What to do: Make do

Mal | Art Journal,Art Process and Creativity | Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

Green Blue Purple

 Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.

Theodore Roosevelt

Things got better when I finally got over myself and stopped complaining about having imperfect conditions — about not having enough time or space or energy to create — and just made do.

Recently, one of my employees has run into the problem of not doing things because he can’t do them “perfectly.” Here’s an example that he doesn’t mind me sharing.

The other day, as lunchtime was ending, I asked him, “What are you going to do in your teen workshop today?” He answered, “Oh, I don’t know. I’ve been wanting to do a comic book project, but we don’t have any more 11×17 paper.”

Comic strips in the journal

I had to tell him about what has happened in my art journal recently — about how comic strips have spontaneously begun to crop up, and are made with crude pens during jostling, cramped subway rides. I told him about the ugly paper I was using and the limitations of my drawing abilities. I told him to stand up, take whatever paper we had available, and just make do.

The truth is, very few of us will ever have enough time or space or energy. We will, for the most part, not build a perfect studio space (though some of us will),  or have a perfectly encouraging family, or be able to quit our day jobs in pursuit of art-making.

The trick is to make do with what you have. The painter, Paul Klee, actually felt that working with limited options increased your creativity.

 … to adapt oneself to the contents of the paintbox is more important…

Paul Klee

Maybe the perfect shade of green would turn your painting into a masterpiece — but it’s 2 weeks to payday and all you’ve got are yellow and blue. Make do. You’ve been wanting to start a journal, and spend hours online researching leather-bound notebooks, expensive pens, and carrying cases. Stop it. Make do. Maybe it’s time to help out the planet by making cloth bags to take to the market, but you are worried that the fabric in your stash is not sturdy enough, it doesn’t match, or you need 4″ more. By the way, there’s enough fabric in your stash to make two hundred market bags. Make do.

Lately, there’s been a lot of talk about having enough and making do. Here are a few more examples, if you’d like some further reading:

Journal Quilt: Showering with the lights off

Journal Quilt: Showering with the lights off

Last week, I wrote about eliminating or reducing input from one of my senses — vision. As part of these experiments, I’ve been taking showers at night with the lights off. Although the idea is to reduce the chatter of visual input, the experience is still visual: the way the moon hangs in the upper corner of the window, the silhouette outline of the neighbor’s tree against the night sky, the invisible (but present) droplets. I love how the moon makes a halo of light around itself. It all adds up to a calming and soothing experience. I think I have finally found my insomnia buster.

Journal quilt: Showering with the lights off

I think I’ve also found a way to bind mini quilts into a book. The Art Journaler and Book Binder in me is so excited! Journal quilts! In an actual journal! Awesome.

Journal Quilt

This is my submission for Malka’s (of A Stitch in Dye) Mini Quilt Monday.

Mini Quilt Back

Weekly Roundup

Mal | Resources,Roundup | Sunday, May 10th, 2009

Life is Short

What happened this week

  • I’m so pleased that turning*turning.com was honored as a “Website to Watch” in the latest issue of Disco Underworld. I’m doubly honored that Stacey, DU’s editor and creative force, has offered to write a guest post for this site! Disco Underworld is a beautifully written and visually captivating magazine honoring the life and work of everyday people around the world.
  • I finished re-reading one of my favorite books again, The Time Traveler’s Wife.
  • I’m still stuck in the organizing/purging phase of my apartment overhaul, but I have carved out more space and time to be making things.

Comments you should be sure to read

On the DVD Review: PBS Craft in America, I gave 4 stars. Lois said:

I think we all love to ‘listen in’ on what others are doing and absorb little bits here and there. Sometimes it is with complete awe when the process or result is so different than any I have ever seen. Other times it is with a warm sense of the familiar and it is good to know someone else sees, thinks, or creates in a similar way.

On Seams Behind the Scenes, I showed progress on the mini hexagon project (finally!) and talked a little about the psychology of hiding my stitches. Wendymoon is in a different place than I am right now:

Haven’t started joining them together yet, so not sure about stitches showing or not. I think I don’t mind in this case. After doing a bunch of machine sewing, I’m glad for the change and wouldn’t mind the hand stitches showing.

On What to do: Embrace Mistakes, lots of people responded. Here are some of my favorites:

(Read on for more…)

New sight

Mal | Art Process and Creativity,Here and Now,Simplicity | Friday, May 8th, 2009

This is a bit of a long story, and it ends with my date thinking that I fell asleep on my feet at a Bruce Springstein concert two weeks ago. But don’t worry — that’s not the punchline.

Springstein Concert

I started wearing eyeglasses in 1st or 2nd grade. Since then, my eyesight has gotten steadily worse and my vision prescription has gotten steadily stronger to compensate. I don’t want to be overdramatic — I’m not legally blind. But sometimes I do emit a little bat noise to make sure I don’t hit anything in the dark. Without my glasses, I cannot see my own shoulder clearly. Everything from my mid-sternum down is blurry, so I would guess I have a sight range of about 6 inches.

I’m a very visual person. In fact, you could say that a natural proclivity plus years of art therapy training have made me hyper-aware of visual details. But, something odd happened a couple of months ago as I was leaving work.

I don’t know that it was a particularly long day at work, but I was tired and a little stressed. I stepped out of my office and, without thinking, took off my glasses and perched them on top of my head. That’s an odd thing to do, I thought, but kept walking through the blurred haze. In fact, I walked all the way to the subway in this near blindness.

That blurry walk was so relaxing, so carefree, so quiet that I felt completely renewed. I was free from the need to process everything, to catch every detail, and to see. The stress of work seemed to fall away from me, like so many chunks of broken crust. 

So, I began to experiment.

I walked blind to the subway nearly every day after that, and each time I did, I felt refreshed. When I deprive myself of visual acuity, it disengages a part of my brain that chatters at me non-stop. I no longer wonder Where did she get those shoes? or Why did he look at me that way? or Is that person in pain? or They look lost; should I help them? Instead, I get reconnected to breathing and centering and just walking. Sure, I think a little bit about not tripping or stepping on invisible-to-me gum, but only a little bit. I think about the basics. I eliminate the distractions and am left only with myself.

I’ve started  to experiment with un-vision-ing in other settings. To unwind before bed, I now take my shower with the lights off. This intense experience reduces the sensory input to an almost raw and primitive state. I become hyper-aware of my body sensations, the pounding rhythm of the water, the steam and the shadows. I shampoo, soap down, rinse, and all the while am relying on my body to judge my place in space and time. I don’t know exactly why, but this not-seeing quiets everything down and I sleep marvelously well. 

When I was invited to a Bruce Springstein concert a few weeks ago, I decided to go even though (a) I’m not really a Bruce fan per se, (b) it was on a weeknight after a long day of work, and (c) the tickets were general admission which meant close proximity to the stage in exchange for two-and-a-half hours on my feet. My date was a rabid Springstein fan who has never missed a Boss concert within 100 miles.

