Category Archives: Studio Thinking

creative-hours

hi, perfectionism. thanks for coming, but i’ve got knitting to do. can we talk later?

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I had the opportunity to teach last week (in a creative journaling series), and although I didn’t feel excited to teach, the students and the creative process gave me a huge gift (I don’t know why I’m still surprised by that; teaching is always a gift): a reminder that perfectionism is the enemy of good work, of learning, risk-taking, exploration, and quite frankly the enemy of happiness & fun.

I taught papercutting! This is my fancy M.
I taught papercutting! This is my fancy M.

It’s good to have high standards and good taste, but putting your inner critic into place – not powerful enough to derail you, but not so weak that you produce crappy work – is such a huge challenge. It’s a challenge that I’m starting to understand might be a thing for the rest of my life, something I might never outgrow.

And it’s funny, as a parent, to see how early the struggle can start. For example: my son knows how a particular puzzle is supposed to go together. But getting all the pieces in is difficult. Some days he’ll work at it patiently until he figures it out. Some days, he’ll turn a piece around just twice before crying and running away.

Knitting is (one of) my puzzle(s) right now, and I’m trying hard not to lose my temper with it. My current recipe for success? Er, recipe for not crying and running away? Start again on something easy, and focus for a while on how satisfying it is to have inch after inch of knitting drop away from my needles.

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forward motion

Some folks are happy with a goal-driven all-out sprint towards the holidays with their crafting (I just read my daily dose of Yarnharlot and almost cried, but Stephanie seems to love her process). Some people break into hives at the mere mention of a crafting deadline. I fall somewhere in the middle – I wouldn’t be happy if I wasn’t making anything. But I see no reason to let my irrational ambition take over the holidays – because, unfortunately, I do take deadlines seriously.

I limited myself to sewing superhero capes for my son and his BFF, and creating a cardboard stepstool so that he can learn to wash his own hands. Plus I’m making steady progress on a few baby shower gifts that need to be done by mid-January.

As I truck along on those few handmade things, I’m mostly thinking about my theme for next year. In 2014, my theme was “say no” (I had just had a baby, and wanted to create realistic expectations of what I was going to get done). In 2015, my theme was “say yes” (try new things, meet new people, accept a challenge again).

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I’ve done well with both of those things. I set ruthless priorities in 2014, and it’s actually become kind of a habit to think, “Is this necessary to my creative life, does it contribute to the family, does it strengthen my relationships?” and if not, I just say no, with ever-decreasing levels of guilt.

And of course, in 2015 I published my first sweater design. Challenge accepted and enjoyed. I also tried yoga, started guest blogging for Lancaster Transplant, and I made an effort to meet new people and invest more love and energy into my existing network of fabulous folks.

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Both of those were necessary resolutions to my creative life – when I stopped and looked at it carefully, the only ones that made sense. So what’s necessary this year?

I think it might be “more with less.” Or maybe it could be rephrased as “do the best with what you already have.”

In the micro: I have a yarn and fabric stash to work from. I have the incredible Creative Reuse Center nearby. I want to take creative aim at spending less money with less intensive use of new materials in my work.

In the macro: I have been given enough resources, skill, and support to make a life I’m really happy with. I often lose sight of that, feeling like there isn’t enough time or money to go around, or mismatching my ideas with my reality. But really, truly, I can and should focus on using what I have in the best way possible.

Please tell me I’m not the only one examining and re-examining my life as I stitch. What are your themes and thoughts for the holidays and the new year?

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He made my dream come true

I was brave today and tackled the refrigerator.  A frustrating, hit-my- limit-ready-to-explode week at work had ended.  So what better thing to do on Saturday morning? The fridge hadn’t been cleaned in months …yes months (I am not proud to admit this).

And oh my…. it was a true adventure: 4 containers of sour cream with small amounts of green goo, a small pitcher with what must have been some sort of sauce that boasted its own ecosystem…. I don’t need to go into great detail.

The upside was a lunch consisting of wonderful finds: 1 canned peach, a small sliver of almond paste, a small glass of homemade grape juice.  I think cleaning the fridge was my way of taking control over a small part of my life after feeling so out of kilter all week.

Another get-my-life-back-in-order task was organizing my yarn stash.  I had skeins of yarn hither and thither throughout the house in various drawers and closets.  My first year of knitting I was monogamous – 1 project and 1 yarn.

This soon deteriorated – kind of like my fridge.  I didn’t know what I had where and how much.  As I was walking through the grocery store one day, a wine bottle rack caught my attention and an idea struck me – this is exactly what I needed for organizing my yarn – only bigger.

I am blessed to be married to a handy man, woodworker, artist, photographer, birder, luthier, computer guy.  Upon returning home from shopping I chattered and chattered about this great idea.  Well, you know what he did?  Yup…. he made my dream come true.  All my yarn is now in one spot right by my chair where I knit at night, beckoning to me and whispering dreams of projects ahead.

