Author Archives: Mandy Ramsdell

Artist’s Block

I apologize for my lack of writing for the past months, after Christmas we gave up the idea of ever finishing our renovations ourselves. So we hired them out so the past few months have been a blur of sheetrock dust covered craziness. We lived for most of the renovations in just our kitchen and joining dining room with two little kids and a large dog. During that time we got two large blizzards and between 2 and 4 feet of snow. Needless to say it was a long winter.

Ironically today I feel like writing about how to overcome artist’s block. To me art is writing and painting but also all endeavors and tasks infused with creativity, including the mundane practical ones. It’s that newness and inspiration that can be brought into so many things in life. It’s magic. As artists, and as human beings we all know the high of that feeling so well.

And we also know the despair and discomfort we feel when that feeling has abandoned us.

Writer’s block or artist’s block comes from the belief that art comes from you. This is not how creativity works. It may seem like that’s how it works sometimes, but that’s an illusion. If you ever suffer pain from feeling uninspired, try to notice what your thoughts are telling you about you. Likely they are saying something like “I’m not as good as I thought I was.”

If you aren’t inspired right now, fully accept your lack of inspiration. Don’t judge it as a bad thing. If you don’t know what you should do next, fully embrace and welcome the feeling of not knowing. What does it feel like? Does it feel like emptiness or numbness? Or does it feel like fear? Where in your body do you feel it?

The problem is, we don’t often take the time to ask these questions. We instead beat ourselves up for being a fraud or lazy or whatever else, and then that feels so awful that we can’t help but distract ourselves with something else. Maybe we look at other’s art, not for inspiration and our of an inherent love of art but to compare ourselves with others. Maybe we get into an argument over what art is or what art is not. If you are looking at art and having lots of thoughts about how you stack up with the artist, you are feeding the artist block monster.

The artist block monster is your own ego, and it’s the creativity killer. Creativity comes from the you that is not your sense of you. Creativity doesn’t know what income bracket it falls into, what it’s horoscope sign is, or what color hair it has. Creativity comes from the you that doesn’t know it’s separate from other artists, nature, the stars, the universe, or the dust bunnies under your couch.

There’s a space of not knowing, a space of emptiness, a space of no thought and that is the space that invites in creativity.

There are no artists, there are just people through whom art comes through.

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How We Are All Just Like the People On the Show Hoarders

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Have you ever seen the show Hoarders? They portray the people on the show as crazy, but in actuality they are just suffering from the same inability to live in the moment that we are. They are so concerned about holding on to memories or needing something in the future that they choose to live their present day in complete chaos. It’s insane. We may keep a tidy home, but if our brains were houses, most of us in the Western World would have a brain equivalent of a hoarder’s home.

One of the best ways to improve creativity, beat depression and be happy in general is to learn to live in the moment. But when you hear “live in the moment”, it can be really confusing to those of us who like to strive, save and plan because we’ve been taught that being wise means preparing for a bright future. We’ve all noticed other people who live their lives “for the moment” with no thought for future consequences.

There’s a big difference between living IN the moment and living for the moment. When you are living for the moment, you seek excitement and avoid discomfort at all costs. You only care about being entertained and happy now, and you sacrifice all consideration of what sort of future you are setting up for yourself and whoever you are hurting in the process. Living for the moment is the height of selfishness, so much so that you don’t even care about your own future self two weeks, or even 24 hours later.

This is basically how young children live, but for them it’s natural and delightful because it comes from a place of innocence. They don’t know what things are dangerous and what things are safe. They don’t know that too much candy will make them sick because they haven’t experienced it or if they have they don’t make the connection between cause and effect.

We all live for the moment occasionally when we make choices we regret later, staying too long at the beach and getting sunburned or drinking coffee before bed and not being able to sleep. Either we forgot to think about the consequences or we didn’t care enough about them at the time to change our behavior. Almost all of our crime and drug problems are caused by adults who chronically live for the moment.

The next stage of development is living for the next moment. Notice that the word for is still in there. When we hate where we are and what we are doing but we make ourselves do it anyway in hope of a future reward we live for the next moment. We may pay a lot of money and use our valuable time to go take a class that doesn’t interest us in the least, just to get a credit, just so we can get a degree. If you are making yourself miserable now in the hope of future pay off you are living for the next moment.

