Oct 242011

Many of you know that I volunteer for Iowa’s Destination ImagiNation® program, which is focused on promoting creativity, teamwork and problem-solving among young people who are of pre-school through university age. My husband and I originally became involved through our son, who participated on a team. Eventually I became a Team Manager and my husband an Appraiser; now our son is graduated from college and living his own life in Chicago as we continue to volunteer for the program as state Board members wearing various hats. This program, which is near and dear to our hearts, is especially meaningful to me since I pursue my own brand of creativity through my writing and handmade projects.

One of the tasks all Destination ImagiNation (DI) teams are charged with is to manipulate materials effectively in order to generate unique (read: creative) solutions to challenges. In DI jargon, this means that all materials can be identified as connectors, controllers and/or extenders, each with its own set of properties. The first year that I managed a team of six middle school boys, it was apparent that they were bright, inquisitive and imaginative, but also that they were handicapped by a lack of knowledge about the materials available to them, and how they could make them work. They were too young to drive, of course, and didn’t have a lot of spending money, so they did not spend their free time in stores, where they would have been exposed to potential materials for the Team Challenge they had to solve during the season.

To help remedy my team’s lack of exposure to different types of materials, I sent the boys off on various scavenger hunts to different types of stores, where they were asked to generate lists of connectors, extenders and controllers. They were told that connectors, extenders and controllers can be used alone or in combination with other materials, that connectors are used to fasten or hold things together, that extenders are used to make materials longer, and controllers are used to guide or contain materials. The lists my team generated became important resources as the season progressed and the team sought unique solutions to challenges. For example, the team used sewing machine bobbins as pulleys, a type of controller. They discovered that PVC pipe, which comes in tube and joint forms, can be used as connector, extender or controller, often at the same time.

I sent my team to a craft store, a home improvement center, an office supply store, and a fabric store. One of my team’s biggest surprises was that a fabric store contains a broad range of connectors, not just fabrics and sewing notions for costumes. They also learned that a fabric store is an important source for adhesive products. Did you know, for example, that Jo-Ann Fabrics has a free glue guide that describes 8 brands of adhesives, or a total of 58 products? The materials related to these adhesives include fabric and trims, leather, beads, jewelry findings, paper, cardboard, plaster, felt, Styrofoam®, glass, crystal, plastic, vinyl, metal, wire, wood and more. If your local store does not have one of these guides, you can contact the corporate headquarters and ask where you can get a copy: Jo-Ann Fabrics Corporate Office | Headquarters, 5555 Darrow Road, Hudson, OH 44236, Tel. 330-656-2600.

So, what does all of this have to do with fleshing out your ideas, which is part of the title of this post? One way to solve the type of problem that the boys on my Destination ImagiNation team had—namely, to generate as many options as possible in regard to locating connectors—is very similar to the challenge facing anyone who creates anything, whether it’s a story or poem, a sculpture, a scrapbook or fiber art. Our goal is always the same: to come up with a unique perspective that reflects our goals and dreams. Before we can get to that point, however, we have to generate a lot of ideas while ignoring the Editor standing behind our backs, picking apart our ideas. We need to pay attention to novelty, even if it seems odd or crazy or impossible. And we need to think about ways to combine these different ideas because doing so might lead to something really new and different.

Beginning this idea-generation process can seem daunting if you don’t have a fun-but-strategic way to attack it. One deliberate method (and certainly not the only one!) of coming up with ideas is to use what’s called ABC brainstorming. This is as simple as drawing a 2-column grid with the letters of the alphabet in the first column, and leaving the second column blank for those ideas you’ll be adding later. Each idea should begin with one of the letters of the alphabet. You don’t have to use all the letters, but it’s part of the fun to try to do so. If you’re more of a visual person, draw a mind map instead, with letters inside clouds. You can have jagged lines of lightning pointing to your ideas.

