Making Pearls: book summary

Here is a summary of Jeanne Carbonetti’s book Making Pearls: Living the Creative Life. It provides background about her work as a watercolour painter book and about her philosophy on the nature and psychology of life as an artist.

Download the Making Pearls chart (one-page PDF) as an aide-memoire visualisation of this summary.

Making Pearls: Living the Creative Life

The creative power within us

We are all creators: it is the birthright of each and every one of us. In our true nature as humans we shape our world by the power of imagination. When we are least aware, we are creating most. There is something larger at work; we are part of a worldwide web of creative force.

The universal, eternal cycle

All our creating is done within this cycle, never outside of it. Every stage is important; each has its gift:

  • Waiting
  • Opening
  • Closing
  • Holding
  • Releasing
  • Emptying
  • Sitting

We each have our favourite part of the cycle that we find it easy to do; they are also some stages in the cycle we like less, where we have difficulty.

It is God’s life force and us who create, both together. Life comes through us; true creation is always co-creation. Creation is always an act of faith: creativity is not something added to your life, it isyour life

 Like oysters we make pearls

We form pearls out of the stuff of our lives: something beautiful and meaningful, something we love, or something troubling:

  • Waiting: We open ourselves to things we never thought of before;
  • Opening: We choose and close on what we find most attractive – like the oyster we get sand in with the food;
  • Closing: We close on and hold this under the shell of our protection – this becomes the time for holding, this embryonic pearl becomes ours;
  • Holding: We creators hold on when other forms of consciousness let go;
  • Releasing: We must release our creation be what it will be in the world;
  • Emptying: It is no longer up to us, we must empty ourselves – it is over now;
  • Sitting: This is the time for just sitting – not even waiting – just sitting.

We allow the mystery of the cycle to be as it is, if we accept this part too without judgement until the next call comes and waiting begins. Most of all we must love ourselves enough to let it happen.

Love of self

This is a choice we must make if we are to fulfil our destiny as creators. Creatorship is hero’s work: we are each born with a hero’s heart, for the quest we are really on is to uncover the divinity within ourselves. Love all of ourselves, with agape love.

Chapter 1: Waiting

‘It’s when I seem to be doing the least that I’m doing the most’ Leonardo da Vinci

The nature of waiting

This stage is about recognising our wanting, hunger and openness – our positioning to receive.

It is the first stirring of intuition: a whisper of ‘It is time for this now’; a shiver that will guide to the next step; it can be a word or phrase, a question.

First vibrations: ‘In the beginning was the Word’; God Said ‘Let there be light!’

To have been busy with routine tasks is to crowd out these still small voices.

  • Embrace uncertainty: Our voices can go deep, which takes patience. As you go deeper you notice more pieces emerge. Our duty is to go to the core of our humanness.
The practice of grounding

The oyster cements itself to a rock. It stops floating around and begins to funnel energy into its receptive shell.

Being in your body frees your mind to receive, to become alert, and to be attentive to physical senses. Feel your feet as they touch the floor; be aware of your body, feel each part relax. Notice your breathing: allow this to become regular, let its rhythm carry you into relaxation.

  • Create private space and time: ‘My territory’, a place of peace and calm where ‘no trespassers’ are allowed. Simply take time: waiting, not doing
  • Engage in contemplative thought: This is curved, experimental thinking that has the quality of being open to surprise. Contemplate a favourite master’s art; notice what draws your eye, watch how your thinking wanders
  • Engage in reflective thought: This is often circular, in the hope of finding a pearl. Hindsight often closes the circle, so that new patterns and levels of understanding can be seen. We engage our minds, our bodies, our spirits and our imaginations in reflection
  • Visualise: This is attentive soft focus, which is done best when soaking in a tub. Dream your dreams: when one takes you over, you know that the waiting stage is ended
The gift of patience

Reflect on your past creative projects. What worked well and delighted you? Begin to notice patterns and new levels of understanding that emerge from the different works. Become aware of your own ways of working and the resources that worked.

  • Allow yourself to dream: One of your ideas may take over you, and then you will know that the Waiting stage is over
  • See patience as a gift: This is fundamental to creating; we wait to be pulled towards something rather than impatiently push through, to get something done
  • Choose a symbol for the Waiting stage: What personal symbol or story will you choose?

Chapter 2: Opening

True artists scorn nothing

The nature of Opening

This stage explores movement in our creative thinking – like the oyster, we feed on and filter ideas

When taking in and drawing on research, the more extensive and diverse the process, the better. Where do answers from the Waiting stage lead us?

