Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Free Stuff

A NEW FEATURE! Each month or so I'll publish a reprint of an article published elsewhere or an essay about what's on my mind. PLUS a FREE pattern for a cloth or paper doll or other project that will fit on one sheet of paper. Feel free to enlarge for easier reproduction. These patterns will be for your own personal use only, not for resale.

Dancing on the Edge 4: Just Do It!

JUST DO IT!—sounds like a sneaker commercial, doesn’t it? It’s also the advice I give many students in my classes. We get so mired in working to figure out exactly how the project is going to be and look and whether it will be good enough to come up to the standards set by our peers or our own minds, we often don’t get around to starting at all.

In my last article I talked about Creative Selfishness, the responsibility we all share to take care of ourselves so we can have the energy to take care of others in our lives. When you give yourself the time to create, even for 15 minutes a day, have you noticed you have more energy for all the other many projects that fill your life? When you see a wonderful movie, you start seeing everything around you as if it were a part of a movie, instead of the same old boring stuff you pass every day without paying much attention. Creative time for yourself will brighten the rest of your life.

Just getting started requires a shift in your perception. Instead of looking at the huge pile of possibilities, weighted down by the intimidation of comparing your efforts to all the best creators who have been working on dolls for years, try a mind shift. Start with one thing you enjoy for only 15 minutes, and know that Everyone has to go through the Garbage to get to the Good Stuff. Play with the Garbage phase, knowing that you won’t like the results, but that you have to get through it. Creativity is like a muscle that must be exercised in order to perform well. Often we women have our "hobby" as the only thing in our lives that is totally "ours" and the thing that we can use to make ourselves feel better in times of crisis—forget the chocolates! We use it to remember that we are not just the roll of wife or mother, but that there are all kinds of wonderful possibilities bubbling inside us. Many of us struggle mightily to carve out the time and space for our own work. Once we get our very own 15 minutes of opportunity, what do we do—agonize about what is going to be good enough to come up to the high standards of our Inner Critic.

Imagine it this way—we each have a certain amount of Ugly Stuff (and we can debate the definition of Ugly) that we have to get out of our systems, before we can get down to the Good Stuff, so we’d better get started on turning out the Ugly Stuff. This is where trading new materials and techniques with a friend or two and sharing the joys and frustrations of learning can be a very joyful, even hysterical experience. Save some of the early efforts to see how far you’ve come when you get really good which you will. Remember that no one will be judging you but yourself, and isn’t the process of creating much more fun than jurying the end result? Take baby steps to learn to dance, and Practice, practice, practice! It’s like rolling a boulder, getting the darn thing moving and overcoming the weight of inertia is the hardest part. Not making paralyzing value judgments on the outcome is the second hardest, but I know you can do it!

Don’t judge your end result right away—let it rest for a day or two when you can see what you’ve done from a more removed point of view. I tend to do jobs at the last minute, like this article. I go into my files for notes, and put everything together without proof-reading, plug ideas in where they may fit, then I’ll go back and look again later in the day. If I waited to start in the perfect way, the article would never get written, because there’d be nothing on the page to revise. Muslin mockups for dolls are a great invention so you don’t cut into your best piece of fabric right away. That’s another inhibition I’m working to overcome…at 58, and with So Much Stuff, I need to start using up the Good Stuff NOW, rather than leaving it for someone else to throw out after I’m gone.

Much of the process of making art is putting something down and then working off of it. So if there’s nothing down, there’s nothing to work off of. Art often seems to me to be a living thing. The art creates itself, and creates me, as much as I create it. It’s a dialog between you and the fabric or the page or the pot.

I write in my Dream Journal every morning, beginning with whatever I remember from my dreams and moving on to other writing. I started keeping a journal when I was 22 and have never stopped, but then I am very verbal. Beginning with a dream fragment gets the first words down on the page, or computer screen. Think about what inspires you—make a scrap book of cool colors, textures, forms…don’t use the most inspiring doll work you’ve ever seen, because that can too easily become intimidating, but think about the visuals that will make your juices start to flow. It could be a small box of materials that you can take out and arrange in different ways, or a pattern by someone else where you deliberately deconstruct the body parts or use surprising materials. Often the biggest hurdle is just putting yourself with the materials and the time, and continuing to go back to them again and again.

In my current decision to move to the West Coast, the question that solidified my resolves was, “If you were to die tomorrow, would you regret not having tried it?” I knew I had to go for it, even if it doesn’t work out the way I hope it will. Often I feel overwhelmed by the number of things still to be settled, arranged, accomplished, but I find that if I break the Overwhelming Tasks down into small steps, I can do one at a time, and soon the arrangements are made, most of the boxes are packed. Can you live your life without creativity? If not, start now, Just Do It!