Use It Or Lose It (Subtitle: Put Up or Shut Up)

Hello, Beautiful! I'm just gonna jump right in, because so much has happened between the last post and this one that it would take too long to recount our move to Portland in June, the two months living at my sister's house (thanks, Deb!) until we found our own, the blaze next door one week after we moved in (thanks, 9-1-1 responders and nearby fire station!), the other blazes we drove by or breathed smoke from in Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, and California (i.e. all the places we visited this summer and fall), the settling-in-but-not-quite-out-of-boxes phase that seems endless, the super fun ceramics classes I've been taking (positive angle on the fire theme!) and the experience of getting reacquainted with the city I lived in from 1969 to 1979.

I'll have to parse that all up for future posts.

Also, my friend Carol called me by accident yesterday from Oakland, and I told her I'd be doing this today. Here's to accountability!

First One (self-imposed) Challenge, And Then Another (self-imposed) Challenge

With left-over Whoppers as fuel (the candy, not the burgers), I'm challenging myself to write, publish, and send an email about this very post, all in one day. Never been done before.

Why the urgency? Because it's 11/1/17, or Day One of my November Daily Art Challenge! And I want you to be in on it from the get-go.

rules of November Daily Art Challenge
rules of November Daily Art Challenge

Maybe you'll want to join me!? Or design your own challenge!?

I'll explain the Why later, because it matters. For now, just bear with me for the How and the What.

Rules. There have to be rules.

Really, this Challenge is a game I've made up for myself, so I need to know how to play.

But the truth is this: I often feel overwhelmed by my vast array of art materials and too many ideas about what to make. It might sound like a great problem to have, but it's also a liability. I get frozen in indecision. So I designed some constraints to help me get started each day. Here's what I came up with:

  1. Use a color I don't like, or rarely use.
  2. Use a material or tool I've had for years but have rarely/never used.
  3. Work quickly. Don't overthink it!
  4. Post daily to Instagram and FaceBook (even if it sucks and I'm embarrassed)!

Prompts and Inspiration

I was going to give myself weekly themes, but that seemed too constraining—slash—my mind is way more circular and distractible than that! I found myself chaffing at it before the game even started. (Seven days on one topic? Omg, no!) So instead I'm giving myself a small set of prompts, borne out of what I'm seeing in all my boxes. I can bounce around or combine them as I see fit. (Whew!) They include:

  • Vintage images or texts
  • Sewing-related stuff
  • Packaging materials
  • Household objects
  • Weather

End Products?

I plan to make mostly collages and found-object sculptures. I've got loads of surfaces/substrates to work on: canvas boards, cigar boxes, game boards, masonite, watercolor paper, etc. I'm aiming for one somewhat finished artwork per day, but some pieces will likely take more than one day to complete. And I decided that's ok, because I'm the boss of this challenge.

Still, completion-of-a-product is not really the goal here. The point is to use this stuff—these art materials. Try new things. Experiment. Get out of my comfort zone. We know that's where the real growth takes place, right?

And I'm always about pulling back the curtain on art-making, so I'll be posting my stuff daily on Instagram and Facebook. (Sometimes I post to my personal page rather than my All Hands Art FB page, so feel free to "friend me" if we're not FB-connected yet.) There's tenderness and vulnerability in the process of art-making, and I want you to know that things pretty much always look funky and kinda bad before they (hopefully) get good. That's so you won't get discouraged when your stuff looks funky and kinda bad. Keep pushing through it! The problem-solving inherent in art-making is where the real fun happens.

(To read about how doodling is related to courage, read this.)

So, um... why are we doing this??

Remember the "not-quite-out-of-boxes" I mentioned above? I've been spending way too much time recently: A) looking for things, and B) moving stuff around. What I notice when doing A) and B) is that I have a freaking lot of sh*#. It's actually really awesome art-making sh*#, but just SO MUCH!

Ugh. So much, it's debilitating. [sad face emoji]

You might remember my studio-garage in Oakland, and how, ahem, "well-equipped" it was. I love love love collecting interesting do-dads with art-making potential. It might be a disease.

Although I've donated or garage-saled literally dozens of boxes of art supplies in the past year (4 more just last Sunday!), I still have enough for myself, you, and all of our friends, for all of our combined lifetimes.

I also noticed that I've been looking at some of this same awesome sh*# for, like, ten years or more, thinking again each time I see it, "I should use that someday!"

Well, my friends, that "someday" is this month! And it started today! Actually, I cheated and started yesterday. ;)

 Here's what I worked on yesterday and this morning.