  • Research and develop: Start to collect the pieces of the puzzle of your ideas: read; visit art galleries and sculpture parks; explore all live leads and dead ends; go to unexpected places; talk with colleagues and friends, to bat ideas around. Notice that one idea or image has more weight and a deeper beat than the others. Ideas constellate into patterns; remain willing to give up on your most promising idea if a better, more pressing idea comes to mind
  • Invite whimsy: Allow yourself to be carefree, tentative, curious, and playful. Indulge in daydreams and fantasies. This stage embraces the full, opening of power of imagination. Many flowers of ideas will fall away, but one or two blooms will remain, and trigger a deep resonance of meaning
  • Allow time to languish: Taketime to wander mentally and spiritually among different, alternative ideas for creative projects. When your pace of spirit quickens toward one idea over the others, we recognise we are being moved into a state of enthusiasm
The practice of connecting

Scan, sense, and read signs to discover which of your range of ideas can be filtered out and which have resonance for you. We are like the oyster, deciding what is food and what is not.

  • Use your senses and intuition: Look at source material for inspiration (e.g. magazines, books, websites, galleries)
The gift of enthusiasm

We are touched by the gods: we seek to be divinely in love with an idea so wonderful it lifts us off our feet, excites us, and pulls us towards it. ‘Pull’ is very important: the realm of the soul cannot be pushed; ‘push’ is the realm of ego. When we are pulled we are filled with energy and momentum, we work without stopping or feeling tired.

  • Choose a symbol for the Opening stage: What symbol or story will you adopt?

Chapter 3: Closing

‘When developing an idea, I remind myself not to start with compromise. I envision the ideal manifestation of the idea, as if I had no limits in resources, materials, or permission.’ Janet Echelman

The Nature of Closing

The oyster closes on the irritant and begins secreting the mother of pearl lining, also known as nacre. The embryonic pearl is free to move around, which gives it a round shape.

As anartist, you become one with the irritant of an idea; you engage fully with the piece of life that is going through you; you make meaning of it.

The pain, frustrations and irritations in your life may have reached a place where they emerge to be chosen as ideas for creative work; in some way, your life’s problems can be transformed by your art.

  • Have quiet times: Now is the time to pull down the shutters. Do not get distracted by outside influence: your creative essence needs to merge with the irritant idea.  Don’t open yourself or the work to public view before its completion
  • Incubate your ideas: You are not yet at the point of producing the work. Live with your ideas: start to focus on what most draws your attention?
  • Recognise your breakthroughs: You may not see much growth surrounding the irritation for a while, but then you may experience a sudden breakthrough, either as one large event, or several mini events. At these Eureka moments, your Ideas flow and you expend more energy. The pearl that is developing must be free to move, however: you don’t yet have the full picture of what your idea will become. When you get to that point, you will know: you will experience a tremendous burst of energy together with high excitement
  • Take your time: The deeper you go, the more time the breakthrough for your idea takes to surface
  • Have patience: Follow your own natural pace and rhythm to make your own kind of pearl
The Practice of Focus

Allow yourself a regular rhythm of work: start small; the process is a delight, not a chore.

  • Position yourself to be creative: Have patience with the process; be at ease with your own boundaries. Take time to be alone, to be receptive to your own thoughts, feelings, and rhythms. When you are in the throes of giving your chosen idea shape, you must work closely with it, keeping the project safe from public display so that you can see the patterns that emerge from the process
  • Work in a sacred space: Set aside a place in which you work creatively that is separate from your domestic routines. Dedicate the space to your purpose: put yourself in a place where creation can come through you, where you can hear your still, inner voice or visualise an image
  • Engage in devotional time: Discipline yourself to set a time to contemplate what you have achieved before you close a creative session
The Gift of Commitment

Commitment is the gift by which our willpower is the servant and protector of the creative value that we produce: the stage is the height of productivity and power within the creative cycle. The goals for your dream take shape and demand your attention: your commitment protects your dream as it develops into reality. Like lovers for whom the world is closed out except for each other, creators see only their desire in this stage.’ The goals for your idea are no longer at issue; the only remaining questions are how and when to get there.

  • Choose a symbol for the Closing stage: What symbol or story will you adopt?

Chapter 4: Holding

‘Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses, who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage.’  Rayner Maria Rilke.

The Nature of Holding

Hold on by faith to nurture the worthiness of our efforts despite facing obstacles. The nourishment of our ideas and creative work is contingent on our persevering with the process.  Can we learn from other creators about developing greater determination to get through tedious and repetitive elements of our work?  Holding on means we must keep going forward. This demands faith and self-control in the face of dragons such as boredom and tension. When there is not much tangible progress to show for your efforts, a dragon will tell you that no one else will want to see your creative work anyway. Have faith to be true to be yourself.

