momentum

Momentum is crucial, and when you’ve got it,  you’ve got it and when you don’t, you don’t. Lack of momentum is why the wheels come off most New Year’s resolutions by February, why projects get abandoned and ideas get filed permanently in the someday folder. I started this blog 9 years ago – my first official post was titled momentum because I felt like my creative life, my personal creative life was in the someday folder.

cardboard stampede9 years later I still work hard to maintain my momentum and occasionally I lose it and find myself in the doldrums. It happens for lots of reasons, failures, discouragement, disappointments, obstacles or plain old fatigue but most often it’s because I’m feeling overwhelmed, overwhelmed with tasks, or choices or possibilities, overwhelmed with indecision, overwhelmed with all that isn’t done. When I lose it the only fix is action. Easy to say, so hard to do. Inertia is so heavy and oppressive, but there are a couple things I say to myself that do help when there is no wind in my sails:

it’s easier to keep going than to start

Just telling myself that helps immensely. And it means two things for me – it’s smart to make it part of my day to do things that keep momentum alive, basic things like structure and habits that support forward motion, even very small things, done consistently help a lot.  And when I do find myself dead in the water I need to take some small action (it can be really small) –  just start – bust out of the inertia. I posted a while ago about getting stuck and ways to get past it here.

my best work is ahead

I believe this and it saves me, I just need to remind myself once in a while. It makes me not quit and helps me live and act in uncertainty. It pushes me to let stuff go, take the next step  and try new things. I feel like I’ve barely gotten started and I’m so curious about what’s next, its a powerful reason to keep moving, to get through storms and doldrums, to see what’s around the next corner. If I quit I’ll never know.

try

on March 30, 2015 8

sketchbook : week 6

Week 6 in my yearlong sketchbook practice.  I get a lot of information about myself as I make these little experiments. I notice the grooves and paths in my thinking and impulses – colors and shapes, lines, moods and ideas I gravitate to. Sometimes that feels familiar and good, it feels like my natural vocabulary, and other times I try to push myself out of those grooves, just to see. The older I get the more interested I am in the murky uncharted places.

week_6

on March 28, 2015 3

on my work table

I love fabric.  I do – I think I’m genetically predisposed and I’m attracted to the possibilities. I use mostly found and salvaged things, garments, quilts etc. but I get pretty excited  about a good solid fabric store too. My favorites in New York are New York Elegant Fabrics on 40th St. and Purl in Soho. Purl is so pretty – I stopped by yesterday for supplies for two of the new patterns I’m working on.

purl_fabricsI could have spent the whole day there and I wish I had taken a couple photos – the shop is beautiful, they are truly masters of display – the place makes you want to make stuff and buy stuff.  I’m working on a lamb pattern  that will be out next week and something new – that’s what the metalics are for – I hope I can show you the prototype for that the end of next week.  And I’m building ships, I always build ships in the spring.

paper mache ship

It’s a pearly grey day in Brooklyn – perfect for twinkle lights and twirling ships. This one is the large ship from the ship pattern collection – I modified the sides a bit – made it dip a little lower on the sides in the middle. You can get all kinds of interesting effects by playing with the side templates. I’m putting together a post of ships and boats made from the pattern- if you’d like to be included you can email photos to me at ann at ann wood handmade dot com.

 

on March 26, 2015 5

my big creative year : chance

Chance is such a mystery – common, everyday things, humble things, can inadvertently become magnificent, like the strange perfection of Japanese Boro textiles.
Sri Threads Boro

boro futon cover - detailWhy does this stitching, born solely of necessity, produce such compelling and powerful compositions? Does some perfect rhythm, some harmony with the universe reveal itself if we get out of the way? And intertwined with the aesthetic appeal there is another sensibility about them, Stephen Szczepanek refers to Boro as having soulful beauty – I think that’s perfect, their unassuming and utilitarian nature and their absolute integration with life communicate an intimacy and humanity that is exquisite. The two photos above (from Sri Threads) are of an unusual example of a Boro futon cover and one of my all time favorite examples and the two photos below are fragments of mended and patched garments.

mending

sri garmentThere is accidental beauty and inspiration everywhere. I’ve been photographing my paintboxes for years, to record all the wonderful transformations that occur as I use them.

