Archive for Creative Process

Aug
25

SXSW 2015

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Last summer, I asked you to vote for my SXSWedu workshop proposal and your votes really helped–I was accepted and the workshop was a big success. I was so thrilled. THANK YOU to everyone who voted for me.
This year, I’m submitting again…Will you take a moment to VOTE for my group panel proposal for 2015 called Learning to Fail with Style and Grace?

I’m proposing this panel with two lovely University of Texas professors–they are both very experienced educators with some serious chops in the field of creativity research. They’re also musicians and one has done fantastic work with at-risk kids, so it should be a very practical and inspiring discussion.

HOW TO HELP:

  1. Click here to vote for my panel:
    http://panelpicker.sxsw.com/vote/35190
  2. If you are taken to a general overview page after logging in, please type in “Learning to Fail with Style and Grace” into the search box and my proposal should pop up. Click on it.
  3. You’ll see 2 videos–my video is below the video of the guy with white hair. (One of my fellow panelists.) Watching is optional. :)
  4. Click the “thumbs up” icon to vote for my panel.
  5. Optional: Leave a comment about how groovy I am.
  6. If you have time, email me afterward to let me know you voted. (It keeps me excited about the process!) (sarah@makegreatstuff.com)

If you have any questions for me before you vote, just hit “reply” to this email and I’ll get back to you as quickly as I can.

Participating last year really helped my business in unexpected ways including my developing creativity workshops for business professionals that I’m super excited about.

THANK YOU!

Big Hugs, Sarah
P.S. For those who’ve never heard of it, SXSW (South by Southwest) is a huge innovation conference in Austin, Texas that has several sections–music, film, digital and education. I’m submitting to the education section.

Categories : Creative Process
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andree-headshot

Andree Kehn

This month’s Inspiring Creatives interview is with Andree Kehn, a smart, talented, and super successful wedding photographer living in rural Maine.

Andree went from resisting wedding photography as a career path altogether to being named one of the top 100 Wedding Photojournalists in the world by the Wedding Photojournalism Association (WPJA). Wow! Clearly, she has talent.

But before you get depressed and intimidated, one of the reasons I chose to interview Andree (aside from her being one of my favorite people) is that her path to success was a very long and windy one. So if you’re thinking it’s too late for your creative career, it’s not.

She shares some super inspiring insights into how she succeeded in business being her quirky artist self, her techniques for pushing herself creatively, and finding her niche within a niche.

The Interview

Here’s the interview–broken down by topic–plus a few images of Andree’s wonderful work. See more gorgeous photos in the gallery on her website, andreekehn.com.

And if you have a question for Andree (or just want to share), please ask it in the comments area and we’ll respond.

1. It’s Never Too Late:
From Carny to Award Winning Wedding Photographer

Click HERE to listen to this segment. (13 min. 13 sec.)
Find out how the years Andree thought were wasted in supposedly dead-end jobs ended up giving her incredible skills for wedding photography.

Sarah and JesseRachel and Dale maine-wedding56

2. Rebels as a Target Market

Click HERE to listen to this segment:
(5 min. 12 sec.)
Learn how Andree figured out who her right people were and how she helps them find her. (We also dig deeper into this topic in the segment called Her Smartest Move, so make sure to give that a listen too.)

3. Welcoming Criticism

Click HERE to listen to this segment.
(5 min. 55 sec.)
Andree shares fantastic insights about the power of welcoming criticism, making bad stuff, the illusion of perfection, and the truth of hard work vs. natural talent.

4. Creative Challenges

Click HERE to listen to this segment.
(3 min. 48 sec.)
Andree shares her favorite techniques for keeping it fresh and I was psyched because it’s one of my favorites too–even though it’s often frowned upon and misunderstood. Have a listen.

5. *Her Smartest Move*

Click HERE to listen to this segment.
(6 min. 6 sec.)
We talk more about how she embraced her super narrow niche-within-a-niche and the actions she takes to support that choice in her marketing. She offers some GREAT advice about how to do the same thing yourself and why it’s so important. If you can only listen to one segment, listen to this one!

Aug
28

SXSW Creativity and Collaboration

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I’ve submitted a proposal to teach a workshop on the intersection of creativity and collaboration called The Creative Breakthroughs Technique at a giant, uber-cool annual conference and festival called SXSW (South by Southwest) in Austin TX in 2014.

