Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Dear Crayola, A Plea for Productivity

You can’t imagine how much productivity is lost through crayon inefficiencies. The problem is so bad that my coworker’s son, Owen, posted a plea on his Facebook page asking Crayola for help.
“Dear Crayola,

I think you should make a color called blue white swirl. I think you should make blue white swirl because I don't want to keep switching crayons when coloring the sky and clouds. I feel the same way when coloring an ocean with icebergs. And I feel the same way when coloring Penn State stuff.

You may not think it's that bad, but I think it takes too long to switch back and forth between crayons.”

Owen is a busy writer, artist, musician and structural engineer. That's a roller coaster in the background that he has been building in the living room for the past 6 weeks. His mom has given the construction crew a July 1 completion deadline.

Is there hope?
Maybe Crayola will hear Owen’s plea, and we can all save tremendous amounts of time when we have a sky to color. But what will we do with our new-found free time? Fill up again with something else?

True productivity goes beyond the capacity to check more things off your to-do-list. It is the productivity you find when you simplify your life. It is the productivity of entering “the zone” on a project you really care about. It is the productivity you feel when your life is in perfect balance, if only for a moment.

There are two blogs that I find really helpful in refocusing my energies on healthy productivity.
Zen Habits
Zen Habits is a blog by Leo Babauta, writer, husband and father of six. As he puts it “ Zen Habits is about finding simplicity in the daily chaos of our lives. It’s about clearing the clutter so we can focus on what’s important, create something amazing, and find happiness.

Productive Flourishing
Productive Flourishing is written by Charlie, a former philosophy professor and a logistics officer in the Army National Guard. His blog talks about the art of meaningful action that he describes as that sweet spot between incessant daydreaming and mindless doing.
What are you favorite ways to move from assembly line productivity to something that truly feeds your soul?
Love at Sea

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Elderberry Flowers

I grew up "in the country" as we called it. My grandparents had a 60-acre farm and gave each of their children a couple of acres. My sister and I spent a lot of time wandering the fields and woods around the farm collecting wildflowers and all kinds of other goodies. One of our tasks was to bring back elderberries so my uncles could make wine.

I'm very family with the gorgeous dark purple berries, but I never noticed the flowers. We only took the elderberry path when we knew there would be berries. Flash forward several decades and I've finally seen an elderberry flower.

My friend and coworker, Debbie, signed up for a farm share where she gets vegetables and herbs from a local farm. In her farm share box was this delicate bouquet of elderberry flowers. Apparently you can use them to make medicinal tea, although I have read articles about toxicity in the plant so I am nervous about trying it. In any case, they are certainly medicine for the eyes and soul.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

What is your "Why"

Finding Inspiration in TED Talks
At Penn State Outreach we gather on Fridays over lunch for TED Talks, videos of “riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world.”

TED Talks are great for getting the brain juices flowing. Our latest one by Simon Sinek, author of “Start with Why,” has my brain juices absolutely gushing.

Asking Why
You really have to hear this talk in his words. He is an amazing speaker, but the gist is “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

Unfortunately most people can tell you what they do, some how they do it, but very few of us can convey why we do it. Once you unlock the “why” amazing things happen.

The talk got me thinking about my current assignment. My team is working on a major update for our online course portfolio. I was writing fresh copy for the “about us” page when I saw Sinek’s talk.

Typically we start “about” pages with “who we are” and “what we do.” Now I have a new option. “Why.” “Why do we offer courses that students can take from anywhere in the world?”

Your Thoughts
I’d love to know what you think about the approach of putting “why,” before “what,” or “how.” Go watch the video. It’s about 18 minutes long, and oh so worth it. Then come back here and let me know what you think.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Making a Wine Bottle Stopper

fleur de lis wine bottle stopperFleur-De-Lis Wine Bottle Stopper

I've been really impressed by some of the creative wine bottle stoppers I've seen lately. This weekend gave me the perfect opportunity to try one of my own.

I was invited to a cocktail party to celebrate my friend Caroline's wedding, and I needed a meaningful gift. Her wedding theme features fleur-de-lys. In fact, I had the honor of creating her wedding cake topper using that theme. So how does one make a wine bottle stopper?

How to make a wine bottle stopper:
  1. Start with a silver-plated bottle stopper wedding favor with an open heart on the top.
  2. Unscrew the metal parts from the rubber stopper.
  3. Fill the open heart with clay and bake.
  4. Cover the whole piece with your decorative finish.
For this topper I used gold and black clay for the base coatings and then I added the fleur-de-lis. I created the fleur-de-lis by stamping the image onto flat clay and then cutting the shape out with a craft knife. I stamped more fleur-de-lys at the bottom using a flexible rubber stamp that curved around the base.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Living a Double Life

Some days I feel like a superhero hiding a secret identity, minus the superpowers, cool gadgets, and nifty lair.
By day, I am Marie Young, bespectacled mild mannered writer, working with an amazing creative team at Penn State. By night, I am Young Creative, artist and small business owner.
My story isn’t unique. Many creative people lead a double life. We work 40+ hours in our “real job” and then put in more hours nurturing our creative baby. Some of you even throw real babies into the mix. Amazing!
Working full-time while you pursue your creative passion is exhausting. Both jobs need your full attention, and yet you can’t neglect your family, health, or happiness either. Since I can’t create more hours in the day, I have to find ways to pep up productivity. Here are a few of my favorites:
Know your creative clock.
Mornings are my most creative time. By evening my brain cells are dying off. That’s good news for my day job, not so good news for my creative baby that is relegated to the night shift.
To minimize the creative drop off, I try to set aside Saturday morning for major creative undertakings and use the evenings to do more task-oriented things that don’t require as much thought.
Take time to make time.
Set aside time to plan for the upcoming week. What do you want to do? What supplies do you need to do it? When you are stressed you forget things. If everything is written down, you have a better chance of getting it all done.
Do something that matters.
This is really hard. Everything about the creative process is seductive. I love reading inspiring magazines, visiting artist forums, looking at eye-candy. There are so many rabbit holes to slip though. I have to remind myself, “You can’t have sales without products.”
Oh, that’s right. No products, no sales. I really should go and finish some inventory.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Alcohol Inks in Polymer Clay

Quick Technique: Tinting Translucent Clay with Alcohol Inks

I love the frosty look that I get with translucent clay, but I also want bright happy colors. Unfortunately I can only add a small amount of colored clay before I begin to lose the translucent quality. That means everything comes out on the pastel side. That's why I decided to experiment with alcohol inks.

Making Floral Earrings
Step 1
I added a couple drops of Adirondack Alcohol Inks "Nature Walk" set to Fimo 014 Transparent polymer clay. I mixed it thoroughly, much like food coloring in cookie dough. Then I formed the beads, baked them, and let them cool.

Step 2
I lightly sanded the cooled beads. before adding some alcohol ink to a cotton swab and brushing it on to brighten the color.

Step 3
I hand-sculpted the flowers and pressed them onto the beads and then I rebaked them to set the flowers.

Step 4
Once the finished beads with flowers cooled, I coated them with Sculpey Satin Glaze. When that dried I connected everything on a vine of loose spirals created from 20 gauge silver-plated wire.


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