I chose "Pandora" as my high school Latin name. I was attracted to it at first because of it sounded cool, but as I read her myth, I became disheartened to learn that she was blamed for letting all the evil into the world because of her curiosity. I remember thinking this sounded a lot like Eve and the apple. Okay, world, consider your lesson learned. If women are curious, ask questions, wonder, or investigate we will cause harm to humanity. Got it!
As easily as it is to see through these patriarchal paradigms, these archetypes can be sticky and are most definitely woven into our cultures. They may have even left footprints on our patterns of thinking--even on us Feminists.
So, when we internalize this mandate to contain our curiosity to prevent evil from happening, we women risk stifling our creativity and intelligence. Maybe we stay deep inside the margins of safety. For instance, I never thought I could be a filmmaker. So, I never considered it, but if I was 18 right now, I would most definitely apply to film school.
This self-stifling may happen in small ways, too. We may prevent ourselves from trying something new for fear of negative consequences. I’ve been wanting to take a tap dance class for months, but am holding myself back. Who knows if following this curiosity could lead to inspiration, a new hobby, or a friendship? It may lead to nothing except an elevated heart rate, but I won’t know for sure unless I take the damn class!
Sometimes I get overwhelming urges to try a new medium or technique, and I have to put everything aside to dive into it. Recently, I saw these amazing rugs made from recycled materials in intense colors. They were made using a basket weaving technique that I was familiar with. So I tore fabric into strips. I carefully chose yarns, found my fattest needles, and got to work winding and binding these textiles into a tight spiral. It grew very, very slowly--- at a snail's pace. I soon realized that it didn't look close to as beautiful as the one that inspired me. Taking a step back I realized that if I continued, the time devoted to making this rug would classify me as insane, and that maybe I settle for a set of coasters or a trivot. Ha! I don’t regret getting on this new creative train. I had to get it out of my system to make way for the next curiosity, which may lead to something new and interesting!
Often the worst that can happen by following a creative curiosity is that you acquire some new gear or materials that costs money and storage space. You can hold on to these or pass them along. Sometimes an abandoned curiosity will resurface at a later opportunity, or it may lead to another curiosity. I do believe that everything that you do feeds into itself and eventually you might not know where it is leading.
I have an artists friend, Faith, who was mostly interested in painting and drawing portraits. She was also making instructional videos about her drawings, but she always knitted for fun. Eventually she incorporated her knitting, a creative curiosity, into her drawings and made videos about the whole process to make these amazing portraits. Had Faith never gotten curios about knitting and remained curious about how to make portraits, she wouldn’t have discovered this new technique of portraiture.
Also, these curiosities could be for pure joy’s sake, too, and joy only beckons more creativity. It encourages us to take more risks - to be playful. In fact it seems the exact opposite of evil comes from opening the curiosity box, we only become empowered by it. Imagine that indulging your curiosity brings you joy, creativity, and experience while also fighting the patriarchy. So, it looks like it is time for all of us to adopt the name Pandora, and get to work embodying creative curiosity!!
Since I am an at-home creative, I often get asked about how I structure my time. I usually say, I work constantly until I have to parent, to wife, or do some other thing. For me, weekends do not exist, and my work does not stop at 5:00. It is a constant work/life fusion that I find really fulfilling, but it does help to have structure to give direction to the day.
One way to build structure and routine is to practice Creative Rituals. Our days are full of routines and rituals--some we’ve chosen (that glorious cup of coffee) and some are imposed on us (a stressful commute). If you are like me and have very little structure imposed, the day can feel unwieldy and ungrounded. The good news is that you can choose how to anchor your creativity by practicing creative rituals. These rituals can be anything that helps you click into a creative, productive mode.
For me these practices are always changing depending on whatever creative phase I am in. For instance I have been known to meditate and to walk three miles everyday. As of now I do neither of these wonderful things--just can’t.
Other practices stick with me always. I will likely never surrender my beautiful cup of morning coffee or leave my bed unmade.
