August 16, 2017

Think Small: Gestures

It's Tuesday evening as I sit here typing this - whatever it becomes - to be posted tomorrow morning. It was, and continues to be, so bloody humid today, everything is limp. Printer paper and the post are limp. The books I dipped into today, the pages were limp. My clothing is limp. I am limp.

While it may not be the sole reason, the horrid humidity is a contributing factor to my torpor. It's been one of those days when I just can't settle. Can't focus for any extended length of time. The to do list remains undone (which is fine) while I drift listlessly from one book to another, from an email to an article, from reading a poem to jotting in my sketchbook. It's the kind of day where I feel like I've done nothing when in fact I've done many, many small things for short lengths of time.

These small things are what I have slowly - Ever. So. Slowly. - come to value over the Herculean efforts that demand enormous expenditures of time, energy, and resources. Small gestures can have big impact. Such as today, making myself start the next yoni. Not having any idea what it's going to be and, frankly, not feeling like sewing today, I went with the small gesture. A little creativity in my day without a big time or energy commitment.
The hands-on time had to have been less than 15 minutes, yet my sense of fulfillment and accomplishment are huge. Just having dabbled in studio work, for that little bit of time, changed the character of my mood and the nature of my day considerably. (Need I say for the better?) All it took was a small nudge to begin, a small effort, a small gesture of creativity.
As a result, I now have an improved sense of how my day was spent and, once it dries, several lengths of rust dyed linen thread to play with. I still have no idea what the next yoni will look like, but it will probably feature stitches in rust dyed linen. See how one small gesture now expands to influence future gestures, provides direction where there was no map? I suppose we could call it the small gesture ripple effect.

Small is mighty. In all aspects of our lives together on this planet. While I focus on creativity, the lessons I learn and re-learn and re-re-learn again and again through my studio practice apply to just about everything. Here's a delightful and heartwarming story, a real life example of a small gesture with enormous uplifting impact from Elizabeth Gilbert. When the world feels cold and dark and lonely, take heart: Anyone can make their corner of it brighter is well worth the read when you have a small amount of time. Less than 5 minutes will do it.

August 13, 2017

Year of Yoni: Week 22

Year of Yoni is a self-assigned studio practice with which I have committed to make a new yoni once a week for at least one year. A broad explanation of yoni and this project can be found here.

August 9, 2017

Synchonicities: Do Nothing

As I said in last week's post, I have an assignment to do nothing. Doing nothing has many benefits, but the specific goal for the assignment is creativity. Before the task was assigned, however, the synchronicities began aligning.

1. While at the library - I do love a good library -  reading the winter 2017 volume of Creative Nonfiction, I ran across the following passage. It is from an article and series of interviews by Susan Bruns Rowe entitled Tricks of the Trade: How to Have Fun on the Job. The quote is from the interview with writer Abigail Thomas.
"We do better when we're not trying so hard. There is nothing more deadening to creativity than the grim determination to write. Doing absolutely nothing helps. Keep quiet. Take note of what you notice. See what happens. Get out of the way. Stop Thinking. Wait for the unlikely pair to couple. Take naps. Especially take naps. If something strikes you while you're beginning to drift off (and it will), get up immediately and write it down. For me, painting is a wonderful way of using a different part of what's left of my brain.  I just wait for the accident, wait for the thing to reveal itself to me. I'm NOT in charge." - Abigail Thomas
2. I started re-reading Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert. Her conceit is that creative ideas, inspirations, exist independently and actively seek human collaborators to see them through to fruition. Think of the ideas as existing in the collective unconscious. An idea comes knocking on your door, wanting with all it's might to collaborate with you. If you don't pay attention, if you're too busy to notice, or if you do notice and tell the idea no, it will leave to seek a more receptive collaborator. But if you are still enough to be receptive and accept the contract to work with the idea - oh how I love this part - synchronicities will begin to crop up everywhere.

3. The monthly Magic of Myth email arrived. I glanced at it long enough to absorb that the theme for the month is creativity and that the assignment is to do nothing. For a couple weeks, I didn't dive into the materials any deeper than that first gleaning.

4. The same day the assignment arrived via email, an article entitled Being Busy Is Killing Our Ability to Think Creatively popped up in my Odd Bird Studio facebook feed. "Little good comes from being distracted yet we seem incapable of focusing our attention. Among many qualities that suffer, recent research shows creativity takes a hit when you’re constantly busy. Being able to switch between focus and daydreaming is an important skill that’s reduced by insufferable busyness."

5. Soon afterwards, another synchronous facebook post cropped up, a passage from David Whyte's book Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words. Not only was the post about "rest," it reminded me of this title that had fallen off my radar. "We are rested when we are a living exchange between what lies inside and what lies outside, when we are an intriguing conversation between the potential that lies in our imagination and the possibilities for making that internal image real in the world..."

For good measure, after diving into the assignment materials, here's a couple of reinforcement articles shared by my classmates:
7.  10 Learnings from 10 Years of Brain Pickings (item #4 in particular)
The photo above is an image of the contents of the second skinny drawer in this cabinet, my pared down studio.