If the boys on my DI team had used ABC brainstorming (which I didn’t know about at the time), their list of connectors at the fabric store might have looked something like this:

A – adhesive tape

B – brads, buckles, beading cord, barrel clasps, bobby pins, bar pins, buttons, bra extenders, binding clips

C – craft glue, chain, chenille stems, cotton belting, cord, clothesline, clip rings, cable cord

D – double-sided tape, duct tape, doll joints, D-rings, decorator nails

E – eyelets, E-6000 adhesive, embroidery floss, elastic

F – floral tape, foam mounting tape, felt glue, fabric glue, foam glue, fusible bond tape

G – glue sticks, gem glue, grommets, gum

H – hemp cord, hooks & eyes, heat set fabric glue

I – interfacing (fusible)

J – jewelry findings, jump rings, jute

K –

L – laminating pouches, lobster clasps, leather cord, lanyard hooks

M – Mod Podge, magnets, mending tape

N –

O –

P – paddle wire, poster putty, pins

Q – quilter’s tape

R – ribbon, raffia

S – stem wire, screw posts, super glue, spring rings, safety pins, split rings, stretchy cord, snap fasteners, swivel clasps

T – twine, transparent tape, tacky glue, toggle clasps, thread, thumb tacks

U –

V – Velcro®

W – wire

X – Xyron adhesives

Y – yarn

Z – Zots (adhesive dots), zippers

If you sell handmade products, as I do, can you imagine how you might use this tool to generate ideas about new products, or improvements to them? If you’re a story writer, maybe you can use this tool to generate the first sentence of many different stories. If you paint or draw or sculpt, perhaps you can generate a list of adjectives describing qualities or emotions you want to bring to your work—a series of creative prompts, if you will. How can you imagine using this tool in your work? Do you use a deliberate method to generate ideas?

© 2011 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved. Images provided by FreeDigitalPhotos.net. Hover over image to locate the gallery of each digital artist.

Jan 122011

“2011 probably won’t be the year I lose weight,” writes fellow blogger and BBEST member Myfanwy Hart in her blog, Chittle Chattle. “2011 will be the best that I can make it, and the best that I can make it for people around me.  I’ve joined up to the ‘post a day’, so I’m hoping it will also be the best blogging year too.  (All I need now are some readers),” Myfanwy concludes.

I must admit that I feel very much the same. Though weight loss is always a goal of mine (after all, I am a WeightWatchers® Online member), I have decided it’s not the end of the world if every day is not a perfect day. And this applies to other areas of my life, too. If I have any resolution at all in 2011, it is to balance family, volunteering and creativity—to create a saner year than the previous one by investing more time in creative pursuits, which definitely took third place last year.

“Be creative, in your own way, every single day,” writes Danielle, Etsy’s Seller Education Coordinator in Fearless Creativity. “Schedule it. Make yourself. Sounds boring and counterintuitive, but you’ll never live up to your full creative potential without practice.”

Creativity, like any other pursuit, must be practiced on a regular basis in order for it to be productive. Noah Scalin, the author of 365: A Creativity Journal: Make Something Every Day and Change Your Life!, writes, “A daily project is like a marathon. It’s a ridiculously daunting task, but making an original creation every day gives you an incredible sense of accomplishment. It also forces you to push beyond your mental and physical barriers (especially the ones you’ve erected for yourself). You’ll be amazed at what you produce and what you learn about yourself in the process.”

If you have ever read Julia Cameron‘s books about creativity, then you are probably also familiar with her daily writing exercise known as “morning pages.” Every day, a writer takes 20 to 30 minutes out of the day to write three pages non-stop, without editorializing, about anything that comes to mind. This practice exercise has a way of opening the creative floodgates for any artist, not just writers. In fact, it is the act of regularity itself (which in some ways sounds like it is the opposite of innovation) that cements the creativity habit. And there are many ways in which you can practice the habit of creativity, whether it’s daily, weekly or monthly. To do so as successfully as you can, keep the following five tips in mind:

  • Make it bite-size. Instead of vowing to take on an enormous, mind-boggling project, break the project down into manageable chunks of time. If all you have of uninterrupted time is 10 or 15 minutes, make those minutes work for you. Ahead of time, organize your tools and materials so that you can be as efficient as possible during the time you have. “Usually there are just a few minutes here or there—10, 20, or 30 minutes, maybe—if I’m really lucky,” writes television host  Nancy Zieman of Sewing With Nancy in her book, 10-20-30 Minutes to Sew. “These precious minutes are a dose of sanity in a far too hectic world,” she adds.  A little bit of planning, in other words, can go a long way.