Here’s the thing. So much of creativity is taking the thing that exists in your head and heart and pulling them into the world-- making them manifest. This is daunting, but if you practice creative rituals, it’s like a warm-up that makes it easier to access that creativity. Think of that basketball player dribbling three times, setting her feet, and taking a deep breath before shooting a free throw. (That’s right, I used a sports metaphor.) These are seemingly mundane practices, that you do to prime yourself for the creative swish. (Did it again.) Since humans are creatures of habit, It is likely that you are already practicing rituals, but the point is that you can be more mindful and deliberate in your practice tying them to your creativity. In this way you can fine tune your rituals to make accessing the creativity even easier and more enjoyable.
Some Creative Rituals that I currently practice:
MORNING COFFEE: percolated with a Bialetti coffee maker, and consumed from a handmade mug (Different one each day)
CAT TREATS: I feed my cats treats in the morning and tell them they are glorious beings.
MAKE YOUR BED: I make my bed everyday. This is one of those things I never did until the last couple of years, and it is the most remarkable thing. If you don’t make your bed, give it a try for a couple of weeks. You will not be the same.
BULLET JOURNAL: I sit down with what I have previously outlined to refresh my memory. Then, I write down what I am grateful for, something negative that I want to let go of, and three things that I am going to focus on that day. (I borrowed this practice from another creative, and I don’t remember who it was. So, please forgive me for not giving her credit).
MEDICINE CARDS: I pick a Medicine Card (Jamie Sams and David Carson) and reflect on the animal’s message to see if it resonates with whatever I am feeling that day. I try to take that with me into the studio.
WALK TO THE STUDIO: As I walk along the mossy path to the studio, I talk to the trees and ask them for help to do my best work that day. I greet any animals and birds that might see or hear along the way. I feel gratitude for living here, for being here. Also, I love walking on the homemade stepping stones crafted from broken dishes and concrete, that flank the backside of the barn and lead to my studio steps. It’s here that I think about how happy I was when I made them, a literal first step to my art studio. That’s what all of this is about - creating pathways to your own creativity.
Once I am in the studio, I get to work!
These current rituals are working for me now, but I assume they will change. Here are some rituals that I have let go of but may return to another time. They may be helpful in sparking an idea for what Creative Ritual you find helpful for you!
-journaling three pages
-nature notes (noticing what is happening, writing it down, and drawing a picture of it)
-regular walks in the woods with wine
-making bouquets from wildflowers
-reading at breakfast
-petting my cats
-sketching daily in a sketchbook for the sake of sketching (really miss this one)
-Instagramming - I mean posting everyday. I still use Instagram everyday, but not always for business.
What Creative Rituals do you practice? Anything that you have been meaning to try?
If I had a secret weapon in my war to be a creative productive person, it is the mighty pamphlet book! A pamphlet book is a simply stitched book with a soft cover. It's basically what you would make if you have one of those beautiful long arm staplers. Without one of those toothy beauties, you can still make a pamphlet book you can make yourself.
Why make a pamphlet book?
I use my pamphlet books in two main ways. One, I use them for my bullet journals , which are my everything. . .my calendar, schedule, goals, to-do lists, sketchbook, all in one. I make them monthly, and they keep me focused on what needs to get done each day, week, month. . . you get the picture. You may remember reading about my bullet journal process in an earlier blog post.
The other main use for my pamphlet books is to contain a big idea. What does that mean? I create a book each time I have a new project idea that is substantial enough to exist on its own. I usually get a flutter of disparate thoughts for my next big plan, and I need a way to contain, organize, and see them. Making a pamphlet book is my first step in making the next big plan come to life. Having a tangible object filled with chicken scratch, mind maps, and sketches helps me to move into logistics, timelines, goals, and eventually the bullet journal (full circle).
I remember reading a piece by the superbly creative choreographer, Twyla Tharp. Tharp was writing about her own creative process in designing dance performances. (Forgive me for my lack fluency in discussing this art form. I am probably misnaming something here.) It turns out she would fill boxes with the bits and pieces that inspired her. The boxes would have labels and contain anything from pages torn from magazines to articles of clothing to recordings of music- - - anything that would help to inform her choreography for a particular project.
For some reason this was so striking to me. Dance seems so abstract, and the idea of choreography so intangible. I loved the freedom Tharp gave me in conceiving of having a material locus for ideas. Something happens in capturing them, collecting them, that makes it easier to manifest that project.
