I was chatting with a client a few weeks ago, and she was telling me how discouraged she was by looking at the pile of small works that she had lying in her studio. She referred to the time she had spent making them as “wasted”, and I could tell this bothered her very much.
I pointed out that she had learned valuable lessons from making the small works, and that time spent in creating is never truly “wasted”. It’s really in how we choose to look at it.
My own studio is full of piles of wasted time, in the sense that it is either incomplete, is not in a style which I normally work, or is work which has been exhibited, but which has come home from the exhibit rather than going onto a new home (ie sold). And, yes, sometimes I can become discouraged as well.
This is where reframing can come in handy. Instead of looking at all these various works as wasted time (in my case I think of wasted time as time not spent working toward my larger goal, which at the time of creating these pieces was to make large, award-winning works, which toured in prestigious shows and went to new homes at the end of the shows), it helps to remember these things:
False starts or diversions (“wasted time”):
- Allowed me to try a new way of working (how can I know if I will like something unless I try it out?)
- Helped me to find out what I do like (hand stitching and machine embroidery, most definitely, fusing lots of different elements to a base background, not so much)
- Allowed me to experiment with presentation (sew a piece to a canvas? use a different model than the sleeve/rod one which most quilt shows use? and then how does one exhibit a three dimensional work, such as a knitted hat or a found object sculpture?)
- Helped me to hone my skills. Work which isn’t “important” can have mistakes, which is incredibly freeing. When you’re not worried about whether the piece is award winning, you can play. Play is very important in my process.
- Helped to keep me in the creative flow. If I was between projects, I still had something going on, rather than returning to mindlessly surfing the internet or watching Days of Our Lives again.
- Allowed me to try a new media, a new style or a new way of thinking about my work. The time I spent knitting my hats led to different ways of thinking about color and texture in my quilts, for example, and also helped me to understand how to better create my beaded sculptures.
- Sparked ideas for the “real work”. Color combinations, perhaps a subject, or simply the fact of giving myself a brain break is often enough to enable me to get back to my larger pieces.
And then, over time, as the wasted time piles up, you may realize that these pieces do belong in your larger body of work, because they have helped you to develop your voice and find what is important to you.
Nothing is ever really wasted. It’s all in how you think about it.
My client was very happy to hear this, and I hope you are too. Use those false starts and experiments as jumping off points for something new. Amaze yourself. I know you can do it.
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