my big creative year : percolating ideas and MacGyver

I’ve been thinking about some of the painful parts, the really not fun moments, that are part of creative work. The fear and panic I feel when inspiration or solutions aren’t appearing and a deadline is looming. I felt a lot of this during my fox project. The schedule was ambitious – they had to be photographed in mid November and I started designing from scratch in October. They are relatively large, they are jointed (this is brand new to me), they needed to be free standing (nightmarishly difficult for this kind of creature) and their posture and body language were important to the mood, the mood was everything and I wasn’t getting it.

dancing foxes

This was waking me up at 4 in the morning night after night – frantically replaying the work of the day and searching my mind for solutions.

During one of my 4 AM worry sessions I took a vacation from my fox problem. This is a coping tool I’ve been using my entire life and it works remarkably well. I say to myself “I’m taking a vacation from my problems” and it flips a switch in me – for a little while I can put something out of my mind – get out of obsessive mode, step temporarily out of unproductive worry. I think it works so well for me in part because I’ve been doing it for so long – habits and practices are so powerful…. My brain knows just what I’m looking for when it hears that phrase. So I took my vacation and fell back to sleep. When I woke up I knew exactly what to do about my foxes. The solution was a combination of things I had tried separately but not together. My conscious mind couldn’t get there – couldn’t see the forest for the trees, had too much anxiety and judgment in the way but when given the opportunity my subconscious stepped right up.

Taking a vacation from my problems doesn’t always involve sleeping – in fact it usually doesn’t. The mix of deeply repetitive work and intense creativity and problem solving works for me. I work on a problem or reach for inspiration or an idea and then let it go – I don’t think about it. I take a vacation from my problem and do something else, something that doesn’t require that kind of thinking. It’s my percolation phase. And then when I’m sewing a million birds or packing and shipping or doing the dishes something shifts and I know what to try next or what to let go of. My problem may not resolve completely but there is movement.

Last week I came across a very simple, direct and intentional practice for accessing one’s subconscious and this is where MacGyver comes in.

I listen to The Unmistakable Creative Podcast (Srinivas Rao) on the regular, in this episode Srini talks to Lee Zlotoff – the creator of infamous 80‘s action TV show MacGyver.  Please listen to the episode for Lee’s story or learn more about him and find a detailed explanation of his creative process/ problem solving technique  and the science behind it here.

How it works – the basics:

Ask a question

It’s important that you write it down on paper then ask your subconscious to work on it.


Give your subconscious a crack at it. Do something to distract your conscious mind from the problem – something that occupies you but doesn’t require too much brain power. For me something like cutting paper for lots and lots of flamingos works beautifully.

flamingo cake topper

It is important that you not watch TV, read or have much conversation etc. I’ve been listening to a wind in the pines sound loop while I work for my percolation time.

Ask for an answer

After a pre-determined period of time ( I’ve been using 2-3 hours – could be longer or shorter but for me longer works better), ask your subconscious, “What have you got for me?” And start writing. If there’s nothing there just write anything at all – just write and ideas will begin to emerge….

Do it again. 

It’s creative muscle, it’s marking a path to an elusive place – the more you do it the stronger the muscle and the connections get.

It sounds so simple … simplistic even or like magical thinking, but I’ve been repeating the process everyday for a week with remarkable results (it has gotten better with practice). I’ve been playful and curious with it – I’ve asked my subconscious to work on little problems and big bold questions – really expecting nothing and gotten some remarkable clarity and insight. I hope you play with this – it’s interesting……

on January 26, 2015 10

a story of foxes

the fox's wedding

I spent the better part of the autumn working on something special with Fortuny to help introduce its first new fabric collection in more than two years. The collection plays with the idea of what is seen and unseen and draws inspiration from Japanese folklore of “The Fox’s Wedding”. The legend is that foxes marry in secret in the forest and only during a sun shower – far from prying human eyes.

fortuny foxes

fortuny foxes

From Fortuny’s creative director Mickey Riad:

“We decided upon the theme of ‘The Fox’s Wedding’ as we were playing around with halftones and production techniques,” “The way a sun shower can fool what your eye sees, Japanese legend attributes this phenomenon to foxes that often play tricks on humans. The idea that the new collection plays tricks on the eye fit perfectly with that theme, in addition to the pattern and color choices that were inspired by Japanese art and textiles. ”

fortuny fox

Sun showers and foxes and secret forest weddings  - I loved this project.  The collection is being introduced in Paris today. Three foxes traveled to Paris for the occasion, another two will leave for Venice this week and two will remain in NYC at the Fortuny Showroom.

