Just Start. Really.

Begin Now

I’m not saying anything new here, but I heard so many thoughts around New Year’s that basically said, “I want to do [xyz] but I need to find the time/but my special circumstances make it challenging/but I don’t have what I need.” No. No, this isn’t true. If you want to do whatever it is, you will find the time. You will adjust to your circumstances instead of waiting and waiting for your circumstances to change. You will make do with the minimum amount of whatever supply you think you need to get going. If you don’t, of course, it is easy to say it’s not your fault, it’s the fault of your busy life or your circumstances (which aren’t unique, no matter what you think) or the budget that won’t allow you to buy the exact drawing pens and paper you’re sure you need to express yourself. But the truth is, if you don’t, it’s because you don’t want it enough.

Do you want to write? Get paper and a pencil and get going. You don’t need a screen and a keyboard or a special app or program. You don’t need a fancy notebook or the perfect pen or even a new pen. You don’t need a quiet room of your own and three hours per day. You can do it while the kids interrupt you (ask me how I know). You can do it in waiting rooms with background noise. You can do it ten minutes at a time. You can even do it while monitoring homework or cooking dinner or in your head while driving carpool.

Do you want to draw? Grab some paper and a pencil and get going. (Do you sense a theme?) You don’t need the perfect sketchbook. You need paper, a pencil, and your eyes. That just-right sketchbook you saw at that store you can’t get back to for two weeks plus you need to wait for a coupon…that sketchbook isn’t going to make you draw any better. Do you know what makes you draw better? Practice. You can draw on the backs of receipts while waiting in the school car pick-up line. That’s a pretty boring place to be, in my experience. Look out the car window. See that tree? Draw it. Draw your own hand—it’s fantastic drawing practice. Make a habit of bringing some paper with you wherever you go. If you choose to spend that boring pick-up line time browsing the Internet on your phone, that’s a choice that you’ve made. That’s fine, but own the choice.

“I’d love to knit, but I don’t have the time.” Is there a knitter who hasn’t heard some variation of this comment? People who knit (or sew, or embroider, whatever) don’t have any more time than the rest of the population. These handcrafts are incredibly forgiving of schedules. They are agreeable, for the most part, to being picked up and put down in the middle of things. Knitting is practically made for mothers. It fits into the cracks of the day.

Almost everything I do fits into the cracks of my day. In late December I attended a Home for the Holidays Etsy gathering in Providence. I didn’t talk to everyone there, but for everyone I did talk to, their craft business was their full-time job. I can’t do that right now. My making has to fit in around homeschooling two children and mothering three. We have what seems to be a higher-than-average number of medical appointments. My husband travels a lot. I’m unable to run at the moment, but when I could and when I can again, it’s also a priority in my day. I juggle all these things and more. I could decide it’s not worth doing anything at all if I can’t make selling my work a full-time job right now. I don’t have a room of my own, control over much of my schedule, a studio with natural light, a dedicated sewing table, an advertising budget, or the DSLR that would make all my photographs perfect, I’m sure of it. (Wouldn’t it?) Someday I may have all of those things, but in the meantime, I want to make things and try to sell them, so I fit it into the cracks.

Forget all the excuses. If you want it, you’ll do it. If you want to write, you’ll write. If you want to create, you will. You’ll find a way. If you don’t find a way, that’s telling you something. It’s really, truly as simple as that. If what you actually do isn’t matching the story of yourself in your head, you have to do some hard work. You either need to actually do what you say you want to do, or you need to adjust the story to reflect the fact that you are not a person who truly plans to do these things. You’re not a writer-who-wants-to-write-but-can’t. You’re not someone-who-would-draw-if-only. You are you, spending your time on whatever it is you are spending your time on. It’s hard changing these stories; it makes us feel bad. If you don’t want to change the story, change what you do. Write. Draw. Create. Exercise. Read more. Do whatever it is you say you want to do, with no excuses or rationalizations. I trust that you can. I really, really believe that you can—if you want to.

Finding Your Time and Space

heart embroidery at amyhoodarts.com

Playing with embroidery on a salvaged denim pocket.