Estate SALE destash sewing notions in RED and GOLD, by Pruit Supply

Lotus Flower Pincushion, by Asian Expressions

  • Keep it fresh. Learn something new all the time. Challenge yourself to tackle the unexpected. If sculpture is your strength, try writing a poem. Take a sketching class down at the local art center, learn how to make a bracelet at a bead shop, or pick up a book at the library to teach yourself macrame. The point is to expose yourself to new outlooks and approaches. You never know what new ideas will emerge and spill over into other areas in which you are already creative. Liv of The Filigree Garden on Etsy, for example, has been taking weaving lessons, even though on Etsy she is known as a talented jewelry designer. You can read about her weaving adventures on her blog, The Filigree Garden. When Pat O’Neill originally opened a shop on Etsy as Precious Quilts, her interest was in needlework and sewing, but as she explored different forms of art, color and texture, she encountered encaustic painting. This became her new passion, leading to a new shop on Etsy called Art in the Wax. Keep in mind that yesterday’s so-called errors may become tomorrow’s innovative inventions.

Is it a scarf or…, by Olivia Herbert

Lunar Castles – ACEO – encaustic Artist Trading Card, by Art in the Wax


  • Make yourself accountable. Join a group and report back to members, blog about your progress, or keep a creativity journal. Kym of Fabric Fascination, for example, started the 52 Weeks Challenge, which involves group members posting links to photos of completed projects. “Challenges are always more fun when you have company,” writes Kym. If you conduct a Google search using the phrases “create every day” or “creative challenge,”  in fact, you will find many similar group efforts. My own week’s contribution to this challenge is shown below.

Black Crochet Scarf, by Judy Nolan

  • Build on a theme, and play with it. Do you feel like you’re at a creative standstill? Then experiment with themes related to shape, color, or even the materials with which you work. Ask yourself what if, how can I, and why not questions. For example, a potter might ask herself how she can use the same shape in different ways. Ceci of Artsielady does this successfully with leaf shapes, producing such items as leaf tea bag holders, nested leaf plates, and a leaf candy dish.

Leaf Tea Bag Holder, by Artsielady

Leaf Nesting Plate Set, by Artsielady

Maple Leaf Candy Dish, by Artsielady

  • Don’t try to be perfect. Thomas Edison, who invented the light bulb after many so-called failed attempts, said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”  This is the attitude with which you should approach creative endeavors. Treat every artistic experiment as a learning experience. Keep a log book of ideas and creative journeys, learn from everything, good and bad, and move forward. Myfanwy of Sassa Lynne, for example, keeps meticulous records of all her dyeing experiments, which you can read about in her blog, Nuvo Felt. Through experimentation, in fact, Myfanwy develops one-of-a-kind dyed threads that she calls her “Serenpidity” collection and which form the basis of her shop.

Dyeing Records of Myfanwy Hart

Perle Fine Yarn, 5 pack (Apple, Lime, Peach), Serendipity, by Sassa Lynne

Other creative challenge sites that may interest you include:

© 2011 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved. Please note that the images in this post are owned by the artists and may not be used without permission. Simultaneously published at http://boomersandbeyond.blogspot.com.

Jun 102009

As we all know, creative inspiration sometimes requires a jump start, particularly when a deadline looms. In a previous post, I described how the SCAMPER technique acts as a creative trigger for ideas. SCAMPER, of course, is only one creative thinking tool in a treasure chest filled with idea-generating techniques. Another useful tool for creative inspiration is Attribute Listing.

