Organizing, Time Management and Productivity – Productivity, i.e. getting things done

To see the previous two posts in this series go to “Organizing, Time Management and Productivity – Organizing Stuff” and “Organizing, Time Management and Productivity – Time Management

As I mentioned in the last post, taking classes and reading every book, article, and yes, blog post, etc. on the subject(s) will help, but they take precious time. My goal in this series of posts is to “think out-loud” about the journey I’ve been on. With any luck, some of it will prove helpful and you may be able to get a few nuggets or helpful tips on your Organizing, Time Management and Productivity – before you reach retirement. In the meantime, I guess (for me) better late than never, sigh…

Discrete Probability by Khola07
Do the math! Discrete Probability by Khola07

The are as many methods for being more productive as there are people who have tried to figure out how to be. That’s because it is largely an individual kind of thing. We are all wired differently and different things work for us. We have many different times of day when our productive mojo is at its peak. We have many different work styles. We all have different demands on our time, schedules and energy. The list goes on and if you do the math, it turns out to be about a bazillion variations on the theme.

For me, organizing and time management are only two-thirds of the formula for being productive. You have to be organized to be productive but being organized won’t make you productive. You have to be able to manage your time – but being able to manage your time won’t make you productive if you don’t have your ducks – all happily quacking – in a row (my eyes are crossing). They set the stage, but don’t give lines and actions to the actors. Some direction is needed. Then some action.

When I take the time to plan, my actions are more effective. Planning is part of setting up routines and systems. I heard that collective groan. It’s not all that bad, they can be as flexible as you need them to be, so can a plan. Here is what is working for me (this time around).

Yes, I’ve gone through many years of trials and tribulations, just plain ignoring it all, tweaking and testing. I have a bad habit of giving up on a system when it starts to fall apart for what ever reason. In desperation, I eventually try again. This time things seem to be sticking – so why couldn’t I have figured all this out before now? I blame The Lord of the Cosmic Jest.

Know what you want/need to get done. Set up your routine so that you have wiggle room. My morning routine consists of things I need to get done before I start my “work” day. I tried setting up a schedule that had me doing certain things at certain times (i.e. 7am to 8am – walk dog, 8am to 9am – breakfast and plan dinner, 9am to 9:30 am…). Reality check! I could never stick to the schedule, even when I gave myself more time for each chore. I just get too distracted! I would get off schedule and get frustrated and give up on the whole routine. Chaos would return and things went back to hit ‘n miss because I forgot to take into account my working style. I’m a deep dweller and the most important thing in the world to me at any given moment is what is in my field of vision.

Know your working style. I have learned the hard way that starting out in the studio or office means NOTHING else will get done all day. I simply won’t stop what I’m working on to do mundane (muggle?) chores. I want to spend my precious time on what matters: making buttons, creating stuff, running my business – not on stuff that won’t matter in a hundred years (or less). But, some boring things still need to be done: fixing dinner, doing laundry, scheduling the house keeper (someone has to do it!). Fix:  I’m getting in the habit of doing them first.

So, the recent tweak that is working? I have a set amount of time in the morning to do the domestic chores. I have a cut-off time to be at “work” (in my office or studio). I make it late enough in the morning so that I can reasonably get the things done I need to do first (assuming I stay on task). Anything that isn’t finished (by cut-off time) has to wait until that night or the next morning. Period. Instead of a time based schedule to do certain activities in certain time slots, I have a check list of things that have to get done (not too detailed). There is just something very satisfying about ticking boxes on a check list, and knowing exactly what I have to do makes it easy to take action.  😉

☐ walk the dog
☐ update task list
☐ start dinner
☐ start laundry
☐ next chore

You get the picture. Since I couldn’t seem to stick to doing things in the same order every day, this eliminated the frustration and feelings of failure that the time-table method brought on. The important part is the cut-off time, it’s not negotiable. My next strategy was to learn from my working style that office work can suck me in and never end. Apparently there is a part of me that is unbelievably anal when it comes to book-keeping and computer stuff – and we won’t even mention the black-hole that’s the Internet. Fix:  I go to the studio first, then the office chores in the late afternoon. Again, there is a cut-off time when I stop and go finish fixing dinner. The rest of the night is to relax with DH (maybe fit in a few chores not finished in the morning) and work on my personal knitting, weaving or handwork project.

This approach has helped me stick with a schedule that actually gets things done. It’s loose enough, and flexible enough, that I can live with it long-term. It also takes into account my peak creative time and my working style; blocks of time that allow the deep immersion into a project that I like, mid-day for about 2-½ to 3 hours – my attentions starts to wane at that point – then it’s a good time to move to office work.

