Tag Archives: Austin Kleon

New Work, Subject to Change

The point of blogging and the point of quilting, for me, is enjoyment. And self-expression. And moving things around until I get them “right.” I just finished reading a blog post by Austin Kleon, author/artist/poet who wrote Keep Going, among other books.

In his blog post, Kleon calls blogging a “forgiving medium,” because even after a piece is published, the author can edit easily. Usually no one is the wiser, and if they are, usually they are kind about it.

Quilting is like that, to a point. I’ve changed quilt tops in small ways and large, at all stages of construction. Of course, once quilted, it’s harder to make changes. Even then, though, there are opportunities to embellish, add stitching, or judiciously change colors with markers or paints. My friend Joanna Mack The Snarky Quilter changes finished quilts regularly, to positive effect.

I have a new project, and as with almost every project, it already isn’t what I expected. I started with this:

It’s a basic star-in-a-star featuring a large flower from a showy print. The outer corners, if you aren’t sure, are very dark navy, not black. They do rather disappear into the background. In fact, they disappear so much, they are the first thing I changed, substituting white corner triangles.

After modifying the block, I considered how to frame it. Now imagine me, chin on hand, eyes directed upward, much like a cat that isn’t really looking at anything. (We call that cat “Stuart,” even though he hasn’t lived with us for thirty years.) Pondering, pondering… And it came to me, I should frame it with the same showy print that inspired the center.

The showy print is one I bought, if I remember correctly, in Taos in 2014. And again I don’t know for sure, but it might be an Alexander Henry piece. Long ago and far away… But it’s BIG! and SHOWY! and DIRECTIONAL! And it has one more challenge: I’ve fussy cut chunks out of it a few times.

When I decided to use it, I also decided to set the center block on point. I had enough of the big print for setting triangles, if I cut very carefully.

Yeah, you can guess what happened. I cut two big squares and cut them each on the diagonal to make setting triangles. But because the print is directional, I needed to cut one square from northwest to southeast, and the other from southwest to northeast. And I didn’t. ugh. Luckily I could cut another square almost big enough and piece over a missing section.

It worked. I framed the center block with a very fine yellow line, and then set it in the showy print. Because of the visual weight, I needed to balance that with a weighty border. After rifling through stash, I had a nice array of pinks, oranges, blues, and greens.

Along with white, they became hourglass blocks to surround the magenta spacer strip.

I’m not sure what’s next. That’s okay. I can take my time, ponder the possibilities a la Stuart. I can make and unmake, do surgery to remove or transplant parts. There is nothing precious, even a piece of fabric purchased long ago and far away.


Creativity Tips from Experts — and Me

Recently I wrote about creativity as a habit that requires time and effort to establish. It’s reasonable to wonder, is being creative innate — something a few lucky souls are born with — or is it learned, like a habit or skill that anyone might develop? Can you practice being creative, and get better at it? Are there ways to nurture your creative potential through practices or environment?

Even if some people are naturally more creative than others, I think creativity is something that can be learned, or at least improved. Maybe it’s like doing math: some people have always found math to be easy for them, while others haven’t. But even those who haven’t can get better at it if they make the effort with the right instruction. (No arguing allowed on this point!)

The Neuroscientist
As I looked into this more, I found an interview on Science Friday from 2006, with Dr. Nancy Andreason. She is a neuropsychologist and an expert on the neuroscience of creativity. In describing creative people, she said,

My own view is that creativity is an intellectual capacity that’s not directly related to intelligence. And it is capacity of seeing new things, new relationships, create novel things, and it spreads across the arts and sciences. … There are personality traits that characterize creative people, and one is just sheer persistence. I mean not everybody has a great – who is creative – has a great idea every minute of every day. But people who are creative also force themselves to work. … The other thing about people who are creative is that they push the limits. They get rejected. They have the, you know, the pain of rejection. They still keep going. They’re curious.

Creative people are persistent, determined, have good work habits, take risks, and are curious. Some of that might be a matter of temperament, but all of it is something that can be expanded with effort.

