As I sat down to breakfast one morning this week, I opened the newspaper to the local section to read an article called “These elves carve Christmas smiles,” a story about six men who reside at The Reserve on Walnut Creek, an independent living community for retirees. The men, the oldest of whom is 93 years old, created a woodshop in the facility’s underground parking garage, where they produce wooden trucks and cars for the U.S. Marine Corps’ Toys for Tots program.
“I think we act like elves down here sometimes,” says Dick Enoch, age 76.
“We set up a small assembly line. We cut out the bodies and sand them, drill holes for the axles and put them together,” Gene Baker, age 93, reports. “We might cut out 20 of them from a board and work them through the process. We usually spend about three to four hours at a time.”
The men have been making cars and trucks for the past five years, since the time that Baker retired from his own business, Baker Electric, and he donated all of his tools to the retirement facility for the woodshop.
The need to give back to the community—to be useful and needed—is sometimes why people create. Perhaps, too, a part of that is the need to be thought about or remembered as a contributing member of society. We have all heard stories about creative handmade endeavors such as Newborns in Need, which donates handmade baby layettes, blankets and quilts to families without means, or the ComfortCaps program, adopted by Viking Sewing Machines as a corporate project, which sets up sewing events to create handmade head coverings for chemotherapy patients.
In Iowa, a creative Boy Scout named Aaron Eilerts sewed pillowcases for hospital patients across the country, made blankets for dogs in animal shelters, sewed ties and scarves for his teachers, and created napkin holders for his local Senior Center. When a tornado destroyed the Little Sioux Boy Scout Ranch in June 2008, four Boy Scouts lost their lives, Aaron among them. In honor of his creative spirit of giving, Governor Chet Culver proclaimed February 24th as the Aaron Eilerts Day of Service and Giving.
While a charitable cause is a legitimate reason to create, often people create simply because they cannot do otherwise.
“I create because I must,” says Native American beadweaving artist Joni of jstinson. “I have enjoyed many creative genres in my life time. I have always been curious as to how things work, how they were put together, what process and/or skill was involved. I’m inspired by the beauty in nature and most of my designs are borrowed from something ‘natural’ that moves me. I come up with an idea and can’t wait to give it a try. Creativity is not something I can put on a back burner. I am compelled to strike while the inspiration iron is hot. It is my hope that the things I create will be pleasing to others and I visualize who might like it, how they will use it, where it will be worn, etc., as it is being created. Thus, each piece has a story to tell even before it is completed. Each time I see pieces of my work being worn by others, it is the greatest thrill. I create because I must.”
Polymer clay artist Zuda of ZudaGay echoes this sentiment. “Why do I create? I think I have to. Even when I am having a creative block in my art I am creative. I am creative in most every area of my life: cooking, work and—when I get around to it—even in cleaning the house.”
Mike of gimmebeads, who creates delicate blown glass baubles and ornaments, does not feel the act of creating is a choice, but instead a given. “I think that everything in the universe contains all of the rhythms of the universe in miniature,” he says, “and a very big part of that rhythm is the creation of all of the things that there are. I don’t think that creating is a choice; it is a part of being.”
In this downturn economy, sellers of handmade items who experience decreased sales sometimes forget the reason they began creating in the first place: to bring a little more beauty into the world, especially when you can re-use, recycle or upcycle materials.
“I create because of a need to make something beautiful,” says stained glass artist Linda of Nonnie62. “I’m driven to express my dreams, express inspiration I get from a melody, or nature. The creative urge is with me all the time, and it has to be expressed. If I don’t let it out, I’m out of sorts and unfulfilled. It’s a sense of accomplishment in making something out of scraps of glass, too. The major projects are fulfilling, but there’s just something thrilling in rescuing throw-away bits and creating beauty.”
For Joon of joonbeam, whose motto is “art with heart,” creating is synonymous with happiness. Her desire for self-expression has created an affinity for folk art.
“I think that creating is a natural state for me. In childhood, individual expression was not encouraged. So my childhood was rather unnatural in that sense. Square peg in a round hole, I suppose. I spent a lot of time pondering: What’s wrong with this picture? My ‘environment is everything’ mantra is what I took away from that. Maybe I’m creating new pictures. Creating is rewarding and stimulating and colorful and fun. And it connects me with a lot of wonderful people who I never would have met if it weren’t for my somewhat silly creations. I love that about folk art. What it lacks in refinement, it makes up for with heart. I just find that in its simplest form creating equals happiness. For anyone and everyone.”