Now that I have a working (and flexible enough) schedule, what else makes for being productive? Habits and systems. For all the small things that have to be repeated everyday, I do it the same way every time until it becomes habit. It is totally amazing how much faster and more efficiently you can get a chore done if you do it on auto-pilot. Seriously! I used to dread the huge chore of cleaning up the kitchen after dinner. Years ago I figured out how to make it a system, which became a habit: After dinner (with DH’s willing help) I immediately clear the table and rinse the dishes, put them in the dishwasher, wipe the stove and counter. It takes 5 to 10 minutes max and I never have to face dirty dishes piled up later. It is a habit to never leave a dish in the sink. It gets rinsed and put in the dishwasher; auto-pilot, habit, never becomes a piled up problem. Build your habits one at a time – most people fail with these small things because they try to do more than one, giving themselves overwhelm. Pick the one thing you hate most and causes you the most grief. Make it a routine, a system, and do it – the same way, at the same trigger (e.g. finishing dinner), every time, until it’s a habit. It takes about 30 days of diligence to create a habit. Then, keep it going. Eventually you couldn’t break it if you tried! My current habit I’m working on is to limit my e-mail time by checking it on my phone (it’s harder to follow links that way) in the morning for orders or other important business messages – with a time limit (my timer is my friend). Then I don’t look at it again until office hours and I can use the computer and chase a link or two that is important enough – again, with a time limit! This is a tough one but I’m making progress. I have also turned off all alerts on my phone for e-mail, Facebook and Twitter – I look at them on my schedule, not theirs.

Flow chart for a system
Flow chart for a system

I design systems which eventually become habits. Do you have important tasks that need to be done the same way every time and in the same order so things don’t get forgotten? Create a system or work-flow. I have one for when I receive an order. I used a Mind Mapping App like Scapple (for the Mac) or Simple Mind (for anybody) that creates things that look like Org Charts (but more robust) and actually make a chart for what I do when I get an e-mail notice of an order. The first step is to print it out, then I have to interact with the customer, get it into my bookkeeping system, inventory system, set up the schedule for getting it filled and shipped… If I don’t have each of the 14 steps written down, something gets forgotten and I have to explain to the customer why I dropped the ball. Not good. Systems and work flows make it all happen efficiently.

Rewards help too. My morning habit is to walk the dog. I used to putz around until I eventually put it off entirely (she does have a fenced, big back yard). But the walk was good for both of us and I really wanted to get into the habit. I made a routine; get up, brush teeth, dress, put on walking shoes, put dog on leash, go out-door. Same way, same order every morning for a month (yes, a great deal of discipline was needed). When I got back I could have my first cup of coffee, not before (reward!). Now it’s auto-pilot stuff. It does help that the dog expects it and won’t give me any peace if I try to fob it off.

Did I mention that systems and habits get things done? What repeating tasks do you have that can be made into a system, then a habit?

What about stuff that is different, like your big, one-time project to take over the world and create a zombie sanctuary? My Secret Sauce for making progress on projects and goals is project planning, management and task lists; what needs to be done and in what order. Look at your long-term goals, which one can you start working on now? What project would be a good first step? What tasks need to get done and in what order to do that project? What’s next?

Brahe (Astronomer, circa 1600)
Brahe (Astronomer, circa 1600) source

So, this was a long post. What are the big take-aways here?

Know what you want to do.
Make a system or habit out it.
Take action!

Sometimes my project for the day is just to plan my upcoming projects. I have a system for that too. All about Project Management in the next post of the series.

Deb

Organizing, Time Management and Productivity – Productivity, i.e. getting things done

Taiyo Dragon Paws

If you have visited here before, you may have noticed that I’m addicted to knitting Dragon Paws Fingerless Mitts, I can’t seem to help myself, they are potato chip knitting for me.

Dragon Paws knit in Taiyo
Dragon Paws knit in Taiyo

So, here is my latest pair. I used one ball of Noro Taiyo Sock yarn. The yarn did all the color work for me, no decisions to make after the initial picking out of the only skein used (most of the Dragon Paws I knit use 3 to 5 different yarns).

Beaded Dragon Wing Ruffles
Beaded Ruffles

For those not familiar with Noro, they are variegated (of sorts) wool or wool blend yarns, famous for having long color repeats with lots of colors. Usually, about 10 colors before starting to repeat and, not all the colors will repeat in the same order. The colors have long runs resulting in bands of stripes, one row to several inches depending on the project.

