Sunday, May 22, 2011

Creative Blindness to Counter the Frustration of Making Art

I just got an email from someone very near and dear to me who wants to get all of her crafting and art supplies out of her house...  She's never really had much time to do anything with them, and they are a terrible temptation to her to go out and spend more money on supplies and do something.  The problem is that she never really gets the results she wants, and then becomes even more frustrated and depressed.  Her efforts don't yield what she desires, and she ends up putting it all away and feeling worse because she's spent more money that hasn't reached any consummation.

Wow.  That is how I feel a lot.

I've worked in the creative field doing costumes my whole life.  I've had the opportunity to get paid while I was learning, and it's taken me years to develop a personal sense of competency when it comes to sewing.

I've spent years working with some of the best costume technicians and designers in the field, and it's intimidating seeing how quickly they accomplish things, or how readily they come up with a solution to a perplexing quandary.  I always told myself, "Hey, that's why they make the big bucks!"

But they really don't.  No one makes "big bucks" in the costuming field.  It's really difficult to make a living in theatre--regardless of whether you're doing costumes or acting (which is actually worse!).  Locally here in San Diego, the stipend for designing costumes in a non-regional theatre is around $1000 give or take, depending on the size of the theatre company--and that includes building anything you can't buy or borrow, shopping, fittings, alterations on garments, and any notes that might happen in the rehearsal process.  You supply your own equipment, and shop supplies either come out of the show budget or you make special arrangements.  It can be a multi-month process when you add in design meetings, sketches, and attending some rehearsal run-throughs...

I don't even want to think about how much it breaks down to per hour...  Way below minimum wage...

I got two college degrees in my field, and I was told one thing over and over again that didn't sink in until years later:  "You have to do it because you can't not do it."  It's a calling.

So when my friend talked about getting rid of all her stuff, I was daunted.  Wow.  I have felt that before.  How on earth was I supposed to make a living doing what I was good at if I was only going to make enough to subsist?  And how dare I try to strike out on my own and make a wearable art business when I don't have any entrepreneurial background or experience?  How can I afford to do it?  Why should I even dream of it?

Why attempt anything creative when the learning curve is so vastly huge, and mastery is never guaranteed?

Every time I looked at what I was doing, I was spiritually crushed by all the wonderful work I saw on the internet, or in the shops I worked in, and knew I couldn't compete with their skill.

I was comparing myself out of my calling.

So I came up with a solution.  Creative Blindness.

There is a fine line between being inspired and being intimidated.  It is the easiest thing in the world to compare your own work with the work seen in a book or on another's blog.  It is human nature.  And sometimes we step away a bit depressed and deflated because we feel our work doesn't measure up.

The temptation is to go out and buy our way into artistic success.  With the right supplies, we can make anything look beautiful!  We can follow the guidelines in the beautiful books and we can emulate their work and either feel really happy with what we made or feel even more frustrated because we simply replicated their creativity.  It's a double-edged sword.

But we still end up spending money on supplies, regardless of success.

I like to buy inspirational magazines as a placebo for feeling creatively fulfilled. I like to look at the beautiful pictures and feel "motivated".  But I inevitably find myself at a table with a pile of supplies and nothing to show for it.  And creatively stumped.

So my solution is to simply not look.  To stop buying so many magazines.  To stop going to the museums.  To restrict my internet meanderings and force myself to guide my searches for specific input that I can use in the moment.

I'm not watching nearly as much TV.  I  am spending more time in the studio "making" than keeping up to date on the latest trends and styles.  I pour my energy into my own projects, and spend less time pondering if they're going to "measure up".

Because I know that somewhere there is someone out there that is "better" than me.  And that's okay.  I am in the process of discovering what it is that I can do that they can't.  I have to accept that it will take time, and I have to take pride in my work as it progresses, relishing the discoveries others have already made.  I am in the middle of a long journey that will never end--and if I pause to change paths because I see someone has already arrived at the destination I have set myself toward, I will never get anywhere.

Because I'm learning that my path leads to a destination that they can't get to.  Because it's mine.  I just have to keep moving forward, trusting that I'm getting closer, regardless of whether I can see the path under my feet.  My goals may be very near where they ended up, but the closer I get to them I realize the angle of my trajectory shifts away.  I'm not really going where they went after all.

And sometimes it's best to NOT compare and contrast.  NOT let the inspiration slip into becoming a deterrent by simply taking it bit by bit at a controlled rate.  Leading a less "plugged in" life, and accepting that it's okay to be "boring" or less social.  Spend what time you have enjoying your process instead of feeding the advertising monster that is television, or even the craft supply business when it gets right down to it...

