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 12 years ago (officially in february) – my first official post was titled momentum because I felt like my creative life, my personal creative life was in the someday folder.
12 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.
note : I’ve been updating and reposting some of me big creative year posts from 2015. They are ideas that are very much on my mind as I start the new year. I’ve got big plans and apparently I find myself very inspiring. This is one of my favorites from the series.
Everything feels slow and still and there is lots to think about so I am mending. I love to mend, I love the thrift and economy and the meandering pace of it. I love how it looks and what it means, these are badges that tell you something about me.
While I patch my sleeves and collars and knees I’m thinking about the year past and my plans for the next. I’ve got big scary plans and I’ll tell you about them in a minute. First I want to tell you a painful lesson I learned about attention.
A few years ago I sort of learned to ride a motorcycle. Slow in the driveway. I was bad at it. The most serious problem I had was driving into things: trees, houses, people etc. I googled the problem and found an answer, the fix was remarkably simple and easy:
To not look where I did not want to go.
I was so afraid of driving into the tree, the person, the house etc. that I focused on them and they pulled me like a magnet. The result was awkward and painful. When I only looked where I wanted to go it was like magic.
Starting now I’m keeping my big plans in front of me. Looking where I want to go. Making myself focus on the big scary things I want to accomplish in 2018. Everyday. Keeping the big stuff in front and working backwards from there. The little stuff will align because it must. I’ve been thinking a lot about what’s next. Feeling around for it for a while. This will be a year of change for me. I want it to be and I want to make sure my plans don’t evaporate in distractions and busyness. I’m going to give myself very clear, consistent and simple messages about what is important:
write the book
paint the paintings
Pick yours and we will talk more about it next week.
I’ll leave you with one success and one failure from 2017. First the success. The most popular pattern this year was the tiny rag doll and that is a happy and unexpected thing. I love the idea of lots and lots these tiny bundled up ladies in the world.
The failure was falling out of my sketchbook habit mid year. I miss it and feel the lack of it in all my work. I’ll resume my small, daily squares this Sunday.
Thanks for showing up and I wish you a beautiful new year,
note : I first published this post in 2015. As I’m making plans for the new year audacious thinking and big changes are on my mind, maybe they are on your mind too.
Thinking outrageously, hypothetically removing limitations and entertaining wild possibilities is a good creative exercise, a good thinking tool and I use it often to get unstuck or to work through an idea. But applying that kind of thinking to my life and work in a larger way has been difficult. This weekend I spent time thinking about this question:
What if I could do anything?
If money was no object, if there were no obstacles, no chance of failure or negative consequences – what would I do? I think truthful answers might be enlightening, there might be signposts and arrows among them but I find the question paralyzing.
I’ve never been good at thinking big about my life, my work, thinking audaciously. Big makes me nervous. And it seems to me that I endeavor in the other direction – so much of what I do, what I’m attracted to and what I create for myself is small, the world recreated at a more manageable and comfortable scale.
I find it hard to turn my practical brain off and I think a large part of me never wants to be caught with grand plans – a deeply ingrained belief that modesty is a virtue. I’m fortunate, one thing has led to another and all sorts of wonderful things I could not invent have occurred, it feels somehow ungrateful to reach and it is incredibly difficult and uncomfortable to really get my head around the question. My answers, my list, mostly doesn’t feel very audacious, it feels quite tentative in fact so I’m going to keep working on it – look harder. Getting myself to write anything at all was like pulling teeth, there were a couple surprises though – here’s what I’ve got so far:
I would paint and draw a great deal
I would learn to surf – nothing crazy- little waves
I would plant a garden
I would cook a lot
I would travel a little
I would wander a lot
I would take a hand built pottery class (that seems pretty do-able – I’m looking into it)
Actually – I would take lots of classes – I could fill the rest of my life with that
I would have dogs and cats and goats
I would make a picture book for children or maybe children and grownups
I would make dioramas
I would buy a very old house
I would swim often
I wonder if you ask yourself this sort of question – if you find resistance in your thinking or spectacular visions – I’m curious – if you feel like sharing please do.
There are things I need to remind myself of occasionally. And maybe you need to be reminded too. Everything speeds up this time of year. More and more gets packed in. I try to keep up, pedaling faster and faster. By mid December I have an upset stomach, eye twitch, a mild stutter and I’ve lost touch with my imagination – my thoughtful and most creative self. So I’m reminding myself of some things I know are true:
the power of uncertainty
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…..keep reading
Sometimes ideas are like mosquitos – a relentless whisper. Sometimes they are slippery and hard to grasp. Sometimes they flow, tumbling over each other. Sometimes they are lurking in the shadows, maddeningly half revealed and sometimes they are frightening – too big to hold.
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…….keep reading
On a scale of 1-10 for introversion, 1 being an actual hermit and 10 being the super extroverted end, I would place myself at 3, or maybe 2 and 1/2. I don’t mind it, don’t want to change it and couldn’t if I did. It’s not a condition, it’s not better or worse than the other end of the spectrum, I do like people, I’m not sad or lonesome in any general sense, I’m just wired in such a way that solitude, and lots of it, is where my energy comes from. I would like to be a BETTER introvert though in three ways I’m clear about:
Figuring out……keep reading
the importance of no and what I love about collage
“A ‘no’ uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a ‘yes’ merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble.” Gandhi
I say yes when I should say no. I think it’s most often to please or to avoid immediate discomfort, sometimes to avoid taking the time to make a truly thoughtful decision or sometimes for fear of…..keep reading
I first published this post more than two years ago. In all of my 11 years of blogging it is one of my favorites. It is also still my biggest struggle. I’m sharing it with you today for two reasons:
- For the first time in a long time I haven’t got a blog post this week. I’m occupied with filling orders, details for upcoming workshops and beginning to plan new classes and workshops for 2018 (including at least one in Europe…… stay tuned).