A couple of months ago, I began seeing flyers around town for a creativity/art/something class. I couldn’t quite get a handle on what the class was all about from the flyer, but it sounded like the organizer felt the same way about art-making as I do: that it’s for everybody, and it’s important, and it should be a part of our lives. So I emailed her for more information. I realized we definitely think the same way. With her classes, she was hoping to gather a group of people and hold the time and space for creating. She’d provide the materials, and the participants would be free to create. I don’t need anyone to hold the time and space for me; art and creativity is fairly ingrained into my life at this point. But I would like to meet more people who feel that way in person. I know so many people online who understand what this need to create is all about, and I am grateful for that. But it would also be nice to know some people nearby so we could meet for coffee and bounce ideas off each other of in a back-and-forth out-loud conversation.

I thought about taking the class, but it was six sessions beginning in December, and it was a lot of money to spend in December solely out of curiosity. I noticed she was offering one session on a weekday morning and another on Friday nights, and I thought about how weekdays are difficult if you have children who aren’t in school or if you’re homeschooling, and how nights are hard if you’re nursing, and how in the days when I was trying so hard to claw out some time and space for creative work, a class like this wouldn’t have been accessible to me at all. She ended up deciding to make the classes drop-in instead of having people pay for six at a time, and I decided I could spend that lesser amount of money for curiosity and to try to meet other people who feel like I do. So in early December, I went, not quite knowing what to expect.

What I decided was that this is a valuable service, but I don’t need it. I have a ridiculously well-stocked art room. Almost anything I want to do, I can go to the right shelf and find the materials I want. I’m really good at making time and space to insert creativity into my day. If I don’t have time for digging into something deeply, I can still find time to write, or draw, or knit, make something that wasn’t there before emerge from the work of my own two hands. And if I’m going to spend money for a class-type thing, I need my investment to result in more than just chit-chat while I play with materials. I don’t take the money I spend on classes lightly; I want to advance my work in some way, learn something new or advance mastery of something I’m already doing.

But as I thought about this group (and I hope it takes off), I thought again about how, for a decade, anything I wanted to learn, I taught myself. I couldn’t swing classes while exclusively nursing babies who didn’t bother with bottles. I let all my babies nurse to sleep, and wouldn’t change the rules on them suddenly just so I could go take a class. Those times with each child were important and irreplaceable; of course, I had three of them, so it stretched out to a decade. During that time, I taught myself to knit, sew, and embroider. I played around with art materials and figured things out on my own. It was either that, or do nothing new until the last kid was weaned, and I’m not that patient.

I’ve spoken about this before: I didn’t begin facilitating art for my kids solely because I am a fabulous mother who wants them to be exposed to lots of different art materials and techniques. While I do want that, of course, I also wanted so much to get my hands back into paint and charcoal that it felt like a physical need. At the time, my youngest child was two and still wouldn’t sleep without my body beside her. The gradual expansion of my time that I’d expected by that point hadn’t happened. The obvious solution was to make art right alongside my kids. In between helping them and fetching what they needed, I could grab a few minutes here and there so I could create, too.

Art Together has “together” in the title for a reason. We adults aren’t just here to facilitate experiences for our kids. We have a right—perhaps even a duty—to make sure we’re getting our need for creative play satisfied as well. It would be great if the kids would quietly occupy themselves with their own projects while we work on our own (!) or if we could go out on Friday nights and have a glass of wine and adult conversation while playing around with paint. But that’s not possible for many of us, for whatever reason. Art Together—the series and the zine—is an invitation to dive into the same activities your kids are doing, to explore and have fun and relax and not think for a little bit. I came upon that solution the way most good ideas occur—by necessity. I had a need that wasn’t being met, and I had to find a way to fix that. Along the way, so many benefits accrued, not just for me OR the kids but for all of us together, the sum, as is often the case, being so much greater than its parts.

In a rambly way, I’m encouraging you to think creatively if you spend your days with children and you have a need that’s going unfulfilled. How can you work within your circumstances to make it a part of your schedule? Maybe it’s art-making, maybe it’s something else. Don’t wait for somebody to come along and offer to hold that time and space for you—that may happen, but perhaps not soon enough. Learn to hold the time and space yourself.

