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The End of the Creative Experiment

These are the first buttons I purchased at a second hand store that I thought would merely be inspiration for my artwork.

I began my Creative Experiment concerning my own art creation in February 2018. It gave me a mental framework to guide the creation of my artwork. The discovering of a means by which to explore my personal creative processes, was an unexpected bonus. I feel as though the experiment has served its purpose and it’s time to mark the completion of it.

The reason I began the experiment was because I felt as though my artwork had become predictable. I felt as though I was simply going through the same motions with each piece, with each doll, and never feeling quite creatively satiated. I knew exactly what was going to happen and in what order. Creating the patterns for the dolls and clothing were creatively engaging for me. The first few dolls and sets of clothing created from the patterns were fun to make. It is always satisfying to see your art become real as you make it. But over time, I began to feel as though the subsequent artwork created was somehow stale. It was something that I saw as rooted in a different place and a time. It had become somehow separate from my current mental and physical state. And I had no idea how to detach myself from that feeling.

I needed to create artwork, dolls that were completely different from what I had been doing, while at the same time, being similar in many ways to how I had always worked.

Yeah. That makes total and complete sense, doesn’t it? But when you know something is wrong, but cannot completely identify it, then the possible solutions remain ill-formed lumps of gray.

I decided to change the materials, tools and techniques. There were things that I felt needed to be knocked loose within my own mind for my artwork to evolve. Changing my methods seemed like a good place to start. I wrote the following parameters for what I called my Creative Experiment:

  1. Choose a Button: Take the first one that you like or feel drawn to for whatever reason, the color, shape, texture, size, etc.
  2. Choose the Color for the Doll: Fabric, Felt, etc., choose what you are attracted to in the moment. What kind of color or texture do you want?
  3. You may create a very basic pattern for the doll: Do not get lost in the creation of the pattern. Keep it simple. Nothing too fancy or elaborate! Trace the button and draw the pattern around it. Cut out the pattern and start piecing!
  4. Choose Thread Colors and Additional Fibers too, it desired — threads, yarns, floss, etc., whatever is on hand that you like.
  5. Start Sewing! Work. Sew. Choose to do things quickly. Be okay with whatever is happening as you work.
  6. Do not start a new button doll until the current one is finished. It may take a few sessions to finish one doll. Be patient.
  7. Remember, these dolls are three-dimensional sketches. They are not meant to be perfect!

The buttons that I refer to are the ones that I purchased at a second hand store. They were all little faces to me. When I purchased a handful of them in 2018, I thought that they would be reference for a new doll design. Perhaps I could create new patterns based on them. The sketches I created did not scratch the that illusive creative itch, so I had to come up with something else.

This is the very first doll in the creative experiment.

I purposefully created parameters that were directly opposite of the unwritten parameters I had been utilizing while creating my previous body of artwork. That body of work was sketched, had defined themes, were painstakingly put together, had complete outfits of clothing, handbags, intricate hair styles, jewelry, and were somewhat marketable. I worked on several dolls at the same time and shifted between dolls when I felt got stuck, or needed to procure a tool or material. I needed to get away from that way of thinking. 

Initially, the new artwork seemed half-assed, sloppy, and very unsure. Each doll felt like a bit of a failure. I was spent around three to four hours creating each doll. They were small. So much smaller than any dolls that I had created previously. I needed to treat these dolls as sketches. It was okay not to like what I was creating. They were just sketches.

I kept working. Creating on average five to seven small dolls per week, mostly in the evenings. I tried to let go of all of the preconceptions I had about myself as an artist and my previous artwork. I tried hard to be mentally and emotionally present during my creation of each doll. All the who’s, what’s, where’s and why’s required my total attention.

This all just sounds like flow state, and it is. I know what flow state is. I had experienced it while creating my previous body of work. This time around, it was different. I relished being able to lose track of myself while I was working on a doll. The things in my mind were all blank, while at the same time my hands were making the art. I tried not to think so much about what I was doing. I was working more instinctively. And the artwork began to change. The experience of creating each of the dolls became more meditative. Thoughts, ideas, emotions, inspirations were all available for me while I worked within this small space, in these small forms.