I wound the skein of Taiyo Sock into two equal sized balls (by weight, for the curious) and just started knitting the hands (two at a time on one needle), letting the colors come up as they would. I did the same with the ruffles, with the exception of looking at what color was coming up next and deciding which ruffle was the best fit for it. Letting serendipity decide what to do (and Noro’s own color sense) made this pair super simple to make – and fun. I chose the blue/green/black/brown color-way (#25) and decided the overall look was kind of an ocean side forest. I picked matt finished teal beads for the (very subtle) bling – no surprises there, teal has been my favorite color lately – and the results were better than I could have planned.

Casual or dressy, you choose
Casual or dressy, you choose

This particular pair was knit with a snug gauge, the same I use for socks (about 8 sts/inch in stockinette) and a 1×1 rib instead of the pattern’s 2×2 rib. I have been trying to knit a pair for me to keep for ages but they keep selling. I decided if I knit a pair to snuggly fit my small hands, no one else could wear them and I’d finally get to keep a pair! 🙂

the Dragon Wing ruffle
the Dragon Wing ruffle

Well, this sort of worked. I only have one to photograph and show you because I have already taken the mate to the yarn shop where I’m teaching the class in October to show as a class sample. If you are in the greater Detroit area, you can come knit a pair with me. To sign up for the class, click here. To buy the pattern visit Ravelry, my Etsy shop, Patternfish, or visit the shop, Heritage Spinning & Weaving.

Pure Fun!
Pure Fun!

Revel in color!

Deb H

Taiyo Dragon Paws

Organizing, Time Management and Productivity – Time Management

Time is precious. Time is money. Time is fleeting. Time does not stand still. Which of these sentences is true?

I have issues with time. I think that if I do not look at a clock, time does not pass. Time is my most precious asset and my most elusive one. I keep thinking that if I just had more time I could…

Time
Time

…conquer the world!

I would like to pass on the very best method for managing time. The ultimate kick-ass trick to make time bend to your will, ready?

It won’t. Ever. Accept it and move on.

Time can only do what time does: pass, at a steady and unrelenting pace. How you think about time and what you do with it is what you can control.

Time, running out
Time, running out

Some people are born with accurate and reliable inner clocks. Some of us are not. For those of us who are time challenged, those who always have a firm grasp of time look down on us as lazy and not taking anything responsibly or seriously – after all, if we did we’d be on time!

But some of us live in our own little time zones and they do not match the International Atomic Time clock. If you look up Time on Wikipedia, humans have come up with so many ways to measure time over the centuries that one could say we are overly obsessed with it.

In my world, time expands to the amount I need for a project. It slows down when I need it to, it’s as elastic as I need it to be. Then, bam! I come to myself and look around in total bewilderment. It’s always such a rude surprise to finish a project and realize that days, or even months have passed for the rest of the world but not for me. It’s only been minutes, hasn’t it? My own little time warp, no Tardis required.

Hmmmm, that must be how I lost the entire year of 2010.

Digital Time
Digital Time

But all that aside, I have learned a few skills over the years to manage (how I spend my) time. I have consumed at least a billion (give or take a few) books, articles, videos, leaflets, brochures, classes and epiphanies on Time Management in my desperate search to gain more; time, that is. I look back on how much time I’ve spent trying to gain more time and it makes my brain twist. What I know is that all the books say “this is how your brain works and you need to do things this way”. In reality, that is the way the author’s brain works and how things work best for him/her, usually a left brained linear thinker (some exceptions here, notably Time Management From The Inside Out by Julie Morgenstern.

The best things I’ve learned (so far) are that time is not money but you can manage it like it was. You pay for the must-haves first (rent, food, transportation) and have fun with what’s left over (Doctor Who videos). In other words, you decide what activities are the important ones, the activities that will get you closer to your goals. Make those the “must-haves” and the activities that will not cause the world to end, or the space-time continuum to collapse in on itself (and us), are what you do with what’s left over. The goal is not to stuff more things to-do in your time (the shop at Wal-Mart approach), but to spend your time on more quality things to-do (the shopping at Tiffany’s approach).

Time Distorted
Time Distorted

Find your working style. As important as it is to know what your goals are and what time of day is your best for productive work, it is also essential to know what your working style is. I recently took an online course called 7 Days To Better Productivity & Time Management. I learned a lot that was very helpful and far less complicated than most of the books I’ve read. [Are books overly complicated because they feel they have to fill up all those pages?] But, one of the best take-aways was the discussion on our working style. I always thought I was a multi-tasker that liked to have a million projects going at one time so I could jump between them when I get bored. It turns out that I’m a deep dweller. What I really like is having 2 or 3 projects lined up, but to work on one at a time. Deeply into it-enter the time warp-totally immersed, until it’s done. Or, until I hit a snag that forces me to come up for air. Then I can happily shift to something else until the snag is resolved or I have finished the something else. This has it’s own set of issues (the UFO pile) but, not related to today’s topic. When I do my usual multiple projects at once with 18 in the queue I get overwhelmed and start playing solitaire – talk about poor time management. So, I have my (short) project line-up, but just concentrate on one (or two) at a time. I know this will drive some people bats, but the new knowledge has altered the universe for me.

