Please hold

Mal | Here and Now,Prosaic | Friday, July 31st, 2009

LA Skyline

I dream a lot. I do more painting when I’m not painting. It’s in the subconscious.

(Andrew Wyeth)

I hate this. I have scheduled my first license exam for 8/10. I don’t really think I will pass it this first time, but at least it gives me a deadline to cram towards.

Unfortunately, it means that I have to put a stop to all creative/artistic work for the next 2 weeks. I can’t sew the beads on the ice cream. I can’t cut out shapes for my next 3 journal quilts (already planned and sketched out). I really shouldn’t even be photographing or blogging.

I guess I’ll just have to reframe this time as an incubation — a preparation for the deluge of work that is certain to come after I finish these stupid exams.

What about you? Are you incubating anything right now? Or are you actively harvesting?

On bodies, fragility, and journaling

Mal | Art Journal,Media,Paper | Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

Bodies are Fragile

It’s been a bit of a rough patch at work. I know that this kind of thing is to be expected when you work at a hospital or hospice. (PS: “This kind of thing” is death and, whether we like to talk about it or not, death is to be expected for all of us.)

Mort

One of the things I like best about my job is that it keeps me constantly aware of the brevity of life, the preciousness of every day, and the power of human connection. I process these big emotions in my art journal, as always. The image above was done in the subway on my way home from work one evening last week.

Am I hungry?

Bodies and health have been much on my mind recently, and not just because of work. I’m trying to return to better eating habits and nutrition (you may recall), so naturally these themes are showing up in my journals, too.

The plateau

It is my life’s struggle to explore my relationship to food and its effects (positive and negative) on my body. This image was made as I contemplated last year’s dramatic and successful loss of 80 pounds, and post-medical-crisis plateau in weight. There I stand, a little figure on the precipice of the plateau, wondering how to jump off into the next phase of health.

Just begin

Thankfully, my journal often reveals answers when I ask it questions.

What about you? Do you journal?

Journal Quilt: Ice Cream for Dinner

Mal | Art Journal,Finished Projects,Handmade,Media,Quilting,Sewing | Monday, July 27th, 2009

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One of the personal issues I have dealt with over the years is a form of disordered eating. These struggles become pronounced whenever I have extended or intensified contact with my family, as I’ve had recently.

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I’m happy to say that although I’ve mostly been able to get my binge-eating under control, I still slip into patterns of unhealthy eating choices when faced with stress. I eat out, neglect proper nutrition, and generally choose convenience and comfort over actual self-care.

Journal Quilt Inspiration

My recent indulgence has been a treat from Cold Stone Creamery. Unfortunately, the “Ice Cream Dinner” became all too common in these past few weeks, as I compulsively ordered and ate “Founder’s Favorite with chocolate base, please add marshmallows and could I get that in a sprinkle bowl?”

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When I needed to turn this ship around, I started to journal about it. I journal about everything that is on my mind, and this was definitely something that I needed to explore.

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And, in fact, one evening this week, rather than engage in the behavior, I decided to make a journal quilt about it instead. This is also my submission for this week’s Mini Quilt Monday.

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I used Dale Fleming’s pieced circle technique for the first time, and found that it worked perfectly for this purpose.

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I even pieced the fabric of the “waffle” to represent the waviness of that crunchy bowl of artery-clogging death.

Journal Quilt: Ice Cream for Dinner

At least making this quilt kept me from actually having an Ice Cream Dinner for a few nights. Maybe I can finally put this bad habit to bed.

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I still haven’t attached the beads to represent the sprinkles. What do you think? Beads? No beads?

 

Band sampler: Chain stitch

Mal | Band Sampler,Handmade,Media,Sewing,Stitching,Works in Progress | Friday, July 24th, 2009

Band Sampler: Chain Stitch

I picked up my band sampler again last week, and scanned the list of embroidery stitches I intend to learn and/or practice. Not to be all emo-14-year-old, but the chain stitch jumped out at me as a nice way to reflect the experience of the past month.

Band sampler: Chain stitch (closeup)

I free-handed the text and stitched it on the subway to and from work for a few days using Sharon B‘s hand-dyed mulberry silk. The variagation is so vivid! I really enjoyed the process.

Band sampler: Chain stitch close-up

I was surprised at how well the chain stitch handled curves, but a little disappointed in starts-and-stops. Still, I got good practice with it.

If you’re interested in giving chain stitch a try, here are some good tutorials:

What to do: Get into the Flow

Mal | Art Process and Creativity | Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

Colored wall

I recently reviewed Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book, Flow, the Psychology of Optimal Experience. In it, Dr. Csikszentmihalyi describes what he calls “optimal experience” — being so involved in an activity that you lose sense of time, place, and self. Others call it the Zone. For most of us creative types, I think this flow experience is what keeps us coming back and back and back to our projects.

