Week 20 in my yearlong sketchbook practice.
I got about 85% done with my mushroom pattern and decided to scrap all the photos and start over. The text for the steps is all good but I didn’t like the photos. I struggled with them throughout the process, re-shot one section to try to make myself feel better about them, re-edited, applied some photo shop magic but it was all for not – they weren’t what I wanted and they were not frankly – good enough. It’s so painful to come to that place and make that decision this far into a project. Or rather- it’s painful UNTIL I make that decision. I agonized over it for a couple days – wondering if I was being too critical or using perfectionism to procrastinate because I got cold feet – sometimes at the end I get nervous and look for flaws so I can delay – this is not that. They just weren’t good enough.
So I decided, started over and felt better right away. The extra work is far less painful than publishing something I don’t feel good about. I put together a new step shooting set up before beginning that made everything easier. It’s not fancy but it works well and I got through half the photography today.
I’m much happier with the new photos – they are simpler, clearer, more consistent and prettier than the others (gorgeous fabrics courtesy of Sri Threads). I’ll sail through the rest of the photography tomorrow morning and drop them into the document over the weekend.
And in other news – a little more progress on my Fortuny creatures: a recently finished owl – in Fortuny Simboli (cinnamon and copper).
Happiness is good for creative work – it’s an open place, a place of ease and flow, curiosity. I think of myself as a happy person and I think of myself as someone who deals well with failure but I, and I think most of us, can relate to the tendency to focus on negative experiences – the way one criticism can outweigh heaps of praise. And I’m pretty sure a big success has never woken me up at four in the morning. It turns out it’s our default setting – it’s called a negativity bias.
“Unfortunately, to help our ancestors survive, the brain evolved a negativity bias that makes it less adept at learning from positive experiences but efficient at learning from negative ones. In effect, it’s like Velcro for the bad but Teflon for the good.”
Accomplishments get blown right past but what’s not working, what isn’t done, failures, fears criticisms and negative consequences are dwelled upon – I’m a champion at this. Stress is a powerful motivator and very effective in the short term but I think for a lot of my life I convinced myself it was a good place to be, a sort of no pain no gain mentality. Chronic stress eventually becomes self perpetuating and the physical and mental consequences are real and painful.
I came across Dr. Hanson, author of Hardwiring Happiness on this episode of one of my regular listens – The Accidental Creative. I hope you’ll listen, it’s fascinating and his advice for changing your brain, teaching it to learn more efficiently from positive experiences, one thought at a time, is practical and pretty effortless.
“Passing neural states become lasting neural traits”
There are so many little positive moments and accomplishments throughout the day, little successes and moments of gratitude and connection that aren’t acknowledged – ordinary moments, ordinary happiness that we are apparently neurologically designed not to notice. Giving attention to these little positives, spending an extra moment with them can add to our bank of well being, our happiness.
Week 19 in my yearlong sketchbook practice. I love having a record of the days – it’s an extra bonus that comes with this sort of daily practice. It’s a different kind of remembering – looking back at each days little experiment. The memories are of sensation and mood, the little squares mostly don’t relate to external events - except when they do. Today’s experiment refers to the world – the strange, disturbing and fascinating events surrounding the prison escape upstate are on my mind - the intensity of it, the ideas of desperation and flight, the reality of truly dangerous humans and the massive, harsh and beautiful forest where it’s unfolding. From here it’s surreal and it almost feels like fiction – how terrifying and disruptive it must be to people in the vicinity.
The toadstool pattern is just about done. I’ve got a few steps to reshoot and then a little more work on the document and it’s ready to go. I’ve taught this class a couple of times and that definitely helped in writing the steps.
It took two years of experimenting to get the shape I wanted in my toadstools. Two years of almost there but not quite. I am pathologically persistent – relentless. The most difficult part was finding a reasonably efficient way of making the concave shape for the underside, reasonably efficient and reproducible. I tried so many things – some with interesting results – like foam padded bra inserts – but it wasn’t exactly what I wanted. What I ultimately came up with is simple and has a lot of flexibility – the shape and effect can be varied with little adjustments – it’s fun to play with.
(photo by Andi Schrader)
I loved teaching the class – the steps seem odd until all of a sudden a toadstool appears. I hope one of the takeaways from my botanical experiment classes and this pattern is thinking innovatively about shape building and materials.
So stay tuned and if you would like to be notified by email when new patterns are released you can sign up here.
I always have a notebook with me – usually more than one. They are full of lists and notes and doodles and sketches. Blank pages are terrifying and paralyzing and my notebooks are a safety net. It is essential to my forward motion to record ideas as they come to me, to sketch-out possibilities, and to doodle, sometimes with no direction or intention, just playing with lines and marks and shapes and symbols. Sometimes the notes are specific to a project I’m starting but often one thing leads to another and while I’m trying to work one idea out that effort produces all sorts of new unrelated thoughts, glimmers of ideas, all recorded and saved. My notes and sketches are made for my eyes only, spontaneous with no pressure to be fancy or tidy or to impress, just beginnings, but I chose a couple pages to share anyway.
I also find huge value in writing about what I’m going to make – it develops my ideas in ways that sketching doesn’t. I noticed on occasions when I had to write a proposal for a project, describe my ideas to somebody else, convince somebody else an idea had merit, that details and richness would come from that exercise so I’ve made it a habit to spend time describing my ideas and plans to myself in writing.
I’ve been keeping notebooks for years and I have volumes to refer to – they are a mess but that seems to work for me too – I peruse them when I need a place to start, the tiniest thing, scribbled years ago and forgotten can get my wheels turning. They have saved me again and again, I never really feel like I’m starting from zero. I’m working on some holiday ornament designs right now – they will either be licensed and produced by someone else for 2016 or I’ll release them myself as patterns this year. I’ve got a ton of saved ideas. I can’t show you my current thoughts but the castle sketch below is from a few years ago – a rough idea that eventually became an ornament set for Crate and Barrel.
Week 18 in my yearlong sketchbook practice.
I’ve been working on a huge collection of creatures for Fortuny. Today I’m fitting patient foxes for kimonos – it takes a long time and they never complain or fidgit – they are always solemn and still. The fit is precise – especially at the back of the neck and they are fully lined and have fancy obis. Sewing them is still complicated for me, it’s a different sort of sewing than I usually do and figuring it out is interesting – it activates my beginners brain – always a good thing.
Dressing the foxes reminds me of a story I read as a child. I must have been about nine when I first read it and I still have the book, an illustrated collection of stories for bigger little folks.
” On the table in front of them were two dolls, one dressed and one partially dressed. Beside them was an open parcel, full of bits of bright colored silk; and beside that again was a work basket.”
I still love the idea of a basket of fancy scraps and somebody to dress up.
I sew because my mother sewed, because my aunts sewed, because my older sister sewed. I think well in stitches. It’s simple, the barrier to entry is very low and the possibilities are endless. It’s a language I’ve spoken for a very long time, it’s comfortable and I am adept in it.
The worse for wear hippo above is the very first creature I sewed – my first gussets, my first complex shape, the first thing I made that seemed (to me) to have a heart, and seemed to have somehow intended her own creation. She was made over a summer spent with my Aunt Rita when I was small. She tumbled out of a dark corner of the closet recently and reminded me what magic and transformative work sewing has been for me.
Week 17 in my yearlong sketchbook practice.