Hello, 2014

And it’s been a long December and there’s reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last
I can’t remember all the times I tried to tell myself
To hold on to these moments as they pass

–Counting Crows, “A Long December”

Sometime during the summer I heard this song on the radio and thought, I can’t wait until I’m slamming the door on 2013. I pictured kicking it in the ribs a few times on the way out. (I had some anger. Exercise helped.) I reflected on the past year just a few months ago in my birthday post, and I don’t have much more to add, except this: It turns out I’m not angry at 2013 after all. I’m grateful.

Just to be clear: I wouldn’t want to relive this year. Absolutely not, even though it contained some wonderful moments and experiences. But I’m grateful to have lived it. I wouldn’t have requested the situation to occur, the one that triggered such severe PTSD symptoms. When I picture the worst of the PTSD this past spring, when I try to remember, I see myself curled up, knees to chest, at the bottom of a narrow, deep hole. There’s light way at the top of it, but I’m stuck down in a close, dark place. Life is going along normally for the people at the surface–I can glimpse them going by–but down in my hole, clumps of dirt keep falling into my hair and I’m running out of air. It was like that. I don’t want to go through that again. But for most of my life I was having flashes of symptoms that I didn’t understand, blaming myself for overreacting to things, or not having gotten over whatever-it-was, guilty for feeling the wrong way. If it took that situation, this year, to trigger PTSD so severely that it had to be brought to the attention of someone who would recognize it (I will love her forever) so I could learn to understand what was going on and learn how to manage it–how can I not be grateful for that? Profoundly grateful.

Oh, 2013 was a terrible and beautiful year, all at once. I am wiser and more self-aware than I was a year ago. I like myself better. I’m more comfortable in my own skin. There was no way to get here, I’m convinced, without living through the terrible parts.

I didn’t choose a word for 2013 so much as a guidance. I hoped to remember to always choose kindness first. (The last half of 2012, it wasn’t so smooth either.) I thought if I could remember to start from a place of kindness, I’d be on the right path more often than not. I know I didn’t keep to this ideal in all situations, but it’s a good ideal, and one I will keep aspiring to. As the year wound down, I made myself a reminder. It hangs off the window that faces my kitchen sink. In other words, I will see this reminder quite a bit.

 be kind at amyhoodarts.com

I did decide to ponder a guiding word or ideal for 2014. I’ve been working on being okay with uncertainty–no small task for a control-freak Virgo who additionally thought for a long, long time that if I could just keep track of all the details, hold onto all the ropes, nothing bad would happen. (False.) I think I’ve made huge progress, but it’s going to be a lifelong practice, I believe, to embrace uncertainty. However, I didn’t want to choose “uncertainty” as a guiding word for the year. I wanted to flip it around, turn it inside out, and find a more positive-sounding word. This is what I decided upon.

serenity at amyhoodarts.com

I want to settle towards serenity in the face of whatever-may-come. Serenity, the state of being serene, that is, calm, unruffled, steady. That is my practice.

Happy New Year to you all. May it be full of good things, and remember, sometimes those good things require difficult times first.

Happy Holidays!

peaceful holidays + happy new year

My oldest is home from school–hurrah!–until January 2, so I intend to take a bit of a computer break during that time and enjoy having all my kids at home. I wish you all a peaceful remainder to 2013 and a happy beginning to 2014. I’ll still be around if there are any questions about the zine or the shop (discount codes for both expire at the end of this year); I’m just dialing down the online connectivity a bit.

Until then…may your days be merry and bright!

Making + Listening: Knitting

I abandoned my son’s socks to knit a hat for my nephew for Christmas. I suggested a fish hat (here’s the one I made my son a few years ago), but his mom wasn’t sure he’d wear it, so I looked for something else a bit interesting but not quite that interesting. I settled on Skullcracker, a new Knitty pattern, using Cascade 220 Superwash, because it’s a little softer than the regular version, plus easier to take care of for non-knitters.

I thought the name of the pattern referred to the zig-zaggy line on the hat, but as I knit it, I decided it must refer to the way the pattern was making my head hurt. Also, look at the ends that you have to weave in:

Skullcracker ends to weave in

Too many ends for a hat, I say.

