ELAINE QUEHL, Quilt Artist, Teacher, Dyer, Designer

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Creativity Coaching Training and the Creative Process

Several things happened yesterday that reminded me of my promise to write a blog post about my experience taking the Introductory Creativity Coaching Training with Eric Maisel. The first incident was a good one. In his e-newsletter yesterday, Eric actually quoted something I had said about his workshop in the article I recently had published in the SAQA Journal. Imagine that! America’s foremost Creativity Coach quoting little old me! But the second thing that happened yesterday illustrates the reason why I love Eric’s books and what they, and creativity coaching, can do for you.

I had been working on machine quilting the striped dahlia (still un-named) over the past two days. You can see the quilt top in my blog post of April 26. Today I came to that point I come to in nearly every work I make. I decided I didn’t like it, that it was sloppy, that the design didn’t work, that it looked awfully like everything else I’ve ever made, and on and on that inner monologue went down its self-deprecating path. Guess what? As a result of all my study into creativity, I now know that creating is a process with ups and downs. The tendency to have these kinds of thoughts is a normal part of the process, and if we don’t realize this we are destined to quit right there. Well I don’t usually quit, but I get distracted when the going gets tough.

Having the entire day in the studio I wanted to make the most of it. I was tired of the dahlia and annoyed that it wasn’t turning out the way I’d hoped, so I turned to other work. Next in line was an experimental piece I’ve been working on using my hand-dyed organza. I have been trying to capture that translucent look of Hosta leaves after the first frost. Well this was not a day to do anything too experimental. After my frustrations with the dahlia I had way too much invested in the outcome. If one more thing didn’t turn out to my satisfaction, I might want to distract myself on the computer for the rest of the day to avoid the anxiety resulting from making work that fell short of my vision. My other option was my Red Stool piece (blog post of April 11), still hanging unfinished on my design wall. I go back at it in fits and spurts. I have been avoiding it because it is hard and involves a boatload of work. But I do know that if I keep running away from the tasks involved in completing it, I will be magnifying them in my mind. I will get through it one leaf at a time and one stool leg at a time. After reading many of Eric’s books, taking a Coaching the Artist Within workshop and the on-line Introductory Creativity Coaching Training, I now know that I need to push through when such blocks hit. So I did. I kept on quilting the dahlia and now I am certainly happier with it than I was earlier in the day. When it is finished I will post a picture.

While I normally enjoy finishing pieces, I am already dreading the facing/binding step of this quilt as someone told me last week that the edge on one of my faced pieces is not perfectly straight. I do not consider myself a perfectionist at all. I prefer work that is finished to work that is perfect, but after this comment I can fully understand how creators can become paralyzed by perfectionism. This time I am going to try putting my facing seam half an inch from the edge rather than the quarter inch I have been doing. According to Kathleen Loomis, the half inch seam enables one to fold back the facing straighter. I do have a love of wonkiness these days over straightness, but if you are going to go wonky you should really embrace wonky and it should look like it was intentional. If one side of the quilt is only slightly wonky I do not think I will convince anyone that this is the result of anything more than sloppy technique.

So back to the Creativity Coaching Training. My training lasted 16 weeks and was conducted on-line. All coaches in training were assigned several clients, chosen from a pool of individuals who had contacted Eric and requested to be matched up with a coach in training. I chose to work with three clients after being warned by Eric that not all clients stick with the program or even begin the program. He says that it is just too scary for some people to confront their own defenses, failures, tricks and disappointments. And that is what we, as coaches in training, were encouraged to do during the 16 weeks. Each week we received an on-line lesson and were required to forward a written response to Eric and our classmates after reflecting on the week’s questions. The lessons forced us to look at our own selves as honestly as possible to engender a deeper understanding of the creative process.

In creativity coaching, we ask our clients to “put their dreams on the table”. It is often hard for struggling artists to say what we truly want because we may not be ready to make the changes we need to make or to face the demons we need to face. Many creators both want success and also fear it. If we are successful we have to accept what the success we worked for has brought. Sometimes that means we have to extend ourselves too much, work harder than we had hoped to meet deadlines, and learn to deal with the demands when everyone wants something at the same time. Sometimes it means having to deal with others’ reactions to our success, and often it means working when we are exhausted.