I cannot deny that there were many other contributing elements that were integral to the success of my creative experiment. My physical environment as well as my access to art and sewing supplies were important ones. Not teaching art to children also had a lot to do with the success of the creative experiment. I didn’t realize how much I had come to rely on a daily interaction with my students as a means of creative idea generation for my personal artwork.

I don’t resent any of these changes that I have made to my life that resulted in my need to create an experiment to aid me in finding the ability to make art in a way that allowed me to be creatively fulfilled. If my creative experiment had not worked out so well, or had failed spectacularly, I would have simply tried something else.

So, if the experiment was a success, why end it?

Mostly because all things must come to an end, or perhaps cease to be of such importance. The creative experiment has served a purpose, and now I can move forward with other concepts and ideas that I would like to explore in my artwork. The imprint of the experiment is still very visible in my artwork, but it won’t be the reason for the existence of my artwork.

This is Agnes and Tiina. I had almost completed them at this point.  They are the last dolls created under the parameters of the creative experiment.
This is the little flower shape in which the smaller doll, Tiina sits on top of Agnes’s head.
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Free Pattern Download: But You Have to Read the Blog Post First

I’ve created doll patterns in the past with the intensions of selling them. The creation of the pattern itself seems to relatively easy for me to do. Writing the initial instructions is a little more difficult, mostly because I want to make sure that I’m telling the reader everything they should know. I want the people who buy my patterns to be able to have a good time using the pattern, perhaps learn a new thing or two, and creating something that they will truly enjoy.

These are the same considerations that I take into account when I’m teaching students in the art education classroom. I strive to create an art experience for my students in which they will have opportunities to learn, grow as well as being able to express themselves and have a good time doing it.

I would assume to have all the requisite mental and physical tools to design and write fairly good patterns and sets of instructions then, right? I looked over the patterns that I’d designed and written in the past few years and couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something lacking in them. There was some essential element that was missing, but I had no idea what it was.

I mentally chewed on this idea for a few weeks. I didn’t see any huge difference between the types of patterns or templates that I created for student use in my classroom. I had to break down the the actions that my students would take in the classroom and the user of one of my patterns and instructions.

What I discovered is that there are two big differences between teaching students in a classroom setting and selling a pattern to a customer:

  1. I’m not present as a teacher to guide the user of one of my patterns, so that they can have a fulfilling creative experience.
  2. I want users of my pattern to make their own art, not an exact copy of mine, and it’s impossible to guarantee that.

Those two differences, combined with my personal beliefs about creativity and art creation, are the biggest mental obstacles that I have when it comes to creating moderately good patterns.

Teaching art in the public school is a contact sport:

I love teaching children art. Seeing my students create their artwork is amazing. I love being there to see them have those ‘ah-ha!‘ moments, where a concept or technique just suddenly comes together for them and you can see their world get a little bigger. Being an art teacher akin to teaching children how to discover who they are as humans. I’m so grateful for all of the years that I have been privileged to work with students.

The student and I are both present in the same space, at the same time, working together, getting and giving feedback, while they are creating their artwork. Because of this, I’m there to guide them as much or as little as they require.

I never liked having students copy my art lesson examples. I felt as though it was as if they were going through the motions of creating art. Using the tools, materials and the techniques, but  not infusing their artwork with their own choices of composition, color, or subject. Not showing themselves reflected within their artwork.

The teacher drew a panda, so I will draw a panda. I will make my work look like hers, because hers is good.”

Creating art is more than simply using the tools, materials and technique. That’s more exercise than a unique creation of artwork. For art to have life, to have meaning, requires the presence of the human creating the artwork in its creation. Growth takes place because the creator is different after the experience of creating; the finished artwork is a physical reminder of the mental and emotional growth that has taken place within the creator, and imbues the artwork with the importance of that growth.

I never wanted my students to make their artwork look like mine. I wanted them to take the lesson, the art experience that I was presenting to them, and make it their own. I wanted them to put their own unique mark on it.

I think that where I get mentally stuck is that I feel as though the patterns that I create must offer to the user every, single, solitary, solution to an infinite number of questions and problems. To be frank, I tend to have mental plans A-ZZZ ready in my head, juuuuust in case I need them, for many possible scenarios. I’ve done it as long as I can remember. In the art classroom it makes me a very flexible art teacher that can adapt quickly, allowing me to work with the students to help them create the artwork they want to create.

