At the center of our joy in stamping lies this deceptively simple question: "Why do we stamp?" For me, the reason boils down to this:
That's right. Even if nobody cares. Of course I'm thrilled when people care, and I'm fortunate enough to have a family and lots of friends who appreciate what I give them. I'm also fortunate to have you, my readers, who encourage me and keep me blogging. But I don't make stuff for accolades or to blog. I make stuff because the creative act makes me happy.
That it makes others happy is icing...not cake.
Several world religions teach that humans were made in God's image, and God is first and foremost the Creator. In other words, we were created to create. Psychology confirms this idea. Multiple studies show people who indulge their creativity through hobbies are often happier and healthier and live longer than people who don't give free rein to their creativity. I haven't read any studies about professional artists, but I know that adding the pressure of capitalism and competition to creativity adds stress and anxiety to the picture...the opposites of happy and healthy!
Take, for example, the stamper who thinks she needs to be on a design team. She applies and applies and finally gets on one. She's happy at first, but slowly loses the joy of producing under the stress of tight deadlines, too much product, too much pressure. Other parts of her life--family, friends, work--feel distracting and intrude on her stamping time. She loses that sense of balance we need in life. The design team work becomes disproportionately important in her life, and the whole point behind creativity gets dislocated.
It's a type of cognitive dissonance that often forms without our conscious permission, and it can lead to creative funk and loss of mojo, not to mention deep unhappiness.
Our stamper got what she thought she wanted, and it killed the joy. If you're not feeling the joy, perhaps you need to think about why you're stamping. Why are you investing time, money, and energy in this hobby rather than some other hobby? Why do you have to get published, or have 1,000 followers for your blog, or be on ten design teams, or enter twenty challenges a day? Why?
When we deviate from our honest why, we lose our joy.
Some people honestly want to turn their hobby into a profession. Nothing wrong with that...after all, if the Claires and Nicholes and Jennifers and Julies of the world didn't commit their careers to paper crafting, we wouldn't have Waltzingmouse or Papertrey or awesome classes or amazingly diverse product. And other people honestly want to be on design teams, to publish their work, to be part-time demonstrators, to teach an occasional class, to blog (*raises hand here*), or otherwise to stick their big toes into the profession of stamping without anything close to full-time commitment.
Find a level of involvement in the hobby that reflects your why, and pay attention to how you respond moving forward. What feels right for a few years might get stale or change over time. I know at least one stamper who happily submitted for publication for a while and then moved on when it got to be too much. I personally felt the need to shake things up a few years ago, participated on a design team, decided it wasn't for me, and quit. The whole experience from beginning to end was fun...because I paid attention to my feelings and realized I'm just not design-team material. I learned something about myself. It was all good.
Bottom line...figure out your why and pay close attention to it over time. Don't get caught in cognitive dissonance and go rabbiting off in an unhealthy direction for you. If you do go rabbiting off (and we all do, from time to time), stop and think. Redirect. Take care of yourself and forgive yourself for your lapse. Nothing you choose has to be permanent. Learn from it, and move on.
I find, even if my why is healthy and I'm not victim of cognitive dissonance, creativity is like a tide...it ebbs and flows. When it was ebbing, I used to become beset with insecurities and worries. Will it come back? Will I have fun stamping again? Ohmygosh, will I ever make anything but pretty (and expensive) trash?
When my productivity waned, I worried about having enough to blog about. I worried that the blog was becoming boring or uninformative.
And speaking of blogging...my blogging why is actually quite different from my stamping why. I blog for two reasons: 1) because blogging connects me to other stampers in a positive way, and 2) it fits my personality. I'd never have started a stamping blog except several people at SCS asked me to start one, so even at its beginning, the blog was about social bonds. Creating a place where a few people with like-minded stamp addictions could come together to support and encourage one another seemed like a really awesome idea...and it is.
Pretty soon after starting, though, I realized that a blog was the perfect place to give expression to the writer, teacher, and humorist in me, as well as the card maker. I got hooked. Blogging fit me, and I fit blogging.
