The Learning Seminar for Creative Divergence
With the newness of spring in the air, it can urge us onward to develop new creative interests. Whether we’re just beginning our creative journey or trying to start a new creative discipline, the learning phase can be both exciting and overwhelming. As someone who has diversified their creative interests over the years from an overdeveloped love of learning, I want to share my “learning seminar” with all of my tried and true steps to learn anything!
Creativity is a joyous space, but when we feel inadequate or lost during a session, we allow fear and doubt to pull out all of our insecurities which actually blocks our ability to focus and learn. In order to thrive we first need to examine what we want to learn, why we chose to learn it and develop a dialogue for dealing with those feelings of inadequacy, uncertainty and insecurity.
The Preliminary Round
So, you want to learn a new creative skill. Where to begin? The first step is identifying the learning outcome goal - what is it you want to learn overall, and then break down the steps of that skill or discipline.
For example: The overall learning outcome is to learn how to fabricate a custom made orthotic (presuming we already have the cast and lab work order done). We would then break this up into various stepping stones to complete over multiple sessions: milling or pulling the shell, shaping the shell, adding modifications, final assembly, fitting it into the shoe.
Once we zero in on what we want to learn, understanding our motivation for wanting to learn the thing can be really helpful in keeping us on track. Is this something you find interesting? Is it required for a particular project? Often when it comes to creativity, passion and interest are involved, but there are times when creative careers require you to learn new skills, which can change our relationship to that sect of creativity in our lives.
For example: Wanting to learn how to fabricate custom made orthotics is part of my career path as a pedorthist, required in order to pass my professional exams and essential to building a successful practice. When I first encountered pedorthics, the lab was something that really drew me in; the idea of getting to work with my hands to create purposeful products was exciting, and still is one of the most rewarding aspects of my job.
Lastly, to firm up our preliminary round of learning planning, we need to come up with strategies for dealing with the inner critic, the self doubt, the negativity we will encounter as we embark on a learning journey. This is where we as creatives need to recognize that we will fail and make mistakes and do things wrong before we get it right. Then, even when we get it right, we can always improve, and we can still feel like we aren't good enough. Coming up with an inner dialogue to combat these feelings of insecurity and surrounding ourselves with support networks to keep us motivated through the learning process is essential.
For example: I had a wonderful team of mentors who trained me in orthotic fabrication - some who helped me with the practical skills, others helped me understand material properties and their relationship to patient problems. The best tool they gave me was the assurance that nine times out of ten there is a way to fix, reinforce, change when mistakes are made, that learning has a built in tolerance for failure, so long as you can recognize where you went wrong and work on course correction.
The Learning Seminar 4 Step Program
See it - One of the best ways to introduce yourself to something new, especially a skill you have to do, is to watch others practice it. Sometimes gaining access to classes is expensive, and you may not know someone who practices that creative discipline, but the wide world of online videos, tutorials and classes is easily accessible, and often free. Seeing the craft performed can start to give you a map of how to do something, and by watching different people do the same thing you may learn variations that feel better to you. Ideally this step also comes with verbal explanation, or a mentor teaching you. Again, this mentor can be Youtube videos.
Back to our example of fabricating orthotics: When I was first learning, and even now, I watch other pedorthists and lab techs as they shape shells and choose modifications and materials to put together in an orthotic. Watching them at the belt grinder gave me an idea of how to hold the material of the shell against the sander to get the desired shape while not shredding your fingers or losing your grip. To this day I watch others when they shape the shell to see their technique, learn from it, and then try to implement that process into my own fabrication.
Say it/Write it - This step is confirmation that you understand what you are seeing. It can be in the form of taking notes on a subject, verbalizing questions or paraphrasing the process to ensure you understand what you’re trying to do, or talking yourself through the process as you give it a try. By saying it outloud or writing it down, you are taking ownership of the information, internalizing what you see into something you know.
In our example I do this by confirming the reason behind a hand position, or reminding myself what the material properties are as I select them. I walk myself verbally through the steps of fabrication and write out the work order for the orthotic so I have a guide when I get going that I can refer to.
Do it - Now it’s time to put it into practice! There is only so far studying a subject will take you; at some point, especially in creativity, we need to do. Putting the learned skills into practice and honing them is the best learning experience, because you are now getting to actually do the thing! You will make mistakes, you will fail, and then you will begin to succeed, little by little, and improve day by day.
When I first began making the orthotics myself it was a steep learning curve. To actually have the material in my hands, shape it and make it was an entirely different experience than watching it happen in front of me. First I would match on orthotics to the other one that my mentor had done. Then it was up to me to match them against each other myself. We started with glueing on the top covers, helping ready the modification pieces, then we moved on to shaping the shells. Now I fabricate orthotics every day on my own, but I am still learning and fine tuning those skills. But I know that I can only get better through doing.
Teach it - Once you begin to get comfortable with the skill itself, teaching someone else, or at least re-teaching yourself through explanation and example is a great way to make sure you fully understand what you’re doing, how you do it and why you do it that certain way. Learning only makes sense if there is a reason to it. Teaching it also gives you an opportunity to learn something on a deeper level, to take a new perspective on it.
Now that I can fabricate orthotics I am helping to teach our students how. We start with the same things I did, and then move forward. Also get to watch my mentors teach new people. Which changes the way I do things as well. Everyone learns a little bit differently and does things in slight variation. Getting to understand why I do things a certain way through teaching it to others helps me appreciate how I learn and the fact that there is always more out there to take in.