Category: my big creative year

my big creative year : can does not equal should


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:

my big creative year : good ideas

Sometimes ideas are like mosquitos – whispers that won’t leave you alone.  Sometimes they are slippery and hard to grasp. Sometimes they’re chaotic, 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:

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

Linus Pauling

how to have good ideas for art


And I would add this – have lots of ideas and write them down, record them, scribble them, sketch them – as soon as they show up.

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

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 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, something mysterious or dark and ideas in experimental directions. As I started to play with the idea of dolls there was an 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 and nostalgia. I got 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



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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.


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.

my big creative year : the importance of no and what I love about collage

no collage

the importance of no

“A ‘no’ uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a ‘yes’ merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble.”

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 lack. Firm, thoughtful, timely NO and carefully considered YES are things I need to work on.

What I do with my time is defined by what I say yes to – say yes to too much of the wrong stuff and the right stuff – the things I really love doing get squeezed out. Halfway through MY Big Creative Year there is still so much, so many ideas and things I want to experiment with waiting on the back burner for me to be less busy with my busyness.

I came across two great articles about creativity, time and NO I hope you’ll check out:

Creative People Say No
by Kevin Ashton

If You Don’t Prioritize Your Life, Someone Else Will
by Greg McKeown

A note on the collage:

It was a good thing to say yes to. Collage is something I love playing with but hardly ever make time for. Time experimenting with mood and pallet, accepting and rejecting ideas,  trying things on,  it lends itself to “what if” thinking and can draw me out of my worn in grooves. My reason for starting was because I needed an illustration for this post and I intended to be efficient about it. As soon as I began it became clear that somebody just really wanted to make a collage. I got lost in it, spent too much time and thoroughly enjoyed myself.

no quote

my big creative year : the magic of tidying up

cleaning and organizing

cleaning and organizing

I recently read Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up”.  The book isn’t about cleaning, it’s about decluttering (the photo is from a house I visit upstate -I chose the photo because I love it, everything about it, and it expresses the beauty of essential things – just the essential things – the joy of simplicity and the elegance of the space around things).

It’s about having less stuff, having only things that bring you joy.

I approached this book with probably more than healthy skepticism. I always run into trouble with the word clutter. I get defensive and protective – that’s my important stuff, my important special stuff- and I need it, I need all of it, I need choices.

But do I? Do I need all of it? Do I even know? Have I truly looked closely enough or listened to myself and my things enough to know? Do I really understand what having it is costing? Because there is a cost – things have weight and shifting that weight around requires time and energy. And that’s what I do – I shift it around.

“Putting things away creates the illusion that the problem has been solved.”

I have all sorts of organizing schemes, I love the container store and ikea. I love them. I put it all away, make it lovely and it feels so good. For a while. Until everything I squirreled away starts to creep back out and I need to do it all again. It doesn’t really work or last because there is just too much. Too much that isn’t meaningful, too much I don’t truly love, more than what is essential. Slowly, it reemerges and I feel the weight of it.

At the center of Marie Kondo’s system for decluttering, for relieving yourself of “the burden of owning more than one needs” is this question:

Does this spark joy?

Look at everything (and she means everything) and ask yourself if it sparks joy. Her system for evaluating and what to do with the things you decide to keep gets detailed, really detailed (she almost lost me at sock folding) and there is an undeniable wisdom in the system, even the order she directs you to tackle things in makes perfect sense and sets you up to succeed. The goal is to create a lasting change, not a chore or exercise to be repeated at intervals – a system for assessing and dealing with possessions, keeping what you love, disposing of the rest and ultimately being surrounded by only what you love, what you choose.

I have begun, as directed, with clothes.

Some sparked joy, that was the smallest pile, some did not. A lot sparked a desire to lose weight. The pile of “doesn’t fit but I love it” was depressing and motivating – lots of “goal pants”…….  And she talks about the pitfalls of “downgrading to loungewear” – it was like she was speaking directly to me – vast, VAST and cumbersome sections of my wardrobe were “paint clothes” and “things to wear around the house” – enough for a couple life times.

The book continues through each category of possessions – tackling them head on, anticipating where one might fail or waiver with remarkable insight.

There is art, science and spirit in her system – you need to be able to embrace or at least have some tolerance for the idea of having a spiritual relationship with your things and the idea that things have energy. I’m so glad I read it, there were revelations in this book for me and it has made me think differently about things and how to take care of them.

I’m going to continue to work my way through each category (they get progressively more difficult) and I’ll let you know how it goes.  What’s your relationship with your stuff like?

my big creative year : ghost gown

ghostly edwardian gown

ghostly edwardian  gown
She danced right in…..

It’s been almost 2 years since I’ve run into a perfect, ruined whisper of a gown. I haven’t been looking, and none have found me. Interests, fascinations have seasons I guess and I wondered if this particular season had faded away forever. This Edwardian lawn dress, perhaps a wedding dress, arrived last week – it has everything and just like that I am in love again.

edwardian gown detailThere are particular qualities I look for in them – the lace is exquisite and the ideal scale for fancy little wedding birds – some of it is ruined by stains and tears but a great deal is in perfect condition. Looking for just this sort of lace is what sent me in search of a new /old gown a couple weeks ago. And there is so much more, the sheer cotton has worn to a silky sheen – it’s so thin and transparent it looks like it would disintegrate if you blew on it but it has a surprising amount of integrity and it makes the most perfect downy feathers for realistic birds, there is a subtle, lifelike iridescence. I’ve only come across it  once or twice.

And then there’s everything else, the sweetness, the romance, the heartache, the mystery, if she made a sound it would be a far away, off kilter music box playing Chopin. She had come all undone but I stitched and pinned her together for her last photo.

edwardian  gown : ann wood

my big creative year : for introverts

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.

for introverts

I would like to be a BETTER introvert though in three ways I’m clear about:

Figuring out how not to feel bad about it or at least feel bad about it less often. I waste so much time and energy on that.

Being a more diligent and intrepid explorer of myself.  I want to reach past the comfortable territory I’ve already navigated and develop more skill at sharing that world.

And by challenging the edge of my natural inclination more often, not in an effort to be someone else but to expand to my full capacity,  to explore and experiment outside myself and collaborate more – in ways that respect what I need but push me past what’s entirely comfortable and familiar.

P.S. If this is something you relate to check out Jonathan Field’s conversation with Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.