For the past few weeks I’ve lived with fox companions and it’s a little sad to let them go – they so inhabited this place.

peaceful fox

fox visitor



fortuny fox


on January 21, 2015 36

my big creative year : overcoming obstacles

I’m great at getting in my own way, overthinking things, feeling overwhelmed and procrastinating. In the week since the first post in My Big Creative Year series I’ve heard from lots of people who struggle with the same things I do and have similar aspirations: to be more deeply creative and productive, to get ideas out of my head and into the world. Below I’ve shared where I frequently get stuck and tools and practices I’ve collected over the years that get me unstuck. They are not fancy or complicated and have saved me again and again. And I still need to be reminded of them – again and again.

What gets in my way :

1. I’m too busy

2. I don’t have an idea

3. I don’t know where to start 

4. I’m in love with my idea

What I can do about it :

1. I’m too busy

Reduce the scope. I can find 15 minutes. I can find 30 minutes. 15 – 30 minutes everyday is meaningful. The daily practice starts to build a habit and it gets me out of inertia and into momentum. Inertia is my dreaded life sucking nemesis.


2. I don’t have an idea

Or I have too many ideas – they are kind of the same. Pick something – the subject really doesn’t matter that much – I know that for sure.  What does matter is that it is achievable in current circumstances.  I love assignments and I started this blog with my 100 Cardboard Horses project. It was a very simple practice that led to all sorts of other ideas. It could have been anything – what mattered is it got me moving and thinking.

ann wood horseYou can also seek out assignments and challenges – an external prompt and sharing are good things.  Some of my most satisfying  work and ideas came out of being in a diorama club here in NYC for 10 years. We took turns picking the subject and then assembled to share what we made. This is one of my favorites:

gjoa haven diorama

 gjoa haven 2008

 And you can find creative challenges and assignments online – I recently discovered PBS’s  The Art Assignment.

Committing to a do-able assignment and applying  small consistent effort is as close to a magic formula as there is for growing creatively and getting unstuck.


3. I don’t know where to start

The box method has been an effective tool for me. Putting stuff in a box – pretty do-able. I’m a fan of Twyla Tharp’s book in general but this one practice has had a huge impact on me. From The Creative Habit:

“The box makes me feel organized, that I have my act together even when I don’t know where I’m going yet. It also represents a commitment. The simple act of writing a project name on a box means that I’ve started work”

sri collections

Also list making – beginning to get ideas out of my head. I make a huge list of possibilities – not editing myself at all – whatever comes to mind:  colors, sounds, smells, memories, textures – I make little drawings or get absurd or silly or morose – just a big free brain dump. Interesting and unexpected connections and intersections emerge from these big messy lists. Sometimes I use a notebook and sometimes I make them physically huge – the shift in scale can spark something for me.


4. I’m in love with my idea

That doesn’t sound like an obstacle does it? For me it’s one of the biggest. And it really has to do with fear. I fall in love with an idea, get precious about it,  and if I don’t have some external force, some credible threat or deadline to draw it out of myself it lingers there – in it’s perfect and untested form in the safety of my imagination, not subject to scrutiny or interpretation by others; it can live forever as a glorious possibility with no chance of my abilities to express it coming up short. This, more than anything causes me to not move forward with ideas that intrigue or delight me most. The only remedy is to start, suck it up, acknowledge what’s happening and start- make a list, put things in a box, commit some time, start. Once I get moving the failures don’t bother me – it’s the anxiety of starting and that anxiety can be huge.


