Saturday, July 30, 2011

Creativity Challenge

To me, being an artist means more than just doing what I'm good at. It means constantly refining my technique so that I can do what I do just a little better. It also means stepping out of my comfort zone -- pushing myself to try new things. One of the reasons I love jewelry making so much is that it gives me the chance to do just that. There is no shortage of opportunities to learn and grow.

Lately I've been giving myself a series of challenges. Specific tasks I'd like to accomplish. It's gone so well, and been so much fun, I thought I'd share some of these challenges with you, starting with Creativity Challenge One:

Do what you're afraid of!

When it comes to jewelry making, I've done a little bit of everything, from soldering to metal clay to stringing. However, there are still a couple of things that intimidate me. One is something I've struggled with for awhile, and another is something I'd never tried until this year.

1.) Wire weaving was something I found as intimidating as it was beautiful! Looking at intricate woven rings and pendants, my mouth watered at the thought of producing work at that level, but I didn't even know where to start -- so I put it off.

Eventually, my desire to give it a try won over my timidity, and I approached this challenge knowing that a) It was OK if I struggled at first. As I went on, I would discover little tricks to make the process easier, as this has always been the case with any technique I've learned. Also, that b) I would try a project that fit my skill level, i.e., terrified beginner. Weaving ring shanks would allow me to weave in a straight line over a short distance. No tricky curves, and no tiring out.

(Edit: Here's one of my first wire weaving projects! I love this pink ring.)

(Here's a different weave. This ring is another one of my favorites.)

Turns out, this was the perfect approach for me! I've done a few different weaves and made half a dozen rings. I need to hone these skills, that's for sure, and weaving with more than three wires is something I have yet to work up to, but so far I'm doing great. I've opened up a whole world of design possibilities for myself. Which brings me to...

2.) Wrapping stones. My history with wrapping stones is one that has a very distinct pattern. About once a year, I'll make an attempt at wrapping a cabochon, shell, or rough stone. And it will almost work, but not quite, and I'll tell myself I'm just not cut out to do this sort of thing, and away the stones will go in a box or drawer.

Well. Last year, when I bought some beautiful slabs of rough amethyst at American Science and Surplus, I knew it would only be a matter of time before I tried again. I could feel these stones in my studio like they had an almost human presence! Which was, OK, a little eerie. Finally, I couldn't stand it anymore, and just last week, I gave in.

I approached the challenge knowing I would do a few things differently. I would a) create a setting for the stone as opposed to trying to fit the stone into a cage I'd made. This meant tracing the stone's outline on paper, looking at its curves and bumps, and deciding where the wires should go based on what would be the most secure and attractive. I would also b) stop trying to create wraps like the ones in my instructional books and do it my way. This meant using lots of coils, some beads, and even incorporating... wire weaving. The result was better than I could have hoped for, and I definitely want to wrap irregular stones again. I might have to work my way up to round cabochons, though. ;)

(Edit: Here's the wrap!)

And that's about it for this first challenge. Thanks for reading, and I hope you'll play along, whether you're a jewelry artist, a writer, a painter, sculptor, or a trainer of dancing flamingos (what? I've seen them before). Not only is this a chance to kick fear in the pants, but it will help you accomplish some surprising and wonderful things.

Have a sequintastic day!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Building a support system.

In an earlier post I mentioned teammates. Yes, these can be the people who do your taxes and take photos of your work. Professionals like these are super important! They make life so much easier. But today I'd like to discuss a different type of support. Whether you've just decided to do what you love for a living or you've been doing it for a number of years, every step of the way, I strongly suggest surrounding yourself with fantastic people who will encourage you -- whether they're professionals or not.

It's difficult to divide these people up into groups. They may be friends, family, or other artists. They may be same in the field as you, or they may not. They might be seasoned professional craftspeople, or they might make cool things just for fun. Maybe you grew up with them, or maybe you just met them. Maybe you hardly know them!

Whoever they are, they'll take on varied or several roles in your life, and you'll do the same for them. It's different for everyone, which is why I'm going to be specific instead of general -- and list some of the important people in my creative life. That way, you'll see just what I mean without me having to get boring and didactic. ;)

(I'm also going to add a bit of eye candy! This is my Blue Fringe necklace, made with 10 millimeter paillette sequins and a section of chainmaille I made in a class with chainmaille expert Rebeca Mojica.)

1.) I wouldn't be the person I am today without the love and encouragement of Mr. Sequin. This man has a habit of supporting me in whatever crazy thing I do. When I wanted to learn hula hooping, he built me hoops and cleared out the basement. He helped me break down tougher tricks. When I wanted to learn metal clay, he paid for half of my class. When I decided to stop eating unhealthy food and start eating veggies and whole grains, he didn't bat an eyelid -- we now stock up on spinach and quinoa.

It's the same with jewelry. He's always available to check out a new piece or offer a critique. He's an artist, too, so I trust his opinion, even if I don't always follow his advice. He's my photographer, even though it drives him nuts, because he truly believes in my work and wants me to succeed. And finally, he gets the way my mind works. I can't stick with one form of jewelry making or one interest all my life. I'm always looking around for something else to try, and he appreciates it because he's the same way.

