Reflective Writing 101

We’re no busier than anyone else, but somehow I lost a whole month. It’s the longest I’ve gone without posting since I started blogging in 2009. It’s not that there was nothing going on or that there was absolutely no time. There were wonderful things going on — some of which I shared on Instagram. But my writing time was spent on other projects.

Ship Rock formation in Wisconsin.

No, not graffiti. That’s Ship Rock, which I stopped to photograph on my way home from the Willow Gathering in Decorah, Iowa.

I write because it helps me figure out what’s important. I teach students in fiber workshops to use simple reflective writing exercises, too. Figuring out what’s important to you is at least as important as the slew of techniques and possibilities I present in class.

River Rescue training photo by Renae Worden

The things I’ve needed to figure out for myself lately have been more community-related than fiber-related. You may know that I’ve been a member of the Wolf River Fire Department’s search and rescue team since it formed in 1990. We had a particularly frustrating incident in June, which I wrote about here for the Daily Yonder. And I wrote for the Yonder about rural school funding issues because there’s so much talk and so little understanding.

Neither of those articles will change the world. Our school district just got the word on how much the next round of state aid will be cut, and it’s huge. Our public safety communications problems haven’t been solved. But nothing ever changes for the better when no one talks about an issue.

Natural dye scarves by Donna Kallner.

Change is scary for many people, and definitely for many fiber artists. It’s easy to go from project to project without reflecting on why this or where next. Trolling through Pinterest is not the same as reflecting on possibilities. So I have a small challenge for you. Some of you have done this with me in class, and maybe forgotten that it works outside class as well.

Reflective Writing 101
In this exercise, you bounce back and forth between doodling and writing.

  • Trace your hand on a sheet of paper.
  • Doodle in the thumb area. Don’t worry about how “good” your doodling is.
  • Give yourself a minute, more or less, to respond to one of the prompts below. Don’t self-edit what you write — just scratch out the first thoughts that come to mind.
  • Repeat doodling in another area, then writing, until you’ve filled in the whole hand.

Writing Prompts

  • What did you enjoy most about making the last piece you did? Why?
  • What did you enjoy least? Why?
  • What have you been doing because it’s safe? Why?
  • What have you been putting off? Why?
  • How do you measure success in your fiber art?
  • How would you tell someone else to measure success in their work?
  • What do you need to do next?
  • Start a list of what it would take to begin.
  • Circle one thing on that list — a task you can complete or at least begin in less than one hour.
  • Make an appointment to complete that task within the next two weeks. Put it on your calendar.

Hand doodle from reflective writing exercise.

More Creativity Warm-Ups

How are you doing on your intentions for the new year so far? I know it’s only January 4 and we just finished the last of the cranberry sauce last night, but so far so good. I’m glad to be making short creativity warm-ups a mindful part of my day again.

Here’s what I did yesterday. I’ve seen this exercise before, but was reminded of it in Carla Sonheim’s book Drawing Lab for Mixed Media Artists. Bascially, you make some quick scribbles on  page then add features to those scribbles.

Come on, you know you can do it! You’ve been finding faces in clouds since you were a kid. Give it a try, and leave a comment to tell me what you got. I’m calling mine “Dragon defies holiday pounds” and “Not A Snob.”

Added after lunch: Remind me how many repetitions it takes before a new habit takes hold? I forgot to add the email subscription info again again this morning.

Update: Add this to the list of things that got lost in the move from Blogger to WordPress 🙂 And for periodic news about upcoming classes and eCourses, shows, creativity exercises, and a few fun freebies, please use the form below to subscribe to my email list. I promise not to share your address or litter your inbox with too-frequent mailings.

Thank you for reading Two Red Threads!

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Sketchy Ideas for 2013

It’s a new year, and many of us are starting it resolved to make our creativity practice both meaningful and mindful. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have this mapped out in project management software. I just plan to chip away at it day by day. Here’s how I started today:

I made a quick sketch from a photo.

It’s a shot Bill took yesterday on our New Year’s walk along the Wolf River near our home. It was just a little slippery under the snow, so I handed the camera to him and concentrated on my footing.

I snapped a digital photo of my sketch so I could upload it to this post. That photo was dark, though, so I opened Gimp to lighten it. While it was open, I figured I might as well label the odd scribble in the lower left. That fallen leaf is one of my favorite parts of the image, but I might not remember that from just looking at the sketch. Labeling isn’t cheating — it’s expanding on the sketch to flesh out an idea.

Then I remembered my intention to consistently watermark images I post online this year. So I set up a Gimp brush I can use for that. I stamped it in the lower right corner. Gimp imaging is part of what I teach in my Digital Fabric workshops. FYI, registration is now open for that class at the Midwest Weavers Conference in Emporia, Kansas in June.

