Unplugging to Create and Explore

Brown and Orange striped knitted scarf

Election Day seems to be a good day to post about the break I’ve taken in this space, especially since I’m trying to tune out the news for at least part of the day. So, about that break…

My studio is where I go to create, express ideas, find peace, and get lost in the flow. Occasionally, it feels more like work than play – usually a sign that my creativity is tapped out. So, I took a break – or, as I like to say, cleared the table for awhile. Critical was unplugging from social media and engaging in activities that I find restorative:

  • Playing with color and texture. Finding a box of yarn for a sweater that I know I will never knit started me down this path. Now, 4-1/2 scarves later, I’ve got some ideas for future quilts and embroidered pieces – and gifts for my family.
  • Sketching found objects. When out on walks, I like to pick up leaves, acorns and other items lying on the ground. When the objects are too big or stationary (like tree bark), I snap a picture and then begin sketching at home. My sketches are not how you might see it, but they are as I see and interpret the object. Again, more ideas going into the creative tank.
  • Breaking out of a cooking rut to make some pretty terrific meals. There have been a couple of flops so not all has been perfect but I am learning and my taste buds are quite happy. The meal we are still talking about: Zuni Cafe’s Roasted Chicken with Bread Salad. I’ve never eaten at this San Francisco restaurant but I know exactly what I’d order!
  • Connecting with family and friends via phone, Zoom, or in person. It is amazing how much your schedule opens up when you unplug. All of sudden, you have a bit more time – and energy – to connect with people one-on-one. One blustery, chilly day we sat around our friends’ table to enjoy a great meal and conversation, then watched My Octopus Teacher. (We first checked to make sure we had been following CDC guidelines when it comes to social distancing.)
  • Steeping myself in nature. Walks, sitting outside – even with a blanket wrapped tightly round – or just opening a window and taking a deep breath in to connect with the natural world.

I am working on making these activities daily/weekly habits to keep my creative tank from becoming depleted again. I’ve also established more clear boundaries around social media – checking in once or twice a day for 30 minutes or less and unplugging during the weekends. Exceptions will happen but that’s what they will be, not the norm. Focusing and prioritizing those things that matter most – like family, friendships and my creative practice – will get the most attention.

So, on this big day, go vote if you have not already. Next, unplug to find a few minutes to slow down and do what restores you on a regular basis. Then starting at home, create and do to build a better world for today and for future generations, a world that unites, is kind and inclusive, is built on science and truth.

Mini Twig Sculptures

Twig wrapped in perle cotton beneath woven through leaves

Some years back, my family and I took in Steve Tobin’s Steelroots exhibit at The Morton Arboretum. Inspired by what we saw, my daughter and I came home and made our own mini sculptures from twigs we collected in our yard and perle cotton. Recently, I came across one of the twigs stuck in a vase that had somehow made its way to the back of a cabinet.

To make the sculptures, we looked for twigs with an interesting form – if there were scars or other interesting marks, we left those sections unwrapped. We played with different lengths of perle cotton – sometimes using just pinks or greens, other times using multiple colors.

When finished, we laid them on a table in the hallway where they were constantly rearranged every time someone walked by. Other found made their way into the “exhibit” – rocks, an acorn, a paper snake, origami birds… This time around, I pulled an interesting (but pesky) weed from the yard and put it in a vase on the kitchen table. And, then of course, the play began: weaving the wrapped twig into the leaves different ways, laying it beneath the leaves, propping it up alongside the vase…

For a fun creative break today, take a walk and gather some interesting twigs of your own, then wrap them in perle cotton, yarn, twine, kitchen string, cording or whatever fiber you have on hand. Arrange the mini sculptures on a table or your desk – and then rearrange again and again!

Exercising Your Creativity Muscle

Basket with Vegetable Garden Plant Markers to Decorate

Creativity has been likened to a muscle: We all have it – we just have to work to strengthen it so that we can reap the rewards.

Over the last few months, with sheltering in place and social distancing the new normal, implementing a daily creative practice is as important as ever. Our world feels a bit smaller, our days a tad mixed up (“Is this Sunday or Monday?”), and our work-life boundaries totally blurred (think kids playing at your feet while you’re trying to get work done, office texts and emails still flowing in at 8 or 9pm, or extra long shifts at the hospital). Expressing ourselves through writing, drawing, painting, sewing, quilting… can help provide a much-needed, nourishing break from the challenges we are facing in our lives right now.

And, if setting aside time to make and create sounds a bit indulgent these days, it’s not. The spillover effect I mention here – Step #6 on the Art Everyday page – is well documented. For example, this Fast Company article from a few years back talks about that spark we feel or breakthrough we have after engaging in a creative practice.

Decide on the best time to fit a creative break into your day, experimenting to see when you get the most benefit: Do you want to use the practice as a warm-up exercise for the day, a mid-day boost, or a transition from your workday to home life. It does not have to be a big chunk of time – committing to 15 minutes a day can make a big difference.

I’ve always got several projects going on in my studio at any given time. However, I keep a basket for just one simple, self-contained project. It sits in my office, ready to go when I need a creative break (usually at the end of the day). The projects rotate: Right now, I’ve stashed a vegetable marker kit from Target. The original kit had paints, which now look dried up, but we’ll see when I get to work. I might instead fill the space up with different patterns using Sharpies instead. It might take me all week to finish the project but the point is that it’s easy to start and stop and all my supplies are in one place, making it hard not to begin. Once this project is finished, I’ll find something else to put in the basket.

My recommendation is that as you develop a creative habit, keep it simple and start with what you enjoy – at least at the beginning. First find a container, something that works for the space you are working in and is portable – a basket or tote bag works best. Then, if you like to write, add a journal or notebook and your favorite pen or pencil to the basket. If you want to spend time each day working with watercolors, stash a small water color set, brush, and a 6″ x 6″ pad of watercolor paper in the basket…

If you have kids, consider making a basket up for each of them that is age appropriate and, ideally, something they can do by themselves at a time when they most need it. For example, a potholder kit, paper and instructions for making paper airplanes (include different kinds of paper to see what flies best!), or a coloring book and crayons.

I’ve long said that when I have a problem to be solved, the best way to figure it out, is to spend time in my studio making. Getting lost in the flow of making frees up headspace to think more creatively, beyond the box – first, in what I am actually doing in the studio and then for the problem/issue I’m trying to resolve.

In the coming weeks, months, and years, creativity will be key to generating new ideas for rebuilding our lives, our communities, our healthcare systems and, well, pretty much everything. And, throughout this process of creating new, focusing on lessons learned from the past, listening to experts, and cultivating out-of-the box thinking so that the end result benefits everyone and addresses what hasn’t worked in the past. Like many things, we can start at home – thinking more creatively about how we solve problems there and at work, then build from there.

So start flexing your creative muscle by building a daily creative practice, stick to it, and enjoy the process and spillover effect! Read more about building a creative habit here. Connect with us on Facebook to see some additional ideas in the coming days of what to put in your basket.