“Yeah. We’re all working on huge Sonia Delaunay-inspired mixed media pieces, but I want you to use the colors you like, and the shapes you like, and the composition you find the most personally satisfying. Use the tools or don’t use them. It’s up to you. Don’t want to use the oil pastels? Here, pick some paint colors. I want to see your artwork.”

My lessons are simply a blank pattern, that the students finish in their own unique way. Once I had mentally sorted this out, my problems creating patterns for other people to use became clear. The pattern is just a starting point. Once you learn how the pattern works, you can then begin to alter the pattern to suit your own specific creative needs.

My art is mine. I am the audience.

As a practicing artist, I’m constantly creating my own patterns for my work. There are times in which I don’t feel as though I require a pattern and just kind of ‘wing it’, but that’s the benefit of about three decades+ of accumulated professional efficacy at work. I put myself into every piece that I create.

No one tells me how to create my artwork. I research materials and techniques. I create test pieces to make sure that I have a construction method or technique well in hand before I start a new piece of art. I never listen to advice from non-artists/creators that begins with, “You know, you should make…” I know that this advice is meant well, but more often than not, the person offering it doesn’t know why I make art. And that’s okay.

I think there is also a part of me that thinks that if I create patterns for other people to use, that in some way, I’m giving away my own ‘magic’ for free. That there will be someone out there, who takes my ideas, my methods and techniques, and calls them their own and that somehow I’m materially damaged because of that. It’s completely irrational, but I thought it should be noted, as it is something that crosses my mind as regards the creation of patterns to sell.

So…what do I do?

I need to go through the mental block, or around it, or maybe under it:

With all of the above, swirling around in my mind, I thought I would try and create a simple pattern for a doll that people could download for free. In the download, you’ll get a pattern, a list of tools and materials and some very basic directions that show the user how to create an articulated doll using recycled materials (carton board, cardboard, magazines) as well as easy to find tools and materials like scissors, glue sticks, pencils, buttons, pipe cleaners and wire, and other things that you may have around the house, like fabric, felt and yarn.

Here’s the thing, I don’t show you how to create a face, or clothing or hair. I suggest materials, but how they are to be used is up to the person using the pattern. Some people may want to only use colored paper and markers to complete their doll. Other people may want to use wiggly eyes for the face, and add a lot of texture with things like beads or beans glued to the cardboard surface of the doll. While other people may want to paint fabric and then wrap each individual doll piece, and using small pieces of wood to put the doll together instead of buttons and pipe cleaners. There may be people who want to use a copier to increase the size of the pattern, while there may be others that want to make the wrists and ankles moveable.

The thing that scares me, and makes me feel like the user of one of my patterns will not be happy with the pattern, instructions or the art they create, is that I’m not there to guide them. I have no part in the users creative process beyond making a pattern available to them. If they don’t like the pattern, they could tell everyone they know that they think I stink and am a bad pattern maker and everyone on the planet should avoid me, my artwork and my patterns at all cost.

Whatever the user of this pattern does with it, I hope it is a unique expression of who they are and that they have a very good time creating their own artwork.

(I will have a Finnish language version of this pattern added very soon. I am having a native speaker go over the Finnish before I post it.)

Doll Pattern English 1_Nov 2019

Doll Pattern_English 2_Nov 2019


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Exhibiting My Artwork or Getting Past My Fear

I’m the first to admit that I’m far from a prolific blogger. The majority of my activity online is on Instagram. I post there a lot. Mostly pictures of my artwork and my artwork in process. I’ve made contact with other artists and I enjoy talking with them about all things ‘art’. I had decided earlier in the year that I was just going to start writing and posting on my blog every week, and I just didn’t do it.

My attentions get pulled in other directions, mostly in the direction of creating my own artwork. Taking photos of my artwork and the process of creating it fits with what I would rather be doing 99% of the time; making my own artwork.

That all being said, I do want to post on this blog more often. To that end, I have decided to take more of a baby-step; posting every Tuesday for just the month of November. That seems much more do-able to me. Four posts is much less daunting to me. Hopefully, I can build this into a habit.

