The Free Motion Quilting Project: What does Creativity Look Like?

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

What does Creativity Look Like?

free motion quilting | Leah DayToday I feel like sharing some personal thoughts and what I've been working through lately.  I've finally come to accept that I go through a low period in the summer, and it generally makes me more pensive than usual. I've found myself asking two questions:

What does "I am Enough" look like?

What does creativity look like?

The first question might sound odd, but if you've read my personal posts before, or watched these early videos from our Express Your Love quilt along, you'll know I Am Enough is a phrase I've been trying to wrap my head around for awhile.

Lately I've stopped trying to find the magical thing, tool, quilt, book, phrase, or gizmo and accepted that nothing I do, create, build, or achieve will ever make me suddenly feel that sense of wholeness and completion I've been seeking for so long.

So if you can't make it, and you can't buy it, how do you get it?

I've been trying to visualize it. What does a woman look like who embodies I Am Enough? Does she look powerfully strong, or does she look just like herself, mighty in her own skin?

I'm finding this hard to visualize, but I feel like I'm on the right track. I've often found that digging into something, fully immersed and entangled is the only way to really understand it. Asking this question leads to other questions, sketching one shape leads to sketching three others, and so on.

The second question - What does creativity look like? - popped into my head this past weekend.

free motion quilting | Leah Day
Is this how you define creativity?
Fairly recently, I was in a class with several women who seemed to define creativity as a glass that was so nearly empty, they needed to fight over the last drops. You might have taken a class like this too where the teacher seemed threatened by her students, and the students threatened by one another. It was uncomfortable and unsettling to say the least.

That idea of a glass mostly empty made me ask - how do I see creativity? Why does this "empty glass" point of view feel so foreign to me?

It made me realize that I see creativity as far more than just a glass totally full. I see it as a never-ending torrent of pure energy. There is enough for EVERYONE. It will NEVER run out. One person's expression does not dim another person because there is ENOUGH for everyone.

Two images fully embody this powerful vision of creativity - a massive waterfall and the sun.

I like the image of a mighty waterfall, but there's a negative connotation because if you stand in a waterfall, you will be crushed by the weight of the water pounding down on you. This might be how a self-destructive artist (see Jackson Pollock) visualizes his creativity - basically their art is created at the expense of their life. That's pretty negative and obviously not sustainable.

I like visualizing the sun as the source of all creativity because it's powerful and nourishing, and there is ENOUGH for everyone. The sun inspires the natural creativity of plants to grow and flowers to bloom. Its pure creative power is responsible for life on Earth and our success as a species. What is more creative than the sun?

What I also love about this sun metaphor is we can all be warmed by it - there is enough for everyone. It will never run out, it can never be patented, trade marked, copy written, or monopolized, and it's the most dependable thing in our world.

But what about standing in someone's shadow? If someone else stands in front of you and is creative "first," does that not somehow diminish the amount of creative light you can absorb?

This is getting back to that idea of fighting for space, fighting for the last drops of creativity. If you are standing in someone else's shadow, you are choosing to put yourself there. You are choosing that darkness and place of limited creativity because of some limiting beliefs about yourself, your ability, or your perspective of that other person.

This also made me suddenly understand all those women who visualize creativity as such a scarce resource - they have turned their faces from the sun. They live in darkness and fear where nothing thrives and they have to hunt and strive for the scraps of inspiration that occasionally trickle their way.

After thinking on all of this, I realized that I finally had a solid visual for both questions: creativity looks like a blazing sun, and a woman that fully embodies the words "I Am Enough" is fully embracing her creativity and power of expression. Turns out, I've already made a quilt that pulls both elements together:

free motion quilting | Leah Day

So that's my answer! It feels so nice to have a powerful, positive visual on these two concepts and to be moving in a direction towards "I Am Enough." I'm feeling inspired to make a new version of the Release Your Light goddess above, to design and play with these ideas even more.

How about you? How do you think or define creativity? Are you able to say the words "I Am Enough," or do they stick in your throat? Do you believe your creativity has limits or will one day run out if you're not careful?

All things to ponder...while we go quilt!

Leah Day


  1. Leah, great post on important questions. I envision creativity as a deep ocean and I need to plunge deep to catch the "big fish." (Great little book: "Catching the Big Fish" by filmmaker David Lynch.) There is no shortage of big fish, but I need to nurture my own energies to go deep. No short-cuts for me. "Abundance" is a key concept... emerging from some infinite source I have no understanding of. Then I need to do lots of learning and to collect/master the right tools. I could go on and on about this...