I’ll come back to this sketch another day. For now, it’s time for me to move on with other tasks. I have orders to get in the mail, and I need to send out orientation materials for students registered for the Cross-Knit Looping eCourse that begins January 15. There’s still some room in the class, if you’re looking for a jump-start for your 2013.

Got a favorite creativity exercise? Hit the Comments link below this post and tell us about it!

added 10 minutes later: My other resolution was to add a link to the bottom of posts reminding readers about my email mailing list sign up option Will try to get it right the first time … next time.

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New Year’s Resolution

Resolution #1:

I’ve let my regular practice of creativity exercises lapse. The result feels like mental bloating similar to the physical effects of my culinary indulgences over the holidays. The treats are mostly gone and won’t be replaced. I’m putting creativity exercises at the top of the to-do list for much of January. I’ll post some of mine here, and hope you’ll share your ideas as well.


Resolution Number 2:
Your comments on my last post helped me decide: We all have a stake in saying how we want to connect and learn online. So yes, I’ll post some of my work in the upcoming class on e-learning and digital cultures here in 2013. And I look forward to your comments on those posts, too.

What are your resolutions?

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Shifting Gears With Creativity Warm-Ups

Sometimes, shifting gears in the studio goes smoothly and you purr along from one thing to the next. Other times, it feels like going from a 1-speed bike with coaster brakes to an 10-speed, and shifting too tentatively on a steep incline. I had to get off and push for a while last week. More about that in a moment.

Chain Reaction fabric design by Donna Kallner on Spoonflower

But first, another bike moment: For the current Spoonflower bicycle fabric challenge, I “built” a Rube Goldberg style machine that uses a tandem bicycle in a steampunk “alternative power generation” device for an imaginary “reanimation experiment.” You can’t see it from this swatch, but click the image and change the view to 1 yard to see how the repeat forms a chain design. Voting for bicycle fabrics is open through Tuesday. It’s always fun to see how so many different ways designers approach a theme, and I love the limited palette challenges (this one is three colors).

Back to that hill, and shifting gears. Every time I think it would be nice to coast for a while, I make some hairbrained decision that leads me to a torturous uphill climb followed by a terrifying downhill race to the finish. And I love it! But as any real cyclist would say, it all works best when you’re warmed up and have your head in the game. To do that in the studio, I get serious about my creativity warm-ups.

Donna Kallner creativity exercise — double doodle with watercolor crayons and water fingerpainting

Most of my warm-ups don’t take long. In about 5 minutes, I can do a double doodle (a Sharpie in each hand), add color with watercolor crayons, then fingerpaint with water. It doesn’t need to “be” anything — it’s just a readiness ritual that gets me feeling creative and productive.

Donna Kallner creativity exercises — fabric collage from the Black Hole

But sometimes, I need a bigger boost. That’s when I reach for my Black Hole, the small bin of fabric scraps I keep for quick creativity exercises. In this case, “quick” means an hour or two, tops.

Last week when I got stalled on that hill, I did what I normally do: I struggled and wasted a lot of energy. Once that was out of the way, I gave myself permission to rethink the route. After about 90 minutes of free-motion doodling on scraps of fabric, I rethought where I wanted to go with my project and started over. It wasn’t all coasting from there.
Usually there are still big hills to tackle on the alternate route, but I enjoy those as long as I’ve got a little momentum.

What do you do to gain some momentum? And what do you do with stuff like this fabric doodle, after it’s served its main purpose?

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The DDQCH Creativity Warm-Up

Since the last holiday gift was wrapped, I’ve been wrapped up in production and beta testing for my first eCourse — New Age Looping Basics. There hasn’t been much going on here to entertain or inspire you. So I’m revisiting some creativity exercises originally published on my old blog, Compost and Creativity, and getting back on a program of short warm-ups and creativity rituals at the beginning of the day instead of just the doodling I do in the evening.

The DDQCH is a doodle/collage hybrid. Here’s how it goes:

  1. Double Doodle. Spend a minute or two double-doodling on a large sheet of paper (I use recycled blueprints or sheets of newspaper). Double-doodling is done with a marker held in each hand. I use two different colors. Try to vary your movements so one hand does not always mirror the other, and so that your hands sometimes cross the center line of your body.
  2. Quick Collage. After doodling, do a quick collage on the paper. I keep a stack of pages torn from magazines for this purpose. Just grab a few sheets from the pile, pick a couple, tear them into pieces, and start gluing them down with a glue stick. Remember, this is just a warm-up exercise so don’t overthink it or try to make it “be” anything. Set a timer, if necessary, to limit yourself to about 5 minutes for this part of the warm-up. Try to do it standing up, if possible, so you keep your body moving.
  3. Harvest A Crop. After gluing down collage elements, it’s time to see what you can harvest from this exercise. You’ll need a cropping tool, which you can make from two L-shaped pieces of white poster board. Move the cropping tool around on the collage. Things will look very different within that white frame. Select something, cut it out, and glue the crop in your sketchbook. 