But wait, there’s more! My secret weapon to deal with this challenge of living in the real-world time zone is (drum roll, please)… my timer! I set my timer to bring me back into reality so other things can get done as well. I need to resurface to fix dinner? Set the timer! I need to remember to put the clothes in the dryer? Set the timer! You get the idea. I’m not saying it works all the time (ask DH), occasionally I’m really good at ignoring the timer, but it’s a huge improvement!

Timer
Timer

The wrap-up:  Knowing my working style and best time of day to focus, added to what activities are working towards my goal, equals much better use of time. And that is Time Management in a nut shell.

I schedule large blocks of time for my current most-important project. I make sure I have small blocks of time for the other things. I use the timer to bring me back to the real world.

Now that my space is organized (OK, parts of them are), and I’ve learned how to manage my time (mostly, practice makes perfect), I can start being more productive.

Next time.

 

Deb H

Organizing, Time Management and Productivity – Time Management

Lessons Learned At Art Camp

I have mentioned before my week at QSDS (fondly called “Art Camp” by many) and the class I took there;
You Know It’s A Good Day When…
When Good Art Potential Goes Bad
And How To Improve It (bad-art)

Escape, in progress
Escape, in progress

So, what was the biggest take-away from my class with Fran Skiles? That my biggest failures were when I tried to stick to the ‘plan’ and kept tweaking to the picture in my head. My biggest successes were when I let go of that vision and let the work tell me what was next, and when to stop.

Escape, overview in progress
Escape, overview in progress

It seems to me that to be a good artist you must let go of expectations and embrace serendipity.

Escape, more progress
Escape, more progress

For my aesthetic, KISS is the key, “keep it simple silly” Or “less is more”. Maybe I should make some big signs of these quotes and hang them in my studios (yes, spoiled girl that I am, I have four. One for sewing fun & artwork, two for yarny goodness and weaving (looms are big), and one for glass & jewelry stuff).  I am a Multipod after-all. And, it helps to have the kid all grown-up and on her own when you want more rooms to fill with fun. Sorry, Ashland!

Escape, detail of more progress
Escape, detail of more progress

I did learn a few years ago that techniques (and learning more of them) will not make me an artist. The more techniques I know and learn, the more “over-worked” my art attempts got. My tool box of techniques is over flowing, I don’t need to learn more. I just need to get better at the ones I already know and truly like.

Escape, more dots
Escape, more dots

This seems so bloody obvious and I think I’ve ‘learned’ this lesson before (probably the last time I took Fran’s class. Sometimes I’m just a slow learner. Probably because I keep putting artwork on the back burner while other projects take precedence. Did I mention I’m a Multipod? I always have several plates spinning at once. I’m learning a bit about how to do that better too, but that’s for another post.

Escape, I think it's done!
Escape, I think it’s done!

Simplify. Know when to stop. I’m getting better.
“Escape” by Deborah Pym Harowitz, 2013 – 12″ x 9″, white crayon, watercolor, ink, acrylic paint, on watercolor paper.

Escape, detail
Escape, detail

Speaking of spinning plates… the top priority project for the last several months has gone ‘live’. My new web site is up. Now, when you go to http://www.seaairarts.com you will not see my blog but will see my new web site’s home page. The blog link is at the top of the page on the main menu, easy to find – or on the main page, just click on the typewriter. But now I have a real, grown-up web site (that’s still got some growing to do but that’s a given). I’d be delighted if you took a gander at my progress so far and let me know what you think.
Revel in color!
Deb H

Lessons Learned At Art Camp

Teal, The Color Of Moody Waters

Teal. Aqua. Turquoise. Blue-green. Algae. Any color on the wheel that falls between blue and green is a color that sings to me. Maybe it’s growing up on (or very close to) the Pacific Ocean and its moody blues and greens that makes me feel at home and home sick at the same time. Whatever the reason, it’s a color range that is my favorite and I wallow in it – a lot. You may have noticed.

