Tag Archives: Creative Process

Jane Austen’s creativity


Engraving of Steventon rectory, home of the Austen family during much of Jane Austen’s lifetime, 1871. By Project Gutenberg – Austen-Leigh, J. E. A Memoir of Jane Austen via Wikimedia Commons

Jane Austen was not part of a writers’ group, nor did she have any form of communication with other writers. Her audience was her family and friends in her village, Steventon, where her father was the parson of the Anglican Church. She grew up in a large family, six sons and two daughters and they were part of the lower gentry. Her life at home was very creative and her parents encouraged all creative endeavours. From an early age, Jane Austen saw and took part in the family’s dramatic productions, staged by her oldest brother. The whole community took part in such entertainment and the plots and action helped educate the young writer-to-be.

Steventon Church, the Anglican church where Jane Austen’s father, George Austen, was parson. Via Wikimedia Commons

Her formal education ended when she was 11, after which her father and brothers took up the slack. Where they left off, Jane Austen continued on her own. She never wanted for ink and paper and her father’s library was available for the family. The girl, along with the rest of her family, were avid readers, and readers came to play an important role in her books. The family was also given to bantering and they appreciated irony and satire. The rectory was a safe, familiar place to begin experimenting with writing. Austen developed a habit of reading to and receiving feedback from her older brothers, parents, sister, friends and neighbours. A stable existence was very important to her, as she had been fostered as a baby and attended boarding school, both traumatic experiences.

Jane Austen portrait, Victorian engraving. Via Wikimedia Commons. (Click here to read note about this image.)

Jane Austen grew up during a time when women had few choices. Women of her class could marry or become companions, governesses or school teachers. Because of her early experiences, she despised the latter, but because her family was poor and she had no inheritance, her marital prospects were slim. The remote location in Hampshire narrowed the scope. Young men and women like her were in a precarious position. They had no money, yet, as landed gentry, were not the lowest class. Very early, they learned that, without money, only education and connections would further them. Jane Austen’s own circumstances became fodder for writing and she became a keen observer of people, gender, communication, etiquette, and class distinctions.

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Steventon Green, from geograph.org.uk. By Steve Daniels via Wikimedia Commons

Through dear friends and neighbours, she met a youth who briefly enjoyed her company, till his family removed him because neither had money. This occurrence greatly affected the young writer and her disillusionment further informed her writing. At one point, she had even accepted a marriage proposal, slept on it, then retracted it the following day. She had not married because, besides money and a manor house, the young man had nothing else to recommend him. She did not and could not love him. Because Jane Austen never married, people sometimes have said she could not have deep firsthand knowledge of romantic relationships. This assertion doesn’t wash, though, as her keen sense of observation allowed her to witness and interpret everything she needed and, then, translate it into her ‘voice.’

Aerial view over the northern side of Bath, England. Royal Crescent to the right of centre, Royal Victoria Park in the foreground. By by Adrian Pingstone via Wikimedia Commons

Having tried many genres and voices, by the age of 20, Jane Austen believed she’d finally attained a professional level of writing.  However, that same year, her father retired and surprised the family by announcing they were moving to Bath. Thirty years earlier, Bath had been a popular place to find a husband and this may have been one reason her parents chose Bath, aside from the fact that many people retired there to make use of the health facilities. She didn’t want to move and she soon learned the specifics about why. Bath was relatively new and she didn’t like the glaring whiteness of the buildings or the endless rounds of social engagements. Moving to an urban environment meant that Jane Austen was taken away from everything she required for creativity: home, nature, quietude, privacy, her friends and neighbours. Displaced, her Muse left her for almost 10 years.

Footpath overlooking Bath city centre - geograph.org.uk - 278404

Footpath overlooking Bath. By Jonathan Billinger, geograph.org.uk, via Wikimedia Commons

In Bath, she had her needlework, but no pianoforte, so she spent much of her time on long walks. She was always chaperoned and never alone. Tragic occurrences made everything worse. Her sister’s fiancé died and only five years after retiring, her father died. One of her strongest supporters, it must have been an incredible blow.  In addition, they had less and less money. It started becoming more and more clear that marriage for Jane Austen was less likely. Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Women, published during Austen’s time, was a widely discussed book. We have no evidence of discussion, but it is probable the book may have touched on topics she herself felt strongly about.

