On Monday I told you about the Jumpron I made from an old quilt, and on Wednesday I suggested that having a lot of fancy tools and supplies might not be the best thing for your creative explorations. Today I want to propose a challenge—a completely informal challenge, with no winners and no official-ness. Here’s what I’d like you to do, and since it’s the weekend, what better time to start? Or at least start thinking about it. Since it’s not official, there’s no deadline, so there’s no rush. But I think the benefits of doing this for yourself are really worth whatever time it takes.
Here you go. In your notebook or on a piece of paper or on your blog, write down:
1. What you do (sculpture, painting, stitching, knitting, art journaling). For this, pick just one, something you do well enough to be able to riff on it.
2. Write down your basic skill set. For jewelry making, you would list the things you know how to do well enough to be comfortable with them: wire wrapping and/or soldering and/or lost wax casting.
3. List the basic tools you use for those. Not the extra, fancy tools! Just the basic stuff you have to have to do the things you do.
Then the challenge: find something you have that you can use to make something. You can extend this to something you find on a walk: so if you go out every day and walk, as I do, you can use anything you find. (Note: stopping at a garage sale along the way doesn’t count.) This sounds lame, I know, but go with me here.
Let’s say you knit. Let’s say that when you first began, you made a throw that was OK, but it wasn’t inspired. It was just a basic thing, and while you still like the yarn, it’s not anything you care much about. What if you unravel that throw and use the yarn to make something fabulous? Maybe you’ve wanted to try making felted hats, but you haven’t done it. You don’t want to pay for yarn to experiment. If you’re sentimental and want to save the first thing you ever knitted, you can see it as saving it *and* transforming it. Your memory of making it will still be there, and you’ll add your memory of reworking something using your current skills. Since you haven’t made felted hats before, or at least haven’t done it enough to get really great at is, you’re going to have to improvise in some places, and those improvisations will mostly likely take you somewhere else. That is a good thing.
Or maybe you make books. Bookbinding is your love, and you’ve made all kinds. You have fancy watercolor paper and you’ve accumulated a stash of book boards, all cut to size. You’ve honed your binding skills, and you can make books that anyone would be proud of. Let’s say that today on your walk you found a piece of dead tree limb, weathered smooth. I’m thinking of this because there’s a dead tree in the park I walk past every day. The limbs are twisted and bleached white, and whenever some fall off, my husband picks them up and brings them home. Let’s say you find a piece that’s, oh, maybe six inches long, and you’d really like to honor it, make note of its value instead of having it be swept into the gutter. It’s a nice book-spine-sized piece of wood. And let’s say you once had the habit of saving paper bags. Remember those? Before plastic bags? For years we had a dusty stack of those. Maybe you do, too. Or maybe you have some other salvaged paper stuck away somewhere. Let’s say there’s a binding you’ve been wanting to work on, maybe something you’ve never done or something you’ve done a few times but haven’t really practiced, and you’ve been meaning to work with it and tweak it and see what you could do, but you didn’t want to use your hot-pressed watercolor paper and your book board. So. What can you create with that paper and that stick? What odd, amorphous shape could you work with? What kind of string or twine or thread is stashed away?
The real challenge here is that you NOT think of this as an experiment, as a practice piece that you can discard halfway through if it doesn’t work out *the way you imagined.* There is no right way here: your job is to take nothing and make something from it. Every turn you think of as a wrong turn is going to be a chance to try something different, and everything you think of as a mistake or a flaw in the salvaged materials (like the many places in the Jumpron that were holes instead of, you know, actual fabric) is a chance for you, the creator, to figure out a way around it or a way to incorporate it into your work.
Enter into the challenge fully, and you’ll find yourself going deeper than you would have imagined, deep down into your own creativity and ideas, free of the constraints of the stuff that has a right way to be used and a value/rarity that makes you reluctant to “waste” them or “ruin” them. It becomes about you and that old yarn, you and the sticks and paper. You feel a connection with makers from the past, people who made stuff from what they had. When you rely on your ideas and your skills instead of the endless variety of Must-Have Supplies, I think you’ll find yourself making amazing things that you didn’t know were waiting for you to bring them to life.
And, oh: have fun!
Find more ideas for upcycling your old art projects in Mixed Media Revolution by Darlene Olivia McElroy and Sandra Duran Wilson.
Ricë is the author of Living the Creative Life, Creative Time and Space, and Destination Creativity. She also blogs at The Voodoo Cafe.
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