A while back, someone—quite innocently, I’m sure—applauded my creativity and said about one of my mosaics: “I wish I’d thought of that!” I know the comment was well-intentioned, but there was something about it that sort of needled me. I’m not taking issue with this individual or the comment specifically, but rather the implied notion that I’m inherently creative and these ideas just come to me in a burst of inspiration and genius. Spoiler alert: that’s not how it happens.
I get these ideas because I do the work. I put in my time in the studio. I brainstorm. I come up with terrible ideas and I come up with great ideas (and often the former evolve into the latter). I am constantly thinking, observing, playing, reading, connecting the dots, finding my voice, and making (and unmaking). What you see is the product of more hours, weeks, months, and years spent working than I care to count. Hours spent alone in my studio, some blissful, some angst-ridden. Hours spent figuring stuff out, taking classes, seeking out information, and practicing.
Of course part of my development has been (and still is) watching other artists, mosaic and beyond. That’s a no-brainer. But when I see them doing something amazing, the script in my head is not a defeated “Damn, I wish I’d thought of that,” it’s more like “Man, that’s so cool! I’m going to go back to my studio now and see what sort of crazy stuff I can come up with!” I take it as a challenge, but not in a competitive way. It’s more of an opening of possibilities and a way to push myself forward into new territory. That’s the beauty and value of being part of a community.
I’m not naturally gifted in the creativity department, and that’s not just me being modest. So if I can do this, trust me, you can too. Something that has always resonated with me is Keri Smith‘s tips on how to be an explorer of the world, and I embrace many of them as I strive to hone my creativity and my art practice. I offer them to you here in case they are helpful. So please don’t look wistfully at what I do, wishing you had my creativity. I certainly don’t have that market cornered. You can make things that capture your unique voice in this world. You just have to be willing to do the work. I can’t do it for you.
I’ve always struggled with that last one, with doing other people’s work for them. It’s likely a deadly combination of pride, high standards, and a genuine desire to be helpful. I was always the kid in class who’d pick up the slack in group projects. I spend more time at work than I should fixing things that will ultimately make other people look good. And I also get easily sucked into answering mosaic questions from perfect strangers asking how I do X, Y, or Z. But I’m getting a bit tired of doing other people’s work for them—in all areas of my life—and in the end it really doesn’t help anyone. So my motto for 2018? Do your own work (and I will keep doing mine).
Yes, I will still help others, but I’m going to be selective and just a little bit selfish. Do we have a relationship based on trust, friendship, collegiality, and reciprocity? Yes? Well then I’m happy to help. But the one-sided helping—the doing of others’ work for them—is getting phased out. Don’t know me but still want me to answer all your questions? Nope, sorry, not for free anymore. Want to know more about my work? Do your homework and read my blog. I make a point of being quite open and generous in my writing, and I spend a lot of time carefully crafting posts that cover the what and the why of my work, but I don’t go into the how and there’s a reason for that. If you still have questions after reading, by all means reach out and ask. But show me that you’ve done / are willing to do the work. I will gladly work with you and help guide you, I will arm you with the tools you need to do the work, but I won’t do it for you (this will be especially true once I’m set up to be able to offer classes). I am no longer in the business of giving quick and easy answers because it’s easier for you to ask than to do the digging. You need to be there, be engaged, be getting dirty in the trenches doing the work. I don’t mean for this to sound harsh, but as my wise friend Deb Englebaugh likes to remind me: I am not required to set myself on fire to keep others warm.
I have so much more to learn and explore in this medium, so many more ideas to uncover and polish (and so many duds to sift through and discard), so I’m going to keep showing up and doing the work. Do you like or admire what I do? Wish you could do it? You can (in your own way and with your own voice, of course). You just have to put in the work.