So, if you want to make your own little container for ideas, shopping lists, or journal, check out this very simple way that I make my pamphlet books. This is a basic structure, and there are many ways to vary it. Also, if you want to dive deeper into bookmaking as your next creative adventure, the pamphlet is a foundational element to making a larger hard bound book. So, here is your first step!
I think that 11" x 14" paper is a nice size to work with. Your final book will be 7" x 11", but any size paper, within reason, will work.
I like bristol weight paper for the cover because it adds an extra heft in protecting the precious insides. You will need one sheet.
As for the insides, I like Strathmore sketch paper for bullet journals and general scribbling, but if I am going to be painting in the book or using markers, I prefer Cansons' XL Multimedia paper. Of course, the thicker your inside paper is, the fewer the sheets you can use.
Since the number of sheets depends on the thickness of the paper and the purpose of the book, it's hard to but a number on it, but I use anywhere between 6 and 15 sheets of sketch paper in a typical pamphlet book. Whatever number you settle on, you will have to be able to fold the cover and the inside sheets easily.
Also handy, an awl (really sharp tool for poking holes), bone folder (flat smooth thing to make tight creases), 24" of string (embroidery floss or something similar in heft), large eyed needle (able to thread hefty string), tooth picks, and a cutting mat or surface on which to poke holes.
Honestly, if you wanted to give this a try without investing in the bone folder and awl, the most critical components are the needle and thread. The other items just make the process easier, but aren't absolutely necessary.
Preparing the Pamphlet Book to be Sewn
Begin by shoring up all of your papers with the bristol paper (or cover paper on the outside). Get all your papers in alignment before folding them in half.
Use your pointer finger to make a crease in the middle of the fold.
Then use your bone folder, finger, rulere, credit card, or something to crease your spine starting from the middle crease out.
Run the bone folder along the spine a couple of times, flipping the book over to crease the backside as well as the front. This just ensures a nice creasy crease.
Yay! Your paper just went from paper shape to book shape! Congratulations!
Next you are going to open that nicely creased book up to the center page. Place the book cover side up on your cutting mat or safe surface, and grab your awl or sharp poker.
When I start a new creative project, I am full of hope, excitement, and artistic drive to birth it into being, but inevitably, like a wet blanket, doubt will show itself, pressing pause on any scrap of joy.
I suppose doubt was once useful for human development in keeping us alive. Skeptics perhaps took less risks leading to self-preservation. (Note: I am making all of this up. I really have no idea.) But, I imagine that doubting whether a berry might be food or actually poison may have helped someone live another day.
In the realm of creativity, doubt can keep us safe, and safety within creativity is kind of boring. So, it’s really difficult to determine if the doubt that arises during a creative endeavor is functioning as an objective critic or as a wet blanket.
For instance, maybe your moment of hesitation leads to questioning a “safe” idea. The objective critic can actually be quite productive and useful within creativity in pushing lame ideas further out of our comfort zones.
On the other hand, doubt can prevent us from giving ourselves permission. It can feed our fear that we are worthless - making it so easy for us to squelch our creative endeavors.
Whenever doubt surfaces, it’s very important to figure out where it is it coming from. Most of the time it is not coming from the objective critic, but instead from outside sources such as family, society, and peers. We’ve internalized these external critics that seek to keep us from living to our fullest potential.
People are threatened by original thought and creativity, because it makes them question their own self-prohibiting choices in life. If they made sacrifices to squelch their own creative endeavors, then it is damn near threatening to them if you pursue yours. Therefore, they repeat their own doubts to you. It is all too easy to absorb them and make them your own.
I should know. I am constantly on the verge of giving up, but I am so thankful to the close family and friends that are supportive, who extinguish doubt rather than fuel it. So much gratitude to those helpful humans!!!
Also, if I want doubters to back off and not project their fear onto me, then I must to do the same to others. I admit that I need to get better at hating less and believing more. If I believe in others, it’s much easier to believe in myself. There is enough for all of us, and I truly wish for everyone to fulfill their wildest creative dreams. I truly believe, the only way that we will survive as humans is if we materialize our craziest, creative dreams. So, be gone doubt, and get back to work creative humans! I believe in you!!!
How does doubt impact your creative endeavors?
