Nine Cats And A Hippo

Five cats

Five cats

Four cats and a hippo

Four cats and a hippo

Happy New Year, everyone! May 2015 be a better year than 2014. New year, new resolutions. New plans to put into effect.

I just returned from vacation visiting family. For me, good vacations work as a creativity reset. Seeing different people and different places helps me clear my thinking so I return home with a fresh perspective.

Whenever I go on vacation, I always come up with grand plans that never quite happen, but I always try to do something creative. I learned long ago that while I’m visiting, I need to do something with my hands, like drawing in my sketchbook or playing with polymer clay. On previous visits, I’ve made polymer clay cats, dragons, hedgehogs, giraffes, turtles, and even an orange rhinoceros with green horns.

This last visit, I made nine cats and a hippo. Felt very good to be handling clay again. I’ve lost track of the number of cats I’ve made over the years. Must number in the hundreds. Some I give away, some I sell. A few, I keep. Of this batch, I gave away eight and kept the brown one with the slightly goofy expression. The hippo was a special request for my three-year-old great-niece.

I’ve written before about my quest for a better dragon design (more to come in that series). I believe in stretching myself and trying new things, but I also appreciate the comfort of familiarity. No matter what else I make, I return to making cats. The movements are well-rehearsed. I know what to expect. Every one comes out with a slightly different expression or pattern. I can work on a cat while holding a conversation or watching television. And, most importantly, my cats generate smiles on almost everyone who sees them.

Then there’s the hippo. When I get bored with cats, I take requests for other types of animals. This was about the third or fourth hippo I’ve made, I believe, and not the most hippo-like, but it was enough for my great-niece to recognize it as a hippo. That’s all that mattered. The artist is always the harshest critic of her own work. If it satisfies the audience, it’s a success.

I’m in the process of planning what to do this year. Crafting is going to play a large part of it, I’m sure. I’d like to start selling my crafts online or in craft shows. Still planning my strategy. Lots of things I can make, and I’m sure my familiar cats will become one of my standbys.

And maybe the occasional hippo.

Good luck to you in whatever plans you have for the coming year!

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On The Evolution Of Dragons: Introduction

The lineup of my evolution of dragon sculptures (and a friend of the family).  From left to right: Gargoyle, Orange Cat, Missing Link, Kangaroo, Big Guy, Prototype

The lineup of my evolution of dragon sculptures (and a friend of the family). From left to right: Gargoyle, Orange Cat, Missing Link, Kangaroo, Big Guy, Prototype

One of the axioms that has ruled my approach to learning anything new is that “It’s difficult to learn and look good at the same time.” It’s also pointless. If you’re worried about how you appear while you’re learning, then you’re splitting your attention. All that energy focused on worry would be better spent focused on whatever it is you’re trying to learn.

In my experience, one of the attributes of the best students is the willingness to make mistakes. To take a fall while daring greatly is no dishonor. And we’re not talking just any fall. A damn-the-torpedoes, full-steam-ahead face plant that the legendary slapstick comedians would envy. Falling does not mean failure. This time, you fell. So what? Measure your determination by the size of the crater you made, then try again. Aim for greatness, and don’t beat yourself up if you miss.

Every attempt to try something new contains one important element that must not be ignored: the element of hope. This attempt might be the one where everything clicks and you finally reach a goal. Or, perhaps more likely, this might be an attempt where a piece falls into place and the emerging picture becomes clearer. A rough draft of a story that reads as nonsense but contains a perfect turn of phrase. A drawing that’s barely above a scribble but contains one perfect image of a leaf hidden way in the corner. A sculpture that grins at you from its imperfections and gives you the boost to reach for the next level.

One of my teachers described learning as climbing a series of plateaus. At first, everything’s new. You struggle, you climb a bit as you start to master the skills, more struggle, more climbing, slip back, climb, climb, climb, until finally you reach a place where things make sense. A plateau where you’ve mastered a set of skills that allow you to produce something you’re proud of. So you hang out on the plateau for a while repeating your success until you grow tired of staying in the same place and begin looking upward eyeing the next plateau. Time to pull out your climbing boots and ready the rope.

And here is where dragons come into the picture (yes, I guessed you were wondering). When I first attempted to sculpt polymer clay, I began with cats. Cartoon-like cats, like the orange cat in the dragon lineup. Once I came up with a cat design that satisfied me, I needed something more challenging to stretch my skills. As a fantasy writer, the choice was obvious.

Dragons.

I’m on a quest for a better dragon design. Not a perfect design, I’m not going to fall into the perfection trap (again), but a better design than what I’ve come up with so far. At this point in time, I’ve come a long way on my quest and have reached several plateaus. Every type of dragon has taught me something new.

It’s counter-productive to worry about learning and looking good at the same time, so I’m not going to try. I plan to share some of the not-so-good-looking stages in my evolution of dragons in hopes that it’ll help someone else try something new.

Time to put on the climbing boots.

In the next blog post in this series: Plateau 1: The Gargoyle.

 

And so it begins…

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Why am I doing this?

I’m staring at a page with all the fancy blogging software and trying to figure out what content to write.  What do I have to say that’s interesting?  Something fresh.  Something mine.  Some perspective I can share that might encourage others.

So I think I’ll write about creativity.

Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve looked for ways to make my mark.  A love of reading led me to learning how to write my own stories.  Seeing beautiful pictures led to learning how to draw, which in turn led to learning how to sculpt when two dimensions weren’t enough.  Listening to music led to … listening to more music.  I’ll sing along with the radio, but making music is not one of my talents.  Still won’t stop me from enjoying the music other people create.

See, that’s the thing.  I believe everyone has something they want to say/sing/draw/sculpt/compose/<insert action verb of your choice>, but for whatever reason, we don’t.  We find excuses not to do what we want.  If our initial efforts don’t match the beauty of our dreams, we stop trying.

That’s sad.

Everyone needs passions.  Everyone needs something that fires the imagination and transforms the world from mundane to magical.  Everyone needs wonder.

“Wonder” is such a lovely word.  Wonder is both a question and an answer.  To wonder about something is to explore the nuances, and discover wonders along the way.  Wondering is a process.  Try something, keep going if it works, try something else if it doesn’t.  Every answer spawns new questions.  Every attempt, no matter how abysmal or grand, is another step along the path.

That’s wonderful.

So I’m going to write about my own journey to create.  My first published short story will be released in an anthology this August (stay tuned for more info).  I’ve written several novel manuscripts set in the same fantasy universe, and I’m working on a query letter to send to agents.  I sculpt a menagerie of polymer clay animals, mostly cats, and I’m on a quest to devise a better dragon design.  Then there’s making jewelry, painting Dungeons & Dragons figurines, drawing, and whatever other random wonders take my fancy.

So much to explore.  So much to create.  So much to share.

So many wonders…