How to develop so called Common Sense

One of the greatest assets I had developing my creative practices was a natural problem solving mind. Working with a lot of trainees today I see some who have this skill and others who lack. The ones with common sense solving heads get further down the road, faster, than all others.
How does it work?

Working on site as a creative is a huge challenge. Preparation is crucial to ironing out and avoiding the obvious and slippery hidden challenges.

It doesn’t happen by thinking of one solution and trying the opposite… because problems have a few angles to them, and if you just keep doing the opposite you end up relying on luck and gin.

It can be planned to such an extent that the critical path or roll through becomes a highly structured and effective process. Thinking about what is likely to happen and a range of mad shit that might happen is essential to successful project planning and responsive day to day self management.

How we respond to setbacks is essential to how we solve them.

1  How bad is it?

2  What’s in the bag to fix this?

3  Where’s the nearest paint store?


Willingness to pull all the stops out in these difficult moments counts for a lot too.


Not all is good as gold

Recently we started up a glass gilding project on far edge of Hendon north west London and the gold leaf was wrong for the speed gild technique I had planned to use… there was no standard kit on-board as back up (a huge fail on my part) so the choice was to spend 2 hours heading into the city to buy a fresh gild pad and knife or to push on… I decided to push on and after 4 hours of near impossible, stupid, loose lift gilding, nearly went nuts under the pressure. I didn’t have the willingness to go into town – even though my amazing assistant Kevin Roberts with me did… but we were limited by time on site and so I decided to plough on with his support. I knew with his support I could still achieve the same result even though it was going to be extremely tough.

So these complexities sometimes force us to simply scrape our guts out and dig in deep.

Next day I fixed it… it looked great. However it wasn’t probably the right decision along the way … 

Don’t beat yourself up about this kind of thing. Take the positives and move on. Signwriting is a tough game.


Bigger picture planning

I recall well the preparation made for the xL Damien Hirst murals in the 2014 Retrospective at the Tate Modern in London. Everything was meticulously nailed and planned in 3 months ahead of start-up.
Yet still, regardless of the attention to detail, certain inconceivable, ‘curved ball’ events happened.

On wall 2 the filler was not allowed to harden sufficiently prior to our work stages. The base paint applied over part dried or surface dried filler meant it peeled when we removed even low tack masking tapes.
Yet the solution came instantly from a combination common sense, experience and knowledge.


Let’s look at that fix.

I saw the problem early on and realised we had to simply remove all masking tape as normal, as carefully as possible, yet as simply and without fuss. This allowed the team to remain calm while realising the fault.

Calm causes solutions.

The peeled damage was localised and no more than 5mm at widest tears.

There were c20 areas in total.

These were marked with ‘Post-it’ markers for easy orientation to task.

By maintaining calm and clarity the problem felt under control. Emotions cause small problems to spiral out of control when not held withing a frame of clarity and certainty.
I decided to use a simple light weight filler and apply with a sharp Stanley blade. Stanley blades have a super clean cutting edge and allow excellent control. These were my favourite tools in restoration and detail flat surface imperfection correction.

The filler needed to go into the crevice in one pass or max half one direction then half the opposite isolating the area. This left a nice ridge across the middle of the fill which could be removed with the Stanley blade once dry. These shaved off perfectly the next day.

A final check fill took out any snicks and the correction was done.

The fix came from 3 processes:

1 Knowledge

2. 360 think through and action

3. Leader intuitive instinct
The repair had worked cleanly, with ease and fast.


Near nil Knowledge… steep learn curve

So for a ‘newbie’ going about a project with very little knowledge a completely different landscape emerges.
They find themselves muddling through.

Muddling Through or MT is great. It builds so much invaluable knowledge. In most project circumstances I find myself involved in these day, muddling through is no longer an option. It kills time.

Another down side is it’s built on repetition, halving errors which is fatiguing. However for the new creative there is no alternative.
Or is there?

Indeed the pain of trial and error MT can be halved by preparation as follows.

  • Trust yr intuition ideas and try those out first!
  • Check out key suppliers super local to project
  • Pull in mentor for emergency assist
  • Carry a hair dryer! Or other speed up tools Just In Case


So we can see that MT builds knowledge and success rates improve over first 12 months.

When set in a landscape of really useful prep, mentors and other reference points, projects will go fairly well.


Decisions, Pride and Coms

But what about mindset?
The most useful tool is your ability to think through situations and identify the real causal problem and really cool fixes. BTW swallow pride.

You will always hit a snag, step back in shock, instinctively feel a solution yet reject it for another simpler looking one … often the intuitive subtle fix will hold the real key.

Recently an apprsite trying to jig a layout of a large No 2 and small ‘STUDIO’ around a tall slot window in a prestige office setting.

Either the 2 or Studio had to be tweaked …and yet it became impossible for the artist to solve.

It was a dead simple puzzle for me and 40 years exp, but fast becoming impossible for her.

My decision was to tell her and fix the problem after an hour of failed prompting.
I decided also to let her go.
The only way she would learn was by muddling through on her own.
If you decide to use a mentor be sure to prepare mentally all the options you think you have in order to communicated properly…

Know that it is always better to learn by your own endeavors, hard work and solutions.

There are no such things as mistakes.

We all share the same path, so plan yee well.