And something else I need to remind myself of again and again:

I don’t have to want to

How inspired or motivated I’m feeling in a particular moment about starting seems to have no effect on my degree of satisfaction with what I make. In the various self imposed assignments I’ve committed to there were inevitably times I just didn’t feel like it – I mean REALLY didn’t feel like it – but because I had made it mandatory I showed up. Sometimes it was miserable from start to finish but I still felt good about following through and the habit was reinforced. More often than I would have guessed something else happened – I ended up deeply focused and engaged and created work that surprised me and I felt good about – something new happened that felt like it came from a deeper more elusive place in myself.

the swamp

  the swamp 2013 

Left to follow my inclinations or wait for inspiration this work would not have happened.  Showing up in that uncomfortable moment opened me to possibilities I could not have predicted.

Show up. Sometimes it’s all you can do and sometimes it’s all you need to do.

If you decide to try a new practice – recording ideas in the moment, making a big list, putting stuff in a box, committing 15 minutes a day to a project you’ve been sitting on – I’d love to see or hear about it. Please use #mybigcreativeyear on instagram and twitter or post your link or tell me about it in the comment section.  Yesteday I used the box method to get myself moving on a project I’ve been having trouble starting (too in love with the idea) – and it’s getting 30 minutes every day too.


on January 19, 2015 27

victoria magazine

Every year Victoria Magazine chooses a small group of women entrepreneurs  to acknowledge in it’s January/February issue. I always look forward to it and I was surprised and flattered when they asked to include me this year.  That’s me – top row, second from the left!victoria_mag_2

You can find the magazine on news stands and bookstores etc. and it’s also available in digital form here.

victoria magazine

I truly appreciate the encouragement  and acknowlgement.  I can hardly believe it was almost 9 years ago that I sort of accidentally began this.  It has changed and evolved over the years in ways I could not have predicted. I think this year in particular is going to be very interesting – I’ve got all sorts of plans: I’m excited about the weekly creativity posts I started this week.  I’m also launching a mini email newletter  this week (the first goes out this Thursday). I’ve got new patterns in the works and personal projects I’m moving forward this year. And just so you know – I still make lots and lots of birds – this is the first large group of the new year – headed for BHLDN.

cake topper birds

on January 14, 2015 7

my big creative year

Shadows of  things to come………

fortuny shadows

A big creative year. That’s my wish and intention for myself for 2015. I’m committing to take action on ideas I’ve been sitting on, to look harder and deeper for inspiration and to make more time to explore my curiosity. Curiosity has always been my driving force and trusted compass. It’s so easy to become mired in busyness and lose sight of how important it is to make time to explore. I always intend to make time but the deep and inescapable truth remains that hope is not a strategy. There are though, tools and systems and practices that work if I use them:

The first is so easy and for me might be the most powerful – a note book and a pencil. It’s also the practice I’ve been most consistent with throughout my life. The more you use it the more effective it is. Record ideas immediately as they come to you – it only takes a moment and it must be on paper. I’ll go on and on about this in a future post – I love my notes and sketches but I could be so much more consistent.

Schedule everything – all that stuff I do that keeps the lights on still has to happen but it could be done more efficiently. A lot more efficiently. I’ve been experimenting for a few weeks with how I schedule myself and I’ve learned a bunch I’ll share with you later on. I’m also exploring systems and tools to make some of the less inspiring but important tasks take less time. There is so much available that could help – it just requires attention and planning.

Put ideas and exploring on the schedule, even in a small way.  Ideas need space, time, support, discipline and momentum. Even when I’m super duper busy – there is time somewhere- even 15 minutes can be powerful if its truly focused and consistent.

Collaborate  more- some of my most significant growth and most satisfying projects have come from collaborations. I finished 2014 with a big project with Fortuny that I loved and I’ll share that soon (the photo at the top of the post is a sneak peek). Below are a couple other favorite collaborative projects.

