Spring Cleaning Blog Hop begins today!

Today kicks off a fun blog hop! Cheryl Sleboda of Muppin.com, and maven of the fabulous sewing skully merch, asked a group of us to show some before and after shots of doing a little studio cleaning. If you want to join in on social media, please use #springcleanyourstudio

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Here’s the line-up:

May 7 Kathy Mathews http://www.chicagonow.com/quilting-sewing-creating/
May 8 Misty Cole Http://www.dailydesignwall.blogspot.com
May 9 Heather Kinion http://heatherkinion.com/
May 10 Jessica Darling http://jessicakdarling.com/
May 11 Lisa Blevis Filion http://upstatelisa.blogspot.com/
May 12 Peta Minerof-Bartos http://www.thenotsewguiltyquilter.blogspot.com/
May 13 Mandy Leins http://mandalei.com/
May 14 Amalia Teresa Parra Morusiewicz http://funfromatoz.com/
May 15 Sam Hunter http://huntersdesignstudio.com/
May 16 Debby Ritenbaugh Brown http://higheredhands.blogspot.com/
May 17 Debbie Kleve Berkebile http://www.mountaintrailquilttreasure.blogspot.com/
May 18 Michelle Mattingly http://stitchesofjoi.blogspot.com/
May 19 Cheryl Sleboda http://blog.muppin.com

Hopefully I’ll be ready to clean up the market mess by then!

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The Joy of a Slow Project

I’m capable of working quite quickly, fast enough that my friends invented a hashtag for it, #sewingatthespeedofsam. Yes, I get through a lot of projects – remember, I design and sew for a living! – but over the years, I’ve had several slow projects, lasting more than a year, and I find great delight in them. There’s something about NOT being on a deadline that is so relaxing.

My most recent “slow” finish was a huge bed quilt, just for me. I started collecting the fabric a couple of years ago, and then spent a retreat weekend cutting up the strips I needed. It took me the better part of a year to put it together, just sewing a bit at a time over retreats and social sewing days to finish the quilt top.

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The quilt is comprised of 36 big log cabin blocks. I had a loose rule for them, making rounds of 2 different sizes of strips for a little randomness, but a rule that made sure they would all hit the same size at the end. Most of the centers have to do with writing, and if not writing, they are personal to me in some way, representing my hobbies, heritage, passions, and travels. The quilt is a celebration of birthing my book, Quilt Talk, and I thought that getting that book finished and launched was something to commemorate with a significant project, not to mention something I will continue to be proud of for years to come.

The blocks are 17” across, and the postage stamp sashing is 1” wide (and yes, there’s a lot of sashing, about 45 yards of it!) so it came in at 110” square – big enough to hit three sides of floor and hide all the things stashed under my raised bed.

I sent the quilt to Nancy Stovall of Just Quilting here in Portland, and she searched for the right text driven design to quilt over it. Nancy is a wonder… not only does she bring her considerable talent to her work, but she spends time getting to know you as an artist before she begins her design process. She knew what I liked before I even talked about it with her (not too dense, and no feathers!). And the design was beyond perfect, full of letters and numbers in different fonts – so right for the quilt, and so very ME at heart:

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I finished the quilt right at the end of 2014, and have been sleeping under it since. It sleeps and drapes beautifully, and I utterly adore it.

Later this week I’ll show you blocks for my next slow project… do you have one on the go?

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WASWI: “But I don’t need the money”

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It’s exciting to see the topic of selling handcrafted items for decent money rise up in the consciousness of our industry. I believe that the more we talk about it, the better it will be for all.

I was sent a recent post from Kate Chiconi, from which I pulled this quote (emphasis mine) regarding getting paid well for a quilt:

But I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s no point counting the hours I spend in my enjoyment and expecting a return on investment. All that would achieve is a deep sense of despondency at how poorly I’m rewarded, whereas in fact the reward lies in the process and the pleasure my handwork gives, not the monetary reward. Fortunately, I’m not dependent on my sewing to support myself, unlike some of my forebears!

While I’m glad Kate understands the “despondency” of being low-balled for her work, and I’m thrilled she enjoys her process, I think she is missing the fact that her contemporary peers try to make livings with a needle, too.