Some of you have taken a similar class with me over the phone. (Yup, art over the phone–it works!) I’m in love with this technique for building a creative momentum and providing a structure to unleash your creativity.

Building Creative Muscle

The workshop I’m proposing for SXSW includes a new and interesting addition to the original workshop–collaboration. It fascinates me that collaboration itself is such a complex creative challenge for artists and non-artists alike.

I’m targeting two different parts of the festival and adapting the workshop for each audience. The approach for the workshop for SXSW educators is geared toward helping those professionals who might not feel creative or artistic to better understand the creative process and how a more fully developed creative muscle enhances one’s thinking in every context.

For the professional SXSW digital creatives, I want to get them back to a physical, hands-on creative experience as well as move them out of their comfort zone with unexpected collaborative challenges.

Will You Please Vote for Me?

Competition is fierce and it would be a HUGE credibility boost for me to speak and teach at this conference. Almost like saying I did a TED talk. (Which, of course, is another goal…but I digress.)

Voting is a big part of their selection process. I’ve submitted one proposal to two areas of the festival.

Could you take a moment to vote for my proposal in both places?

  • Click here to vote for my proposal for forward thinking educators.

    PanelPicker_Vote

  • Click here to vote for my proposal for digital creatives:
    PanelPicker_Vote_14-blog

The Nitty-Gritty

For those of you who’d like more details about what the heck I’m talking about, here’s a recap:

I’ve submitted the same proposal to two separate arenas of the festival:

  • SXSW interactive:
    This show caters to super hip, bleeding edge digital creative types–they received over 3,000 proposals because of their uber-coolness factor. It’s probably a stretch for me to get in, but their theme this year is creativity and inspiration which is why I thought my workshop could be a great fit even though I’m not famous or uber-cool.
    |
  • SXSW edu:
    This show is smaller and a fairly new category for SXSW. It’s dedicated to forward thinking education leaders, thinkers, and entrepreneurs. It’s also closer to my heart because I think like a teacher myself and I believe educators (esp. art educators) are some of the most maligned, under supported professionals today.
    I’m starting to realize that I want to be a part of the education conversation in this country as well as a more vocal advocate for the relevance and necessity of the arts and creativity in every aspect of learning and living life.

The Upshot (Basically, Please Vote)

To vote, SXSW will ask you to register/create a login (don’t worry: they do NOT put you on a promotional list).

  • Click here to vote for my proposal for forward thinking educators.
    PanelPicker_Vote
  • Click here to vote for my proposal for digital creatives:
    PanelPicker_Vote_14-blog

Afterward, I’d love for you to post comments in the proposal area and share our proposals on Facebook and Twitter with your friends and contacts.

Thanks so much, I really really appreciate this!
Warmly, Sarah

 

 

Funny boy dancing with a hat and glassesLord, I’m on a deadline.

I’m a week into a 2 week deadline for a couple of very large custom pieces for a boutique hotel. I’ve got to share at least one of these images with my art consultant in the next 48 hours so I can make changes if necessary and start the second piece in order to show the client something promising at the end of next week.

Right now, I really don’t think I’ve got the right hook yet. I keep looking at the descriptions of what the client (thinks) they want, images they’ve collected to help me understand what they (think) they want and then back to what I “do” as an artist and the images I’ve created so far.

I’ve got some work to do. Sigh.

In this situation, it’s very easy to panic. And I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t anxious. But I’m trying to remember what I know deep down about my particular creative process and my success with tight deadlines in order to both keep the faith and simply keep going.

False Starts

For instance, whenever I start a new project, I always have what I call a “false start day.” This is the first day that I commit to spending a big chunk of time on a new project.

Each time I make that plan, that day is, inevitably, a mix of “almosts” and “kind ofs” combined with missing supplies, distracting phone calls and other irritating interruptions. Nothing gets done on the surface and usually about halfway through I realize, “Oh yeah, this is my false start day.”

I’ve also learned that this “false start” day seems to be required before I get down to brass tacks. So rather than beat myself up about it, I understand that for some reason, I need the “false start day” in order to have my productivity.

Even though it’s a very consistent experience, I still don’t usually account for it and I actually truly believe that I’m going to get lots and lots done that first day.  But once I’m halfway through and realize what’s happening, I accept my fate. At least I know it will be better tomorrow.

End of the Day Blues

Another part of my creative rhythm that I have to keep my eye on is the fact that I while I may like something I’m working on during the day as I create it, I usually decide by the end of the day that it’s not working–that I”ve somehow taken myself in the wrong direction or I just plain hate it.