Here's what I worked on yesterday and this morning.

More on Why

So yes, one big motivator for using all of this great sh*# is to make me feel better about lugging it all up to Portland with us. (Thank goodness my man/mate/partner is patient and supportive of my habit. I try to be equally supportive of his camping/fishing/fly-tying gear collections.)

With clothes, shoes, dishes, candles, and just about everything else I've packed and unpacked recently, I'm trying to apply the "use it or lose it" mentality. To wit:

That funky fringed sweater with the horn-shaped buttons I got at a San Francisco garage sale, probably before my 24 year-old was born? The one I've almost tossed 6 or 8 times because I maybe wore it last when she was 2? Wore it out to dinner last week. Fun! It made the cut. I'll need plenty of wool sweaters this winter, anyway.

That gallon-sized bag full of color-coded ThriftTown price tags, collected over the past 18 years of periodic binges because I thought it would be funny to make art with them? Used them recently in a collage. Meh. Donated the whole lot. (Yes, there are places that take donations like that.)

You get the idea.

Two more things to watch out for, and one of them is called Someday.

It's not just about decluttering, though that's important for both sanity and family relations.

Two other traps are even more subtle and devious.

One of them we'll call Preciousness. That's when you have special items (like that perfectly whole sand dollar you found on vacation, that beautiful scrap of Grandma's vintage lace, that Barbie ball gown...) in your art-making collection, but you're afraid to use them because... well, what if you mess up and ruin it? Or because... it's potentially valuable and you don't want to waste it. Or because... someone else could make something really cool out of it, if only you could stand to part with it... Hmm. This is a problem.

A closely-related snare is longingly referred to as Someday. I know you know this one. As in: "Someday I'm going to start painting again." "Someday I'll do that project." "Someday I'm gonna use this really special little thing in my collection and make something awesome out of it."

messy and in the middle of everything, but it works!
messy and in the middle of everything, but it works!

Am I the only one who falls into these traps? No, I didn't think so.

Sometimes you have to get sick of hearing yourself say things over and over.

Indulge me in an illustrative side story, if you will.

When I was teaching kindergarten, I lived in the world of children's literature. I loved it, and I'd actually loved it since college (which is when I started that particular collection!). I've always liked art, and I've always enjoyed writing, so naturally I wanted to write and illustrate children's books. I would tell this to myself, and even to my kindergarteners when we were talking about careers and what we wanted to be when we grew up. (It really confused them.) I told myself and occasionally others about my dream of writing and illustrating children's books. Over and over I said this, for a good decade or more.

Then one day, after hearing these words come out of my mouth for about the 200th time, I thought, "I'm so sick of hearing myself say this when I'm not doing one flipping thing toward that supposed dream. Time to put up or shut up, Pam!"

At the time I was a full-time teacher and mom and wife, and was making zero room in my life for anything resembling writing and illustrating children's books, other than reading a lot of them. I wasn't practicing writing. I wasn't practicing art. Oh, and I had no story ideas, either.

So I shut up, but I also put up. I stopped talking about this goal of mine, and I began drawing more regularly. I took an art class, and then another one. I started an after-school art club at the school where I taught. I said yes to some collaborative projects that opened up to me, and—plot twist here—I still haven't written or illustrated a single children's book!

What happened instead is that I had my first art show because Gary asked me to (we met in an art class), and I started making murals because Dawn asked me to (we met because of my after-school art club), and a few years later I quit my full-time teaching job and gradually became a full-time artist.

Yes, there may be plot twists, but you still get to choose the genre.

I still think about writing and illustrating children's books every now and then (and people who don't know this story sometimes tell me my paintings look like children's book illustrations, which I take as a compliment) but I think I landed someplace even better. It's crazy what happens when you start taking baby steps toward where you want to go.

Sometimes it takes getting sick of your own voice—or of moving boxes of awesome art-making sh*# around the house.

One More Thing About Someday

Here's what I've learned about someday: It seems magical in our imagination, but in reality, it feels an awful lot like today feels. Your schedule might be different someday and your situation may have changed, but YOU are basically the same. Your hangups and your self-talk won't have changed, unless you've been working on changing them.

And the best way I know to change them is to take a step toward your someday dream, today. And then do it again tomorrow. And the next day, and the day after that. Maybe even every day for a whole month.

Care to join me with your own November Challenge? You may be surprised where your steps take you.

And since accountability works like magic, one little step can be speaking your plans out loud. I'm listening. See that little Comment button? ;)