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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
As promised, I went a little easier on myself this week and sewed up a quick project. Since I already had the rainbow scraps out and my daughter is in a serious rainbow phase at the moment, I made a flag banner for her playhouse. The inspiration for the project was the July 4th Bunting pattern on WeAllSew.com.
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.
I didn’t quite get this one done within the week, but it’s close. My 5 year old is very much into rainbows right now so that’s the inspiration for this top and she’s a fan of this one. “I love your new quilt,” she said the other night as it started to come together on the design wall.
This issue marks the one year anniversary of this newsletter. When I created my communication plan, I was going to use the issue to reflect on the past year and to try and pull together a summary. Instead, I find myself looking forward in this moment and not backward. I have decided recently to develop Creative Play™ into something more than this newsletter and I am excited to tell you about those plans.
I am developing Creative Play™ into a full program of creativity talks, courses, and workshops. I’m sending out proposals for Creative Play™ workshops at conferences, developing class plans for 6-8 week live classes and am about to test run a month-long online workshop. I believe that playing in a variety of art media is the best way to become fearlessly creative again and I’m going to be spending my time sharing that message.
One of the first things I am launching is a “30 Days of Creative Play™” online course. Each day for 30 days (plus one intro day), I will send an exercise for play. Each exercise is meant to be short – 15 to 30 minutes, and will involve a variety of different media. You’ll have an assignment so you won’t have to face a blank page but the only goal will be to play without the pressure to produce something useful. There’s no prep required; the prep work is built into the exercises so you can get started right away. Creative play is a great way to loosen up before you start your studio practice. It is a great way to kickstart your creativity if you’re feeling like you’re in a rut. Creative play is also a wonderful way to find a little joy if you’ve been feeling like something’s missing in your life, but you’re not quite sure what. Be a kid again for 15 minutes a day, every day for a month and reconnect with that joy and creativity you felt so effortlessly when you were young.
If you’re interested in participating in my free trial run of “30 Days of Creative Play™,” you’ll find an exercise each day on the Creative Play Date Facebook page starting tomorrow (July 14th). If you would like to receive each exercise in your email box, email me at julie(at)julieneu.com and I will put you on the mailing list.
Summer of Scraps has begun! I was pushing a little on Sunday to get this one done by the end of the week, but voila! one scrap quilt done. There’s a larger blue version of this on my guest bed upstairs. To make these, I sew blocks of 2″ squares (2 1/2″ cut), put them up on the design wall and then figure out a dominant color. Apparently, I’ve used a lot of red lately because that was the color that jumped out at me this time and thus was the color I chose for the sashing.
So far, I am really enjoying having a new creative challenge. I’ve already got three more possible quilts in mind just because my wheels have been turning on scraps. Leave a comment and let me know what you think!