Detail of bronze Eternal Flame
with colour scheme inverted.
What is creativity?
What makes the difference
between creative people
and the rest of us?
People have been
asking this question for a long time.
There is a lot to read and I’ve read a lot of
it, but it is strange, strange reading for me. For
all the stories I’ve read about creative people in
all fields, none gave more than superficial
answers to the question and it
looks like nobody knows.
I think it’s the wrong question.
some people are creative and
others aren’t, for one thing. But I don’t
believe that. We’ve all done things we’ve never
done before, and that’s creativity. If that’s true of
everyone, as I claim, even just a little, then
it makes no sense at all to ask
we might ask what makes
each of us more or less creative at
some times than others, or in
makes the difference,
way down deep on a personal
level, between thinking
inside and outside
If creativity is a
way of being in which possibilities
arise and proliferate, and I haven’t thought
of a better way say it than that, then
why do more possibilities exist
for us at some times
What makes the difference?
Comparing people can’t
answer that. Asking about what happens
in our lives could, at least in principle,
yield many kinds of answers.
that in mind,
I’ll tell you a small
story of a small event in
my own recent life. It wasn’t
earth-shaking, but it offered
me insights and revealed
a bit of what makes
is honeycomb calcite, a deeply
translucent, deeply orange marble with an
almost unbelievably gorgeous glow. There
will only, and ever could be, one the stone original.
Lu and I wanted the form, the feeling, and the
expressive power of the piece to be available
to more people, so we produced a
Here’s another image of the original
and a description of how I created
the bronzes from the original.
Except for red coloured pencil, everything
in the photo is either stone or reflections of
the stone’s environment. Crisscrossed
awning frame outside, branches
beyond, cloud beyond that, all
reflected in the surface
of a stone.
I made a plaster mold
of the original stone sculpture
and sent it to my friend and colleague
Georg Schmerholz in California. From my
mold, he made a replica of the stone original
in polyester resin: what we call a pattern. He
corrected flaws and prepared the surface,
then made a reusable rubber mold
and a plaster mold outside
that, and sent them to
now graces my studio,
like a gargoyle.
used Georg’s molds to make a
thin, hollow wax positive, added wax
sprues, or channels to direct molten bronze
into the form, covered the wax with a thick,
hard ceramic coating, or investment, inside
and out, then burned the wax from the
investment in a furnace, pre-heated
it to over 1000 F, packed it tight-
ly in sand to support it, and
poured it full of glowing
A bronze pour is beautiful to behold.
After it cooled for
a couple of days, they broke
away the ceramic investment with
a hammer and chisel and ground away
sprues, filled small pits by welding, ground
away bumps, then sanded the surface to the
right sort of “tooth”, cleaned it, cleaned it
again and again and again, then
sprayed it with chemicals at
high heat, patination, to
produce the colour I
wanted, waxed it,
and sent it
the first cast with copper
and nickel, which turned it black.
It graces various places in our
garden and we love it.
created the bronze?
Who is its creator?
I made the
original stone Eternal Flame.
Lu and I decided to make the bronze. I
made the plaster mold and sent it to Georg, he
made the pattern and the molds and sent them
to the foundry, and the foundry did
all the rest.
Where’s the creativity?
I think the
true answer has to be
that the only creativity I put
into the bronzes was to think of
them in the first place, but I
didn’t even do that! It
was Lu’s idea.
I suppose my
asking Georg to make
the mold deserves some credit,
and I did think of plating
the first cast.
years of creativity went
into methods Georg and the
foundry used, and it took great
care, time, and the skills of many
people to use them effectively.
producing a bronze like
Flame is a matter of turning cranks
at many stages for 8 weeks, and
I did nearly none of the
inspecting, and photographing
the second cast was thrilling. I got so
fired with ideas for new work
I could hardly stand it.
I look at that piece, in
whatever media, environments
or situations, it makes me
want to make things
I’ve never made
at times like those:
It just happens.
whatever that may mean.
