The Creative Process: Creation Is Like A Canyon

Today I was working on my new painting “Garuda”. This is a painting thatappeared to me in a “vision” one day. I suddenly had a very clear image of what I had to paint and how it would look. And I had no idea how to make it. I just had the finished result in mind. I could even see it up on a wall at someone’s house.

The Garuda is a mythical creature, half-eagle half-human, that can fly so high in the sky, can see so far, that its perspective of the world is huge. It can see beyond hope and fear, beyond our worldly attachments. It brings the virtue of letting go, and the freedom and power that emerge from that state of surrender.

I felt it would be a very powerful representation. So I studied the different techniques I would need to realize this painting. And I stared at my canvas in apprehension for several minutes (that felt like hours), took a deep breath and started. I knew that for this one I would have to stretch big time. 

This morning I’m at a tricky stage: the painting is starting to look like something, but something still very far from what I envisionned. I looked at it and thought: "It looks more like a super-hero than a Garuda! How am I going to pull it off?"

 Sometimes the process seems to get you further from your goal than when you started...

Sometimes the process seems to get you further from your goal than when you started...


Then I remembered what I heard Todd Henry, the author of Louder Than Words and The Accidental Creative, say in an interview.  He said: Creation is like a canyon.

That means that every creative project has a U-shape.  

Imagine you go for a hike and you arrive at a canyon. You are on the elevated side and from there, you can see the other side of the canyon. You see the wide spread of burned grass, the mountains in the distance and imagine how glorious it will be to watch the sunset from there. So you start walking down the canyon to cross. There will come a point when you are at the bottom of the canyon and you can’t see much except what is right in front of you. No more wide landscape and sunset, just rocks and bushes. You might even start to wonder if you’re still on the right path and if you’re really going to make it. It doesn’t look at all like you’re getting any closer to your open space and sunset. And it’s a lot of work for seemingly not much result. Maybe you even start to think about turning back. Your feet hurt and your legs burn. It’s more difficult than you had thought... But then, little by little, the ground starts to elevate…you’re getting there! You can feel it! You’re tired, but you can tell you’re getting close. And all of a sudden, here it is. The prairie, the mountains, sunset and all. You can take a moment to sit down and contemplate the beauty in front of you. Even more beautiful because you worked for it, you earned it. You feel a great sense of satisfaction (and yes, also a bit of pride). Good thing you didn’t give up and turn around !

It goes the same with a creative project. Whether it’s a painting, a novel, a song, a business or a career. There is a point when it won’t look like we’re ever going to get there. A point when it seems like we’re not even on the right track, we won’t be able to pull it off. When the doubt sets in and you feel like giving up. All of a sudden it seems ridiculous that you could have even thought you would be able to get to destination. Don’t panic. Don’t give up. It is a good sign. That means you’re getting closer. Remember that it's normal, it's the bottom of the canyon, and remember the other side, your sunset, your vision, your “why’.

Remembering our vision gives us the strength necessary to continue and reach the other side. 

And even if the other side doesn’t look exactly like what we envisioned, the sense of satisfaction (and, yet again, pride) will be well worth it.

That is why it is so important, when we start a new project, to take a solid chunk of time to build a very strong vision and a very strong Why. Because there will be a time when we will need to remember why we started and what we envisioned will be on the other side.

And why it’s necessary that we keep going.