Watch: The secret to creativity? Make dozens of creepy clay fingers!

Lisa Hanawalt is the lead production designer and producer of Netflix’s BoJack Horseman.
Lisa Hanawalt is the lead production designer and producer of Netflix’s BoJack Horseman.
Image: PRNewsPhoto/Netflix, Inc.
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Lisa Hanawalt is arguably one of the most successful creatives working today. Though she started out sketching simple, yet uniquely funny web comics, she is now the lead production designer and a producer for Netflix’s critical darling, BoJack Horseman.

The artist never envisioned herself shouldering so much responsibility. Particularly because she often considers herself a “bad artist.”

“I’m lazy and untalented and bad,” she says. “It’s not really true, but it’s how I feel a lot of the time. And when I look at some of my favorite projects over the last decade, I’ve noticed how often they were preceded or even motivated by really negative emotions like this.”

The feeling is something similar to creative block, she says, but is really more of a paralysis. She finds herself afraid to make anything at all, totally zapped of any confidence in the quality of her work or her ability to deliver to a client’s satisfaction.

“When other people ask me for advice on making stuff,” she says, “I say stuff like, ‘Oh, just keep making things! Don’t worry about it. Just make it and think about it later.’ And that’s easier said than done.”

Hanawalt goes on to recount a comic inspired by a period of “creative paralysis” in her life. She was living in New York, overwhelmed by the pressure to make “good stuff,” and decided instead to invest her time in the molding of dozens of clay figures. Yes, it sounds compulsive, it sounds weird, but for Hanawalt, it worked! (If you must, skip ahead to 6:20 in the talk, but the whole 18 minutes is well worth your time for many more lessons on perseverance and creativity.)

Idle hands are depression’s playthings, she explains, in so many words. “It doesn’t matter if you feel bad while you’re working,” she adds. “I feel healthiest when I take breaks from objects to make 3D objects, even if they’re really ugly and creepy and they don’t serve any purpose. I’m not selling these [fingers]! Nobody wants them. But just the act of making them is serving an emotional or creative purpose.”

Hanawalt goes on to detail her recent success with Netflix and BoJack Horseman—the journey from making tiny, clay fingers in her New York apartment, to a legitimate production job in Los Angeles, learning to believe the quality of her work, and trust the affinity people have for it. It’s working: critics and views alike love BoJack Horseman, which is in line for a third season with Netflix. And Hanawalt is at the helm.