Thought: Parallel Practice

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I was recently asked to give a lecture to a small class of both BFA and MFA students at CU Boulder. The topic was on parallel practices and how it influences my career and personal life. Below is the lecture in written form that I would  like to share with you. Please let me know what you think and if you have a parallel practice of your own.

I have suffered from ADD my entire life. I have a difficult time focusing and have struggled throughout both my personal and professional life. I have had to learn how to harness my energy and direct it. This is no simple task with someone with ADD and it has taken an enormous amount of time and focus, yet has become an invaluable step in advancing my career and my life.

When I was younger, I thought ADD was a hindrance as described by my teachers. However, when I became older, I started to embrace the chaos that is inherent in ADD and now believe that true artists are fueled creatively by the very symptoms of the “disorder.” For example, we are curious, spontaneous, energetic, creative, hyper-focused, persistent and sensitive.

Balance is key here. If I were to let the inspired mind or the ADD mind take total control, I would have ideas that would never see the light of day. Inspiration is only a small percentage of a project. Dedication, focus and organization is the other half if not more. It is a dance between two strategies that require each other for success.

Having a Parallel Practice is all about balance. Just like balancing the creative mind with the rational one is fundamental in maintaining harmony in your life and career, having two practices is essential in expanding your abilities as an artist and person.

For example, a runner is always stronger after a rest day. The rest day includes counter training but not running, yet he/she returns feeling faster. The same is true for the artist or designer. Imagine working on a painting or a sculpture or in my case design and you are experiencing creative block. We artists and designers are problem solvers and sometimes the solution is right under our noses. It is not until we take a step back that it is revealed. Switching focus from one practice to another, is the same as taking a step back. You give rest from one project while you focus on the other. This allows the mind time to reflect and tackle the creative block.

This has been a long journey for me to be able to achieve balance. I have many projects and it is absolutely critical that I recognize the patterns of procrastination or distraction brought on by ADD. This hyper awareness helps me navigate and direct my attention where it needs to be. I have mantras and post it notes that assist in bringing my mind back to reality. If not I would be lost in the clouds. Some of my mantras or reminders are: Check your calendar, Is what I’m doing right now helping me accomplish the task?, Focus Focus Focus.

One practice informs the other and vice versa. We all have learned this in our liberal art studies have we not? In one class, we are working with a tangible medium and in another we are examining the conceptual side of art and learning to articulate its meaning with the written word. Art and art history inform one another. Without this relationship, art loses its context.

By incorporating a parallel practice in your life, you create a relationship between the two no matter how different they are. Sometimes the most intriguing part is in the differences not the similarities. I started Stitch & Hammer out of the desire to work with my hands. I was exhausted from design and unsure of the direction I wanted to take my design career. I launched the handmade accessories company in 2011 and have worked as both a designer and maker since. I am more confident in my work now as a designer than I ever have been. Craft informs my design and vice versa.

I balance three disciplines including, design, craft, and photography with four outlets being Stitch & Hammer, Colorado Makers, Workshop Boulder and Tremper Design and Photography. I don’t recommend this to everyone. Two practices is enough for most people. If you are like me though, my cravings to create content and work is insatiable. This is the ADD in me. However, my drive to succeed helps me push the limits of my comfort zone like organization and self discipline, both which are imperative to improving as an artist, designer or your chosen field of study.

What I have learned so far that helps me grow as a designer, artist and person:

HARNESS YOUR ENERGY or in some cases provoke energy. We all have suffered from procrastination. One is from not having enough energy and the other comes from having too much. Both will stall your creativity. You must learn to control your mind and will your muse. I don’t believe in waiting around for her.

ORGANIZATION A quote by Gustave Flaubert explains it best. “Be regular and orderly in your life so that you may be violent and original in your work.” Spend a few minutes every morning cleaning and organizing your home and work space. Don’t let the physical and digital clutter take over your life and keep you from your work.

FOCUS Power Hours are helpful. I shut down my browsers, email, social media, etc. so that I can give my full attention to the  task at hand  for one hour or more. Your undivided attention even for short bursts of time will help you maintain quality and intention in your work.

DISCIPLINE is indispensable in anyone’s career if they want to be successful. When we are in school, discipline comes in the form of a syllabus and you have a guiding hand via classmates and teachers to keep you on track. Once you are on your own, you take full control over managing your time.

STRATEGY is helpful in maintaining self-discipline and focus. By making lists every day and prioritizing each task by its importance level for the day, week, month and even year, you improve the projects chance of being completed. By setting intentions and writing them down you hold yourself accountable to complete the project.