In the past, I would have done something rash at this point. But now I’ve learned to wait–to see if I still hate it tomorrow. Because even if I decide it still needs work the next day, it’s usually not quite the overhaul I imagined was required.

And when I’m working for myself, as is the case now, I also look at the project one more time before I go to bed to give my sleeping mind a chance to figure out what I should do. No touching, just looking–this doesn’t have to take long either–in fact, it’s probably better that it doesn’t.

Gestation

The other thing I know about my particular creative process is that I spend longer in the “gestation” stage than most folks. That is, I stay in the messy middle for a long time where things neither look good or like they’re going to get finished on time.

For instance, when I worked in a design office, I was usually the last in with my finished products. I used to share an assistant with 2 other designers and she’d always get quite worried for me as each deadline loomed and they appeared to be accomplishing much more and what on earth was I doing?!

But by the end, I’d always get my projects in on time and I’d usually also have the most work done. I learned this in college when I was writing a paper–Id’ be the last one to start my paper but the first one to finish. I knew that if I lingered longer in the idea-wrestling phase, I’d be able to put my thoughts down much more quickly–basically not forcing myself to start before I was ready.

This habit, though, is the most stressful under a deadline. While I know it works for me, the desire to provide concrete evidence of great progress is very strong (that’s why we start before we’re ready). It’s hard-hard-hard to look “behind” or that you’re just not “getting it”. And when you have a long “gestation” period, it really means living with a project while it looks “bad” which is VERY uncomfortable.

But it’s usually worse if I get too focused on producing “evidence” too quickly. I just keep reminding myself that I’ve been here before–so really at this point, the most important thing is to keep the doubting voices in my head in check.

Respect

We each have our own particular creative rhythm. And the more you know AND RESPECT your own rhythm, the easier it is to get out of your own way and let it work.

For me, I’ve been pretty aware of my own creative process for a long time, but it’s taken me longer to truly respect it as well. And shushing those doubting and negative voices is an important part of offering that respect.

And it’s definitely more complicated on a deadline because everything is exaggerated and you usually have to speed up your natural rhythm–which almost always feels unholy, un-natural and unjust. But again, it’s worked before, it can work again.

(Of course, I never quite fully believe that as it’s happening–and I don’t want to jinx myself mid-project–but that is, in truth, what has always happened up to now.)

What About You?

Have you thought about what your own creative rhythms are? Do you get out of your own way and let them work?

If you haven’t, consider asking yourself some questions like:

  • What is your best time of day to create?
  • How long do you like to work at a time?
  • Do you need music to work? Silence? Privacy? Company?
  • How do you help yourself through the messy parts? Do you take a walk when you’re stuck? Eat twizzlers?

Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments. (Remember, we’re all struggling with the same things, so when you share your own struggles, you’re helping someone else realize they aren’t alone!)

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Creating and sharing your work is often an ongoing struggle with “going public” and feeling exposed.

It’s a thrill when people respond positively to what you’ve made and it can be truly painful when your latest creation is met with criticism or–often much worse–silence.

Not Knowing “How”

First of all, people often say the “wrong thing” or nothing at all is because they don’t know how to talk about art or design. They simply don’t have the language.

What I’ve never realized fully until lately though is that this actually makes people feel inadequate themselves. They either don’t know what to say and think they should OR they have no idea how to respond to something that isn’t representational or not their style with any kind of grace or skill.

Heck, I studied a lot of art history and I don’t always have the language either. (The FaceBook “like” button is actually very helpful in that situation!)

And if I’m struggling when art, design, and everything handmade is my obsession, well goodness, these civilians don’t stand a chance!

Which is why I think we need to let people off the hook.

So when your partner, friend, or business associate doesn’t know what to say–or says nothing, consider not taking it personally. Because in truth, it’s not personal even though it probably feels that way.

Even more importantly, consider not filling in the silence with your own terrible sentences of what you think they’re really thinking.

Which takes me to my “second of all.”

False Stories

When a loved one, friend, or colleague says nothing (or something non-committal) about what you’ve made and you feel naked, vulnerable and ridiculous, it’s easy for your mind to go a little crazy and start thinking the worst–filling in the silence with your own terrible sentences about your talent, your value, and your right to make art at all.

These terrible sentences are part of the whole self-critical story most of us tell ourselves all the time, but I think it gets even more exaggerated around your artwork because it’s like your putting your soul on display–an exposure of a different magnitude than most other ways we put ourselves “out there.”