For many of us, it’s REALLY tough to place a price on what we do. It engages all sorts of discomfort in our esteem, and often leaves us open to criticism and ridicule for daring to challenge the notion that it’s OK for artists to starve. Our love for what we do is called into question when we monetize it. And for we ladies, there’s an added layer of judgment about being uppity and “not nice” when you try to be business-like.

So we don’t do it. We shrink back when asking for a fair price. We do funky math and discount the cost of the materials because we already owned them (unwilling to point out that to replace them will cost good money.) We weakly defend the idea that you can love something AND make money at it (and why the hell is this only a conversation in the arts? I don’t see bankers struggling with this at all.) And the most corrosive lie we can tell is “I don’t need the money.”

It’s a great one to hide behind… not only does it make you sound fortunate, it colors you as generous and altruistic. You’re doing the would-be buyers a favor by leaving some cash in their wallets.

But while it might help you, and maybe get you a modest sale, it actually hurts all your sew-sisters and -brothers. YOU might not need the money, but I certainly do, and I’m not the only one. If you don’t educate buyers as to a fair price, then the knowledge of what that is will not permeate our art-buying culture. And we all suffer for it.

Even if you don’t need the money, PLEASE charge it. Donate the cash to children’s arts programs or your favorite charity if you need to get it out of your account. If you still don’t want to do that, please AT LEAST give the buyers a detailed invoice showing the depth of the discount they receive. Education is the easiest thing we can do to change this.

Kate ends with this:

We create because we can and because we must. Monetary reward is just a very pleasant fringe benefit…

Pleasure in my process is certainly important. But no one quilts for cash without enjoying their process – it’s just too damned hard. However, we can’t pay the rent in satisfaction, nor should we be expected to. Money isn’t a fringe benefit in the arts, it’s what feeds the family. Just like in other careers.

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WASWI – Quilting for hire (and following up on the Decemberists’ quilts)

I had to step back from this for a bit, mostly because I was in a car accident in January, and by the time this conversation was getting hot I had been diagnosed with broken ribs and was taking (with much gratitude) the painkillers. I thought it best to avoid writing under the influence of narcotics! And yes, I’m mending, though slowly. This is so not the January/February I had planned :-)

Anyway… I wrote that post about the quilts made for the Decemberists’ record company’s giveaway, and obviously touched a nerve or two.* Meg Cox, one of our respected industry leaders, snagged an interview with the artist, Valerie Bradford, who made the quilts (read it here). And as Meg points out, I while I took the band to task, it was the record company that made the deal and the artist that gave the valuation of the work. Mea culpa.

Obviously, none of the terms of this arrangement can be changed. It’s water under bridge. But what we CAN do is be well armed, and well informed as to our process before we shake hands on any future deals that could come our way. And to that end, let’s have THAT discussion now.

Here are things you can do:

  1. Track your time. Every time you work on a project, document what you do and how long each step takes. Even if you’re not selling your work, it’s good to know these things so that, IF an offer arises, you have some educated basis on which to rest your calculations. I put together a simple sheet for that here.
  2. Figure out the cost of the project FIRST. I have a simple version of an invoice template here, and my friend and fellow WASWI Torch Bearer Molli Sparkles expanded it greatly here – and you can use any of the elements of either document to suit your needs. If you can fill out the forms confidently, then you’re close to knowing what it takes to make the project. And in case you think that doesn’t work, several people have emailed me privately and said that, when they presented a bid that was itemized so comprehensively, they walked away with a deposit with no haggling. It’s all in the education.
  3. Plan for contingencies. Either put the contingency budget into the bid, or over estimate your hours and bring the project in cheaper if all goes well. According to a friend who used to produce movies, even the littlest indie films have a 10% contingency added to the budget. You should do the same.
  4. Don’t get twitterpated! Is it flattering to be approached with a project, a magazine offer, a book deal? SURE THING! But don’t lose your head. By all means call your bestie and dance around the room, but don’t say YES immediately. You can screw yourself royally by acting in giddy, breathless haste. Do your research, ask your industry colleagues for advice (all contracts are not equal), and work out what it’s going to take. Ask your GUT what the right decisions is for YOU (and if you have trouble with that, I really recommend this book). And if all signs point forward, then prepare that bid and move forward.

I know I say it over and over, but I really do believe it: if we all work together to educate our buyers and ourselves, and ask for our worth, then we can change the game for all. We are $ew worth it.