- The message, the idea of margin, is one I need to hear and apply again and again but especially right now. It boils down to this – when there is certainly and officially too much to do – the only sensible thing is to decide to do less. Ideally before it gets decided for you.
I’m forcing myself into my high gear, last minute place, that magic spot where priorities are crystal clear and hard decisions get made easily. I’m forcing myself into that place a little early so the week before I leave to teach I’ll be one of those super chill prepared people. For the first time. Ever.
(This post was originally published April 2015 – I’ve updated with images of preparations for my natural history workshop)
Had I already mastered the idea of margin in my life I wouldn’t be editing this post 20 minutes before I need to publish it. But I have not mastered margin, not at all. Margin is the space between, the room left for error or chance, the cushion, and I rarely have any. I’m the guy hand making one more Christmas gift at 2 AM on the 24th, 10 year old me was adding glitter to my styrofoam ball planets on the bus to the science fair. It isn’t really about procrastination (although I’m great at that too) – it’s more – I see some space, some room and think “why not add something?! Why not make it better?! Let’s do both!”. It is a kind of misguided enthusiasm – it’s hard to say no to something I’d love to do even when I know there isn’t enough time. It also comes from fear of lack – fear that the universe will find me ungrateful and opportunities will disappear, it’s living in fear, fear of scarcity. And I am a wishful thinker, I catch myself all the time planning for things to go perfectly, filling every possible moment with commitments, scheduling things back to back or overlapping. It feels like I’m being diligent, a hard worker, but I’m setting myself up to fail – when there is no room for error some little thing, like the printer breaking, can become a huge deal.
When you have margin you have options – so often in this life that I supposedly designed to afford choice I feel I have none. And I need to fix that. Fix it or miss out on my best work. Fix it or be swept along in the chaos – just reacting to emergencies.
I came across this article recently and for some reason it penetrated in a way that the idea just hasn’t before. It got my attention and it stuck with me and I understand something new: margin isn’t something that happens when things get magically better, it is a decision.
It’s a choice.
It’s a choice and a discipline, something you plan for. I don’t have a busyness problem I have a decision making problem.
It sounds simple – just plan for extra time – but It means fighting against life long inclinations and habits, the temptation to fill every available minute is strong. My first move in the right direction is to figure out how to take one day a week completely off. Oh boy. My current situation is so far away from that I can barely get my head around the idea and at this point I think it’s going to take a while to make it happen. I’m hoping for progress, not perfection, for improvement, some sense that this is attainable for me.
So much of the new stuff I’m trying is working but I think this one issue is the lynch pin, the biggest obstacle, the thing between me and real improvement in my work and my life.
Sewing is frequently on my mind when I’m painting and drawing and painting and drawing is frequently on my mind when I’m sewing. Lots of intersections, lots of overlap. I wondered what might happen in the translation process – from paint to cloth. Wondered if it would be interesting – what it might change or reveal. I decided to try some things this week. Make my self start, start before I had it all figured out, before I know what they might be. I chose a couple simple and small designs to begin.
The ideas emerged from my sketchbook work, my little daily paintings which aren’t so daily right now you may have noticed. I’m taking a break so I can work on some other experiments like this.
At first I tried turning, basting and ironing the edges of my sometimes tiny shapes before stitching. It was tedious and awkward and I found I liked cutting shapes and turning the edges under as I stitched much better. And the translation process is interesting. I found lot’s of inspiration there. It is slower and quieter than paint. I think hard about relationships, my decisions are deliberate. And there is an element of happenstance – the cloth brings unexpected details, textures and colors I did not invent.
I never would have chosen a warm red for this piece- but it was all I had so I tried it and I love it. Making those big, bold red stitches was surprisingly satisfying.
And it’s the perfect kind of sewing for the morning – before I’m quite awake. I love having something all ready for stitching, waiting for me when I get up – everything cut and pinned. It is also good traveling work, subway work, sit in the park work.
I have plans for lot’s more of these. Some tiny and some large. I’d love to do a very large stitched interpretation of this swan. It will take me one million years to make.
The sketch book posts don’t usually get included in the blog page but I made an exception this week for a couple reasons. Mostly because I had a good week – I liked everything I made last week – that hardly ever happens. There’s even a naked lady.
And I wanted to tell you about my current obsession with Staffordshire Pottery and how that came about. I love looking at other people’s stuff. I want to look in your windows and open your drawers. I want to stop by when you are not expecting guests and look at everything. I came across this blog lately: The Bible of British Taste.
And I love everything about it – the houses, the art, the stuff, the textiles- on and on. This house in Scotland is my favorite post. That’s where I came across Staffordshire and there is just something about them – formal, sweet and quirky – all at the same time. You’ll also find some Chinese portraits there that have inspired.
Check it out – I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
Also – For the next few weeks any way – I’ll be adding little paintings to the shop each Thursday.