Studio Talk #5: Changing the narrative
I'm always at my most creative and innovative when I'm at my busiest. Not exactly a good combination, because I get my best ideas when I have the least amount of time.
In a perfect world, an idea would come to me while lounging on a park bench or while languidly enjoying a coffee on a cool morning at my favorite neighborhood cafe, and then I'd have the day ahead of me to ponder and sketch and play, until, at the end of it, I land on the final iteration and come away from the studio with a perfect new piece that everyone will clamoring to buy.
Park bench? What's that? Languid? I don't think I've ever been languid.
Nope, this isn't the way it goes for me. It's more like fits and starts, multiple iterations that evolve from one to the next over months and, sometimes, even years.
The In Knots necklace went through almost three years of trial and trepidation before I finally decided to sell it, and the final year of that period was spent with me just wearing it to pay attention to how it felt, how it wore, and how people reacted to it. The bulk of the first couple years was spent trying different materials and colors.
At first, I used a cotton cord instead of the silk I use today, but, although it never broke, I knew it wasn't a 20-year piece. Eventually the cotton would rub away from itself and break down until finally the cord snapped. So I had to find something else, which is what eventually led me to discover the silk cord that I now use for almost all of my necklaces.
I also worried that it was too simple. Like there wasn't enough 'stuff' involved to give it value. But it was around this time that my thinking about design and adornment really started to shift and I began thinking about all the different ways we think about the worth of a thing. More is more is more is more is worth more, right? Well, sometimes. But even a diamond starts out as just the least interesting material on the planet.
So I decided to stop letting the worry that other people would be skeptical of the value, and decided to just do what was true -- create handcrafted, effortless, timeless designs, and choose a price based on a pricing formula rather than a feeling -- and then adjust if necessary.
I did a lot of soul-searching around this subject because I was told pretty regularly for a while (and sometimes still hear it) that I too often undersell my work. I realized it's because I've spent most of my life discounting myself. Even after getting a degree in Creative Writing, working as a journalist, and becoming a copywriter, I still had trouble (in my late 20's) calling myself a writer. Even after I'd been teaching knitting for over 10 years, doing craft shows for five, and getting my own studio, I didn't feel comfortable calling myself an artist. And it's because I thought that at any moment, somebody might say that I wasn't, and that that person might be right.
It's hard to commit to becoming better at something if you believe, deep down, you can't improve and don't deserve to.
Damn. I just got a little tear.
I joke, but I'm also serious. It's really tough overcoming the voices of the bully or the disapproving family member, or the voice of my own doubt and so many people can relate.
I started writing this post with the intention of talking about the boring subject of cleaning out my web store and replacing the old with the new. I was going to call it, "Studio Talk #5: Cleaning House." I was going to talk about the new designs I'm producing and that's how I got on the subject of experimentation and design evolution and I realized I can't really talk about that without talking about my own evolution. And then I got emo.
But seriously, there's just no room for innovation when the thing getting all your attention is... doubt. So with each iteration of that In Knots necklace, I had to not only improve the design, but also improve my (oh my god I'm choking on cheese right now) my ability to love myself. Because when it was finally finished, I was going to need confidence in order to look somebody in the eye and tell them about its value.
And man, that moment when you're looking someone in the eye and telling them something you made has value totally feels like a lie when you believe you don't even have value.
It's a funny thing because from the time I can remember, I haven't been able to sit still, which is why I gravitated to handwork. At a young age, sitting still with nothing in my hands meant that I was staring at my feet and worrying over whether or not they were too weird for sandals. I was recalling a joke I told the day before that nobody laughed at, and obsessing over how I should have spoken differently or asking myself whether I should have spoken at all. I was thinking about food and how badly I wanted to eat and how much I wanted to eat and that I never wanted to stop eating. I was wishing my dad would call.
So instead of wishing and thinking and craving, I made things. I filled the time so it wouldn't fill me, but I never stopped working that way. Even when I became an adult, I continued working this way. And working this way doesn't leave much time for reflection, personal growth, or self-love.
It wasn't until I really started to trusted myself (something that took a lot of practice) and take risks (reaching out to stores and galleries even though my work/I might get rejected), that my aesthetic really began to cement and a true vision began to manifest. I couldn't raise the stakes without also believing I deserved success.
And even though I now know my work is not for naught, and that it has value, I have to fake it sometimes.
So when I begin to feel that doubt creep back in -- let's be real, it's every morning when I wake up -- I have to take a moment to remember these things:
- I make because it makes me happy, gives me purpose, and provides an opportunity for me to connect with my community.
- I want to live a life greater than myself, and I truly believe I will be able to do that in some way through this creative work.
- The people who tell me I'm talented and buy my work can't all be wrong. The only people who are wrong are the ones you spent time telling me the opposite.
The third one is the toughest to believe when I'm feeling insecure, but it's the most important thing for me to remember.
So here I am, in the place where I find the most joy -- at my kitchen table/studio, drinking coffee and making, surrounded by potential.
Oh yeah, and new work will be on the site this weekend -- I think that's what I was actually supposed to write about here.
I don't know if anyone even reads this, but if you're reading this post, I hope you're thinking about all the ways you're great.