*P.S.  I don’t think touching a nerve or two is a bad thing if it gets the conversation going, gets us considering our worth, or gets us, as an industry, to fight for better. And being as most of the commentary directed at me from our industry was very positive, I think I’ll keep touching the nerves. And for a truly wonderful podcast on internet trolls, check this out.

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WASWI – Sticking Together

I spoke at the Westside Quilter’s Guild last week, in Hillsboro, OR – a fantastic group of ladies and gents. I received many lovely hugs from the members, as well as a treat of chocolates! Thank you to all who came out to play!

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We spoke of making quilts, lessons learned, and of course, we spoke of We Are $ew Worth It.

At the end of the evening, one of the members came up to talk. She is a piano teacher. She told me the story of the local piano teachers all getting together, and deciding to charge similar prices so that they would all be decently paid. And she said that, in the instances she felt like backing down on her rates, she remembered that she owed it to all the teachers to stay strong and claim her hourly fee. After all, learning to play piano at the level that one can then teach it is no small feat.

And it gave me hope. Hope that if I can convince enough people that working for free hurts us all, we WILL all benefit from it.

We make beautiful things. We do it with skills that are learned, honed, and practiced. We invest in expensive equipment to do the work we do.

We are worth a living wage. We really are. We just have to claim it.

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An Open Letter to the Decemberists – Quilts and their makers have value

01/23/15 – A Few Updates!

First up – yes, some fans and local artists made a quilt for the band – you can see it here (it’s lovely – how lucky they are to be cared for so much!) And it’s not the one pictured below.

Second – the link to the raffle of the quilts, which stated the value of $388 is no longer alive because the entry date has passed. Once upon a time it could be found at https://pages.umusic-mail.com/decemberists/rules/ but no longer. I doubt my writing anything about this got it taken down :-)

Third – Meg Cox, a respected professional in the quilt industry, has snagged an interview with Carson Ellis that she will publish shortly. I’m looking forward to reading it.

Fourth – this was never about the band. The quilt industry peeps get the conversation. It has always been about educating the public that handmade art and craft has VALUE, and that the people that make these things deserve to be paid in accordance with their skill and talent – accountants love their jobs and don’t do it for free, so why should we? It’s also about teaching people who do make these things to up their game and charge their worth. If just one person sees more value in handcraft because of what I write, then it utterly negates the harsh words of the trolls. I’ve left their comments standing for the sake of balance :-) but will be deleting anything that is just plain hateful that doesn’t add value to the discourse.

Fifth – for those of you who comment that the valuation of $388 might be based on materials alone and needs to be listed that way for tax purposes, I would ask you to look at the valuation of any car given away in a contest. The car is always valued at full retail – not the price of the parts before they got assembled!

Carry on!

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(Originally published on 01.22.15 @ 6:02am)

Hey Decemberists! I see you have a shiny new album, with a really cool cover (that I read was designed by Carson Ellis, your frontman’s talented wife):

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Image credit to The Decemberist’s website at http://www.decemberists.com

And clever you, you’ve decided to raffle off a couple of quilts made to look like the cover:

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Image from The Decemberist’s Blog at http://www.decemberists.com/news/itunes-first-play-a-beginning-song-released/

Who wouldn’t want such a pretty quilt? I wonder who made it? I can’t find that information anywhere. All I could find (before the entries closed) is the estimated value, a ridiculously low $388.

I’m guessing that, perhaps, (hopefully?) none of you have ever made a quilt, because if you had, you’d know better. So, as a member of the quilting community, and one willing to publicly bear the torch for us being treated well, I have a few things to say to you:

The art of a quilt isn’t just in the materials, any more than your music is in the plastic of a CD and its case. The art is in the intellectual property, and the skill to render it into form. The hard work it took to learn how to do it right is a huge factor. Just as you didn’t get good at your art overnight, neither do most quilt artists. It takes practiced skill to know how to build a set of triangles into something pretty, just like the skill it takes to arrange a set of chords to make beautiful music. How would you feel if we raffled off your music for the value of the plastic, without saying who played on the album?

As artists who’ve “made it,” you have a certain amount of power. You’ve done well. You’ve made it through an incredibly tough gauntlet of toiling in dodgy dives for a few bucks and cheap beer. You’ve got fans, enough visibility to get a day named after you in Portland, and a record company to help distribute your music. You’ve got a pulpit. Now use the power of that pulpit to help other artists.