August 2, 2017

Creativity Assignment: Do Nothing

My Magic of Myth: End of the Quest assignment this month, from mid-July to mid-August, is to do nothing. Absolutely nothing. I can do that. I love doing nothing. I understand that it can be difficult to shut off electronics, to "disconnect," to give oneself permission to do nothing. Not my problem. I do nothing at least once a day. If I do nothing while sitting on the couch, more often than not the door pictured above is what I stare at, not actually seeing it, mind you, as I stare into space in it's general direction. (The stripey hula hoop makes a nice frame, doesn't it?)

What the heck is this about doing nothing that it merits being an assignment? Well, it's an imperative tool for creativity. I never thought about it in so many words, I just instinctually do nothing as an antidote to over-stimulation. Introverts, I'm sure you know what I mean. The "oh dear god get me out of here now" feeling that comes from being in crowds of people for too long, exposed to ceaseless conversations crossing over each other, too much noise (traffic, talk, TVs, stereos, people on their phones, NOISE, NOISE, NOISE), the never ending barrage of visual input, general sensory overload. It's exhausting. I reboot as needed with solitude, preferably lying down with my eyes closed in a quiet place. Ten minutes, 15 minutes is usually all it takes to empty the buzzing, swirling onslaught from my system and feel cleansed and calm once again.
But doing nothing as a creative tool? Makes perfect sense to me. And, not that I needed it but you know how much I adore synchronicities, three separate instances from three different sources - wait, no, there were four! - advising doing nothing to stimulate creativity converged for me. I plan to share these sources later, but please excuse me for now, I must shut off the computer and do nothing.

July 26, 2017

Think Small: Creativity & Experimentation

Two recent conversations converged unexpectedly. One was with an artist friend who asked about my process with the yonis. The other was an online conversation about guilt and shame. Yes, they really are connected in my studio practice. The connection revolves around "small."
I hatched the yoni project (second half of this post) for a couple of reasons; to facilitate a regular studio practice - a commitment to making art - and to gift myself an arena to experiment with a new medium as an artist. Sure, I've worked with textiles before now. But not as the sole medium of expression for my art. I'm switching from thinking and planning a project like a photographer - which involved illustrating a concept with captured images, either observed or staged - to creating imagery from scratch with textiles to explore a concept. Perhaps a subtle difference, but it necessitates establishing new modes of thinking; like blazing a trail through the wilderness, the path becomes easier to follow the more it is used. With textiles, instead of photography, there's more to consider than the image itself. It's how to render each piece; fabric choices, thread choices, stitch choices all add up to different textures and connote different feelings.
For now, I've limited my range of materials and colors (I often limited my color palette in photos, too). This is both to create a collection that holds together visually as a single, cohesive project and to purposefully limit my choices. Rather than stifle experimentation, these limits allow me free range. I don't have unlimited choices to cripple my decision making through overwhelm. Think of it as standing in the cereal (or any other) aisle at grocery store and having absolutely no idea which carton to choose because there are hundreds and hundreds of them. Too many choices can be paralyzing. Whereas, if there's only 5 types of cereal, a choice is easily made, without all the hemming, hawing, second-guessing, and fear of making the wrong choice. I stand by this: Fewer choices allows for more freedom than limitless choices. Of course I'm not suggesting that limiting or removing the power of choice from others is legitimate or beneficial. Rather, by limiting my own choices I grant myself the time and head space freed up from making decisions to be more creative and experimental within my self-imposed limitations. 

The yonis force me to think in new ways with my art. I often have no preconceived idea of what to make when I sit down to work, other than a yoni of some sort. This is also completely new to me; working to let the work out rather than having an end goal to work towards. I like it. Working this way has led to some yonis that I think are pretty darn cool as well as others that I think are duds.The duds, however, aren't a big deal. I am not stopped in my tracks from making a potential dud precisely because I am working small.
As a photographer, I worked on a larger scale, usually with significant investment of time and money for materials; pieces that required a lot of space to spread out while in process for days, weeks, months. Now, without the studio space, without the time, without the budget, I am adjusting to working small. This is where the guilt and shame come in. Or, rather, the lack of guilt and shame. Working small out of necessity, I have freed myself from the fear and guilt of screwing up, of wasting expensive materials. This is the kind of fear and guilt that prevents experimentation, stymies risk taking, and cripples creativity.

The materials I use for the yonis are from my stash (sunk cost), found objects (free), and newly purchased (relatively inexpensive). Because each yoni requires only a minute fraction of the newly purchased felt, each yoni is not precious as they would be to me if they each required yards of fabric (expensive) and weeks or months of time to finish. By working small I have freed myself from self-induced pressure to make something wonderful or perfect. I do not feel scarcity. If I go out on a limb and the piece sucks, so what? I don't perceive it as having cost me anything. In fact, each and every yoni - especially the duds - teaches me something. Lessons that I would have a hard time seeing if each yoni was large and I was caught up in berating myself for wasting too much time and materials.

The concept of "small" resonates on so many levels for me. I'm not satisfied with what I wrote above. It's circling the point without getting to it exactly. I will be writing more about small as I process what it means to me personally and in my art practice. For now, the point I am trying to make is that working small grants freedom to experiment and encourages creativity to flourish within a limited range of choices.