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Saturday, March 11, 2017

Make Useful Stuff

Following up from the last post about how Creative Output must = Material Input, I managed to do a few more little projects with my junk, er, creative supplies. I happily cut and pasted to make some more art journal pages to my satisfaction. Then I wondered why did some of these make me feel so contented? Well, one reason of course is that I was starting to make some pages which I felt happy looking at. I liked the messages that I was writing and I liked the way it turned out so nicely.

This brought me to another thought, that when we make something creative, we should also


Now, some would interpret this as "It has to serve a practical purpose" but my definition is a bit wider than that. How would you know if something is useful? Ask yourself the following:

👍 Is what you made useful? Does it help you to do something or achieve a goal? 
One example of this would be the pen holders I made from old film cans. I needed something to hold small pens and the holders fit that purpose perfectly. It helped me to achieve the goals of organizing my desk, and being creative.

👍 Does it make you feel good, or 'spark joy' like what Marie Kondo describes in her book? Here as examples are 2 old art journal pages I did. They don't have any practical purpose. They don't act as storage, they're too big to use as bookmarks and too light as paperweights. I can't even write on them because they're no longer blank. Yet when I look at them, they remind me of important messages that I should carry through life. One is the obvious message that they carry and the other is that I am capable of making beautiful pieces if I just try. Certainly, when I look at them, they 'spark joy' in me. 

👍 Does it teach you something? Do you learn something out of it? This is one of my first attempts with watercolour painting:  
You can tell it's not good at all and you find any redeeming feature in it, you are a good, kind friend and I thank you. By all appearances, this particular painting does not serve any practical purpose. There's no inspirational message and in fact, it's kind of gloomy. Plus the technique really sucks.

But it did lead on to a later piece, which is this:
This is still not a fine piece of art but isn't it miles above the first in technique? That's the useful purpose of the first piece, not as a piece of art on its own, but as a stepping stone to a better piece. 

It was hard to grasp that some of the uglier stuff I did early on could serve any useful purpose at all. At times, it seemed impossible with the skills I had then that I could produce anything marginally useful. The key for me was not to dismiss my early attempts as proof that I totally sucked, but to see them as small steps to a bigger thing. Then it was easier to continue, because I saw myself en route to bigger things. 

This can be hard. Especially when you are faced with the shrapnel of all your failed attempts and a trash bin full of paper, the inspirational quotations about learning 99 ways how not to build a light bulb seem pretty shallow. Be kind to yourself and accept your own shortfalls and failures. Even if you don't churn out anything remotely useful or beautiful at the end of your life, you still would have learnt something you didn't before. That also makes it useful. 😉