Teal Cardigan, front
Teal Cardigan, front

My latest Finished Object is no exception. This project has a long and (kinky) history. I started out with a cardigan pattern that was just what I was looking for but in a sport weight yarn gauge. This yarn is Bulky; Lamb’s Pride Burly Spun (in a discontinued color but it is a monochromatic variegated version of the Tormented Teal) to be precise, and it’s gauge (for me) was 13 stitches over 4″. I had some trouble getting the shaping to adapt to my gauge so went to a different pattern in the right gauge but not the style I wanted. The problem was, I was knitting the whole sweater, all the way to finished and wearing it around the house for two days before deciding it wasn’t what I wanted and ripping it out. Completely.

Teal Cardigan, back
Teal Cardigan, back

I settled on a top-down Raglan that was just what I wanted, but after knitting it (all the way to finished) it just didn’t fit right in the neck. I knit it (completely finished) three (count them, 1-2-3) more times, modifying the whole neck and yoke each time before I had just what I wanted. If you’ve been keeping track, that was a total of knitting that sweater from cast-on to finished… six times. More, if you count the times I ripped at the half-way point. Yes, I was knitting with some pretty kinky yarn in the end (I got tired of steaming or washing it straight again) and I must say, I am impressed with how well that Burly Spun stood up to my abuse.

Teal Cardigan, neckline
Teal Cardigan, neckline

So, what was the end result of my modifications? It turned out to be pretty simple in the end. I learned that you can definitely over-think things. My solution was to knit a typical top-down Raglan cardigan and add a few short-rows to bring the back of the neck up about 1-1/4″ higher. It fits perfectly!

Teal Cardigan with fused glass art buttons - by me!
Teal Cardigan with fused glass art buttons – by me!

Then I had to have the perfect buttons. Since I’m a button maker the search was short. I went out to my glass studio and made some 🙂  They are 1″ square, made with a base of Steel Blue glass, layered with aqua dichroic glass, dots of opaque aqua glass and a chip of transparent aqua. The joy of this combination is that the Steel Blue develops a pewter (steel?) finish when it’s exposed to oxygen in the kiln. I love the contrast in textures between the cold metal finish, the polished glass, the foil texture of the exposed dichroic, and the soft warmth of the yarn.

Teal Cardigan, buttons
Teal Cardigan, buttons

The next challenge was to get the Button bands and the buttons sewn on – and the neck lined so it wouldn’t irritate me when I wore it without a turtle-neck. It is a 3-season sweater after all. Since my goal was to have a long wearing sweater that won’t lose shape with wear, and that wouldn’t rub the back of my neck, it’s lucky I’m a sewer. I decided to simply “face” the neck like any sewn garment. I had some hand dyed Pimatex cotton fabric in my stash that was the perfect color and laid the sweater out on my cutting table and traced a facing. Then hand stitched it on. I tried using the same fabric for the button bands (so it would all match, you understand) but that was not successfully to my standards. I went to my favorite button band tutorial for the rest. You can find all the how-to details on how to make the perfect couture button band for a knitted garment on the Knitmore Girls Podcast website here and here.

Teal Cardigan, button band
Teal Cardigan, button band

It is definitely more work that just sewing the buttons on but after all the work to knit something, I like having it done right and the difference in quality is obvious in the finished sweater and how it hangs and wears.

Now to do the next sweater I’ve finished knitting.

Revel in Color!
Deb H

PS – Am I the only one bothered by the incongruity in my choice of a bulky yarn so I can get instant knitting gratification and then re-making the sweater six times? Have you done this?

Teal, The Color Of Moody Waters

Organizing, Time Management and Productivity – Organizing Stuff

Controlling the stuff you use to create is a challenge. Probably the only creative that doesn’t have this issue would be a writer. After all, they only need a really good laptop and printer (or two or three). Oh, and 834 notebooks and blank books, also the 167 really cool pens that they need for the 167 types of writing that they do. Oh yea! And really good printer papers, several types…   (right Ashland)?

A creative's toolbox, sketchbooks and notebooks
A creative’s toolbox, sketchbooks and notebooks

My point is, if you are a creative person, you have stuff. Stuff that multiplies in the dark when no one is looking. My friend Lynn K has just been through the process of controlling her stuff, with the help of a professional. She took us along for the ride with a series of Blog posts that are a great read with some helpful information. She tamed two rooms, her ‘warehouse’ and her studio. I went through a similar process last summer but without the professional help (I was not brave enough to post about it). And I’m glad to say my ‘warehouse’, the room that stores most of my supplies and inventory for the fiber stuff, is still organized! To celebrate it’s having been conquered I put a sign over the door that says “Warehouse 13 (annex)”, a nod to my favorite TV series.

– Tesla’d!