By the time the show started I was already tired, and a little cranky, but I was determined to enjoy myself. It wasn’t too hard — there was plenty of good people-watching and my date was a really nice guy. Soon, my therapist-brain began to formulate theories about the people around me based on body language, clothing style, and interactions. The show itself was visually interesting — lots of lights and staging and imagery. I was hearing each of the songs (even old classics) for the first time so I know I was missing a lot of the messages and meanings. Although I was entertained with these little games, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit like an outsider in the sea of fans — each singing along to every lyric, jumping up when everyone else jumped, and pumping their fists in the air.

I sighed, long and loud. I tried to exhale the stress of my workday, my aggrivation at myself for agreeing to this event, and my hyperawareness of the clock. Only 142 more minutes to go. As I exhaled, I shut my eyes. When I did, I felt a surge of electricity.


I did it again. Within moments, I was caught up — swept away in the same unifying undertow that had already washed over everyone else. No, I didn’t know the lyrics. I was still tired. But I was lost in a surge of rhythm, beat, vibration, release. I felt my body in the midst of it all. I was aware of my skin — the place where my body meets the world — but I lost my sense of self and became part of the rush of the crowd. There was only me, and my breath, and my vibrating sternum, and the balls of my feet, and the roar of the crowd, and the energy of ten thousand people all riveted to the same purpose. I danced, and crooned, and roared, too. And then I stood very still, eyes closed, leaning against my date.

What happened? Is it like the proverbial blind woman whose other senses are heightened? Do I rely so much on my sight that my other senses have atrophied? Can this new skill be used to my advantage in my therapy work, my art-making, my relationships with others? Whatever it is, I’m curious to follow this path where it leads. (I just hope I don’t trip on anything along the way.)

What to do: Embrace mistakes

Mal | Art Process and Creativity | Thursday, May 7th, 2009


What to do when everything is coming out wrong? What is wrong anyway? Is wrong inherent? Or does it just mean that things aren’t lining up according to my preconceived (and perhaps somewhat pompous) expectations?

Pencil roll

I made this pencil roll for a friend of mine. I thought it would be neat to have this reminder be really present (like, literally present) every time she went to make art. It’s an awesome idea, except for the fact that of the two of us, I’m the one that needs the reminder.


Are mistakes inherent or perceived? What do you do with yours? Do you even make mistakes? Am I the only one? HELP!? (Okay, just kidding with that last little bit, but you know how slippery the slope is.)

Seams behind the scenes

Mal | Handmade,Media,Quilting,Sewing,Works in Progress | Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

Hexagons sorted

I had been randomly stitching hexagons with whatever scrap fabric I could find. The result was a large collection of tiny, penny-sized hexes but no intended design.

Hexagon planning

I got to feeling a little bit lost in the project, so I printed off a hexagon page (from the graph-paper generator) and got to work with some colored pencils. Now I have some order and a direction. Now, with some structure, I am able to begin the long process of joining the pieces together and creating something cohesive.


I’m using the ladder stitch to join the into little flowers. It’s awesome because you can barely see the line of stitches. They are all hidden away — tucked into the folds and creases of fabric. They hold things together, but you don’t think much about them. This is a very interesting concept, psychologically.

Sometimes you want your stitches to show. Jude of Spirit Cloth writes about intentionally showing stitches on her What If blog.

For some reason, on this project, I want to hide them away. I think it has something to do with my process on this blog, actually — the way I reveal some things, but not all things, about myself and my work. Even still, burying the process a little bit from time to time is valid as an artistic and therapeutic choice.

What about you? Are you in the mood to show your process, or hide it? Visible or invisible seams?

DVD Review: PBS Craft in America (4/5)

Mal | Art Process and Creativity,Resources,Reviews | Monday, May 4th, 2009




The PBS Series Craft in America is available on DVD and I rented it through Netflix. It contains one DVD with three “episodes.” I’ve caught snippets of the episodes on my local PBS station, but was under the impression that the only way to get your hands on a DVD was to pony up during the pledge drive. Silly, silly Mal. It can also be bought on Amazon.com.

If you like, you can skip my review of the content and get right to my opinion on it.


The three episodes, beautifully and cinematically directed by documentarian Dan Seeger, are called Memory, Landscape, and Community. I was especially touched to find that the intricate theme song of the series is Simple Gifts — the lyrics of which are the inspiration for my blog’s title.

It’s interesting to note that the series won a Peabody Award. So did Stephen Colbert, so you have to take that for what it’s worth (Hi, Stephen! If you’re reading this, call me!) Here’s a nice summary of the series from the good folks at Peabody:

“Craft” is a term packed with many meanings. This series of three interrelated, one-hour programs sets out to unpack those meanings and to explore the history and continuing significance of craft work. Each of the three topics provides unusually specific focus for this task. Memory examines the history of craft movements in America. Landscape situates craft and craft workers both geographically and in terms of the materials used in creative activities. Community again places people and objects within contexts, in this case the very special networks of schools, mentors, pioneers and practitioners. But all this conceptual elaboration is presented through the most exquisite visual framing, the focus on the works themselves. Clay rises on the wheel, formed into pots. Glass melts into stunning shapes, fiber is woven into fabric, scraps of cloth are sewn into quilts. The treat for the viewer is in what is seen, in watching beautiful objects emerge, and what is said, as craft makers explain what it means to be so intimately involved in these creative endeavors. For examining processes as old as human experience and as fresh and vibrant as the latest local craft fair, a Peabody Award goes to “Craft in America.”

Before we get going, it’s important to mention that when this documentary speaks of “craft,” they are not necessarily speaking of pompoms and glitter. These are not camp crafts or kits or any other type of “quick and easy” projects that you can buy at Hobby Lobby. Rather, the emphasis is on practical, durable, hand-made items and the artists who make them. It is a documentary about hand-made products which highlights the making process. That’s what I ultimately like about it.


Part 1: Memory

This episode features two furniture makers, two basket makers, and a blacksmith.

Glass, clay, wood, fiber, metal. Human hands transform humble materials into works of function and beauty, creating objects that hold the memory of who we are as people. How are the traditions of craft kept vital by today’s finest artists? And how has the legacy of craft been re-imagined as a modern art form?

There is discussion of the Industrial Revolution and the rise of the Arts & Crafts Movement. I appreciate its emphasis this episode places on learning from (and breaking with) the traditions of the past.For instance, at one point the blacksmith, Tom Joyce, talks about how he spent years learning the traditional skills and techniques of metalwork before he could branch out into more modern and “artistic” applications. The basketweavers are both grounded in the traditions of their ancestors (African American slaves and Native American Indians, respectively) but have found a great personal meaning and purpose in their modern creations.

As may be expected from an episode called Memory, there is also a lot of talk about handing down traditions and questioning those who came before.

Part 2: Landscape

This episode features two jewelry designers, another woodworker, two ceramic artists, and a ski lodge. Seriously.

