Tag: creativity

the fruitless search for the ultimate organic dot and the diy solution

The quest for the perfect organic dot fabric for toadstools is never ending, I’m always on the look out for fungal feeling dots, speckles and marks in general and I’m super particular. Shopping in LA a few weeks ago there was lots of nice batik stuff that was close but no cigar. I described my dream fabric to my friend Molly and she said “dude you could totally make that”. That is such a good attitude. Yesterday I experimented a little. And dude, I can totally make that, so can you.

making marks on cotton fabric with bleach

Gather some cotton fabric, bleach, wax paper and tools for mark making. I tried all sorts of things, rubber stamps, pallet knives, brushes, straws, cardboard, spools, on and on. Also put on an apron and some gloves and do this somewhere very well ventilated or outside.

marking with bleach on fabric using a pencil eraser

I had one little dish of straight up bleach (you just need a little) and another diluted about 2 parts bleach to one part water. I put wax paper under the fabric and started making marks. My favorite tools ended up being a pencil eraser, putty knife, a stiff bristle brush, a toothbrush for splattering and a little spool that I glued a piece of wool felt to one end of. A cork would have been good too – just thought of it.

spool with wool felt glued to one end for bleach printing

cotton fabrics printed with bleach for making fabric toadstools

The marks take a moment to begin to “develop”. I let most of the fabric sit for about 20 minutes before rinsing. I have googled/pinterested around and there are all sorts of interesting things you can do with this technique and you can get pretty fancy about it. Find a great tutorial here and another here. 

We will be playing with this process in my botanical workshop in Kentucky next November (at this moment is is wait list only but if you’d like to go jump on the wait list – stuff happens in a year).

toadstools made from fabric

toadstools made from fabric, brown and red with spots

find the mushroom sewing pattern here

I love how they turned out, the bleach prints are so perfect for little fungi.

the magical possibilities of cardboard and behind the scenes in the mouse diorama

paper mache ships hanging in my window

Cardboard is all over the place, for free! It has lots of interesting qualities and I’m always curious about the possibilities of things. I’m very interested in transformation, particularly of modest things, discarded things. The thin stuff, like a cereal box, is wonderfully flexible and you can create remarkably graceful curves with a little ingenuity. It is the secret ingredient in my paper mache ships. I think that is quite a transformation, from family size Cheerios box to floating ship, it is a kind of magic.

paper mache ships hanging in my window

It is also what I use for my teacup armature.

cardboard teacup armature

Or even more intriguing, let it be the star of the show, glorified in all its cardboardness. The shapes and tones and textures all observable and celebrated.  And I can’t resist an interesting die cut, they set my imagination on fire. Die cuts figure heavily into this spooky cardboard castle.

yummy fun playhouse

I made this playhouse from cardboard and popsicle sticks ages ago for Clare Crespo’s Yummyfun Cooking.  So many hot glue burns but so much fun.

And speaking of fun checkout this super simple diorama for photographing your continental mice in a make believe French countryside. It is sand and pebbles, a little fake moss (all found at Joann’s) and a sweet print I got in the actual South of France last summer. It’s in a giant plastic container to diffuse the light.

felt mouse in a countryside diorama

This guy seems pretty excited about it. He was made by a student in the French General Mouse workshop last week. Find the pattern to make your own here.

P S – Do you get my weekly -ish newsletter? (there are two great cardboard halloween costume ideas in this week’s issue.

And you can signup for it right here.

30 minute figures : experimenting and generating ideas

guick figure expeiments created with paper and fabric

quick figure experiments created with paper and fabric

Play generates ideas. And constraints make things interesting, they send you in new directions and bypass inhibitions. Find 30 minutes to play. Make a space, gather materials, scraps, paper, cardboard fabric, whatever is around, and tools – a glue stick, tape, paint, the basics. Make an appointment with yourself to show up and set a timer for thirty minutes.

Or even better do it with friends, everybody can contribute materials and that adds a nice element of surprise. In fact you could make it a snail mail challenge if no willing experimenters are nearby, send each other a collection of supplies. The assignment is to make a figure. Any kind of figure. Or more than one. You get extra credit for making more than one.

In idea generation volume matters.

This 30 minute challenge was the warm up exercise for my experimenting with dolls class at Squam in September and it was one of my favorite teaching experiences ever. Watching people engage deeply and freely with their imaginations and embrace real play is fascinating.

figures created from paper and fabric in a thirty minute challenge

Before I experiment on students I experiment on myself. I did several 30 minute figure making sessions. I found that my ideas became more interesting to me as they became less complicated. In fact the thing I liked best was made in about 10 minutes. I also found that my brain really did warm up, my focus got deeper and ideas became more fluid.

paper and fabric figure experiments

cardboard, paper and fabric cat figure experiment

This little cat was a complete surprise. I started wrapping a strip of black fabric around a piece of cardboard, not really headed anywhere and all of a sudden this mysterious little fellow turned up. I love him and I’m curious about him, where is he going? Who are those flowers for? What else is in the funny green room?

And a couple more highlights from Squam, you never know who you might bump into:

mini cat rag dolls in the forest

Mr. socks ran into distant cousins and some tiny mice friends in the forest.

felt mice and woolen trees

PS – Find the free patterns to make your own very nice mice and woebegone pine trees right here.

an argument for silly and a creative exercise for you

mosquito and beetle rag dolls on my worktable

A great way to get past the musts and shoulds and assumptions that can limit you creatively is to shift your approach. Even temporarily adopt a perspective that helps you follow impulses and bypass reasons not to, shake things up. Try starting with silly. Silly tricks you into trying stuff that might not work which is what it is to be creative. That is also how you get somewhere new. Ask yourself silly questions, mess around, be absurd. Absurdity is rich ground. Just sayin’.

