Category: my big creative year

the creative sprint : progress on the naked rag doll pattern

naked rag doll pattern progress

snow day in brooklyn

I had such a nice day today. And I wasn’t planning on it, I was planning on having a lousy day. The snow helped – it’s the delightful kind, mostly because there hasn’t been much of it this year and I don’t have to go anywhere or shovel it. I didn’t have any spectacular reason for a lousy day – just frustrated with my pace. Feeling a little stuck on a couple projects.

I am determined to increase productivity this year – in part by being very clear with myself on what that is. It is not busyness, it is not planning, it is not “research” (AKA the internet), it is not perfecting, it is getting things across the finish line: publishing, shipping, completing.  All those other things are sneaky – and they trick me into feeling productive when I’m really not.  To break the inertia I applied a tried and true method – making a big, messy sprint towards the finish line. Deciding, just for today, to pick up the pace – bypass the over thinker within and make stuff. Jump right over details I’m struggling with and surge ahead. Try stuff.  In the simplest and I think most accurate terms:

Going forward instead of in circles.

prototyping the naked doll

I’m very prone to getting stuck in sewing pattern prototype creation – it’s so different from making a one- off. The rule for the day was – I’m not going to re-draw her face endlessly anymore – making minute adjustments to scale etc. I’m going to pick one and go with it.  I’m not going to try another different hair style or silhouette. I’m going to make a doll.

rag doll progress

naked rag doll pattern progress

Because I’m still who I am I can review, revise and refine tomorrow after a full day of rapid prototyping. It always works – the faster physical pace helps shift energy and lifts some brain fog. I can always make a much more reasonable and clear assessment at the end of a sprint day. The “experimental phase” of a project can be a dangerously sticky place – it almost always is for me.

If there is something you’re stuck on, if you are lingering in thinking about possibilities give it a try – for a day or even for an hour – the very least you will get is new information.

color as a starting point : beginning with black

black paper mache teacup

black paper mache teacupDid you know mica comes in black?! Well it does – blackish anyway and it’s lovely ( I got some here). I made a paper mache teacup and gave it a fancy, sparkly interior. The teacup reminds me of the black milk glass on my mother’s little shelf of treasures (P. S. – teacups make sweet  Mother’s Day gifts).

dastardly owl

Black is the color on my mind right now. I finished this scoundrel last week – he’s made of several antique bodices and a ancient moth eaten shawl – all in shades of black. I love the subtle variety in tones and the effect that limiting the palette has on my thinking and process. It made me wonder – what if I applied that same constraint to other ideas? I wandered around in my mind for a while and looked through my big note book of ideas – thinking about everything through a black lens. It was shockingly effective. That shift gave me lots of new ideas and curiosities and  fresh eyes on so many that had stalled and gotten back-burnered. It was a great illustration of the massive creative power of constraint.

The simplest thing – the smallest shift can guide you to new paths, new ideas and new places in your mind – shine a light on something that has been just out of reach in the shadows….. I am on a life long mission to shine a light into each and every one of those shadows.

I think it could be interesting to do a series of color studies (maybe teal next). But here I am so I’ll begin with black. Right now I’m in the collecting, hunting, gathering, percolating phase.

black antique garment fragments

black antique notions

For me percolating means – digging through treasures, making collections, experimenting, taking photos and generally messing around. I’m having an energetic and marvelous time. I’ll share what I come up with soon and if you would like to make your own study of black send me a link – I’d love to see.

back swan

curating, focusing and finding your voice – part 1 : practice every day

fortuny fox

I consume tons of information – often via podcasts while stitching – a lot of it around creativity – and some around business and marketing – they often overlap and intertwine. There is a lot of discussion and advice, especially lately, around finding your voice, curating and focusing.

I have struggled with all three – especially the focus and curating. I’m all over the place and I think there is validity to the argument that it’s easier to make progress if you focus your efforts narrowly. For example – I know I could grow the sewing and craft pattern business – my newest venture – much faster if I focused solely on that. Maybe I should. I also know there is a lot more to explore and experiment with in my own stitch-work and I could sink into that exclusively. Or I could dive deeply into painting and drawing – It would be an adventure and I would love to spend a bunch of time working out exactly who I am and what I want to express in that.  And there is the question of what to share publicly – is it smarter to only present one sort of work? I feel the conflict – the conflict of posting work that I can imagine seems out of place or for a different audience. I’ve considered and am considering possible changes and solutions – like having separate homes for the different kinds of work I do. A home devoted exclusively to the craftier end and another home for projects that are more experimental – I love both and don’t want to stop sharing either. It sounds reasonable and I’m not ruling it out but I can’t imagine running two sites – the time and expense and also I immediately see places where the two would overlap – for me it is all deeply connected.  I remain puzzled and conflicted.

