Wonder: Establishing and Maintaining a Creative Practice

I have blogged about this before, in part, but yesterday I gave a talk and I know some of my friends who live in the ether wanted access to it as well.  I departed somewhat from the script and talked about specific mistakes, but basically, this is what I talked about.



Because I was talking to a group of quilters, I started with my first quilt. I will note I have not attempted piecework this complicated since.

Take what works for you and leave the rest behind.

Start with the basics: get enough sleep, eat well, exercise. Take your medications.

Commit to your creative practice — REGULAR PRACTICE. Good writers go and write for X many minutes/hours or whatever it is a day. If you want to be creative, you have to do it. Not all of us have the luxury of doing it every day, but for me, even if I’m not in my studio, I still spend part of the day thinking over ideas.
Three main components:

Structure (physical, chronological,)

Inspiration — many sources

Challenges — how to challenge yourself and what to do when big challenges (ie, mistakes) occur

Physical: have a dedicated space — it doesn’t have to be a whole room. Some people manage to work out of a tiny corner. I find having a whole room dedicated to my practice enormously helpful. I can maintain an organized stash of materials that are at the ready when inspiration strikes. Or when I need to just force myself to sew two pieces of fabric together.


Having the machine set up and ready to all the time made a huge difference in my willingness to get down to business.

Time: Commit to your practice.  1 day a week every day for an hour.  Whatever works for you. Know what time(s) of day work for you and don’t sacrifice them.

SAY NO this opens up time/energy for things that really drive you


Have a solid routine where you don’t have to think creatively about every decision. It’s ok to eat the same thing for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I think Feynman made that decision about lunches. It’s ok to have a closet full of clothes that look the same. Look at Steve Jobs. Did you ever see him in anything other than a black turtleneck?


If you have a hard time getting started, just say to yourself, I’m just going to go do something for 10 minutes today. You don’t need to block off 2 hours or 6 to get work done!



Be your authentic self:

I know that I learn by talking. Some of my best inspirations have come from conversations I’ve had with people. If I’m looking for a creative spark, I know certain topics will get the juices flowing: science, marine topics, outer space, and textiles. Because I talk so much, people will sometimes bring me ideas. It’s great!

Listen to NPR or podcasts. Go to lectures and classes.

I’m a member of two local quilt guilds and I go to the meetings no matter who is speaking because I never know if someone will inspire me. I’ve had people say things that hit right to the core even though their style and possibly even their technique are of no interest to me! Same with classes. You never know how a technique might be used in your work if you don’t try it first. Just because the teacher uses dots to make cats doesn’t mean you can’t use dots to make ice cream cones (or something along those lines :))

Sometimes I will try to use a different thread or fabric or yarn to see what I can do with it. I also make challenges to myself and invite my friends to join me.  

Someone told me a while ago to try doing things “the other way.” So, try being the driver or passenger. Try eating left handed. Or drawing (if you draw — I don’t:)). I’m a contra dancer, so I’ve started switching roles during a dance, something I had not been able to do before a year or so ago. I think it did something to my brain because I can now do it easily!

Being creative is all about expressing the subjects that excite me. Find subjects, shapes, colors that excite you and pursue those exciting bits.

Try different colors from your favorite safe colors.

If you find something that excites you, follow that thread. Indulge in it. Revel in it, even.

Step outside your comfort zone. Sign up for classes you are unsure about. It’s ok to try something and decide it’s not for you. You tried it! Good job!

Make up challenges with friends. Respond to calls for entry. Stretch yourself. Share your work. Submit it places. Apply to things you love even if you think it’s not going to happen. Take commissions!

How do you challenge yourself? (rhetorical question)
Stretching/challenging/dealing with blocks and mistakes


I’ve been living with anxiety for a long time.  Don’t let fear do the driving (Liz Gilbert). Tell it to come along in the back seat and stay quiet.

FAKE IT. Show up and tell yourself that’s what counts, because it’s true.

Take breaks. Allow yourself “palate cleansers” as Cyndi Sauder calls them. Someone else talked about strip therapy, where she couldn’t do anything except sew strips together. I’ve made a number of quilts that way and it has worked wonders for me. I have the confidence that I can sew two pieces of fabric together. It really works!

Allow yourself to make ugly imperfect messed up work

Wonder is the antidote to a block. Ask “what if” and see where that leads (Liz Gilbert)


Things to tell yourself: better done than perfect. It’s ok to make something ugly/bad/terrible today. What’s the worst thing that can happen?

This is not a competition. The more we support each other, the better we all are for it.

Some of my most creative solutions have come from perceived mistakes.

Have cheerleaders and trust them.

Cultivate relationships with people of different ages. My kids have wisdom that people older than me do not and vice versa.

Do not take yourself too seriously. Loosen up, let go, and have fun sometimes.

Here are the images from the slideshow, which I didn’t project because I forgot to bring a cable. Some people looked at it afterwards.

These last 8 quilts are Trajectory: Escape Velocity and I have blogged about them before. Just click on the tag and you can find individual entries.

2 thoughts on “Wonder: Establishing and Maintaining a Creative Practice

  1. I really appreciate that you have included your palete cleansers in here — your art quilts are beautiful, but the reminder that creating for the sake of creating, rather than something unique is still valuable is one I needed today.

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