For my first of four blog posts this month, I’m announcing a small exhibit of my artwork at the Jyväskylän kaupunginkirjasto. My work will be on display for the month of November. Displaying my artwork in a public setting, is something that makes me not just very nervous, but takes my own personal senses of personal self-doubt and complete inadequacy and turns them up to level ten. I know where these feelings come from and why they are an omnipresent presence within me. It is through creating my artwork that I sorted this all out. Every piece of art that I make gives me a greater understanding of myself. I create my artwork primarily for myself. It’s my therapy.

Over the past few years, showing my artwork and my creative process through Instagram photos has allowed me to have a level of control that I found comforting. I had control over who saw my artwork and who I talked to about my artwork. I could hide my self-doubt and sense of inadequacy in the physical buffer of the internet. The viewer on Instagram only sees and reads what I am comfortable sharing with them. When showing my artwork in public, there is no buffer. I have much more limited control, and that is a big step for me as an artist. A big, fat, terrifying step.

I suppose my next question should be, now that I’ve started to work on my fear of showing my artwork in public, what should I do next?


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Fear: An integral component of my creative process

I spent some time yesterday working on a list of ideas for blog posts. I outlined a blog post and began to flesh it out, with the intention of polishing it and then posting it today, but that’s not going to happen, not today anyway.

Yesterday evening, I began the painting stage for one of my dolls. Well, they aren’t really ‘dolls’ in the traditional sense anymore. Yes, they can be ‘played with’, but they have morphed into something else, more sculptural, more abstract…I’m still trying to figure it out for myself at this point. I still personally call them dolls though. The painting stage for my most recent collection of dolls is started after the gesso and sanding is completed. I had decided some time ago, that I wanted to explore using painted paper, and then adhering it to the surfaces of the doll. I wasn’t sure if this was going to be more Eric Carle or more hanging wallpaper.

I’m not sure how I actually pictured the paper looking, but this was not it.

I was confident in my ability to create the painted paper. I was drawing on an art lesson taught to me by a fellow art teacher while I was working within a larger public schools art program. In a nutshell, you use acrylic paint and paint it onto newsprint. It creates lovely paper that can be cut or torn and used for collage work. I decided to use pages from a book. I used glue stick to attach several pages together, creating a large sheet (35  x25 cm, give or take) that I could paint on. Much like the art lesson, I stuck to colour groupings like tints, shades, warm, cool and analogous. I chose blues for the background (base) layer of colour, and then will create collage work over the top of it. I can work back into the painted paper with coloured pencil and with additional paint. When completed, I will cover it with a semi-gloss sealant. That’s the plan.

While working last night, I began thinking, “Oh man. I’ve got a bad feeling about this…” after I glued down the first, and essentially easiest part of the paper to the main doll torso back. It thought it looked horrible. The book paper was getting soft and mushy. I had to be so careful as I attempted to burnish or even press the painted paper down to the relatively flat surface. I chose to use a straight-up PVA glue for adhering the paper to the gessoed surface of the doll, because I had used the exact same glue to make the gesso. Somehow I thought that they would adhere to one another better.

I’m kind of feeling ‘meh’ about how this looks. I keep reminding myself that this is the background for a collage and that there is more to be added to it.

I struggled to get the paper to do what I wanted it to do. By the time I was beginning the wheel-houses for the hip joints, I was so frustrated, I thought about peeling off all the paper and sanding it smooth, and starting over with paint just painted on the gessoed surface. I thought about letting it dry and then sanding off the painted paper. I thought that I could just create a whole new abdominal section for the doll. I was really pissed at myself. I should have known that the book pages were too thick and spongy to work with, especially with paint and glue. The paper seams show; great big, stark white lines running through the paper where I cut it. The curved wheel-houses looked like…merde.

Was I drinking last night? Did I suddenly forget how to use glue and paper? The wrinkles! Oh, dear, sweet, merciful gods!

I wasn’t just soaking in fear, I was drowning in it.

Wow. You can hardly tell I just took a two day photography seminar. This looks like I had my eyes closed when I was gluing and cutting the paper and taking the photo.
Evidently, I forgot how to use scissors and X-Acto’s correctly last night. I’m sure a little paint will fix this right up!

