For the next few days anyway.
Doldrums. Who ever invented the word deserves a prize. It sounds like what it is, what it feels like: a warm inertia, an unpleasant stillness, listlessness. Apparently I am not a summer person – productivity wise anyway – I always find myself here mid July-ish.
Or maybe it’s coincidental. The mid summer almost always finds me working on larger – longer term projects – christmas – workshops for the fall etc. Projects that it can be hard to feel progress on.
And sometimes the stagnated feeling means I need a break. Not this time though – this is a restless stuckness. So I am busting out. Rowing hard until I can catch a breeze and some beautiful momentum. For the next few days I’m making – starting and finishing – a doll everyday. Experiments and some of the usual suspects like mr. socks and tiny rag doll. It’s the kind of sewing I feel like doing, the kind of thinking I’m in the mood for.
I began today with Nora. A mysterious dark eyed girl. Im still deciding on her degree of anatomical accuracy and outfit. I’ll spend the rest of the afternoon and evening finishing her.
Working on shorter term projects gives me a sense of forward motion and satisfaction. I can feel the shape of the day again. Hopefully I can bring some of that energy into the larger projects in a couple days.
Have a lovely weekend and check back next week to see who else appears.
P.S. There are a couple new small paintings in the shop.
Take my word for it – I’m an expert at being super busy without really accomplishing much.
I don’t know if it’s a seasonal shift or anxiety about how much I’ve got to do right now but I’ve been waking up super early – 5-ish. Man, those early hours are good. And quiet. I’ve been devoting them to things that have been getting away from me – mostly sewing patterns and kits. It’s amazing how much is getting done in those small, early chunks of time.
I do so much better – daily schedule-wise – when I assign blocks of time instead of tasks – it’s all still guided by the big list but it’s way harder to procrastinate and avoid stuff if the commitment is a chunk of time. It’s also easier to start – less intimidating and once I get passed starting I usually get interested – even in the really dreaded stuff like accounting or editing.
It’s effective because I always – ALWAYS – overestimate what I can do in a day but usually underestimate what I can do in an hour. Lately by 8 am after a couple chunks of time devoted to creating pattern documents or illustrations I’m feeling pretty good about what’s done and start my other work with less distraction.
You can read more about all the ways I trick myself into being productive here and here.
It’s such a mistake to let too many unfinished projects pile up. The weight of all that isn’t done can really mess with a person’s momentum and momentum is key. When it happens the only way through is to start finishing things – one at a time. This week I’ve been finishing stuff – big stuff and little stuff. A wooly edwardian owl was the first – he was nearly there so it was an easy win.
He’ll be in the shop next week with some songbirds and other creatures – you can sign up here if you would like an email notification when the new things are available.
Crossing just one thing off the list makes a huge difference, the shift is instant and it’s easier to tackle the next – as each task is completed momentum starts to snowball and replace the self perpetuating overwhelmed and stuck feelings. My next project was finishing up my improvisational doll experiments – also lingering in “all most done”.
He stepped right out of a Jane Austen novel, one of her steady hearted colonels. I love him. And he is excellent at guarding books.
A large project got finished too, creating a new workshop for this September. Come see me in Boulder!
That’s me – in my middle aged art lady uniform. The linen smock (by Cal Patch) really is my uniform – if you run in to me in Brooklyn or come to Colorado there’s a pretty solid chance I’ll have it on. This is my first 3 day workshop ever and it’s presented by the Makerie September 22nd through the 24th. 3 days to explore something with a small group sounds marvelous. The title of the work shop is Natural History.
I can share all the details with you next week and registration will open then too. For now I’ll leave you with this very little fly I made to bring to Boulder with me.
There are things that make my life and brain work better. Sketchbook – painting and drawing everyday, whether I want to or not, is one of them. So my daily practice is back. And I have three hopes for it:
1. That I can be consistent – that I build a solid enough habit that it doesn’t fall apart when I get extra busy.
2. That it leads me into larger work – my original intention was to turn the experiments I like into larger pieces – paintings, illustrations – maybe even fabric, I’ve yet to do that. I find the idea terribly intimidating.
3. And to increase my success rate. Last time I made 511 little squares. When I started I had no plans to sell them but I felt good enough about some of them to offer them in the shop. Only about 10% made the cut. As I begin the practice again I’m doing it with the awareness that I intend to sell some of them and it does change my feelings about making them. I think I’m much less likely to phone it in when I’m feeling lazy or distracted. It’s a little extra pressure I think I need. Series 2 paintings will begin to be available sometime this month. You can sign up here if you’d like an email notification.
After some initial misery and resistance and a lovely mix of self flagellation, anxiety and doubt I’m finding some rhythm and building a routine again. I did a few things to remove obstacles – make it easy for myself to show up. I spend some time Sunday cutting up the squares (hot press water color paper) so they are ready to go. And I make marks on some of them – splatter ink, scribble something or paint a background color – in case the blank paper is too much. So helpful. My paints and other supplies are organized and easy to get to. And ideally I like to start after 10 minutes of deliberate day dreaming – it usually puts me in the right brain place – a receptive place. So does my sound app – still Wind through Pines – it’s magic for me.
You can find my first week back at it here and I’ll post each week on Saturday. So far goats and pigeons are very much on my mind…….
