Thursday, May 17, 2012

Living Twyla Tharp’s “The Creative Habit”


Twyla Tharp writes in this “practical guide” to living a creatively engaged life about a “blank space” that every creative person faces: “the task of starting with nothing and working your way toward creating something whole and beautiful and satisfying.”

I’m beginning a new cycle of creative exploration. I know I am because I feel like an infant again rather than someone who has been working with creative process for close to two decades. In this beginning place, where I’m heading is a mystery, spurred only by the raw material of an idea, an image, a phrase or thought.


So I do the only thing I know how to do. Begin somewhere. Make samples. Let the ideas simmer and expand. I don’t start with a completed vision of a masterful work of art, only a crumb of an idea that teases and tugs at my consciousness.


Growing from this scrap of a beginning takes work. Lots of it. Not the straight line, numerically-ordered, step-by-step, “man she knows what’s she doing” type of work. More like the “crawling on one’s knees in the dark feeling with one’s hands to find a way forward” work. But I do have an inner compass that guides this, one that trusts both the process and my skills enough to make me believe that I will indeed find a sure footing, an engagement with an idea that will lead to more focused action and work.

Twyla Tharp starts a new dance piece with what she calls “scratching”. “A dance doesn’t hit me whole and complete. Inspiration comes in molecules of movements, sometimes in nanoseconds…You can’t imagine the work, you can only generate ideas when you put pencil to paper, brush to canvas…when you actually do something physical.”


I’ve learned this. So I improvise. I create small studies. I listen to the thoughts that pop into my head just as I am waking. They whisper golden suggestions. “Create a thread map of the neighborhood you lived in as a child” was yesterday morning’s.

Today’s was “write your blog about this beginning place and how you don’t know whether you will fail or succeed, but you know you are committed to keep creating because this is who you are and this is what you do.”



  1. Jeanne, I LOVE that first image! The color, the texture, the balance between positive and negative space, between line and curl. My fingers tingle with a sense of touch. What is it?

  2. Hi Nikki, the process is drawing with thread on water soluble fabric to suggest memory and fragments of personal history. These are a continuation of the Pages pieces that are on my website.

  3. your talent with both word and fiber shines here. i love reading about the beginning of a new process and seeing these ethereal and haunting fiber maps I enjoyed Tharp's book to but alas gave it away or i might reread.

  4. I am on a similar work. I so enjoyed reading your words on your new beginnings. I am calling my exploration "Not Knowing" as a way to remind myself to take my time, move forward or just move...thank you for this beautiful post on your art making!

  5. these are so delicate and ethereally beautiful! I think the creative process is always like this to one degree or another and it's an uncomfortable, exciting place to be.

    Took Tharp's book out of the library a while back when Jeane Myers mentioned it. I liked some of it but not all resonated. Always fun to read books on process though!

  6. Hi, remembering her chapter on "scratching" sent me to her book the other day, since that is what I was doing.
    Last night (I'm out of town) in my hotel room (brought the book), I turned to the chapter "spine." This morning I woke up with the unifying structure for these samples. Tharp's book has been sitting on my bookshelf for years. Read it once and that was that. But now it is offering relevance and significant insights. This is what I love about the universe and entering into the creative process, it always brings exactly the tools and resources we need to us once we engage and start working.