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February 19, 2008


This question of focus really resonates with me as it is something I have been thinking a great deal about lately. There are many things I find myself attracted to trying, more things than are possible to explore fully in the time I have. For me the issue seems to stem from having opened the floodgates on some long denied creative juice…now I’m awash!
For the moment I’ve decided to simply allow the possibilities, I try to touch each idea, to write it or sketch it, to acknowledge them. Once I do that they seem to settle down and be willing to wait their turn. At one time in my life I was able to take the time to concentrate on one body of work but nowadays that choice is one I don’t feel comfortable with. As that is the case I’ve decided I’d rather dabble than do nothing at all. In general I probably have 4 to 6 active projects going on at a time. I practice very small steps on each of those projects and eventually one will rise up and become the one I simply must finish. Doing this keeps project overwhelm at bay and lets me work without having to choose “the one” (a choice that inevitably puts the brakes on my ability to do any work at all). The different projects tend to feed one another too. I have faith that the flow will settle out even more and I will once more be able to choose a body of work to delve into more deeply.

I loved reading this post because embracing fresh creative ideas and coming up with meaningful self-challenges are not issues for me but consistent self-discipline is/can be HUGE. Think this is largely true because I've always wanted my stitching to be about "fun" and after-work-hours decompression rather than "personal development" or a bona fide Life's Path. I have, in fact, heavily resisted seeing fiber arts in any other light. Somehow I had the idea that made my creative efforts more true to themselves but I also think my attitude has been short-sighted and drained a significant amount of power from the overall experience of what I might be capable of in the visual sense.

Am just now reaching a stage of willing acceptance for my growing desire to take my visual creative efforts more seriously and, thus, allowing them more time in both the cumulative and daily flow of my life. The biggest current stumbling block at this point is my love of collaborative efforts. I enjoy that vibe so much that I've allowed it to become the distraction that stitching-in-general used to be. I just addressed that issue on my niche blog less than an hour before I read this post!

For many years fiber arts served as an escape hatch from the rigors of writing for a living. Now, in order to maximize my time and energy, I'm working to develop viable ways of transposing the forms of discipline and focus I've developed for writing. On top of the lure/distraction of collaborative endeavors, I've found it can be somewhat problematic to stay on track when 'life issues' seem to be crowding-in for my attention.

The most glaring example, currently, is our shared Dental Thing because, as I'm sure you know on your own terms, this isn't just about the actual visit and whatever does or doesn't occur within that timeframe - it's also about emotional and psychic blow-back that strongly influences both the aftermath and also the inevitable anticipatory phase. This is where the previous definition of Escape Hatch works to my advantage. I'm also making a point of evaluating whether my sense that I need to tweak or outright reconfigure the way I go about developing useful work habits is a truly self-generated desire or if it's more about something I feel I "should" be doing based on how other people whom I admire have described their own process.

It's been very helpful to read this post and the comments it's generated ...

I have also struggled with the question of whether to focus on one thing or let the muses run loose. Interestingly, I find that if I allow myself the freedom to follow the muses, I come back to and am better able to focus on those things that are right for me. Doing so enhances my creativity more than staying with only one thing. In a sense it allows me to eliminate those things that are intriguing but not right for me.

For example, although I normally only work with textiles and fibers, I recently took a pottery throwing class, because I love pottery and always wanted to make it myself. After three class sessions I knew it was not right for me. Now I can love, admire and purchase other artist's pottery and not even think about making it myself. I didn't even need to finish the rest of the class sessions.

Your first and most important step is asking and reflecting on the very questions you are. Then have faith that the very thing you need will come about.

On focusing:
Look for the book "Refuse to Choose!" by Barbara Sher. In it, the author suggests that some of us are not made to focus on just one thing, that we are just "wired differently". In another time we would have been described as "well-rounded" rather than being labelled "indecisive" or "scatterbrained". Read the book and learn to celebrate your diverse interests and abilities!

