Monthly Archives: January 2016

Decisions, Decisions

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If I have to stare at the computer screen for another hour this week, I might scream. (Oh wait, here I am in front of a computer screen – sigh.) Our digital world has presented many pros and cons lately. As I move through ordering materials for our new venture I find myself making decisions about canopies, display pieces, retail shopping bags, logo stickers, packaging, and at least a dozen other items that have currently slipped my mind. (It’s a good thing I keep a notebook!) On one hand, I am grateful to have so many online stores providing so many choices that I can (after so many hours of searching) get exactly what I want at a price I can afford. On the other hand, the dizzying array of choices seem to make the decisions harder than they have to be.

I’ve discovered I do that frequently – make decisions harder than they have to be. My mind has a difficult time settling on something (anything) until I’ve scoped out all (and I do mean ALL) of my options. While this usually means I’m happy with my final choice, it also means that I spend a lot of time agonizing over details that may seem inconsequential to others. For example, I spent several hours on four separate days looking at retail merchandise bags to use following a sale. What’s so hard about choosing a bag, you ask? Aside from the fact that there are about 300 kinds that I never realized existed and that online sellers have widely varying prices, minimum quantities, and shipping costs, I’m concerned about getting just the right feel for my customers. I want to be sure to choose an environmentally friendly bag. I want to be sure to give my customers an “artsy” feel at the end of the purchase. I want my customers to feel they have acquired a gift, whether it is for themselves or someone else. I want to be sure it is a reflection of our business idea that life should be seriously colorful. Ultimately, I think I found a bag that ticked off all of those boxes, but it was not easy, and (I can assure you) I lost sleep at night contemplating the pros and cons of paper versus plastic.

While this may seem like overkill, I’m discovering that the devil’s in the details. My parents owned businesses for many years, and I did a great deal of research and reading before starting this (very) small business. I think I’m going in with my eyes open, but I’m still surprised by the number of seemingly easy decisions that have a large impact on a daily basis. I never imagined buying things like envelopes and zip ties could hold so much significance that I would comparison shop at least 10 sellers before ordering. Nor did I imagine how excited I would be when the UPS truck stops in front of my house. Tomorrow Lochinvar and I are going to put the whole display together for the first time. (I’ll probably lie awake tonight imagining how wonderful it will be!) As each decision is actually made and each order is fulfilled, we feel ourselves moving closer to the moment of truth and the anticipation is tangible. So, while the decisions are frustrating and tiresome, they’re also paving the way for us to really get started on this adventure. And we’ve learned from experience that no matter what happens, at least it will be interesting.

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The Art of Procrastination

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I read an article this week about why writer Adam Grant’s New Year’s resolution is to procrastinate more. As a high school English teacher his headline (“Why I Taught Myself to Procrastinate”) struck me as someone trying to justify his online gaming or social media time, but as an artist and a writer I understand the point he’s making about allowing ideas to gel for awhile.

It’s funny, but my approach to all major projects, decisions, ideas, etc. is to jump right in – but only for a few minutes – before hopping right back out to contemplate. I guess I like to see what the fuss is all about (first one to try something new in at work, first one to volunteer for a committee, you get the picture), but then I like to mull it over before moving on. I never really thought of this as procrastination, but it turns out that it is. Research over the last few years tells us that (some) procrastination is linked to creativity. Of course, it also shows that too much procrastination causes stress and poor results, so the trick (as with all things in life) is finding the balance. When we have controlled procrastination we give ourselves time to think more deeply, to consider options that weren’t readily apparent at the outset of a problem or project, to envision multiple paths to success, or to come up with more creative ideas.

My version of controlled procrastination has always been to try something out, do some reading, talk to people about the idea, and then to just let it simmer in my brain for a few days – maybe even a week. If something seems to need a more immediate solution I doodle or play a mindless game on my phone (depending on where I am at the time).

I’ve also discovered that I work better with deadlines, so I set a day/time by which the decision has to be made or the product has to be completed. Of course, I always adhere to the Scotty Principle (from Star Trek) of padding that time when giving it to others, but cutting it a little shorter for myself. (I even remember discussing deadlines during the interview for my first writing job at The Mountain Press. The editor wanted to know if I could get things done on time, and we had a lengthy discussion about the value of deadlines in areas of life that had nothing to do with the newspaper business.)