    I do want to say that "enough" is not a word that works for me. While at age 65 I do feel self-sufficient and happy with who I am and how I go about my work, I have that relentless urge to keep seeking and discovering and learning and doing. If by "enough" you mean that you "have what it takes" to keep up with life's adventure, to catch the Big Fish," then I Am Enough. If "enough" means "fulfilled" -- then, never!

    Thanks again for sharing these thoughts. Susan Barrett Price, @madinpursuit

    1. I so understand what you mean Susan. There is so much to learn and try and never enough time to do it all. With I Am Enough - for me it's feeling like I'm good enough or have done enough to be okay. That I can kick back a bit and not feel so stressed and worried about the future because I Am Enough and everything will be fine.

      I do like your definitions of both "having what it takes" and feeling fulfilled. I'll definitely be thinking on both of those this week!

  2. P.S. Summer is always a low time for me too. The chattering shoulder trolls tell me it's time to "go outside and play" when I'd prefer to be diving for the deep fish. :/ No one really gets me.

  3. Beautifully said. Thank you for sharing. I love the concept of the sun representing creativity. You are an amazing woman!

  4. I'm glad I don't approach creativity as standing in someone's shadow. I'm just not that creative on my own, and use other people as inspiration. I like to think of it as standing on the shoulder's of giants.
    I'm not sure I've seen further in the way Isaac Newton meant that metaphor- but I did what I was able to do based on the support others have given me.

    But to me, creativity is not limited.

    1. I really love that metaphor Jess! That's a wonderful way to think about it and I love hearing your perspective. Thank you for sharing!

  5. Great post Leah!.. Recently I saw and copied this quote though I don't know the original context. I struggle with never being satisfied with my work.

    "“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open… No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.” Martha Graham

    1. Oh I so love this quote you've shared with me Peggy! Thank you so much! I definitely understand that "divine dissatisfaction" she mentioned, though I think my biggest problem lately has been not finding the time to follow all those nudges and urges. I'm going to try keeping the channel wide open from now on.

    2. Peggy, Thank you very much for reminding me of one of my favorite quotes and Leah for talking about an art class that had the empty glass feel to it and sharing your views on creativity. I much prefer the sun as a nourishing source. I believe we are all creative in a unique way, which is why Martha Graham's quote resonates so much with me!

  6. It always amazes me that a person with great talent, abilities, wonderful family and support system has thoughts like you posted. BTW, you are not alone. I am happy to read that you are realizing what a gift you have and are willing to share it. I know you didn't wake up one morning and was a great quilter, it took time, effort and lots of hard work. Keep on trucking! (I'm dating myself.)

  7. Very well said, I agree with you! Creativity is an overflowing glass...

  8. wow! What you said about women fighting over droplets absolutely baffled me!! I am a beginner and have infinite ideas of stuff I want to try or do!! There is definitely WAY MORE creativity in me than there is money in my bank account. There are *so* many things in JUST quilting that I want to be able to try and do! I think it takes about a lifetime to be able to become great in a lot of different areas. When I think of creativity, I think of neural synapses.If you don't know what I mean by that, just google it, and look at the picture. You have two pieces, and what makes them work are the neurotransmitters taking info to the next one, and when that happens it's called synapse. I picture them as tiny fireworks in the brain for some reason. In general terms, they go off ALL the time so you can eat, drink, move, hug, and think! So if they are going off ALL the time, I can imagine creativity as infinite possibilities. Even if you may not FEEL creative, you can take any quilt pattern or simple block, use your most favorite fabric and create a little placemat that you can put under your sewing machine. It's special because you are obsessed with those fabrics and they are not stashed away anymore. It's a simple project, but everyone is going to have different LOVES and that is ok. That is what creativity is. It's creating what YOU love. You might not always end up with a quilt you are in love with, but that is ok. I think quilting requires a lot of practice. If you aren't making something you love at the moment, you can practice until your mojo comes back. Everyone has slumps, but creativity isn't something that is so rare only one person can get to it :/ It isn't a gem or diamond. It's more like air or water. Right now we have unlimited access to both. That's what I think creativity is. We have this desire to make things, and to make something pretty or what we perceive as good. It's the act of making stuff and expressing individuality in that creation. I'm so sad those ladies think like that. I feel sorry for them. I'm not in a guild but I met some ladies at Pink Castle Fabrics, and the owner Brenda. They are all super nice and supportive. They made me feel welcome. I hear of negative things that other people experience, but I hope that I never have to see it! Or maybe I I can change their mind.

