Where creativity grows

Author: Jen (Page 1 of 3)

Creativity Chat

What is playing in your CD player/Ipod right now

Ever since I started using Pandora as my main means of listening to music, I don’t really pay attention to who the artists are anymore. I have a handful of stations that I listen to regularly. I recognize the music, but with rare exceptions I have no idea who is actually singing. So when my husband walked past my office the other day and did some silly leg move and then joked that he was being all uptown funky I did not know that it was a Bruno Mars song. I quickly Googled the song and was dancing around my office like a crazy person. And of course I had to add a Bruno Mars station to my Pandora stations. I know that I am a little bit late to the Bruno Mars party, but his tunes definitely get my creative mojo going! A few days later we started talking about how much we love 70s funk. Pandora has some great funk stations that have gotten me all charged up and excited to be creating. 

52 Frames Theme- song lyrics
Don’t stand so close to me…ice ice baby (COVID19 theme song)

How does one celebrate a birthday during a pandemic?

Most years, my husband and I take Columbus Day weekend to head out of town for a few days to celebrate my birthday. We find a bed and breakfast or even better and AirBnB somewhere a few hours from here. With a collection of podcasts on a flash drive, we hop in the car and start our adventure. That was not an option this year. The COVID19 numbers in Wisconsin and Indiana are rising daily and it was just not worth the risk. So how does one celebrate their birthday in the middle of a pandemic? I wasn’t thinking socially distanced car parade or anything like that. I had to get creative!

Back in July our close friend, who is also my running coach, was in town due to his own pandemic-induced madness. He was turning 47 on July 5th and decided that he was going to run 47 miles along the lakefront in Chicago. Before you get all stressed out about his decision, it would help you to know that he is a semi-professional ultra-marathoner for whom 47 miles is a pretty short run. Anyhow, I loved that his birthday celebration was centered around fitness, but there was no way I was going to run 45 miles in one day. I had walked close to 30 miles in one day, but running and another even more miles was just not going to be in my cards. So my husband suggested that I come up with my own challenge.

On October 6th I turned 45 and I decided that my challenge would be to run fifteen 5Ks in fifteen days between October 1st and October 15th. I was overwhelmed by all the people who signed up to run with me. Yes, of course, most of the segments were snatched up by friends from The Dick Pond Athletics Running Club where I do most of my running. However, I had friends from work who asked to do a segment. I even had a friend who is a fast walker, but who has never run, sign up. I was humbled by everyone’s generosity with their time!

I had 5 under my belt when I took a spill during run #6. I was embarrassed , but popped back up and finished the run. The next day I was with my friend Tammy when I took an even nastier spill. I could not finish this run and I was worried that I had really hurt myself. Thankfully our athletic trainer at school checked me out and was confident I had not broken anything. Relief is the understatement of the year!

Now that I knew I was not going to be able to complete the challenge in 15 days I had to decide how I was going to pivot and still honor my goal. Would I play it safe and just say that the runs had to be completed during the month of October? I did not want to do that, because running 45 miles in one month is not totally unreasonable for me to do. Would I just give up and try it again next year with 46? Out of the question! I decided I would just pivot and be ok with getting it done in up to 20 days. That would give me a few days to heal from my falls and still push me to get back out there.

Last Friday, I woke up and my monkey brain was out of control. I was questioning why on earth I had ever decided to do this challenge. Really…what was I thinking? I knew that I was tired and I was super stressed out about work. I reminded myself that I had deliberately built in 15 days in a row of 3 things: 1) time with special friends 2) celebrating my birthday and 3) exercise. How on earth could that be viewed as anything other than awesome. As of today, I am 10 runs into my 15. I’m taking today off to catch up on life stuff, but I’ll be back out on the trails tomorrow and for the next five days. 

While the pandemic forced me to come up with a different way of celebrating my birthday, I have to be honest, I’m already kicking around ideas for what I will do next year!

Creativity Chat

Do you think that creativity involves putting your heart and soul into your work? Or is it more like letting your mind flow freely to witness the surprising results of your actions?

I was out for a walk last night with a friend and we were talking about creativity. She rattled off some brilliant sentence about how most people are held back by their fear. I told her to remember that thought so that I could get it right when I interviewed her! I think she is definitely on to something. People are afraid, because every time you create something you put a piece of yourself into that creation. For some people it might be something small, but for others it might mean they went all in. Any spot on that spectrum can leave a person feeling extremely vulnerable. I see it in the 52 Frames album each week. Photographers have the choice of what level of critique they want on their images. The choices range from “I’m not interested in any critique, but feel free to comment” all the way through “Shred away, I feel no pain.” Recently I started volunteering to comment on 25 random images each week. I have noticed how many people shy away from the “shred” option even though in two and a half years no one has ever said anything that could even be construed as mean or hurtful. Still people guard their hearts. At the same time people are accustomed to overinflated positive feedback in the form of likes on social media. It is funny how we put such value in something that is in reality so meaningless. Perhaps a conversation for another day.