The Author and Artist
Austin Kleon describes himself as “a writer who draws.” As the best-selling author of Show Your Work! and Steal Like an Artist, he has written and drawn extensively about producing original work, including that inspired by others. He also blogs and posts regularly on Instagram.

In a recent blog post he shared a list of ten things that help him stay creative in “chaotic times,” when it is so easy to give in to discouragement.

Some of these tips aren’t very clear without context! Fortunately, he also includes a video from a recent talk in San Francisco, which I also include here.

Work every day, in a place dedicated to your work. Make for the pleasure of making. Pay attention to details. Be kind. Be comfortable with not knowing. Have faith in the future. 

The Quilter
My friend Audrey at Quilty Folk has some thoughts about creative habits, too. In fact, four years ago she enumerated and published them. I have to say, I love this list, partly because is about quilting. Also, it is LONG. 🙂 Also, it’s Audrey’s thoughts on what works for Audrey, but if you work through the list and think about the points, you might see that many of them could work for you, too.

My summary? Have a dedicated work space with your tools and materials at hand, and ready to work. Keep record of your ideas, inspirations, and questions, and learn your personal style. Be curious and make the effort to improve your skills. Take risks. Make routines so you have a habit of working, and remember the tedious stuff is part of the process, not a reason to quit. Consider working in a series. Pay attention to your intuition. Finish stuff. Give your work away. 

Tips From Me
Ask a lot of questions. Try stuff that scares you a little bit. Don’t give up too soon. Make space in your life for creative work. Share what you do, how you do it, and the actual stuff you do, too.

You don’t have to be curious to ask more questions. Try it sometime, about a subject you’re not really interested in. Sometimes those random things you learn become important in unexpected ways. Practice by making a list for yourself of questions to ask, starting with “what if?” The questions don’t have to have knowable answers. Kids are great at this game. Try it with someone about ten years old or younger and see what happens and how exhausted you are by the end. What if all the birds in South America suddenly migrated to Iowa? What if weeks only had four days instead of seven? What if I shrunk down to 10″ tall? What if I use purple fabric there instead of teal?

Try stuff that is scary. Ask yourself, what’s the worst that would happen? It doesn’t have to be terrifying, just a bit outside your comfort. Maybe you’ll be like Kerry, weaving beautiful practical items like scarves and dish towels, but now and then trying different colors or a slightly different pattern. Maybe you’ll be like Tierney and contact a famous quilter/author//teacher, and suddenly be debuting art quilts in national exhibits. Maybe you’ll be like me and decide to appliqué the center block of a quilt, rather than piece it. Oooooh scary!! Seriously, what’s the worst that would happen? You can live through it not working out, or someone telling you “no.”

Don’t give up too soon. So you tried the scary thing and it didn’t work out. Why not? (See that, asking questions again?) If you tried it again could you do a better job? If you contact someone else, might they have different information for you? Did it not work out because you didn’t persist long enough? If you need to take a break, that’s okay. But if it is still valuable to you, come back and finish it.

Have dedicated space and time for working. You don’t have to be “good” at it! You do need to find it important enough, and to find yourself important enough, to make room for it in your life.

Share. When you create, you express yourself. That expression is your power. When you share your process, you help other people become powerful, too. When you share your stuff, you spread good into the world. What could be better than that?

I’ll be offline visiting with family for the holiday. Thanks as always for reading and for any comments. I’ll respond soon.


Between endings and beginnings
We tidy up.

Austin Kleon says

The best studio tidying is a kind of exploring — I’m re-discovering spaces as I sift through the objects that occupy them. The reason I tidy is not to clean, but to come into contact with something special that I’ve forgotten that I can now use. This is a slow, dreamy, ruminative, reminiscent form of tidying.

Despite a year ending and another beginning, I am still between. I am between not-finished and finished on the last quilt of 2017. Or at this point, the first quilt of 2018. The binding is attached and ready to hand-stitch in place.

I am between. I’ve finished the last quilt on my current longarm and will not machine quilt again until I get a new one.