(This is Cool Jewels I, a stone I purchased at Cool Jewels in Montpelier, Vermont, and wrapped with copper wire embellished with those gorgeous BeadAlgo beads I bought this summer.)

2.) I thought I'd mention my father because he's not doing so well these days, and some things need to be said. Growing up, we had not one, but two generation gaps between us! He was also raised in the South during a time when they still had outhouses, while I grew up in New England in the 1980's -- so our upbringings were as different as could be. We have very different values and world views.

But one thing we have in common, besides being stubborn and bullheaded, is that we like to be good at things. OK, not just good -- great. When he retired from being a surgeon, he made up his own bread recipes, kicked some serious butt at golf, and took a watercolor painting class, only to be told by the instructor that there was nothing left to teach him. Oh, and there were his Bridge tournaments. And there was chess. He set the bar for me in a lot of ways, and I'm sure my perfectionism comes from him.

He also took me to just about every darn bead and craft shop in the area when I was a child and teenager and waited patiently in that car for hours, reading his newspaper, while I shopped for supplies. And did I mention he also persuaded friends and family to buy my work? He was one of my first customers. So while our relationship was often a challenging one, he deserves some major credit. When I was born he told my mother he didn't care what I did for a living as long as I was happy, and I think he's kept this attitude -- even if he doesn't say it outright.

3.) Last November I had the best luck ever. Mr. Sequin and I participated in National Novel Writing Month, or NaNo, and met two fabulous people. It was crazy (in a good way) the way we clicked right away, and ever since then, we've met once a week to chat, eat baked goods and sometimes even write. I love my writer's group. We give each other writing advice and talk each other through rough spots, but they're also always willing to ogle my latest jewelry pieces or listen to me talk about sequins. That day I had the sequin crisis? They helped me through it when I was still a little shaky. They're also hilarious and talented, and I have to say it again, fabulous. They're like... sequins personified.

(This is a fire agate stone I purchased in North Carolina almost four years ago. It's wrapped with copper wire, gold-filled beads and yet more sparkly BeadAlgo beads. It's so heavy, it's making the neck cable kink!)

4.) Angela, Vanessa and Rebecca. I've mentioned them before. These are three amazing ladies who work their tails off to make their dreams come true, and who succeed. I have a different relationship with each of them. Angela has no idea who I am -- I just read her blog. Vanessa and Rebecca both taught chainmaille classes. And on top of that, I find Vanessa's blog to be a source of inspiration. Rebecca has this incredible habit of taking time out her hectic day to see my latest chainmaille pieces whenever we meet at the Bead Show. For the past two years she's taken pictures of them and strongly encouraged me to enter my work in contests, and I have to say, coming from someone like her, that's an enormous compliment.

One thing all of them have in common is they show me that success is possible if you're good enough at what you do, work hard enough, and are creative about marketing yourself. They're role models.

There are so many more people who inspire me. The incredible artists I'm meeting via Flickr. My best friend in high school, who commissioned me to make her prom jewelry. Willis of Cool Jewels, and his friend/employee, Steve, who made my shopping experience the most fun and memorable ever by treating me not like a customer, but like a good friend. I wish I had the energy to devote to everyone! But the heat index is in the triple digits, and my digits feel like they're about to fall off. I'll just say that so many people have inspired me, challenged me, taught me and encouraged me, and every contribution is acknowledged, remembered, and appreciated.

Before I wrap this up, I have one last thing to say. The people in my support system make me want to be there for others. Someday I'd like to be a mentor, and hey, maybe even a role model to someone who's just starting out. I'm not quite in the place where I can do that; however, I'll always be in a place where I can tell people how great their work is and help them through tough spots with encouragement and kind words, and I think that's an important part of being an artist. It's something we should all be mindful of.

Thanks for reading! Have a sequintastic day, and for the love of all that is sparkly, stay cool!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

When you hit a snag...

I had originally planned to make this week's post about creating an amazing support system for yourself. This is an important topic, and one I hope to cover soon, since there are a number of incredible people in my life, be they fellow artists, supportive friends, or a little bit of both, and I want to give them the attention they deserve.

But! Something came up this week. Something just as important. I feel especially motivated to write about it today.

Uh oh...

For those of you who don't know, I'm hoping to apply to teach a class (or two!) at the Bead and Button Show next year. In addition to all the frantic cleaning of my studio space, I've also been running around, trying to create sample pieces, write up instructions, and price the kits I'd hypothetically use.

While pricing these hypothetical kits, I discovered that the link to one of my favorite types of sequins no longer worked. In a panic, I checked the rest of the site and couldn't find it anywhere! This made me nervous because not only had I wanted to use this product in my kit, but many of my designs feature it. It's also just really cool, and I don't know where else to find it.

Meltdown. Or not?

Right away, I could feel this chain reaction of crazy thoughts taking place. That this was the end of my class. That this was the end of my favorite designs. That (insert dramatic conclusion here involving fire, brimstone, and the end of the world as I know it).

