Val's creative journey

Like most people, my creative journey began as a child. Drawing, painting, and playing on a mini keyboard, I would follow my creative bliss. But when I entered my pre-teens, my creative impulses got snuffed out by a belief that what I was creating was uncool, so I stopped all forms of creative expression.

Several decades later, and with a devastating personal loss, I engaged with my creativity again. It started with a friend’s suggestion that I attend art therapy to help me through the grief I was struggling with. Another friend took me to a weekly Buddhist meditation group, and I soon found the combination of the creative work and spiritual work improved my wellbeing.

I have continued to notice the inextricable link between the spiritual practice and creativity. There is something about clearing the mind with meditation that opens it to new ideas. It's as though the ideas are around me, in the ether, but I can't receive them until I am in a calm and peaceful state.

The creative process is, of course, slightly different for everyone and it can change over time. I am constantly amazed by the fluidity of creative energy can and peoples' perception of their own creativity. It was from this place of fascination that I asked several creative professionals in my network to share with me the nuances of their creative practice.

Art for Happiness

From those interviews, my first solo book was born. Titled: Art for Happiness: Finding your creative process and using it (2015), the book shared some of the common themes in the lives of professional creatives. These included:

  • A regular creative practice was vital to their wellbeing because of the joy, satisfaction, and sense of agency it brought to their lives.
  • There was a clear interdependence between: personal wellbeing, spiritual peace, and creativity. Being in nature was consistently mentioned as having the power to elevate all three: wellbeing, connection with spirit, and creativity.
  • Other sources of creative inspiration included the work of other artists, musicians, writers, dancers, and poets etc. Childhood memories were also mentioned as a strong source of inspiration. Whether those memories were ‘good’ or ‘bad’ did not seem to matter, they were still a source of inspiration.
  • A willingness to experiment, coupled with self-belief and a commitment to continuous improvement shone through as enabling factors for the professional creatives I interviewed.

Creative visualization

Around the time I published that book, my spiritual practice was evolving, and I became interested in creative visualisation. Although contemporary interpretations of the term focused on visualising one’s future success, I was more interested in exploring how the discipline of creative visualisation can enhance a person’s creative practice. From the interviews I conducted, and the academic research I undertook, I learned:

  • Creative visualisation exercises, like dreams, can reveal our inner guides as they lead us through a scene or experience. Aspects of our own subconscious, these guides can be called upon to provide inspiration for our creative work whenever we need them.
  • The act of capturing what we have seen during a creative visualisation exercise can bring an extra layer of texture to the inspiration we’ve drawn from the exercise. It is the act of writing about it, drawing it, speaking about it etc. that calls forth our own interpretation of what was visualised, and therefore exercises our creative thinking.
  • Letting the vision sit alone for a while after we have captured it can give the vision some time to percolate through our conscious mind before we start to bring it to life in our creative practice.

A year or so after publishing Creative Visualisation: Access your Imagination and Enhance your Creative Practice (2016), I found myself reflecting on the life event that had brought me back to my creativity. Finally, I felt ready to confront that phase in my life, to re-acquaint myself with the pain, and write about it.

Beyond Blue

I became curious about ways in which other people might use their creative practice as a method of recovering from grief and loss. And I wanted to pull those findings into a book that would be useful to anyone struggling with grief. This meant the book had to be short, sweet, and easy to read because people who are in deep grief usually find it difficult to absorb more than a few sentences at a time.

So that’s how the book Beyond Blue: Creative Approaches to Releasing Grief and Flying Free (2017) was born. Although it’s a short book, it offers a summary of the research on grief: the types of grief, the phases of recovery and the possibility of personal growth beyond grief. The people I interviewed for the book included professional writers, artists, and an art therapist. Unsurprisingly, there were several key themes that emerged from our interviews:

  • Creative work offers a sense of agency to the person doing the work. The very act of holding a pen, or a paintbrush, or pressing the fingers onto a keyboard can offer the creator a sense of control. That feeling of control can be incredibly therapeutic for someone who is suffering from a loss.
  • The sensory and tactile aspect of making music, painting, weaving, or any other artform, offers an embodied mode of accessing difficult feelings. More so than talking about difficult events, expressing the feelings in a non-verbal way can be a faster and more direct route to releasing difficult feelings.
  • The experience of being in the moment, fully present to what is being created, allows the creator to gently separate from, and observe, the difficult feelings associated with the grief.
  • The subject of the creative work can offer the creator a means of reframing the connection they once had to what has been lost. Reframing has therapeutic value during the process of recovery because it helps the griever to put some distance between the loss and their feelings about it.

Creative work calls upon all aspects of the self – the intellectual, physical, and spiritual – and therefore offers the opportunity for integration between those aspects. From this understanding, I felt inspired to create another book that would focus on the psychology of creativity than my previous books had.

Inspired Creativity

Titled Inspired Creativity: Insights from experts on the psychology of creativity (2019) this book offered an easy and accessible way for readers to engage with concepts popular psychology such as:

  • Jungian concepts such as logic and intuition, the collective unconscious, archetypes, synchronicity, the active imagination and transpersonal dreamwork. This book offered a simple explanation of these concepts as well as some practical tools for using them in creative projects.
  • Dealing with the inner critic. We all have an inner critic, that critical voice that tells us we are not good enough, our creative work is not good enough, we are imposters, and so on. This book explored some of the things we can do to silence the inner critic during the emergent phase of the creative process and reactivate it later, when we need to undertake a critical analysis of our work.
  • This book provided a simple explanation of the condition synaesthesia, which is apparently common among creative people, and some practical exercises for using it in the creative process. Other topics covered were synectics: the bringing together of elements not typically seen together, for the purpose of creating something new.

