Revisiting the article One Year Anniversary of Studio Notes

This week finds me in the Northwoods with no internet service. So I decided to repost my article from January 2017, One Year Anniversary of Studio Notes describing why I continue my weekly Studio Notes. As I write at the end of this article, my goal is to help people honor their creativity and...

"...Find a form of self-expression that feels good to them so then they can be good to others.

Happy people make a happy world."

Here is the original article.

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100 Day Project 2017 Artwork

In the past two 100 Day Projects, I have created a four part series around a theme. In 2016, my theme was the Four Elements. I created a 25 day piece sewing together 25 daily squares for each of the elements; Fire, Sky, Water and Earth. This year's theme was Trees and Windows. Since I just finished the 100 Day Project last week, I decided to give some insight into my creative process by sharing, and maybe rambling a bit, about what I was thinking for each piece in this four part series.

This year I was inspired by the art of Elizabeth Gourlay. In particular, I was drawn to her geometric art with color strips around the outside of a square and pieces with vertical and horizontal lines made up of small strips of color within the line. I envisioned the vertical strips as trees and the square piece as a window frame. Hence the name of the series is Trees and Windows. I knew I could have these two pieces compliment each other with the design. For the other two pieces in the series, I thought I could just reverse the design concept and call them Inverse Trees and Inverse Windows. Instead of color strips on the edges of a square like a window frame, the second piece would be full of color strips on the inside of the window and then grey as the window frame. For the tree series, the inverse would be a grey vertical strip amongst strips of fabric as the background.

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Honoring Creativity and the Flow

I always get a little wistful and sad at the end of the 100 Day Project which officially ends on July 12, 2017.  One of my favorite things during the 100 days is to look at #The100DayProject list of Instagram posts and see all of the unique creativity. I spent five minutes before writing this article and saw amazing posts in that short time. I saw an artist, Christine Hilbert (@ChristineHilbert) who takes heirloom jewelry and adds her whimsical illustration around the jewelry.  I saw an artist @tangibleculture who is cross stitching the planets. I saw an artist, Joe Mills (@JoeMills2) who is spending 100 days coming up with very creative topography for Chicago icons, buildings, and sports teams etc. This was the first two minutes of looking at this page of hashtags from the 100 Day Project. One of my Studio Notes readers, Chris Raymond (@ChrisARaymond) has been doing the most fascinating art with a theme of architecture in her project #100daysofreimaginedarchitecture . It can lift your spirit when you see so many different forms of creativity and people willing to share it.

Not sure why it inspires me so, but it really does help me get into that studio every day. However, in some ways, social media can be a trap of the comparison game where it can paralyze you into thinking, "I can't create anything that looks as good" or "I don't know what my unique style is yet." Those are not reasons to stop creating. In fact, they are reasons to create more.

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Looking to Public Art for Inspiration

In order to keep creating, we need to seek out new life experiences that inspire us, make our energy levels go up, get us excited about something even if it is unrelated to our own creativity. It is called filling the well of inspiration. This past month, I went on a walking tour of the public art in our home town organized, researched and led by Dylan Zavagno who works at our local library. He did so much research and found out the most amazing things about this public art that I have driven by for decades. It felt so very different seeing the sculptures and paintings up close from all different angles while hearing the stories about the artist, their style of art, and how our village ended up with their art. Dylan touched on all the things that make me love art history; the sometimes quirky stories and the reason behind why the artist makes art. In other words, what motivated these artists to make art and what are they trying to say with their art. 

Our home town is lucky in that we had some wealthy captains of industry who lived or had a business here.

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How Much Time Do We Spend Doing the Things We Want to Do?

This past month I decided I wanted to really know how much time I was spending on different activities. I have read Laura Vanderkam's Blog for a few years. She wrote the book  168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think. The idea of 168 hours in a week (24 hours x 7 days) Is intriguing when you realize at the same time it seems like many hours as well as a limited resource. At first it can make you feel a little guilty about how much time you may waste in a day let alone a whole week or month. But then I decided to look at it from another vantage point. You track your time in certain activities and see it as knowing what you actually accomplished during the day which then allows you to relax knowing you have done enough. You get a sense of completion for the day. Then the good news is that the rest of the day is for whatever you feel like doing. 

Some days you feel like you have worked all day with very little to show for it. Other days things just seem to get accomplished with little effort. Everyone wants days like the later. I am thinking tracking my time might help me get some data to help figure out what days feel effortless in their unfolding of productivity and what days feel like a slogfest. Maybe there is a pattern.

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Learning an Old Skill in a New Way

In my experience, it can be just as confusing and just as challenging to learn a new skill within an established broader skill set. My dad has played the piano for most of his life. He has a unique style he learned from his second piano teacher when he was in high school. He uses chords to play a rolling rhythm with his left hand and alternates between octaves and chords to play the melody with his right hand. He can play by sight just by reading the melody notes in this way. It has always seemed like a miracle to me because the song sounds like he has practiced the song for weeks when he really is just playing it for the first time. This summer my children asked my dad to teach them all how to play this way. I sat in on the lesson because I always wanted to know how to do it as well. 

