Guest series :: The relationship between time and creativity

by kath_red on 25/07/2012

in Guest series 2012

Guest series 2012: I asked fellow bloggers, makers and creators to write on their creativity and focus their essay on one of four topics: creativity and health, creativity and business, creativity and parenting or creativity and process. I am very excited to have a wonderful lot of fellow creative folk guest posting here at over the next couple of months. Please welcome…

Abby Glassenberg creates unique patterns for stuffed animals from her home studio, and since 2005 she has shared these creations and her ideas on design, technique and the online culture of craft through her blog. Abby has a master’s degree in education, she taught middle school before becoming a textile artist and the mother of three girls. Abby’s first book, The Artful Bird: Feathered Friends to Make and Sew, was an ALA Booklist top ten craft book of 2011. Her new book about soft toy design and will be published by Lark in May of 2013. You can find Abby’s stuffed animal patterns in her Craftsy pattern shop and her Etsy shop and keep up with her latest pattern releases on her Facebook page.

In 2003 I had a whole summer off. I was a sixth grade teacher, married, living in an apartment we owned in an interesting, upbeat area of Boston. In early June, just before school was out, I set some summer goals for myself: draw every day, dust off my old watercolors and paint, make a quilt with all that fabric I’d been hoarding.

The last day of school came and went, as did the first week of summer vacation, and I was just about ready to start in on those projects. Monday morning my husband left for work and I went to the bakery and then for a long walk and then I took a nap. And watched some TV. And talked on the phone with my sister. And suddenly the day was gone and I never did draw. In fact, week after long free week of that summer rolled on by and, yes, I did sew a few scraps together, but then laid them aside when I couldn’t figure out what to do next, and, yes, I painted a little still life of some lemons and gave it to my mother for her birthday, but then I put the paints back on the shelf. Even while I was living those weeks I could see that my lofty summer goals for productive creativity were not being realized.

But why? Why wasn’t I using all that free time as creative time? The desire was there, but something crucial was missing. Now I see that the missing element was a feeling of urgency. Urgency reframes time, places constraints on us, maybe forces us even, to use every single moment if we are to meet our goals.

By the end of that summer I was pregnant with our first child, a daughter born the next March. I left the classroom to be home with her and suddenly I was back in the apartment while my husband was at work, with long hours before me, a similar feeling to the one I’d had the previous summer. Visits to the bakery, long walks pushing the stroller, naps, some TV, talks with my sister – it was all the same. Except now it was completely different.

When the baby was up there was always something to do. Nursing and changing, comforting and cleaning, folding and cooking, and then cleaning and nursing again, and on and on. And when finally I could put her down for a nap and I could be me again. The old me. The me that wanted to draw and paint and sew. But now I only had an hour before the cycle of nursing and changing and comforting and cleaning started all over again. An hour and ten minutes if I was lucky. So out came the sketchbook and the pencil because if I was going to actually make anything I had to start right now!

And pretty soon I was making things, teaching myself to sew from old soft toy books I’d check out of the library after storytime on Tuesdays. And in May of 2005 I started a blog, to record all that naptime creative productivity. In the seven years that have passed we’ve had two more daughters (only girls so that “She” still rings true!) and I’m a stay-at-home mom with a creative business that I work on primarily while my kids are asleep or at school or camp.

When people peek into my studio, peruse my website, and see everything that I’m making, and then notice that I have three kids who are 8, 6, and 18 months, the first thing they ask me is, “How do you find the time?”

Having children has given me many gifts (and a fair number of headaches, too), but one of the greatest gifts of motherhood for me is the constraints it has placed on my time. Looking back at that summer of 2003 my first reaction is to feel jealous desire, dreaming of what I would do if only I had that time now. The reality of now, though, is that I never have time like that. And precisely because I don’t, I find the time to produce creative work every day.

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Seanna Lea July 25, 2012 at 6:47 am

That rings so true. I don’t have kids, but the week of vacation to make ice cream (18 flavors) resulted in over half of the work being done near the end when the constraints on my time were greater. It was easier early in the week to think that I had time and to just put off doing anything in favor of a book or a game.


2 virginia July 25, 2012 at 8:32 am

Fantastic and inspiring insight! Thank you for that. Good luck with everything!


3 betz July 25, 2012 at 10:03 am

Great insight! The more you have to do, the more you get done, I always say.


4 Jodi July 25, 2012 at 10:14 am

Oh. My. Gosh. This is so very true, and I have heard it from more than just seamstress/sewists/crafters. We take care of the things that are precious, and nothing makes time more precious than the more-than-full-time job of motherhood.


5 susan schwake July 25, 2012 at 10:41 am



6 laurie July 25, 2012 at 11:09 am

It’s probably healthy for your children to see you engaged in something you love, skillfully balancing your time between the needs of your family with your own needs for creative expression and time for yourself. Bravo!


7 Deepa July 25, 2012 at 12:43 pm

I love your post, and your work. So very true, everything you say. I have two under 6 and there is a very small amount of time in the day when I am not playing the role of corporate worker bee or mom. Knitting has been perfect to meet that deadline-driven creative urge…a couple rows today, one tomorrow, eventually there is a finished object, tangible output, a beautiful and useful thing.


8 Carolyn July 25, 2012 at 3:00 pm

Abby- I am constantly in awe of you and your talents. Not only do you make the time to create, but you are a master of getting your work out and seen so that the rest of us can enjoy. You have boundless energy and enthusiasm and a long list of accomplishments. I think the thing that separates you from the pack is that you are fearless and approach life from a ‘can do’ attitude.

I am honored to have you as my friend.


9 tielserrath July 25, 2012 at 7:57 pm

If you’re going to be creative you have to divide your day into what must be done, and what is, in effect, a time drain. One of the best things I ever did was get rid of the television. I haven’t had one since 1996, and I think it’s the biggest reason my creativity has so much room to function.


10 Janice July 25, 2012 at 11:45 pm

You have hit the nail on the head! I used to have summers off and I tell my husband that I don’t know what I did with my time (nothing). I am far more productive now that I have two toddlers. My time to create is so precious, that I am always thirsting for more and that drives me to be efficient.


11 Colleen July 26, 2012 at 5:37 am

This is so true. Busy people get the most done. But having no kids myself I am continually impressed and awed but what mum’s (and dad’s) can accomplish while still being great parents. My hat goes off to you!


12 New City Magazine July 26, 2012 at 5:42 am

Having kids are a blessing. We have 2 of our own boys and took in 3 girls who are our nieces. It is TOUGH I tell you! Especially, when we are having trouble with the teenage 17 year old girl who likes to do her own thing. But I know the rewards will be worth it.


13 Dana Barbieri July 26, 2012 at 8:22 am

You are awesome Abby!


14 Abby Glassenberg July 26, 2012 at 12:44 pm

Thank you, everyone. I’m so glad my words rang true to you, too!


15 Joann July 26, 2012 at 12:53 pm

Appreciate your comments, although my children are kids anymore, I too remember those days. Now with other pressures, I too crave my “creative” time and know it gives me uncommon calm in a chaotic world.


16 Jason August 24, 2012 at 12:43 am

Truer words have never been spoken. :) Sometimes it’s hard to find the right balance!


17 Andrea August 6, 2013 at 10:09 am

Yes! Isn’t it amazing that having children suddenly makes us realize how much time we *really* have in a day? I have a love/hate relationship with deadlines. I get stuff done when I have one, but I hate the constraining feeling, so I try to space them out. Maybe I need to rethink that.
Urgency. I need to keep that word in mind as I try to navigate this whole time/space/creativity issue. :-)


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