This Makes Me Want To Hide Under The Covers

  1. Finding out I didn’t follow the rules, and looking stupid because of it.
  2. Finding out I didn’t follow the rules, and someone’s feelings were hurt.
  3. Finding out I didn’t follow the rules, and being labeled “noncompliant.”
  4. Finding out I didn’t follow the rules, and that consequences are expensive.
  5. Finding out I didn’t follow the rules, and, on further study, still not understanding the rules.

For the most part, I get along pretty well with trial-and-error learning. I stopped minding the error part so much when I realized the errors teach me more than the trials. And I’m not averse to breaking rules. I do prefer to break them intentionally, rather than because of sheer ignorance and stupidity.

But this week has been a double-whammy of “what was I thinking?”

Exhibit A –The Art Deco Challenge
Spoonflower has a weekly fabric design contest. I enjoy the challenge of working to a theme, but don’t enter all that often. I’ve noticed, though, that fabrics entered in a contest seem more likely to show up in “Recent Trends” than companion fabrics with more views.

So I decided to test that theory in this week’s contest, which called for fabrics “inspired by” the Art Deco movement. Deco really isn’t my style, but I had a cool photo I took from the balcony of an Art Deco building in Minneapolis, where the shapes of uncovered banquet tables caught my eye. I transformed it into a 4-color 70’s style psychedelic (a 4-color palette was the other contest parameter). I fully expect “Psychedeco” to get the fewest votes in the contest, which is packed with fabulous entries.

I wasn’t surprised by the exchanges on the Spoonflower Flickr board about this contest, which mostly bemoaned the widespread lack of understanding about the differences between Deco and Art Nouveau. But when I read, “I’m not ok with entering just any design and labeling it Art Deco,” I had second, third, fourth and fifth thoughts about my experiment. I usually just ignore designs that don’t seem to fit with the theme. There are plenty of those. But it hadn’t occurred to me that my entry “inspired by” might be seen as something else, or how offended some of those hard-working designers might be by what I saw as an experiment.

Well, I can’t take it back but I can make sure it doesn’t happen again. I’ve learned a lot from the generous people who share on the Flickr board, and have no interest in making anyone feel disrespected.

Exhibit B — Email High Bounce Rate Suspension
Silly me. I guess I was wrong to think everyone I know should get an email from me at least every three months, even if I have nothing to announce that can’t be handled on my blog, on Facebook, on Google+, on Twitter, or possibly even face to face. But here’s what I learned from MailChimp:

ISPs and spam cop organizations, through their white listing programs, require systems such as ours to police bounce rates of 5% or less, complaint rates of 0.1% or less and unsubscribe rates of 1% or less per campaign sent.

I hate spam as much as the next person. Perhaps more, because our years on dial-up are still so fresh in my mind. But my “noncompliance” resulted in an account suspension. They very helpfully explained:

…you’ve probably got 6 months before the email address is bad, and maybe 3 months or so before their permission goes cold if the list isn’t receiving regular campaigns.

So apparently it’s more spammy to mail infrequently and have some bad addresses and less spammy to mail more frequently to keep a list up-to-date even if you don’t have news that might actually be of interest to the recipient. Sigh.

I have 10+ years of student contact information to go through, individually I guess, in order to become compliant. And frankly, I’m not sure how to remain compliant without becoming a too-frequent visitor to your inbox. And the “email list hygiene service” they suggest has a minimum project fee of $1000. Worth every penny, I’m sure. Also more than the Blue Book value of my car.

I’ll be pulling up my big girl pants this afternoon and making a decision on what to do about email announcements for things like upcoming eCourses. This is going to require chocolate, and maybe a nap.

That’s a quilt my grandma made. That’s a nice, soft pillowcase embroidered with a crocheted edging. Awfully inviting, isn’t it?

When you want to hide under the covers, what covers do you reach for?

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Breathing & Movement Warm-Ups Video

Last spring, I posted instructions on my other blog for one of the movements I got a ballroom full of people to do before my keynote address at the Missouri Art Education Association conference.

This week, I wanted to offer an expanded resource to those who attend my Creativity PhD lecture in Moorhead, Minnesota. So I’ve posted a short video on breathing and movement warm-ups on my You Tube Channel.

I almost didn’t post it because it’s so rough. But I’m trying to practice what I preach: Strive for fluency, but don’t wait for perfection.

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The Museum Of Mom & Dad

Spoiler Alert: Mom and Dad, do not open this post until Christmas.