I wish I could say the same about my studios but they have totally different issues. I guess that’s my next learning curve.

Warehouse 13 (annex), the store house for creative exploration
Warehouse 13 (annex), the store house for creative exploration

I’ve been on a mission for the last year or two (or more!) to Conquer (last year’s word) my stuff, spaces, time and focus. A bit obsessed, really. Because of a lack of the last (focus), it’s been slow going. But I’ve been making great strides on even that one lately, yea me! But, back to staying organized in the warehouse. Lynn listed her “Stash Management Commandment List”, her weapon to stay in control. It’s a great one that is hard to improve upon. But some of my secret weapons have been; using drawers instead of tubs to store fabric, yarn and other stash treasures. If I have to shuffle large tubs or re-stack them, I won’t.

Fabric Storage, when it's full I can't have anymore (until something goes).
Fabric Storage, when it’s full I can’t have anymore (until something goes).

Because I have two work tables in there for doing the things that need to be done, I have to resist the urge to ‘dump’ stuff when I’m in a hurry or I haven’t a clue what to do with it. My solution is one tub, lidless, just inside the door. Every two weeks or when the tub is full I put everything in it away. The big surprise here? Most of it goes from the tub to the Goodwill box. I guess I don’t want it bad enough to find a home for it or to part with something I already have to make room for it. Yes, the room is full and not allowed to overflow. Period.

This is my Commandment List;

A home for everything and everything in it’s home
Like items together
Something In, Something Out
Make sure it is easy to put it away
I don’t need multiples
If I don’t love it, it is gone

So far, it is working for me.

Congratulations on a huge achievement Lynn.

Deb H

PS – Don’t think of your stash as a hoarders’ guilty secret. It is a treasure trove of creative inspiration. Don’t do guilt.

Organizing, Time Management and Productivity – Organizing Stuff

And How to Improve It (bad art)

Continued from my last post…  which was continued from this post

So, after a full day on Wednesday of adding more elements to my three main canvases and working a bit on the other three, they went from bad to worse. You are so lucky my camera didn’t chose to save any of Wednesday’s pictures – the Universe stepping in? So on Thursday morning I decided it required some drastic fixing. My solution

Starting Over gets a Start Over
Starting Over gets a Start Over

was to take a whole lot of gesso, add some ink to tone down the bright white, a little clear medium to make it not totally opaque – and obliterate them!

Well, mostly. I used a little more clear medium in the mix for the  next two.

The Coffee piece gets Foggy
The Coffee piece gets Foggy
Shadows Gets A Shadow
Shadows Gets A Shadow

OK, now what? I had covered the first piece so thoroughly that I didn’t have a clue what to do with it. The other two had enough shadows beneath that they gave me hints. This became the theme of the new efforts. Building again (don’t think the trash and some fresh canvas hadn’t crossed my mind), I got the most inspiration from the coffee piece – it still had a coffee bean and some coffee rings showing through pretty strongly – I raided the K-cup coffee maker in the office for collage elements.

The Fog Before Coffee - obviously more coffee needed!
The Fog Before Coffee – obviously more coffee needed!

It still looks like the bottom of the pot. 😦

Maybe the Spirals piece will yield better results.

In The Shadows - rebuild
In The Shadows – rebuild

That last cup was starting to kick in – a little more hope here. I still couldn’t think what to do with the first one, I had wiped it out so well it wasn’t speaking to me. All I could think of was “Starting Over”. Meanwhile I threw some elements at two of my other canvases.

Order and Chaos - more of the latter, I think.
Order and Chaos – more of the latter, I think.

Order and Chaos. It kind of says it all, yes? OK, so not a win.

What Goes Around...
What Goes Around…

What Goes Around… Also not a win, but not a pile of doo either. I decided that they were not ever going to hang in the Louvre no matter what I did to them. I called them done.

But while tinkering with these other pieces that first one that I covered over so well kept lurking in the recesses of my mind. “Starting Over” was the theme it acquired, not just a verb for my actions. I went back to it.

Starting Over - literally!
Starting Over – literally!

Hanging elements on it to try it out, texting pictures to my daughter who tends to act as a real life muse for me at times. Pondering, adding more, taking stuff away – no commitments yet. More coffee, more pondering. Tweak something else, come back to this. Rinse and repeat.

The Fog Before Coffee
The Fog Before Coffee

I decided this one had gotten enough tweaking, it wasn’t going to get any better – so I’m calling it done. It is still too busy and cluttered for my personal aesthetic. If you must see the coffee grounds I put in the final coat of gloss medium you can click on any of the images to enlarge them.