  • Develop a sense of Eros towards your work:  In all creative work there is a marriage of polarities: spirit and form; yin and yang; female and male. It is a synthesis born of paradox; out of it comes true Eros. All true creation is an act of reconciling polarities. This is an act of being human
  • Maintain your composure: Develop deep knowledge of your inner self; face the mirror of your being and accept what you see
  • Use your imagination: Hold on to your dream, come what may
The Practice of Pulsing

 Work to a beat, the music of your soul.

  • Develop a rhythm: Recognise the beauty of your natural creative processes.  Acknowledge, too, the dragons that prevent us for keeping the beat.  We are our own princes and princesses; we are also our own dragons. When we bring these two forces together, we release meaning and power
  • Set reachable goals:  Be kind to yourself. Plan realistic schedules and objectives
  • Affirm your vision: Visualise success and affirm your creativity in the secrecy of your imagination.  How do you feel as you picture your goals? Trust the miracle of your own creative power
The Gift of Compassion

 Compassion is the beautiful gift we can give ourselves at this stage of the creative life cycle. This quality helps us to appreciate ourselves in relation to the complexities of the creative process; it helps us to deal with procrastination and boredom.

  • Find pearls in other people and their creative work: Hold on to all parts of the process in your work and in other creators without judgement; just respond to the next stage. This is at the heart of the creative life cycle
  • Choose a symbol for the Holding stage: What symbol or story will you adopt?

Chapter 5: Releasing

‘The artist vocation is to send light into the human heart.’ George Sand

The Nature of Releasing

We tend not to like this stage; we either hold on to a creative project too long and overwork it, or we move on to another project before the first one is finished, which only postpones the inevitable need to complete the earlier project.

  • Foster a giving spirit: Releasing your work, give it back to the world.  We need to engage in the art of forgiveness for ourselves and for our creativity. Our creations become alive with meaning and purpose; they tell us, their creators, what they are going to be
  • Develop acceptance: Allow your work to stand on its own merits.  Accept that your job at this stage is getting your work out in the public arena, not to making the world love it in the same way that you do
  • Remove yourself gently from the process: Prepare to withdraw your mental, spiritual and physical energy from your project. Giving up your ‘baby’ is a creative act.  The creative impulse that says ‘my work is done’ is not the same as your inner critic.  This thought is firm and clear: let go of any fears you have of releasing your work into the world
The Practice of Surrender

We need to come to terms with the fruition of our dream; this is the ripeness of autumn. This stage of slowing down is as important to the life cycle as the building of momentum is to the beginning of the process.

  • Face truth: The act of surrender begins when we say: ‘What is the truth of this creation?’ Examine what worked and what didn’t. Don’t abandon your work for what it isn’t; look for the truth it gives. Change your role from actor to witness. Keep the creative work that you reject in a drawer. You can re-visit and resurrect work you have previously rejected. Even work you reject permanently can show you how much you have grown in the quality of your work.  We are meant to know ourselves as creators
  • Handle the mundane: ‘After bliss, chop wood’. Bringing a creative work to fruition always demands elements of the ordinary administration of business.  There is a polarity within abstract creativity and concrete presentation. The tasks of Heaven and of Earthly chores are one; honour them both
  • Break your momentum: Slow down. Formalise the change by making a conscious shift into a lower gear; sum up one phase before moving to another
  • Overcome your obstacles:  The process isn’t easy, even if you know how it works
The Gift of Truth

This is gift of learning who we are. When we speak the truth of life as it is portrayed through us, then we fulfil our purposeas humans.  Live your dreams.  Like skiers, there is a thrill in coming down a creative peak, even though it feels good at the top of the mountain.

  • Choose a symbol for the Releasing stage: What symbol will you adopt?

Chapter 6: Emptying

‘He who binds to himself a joy doth the winged life destroy, but he who kisses it as it flies lives in Eternity’s sunrise.’ William Blake

The Nature of Emptying

This stage resembles empty oyster shells on a beach: some shells are separated into halves, some are still joined together; some oysters die a natural death, others are torn apart unnaturally.  The emptying stage is part of the creative life-cycle.  Emptying honours the ending of a creation and of ourselves as creators of the project. Now our work is over. Our energy levels change: conclusion crosses over into completion.  This is a feeling to be cherished: enjoy the feeling of what you have accomplished. Be ready to let go of all the pieces that didn’t work; these are just stepping-stones. Clean out your real and your mental drawers; have a throwing away ritual. Emptying is crucial to the birth of other creative endeavours.