For fiber artist Judi of VintageLegacyStudio, her reason to create is tied in with a need to use the talents endowed by her Creator. “I create because it’s part of my unique design. When I am able to create, whether through writing, stitching, cooking, decorating or learning other artistic media, I am fully alive with the spark of the one who designed me to be all that I can be.”
But the need for adventure—the need to experience discoveries through the creative process—is also what motivates Judi to create.
“I wanted a ‘Knitting for Barbie’ kit when I was about ten,” she says. “My mother said, ‘But you don’t know how to knit—and nobody in the family knows either!’ That didn’t stop me. I took toothpicks and perle cotton to school, and a little friend taught me to knit with those simple materials. When I showed my mother—of course, I got my desired Christmas gift. I still have the skirt and turtle neck sweater I knitted for Barbie. Through the years I either took classes or taught myself a variety of art forms. I love the adventure involved in the discovery of new ways to use my creativity!”
Another fiber artist, Julie of stitchesbyjulie, enjoys the self-expression and variety that creativity provides. Why does she create? “Because I have to!” she expounds. “It’s something inside of me and it just has to come out. I can’t imagine life without the possibility to create. That’s the short answer.”
She adds, “I absolutely love to create, in all areas of my life, with all sorts of materials and mediums—and can’t remember a time that I didn’t. I used to make up awesome stories for the kids I babysat and they would beg me to tell them more. So I guess with my creativity I tell all kinds of stories, whether I’m knitting, crocheting, making candles or soap, whatever . . . it’s all a great adventure!”
Phyllis of pfdoriginalartworks, who paints nature, points out the importance of putting your own pleasure in what you create before the admiration of others. Like many of the other creative people described in this post, making items is for her as natural as breathing.
“I create because there is something inside me that has to create,” she explains. “All my life I have created in some way, shape or form. Some little girls played with paper dolls; I made my own paper horses to play with. When in high school I wrote poetry. As a young mother, I sewed. When my time freed up again and the kids were older, I wrote short stories and a few more poems (some were published). I moved to Duluth and started beading. A few years later decided I would do the HGTV thing and paint something for my living room wall. Forty or fifty paintings later, I still not have done that. And I still crave creating. I think for me it is a wonderful gift from God that gives me comfort, peace and pleasure. Whether it pleases anyone else, it really does not matter (though I do feel good when it does).”
Jewelry maker Liv of thefiligreegarden finds that creating items channels her energies, whether they are directed toward making earrings, necklaces and bracelets; gardening; spinning yarn and weaving, or simply writing.
“Why do I create? Hmmm . . . for me, it’s part of who I am. I don’t think I could comfortably go through life without creating something. I can’t seem to stop myself from thinking of projects and wanting to get my hands on materials and tools. When I am not involved in some creative pursuit, I feel very unsettled and restless. So I guess making things is an outlet for my energy. Plus, I like to see how a design develops as I work on it from idea stage to finished piece. It’s always a bit of a surprise to discover how things turn out, and I love the moment when an idea turns into an actual finished item. However, not all my ideas need to be realized; sometimes just having the project in my head is enough to keep me feeling satisfied.”
While creating is for many artists a solitary pursuit, for others the pleasure is connected to sharing the effort with others. Bead artist Pam of MagdaleneJewels, for example, initiated a remembrance quilt project to which others contribute quilt blocks about memorable triumphs and tragedies of the last decade. She describes how this project got started in her blog.
Myfanwy of sassalynne shares her love of creating with her students. She recently completed a teaching segment in the video series called “Talking Threads,” and just announced the release of her DVD about using the Embellisher, “Inspired: Embellishing Level I.”
Likewise, Marion of artmixter finds pleasure in the social aspects of creating through her readers. Her books include Lovely Lutradur and Finding Your Creative Focus, both titles of which are available on her blog.
Judi of VintageLegacyStudio, who is a fiber artist, writer, and life coach, explains how she is energized by others’ creativity.
“I once had a very boring job as an administrative assistant where most of what I did was shuffle and file papers. That was all I needed to remember to choose work where I can bring more of myself and my highest motivators to work. As a result, I bring my creativity to everything I do now. And—I love empowering others to be creative with their own strengths and unique design.”
Whether you create to fulfill a need for self-expression, to donate to a worthy cause, to produce an item of beauty, to develop innate talents or find an outlet for your energies—or simply because you cannot keep your hands still, it is important to step back occasionally and appreciate why you create. It is easy to become distracted by the business of selling your handmade items, but being mindful of the reasons you work with your hands in the first place helps you to re-center yourself, to be re-energized by your passions and to renew the creative spirit. “None of us,” says Ralph Waldo Emerson, “will ever accomplish anything excellent or commanding except when he listens to this whisper which is heard by him alone.”
© 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.