And I have paint sticks that I’ve saved for decades, they have stirred hundreds of pots of paint and without any thought or planning or intention have become beautiful (to me anyway).

paint sticksAnd so I keep them, save and preserve them for their beauty and for inspiration – there are so many things to think about, so many places to begin in those paint sticks.  The challenge is to notice.

on March 23, 2015 6

sketchbook : week 5

Week 5 in my yearlong sketchbook practice.  I really struggled to find the time this week – lots going on – but I did and was always happy  in that little drawing and painting part of my day. I was often  miserable thinking about doing it but not once I got started and settled in to it.  I don’t always, or even usually  love what I make but I do try to stick with them until I feel like I’ve gotten somewhere. This truly is an exercise and it is becoming a habit.

week 5

on March 21, 2015 1

my big creative year : getting organized

I like to celebrate March with a big spring clean and organize and this year I’m in desperate need of it, particularly in one area. My work fills this place but the center of it all is a wall of shelves that hold most of my supplies, fabric, antique garments, tools – everything. Over the last year or so it lost whatever organization it ever had and it’s overflowing. I spend a lot of time looking for things, the stuff that gets used the most and should be easy to access is buried, it’s a big time waster, it looks terrible and it’s kind of depressing. I’ve been spilling over with new ideas lately and I have no room for them physically or mentally.

I love this from Sarah From on why organization is so important to creative work ( find the full blog post here):

“Organization is in part about being prepared for the moment when insight strikes. It’s about creating the conditions for creativity to flourish, so that when you enter into creation mode, your physical world is set up to support you. ”

My physical world was not set up to support me, not at all – and it was making me intolerably anxious so I made it the priority this past weekend to fix it. I took everything out, got rid of a ton of stuff and put it all back in a more thoughtful way.

studio storage shelvesI can see at a glance where everything is and the things I’m using the most right now are easy to grab. I even ended up with a couple empty boxes. I made labels for everything and attached them with clothespins for flexibility. I’m happy with my brown file boxes (I get them from Uline) and I replaced a few that had gotten crumpled and sad looking. And while I was on a roll I attacked my work table too – it had become a place to park piles of things lately – not much empty space to work.

ann wood's work tableIt’s all still a work in progress but it’s such a big improvement! I felt instantly so much more able to manage my tasks and ideas. I was excited to get up and look at it this morning – I gazed at it adoringly with my coffee. It was a big time investment I hadn’t planned on this weekend but it was absolutely worth it. Onward!

on March 16, 2015 10

sketchbook : week 4

Week 4 in my yearlong sketchbook practice.  Each one of these was a complete surprise to me. They always are a surprise in some way but especially so this week. I was overwhelmed with work and each time I sat down in a little bit of a panic, with no plan, no inclination, no idea at all of where to begin, my mind racing - impatient to get back to work.  And each time the little experiment slowed me down and focused and steadied me – like taking a deep breath.

ann wood's daily sketchbook - week 4

on March 14, 2015 4

resources, supplies, tips and tricks

I’ve put together a little collection of resources for you – some of my favorite tools and supplies and a couple tips and tricks. There are one or two things I’ve talked about before and lots of favorites I’m sharing for the first time.  If there’s something that’s not included that you’re curious about – feel free to ask – I’ll do my best to hook you up.

stuffing

Stuffing

I spend a lot of time stuffing things, sometimes starting over  a number of times and I have a strong preference for wool – you can find wool stuffing here.  I use a doll needle to move stuffing around from the outside to fine tune a shape – it can add so much character.  And my main stuffing tool is an old paintbrush with the bristles clipped off close to the base – it grabs the wool (or polyester) a bit so the tool doesn’t slip through. I have a few in different sizes. Hemostats are also handy for placing stuffing very specifically.

brush for stuffing

For making things stand up on their own, especially something top heavy like a mushroom, weighted fill does the trick. My favorites are glass bead fill and crushed walnut shells. Tip: to prevent spillage I double stitch the bottom seams. You can also make a little pouch from an old pair of tights, put in the fill and insert that into your soft sculpture.

ann wood mushroomAnd what about that curvy stem?  Wire works and there are lots of wire recommendations below but this works better: doll armature or coolant hose - it’s easy to work with and holds its shape well – you can do impossible looking things with it.

armature

wire

I use a bunch of different kinds of wire for armatures, bird and owl feet and other stuff, these are my favorites:

paper covered millinery wire – disclaimer – it is spring steel and not easy to work with but it produces beautiful stable shapes. I use it for ship armatures – find it  here  (scroll all the way to the bottom of the page for the paper covered sort). They also have special joiners for it.

fabric ship30 gauge cloth covered spool wire – For things that just need a little support – like little bird tails. Find it here.

17 gauge brown paper covered stem wire – This stuff is sturdy and covered with brown crinkly paper – great for larger stems – I use so much of it I get it by the case – find it here.

paper covered wire –  It comes in a number of gauges and also makes great stems – the paper is smooth and paintable – I also use this for ship armatures.  Find a nice selection of sizes here.