As soon as this thought process began, though, I put a stop to it. One thing I've learned is that when something goes wrong, that's all it means. X doesn't necessarily imply Y, Z, and A. All it means is X, and X might not even mean what I think it does!

Are all these variables making you roll your eyes? Let me put it less alphabetically. First I had to determine if I even had a problem. So I emailed the sequin supplier and asked if the link was bad, or if they'd discontinued the product.

While I waited for their response, I started rethinking my class ideas. They could work, I realized, if I substituted something else. In fact, it was better to present a variety of materials because what's available, whether we're talking sequins or other supplies, can change at any time. So I reworked the design using larger sequins, and voila! Problem solved.

And then I checked my email. Guess what? Just a bad link. The product is still there, in all its sparkly, shiny, fabulous glory. I'd worried over nothing.

I didn't mind so much, though, because some good things had come out of this. I'd practiced stopping the chain of negative and crazy thoughts before it had me sobbing into my pillow (OK, maybe I sobbed a little at first, but I swear, it was into my sleeve). I'd done some creative problem solving and some direct communication. I'd also challenged myself to experiment with different materials -- and I'll continue to do that because that's what will make me a stronger artist.

When it happens to you...

Here's the moral of the story: When you think something has gone wrong, at whatever step you're at on the way to following your dream, first check to see if there's a problem at all. This will save you needless worrying.

If you're the nervous type, like I am, use the time between seeking and discovering the nature of the problem to plan. That way, if anything really is wrong, you have a solution. Or two. Or three. And if it turns out that it's not a snag, or even a tiny little hiccup? You've just engaged in some creative problem solving. The more you develop this skill, the easier it will be to tackle real problems. This will make you more likely to succeed in your creative endeavors, and also in life, period.

And if something really is wrong, know that your problem doesn't have to go beyond that particular snag. As long as you think creatively and intelligently, and as long as you approach any problem with the mindset that things will get better given enough time, work, and planning, it's more than likely that The End As You Know It is just a plot in an exciting novel -- and not your life or your career.

Thanks for reading! Have a sequintastic day. :)

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Do what you can! Right now.

Today we're going to focus on doing precisely what the title of this post is ordering us to do -- namely, going through the list we made in the previous post and picking something to tackle. Something we can handle right now, with the time and resources and budget we have. Using this approach will hopefully make the big, long list a little less cringe-worthy.

Of course, as we progress to the actual running-a-business phase, we'll have lots to do. We'll have to do some items on the list continuously -- like taking photos of our work,for instance -- and we'll even have several tasks to perform in a given day. Creating, pricing, photographing, packaging, shipping, and many other things, depending on what's happening in our lives and with our business. But right now, when we're just starting out, we're a little limited. We have Day Jobs to maintain, plans to make, modest amounts of money to work with, and plenty of things left to learn, and we'll need to save some items on our list for later on.

A condensed version of this advice? Do what you can right now. Trust that the rest will happen in time.

I'll use myself as an example. Would you like to know an embarrassing secret? I don't know how to use a camera. I mean it! I'm terrified of the things. The camera belongs to Mr. Sequin, and I won't even touch it. That, and we have Lighting Issues. Major ones.

Now, I could treat this as a terrible stumbling block. See this as some sort of sign that I should give up. But you know what I'm going to do? I'm going to put this issue away -- just for now -- and focus on the things I can do.

I'm going to continue creating pieces that challenge and delight me. I'm going to refine my technique and look for ways to get my work "out there," such as contests and teaching opportunities and charity auctions. I'm also going to do something HUGE.

I'm going to... clean and organize my studio. It's something I've been avoiding forever, and something I might have dismissed as busywork a few months ago. But the thing is, I need to know what I have. I need to know where to find what I have. I need a usable work space because honestly, the couch doesn't cut it! It's a lot to do, but I know I can do it. Because I have the determination, but also because I know how to make it easier. Which brings me to the next point.

Once you've decided which task to tackle, it often helps to break it into smaller, more manageable pieces. Maybe you're tidier than I am -- and I sincerely hope so! But if you're not, you can collect containers of various sizes (I love empty cookie tins, shoe boxes, and cream cheese containers) and label them. Put like items together and condense your supplies to free up space.

Once you've got your supplies in boxes, start with one corner of the room and work your way to the next, putting boxes on shelves and sorting through anything that's left. You can design some inexpensive, but tasteful, displays for your pieces (perhaps out of old picture frames?) and hang them on the walls, creating more shelf/desk space. It's just a guess at this point, but I think having a neat workspace will make me feel more like a professional.

(I'd also like to remember what the floor looks like. I think it was hardwood?)

So there you have it! Of course, I encourage you to tweak this advice so that it works for you. Many people, Mr. Sequin included, are more comfortable having several things going at once and working on each a bit at a time, so as to avoid boredom.

As you work on tasks, it may help you to surround yourself with people who will cheer you on, and who will show you that following your dream is possible by doing that very thing, themselves. The next post in this series will cover just that.

Thanks for reading! Have a sequintastic day.