Creativity Falsehood #1 – “I am not creative.”

Hogwash!  Pure and total hogwash! But, hogwash that I am familiar with. Had you asked me ten years ago if I was creative, I would probably have responded with a tentative “Yes?  I guess so.”  I mean, I thought I was kind of creative and I enjoyed doing creative things like scrapbooking, interior decorating, and quilting, but Art was literally my worst class in high school. My grades in Physics and Chemistry were higher and I had to call a smart friend after each chemistry experiment to ask, “What was supposed to have happened here and why?” I would adamantly have said, “I can’t draw.” So, while I enjoyed being creative, I felt that I was failing miserably in some areas that are key for creative people, like drawing.

But then, during the second phase of my creative play experiments that I described yesterday when I was the parent of a toddler, I realized that my toddler was wildly creative. She came home from day care every single day with a stack of paintings or collage art. She enjoyed mixing paint colors just to see what would happen. She painted her hands and made multiple hand print paintings because, well, why not? Watching her being fully creative, experimenting with anything and everything, without any question about her ability or whether she should try something, I realized that creativity had to be innate. We must all be born with it, I thought, because she’s way too young to have learned creativity and though I am her mother and I think she’s awesome, I also recognized that she was no different from any other kid in her class. Every parent went home with the same stack every day.

I got confirmation of the idea that creativity is innate reading Creative Confidence by Tom and David Kelley. We are all born creative, they argue, we just lose our confidence somewhere along the way to adulthood and stop believing that. As I have experimented with my own creative play, I have realized that it is a great way to get that confidence back. Sure, some of the stuff that I have created has been absolute crap, but I do have a trash can and I know how to use it. But, I have been happy with most of what I have created and I have found that doing something creative makes me feel creative.  Bit by bit, one 15 minute exercise a day, my creative confidence has come back and now if you ask me if I am creative, the answer that you are going to get is “Yes!”

Learning to Play

I recently launched an online course called 30 Days of Creative Play™ that is designed to provide a kick start to one’s creativity when it starts lagging through 30 days of 15-minute creative exploration exercises. Over the course of this week, I want to discuss how I came to creative play and some of the major falsehoods about it.

When I first started experimenting with creative play, “play” was not in my vocabulary. Play is not something that I am good at; I wasn’t even good at it as a child. I’ve been incredibly serious (my sister might say “boring”) from nearly the beginning so by the time I became an adult, there was nothing remotely like play in my life. But, when I was barely into my 30s, I became desperate for it. I was working in a soul-crushing job with a horrible commute and it was killing me. I don’t remember what caused this moment of clarity, but I realized that to make it through the job until I could find something better, I needed to do something creative. I needed to create to counteract work that I thought was pointless and I needed something that fed my soul to keep it from dying in that job. That’s when I started Creative Play™.

When I first started Creative Play™, I didn’t have any grand plans. Since I am a quilter, I decided I would try out a new technique or tool each week and blog about it. I made small pieces that could be easily accomplished in a brief period of time with no goal in mind for them other than to experiment and have fun. That creative outlet helped me survive that job, but it also gave me a chance to expand my quilting skills and add a whole range of techniques to my repertoire. Some of those techniques that I played with then have come back into my work ten years later. I also found myself suddenly much more alive than I had ever been, even while still killing myself working for a bank.

Fast forward five years and I found myself again in another soul-crushing job (How did I let that happen again??), only this time, I also had a toddler. Between full-time work and full-time parenting, I was barely keeping my head above water and any thoughts of finding creative time were just hopeless. But, as before, I realized that something needed to change or I was going to wind up in the hospital with a heart attack or something. So slowly, I started to play again. This time though, I didn’t limit myself to quilting techniques, but I started doing anything creative, from coloring in coloring books to watercolor painting. I took a few online classes in a variety of media that I had never explored before and experimented, played, and enjoyed myself. I realized that it only took me a few minutes a day of some creative activity and my blood pressure came down, I was able to breathe again, and I found the patience I needed to manage toddlers, both at home and at the office.

I eventually quit that horrible job and rather than rush right into another one (though I interviewed for it), I stepped back, spent more time creating, and realized that I was even more on fire creatively than I had been before. Ideas came easily and the art that I was creating actually looked like what I had envisioned. (That was new!) “There must be something to this,” I thought and I began to formalize the play that I had been experimenting with over a decade into the Creative Play™ program. I realized that I had actually spent a lot of time reading about creativity, learning about it through trial and error, and devising a set of exercises that could be done in 15 minutes a day. I thought that there might be others feeling like I was – frustrated, unfulfilled, adrift – and that by capturing what I had learned, I could spare others the decade of trial and error. And thus, 30 Days of Creative Play™ was born.

I’ll be addressing Creativity Falsehood #1 tomorrow. Stay tuned!

Threads of Resistance

Today, I finally had the chance to view the Threads of Resistance exhibit at the New England Quilt Museum. I was at the museum when it opened so for a while, I had the room to myself. Soon however, I was joined by a group tour. Rather than detracting from my experience, viewing the exhibit  with a racially diverse group of young women and men from UTEC who found pieces that spoke to them increased the power of the exhibit. Hearing one young woman say “This is me” about a piece depicting Justice carrying a sword with the phrase “Come At Me Bro” on it, well, that’s the point, right? That’s exactly why we as artists created these statements in cloth, to convey our feelings through our art and to have them resonate with others.

The Threads of Resistance organizers had a flood of entries from which to select the exhibit pieces (including a few from me). Each one they selected is powerful on its own, but to be in the room with all of the pieces together is almost overwhelming. I highly encourage you to see it if it travels near you. And, if you can get to Lowell tomorrow, one of the curators Sue Bleiweiss will be presenting a gallery talk at 11 AM.