The “Shadows” piece was starting to look pretty good to me.

 

In the Shadows
In the Shadows

Now the hard part – keeping my mitts off of it! One of my biggest problems is knowing when to quit.

That leaves the final canvas. I had to make a commitment with “Starting Over”. My fear was that it was the last chance to make something from this week that I liked. I took a deep breath and opened the glue, medium, paint and ink bottles…

Starting Over
Starting Over

Again, I have to keep it simple, know when to stop. It’s a bit grungier than my usual work but I’m pleased. I like the sentiment too – and as my daughter told me (she is going to Grad School, taking Mythological Studies with an emphasis on Depth Psychology) “Good for you, Mom. That’s very Jung.” In fact, after a bit of distance, I really love this one.

By Friday at lunch I had finished my pieces and was actually happy with two – better than I had thought possible on Wednesday. And during lunch, we were all entertained by Diane H on the lunch table, taking a photo of her desert.

Diane's Desert being photographed for "art purposes"
Diane’s Desert being photographed for “art purposes”

Superman ice cream with a sprinkling of Fruit Loops. I hope she didn’t actually eat it, it looks pretty for art but not appetizing. I cropped her out of the photo in case she wouldn’t appreciate being exposed to the world acting like an art collage student. Oh wait! We all were, we were at an art college, after all. Snort!

Back in the classroom and afraid to even look at my (declared) finished work for fear of adding to it and ruining it I turned to some fresh canvas. I cut it into four small pieces and played with ink and paint.

My four Ink Blots paintings
My four Ink Blots paintings

I was originally making elements for future collage work but I like them as is. Maybe collage is just not my thing – or at least I need to keep the layers to a minimum. Would it be sacrilege to say these four are my favorite?

The big things I learned from this class; More is Not Better, more elements will not help, it just adds clutter, more color combined with lots of elements looks circus-ish, more angst does not a better work of art make. Coffee (or sometimes wine) will cure anything but, it’s better drunk than used as paint. And finally, the little erasers on the end of pencils are great stamps when you need just a spot of color!

Sorry this was so long but I wanted to share my great week. I’m already contemplating next year’s classes  🙂

Deb H

And How to Improve It (bad art)

When Good Art Potential Goes Bad

So, as I said in my last post, I was having the most awesome week at QSDS (Quilt Surface Design Symposium). I took the Fran Skiles class called Painting, Printing & Collage with Paper & Fabric. No, nothing to do with quilting but everything to do with art!

my design board
Beginning to add elements

— Aside to Ashland; seriously run-on sentences ahead, proceed with caution 😉

After texturizing, gesso-ing (is that a verb?) and mark making on canvas (see my last post), I spent Tuesday finding and making more elements, then adding them to my canvases.  I had six up on my design wall but seemed to be concentrating on three for the day.

Not so great!
Not so great!

To the first one I added text (the opening paragraph to Pride and Prejudice), photos, and some graphics… Things weren’t going real well.

Color run amuck
Color run amuck

On the second one, I had chosen spirals as my theme. The photo of a spiral fern did not help things so I tried to fix it. The colors were starting to turn garish.

Not enough coffee!
Not enough coffee!

This one was worked on before I had enough coffee in me, hence the coffee bean theme developing. It still looked like the grounds in the bottom of the pot – yucky!

As luck would have it, my memory card in my camera decided to take Wednesday off. This means you are spared photos of the downhill rush to total doo-doo that these three pieces took after this point. In my defense, this is a medium and approach that I have done little with and the free-wheeling spontaneity that collage and paint allow (as opposed to cutting and sewing an art quilt which forces you to slow down and ponder your next move more thoroughly) is both exhilarating and a dangerous cliff edge to disaster. Hence my fall.

But I was still in love with the potential of the process and I even learned a few things at lunch break.

iPad camera and PhotoBooth - who knew?
iPad camera and PhotoBooth – who knew?

Like how to use a feature of the camera on my iPad I didn’t even know I had (PhotoBooth and the Thermal filter – cool!) A quick shot out the window of the lunchroom.

Licorice & Brrrr-y work table
Licorice & Brrrr-y work table

Or the Popsicolor app on my iPad which I used to tweak this photo of my work table in the classroom.

Like a child who just wants attention – I had so much fun on Tuesday and Wednesday that I guess even Bad Art is better than No Art! Unless you have to look at it 🙂

Deb H

PS – next post I reveal my radical solution.

