There are two kinds of people who can create a great work in one shot. The first are the masters. Someone like Pablo Picasso who was a prodigy, tutored by his father and attending art schools from around age 11 to 16. Check out his early work, these were done at an age when most of us were in Middle School and High School. The other kind of person is just lucky. Even masters don't always nail it, but their percentage of success is very high.

For the rest of us, who are hopefully working to become a master in our respective area, we must iterate. Creative iteration is when you do work and produce something, review how it came out, figure out ways to improve it and then do it again… and again… and again if necessary.

In his book Outliers, Malcom Gladwell made popular the idea or 10,000 hours of practice to reach mastery. I see this process as a form of the creative iteration process. You are learning how to do one thing over and over. Experience and muscle memory are also involved. Whether it is painting a tree, using pen and ink to draw a comic character or cooking your specialty in the kitchen, you are repeating and have improved by a large amount of repetitive experience.

Creative iteration is easier today than ever

With the availability of digital technology, rewritable storage media and inexpensive materials, iteration is far less of a burden. The Internet and binge-watching television are a far greater obstacles for getting mastery-level experience today. If you want to get good at photography, you can go and start taking pictures. Learn from each session. Read what you can do better next time. Back a couple decades, you also had to pay for film, processing and batteries. I do photography and that is my first rule, take lots of photos! You increase your chances of getting something great when you try a lot, (good quality attempts, not just clicking away.)

One of the main things we were learning in art college was to handle the art materials. Sure, we were also thinking about composition and design, but until you can handle the medium, you aren’t in control. It was frustrating, but during the foundational years, we went through a lot of illustration board, canvas, paint and brushes.

Iteration is the way of great inventors

Thomas Edison wasn't the only person who was working on inventing lightbulbs. He was the guy credited, above 23 other inventors who worked for around seventy years prior, because he iterated and made it work for business.

3D Printing is another modern capability that we couldn’t have dreamed about having in our homes a couple decades ago. Sure, they’ve been in the hands of engineers since the 1980s and 1990s. But now anyone who wants to make things, can with a relatively small investment.

I won a LulzBot Mini in 2015, in a competition. It is the best little printer if you want to make small things quickly with minimal headaches! It prints perfectly every time, unless a mistake is made by me the operator. When you get a printer, the first thing you realize is - I can make anything! Then you soon realize, the anything that I can make can be nearly shaped like anything! It is kind of like the problem of the blank canvas or the plain white piece of paper. Now that I can do anything... what should I do?

What I first do is ponder. I roll the problem around in my head. I mull the possible solutions, letting variations and shapes swirl around in my head. Then I draw some doodles.

There are some challenges to 3D printing. The force-fed filament (FFF) printers melt plastic, kind of like a hot-glue gun and squirt it layer-by-layer as it forms an object. The hot plastic falls out of the tip and then hardens. So it is hard to bridge suspended plastic in the air, everything needs support. Most of the software can add a thing, break-away structure that you remove after you print. That helps a lot. But it is better to make designs that don’t need bridging.

iterate design

My latest little project was to make little ant poison holders. We have a very lively, fertile yard and every Spring we get large anthills around our house. Eventually, little streams of opportunistic insects come scouting our house. So we set little cups of the borax and sugar solution around.

I made four variations of little houses that will keep the solution from leaking or evaporating. They will be easy to maintain and the ants will have easy access.

traps in action

So as you can see, the ones on the left are the first iteration. Kind of like a little cathedral where the ants walk through the regal entrance and indulge in the delicious sugary mix and take some home to their young. On the top right, I used the same top shape but dropped it a little lower. I’m hoping this lidded design reduces evaporation. The final design has the lid as a separate element, printed upside-down. Then it clips over of the bottom part, which is identical to the base of the others.

It is wonderfully empowering to be able to make anything I can model. After creative iteration round #1-4, I asked myself why only two entrances. This thing could be four-sided or six, or more. I’ll see if I need any more around the house. No reason to print the next one the same if I don’t want it the same.

It was asked to me once, “If you got a 3D printer, what would you print first?” I’ll spot you the test print that comes with the printer to prove that it is set up and operating correctly. Then what would you do after that? I got into testing, learning and utility designs pretty quick. I never did get to do the thing that I said when I answered that question. That, I promise, will be a post in the next couple weeks when I get into the topic of animation.

>>Please leave your answer in the comments below. Then ponder what creative iteration you might try in later attempts.

Photo: Dominoes Falling Down CC0 public domain