Regarding focus and whether it is singular or broad: I do not believe that our passions are disconnected. I believe our passions are kin and connected in ways that they will reveal, if we are truly attentive. That truly attentive part probably looks different for each person. My experience of my passions finally weaving themselves together into a new, comprehensive form was painful. I often felt as if I was in labor with something 10 times bigger than me. Maybe I was! Do you know the story of the field scientist who watched a moth struggle to exit its cocoon? It would repeatedly struggle, then collapse. Unable to sit with his own discomfort and mistaking it for empathy and compassion, he cut open the cocoon only to witness the moth exit and promptly die. You see, the struggle was inherent in building the strength the moth would need to survive outside of that cocoon. There are days when I'm working and I know, absolutely, that had I not perservered and built the necessary strength during that challenging, laboring time - well, I would be burnt to ashes by the heat of my own creative fire! To be able to stand in that fire, feeling like every molecule is being rearranged, while laughing and being productive takes tremendous strength and at the same time builds more strength.

I differentiate between interests and passions. Interests often inform my passions, but they can become distractions if I don't recognize them for what they are.

Your writings frequently challenge me to ask difficult questions of myself and to welcome the honest answers. Your writings inspire me on days when I'm feeling "cubist" and disjointed. I have waited for too long to say thank you, so I say it now. Thank you.

I am not worried about you. You're building the strength that will later sustain you. Your reweaving process is beautiful to witness and I know that when the dust settles you will bring forth something exquisite.

A wise one once told me, "It is right and necessary to allow things to die, so something new can be born. But do not be quick to hasten the death of some things, for it is the ripeness of their fruit that bear the seeds of wisdom which you seek." Perhaps you are in a time of ripening?

How do I find focus? What focus? J/K and thanks for the kind words. For me, I can't design unless I have cleared all urgent issues from my to do list and my studio is (relatively) clean. I think creative brain space needs actual visible space to grow in.

I have to say I have had lots of "great" ideas in my life. Some I have pursued and some I have just talked about. (I wish I had a cohesive list of all my bright ideas... could make a good comic book... look there's another!) I believe in following all muses/ideas/inspiration...they all play a roll in creating the beauty we call our lives. That said, I also believe in not banging your head against a wall. I like to push ideas, like doors and see if they move. If they don't, I move on. If they crack I will give them another shove. Not often, but once in a while the door flies open and then I proceed with abandon.

The first time I was introduced to textile design as a career, the door flew open. I don't consider myself a fine artist but a textile designer. What I do is commercial... the move from designing products for companies with no real control over the design or the process to having my own all organic fair-trade line has been...amazing. I have tears in my eyes as I write this. It has been harder than anything I have ever done, but it feels right like nothing before ever really did. I have full creative control and that has taken some time to adjust to and embrace. I think I am still learning what it means.

Sorry to start rambling. If you are looking for a business idea that I am sure would take off, I suggest you create your own line of organic/eco friendly ribbons and tapes. No one that I am aware of is doing this, yet, and I know there are people looking for it. I am not saying ribbons are IT... just brainstorming. My advise... find a need and fill it in a way that makes you whole.

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10 Qualities of Slow Cloth, by Elaine Lipson

  • I defined Slow Cloth several years ago on this blog. Read the original post at http://lainie.typepad.com/redthread/2008/01/this-must-be-th-1.html. (Copyright Elaine Lipson 2007-2011; all rights reserved).
  • Joy
    Slow Cloth has the possibility of joy in the process. In other words, the journey matters as much as the destination.
  • Contemplation
    Slow Cloth offers the quality of meditation or contemplation in the process.
  • Skill
    Slow Cloth involves skill and has the possibility of mastery.
  • Diversity
    Slow Cloth acknowledges the rich diversity and multicultural history of textile art.
  • Teaching
    Slow Cloth honors its teachers and lineage even in its most contemporary expressions.
  • Materials
    Slow Cloth is thoughtful in its use of materials and respects their source.
  • Quality
    Slow Cloth artists, designers, crafters and artisans want to make things that last and are well-made.
  • Beauty
    It's in the eye of the beholder, yes, but it's in our nature to reach for beauty and create it where we can.
  • Community
    Slow Cloth supports community by sharing knowledge and respecting relationships.
  • Expression
    Slow Cloth is expressive of individuals and/or cultures. The human creative force is reflected and evident in the work.


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Books and Reports by Elaine Lipson

Selected Articles by Elaine Lipson