Here are two examples where I put my heart out more so than normal with 52 Frames submissions.

Hands. This theme came up in the middle of the BLM protests, but also during PRIDE week. I wanted to give a special shout out to my friends in the LGBTQ community, but I had no idea how this would be received by our international framer community.

Details. This challenge came the week of the anniversary of my cousin’s suicide. While I was not 100% pleased with my image, it had my heart completely wrapped up in it.

Creativity Chat

What do you do on a normal day that contributes to your creative work?

During a normal non-COVID19 school year, I have little time during the week to work on creative projects. However, I always have my 52 Frames project going on in the background. I try to schedule a few hours every Saturday to work on my image. Early in the week, I look over the challenge and read the tutorials. I then let the theme percolate in my brain during the week. Even if nothing comes up, I am training my brain to look for ideas. My life as a teacher is one big creative exercise. I am constantly solving problems and figuring out how to make different things work in less than ideal circumstances. If you look at your challenges as opportunities to practice your creativity it might make it easier (as my neighbor says) to embrace the suck. No guarantees. I am just thinking of this idea as I type and I know that I will have A LOT of opportunities to try that idea out this fall.

Covid19 Nerdy Bird and Fuzzer bringing smiles to people during a really stressful time.

The Oodlearium is Officially Open

Sometime between Halloween and Thanksgiving last year my husband asked me what I thought about the idea of turning our loft into a crafting space for me. At the time it was home to a pool table that was being used as everything from a storage table to an ironing board. It was most definitely getting much use as a pool room. My original reaction to his idea was lukewarm. He was already overwhelmed by the house projects we had undertaken and this was not going to be an easy task. Selling a pool table is virtually impossible. By the time you pay someone to disassemble it and re-felt it you can almost by a brand new one. Then there would be the hundreds of hours of work building out the room. I did not want to sign him up for that. But he was persistent. He started drawing out plans and little by little I became excited about the idea of having all of my creativity centered in one space that I had helped to design. Quickly after posting the ad on Craig’s List the table was sold and the blank canvas was ready to be transformed. 

We spent hours hashing out what the room would look like. The back wall would be lined with custom built in shelves. In the center of the room would be a giant custom built bench with shelves, drawers and a full butcher block countertop. Lighting was going to be tricky because a lofted ceiling made running electricity in the ceiling impossible without cutting into drywall. By late November, he had texted me a picture of him standing in front of 1000 pounds of wood that would become The Oodlearium. He wanted so badly to have it all done in time for Christmas, but it was just not a realistic goal.

By late January the shelves were installed. Then the work on the actual room started… fixing issues with the walls, painting the skylights, installing the track lighting and prepping for the table to be built. By early spring I was in the space with a temporary table set up in the middle of the room. The shelves were filled with all my art supplies and even though it was far from complete, I was loving having a place to create.

Summer in Illinois is anything but pleasant. Early June arrived and so did the heat. It was just too hot and humid to work in the garage cutting all the wood for the bench. His energy shifted to other projects while we waited for the weather to break. After months and months of anticipation, the room was finally ready to be unveiled. 

This past Saturday I left for my run and when I returned the table had been assembled and installed. I stood in the room that took almost 350 hours to complete. Tears gushing down my face, I just kept saying thank you over and over again. It has been about two weeks and I have spent so much time in their creating– pour painting, drawing, doing yoga and just thinking. It is everything I dreamt of and more. 

Now if only this pandemic would take its cue to exit stage left so that I can start having friends over to enjoy the space with me. For now, I am looking at doing some virtual classes and events. Stay tuned for details!

Creativity Chat

Where and when do you feel most creative?

While I always love creating, I definitely feel the most creative when I am doing something for someone else. I can sit for hours and hours to make something perfect for another person, whereas when it’s for me, I tend to cut corners. 

I always tease my father-in-law because he is very picky about when he will golf. It has to be a Wednesday. It can’t be too hot or too cold. He has to be able to use a cart. Three of his friends have to be available. Which means that he probably gets to golf three maybe four times a summer here in Illinois. I am happy to create any time I can. Some of my favorite times are when the beautiful morning light is casting a gorgeous glow in The Oodlearium. At the same time, I absolutely love sitting up there during a huge storm listening to the rain pound on the skylights. But, here I am a warm summer night sitting out on our patio just the chirping of birds and buzzing of bugs in the distance- perfectly content. I am truly grateful for any time that I can spend making something and have no rules or regulations. 

