I appreciate when life offers us little periods of time to reboot. For many (and for myself too), this is New Year’s. Starting a new year fresh with goals in mind and a new energy is great, but for me, the fall is an even better time to try to develop good habits. I’m much more rested and refreshed after the summer than I am in January, and I always consider how I can make the school year a good one for the kids as well as more productive and creative for me while they’re in school. So, here are five habits I’m working to develop, and I’d love to hear yours!
- Work in sketchbook daily. I do work in my sketchbook quite often, but I wish it was a more developed habit. Every successful designer I know does this, and when I was in art school, it was the first thing all the teachers encouraged us to do. My drawing skills aren’t up to the standard I’d like, but a sketchbook is invaluable for remembering ideas. I write alot of notes, but honestly, no matter how fast and scribbled my drawing might be, the visuals are always easier to go back to later.
- Set specific goals and build in rewards for when I accomplish them. The last few years I struggled alot. I got very sick for about 6 months, and had to go back and forth to the doctor to get myself sorted out. I was so tired I could hardly make it through a day without a nap. I also worked nonstop, and as soon as one thing was done, I moved onto the next. I realized I was losing the joy in life, even in the things I most love to do. The key, I think, to avoiding such complete burnout is to set specific goals, and to celebrate accomplishments with a day off. I plan to allow myself the pleasure of a day out shopping (or a day at home with a good book, depending on my mood) before rushing into the next big challenge.
- Even when you have a job you love, there will always be tasks you just don’t love doing. And they mount up very quickly when you procrastinate! My new goal could be termed “Don’t procrastinate”, but more specifically, get the tasks you hate out of the way. Even though this takes discipline, it does help free your mind for the things you love!
- Learn to focus. Sometimes life requires us to shift gears more than we want to, but especially when it comes to crafting, we have alot of control over this. In my previous post I mentioned how I had way too many projects going, or just sitting around because I lost interest. What I learned over the summer is that it is so much more productive to focus, and it’s also much more likely to get things finished when I do!
- Give more, share more. I really love this video. I think it’s extremely important if you work by yourself to keep up interaction with other people in the same situation, to know when to ask for help, and to also be willing to give other people the same support. I want to get better at this, and plan to spend at least a little time each day keeping up with what my fellow designers and crafters are doing.
For you non-crafters, FO stands for Finished Object. Today is the first day of school, and in recognition of the end of summer, I would like to share all the projects I finished over the course of summer vacation. This finishing of projects I’d lost interest in required way more self-discipline than I am usually capable of, so I think it deserves recognition. And celebration, because I can finally see my coffee table again. :)
Since every crocheter and knitter I know has this problem from time to time, let me encourage you to finish up some of those things laying around! I recommend picking a set amount of time (for me it was the summer), and for that amount of time, work on only one project at a time. Focus on the one closest to completion, then move on to the next. Cut yourself off from buying yarn. Don’t start anything new. This last piece of advice was really hard for me because summer is usually a time I like to start new projects. However, it was also a good length of time to finish things because it’s long enough to see progress, but short enough I knew I could tough it out for the three months! If you set yourself up to a similar challenge, try to strike that happy balance between allowing yourself enough time to see a stack of projects through, but not such a long time you just get sick of it and give up. And when you do meet your goals, reward yourself! I hope you enjoy browsing mine!
This pattern is one I plan to make many times over! This one did not actually sit around for a long time, but I included it because it was something I finished early in the summer.
Gifts for my nieces. I don’t have a good explanation for why I started these and then took 2 years to finish them. But the fact that I went to see my family and had a deadline helped me get motivated to finish. :)
The only bit of design work I’ve done this summer. I started it back in March or April, and decided to push to get it done so I could give my brain a rest. :)
The only reason I can think of that I let this one sit around was that other items took more priority until I decided to give this as a gift to my sister. Note to self: having a firm idea of what you want to do with an item when it’s done helps you get it done! :)
I knew from the start that I wanted to give these to my sister. She likes to decorate her kitchen seasonally, and I thought she’d enjoy these Easter egg colors during spring. I wanted to try Tunisian crochet, and decided this would be a good project because they were just flat rectangles. The problem is, to have a set, you must do FOUR.
