Progress (a reflection on Creative Summer Camp)

9 September 2012 § 2 Comments

When my friend, Jen, whom I have actually only met in real life twice, announced on her blog that she was starting an online Creative Summer Camp (CSC) under the umbrella of No is for Wimps, I jumped at the chance to be part of the testing group.  I am always looking for ways to bring creativity into my life – daily lab work seldom nurtures my creative side and I am usually happier when I’m planning a sewing project or making a gift.  As my CSC project, I decided to focus on picking up my French horn again (after a 5 year hiatus!) in the effort to have a creative thing that was doable over the six week course and sustainable in the long term.

I started out so strong in weeks 1-3 setting reasonable goals and following through, but then in weeks 4-5 hit a wall a little bit and so week 6 was about realizing why it happened.  I think that I have historically been much more of a project starter than a project finisher (half painted walls in my house, half knitted things of all varieties, a bottle of apple juice I have been meaning to ferment for cider for months), and CSC really made me think a lot about why that is.

I’m not sure I have any conclusions so far, but one thing that I get really hung up on is that if I’m not making huge leaps, it doesn’t really count as progress.  This way of thinking about it is very black and white and not the least bit helpful because it usually means that I start out really strong, get busy with other things, the progress slows down and then I feel like, “Why should I even bother with this thing?!”  What’s worse is that my rigidity can extend to other areas of my life (most notably my PhD and my marriage!) and seeing it revealed through the process of interacting with the CSC community has been a really big impetus for growth for me.

Two things that I’ll really take away from Camp are the importance of 1) making tiny, incremental, accomplishable goals and 2) remembering that just realizing that something needs to happen doesn’t mean that all of the roadblocks to it happening are just going to disappear (for more on this concept see Nick Crocker’s blog).  Tiny goals that I complete can still be crossed off the list; incremental progress is still progress.

Birdy Craft

18 May 2012 § 1 Comment

Y’all, if I didn’t have SO MUCH FUN making this craft!  The pattern is free, the fabric was estate-saled, a tree fell down in our yard right as I needed a branch, and this little birdies are cute as pie.  Combine that with the chance to give something to some dear friends for their soon-to-be born wee babe and I was pretty happy with this whole project!

Up next:  sewing baby clothes with the serger I found for a STEAL at the same estate sale the fabric came from!

Party Time

16 August 2011 § 1 Comment

I co-hosted a combo wedding shower/bachelorette party for a friend this weekend and I was in charge of my two favorite things:  drinks and decorations.  I’ll save the sangria and margarita recipes for another post because I am super-excited about the crafting I did for the decorations!  We had the party in the clubhouse of the condo complex where the bride and her roommate (another co-host) live and I hadn’t seen the space before.  I was pleasantly surprised by how much light there was and how it was already decorated (fairly simply, but with some cool touches like bamboo trays, brightly upholstered chairs and a vaulted wooden ceiling).  The final product:

You can see the bamboo trays in the center, a corner of the cute chair in the bottom right, and the wooden ceiling across the top.

For inspiration, I scoured the internet and found so many good ideas.  I ended up doing some bunting, a garland, very simple flower arrangements, and tissue paper poms.  I worked on all of this off and on from last Saturday, which was perfect because Hubs was at a meeting all this past week so it was a bit lonely at the homestead.  I always forget how much I love doing creative things until I do them, and it makes my work life easier if I go home and use a different part of my brain.  Here are the specifics:

H-A-P-P-Y W-E-D-D-I-N-G

I got the idea for the bunting here (another ‘roo!) and modified it somewhat.  I bought scrapbook paper at Joann’s on major sale and also bought ribbon to use as the connector.  I only bought one spool of ribbon and so I had something like 12 yards for 30 flags, which dictated the size of the flags (they were 7.5 inches across the top and I used the whole length of the 12×12 scrapbook page so they were something like 13.5 inches diagonally).  I was able to cut two flags for each page of scrapbook paper (using a cutting mat and my rotary cutter) and used 15 different prints for the 30 flags.  I printed the letter templates on regular computer paper, used an exacto knife to cut them out from coordinating solid paper, and glued them to the flags with DAP One Stik adhesive.  I was going to glue each flag onto ribbon, but ended up machine sewing them together because it was waaaaay easier, meaning that I could have made them whatever sizes I wanted.

If you click, you'll be able to see the two different color threads.

Inspiration for the garland came from here, but I also owe at least as much to this, for the idea of sewing (not gluing) the garland with different colored thread in your bobbin and main thread which does the totes adorable twisty thing in between the dots.  For this, I bought a circle cutter (a Fiskars one) at steep Joann’s discount and I REALLY LIKE IT.  Then, while watching Downton Abbey, I cut out about 300 circles from the leftovers from my bunting and from some coordinating solid paper I had and sewed them together.

