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…

Erin Dollar is an artist who focuses mainly on printmaking and textile arts. Her most recent project, Cotton & Flax, is a line of natural, hand printed textiles and works on paper using hand drawn patterns. She lives in Los Angeles, California, where she visits art museums with her boyfriend, and tries to keep her cat from walking on wet silkscreen prints. Her new blog is here, and she pins her inspiration here.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how the internet has shaped my art making process, and how much (or little) inspiration I get from surfing the vast expanses of the internet. I’ve been feeling something recently, something I can only describe as “visual overload”, and so I have been trying hard to limit my screen time, and get back into “real life”.

It’s tricky, though, because the internet is always trying to suck me back in. More than ever, artists and creative-types are able to quickly find inspiring and beautiful images online. Pinterest has been a huge blessing for me, in that I can visually bookmark things that inspire me so that I may review them later. But the huge wealth of amazing images online can sometimes overwhelm me, and I’ve found that when I get caught up in skimming through these images, I often close my laptop feeling discouraged, and even less inspired than when I began. I’m sure many of you relate to that feeling of endless scrolling, always finding more wonderful things to read and look at online. But lately, I’ve been trying to pull away a bit.

I’ve been trying to get out more, visit museums and galleries, and to actually meet other local artists and learn about their habits and practices. Seeing what people are making in your own community can be incredibly inspiring, and seeing work in person reminds you of the human connection, something that is often lost while looking at other artists’ work online. As a printmaker, so much of what I appreciate in making new work is the process, rather than just the final image. Seeing other artists’ prints (or paintings, sculptures, etc.) in person means that I can look more closely for clues about how a piece was made, and in that way, can discover new approaches for my own work.

Recently, I’ve found it helpful to think of all the media I consume (books, magazines, movies, TV, blogs) as “input”. If I try to vary the input (for example, spend equal time surfing the web and reading books), I feel more balanced in my process of gathering inspiration. Nurturing different parts of my brain seems to help keep my creativity flowing. Listening to music, or sometimes even science or storytelling podcasts like Radiolab or This American Life, help open up my brain to new ideas as I sit at my desk and sketch.

The thing is, once I manage to sit myself down at my desk, and maintain a consistent working schedule… the inspiration just flows. Now if only I could get myself to sit still and create new work more often!



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…

Berber Vos blogs at KissKus. She lives in the middle of The Netherlands with husband, children and chickens. Sewing and crochet are her crafts of choice. Bread making and planting a veggie garden are more important to her than general housekeeping.

Anyone who has ever made something knows the positive feelings that comes with creating: the pride, the relief, the satisfaction. To look at something that you made, or to taste it, or to feel it is incredibly fulfilling. It doesn’t matter whether it’s sewing, knitting, cooking, gardening or home decorating that you do.

Some people are born with a natural urge to create, to others it’s a foreign concept. However, I believe that there is a spark of creativity in anyone. All it takes is a little bit of courage and maybe a little support. You don’t even need to spend much money, because being creative with your resources is part of the fun of crafting. And although I would never impose creativity on anyone, I would certainly wish it for everyone. Now, let me explain that a little more…

As well as the enjoyable reasons above, in my own life I have often used my creativity to get through a difficult patch. Whether it was the feeling of isolation after the birth of my first child, depression or other personal issues, I have used crafts in a number of healing ways. At times it has been a real support and a life rope to the outside world.

Most recently, my creativity helped me through a personally difficult situation sometime last year. There were times that I felt desperately unable to either move back or forward then. I suppose we have all experienced those kind of feelings in a big or small way. While I was struggling to make sense of myself and the world around me, there was a growing urge welling up from deep inside of me to create – something – anything at all. The need was very clear. However, the execution seemed a bridge too far.

I am a sewer, so initially that seemed the logical thing to do. However, it turned out to be too much of an effort for me at the time. Getting my machine out and organizing my materials was simply too much. Therefore, I came up with an alternative plan: crochet. After a dodgy start I was off and for the past year I’ve been crocheting like a maniac. Many, many skeins of cotton have passed through my house, since I was doing hours of crochet each day. By keeping my hands busy I felt like I could keep my mind under control. The very first project that I finished was this blanket, made out of the many squares that I made.  It’s far from perfect, but it is so dear to me. I’ve created this splash of colour from dark emotions and it now cheers up our house.

While I was doing better I decided to take on a new challenge: sewing lessons. While I was a perfectly average sewer I was often frustrated at my limited skills. I decided I simply wanted to get better at sewing. Little did I know how much I was going to learn! Those sewing lessons have developed so much more than just my sewing skills. I have been amazed at the different levels of learning a craft: there is the technique, but then there is so much more that comes along with it.

