My wife Katie, in addition to being an academic, is an artist. She refers to her art projects as experiments. It’s an accurate description. She spends a lot of time testing out materials and techniques, discovering what they can do. As she tries things she keeps notes on what works and what doesn’t. The experiment approach is a source of inspiration for her. Every success sparks a new idea, a new way to test out possibilities. When she discovers the limitations of something, she comes up with different things to try instead.
Meanwhile, she’s turning out some amazing pieces. Her medium is dolls, but they’re more like sculptures. You can check out her stuff on Instagram to see what I mean. She combines sewing and embroidery with clay, papier mache, and found objects. Every piece is different, even within a series of experiments. She might be using the same materials, or the same techniques, but she’s not making multiple iterations of the same doll over and over again.
For Katie, it’s about the process rather than the end result. I’ve never seen her disappointed when a doll didn’t turn out the way she’d originally envisioned it. Usually she’s amazed and delighted that it sort of took on a life of its own, and ended up becoming what it was supposed to be. There might be bits she’s not entirely satisfied with, but that’s part of the long process. She knows what to change on the next piece.
Creative Work as Experiment
Even though my creative work is mostly commercial, I’ve started embracing the experiment approach. When I deadline comes, I need to publish whether I’m personally satisfied with it or not. It still has to meet some minimum criteria to be saleable, but it doesn’t need to meet my own standards of perfection. I can let it go, take what I’ve learned, and make the next project even better.