The Importance Of Play For Creative Growth

The Importance Of Play For Creative Growth

Recently I had a series of creative experiences that reminded me just how important play and experimentation is to my creative growth, and so I felt compelled to share some thoughts on this topic here.

You may not know this about me, but collage was my OG art passion. The entire focus of my work at art school revolved around collage in various forms. My favourite thing was to collect retro books and magazines and use found media from their pages to create quirky, whimsical and humorous collaged scenarios.

Over the years as I have developed a commercial design practice, my collaging style evolved to match my brand aesthetic and the types of work I was seeking out, and so my art school collaging style and my passion for working with found media and ephemera in collage fell by the wayside. So when some friends invited me to two separate collaging workshops recently, I jumped at the chance to re-embrace my original collaging aesthetic. The act of collaging just for fun with no client brief to guide me (only my imagination), allowed me to free myself from the structure of my professional design identity and tap into other design styles that I love, but never use in the day-to-day of my commercial design practice.

A collage from my art school days

My collaging style today

Did the pandemic influence my ability to play?
I know it's been years since lockdown, but I still consider it to have had a profound effect on how I approach creativity. During lockdown, with work hard to come by, self care at the forefront of my mind, and a lot more time on my hands, I devoted a lot of time to creating just for fun. I leaned really heavily into the world of DIY home decor, and along with many others during this time, indulged in many fun and exciting creative experiments to make beautiful things for my immediate surroundings. This time felt like a really transformative and experimental time for me creatively, and benefited my mental health greatly, as I prioritised pursuing my creative passions as a form of self care.

Now that we're well into the post-pandemic era I have come to a realisation that once again, I have slipped back into the habit of prioritising the career hustle over my own personal creative development. Like a lot of creatives in these challenging times (cost of living crisis/world imploding/climate change doom anyone?) there is often a panicked fear in me that I may lose everything I've worked so hard to achieve with my caree. I therefore find myself feeling the need to push even harder than before, and be working 24/7 to keep the business going in an uncertain world.

Collages I made with my friends at the recent workshops we attended.

This mindset makes me put more priority on things like marketing, pitching, admin, and brand development over actually sitting down and exploring new creative work. In doing so I sometimes forget a very important point - that the act of being creative and exploring your creativity through experimentation and play is the real key to a successful creative career. Without a flourishing creative practice, you really don’t have anything to “sell” as a creative business. People always tell me “make the work you want to be hired for”, and it’s so true. How can I grow in my career without my creativity also growing? A stagnant creative practice = a stagnant career, and I need to always remember that!

Falling into the “hustle” trap and how to get out
It’s very easy to get stuck in a “hustle” mentality. Hustle culture is alive and thriving all around us. With success being measured on how “busy” you are, or how many things you can juggle at once, it’s no wonder that we tend to prioritise and glorify these things, while leaving little to no time for our passions, and in my case, the reason I have a career in the first place - my creativity! “Indulging” in an entire weekend of collaging for pure enjoyment was like a wake up call for me. I felt SO GOOD afterwards - so creatively fulfilled and re-inspired. I remembered how nourishing it felt to just. make. art. Are you resonating with this and wondering how you can recapture that feeling too? Here’s some ideas that I’ll be trying for myself to regain some balance:

  • Schedule in time for play and experimentation.  When you’re running a busy creative business you have to wear a lot of hats, and it’s easy for a week to get swallowed up in business admin, working on client projects, marketing etc - leaving little time for actually making. Blocking out time in my calendar and making creative play time non-negotiable is something I'm trying to do each week, treating this time as a must-attend, much like a client meeting.
  • Make creativity social. I’m not sure where you are based, but here in Melbourne we are totally spoilt for choice when it comes to creative workshops, events, and activities. Attending the collage workshops with my friends allowed me to connect with my community. I visited creative spaces I’d never been to and met new creative friends. It was so invigorating and inspiring. Tap into the events in your city or town and see what new ideas are sparked from being creative with other people.
  • It’s okay to make ugly art! Part of experimenting and growing as a creative is not being afraid to try new things, and to have those things look awkward, ugly and unfinished - that’s part of the process! But in this world of content where we are encouraged to document EVERYTHING we make for social media and have it all look perfect and Instagrammable, is our ability to experiment getting stunted? I encourage you to experiment and play with the aim to NOT share it on social media at all! Make it just for you and see what happens. If you do want to share it though, that’s cool too, but let’s try not to create for the sake of likes and follows, and more for our own creative growth.

Another collage piece I made at the workshops

I would love to know your thoughts on this topic - do you find yourself prioritising work over creative play and experimentation? And if so, do you have any tips to share? Leave your thoughts in the comments - I’d love to hear from you. Thank you for reading!



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