I took nine years of piano lessons in my youth. I was taught how to play the notes on the page. It's a logical approach where you are just learning the notes and then putting your own emotion on top of that. This is a whole new approach of playing the piano for me by learning chords and playing different variations of them as you play the melody. Honestly, it was kind of mind-boggling. And a little overwhelming. As I was figuring how to approach this new learning of an old skill, I thought about my tried-and-true method of just putting in the time.  I can do this for a half an hour a day. It takes the pressure off of focusing on how quickly I will learn or if I will understand. I just put in the time. 

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What Do We Need to Create?

I have always been fascinated by artists and their studios. Recently, I saw classic photos of an almost belligerent Pablo Picasso standing in a power pose in his studio and Henri Matisse reclining in a chair with his artwork all around him. I even researched "artists and their studios” in google and found an article 100 Artists and Their Studios. I guess I am not the only one interested in this topic. As I looked at them I thought the people who have the most minimalist abstract art also have the most minimalist studios. Perhaps uncluttered spaces allow for uncluttered ideas to come forth in your art. I know this is a oversimplification but it is an interesting correlation. I love this picture of Helen Frankenthaler with just the tools she needs: canvas, paint, and brushes. But my all-time favorite artist in the studio photo is of Helen Frankenthaler sitting surrounded by her colorful canvases in her bright uplifting color palette. 

So I started down this rabbit hole of looking for images of artists in their studios since I am on a simplification mission in my own studio. I started by asking myself, what do I really need in my studio? It became very simple. I need a sewing machine, fabric for my current project, a rotary cutter, cutting mat, scissors, an iron and ironing board. Just like Frankenthaler’s canvas, paint and brushes. Then I looked at all the other stuff I had around me. I had supplies I only used a few times a year like sewing machine oil, print fabric which I no longer use except for my quilt backings, dozens of spools of thread. All these things can go in storage until I need them.

I thought this physical clutter is affecting my mental clutter. 

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Explore Your Creative Voice and Speak Up

I wrote this essay 2 years ago in the Spring of 2015 and published it on the website. The ideas in this essay are the foundational reasons why I started my Studio Notes in January 2016. I write weekly to inspire others to connect to their creativity and reap the benefits of an active creative practice in their lives.  After writing over 70 weekly Studio Notes, I find the ideas in this essay to still ring true for me and hopefully they do for you as well. 

Explore Your Creative Voice and Speak Up

Imagine your life if you follow your desire to speak up and create more. Ponder this for a minute. Imagine your day, every day, includes some form of creative self expression. Reading the title of this essay, you probably thought this was about singing or acting. Well, maybe, if that is what you are inspired to do. I am referring to any type of creative activity that lights you up. It could be spoken word poetry, singing the blues at an open mic, knitting intricate Norwegian mittens, cooking the best lasagna from your own recipe, sharing photographs on Instagram of your cat, sewing improvisational fabric art like me or creating a body of work for a solo show at an art gallery.

The point is not what you create particularly. It is how you feel when you are creating. This feeling of self expression and speaking from your unique creative voice is the good stuff of life. Creative expression helps us step out of time and enter the creative flow.


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Vulnerability and Connection

Often it is the articles I am not quite sure about that have created the biggest resonance with readers and compelled them to write comments or email me their thoughts.

It makes me wonder sometimes if my judgment is a bit off.  How can I really know what my readers will find the most helpful and relate to the most? After writing about 70 weekly articles in my Studio Notes so far, I  think it's the articles that come right from my heart that resonate the most. The articles that show more vulnerability and openness about universal topics we all share, like fear and overwhelm, are the ones that I question myself most about even posting on my Studio Notes. Is this relevant to people reading this? Should I share this? Ironically, these articles that I doubt the most are the ones that connect with my readers the most. It has happened so many times. I think this article may be too specific to what I am just thinking about right now. It may feel too vulnerable to share. I post it anyway and then I hear from readers who said they get it. Vulnerability and honesty foster true connection. 

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Revisiting Constraint and Freedom

What makes a good long-term project idea? I've written a little bit about this before. However, I decided I would dedicate an article to this topic since it will be helpful for people interested in starting the 100 Day Project or a similar type of challenge project of your own design. 

The two words I will leave you with are Constraint and Freedom. You need some limits to reduce decision fatigue but you need some freedom to explore. This tug and pull of artistic freedom within self-imposed limits is what I create for myself every 25 days with each new series I create. If I looked at the realm of possibilities without reigning in some of my wild ideas, I would get nothing done. Guaranteed. 

The main parameters for a project are the size or scope, materials, colors, design, and a framework. 

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