Or we can live in the moment. We may still choose to pursue a degree and pay a lot of money to take a class we aren’t interested in. But then we will be in a place of acceptance toward the circumstance. Then we will be open to learning something we weren’t interested in, or finding something good we weren’t expecting. We are open to life, we are one with life. When we stop wishing we were somewhere else, we truly see our surroundings. We listen when people talk instead of blocking them out and thinking our own thoughts of where we’d rather be or what we’d rather be doing. We embrace delays and down time without labeling ourselves “bored” or getting stressed over the things that aren’t happening fast enough. We make space for creativity, spontaneity, and learning.

We also can choose to spend a lot of our time living in the past. We can get sad or angry or embarrassed about things that happened to us again and again. There no limit to the amount of times you can replay an embarrassing moment in your head! You know how police officers have trouble getting accident reports because witnesses often don’t agree on simple details, like what color a car was? Even if you have a great memory and were truly present in the moment while it happened, you can’t accurately remember anything the way it actually happened. Your brain isn’t even capable of perceiving everything in your field of vision right now, let alone is it able to remember it. Your brain fills in the gaps to make sense of things that don’t make sense and it chronically gets stuff wrong. We bend and changes stories over time. Therefore on a deep level our memories aren’t even real.

When we are thinking too much of the past or future we aren’t really “here”. Our bodies are here in the moment but our minds are elsewhere. We are oblivious to whatever is happening here at the present moment and it is lost to us forever.

So whenever you can live in the moment, and minimize the thoughts you have of past and future to just the practical necessary ones. For example, you can remember to make it to your dentist appointment without playing a mental movie of everything that could go wrong or all the pain you expect to experience.

Learning to live in the moment will make you feel amazing, but it can also be an uncomfortable process. If you can forgive me the awful metaphor, you’ll probably uncover a few dead cats, like they sometimes do in the show Hoarders. We are just like those people who love their animals but neglect them anyway because there is too much STUFF in the way. When we neglect the present moment, we neglect the people in our lives the same way.

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Distraction and Discomfort

I think we all have some project or ambition that we never quite seem to get around to. For some of us it’s just being organized and for others it may be a book they want to write or a particularly challenging piece of art they want to create. We never seem to find the “time” but yet we have time for mindless social media scrolling and entertainment. So let’s get past the lie of telling ourselves that time is our problem.

We know when we aren’t reaching our full potential and it makes us uncomfortable. It also makes us uncomfortable to actually get to work on a project, especially if it’s important and we don’t know if it will work. For most of us that discomfort triggers us into seeking distractions. It’s easier to entertain ourselves with other people’s problems, whether they be real or fictional people. We could engage in gossip, watch a TV show, or just scroll through our Facebook feed. We could distract ourselves with the world’s problems by watching the news, reading news articles or being overly concerned with politics yet not ever take any action to improve the things politically that we are so upset about.

Or we can find something to nitpick about someone else’s project rather than going to start our own. We can spend our time leaving comments on blogs or youtube or social media whenever someone says something we disagree with or goes about doing something in a different way than we would have. Then we become hyper-critical and are so critical of ourselves that we are unable to work on anything that really matters to us.

Or we can tell ourselves that we aren’t running from discomfort, that we are just too tired. Being tired is just a form of discomfort and when you work on something that challenges and engaged you discomfort quickly fades away into inspiration and energy.

All you need to do is make one simple mindset reversal. Discomfort is to be embraced, not avoided and distractions are to be avoided not embraced. Most people come programed with the opposite setting. This one simple hack will transform your time and your life.

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No More Fairy Dust

A couple weeks ago I received a message on Etsy explaining that I was infringing on a trademark by using the name “Fairy Dust” in two of my listings. I’ve been using the name for 10 years as have thousands of other crafters and sellers.