This was not really languishing that long, but um, I didn’t get it done by the end of the mystery KAL. I was in the middle of alot of design work at the time and so it went on the back burner. But it’s a whole lot of camel, silk, and merino to wrap myself up in when the weather gets cold. Which, to be honest, was THE best motivator to get it done before I started anything else!
As I might have mentioned in prior posts, I have a hard time dealing with clutter. The main reason for this is because I really hate being wasteful. I don’t like getting rid of things that I still feel have life left in them, but I’m not one of those people who has constant inspiration for how to repurpose stuff. I walk into thrift stores and immediately feel overwhelmed. One of my best friends is an extremely talented artist who can take a toilet paper roll and make fine art out of it. I admire this trait very much, and so when I was at the library last week, I was intantly drawn to this book. And of course, I went to this artist’s blog and found way more goodies than can fit into a book. I don’t know if it will help me get rid of all my clutter, but I am inspired to keep trying to look at old items in a new way.
As mentioned in my last post, I just returned from a trip back east to visit family and longtime friends. I grew up in Pittsburgh, and now that I”ve been away for so long, I’m always struck by the beauty of the city when I go back to visit. This year, I made it my mission to visit the Andy Warhol museum. I don’t know how I’ve loved Pop Art, grown up in Pittsburgh, gone to art school in Pittsburgh, and yet never visited this museum! I decided it was time, so my sister and I spent a lovely day touring all seven floors. It did not disappoint. Each floor covers a time period of his work – his film work was on one floor, the famous silkscreen portraits on another…
I also realized that despite all the references to Warhol’s work in today’s culture, I really didn’t know very much about him at all. Since the museum didn’t allow us to take photography anywhere except on the ground floor, here are a few of the tidbits I learned.
- He is not only Pittsburgh born and bred, he attended Carnegie Mellon University. This was particularly of interest to me because Carnegie Mellon has a prestigious art program, and was my dream school. I applied and was accepted, but unfortunately, I couldn’t afford it. I didn’t realize until my museum visit that this was Andy’s alma mater, but since the program is a tough one, I have to admire him for making it through and going on to become so successful!
- I read in his diaries (in the notes by his secretary, Pat Hackett) that Andy really loved his “weekday rut”. There is a stereotype out there that artists live wild, erratic lifestyles, and this may be true for some. However, in my own experience, and also in my observation of other artists I know, we need to have a routine and practice self-discipline if we want to maintain our creativity. Inspiration is usually something we have to actively pursue and work for. It was interesting to read that Andy stuck to his routine, despite being known for his intense social life with celebrities.
- But lest we all get the wrong idea, his secretary also mentioned that his Factory (which he later called his office) was always full of clutter. I related to this also, because I struggle with clutter. I need alot of images and stuff around me to refer to, but at the same time, if I let it get out of hand, I find myself becoming less creative. According to his diaries, alot of the items he kept went into his Time Capsules.
- Andy was associated with many celebrities, but I didn’t realize until my museum visit, and then reading some of his diaries, that he was so far ahead of his time. He published Interview magazine, and his vision for the magazine was to have it filled with celebrities, ideally, with celebrities interviewing other celebrities. His diaries are full of namedropping and his interactions with celebrities. Today, these things are a dime a dozen, but at the time, he was on the cutting edge of the pop culture influence. If he was alive today, I wonder if he would now be veering in the opposite direction, taking interest in the handcrafted, artisan movement. Our culture is now so oversaturated with celebrities, it is a relief to escape it.
And now, just a note about his diaries. I expected to be reading about his work. The truth is, the diaries are more a record of his social life and how much he spent on cab fares and such than they are about what he did in the studio. I found this very disappointing, and did not even make it through more than a few hundred out of the almost thousand pages. There are descriptions of parties with drugs and drinking, which celebrities were there and conversations they had, so if you enjoy reading about 1970’s New York partying, you may make it through this book. However, I wanted to read about his working methods, his thoughts and inspirations, and he only makes minimal references to his artwork.