The Museum of Mom & Dad will get a new acquisition on December 25. In a few years when I’m more skilled in the techniques used in the piece, I might wish to withdraw it from the collection. Fat chance. There are curators who won’t be swayed by any argument from an artist whose diapers they changed.

As for me, I’m the curator of the Aw Honey Collection. “Aw, honey,” is what my dad says when you open a gift he made (these are always wrapped in newspaper with duct tape): He points out any flaw, however slight. I’m proud to display work he might wish to withdraw, so turnabout is fair play.

The important lesson I learned from my dad is to give those gifts despite their imperfections, and go make more.

So they’ll be unwrapping a quilted table runner on Christmas. Yes, I did more simple piecing — a time line border made from inkjet fabric I printed with satellite images of places my parents have lived.

I used free-motion quilting on this piece to echo the contours of the terrain on the farm pieces. I’d never done free-motion stitching, so before starting this project I practiced on another one — a quilted bottle carrier for my husband’s homebrew.

 The stitching on the runner is far from perfect, as you can clearly see on the back side.

Perfection is a worthy goal, but not a realistic one for this piece. For this piece, the goal was to make my dad put on his glasses to see where there are now grain bins on the farms, and for my mom to show her friends what their current home looks like from space.

Don’t you suppose that people whose work is technically perfect, artistically brilliant, coveted by collectors and collected by museums start out in the Museum of Mom & Dad? Wouldn’t you love to see an exhibition of Stuff They Wish Their Folks Wouldn’t Drag The Neighbors In To See?

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Piecing, Harmony, And The Comfort Zone

There’s a tricky balance between a) pushing yourself outside your current comfort zone and b) having everything fall apart. I’ve been testing that balance for the past year. I call it my Year of Living Dangerously or YOLD. At times it seems like I’m dancing down a yellow brick road, and at other times like I’m asleep in a field of poppies. Welcome to Oz, where I’m about to tear away the curtain and reveal the reality behind one of my artistic fears. I hope this story helps you find courage, too (or at least a medal that says “Courage”), and a nudge to explore the boundaries of your own comfort zone.

This year marked my 10th anniversary as a full-time, self-employed fiber artist. Ten years in, it’s reasonable to expect some things to change. Challenging economic conditions effect what people are able to spend on workshops. Social media that didn’t exist a decade ago has altered the way information is exchanged. And technology presents new opportunities inside the studio and outside it.

So a little over a year ago, I made a list of objectives for my YOLD. It included some stuff that was especially scary for someone who, at that time, was still on dial-up and had never seen a Facebook page. Except for “post something on You Tube,” I’ve done pretty well with that list and my comfort zone in the digital world is much greater than it was a year ago.

To balance all the time I knew I would be spending at the computer, another major category of YOLD objectives was to spend time working with my hands in unfamiliar ways. I took a one-day blacksmithing class. I bought a spinning wheel and took a 5-day spinning workshop. I’ve been making friends with my sewing machine.

And this week (drum roll please), I made a pieced table runner. That may have been the scariest task of all.

Table runner made with 3 of my Spoonflower fabric designs

Maybe piecing isn’t scary for you, but I’ve successfully resisted it for half a century. I love when other people cut perfectly good fabric into small bits and sew it together again. But I got the idea at an early age (might have been 7th grade home ec) that my seams would never be straight enough. That my measuring and cutting would never be accurate enough. That I am lacking the precision gene it takes to piece.(Ahem. This is the scary personal revelation.) That my piecing might not be perfect. And if it can’t be perfect, why try in the first place?

When I recognize this kind of fear in a student, I pull up my Gentle, Supportive Instructor pants and together we get past the field of poppies. When it’s only Me, Myself and I, I just blows it off. It’s not like there aren’t plenty of other things I could do besides piecing. But this time, Me and Myself got together to chant, “It doesn’t have to be perfect.” It wasn’t three-part harmony, but it worked.

Quite frankly, a couple of pieced table runners isn’t going to send my work in a new direction any more than a blacksmithing class did. So what’s the point?

The point is, I pushed the boundaries of my comfort zone, which is more limited by perfectionism than anything else. I made something that wasn’t perfect, and learned from it. My comfort zone is now a bit larger. And when the next big challenge comes in my other work, I’ll remember that courage isn’t the absence of fear but the willingness to take a risk anyway.

So what’s at the edges of your comfort zone?