I went to bed thinking that I had just totally screwed-up several weeks worth of work and that I’d just have to chuck this piece in the bin and start over again with a completely new doll.

I actually found myself thinking, “What will people think of this totally bunged-up piece of crap that I have created?” It was at that point I had to stop and take a critical look at my thought process as well as the now dried artwork sitting on my desk, because fear was getting the better part of all of my attention, and it didn’t deserve it.

Okay, let’s look at the physical process of creating the paper and then adhering it to the surface of the doll. Yep. It looks a bit chunky and busted, however, it didn’t dry as wibbly as I had feared. Those white edges! GAH! They are mocking me! Mocking. Me. Well…I do have more paint…and coloured pencils…so I thinking I can at least minimize their appearance. The wheel-houses…oh man…they are just crunchy…sloppy…the curves look like…MERDE! GAH! Can some paint help? Yes. Maybe some careful sanding? Perhaps. Okay, let’s look at the helmet portion that I also got paper glued to. It’s…okay…better than the torso section, but there are some seriously boogered sections where I had to attempt some surgery with an X-Acto knife and it looks like crud. The paper rumpled. Can paint minimize it? I think so.

Will these solutions all work? Maybe? I’m sure that some will work better than others and that while I’m attempting to fix all of the things that I view as problems or mistakes, I will add to my personal creative efficacy in the process.

Fear is weird. It can propel you in a myriad of directions, sometimes all at once. You can stop completely. You can plow through it. You can get stuck in it. You can cut loose things that aren’t working, and move on without them. Or, you can spend inordinate amounts of time trying to make something work that will never work. I suppose that the most important take aways fear as a lesson can teach me, is I need to adequately process it and most important, learn from it. Fear of making mistakes, of screwing things up shouldn’t be a reason for never making an attempt in the first place. This has been a very hard lesson for me to learn, and not just when it’s attached to my own artistic creation. I don’t think fear should ever necessarily disappear completely either. At this point in my life, I think I’m just going to have to look at it the same way I do my clinical depression; fear is something that is always going to be there, something that I will have to do battle with, in varying degrees, and in multiple places, for the rest of my life. That’s just life.

Now, back to work.

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Wading Back Into the Pond

It’s been quite a long time since I have made any kind of post on this website, and it’s long, long overdue. So much has happened in my life since I was last active on my blog, so much in fact that I don’t think I want to write a huge long series of posts detailing the events of the past few years. I think that the image above kind of addresses some of what’s been going on in my life, and where I’m pointing my life.

I’m still in the process of planning what I want this blog to be. I do know that my artwork and my teaching will be big parts of it. I’d actually been hemming and hawing for the better part of a year about getting back to writing for the website, but I hesitated at every turn, thinking that I needed to have some all-powerful, all-knowing “Plan” for what I wanted to do, and if I couldn’t come out of the gate with something all-new, super-duper and ultra-fabulous, then it somehow wouldn’t be worth starting to work on a blog or building my website. The problem with this kind of thinking is that it implies that I only would be writing and posting for an unseen and unknown audience of people I didn’t know, and somehow felt the need to impress, aaaand that’s not who I am.

During the past year or so, I’ve had a little snippet of a David Bowie interview in the back of my head on repeat.

Never play to the gallery. (laughter) I think…that you never learn that until much later on I think. But never work for other people in what you do…always…always remember the reason that you initially started working was that there was something inside yourself that you felt that if you could manifest it in some way, you would understand more about yourself and how you coexist with the rest of society. And I…I think it’s terribly dangerous for an artist to fulfill other peoples expectations. (Shaking his head slightly) I think they produce, they generally produce their worst work when they do that. And if…the other thing I would say is that if you feel safe in the area you’re working in, you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the water than you feel your capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth and when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.

In the end, the blog, the website, my artwork, they are all things that I do because there is something that I want to make real, so that others can see it, read it or hear it. Yes. I am putting all of this out there in the world for others, but I need to do it first and foremost for myself, so that it is as true a representation of me as possible. Others expectations of what create, well…those should not influence me and what I choose to create.

My plan right now is that I write at least one post per week. I may post more though. I don’t know how exciting it will be, but I’m fairly sure it will be weird.