When you can “tell” that someone doesn’t like something you’ve created, it can feel like that person is rejecting your essence.

And the reason this can feel so awful is that it is triggering your sorrow about the countless losses, shaming moments and various rejections you’ve experienced throughout your entire life.

It’s the rare person who reaches adulthood who accepts and loves themselves completely. Feeling “not okay” or “not enough” or “unworthy” –on whatever level–is practically the universal human experience.

And because your artwork is a direct expression of who you are, the usual bevy of self-protection mechanisms that effectively shield you from having to experience these feelings aren’t in place.

It’s like being on a fast track to accessing your unhealed pain. Ugh.

What To Do

Well, first, have compassion. Forgive yourself for judging yourself so harshly through the eyes of another. (Actually saying to yourself, “I forgive myself for that thought” can be quite powerful–try it.)

The second is to simply “notice” to the best of your ability. This can be hard in the throes of hurt, but to whatever degree you can, ask yourself:

  • “What am I feeling right now?” (Try to give it a word so it’s not a nameless, overwhelming blob.)
  • Where in your body are you feeling it? Does it have a shape and color? (A shape is finite and finite is good–again, much easier to tackle than a nameless, overwhelming blob.)
  • What old memories is it conjuring up? Who or what from your past is popping into your mind?

The third is to consider the idea that however true it might feel, it’s not. It’s a merciless story you’re telling yourself.

And even though it might be hard not to indulge that story, all efforts to interrupt it are powerful. Even thinking the thought, “Sarah said this is a merciless story and not the truth” is an interruption and an important first step.

The Big Pay-Off

What I actually love about this whole challenging experience for myself is that it elevates my artistic journey into a spiritual one.

Because creating is who I am, it’s the path through which I can explore the sacred and heal my wounds–and not just in the “making” part of my art, but through the entire experience–the showing and sharing, the applying and hoping, the acceptance and rejection, the selling and not selling, the praise and the silence.

It’s the place I do so much of my hard growing.

And an unexpected gift from this process is that it creates an increased...intimacy somehow between me and my artwork. It’s like they become private symbols of my healing process and growth (in addition to be artwork about this or that.)

How about you? Do you face these challenges too?

What do you do when you feel exposed and vulnerable? Do consider your creative journey a spiritual journey?

Please leave a comment, I’d love to hear from you and as always, remember that sharing your own experiences and struggles–even when you don’t have an answer or solution–can help other people know they’re not alone!

Phil Hansen Artist

Phil Hansen Embrace the Shake

This week’s focus is Phil Hansen–-a pointillist artist who developed neurological damage in his hands from his own working style. No longer able to make a mark without his hands shaking, he went to the doctor who told him the damage was permanent.

This was devastating news for Hansen, but when the doctor suggested he “embrace the shake” he decided to do just that.

Watch this super inspiring video and find out how Phil Hansen turned the notion of limitation into a fantastic exploration of the creative process and discovered the infinite possibilities within every creative barrier.

Huge.

How could you turn own your limitations–whatever they may be–having self-doubt or being broke or living with no space to make art or working 2 jobs and taking care of 3 kids into a wonderful creative opportunity?

Or have you already overcome a limitation regarding your creativity that you can share?

Take a look and let me know what you think in the comments! Don’t forget, your experiences can help other people!

May
23

Letting Go of Mistakes

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clutterpic-blogpost

A peek into “someone’s” (ahem) art supply closet.

Like most people who sew, I’m a bit of a fabric-aholic. I have a huge stash.

Last week, as I was (semi) organizing my studio, I packed up 2 big bags and gave it away–including a whole bag of pillow forms that I had gotten from someone else.

This was hard to do because I felt guilty about buying the fabric and then not using it. Wasteful.

But I was also happier when it was gone because I didn’t have to go through the guilt of looking at it every day anymore either. And I realized that I had given myself permission to let go of my mistakes.

Why it’s Complicated

I have a friend who is a professional organizer and I have these imaginary conversations with her in my head when I’m tidying my studio. Often these conversations happen because I have piles I can never quite get rid of completely (and I’m wondering how on earth to do that) and sometimes because I’m mentally defending my mounds of supplies that I won’t toss.

I have a box of feathers, for instance, that I’ve owned for over 20 years. Literally. My mom scored them for me at a yard sale in the early nineties. The thing is, I used some of those feathers the other day.  And I could tell you that I use them regularly, which is true lately, but I’ve also gone for years when I didn’t use them.