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Willow Trellises — Functional And Fun

Despite the snow cover that greeted us yesterday morning, spring has come to northern Wisconsin. And while I still have some willow that needs to be cut, I’ve finished the harvest of my best stuff and done all the sorting I plan to do. It’s time for the payoff — weaving a few willow trellises for my gardens.

My gardens are not showplaces, so I make whimsical trellises to distract from the general weediness and chaos in summer and bleakness in winter. Trellises also provide structure and support for plants. And because the rabbits and deer are bold as brass, I use willow trellises to make it harder for them to nibble.

Here’s a peek at the process I use to make things like this Scarlett O’Trellis, photographed back when the roses were in bloom.

The Pizza Box Jig. Jigs are simple tools that make a task easier. For weaving these 3D trellises, I use a jig made from a five gallon bucket and a pizza box set on top. I’ve made these trellises by sticking the willow right into the dirt, but you have to keep moving around and around as you weave. With the jig, you just rotate the bucket. Before I begin, I poke holes that go through both the top and bottom layers of the pizza box for four stakes that will be poked into the ground when I put the trellis in the garden. I poke the rest of the holes through just the top of the box.

Raise The Stakes. Insert heavy willow rods into the holes in the pizza box and tie them loosely near the tips to keep them from flopping around until you get some weaving in place. 

Wale On It. The willow used for weaving (or waling, in this case) needs to be smaller in diameter than the willow used in the stakes. For trellises, I use a slapdash version of 3 rod wale, a very strong triple-twining technique. And I break all kinds of rules that make darn good sense when you’re making baskets. It’s going into the garden. I probably won’t take it up for winter. It’s going to end up in the compost pile in a few years. And in the meantime, birds are going to decorate it with you-know-what. If it holds together well enough to suit me, it’s fine.

Anyway, I weave several rows of 3 rod wale at the bottom. I add rods as needed, and (basketmakers are fainting here) don’t up at the end of the row or do anything to make sure the weave is level. The birds won’t care.

Up, Up And Away. When I have enough waling at the bottom that the rods stay where I want them, I start spiraling up. Since I’ve broken so many rules already, I stay with the program on the spiral. Where I add weavers, if it looks like a butt wants to stick out unattractively, I use a willow binder to make it behave.

Finish. Sometimes I put on a trac border, like in this compost catcher — a bottomless basket that moves around the garden as needed so I can toss in stuff as I weed. Other times I just trim the stakes above the weaving and call it good. And sometimes I add elements to create figurative trellises.

Woven Components. To make woven components, I use some of the dry frames I made last year (read the Doodling With Willow post for more on those). I’ll use the butt end of a piece of fresh willow as the center rib, then use the other end to lash it to the frame and start weaving. On the other end, I repeat the process, sticking the cut end of the butt into the weave on the opposite side. Here’s the story in pictures.

Notice the long willow sticking out from that central rib? That’s what I use to help lash the component into place. If I’m doing a figurative trellis, for example, that’s the neck. If the component is really large, I might add some ribs. But since this isn’t going to bear any weight, I’m pretty cavalier about the technique.

This is one of my Scarlett O’Trellises on a day last winter when it seemed that spring would never come. You can’t really see all the construction details, so let me just simplify the idea with a couple of words: Whatever works.
 
Use the skills you have or whatever you can find in a book, and make up the rest. It doesn’t have to be perfect, so don’t worry about whether it’s “right.” On my first figurative trellis, I wasn’t quite sure how to make the arms. So I made up something. Over time, the fresh willow dried and shrunk. That trellis was right outside the dining room window, and I loved watching those arms wobble in the wind and every time a bird perched there.

That trellis finally went on the compost pile last year. Those arms came off and she was neither a Scarlett O’Trellis nor a Venus d’Trellis. Now she’s just a memory. And she still makes me smile.

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Doodling With Willow

TGIF. Picture me patting myself on the back (we’ll call that stretching), and knocking back a couple of aspirin. This week my to-do list got shorter and the pile of harvested and sorted willow got deeper. The reward for all this industry is giving myself some time to doodle with willow just for fun.

The material I use for doodling comes from the pile of branchy and really curvy stuff I keep off to the side as I sort the harvest. When I need a break from other tasks, I grab pieces from that pile and start bending simple frames that I secure with electrical cable ties and hang in the window to dry. With a dry frame, it’s easier to hold a shape and avoid kinks. This trick, along with most of what I know about willow, I learned from Jo Campbell-Amsler, who taught the first class I ever took at Sievers back in, I think, 1994. 

