Notes on Creating
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Notes on Creating

© Nyah Ashton (2021)

Conscious Practice

The thing before deliberate practice

So if you’ve heard anything from psychologists Angela Duckworth or Carol Dweck, it’s the idea of the fixed vs. growth mindset, and the deliberate practice which helps to develop skills.

Deliberate practice is objectively looking at your work, picking a measurable and specific thing to improve on and then trying to do it. Once you’ve given it a go, you once again look at it objectively, and so the cycle continues.

I realised when actually settling down to work on my design project that I before I dived into deliberate practice, I needed something before that… I needed to determine what skills were even worth developing. And more importantly, which skills were going to actually help me get closer to my overall goal. Deliberate practice is great once you know for sure what you need to work on; but if your goal is more heuristic or creative, this is harder to determine- and jumping straight into deliberate practice could mean you’re working towards the wrong thing.

This determining of which goals help towards developing the required skill might seem easy and straightforward but actually it’s not- because we can make very false assumptions. If the skill which we decide is super important turns out to contribute absolutely nothing to our goal, even if we turn out to be amazing at that skill, it doesn’t move us any closer to where we need to get to…

…so the skills we consciously choose to develop have big implications

How do we pick the right skills to develop then?

It’s tricky to determine this, but I think breaking down the big goal into smaller ones is a good place to start, and to get some clarity over what exactly we’re working towads. It’s these smaller pieces which determine the individual skills which will contribute to the overall skill.

So let me break it down this way, using what I’m working on as an example…

My big goal is to become a texile and surface designer. But the little, sub goals that make up the bigger goal are things such as:

  • being able to technically draw/paint well, so as to translate an idea onto the page as you intended
  • being great at choosing colours and palettes
  • having a style that can be recognised, and that runs throughout the designs
  • constructing patterns from individual motifs
  • a good sense of composition, scale and balance of each design

So essentially, in order to work towards the big goal, I have to instead break it down into the smaller elements, and work towards those respectively. I came up with that list above by thinking about the decisions that are made when going through the process of designing…

…But of course, I could be wrong about these smaller goals, and some of them might not really add towards the bigger goal. In this article I wrote about how there is no recipe book to follow as a creator, and that we must work it out for ourselves- but this is hard. Determining whether these little goals contributed to the big goal, I’ll need to evaluate at the end of each little milestone- e.g., after completing my first textile print. That’s where I can use deliberate practice to see whether working on constructing patterns, for example, has improved one design from the next.

In summary

So in summary, by being aware over the process and determining what smaller goals directly impact the bigger goal before moving onto the deliberate practice side means that we can ensure we are spending our time developing the right skills. It takes awareness over the process and skills required- which, of course, in the beginning will be assumptions. But merely being aware that we are making assumptions will help us spot a false one, if the evidence suggests so.




‘Notes on Creating’ is written by Nyah Ashton- who is going through the process of teaching herself surface design. Here you can find thoughtful pieces on creating and the creative process from someone going through it in real time

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Nyah Ashton

Nyah Ashton

I write about creativity and the creative process as someone going through it. I illustrate my articles too! Instagram: @nyah_ashton

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