You cut the yarn for each section. The pattern also involves quite a bit of picking up stitches, and I ended up duplicate-stitching over each picked-up segment, just to make sure it was as neat as could be. Phew. It’s a cleverly constructed hat, but I’m not sure I need headwear to be quite that clever.

Here’s the finished hat (with truer colors than the pic above).

Skullcracker beanie at amyhoodarts.com

The pattern has quite a bit of negative ease. This hat fits tightly. I wasn’t sure it would be comfortable for my nephew, so I knit a second hat, and he can have both. This pattern is one I’ve knit for my own kids many times, Vertigo.

Vertigo hat at amyhoodarts.com

This is also a clever little hat, but not nearly so fussy in its cleverness. It’s knit sideways, brim to crown, using short rows for shaping. You use a provisional cast on and weave the live stitches together at the end, so it’s seamless. And it’s awfully cute.

So. Hopefully my nephew will like at least one of these hats, if not both. Extra hats are useful, anyway.

I’m linking up with Dawn for Making + Listening this week, even though I have nothing new to report on the listening end of things. It’s all Christmas music here these days, even in the car. My daughter sings the songs, too, trying to memorize as many as she can, and I find it kind of delightful, because, like me, she often just starts singing in the middle of a song, like it’s been running through her head and she just decided to let it out. It’s always a bit of a thrill to recognize one of your own small habits in your child. “Oh,” you think. “We share that.” Pretty cool.

{Review} Go: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design

Cover image from amazon.com.

Cover image from amazon.com.

Note: I borrowed this book from the library (and plan to buy our own copy soon), and all thoughts on it are my own.

I saw Go: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design, by graphic designer Chip Kidd, sitting on the librarian’s desk, and I couldn’t resist it. The cover looks so inviting, which is Kidd’s point right from the start. Right inside the front cover, he addresses the fact that the reader decided to open the book. Why? “Whether you realize it or not,” he says, “most of the decisions you make, every day, are by design.” The rest of the book seeks to explain what Kidd means by that statement.

The book is a straight-forward, informative introduction to the concepts of graphic design, with chapters covering form, typography, content, and concept. Kidd’s writing style is inviting and clear, and he takes things step by step. This is marketed as a kid’s book, but I’d recommend it for adults, too. We all use design every day, whether we know it or not, in big ways (in designing our blogs, for example) and small. I’m betting that even if you can’t list out the principles of design, you know bad graphic design when you see it. I’ve clicked away from websites, never to return, because I couldn’t cut through the bad design to get to the content.

The flip side of understanding graphic design is understanding how you are affected—manipulated, even—by it. Kidd discusses that, too. The book is full of examples pulled out of real life; many excellent discussion starters can be found here.

Of course, lots of overlap is found between fine art and graphic design. The chapter on form discusses scale, positioning, focus, orientation, light and dark, repetition and pattern, symmetry, asymmetry, color theory, abstraction, and more principles that are useful in approaching any sort of artwork or design. This book covers an impressive amount of material, but it doesn’t feel overwhelming.

The final chapter contains ten graphic design project ideas—not crafts, as Kidd takes pains to explain: “There’s no ‘one way’ to do these. There are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers. As such, I can’t give you a step-by-step kind of approach because, well, that’s just not what design is all about.” That’s my sort of project. This is my sort of author and book.

You can find out more about Kidd and the book at gothebook.com. I’ll be getting our own copy to add to our library of technique and idea books.

In Support of LINE

Issue Two button

The Winter 2013 issue of Art Together is all about LINE, so I thought I’d round up some older posts that feature line in one way or another and can extend or add to the activities presented in the zine.


tape resistTape Resist uses painter’s tape and paint to create an abstract design. After painting, the tape is peeled off, revealing white lines underneath. This is fun for all ages, and we go back to resist methods again and again here.



DSCN1629Sunflower Study is one of the first posts on this blog. We used permanent markers as our drawing tool, which eliminates the possibility of erasing. That forces us to deal with the lines we’ve made and keep going, rather than get bogged down in perfection.




In Shadow Drawings, we traced the shadows of interesting objects onto our paper to create an abstract design.