But, flow as described in the book is not just “having a nice time.” It is a powerful force, and can contribute to better mental health, greater individual complexity, and growth.

Following a flow experience, the organization of the self is more complex than it had been before. It is by becoming increasingly complex that the self might be said to grow. Complexity is the result of two broad psychological processes: differentiation and integration. Differentiation implies a movement toward uniqueness, toward separating oneself from others. Integration refers to its opposite: a union with other people, with ideas and entities beyond the self. A complex self is one that succeeds in combining these opposite tendencies. (page 41)

Csikszentmihalyi outlines the elements of a flow experience — the requirements or steps that must be taken in order to achieve it. Based on his research, flow is broken down into 8 components:

  1. A challenging activity that requires skill but is achievable.
  2. The merging of action and awareness.
  3. Clear goals.
  4. Immediate feedback.
  5. Concentration on the task at hand (which “removes from awareness the worries and frustrations of everyday life).
  6. A sense of control over your actions.
  7. Loss of self-consciousness.
  8. Transformation of time.

The combination of all these elements causes a sense of deep enjoyment that is so rewarding people feel that expending a great deal of energy is worthwhile simply to be able to feel it. (page 49)

It seems to me that items 1-6 are at least somewhat in our control, and are elements that we can manipulate and employ in the service of achieving flow, while items 7-8 are really measures of the flow experience. They are indicators that we have achieved flow.

Utilizing these principles, I’ve been able to make deeper and more powerful connections to everything from my artwork and writing to watching sports with friends and enjoying a concert from a performer whose music I didn’t know.

I’ll spend some time over the next few weeks talking about some of these elements in more detail, but for now maybe we can take some time to consider the importance of goals, feedback, and internal locus of control can be on our enjoyment of activities. These elements are fairly inherent in art-making of all kinds. In some ways, we are lucky to have such a powerful tool for growth and change at our fingertips.

What about you? Please share with us — when did you last experience flow? What were you doing? How did it feel?

iPhone “Brushes”

Mal | Art Process and Creativity | Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

I don’t own an iPhone. Like most outsiders, I occasionally have envy, but perhaps never so much as I do after hearing about  an iPhone application called Brushes —software for digital paintings that can be made at any moment on your tiny screen.

There is a flickr group dedicated to the images, and the application has received a lot of attention lately because the latest cover of New Yorker magazine was painted on it — using nothing more than an expensive gadget and a fingertip.

Predictably, “fine artists” are balking. The age-old question, “But, is it art? is being ponged around the globe. I used to have an art therapy professor who insisted that if you didn’t get messy making it, it wasn’t art.

But I disagree.

What do I like about the idea of Brushes? A few things, all of which are in the service of (hopefully) getting more people to do more art:

  1. It’s portable. You can always have it with you, unlike your fancy easel, your sewing machine, or your favorite buzzsaw.
  2. It’s small, which means that you are more likely to finish what you start.
  3. It has an undo function, which creates an illusion of safety in risk-taking and may encourage experimentation.
  4. A special viewer allows you to replay your painting, stroke by stroke, which is a neat way to honor, reflect on, and celebrate artistic process.

Weekly Roundup

Mal | Resources,Roundup | Sunday, July 19th, 2009

Stats Spike

This was the look of my stats counter a few weeks ago after someone on StumbledUpon and rated one of my posts. It’s quite incredible to go from a few hundred hits a day to a few thousand. Beyond that, though, every time I would see this spike — the visual representation of a sudden and dramatic increase in activity — it felt like a metaphor for my emotional life. Between visiting my parents’ house, relationship stuff, and work politics drama, you may remember that I was pretty maxed out.

Fortunately, I’ve come back down to earth. My psychic energy has been freed up and I am back to working on creative projects and relationship-building in my free time.

News

I was honored to be featured on WhipUp.net for my fabric folding tutorial. Hope people get mileage out of it! It definitely saved us at my mom’s house, and now I’ve folded all of the fabric that I “inherited” from her stash and put it into my own system. I guess it’s time for photos of my new studio work corner. Stay tuned.

I also had a photo highlighted over on the Sew, Mama, Sew! blog. Thanks, ladies! I’m a long-time fan of the Mamas.

Comments You Should Read

Its been a while since we featured comments, but there have certainly been some great ones!

Great reader contributions on my review of Mihaly Csziksentmihalyi’s book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.

