There are two elements – and two reasons – why this is essential, and why it works so well.
They are to do firstly with the space you give yourself, and secondly with the expectations you have of that space.
To explain this more fully, imagine you’re at a food tasting evening at a fancy new restaurant, with an award winning chef. There are dozens of dishes to sample, all look equally delicious and tempting.
Here’s how not to enjoy the experience:
Rush frantically from dish to dish, ramming a forkful of food into your mouth whilst still in motion to the next dish. Don’t even bother to chew properly or savour each mouthful, the number one aim is getting to that next dish and getting another forkful in your face.
You must try every single dish! As quickly as possible!
After even a few mouthfuls, you’re not going to feel so good.
You’re not appreciating any of the food because all the contrasting flavours are lost in a congealed half chewed mess in your mouth.
Your stomach will no doubt be churning and working overtime from the volume and variety of food being hurled down your throat.
Your head will be spinning so much from racing around, and from trying to sample so many different flavours and dishes, you’ll barely remember any of them.
This kind of approach was never going to make for an enjoyable evening right from the outset, simply because of your unrealistic expectations.
If your main objective is “sample every dish, as quickly as possible”, then it’s a recipe for a dizzy head and a likely reversed reintroduction to the evening’s delicacies with your head hung over a porcelain receptacle.
What if you had a different expectation right from the beginning though?
What if your aim for the evening was to sample just five new dishes, and to give yourself enough time and space to really savour and enjoy each one?
Your mad dish dash would now instead be a leisurely amble.
You’d stop at each sample, observing first the visual aesthetic of the food, letting your eyes take in the promise suggested by the chef’s detailed preparations.
You’d inhale the scent of the dish, enjoying another of your senses, appreciating the subtle intermingling of carefully selected and exquisitely cooked fresh ingredients.
Then, when you were already in love with the appearance and presentation of the food, you’d carefully take that first mouthful, chew it slowly and gently, let the tastes seep into every soft crevasse of your tongue and mouth, before it slipped languidly down your throat to your soon to be ecstatically happy belly.
After a mouthful, you would pause for 10, 30, 60, 90 seconds or more, enjoying the fading echoes on your tastebuds.
Then you might have another mouthful or two of the same dish, or engage in a little conversation and enjoy a drink, before moving to the next dish.
At the end of the evening you will have sampled a handful of delicious foods, and enjoyed with every sense the craft and love the chef had poured into her work.
You cannot wait to book dinner here and have one of her wonderful meals in full.
Notice the obvious differences in these two approaches to the food tasting.
With the first, your expectation was to get down as many different dishes as possible, as quickly as possible, with barely enough time in between mouthfuls to breathe, let alone savour the food.
The fact that you were in the new restaurant of an award winning chef was completely lost. You may as well have gone to the nearest fast food outlet and filled your face there.
With the second approach, you allowed yourself the space and time to enjoy the whole experience with every sense.
The sampling of each dish was a delicious, sensual experience, and you also allowed space between mouthfuls, and between different dishes, to fully enjoy the afterglow of the previous experience and the anticipation of the next.
Which of these approaches is most like how you create your artwork?
In fact, which of these approaches is most like how you live your whole life?
It’s a pretty safe bet for me to assume you’re trying to do too much, in too short a time.
You have too many projects on the go, you work too fast, you only ever skim the surface of any of them before racing to the next, rather than let yourself engage, indulge and sink in to any single piece of your work.
How is this serving your creativity? How is it in anyway enjoyable?
It isn’t, and, yes again, it isn’t.
The alternative is to choose to do less, but to do it better.
The alternative is to reduce your expectation of how much you can get done, and give your full focus to the work at hand, not the other three, five, seven, twenty seven projects you have lined up waiting after this one.
The alternative is to embrace the idea of white space and scatter it liberally amongst your work to enhance every aspect. To let yourself – and your work – breathe, unfold, and thrive.
It no less than you deserve. It’s no less than your work deserves.
Oh, and your audience is going to love you a whole lot more too.
Adjust your expectation. Embrace the white space. Watch your creativity come alive.
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