DSCN2056Yarn Art was the inspiration for the magazine’s line adventure of using string as line. My then-toddler glued yarn onto sturdy paper to create a design.



DSC01433You don’t need to limit your line exploration to typical media or surfaces, either. In Drawing in Snow, my kids did just that, to amuse themselves while waiting for the bus. Anything that will take a mark can become a drawing surface, even if just temporary. Sand, dirt, snow, the condensation on a window…we’ve all doodled in these places, and it’s fun. Speaking of doodling, I’m including Doodle Rocks in this roundup. We used both paint and permanent markers to decorate rocks, exploring with both color and line.

Finally, a few posts from the {Art Together} series that apply: Scribbling, Doodling, and Exploring Charcoal + Conte Crayon, which is about exploring different drawing media which, of course, can make very different sorts of lines.

Happy line exploration!

{Art Together} Approaching the E-Zine

Issue Two button

I was asked by a reader, What is a good way to approach the current issue, Line? She wasn’t quite sure where to start. It’s true, I don’t give a road map to the e-zine, a suggested order of activities or way to approach it. I don’t know where you all are starting from, to begin with, nor your family’s specific interests, materials on hand, or how your four-year-old is feeling the Tuesday afternoon you decide to dive in.

However, I can make some suggestions! I’d say, start with the activity that looks most interesting to you and your kids and/or most do-able. These activities are more like provocations and less like projects (actually, they are not projects at all, in that the outcome is totally open, with no “right” or “wrong” way to do it). Especially with younger children, just put out, for example, some tape and paper and sit back. Start working on your own tape drawing. There’s no need to say, “We’re doing an art project and we’re learning about line here, so treat your tape as line, okay?” Just see what happens. The information on line is there so you have it in your mind, so you can bring it up as appropriate. You might reflect what your child is doing, bringing in some of the terms. “That thick black tape is a very strong line. Can you see how much stronger it looks than those short pieces of thin tape?” Or maybe your child really doesn’t want you to comment on works in progress; in that case, don’t. You know your child. Maybe you can talk about it afterwards. Or maybe his tape drawing will turn into an exploration of color instead, as he uses the lines of tape to create blocks of color. Go with it.

Maybe you’ll put out some wire and clay, and your child will ask for that tape you used last week, ignore the clay, and do something wild with wire and tape. Don’t tell her no! If there’s one direction I can give that could apply to everybody, it would be, Go with the Yes. The activities are designed to highlight use of line, yes, and the information on line is there for you if you need it, but it’s not supposed to be a limiting factor; consider it all a jumping-off point. As I say in the issue’s note to the reader, “Your child may go off in an unanticipated direction. Leave room for those tangents. They are gold.”

I hope that helps. In my family, we explored the books on line (because we read them all; ones that don’t resonate don’t make it into the zine) and really dove into learning about Piet Mondrian. We happily spent a few weeks reading about, talking about, and looking at art by Mondrian. We did the activities last. But that’s just the result of how I put the issue together. I’d love to hear how your family approaches the e-zine—and it might be helpful to share with other readers.

Later this week I’ll share a roundup of previous blog posts featuring line-related activities–more to explore, if your kids seem inclined.

Giveaway Day!

Congratulations to Chiska, whose comment number came up on random.org as the winner of the pouch. Thank you to everyone who commented–I really enjoyed reading about your handmade gifts and memories.

It’s been a long while since the last time I participated in Sew Mama Sew’s Giveaway Day and I’m pleased to be joining up again. I’m offering this hand-embroidered zippered pouch, with a design inspired by those found on Ancient Egyptian faience (such as this bowl).

embroidered zippered pouch 1

Pens and washi tape not included, but it’s certainly roomy enough to hold them!

I wanted the base fabric to match, as well as I could, the blue-green color usually found in faience, although the color of the objects themselves do, of course, vary. I often find inspiration in art and nature, and I’ve always been drawn to the beautiful, ancient pieces created using this process. I’ll never own any, but I can try to create something inspired by it.

embroidered zippered pouch 4

This pouch measures 8.25 x 5.25″ on the outside and approximately 8 x 5” inside. It’s embroidered with cotton embroidery floss on Kona cotton, with a lining of sturdy 100% cotton and an 8” YKK zipper for durability. Spot-cleaning is recommended for best results.

embroidered zippered pouch 2

This particular giveaway is open to US residents only (due to shipping costs) and I’m not asking for anything more than a comment in return (see details below), but I would love if you visited my Etsy shop, where you’ll find many more zippered pouches, including hand-stamped and hand-embroidered ones. Code HOLIDAY13 is good for 10% off your purchase.