For many people it is easier to fantasize about being a successful artist than to actually do something. And so we come up with excuses. Mostly we convince ourselves that we don’t have time. But how many of us don’t spend an hour watching TV each day? So when we say we don’t have time it may be about something else or about our priorities. What we don’t realize is that often we are making a conscious choice about how we spend our time when we sit in front of the TV. We might also have so many ideas that we become paralyzed and do nothing. However, as Eric points out, not choosing is a bigger issue than choosing wrong. “The inactive artist is not lacking in time or talent, but has often only failed to choose and commit.”

For many would be creators, anything but creating is often unconsciously seen as their real work. In other words, the creating doesn’t happen until everything else is finished. I know all too well about this. I know how to do these other things on my list, but I don’t know how to make my next work or whether it will live up to my vision.

A creativity coach helps a client set goals and supports them while they work toward their goals. A coach asks questions that help facilitate changes that might be needed to reach those goals. A coach can make a client see that they are not defective when the negative self-talk starts, but that this is just part of the creative process.

One of the major things I have learned from Eric is that the successful artist may not be any more talented than the unsuccessful one, but the key factor is that they showed up more often. By that I mean they have a regular studio habit. I really see how important this is … even if only 15 minutes a day. I struggle with this because of my teaching and travelling schedule. But when I am home I struggle too. It took me two weeks after getting back from my most recent teaching trip to get back into a regular studio routine, but it is now happening!

Near the end of the afternoon yesterday an email came in from a friend in the US. She had received the latest Machine Quilting Unlimited magazine with my article in it. Because of our postal strike here in Canada, she had offered to scan the article and email it to me so I wouldn’t have to wait! Some of the negative self talk from my day in the studio spilled over while reading the article. I heard myself say some self-depracating things. As a result of Eric’s books and Creativity Coaching Training, I know that this kind of thinking (even if true) does not serve me at all. That is also what creativity coaching is about … asking clients to pay attention to the inner dialogue. When you give up, watch what you were saying to yourself just before you gave up. Learn to dispute it and question it and ask if it serves you??

At the end of our Creativity Coaching Training we were all encouraged to hang out our shingles as Creativity Coaches. I won’t be doing that yet, but I do hope to use what I have learned to move forward as an artist and to help my students meet some of their goals.


  1. You have made me aware that I tend to talk negatively to myself, too, and I'm definitely going to stop it when I hear that inner voice. I subscribe to MQU and got my magazine today, and saw your article (looked at the pictures after work). Your quilts look absolutely fabulous!! My immediate reaction was "I could never make quilts like that" but, quieting the negative voices, I've learned how to dye some beautiful fabrics and COULD make some fabulous quilts with it. I sure would love to take a class with you, even though you've already said that Canadians can't teach in the US. Maybe I'll make it to a class in Canada someday.

  2. Thank you Laura. Next time you hear that negative voice just get tough with it and tell it to go away. Turn around what you just said to yourself. For example, if you hear "I'm not creative", then turn that around and say "I'm working on my creativity and it will improve with every new piece I make. I remember when I used to look at art quilts and wish I could make something like that, but I was determined and obsessive, and I know you can make work like mine if you are willing to work at it. Well actually, Canadians are not supposed to be paid for working in the US but you see Canadian teachers teaching there all the time. They just can't be upfront about what they are doing.

  3. Wow, you are putting so much into your posts these days... awesome for the reader. Love this one, so much to learn and to follow and to be inspired by... I was at that point yesterday on my latest art quilt.... it wasn't meeting the dream I had for it... but I let it go, tried something else and today I think I can make it work! WEll, guess the 2012 NJS will tell=) LOL

  4. Thanks Jackie. My hope is that I can make this blog educational and motivational (and sometimes entertaining). Promise me that you won't let the success of your piece be determined by the NJS. Please don't put all your eggs in the same basket.

  5. I just realized that I am eagerly awaiting every new blog post from you - I always learn something and get inspired! Thanks so much!
    I also realized that I way too good in making those excuses and down-talking myself - so lots of work to be done on that... :)

  6. Elaine, this is a terrific post. Jackie said it well. Nancy

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