Sweeping pastoral vistas. The refuse of city streets. The limbs of a particular tree. The headlines over the morning paper. Artists look to the world around them for inspiration. How does landscape influence the act of creation? And how do artists translate this influence into a landscape shaped by their own hands?

We are invited to reflect about our surroundings and how they contribute to the process of making art.You might think that this episode would be locked into discussions of trees and flowers, but I was highly intrigued by the work of Jan Yager, who uses drug paraphernalia found in her rough Philadelphia neighborhood and transforms them into visually interesting pieces of art. Her commitment to using materials found in her immediate vicinity — no matter how ugly or rough — is pretty inspirational.

A break in the documentary’s form occurs when they highlight Timberline Lodge — a ski lodge built after the Depression by the Works Progress Administration which employed not only welders and brick-layers, but also apparently artists and craftspeople. It seems like a strange inclusion in the documentary, but it (mostly) works.

Part 3: Community

This episode features glass artists, ceramicists, quilters, two more jewelry artists, another basket weaver, and a roster of craft schools and organizations.

A quilt made for a loved one. A piece of jewelry passed down from one generation to the next. Crafts connect us to other times, other places, other people. How do simple, beautiful objects bind us together and how do they come to embody our sense of community?

This episode sticks most closely, in my opinion, to its theme of community. It shows artists working in residences, schools, and other group settings. Readers of this blog will be glad to see that a modern quilting-bee community, Mississippi Cultural Crossroads, is highlighted. Not surprisingly, with the exception of the glassworkers (a craft which I imagine is extremely difficult to complete in isolation), most of the artists featured in this episode are women. This makes sense, given what we see of women finding communities of creativity even here online in blogland.

My take on it

The people and products in this documentary are so lovingly and generously filmed that it will sometimes take your breath away. I frequently wished that I could reach through my television to caress a particular curve of a rocking chair, or feel the weaved texture of a basket or a rug. Fortunately, the camera does a pretty good job of caressing for us. Truly, these episodes are shot with a cinematic view and there is plenty for the eye to take in.

As someone who truly enjoys learning about not only art but also artists and their process, these episodes are jam-packed with gems. Please remember, however, that I am an art therapist and I could sit and listen to people talk about their artwork and their creative process all day every day. (Oh wait. I do. But, I never get sick of it.)

There are things about the documentary which fall a little short for me, too. For instance, I found the organizational structure of the episodes a little baffling. The worst offender of the episodes in this sense is Landscape — which inexplicably (and jarringly) leaps from highlighting artists who are making art based on their physical surroundings to an artist that makes art in protest of war. Huh? This episode also features Timberline Lodge, which is a cool collaboration of artists that came together during a difficult time and… therefore… wouldn’t it fit better in the episode called Community?

Also, those of us who are trying to incorporate art wherever we can in our modern, average lives may have to dig a little to find useful ideas from these full-time, studio-based, livelihood artists. I believe the gems are there, but I had to kind of commit myself to not being jealous of their set-ups. That said, the quilters are of course just everyday women. None of us should find this to be much of a surprise, I guess.

I was also struck by what is missing from this documentary — as I alluded above, it lacks a taste of everyman, of common folks who are using art or craft to enrich their lives. Because of this, there are great swaths of media that are not discussed. The episodes deftly avoid highlighting fine artists (painters, sculptors, and the like) in favor of crafts-people who are creating beautiful (yet largely practical) art. However, I would have liked to have seen more time devoted to things like embroidery, sewing, paper arts, bookbinding, and other more accessible media. I found myself wondering more than once, “Really? Another furniture maker?”

Finally, the “episode” format of this documentary is very tantalizing. My one remaining criticism is that there are only three episodes, with  no apparent plan for continuation. If they could reduce the production value a little, we might get fewer sweeping vistas and perfectly-lit images of glazed pots, but if it would have resulted in a longer-running examination of art and artists, I would have been glad of it.



Overall, I give this DVD 4/5 stars.

The pros: Gorgeously filmed, beautiful work. Lots of artists are highlighted and they talk at length about their lives and their creative process. There’s an emphasis on getting back to handmade, simple objects and moving away from machine-made.

The cons: Organization is a bit loose and, at times, jarring. Many of the arts and media highlighted are out of reach of the average Joe. Potential for an interesting, ongoing series is somewhat wasted with only 3 episodes.

If you’ve seen this documentary (or choose to watch it in the future), please comment on it below!

Weekly roundup

Mal | Resources,Roundup | Saturday, May 2nd, 2009

Studio Corner Sneak Peek

What I worked on this week

Out there in Blogland

Some Challenges/Swaps to consider joining

 Recent comments you should read

On What to do: Kill your darlings, there was some good feedback about editing your work. 

Lainie takes me to task and gives me my favorite phrase of the week:

I’m ambivalent – not because ruthless and unsentimental editing isn’t necessary, but because we’re not always our own best editors or judges. I’ve thrown paintings (and ideas) away only to have someone else rescue them, and later these became some of my favorites. Maybe we should put our darlings in the rest home for a little while, so to speak, and check back for signs of life before pulling the plug.

Arlee wisely suggests:

I regularly go through my UFO languishers and CANNABALISE them—if *i* worked on it, there has to be parts i like, or i wouldn’t have done them to begin with, so why not just use them elsewhere?

On Life in the Shadows, many responded about what makes a “real” artist.

Cynthia (no blog) says some of the things I wish I would have said:

From the quote you’ve given in Julia Cameron’s book, it looks to me as if Ms. Cameron is a purist. There’s nothing wrong with being a purist in your own life, so long as you don’t put other people down when they don’t (or can’t) abide by your precepts.

I particularly keyed in on her sentence, “Remember, it takes nurturing to make an artist.” It also takes instruction, whether one on one or in a class (which takes $), time–to develop one’s skills to the professional/mastery level (living expenses during those years), and supplies (which take $). Many “artists” (vs. “shadow artists”) also feel that, unless one has a dedicated studio (more $), whatever one creates cannot be art, but is craft. And, of course, in the “pure” art world, craft is just…craft.

Yes, it would be wonderful if we could each follow our path of artistry in our dedicated studio and earn a living doing it. In reality, very few people can do this relative to the number who would deserve to do it based on their level of skill. Was William Carlos Williams a “shadow” doctor or a “shadow” poet? Given Ms. Cameron’s requirements, he wasn’t a full doctor OR a full poet. Hmmm…

And, lest we forget, those composers of yesteryear, like Mozart and Beethoven, died in abject poverty. Music was the only way they had of earning a living. If they didn’t have a patron to cover their living expenses, then that period of their life was very difficult, since even Mozart didn’t earn a decent living, much less a comfortable one, strictly from his composing, performing, and conducting activities. Even when he added tutoring and his wife gave private vocal instruction, Herr und Frau Mozart lived in very straitened circumstances.

