Committing to creating every day is in some ways like taking marriage vows; sometimes, it’s about the partnership, not about either of the partners. And that can be a very good thing.
When I decided to take the plunge in early 2015 to take part in the 100 Day Project, I had three motivations:
1. To create a structure for my creative efforts
2. To play with pattern and colors.
3. To create work for ME, free of anyone else’s taste or subjective requirements.
The payoff went far above my original motivations.
I’d been making art in a sporadic way for going on 20 years, attending crafts schools like Penland and Arrowmont every summer, dabbling in printmaking of various stripes, paper and fabric collage, embroidery, and even jewelrymaking. I needed the fix of being in an isolated setting, surrounded by other artists, to get my juices going. I had produced some work even I, ever the critic, considered terrific, but as soon as I got home, my motivation lagged. I can’t count how many unfinished projects I have tucked away in boxes under my bed or in a closet.
I’d go through various enthusiasms: for a few weeks, I made necklaces and earrings. Another time, I did paper collages. One year, I even rented time at a printmaking studio to do monotypes. I sold a few things, got some pieces in small local exhibits, even got some work sold in Penland’s store and reproduced in arts and crafts magazines.
In short, I was what people (including me!) call a dilettante.
Then I read online about The 100 Day Project, sponsored by the Great Discontent. The premise was to pick a theme, any theme, and create something every day for 100 days sparked by the theme, and post it on Instagram.
I was at the tail end of a difficult, lifeforce-draining work situation, where I had lost all confidence in my creative abilities and spent my psychic energy second-guessing every design decision to try to suss out what my supervisor would approve, an impossible task since her decisions were totally idiosyncratic and changed from week to week. I expended so much energy spinning my figurative wheels that I had nothing left to draw on for my own work.
The 100 Day Project became an emotional lifeline in a very real sense. Here are some of the things I learned about myself and the creative process:
- I need structure. I picked the theme 100 Days of Patterns Mashups, and settled on working in fabric only. This removed the need to decide every time I sat down to “be creative” what media I would work in, or what the content would be.
- With a specific theme, doing a piece day after day enabled me to see how I could push the envelope while sticking to the theme. What if I tried diagonals? What if tried color harmony or color contrast? And so on.
- Being a creative person is something like a marriage, in this sense: Sometimes in a marriage (so I’m told and observed with my parents), you do things that maybe aren’t what you would want to do for your own personal desires, but you do it because you are not only committed to another person, you are committed to “the marriage.”
There were days when I simply didn’t feel like making a piece. But I’d committed to the project and so I did something. On creatively fallow evenings, I’d say, okay, I am just going to see what I can do with the scraps from previous days. Or, I’d pick fabric with colors I didn’t like anymore, and see what I could come up with. Removing the critic and “playing with house money,” so to speak, gave me the freedom to just do SOMETHING.
- Related to the above, if you know you are doing 100 of anything, very little is riding on any one piece being a “masterpiece.” There’s always the next day! For a sometimes bordering-on-anal Virgo like me, this is incredibly freeing.
- You can learn composition but it can’t necessarily be taught. I noticed over time that I became more confident in my decisions about pattern and color juxtapositions, and about the relative sizes of different fabric elements. This newly gained confidence spilled over to my day job. You really have to learn to listen to what your materials are telling you.
- When I felt like I went as far as I could in one exploration, like working with floral patterns, I could move into another lane on the same highway.
About a month in, I was feeling like I never wanted to pick up another floral fabric again. But there were 60 more days to go. I went over to Joann Fabrics to look at their fat quarters, and I recall vividly seeing some fabric that looked like it came straight out of the psychedelic 60s, and voilá, I had a new series going with geometrics and pop art colors.
When I felt that I’d explored that avenue to death, I started doing fabric collage “still lifes,” integrating paper into the sewn fabric.
Then I went back to the florals and explored how to combine them with geometrics, juxtaposing organic and inorganic.
That in turn, led to a final series of almost zen-like simplicity and balance, the floating boxes series.
Bonus reward: I became so comfortable using my sewing machine that I’ve volunteered to hem a friend’s jeans, and tackled doing a hidden hem on my own jeans!