Mal, Interesting commentary. I find that for me, being in the “zone” makes me a more relaxed and happier person. And that the creativity seems to unintensionally spill over into other areas of my life. And I absolutely agree that while sometimes creativity is spilling over (I call it having itchy fingers that just want to sew), other times I have to sit down and make myself sew and the next thing I know I’m there, (or in a place that leads me “there”).

Shelly of Shelly’s Quilts

I’ve always found that the first step to “getting into the flow” is just DOING something. For me, it translates to a natural progression of ideas and work and then i DO forget all else. This also happens on the rare occasion that Greyman and i take off for a weekend—-when we are in the moment in the wild of the mountains, our separate ” lives” disappear except for the exact minutes we are there—we have even forgotten about our “babies” for awhile (the cats :}). I have done that at work also while arranging flowers!

There is a very refreshing feeling to this when it happens and it happens often enough that i am taking great joy in my/our life for the first time in years.

Arlee of Albedo Design Journal

On the entry about organizing things in rainbow order, lots of fellow color-organization ”freaks” came out to comment!

Mr. BIV lives at my house, too, esp. in Fabric Land. I have warm colors (ROY) each in their own containers but all next to one another. I have cool colors (G. BIV) same situation. Then a container each for White/Cream, Beige/Tan, Gray/Black. A zipper bag of fabrics which can represent soil (White Sand to Black Clay).

My “theme” fabrics are in their own containers: Food, Quilts of Valor (lots of donated fabric here; I don’t want to mingle it with my own), Reproduction (19th c. vs. 1930s), Holidays, Cats, Dogs, Bounty (harvest related), Tea/Coffee, Critters (mostly fish and birds, but some juvie lizard prints, too), Batiks, Hand Dyed, and Bright Multi-Colored What Color Is It Really? (one container). Probably missed a couple, but you get the idea….

I like the fruit color sorted, though I haven’t done it yet–it looks very cheerful!

Cynthia, no blog (but great reader/commenter!)

Interesting comments, too, when I shared about The Intervention —sorting through and purging my mom’s hoarded fabric stash.

That’s inspiring- seeing all the pretty organized colors, purging, admitting there is a problem, but I can also imagine the daunting feeling hanging over something like that to even get started.

I have the fabric I have because my aunt has brown boxes filling her garage. Luckily though, when I said I was taking a class and needed some- all my aunts opened their doors. I’m working really hard on making things with what I have before accumulating anything more. I only buy something if I cannot in any way substitute something I already have.

Thank you so much for the organization inspiration, congratulations on all the hard work you’ve accomplished so far and definitely sending positivity to you for the future goals.

Liz of Chunk of Cheddar

There were some fun declarations of independence on the giveaway contest a few weeks ago. I encourage you to read them all! Here’s a sample:

I declare my independence today from worrying about the future, it’s a waste of time.

Deborah (no blog)

I declare my independence from procrastination! I’m taking care of some pesky details instead of letting them cause me to fret.

Courtney of Woodland School

I am declaring my independence from thinking I have to do everything without asking for any help.

Patty (no blog)

Finally, some good thoughts arose from my post about video games and creativity (constructive vs. destructive freetime pursuits).

I absolutely believe there is something healing in using our creativity. About a year ago, I went through a bout of depression after losing my job (and the circumstances surrounding it). I did nothing but read, losing myself in imaginary worlds. I read 23 books in two weeks. I couldn’t focus, couldn’t sew, couldn’t make decisions. I finally realized that I had to make myself do something to break the cycle. I chose to design and sew a complicated quilt block. I wanted to do something that required focus and attention to detail, but had no consequences if I failed. I credit that quilt block with starting me back to health. I named it Anxiety. Shortly after that I designed an entire quilt, followed by a couple more. I found a new job, and while things could be better, I also know they could be a LOT worse. I feel my best when I’m working – being creative in some form, even if it’s just figure out a software program at work. It’s when I stop sewing at home that I feel myself sinking again. So… gotta get sewing!

Sandi of Piecemeal Quilts

Good Reads Around Blogland

I’m really behind on my blog rounds, but here are a few things I’ve been reading lately.

Fashion Origami

Mal | Art Therapy,Paper | Tuesday, July 14th, 2009

Origami date

One of the benefits of my job as an art therapist is that even when my personal life is crazy and I don’t carve out time for creativity in my off-hours, I’m required to be creative from day-to-day in my professional life.

When I found a “Fashion Origami” kit on sale for $1.50 at Urban Outfitters, I snapped it up. Origami is a project which, although there may be low potential for emotional expression, is a good rapport-builder and ice-breaker. Particularly in the hospital, where patients don’t have a lot of energy, they can do a little folding project on their lap and feel a sense of accomplishment.