I just returned from vacation with my family, and have lots to share. I love travelling, and of course, like most people, I don’t get to do nearly enough of it. The change of pace and new scenery, even in this case, when I spent time where I grew up, always inspire me and make me appreciate the value of learning. I always come home with a fresh perspective and in the mood to start new projects. Regardless of whether you are returning from a trip or simply in need of something new in your life, taking time to learn is always beneficial. Unfortunately, (and I see this in the shop ALOT with newbie crocheters and knitters), adults have a tough time accepting that learning is a process. So in honor of the gift we call learning, I’d like to share my top five parts of the process. My list is from the perspective of learning to knit and crochet, but you can apply the general ideas of the learning process to almost anything.
- Start with a dishcloth. I have no idea why people hate the idea of making a dishcloth, but when newbies come in the shop wanting to start their first project, they never seem to like the idea very much. If you want to crochet and knit, I’m sure it’s because you saw or heard about some of the amazing things that have already been made. But I am here to tell you: don’t start with your end goal! I learned first to crochet, then to knit, and both times, I started by making a dishcloth with the cheapest cotton I could find. In defense of the dishcloth, consider the benefits: no matter how uneven your stitches are or how ugly it turns out, you will still have a useful item. People often start with scarves, which are good because they’re flat, but really, who wants to wear a scarf that is full of mistakes? If you complete a dishcloth or two, you will have learned to tension your yarn properly, how to read your stitches, and of course, just the general technique of the craft. The other good thing about dishcloths is that they can be finished much quicker than almost anything else, which allows you to learn some of the bare basics and then move on to something more exciting.
- Keep your expectations reasonable and cut yourself some slack! Knitters and crocheters really need to give themselves credit for how much stuff they have to learn! We learn about fiber content, how things drape and wear with time, how to “read” our stitches, how to tension yarn, and so much more. It’s ludicrous to expect to know it all instantly. The fact of the matter is that learning is a process. It’s great to have a goal, but it’s also important to remember that it takes lots of time and practice to learn something new. This is the most major issue I see in the shop when I’m teaching people. You don’t learn to sew by starting with a couture ballgown, and beginning knitters and crocheters shouldn’t expect to go from making a scarf or dishcloth to a fitted sweater with a complicated pattern. You will get there eventually, but ease up and keep the learning curve gradual!
- Practice really does make perfect. People come in the shop all the time, see me working on a project they think is cool, and then seem floored when I tell them I’ve only been knitting and crocheting for about 5 years. Maybe my learning curve has been fast, maybe it hasn’t – I’m not really sure how I stack up in relation to other people’s rate of learning. But here’s my truth for everyone: I spend pretty much any chance I have knitting and crocheting. I don’t watch much TV, or if I do, it’s while I”m working on a project. I don’t have a crazy social life where I’m out on the town every weekend, and I don’t go a day without sitting down to work on a project for at least an hour. This is not to say everyone needs to make it the priority that I do, but the truth is there is no shortcut to learning something. Regardless of what it is you want to become good at, there is no substitute for practice.
- Understand from the start that you WILL make mistakes. No one likes doing it, but unfortunately, making mistakes is part of learning, and sometimes, ripping out is the only way to fix it so that you can be happy with the end result. I’ve gotten much more used to ripping out now that I’m a designer because alot of design is trial and error. But even if designing your own stuff is not your end game, there will still be times, especially when you’re starting out, that you need to rip back and fix things. It’s never a happy moment, so pick and choose when it’s absolutely necessary, but don’t expect to never have to do it. The bright side is that usually, when you redo the part you messed up, you figured alot out in the process, and it goes much quicker the second or third time around!
- Be willing to focus on the process, and push yourself to finish projects. When I started, I couldn’t wait to make gifts for loved ones, and I learned the hard way to be careful about what kinds of deadlines I put on myself. If you are in a rush to finish things and stressed out about self-inflicted deadlines, the process of making something becomes stressful instead of enjoyable. The other pitfall to watch out for is having too many unfinished projects laying around. All of us have projects that frustrated us so much that we had to put them aside for awhile. If you are that frustrated, then go ahead and put it aside. But beware of constantly starting things and not finishing them. Take it from me – too many unfinished projects laying around will cause you more stress and frustration. Even though it often feels boring by the end, it’s important to give yourself the satisfaction of finishing things, which is why, even now, I still make dishcloths when I need that feeling!
As you progress, you will realize that not knowing it all is also the beauty of it. The knowledge that there is always something more to learn is what keeps the more experienced of us coming back for more! May you always have something left to explore!