I hoped that the work and exploration I did last year ( My Big Creative Year series) would somehow work this out for me but it didn’t. Something did emerge though – maybe the beginning of some clarity through the daily sketchbook work. I recently passed the one year mark – 52 weeks – what I committed to – but it’s been so good for me I decided to keep going. It has not been at all convenient but it has been undeniably good for my creativity and imagination. If you can find and commit to a little space each day to play, to listen to yourself (on the good days and the bad days) and experiment interesting things will happen.

sketchbook work

That relatively small daily practice of showing up began to reveal things to me after about 9 months – I began, or really am beginning to recognize my own voice in that medium, a voice that feels natural to me. Themes, imagery and a vocabulary are emerging as well as a sense of what I’m attracted to and what my strengths and weaknesses are.

sketchbook favorites

When I went through my big stack of little squares (it weighs  3 and 1/2 pounds!) I saw that many of the ones I like best, the things that felt the best to me felt connected to the other work I do. I couldn’t quite articulate how though. And then – while packing and shipping paper flamingos I addressed a box to someone who lives on Fable Lane. I thought – what a charming address to have – I bet Fable Lane is lovely.

fortuny fox

The word kept popping back into my mind and it occurred to me it’s a common thread in so much of what I have done – for the last ten years especially – the idea of fable – all the meaning and sensation that word conjures. I think it’s something to explore intentionally – I’m not sure exactly how yet but the idea of investigating that passes the first test – I’m having some ideas that make me happy and curious. More on this soon.

harnessing the power of your curiosity to get unstuck

overwhelm

overwhelmThere are so many reasons not to start, to feel overwhelmed or underwhelmed, afraid and stuck. Maybe something feels too big, the hill too steep to climb, or you’re afraid of failing  or being disappointed or disappointing.  Maybe your momentum gets hijacked  by some bit of drudgery – some unpleasant, boring but necessary task that has parked itself between you and everything you’d like to be doing.

Whatever the reason stuck is stuck. When you are stuck you lose your clarity, focus and drive. It is a place of frustration and a spinning anxiety and inertia that develops a momentum of it’s own- feeding and compounding and perpetuating the stuckness. It is not a creative place and certainly not a happy place.

Curiosity can break that cycle. Curiosity is an energetic place and you can apply your curiosity to stuckness with a very simple exercise: make a list of questions – at least ten.   To get started the questions can be small or absurd or silly – in fact absurdity can be good for waking up curiosity. And I have found the more questions I can come up with the better they get but the exercise is less about finding solutions ( although they may occur) and more about tapping into the energy of a massively powerful part of your mind.

Even in the case of drudgery, when the objection is  that a task is boring or unpleasant I might ask myself questions like – How could I make this better?  Is there ANYTHING fun or interesting about this? What if there had to be? How could I segment  or order this differently? Could I ask someone for help?  What part of this is not essential? What could I take away? What happens if I don’t do it?  What if I only had 15 minutes?  How could I apply a system here?

There is an element of novelty and perhaps a refreshing of perspective at work here too but it’s curiosity that gets you there. If you can spark your curiosity – even just a little – you can get yourself moving.

building the focus muscle

fortuny velvet

I’m working on a large project for Fortuny – I can’t show it to you for a couple more weeks but I can show you some of the fabrics I’m working with – their new cashmere velvets – I wish you could feel them – and the colors are glorious.

fortuny velvet

It’s a project I love and one that makes me wish for more hours in the day which of course I can’t have. But maybe I can increase the depth of my focus and attention to make the absolute most of the time I do have. I know the sensation of deep focus but it’s a place that has become increasingly difficult to get to.

I think of my creativity, my imagination, as a muscle – something to be cared for, fed nurtured and exercised.

I think of time as a precious and finite commodity and I manage and protect it thoughtfully and carefully.

I am realizing that my ability to focus needs to be cared for, exercised, managed and protected too. I know it has been diminished by constant connectedness, the myriad of small grabs for my attention that were not there 20 years ago. So I work at it, plan for it and block out chunks of time away from distractions – internet and phone free time to sink into deep focus. I thought that was enough until I listened to this episode of The Unmistakable Creative Podcast :

Rules For Focused Success in a Distracted World with Cal Newport

It’s a great episode and I hope you’ll listen. What struck me most was the idea that some habits and behaviors outside of those chunks of protected time have undermining, damaging effects on my ability to focus deeply, to manage my attention.

