Creativity and control: How to find freedom in the creative process
The esteemed Joey Yu and Patternity co-founder Anna Murray discuss how to unlock inner creativity by lowering self-imposed constraints and allowing for serendipity.
This Christmas, Bombay Sapphire has partnered with London Graphic Centre to launch an innovative twist on the traditional advent calendar, intended for the creatively-minded. Titled 12 Days of Creativity, this is the latest in Bombay Sapphire’s long-standing commitment in support of the arts. A host of inspirational tutorials will be available to view from 25 December to 5 January featuring world class UK artists and Bombay Sapphire’s very own mixologist, Franck Dedieu. Plus a box of premium goodies is now available to purchase as the perfect gift, inviting you to unlock your inner artist and stir creativity.
In this new series of articles, It’s Nice That has teamed up with Bombay Sapphire to explore how creativity expresses itself in all its variety of forms. Tapping into the creative’s instinct for craft and experimentation, these features hope to incite new ideas and hidden passions.
It’s natural to want to control the things around us. After all, most of us relish the thought of having an easy (enough) life where nasty surprises aren’t lurking round corners, ready to drag us down at any moment. Control, and the attainment of it, apply similarly to the creative process for many artists. A steady hand which confidently marks a canvas can certify whether a painting will be a success or not. But on the flip side, there is much to gain from unpicking the relationship between control and creativity.
If one throws away the comfortable, self-imposed stylistic parameters which have become the norm, the creative process (not to mention its results) can be unexpectedly fruitful. It may sound simple to do, but in practice, renouncing our sweet comforts is harder than one might think. The greater the challenge however, the greater the pay off. Delving into this discussion, we’re pleased to be joined by two creative powerhouses whose respective works breathe an air of refreshment through style and technique.
First off, we’re joined by Anna Murray, one half of conscious creative practice, Patternity, an interdisciplinary studio researching the wonder of natural pattern then applying it in innovative new ways to the man-made world. We’re also joined by esteemed illustrator and animator Joey Yu who’s garnered a mass following for her colourful pencil portraits.
Both artists have mastered the art of surrendering creative control which only advances their practice. Though they are both blessed with skill and technique, they also honour spontaneity and how it can play a key part in maintaining creative momentum for fresh ideas. For Joey Yu – whose work has graced the likes of The New York Times, The Guardian, Tate and The British Council as well as several exhibitions – the relationship between creativity and control can be understood by certain phrases. “I have a graph on my wall of words that define beauty,” she tells us. “It’s essentially a bunch of antonyms including passion-precision, fluidity-structure, loss-discovery and so on.”
For Joey, these phrases are a reminder that everything is connected. Everything can be beautiful or considered art, it’s just a matter of perspective and more specifically for Joey, a case of moving coordinates on a graph of feeling. Every now and again she considers her place on the graph and if she’s moving towards one particular end of a spectrum, “I’ll try and switch it up,” she reveals. Control and creativity are arm-in-arm in this respect, and by moving an imaginary slider towards one or the other, her work can be wildly different. What remains important to Joey however, is that each and every one of these results is valid.
Joey Yu photographed by Sophie Green (Copyright © Sophie Green)
Anna Murray in her studio photographed by Sophie Green (Copyright © Sophie Green)
Anna, on the other hand, sees the interplay of creativity and control almost like “an infinite dance”. The two are a deeply philosophical matter for the Patternity co-founder whose work can be seen across book jackets, homeware, public installations not to mention a range of textiles. The relationship between creativity and control for Anna, is “part of the fundamental energies and expressions of life.” Like most big questions, she uses nature to seek answers, in this case appreciating its “spiral of expansion and contraction,” growth followed by chaotic breakdown to further understand how creativity and control interlink. “I believe we need to learn to navigate both in order to survive and thrive,” she adds.
The Patternity co-founder admits she “used to try and control things quite rigidly” but with time, and learning to lean into the philosophy of order and chaos, she’s embraced both states of being which has only aided her both personally and professionally. “The older I get the more I realise you have to allow space and flexibility – for play, serendipity and chance.” It’s impossible to control everything around us, no matter how much it is desired, and Anna is testament to the fact that by letting go, the creative process can be more enjoyable and in turn, more fulfilling. It’s important to note however that clarity and intention within the creative process is equally essential for Anna. In this way, she creates space in life for dedicated ritual, set with intention while coinciding with wide celestial cycles. In other words, she puts in place another kind of pattern for herself, one which chimes in with a personal clock and habitual regime. As Anna puts it: “a higher pattern can give structure and order to the infinite nature of creativity”.