But no matter what a good fit blogging is for me, my creative muse goes on holiday sometimes, and the joy of stamping and blogging fades a bit. What makes Ms. Muse disappear? Not sure, really, but I do know that stresses in other areas of my life scare her off sometimes. At other times, she gets bored and needs me to shake things up a bit with new product or new techniques or maybe to try to get published or do some challenges or dabble in a different style. During these times, I have to seduce her back to my side, and eventually she does return.
Last fall, Ms. Muse went away, and she has stayed away for quite a while, largely because of stress and anxiety that has nothing to do with stamping. The joy wasn't there for crafting, not like it was when Ms. Muse was hanging around whispering in my ear. In the past six months, I discovered that this pin is very, very true.
Discipline and perseverance and experience got me through the last six months without Ms. Muse. I still produced pretty things (and a lot of trash you never saw, too), but the joy was...elusive. For once, I didn't get discouraged or upset by the loss of my stamping joy, which is proof that I can learn from past mistakes! Yay, me!
Instead, I suspected a natural ebb was at work, and not once did I think about sending all my craft supplies to the landfill or burst into tears because I couldn't make a sketch work, although I did bang my head on the desk frequently.
I chugged determinedly forward and trusted that things would get better. I trusted the process.
The results came even when Ms. Muse was away because I really do love the process of creating. And eventually the joy returned, too.
What, specifically, made the joy return?
That's tough to explain. Partly, it was that I trusted it would, so it did...a perfect self-fulfilling prophesy. Partly, I'm dealing with the stress in my life better. Partly, I found inspiration again. Too often, I succumb to pride and start thinking, "I do it MYSELF." Shouldn't surprise you, but that was my first complete sentence, spoken at the precocious age of 14 months.
But the truth is, it's all been said and done before. To tap into creativity, I find inspiration in the work of others and do my best work when riffing off of them.
There's an improvisational jazz metaphor in here somewhere....
A friend recently asked me to host a challenge. At the same time, another friend pinned a link on Pinterest that sent me orbital with inspiration. The combination of these two events had me stamping for joy again, reminded me that I'm truly happiest when modifying and adapting ideas that are already "out there."
Ms. Muse is back.
Your own path to stamping joy might be blocked by pride, too much self-criticism and perfectionism, too little confidence, a misdirected why. If so, here's what you can do to knock down those barriers and learn to trust the process.
- Revisit your why. Be honest with yourself. What do you want from stamping? Why do you want it? Is it healthy? Should you be going in a different direction?
- Make stuff. Lots of stuff. Don't be afraid of mistakes or of throwing them in the trash.
- Try new things. Buy a stamp set in a completely different style. Try a new technique. Dive into a color you've always hated. Stir the pot. Even if your new thing fails spectacularly, you will have learned something. Then try another new thing.
- Rest. God spent six days creating and rested on the seventh. Walk away from your work when you need to walk away, refresh your mind and soul and body, and come back to it with a fresh eye. You might walk away for a day, a week, a month, or more. Take the rest you need to stay balanced.
- Clean up. You may find your inspiration in the bottom of a drawer, forgotten and neglected. You may also find that getting rid of the trash in your craft area lightens your spirit and frees your creativity.
- Engage in community. Join a new crafting forum or re-engage with an old one you're neglecting. Go through your blog reader or subscriptions and ditch the ones you no longer find interesting. Go in search of new ones. Leave comments. Encourage others. An awesome way to feel better about yourself is to lift others up. Take a class; online ones are super easy and fit into any schedule. Connect with other crafty humans in meaningful ways. We are not islands.
- Remove barriers to play. If you act like every card must be blog-worthy or publication-worthy, you've forgotten that hobbies are about playing. Let go of expectations and standards, and spend time just playing. I bet you'll make mistakes, and I also bet you'll make some of your best work under the influence of play.
And that's all I have to say about that. What are your thoughts about finding joy in stamping? Are there things you do--not listed here--that help you snap out of a funk?