In engineering school, I learned that good computer programming begins with a flowchart, a diagram of shapes, figures and lines that trace the logical flow needed in the program. We were taught to write the computer code according to the logic outlined in the flowchart. That’s why the flowchart comes first.  

After the program is written and tested, changes are almost always needed to make sure the program works correctly. When changes are needed to the program, the flowchart must also be updated to mirror the final design. Keeping an accurate flowchart is important because, years later, others not involved in your design can understand your program from the flowchart, instead of deciphering hundreds or thousands of lines of programming code.

Confession: Every flowchart I’ve ever done was done after the program. It is poor computer programming technique, and I’m not proud of this. The instructor required us to turn in the final program code, original flowchart, and changes to the flowchart as a result of testing. For every assignment, I turned in what was expected. Sort of.

Since I drew my flowcharts after programming, I could have drawn them perfectly, but they would not have looked like the basis of the design. The program is to reflect the flowchart, not the other way around. So I drew them with intentional errors, then erased and corrected the errors to make the flowcharts look as if corrected as part of the programming process. For added realism, I sometimes drew and erased the same section multiple times to look as if I had struggled a part of the design.

I have no idea if my instructors could tell that my assignments were done in reverse order. If he knew, he never said anything to me. I’m ashamed that I can’t program as most others do. By the way, if any of my old engineering instructors are reading this blog, I’m only joking! I always did flowcharts first! If you are not reading it, then sadly, it is all true!  

How does any of this apply to art? I think this is how I create, regardless if the project is technical or artistic. I do my best when I think it through, then feel my way through the problem until it works. This is my creative process, regardless of what I make. If I plan, I usually plan too much, which leads to over-thinking and second-guessing. I do better when I’ve got a clear vision of what I want, and just figure it out as I go. 

I’ve struggled to “figure it out” over the past two years because of the deaths of my mom and grandfather. That’s understandable, but I need to get going again. Ironically, my Master of Fine Art thesis was about unresolved loss and grief. Maybe I made that series to help me deal with the real thing later that year? Who knows. I do know that if my mom and grandfather knew I stopped making art because of their deaths, they would be very disappointed in me.

I also get in my way. Time spent planning a project gives me time to listen to whisperers from the Dreaded Editor. When I listen, I second-guess my gut, and sometimes the entire project. Check out my post, “Zero Drafts and Unfinished Business,” of August 10, 2011 to read more about the Dreaded Editor and how to beat him (or her, or it). I should learn from my programming days that this approach doesn’t work for me. And I’ve got to be OK with how I do things.

What about you? What’s your most productive way to create? My suggestion is to look at what you’ve finished. What led to successful completion? Where were you and what was your state of mind? Where and when do you do your best work? Do you plan or just do?

It’s fine if you are a planner, but you need to know it so you can know when you are not doing enough of it. Or too much. Ask the same questions about your failures. What gets in the way of your unfinished projects and why? Do you see a trend?

Art is not rocket science. But even if it were, I’d do it the same way. I do flowcharts after my programming. It’s how I chart my flow.