Rhys Gorgol is founder and creative principal of design and branding studio The Company You Keep.
An art teacher at college would start each class with the same request: ‘100 circles, please.’ At least, I remember it as being 100 – exaggeration may have crept in over the years. The task was meant to be an exercise in creative meditation, a warm-up or a reset – its pointlessness being the point. I recall feeling it was a waste of time, rushing through each curve to get the needless task out of the way before beginning something more meaningful. In retrospect, perhaps that teacher was on to something.
The first 10 or so circles would always feel stiff and rigid, appearing elliptically accurate but forced and mechanical. The next 10 tended to veer to the overly loose, more oval than circular with ends that wouldn't meet, like the beginning of a spiral. But, for the next 20 and beyond, something kicked in, a rhythmic state with intellect and intuition harmonizing – a flow, and a page of more-or-less perfect circles.
I haven't given that memory much head space since graduating but, of late, I've been spending more and more time considering how we do what we do as creatives, as much as what we do – the rituals, byproducts and peripheries that often go unnoticed, but greatly affect the quality and enjoyment in our output.
As commercial creatives, we tend to get pulled into a rhythm dictated by externalized schedules, project priorities and client briefs. Almost as though we're the tide being pulled by some invisible external force. With projects and teams structured around the number of hours it takes to create a response to the brief, our daily experience can feel driven by deadlines, presentation dates and feedback loops. This structure perpetuates the reliance on an external catalyst to get us moving. We need the reason, the request, the brief and the client to put pen to paper and justify getting creatively active.
But what if we're missing something? What if the side hustle can be the main hustle? What benefits can we derive from casting the external stimulus aside and practicing our craft for the sake of practice? What ideas could see the light of day through the act of mindfully engaging in process rather than output? I'm not talking self-initiated projects here, which still have a brief and a presupposed purpose.
This is mindlessness as a medium for creativity. It may seem odd to begin with; pointless perhaps. Whether you're a digital illustrator repeating Bézier curves (smooth, curved lines that are connected to fixed points), a strategist free writing (writing continuously without stopping to plan or edit) or a typesetter manipulating the spacing between letters, committing to a self-initiated ritual of creative practice beyond the cognitive conversation of doubt could kickstart you to another level of craft, enjoyment and quality in your vocation. At the very least, you'll get quite proficient at curves, free writing, manipulating letter spacing or drawing circles.
So, what are you waiting for? One hundred circles, please.
A version of this article was first published in Courier issue 49, September/October 2022. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.