Spent hours at GAS (the Glass Art Society conference) last month asking glass artists how they create–not the technical part so much as the inspiration and content part–and was kind of surprised at what came out of my very unscientific survey.

Most appeared rather surprised by the question, clearly hadn’t considered WHY they do what they do, and had a lot of trouble separating creative process from technical production details. A few had absolutely pat answers that sounded like well-rehearsed artist statements.

What I most liked, though, was talking with people who hadn’t thought about it before. It was fun to listen as they verbally ran through the creation of their work, looking for patterns. I got a lot of “Hmmmmmm….how DO I create?” murmurs, which tells me this may not be something the average artist thinks about.

In any case, once we got past the high-falutin’ “In my art I strive to represent the aspirations of all womankind,” artist statement kinda stuff, I got some interesting variations in the creative process:

  • Several, especially glassblowers, simply grab some glass, molds, blowpipe or whatever, work until they get something that looks good, then stop.
  • Some find a picture or object they really like and figure out how to make it theirs, in glass.
  • Some glom onto a fascinating pattern or juxtaposition of shapes, then work variations on it, explore it, until they’ve exhausted all the possibilities.
  • Many set rigid constraints, i.e., technical limitations, favorite technique, a specific color palette or form, etc., and then go crazy within those constraints.
  • Some do all their creative work on paper or blackboard, draw a shape, add color specifications, figure out how to do it technically. By the time they’re hands-on with the glass, the creative work is done, they’re simply finishing up with production details….and their minds are on the NEXT piece.
  • Some experiment, i.e., what would happen if I do this…and if they like the results, they keep it. If not, they melt it. If the keepers sell, they’ll try to reproduce what they did.
  • Some take a very business-like approach, i.e., identify the colors, shapes and styles that the market is currently buying, and make X of them.
  • Some start with an agenda, a political statement, maybe, or a specific emotion, and borrow symbols and images to illustrate it, almost like making a collage.
  • A couple flat out illustrate a story the way you’d illustrate a comic book.
  • Many have absolutely no idea how they create, even after thinking about it. “I dunno, I just do it,” said one, “I really don’t know how or why.”

I started asking this question thanks to my work as a writer, not an artist. I’ve taught or mentored many new writers over the years, and they’ll almost always ask HOW to write. After some research and a lot of headscratching (and experience), I’ve found there are four basic writing processes, in English, and after 15 years of teaching I can make a pretty close correlation of best method to personality type (but that’s another story).

Until recently, though, I hadn’t really considered doing something similar with processes to create art. Given what I’ve heard at GAS, I’m not sure it’s as easy as writing, but it’d be fun to find out.

Now, here’s the goofy part: When I asked myself the same question, I pretty much got the “Gee, I don’t know” response back. Fortunately, I started wondering this about the same time I needed to make stuff for a pate de verre demonstration. I decided to make one of my Vignettes panels, “Boy, Bubbles,” as a sample of extreme pate de verre. I was making it on a compressed timeline, all at once, so it was fairly easy to keep watch on the choices I was making.

What intrigued me was the realization that, even when I don’t explictly think about the whys and wherefores, my subconscious knows exactly why it’s making certain choices. And the process of forcing myself to think about how I create got me into this recursive thing, i.e., analyzing the analysis of the process, and in a curious way, greatly improved my focus. By understanding what I was trying to do, the solutions seemed to come faster, and better.

So…maybe one important piece of creating is to think about it, get an internal dialogue going…dunno…

Anyway, this post is getting long. In the next post, I’ll walk through the how of “Boy, Bubbles,” and hopefully explain what I mean.