    PS: So I have directv, and we just got an upgrade since 2005, and I FINALLY have a dvr in my room. I am able to search for a program/movie by the title or keywords. (i could do this with my old box). What is NEW that is I am able to search keywords on YOUTUBE!!! So I started watching your videos on my tablet, and it took a few days for it to sink in that I can watch your videos on my 50 inch plasma, which is a few feet away from my sewing area. I was scared to try FMQ for TWO years, but after watching your video, I finally but the foot on my machine! And it works! Now I just need to make up some sandwiches to test out the tension. I have a basic mech. Singer that has embriodery stitches on it. I was nervous because of that, but I'm not any more.

    Girl, I was terrified for TWO years, because the ladies at the VIking store at my Joanns said it would mess up my tension and I would have to get it serviced. I just realized last year that I can turn the screw in the bobbin case to adjust the tension, and I already know where the other one is, so I'm all set. Thank you SO MUCH for making your videos available for free. I know that you have books and videos (that I WILL purchase someday), but right now I'm not working, and I have barely worked in the past year. It makes it hard to have a hobby like quilting. But I can spend hours and not much money practicing FMQ. So thanks again, Leah. You are literally the best!!!

    1. Hi Karrie - I love your enthusiasm and amazing spirit! Yes, I totally get your visualization of creativity as a neural synapse. You should check out the movie Lucy that has just come out - it's right up your alley!

      It is unfortunate the more people don't think like us - that creativity is abundant and free for everyone to take as much as they want. I hope you don't run into these people, but just in case you do, you now know what they are like.

      Thankfully the teachers that are like this are pretty obvious - no photos allow of their work and restrictions on what you can do with what you are learning. Ridiculous!

  9. I love your sun metaphor - The sun is the giver of light which is the source of all color, with out the light from the sun - and in turn all energy, there is no color.
    I also see creativity as in how children wonder. They wonder freely at everyday things that we sometimes forget to notice. They can dance under a tree and wonder about how it got so big, why the shade is cooler, how the leaves became green - or red, yellow, orange, brown, and they may form their own answers or ask, but at least they wonder. I think I got that image from Maria Montessori.
    When we are creative using a childlike wonder, we can wonder about how this pattern might look with that one, or how this color appears beside that one, or how this stroke changes the texture of a picture. Freely wonder and freely create (and dance a little)!

    Gail Porter

  10. I see my creativity as a beautiful, endless gift from God, the Creator of all. God has created and blessed us with so much beauty in the world, it's all around us! Only the wise are granted the ability to see even more of His beauty, which continues to amaze me more and more every single day and gives me endless and amazing ideas to create. I am in awe and so thankful for my gifts!!!!

  11. I just listened to a TED talk about the question of creativity. His premise was that limitation is the root of creativity. I think I agree, but I would phrase it more as finding the art within limits. The more limits, the more creativity, but it can make the most amazing art. Not exactly what you were talking about, but I found it interesting and thought I'd share. :)

  12. "Internally I can not accept that "I am Enough" I have a constant drive to keep learning, keep growing, keep sharing. I am at peace enough to say "I am okay", but I will keep on trying to improve and to try and help others where I can, as others have helped me to grow. How else can we make the world a better place?

  13. Hi Leah, I was reminded of your blog post today as I was driving past a field of sunflowers. They were crowded together but they were all doing well, standing tall with their faces towards the sun. I often wonder how much beauty, literature and innovation we've missed out on because of the unnecessary competitive nature some people have about creativity.

    Thanks so much for your open, nurturing self.

  14. Leah, I struggled with the same questions. I found my answers and me through a book called "The Artist Way" by Julia Cameron and her 2nd book in the series "Walking in the Wood". Through these two books I found my worthiness through practicing small acts of self care. Ironically self care increased my creativity and love for everything but most of all it gives me I am enough feeling. As a side note I did try to buy I am enough for many years as I am in my mid 40 ' s. All the purchases did was increase my longing. Now I try to go for artist dates and walks and buy myself little trinkets or toys to play with. I have more fun and my relationships improved. It is like magic. Self care takes commitment and I struggle but the positive feelings it gives is so worth it.

    1. Thank you so much for reminding me about that book Michelle! I have it and love working through it, but it's been one of those things I pick up and set down. I need to make a continual effort and I believe you're right - self care and compassion are at the heart of I Am Enough. Thank you!

  15. I'm glad you pointed to this post because I had missed it before. You are so right on. I felt like I was in others' (quillting) shadows for 18 years until I finally decided to move myself out of that shadow and into the light 2 years ago!! It was very liberating once I realized that no one else was putting me there but me! I always love all of your honest and thought-provoking posts :-)


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