Top Ten Tips for Enhancing your Creativity.

An author colleague challenged me to distil and squeeze the key insights from these 4 books into one simple book. Titled Top Ten Tips for Enhancing your Creativity, the book does just that. It's quick and easy to read and perfect for anyone who has never thought about creativity or had a creative practice but is open to the possibility of making a start.

Creative Spirit

Following feedback and requests from several readers of the books in my Inspiration & Creativity series, I expanded the content and further explored the link between spirituality and creativity, in my new online course.

Titled Creative Spirit, the course includes several guided visualizations, and techniques for capturing what emerges from those exercises, and approaches for using it to fuel creative work. It also offers advice on getting into the creative zone and breaking through common barriers to creativity.

Join the free Creative Spirit newsletter to receive a monthly digest of all things creative, inspiring, and nurturing. 

Coaching and mentoring

I sometimes feel frustrated that I don't have the time to act on every creative idea that comes to me. This is because the well of creativity is endless. The more we create, the more we learn, which sparks more creative ideas, and so on. It's a wonderful thing, but it can lead to burnout if we allow ourselves to go overboard.

Like any form of work, creative work needs to be done in moderation. It needs to be balanced with fallow time, rest, sleep, physical exercise, socialising, healthy eating and everything else that's important in a person's life. Knowing your own limits and having someone to walk alongside you as a coach, mentor, or a trusted friend is super helpful.

If they hold the space of you, and offer you a structure process to explore what calls you, and remind you of everything that's important to you, they can act as a mirror, reminding you of who you are and what you want. A good coach will also bear witness to your transformation and cheer you on. If you feel you would like to engage a coach for a while, check out the coaching and advisory services I offer.

Check out my creativity coaching packages 

I also offer specialist coaching for entrepreneurs entering the creator economy.

Things that influenced my own creative work

In terms of my own creative practice, it's very focused. Writing science fiction novellas and creative visual art are the two forms I continue to gravitate toward. My earliest creative influence was the book: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and it continues to be one of my all time favourites. In my teens and 20's, I read science fiction novels by Jules Verne. I love them all, but Journey to the Center of the Earth remains my favourite and it continues to inspire some of the scenes in my novels. Without intending to, I almost always include a scene in which my protagonist is deep under the ground exploring a new world, or trying to escape it.

Creating visual art

For as long as I can recall, I have been drawing and painting. Then I got into photography in a big way. In the 1990's I purchased my first camera, a Canon DSLR, which took magnificent photos. Living on Sydney's coast at the time, I photographed waves, sand, rocks, rock pools, leaves, flowers, petals, trees, anything that drew my attention.

For a while, I did nothing more with the photos than share them with friends and sell a few in art exhibitions, but everything changed when I started scanning the printed photos into my desktop printer / scanner device. Staring at a photo of a yellow tulip, I zoomed in for a closer look. The image blurred, so I applied the ‘sharpen’ function which pixelated the image so heavily, it turned into a series of vertical and horizontal lines. A matrix. Wow.

I spent an entire year experimenting with the functions in the software, continuously fascinated by the impact they had on the images. By the end of the year, I had created a library of over 500 images that I found completely fascinating. Little did I know, the process I had tapped into was called 'convolution' and it remains one of the key behaviours in image editing software. Using a 'neural network' these softwares are designed to recognise when one pixel in an image is being modified, then react by altering the entire image.

Working with technology

Fast forward to July 2022 and suddenly everything changed again. In a HUGE way. A stack of text-to-image algorithms (A.I.) were made accessible to everyone. I explored them all, enthralled as they produced images that only my imagination had previously seen. By entering keywords (i.e. a tree in a meadow) and modifiers (i.e. 'in the style of ...' and 'with the effect of ...') I combined concepts, styles and genres that would not normally be seen together. Some of the results were hideous, but others were astonishingly delightful.

As I write this (January 2023) there is a significant amount of debate about the validity of A.I. art. In my opinion, all aspects of the argument are valid, but I am most inclined toward author Kevin Kelly's view. In his book: The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 technological forces that will shape our future, he seems to refer to A.I. tools with optimism when he says: 

'This is not a race against the machines. If we race against them, we lose. This is a race with the machines. You'll be paid in the future based on how well you work with robots. It is inevitable.'

I agree wholeheartedly! And as a multi form creator, I plan to use everything at my disposal to continue to explore, discover, create and share. Blockchain technology and the process of minting one-off unique artworks on the chain is interesting, too. This process of minting provides the creator with irrefutable evidence of their ownership of the digital asset and enables them to sell their artworks as one off items as a non-fungible token (NFT). Check out my video about this.

Writing science fiction

My interest in technology emerged most strongly when I wrote my first series of fiction books. Titled: The Gaia Machine, the series explores a possible future in which climate change has taken its toll, resources are scarce and world order is maintained by an A.I. known as 'Gaia'. Reviewers of the series have said they found it a credible extension of what we live with now (i.e. Siri, Alexa, and so many more A.I. tools). Many found the story a dystopian nightmare, and felt relieved by the ending.

My next series of fiction was Molly's Magical Adventures. Comprising four books, the series follows the adventures of two plucky Australian kids who find themselves in the jungle in Papua New Guinea. They observe several bizarre things they can only describe as 'magic' but are reluctant to, as they are hard core science nerds. With a blend of science, nature, magic and mystery, the series has attracted some great reviews.

I'm currently working on my third series of fiction. Set in the Pegasus Constellation, some distance from our own solar system, anything goes. It's a strange story world filled with awe and wonder. The first book, Transit, is available now with another two to be released in 2023.