This is the message I received…

“I have been hired by Brookelynne Designs to review Etsy for infringement on their various trademark protections for the use of the words “fairy dust.” You have infringing items in your store. Prior to filing a formal report, we have chosen to provide you the opportunity to cure the infringement voluntarily.
This would mean removal of the words “fairy dust” or like sounding words such as “fairie dust,” from tags, titles and names of your items. Specifically, jewelry, pendants or pouches containing glitter and decorative glitter.
If you wish to verify our trademarks, protecting the use of “fairy dust,” or like sounding words, in any fashion by you for the following items, you may verify them at the USPTO site:
Reg. No. 3168645: Bracelets, charms, clocks, jewelry, jewelry watches, watches, wrist watches
Reg. No. 3168649: Decorative glitter
Reg No. 3574068: Toys, novelty snow globes, plastic toy figurines, plush toys
Reg. No. 1706812: Novelty pouch and/or pendant containing glitter
We do not believe your infringement has been intentional and are therefore hopeful that you will voluntarily remove the words “fairy dust” or like sounding terms from your listings, titles and tags. Basically, if you search your own listing for these words, there should be zero results.
If you would be kind enough to advise that you have done this to end the infringement, and I can verify this in your store, no formal infringement report will be made. Should you not contact me within the next three days to advise of your willingness to voluntarily cure your infringement, and actually have cured the infringement by that time, I will have to file a formal report. Etsy then simply shuts down your listing.
Our goal is not to hurt your business by shutting down listings, but to protect our trademarks from further infringement. Your cooperation would certainly be appreciated. I will add that I am not able to tell you what phrases you may use to evade the trademark, just that you may not use the words as set forth below. I thank you in advance for your cooperation.
Diana Cunningham “

I assumed that this could not be the case so I decided to see if Etsy would indeed remove my listings and today they did. It was only one design and it was only two listings so the impact for myself is very small. But the fact that this is legal, and even possible is deeply disturbing to me.

Is it fair that one company can own a common phrase and prevent anyone else from using it? The purpose of a trademark should be to protect creative property, not to help someone create a monopoly and mow over small sellers and crafters that stand in their way. Maybe a large company could challenge this trademark, but of course crafters on Etsy don’t have the resources to do that. Should everyone who makes something have to have thousands of dollars for a lawyer and legal fees?
How sad that hundreds of artists and crafters can’t use this term to describe items that are unique and made by hand, items that truly are magic and worthy of the name. All so someone can make more money on selling more soulless mass produced items. The planet is getting so cluttered with them already, so they must be getting more creative.

Is happiness found in laws and paperwork? Shouldn’t we just be free to create and make the world a better place?

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Should our ability to be thankful depend on us having things that others don’t?

I now think of gratitude differently than I used to. I used to feel like something was wrong with me because while I could always find things to be thankful for, my gratitude was just a fleeting thought in my head. Soon I’d be back to taking things for granted, or even discontent about something. But what kind of person did that make me, especially when I’ve been blessed with so much? An ungrateful one, that’s who. Other people seemed to be all about gratitude, so there must be something wrong with me. That gave me something else to be discontented about.

I think that we often assume that gratitude means being thankful for the big things in our lives. These are things like our home, our families, our jobs, our health, etc. We are taught that we should be grateful for these things because not everyone has them. But should our ability to be thankful depend on us having things that others don’t? Something doesn’t feel quite right about that. Do we have to imagine a life, whether our own or someone else’s, without the things we love and enjoy in order to appreciate them? Won’t just the natural process of growing old take most of the things we are thankful for when we are younger? How can we ever hope to age happily if this is how we practice gratitude?

I now practice gratitude by being at peace with the moment. That’s all. I enjoy everything so much more when I don’t have to trick my brain into gratitude mode by imagining life without them. Because whenever I try that my brain gets all excited that it’s time to worry. My brain loves to worry and will take any excuse I give it to worry.

By accepting that on a deeper level nothing is really my own in life, or that nothing is truly real outside of the present moment I can appreciate things more than ever before. I’ve only been awake an hour today but so far I’ve been thankful for the light pink sky at sunrise, the frost on the grass, the way my dog sounds when he snores and a lot of other more miniscule things. So this Thanksgiving, or any other day that follows, just try to notice and appreciate the tiny little miracles of the present moment. That’s true gratitude.

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Why I Photograph Each and Every Bead I Make

Have you ever bought something “handmade” online or through a catalog and received something that looked nothing like the photograph? I have and it almost never makes for a good shopping experience. The magic of handmade items is in the tiny details that make them unique. Those tiny differences are still there even when two pieces are very similar. Those small details really do matter and are a big part of why a piece “speaks” to us or does not.

I recognize the fact that I lose a lot of time and profit by thoroughly photographing each bead I make. I currently have thousands upon thousands of bead pictures on my computer that someday I will need to take the time to sort through. I was told that I couldn’t clog up my hard drive with photographs because I’d never be able to take so many, but I have managed to do just that. :)

However the alternative would be completely unacceptable to me. Not only would I risk disappointing my customers by having them receive something that wasn’t what they ordered, but I’d be reducing my beads to just a few cookie cutter designs. Instead I’m free to make each and every bead just how I like. My designs are free to change, evolve and improve over time, and I’m free to use rare kinds of glass that is no longer produced. I’m free to try new designs and new variations whenever I like, and sometimes they are one of a kind pieces and other times they may become series that I make for years.