I generally follow this warm-up with a few minutes of writing about whatver I’m working on or whatever else is banging around in my head. By the time I’m done, the studio has warmed up, my tea has cooled enough to drink, and I’m ready to focus and be productive.

How does that feel to you, doodling with both hands?

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Rewind And Fast Forward

from Lesson 3 of the New Age Looping Basics eCourse with Donna Kallner

So much of my time lately has been focused on production and testing of the New Age Looping Basics eCourse that other things, well…. Let’s just say it’s time for some housecleaning. Since you can’t see my shower but you can see this blog, I started cleaning here first. And then it turned into a rewind.

I’m rewinding back to a traditional blog format. I liked the appearance in Dynamic Views, but functionally it just wasn’t working. So we’re back to something I hope will work better for you than having to make a visual scan of pictures and the first few sentences of a post to find what you want. In other words, the right-hand column list of categories is back, and I’ve added a search box that should work more than 10 percent of the time.

I’ve updated my Workshops page to let you know where I’m teaching this year. I think there are a still a couple of spaces in the Willow Spirit Constructed Vessels workshop at the Willow Gathering in Decorah in June. Maybe I’ll see you there! And 2012 Sievers class registrations opened yesterday, so maybe I’ll see you in Digital Fabric or Local Color.

This blog housecleaning project isn’t quite complete (when are they ever?). I still plan to clean up the overflowing Pages (the bar under the header). So I’ll be reprinting here some of the creativity exercises that first appeared on my old blog, Compost and Creativity. That way they’ll appear in searches and categories here. No, you’re not losing your mind if you think, “Haven’t I read that before?” But it feels like a good time to revisit those creativity exercises and rituals, and to share a few new ones.

In the meantime, which mode are you in right now — rewind or fast forward?

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Do You Play-Doh?

How do you get going on a blah day? You know I’m a big believer in the practical magic of creativity warm-ups and readiness rituals. Lately, I’ve been doing Sharpie doodles in an old book while the tea kettle boils. But some days you need to pull out the big guns.

The other day, I made lines and dots from Play-Doh, then spent a few minutes rearranging those elements and photographing each arrangement.

The first dozen or so were simple geometric designs.

Then things got more interesting.

I ended up with a couple of designs I really liked.

This one, I took over to Aviary to apply a Polaroid effect. I altered that a bit more in Gimp, set up a repeat, and uploaded it to Spoonflower.

See the design on Spoonflower.

I can’t wait to see it in my next batch of fabric proof swatches!

Even though it’s seldom my intention to “make” something from a creativity warm-up, sometimes I can’t help myself. What about you? Are your favorite designs planned or do they reveal themselves while you’re doing something else?

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Cut That Out Creativity Warm-Up

Part of the value of a creativity ritual is not having to think about the ritual itself. You know what’s expected, and you do it. I can do the Simple Shapes collage warm-up day after day after day and get the desired results. But then, I’m also happy eating peanut butter toast for breakfast every morning.

You might want a bit more variety. So for your benefit (not because I was stalling the other morning), here’s a riff on Simple Shapes I call Cut That Out. You’ll need:

  • a timer
  • a magazine from the recycle bin
  • scissors
  • glue stick
  • sketch book

Here’s what you do.

Time. Set the timer for 6 minutes.

Rip. Tear out the first page from the magazine where there’s a large shape with a fairly well defined outline. This sample used the left side of a two-page spread showing a woman in a polka-dot dress.

Cut. Following that outline, cut out the shape.

Hack. Hack toward the center of the shape and cut out a circle (or other simple shape of your choice). Quickly cut the rest of the shape into three pieces.

Rearrange. Working quickly, make as many different arrangements as you can using the circle and the three other pieces deconstructed from the shape you cut out. I find it helps to give myself prompts like, “dancing animal”, “mythical creature” or “alien landscape.” Spend about 5 minutes making different arrangements.

Poodle Polka

Glue. When the timer goes off, glue your final arrangement into your sketch book.

Name it. Give this composition a name or title.

Cheats. Use fewer than the four pieces you cut out, if you like.

Running Basket

Or allow yourself to add one element to complete your final composition.

Derby Day — Headless
Derby Day — With Head

You can even cheat an take a quick digital photo of any arrangement that strikes your fancy (applique design? digital fabric? transfer element?…). But then keep moving the pieces around until the timer goes off.

Remember: The point is not to create the most beautiful composition ever made with four pieces of scrap paper. It’s to see how many compositions you can come up with in a short time. Do it, then move on to your other work, secure in the knowledge that you can play the game again tomorrow.

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