I am between. My small squares are pinned to my large squares, ready to begin sewing 112 flying geese blocks. They might be for a strip quilt. They might not.

I am between. I’ve drawn a rooster to appliqué and chosen fabrics, but haven’t started cutting or sewing yet.

I am between. Part of my studio has been tidied and vacuumed. Part of it has not.

As Kleon says, the time between is useful for rediscovering spaces. Are they spaces within our studio, or spaces within ourselves? Will my time without a longarm create space to explore other parts of my creative self? The paper-cutting or block printing or writing parts?

Between endings and beginnings
We plan.

I am between, making plans for a year to unfold regardless of my plans. This morning Jim got a call from our son-in-law. He is a satellite engineer and invited us to his next launch. We will plan to go, but it will go up, or not, whether we are there or not.

I plan. I plan for making and for travel. I create “goals” that might just be wishes. I have wishes for the new year, for teaching and writing and travel and family time, not necessarily in that order. I have wishes for outdoors and museums and music in equal measure. All of these require space, the time between, to plan for and enjoy.

Between endings and beginnings
We tidy up.

Between beginnings and endings
We make messy again.

NaNoWriMo and Other 30-Day Challenges

If you’ve never heard of NaNoWriMo, that may look like a mess of nonsense. It stands for National Novel Writing Month, held in the month of November. Since 1999, millions have participated, using the month to write a novel of at least 50,000 words.

If you do the math, you can see a writer needs to achieve almost 1,700 words a day, for each of 30 days, to meet this goal. It’s a big challenge, even to create an unedited “shitty first draft.” It requires designating time every day to focus on one task.

Of course, you can challenge yourself to any realm of achievement for 30 days, whether it is a health objective or creative endeavor or to improve a personal relationship. It’s a bit different from a new year’s resolution, often made open-ended and without a clear objective. A 30-day challenge requires a clear objective: every day for 30 days in a row, you will do ______. Easy as pie.

Austin Kleon, artist, author, and creative cheerleader, recommends making that commitment over and over, one day at a time. Even though each day’s progress might not seem like much, over time it adds up. Another benefit is if you have a bad day, you can go to bed knowing you get to try again the next day.

He also provides a calendar of sorts, so you can track your progress for your challenge. It’s a free download at this link.

The other day I wrote about my desire to re-engage with blogging, and the commitment that requires. I’ve decided to go for the 30-day challenge on it. This is day 5, so already I’m a sixth of the way through. 🙂 Some days my posts may be at the blog I share with Jim, Our View From Iowa, though most of them will be here. Some days I may re-post earlier writings. And they surely won’t all be high quality. That’s okay. There is value to me in the effort, regardless.

Have you ever participated in a 30-day challenge? How did it go? Are you interested in doing one? What is your objective for achievement? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

Power Builders 03.06.15

This is Week #5 of my Power Builders creative links. If you’d like to see last week’s, you can find it here.

I call this series “Power Builders” because that’s what these little items do for me. They make me more powerful in my art and in my life. I hope they do the same for you. Some of the links will be about how other creative people use their time, structure their work, find inspiration. Some may be videos, music, or podcasts to inspire you. Some of it will be directly quilt-related but much of it will not. What you see in Power Builders will depend on what I find. Feel free to link great things in comments, too.

1) I’ve seen this announced in multiple places. John James Audubon’s Birds of America displays the beauty and artistry of these Audubon prints. They are also available to download for free in high resolution. Here is my lovely catbird:

2) Here’s an interesting post from Hyperallergic. It discusses research into the colors that are shared most in Pinterest photos. Admittedly Pinterest may have a unique demographic. However it’s worth considering what impact colors will have on your audience.

3) And in a related note, take a look at this link to see how many different colors you can identify. It may be an indicator of your sensitivity to color, including how many receptors you have.

4) Austin Kleon again, this time with a post on how to draw, even if you don’t know how to draw! Looks like fun to do with kids, and even grown-ups should try it! (Scroll back to the top of the page, if it doesn’t load that way for you.)

What has inspired you this week? Let us know in comments.