  • Deal with the shadow of your inner self: During the Emptying stage, a large shadow may appear in your mind and spirit. This is our deep fear of risking presentation our creative work to the world and the resultant threat of criticism and loss of joy. Face this shadow with honesty: our fear of being alone and unloved, exposed by our own creativity. Integrate your fear so that you can face the world and become one with it. Healthy creators face both shadow and their mask to the world and become one, so that the whole soul can create again
  • Develop the perspective of the larger scheme of life: What happens when a creative project does not work out.  If you need to abandon a dream, try to analyse why it does not work. You may feel betrayed, but the creative process has not gone wrong. You have met a still larger cycle, a web of creation: the collective unconsciousness that grows, learns and creates. True creation is always co-creation with the process of creativity.  It is time to seek the bigger picture; it is time to listen
The Practice of Perspective

Emptying means finding and using perspective.  First, we need to let go.  Some professional artists keep going too long, forcing a project beyond its natural end-point.  From a greater distance, you see detail and structure that you don’t see close up. It is time for hindsight and reflection, which is a valuable part of the cycle. How will you know when to stop? Watch your energy levels. When energy your enthusiasm starts to halt, it is time to take stock.

  • Hold a mirror to yourself: Accept everything that holds an emotional charge for you. Withdraw your perspective on and opinions of other people. The more we feel our mask and shadow energies, the clearer we will be to our authentic core
  • Step back from your project: Finding distance from our work allows us to cross the threshold into the next stage of the creative life-cycle. Be ruthless when you clean out your attachments after a major creative project. Create sacred space by keeping a journal
  • Withdraw your energy: Let your parting from your project be fully realised, so that the old is complete and honoured, freeing space for something new to come.  Acknowledge daily those aspects of your creative mind that drain your energy and get rid of those thoughts. This daily discipline trains you to receive the gift of insight
The Gift of Insight

Parting with mindfulness from a project can be a beautiful experience.  Authentic emptying provides perspectives that give meaning: a view of larger pattern in our lives.  This is not a path we choose to take; instead a larger path chooses us. Alignment with this larger path is key to creative flow and to our growth.  It only comes when the creative process is complete. We are then free to see the forest for the trees.

  • Choose a symbol for the Emptying stage: What symbol will you adopt?

Chapter 7: Sitting

This stage of sitting allows our yin and yang nature to join in an ecstatic union.

The Nature of Sitting

The final stage is just sitting: the pause between our out-breath and our in-breath, a metaphor for the whole cycle of creation. Eternity breaks through here, at the point between death and rebirth. 

  • Transcend your experience: Sitting has special gifts that are crucial to the next re-birth.  The seed of our creative process does not come through doing, but through non-doing
  • Trust the process: We need to sit, to remain empty. We need to be filled again by a larger source than our own egos, and we must trust that it will happen. Experience an unexpected awareness of beauty, like a shy person who you have overlooked before, but who now seems exquisite
  • Show humility: Spiritual presence is revealed to us once we give up our egos, when we recognise directly that it is Creation, not us, that has the power to create.  We need to avoid boastful pride; we should not assume that the outcome of a project is completely up to us.  The sitting stage is marked by a deep sense of humility.  We are not alone; we have not been abandoned
The Practice of Non-Doing

 The stage of ‘not doing’ is a required skill; it allows us to refuel.  We need to be replenished. This is a very enjoyable stage, and you can learn to avoid doing what you do not want to do.  Give proper honour to your values of honesty and intuition. Your connections and ties will be honest and true, as they are natural not forced. Your consciousness comprises your heart, mind, intuition; allow answers and new questions to come to you.

  • Be in the moment: Being mindful of whatever you are doing at any given moment.  Be fully present in the now.  Allow all things to be as they are without changing them
  • Take stock: Pause before you react to a stimulus. Give yourself the chance to make a new choice, to release a new event from a past Opening stage, or allow yourself to be still, until the Waiting stage is upon you once more
The Gift of Grace

Creative people have come to understand that though we are spirit, first, it is possible that Heaven can touch Earth.

  • Choose a symbol for the Sitting stage: What symbol will you adopt?

Chapter 8: Conclusion

‘He who would search for pearls must dive below.’ John Dryden

The Pearl of Wisdom

This is spirit seeking material form, a call from the divine. This is your muse.

Your pearls are unique; they reflect you, and your personal journey, but they can transcend the gap to guide other people on their way in life.

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