art historian, freelance curator, cultural manager and researcher
September 2017, I’m at home and depressed.
All my paid project work for the year has been done, and MA thesis submitted. I entered a gap. What now, the voice repeats. I don’t know. Fearing another period of unemployment and lack of coherent career direction, with a long-distance relationship, I’m sinking… Climbing the stairs up to my room one afternoon after lunch, I look at a pile of “creative trash”. It’s all sort of stuff I’ve been collecting in case I want to be creative again. But I can’t. Can I?
With no expectations, I took some of the material and…
The next morning the darkness was lifted. I was happy, a feeling simple and solid. I started both cursing myself for not doing anything handmade for years and getting afraid that the feeling could be gone soon… What have I made last night? I see a mumble-jumble assemblage at the desk, that came out through the process and I see my metaphorical struggle plainly: little colorful cake decoration balls getting out of dark doors, in a rusty old building.
The ball got rolling.
Something deep inside changed. A little bit of confidence: I can do it! I remember how nice it was making handmade presents and just experiment with clay and other materials. Pure enjoyment. But the brain came rushing in, with a tide of overthinking and destructive perfectionism. I started answering its questions: yes, it’s a hobby; yes, I don’t think I’m good at it now; yes, I like doing it; no, I don’t have a concrete plan what to do with it. Doing it for self-therapeutic purpose is an immediate goal: I wanted the feeling to last, but how to do it in practice? What prevents me from doing it?
The mental borders I set to myself long ago.
The voice whispers. There are other people doing it better than I have ever done it myself. That same idea isn’t original, somebody else did it already. I don’t know enough. It’s not a replacement for an actual work. It’s just a regression into childish play. It’s not serious. I can’t. I can’t. I…
…but I just… did it?
Well, I made something. And I broke the barrier. I felt it. I saw it. Now the goal is to continue moving. My feelings were timid, so I decided to make baby steps, not to pressurize myself with unrealistic expectations, not to have the positive feeling go away, but keeping the ideas flowing. I took an old math notebook for ideas, set the table with materials, collected various tools around the house. Wrote in my diary and told people about it. Finally bought some new material: polymer clay and acrylic paint. Opened Pinterest and stared googling. I saw people such as Mandarin Duck and Mmm by Selma who made great things and I wanted to try some of it.
Friends and family were so precious.
And they still are. Some challenged me to think in advance, seeing potentials; others send me links to artworks, or simply asked me to make them something. Before long, after a period of testing the new material through trial and error, and making pieces for my own pleasure, I got it more public by making a dedicated Instagram page and making gifts.
Fast forward to today, this has been a wonderful self-exploratory and confidence-raising process.
Step by step, I felt I grew. The trick was to let the ideas and skills develop organically. To let myself do it – constantly make stuff. Ideas opened paths to new ones; frustrations made me do the next piece better; seeing other people’s work inspired rather than discouraged me. My confidence rose after it once took me from a deep s**t hole, and it continued doing it over and over. After quitting with a daily job in autumn 2018, the occasional craft hobby became more of an alternative, part-time job. It made me think more about selling and improving my work. That’s how the first craft markets came.
But wait, what about the obstacles?
Lack of time, lack of means. The image in my head not correlating enough to what I see in front of me. Fear of being not as good as I wanted to be. Clay breaking, changing colors. Darn varnish which sticks or gets off. Not knowing to set the price due to modesty and lack of experience. Paying to participate in markets and just to cover the costs. Making long breaks and then experiencing the procrastination terror of getting back to the workshop. Seesaw of should this be my job or not. But…
So far so good.
The money I earned financed past and future investments, as well as a few of my occasional living expenses. What changed is that now I’m doing it both for enjoyment and money. The latter did bring a set of expectations with it, namely a quality standard. Many friends supported me with this a lot; some have even became my “muses”.
Where to now? Forward, somewhere ahead 🙂
More about what I make you find at the dedicated page. And if you’re also struggling with something creative, I’ll give you an advice from an artist when I told him I can’t draw: “Everybody knows how to draw. But not everybody knows how to do it good. As for you… stop thinking. JUST DO IT.”
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