Creativity Chat

Is there anything special that you do to get into a creative mindset?

I take issue with the idea that someone gets into a creative mindset. For me, I am always living my life with a creative mindset. I don’t turn it on and off– hoping I can tap into it when I need it for a project. If you read my post on how to cultivate a creative mindset, you can see the tips I give are things that people need to do as a part of everyday life. It’s not a prescription or a recipe, it’s just a list of things that I have done regularly throughout my life and I have found to help. That being said, the more I create the more the ideas flow. Ever since we began work on the physical Oodlearium space, I have felt a constant creative flow. I am trying new recipes, experimenting with new materials, learning how to use new tools and much more. It has been an incredible feeling.

Creativity Chat

How has personal experience influenced your creativity?

I didn’t have any profound experiences with creativity as a kid despite growing up surrounded by creative people. Whether mom was working on a cross-stitch project or dad was building his model train layout or Grandma was crocheting baby blankets, creative energy was never far from me. I did not grow my confidence in my creativity until much later in life though. Most of what I did even into my 20s was very derivative. I made the same projects over and over again— only altering simple variables. I didn’t even recognize how creative my childhood was until much later in life. 


You can read the rest of this story in my article: Pivotal moments in my creative journey

Ladies Drawing Night

Life is funny how it brings people together just when they need them. My best friend from middle school recently moved back to Illinois and I was so excited to have her back in my area. She is an amazing artist and a dear friend! Then COVID19 hit and even though she has less than 30 miles away rather than the 2000 she had been while living in Cali, you never would have known. I’m a terrible person on the phone, I just have never been one to yammer on the phone. I do one video a chat a month with my regular group of girls, but that’s it. I kept trying to figure out how we could figure out a way to have art time together virtually. 

Enter stage right Ladies Drawing Night Out. The idea is that a group of ladies get together pick a theme and then everyone draws and chat together. Brilliant! We set up a zoom call and were going to give it a shot. I am obsessed with sunflowers, so I threw out the idea that we both draw that. Julia was game for the idea. 

We met up on a Monday afternoon and after a bit of chatting to catch up on life, we got ready to start our drawings. Julia decided to throw an extra curve ball into the mix when she suggested we draw with our non-dominant hand. A few choice words came out because I thought she was crazy to suggest it. Afterall I can hardly draw with my dominant hand! But, the conversation I had with my friend at school about working on letting things go was still fresh in my mind. I agreed and started to work. 

First of all Julia is so crazy talented that her “less than perfect” sunflower looked like something you would see on a cool hipster t-shirt in a corner shop. Mine did not. However, I was really amazed by how meditative the process was and how I was actually able to draw something that indeed looked like a sunflower. Once I let go my fear of not being perfect (as if it would have been perfect with my right hand!) I was able to relax and really enjoy the process.

Check out the book. It gave me all sorts of inspiration for creating a ladies art club. Think book club, but instead of chatting about books, we make art together. As we speak, my husband is building the last section of my table for the Oodlearium. If we could just rid the world of Covid, the Oodlearium would be the perfect spot for said club. Soon!

Creativity Chat

Who or what inspires you?

The easy answer is everything. In a world where people can easily share so much via social media, I feel like I am surrounded by amazingly creative people. I love scouring Pinterest for ideas of places to start on a project. I have a laundry list of photographers I follow through 52 Frames. 

  • Jimmy Deresta. I don’t really like his style of videos that he shares on YouTube, but I love listening to his podcast called Making It. He and his girlfriend have created the creative lifestyle that my husband and I want to have when we retire. He is a no-nonsense hardworking artist.
  • Devin Champagne. Week after week Devin creates the most beautiful images of her daughters. Even though I am not a portrait / lifestyle photographer, I am incredibly inspired by her vision.
  • Gordon Ramsay. While he bounces around his kitchen a bit like a maniac during his show on Amazon Prime, I always feel like getting into the kitchen and trying something new after watching him.
  • Erik Weihenmayer is a blind athlete and founder of the organization No Boundaries. He is the penultimate problem solver. Nothing in his life is easy and it helps to put my life in perspective.
  • Matthew Maday and Cassandra Turner. They are both ultra-marathoners, who compete in races around the world. They recently purchased a farm in Spain and are learning how to rehab it into a working farm where they can live off the grid.

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