How I Create...
And Why This Caused A Lot of Problems in Studio

I remember my very first studio project at Harvard's GSD.

I felt good. I was going to do exactly what I had always done on my studio projects at LAIAD and my studio projects at the University of Idaho.

I was going to approach this the same way I approached art projects, and writing projects, my whole life.

I had a method. It was fun. It was utterly effortless. And it worked every time, without fail.

I simply fed my brain all pertinent information.

And then I went off and did other things.

And usually by the next morning, but definitely within two or three days, by brain would say, Ta da! Here it is!

And there, in the universe of my mind, I could see the project. Complete. Full color. I could rotate it. Zoom in and out. I could see it in its finest detail, or in its greatest context.

All I had to do next was produce it.

If it was a story, I'd just write it down.

If it was a drawing, I'd stare at the blank paper and my mind would superimpose the image onto the paper so that I could trace it.

If it was a model, I would turn the model in my head around to see every angle. And then I would just build it.

It was literally that easy.

I set about to do my first project at the GSD in the same way.

A day into the project, our studio's TA wanted to see what I'd done so far.

My brain hadn't told me what it was doing yet, so I had no idea.

The TA was worried. She said I had to start producing diagrams of my ideas. Like all of my classmates were doing.

I tried to explain my method to her.

She told me that you don't do architecture that way.

How they want you to create at the GSD is very strange. They want you to sit at your desk and labor as long as it takes, methodically working out every iteration of an idea that you can until you can’t see straight and your legs go numb from sitting so long. I hated it.

To try to appease my critics, I tried pulling ideas out of my subconscious, only to discover that this essentially aborts the idea. It stops the process. A partially-cooked idea is no good to me.

I remember talking to a few classmates first semester about this, and one girl told me that this isn’t the way she likes to create either, but hey, we’re at Harvard, so let’s just try it their way and try to learn something from it.

So okay, that’s a good point. Even though my method produced the work that was good enough to get me into Harvard in the first place, I tried it their way. I didn’t like it. I wasn’t happy with my work. I felt like I was accomplishing a small percentage of what I could be accomplishing, but I also thought, okay, maybe this will teach me something useful.

The problem is, this method requires copious amounts of output, but leaves little time for input, what I called feeding my brain. Trying to use the GSD Method of Creation is like trying to squeeze blood from a turnip.

I keep trying to do things their way until maybe about mid-semester of the Spring. I had a heart to heart talk with myself, and decided that this method just was not working for me. I really wanted to go back to my usual way of creating. And the way I had to do that was to feed my brain.

So I took the day off from my 7-day-a-week school schedule and I walked into Boston. I took pictures of some buildings that I liked. I love Boston, and I just focused on enjoying myself. That’s it. And in the late afternoon, I felt pretty good, so I went home, started up AutoCAD, and just like that, drew up plans, sections, and elevations for a project that I had been stuck on. I was more productive in 4 hours – four hours of easy work – than I had been in my entire time at the GSD.

I plotted it all out the next morning in time for studio, and my critic was very happy with what I had done. So I think to myself, ah, we’re getting somewhere. So I told her about my method. She somehow didn't hear that this is the way I had been creating my entire life; she called it "the Boston Method," and she encouraged me to keep doing it.

I was elated. And when we had our crit and I presented the project, I had the best review of my time at the GSD.

But you know what? When I did it again a couple of weeks later for our final project, she was upset with me for missing class. When we started the final project, despite how happy she was with how my method worked out for my other project, she continued to want me to draw out every iteration of the idea as it progressed. Even though my method works, she insisted that I go back to this laborious and fruitless way of doing things.

So when I missed class again so that I could simply, easily, and quickly move forward on this project, she was upset, she told me I was behind, that I wouldn’t finish in time, and without any input on my part, had decided that she was going to give me an Incomplete and that I could finish studio at the end of Summer. Which meant that the few weeks I had left to complete the project would be stretched out for another three and a half months. And I had to continue working with her throughout the process.

In retrospect I should have refused. After all, I was the one doubling my student loan debt. But I did it. I hated it. I hated every day of it.

And after I finally had my crit at the end of the summer...I left.

Just now...some years later...I came across this study that anybody in a creative line of work will find interesting:

We all get them -- those frightening periods of time when the idea well feels empty. When it feels like you'll never get another creative thought.

How do you handle these dry periods? Pace the floor? Stare at the computer screen?

A university study that National Public Radio reported on recently shows that if you're trying to make a breakthrough this way, you're going about it all wrong.

The researchers paired two groups of study subjects. The first group was given a problem to solve, a number of "starter ideas," and specific exercises for getting started. The second group was presented with nothing but the problem -- and they did significantly better than the first one.

This study demonstrates that the most effective way to come up with creative ideas is to let your subconscious do your creative work.

In other words, don't try to force creativity.

Arm yourself with a ton of research. Study your swipe file . . . not just for specific ideas, but to add ideas and images to your subconscious.

Then let those ideas percolate for several days. Think about the entire project while you're driving, having coffee, or showering. But do NOT try to think about a solution to any particular problem.

When you least expect it, a great idea will pop into your mind and end your creativity roadblock!


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