Over the past year I have challenged and improved myself in patience, persistence and accuracy. I’ve been lucky to have found a sewing teacher that has been the right mix of kind and firm with me. I’m now appreciating the whole process of sewing, instead of just the finished item. And I consider that a great gift that will hopefully get to enjoy for the rest of my life. All in all, I can honestly say that crafting has enriched my life and that of my family. It literally helps to brighten up my house specifically, and my life in general. It definitely makes me a happier person. For that I am very grateful. And that’s why I secretly wish to hand out pieces of creativity to everyone; perhaps hidden in some homemade cookies :)


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…

Claire Dollan loves to recycle and make things. You can find her on flickr and Etsy or at her photo blog which she shares with her dad.

It’s funny that I should be asked a question about my creative process when it is something that has been very much on my mind of late. Specifically, how can I satisfy that part of myself when I am spending a good portion of my day working outside my home on things that are on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. This is, by far, my biggest challenge.

When I am sitting at my desk looking at spreadsheets, I want to be sitting at my sewing machine, surrounded by piles of fabric, but when I get home, I just want to sit on the couch, relax, and then hopefully get a good night’s sleep.

I wish I could say that I have found an easy solution, but honestly, I find it an ongoing struggle to find that balance in life. What I can tell you, is that I have been working on it, and here’s a few things that i’ve come up with:

The first thing I did was to redefine what I counted as ‘creative’ because, as I had recently come to realise, cooking and gardening are creative. Spending a couple of hours washing, chopping, seasoning, and mixing ingredients to create something tasty and nourishing for your family is such a worthy and creative use of your time. I love flipping through cookbooks over slow weekend breakfasts, the delicious sounding meals and beautiful images inspire me in so many ways, not just in the kitchen (some of faves… Nigel Slater :: Moro restaurant ::  River cottage).

One day a week I volunteer at a rooftop garden here in downtown vancouver (talk about an inspiring place) and yesterday after work, I planted potatoes — little sprouting potatoes. I dug the holes, covered them with dirt, and soon they will sprout more potatoes. This is, I believe, creative in the most literal sense, and it felt so good to have dirt under my nails and mud on my boots. As good as when I finally managed to make a dress for the wedding we are going to on the weekend.

Which leads me to my next point, what I like to call: The revelation. The process of making this dress was torturous for me: trying to read a japanese pattern where the pieces didn’t seem to match, and struggling to find a way to make it work did not feel creative or fun. I felt frustrated and like a failure until the moment I realised that I do not like making clothes. It was that simple. I don’t know why it took me so long to see. I guess because I figured since I could, I should. But really, with so little time (and energy) at my disposal, why was I wasting it on something that I found incredibly difficult, and most importantly, unsatisfying? Especially when there are people (for example … Anna Allen and Annie Larson) who do such an amazing job and are clearly naturals.

Instead, I could actually use my free time to work on things that I actually enjoy and give me satisfaction without the stress. So I scrapped the complicated japanese pattern I just couldn’t figure out (even with a translation so awesomely provided by my bosses wife), and kept it simple and made a dress i’ve made many times before. Next time i’ll leave it to the experts.

And finally, how do I manage to fit a little creative into my everyday life, which for the most part involves a fluorescent lighted cubicle, the aforementioned spreadsheets, and a decent amount of meetings? The answer … a big stack of gridded notepaper and a love of doodling. By giving each square an inch value I can doodle my way into a new quilt over the course of a few meetings or telephone calls. I can work out a rough set list of cutting sizes and daydream about colours so that when I do finally get some crafty home time I can skip all the boring ‘working stuff out’ and get straight to the fun stuff: choosing fabrics and then cutting them into lovely little piles all ready to be sewn up the next time I have craft time. Which, for the record, is sunday. On saturday I am a chore task master, but sunday is all mine.


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…

Maryanne lives in Sydney Australia. She wears many hats – a wife, a mother, a doctor, a sewing addict and sewing teacher. She shares a blog and a sewing school with her sister Caroline. Their sewing school is called Sew Together. When Maryanne is being a doctor she likes to spend her time not only treating illness, but helping to keep people both physically and psychologically well.

There is no doubt that sewing makes me feel good. It makes me feel fulfilled, calm and productive. It excites and enthuses me. When I am not sewing and I have a spare moment in my day – driving the car, under the shower or drifting off to sleep I am thinking about sewing – processing the projects I am currently working on or planning the next one. As I was growing up I saw my mother doing the same thing and now I see my sister thinking similarly. I am sure WhipUp unites many others who feel the same way.

The question is why do we all feel like this? Maybe it is a gene knitted tightly into some people’s DNA but I am sure there is more to it than that.

Research about sewing and wellbeing is fairly thin on the ground. Anyone who sews regularly will tell you it makes them feel good but there isn’t much science out there to prove it or explain why. If you are interested in looking at what is available, I would encourage you to check out Stitchlinks a fantastic organization that supports people who use knitting and stitching to improve their wellbeing, performs research into the benefits of crafts, in particular knitting, and provides information to clinicians, teachers, the craft trade and others who wish to use therapeutic knitting and run therapeutic knitting groups.

For me, I think a lot of it comes down to the idea of flow. Yes, there is pleasure in making something beautiful to wear or display but there is something in the actual process of designing and sewing that keeps me coming back.