When it comes to discovering inner pockets of creativity outside one’s usual practices, it doesn’t always take a change in materials or processes to realise new potential. It’s something Joey learnt early on; in fact, it’s one of her first memories of being creative in general. She remembers drawing scenes from a game on a sheet of paper, noting the different components including the game’s obstacles, its maze-like structure, prizes and characters. “After drawing I would sit and play the game in my mind,” recalls Joey, animating the illustrations in her head, tracing the character’s movements with her finger. Then, she remarks poignantly, “that was my favourite thing, the possibilities you could create with just a pencil and paper”.
It’s a limitless philosophy explored in Joey’s tutorial for Bombay Sapphire’s 12 Days of Creativity campaign. Launching on 30 December, Joey demonstrates the perfect activity to keep you and your loved ones creatively occupied over the somewhat quieter holiday period. Teaching you how to make the most of time with friends and family at home, by drawing them, Joey showcases her expert knowledge of shading and colour using colour pencils. When she’s feeling in a rut artistically, for Joey, it always helps to “do something else creative that’s different to the thing you’re trying to get done”. So in this way, Joey’s tutorial helps us to shake up our processes and embrace a task we perhaps didn’t consider previously.
“There is nothing that a long walk with a friend can’t fix,” she continues, “or a walk with yourself, aimless, turn left, right, random streets, walking for walking’s sake.” Intuition is crucial to Joey’s practice, and a key factor in the immediacy of her colourful works, something she achieves by balancing her creative outputs both on screen and off. Whatever the creatively-minded can turn their minds to – sewing, printing, sculpting and so on – Joey’s ethos is, just do it: “use different parts of the brain,” she encourages.
Similarly to Joey, Anna has always been a visual person. Her mum remembers how she would stop every two minutes on a walk to take stock of the smaller details nature had to offer; a tiny spotted insect scuttling across the soil scattered floor for example or the delicate veins sprawling into a pattern on a green leaf. She can vividly recall being “completely obsessed” with the fabric cover of her mum’s cookery book, a 60s swirling psychedelic design with flecks of fluorescent pinks, oranges, greens and yellows used to enhance the botanical flowers and leaves. She liked it so much, she even painted an interpretation of it all over her bedroom wall: “Thanks for tolerating me mum!” Anna can say now in retrospect.
Not much has changed for Anna decades later as nature is still at the core of her’s and Patternity’s design philosophy. Like Joey, time spent off screen is important, and indulges in the inherent decor of the external world, whether it’s a canopy of branches, clouds or plain sky. “There is something about the feeling of being outside, sensing the smells, the texture of light, feeling the air on my skin and seeing how everything is in constant relationship and communication with everything else – a language of connection that so often lies out of view,” Anna adds on the beauty of nature, something that is undoubtedly out of her control but brings bottomless wonder.
Even just a quick turn around the block can incite new inspiration from Anna as there is always another aspect of nature to be discovered. With this in mind, Anna’ s 12 Days of Creativity tutorial sees her make the most of this philosophy, this time round, using marbling. Published on 5 January, Anna’s tutorial exemplifies the beauty of the unpredictable with just a few materials; marbling inks, water, paper and a tray. She’ll demonstrate how to make intricate one-off pieces using the ever-intriguing medium, offering some creative respite from the electrical hum of screens. Through personal experience, Anna knows that by engaging with nature, new perspectives can arise. In one particular instance, she was struggling to put together a talk discussing her nature-centred ethos when an incredible sunset let itself be known, pouring orange light into her window.
In that moment, she explains, “I realised how contradictory I was being as I wrote about noticing the beauty of nature while ignoring the nature in that moment.” Immediately, she put down what she was doing and let “that feeling of connectedness we’re so trying to communicate” absorb through her whole self. “Having gone from feeling very heady and rigid, I relaxed and felt in my body a sense of lightness flooded in. A new depth came from that place that wouldn’t have come had I stayed staring at the screen.” It’s experiences such as these which has allowed Anna to reflect on the journey of creating rather than the outcome. The process is as important as the finished product and should be filled with self-questioning: Am I really present for this? Am I being authentic to what I want to communicate? And for Anna, honouring nature, its cycles and rhythms are integral to succeeding in this.
From 25 December to 5 January, you can discover more creative tips with Joey and Anna when their exclusive tutorials launch online. Put new found inspiration into practice today with Bombay Sapphire’s 12 Days of Creativity and its calendar, a joyful twist on the traditional advent calendar for the creatively-minded. The beautifully designed box packed full of premium art supplies and cocktail-making tools is now available plus several Bombay Sapphire creative tutorials which you can sign up to here. Take part now to enjoy inspiring art and mixology sessions this Christmas.
About the Author
Jyni became a staff writer in March 2019 having previously joined the team as an editorial assistant in August 2018. She graduated from The Glasgow School of Art with a degree in Communication Design in 2017 and her previous roles include Glasgow Women’s Library designer in residence and The Glasgow School of Art’s Graduate Illustrator.