Tell us who made the quilts. Link them up so they can maybe get some business out of it. Pay them properly (because I know you know the lie in being asked to do your art for “exposure”). And get those quilts properly appraised so that you don’t perpetuate the idea that we like sewing for cheap. Because we don’t – we are worth SO much more.

I know that most people think quilt makers are a bunch of older ladies with nothing else to do, but I’m here to set that story straight. Many of us make our livings in the $3.7B industry that is quilting. Yes, the B stands for BILLION. It’s a huge deal, even if it isn’t visible to you, so let me run down some sewing economics for you:

First up – there’s the talent. We quilt makers often spend years honing our craft. Sort of like musicians do. It takes a lot of practice to get good at sewing. And lest you think “anyone can sew”, how would you feel if I said anyone can strum a few chords and yell into a microphone?

The equipment is expensive too, not unlike the cost of guitars or drums. Yes, you can get a cheap machine, but they work like a cheap knock-off guitar sounds – like crap. And there are all sorts of things you need to have to keep them running. Like spare parts and good techs to do the tweaking.

Then there’s the cost of materials. I can’t find any details about the size of the quilts you’ve offered, but let’s go with an educated guess of 40” x 60”. I see at least 20 fabrics in there, and assume the minimum purchase for the top alone was about 6 yards. Premium fabric is running around $13 a yard, and you’d need about 3 yards to finish the backing and binding. So 9 yards at $13 is $117. Plus batting (let’s call it $20). And threads ($10 for the good stuff). So we’re at a conservative $147 before we talk about labor.

At $388 less materials, we have $241 with which to pay the artist. I’d bid 6 hours to work out the design, and around 15 for putting the top together, assuming nothing goes horrendously wrong. And for the record, I sew FAST (a skill that has taken 25 years to develop), and on an expensive, fast machine. It would take a couple of hours to put together a back and turn it into a quilt sandwich. It takes 2 hours for a quick and dirty quilting job, 10 for something custom and amazing. Another hour to make a binding, and three more to get it on with a hand finish (which is how many of us do it). At the low end, we’re talking 27 hours. $241 divided by 27 puts the labor at less than $9 an hour.

Do I have to point out that $9 and hour is an insult to ANY skilled artist? That my mechanic charges $99 an hour? That my friend just gave a plumber $13,000 for about 4 days of work? That $9 an hour, if you’re lucky, gets you “do you want fries with that?” and an order that isn’t screwed up?

Those quilts are worth far more than $388. And our industry cares about crediting who makes things (after being invisible behind centuries of anonymously made quilts, we’re kind of rabid about knowing who the makers are). So from one group of artists to another… give us a hand, OK?

Cheers ~ Sam Hunter

 

What’s your word?

Happy new 2015!

Being a word girl, I like the idea of having a word or phrase to play with. Confession though… I don’t do the yearly word thing because my life seems to operate in seasons that don’t necessarily begin and end with a tidy bow at the new year!

I love being inspired by other people’s words too. In fact, I’d like to be inspired by yours! So pop your word or phrase into the comments, and tell me a little bit about them. I’ll choose a winner on Monday (based on what inspires me the most) and send you a copy of Quilt Talk so you have the tools to make your word in fabric!

And if you’ve already made your word in any type of fiber, please post it on Instagram and tag me @huntersds, and use the hashtag #2015word to add it to lots of others.

As for resolutions, I make few. But if there was one that I would encourage all of us to make, it’s this: Please maintain your sewing machine regularly. Respect the Power Tool! De-fuzz it, oil it, and change that needle! I even have a cute and quick free pattern for holding your dead needles! It could be your first finish of 2015!

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Wishing you all the best a new year can bring!

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Happy and Merry!

Tis the season! So of course, for my guild’s holiday celebration, I pulled my favorite Christmas accessory out of the waaaay back of the closet.

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I showed it to a couple of friends before I wore it out of the house. The reactions were mixed… it seems that this gorgeous thing that was THE BOMB when I made it in 1995 is now, quite possibly, the quilter’s version of the ugly sweater.

