Finding new creative projects

 28 July 2011

Binita Walia is an artist who works with architectural glass. When she needed a new project, she developed, an online sketchbook for creative people.

Architectural glass is glass used as an artistic building material.
Architectural glass is glass used as an artistic building material.

Working with architectural glass

“I have business in my family background. I’ve always been a very business-minded artist.”

From the age of six, Binita wanted to be an artist. She took the standard route to begin with, studying Art Foundation at university. That’s where she learnt about architectural glass, which has been her passion ever since.

“I discovered some books on architectural glass and it was a complete revelation. Because my work never felt finished, and when I learnt about architectural glass it was just a massive, massive thing.”

Architectural glass is glass used as a building material. It’s perhaps not the first thing people think of as an artistic medium, but look out the window and straight away, you’ll see an example of it. Think of stained glass windows in a church, or some of the spectacular arrays of panes on some office buildings.

The abundance of glass in buildings, and the opportunities it brings for an artist and designer, is Binita’s particular interest. Even everyday windows collaborate with weather and lighting conditions to make unusual displays of reflected or refracted light.

Binita makes specific commissions for new buildings. She works with her clients to produce site-specific and very personalised pieces. Through etching, colouring, painting or just carefully positioning glass, an amazing array of effects can be achieved. No two works are the same, and a lot depends on the building itself.

“A lot of work I’ve done is for hospitals. If they’re building a new building, they might say that they’d like to put glass work in. Then you design a work, it might be with the community if they want, and build a project around that.

"They’re often quite large scale and very expensive so you’re lucky to get one or two commissions a year, really. It’s a very small niche, and there’s not many projects around so there’s tough competition. I was doing very well in the public and private sectors until the recession hit.”

Innovation in hard times

“I went to a public art conference recently. It was a lot of doom and gloom, but everyone was saying how you have to innovate your way out of trouble.”

That’s what Binita did. A friend of hers, Debs Astell, was running workshops that teach creative thinking processes. Binita went along to one and found it really helped her think more creatively.

“She somehow unlocked part of my brain that had doors firmly shuttered in a way I’ve never experienced before. I just wished I’d met her fifteen years ago! It was incredible, the shift that creative thinking can achieve.”

A few days later, sitting in a café, an idea for a creative web tool popped into her head. That idea became MyIdeasBook.

Developing a creative idea

"You have to innovate your way out of trouble."

The first thing to do was to see if there was anything like her idea already on the market. There were many brainstorming tools, but none exactly like she’d thought of. Most were designed for computer developers. They needed a high level of technical expertise to use or even understand.

“Some things were really badly designed, some things were really well designed, so I took the best bits. The learning curve was huge on programs like Evernote. People who talk about code were all saying ‘we love Evernote’. I’m thought: you love it because you understand it, it was built for you.

“Creative people still use books, sketchbooks and moleskines. What I wanted to do with MyIdeasBook was bridge the gap between the sketch book and the computer. It’s an online sketchbook designed to be a bit more personalised and private.”

"It’s a way of collecting and examining your ideas, based on a Commonplace Book – a scrapbook for ideas. It’s been used for hundreds of years, by smart and creative people like Darwin or Milton. They were actually patented.

"It was a system of working where you could re-reference notes. It wasn’t just a brain dump, it was more systematic. You could reference your notes. It’s a space to brew your ideas, an incubation chamber.”

Many people expect fast results from computers. They don’t give their ideas the time they need to grow to full strength.

“I think that’s the big thing, that the computer has made us lazy. The computer changed the way that we work. In a way MyIdeasBook is about slowing things down. It’s a very thoughtful way of collecting ideas.”

Balancing art and business

 “I feel in a way there’s this kind of brave/stupid versus really brave/innovative dynamic in my head. Being an artist and building a web application is really brave, because people just don’t do it.”

Changing from an artist to a software developer was a big step. But it didn’t stop her. Binta's idea has built up into an exciting new tool. And the tool has been breeding new ideas.

“I’ve been using it myself. Two or three months lafter after I began, it made me think about collecting images that I hadn’t thought of before. It took about four months, but an idea started to build up. It developed to the point where I’ve pitched it to an art consultant and they got very excited.”

Binita’s hope is that MyIdeasBook will help other creative people build their business. But it is also a business of its own. “I have business in my family background, and so I’ve always been a very business-minded artist.”

Taking that risky first step with a strong idea can really pay off. The work that Binita has done will certainly help other people find a strong idea of their own and make it work.

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