Following up on last week’s post – I so appreciated hearing your thoughts and comments – I know how hard it is and I wanted to offer you a couple more simple ideas besides the creative sprint (aka the activity bomb) for getting past the stuckness, the overthinking and a little bit of a challenge…… Procrastination has nuances and flavors – I am a lifelong connoisseur of them. And it comes in a variety of disguises. There are all sorts of ways to get passed it – different things that work for different kinds of stuckness and people. For me what matters most is that I take some – almost any – action. It’s a scientific fact:
“A middle aged craft lady at rest tends to stay at rest and a middle aged craft lady in motion tends to stay in motion.”
I constantly have to trick myself into action. The first is the hardest – it’s much easier to keep going than to start. I’ll tell you about 2 first steps I rely on:
Baby steps – gather supplies, or thread the needle, write the first sentence – commit even just 15 minutes. Repeat.
Create accountability – this blog, my business, the work I do all sprung from a need to prod myself into doing my own creative work. You are my accountability partner.
And it’s never over – it’s a life long challenge. Today I’ll commit to two things I haven’t been able to get myself to do. The first is my daily painting and drawing practice. It’s such a hard thing but so good for me – in fact I think it is one of the most important things I have done for my creativity in a decade. But – it is so often a huge pain in the ass to accomplish. I took a break and slippery sloped myself into abandoning it. I’ll begin again this Sunday. Just thinking about it makes me anxious.
Damn. Now I have to do it….. See how this works!
The other is this bird. I started him about 9 years ago. And he’s been hanging around judging me even since. I’m really not sure what happened here – I got stuck on some little detail and then got weird about it. I’ll show him to you all finished on Tuesday.
If you feel like committing to something – to taking some action – it could be as small as gathering supplies in a box or putting in 15 minute a day – state your intention in the comments and I’ll see you here on Tuesday – you can report your progress, share a link- whatever you like.
Update: I accomplished both my tasks – it was painful and I’m so glad i did it – the victorian bird is finished and I began my daily painting and drawing practice on Sunday. I’ll post the sketchbook every Saturday and you can checkout the victorian bird here.
How did you do – did you get something unstuck?
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.
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.
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.
Sometimes focus feels impossible. Sometimes your imagination, your creativity and your drive seem to have vanished without warning. Sometimes thoughts and ideas spin so frantically you can’t catch them.
And, there are moments when it all seems to magically work – the better part of a day slips by without notice while you’re completely lost in a glorious flow state – effortless, creative and productive.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have it all at your command, to be able to summon deep focus, motivation and drive, ingenuity, and sparkling original ideas as needed or desired. But our minds don’t work like that. Our minds do what they like and so often just the opposite of what we’re looking for. Practice, training and attention help though and I’m always on the look out for ways to improve – stuff to try – ways to reach the deepest parts of my imagination and creativity.
Something I have come across a lot is the idea of alternating focused work with distraction in an intentional way – one example is The Mac Gyver Method – which I love and use all the time.
And Earnest Hemingway talks about the value of letting things percolate in The Movable Feast :
“It was in that room too that I learned not to think about anything that I was writing from the time I stopped writing until I started again the next day. That way my subconscious would be working on it and at the same time I would be listening to other people and noticing everything.”
Last week I heard the term “deliberate day dreaming” for the first time In this podcast episode (If you are curious about why your brain does what it does you will particularly enjoy this episode). I even like the sound of it – deliberate daydreaming – I like the idea of an intentional, daily invitation to let your mind meander and watch where it goes.
My mind wanders off all the time without permission – especially while I’m doing pleasantly (for me) repetitive tasks. I think it’s part of what attracts me to things like hand sewing and paper mache.
So I wonder what the effect of intention and daily practice will be. I’m test driving the idea for the next month – devoting 10 minutes everyday to “deliberate daydreaming”. I will let you know how it goes and if you feel like experimenting with me I’d love to hear about it.
Did you know – the larger a list is – scale-wise not length-wise – the more fun it is to check stuff off? I think so anyways. I love a list and at times when there’s a lot to move forward simultaneously (not my best thing) I put it all on poster board in sharpie and find that it helps me stay on task, helps me do the right stuff and follow through. I’ve wanted a chalkboard for this purpose for ages and finally made one for myself last weekend.
I painted a lovely old frame black and the chalkboard part was easy – it’s chalkboard contact paper on foam core. And I love it (PS- I’m not being compensated in any way for this – just sharing because I think it’s useful). I found it online and I was willing to give it a shot – to the tune of about 20 bucks – but wasn’t feeling super optimistic about it. I grew up in the 70’s and contact paper was a frequent and largely unsatisfactory design solution. This stuff is great though – it doesn’t look or feel plasticy and cleans easily with a damp cloth. They also sent a marker you can use – It’s a little harder to clean off but looks good.
I’m pleased with my chalkboards and pleased with the effect the presence of the big list has on my fidgety brain. I’m determined to have a record breaking year in terms of productivity – I’m always busy but I spin my wheels a lot.
Another time waster/ procrstinatey activity for me is looking for stuff. I have all my fabrics and other supplies and projects in file boxes and spent time recently labeling everything accurately. I’ve been using the same boxes for 5 or 6 years and clip clothespins are perfect for labeling- since projects and materials change often.
I’m tackling the computer next – it’s a mess.
What keeps you focused and on task? What de-rails you?