Do it because you can't not do it.  Be a little selfish.  And sacrifice what others might feel is sacrosanct.

And Live Life with Relish.

Top image by Andrew McClusky via Flickr.  Creative Commons License.
Second image by Amy Loves Ya via Flickr.  Creative Commons License.
Third image by Robynlou Kavanagh via Flickr.  Creative Commons License.


  1. gee Corey your post resonates..I think you do have to ignore a lot of what is going on "out there". I feel intimidated a lot of the time because my sewing skills aren't all that good.I learn slowly due to fear, But I am a Very Determined person( I had to be to be a teacher), and slowly learned the skills through trial and error.
    Your costumes are Amazing...You should be proud!! Have you thought of Doll making using your costuming skills. You could make amazing dolls.Doll making is really big for top quality costume dolls...
    I'll send you an e-mail later.

  2. You know what, Judy, I actually contemplated doll making for a while. Here's the address to my first efforts:

    I would love to get into doll making. I even bought some dollmaking magazines--Art Doll, and Prims, I think... Gor. Geous. Very artistic! I'd have SUCH a long learning curve though... And there's more than a bit of fear on my end, too... : )

    Ah, someday. I gotta be brave, huh? Argh that's so hard... : )

  3. Hey Corey, lots to think about with this post but quickly may I just say that Judy has a very good idea that you have had also! I'm having more luck and more fun with leather now that I'm working small,less spent on supplies, too. I think doll making for you is brilliant! You really should think about it ... more later, it's late :))

  4. Argh, the pressure! Haha! Oh, Susan, you may be right...Oh my goodness, I've dreamed about doing it... It's one of those things that sorta lingers in the background... Hovering... Waiting for me to turn and face it...

    I don't know the first thing about the doll world... Talk about a fish out of water... Where does one even begin? I think I'm gonna need to do some research... Lemme write a blog post and ask for some advice... : )

  5. Judy is going to send you an e-mail with links..pattern ideas...where I started. oh the Doll World is SO Much Fun...We could swap dolls and patterns..he,he..I was a NON Sewer when I went for my first doll w/shop with Patti Culea.The doll was silk(ahh!!!ugh..), and with tiny wired fingers...Gee was I sweating. Experienced sewers were swearing, groaning...but I just kept on..I made a sad looking doll, but I thought..Hey I like this, and kept on going ever since. You must meet a friend of mine who makes spectacular dolls.
    The are polymer, and (I think) the more friendly cloth doll ones..Will e-mail tonight(later-gotta see Mum)...until then.

  6. Thank you so much, Judy! I've been intrigued by the "soft sculpture" aspects of doll making for a long time, but I've never actually sat down to really dig into it... I thought the Polymer clay dolls might be an option, but I nee to really educate myself on making polymer clay doll pieces, attaching them together, making the forms, etc... There's a LOT I don't know.

    And those kinds of realistic dolls are just PART of what I'm intrigued by... Some of the more abstract, artistic dolls are completely fascinating to me!! Juicy juicy juicy!!!

    I'll be lookin' for your email! : )

  7. Totally love and agree with the idea that you 'can't NOT do it' ... its why we do it, why we love it...the joy comes in the creating...selling is a bonus.
    As far as comparing- what a slippery slope! Sometimes its best not to look.

  8. Oh yes! Patti Culea, of course, Corey check out her work ... fabulous! and remember, those feelings and ideas that hover are waiting there for a reason!

  9. Spot on. It is sometimes hard to find your own artistic voice amongst the chorus of others.

  10. Thanks, Don! It's not easy to stick to one's guns and simply trudge on sometimes, but at other times it's a complete no-brainer for me: of course I'm doing this! I have to! Did I actually think I could stop? Haha!! Silly me... :)

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  12. Susan--Thanks so much! I'll look up Patti Culea this afternoon! :)

  13. I met someone at the weekend who has all the supplies but 'can't' use them. Sits and looks at them and freezes. Nothing I could say would persuade her.
    I long ago gave up buying supplies except ones I am sure I will use and he only way to do that is to hone your style down to specifics. Well...thats me at the moment anyway. I do have a ton of stuff I bought in the I get rid of it? No!

  14. Jackie, I think I know how creatively choking up feels... I sometimes go into my studio and I'm paralyzed by the options I have... And I always end up doing something that I inevitably need more supplies to complete! Haha!

    But I also think you're absolutely right about honing your style... That really has a tendency to create strong parameters of what you can use and what you can't, and sometimes that's the best way to clarify a path that opens up a lot of creativity... If you know what you want to do and what you're trying to accomplish it's sometimes easier to focus and then "do".

    I ride a fence between organic freedom and development, and designing around a plan of attack... It's challenging and frustrating sometimes!


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