And what about writers like Jane Austen and Emily Dickinson, who lived as single women with their families but never earned a living with their writing? In Dickinson’s case, she wasn’t even known to have been a writer until after her death! I suppose this is OK with Ms. Cameron: so long as the artist lives in abject poverty but is pure, that’s OK. Or, in the case of Austen, so long as the artist is denied a full life (dying, ill and single, at the age of 42, never able to lie on the family couch because it was her mother’s “place”), she is a pure writer.

There’s something wrong with this kind of mean-hearted analysis. I leave it to others to determine exactly what.

Judy is going through a struggle that is close to many of our hearts:

Personally, I am wrestling about whether to give up something that I’m good at and that people want to buy (painting) and go with something that I love to do (sit and stitch). When I see ancient and folk textiles covered in hand stitch in museums I am overwhelmed by their power – this emotion is what makes me want to go with the hand stitch and leave the painting to others who are more passionate about it. The fact that I am a music teacher – well as well – I don’t even consider. I just do that like I make dinner for the family. My heart is in my hand stitch.

On Getting back to it, I asked what people do to motivate themselves out of creative slumps.

Lots of you came out with great advice about how to get the creative wheels turning again. My favorites are from Elizabeth (here), Emma (here), Stacey (here), Rebekah (here), and Leslie (here).

What to do: Finish something

Mal | Art Process and Creativity | Friday, May 1st, 2009

Hex upright stack

I wonder how many Works in Progress (WIP’s) and Un-Finished Objects (UFO’s) are sitting out there in blogland with confused artists behind them. What happened in the project to make the maker abandon it? What went wrong? Why did the spark of creative ambition get doused?


Jacquie of Tallgrass Prairie Studio recently hosted a month-long warcry: Spring to Finish! Nearly 100 makers pledged to complete their unfinished projects and report back. People, that’s a lot of unfinished projects! (If you think you missed your chance, BurdaStyle is running a similar sew-along until the end of May.) How do we end up with so many unfinished projects in the first place, and what shall we do about them?

Maybe the projects are darlings that need to be killed off. Maybe there is one particular part of the process that you enjoy, but not another. Maybe you have a tape playing in your head that says, over and over again, You are no good at ______________ (matching colors, drawing perspective, hand sewing, glazing, black-and-white photographs, composition, punctuation, whatever). Maybe we get so many unfinished projects that it seems impossible to finish any of them.


A wonderful solution was used recently by Melissa at Whatnot: take an unfinished project, slice it up, repurpose it, simplify the original idea, reduce the scope and scale of the vision, and turn it into something which, though different from that first intention, is wonderful in its own way. Melissa killed her darling and made its corpse into something great. Good on you, Melissa! (Update: V of Bumblebeans is also slicing up old blocks and making new.)

During the Great Sort that is going on in my apartment, I found a stack of pieced blocks from an old finished project. I don’t have that many works in progress, in general, so it sort of shocked me to find these unfinished blocks in a tidy stack. I don’t remember what I originally saved them for. They were left over from a large quilt project that I finished years ago. Now I’m going to follow Melissa’s lead and turn them into something altogether different than what they were originally intended. Can’t wait to show you.

Sometimes self-help books and how-to articles and productivity gurus can get a bit esoteric about things like “How to get things done.” However, if you’re looking for some further reading on the why’s and how’s what-fors of finished and unfinished projects, try these. They’re not half bad.

What keeps you from finishing your projects? How can you take something unfinished and turn it into something else entirely?

What to do: Kill your darlings

Mal | Art Process and Creativity,Media,Quilting,Sewing | Thursday, April 30th, 2009

Hex closeup

I finally figured out what was wrong with my mini-hexagon project. Don’t worry. It wasn’t anything major — only the whole entire concept from top to bottom.

Fortunately I was able to switch it up pretty easily and get back on track. I also gained some good insight into some of the reasons why those hexagons have been compelling me so fiercely for the past few months. I’ll let you know more about that later.

Hex red flower

For now, here are a few thoughts on what to do when a project goes awry.

First, from Annie Dillard‘s book The Writing Life. This wonderful book is, you guessed it, a book about the writing process. However, there is plenty about general creativity to be gained here. Please don’t feel too badly about extrapolating from writing instructions for your knitting, pot-throwing, jewelry-making, or other pursuits. A quick jaunt over to Annie’s website reveals that she herself has been painting in recent years. Go, Annie, go.

The line of words is a hammer. You hammer against the walls of your house. You tap the walls, lightly, everywhere. After giving many years’ attention to these things, you know what to listen for. Some of the walls are bearing walls; they have to stay, or everything will fall down. Other walls can go with impunity; you can hear the difference. Unfortunately, it is often a bearing wall that has to go. It cannot be helped. There is only one solution, which appalls you, but there it is. Knock it out. Duck.

You must demolish the work and start over. You can save some of the sentences, like bricks. It will be a miracle if you can save some of the paragraphs, no matter how excellent in themselves or hard-won. You can waste a year worrying about it, or you can get it over with now. (Are you a woman, or a mouse?)

The part you must jettison is not only the best-written part; it is also, oddly, that part which was to have been the very point. It is the original key passage, the passage on which the rest was to hang, and from which you yourself drew the courage to begin.

Hex turquoise

There is a well-known quote of unknown origin. It is often attributed to Mark Twain, F. Scott Fitzgerald, or William Faulkner. (Does anyone have compelling proof of authorship?)

Kill your darlings.

No, don’t slip cyanide into your children’s chocolate milk. Instead, be willing to part with (slice off, scrub out, or frog) your very favorite part of a piece of art. If you’ve been laboring on any one aspect for too long, it runs the risk of becoming precious, overdone, and (for lack of a better term) priced out of its own market. It could be the very thing that is weighing you down.

Hex greenAnd this, from Samuel Johnson:

Read over your compositions, and wherever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.

Hex yellow

Here are a few more essays about the idea of killing your darlings, and an interesting sampling of creative media which appear to benefit from the advice.

What about you? Have you? Would you? Could you? Should you?

Life in the shadows

Mal | Art Therapy | Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

Shadows and light

I live in a city that nurtures a great creative industry. This means that I meet (and, sigh, date) lots of out-of-work artists, musicians, and writers. Some of them live with their parents so that they can pursue their dream without paying rent. Others work “day jobs” as receptionists, delivery drivers, and store clerks so that they can free up time and attention for their artistic pursuits. All of them, to one degree or another, are juggling their tolerance for professional and artistic compromise.

Julia Cameron (author of the much-beloved book, The Artist’s Way) doesn’t have much use for artists who only go halfway or live in the shadows of other artists. She calls them, in a slightly derogatory tone, Shadow Artists.

Too intimidated to become artists themselves, very often too low in self-worth to even recognize that they have an artistic dream, these people become shadow artists instead. Artists themselves but ignorant of their true identity, shadow artists are to be found shadowing declared artists… Shadow artists often choose shadow careers — those close to the desired art, even parallel to it, but not the art itself.