You might end up somewhere unexpected, making a connection that you had not before. It might wake something up in you or push you past a block. Your creative muscle grows and you can apply that strength to all your work.

silly bug dolls on my work table

I spent time playing with the idea of silly bug dolls this week. I’m getting my imagination in shape to teach again in September in New Hampshire. Silly helps me unclench my thinking. I got pretty silly.

mosquito and beetle rag dolls on my worktable

Play is creative. Clenching down hard on trying to make something awesome often isn’t and is not usually effective at bringing your personal magic into the world. Nobody is more creative than you. And absolutely nobody has what you have inside you. I’m a firm believer in exercising your mind to develop skills to get to all that. As much as you can. Play is an important part of that.

mosquito rag dolls

So I offer you this challenge, make a silly bug in the next week. Why bugs? Because they are a rich place to experiment, the huge variety of weird anatomies can inspire all sorts of possibilities. There are lots of places to start and they are ideal for improvisational thinking.

silly bug club

So buggy in here!

And for a little more motivation let’s make it interesting. Post your silly bug on instagram with this tag: #sillybugclub and I’ll pick somebody at random who wins their very own mosquito rag doll. Who doesn’t need one of those? And you don’t have to sew your silly bug. You can, but you don’t have to, it can be anything. Make it out of post-it notes and paper clips if you like, that would be great, the less you have to work with the more creative you have to be and that is what we are concerned with.  Please post your photo before Friday with the hashtag and your name will be in the hat. I’ll announce the winner next Friday.

Do it! Get the benefit of a mini assignment, spend some time playing and trying stuff, and you might win a prize. Plus joy. There ended up being a lot of joy in making silly bugs for me. That’s nothing to sneeze at either.

mosquito dolls in conversation

have a stubborn heart

I don’t know who said this (do you?) but I love it:

“Magic happens when you do not give up, even though you want to. The Universe always falls in love with a stubborn heart”

 

I think it’s true.  Letting go of things is part of the equation too.  And getting out of the way, letting things happen.  It all has to balance. That’s the tricky part.  And you’ve got to take care of your stubborn heart.  

It has been my experience that ideas are self perpetuating – one thing leads to another.  Showing up,  having a stubborn heart,  keeps things flowing.  Working, trying things, failing,  asking the second question and the third and wanting to see what’s around the next corner keeps me in motion.

Once in a while that cycle gets broken. The well isn’t empty but the bucket is not reaching.  A consequence of too much at once and not enough rest.

No amount of effort or discipline will fix it.  It requires another approach.  A rest and a reset. I let go of my ambitious day and did what I felt like.  Mostly I cleaned.  Laundry, serious vacuuming, making space,  clearing distractions and removing obstacles.  Making this a good place for thinking.  A place conducive to ideas.  And tomorrow a trip to the shore for a day of mudlarking.

That should fix me.  Part of the big tidying today was making my worktable an inviting space and making an appointment to show up.  Just to show up, no huge expectations or attachment to a particular outcome.

art supplies

It’s ready for me and tomorrow evening I’ll spend time experimenting, moving my heart and mind and hands and beginning to wake up the muscle, find my way back in.

paper mache teacups

I’ll share some of my mudlarking day in an instagram story tomorrow.  And if you feel like a project this weekend maybe try a paper mache teacup. They make a sweet mother’s day gift.

woodshedding birds and owls

hand stitched birds

hand stitched birds

I’m in the woodshed with songbirds. Evaluating the pattern and steps, testing and adjusting little things – using what I learned teaching the workshops last month to make the pattern all I want it to be.

pale blue textile bird

My friend Mickey introduced me to the term woodshedding and I love it:

“The ability to conjure up a feeling of wonder in others, to create a sense of awe, has always fascinated me. And while I do believe that magic can just “happen” under the right circumstances, creating magic is a much different story. It involves a lot of hard work, endless study and a constant refining of process and craft. In music, they call these periods of intense practice woodshedding, referring to the time spent honing skills privately out in the woodshed.”

Mick Riad  –  Creative Director, Fortuny

I think it is my favorite place to be, in the woodshed with something. Discovering, testing and refining. Deep in a learning process.

handstitched birds on my worktable

crimson and puce bird

hand stitched bird details

velvet fortuny owl

I’m also woodshedding owls to prepare for the dastardly owl workshops this fall (I think there are 2 spots left).  Eventually they will also become a pdf and print pattern too.

What’s going on in your woodshed?

happenstance, chance, accidental beauty

boro textile

boro textile

Why does this stitching, born solely of necessity, produce such compelling and powerful compositions? Does some perfect rhythm, some harmony with the universe reveal itself if we get out of the way?

And intertwined with the aesthetic appeal there is another sensibility about these patched and mended textiles.  Stephen Szczepanek refers to Boro as having soulful beauty.  I think that’s perfect, their unassuming and utilitarian nature and their absolute integration with life communicate an intimacy and humanity that is exquisite.

I chose some of my favorite examples of patched and mended old cloth to share with you below – click the images for the larger versions (all photos by Sri Threads).  

There is beautiful evidence of time and use everywhere. I’ve been photographing my paintboxes for years, to record  their transformations.

Like the Boro pieces I love them for their accidental beauty and for inspiration – there are so many things to think about and so many places to begin in them.

Note: this post was originally published in 2015 as part of my big creative year series and was edited and updated with new images on 4/6/2018

momentum

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.

cardboard stampede

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.

try

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.

so long 2017, mending sleeves and bold moves

contemporary holly hobby

ann wood : mending

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.

ann wood : mending

contemporary holly hobby

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

move north

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.

tiny rag dolls

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,
ann