Solutions to problems that have
bugged me for months suddenly
sort themselves out, things
snap into place and
A lightbulb comes on.
pop to mind.
I feel power, energy
and burning desire to be
sculpting. I am activated.
What actually happens in
times like that? What
happens in any
what I’ve read about the
subject, and considering all those
high school and university students,
colleagues, and friends I’ve known,
and from my own experience,
something similar is likely
to be true of most of
triggers them, ideas seem to
happen by themselves. They pop
into being and “occur” to us.
We “have” them. Or
they have us.
pop on, ideas happen,
possibities proliferate, and more
often than not, in my experience,
what triggers strong spurts
of creative growth is
our own creative
begin thinking for
ourselves, about anything,
I think, and begin to imagine
it, thoughts and visions continue
more or less by themselves if
not strongly discouraged
by environments or
Especially when we’re young.
Especially when we’re old.
Especially any time
Sculptor Ivan Mestrovic
must have been thinking of this
self perpetuating, self regulating, self
actualizing quality of creative activity
in suggesting that the only way
to learn to sculpt is to sculpt.
So go into your studio
and make stuff.
Before she met
my father, my mother made
mens’ suits in a tailor’s shop. After we
moved to Dunsmuir I saw more ladies in slips
than you could shake a stick at. Ages, sizes,
shapes, personas. Wedding dresses,
prom dresses, suits taken
apart to fit to some-
You name it.
I was, well,
underfoot. They didn’t
pay any attention to me, and I
could pay as much of it to
them as I wanted.
That should be
almost enough to show you
what this has to do with
called a pattern was
a fake dress she made out of paper.
She pinned it together, like girls pin clothes
on paper dolls, but 3D. Fitting patterns could
take a while. Whether they came from envelopes
with ladies on the front or she made
them herself, fitting them
took a while.
and she made ladies stop talking
while she fitted patterns
mouth full of pins and
a serious look on her face, her
eyes kept darting from pin to pin
along the seams and out onto the
paper, seeing how it draped her
body. Adding, removing,
at nothing but what
she was doing when she did it,
and didn’t speak until the extra
pins were out of her mouth,
one by one, safely back
in the cushion.
If the lady
didn’t move at all, like
a statue, Mom said
“You’re holding your breath.”
It was predictable
and I got pretty good at
guessing when she would say it.
Some ladies liked to hold their breath
while she was fitting them, for some
reason it took many years to
begin to understand.
fitting torsos, she
sometimes poked them in
the back and asked why they were
holding their breath. The ladies
never said anything and
I never laughed.
The point of fitting
dressmakers’ patterns, as I came
to understand it as a child, was for the
paper dress to fit the lady’s body like the cloth
dress would after she made it. Where she put pins
made seams be where they would be. Moving
pins around while ladies breathed, watching
how the paper draped, told her where
to cut the cloth, how to match cloth’s
patterns across seams. Where
to put buttonholes.
took a while but Mom
was very good.
After the ladies
admired themselves in
their fitted garments for a while,
reflected in a full length mirror (pinned
paper, pinned cloth, finished, or altered),
she made them strut through the living
room and kitchen, flaunting what
they had and dancing,
wasn’t a lot of
strutting room in our house,
but I liked it when they giggled
and said funny things about
their shoes while they
I could tell when Mom
was about to say things like
“Let’s go back in there and
move a few pins around. But
I’ll poke you good if you
hold your breath this
time. And I
things like that and
everybody knew it.
I found all of that
stories explore this story’s
theme. More Thoughts on Creativity
and Some Remarks on Documentation
question how much credit I should get for
making one of the best batches of ice
cream I’ve ever made, or any of
my cooking. Examples of
Teaching for Creativity,
A Letter to my Fifth Grade Teacher,
Architects of Their Own Education, and
An Exercise in Thinking, Writing, and Rewriting
all show what can happen when teachers stir
up interesting trouble for students then step
out of the way and let them work
creatively to resolve it
First published in the Vancouver Observer.
Edited February 2021