The Delicate Balance Between Frustration and Zen, Or What a Bag of Kantha Scraps Can Teach You About Creativity

What a perfect day to receive a bag of kantha scraps. A co-worker brought them to me this morning, knowing my love for fabric and sewing.  I have a small pile of new fabric at home I got last weekend at a quilt show that I envisioned using to make a small quilt featuring sashiko. I have all the parts of it ready to go, but could not see how to start. That’s always the hard part – the starting of anything. Once I’m up and running, I go. I fly! But there is a fair amount of latency, molasses-like thinking, and just plain ole foot-dragging before I start, whether it be sewing, painting, collaging. Usually not cooking though….hmmmm…. interesting observation.

What is it I’m afraid of?  This small bag of fabrics reminds me that at other times, I can be easily pushed up and over that scaredy-cat hump into “get out of my way” mode to create. No rationalizing, no procrastinating – just clear the calendar! because I’m on my way out to the studio to get some work done.

Today, this all has me thinking about the difference for me between these two places – stuck/can’t get started and get outta my way.

There’s no doubt in my mind that when I do get started and into the thick of the creative process and my project, I mostly feel soothed. Once in awhile, I’m frustrated if things don’t go the right way, but mostly I feel soothed and comforted. I often remark about my art-making that it’s “paint, or drink.” I don’t really drink, but art-making calms and soothes me the way I imagine folks who do drink must feel: relaxed, chilling, ready for whatever comes next.

An email I received from Selvedge Magazine included an announcement of their craft spa. The copy went on to say:

Textiles to sooth the mind and soul... The ties between craft and therapy have long been in conversation, but how does craft actually contribute to your well being? According to recent research, the rhythm and repetition of movement act not only as a distraction from daily life, but have been clinically proven to raise serotonin levels, inducing relaxation and mindfulness with great meditative healing qualities on both the body and mind.

I think the difference between yesterday, looking at that sweet pile of new fabric on my kitchen island, and today with a bag of coordinating kantha in hand is KNOWING.

Knowing, in the sense of being conscious of my competence.  Twenty years ago, I had a therapist I was seeing tell me he had never seen someone with such high self-confidence (I can do anything!) and low self-esteem. I’ve mostly fixed the self-esteem and I’m more realistic about what I can do, or should devote my time to trying to do. The biggest aha! was becoming conscious of my competence.

The bottom line for me in art is this: practice practice practice. As with anything in life, experience breeds competence, and competence breeds confidence. When you are confident your time with your art will lead to mostly successful outcomes, and some surprises that you come to embrace as guidance on what’s next, you will be in the zen of creativity and that is a wonderful place to be.

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