Flow is a concept that was developed in the 1990s by the psychologist Dr Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Cziksentmihalyi defines flow as “a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it”. The more flow we experience in our daily lives, the happier we feel overall.

He identifies a number of different conditions that lead to flow:

  • There are clear goals every step of the way.
  • There is immediate feedback to one’s actions.
  • There is a balance between challenges and skills.
  • Action and awareness are merged.
  • Distractions are excluded from consciousness.
  • There is no worry of failure.
  • Self-consciousness disappears.
  • The sense of time becomes distorted.
  • The activity becomes an end in itself.

Check out the article Happiness and Creativity by Cziksentmihalyi for more details.

Sometimes I sew by the book – pick a pattern I like and sew it up. It’s enjoyable but I don’t get that totally immersed–lost in time feeling. But when I “Sew with the flow” I tick every item on Cziksentmihalyi’s list. Let me give you some examples.

A little purse (for which there is a tutorial on our blog) was so enjoyable to work out. I had an exact idea of how I wanted it to look but no pattern. Combining the skills I had with some maths and an A4 piece of paper, I drafted up a pattern and it turned out exactly as I had hoped. Some people wouldn’t experience flow with a project like this – maybe they have no interest, or it would be just too easy. But for me it hit the spot – challenging, absorbing, immediate feedback, yes it was for our blog but it was more about the process behind it than writing a post. And when it all worked out and I had worked out directions to make this little zippered purse in any size I was pretty happy with myself.

This dress was created by Caroline and me for Project Run and Play a children’s clothing design and sewing competition we are currently competing in. We drafted it from scratch – a double circle skirt with colour blocking attached to a fitted bodice. We are new to pattern drafting so it was certainly challenging and absorbing. But I think I would call this project ‘sewing with the flow with an added bonus’ and that bonus would be social connectedness. Social connectedness is another key component to well being. I could connect with my sister while making it and share in the excitement of pushing ourselves beyond our comfort zone. It also connected us with the worldwide sewing community via the internet and we received some great feedback about our work. I think we all know that this has the ability to make us feel pretty good and is therefore somewhat addictive!

Finally I want to share with you something I call “70 squares” (see image at the top). I made this for my Mum for her 70th birthday. Each of the 70 squares represent something important to my Mum – her family and friends, places she has travelled, places she has lived and other parts of her life. I found the process of creating this quite meditative. It is a slower project than what I usually do and this gave me lots of time to think about my Mum, my family and our history. It connected me with her friends and more distant family when I contacted them to find out how they would like to be represented. And it made my Mum so happy when I gave it to her.

So, to quote Csikszentmihalyi: “For many people happiness comes from creating new things and making discoveries. Enhancing one’s creativity may therefore enhance well being.”

I think there would be many of us who would confidently say that the “may” in the second sentence is redundant…


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…

Verity Heysen Kizek is an Australian artist and illustrator who recently moved back to Australia after living in Istanbul. For a peek at Verity’s new work, her life and adventures with her little boy Yashar and husband Senol, you can visit her online journal.

The birth of my son Yashar, and the changes in my life at the time were a huge inspiration and motivation for me creatively. For a long time I had a strong interest in art and making – but it was really following his birth and our move to Turkey that it turned from a unrealised dream to a big part of our lives. All of a sudden time became so precious. I didn’t want to waste any more time doing something I didn’t truly have my heart in.

When Yashar was first born all I wanted to create were the softest, calmest pieces I could. The colours in them were so pale! These early illustrations I did after he was born (and when I was first starting to do illustration!) were all about being gentle and dreamy.

As he grew I started to do pieces that were a little more colourful, but still very calm and peaceful. I created ‘Cool Forest’ in the middle of a hot and humid Istanbul Summer. I was dreaming about escaping to a beautiful green forest with Yashar, sitting by the cool stream.

While mostly the influence was quite natural and organic, other times, like when I designed this wallpaper for Studio Nommo , I would purposefully sit there and think… what would Yashar like? What would I want to put in his room? What would be fun for him? And I do a similar thing now for my work for Master & Miss – a very cute little organic clothing brand that I design some fabric prints and patterns for.

Being a mother also taught me to enjoy the process more! When we lived in Istanbul, one of my favourite times of the week was going to our art classes at LOLA. LOLA is a wonderful children’s art studio that runs, among other things, toddler’s art groups. We would join in with the children, swooshing the paint around with our hands, gluing and ripping and sticking and glittering. It was therapeutic! We were also lucky to have a wonderful teacher, Alara who actively encouraged this enjoyment of the process – encouraging the children to paint their feet and run around on huge sheets of paper, and pouring huge pools of paint on a table for the children to run their fingers through and smudge, smooth and swish all over the table.

Now, as Yashar is growing, I find him more inspiring than ever. From the crazy descriptions of monsters, to the idea of wanting to be so small he could swim in his ice cream, to his peaceful face when I see him fall asleep each evening.

Resources for creating with children:

The Crafty Crow  :: Made by Joel :: Soule Mama  :: The Long Thread