Jane Austen (House in Chawton) 2

Chawton cottage, where Jane Austen lived during her final years. By Rudi Riet via Wikimedia Commons

Over eight years after leaving Steventon, one of her brothers purchased a cottage for them, and Jane, her mother, sister and a cousin left Southhampton, where they were staying by then. The move was all it took for Jane Austen to resume writing. It was here that she produced her mature work and where she lived when her early books were published. The years spent in Bath had not been wasted, though, and she was able to incorporate the urban experience into her writing. It took some little time for her work to be published, though. Writing under a pseudonym at first, she finally allowed her name to appear on her work and the world met Jane Austen. Some books were better received than others; some published posthumously. For the first time in her life, though, she began to make money, a pivotal point in her life — one of the most important things that ever happened to her. Money and recognition.

Jane Austen lived a life that had a singular focus on her creativity. From an early age, she knew what she wanted to do and did it. The importance of atmosphere and setting in regard to the creative process is no better demonstrated than by the life of Jane Austen.

Sources: Jane’s Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World, by Claire Harmon, Henry Holt, 2009; Jane Austen, by Carol Shields, Penguin, 2001; Jane Austen: A Life, by Claire Tomalin, Penguin, 1997

First edition of “Northanger Abbey” and “Persuasion,” 1818, Lilly Library, Indiana University. Via Wikimedia Commons


Title page from the first edition of “Sense and Sensibility,” 1811, Lilly Library, Indiana University, via Wikimedia Commons


Title page from the first edition of the first volume of “Pride and Prejudice,” 1813, Lilly Library, Indiana University via Wikimedia Commons


Title page from Jane Austen’s first edition of “Emma,” 1816,
Lilly Library, Indiana University. Via Wikimedia Commons

Title page from the first edition of Jane Austen’s “Mansfield Park,”
1814, Lilly Library, Indiana University. Via Wikimedia Commons



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The College for Creative Studies ad campaign by Team Detroit

“College for Creative Studies’s (CCS’s) “PSA” campaign, launched in September, has recently gone viral with more than 1,000,000 hits and shares on various social networking and blogging sites including Facebook and Twitter. Created by advertising agency, Team Detroit (Dearborn, MI), the campaign loosely parodies popular anti‐drug campaigns from the 1980s and 90s. This light‐hearted approach is intended to help recruit potential students to CCS where they can choose from 12 BFA and 2 MFA degree granting majors and study in state‐of‐the‐art facilities right in the heart of Detroit.” — College for Creative Studies

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Open Studio Update

Well, I’ve gone and done it… made myself sick over the pressure of wanting to get things done. Just a virus, but I’m very aware that it was brought on by having an unrealistic to-do list. So, for the last two days, I’ve backed off completely. Every once in a while I come back to this theme and it’s because I need to be reminded that I’m not Superwoman. Sometimes the desire to succeed, to create, to perform becomes a heckuva pressure, though. When I get caught up in it, I start moving fast and try to accomplish too much. Instead of positive motivation, I am fueled by fear, which becomes stress. Once the dust settles, I always comes back to this: “Why am I working in clay?”. After a fashion, when my answers start surfacing, they are always balm for the soul. I’ve never let myself down because it’s the true heart of the matter: “For the joy of creating.”  “To explore my creativity.” “To see where it leads.” When I consider my true, deep down intentions, then compare them to  the nattering self-talk that makes me so frazzled,White-duvet I realize I have to go back to the drawing board over expectations. When I do, I always end up acknowledging they are a trap that leads to no good. So, here I sit in my bathrobe. Yesterday, I treated myself to cartoons on television, many of which I hadn’t seen for years, and it was good medicine. Bugs Bunny, Sylvester and Tweety, the Flintstones, the Jetsons. Cushioned by pillows and blankets on the couch, I just dozed between cartoons.

When I consider what I actually have accomplished lately, I blink my eyes, wondering how I could ever think it was not enough. Here’s a rundown of what I did since last week.