The flowers were from Trader Joe’s (cheap and sustainably grown)!  I arranged them in red plastic solo cups, since I clutter-cleared a bunch of vases a couple of months ago, but the slight tackiness ended up being perfect because we were playing beer pong at this shindig.  Inspiration for these goes to my mother-in-law, who never misses a chance to decorate with fresh flowers and always does a beautiful job.

The tissue paper poms are all over the interwebs, most notably here, but I think first saw them in this Etsy blog post.  My mom also pointed out that we made a version of these in elementary school using pipe cleaners around the middles.  Instead of using wire or pipe cleaners, I stapled the middles of mine, and I hung them using sewing thread because we didn’t have any fishing line.  I got a big packet of 100% recycled tissue paper here and I can probably make about a bazillion more poms with all that I have left.  Here’s a photo of all the poms, not exactly in focus, but you can see how cute all the colors looked together:

On Being All Right

18 January 2011 § Leave a comment

In the weeks since the new year, I have been feeling utterly demotivated and exhausted.  I have been fighting against every single thing happening in my life, from science to crafting to love, and it is time-consuming and demoralizing.  I started out the year with bad science news (not actually that unusual, bad science news happens in the lab every day and far more often than good science news; bench science is really hard to get right), which led to me not making myself work in lab, which leads to more non-success.

The thermofax machine, about which I was so excited, arrived and immediately didn’t work as described.  Ebay is really great about buyer protection, and it wasn’t a problem to send it back.  It was a headache and heartache, though, because I had to file a claim, wait for response from the seller, and deal with the disappointment of not getting to use it to create.  Furthermore, today 3M emailed me the manual for the machine I just sent back, and I think that if I had the manual last Friday, I might not have needed to send the machine back.

And the rug, which you heard about yesterday, was just another thing that I was really excited about and then felt disappointed by.  It’s normal in our lives to feel disappointment, but it crosses a line when relatively minor things paralyze us.  I have been in a mode where any tiny thing that goes not as I expect is devastating.  This way to live is neither productive nor realistic.  In reality, many people have way worse things happening to them.  Energetically dedicating so much of myself to feeling disappointed is completely unhelpful.  I have been awfulizing, as my mom would say.  And this post, from my soul sister kittiwake, just really hit me over the head with the problems I’ve been creating for myself.  (What are friends for?)

So today I make a fresh start and stop thinking about things I want to do and actually do them.  The science will work eventually if I work.  The right thermofax machine will come into my life and probably at a time that’s not right after the holidays when we’re feeling more like parting with the money I saved for it.  The rug is a lesson in how much of myself to invest in an uncertain outcome.  As Hubs would say, “You’re all right.”

Creative Mania!

7 January 2011 § 1 Comment

I am currently in an obsessive mode of finding new crafts to do and try.  Some of them have been in the works for a while and some I learned of just today.  It is my hope that in writing this post I can declare my intentions to the universe and in that way get back to actually doing what I’m supposed to be doing in lab (i.e. science) and quit reading craft blogs all day.  I always seem to have trouble getting back into the swing of being in lab after time off and right now I’m scared of the results that I think I’m going to get when I do this next step in my experiment.  So in avoidance mode, I will here detail current and future art type projects that I want to do:

First, and most exciting, I recently (yesterday) purchased a THERMOFAX machine from Ebay!  (Don’t worry; it wasn’t an impulse purchase, I’ve been saving and saving for this).  Thermofax is an old duplicating technology that was used before the copy machines that we’re all familiar with.  Using special film and carbon ink prints or drawings, you create a screen which can then be attached to a frame and used for screen printing.  I am SUPER PSYCHED.  I don’t have the machine yet and it’s sort of hard to know how well it will work since I bought it after only looking at photos, but I think it’s going to be amazing.  I’ve been wanting to start screen printing for a long time, but it turns out that to do traditional screen printing, you really need a utility sink and a way to properly dispose of chemicals.  Plus, exposing screens can be sort of tough.  So now I can print at home really fast.  I am really excited about combining screen printing with the Thermofax and photography.  I want to print cards with Zeda’s face on them, but the possibilities for working with both paper and fabric are really endless.  I owe most (if not all) of the inspiration to start screen printing to my aunt, who is a truly fantastic, innovative fiber artist and blogs at Existential Neighboorhood.