By her definition, as an art therapist, I could be considered a Shadow Artist. I’m not out there producing, exhibiting, and actively selling my own work. I suppose I could, if I really dedicated myself to improving my skills and did art at the expense of all else. Instead, I am facilitating artistic expression and creativity in myself and others. I am “using” art for other means. I’m in an artistic profession, but am not an “artist.” I have not thrown myself, headlong, into the artist’s life with all of its uncertainties. I hate to be this way, but I like my paycheck.

In some ways, I think Julia has it right about the process of embracing yourself as an artist. Behold:

As a rule of thumb, shadow artists judge themselves harshly, beating themselves for years over the fact that they have not acted on their dreams. This cruelty only reinforces their status as shadow artists. Remember, it takes nurturing to make an artist. Shadow artists did not receive sufficient nurturing. They blame themselves for not acting fearlessly anyhow…

For all shadow artists, life may be a discontented experience, filled with a sense of missed purpose and unfulfilled promise. They want to write. They want to paint. They want to act, make music, dance… but they are afraid to take themselves seriously.

In order to move from the realm of shadows into the light of creativity, shadow artists must learn to take themselves seriously.

Whenever I reach this point in the book, I wonder if Julia Cameron would prefer that all creative people attempt to become full-time artists. I am not trying to be overly critical of her or the book (which contains some good stuff), but the world does need doctors and lawyers and farmers.

One of my favorite poets, William Carlos Williams, was a highly successful pediatrician and medical doctor. You may know him from his famous poem, “The Red Wheelbarrow.”

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

I love to think about Dr. WCW squeezing in his poetry and writing at odd hours and in random breaks during the day — between patients or after procedures. I relate to him, as a creative person who was also interested in compassionate care. I think it does a lot to explain his simple, straight-forward style and the way he uses images to convey meaning.

I think there are many of us who are caught in a trap of feeling that we should be doing something productive with our creations — making money, gaining notoriety, or whatever — but are unsure or are, as Julia Cameron suggestions, intimidated or short on self-worth. As though the only way to measure worth were in dollars. As though productivity were the apex of all goals. As though an external validation were necessary for satisfaction. Those things are nice, yes, and I certainly would never begrudge anyone who made a living from their art! But, I also don’t want people to think that it is the only way to find value in their pursuits.

The recession drags on and we are all beginning to feel the pinch. Even if we still have jobs, we may have noticed that the cost of our art supplies has increased. We may stand at the work table and mentally tabulate the amount of time and money that we’ve invested in our pursuits over the years. We may begin to wonder about return on that investment and what it means to make your passion into your work. Several bloggers have been thinking and wrestling with these ideas in the past few weeks. Some have successful shops, others are pondering shops, and still others are closing shops. The reasons and emotions are as varied as the personalities, but it’s interesting to consider their struggles.

Personally, I’d like to stand up in defense of the Shadow Artist. Yes, there are those who are able to make their art or their craft into a full-time profession. But then there are those for whom the joy of the process, the magic of making, and the other “fringe benefits” are enough. Must we all quit our day jobs in pursuit of art greatness? Maybe you sell off some of your creations from time to time, you take a commission or two, or you submit to juried exhibitions while continuing to pursue other interests and responsibilities. Maybe the creative process thrills or calms or challenges you and that’s enough for now.

Perhaps the world would be better with more capital-A Artists. For my part, I think the world would be better with more artist-grocers, poet-ranchers, and musician-cops. I like the bus driver that composes new tunes to whistle along the route. I wish I could find more waitresses who sketch out their customers on napkins just because. Accountants who write poetry on their ledger sheets. Barbers creating sci-fi stories as they cut.

Time to chime in. Do you feel you should be doing “more” with your art, or is your current balance of work/pleasure rewarding enough? If you were to move in one direction or another (toward work, toward passion) which would it be? Do you feel one impacts the other? What are your thoughts?

Getting back to it

Mal | Art Journal,Media,Quilting,Sewing | Monday, April 27th, 2009

Hexagon colorway

Enough with the bellyaching already. Just because I can’t set up my sewing machine in the kitchen, or an easel for painting or anything else, doesn’t mean that I can’t get back to the business of creating. Thanks to some good advice from you guys and my own private butt-kicking, I’m back to it.

For instance, I had spent all that time describing how I can take my hexagon project on the road. There’s no excuse for not working on those just because my apartment is upheaved. Here are some cell-phone-cam shots of me working on hexagons in various places last week:

Hexagons at the laundromat

At the laundromat.

Hexagons on the subway

On the subway.

Hexagons at my desk

In my office. (Shhh… It was lunch hour, mostly.)

I also pulled out my art journal on the subway the other day and was a bit surprised to find that the rectangles I sketched out for drawing quilt ideas turned themselves — suddenly and quite unexpectedly — into a comic strip. Woah, dude. Guess I needed some blatant insight into some of my recent decisions. You can stare at a page all you want and wonder about subtle meanings and nuances until there is a drawing of yourself talking back to you. Yeah. Not so subtle.

Comic strip in journal

What about you? How do you kick-start yourself after a low point in creativity?

Roundup: Anatomical Art (Therapy)

Mal | Art Journal,Art Therapy,Resources,Roundup | Sunday, April 26th, 2009

 What hurts?

One great way to facilitate a good mind-body connection is to make artwork about your body — its ailments or its triumphs. Today I’m thinking more about ailments.


I made a lot of art about my own body last year before, during, and after surgery. I even wrote about it here and here. As an art therapist who works in a hospital, I’m always interested in representations of physical, mental, and emotional pain.

Frida Kahlo famously lived with pain caused by childhood polio and then a traumatic bus accident. Her art is generally labeled as Surreal, though I see it as a therapeutic reflection of reality. Frankly, with varying degrees of technical skill, this is the kind of art that shows up a lot in a hospital setting. The problems of pain and the foibles of the human body are, as we all know, very very real.


 My painting carries with it the message of pain. (Frida Kahlo)

The Problem of Pain

Obviously, the human anatomy is a common theme in artwork of all kinds. Click the image above to find out more about the artists and their work.

Other very excellent examples include:

Of course, actual physical representation is not necessary. One of my favorite flickr images is by karmapolis and is called “Mi enfermedad” (My Illness). It depicts a dragon, not a body or a brain. Other people may just use color, shapes, and lines to abstractly depict what they go through.

Parts of me

What about you? Have you ever made something about your body, an illness, or a physical ailment or triumph? Please share!

Guest Post: Frustration in the Creative Process

Mal | Guest Posts,Resources | Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

Welcome to our latest installment of the Guest Post Series. Holly chose to write about the creative process and some of its frustrations. There are some choice phrases in here that have stuck with me for weeks, so I’m pleased to present you with her words. In the meantime, if you’re interested in writing about your creative process, your emotional connection to your artwork, or thoughts about a specific project, please contact me!


The creative process is powerful but it isn’t always wonderful. Sometimes it’s fraught with self-doubt and anxiety. I’ve been sitting here for hours staring at this blank page, why can’t I think of anything??

