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How do you make ideas into reality? Some observations based on my experiences in doll making...
One of the most frequently asked questions I get when people come into the TAG gallery at the Torpedo Factory or at the Jackson Art Center Open Studios is how do I get my ideas?
The Conant Flip Doll Project:
I thought I would take a stab at answering this question of where my ideas come from, based on my process of making flip dolls as part of this grant project. (The second series is up and running.) What's been special about this round of flip doll workshops at the shelter is that this time I have some fiber artist members of the Potomac Fiber Arts Guild assisting the group. I've really enjoyed their contributions to the group, and the participants who have attended so far have been very interesting to get to know. And at the same time I want to talk about what happens between an original idea and its execution-what is involved in bringing ideas into reality.
Personal "Demons" as a Source of Creative Ideas:
Many of my dolls have to do with facing my demons or fears. In a way, the format of a flip doll is perfect for this, because you can come at something from two different but related angles at once. Right now I am working on a flip doll that is going to be about exactly that, facing fears related to putting myself out there in the real world. The inspiration for this doll was to choose some fears/demons- I chose six- and to show how they are transformed. I am a shy introvert, so one of the fears is speaking in public or to offer workshops or classes. The image to the left shows a detail from this doll with one of the fears I am working on transforming. It shows the fear of being judged for putting myself out there! I’ve been working on this doll in my studio but am also bringing it to the workshops at N. Street to show the participants my process.
What is inevitably lost between the idea and it’s execution and why that’s always OK
One of my biggest challenges is that, though I have tons of ideas, I can sometimes get lost in the planning stage and never get to the execution stage. I used to spend hours creating complicated graphs and charts of what I was going to do or detailed sketches of future art projects but most of them never saw the light of day. It seemed like there was an inverse relationship between the time spent in planning and the amount I was able to actually get done. Now I spend less time mapping things out, though I still do this to some extent. Instead, I allow myself to take the first steps into something, however imperfect those first steps might feel.
The challenge in taking steps into actions is that something always inevitably gets lost from the original idea as soon as it becomes reality. Part of this has to do with the different worlds that ideas and actual creations live in. Ideas live in the world of dreams and fantasy, where anything is possible and the laws of physics can be bent without any protest. Actual things live in a real world where there are laws of time, space and physics. Yet, what I am learning is, that it is in the interaction of the idea out in the world, that it can truly be shaped and guided into something effective and useful. There is a conversation between the idea and the world, and both are shaped in this process.
Working with materials to create mirrors what happens to ideas in the “real world”
This shows up really well when you are working with paint and paper or clay or in my case, fibers and fabric and they don't do what you thought they would do. I used to be stopped at that point by: frustration, perfectionism, or self-doubt. Or I would push on through, wanting a result that the materials didn’t want to provide. What was missing was taking time to stop and witness what was happening. Seeing that something new could happen that I might never have imagined in the planning stage. Those happy surprises that can only be seen when we take time to let them reveal themselves. I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with the world of dreams and fantasy. This is in fact where most of my best ideas come from. But it is in the blending of those ideas within the world of reality and groundedness that those fantasies can show their colors and beauty most clearly.
Now when I tackle a new idea, I have more of a sense of the rhythm that it needs. When to stop to allow the idea to interact with the world, and when to push on through against resistance that is imaginary. It helps to know that each piece is a step towards something, it's not the last iteration by any means. To know that in creating each piece I will learn something that can be used in my next attempt. And that I am getting closer and closer to that elusive original idea. And this hold true whether the idea is an article I want to write (like right now) a doll I want to make or a series of workshops I wan to lead.
The Joy/Loss Flip Doll
Once about a year and a half ago, when I doll I had made was rejected from a show, I wondered what that feeling of loss would look like in a visual image. I drew this image (see above) or the two women, connected at the waist, one sorrowful and one joyful. The drawing came right out of me in no time, as they sometimes do. But then, when I contemplated making this drawing into a doll, I didn’t feel ready to do so. I wasn’t sure which materials would work or even that it would work as a doll. It took another year or so for me to think of how I might make it. I realized that I could needle felt the whole doll. I could get close to the same colors of the drawing and also the felted doll suggests the vulnerability of the original image.
In the images above, I show the steps it took to make the doll, building it out of felt. What I love now is seeing the way people who view this doll react to it, in my studio or in shows. The doll is out in the world and having a conversation. She has something to say and is heard in different ways by different people. And what they have to say also affects her and possibly any future dolls I make related to her.
That important step of putting something “out there” even if imperfect-and the importance of finishing
I’m learning that it’s important to finish things. It helps to know that each attempt is the best I can do with the information, materials etc I have on hand at the moment, but not the last attempt. Each time, I am getting my thoughts and ideas out into the world and they are getting shaped by that interaction. It also helps to know that my thoughts and ideas are being received and reacted to, even if the reaction is negative. It all teaches me something. I hope these observations might help you to take some steps into a new creative project. And I’d love to hear from you if this provoked some thoughts or ideas. Thanks for reading.
10/24/2017 10:13:58 am
This is a great article putting into words the essentials of this very challenging process of moving from idea into making it manifest - thank you! It's encouraging and inspiring and helpful! And I am blown away by that yellow and white flip doll - what a beauty!
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I've been making dolls for about ten years now. I believe that dolls serve as representations and reminders of the best part of ourselves. I am excited to share with you here my learnings about new methods and techniques for doll making and healing. So glad you are here!