No matter! I sweated over it, so I’m wearing it! Seriously, it has more hours in it than many of the quilts I’ve made (the smaller the pieces, the longer it takes). Where on earth did I get the idea? From Judy Murrah, author of Jacket Jazz (and now the head of education for Quilts Inc.) I took a class from her in 1995 – fabulous teacher – and well… went a little overboard with concept.

Many of the techniques are in her book. The twisted texture…

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… the 9 degree wedge elements (one half of the strips is the sleeve, the opposing half is the front).

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I designed the presents for the second front. Notice how I integrated the pocket. Damn proud of that, considering what I didn’t (and still don’t) know about garment construction.

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I shrunk the poinsettia from a wall hanging pattern (my apologies to the designer… I no longer have the pattern to credit you!) and APPLIQUED it. Yep, I actually did the A-Word for this (albeit by machine, but still). I only wish I had known about glue basting back then!

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I finished it off with a run of paper-pieced trees. They needed a bit of a switch up, so I swapped a tree from the back with a Santa from the cuff. Santa does get around, you know.

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So there it is. Shoulder pads and all. I like to think that, due to the wonders of time, it has perhaps transcended from tacky kitsch to retro cool, just the way that ugly sweaters have, no? And when you think about some of the holiday excesses (swants, anyone?) then perhaps not quite so over the top!

I wish you Happy and Merry from my studio to yours – I hope you get to spend time with good people and good food, and that every stitch you made on a gift is well appreciated by the lucky person that received it!

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On Turning 53

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Yesterday, I had the good fortune to celebrate my 53rd birthday. I am grateful for and humbled by the wishes, hugs, emails, FB posts, gifts, chocolates, handmade goodies, gifts, and gift cards that made their way to me from many timezones near and far. I got weepy several times because of it. I am cared for and loved, and it is a wonderful thing.

I was once married to a good chap that just hated his birthday. He approached it with trepidation, running a commentary of the “shoulds” in his head. “By (insert age here) I should have done this by now, should have seen this by now, should have bought this by now.” I’ve never felt this way, but then I prefer looking at the filled part of the glass. I have no idea what I though 53 might look like from my 20’s (other than perhaps hoping I wouldn’t be as unhip as I perceived my parents to be) but I can say without doubt that I’m the best, truest version of me I’ve ever been. And for my next birthday, should I get one, I plan to have refined myself further down this path!

On my 50th birthday, I wrote the following essay, and as I revisited it today, I see that it’s all still true for me. So I’ll share it here, and I’ve added three more to grow on at the end.

50 Thoughts on Turning 50

A time for reflection and introspection. Time for a party filled with embarrassing gifts of prune juice and adult diapers. The big five-oh. Mid-century. Half way done, should I be so lucky. A few thoughts on that…

