment is in the historic center.  It is entered through the garage, which is so big that a commercial truck could fit inside with room to spare.  Since I don’t have a car, I decided to turn the garage into three creative zones.

The first zone contains a large viewing screen, a porch swing I got by bartering, and a 550+DVD collection of award-winning films that was given to me by a friend who is moving back to the States. The middle zone is a dance studio with a ballet barre, floor-to-ceiling mirror, and sprung wood floor that my dance teacher loaned me.  The dance studio is well lit and features constellation lighting for parties.   The third zone is the dining room. It supports community.

Yes, my dining room is in the garage.  As creatives, “Out-of-the-box” is our middle name.  (We’ve seen normal and want our money back.)  A collection of games is stacked on the sideboard.  Playing games is not just a social activity; amid the jokes and laughter, it forces us to think to outflank other players.

Dining Room

The kitchen is designed for a serious cook.  There is no table, only work surfaces.  (Heaven for creatives would be made up of endless work surfaces.) The only cabinets are for dishes.  All ingredients are on utility shelves where I can reach them quickly.  I study with a chef a couple times a month and cook almost every day.  I just ordered a six-rack commercial oven that will arrive soon.

Cooking is an underrated sensual pleasure. Standing at the stove, humming under my breath, magic-wanding apricots into jam while the music laps around me like a cat, I often think of my Mennonite roots.  Surely nobody has ever felt lonely while kneading bread and making jam. The best incense in the world is a fragrant kitchen.

kitchen

The painting studio is the largest space devoted to one activity.  It is really a living room because every room in my house is a living room, and every room in your house can be a living room, too.  If there is a dead room, figure out what activity you want it to support and make it happen.  Make a creative space and life will flow into it.

art studio

Your life is your greatest work of art, so build the environment that sustains you, makes you think,  celebrates sensuality, creativity and laughter, and gives you courage to try new things.

 

 

 

 

Creative Thinking: Associative Elements

CREATIVITY AND THE HIPPO. Started the creative thinking course this morning, which is taught by Peter Childs, the head of Design Engineering at the Imperial College of London. The first assignment was to chose a quote that describes creativity and explain why. I used the Hippo Roller invention as an example.

I worked in Africa during a protracted drought. The wells dried up. Women were walking long distances, sometimes as much as six hours round trip, to wells that were still functioning. They were taking their older children out of school to help. The women carried water on their heads.

The Hippo Water Roller is a invention that shows how its South African inventors, Pettie Petzer and Johan Jonker, reconfigured the elements associated with carrying water to produce an out-of-the-box water carrier.

Mednick writes that “Creativity is the forming of associative elements into new combinations. Taking time to figure out the components of a problem helps us figure out what the solution should look like.

The first “associative element” of the problem the Hippo addresses is how much water a family needs. To give an idea of how much water someone uses for drinking, washing, and cooking, the municipal government in Capetown, Africa, set a usage limit of 13 gallons a day per person. (North Americans use much more, as much as 101 gallons per day per person according to some estimates.)

The second associative element is the physical act of transporting the water. Each gallon of water weighs eight pounds. Carrying water is back-breaking work requiring strength and stamina.

The third associative element is cost and durability. Where I worked in Africa, the median household income was $450 per year. The solution had to be cheap and last.

Another element includes ease of cleaning. Contaminated water make people sick.

The inventors have done a brilliant job of reconfiguring associative elements to solve the problem. The Hippo rolls the water container on the ground instead of being carried on the head. This makes it easier and much less strenuous, increasing the number of people in the family who can assist in transporting water.

The Hippo holds up to 24 gallons – five times more water than traditional containers. It is made from low-density polyethylene and is rugged enough to cope with the rough surfaces found in rural areas in Africa. It has a large opening for easy filling and cleaning, doubles as a water storage container, and costs $125. Families pay 10% ($12.50), NGOs pay the rest.

According to the United Nations, 2.1 billion people live without access to safe water in their homes. These statistics do not reflect the reality on the ground, such as the time people spend transporting water. The Hippo is a simple and creative solution that immediately improves that lives of users, unlike many projects in developing countries that require extensive time and money before results are seen. Easier access to water improves hygiene, which reduces illness and – just as important – improves personal dignity.

 

Creative Thinking

Started the creative thinking course this morning, which is taught by Peter Childs, the head of Design Engineering at the Imperial College of London. The first assignment was to chose a quote that describes creativity and explain why.

I chose extracts of two quotes. The first is “Creativity is the forming of associative elements into new combinations…”(Mednick). The second quote is “Creativity denotes a person’s capacity to produce new or original ideas, insights, inventions, or artistic products…” (Vernon)

I used the Hippo Roller invention as an example.

 
I worked in Africa during a protracted drought. The wells dried up. Women were walking long distances, sometimes as much as six hours round trip, to wells that were still functioning. They were taking their older children out of school to help. The women carried water on their heads.
 
The Hippo Water Roller is a invention that shows how its South African inventors, Pettie Petzer and Johan Jonker, reconfigured the elements associated with carrying water to produce an out-of-the-box water carrier.
 
The first “associative element” is how much water a family needs. To give an idea of how much water someone uses for drinking, washing, and cooking, the municipal government in Capetown, Africa, set a usage limit of 13 gallons a day per person. (North Americans use much more, as much as 101 gallons per day per person according to some estimates.)
 
The second associative element is the physical act of transporting the water. Each gallon of water weighs eight pounds. Carrying water is back-breaking work requiring strength and stamina.
 

The third associative element is cost and durability. Where I worked in Africa, the median household income was $450 per year. The solution had to be cheap and last.

Another element includes ease of cleaning.  Contaminated water make people sick.

 
The inventors have done a brilliant job of reconfiguring associative elements to solve the problem. The Hippo rolls the water container on the ground instead of being carried on the head.  This makes it easier and much less strenuous, increasing the number of people in the family who can assist in transporting water.
 
The Hippo holds up to 24 gallons – five times more water than traditional containers. It is made from low-density polyethylene and is rugged enough to cope with the rough surfaces found in rural areas in Africa. It has a large opening for easy filling and cleaning, doubles as a water storage container, and it costs $125.  Families pay 10% ($12.50), NGOs pay the rest.
 
According to the United Nations, 2.1 billion people live without access to safe water in their homes. These statistics do not reflect the reality on the ground, such as the time people spend transporting water. The Hippo is a simple and creative solution that immediately improves that lives of users, unlike many projects in developing countries that require extensive time and money before results are seen.  Easier access to water improves hygiene, which reduces illness and – just as important – improves personal dignity.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9fBAsesb4N0&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR0mLFWqBK0BZ_zkDl8jKNr2NVONnEB0jZ0jdlzMHFo9LARDeaA9-_Gj3s4