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in my ears

When we moved to Michigan in 2012, for a brief 9-month sojourn, I was going to work hard on my grad school portfolio. To bribe myself to work long hours in the studio, I bought an audio book – Sunshine, by Robin McKinley.

I listened to that book over and over for weeks on end. Not always while creating prints in the studio. I found that my happiest moments were often curled up in a particular chair, knitting industriously while paragraphs and pages unrolled in my ears.

This is the main project I remember making while listening to Sunshine. Colorwork mittens from laceweight yarn held double are NOT a fast knit.
This is the main project I remember making while listening to Sunshine. Colorwork mittens from laceweight yarn held double are NOT a fast knit. I think I got 000 needles for these?

You can’t listen to the same audio book forever, though. So here’s what’s been in my ears lately.

Funny – The Adventure Zone – expletive-filled live-play of Dungeons and Dragons with three brothers and their dad. If you like weird voices, Dungeons and Dragons, or comedic families hamming it up together, you’ll probably dig this one.

EncouragingOne Bad Mother – Their tagline might as well be, “You are nailing it! Good job!” They share their genius and fail moments, talk to other parents, and generally chat about diverse topics that caregivers run into each day (sleep regression, depression, baby fever, time outs, when to cut your kids’ hair, and more). As much as this podcast is about encouraging parents, it’s also got a few cusses, so you might not want to listen with your Littles around.

Creative Inspiration – Longform Podcast – conversations with creative non-fiction writers and storytellers, mostly journalists and essay writers. I’m not even sure what to say about this one – just go listen. You will come away wanting to read a bunch of things as well as look at the world closely and carefully every day.

Knitting - Knit.fm – this now-defunct podcast has a metric crap ton of useful information, ranging from weaving in your ends, to short rows, to stashing, modifying patterns, and more. I’ve listened to the whole catalog a couple of times, and am still gleaning new things.

What about you? Any recommendations for my knitting-time listening?

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from the inside out

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My mentor in college had a rare, rare gift. She dealt with the work of her students from the inside out. That is, she had the ability to understand your work’s intentions, to find out where you would like to take the piece, and to advise you on how to actually communicate that intention to your audience.

This was useful to me as an artist, but even more as a teacher: deeply useful feedback doesn’t start with the teacher’s ideal style or product. It starts with what the student would like to achieve.

Sounds basic, right? But I’m finding that giving that kind of feedback needs practice, practice, practice.

I teach a lot of standalone classes, 2-3 hours long. My biggest challenge, in that brief amount of time, is to connect with each of a dozen or more students long enough to pick up on his or her aims – and then help them forward.

In a monotype workshop a few weeks ago, I got lots of practice giving feedback and then getting out of the way while students made decisions.  The group was flexible and fun, willing to be stretched, and all knew each other well.  And I think every student left with something they were proud of.P1018123

Not that there weren’t bumps along the way! One student in particular hated everything she made with the initial assignment in mind. After our mid-class check-in, she decided to go in the opposite direction. Immediately, her body language relaxed and she completed six pieces in quick succession, which truly took advantage of the unique properties of vellum + akua ink (lots of lovely transparent color and some light texture). They also fit her poetic interests – small, boiled down to essentials, intimate.

I was happy to see my assignment pushed out of the way while she charged headlong in her own direction. In a lot of different ways, every day, we have to make those decisions. Do we keep going in the same direction? Do we stick with what other people want or expect from us? How do we figure out what we want?

P1018146In an art class, the answer is much easier: always, always, my loves, follow your own voice.

 

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becoming a writer again

Something about falling in love made writing irrelevant to my life. We exchanged letters, my sweetheart and I, and I did not need to write anything else for any other person on earth.

Now that I’m a mother, I find myself turning to writing again. Maybe because this new love in my life doesn’t read, and maybe because it suddenly feels important to preserve some thoughts to be read someday far in the future.

Not that my son will ever be interested in reading my mostly-knitting blog.

That’s OK. It’s been good to start evaluating sentences again, to start feeling out which words feel authentic, which are overkill, and slowly discover (after a few hundred words) whether or not I have anything important to stay.

In an uncharacteristically bold move, I even volunteered to start blogging for a local organization called Lancaster Transplant. I admire the work they do of connecting people to their place (a place I really like!) – and decided I would like to lend my (tiny) storytelling capabilities to strengthen my community.

And you know what? They actually said yes, please blog for us. 

You can read my first post for them now - on my first time taking Sylvan to the park.

Enjoy! Or not, if you would just like a quick knitting fix. (Lovely yarn below, just for you. )

Yarn Hollow brand yarn in stripey autumn colors
My Yarn Hollow sock yarn has worn really well for me – so I’ve been squishing this skein a lot lately and dreaming of patterns – any recommendations?