Sometimes, though, if nothing happens when the deadline passes unheeded, I start to get bogged down. I find myself second guessing my ideas and decisions or feeling stuck. In that case, I always turn to some sort of artistic endeavor to get me moving again. Any kind of painting, crafting, or sewing project that I can focus on and complete does the trick for me. Sometimes it can be as simple as spending an evening coloring an intricate picture, because once I accomplish something (no matter how small), I feel I’m gaining momentum that I can apply to the larger endeavor. And, since I’ve accomplished this blog post, I’m ready to get back to work on the Paris-themed coloring book I’ve been contemplating for the last couple of days.

Here’s the link to Adam Grant’s article if you’re interested: “Why I Taught Myself to Procrastinate”

 

Coloring: Not Just Child’s Play

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Coloring: Not Just Child’s Play

People tend to put limits on themselves. We say, “I’m too old/too young/too fat/too thin/too broke/too cool/too smart/too stupid/too short/too tall/too shy/too loud/too awkward/too afraid to do _____ (insert a choice activity here).” We allow what others might think about us to determine who and what we are, rather than just trusting our hearts and minds to guide us.

I frequently hear this mantra about coloring. “That’s really just for kids,” people say. “It’s just too silly.”

If that’s the case, I guess I should attend a 12-step self-help group for middle-aged silliness because I’ve been coloring since I could hold a crayon. Though coloring for grown ups has recently become popular, I spent many decades being ribbed over my love of paper and ink. (I’m reminded of the old Barbara Mandrell song, “I Was Country when Country Wasn’t Cool.”) Luckily, at least in this aspect of my life, I ignored the (usually) friendly jibes and continued to color because it provided me with a creative outlet when I needed one, a sense of solace when I was sad, and a way to clear my mind when I just had to think. Interestingly, researchers are discovering that coloring isn’t just for kids any more.

Articles from Fox News, USA Today, Huffington Post, The Guardian, The Atlantic, and Medical Daily (to name a only a few) expound the benefits of coloring:

  1. It reduces stress by calming the fear center in the brain. (As a matter of fact, doctors have been prescribing coloring as an anxiety reliever for over 100 years.)
  2. It promotes focus by opening up the frontal lobe of the brain.
  3. It promotes hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills.
  4. It can lower blood pressure and heart rate.
  5. It can promote positive thoughts because people respond to the “happy” patterns and colors, or they fondly remember their childhood.

While many specialists don’t consider coloring to be “art therapy” since a person is not necessarily creating art, they do consider it to be “therapeutic” since it has positive effects on people (like Julie Beck who describes her recent conversion to the activity in “The Zen of Adult Coloring Books” ).

The trend seems to be spreading quickly among those of us who are crafters, who are middle-aged, who have high stress jobs or who have young children, but I’ve noticed a gap in the ages: teens, twenty somethings, and young professionals (who don’t yet have children with whom to color) seem to poo-poo the idea of coloring.

This year the high school where I teach has added a “Care to Color?” table in the media center, but I’ve never seen students sitting around it. So, today when one of the small groups in my class complained that they were “stuck” and had seemingly irreconcilable ideas about where to go with the research project they’re conducting, I directed them to the table. The two girls regarded me with skepticism while the boy laughed derisively. Needless to say, they were a little shocked when I repeated the directive of “Go color for a few minutes,” and led them to the table where I sat down with them and picked up one of the free form design pages and a few pencils. They stared blankly as I began to color.

“Sit down,” I said, and they complied.

“Choose a design,” I said without looking up from my page, and they complied.

“Now, color,” I said, but they didn’t. Instead they started to object calling it “silly” and “childish,” so I ignored them, and then (after an awkward silence) one of the girls responded, “I don’t know what color to choose.”