When Good Art Potential Goes Bad

You Know It’s a Good Art Day When…

I’m having the most awesome week! I’m taking a five-day (that’s 5 whole days) workshop with artist Fran Skiles at QSDS (Quilt Surface Design Symposium). It has nothing to do with quilts but a whole lot to do with art, layering, collage, surface design and creative mess making 🙂

We started out with mark making on canvas. It turns out there are a lot of ways to make marks.

QSDS Mark Making
QSDS Mark Making

Just a few include seaming, stitching (machine and hand), ink, paint, egg beaters, and iron scorching. Yes Mom, I did it on purpose 😉  It smelled like I was burning down the building but I got some really nice marks.

We then graduated to making elements for collage work – my all time favorite (well, so far) was the print making.

QSDS Pint Making
QSDS Pint Making

I could have played with this alone all week! And just let me say now that there has been a lot of Gesso involved in this class.

Gesso
Gesso

So, you know it was a good art day when? You have to clean Gesso off your iPad screen.

Oops.

Deb H

 

You Know It’s a Good Art Day When…

Book Review; Handy Top-Down Sweaters

A sweater knitting technique that is dear to my heart is the top-down, no-seams method. I’m also very fond of Ann Budd’s The Knitter’s Handy Book of Patterns and The Knitter’s Handy Book of Sweater Patterns books. So I was understandably ecstatic when her latest book The Knitter’s Handy Book of Top-Down Sweaters came out.

Ann Budd's The Handy Book of Top-Down Sweaters
Ann Budd’s The Handy Book of Top-Down Sweaters

These books give you the basic numbers you need to design your own sweater patterns in your own yarn and gauge. You take the charts for the basic sweater, mix and match the body style, sleeve style, neckline style, etc. Patch them all up together and then just knit following the tables she has already done all the math for – in your size and gauge! Since I have never followed a pattern (or recipe) exactly in my life; I’m always changing something, this is the perfect fit for me and knitters like me. She provides patterns for pullovers, cardigans, v-necks, crew necks, collars, raglan sleeves, round yokes, set-in sleeves, Saddle shoulders, and modified drop shoulders. And if you have her other books and a knack for cobbling you can add even more options.

 

Mom's Sweater - ripping
Mom’s Sweater – ripping

As I re-do Mom’s sweater, I will be using this book instead of the previously ill-fitting pattern.

Did I mention I love, love, love these books?

There is a caveat though – these books have a learning curve. If you can only follow patterns where one step immediately follows the next you will have to learn how to use these. My favorite way is to photocopy each page I need to make the garment and literally cut & paste them together to make a pattern. It works for me and then I have a single pattern to file away in my Finished Objects notebooks (along with a yarn sample, ball band and photograph when I’m feeling really organized) and a good reference for when I need to knit a similar sweater.

Which brings me to the digital version or the book’s “App”. Interweave really fell down on the job with the digital version. I purchased it first thinking it would be fab to have it on my iPad and always with me for handy pattern following or tweaking. I got excited when I saw the App because I assumed (we all know what happens then) it would have some really great features, making it easier to follow the patterns. Nope. I feel like they rushed this one out the door without thinking it through. As Seth Godin says “Skeumorphs = failure“, a skeumorph (in Seth’s definition) is a design element from an old thing added to a new one. In this case, the e-book/App is exactly like a printed book with fewer features. The only links are in the table of contents to the beginning of each chapter. Why publishers keep putting out e-books that have even less usefulness than the printed version is totally beyond me. There is an opportunity to shine here people – use it!

A useful e-book should have; the ability to send any page to an air printer and to e-mail it to yourself or your Dropbox account. The ability to highlight any word, phrase or paragraph as well as bookmark same. Every time it says “for such and such info see page 123” that page number or phrase should be a link, no excuses, with a “return” button so you can go right back to the page you were on when you clicked on the link. And, for a knitting pattern book, it would be nice to have a place marker bar that runs under the line in the pattern or chart you are on as well as the ability to highlight the column for your size. Removable later, of course. I’ve thought about this for ten minutes and I came up with some stellar features. How long did the digital publisher think about it? Good question.

OK, so the last bit was a little rant. I can get worked up about books. I have no sympathy for an industry that cries about its demise when it’s hidebound (pun intended) refusal to keep up with the times is its own worst enemy. Don’t blame the internet or the readers if you won’t deliver what the readers need or want (due to cowardice, laziness or ignorance). I guess that was a big rant, but I have it off my chest for now  🙂

In summary, the books are fabulous for the sweater designer who needs a spring-board. The print copies have a learning curve but are well worth the effort and eminently useable. The digital copies (as of this date) are useless.

Do you have any experience with the digital version and does it differ from mine? I’d love to hear the other side.

Deb H

Book Review; Handy Top-Down Sweaters