I’ll talk more about how I use the dry frames in my willow trellises in my next post. Today is about doodling.

In willow doodling, I’m not trying to make anything specific. I just pick up a branchy piece of willow and start going over/under/over/under. I may bind pieces together or spread things apart and add ribs to support more weaving. If things kink, no big deal: I’m using willow from the junk pile.

 
Sure, this looks like a leaf to you. But the way it landed when I tossed it on the table looked like a shapely leg. I’ll make another one later and play around with some ideas for the rest of the parts for a two-dimensional zaftig lady trellis. Think of this as Frankentrellising. It’s how I come up with things like the willow witch and her withie familiar who haunt my studio at Halloween.

Really, the process is no different that what an embroiderer does with a doodle cloth, or what a surface designer does with a scrap of fabric used for cleaning brushes, or what a quilter does with scraps cut off while squaring up… Shall I go on?

Willow isn’t my primary material. Hasn’t been for a long time. But I have enough fluency with the material and techniques that I can doodle without overthinking. There isn’t a “value” associated with what I make with willow. My trellises go outside. Birds sit on them, and what happens next is as good a cure for perfectionism as anything. What also happens is I start to see connections between my willow doodles and my other work. Really, couldn’t I translate that leaf/leg into needleweaving?

Creativity researchers call this divergent thinking. Having a label for it doesn’t make willow doodling any less fun.

So what’s your go-to fiber for doodling?

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What I Meant To Say

Perfection is like a one-ton truck. We want to hop on and go for a ride but we’re afraid of getting caught under the wheels.

There’s nothing quite so crushing as the self-imposed expectation that our work should be perfect within five minutes of a first attempt. It’s surprising how many people hold themselves to impossibly high standards, or never try something at all for fear of not measuring up. In workshops, I try to counterbalance that kind of thinking with lots of encouragement to just try, it doesn’t have to be perfect, see what happens, etc., etc. Sometimes it’s a little like the pot calling the kettle black, but that’s my job and I love it.

One might get the impression, though, that I don’t give technical virtuosity its just due, which is not the case. I’ve been working on how to express in elegant simplicity that virtuosity is a worthy goal but one not generally achieved in the space of a few hours. And that it’s not achieved at all without effort. And effort can be its own reward. And effort can be fun.

That script needs a lot of work.

In the meantime, Kevin Rothermel makes some good points in this post on Perfection and moving on from the 20th Century Anomaly.

…our survival as a species largely has depended on our ability to be imperfect. We are problem solvers. And our brain rewards us for mastering new problems. We have been set up by evolution to be generalists who are rewarded for becoming more and more so. Imperfection is our game. And we’re really good at it.

Perfection by it’s nature is boring. It implies conforming to an already established convention. We can’t learn anything new from something that is perfect, and learning something new is what our brains thrive on and reward us for. Once we’ve memorized a pattern, our brains no longer provide that jolt of dopamine that it did the first time we learned that pattern…

So I’m off to the studio for a jolt of dopamine. And just in case you’re wondering, the photo above is of my dad and my Aunt Sue, and Perfection really was the name on the truck.

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5 Ways To Be More Productive

A while back I agreed to do something that’s been making me a little crazy. Earlier this week, I worked through a 5-step plan that helped me fight the panic. Yesterday I outlined a doable plan for meeting my goal. I know what I need to get done. Now I just need to make sure I stay at my most productive until I meet this goal. Here’s what I know I have to do.

  1. Set Intentional Limits. My normal strategy would be to work on this project every waking hour (and most of the sleeping ones) until the deadline. Picture my fingers bleeding on the thread and frozen pizza for supper every night. It works, but frankly I’m tired of this approach. This time, I’m setting a limit on the hours I’ll spend on this project each day, and taking one day a week where I don’t touch this work. At all.
  2. Permission To Play. Up to now, I’ve had Christmas gifts to work on in the evenings. Here’s how I plan to get around #1 now: When I’ve exhausted my time budget, I give myself permission to play for a couple of hours in the evening on stuff that may be related to the work I’m doing to meet my goal but not earmarked for any outcome. If a play piece turns out better than the “real thing,” I can substitute. But that’s not my intention. I just need to know I have an outlet for any wild ideas that crop up as I’m working.
  3. Warm Up Each Morning. I’ve set aside 15 minutes each morning for creativity exercises to get me revved up and ready to be productive. I’m posting some of these at my other blog, Compost and Creativity.
  4. Unplug. To meet this goal, my hands need to stay busy. But most things are worked out in my head. I need to be able to hear the voices (please don’t send the guys in the white coats to get me). So for at least part of every day, I have to turn off the CDs, the radio and the MP3 player, ignore the phone, stay away from the computer. I need to be paying attention.
  5. Go To Bed. I have a reasonable plan for meeting my goals that can be achieved in the time available. I’ll be more productive if I’m rested. I’ll be less crabby if I’m rested. I might even be more realistic in my critiques if I’m rested.

