Creating For Self

 (To see the "real" version of this post, visit my blog at

I look back at this blog (okay... the last one was 9 months ago) and I notice the wee illustrations from the book I made for my husband's Christmas gift. I started that book maybe two weeks to a month before the day it was "due," which meant working feverishly to write the story, storyboard it, pencil my scribbles, then ink them. It meant saying a lot of "you can't come in here right now" and "don't look." 

Now I look at what I am doing, and I find it is strangely similar. Except perhaps even crazier.

I am making all of my gifts this year. All of the ones I have thought of so far, anyway. That means that so far I have knitted five pairs of flip-top mittens, painted a portrait, sewn twenty lavender sachets, crafted one of three pincushions, crocheted about 1% of a bag, and am in the process of another begun-a-month-before illustration project. 

I feel productive. 

I also feel overwhelmed.

And I wonder why it is that, when it comes to making things for other people - even "art" rather than "crafts" - I find it so much easier to come up with ideas and to gain motivation than when I am sitting around thinking, "Okay, I'm an artist, so I should probably be making art right now." 

Sometimes when I think this, it makes me feel really sad. Maybe the fact that I don't constantly have beautiful, thought-provoking, inspired work bursting from my fingertips every moment means that I'm not really an artist. Maybe that facet of my identity is a lie that I have created to make myself feel special, or to make me feel like I deserve my job. 

Sometimes I blame my job for this - for being so exhausting mentally (and sometimes physically) that I can barely think up an enticing dinner idea, let alone a project idea. Sometimes I blame my life for being so easy (hello how can I not be an artist if I am not a tortured soul?). 

I know all of these blamings aren't exactly fair. I also know they each buy in to a different misconception. 

But I do think that there can be a lot of pressure that goes along with the label of "artist" or "creative person." I often feel as though people expect me to craft every aspect of my life. People are always asking me if I made this bag, or that hat, or that dress, or even my shoes. And most of the time, I have to answer, "No. I didn't. Actually it was a gift." And then, I realized, most of the things that I DO make I no longer have. I give them away.

This isn't true about everything. Most of my one-of-a-kind books still belong to me. But so many other things I have made were made with someone else in mind. And when I am working with that someone in mind, I work harder, faster, with more purpose. I guess, to some extent, it is because there is a goal involved. A deadline. Even if it isn't for a special day, like a birthday or an anniversary, you want to bring the day of giving closer, rather than let it linger on and perhaps never come to fruition. If I make something for myself, what sort of end result is there? I don't have that wonderful, productive pressure (yet) of having anyone (besides my family) being interested in my work. It can, of course, grace my shelves or my walls, but that is pretty much where it stops. Which can be enough, I suppose, to some extent. But when you dream of grander things, it can feel a bit unfulfilling. 

I think there is also an element of critique that plays into it, as well. If you are making something for someone, you still work hard. You still want it to be perfect. But since you are already pretty sure that you will like what you are making, you feel less worried about just how perfect it must be, and more excited for the moment of giving. If it is purely your own... well, you are your own worst critic. And the idea of that it could be something greater, that maybe the reason you are doing this is so that someday it could be seen by others as part of your identity as an artist... well, that is just plain terrifying. 

I want to work towards creating more art all of the time. I want my "me" projects to find their ending point, but I want to be proud enough to be as eager to share them as I am with my gifted work. I want to have the productive push that I derive from gift ideas, but I don't want the feeling I sometimes get - that I am finishing it a little hastily because I don't have time and I know they will love it the way it is. I want the best of both worlds.

Now, how can I get there?

How do you find a balance between projects for you and projects for others? Which one gives you more motivation and how do you find motivation in the other instance. 



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