Thursday, January 12, 2012

On Creating

I wanted to start this post by saying, "Now, I'm no artist, but..."  But I've been reading over at Chatting At The Sky for a while.  Am I really not an artist?  Is "an artist" such a big and far away thing, that I couldn't be one, just because I've never hung my work in a gallery?  I mean, I create things.  Make cool things, even if they're not beautiful things, out of parts and pieces.  So am I an artist?  I don't know.  Maybe.  Do I create things?  Yeah, yeah, I do.  Do you make things?  Do you make art out of life?  Maybe you can schedule so many things into a day, and carry them off with such flair, that that's your art.  Maybe you're an artist.

And I have something to say about that.  Something to say to you, and something to say to the naysayer inside of me that thinks, "You're probably all out of ideas by now."  No I'm not.  I also read ... somewhere (sorry blog person who wrote this!) that creating is a discipline, it is not luck or happenstance.  You have to work at creating.  Which sounds funny, until you ask that sculptor how many hours they spent in the studio, or the singer how many years of voice lessons they took, or how many takes they made.

Yes, luck does find us once in a while.  As I am fond of saying, even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while. But one nut will not feed a squirrel for long, and you cannot rely solely on luck to gift wrap and deliver your next great creation to you all of the time.

For those of you who think you are not an artist, for those of you who finally gathered all of your courage together to try and make something, only to have it fail, fall apart and burn to embers, I want you to know that it happens.  (I'm chuckling at myself right now, thinking that I sound all grandfatherly and experienced, when I feel pretty much the opposite of both of those terms.)  I have for you an example of how a first try often fails, but a second can get you back in the game.  Maybe you planned out and cooked a big ole dinner to impress someone, only to have it taste... well, gross.  Maybe you took some pictures you thought were great, and upon closer inspection, the focus was off, or they felt... flat.

Or maybe, you saw a cute checkbook cover, and thought, hey, maybe I could make that!  (please excuse the bad lighting from here to eternity.  Thank you.)

The one on the left is the first try, the right is the second try.

I planned it out, measured, checked, and even double checked.  And then I sewed my little heart out.  When I was done, I checked the card slot.  Check.  Totally fits.  Checked the checkbook slot.  Nope.  Even looking at it now, it is all misshapen and ... kind of weird.

SO not fitting.
So, I tried again.  Because creating just something is easy.  Creating something well takes work.  And I really like to sew, I wanted to create something good, and so I was willing to work at it.  I re-measured, changed up my plan a little, and tried again.  I was careful and methodical even (which sounds totally the opposite of "those artsy types" but it's my approach).  I re-cut, re-pinned, and re-sewed.

Totally fits.
Now, do I love what I've created?  Love may be too strong of a word.  Am I pleased with the quality?  Heck yes.  I had seen a picture for this type of thing, and wanted to make one myself.  Before hauling off and cutting up my favorite fabric to make this, I tried it first with some fabric that is sort of ugly doesn't really speak to me.  Looking at the first try, I'm very glad that I did.

The second try was so much better.
It's like my prettier, more poised, more cleverer cousin and me (Hi Laura!)
Side Note: I always wanted to be more like Laura.  She's awesome.

That brings me to three things I wanted to say about creating.  They're all labeled "1" not because I think they're equally important, but because I don't know how to change it.  Clearly, I'm not a blog artist.  A blargist.  Nope, not one of those. 

  1. Find inspiration, yes.  Look at other's work and take elements that appeal to you, for sure.  Copy someone's stuff and call it your own?  Not a chance.  Creating should use something from inside of you, some spin or adjustment, some added element.  
When I cook a meal the first time, I follow a recipe to a T.  After dinner, I write little notes on the paper.  "Too salty"  or "Add bacon next time" are usually amongst the comments.  That first time, I haven't created.  But the chicken noodle soup recipe I posted?  That's mine.  I thought to caramelize the onions.  I got the spice mixture just the way I wanted it.  I created it.  I'm a soup artist.
One way I like to find inspiration is to collect several versions of the same thing.  I once printed off 4 different recipes of chicken enchiladas.  Then I take the elements I like, get a general feel for the process, and try it myself.  You're drawn to pictures of haystacks, for instance.  Look at the ones you like, identify what you like about them, and maybe take similar pictures on Macro setting of pieces of spaghetti.  I don't know, I'm spittballing here.  (But if you do do that, let me know, I think it'd be sweet!)

  1.  Acknowledge that your first time won't necessarily be the best.  For me, this means (a) being okay if it doesn't work out, (b) not using my favorite fabric on a self-designed, untested pattern, or (c) not experimenting with a recipe for company.  If you want to try to make art, give yourself a number of tries before you critique or give up.  
Before Handsome would teach me to snowboard, in all of his infinite wisdom, he made me promise to devote 3 days to learning, before he would even agree to show me how.  He knew that I'd be terrible the first time.  I was.  My wrists were killing me from falling down so much.  The second day, I was still gunshy from the night before.  I was slow and kept falling down and it was no fun.  The third day, I finally allowed myself to go fast, and you know what?  It was fun.  I got the hang of it.  I don't make art on the snow with my board, but you get what I'm saying, right?

  1. After collecting inspiration, take time without it to just think.  It takes me time to dream up and hatch ideas of my own.  Altering someone else's, that's a lot easier.  But I don't want to just come behind others and make their designs more like mine.  I want to make something.  I have creative thoughts inside of me that deserve their own voice, but I can't hear them if everyone else's ideas are shouting at me.  I think this is especially hard because you'll think some ideas that aren't exactly good, while other people's ideas you see are already polished and done.  Guess what?  They though some not good ideas too.  Guess what else?  With enough effort and time, you can think good, polished, done ideas too.
While the basic idea may not change from what originally inspired it (you can only make a ham sandwich so many ways), it will still be yours if it came from you.  You may find, in time, that someone else had already thought if your creation.  As long as you're not in the middle of writing your PhD dissertation, that's really not a problem; it still came from your mind, same as theirs came from them.
I wanted to share that with you.  Because I know I am often nervous to create, and think that maybe "I just don't have that skill."  Maybe you think that too.  But you do, you do have that skill.  Maybe you make art with your words, or with your mad accounting skills.  Maybe it's your dress, the style you have.  Maybe it's the way you raise your children or how you take care of a car.  What is your art?  Own it, people!

2nd tries all around,


  1. Great post! You are so right.
    And I really like that orange and stripey checkbook cover (even though I haven't carried a checkbook in several years).

  2. This is only vaguely related, but I'm halfway through with my second cup of coffee, so I will share my thoughts with you anyway.

    As you know, I love to crochet, and I make all kinds of things. And people ooh and ahh and tell me how creative I am, and in a way, it's true, because I am obviously creating it. But there are very few things I've made that aren't just made straight from a pattern. Which is kind of silly at this point, seeing as I really do understand most things about crocheting. So here's a new year's resolution: I will make things of my very own design.

    PS--I really like your second attempt at checkbook-cover-making.

  3. Since you're so interested in being creative, would you be willing to create some of these for me?
    And see if you recognize the sheet material!


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