How this creativity course uncovered the visual artist in me

I’d been longing to head up to Yestermorrow, a design-build school in the Mad River Valley in Vermont. The school’s motto is “think with your hands,” which struck a chord with me. First, because I attended a Montessori school from preschool through Grade 5 (Montessori advocates for hands-on learning). Second, because sometime after starting high school I’d stopped feeding that very primal desire to ‘create with my bare hands.’  

When my dad said he was coming to visit, I promptly signed us up for Fundamentals of Design. My dad lives nearly 5,000 miles away. When we meet, my top priority is to maximize our time ‘thinking’ together. I love seeing the man in action. It was fateful that Fundamentals was the only course that worked for my dad’s visit. This powerhouse course started in the Bauhaus with Josepth Albers, went on to Yale with Robert Engman, and is now being offered at Yestermorrow by architects Dave Sellers and Jim Adamson.

I arrived with an open mind and ready to get over my ‘fear’ of using my hands. For that’s what it’d become: a fear. I never knew where to start anymore. I’d become too self-conscious. Last year, I bought Caran d’Ache Classic Neocolor crayons. I drew something. I recoiled. I stuffed the crayons in a drawer. I ignored them. For years, this had been my typical creative process. I rarely got past the inner critic. I somehow wrongly, habitually, made the process about myself. I took the work to be a reflection of my ability or lack thereof.

Through hands-on explorations with paper and metal, Fundamentals taught me 3 transformative lessons about creativity:

  • Having an open mind is not enough. To create, it’s necessary to have open senses.The creative process is a dialog with the medium. We manipulate it. What feedback does it give us? What do we observe? What hunch do we get about what ought to happen next?

  • Creativity isn’t special. We are all innately able and capable of creating. Children are uninhibited in their creativity and imagination. How do we get that back? I’ve found it takes at least the time and dedication to (take a course like Fundamentals and then) find the time and place to create, explore new media, learn new techniques.

  • Staying creative is hard work. It takes discipline to remain active. To me, the key to staying engaged has been fascination. During Fundamentals, I was fortunate enough to find not only the medium, but also the perspective that sparked my creative drive. After creating these petite and intricate objects, Jim suggested I take them to the window, to see their shadows. I’ve been fascinated ever since.

The combination of these 3 lessons has transformed my approach to creativity. Fundamentals has been a truly special gift. I’ve discovered a personal connection to art. I’ve found the visual artist in me. I’ve acquired a wordless language with which to communicate. (The icing on the cake is that I got to experience all this with my dad.)

I haven’t stopped growing since the last day of class, this past March. From keeping my senses ‘on,’ to creating new objects, setting up photo shoots, finding a local high quality printer, learning new image editing skills… I’m all in. I’m honored to have been invited to rejoin Fundamentals as a teaching assistant this coming February. My hope is to be sharing my work more broadly through Saatchi Art next year.

Oh, and those Caran D’Ache crayons? They’re working hard!

This post was originally posted by Renata Watts on her blog, Mrs. Ramsay & Me.