June 21, 2018

For San Francisco Design Week, Panelists From In/Visible Talks and Creativity Explored Discuss “Unexpected Inspiration”

Why do you create art and design? How do you get inspired, especially when you feel stuck? Does setting boundaries help you succeed?

Moderated by In/Visible Talks co-founder Dava Guthmiller, a panel of experts sat down on June 13 to discuss these and other art+design+life questions for “Unexpected Inspiration,” a special event during 2018’s San Francisco Design Week. Joining Dava were Arianna Orland, In/Visible Talks co-founder and the printer behind Paper Jam Press, artist Gerald Wiggins, and fine artist and instructor Gilles Combet. The gathering represented an ongoing cultural partnership with In/Visible Talks and Creativity Explored.

For 35 years, Creativity Explored has given adult artists with developmental disabilities the means to create and share their work with the community. Two studio spaces in San Francisco provide the workspace for these artists to express themselves through textiles, painting, sculpture, digital design, and other media, and a physical and online gallery makes their work available for purchase. The organization is a nonprofit, which allows the 60+ artists who are part of the program to earn significant income from their sales.

While many of Creativity Explored’s artists have artwork in galleries and museums, some just come to create. “It’s a great place to express yourself, especially for people who are nonverbal,” says Director of Licensing Ann Kappes. “Here they have a place to be completely themselves,” says Gilles. “It’s fantastic.”

As soon as you walk through the gallery and into the large workspace, you can feel the lingering buzz of tremendous creative energy. It’s even stronger when artists are at work, and visitors are welcome between 9 and 2 on weekdays. You can watch the artists working side by side on their individual projects, and observe their focus and their passion, while you feed your inspiration. “There’s a language here, feelings, intelligence,” says Gilles. “It’s like going to a different country and a window opens that shows you something you’ve never seen anywhere else.”

Until you can get there for a visit, here are some inspirational highlights from the panel’s talk.

When did you first realize you needed to be in a creative field?

Arianna: I think I knew the first time my mom asked me to make salad—I was about six years old—and she told me it was beautiful. There is something about making something physical, big and small, and having it appreciated that is so satisfying. When I started letterpress printing, I loved having to move my body. I loved that I could touch it, that I could have that one-to-one connection. I was looking for that happiness.

Gilles: When I was a kid, I drew a lot. I grew up in Paris and went to lots of museums. It [art] was too easy, so I tried other things: dance, carpentry. During the dot-com crash, I had no job and it was a disaster, so I thought, “I’ll do this for a while.” It’s been 17 years.

Where do you find your inspiration?

Gerald: From watching people. From walking here. I get off bus, see people—sometimes not-nice stuff, sometimes nice stuff.

Arianna: It’s really a creative meditation for me. I use the same letterforms, paper, and press. I can access the creative flow.

In design, we have boundaries such as budgets and deadlines. When you’re creating art for yourself, do you put boundaries on yourself?

Arianna: I create boundaries with time or materials. In 2009, I told myself “I want to fill a wall.” It took me till 2014 to get 40 posters.

Gerald: I work slow, take my time. I work from top to bottom in clay: head first, then neck. [Gerald works in clay, pencil, drawings and on computer.]

Gilles: Gerald has a way of working. It’s so exquisite, so detailed. All the solids [in his digital work] are lines, not fill. He is so detailed, so completely into the work. Also so positive. Look at his animals; there’s so much tenderness.

When I work on my stuff, I try to set a date when I can show it to people. It forces me to have all this together. That stress, as the deadline gets closer, is enjoyable

What do you do when you’re stuck?

Arianna: By switching to different projects. I like to have a lot of things going on. If I’m not making, I’m not happy.

Gerald: Start it first, get some details in, and if you don’t like it, you can go back in later and fix it.

How has being an instructor influenced your creativity?

Giles: When something comes out that is beautiful, it makes me feel there’s magic in the world—and I’m part of it!

What advice would you give to someone who is pursuing a side gig or creative outlet?

Arianna: It’s a muscle. It’s a practice, and you have to cultivate it.

Gerald: Jump straight in, but take your time.

Gilles: Make space, space away from phones. Isolate yourself. Go to your secret garden and just sit there for a while.

Why do you do art?

Gilles: Art is everywhere here, it’s like breathing. I work for the pleasure of it. There’s no need of any goals or results.

Gerald: Just because it makes me happy.

Visit Creativity Explored’s gallery and main studio at 3245 16th Street in San Francisco. To learn more about their program and upcoming events, sign up for their mailing list.

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