That’s it. I’m calmer, I have a master plan that’s doable, and a productivity plan to guide me through the days ahead. I’m back to work after my holiday stall, feeling much better about the way this year is ending, and excited about moving ahead. OK, so I broke #1 last night — but I’m really happy with the way the piece is shaping up!

I hope the New Year brings you wonderful adventures and challenges you enjoy. Will you share how you plan to stay productive to meet those challenges? Just hit the comment button.

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7 Steps To Doable

A while back I agreed to do something that’s been making me a little crazy. Yesterday I worked through a 5-step plan to help me curb some of the irrational fears taking up space in my head. Then before I headed to the studio, I spent a few minutes thinking about a doable plan for meeting this goal. For a listmaker like me, you’d think that would take more than a few minutes, right? But it’s really just seven simple steps.

  1. State The Goal. Putting it in writing makes you more likely to frame it in terms that are realistic and attainable.
  2. Define Success. You get to choose how you define success. The only rule is, your definition must be based on terms that are reasonably within your control. Set A Budget. This may be stated in terms of time or materials rather than money. You have limited resources. What are they?
  3. Channel Perfectionist Tendencies. Even if perfectionism isn’t your curse most of the time, certain situations can raise this specter in any artist. If you can’t fix it, feature it. Pick one small thing you can make perfect, and allow yourself a reasonable amount of time to make it so.
  4. Schedule Critiques. Allow a healthy amount of evaluation as you work, but defer criticism to scheduled times. Don’t let it pull your focus away from the your work the rest of the time.
  5. Make A Simple Master Plan. Make an outline that can be revised quickly as needed. Perfectionists tend to make detailed lists to allay the fear that something important might fall through the cracks. But when we make the plan too complicated, it’s actually easier to overlook those important elements. KISS.
  6. Negotiate Changes. You can’t have everything, and changes are going to cost you. If it’s worth it, fine. But decide what you’ll give up in return.

Tomorrow, I’ll share my own personal productivity plan for this project. I might have to cheat a little bit, but hey, they’re my rules so I can break them.

In the meantime, what works for you? Hit the comment button to share.

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A 5-Step Plan For Fighting Panic

“Panic is what fills your head if there’s nothing more productive going on up there.” That’s what a friend used to tell students when we taught whitewater canoeing. Our job, he would say, is to give them something more useful to think about.

I decided months ago to brave some metaphoric rapids. Now the deadline is closing in, and I’m getting nervous. I don’t have time for a full-blown linear panic. Instead, I’ll make do with this 5-step plan for fighting my fears. Here’s how it works:

  1. What’s the Worst That Could Happen? List 20 possible consequences. No shortcuts. With fewer, you don’t get to the really scary stuff like “Everyone will see I’m a complete fraud,” “I’ll end up alone and penniless,” and “Even the dog will hate me.”
  2. Work Backwards. We taught whitewater students to “read” rapids from the bottom up. In other words, starting with the swim you have to make if things go wrong. On the international scale of difficulty, the situation I’ve put myself into is about a Class III. Challenging but survivable. Write a description of the situation, starting with the Possible End Result and working backwards or upstream to where you are now, the Brink of Utter Doom.
  3.  How Well Are You Prepared? What five skills or characteristics prepare you to meet most of the challenges ahead? Come on. You’ve done harder things than this. Use that knowledge.
  4. Plan To Hit Some Rocks. It’s not possible to miss all obstacles. Therefore, it may be necessary to choose which ones you’re going to bang into. List five “rocks” you could hit that might leave some dents in your ego but allow you to keep moving toward your goal. Practice saying, “I meant to do that.”
  5. Break It Down Into Doable Parts. Once you stem the flow of panic, you can start to see this Big Scary Situation as several connected Small Anxious Moments. In whitewater canoeing, downhill skiing and some other situations, you would target safe places where you can stop and reassess your approach to the next area. We’ll talk more about that tomorrow.

In the meantime, what to you do to fight your fears? Hit the comment button to share.

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