 

Creative Play Newsletter Vol.2: Issue 3 – The Genius House Elf

Last month, I wrote about inspiration and the awesome experience of having inspiration strike.  What I didn’t write about was how this happens because frankly, I haven’t completely wrapped my brain around it yet. The notion that inspiration can come from some source outside of me is a little too big for me to process. Thankfully, it’s a topic that Elizabeth Gilbert covers well in her book Big Magic and in a related TED talk. In Big Magic, she describes inspiration as like a wind blowing through containing ideas. If an artist or writer catches the idea and holds onto it, it’s theirs. If not, it will just keep flowing until it finds a willing body. She shared some compelling stories of inspiration landing or passing along, such as one from a poet who described poems coming to her and having to race to get pen and paper before the poem passed right through. In her TED talk, Gilbert describes inspiration as a Muse, likening it to a house elf like Dobby from Harry Potter that stays with you unless you send it away.  Though I find the notion of inspiration as a house elf a much more vivid and funny one, I have to say that I’d rather be visited by an idea-carrying wind than a house elf.

I don’t think that it’s an either/ or situation though. I think that both of these concepts describe different methods of inspiration. Inspiration coming in on a wind is just like I described inspiration striking in last month’s newsletter. The key is to catch the inspiration when it comes – to take the idea, accept that it is yours, and start planning – or to release it to find someone else to be its creator. Inspiration as a house elf, however, implies that the inspiration is always with you and that you have to call on it when you need it. Regardless of the method, the key takeway for me is that inspiration is all around and will come when you call.

Summer of Scraps Week 6

The photo I showed when I first started the Summer of Scraps project only represented a portion of the scraps that I have. I also have a bin full of bits and pieces of batik fabrics:So, this week’s project, which was also a UFO on my list for the American Patchwork & Quilting UFO Challenge, was to create Block 8 from the In Full Bloom quilt pattern by McKenna Ryan using my bits and pieces:

Creative Play Newsletter Vol. 2: Issue 2 – When Inspiration Strikes

I never knew what that phrase “inspiration strikes” actually meant. Until recently, inspiration was really more perspiration for me. I’d decide to start a project and then I’d think through options until I planned what I wanted to do. I might start with a piece of fabric or a block design and go from there and I thought that I was “inspired” by the fabric. I have since come to realize that working on a design that grew out of something else wasn’t inspiration at all. Inspiration is a design that grows out of nothing at all, that comes flitting into one’s imagination unbidden.

Having this experience of inspiration, these moments when inspiration does truly strike has been one of the unexpected outcomes of my creativity journey and my experiments with creative play. As I have started to play more with no goal in mind, to experiment more, to try different media and generally just open myself up more to chance, I have had more and more moments of true inspiration. These moments are truly awesome, as in creating awe.

My first experience with true inspiration came over a year ago. I was merrily sewing along, minding my own business, but I was thinking of the Orlando shooting that had just happened that week. Then, in the midst of those thoughts, I thought about making a quilt and the idea for my “Victims” quilt began to form. I negotiated with the source of the inspiration for a bit like a petulant child. “Oh no,” I said. “I’m busy. I don’t want to take this on. This is a big project. This is a difficult project. No way.”  I didn’t get a response.  But, having read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, I realized that if I didn’t take up the project, the inspiration would leave me and move on to someone else so I sighed and said, “Fine. I’ll do it.” Then, I grabbed a pencil and a sheet of paper and sketched out the whole design in a few minutes.

Since that time, inspiration has struck more and more often and I have gotten better about accepting it. I now skip the step of complaining and go right to grabbing a pencil. In truth, however, the pencil is totally unnecessary. These ideas that come dropping into my mind when I least expect it are also tenacious buggers. Many times, they just stay there lodged in my brain poking at me until I get to work. The good thing is that once I do start work, these inspired projects have come together amazingly quickly with nary a broken needle. (Again, awesome.)  The best part of all of this?  The works that I have created from these strikes of inspiration have been the most powerful, most meaningful pieces that I have ever done. They come right out of my soul and when I see them finished I am truly amazed.

 

Coat of Arms

Running a little behind this week on my Summer of Scraps project so instead I’d like to share a commission project that was recently delivered.  A friend of mine asked me to make a coat of arms that he had designed for a friend’s birthday. Here’s the final product:

I had such tremendous fun working on this project and was so honored to play a part in an important birthday and a meaningful gift.

Summer of Scraps – Week 4

I’m at the halfway point in my Summer of Scraps and I made a huge dent in the white scraps this week with this quilt top:

The colored “scraps” for this one came from a strip exchange I did with quilting friends a decade ago. We cut 2 1/2″ strips of some of our stash fabrics and shared them with the group so we all went home with a little bit of everyone’s stash. It’s such a wonderful way to remember those friends.

Summer of Scraps – Week 2 Finally Complete!

It was a lot easier to make the first week’s scrap quilt in a week since I already had most of the blocks made. (I sew squares together to be leaders and enders when chain piecing and after a while, I get a few blocks made that way.)  Week Two’s top took a little longer so I’m thinking the Week 3 project (that I have not yet started and it’s already Thursday) will be something quicker.

Anyway, here’s the final product for Week 2.  The blocks were made Log Cabin style by starting with a 4 1/2″ white square, adding a red strip to one side, adding a red strip to an adjacent side, adding an orange strip to the first side again, etc.  Just a word of warning, count your strips when you finish the block. I went to sew a block in and wondered why it didn’t fit and only then did I realize it was missing a yellow row.