Tag: creativity

margin – or, panic early

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:

  1. 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).
  2.  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.

slower, quieter : experimenting with appliqué

appliqué experiments

appliqué experiments

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.

appliqué ideas

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.

appliqué ideas

appliqué experiments

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.

appliqué experiments

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.

sketchbook swan

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.

PS – Do you get the newsletter?  The latest blog posts and extras – delivered to your inbox. You can checkout this week’s here. And sign up here if you like.

applique experiments

sketchbook 6/18 – 6/24 and current obsessions

sketchbook : 6/21

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.

natural history : a new workshop

natural history : a workshop with ann wood

natural history : a workshop with ann wood

* Update – The workshop has sold out but please add your name to the wait list if you were hoping to join – cancellations do happen. 

Registration just opened for “Natural History” a three day creative retreat with The Makerie in Boulder – September 22nd to the 24th.

Our assignment for our three days together is to create and document an imagined natural history. We will look for inspiration at the intersection of history, poetry and nature, working collaboratively as well as individually to create and photograph a collection of specimens.  We’ll use textiles, paper, found objects and a variety of other tools, techniques, materials and inspiration I’m bringing.

stitched botanicals

I’ll guide you through improvisational (and fun) exercises designed to spark you creatively, help you dig deeply into your imagination and generates ideas.  It’s a  spontaneous, “yes and” way of working – each action builds on the previous – you work with what shows up. It’s less about finished works and more about making connections and  recognizing serendipity and happy accidents when they appear. We will pull ideas and details from our experiments as a starting point for designing and making our plants and creatures.

blue beetle

mushroom specimens

hand stitched toadstool

perched fly

On our last day together we will style and photograph our specimens individually and as a group.  I’ll share tips for creating compelling compositions and moods, simple lighting hacks and other seat of the pants techniques that I use in photographing my own work.

This is a workshop about experimenting, collaborating, playing and getting out of your own way.  That is a life long daily challenge for me and I love sharing what I’ve learned so far. I hope I can help you be a more intrepid explorer of your imagination, reach past the territory you’ve already navigated and expand your skills for sharing that world.

Sounds like fun to me and I hope to see you there! If you’ve got questions please send me a message – I’m happy to help.

*registration has closed but you can still join the wait list here.

improvisational doll making – part 2

soldier doll

(you can find part 1 here)

The more time I give myself for play like this the better my thinking, my connection making and idea generating get. While messing around with these dolls I have had one million ideas. This kind of experimenting is like giving my imagination vitamins. It is not an efficient way to make a doll, and I get frustrated in the process sometimes (it takes a while to shift out of expectations and perfectionist thinking and into curiosity) but it never fails to get me to new places. In trying stuff – stuff that works and stuff that doesn’t – I make connections I would not have otherwise made and connections are where ideas come from.

improvisational doll making

I experimented with a bunch of stuff for making arms and legs and landed on something simple I like. I’ve made her arms and legs in two sections upper and lower from the paper covered wire. Each section gets covered with batting and then covered with fabric.

I left a little extra at the ends so they would be easy to join and nice and bendy. The legs are made the same way and I added a little lace to the top before attaching by whip stitching to the bottom of her torso with sturdy thread.

improvisational doll making

I like her spidery arms and legs.  I’ll leave her for now and show you progress on the other girl who is no longer a girl.  Read More