Back in the 1930s, Attribute Listing was devised to develop new and/or improved products from existing or known products by breaking them down into their characteristic parts, or attributes, listing individual elements that fit these attributes, and then combining selected elements from some of the attributes in new ways. In the industrial world, for example, a manufacturer might decide to develop a new pen that stands out from its competitors. Some of the attributes of a typical pen might be said to be style, color, ink delivery method, comfort, and type of ink. By identifying specific styles, colors, ink delivery methods, elements of comfort, and types of ink, and then combining the best ideas from each of these attributes, it is possible to develop a new and improved pen. The same is true when a fashion designer develops a new bag, whose attributes might be said to be material (fabric, leather, synthetic), hardware (buckle, button, snap, handle), intended use (book bag, evening bag, laptop bag), and style (formal, sporty, classic, playful). By listing specific possibilities for each attribute of a bag, and then selecting and combining the most appealing ideas, a designer produces a new bag.

Attribute Listing is chiefly a creative thinking tool that is designed to be used in a limited way—to improve upon a pre-existing idea or product. However, the possibilities for improvement of an idea or product are endless. To apply the Attribute Listing technique, follow this five-step plan:

1. Identify your goal, i.e., what idea or product do you want to improve.

2. Identify 4 to 8 attributes, or characteristics, of this idea or product. There are no right or wrong answers here; you determine the attributes you want to analyze.

3. List as many specific ideas for each attribute as you can. Resist the urge to reject ideas; write them down without analyzing them.

4. Go back through your list of attributes, and circle the best ideas for each one. This is, of course, subjective.

5. Consider how you might combine the best ideas.Let’s take a look at how you can use Attribute Listing.

If I want to develop an Etsy “Treasury,” a showcase of Etsy products that I believe is special in some way, Attribute Listing provides me with an endless array of ideas. Typical attributes of a Treasury could include theme, style, audience, technique and material. By listing the first ideas that come to mind for each attribute, I will have the start of an Attribute List that I can use to develop a Treasury:

Theme: color, ecological, industrial, nature, floral, toys, songs, books, indoor, outdoor, tools
Style: modern, Western, vintage, Victorian, medieval, eclectic
Audience: adult, women, men, children, teen, baby
Technique: crochet, collage, beadweaving, felting, knitting, metalwork, glassblowing, painting, encaustic, woodworking, sewing, macrame, Scherenschnitte
Material: yarn, fabric, feathers, beads, buttons, paper, glass, wood, metal, plastic

For the purpose of this exercise, I will select the following elements from each Attribute to create a Treasury:

Theme: floral
Style: eclectic
Audience: women
Technique: showcase multiple techniques
Material: showcase multiple materials

Finally, below is a blog-style Treasury of BBEST artists’ floral creations I could develop from the attributes I have listed. Try this yourself the next time you want to create a special Treasury, or to improve upon an idea or product you already have. Creative thinking tools such as Attribute Listing or the previously-described SCAMPER are situation-driven techniques. In other words, much as you would use a hammer and not a block of wood to drive a nail into a board, ideally you can select the right creative thinking tool for the inspirational challenge you are facing.

Midnight in the Garden Flower Focal,
by ZudaGay

large blues felted flower brooch,
by maddyandme

Native American Beaded Bracelet
Prairie Rose Cuff in Pink
, by jstinson

Red flower – encaustic,

Posies – Original Mixed Media,
by sixsisters

Turquoise Flower Martini Glasses,
by GlitznGlass

Korean Flower Scherenschnitte,
by OneDogTalking

Fun Ivory Wool Scarflet,
by CBBasement

Orange Magnetic Needle Nabber Flower,
by birose

© 2009 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved. Please note that the images in this post are owned by the artists and may not be used without permission. Simultaneously published at http://boomersandbeyond.blogspot.com.