In creative Processes, Creative expression has no limits or boundaries, and I’m not here to tell you any differently.
Anytime I have started working on a creative project with an inflexible attitude, it’s been as miserable and difficult to execute as it has been to digest for the intended audience.
But not very long ago, I came across a few Japanese design concepts that seemed to just stick to the back of my mind.
Now the Japanese can take any mind-numbing activity, help you recognize the tools you have had within you since the dawn of humanity, and turn it into a tenfold rewarding thing. They prize your time and effort — and with the element of mindfulness, they can add years to the life of anything.
And as a creative who is quickly realizing how every artists’ worst nightmare is Van Gogh-ing their life away — I was inspired to give it a shot.
As much of a heathen as I am, I feel like since I started checking my projects against this metric; the results were more satisfying.
To top it off, one of my favorite writers Tim Denning has highlighted how rules can help us get in creative zones more effectively.
“Rules provide constraints in your life. Constraints help you focus. Focus provides clarity. Clarity helps you take badass actions.”
You can’t limit the efficacy of these Traditional Art concepts to just design either.
While I started off by using them to renovate my bedroom and living area. To test out their effectiveness, I have been using them to improve the first-glance readability of my articles and other published works too.
Lately, these are the three rules I always mentally check against before turning in any commissioned artwork.
Here’s how you can benefit from them too.
Kanketsu: Simplicity is a Complex Process
Everything simple that dazzles with its genius begins as a convoluted caricature in the mind of a disheveled scrawny guy on a coffee-high.
Well, I’m sure not everything.
But most mind-blowing awesome ideas start off looking like shit. And sometimes, also the most unconvincing thing you could take to the Catholic Church. Just ask Galileo.
Kanketsu is the concept that reminds us that to render something that seems to go down as smooth as Irish Whiskey, you often go through a complex process.
The fact that we are unable to see it is what makes some creative pieces seem like such enormous feats. After all, to make it seem effortless is all part of the artists’ mastery.
The key learning here is to commit to your art.
The first draft of so many articles that go on to break the internet looks like selectively researched, conspiracy-theory-riddled schizophrenic babble.
But commitment turns it into gold.
Instead of dwarfing when viewing the work of your heroes, imagine them bent over an idea when it was just an itch in their humble minds. Find the strength in yourself to replicate that behind-the-scenes.
When something strikes you and you convert it into art on a blank canvas — own it and work on it till you find an audience that loves it as much as you. And you’re not going to strike gold on the first attempt either, so keep at it till you do.
Regard the entire process as a pay-off as much as the final results. As it improves with time, the process makes it easier to lead up to the reward.
The process is a mental exercise to translate the universe inside your head into a language of human expression.
Remember, it’s always supposed to be strenuous and complex till it really isn’t that.
Ma: Negative Space or White Space
Fill your work with tons of white space.
And I say that completely aware of how that’s like saying “don’t write” or “don’t paint” or “don’t do stuff”.
But negative space creates visual silence. It lets them miss you.
This is specially effective for online writing when most people will skim your piece before they read it.
For other mediums, white space can ease readers into a long piece of writing, summarize what is to come ahead or flaunt your clarity of thought through brevity. If you can do that, people are more likely to pay attention to you because you’re not wasting their time with the clutter of your thoughts.
This is a sacred space and must not be skipped.
Think of white space as space held for the readers’ thought process about what you have just shown them.
It’s where new ideas for other peoples’ writings are born.
In this fast-paced, digitalized world — people crave something that creates space for them to think. To formulate coherent thought and to aid thinking is a gift only you can give to your audience.
So don’t be selfish.
Eventually, it’s up to people to decide if they want to read more of your content. Writing a super long piece of writing is not a smart way of making them eat it all up because they can click away at any moment.
So ration what you have to say one thought or one idea at a time without cluttering and inevitably decreasing the value of everything you’ve said — because there’s simply so much to choose from.
As an artist, this one concept has reduced the friction behind my commissions when I feel the intense need to throw in a bit of everything I love.
It’s helped me tunnel-vision one technique. Find the one story I really want to tell in a piece and ration my expertise without burning out by the end of every project.
Mono-no-Aware: Awareness of Impermanence
As you get closer to the end with a project — it’s natural to have that bittersweet feeling. You will tell yourself you can improve it the tenth time and delay turning it in so you can savor your creativity for longer.
But that’s the thing with having a potentially groundbreaking idea. It’s never quite ready. And you’re never ready to part with it.
The Japanese concept helps us realize that the bittersweet of ending something can be easier if it is seen as the beginning of another thing with an improved skill-set and more experience.
It’s like getting through a certain number of challenges before you unlock your new avatar — there’s no pressure to make a certain piece your best if it’s keeping you from gradually improving over time.
Experienced creatives know it’s all about the slow boil in this field.
Ideas are frivolous and exhausting if you chase them, and they don’t materialize as well as they look in your head.
But life is short.
And each time you pause real work to chase the mirage of perfection, you’re doing real damage by wasting time that won’t come back.
This design concept is all about internalizing the process so you can keep clear of creativity blocks that come from it and keep you from moving ahead in life.
The three Japanese traditional art concepts that will help you streamline your creative energy and strike gold are:
- Kanketsu: Simplicity is a Complex Process — Commit to the idea and process, no matter how incoherent it starts off. Only you can unlock its true creative potential.
- Ma: Negative Space or White Space — Create visual silences. Allocate space for the audiences’ thought processes and directional thinking in all work.
- Mono-no-Aware: Awareness of Impermanence — Learn to let go of an idea without striving for perfection. Keeping churning the creative butter without selling your sanity to one idea.