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A Story A Long Time In The Making


In October, 2019, Nancy gave The Artist’s Journey® Retreat workshop at ‘1440 Multiversity,’ a venue called this because there are 1440 minutes in a day and they all matter.

It was a rich and spontaneous 5-day workshop in lovely surroundings that included a 1200 year old redwood mother tree, a spa with an infinity pool amid a redwood forest, and spectacular locally sourced organic food.

Twenty artists threw themselves into the experience with abandon.

Bruce set up easels, emptied brush buckets, unrolled and cut paper, and moved a variety of heavy studio materials. Pretty soon, he created musical playlists to expand our painting exercises and artists were asking for those playlists for their studio practice.

And it wasn’t long before he spoke about foundational scientific concepts that have profound implications for our art and the creative process in general.


The Adjacent Possible & The Adjacents


One of these lectures was about a concept from theoretical biology and physics called “The Adjacent Possible.” The artists who heard it found such potency and resonance in this idea that they decided to call themselves “The Adjacents.”

After the workshop concluded and the floor covering was rolled up and the easels disassembled, we took some time to reflect on the experience.

We realized we had a novel approach to the problem of artists experiencing creative drought of:


  • disappointment
  • feeling stuck
  • feeling abandoned by the creative muse
  • finding themselves emulating artists they admire
  • getting caught in repeating their own successes
  • simply not loving their art

Bruce & The Blog


Many discussions later, Bruce thought, I’ll talk about what I can illuminate, even if at first blush it doesn’t seem related to art. Talking about the adjacent possible in this context was an act of the adjacent possible itself, because of the surprises it led to.

Bruce adds: I don’t know anything about color mixing or veiling or value, but I know a fair amount about the science of complex systems, so I’ll write about that and see if I can draw connections to art with Nancy’s input, because that’s the kind of drawing I know how to do.

It turned out to be a rich vein to mine, and Bruce joined Nancy in writing the blog three years ago.

As this blog evolved and grew legs and wings, Nancy and Bruce felt this was adding up to something special.

Over the course of the next year (2020), our experiences writing this blog grew into an idea– to write a book, or maybe an entire series, describing The Adjacent Possible and how it connects to the creative process.

Since we were fantasizing, we thought, Why not two or three books?– One theoretical and abstract and conceptual, and the other a book of stories elucidating the concepts in the first book and perhaps another, academic tome.


Creating The Book: An Adjacent Possible Experience


The first Adjacent Possible book came together as a kind of pandemic project, ultimately published at the end of the summer in 2021.

Excited by our first Adjacent Possible book, we dreamed of expanding on it with a guidebook animating the adjacent possible concept through artist’s stories.

Turns out it was not so easy.

At first we thought the book would be vignettes and text.

Pretty soon, as artists trickled in, the question arose: Will there be images of their art? Our answer was: We don’t know.

We had minimal experience of including images in books and we weren’t sure of the logistics of gathering photographs from 25 artists. How many photos would we include if we went down this path?

We started with fewer than a dozen artists. As the project unfolded, fifteen additional artists joined the project and the book grew from 25 chapters to a grand total of 57.

Initial formatting was almost 600 pages but we wanted a book, not a door stop. So our diligent book designer, David Provolo, worked his magic to bring it down to a “mere” 444 pages.

The book boasts over 200 images of artwork from 25 artists plus Nancy.

A succession of surprises unfolded in this process of creating the book due to the complexity and hidden gotchas of Digital interfaces images that arrived in sizes from postage stamps to tennis courts in scale.

Some artists who paint with the utmost confidence were faced with writers block in describing their experience.

Highlights On The Journey


Here are some highlights from the journey of saying “yes” to this dream of creating The Adjacent Possible: Guidebook & Stories Of Artistic Transformation:

  • Nancy invited artists to consider being in the book. We would illuminate topics about the adjacent possible with vignettes to animate the concepts. Not many people responded at first. Doesn’t everyone want their name in lights?
  • We wondered if artists were feeling intimated by writing vignettes. Close to art, but not to writing. How could we bring these stories to light? Nancy seeded these stories with concepts from the adjacent possible, like punctuated equilibrium and phase transitions and combinatorics.
  • Some artists sent in stories. For the artists shy about writing, Bruce brought out their stories through interviews.
  • The other challenge was the structure. How will we structure this all together to make sense? We had a structure at hand, the ISEE methodology, and that turned out to be a good armature to fit all the stories and associated concepts into chapters.
  • Challenges: getting the photos, high resolution photos, dimensions of paintings/sculpture.
  • Staying organized. The bios, the images, the concepts, the stories, the headshots.


All these challenges were merely bumps in the road on our personal hero’s journey of creating The Adjacent Possible: Guidebook & Stories Of Artistic Transformation. We’ve journeyed through the dark night of the soul and now it’s time to celebrate!

With gratitude from our studio to yours,

Nancy & Bruce


P.S. Book now Available in paperback, hardback and eBook: The Adjacent Possible: Guidebook & Stories Of Artistic Transformation!


Order HERE. 


The Adjacent Possible: Guidebook & Stories Of Artistic Transformation- Nancy Hillis MD & Bruce Sawhill PhD

The Adjacent Possible: Guidebook & Stories Of Artistic Transformation- Nancy Hillis MD & Bruce Sawhill PhD

The Adjacent Possible Guidebook & Stories Of Artistic Transformation- Nancy Hillis MD & Bruce Sawhill PhD

The Adjacent Possible Guidebook & Stories Of Artistic Transformation- Nancy Hillis MD & Bruce Sawhill PhD


Get the Series. Go deeper with in your art with bestselling, award winning books in The Art Of The Possible book series

Get the series HERE.

The Art of the Possible Book Series

The Art of the Possible Book Series



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