It always feels bad when you try to “force-create.” I’m sure you all know the feeling — staring at a blank page, willing the ideas and creativity to flow. Maybe there’s a birthday/anniversary/christening/special occasion coming up and you’ve promised to make something, but what? It has to be perfect, and no pressure, but you’ve only got a few days to make it so better get cracking. Gotta get those ideas flowing. Come on now, time’s running out.

I don’t think there’s any way to avoid force-creating — we’re all going to come across it at some point — but how I like to deal with it is to get up and walk away for a while. Give it some space, come at it from a different angle. Often my best ideas come to me while I’m doing something completely unrelated. 

My actual creative process is usually very subconscious. It always starts with an idea. It starts foggy at first, like the phenomena of seeing something from the corner of your eye, but when you turn to look it’s not there.

The idea creeps around the outside of my mind for a few days. I like to think of it as an incubation of sorts. I don’t interfere – I let it sit and incubate and grow and develop until it’s ready to reveal itself to me. Then comes that deep-in-your-stomach flutter of excitement as you think yes! Yes this is really great! Yes I can do something with this! Then it’s like a fever takes hold. A fever where eating seems irrelevant, where sleeping just slows you down, where your head is full of wonder and light and colours.


Sometimes notes are made and sketches are drawn, sometimes I just roll up my sleeves and jump in. Often it’s messy. Often the casualties are grand. If you have ever seen someone trying to design a new plushie, you will know how big the pile of mutant discards can be. Club legs, misshapen heads, darts gone wrong.

But sometimes it’s not until you put it all together and you stuff it and you look at it for a while that you realise… something’s just not right. You might not even know what doesn’t suit to begin with, but if something’s off you’ll have a nagging feeling in the back of your mind. Often I have to talk myself into fixing things, instead of continuing to work on a piece that I’m just not happy with, or letting it languish because I’m not happy.

Admittedly, ashamedly, I do have a short attention span and a lot of my creative ideas fall prey to the thought that if I don’t do them now, they’ll slip back into the edges of my mind and get forgotten. But I do love the fever pitch of a new idea. It’s like the honeymoon phase of a relationship, all giddy and exciting.

Other days… it’s not so great. My creativity comes in spits and spurts. Usually I feel my most creative when I have a lot of things I need to do, and suddenly my productivity increases – of course, not toward anything that actually needs to be done! I don’t try to start anything when I’m in one of my down periods, as I hate to force create. But I have a few projects I can pick up when I’m in a creative lull – like a cross stitch or some embroidery — just something small to occupy my hands until my brain fills up with ideas again.

For me, creating is living. Creating is finding myself, validating myself, exploring myself, trying on different things for size. I am a plushie maker, I am a stamp carver, I am a quilter, I am an OCD sufferer with a penchant for organising my fabric in a rainbow fashion. I struggle with creativity, but I know, now, that I couldn’t live without it.

Through creating I’ve learnt that not all criticism is bad. I’ve learnt patience and persistence, and I’ve watched myself grow. I’ve learnt to go slow, but not too slow – you’ve gotta keep working at being creative. I’ve learnt new techniques, I’ve met new friends, and I’ve learnt to respect myself again. I’ve learnt that not everything works out the way you want and you know what? Maybe that’s okay.

Holly McGuire is a mild-mannered bus driver by day, bringing her love of craft to the people on the streets, one bus stop at a time. By night, however, she is a rogue crafter and lover of all things handmade. Too excitable to be tied down by one craft she dabbles in many – plushies, stamps, quilting, bag-making. You can follow her creative adventures (and mishaps) over on her blog, Two Cheese Please.

Granny Day Giveaway Winners

Mal | Color study,Give-aways,Resources | Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

Thanks to all who entered the Granny Day Giveaway by choosing a color and associating it with an emotion. Winners are listed below. But first, I thought I’d play along too.

At some point in the last week, my emotional color was yellow — not a nice, warm, orangey-yellow, but a lighter, green-like yellow. These photos were mostly taken around my apartment on Saturday morning.

Yellow mosaic

Unlike many who commented about yellow, I don’t always associate the color with sunshine and cheery mood. This dank, green-ish yellow is more of a desperate color for me — something tight and trapped, something stuck. I don’t know why. Guess its been a weird week.

Before I reveal the winners, I want to give a special nod to Dawn (warning: music plays on her page) who took my Granny Day Celebration one step further and created her own Granny Creed. I love it! The world would be a better place…

At any rate, without further ado, here are the winners of the Granny Day Giveaway. Yup — I said winners plural. Because this is the first giveaway, I thought “aw, heck.” Let’s get crazy.

Congratulations to ecky (no blog) who said: i’d say brown…earthy and calm. (Well, calm can be considered an emotion so there you go!)

Congratulations to gahome2mom whose email with the secret subscription phrase was also chosen. She says: I’m entering to win blue because it makes me feel relaxed. (gahome2mom also entered via twitter. Hip!)

And finally, congratulations to Patricia Ojeda (no blog, but that’s a twitter link), who said: I’m feeling red today! To me, red is an exciting, energizing, and vivid color! Red just screams vitality! This is the way I am feeling today. I love red in the quilts that I sew. There must be a touch of red in every quilt I make. Red makes colors pop! The color red is also in my garden that I planted for spring! Against all the green grass and bushes, red just stands out so pretty! (Patricia also entered multiple ways, so that’s also extra yay-worthy.)

Honorable mentions to Dionne, Margi, Liz, and Elizabeth who went the extra mile and earned the bonus point.

As a final point of interest, here is a list of the selected colors in order of popularity. Interesting trends!

  1. Blue
  2. Green
  3. Pink
  4. Yellow
  5. Orange
  6. Red
  7. Purple
  8. Brown
  9. Aqua/teal
  10. Black
  11. White/Cream

I had a great time with this fun giveaway and it really brought out the lurkers! My feed reader is now bursting at the seams with new blogs that I never would have discovered otherwise. I highly recommend you pop back to the original entry and check out the commenters. Visit a few blogs you’ve never heard of before. Expand your circle and start leaving comments. Let’s get interacting! I know I am looking forward to interacting with you all more.

Please don’t forget — this is just the first of many giveaways I’ve got planned, so you’ll all be able to enter again! I recommend subscribing to this blog so that you don’t miss anything good.

Tutorial: Invisible Ladder Stitch for Quilt Binding

Mal | Media,Quilting,Resources,Sewing,Tutorials | Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

Update: Apparently this stitch is called the Ladder Stitch. Personally, I prefer my title for it: Invisible Mamma-Jamma Stitch. While ladder stitch is common to embroidery, applique, and closing up stuffed plush dolls, apparently very few people have applied it to quilt binding. Let me know if you try it!

I mentioned before that my mom had taught me a stitch for quilt binding that was so simple and obvious yet so wonderful that I wanted to share it with you.

Quilt binding with whip stitch

The photo above shows the back of my rough draft quilt.

