Once upon a time, I did a really big project.
It was bigger than any other project I had ever done, it was literally bigger than me. It was a time consuming, multi part project that required me to make, buy and alter a lot of things – not just physical things either. I had to approach this project differently than I had approached other projects. I had to ask for help, lots of help, and I had to be flexible about my plan for it. I had to alter the way I thought about concepts and materials and the translation of one to the other. I had to think in 2D, 3D and 4D. I had to teach myself a lot of new things.
Have you ever done a project like this?
Maybe you are thinking, “Heck. No. That sounds brutal and sort of like a punishment.”
Let me first clarify that, yes, it was indeed brutal. It was mentally and physically draining. But it had it’s perks.
So what was this crazy thing I did?
I built/ created/ curated an installation based on the idea that memories are intrinsically linked to objects (think, wedding dress) and we hold on to those objects because of the memories that are held within them – but some of our most profound memories never had those physical objects, those items that jog our memory. Or maybe they were destroyed or lost over time.
I built (or rebuilt) those objects.
I made a list of things that were important to me from my past – things that had happened, people who had been significant, events, etc… that did not currently have any physical evidence in my life. I created art pieces based on these memories and then built an installation that looked like a living space in which to display them amongst ordinary every day objects – which is what we do with our cherished things, we keep them around, we integrate them into our lives… we push them to the back of our closets, be put them in boxes… but we keep them. And that’s what this project was about – making things to keep.
This installation required furniture – tables, chairs, a dresser, some of which I took from my own apartment– and it required a large blank space with four walls to put it all in. It required multiple boxes of macaroni and cheese. And 3-4 glasses of milk. And a photographer.
I reserved a space at school, I repainted the walls, I scrubbed the floors, I upholstered a chair, I wove a rug, I rented a car, I repainted a bureau, I stitched a table clothe, I solvent transferred pages of text line by line, a fused hundreds of perler beads… I did a lot of effing work. And it was tiring and I was cranky and my arms hurt and when I got into bed at night I fell right to sleep. I bribed Pat and Cole with candy on multiple occasions to help me move this furniture around the school. I used every bit of creative engineering and problem solving I had in me.
And what did I get from it? A pat on the back and a P (for “pass”) on my grade sheet.
The reaction to my project was mediocre and no one was as impressed with me as I was. But I sincerely did not care. I complained about it a crap load, but at the end of the day, I did the best project I could possibly do and I challenged myself. Of course it wasn’t perfect – I had to really go outside the box on this.
I left my comfort zone. I left the zone the neighbors the comfort zone, I left the zone that neighbors that zone. The zone I was in was called “you might be crazy for doing this, you crazy fool.” Or something similar. . I literally had never done anything like this before. I don’t think I even intended to do it this way when I first started, it just evolved and took on it’s own life. (Like I said, it was bigger than I was…) *queue scary monster music
Picture me carrying an awkward sized coffee table all the way from my apartment to school.
Picture me driving in Boston for the first time in a Zip car trying to find that chest of drawers.
Picture me buying pay days and snickers for the boys in exchange for their help trucking my things around.
Picture me having one and a half freak outs over this whole thing.
Picture me trying to explain this to people….
But I got so much out of that project that it was worth the trouble. I was so full of energy for this endeavor that my brain was constantly turning, constantly cranking out new ideas. There were so many ideas I could barely keep up. I came out on the other side of this project exausted but with so much more insight into my own work, my own approach, and my own capabilities.
Working through big projects will empower you. You will learn to improvise in ways you hadn’t before. You will learn to let your imagination go crazy. You will feel restored confidence in your creative ability. You will figure out what is reliable and what isn’t. You will feel like you can do anything.
Find a way to make your standard project bigger, multiply it, give it space to grow, let it take charge. Just do it! Take more risks, try more things and ultimately generate more ideas. If you are able to conquer a big project, you should have all the confidence in yourself to take on smaller ones as well.
It’s the little things that go into big projects that lead to our next endeavor. Creativity isn’t just “I did this one thing and now I’m done.” It’s “I did this one thing, and I figured out how to do this other thing and I got these other ideas while doing it so now I’m going to make something else.” And it goes on and on like that.
All of my best “little” ideas, (pretty much everything that is for sale in my shop) were parts to a bigger whole at some point. Take on a big project and let it empower you to do more of the little stuff.