Hillman 18  or 19 gauge steel wire – It’s my preferred  wire for bird legs – one side is a little bit flat and the helps the bent joints hold together – find it here. And the full bird leg tutorial is here.

Notions etc.

Appliqué pins – They are pretty! And great for small work – find them here.

applique pinsCotton Sateen – The sheen is lovely – just enough – and it dyes beautifully – find it at Dharma Trading.

Dylon Dyes – bright true colors – the Velvet Black is fantastic. Google to find suppliers in the US- there are lots and find the full selection here.

Tiny Ribbon – I love 4mm silk embroidery ribbon for mini bow ties for birds and all sorts of other little details – the color selection is fabulous – find it here.

cake topper birds

Other Stuff

Chenille pipe cleaners - the nice ones- imported from Germany – they come in different thicknesses and are dyeable - find them here.

Flora brand floral tape – Not all floral tapes are created equal – this is the only brand I buy – nice and crepey and not overly sticky – it  takes paint and glue well. Find it by the box here.

Crepe Paper - There is a huge selection here and some fancy stuff here.

Lascaux  Acrylic Paint – A little more expensive but so worth the investment – saturated color and wonderfully matte  when dry. It’s available in lots of Art supply stores including Dick Blick.

 

Photography Tips

canon remote

I wish I got this years ago - a remote switch for my camera  (I use a Canon). So handy for awkward shots and getting out of my own way. It’s very inexpensive – less than twenty bucks at B and H Photo.

White foam core board – The last tip is super simple and I use it all the time. I don’t have great light here – to get rid of shadows I use a piece of white foam core board to reflect sunlight and fill in shadows – it makes a huge difference -check  it out in the  lamb images below.

lamb_shadow

lamb shadow

 

on March 12, 2015 21

my big creative year: productivity – the most effective changes

In terms of getting things done more efficiently simple changes have made the most difference. Part of my mission this year is to manage my time better, to be more efficient and more productive in everything I do, to get through necessary tasks more quickly and efficiently, in part to free up time for experimenting and also because creative work benefits from consistent forward motion and structure. So I’ve been trying things and some have helped. The things that have helped the most:

Standing

I work standing up. The idea came from a news blurb about the health benefits – it sounded tedious but I was curious so I gave it a try. My sewing machine has always been at standing height – it landed there accidentally. My father’s tool chest is the most stable surface here and my mother’s very heavy White Rotary machine requires a steady base. Plus they belong together.

sewing machine

So the machine sewing part of my day has always been standing but that’s a pretty small part usually and I have developed some bad habits for all the other work I do. I gravitate to the couch and spread out from there. The photo below is from last May, making a big flamingo order.

flamingo mess

The last two big orders were made standing up ( I still made a big mess- that didn’t change). I was remarkably faster and more focused, I enjoyed it and I had more energy. There a couple things I can’t do standing up – like very small hand sewing – so I try to balance tasks out and I limit the standing hours to between 10 and 5 (I can go over if I feel inclined and often I do). The first few days I got tired after just a few hours but that improved quickly. I haven’t gone crazy with fancy equipment or anything – I’ve got a file box on top of my ironing board – it’s getting the job done. I’m surprised at how much standing agrees with me and I think If this was the only change I made I would still come to the end of this year having accomplished more.

lists

I’m a list maker but over the last few years my to do lists migrated to the computer and got fancy: lots of different lists, spread sheets, multi-tiered affairs etc. Lately I went back to no frills paper and pencil list – a little notebook with a list for the day that I make the night before. There is something to writing things down, physically writing things down and it is somehow infinitely more satisfying to me to check something off with a pencil. I need to harness my obsessive compulsive tendencies for good whenever possible. One other change to the to do list – I got a nice notebook. For sketching and recording thoughts I don’t use anything fancy, I find it intimidating and don’t want to spoil it, but for the to do lists it adds something to the ritual.

Structure

I talked about this in last week’s post about how the new things I’m trying are effecting me creatively but it gets a mention here too because the structure created by scheduled blog posts, a weekly (mini) news letter ( you can check that out here) and the daily sketchbook practice have been causing me to schedule myself more thoughtfully and more importantly, more realistically. What must be shall be. My tasks have a more defined container and it’s making a huge difference.

on March 9, 2015 6

sketchbook : week 3

Week 3 in my yearlong sketchbook practice. I’m so glad I started this – I look forward to the little part of my day devoted to making marks on paper. All sorts of things creep in – they feel like little adventures and it feels good to be spontaneous and truly experiment – to respond and let things occur to me, especially in a week where everything else I’m doing is small and precise.  And a note on the 3/1 sketch – the quote is from an essay by Poet Charlotte Mew:

“The real things are happening in the forest still.”

sketchbook - week 3

on March 7, 2015 2
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