1.  In the inimitable words of the Monty Python gang – I’m not dead yet!
2.  Turning 30 was a relief. Turning 40 made me feel powerful. Turning 50 makes me feel grateful.
3.  Questioning authority is still fashionable.
4.  Knowing that your girlfriends get you (and like you anyway) is incredibly comforting.
5.  Eating chocolate every day is sacrosanct. Wasting calories by eating bad chocolate is just wrong.
6.  Having a season pass to Disneyland allows you to see all the small things in the design and artistry – and to marvel at the absolute commitment to the concept such details illustrate.
7.  Board games are even more fun as a grown-up.
8.  Fake butter is just that. Fake.
9.  The shift of a smooth gearbox on an open road is still a thrill.
10.  However, next time I’m buying an automatic car. I’m done with clutching my way through traffic.
11.  I got too good at not wanting to be a bother in the doctor’s office, and it almost killed me. Being firm about what I instinctually know about my body is the right kind of bothersome to be.
12.  Spending time outside of your home country is important.
13.  Facebook birthdays rock.
14.  Uncomfortable shoes are just not worth the agony.
15.  Uncomfortable undies aren’t either.
16.  Although I would have chewed my tongue off before admitting this to her as a teenager, I’m grateful that my step-mother spent the time to teach me which fork is the right one.
17.  While I think I could have been just fine without children in my life, I’m so glad I have my son, Steve. He somehow makes me more complete.
18.  Art really is everywhere. And that is a very good thing.
19.  That multitasking thing that we’ve all tried so hard to be good at is a load of bull. Being fully present to one thing at a time is so much more satisfying.
20.  Having good manners never goes out of style.
21.  It is wonderful to find a lost friend from your youth, and to find out that that you still like who they are.
22.  It doesn’t matter that my shoes never match my handbag.
23.  Having an opinion is a good thing. Respecting that other opinions may differ is a better thing.
24.  In my head I’m still in my thirties. But 50 is the new 30, right?
25.  Smart phones are incredible tools of efficiency and convenience. And distraction.
26.  I’m no longer willing to play dumb, or hide my light, or stay silent when I should speak up, just for the comfort of others.
27.  Climbing to the top of a dome or church is a spiritual journey. Coming out into the light and 360 view after the fight of the climb, through the dark and narrow passages, is a re-birth of sorts and worth every ache, gasp, and bead of sweat.
28.  I prefer clocks with hands.
29.  Wearing the right earrings can make your day.
30.  I’m ok with not being liked by everyone anymore. I’m ok with not liking everyone anymore. We are not ALL made for each other.
31.  Keeping the back of your neck warm from draughts wards off colds.
32.  When all else fails, bake shortbread.
33.  Having my face cut and filled to look like a version of 30 will never happen. I’ve earned and lived all my lines.
34.  Saying “thank you” is SO important.
35.  Saying “sorry” is perhaps even more important.
36.  I’m grateful to have been born in times that allow me to exercise choices. And I’m aware that with such privilege comes the responsibility to make sure that these choices are available to future generations.
37.  Those SMTWTFS pill boxes really do make your life easier.
38.  Sleeping under a handmade quilt is a special joy.
39.  Not being obsessively clean is good for your immune system.
40.  I hope evolution takes care of chin hairs and the hairs on the top of big toes in future generations because I can vouch for them having no use whatsoever.
41.  I’m thrilled to see my young friends making babies, and even more thrilled that I’m no longer in the business of teething, tantrums, and teenagers.
42.  Asking for help is not a sign of weakness.
43.  I love the summer movie formula: the good guys win, the bad guys lose, the guy gets the girl, and stuff blows up during a really good car chase.
44.  Slumming with the occasional book of trash pulp will not rot my intellect.
45.  Learning to say “no” is a good thing. Wish I’d got better at it sooner.
46.  Beautifully written words are as satisfying as perfect crème brulée.
47.  This teach-to-the-test crap is ruining our children.
48.  Seeing it in person is so much better than reading about it on the internet. Just say no to the mediated experience.
49.  The color orange makes me happy.
50.  You dishonor the people who love you when you don’t allow them to actually do loving things for you. Accepting love is both humbling and powerful.

51. Making stuff makes my world right. Make, make, make.

52. Minding your values matters. Both personal values, and the color values in art.

53. In the words of Madeleine Albright, “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”

The Little Spark

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It happens. The well dries up. Your creative mojo chases the sunset out of town and you feel like you’ve lost a dear friend. How to get it back becomes your next big priority. And lucky us, my friend Carrie Bloomston has just written a delightful book chock full of prompts and exercises to get your creativity back into gear!

This is what Carrie has to say about her book:

You were born with a creative spark inside. Do you look at yourself now and wonder if the spark has gone out? Ignite that inner fire with the 30 engaging exercises, fun activities, inspirational images, and motivating ideas in this book. Learn what your Little Spark of creative passion looks like, how to capture it, and how to make room for it in your life. Read the book cover-to-cover and use it as a month-long creative roadmap, or just dip into the exercises as your time and inclination allow. Either way, you will change your life.

She also made a sweet video trailer!

The book is full of space for you to write in and make yours. It’s full of ideas and questions, and peppered with quotes from some really inspiring people. And of, course, lusciously stuffed with beautiful imagery. This image tells me I need to buy more ORANGE pens!

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My favorite chapters in the book so far are Chapter 2, about making your creative space calm; Chapter 23, about the rhythm and mastery in repetition; and Chapter 26, about taking a day off (this post is coming to you while I’m on vacation, through the wonders of auto scheduling!)

Carrie is consolidating all the giveaways from her blog, so head over there to comment for a chance to win a copy of the book.

If you can’t wait, or want to gift it for the holidays, it’s available on Amazon or from your favorite indie bookseller (mine is Powell’s!)

Now go to your studio and play!

BTW – Did you join my mailing list yet? Do it here. I’m dreaming up groovy exclusive stuff for you!