“This one,” I said handing her a purple pencil. “Just find a place on the design and color it. Don’t talk. Don’t discuss the project. Just let your mind mull it over for a little while.” And I left them there for about 10 minutes. When I came back to check on them, even the young man had succumbed to the temptation of red and orange blazoned across a page, and they were visibly less stressed. Did the activity solve their research problems? Of course not. But it did allow them to take a break and destress for a few minutes so they could work together on a compromise.

Thus, we should view coloring as a tool. It won’t fix anything, but it might help us cope a little more easily. It might allow us to forget the problems of the day so we can sleep a little more soundly. It might give us a chance to take a breath and regroup our thoughts so we can listen a little more carefully.

 

 

I’m done coloring: now what?

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I’m done coloring: now what?

As a coloring book designer, one of the most frequent comments I hear is, “It’s pretty, but what am I supposed to do with it after I’ve colored it?” While simply enjoying the process of coloring and looking back through a finished book brings a sense of satisfaction to some people, others are more practical. So, to help those of us who don’t want to waste anything – especially those beautiful pictures we’ve spent a good deal of time perfecting, here’s a list of useful ideas.

  1. Frame it – This seems obvious, but if you think about the amount of art a person gets from a coloring book, the value grows significantly. Consider purchasing a theme that goes with a child’s room or a craft room. What about using those gorgeous pages to enliven a laundry room or your cubicle at work? What about adding a single beautiful frame somewhere in your home and changing out the picture as you finish each one?
  2. Use the page to wrap small gift boxes.
  3. Make fancy envelopes out of the paper. There are plenty of free templates online, and as long as you put a clean white address label on the front (so the post office can find your recipient), anything can become an envelope. Also, small gift card envelopes or a gift enclosure envelope (to match the wrapping paper) would be fun.
  4. Make book marks. Simply cut the sheet into wide strips and laminate with heavy tape. (I like 3 inch book tape.) This would be a nice add on when you loan someone a book or to hand out at your next reading circle get together. You could also make quite a few and give them to everyone in your child’s class at school.
  5. Cut out specific parts of the design to use on greeting cards and scrapbook pages. (If you scrapbook the pieces, be sure the paper and ink/pencils/paint are acid free and archival safe.)
  6. Make a desk set by covering a clean can with the paper to use as a pencil cup. Then use other sheets to cover a large piece of cardboard. This can either be laminated or placed under a clear plastic blotter (like the ones at Ikea). You might also cover a sticky note cube. If you like the little organizer trays, try covering several small boxes and tubes before gluing them to a cardboard base to hold paper clips, rubber bands, etc.
  7. Cover a refillable tissue box to add some pizzazz to your nightstand.
  8. Laminate the page and cut circles or squares to use as quick coasters for your next cocktail party. (Or make more permanent coasters by decoupaging the page (non-water based inks) onto tiles or pieces of cork and using acrylic sealer to protect them.
  9. Use the paper to decorate a shoe box to hold art supplies (like the yummy markers you used to color the page).
  10. If you used non-water based ink or paints, consider decoupaging the pages onto drawer fronts or the top of a dresser. Then seal with clear acrylic to protect your work.
  11. Cut the pages into squares to use for origami flowers or dolls.
  12. Laminate horizontal pages to use as place mats. This would be especially fun with different themes to change with the seasons or accommodate a holiday or celebration.
  13. Glue to white card stock and cut out tags to decorate or use on gifts.
  14. Put pages inside glass cabinet or book case doors to add some unexpected whimsy to a room.
  15. Cut the pages into strips, make the strips into loops and run a brad through the middle for a fanciful bow.
  16. Cut the pages into 1/8 inch strips and use for quilling.
  17. Adhere the pages to blank card stock and print your own business cards on the other side.
  18. Decoupage a light switch cover.
  19. Adhere to the back of recipe cards to give out at your next potluck.
  20. Cut out basic (or interesting) shapes to create a mobile or garland.
  21. Laminate and punch into small shapes that can be stacked into earrings or a pin. (These could be fun to gussy up with glitter and beads.)
  22. Make paper beads.

Remember, it’s just paper. Don’t be afraid to reinvent the picture and share it with someone else. (This could be especially fun if you have a coloring buddy with whom to swap items.) If “saving” it isn’t your style, pass it on.