Origami bra

Naturally, the first project I folded from the book was a paper bra. I had to learn this one first. Do you have any idea how many teen boys are on my caseload?

Mr Herman. Paging Mr. Herman

After I folded the grey suit, I couldn’t help but fold a red tie to go with it.Mr. Herman. Paging Mr. Herman! Mr. Herman, you have a telephone call at the front desk.“ It should be a bow tie, but still.

Origami Stiletto

I (and all my staff) have had a hard time deciphering the instructions for the stiletto shoe, but here we have found a reasonable alternative. It still stands on its own and opens up where the foot should go. That’s good enough for me! Creative problem solving at its finest.

Origami Bra

Therapy theories accordian book

Mal | Art Therapy | Monday, July 13th, 2009

Old homework assignment

I’m now deep into studying for my state psychotherapy licensure exams. Last week, I came across a homework assignment I had done while in grad school to compare/contrast two different psychotherapeutic theories. I had chosen Solution-Focused Therapy and Object Relations Therapy. I guess I’m always interested in exploring the farthest ends of any spectrum…

Homework book

At the time, I was doing a lot of professional bookbinding work (including teaching classes and taking commissions) so a lot of my homework assignments in my art therapy program ended up taking the form of books.

Homework book

This is a double accordian book, like the one you see here. The red strip in the center can be easily removed and displayed on its own, which is one of the advantages of this type of binding. Opening the book from one end shows the first collage, and opening from the other end shows the second. It’s neat the way the concepts interplay with each other with this type of book.

Homework book

It was really fun to dig through my collage boxes for images to represent different psychological and psychotherapeutic constructs. The one on the right (the baby with the receding hairline and moustache) is to represent introjection. Don’t think I’ll miss that question on the exam!

Book review: Flow (4.5/5)

Mal | Art Process and Creativity,Resources,Reviews | Saturday, July 11th, 2009

flow

 ★★★★½ 

Introduction

In addition to having the most unpronounce-able name in all of western psychology, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is also one of the most prominent “positive psychology” theorists and researchers around. It’s no surprise that his book, Flow: The psychology of optimal experience, describes the “state of concentration so focused that it amounts to absolute absorption in the activity.” What might surprise you is Csikszentmihalyi’s claim that flow (optimal experience) is not elusive or mysterious, that it doesn’t just come and go at random. Rather, he asserts that flow can be cultivated, courted, and put to use in our self-development.

I’ve chosen to re-read and review this book because I think that so many of us art-makers have experienced flow, and could benefit from Csikszentmihalyi’s ideas about how to create it and experience it more often.

I’ll cover some of the book’s content below, but you can skip directly to my opinion if you prefer.

(Read on for more…)

Tutorial: Folding Fabric

Mal | Home,Media,Organizing,Sewing | Thursday, July 9th, 2009

Fabric progress

Several people have asked about the techniques we used when cleaning out my mom’s fabric stash last week. There are of course many ways to purge, sort, and organize fabric, which I’ll write about later. But first, I wanted to address questions about the folding station and the folding method we used.

Studio Corner Sneak Peek

It’s the same method I’ve been using as I’ve been sorting and organizing fabric in my own apartment. Here you see an in-progress picture of my new studio corner with stacks of uniformly-folded fabric. This is a method I first read about from Monica, the Happy Zombie and later from Marilyn Bohn’s video.

Tutorial: fabric folding

Of course there are other ways, but this is the cheap, easy, quick one that works for me. The goal is to end up with a stack of fabric that is uniformly folded — the same length and width.

Tutorial: fabric folding

The height of each folded piece varies according to how much yardage you have to begin with.

(Read on for more…)

Mr. Roy G. Biv

Mal | Art Process and Creativity,Color study | Wednesday, July 8th, 2009

Rainbow fruit

Maybe it’s odd, but I love to organize things in rainbow order. Actually, I’d consider it a kind of coping mechanism. When I get really stressed, something about that old ROYGBIV just soothes me.

When I was little, I would sort everything from t-shirts to pencils to food in this color order. I would line up candies in a spectrum row before I would eat them. M&M’s and Skittles frustrated me because they didn’t have all the right colors. Now that I’m older, I don’t have time to be quite so obsessive about it, but most of my art supplies and clothes are still sorted this way.

Am I the only one?

The Intervention

Mal | Color study,Here and Now,Home,Organizing,Simplicity | Monday, July 6th, 2009

Mom's kits

I’ve written about my mom and her fabric “collecting” in the past. Recently, she asked us for help in creating a functional sewing room in her basement, including purging the fabric she doesn’t intend to use. Naturally, I made arrangements to take time off of work and be there with my sisters.

