Brainstorming, Limitations & Holistic Creation


Brainstorming, one of the most fun activities that creatives engage in. We brainstorm for all kinds of reasons. What do we want for dinner? What business idea can we come up with? How can we improve upon such and such?

Taking mental input, past and present and rearranging, combining, stacking in unique ways to come up with fantastic complete ideas. It takes a lot of work to brainstorm. It takes even more work to do it well. It’s a holistic type of abstract activity and limited by, well… nothing. You take input and experiences and then when you are ready, you dive in, pull from this “collection” of ideas, feelings, preferences, habits and gut reactions, eventually coming up with something to implement. You create a strategy for action.

But that’s where a lot of us stop. We get addicted to the idea of creating ideas, but never putting in the work. There are always reasons, some very valid, as to why we cant follow through. I’m as guilty of this as anyone! Maybe even more so because I brainstorm all the time and I flake all the time! But as often as you drop something, you also create the opportunity to pick it back up.

The beginning of any adventure is sometimes focused almost exclusively on a single aspect. In pottery, I am obsessed with shape and technique and shape. Acquiring that perfect shape that is in my mind. Probably because I’m relatively new to throwing in earnest, though I am getting better with more practice.


Last night the thought struck me. If I am only focused on the shape, then I am limited to what I can accomplish with bone dry greenware or bisqueware. I am bouncing these ideas of of my friend Jenny who has had more experience with throwing, and firing, and selling. She asks “What is wrong with focusing solely on the shape?” Wow that threw me for a loop, in a great way!

I guess that we have to start on a single aspect to get a firm foundation on which to build. If we go wild and never fully grasp the fundamentals, sure, we could come up with some unique and interesting ideas but would they have been better having had the fundamentals in place first? A good question to think about I guess.

There is nothing wrong with focusing on a single aspect at a time. In most areas I subscribe wholeheartedly to the single step approach. Life for example! There is no way to know what is going to happen tomorrow, we stress and grind our teeth over it but no matter how much time we spend, we cannot come to a real and concrete conclusion as to how tomorrow will play out. So as I write this post, I do it one sentence at a time. Seeing where it takes me. (But I have a framework, and that is key!)

In fact, I am in love with limitations (frameworks, whether existing or created to suit the task at hand). When I saw Chawan for the first time, I was thrilled. Here was a simple bowl with infinite variations, so many ways to interpret this very singular thing. The same goes for Yunomi, or Movies, or Painting, or Music, Martial Arts, all of them are limited to what they are and you work within those frameworks and limitations to create beautiful things.

japanese national treasure
The “Kizaemon Ido” Chawan  – ‘National Treasure of Japan’

Take the task of creating a song. Picking from all available notes from all available instruments. Or even worse: “I need you to create the BEST song the world has ever heard. You can pick from every available note and every available instrument. Get going!”. I would fail before I even started. It’s not an impossible task though. If you take the task and create a framework – a genre – and within that framework you create further limitations – these instruments will be used – and further – the key of G and then further – this chord progression – and so on, eventually you have your song. As for the question if it is the best, that is highly subjective LoL!

What can I do with a single tool at the wheel when I’m throwing? What can I do with a limited number of glazes. How can I make things that are simple and elegant? No more than exactly what is needed to create something that works. Just enough and no more.

Now, although I am still focused on the foundations for each of the vast number of things one must learn to be a potter. I am going to try to broaden my framework and try to think of the totality of a form before making it. Still while working within these limitations it does not mean that they have to be completely separate from each other. A more holistic approach I think comes naturally as one develops and progresses at anything. So before a cup becomes a piece of bisqueware, I’ll try to think of how it can be modified, decorated, and glazed, based on the limitations of its shape.

Ansel Adams called this previsualization and he was, well he was Ansel frickin Adams! He was a master at what he did, and before he was a master he took many hikes in the woods, took many terrible pictures with his Brownie camera. He had doubts, setbacks and money troubles, the same as any of us. He worked within the limitations of his gear, body and mind, and eventually captured the beautiful majestic scenery that we all know and love today with a total dedication to the craft.

Ansel Adams – Thunderstorm, Yosemite Valley

So let’s keep working! Within our limitations of knowledge, time, equipment & ideas we can keep pushing and create beautiful things. Because the process is a beautiful thing. Limitations are a beautiful thing. You are a beautiful thing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s