Newport offered the example of waiting in line at a grocery store – I pull out my phone – and so does almost everybody else. I notice the same on the subway – the train comes out of a tunnel and everybody pulls out their phone. It’s a habit and such a small thing – what harm could it do? Why not fill that little bubble of grocery line time with instagram or email etc.?

“Both our personal and professional lives are increasingly built around these sources of distraction. From a cognitive perspective, that’s like being an athlete who smokes.”

Cal Newport

It’s teaching my mind to run away from boredom – to fill gaps with novel stimulation from a never ending source, It weakens the muscle that resists distraction, the muscle that helps me stay truly present in the moment, the stitch.

songbird work

Since I first listened a couple weeks ago I stopped pulling out my phone in little downtime moments like waiting in the grocery or post office line and it’s uncomfortable – alarmingly uncomfortable. In fact it’s easier not to bring it. I think it’s good practice for pulling my attention back to the present or an opportunity to daydream – that little device steals so much daydreaming time. I am far more likely to have an idea while day dreaming than I am while looking at twitter.

I’m not giving up my phone or the internet – but I am working harder to put them in their place. And I do feel a strong nostalgia for the pre- connected life.

* Further – If you’re interested in this sort of thing you might enjoy another Unmistakable Creative episode on focus and productivity too.

the beacon, the compass, the driving force – my list

flamingo kit work

Are you a list maker? I work best and most happily when I am diligent about creating thoughtful, daily to do lists. I’m moving multiple, large-ish projects forward at the same time and I would be lost without my list. My list gets me to do things I don’t want to do, things I’m uncomfortable with or intimidated by. One of my current projects is putting together my first kit- paper flamingos. I love creating the instructions but there are tons of other details to work out, details I don’t love dealing with – wholesale suppliers, packaging, printing, assembling and distributing. It is on my list and I chip away at it every day.

flamingo kit work

The difference in what I accomplish and how much happier the work is when I take the time to carefully and thoughtfully make my list is so remarkable, such a dramatic shift, I’ve spent some time thinking about why. Why beyond the obvious benefits of being more organized, not forgetting things etc. I came up with some reasons and I saved the one I think is most important for last:

* I tailor my lists to my own personal brand of nuttiness – the anxiety and procrastination, indecision and overwhelm I’m so prone to. Tasks I REALLY don’t want to do get assigned small chunks of time – 15 minutes – 30 minutes etc. So much easier to start and to focus when an end is in sight. A surprising amount can be accomplished in 15 truly focused minutes. I use a timer for these sorts of tasks. I mix those short bursts with longer,  more open ended work. My day feels designed.

* Breaking things down into time chunks changes my relationship with time – I am conscious of, and accountable for my minutes – less time slips mysteriously away – I push harder and squeeze things in.

* It’s effective even when I screw up. If I’ve over-scheduled myself – it’s easy to see and fix going forward.

* I’m less anxious about what I’m not doing at any given moment – I know it’s planned for – has it’s own focused chunk of time instead of floating around in a vague and oppressive cloud of things that need to be done.

And the biggest benefit:

It can be hard to feel momentum and progress on large or longterm projects and goals. Checking things off on a list is undeniable evidence of progress and a chance to congratulate yourself a little and build momentum. I save my lists and when I’m feeling frustrated or stuck I can look back and see how far I’ve come.

Lists are a way of celebrating and recording little successes – and that is terribly important in accomplishing big things.

flamingos in love

P. S. If you would like an email notification when the flamingo kit is ready to go you can sign up here.

my big creative year : youness

paper mache ships

“No one is youer than you.” – Dr. Seuss

So lovely and simple and true. A perfect message for a child or grownup. And the idea that is at the heart of all that is creative.

I think the youness is worth exploring deeply and sharing as fully as possible. The world only has one chance at what’s in there – one chance at you. I think it’s worth time, energy, embarrassment, failure and disappointment to work your way through to the deepest, most truly creative work you can do – the youest – the work of your utterly unique, snowflake of an imagination.

My Big Creative Year  moved me closer to that work, closer to my youness. Some of the things that helped:

Showing up – whether I wanted to or not.

Failing and starting again, and again and again….

Intention – making experimenting a priority – making  room for it.

Learning more about how I work (one of the benefits of working) – following my energy.