I also publish an e-zine, Art Together, full of information and activities designed to inspire confidence in adults to explore open-ended art together with children. Code HOLIDAY gets you 20% off Issue One: Color, Issue Two: Line, or the bundle of both (available on either issue’s page). If you have kids or work with kids, I hope you’ll take a few moments to read about the e-zine.

To enter this giveaway, though, all you need to do is leave a comment with these two pieces of information:

(1)  Your email address! Please make sure you fill in that field. I need to be able to contact you by email.

(2) Tell me a favorite handmade gift you’ve either given or received. It doesn’t matter if it was made by you or the person who gave it, as long as it was handmade by somebody. This is a hard one for me, because I’ve given so many handmade gifts over the years, but one of my favorites is the doll I knit for my daughter a couple of years ago, which you can see (if you’d like) here.

giveaway_2013_Dec9In accordance with Sew Mama Sew’s guidelines, this giveaway will close at 9pm EST on Friday, December 13. I’ll update this post with the winner’s name and email the winner next weekend, and your pouch will be in the mail by December 20–and most likely well before that. Good luck! And be sure to visit Sew Mama Sew’s Giveaway Day posts to see all the wonderful items on offer.

Friday Links

countdown chain at amyhoodarts.com

Our countdown chain. (Get it? Links!)

I retweet lots of interesting things that pass my way on Twitter, but I thought it might be nice to collect them in one place. Given the title, it sounds like maybe I’ll try to do that weekly. Maybe. It really depends on the week now, doesn’t it?!

For this week, though… a hodpodge of interweb goodness for your enjoyment:

Squam announced their 2014 retreat schedule and classes. I am drawn, oh-so-drawn, to September’s retreat this year. The classes look fabulous. It’s always held over our anniversary, though, so I never really feel like it’s an option. Maybe it is for you, though?

Ellen posted a roundup of bag tutorials at The Long Thread.I have 1, 2, 3 Sew, and I’m not sure why I haven’t made the market tote yet. This roundup reminded me I want to (and all the included patterns have links to online tutorials).

Still on the crafty front, Diane at Craftypod is offering to swap a back issue of her Christmas zine for a holiday card. I mailed a card to her yesterday. This is a pretty hard offer to pass up! Plus I’m happy to add her to my list–I’ve taken two of her classes, and she runs my fantasy football league (where I have a fantastic team on paper that manages to lose every week; I’m the Gary Kubiak of fantasy football–an in-joke for you fellow football lovers).

For you fellow makers and do-ers, Seth Godin’s post Trash Talking Important Work is an excellent read. “In fact, this is an important thing you’re about to do, and denigrating it undermines the very reason you’re doing this work in the first place.” Go read it, if you haven’t already.

If you need some reinforcement that your passions are, in fact, worthy of time and effort, read the poem Your real quest over at Bentlily. You want your life to “thunder with joy,” don’t you? I need to print this one out and tape it to my wall.

Moving into one of my passions…there’s a great portrait of Piet Mondrian, taken by Arnold Newman, on the deCordova website. He’s the Featured Artist in the current issue of Art Together, and I love his evolution towards simplicity in his work, the distillation down to the bare minimum of what he felt was necessary. Although to be honest, my favorite of his is an earlier work, The Grey Tree. Those lines!

And finally, if you are feeling overwhelmed by the chorus of “I want!” at this time of year, despite your best efforts to place your attention on the non-material portions of the holiday season, take a look at Christine Carter’s post Are We Wired to Want Stuff? It helps to understand what’s going on (warming–she gets into brain chemistry!) so at least we can talk about it. And admit it, even as an adult, it’s hard not to want, even a little bit, at this time of year. Christine explains what’s going on.

Have a great weekend, everyone! I’ll be back on Monday with my Giveaway Day post. See you then!