Whip-stitched bindign in action

Following the many tutorials and demonstrations online, I whip-stitched the binding to the back of the quilt.

Whip Stitched Bindings

But, as you can see in my photo and the ones above, whip-stitching can leave a very visible line of tiny stitches. In addition to being sort of unsightly, I worried a bit about the stitches getting caught and, God forbid, ripped.

Creative binding solutions

Some people go to great (and creative!) lengths to machine stitch their binding, as seen above. I imagine that at least some of them are frustrated (as I was) with the result of the whip-stitching and looking for alternatives.

When it came time to bind my friend’s baby quilt, I whip stitched the entire thing and hated it. On the phone with my mom (sewing consultant extraordinaire), she said there was a better way and that if I would be willing to re-do it, she would teach me. It only took me 3 evenings to unpick all that stitching, and 3 weeks for her to arrive in town with thread and scissors in hand.

Mom proceeded to teach me the ladder stitch — a stitch that is easy, fast, and nearly invisible! She uses it for both quilt binding and hand applique. I think it would work for any application requiring joining of two fabrics where at least one of them involves a fold.

The basic idea is to think of the shape of a castle wall.

Tutorial: Blind Stitch Illustration 1

(I work mine from right to left, because I am right-handed. Lefties may wish to mirror-image the process.)

When you tighten up the thread of the castle wall, the bits that were visible disappear into the fabric like this:

Tutorial: Blind Stitch Illustration 2

So that all that’s left visible on the outside of the fabrics is a tiny dot of thread where the needle has passed from one side to the other. In my experience, you have to really hunt if you want to see that thread. Awesome.

Tutorial: Blind Stitch Illustration 3

After my brother’s wedding, I took some action shots of my mom teaching the stitch. Hopefully you’ll find it useful!

Tutorial: Blind Stitch 1

Start off with the Mamma Jamma knot I already taught you. Then, insert the needle on the back side of the binding to hide the knot. Only go through one layer of the binding, as the goal here is invisibility, man.

Tutorial: Blind Stitch 2

When the needle comes out, it should be between the two layers of binding fabric and smack dab in the middle of the crease of the binding’s fold. If you felt like popping the knot through the fabric to bury it, nestling it right into the inside of the binding’s fold, you can do that. My mom didn’t do that, though — you can see the knot poking out on the right if you look at the image below.

Tutorial: Blind Stitch 3

Make sure the exit point is directly parallel from where you want to insert your needle into the quilt. Check the diagram above — you shouldn’t have too much diagonal or angled anything while working this stitch. In this case, mom started about a quarter of an inch from the previous stitches, since that’s about how far she spaces this stitch. For my part, I space them a little closer.

Tutorial: Blind Stitch 4

Then stitch down straight across from that exit point. Make your stitch just above (on the quilt side, not the edge side) of your line of basting stitches.

Tutorial: Blind Stitch 5

Come back into the binding fabric directly across from the previous exit point. You want to stitch right in the fold of the binding, because the thread will ultimately nestle there, perfectly parallel to the fold.

Tutorial: Blind Stitch 6

Alternate stitches between the quilt and the binding, always inserting your needle directly across from your previous exit point. Again, refer to the diagram above if you have questions.

Tutorial: Blind Stitch 7

When you’ve done a few stitches, gently tighten up the thread. As you do, the stitches will disappear and the whole thing will be held together by thread which is tucked neatly out of sight, buried inside your work. Be careful, though, not to tighten too much — if the quilt stretches more than your stitches, your stitches will break and your binding will come undone.

Tutorial: Blind Stitch 8

And voila! The stitches are now only visible if you go looking for them.

Tutorial: Blind Stitch 9

Continue along this way until you reach the end of your thread.

Tutorial: Blind Stitch 10

To finish off, take a couple of stitches in the quilt, between the basting stitches and the raw edge.

Tutorial: Blind Stitch 11

Mom likes to finish hers off by bringing the end of the thread through the loop before tightening the last back stitch to secure it.

And there you have it! If you try this stitch, if something doesn’t make sense and you need more/better explanation, or if you dispute the name of this stitch, please leave it in the comments!


Mal | Home,Organizing | Monday, April 20th, 2009

Small to large

A closeup of the “browns and creams” stack reveals some progress on incorporating my mom’s stash infusion. I had started with washing, ironing, and folding the smallest pieces — fat quarters and 1/2-yard cuts — and am now graduating to the larger pieces. You can see how they get bigger toward the top.

Fabric progress

I keep having to remind myself, with internal pep talks and late-night hand-wringing, that I am making progress on this gargantuan project. The picture below was taken two weeks ago:

The beginnings of assimilation

The larger pieces present unique challenges. I don’t need the fabric to be perfectly crease-free, but I would like it to be relatively straight before folding. Ironing and folding 3-, 4-, 8-yard cuts of fabric on my miniature ironing board in my miniature apartment feels very daunting sometimes. I try to plug along — committed to folding at least 5 pieces a day — and know that ultimately, I will reach the end.

Sewing room, disguised as kitchen

I have mentioned before that I live in a small one-bedroom apartment and am relegated to using the kitchen table for my projects. Although my mom’s fabric infusion has overtaken corners and closets throughout my entire apartment, the kitchen is where the impact is the greatest. All of my regular “working” surfaces are covered in scraps, folds, and stacks of fabric. I haven’t been able to work on any of my other projects for weeks now, and I feel it building up in me.

This made it both exhilarating and difficult to edit, share, and think about Julie’s recent guest entry. I loved to read about her process of retreating from corporate culture into her lovely blue cocoon, healing from the fast-pace and expectations of modern employment. Even just looking at the photos, as Clare mentioned in her comment, felt like good therapy. But as I come home every night and try to cook dinner around stacks of fabric, ironing boards, and baskets overflowing with scraps, I admit that I do feel a little jealousy about that amazing backyard studio.

Julie’s post ends with an echo of Virginia Woolf‘s famous words about women — creative women — needing a room of their own. I have long thought this was true and yet also harbored a secret fire of rage over this concept. I have never had a space dedicated only for creating, and probably never will. As it is, I survive in a hybrid living space — half apartment, half art studio. Sometimes this is thrilling and inspiring, others it is downright frustrating. People who come to visit me must accept the fact that the television sits on the same shelves which house the paints, that the couch faces a wall of art supplies, and that the kitchen, well… the kitchen is full of fabric.

I’ll get over it. I feel badly complaining about this windfall, since I recognize that my mom was very generous to share so much. For now, I just need to keep working at the project and encourage everyone to enter the Granny Day Giveaway to get rid of some of this stash!

PS: Julie makes such lovely creations and is instilling such a creative spirit in her daughter that it’s hard to be jealous for too long! I’ll share more thoughts about Virginia Woolf’s famous statement later.

Color Study: Mexico

Mal | Art Journal,Color study,Links to Others | Thursday, April 16th, 2009

Mexico Courtyard

With the Granny Day Giveaway going on, I’m thinking about color this week.