Fabrics in their natural state

Although she has hoarded for many years, she has never actively sought help, so I was both nervous and relieved as I made the long drive to my parents’ house. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’m going to spare you some of the details here, but…

Beginning of Day 2

At the end of Day 1, we were all feeling pretty good about the progress we’d made. Then, after she went to bed, we found a few more of her hidden stashes and uncovered more than twice the amount of fabric than what we had sorted and folded during the entire first day. Let’s just say the task felt pretty daunting at that point.

Folding station

Here’s a folding station. The task of sorting and shelving was pretty monumental, and at any time during the weekend, we had 3 folding stations going at once. I’ll probably put up a tutorial on the folding process, since it’s what I am using to stay organized in my apartment, too.

Mostly, my siblings and niece worked at the folding tables, while I sat knee-to-knee with my mom and talked her through everything. (This is a downside of being a therapist, I guess — when no one else can handle the talking, it falls to you.)

Sorting with mom

I literally spent 3 days handing her fabric, talking her through each stack, and carrying it to her shelves or the giveaway pile. It’s important to note that we went through the entire collection 3 times, each time purging more, until everything she wanted to keep would fit onto the massive shelves.

Bags of fabric

Here’s one of my macho brothers hefting industrial-sized trash bags of fabric out of the house. We estimate that these bags each weighed around 150 pounds, and we filled about 5 of them.

Filled shelves

This is what she was left with at the end of the weekend. It doesn’t account for all of her flannels and other fabrics; we didn’t sort through her books/magazines/patterns; we collected all of her in-progress projects into one place but didn’t get them really put away; and we haven’t even touched her batting and notions. Oh, well. It was a good start.

Pinks, Reds, Yellows

The shelves look nice, but little empty spaces like the one you see above make me very nervous. I hope she doesn’t go out and binge on red-and-white fabrics just because there is room left in that stack. Although we did a good job of clearing things out this weekend, I think we all realize that we are a long way from resolving the underlying behaviors.

Closer up on shelves

Still, I hope she feels as clear-headed and inspired by looking at these shelves as I do when I look at the photos. I love my mom, and I’d do just about anything I could to help foster her creativity and peace of mind.

Independence Day Giveaway

Mal | Give-aways | Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

 Patriotic Fabrics

I have just returned from my parents’ house where we touched, folded, sorted, and discarded thousands of pieces of fabric. Maybe tens of thousands? Hundreds of thousands? I don’t know. It was a lot. We are slowly working through my mother’s hoarded stash and trying to create a functional sewing room for her. I think we removed around 800 pounds of fabric from the house and we still have more to go.

There are several patriotic-themed quilt stores near my mom’s house, and having easy access to cute red, white, and blue fabrics has driven her into the belief that she needs to be making patriotic quilts. I guess were all guilty of being influenced by marketing. I am a sucker for new drawing pens, myself. But, I don’t relate to the need for projects that are designed to be used only a few days a year. My apartment is too darn small to be storing Christmas quilts, Halloween wreaths, or any of a number of other holiday-related items. I only have room for things that I’ll be using year-round.

In that light, I am giving away some of my mom’s patriotic fabric stash. The giveaway may or may not include the fabrics shown above — I honestly can’t remember at what point in the process that photo was taken. We may have kept all of these, or discarded them all. Rest assured, the winner(s) of this giveaway will receive very cute American-patriotic themed fabrics. I just haven’t pulled them out of my car to snap a photo, yet.

To enter, you must declare your independence from something today. Earn points in the giveaway by:

  1. Leaving a comment on this entry telling us what you are declaring your independence from. This is the easiest way to win a point, so do it right now!
  2. Posting about this giveaway (and your declaration of independence) on your blog. Please post a comment on this post with a link to your blog entry.
  3. Declare your independence on twitter. Be sure to link back to this entry and include @turningturning so I can find you.
  4. Subscribing to receive turning*turning updates in your reader or by email. I’ll secretly declare my own independence in the feed for the next few days. Email me my declaration with the subject “Giveaway secret phrase” for another point. You don’t need to be a new subscriber — current subscribers can also earn this point in the same way.
  5. Once again, doing all 4 of the above steps will earn you a bonus point. Send me an email with the subject: “Giveaway bonus point” and you’ll receive your 5th point.

Entries will close on Sunday, July 5th, when I go to bed. I’m very tired, so you better enter soon! Winners will be announced on Monday morning. Thanks for playing, and I hope you win.

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