SACRIFICE To do great things takes great sacrifice. The good stuff, the meaty, juicy parts in your life and in your art lies within the outer edges of your comfort zone. I am always surprised by how much farther my limits actually  are when I push myself. I don’t always want to do the task at hand, but when I persevere and work through the struggle I am rewarded. Always take the high road.

All of this is important for anyone pursuing a career in art or design and is crucial when balancing a parallel practice.

Thought: The Noise of Stuff

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I’ve been thinking a lot about clutter and how I manage it or rather, how it manages me. Last year was a busy time for Stitch & Hammer and I rarely took the time to organize my space, at home or the studio. I was convinced that I was just too busy to focus on anything but the task at hand, which was producing products for my company. Towards the end of last year as holiday orders began to wrap up and I had more time away from work, I began to explore why I felt so overwhelmed by the basic task of organizing and the struggle to keep my studio free of clutter.

I believe this is an issue that we all struggle with at certain times in our lives, except maybe for a handful of exceptionally well organized individuals like my husband and our good friend Nathan. The rest of us  sweep our clutter under the rug or stuff it behind closed doors. I am not talking about healthy disorder that helps the creative process, rather I speak of the kind of clutter that begins to take over our lives , digitally and physically, and very much affects  our performance at home and work.

Another element directly related to the clutter issue is multitasking. Multitasking is something I use to take great pride in however, these past few months have proven that I am indeed horrible at it. And, I’m not alone. Most people claim to be deft at jumping from one task to the other with ease. This is just not true and studies have shown that individuals who multitask create far less superior work than individuals who focused on one item, otherwise known as singletasking, for a designated period of time. Why is this important to explore now more than ever? Because we are bombarded everyday with information from emails to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and much more which all demand our attention.

This is crucial for me to remember especially since I devote my time to more than one enterprise. Multitasking was how I accomplished all the items that needed to be done each day to successfully run Stitch & Hammer and my other projects. However, was I successfully accomplishing each task to the best of my ability? Was the clutter and chatter from all my projects affecting my overall quality of work and life? No doubt. On some days I feel overwhelmed with work and catch myself saying “I wish there were more hours in each day.” I often have so many ideas that I don’t know where to begin. So, I proceed by juggling all of them.

So now what? I’ve identified the problem and want to secure a long term solution.

Below is a list of tasks I have accomplished this past week:
1) Cleaned out my closet. I edited out items in my wardrobe that I never wear.
2) Organized the spice cabinet. This may sound trivial, but if you are like me and cook on a daily basis then an organized kitchen is ideal before preparing a meal.
3) Deep cleaned the studio. I’m serious when I say deep cleaned too. I was ruthless and eliminated art supplies that have not been used and reorganized every box, cabinet and shelf.
4) Organized our books. This was a hard one. I have carried with me every book I’ve ever read that had even a remote affect on me since I was in college. Each story became a friend and I felt like I was abandoning that friend if I sold or gave it away. Ridiculous, I know! A total of four moving boxes are now hopefully on their way to good homes and I couldn’t be happier. I think I’ll start going to the library……

Getting organized and staying organized are two very different things. Here is a list of resources or routines I am currently using to help me stay on top of the clutter:
1) Evernote. I photograph all my receipts for my businesses and post it to a folder within Evernote. I no longer have files stuffed to the brim with paper receipts.
2) iCalendar. Seriously, I just started using the calendar on my computer for the first time and it’s brilliant. This only works if I stay up on it though. I am making it a ritual to check the calendar every morning. No more “oh, no need to write it down. I’ve got it all up here.”
3) Daily/Weekly Tasks. Every morning I write out a list of tasks that need to be accomplished and break them down by their priorities. I recently started using Wunderlist, but I have to admit I like to have at least one element in my daily routine that is analog. So I’ve been bouncing back between a handwritten task list and Wunderlist.
4) Power Hour. This is when I shut down the computer, all social media and anything else that is not directly related to the task at hand. This has proven to be the best tactic when working on a project. I am focused, diligent and highly productive.

I am by no means an expert on this nor have I overcome 100% of the clutter, but I hope this helps you in a small way. Here are two articles I found inspiring:

The Noise Of Stuff
What Multi-Tasking Does To Our Brains

….and, some quotes:

Organizing is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it’s not all mixed up.
–A.A. Milne

Do not try to do everything. Do one thing well.
– Steve Jobs