Listening carefully for the magic – I do believe it is there- waiting to be noticed….  Listening is part of the work and that kind of listening takes practice and patience and the afore mentioned showing up.

I got more tuned in to recognizing where I stumble – I see more clearly what is in the way, what trips me – again and again – this continues to be my biggest sticking point.

paper mache ships

And what’s ahead for 2016:

Blog-wise nothing programmed – except the sketchbook – I need to freestyle for a while- post as the spirit moves me. And work-wise – I have a lot of ideas for the coming year – new patterns and for the first time kits! are on the horizon. Also, Some projects came to me at the end of 2015 that hit me right in my youness – work I’ve been enjoying immensely – I’ll share some of that soon.

And for you, for 2016, I hope you’ll continue to visit here – I am grateful that you do. I wish you a happy, healthy and creative year. I wish you a year of magnificent youness.

my big creative year : can does not equal should

time

time
This has always been a sticky spot for me. I make myself very busy with work I CAN do without carefully considering if it is work I SHOULD do, work only I can do, work I am meant to do. A yes to one thing is a stealthy no to something else. A lot of my efforts this year have been around making those choices more carefully or at least more consciously and treating time like the precious resource it is.

I first came across Elizabeth Gilbert through her Ted Talk on Creativity and just lately put her new book Big Magic on my list (have your read it? I’d love to hear what you thought). And there is a companion podcast series to the book – Magic Lessons. You know I love a good podcast and I listened to all 12 episodes during a marathon sewing session. I love the way she talks about ideas, inspiration:

“Inspiration is looking for you, it’s waiting for you patiently while you’re making your mistakes, making the things that must be made on the way to what it has for you, it is a collaboration and a synergy…”

The podcast is a series of interviews with other authors and artists and conversations with women trying to move past fear,  procrastination, guilt and busyness into their most truly creative work – their big magic.

Find the podcast – Magic Lessons – here:

http://www.elizabethgilbert.com/magic-lessons/

my big creative year : good ideas

ideas

ideas

Sometimes ideas are like mosquitos – a relentless whisper.  Sometimes they are slippery and hard to grasp. Sometimes they flow like a river, tumbling over each other. Sometimes they are lurking in the shadows, maddeningly half revealed.  Sometimes they are frightening – too big to wrap our arms around.

Whether they are big or little, scary, silly, sad, strange, embarrassing or brilliant they are in unlimited supply. You can’t run out.

And this is also true:

“The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas.”

Linus Pauling

Lots.

And I would add this – have lots of ideas and write them down, record them.

Volume matters not because you’re bound to get lucky eventually but because asking your brain to generate lots of ideas keeps the wheels turning and the machinery well oiled.  It makes you ask the second question and the third and the fourth etc. etc. that will lead you to new places, lead you deeper into your imagination and your magic.

 

 

my big creative year : the power of uncertainty

plasitc bag soaring

Two great enemies of creativity are inertia and certainty. The fix for inertia is simple, not easy, but very simple – start, move, take a step forward. Certainty is trickier. Our brains are built to be efficient, they categorize, assume, learn, repeat and create habits and rules. It is work to notice – really look at things, consider them outside of their familiar context or history or purpose. Auto pilot is easy and comfortable and I catch myself slipping into it, in little ways and big ways, all the time. I see what I expect to see because subconsciously – it is already a certainty. And often I feel myself bumping up against rigidity in my thinking because I’m headed somewhere that conflicts with what my brain considers a given, a known quantity or a proven or even familiar course of action. Certainty isn’t open, it isn’t creative and it isn’t curious – it doesn’t have room for possibilities and possibilities are magic.  I wonder:

What would the world look like if we could forget everything for just a moment?

What would my own possibilities look like if I could un-know all I believe about myself?

 

my big creative year : doll part 2 – fancy unmentionables

tiny doll

mini doll

I have lots of ideas for dolls ….. traditional, contemporary, maybe something mysterious or dark and ideas endeavoring in experimental directions. I’m excited about all those ideas but as soon as I started to play with the idea of dolls there was a very insistent desire to make a doll my 11 year old self would have loved. A doll with layers of fancy unmentionables under her gown, to have the fun of dressing her, to indulge in tinyness, detail, sweetness, minutia, sentiment and nostalgia. I got wonderfully lost in it, all the while feeling – more of this please.  I love her like you love a doll, an odd little doll.

antique lace doll slip

tiny doll

miss thistle

miss thistle

my big creative year : doll – part 1

doll experiment

Historically,  I’ve gotten hugely annoyed when described as a doll maker. Nothing against dolls – I love them so much – in all their forms – and there are so many incredible doll makers I admire. But still, I have felt resistance about creating anything that could very officially be called a doll.  I told myself – it just isn’t what I do.  Except it keeps coming up….   So I decided to make a doll.  And ran right into a bunch of nuttiness and resistance – all the usual suspects:

  •  I had a million ideas – I wanted to make LOTS of dolls – it felt impossible to choose where to begin – I was overwhelmed.
  •  I got all weird about what people might think.
  •  I wanted to make the best and most perfect doll ever – right out of the gate.