It’s such a simple question: What would you like to happen this year? Why not make it your big creative year too? Each Monday of 2015  I’ll share what I learn –  what I’m experimenting  with, what’s working and what isn’t. And I’d love to hear from you – what would you love to accomplish this year? What new practice will you try?  What challenges you? What lights you up? What tiny change could you make to bring you just a little closer to doing something you’ve dreamed of?

on January 12, 2015 26

so long 2014

One more post for 2014, and on one of my favorite subjects – the magical occurence of an unexpected package at my door. A surprise from Sri Threads.

sri textiles


srie textiles

I love every bit of it and I have a sort of ceremonious way of opening these packages – I go slow- each thing revealing itself, my wheels start to turn and the generosity and thoughtfulness wash over me.  It’s such a beautiful  gift. I’m planning some new botanical experiments inspired by this sheer saffron net- and already made  a few new toadstools – the last of the year. I see owls and songbirds too.

sri toadstool

I hope 2014 was good to you and wish you the best in the brand  new year.

on December 31, 2014 7

fortuny creatures

I spent much of the last two weeks working on a large order for Fortuny Venice.  It was a good excuse to replenish my fancy antique button stock  and I found some wonderful stuff.

antique buttons
cat buttonsCats! I love them so much I may never be able to use them.

I brought the whole group to the spectacular New York Showroom yesterday to be packed and sent on to Venice – these creatures have exciting lives.
textile art rat
soft sculpture owls

(photos below by Meena Dimian)
soft sculpture owls
textile art

a couple related notes:
* If you’re curious –  Abby Glassenberg  and I talk about my work with Fortuny ( and lots of other stuff)  in episode 23  of her podcast.

* Stay tuned in January for a new Fortuny collaboration – I can’t wait to show you.

on December 17, 2014 7

handmade christmas

I got a tree!  And I made ornaments to put on it. It’s my  first ever as a grown up and it’s a living potted tree- a Norfolk Pine.  I hope it’s happy here for a long time. I also hope deciding to live with a tree  in my tinyish Brooklyn apartment wasn’t a mistake. I like plants and they seem to tolerate me well enough  - I think we’ll be all right.

ann wood christmas tree 2014

Full disclosure,  the holidays aren’t my favorite, I don’t exactly look forward to them but I decided to dive into the parts I can get enthusiastic about. I like making things – I like making presents for people and I do love a Christmas tree.  I pulled out my box of saved Christmas treasures,  some that I made as a child and I created some new things. I’m so happy with my little tree it has nearly unscrooged me.  Some of the handmade ornaments are below and I included links to the patterns or tutorials where possible. The first is a little clothespin ballerina I made as a child – she magically reappeared last year.

clothespin ballerina

handmade cardboard horse holiday ornament

Find the cardboard horse pattern here and the paper mache teacup here. The ballerina is part of a set I designed for Crate and Barrel – they are sold out online but still in some stores.

clothespin soldier     fancy bird ornament     catherines bird       whale ornament

(click the tumbnail for a larger image)

The little soldier above is another childhood clothespin creation – his arms are coffee stirrers and his hat is a pom pom. The silk bird has a fluffy, lace wired tail that winds around the branch - she was made with this pattern. The little blue bird is a gift  for my sister Catherine. It’s embroidered with her wedding date and made from a blue vevet dress that was our mother’s.  It’s made from the merry wobbler pattern. The little white whale pattern is here And the pattern for the felt boat is here. Or for another boat ornament idea you could print the template for my free  paper mache boat at about 50%  of the original size.

ann wood handmade boat ornament

 merry merry!

on December 7, 2014 16

new patterns in the shop

I’ve just added 2 more new patterns to the shop – that’s three in the last week! It hurt my brain a little – sewing all this coming weekend seems like a tropical vacation compared to all that step writing, photgraphing etc. – I do enjoy it though – very much. And  I love these patterns – if I do say so myself and apparently I do – sweet as ornamnets or gifts, quick and simple to make and they have all sorts of other possibilities – like mobiles or garlands….  And they are small – a great way to use the little bits you’ve been saving – I’ve got lots of little bits.

felt boat craft pattern

ann wood whale pattern

He’s got a blow hole and spout!!


I hope you enjoy them and as always if you’d like an email when new patterns are released you can sign up here.

on December 5, 2014 2
Made Happy by Pictalo