Somehow I had missed (or forgotten) that Geninne lives in Mexico. Her recent post about the colorful country she lives in reminded me of my trip to Mexico from a few years back. (I highly recommend you click over to read that post, as it is very beautiful and insightful. Go ahead. I’ll be here when you get back.)

I first visited Mexico in 2004 for some art therapy classes and was so into sketching and visual journals at the time that I didn’t even take a camera with me! This strikes me as absurd — my first time visiting in a new country and no camera!? — but I sketched my way across the Mexican countryside as evidenced by this photo below:

Sketching (under the arrow)

Yeah, that’s me. Under the orange arrow. Note that I am the only person not paying rapt attention to the speaker, and instead am sketching the cactus to my right. I remember it was bursting with small fruits and I couldn’t NOT capture their deep burgundy-gold-ness. The photo was taken by a friend who sent it to me with a note: “This is what you looked like the whole time in Mexico, FYI.” I think she was a little annoyed, but my sketchbooks from that trip are their own reward.

Mexico Colored House

While I was in Mexico, I read a quote that I thought at the time really summed up my thoughts on color in that country. In hindsight, I think it is rather Aryan-centric and a little class-ist, but I still think it’s interesting:

In Mexico, the people who have no money make their walls beautiful to show off their one element of wealth: COLOR.

— Elena Ponintowska

And, it’s true. My journals from that trip are filled with warm oranges, reds, yellows, and pinks. The blues are really bright, and the greens kind of fade away. Here are a few more scans:

Mexico Fountain

Mexico Blue Sky Church

Mexico Bar

Mexico Umbrella

There’s still time to enter the Granny Day Giveaway. Just think of your current favorite color and an emotion you associate with it. There are 5 ways to enter!

(Note: There are also giveaways at Bumblebeans and Mrs. Schmenkman Quilts. Go stash up while I work to stash down.)

Guest Post: Healing Space

Mal | Guest Posts,Resources | Wednesday, April 15th, 2009

This is the second in a series of guest posts written by creative types about their creative process, their experience with art and healing, and their emotional connection to artwork. If you’re interested in contributing, please contact me!

When Julie explained her reasons for not wanting to capitalize words and sentences in her guest entry, I agreed wholeheartedly and left Julie’s original grammar choices intact.


at the end of 2007, i left my job. it was a hectic, fast-paced, cut-throat, high-powered, career-track kind of job that i had, for a long time, really loved.
in a way, leaving a job like that is like a divorce. you loved it once, deeply and completely, and were blind to its faults. but slowly, over time, without really noticing, you fell out of love with it. although you may be happy that you’ve gone — especially if it was your decision — that doesn’t really make it any easier.
i worked at the headquarters of a multinational firm that was the largest in its field and by far the most significant company in my country of residence. it was a very traditional company in a very traditional, conservative, very masculine kind of business, so i had to be extra tough to get along there as a woman. and while i loved that in many ways, i found that i couldn’t shed the constraints it had given me overnight.


when i look back, i realize that it took nearly a year to be free of them. i spent the best part of 2008 getting back in touch with a creative side that had become subsumed under the crushing wheels of the career and the company. such a conservative, traditional business demands certain frames and constraints on the kind of creative thinking i had been accustomed to. it’s not that there was no creative thinking, it just wasn’t the kind that allows a person to stand before a canvas and freely paint.

i tried to rush my recovery. i immediately signed up for a painting class which ended up a source of frustration to me because i was completely blocked by nearly four years on the fast track. i had been so (re)defined by the expectations of that conservative man’s world that as i stood before the canvas with paint and brush in hand, i felt cramped and unable to break free. i found it difficult to even know where to begin.

one of the reasons i had felt out of touch with my creativity in my job was that i was simply too busy. when i finally got home at the end of a day at the office (or after my nearly 200 days of travel a year), i was too exhausted to sew or draw or paint or do anything creative. throughout college, i had always had all kinds of projects going on — sewing, painting, decorating, cooking — but i didn’t have time for any of that while at my job. the entire notion of dragging everything out, doing the project and then putting it all away again before i had to go back to work on monday morning was simply overwhelming and it shut down any impulse i might have had to do it.


what i came to realize as i struggled to reawaken my dormant creativity (because i never believed it was gone, just that it was in hiding), was that what i craved was a space in which to be creative — somewhere to leave works in progress without them being in anyone’s way (in other words, not our dining room table). somewhere i could retreat and think. somewhere with an atmosphere conducive to creativity. where my muses would be comfortable and happy and venture forth once again. somewhere i could be alone or create together with my daughter.
so i put a lot of thought into what that space would be like. it would be separate from the house, it would have plenty of light and be very open to take advantage of any summer there might be (it can be quite rainy in denmark in the summer), but very cozy when the rainy grey days inevitably would come. it would be inviting yet private. there would be room to have several projects of different kinds going at once.


all of my supplies/stash would be at hand on shelves and in drawers. it would be ok if paint got on the floor. it would have wi-fi and a stereo. there would be room for books and items of inspiration. there would be plenty of space for kids to work alongside adults. it would be ok to make a big mess.
there would be a wood-burning stove for heat and coziness. it would be a space where everyone wanted to hang out and make something and there would be plenty of inspiring supplies at hand when inspiration struck.
even before i left the hectic job, we were already discussing my dreams for the space with our architect. and thankfully, over last summer, the space unfolded before me. it has four sets of double doors that open wide for those summery days. it has a cozy wood-burning stove for those days when it rains and is so grey and chilly you think the sun will never shine again. the supplies are there. the books are there. the walls are a rich turquoise and the ceiling is a darker, deeper teal. it is both cave-like and light, warm and cool. it is all of the dichotomies rolled together into one fantastic vortex of creativity.


there are snips of fabric and bits of paper on the floor. the sewing machine stands out at the ready at all times. there are projects in various stages of completion on the coffee table and the sideboard. the drawers are filled to bursting with pretty paper and fabrics. music spills forth from the ipod. there are inspiration books on the shelf, beckoning to be taken down when one feels like drawing or quilting or making clay figures. paints and pencils and canvases beckon. embroidery threads, rolls of felt and rubber stamps whisper ideas.
it is a good, healing space where my muses have been set free. they are still walking on tippy toes, but they get stronger all the time. perhaps virginia woolf was right; one does need a room of one’s own.

julochka is an american living in denmark after following a lovely danish boy home from the balkans more than a decade ago. she works as a journalist in the shipping industry. additionally, she is a blogger and photographer and learning to call herself an artist. her blog is moments of perfect clarity and you can see her photos at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/julochka/

Granny Day Giveaway Still Open

Mal | Give-aways | Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

Momma's De-Stash Giveaway 

I’m still recruiting guest authors, but this week I am hosting a Blog Give-away in honor of Granny Day. The winner will receive pieces from my mom’s fabric stash infusion. Be sure to check the details and enter up to 5 times!

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