  •  Made a plaster mold for some new relief work
  •  Underglazed and glazed about 36 pendants
  •  Waxed and glazed a new batch of Northern Lights tiles
  •  Retrieved newly bisqued escutcheon tiles,
  •  along with a stack of tiles from my new series

What I had planned on doing yesterday will be put off until next week because I’m going to take short break while I finish a few other things. Tomorrow, I will go to the studio to pick up about 50-60 glazed pendants, along with the aurora tiles. On Tuesday, if I feel restored, I will make several tests of my new tile series, using celadon and other glazes and glass. I will also start a new batch of 6 x 6 tiles that will be part of my new series. I’ll also check the drying stage of a batch of Sunrise tiles and new relief stamps, a dragonfly and two ginkgo leaves. And do so only if I am filled with the sheer joy of creativity, unfettered by expectations. I could have disregarded my health and well-being and gone in yesterday to work on all these things. But for what purpose? I’m not competing with anyone. So, it’s good medicine and self-love time. As I take a break and relax, my fears abate and as this happens, I start becoming well once again.


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Open Studio Update

The Washbrook Lane Snowdrops This has been a very busy week folks and while I’m keeping to my MWF schedule, I’m publishing posts later than usual. Please bear with me… I am always thankful for your readership. This week, had to be businesslike and tell my friends I wouldn’t be able to join them at the local restaurant on Open Studio days for a whole month. Naturally, I will miss the socializing, but am finding that after I break for lunch and visiting, my brain goes in siesta mode. At the present, I feel very focused and must stay focused. It appeared that we were all quite busy yesterday. Nan was working with underglaze is on slabs. Otto was staining the bust of the man smoking a cigar and trying to figure out what to do with the base it sits upon, to make it light or dark. Dan had made up some beautiful new glazes and unearthed and reconstituted some old ones. I used some of the latter and Pauline suggested I use one of the new variegated glazes on some of my tiles. As she was talking, she was trying to figure out which glazes she would use on Crocus tommasinianus LC0031 a bisqued soft box she’d made. Three of Joan’s black animal miniatures turned out perfectly… a manganese glaze that looks metallic. Speaking of metallic, Gary glazed one of his big horses in bronze and it looks fantastic. A real wowza piece! No camera this week, but I’ll take photos next time. As for myself, I have been keeping to an ambitious schedule, working long hours in both the studio and at home. It has taken me time to hit my stride, as far as a production schedule goes, and I won’t be letting up anytime soon. Aside from producing a lot of work, I find such intense contact with clay is very stress relieving and grounding. It’s also healthy! Wedging and working clay is physically active and I felt like I’d engaged in quite the aerobic tilemaking the other day…I kid you not! At present, I continue to build my inventory, only now it is becoming quite apparent. (Jan pats herself on the back.) I took one step further today by signing up for the local art walk. As I told my husband last evening, I remember when we’d attended an art walk in Bellingham, Washington years ago… must’ve been in the early 1990s. Back then, I never would have dreamt that my work would eventually be exhibited in such an event and I don’t mind saying so. It was a time when I was not as fully connected with my art as I had been, what with immigration and a new career. I did do some throwing during those years, but nothing consistent. Later, as I attended art walks in my locale and appreciated people’s work, I always felt a little tug on theJonquil up close heartstrings when I saw clay work. The feeling was most notable last year, when I thought, gee whiz, I could do this… And, this year, it will be a dream come true. Three neighboring cities come together for this event: ArtsConnect’s ArtWalk. Today was the deadline for applying and I dashed down to the arts centre with my application and check. While there, I checked to see if my pendants were out of the kiln… no, not yet…but I brought home 10 completed Snowfall tiles. Yesterday, I also finished five Sunrise tiles, placed 10 from my new series in the bisque area, and began finish work on five Sheaf of Wheat tiles. Tomorrow, I’ll go pick up the glazed pendants and think about jewelry findings. I have a Creativity Group workshop to conduct on the 25th and must be ready for it. All in all, a mighty productive time and soon it will be full-on spring. I already have lettuce and radishes coming up in my little greenhouse!


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