I made Hogwarts Robes for our (9 y.o.) cousin for Christmas.  It was amazing having them to give to her because I knew how much she would love them, but my sewing skills are still growing, and I really started that project pretty late (i.e. two days before I wanted to give them to her), so it ended up being a very stressful situation for both Hubs and for me (but I think actually worse for him).  If I sewed robes again, I think it would probably have to be a gift for someone as awesome as our cousin or I would have to charge in the hundreds of dollars.  I’m just too slow at sewing, plus I’m not sure if I feel good enough about the finished product to sell it.

I’ve made Waldorf-inspired dolls for two of my new baby cousins and the niece and nephew of a dear friend, but this is another one where I’m not sure that they’re professional enough to sell and they’re fairly time-consuming to make.  I have a sweet high school friend who is having a baby soon and I think I will make one for her this weekend, but this project doesn’t feel as exciting and inspiring to me as other things that I’ve been thinking about lately.

One thing that feels almost as exciting to me as screen printing with my on the way thermofax is using a scroll saw that I inherited from my grandfather to make toys (like this-check out the link for amazing and inspiring toys made by a friend’s sister-in-law) and bowls.  The saw is a cast iron one that needs a new blade and probably to be rewired to be electrically safe, so these projects are a little bit further off in the future.  I just need to do more research on how to rewire the saw myself or find someone here to do it for me.

Finally, felting has really caught my eye.  This project is one that I’ve never tried but it looks really fun and like you get good results relatively quickly.  You can either do felting of something knitted (if you’re into knitting or you can use upcycled wool clothes) in hot soapy water, as for these baby teethers or you can do needle felting.  As for needle felting, I saw several things that I love on Etsy that were really inspiring, and then it turns out that there are tons of books and online resources available that teach you exactly how to do it, what tools you need, and provide tons of inspiration.  For example, in this very helpful tutorial, I was inspired to make a turd.  The video really is helpful though.

I actually do feel pretty good putting all those plans out there.  I’ve said this before, but I think that when we feel a strong pull to do something creative, we should honor it.

Feeling Artsy

25 October 2010 § Leave a comment

Every now and then, I get in a creative mood and I feel it wholeheartedly.  It’s different from feeling indifferent to what we’re having for dinner or like I could watch that movie or not watch it and be just fine.  I yearn to satisfy the impulse to create.  Similar to a food craving, where I have to eat cheese RIGHT THEN.  I want to craft something RIGHT THEN.  I believe that when we yearn for something in this way, we should do our utmost to fulfill the urge.  I believe this in terms of both food and desires.  Example:  sometimes I’ll crave a huge salad, usually after I have spent days eating junk.  My body wants me to eat salad because it NEEDS fiber and vitamins.  So I do it and everyone’s happy.  Same with hunger of the emotional type.

So I was feeling artsy and planned this past weekend to go to the fabric store to buy fabric and a pattern to make HARRY POTTER ROBES for Hubs and me to wear to the upcoming premier of the first part of the seventh and final HP movie (and for Halloween).  I went to the fabric store and, though it tends to be a black hole into which I lose hours of my life, I was generally happy (especially since there were so many sales!) and ready for sewing when I came out.

But really, the best part of the story is yet to come and happened before I went to the fabric store.  Last week, I was lucky to speak to two very close friends on the phone, both of whom I hadn’t spoken to in a month plus.  Very early in each conversation, both friends told me how very creative they had been feeling lately and how they had both either already started doing something artsy or had plans to do so that weekend.  Additionally, my aunt, who is a fantastic fiber artist, published a blog post on Wednesday of last week about how therapeutic it is for her to spend time in the studio.  How amazing that these three women shared this emotional yearning with me!  I loved it because it reaffirmed my connections to them and also reaffirmed the need I felt to honor this part of myself.

For some scientists, I think it’s easy to get wrapped up in how well your science is going and define your worth in this way.  One thing that made early graduate school so difficult for me is that laboratory science, unless you’re really lucky, fails 95% of the time the first time you try something.  It takes a lot of work and learning to get to the point at which you know enough to plan your experiments well and are able to troubleshoot when they don’t work, which means that a lot of [especially early] science is just failure.  So I struggled and struggled at the beginning of grad school, trying to define myself through science, and so I felt like a loser most of the time.  It wasn’t until I was on the brink of quitting and started to see a counselor that I found some relief.  She encouraged me to find other ways to define myself.  I started to volunteer and I started to do crafts again and focus more on things that I loved that were good in my life.  It took me about three years of hard work and praying, but now I know that grad school is exactly where I’m supposed to be.  So in the words of my sweet aunt, “Creating is important after all.”

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