I let the glass “speak” to me, in hopes that the results speak to my customers as well.

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The Criticism Addiction That Kills Creativity

Almost all of us are addicted to criticizing. Something in us enjoys criticizing others, to make us feel better about ourselves or maybe because it’s just a habit. Most of all we criticize ourselves. We have this ideal in our heads that we go about measuring everything and everyone by. We know that ideal is silly and can never exist but still it’s there.

It’s a slippery slope. First you’re innocently doing your art and you think, “Oh this little bit of tree detail isn’t right here.” Now you can either find a way to address this little issue and learn something from it. Or you fall on your butt and slide down the slippery criticism slope. This ride quickly takes you through the stages, “Nevermind, the whole thing is crap.” to finally land at the bottom which is “I am crap.”

There at the bottom of the hill, so many people quit and walk away. The brave ones climb the whole hill and start again. Be brave but next time save yourself a lot of time by learning to avoid criticism. Criticism starts when we go from seeing an area with potential for improvement and instead of going straight to improving we make it personal.

When you look at other people’s work really pay attention to the thoughts that go through your head. Do you feel like your work isn’t as good if you see something amazing? Do you feel superior if you see something that you don’t like as much? We learn more and open the door for inspiration if we see other people’s art for what it is, instead of always making it about us and our art.

Then when we look at our own art the same way, we can see more quickly what we can learn from it and how we can improve it. Instead of making judgments we can see possibility. Judgement shuts the door in creativity’s face. Curiosity welcomes creativity in.

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Art is the Act of Manifesting an Idea

What is art and what makes a person an artist? I think the answers to that question can vary as much as art itself. My own answer will completely depend on when you ask me, and I’d probably even give you different answers over the span of the same day. But this is my answer to that question for the purpose of this blog post.

An artist is someone with the bravery and ability to manifest a new idea in their head. Because only when an idea has been manifested, can the idea be shared with others.

The ideas can vary from something like “this is how a baby penguin’s likeness looks like in the form of a glass bead” to a startling, gruesome, hard to look at painting that makes a statement about society. Are they completely different ideas, that evoke completely different reactions? Yes. Some would say one is art and one isn’t, I say they are both ideas manifested by the artists, and therefore they are both art.

Some art disrupts the world. Some art can get you killed depending on the laws of the country you live in. Some art just makes the world a more beautiful place. For now, I’m content not to disrupt the world with my art because what I think the world needs the most right now is a little more beauty.

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The Path and the Butterfly

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I know from working with glass that just practicing the same skills over and over again results in great improvement. But this improvement can only be found on the level of technical skill. When I focus only on my technical skills my creativity starts to atrophy. If I focus only on following my creativity, the end product becomes more and more impractical and harder for others to appreciate and relate to. My current reality is that if I can’t make things that other people want I don’t get to make things at all.

Improving your technical skills is like walking a path and never leaving it. It gets you there, and it gets you there fast and safely but you’ll never discover anything that’s not along this path. Following your muse or being creative is like trying to catch a butterfly. Just as it settles down and you think you’ve finally got it, it flights off in some other direction or even completely out of sight.

To any creative person I give the following advice, try to give equal attention to the path and to the butterfly. Don’t be afraid to leave the path, and don’t despair at the time you “lose” chasing the butterfly. But when the butterfly goes so far off the path that you stand to lose your way, let it go for a while. It will always come back to you.

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Art Abandonment

It’s no secret that there is a lot of negativity in the world right now, and a lot of it seems to be concentrated on Facebook. For those of us looking to bring more joy and inspiration in the world… or maybe just our Facebook feed, I highly recommend this group… https://www.facebook.com/groups/ArtAbandonment/

We put ourselves into our art. What’s more beautiful than putting ourselves into something, no matter how small or trivial and leaving it in the world for a stranger to find? Depending on how you abandon your art, you can’t be sure anyone will actually find it, or that the person who finds it will appreciate it. But art abandoners know that and do it anyway.

I haven’t formally abandoned a bead yet for this group. I live by the coast here in Maine, but we do have one sandy beach here locally. When I have flawed or experimental beads I like to build a sandcastle and decorate it with them and leave them there. They may be found that very day, or they may be buried and the sand or taken out to sea and never found.

I guess what I really love about it is the act of letting go of something. Whether we let go of our negativity or give a gift to the world, the world becomes a better place.

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