Sunday, November 24, 2013

making things happen

I loved a recent post from one of my art heroes, Elsa Mora. The title of the post is "Making Things Happen," and it's about, well, how a busy artist can make so many things happen the way Elsa does. The steps she names go like this:
  • Think: sit down with a piece of paper and a pen and think about what to make and why. This helps to clarify the mind and gives you focus and purpose.
  • Make a Plan: figure out what the big picture goal is, and break it down into small steps.
  • Start: the hardest part-- do not abandon the project or plan. One foot in front of the other, and begin.
  • Manage your time: try to work in 2 to 3 hours bursts with no interruptions (internet, phone, people) followed by a break.
  • Discipline: set a deadline, hold yourself accountable to finishing the project.
  • Have fun: Elsa believes projects are more likely to get done when it's fun, and a project stops being fun when one step has not been done correctly.
This formula has been incredibly helpful to me as I get back to working on creative projects. Like Elsa, I am very impulsive. Often when I get an idea, I run headlong into trying to make it, leaning heavily on my creative abilities to carry me through and not thinking about a concrete plan. My studio is littered with unfinished projects that seem to hold promise but stopped being fun to work on.

Her post inspired me to work on a large scale papercut for my front window at the studio. It's something I've been thinking about since the springtime, but I was hesitant to start because I know my penchant for starting big projects and then not finishing. I didn't want to let myself down or have some lame bullshit in my window. I followed each step, including the working for 2-3 hours at a stretch. This piece took about 8 hours and it about 3 feet by 3 feet:

The thing I really learned through this process is that I have a tendency to rush through "tedious" details. For instance, I wanted to somehow cheat on cutting the scallop frame properly.  I noticed that I wanted to rush, or get bored with the process, but then I remembered the plan, and that the scallop frame was really important to making the piece pop on the window. That helped me re-focus on it, enjoy it, and do the work so it would look great and not sloppy.

I've started using this technique with every project and I'm hoping it will continue to help me finish great projects. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

be uncomfortable

I received a timely email the other day:

Hi, I'm a 15-year old thrower, I've been throwing for 2 or 3 years now. I think your work is *perfect* but lately I have felt like what is the point of this.  I truly enjoy throwing, but I can't get out of this rut. Have you ever had these feelings? How did you conquer them?

Dear CL,
I wish I could say I have no idea what you are going through. Unfortunately, I know your feelings all too well.

Your first question-- what is the point of this-- is a larger existential question that I can't answer for you, you have to answer it for yourself. My answer for me is that the point is to bring beautiful, artful objects into this crazy world, and that's pretty much it. I would like to think that creating beautiful things changes the world, so I'm doing what I can to change the world. I don't know how far I'm getting there.

So, you're in a rut, maybe your first. Being a creative type means that you will not always be inspired and have ideas.  It's great that you have the opportunity to experience a creative rut, recognize you are in a rut, and ask for help at the age of 15. When I was your age I would go through creative ruts too, but I just saw that as a sign that I hopelessly sucked as an artist.  Then I would smoke a bunch of pot, write in my diary about how the world did not understand me, and cry. You may do all of those things too, but I never thought to ask for help. It's very brave of you to do so.

You are in a rut because you are bored. Maybe you are bored with your forms, your processes, your self-imposed limitations on the wheel. The opposite of creative is not un-creative, it's boredom. Boredom will smother everything creative within you with its droning, relentless voice about how you're not good enough, that idea sucks, other people are better than you could ever be, and eating a big giant bowl of ice cream is easier than going through the trouble of making that thing you thought you wanted to make.

You can't "conquer" boredom, because it's part of the process, the ebb and flow of being a creative person. Boredom is a message from your internal self that you need to grow. What that means is completely up to you to figure out, but here is a hint: We often resist growth because it makes us uncomfortable. To grow we have to start from a place of not-knowing, and it's much nicer to be in a place of knowing.  But being uncomfortable is not boring, so in my book uncomfortableness is okay for an artist. Maybe you should think about what makes you uncomfortable, and head toward that.

I'm uncomfortable with being less than perfect in my work, which means I don't experiment enough because I'm afraid of making ugly, imperfect work. I'm uncomfortable when my sales are slow, which means I'm constantly pushing myself in production, another creativity killer. I'm uncomfortable with ease, which means I don't value my work unless I struggle. I'm uncomfortable with pursuing other artistic interests for fear of depleting my creative reserves, which means my creative self usually survives on a plain clay diet.

My advice to you is to think about what makes you uncomfortable, and adjust your approach so that your creativity can incorporate those things. I've had to address my issues in order to have a better creative life. For me this means taking the time to try new things and make crappy work, make work that is not production-oriented and and may never sell, not immediately dismiss work that seems too "easy",  and work in other mediums I love such as drawing, painting, and paper cutting.

My dear, I hope that helps.