Dyeing with Two Pots
For this adventure in dyeing, we got smart and bought a second enamel pot. It's larger: 5 gallons versus 3.
So not only can we cut production time by half, but the larger pot can contain voluminous quantities of plant materials like this big, furry bunch of goldenrod!
You can dye with goldenrod when it is early blooming or late blooming. Pat harvested some early blooming goldenrod from the upper meadow. You can use the upper flowering and leaf portions--approximately 8-10 inches as if you were cutting it for a bouquet.
Mordanting the Fabric in Tannin Bath
We filled the 3 gallon pot with water to under the handles and added 1 Tbl of tannins. (We usually use 2 Tbl, but we were trying to avoid the tannins from overpowering the yellow of the golden rod).
We heated the water to an almost boil and added linen, weighing 3 oz.
The fabric simmered in the tannin bath (180 - 200 degrees) for an hour.
Extracting the Dye from the Goldenrod
In the 5 gallon pot, we covered 35 oz. of goldenrod with water.
We heated the water to an almost boil, and simmered at 180 - 200 degrees for 1 - 2 hours or until the water is a deep shade of yellow.
Mordanting the Fabric in Alum Bath
After one hour of simmering in the tannin bath, we rinsed the fabric in water and dumped the tannin bath.
In the 3 gallon pot, we brought the alum solution to a boil.
Then, we turned the heat down to simmer and added the fabric, and simmered the fabric for an hour.
NOTE: You can reuse an alum bath up to three times before adding more alum. This is our third time using our alum bath.
Dyeing the Fabric in Goldenrod Bath
After an hour in the alum bath, we removed the fabric and rinse in water making sure to catch the rinse water to add back to your alum bath for next time.
At the same time, we remove the plant material from the goldenrod dye bath and immersed the fabric.
We then simmered the fabric in the goldenrod dye bath for 1 - 2 hours, or until you achieve the color you are looking for.
Allow the fabric to cool to room temperature before rinsing it out in water.
Hang the fabric to dry.
You can probably tell in the photos how much of the beautiful golden yellow washed out of the fabric when I rinsed it. So, I am not sure if there was a mordanting issue . . . old alum or not enough tannins, or if it's just using processed linen that is the problem. Still, I am happy with the results, again, and I may try overdyeing for fun.
Looking for more adventures in natural dyeing?
Somewhere in my mid-thirties, the fear of not doing something became greater than the fear of doing something. I was ready to jump in feet first not carrying to ever look back.
This fear reached its peak when I quit my job at an arts organization to work for myself. While I didn’t have a business plan, I did have 900 ideas about creative projects and services that I wanted to manifest. When I quit, I felt like I had to plunge into the mystery or risk never starting.
It has been a messy year and a half of making quilts and weavings; writing stories, a seasonal newsletter and blog posts; painting watercolors, cards, and ornaments; and running a woodland cottage rental among a few other things. I am so practiced at not using fear to keep me from doing something, that I keep doing everything!
Recently, I am trying to focus my efforts with purpose and intention. Hopefully by giving my creative outputs some direction, I will be able to develop a more useful and beneficial business. Here’s the catch. . .
Now my fear is popping up again. Now that I have real strategy and plans, I have more at stake. Now, I am constantly afraid that I won’t succeed. I am afraid that I am not good enough - that I am not relevant - that I am selfish in designing a business and life around my deepest joys. Listen to that! I am afraid of designing a life around my own joy--like I don’t deserve it. I am not worth my own joy! Calling any therapist to help me out with that one!
At this point, I am used to having fear around. I have made fear my sidekick and maybe that means that fear and I ride together into a sunset of business failure. Then so be it. At least, I will have tried. And for me the fear of not doing something is still greater than business ruin.
Afterall, if I was to hold all of this creative energy in, I’d be one ugly monster of a human.
In the past, my misplaced creativity manifested in being a not-so-pleasant or present Mom, shopping for the sake of shopping, and feeling small and judgemental of others.
So, maybe if I keep chugging with fear at my side, jumping into new projects (hopefully with a little more focus than before) something will happen. Hopefully, I will make something useful and purposeful for you.
What happens when you misplace your creativity? What are you afraid of?
Anna Lentz, artist, writer, and creativity coach who blogs about making a creative life connected with nature at Spring Bird.