 

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Creativity with Littles 4

Part 4 of a bite-sized series on keeping your creative life alive while you parent a Little (or more than one). Part 1part 2, and part 3

4. Pick projects that you can complete mostly on autopilot. S is just now starting to sleep through the night, at 13 months. I’m sleep-deprived, I’m knitting in tiny chunks, and frankly, I have milk brain. So, for a short season, I gave myself permission to be un-ambitious.

Or rather, I re-defined what ambition looks like for me. I’m holding down a job. I’m learning to parent. I’m making time for my spouse and I to spend together. And I’m defaulting to creative projects that don’t need a lot of thinking. Sweaters with lots of stockinette. Baby hats.

In my last post,  I talked about leaving my sewing project literally in the machine. That project is a blanket that requires sewing in straight lines, and almost nothing else. It’s a tiny adventure for me, because it’s increasing my knowledge of my sewing machine and its even-feed foot, but it is something I can easily drop in the middle of a stitch and not worry about losing my place. It’s perfect for these days, and at the end I have something super adorable that will actually be used by my family.

That’s it – those are my 4 tricks. Did you think it was going to be a long series? Nope! I have too many other good yarn things waiting in the wings!

Give yourself credit for the things you’re doing that are already demanding and difficult, my friends. And if you have tips & tricks you’d like to share, I would love to hear them.

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Creativity with Littles 3

Part 3 of a bite-sized series on keeping your creative life alive while you parent a Little (or more than one). Part 1 and Part 2

3. Keep projects and/or tools set up around the house. For instance, is there a shelf next to the couch where you can stash a knitting project out of reach? When the kids are playing nicely together in the living room, whip that project out and knit a row. (Does not work for beaded lace shawls. Ask me how I know.)

Right now, I’m also playing around with my new sewing machine. I’ve got it set up in the studio and ready to go, literally with the project clamped in place under the needle. When I have 5 minutes, I can sit down and stitch a little.  On my machine, when you turn it on and off, certain things automatically reset – like the stitch length. So if I have to adjust those settings, I make sure there’s a neon bright post-it note on the machine as a way to remind myself to adjust before starting the next time.

I also leave my camera set up on its tripod, next to the photo corner in my studio. Whenever I have a few daylight moments, I can photograph a finished project or the new yarn I just bought. Finding time and brain to edit the photos is more difficult, but I can often do that once a month during my 2 hours of dedicated time.

This works really well for me because I’ve become incredibly selective about the kids of projects I choose to tackle – and that is part 4, coming your way soon!

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Creativity with Littles 2

Part 2 of a bite-sized series on keeping your creative life alive while you parent a Little (or more than one). Part 1 is here. 

2. Pick a creative pursuit that scales to your life.

Hendreary (by Ysolda Teague) knit in Madelinetosh Graphite and Thoreau
Hendreary (by Ysolda Teague) knit in Madelinetosh Graphite and Thoreau

For me, that’s knitting. It’s portable, it’s relaxing, I can talk and do it at the same time. I knit while I pump at work, I knit in the evenings after S has gone to bed and while I talk to Husband, I knit in the car. I knit while playing Dungeons and Dragons with a group of friends (that’s right, geeks cross all segments of society). For a while, I even knit while S was napping in my lap.

Some of my other creative outlets, like printmaking and encaustic, exposed me to too many chemicals for me to be happy doing them while pregnant or nursing. That might also be a concern for you!

Maybe you give yourself permission to experiment with a lot of different things during the baby season of your life – anything that you can pack into a little bag or sprinkle around the house to pick up in 10-minute increments is a good candidate. Creative journaling, embroidery, watercolor paintings, working on your photography skills…. you’ll know the perfect thing when you find it (kind of like choosing the perfect yarn).

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Creativity with Littles

Let me clarify right away, these are not posts about helping your Littles be more creative. These are posts about keeping your creative life alive while you parent a Little. Posts, multiple, because I am long-winded, and if you have a Little, your attention span is limited.

(Can I give you a brief aside here? I feel like I am skirting the mommy-wars territory by divulging my work status at all. But I am a huge believer in the unity of parenthood. Caregivers do difficult and demanding work in a huge variety of circumstances, and we are all trying to do the best we can. For the love of those Littles, let’s pass some love around, one caregiver to another.)

I work full-time (and babysit another Little about 8 hours a week). Here’s the first thing we did as a family when we realized that Un-Creative Mom equals Cranky-to-the-Max Mom.

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Husband and I agreed that I would have 2 hours of completely dedicated, sacred, baby-free time each weekend. We’re lucky enough to have a room in the house dedicated as a studio, so I just close the door and pretend that I’m not there. This is the time in the week I try to complete brainy tasks – like learning to grade knitting patterns, or things that need daylight, like trying to photograph projects and yarn.

Two hours isn’t a lot, but it’s enough for me to zero in on a task and move a project perceptibly forward. When S was a Super Little, it was also about the amount of time in between nursings, so it fit our rhythm well.