Handmade in Japan is a quiet, minimal documentary that looks at the process by which three different traditional Japanese objects are made: samurai swords, mingei pottery, and kimonos. The viewing experience is pared back to the bare essentials (I don’t think I detected a single note of music in 60 minutes), but that spareness provides a beautiful focus on the craft that each of these artisans has trained decades to perfect.
While watching these intricate and complex processes I was struck by the simple, repeated actions of creation that result in something incredibly beautiful and complex; in this case: threading each strand of silk that makes up an entire fabric or hammering metal to create invisible layers of unbreakable steel.
To create something of value — to embark on something worth doing — requires time and dedication. Not just dedication to learning but dedication to craft. This dedication can involve months of shaping something formless and unimpressive before a hint of beauty begins to emerge.
To an outside observer that work can often seem boring and repetitive, but while watching these master craftspeople at work it reminded me of my own moments of creative repetition, and I realised they were some of the most calming and complete moments of my creative career. When you have mastered something and are absorbed in the doing of that thing it is meditative. Your physical body works automatically while your mind processes every tiny detail, adapting to minute differences in the environment and calmly sidestepping every challenge thrown your way.
In modern terms it is referred to as flow. It’s a concept that has been talked about eagerly for the past couple of decades, but the history of its understanding can be observed in these centuries old crafts. Indeed, everything about these craftpeople’s traditions and ways of life are geared towards obtaining flow and taking advantage of it to create wonderful things.
I have to wonder whether we exhibit the same discipline in the development of our own skills and the production of our modern artefacts. If we aim to create something great, where are our moments of meditation? When do we have the time to achieve the focus needed to forge the blades of technology?
Focus and time management are at the top of my mind at the moment, and I recently penned my thoughts on it for our weekly internal Canva newsletter (and that got picked up by Startup Daily). Engineers are well-versed in the need for focus. I’d argue that designers — like craftspeople — have equally as much need to focus. We need to actively cultivate those moments of creative meditation where doing improves learning and learning improves designing.