Hence the agony of the arty person. We can have a seemingly ragtag assortment of stuff that sits for ages without getting used. Normally, in the organizing world, that means you must not really want it and you should toss it.

But that’s not so helpful for the arty collagist type person. It’s true that I could never use it but it’s also true that I could.

Some Guidelines

While I’m definitely a work in progress on clutter and organization myself, I do think, when it comes to art supplies, that normal rules of keeping and tossing don’t apply.

But I also think you can hang on to things too long out of guilt, feeling wasteful, or unrealistic expectations and accidentally create a clutter that interferes with your creativity. This we don’t want!

So here’s a few questions I try to ask myself when I’m attempting to create more order in my studio:

Do I own these bits or do they own me?

Does your stuff control the way you move around? Does it oppress you? Do you feel overwhelmed by it?  Being enslaved by your stuff is a sure sign you need to get rid of it (or at least some of it if that statement just gave you a heart attack!) Either way, don’t let your stuff control you–and don’t feel bad about needing help to figure it out either.

Is this stuff about my “Present Me” or my “Past Me?”

Sometimes we hang onto old stories about ourselves when they no longer serve–except to provide us an identity or a comfortable explanation that we’re used to saying: “I’m a _________ (fill in the blank) type artist and that’s why I have all this kind of __________ supplies.

For instance, you might be defining yourself this way: “I always frame all my artwork myself, so I have all this mat board leaning against the wall over there and all these odd sized frames in these milk crates that I scored at yard sales and that big cutter that’s partially blocking the back door until I set it up again…”

But do you still do that? Do you want to? It’s okay to have changed, moved on, realize you don’t like doing that, etc. It’s okay!

(Or if that definition of yourself means a great deal to you and it hurts to get rid of that stuff because of you still want to be that someone who frames all her art, it’s just that you’re not making any art right now, which is what REALLY bums you out….well, it might be a good time to sign up for a phone coaching session where we can figure out how to get you back to that!)

Is it really so precious or could I actually get it again if I got rid of it now and decided I needed it later?

We artists often collect unusual bits that can’t be gotten in a store whenever we feel like it. But that said, we also have an abundant universe.

Even if you can’t get that exact thing again, if you believe that you can always get what you truly need when you need it, you can have faith that when you’re struck by inspiration, you’ll not be suffering without “x” because you tossed it or gave it to charity or sold it at a yard sale to another quirky soul six months ago.

Don’t forget, you’re creative. Part of being creative is coming up with creative solutions. Your creativity is not dependent on your stash of cool bits.

Is it serving me? Is it feeding my creativity? Does it give me joy? Or do I just feel bad about getting rid of it?

You can think something is neat/cool/fun/handy and still get rid of it. By getting rid of it you’re not saying to it: “You are worthless.” You’re just saying, “You’re neat, but I’m about other things now.”

If it truly has value, then you know a thrift store or charity shop will be happy to have it.

Is this about my beliefs about things other than art?

For instance, do you allow yourself to have made a mistake? Sometimes hanging onto stuff forever is about that: never say die!

Or are you like me–is it hard to feel like you “wasted money” and if you throw that out you’re conceding that that’s what you did?

Remember, an abundance of supplies is an expression of loving to create–it might not have been the smartest economic decision ever, but are you giving that mistake too much weight? I mean, have you never ordered the wrong thing at dinner? Bought shoes that don’t fit right?

We all make mistakes, we all use our money unwisely sometimes. If your art supply shopping is preventing you from paying your bills or feeding your kids, okay, you’ve got a problem. But I doubt that’s your situation. Don’t beat yourself up!

Okay, admit it, did you actually forget about it?

Even though I’m a big believer that you have to see your supplies if you want to create, I still have stuff I’ve put in boxes and forgotten about completely. Then, when I open the box I think, “oh yeah, I forgot about that. Hmm…that’s pretty neat.”

Neat or not, that can go. My life was fine without it. My creativity was not informed by it. I didn’t even remember owning it for goodness sakes.

What do you think?

How are you doing with your stuff? Do you allow yourself to make mistakes? Do you let stuff go? Would you feel more free with less clutter?

What are your strategies for keeping on top of your supplies or organizing your studio/workspace corner?

Please leave a comment–we’d love to hear from you and don’t forget, your experiences might help someone else!