I stayed stuck and thinking for quite a while and then got past that the only way there is –  by starting. By taking a small action – gathering supplies.  Sorting through boxes and boxes of old garments and fabric with doll in mind made me see all sorts of new possibilities and qualities in things I’ve looked at a hundred times before. I got a lot of momentum from that exercise and started drawing, drafting and experimenting – in that good place of letting something evolve. You can see the very beginnings  of  the thinking, experimenting, drafting and refining process – my wonky first steps – below.

doll drafting

Stay tuned for doll #1.

 

my big creative year : the forest and impermanence

forest passage

The pace of time seems to escalate in the spring and fall – the shortest and sweetest seasons. Everything changes so quickly. I went into the forest last week with the intention of soaking up as much as I could and spending time making something that wouldn’t last.

forest loom

forest loom

I began to experiment  with something small – sort of a mini loom – to get a feel for manipulating things. I made a frame from twigs and string and wove in what I liked, looked for more with fresh eyes and tried things.  It made me look at everything differently, more thoughtfully and with deeper appreciation. I saw qualities and details of grasses and vines and mosses I had never seen before.

forest loom

The next day I went back out wanting to try something larger, with only what I could find in the forest. I walked and gathered and felt my mind ticking briskly along, seeing lines, shapes relationships and intersections I hadn’t seen before. I chose a spot and started experimenting without much of a plan, the idea that it did not need to, and could not last opened me to all sorts of possibilities. I played for hours and it urned into a sort of arch – a magic passage for creatures who might come upon it before it blew away.

forest passage

I went out with a lantern that night for a look and to imagine what it might be like to come upon such a thing in the forest unexpectedly.  The next day the huge golden ferns and most of it’s other finery had wilted or blown away and it wasn’t much more than an odd pile of sticks. I had a marvelous time.

P. S. – For the remainder of My Big Creative Year I’ll be posting every other Monday – it fits into my life in a more natural way.

my big creative year : the magic of small

miniature donkey

miniature donkey

I am deeply interested in what happens when things get small. I always have been. Mini is intriguing. There is a lot of magic in smallness.

When the scale changes – our ideas and presumptions about lots of other things change. All sorts of fresh possibilities are revealed. It is an invitation to look harder at everything. Scotch tape dispensers can become a perfect glass display case for this melancholy little scene.  I get excited about that sort of thing.

hair hut diorama

 hair hut diorama

Of course this works in both directions but I’m much more attracted to small – I think in part because it is accessible, it can be approached in a personal and solitary way. For me that is part of the beauty of small. Big leaps of imagination are possible and mood and atmosphere can be fine-tuned  because the scale is manageable.

dioramaSo much of what I love to do has been about this kind of play – it has always been a deep drive and fascination for me. Even at it’s simplest I find it compelling.

terrarium

But why is it magic? I think because things can exist at an intersection of real and pretend by virtue of their unorthodox and unexpected size. There is instant mystery, instant story – what kind of world might this tiny thing be part of? You can see it and touch it and if you choose to, be nudged a little further down the road to make believe.

my big creative year : perspective

shed skin

When I need to shift my perspective the best thing for me is to wander outside. So I did this weekend, for a little bit in the Adirondacks. I really didn’t think about things or try to figure anything out but while I was smelling moss and tree sap and collecting treasures my head cleared, a lot of franticness lifted.

shed skin

I’m in my usual spot of too much to do, not enough time etc. etc. etc. and I’ve got to let go of something so I’m going to put My Big Creative Year on vacation for the remainder of August. Or, more clearly, I’m going to put posting about it on vacation – I’ll still be having a big creative year and I hope you will too. The timing feels perfect and it takes some pressure off, gives some much needed breathing room. I’ll still be posting about other stuff – what I’m working on etc. and – hopefully later this week- I’ll tell you what I learned in my holiday survey – it was full of surprises. Thanks if you participated – I learned a ton.