Sunday, April 04, 2010

creativity and the slog

It seems like a good time of year to talk about creation...what with springtime and all its attendant holidays, etc. That, and a friend who reads my blog sometimes said, "You wrote that whole post about the socks and never described HOW you explained that you design stuff!"

Hmm. Well, if it were always easy to explain and I had a check list on how I did it, well then, anybody could do it, right?
No, I think I just didn't do an effective job of explaining it to that engineer friend. I'm still struggling. Here are some thoughts.

Sometimes, I am inspired by something I see. For instance, a detail I see in a building's design, or in nature, or even a person's sweater in an airport. The photos in this post are from a trip to Ireland, about 4 years ago, I think. I shot lots of photos of these buildings--something in the curlicues, circles and lines really attracted me.

Other times, I get my hands on a really delicious sort of fiber or yarn, and it just calls to me. I swatch and experiment and think about it until I can come up with something to design it into. Swatching sometimes indicates what needle size I'd prefer, what stitch pattern looks best, and how the yarn behaves. These are all essential to creating something that is actually useful later, after knitting.

The things I've mentioned, above, often require a bit of day dreaming to get it right. Play, experimentation and brainstorming are all a part of this process at times. This is true for some of my writing projects as well. Taking walks, dreaming, and knitting, spinning or weaving meditatively will often give me the ideas and the solutions to problems I'm thinking about.

This is the point where I should mention that I'm not short on ideas. That's not the problem. The problem is getting the ideas to a point where I can sell them (as a design, article, book, etc.) to someone else. That part can be, well, a slog...but more on that in a bit.

Another option is when someone asks me to design a specific garment or project. I then work from what the finished project will look like. I choose the right colors of yarn, textures, styles, and crunch the numbers for the design based on a swatch I've knitted.

I think the difference between a professional designer/writer and an occasional innovator has a lot to do with the "slog" part of things. Yes, a professional sells things, and the hobbyist might not, but that is not necessarily the definition I think about on my own. After all, Van Gogh was a pretty fine painter and his work didn't sell all that well. I'd still call him a professional!
The slog (at least for me) involves getting down every bit of the technical writing of a design. It involves creating attractive photos and good schematics. It means manipulating graphs into charts that knitters can work from. It's creating a satisfying layout for a pdf and making sure I can hire a technical editor and afford to pay her, too.
Sometimes, the slog is even just knitting up a design sample that I find boring to knit...and perhaps it's something I'd never wear in a color I don't like...because occasionally, selling a design means using a color I'd never choose and a style that wouldn't ever be flattering for me. That's when it can be a slog and not a joy.
When I write, I find some things are fun to do from beginning to end, and other assignments are more of a slog. This doesn't correlate to how technical it is, or how long the article is, or even the subject matter.
It might that this part is where the muse comes in. The creativity part is hard to describe, and while I can get into the technical bits, I find that nothing there is inspiring. It's when a day flies by with lots to write about, or when a design just flows out of me without any set backs. It's like the muse dropped by that day, and better yet, she knew what I'd need.
Then, the muse leaves and I'm back to the slog. It means finding ways to sell my work, market it, and actually try to earn something from it. That's the not fun part for me.
I think sometimes that creativity isn't the problem. It's funding and supporting things that make creativity happen.
For instance, qiviut (or musk ox fiber) is a very rare, very warm and luxurious fiber. It's hard to get your hands on this stuff, but when you do, it is well worth it. This qiviut has inspired generations of Alaskan knitters who create amazing, lacy warm works of art with it. (To learn more about this story, check out Arctic Lace by Donna Druchunas--it's a great book...a real inspiration!)

50 years ago, a man named John Teal, Jr. started the first musk ox farm in Alaska, where these amazing beasts were cared for and bred in captivity. This man had a dream, and his creativity and love for these animals created an amazing resource for Alaskans.

Here's the slog part. Here's what's happening today:
I am the Granddaughter of John Teal Jr, the man who domesticated the Musk Oxen and started a market for its amazing and exotic wool, Qiviut.

Our non-profit farm in Palmer Alaska is in great danger of being sold and dissolved, and I am doing everything in my power to keep it going as a sustainable and viable operation.

But I need help. I have to raise funds to prevent the sale, to keep the grazing land of our herd of 55 Musk Oxen, and to prove to the board that our project is valuable to the greater community. The knitting and fiber community is an important part of our support network.

Any amount will make a difference.

Thank you!

Quill Teal-Sullivan
Granddaughter of John Teal Jr
Not everybody is an artist, and maybe the muse didn't drop by every day... but we all can enjoy those occasional bursts of creativity and dreaming, in ourselves and in others. Some people can help maintain the materials that inspire us all towards becoming creative in our own way.
Want to help support musk oxen? Visit the Musk Ox Farm link and maybe you can lend a hand.

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Blogger Donna D said...

Great article on creativity, and thanks so much for writing about the Musk Ox Farm! -- Donna Druchunas

April 4, 2010 at 7:33 PM  
Blogger Deborah Robson said...

You are brilliant at identifying the slog. I do it, but had not recognized it as anything other than perverse perseverance.

Thanks for the note on the Musk Ox Farm, too.

April 5, 2010 at 12:17 AM  
Blogger Joanne said...

Thanks, Donna and Deb! I had no idea I was so very familiar with the slog until writing this down. It's become second nature...

April 5, 2010 at 8:52 AM  
Blogger Alison said...

I was reading, nodding my head, going, yes, exactly, yes. Thank you.

And thank you for spreading the word about the Musk Ox non-profit in Palmer.

--AlisonH at (silly Blogger and its insistence on dead links, sorry!)

April 6, 2010 at 4:33 PM  

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