Art and Achievement: Thoughts Before Black Friday

At 3 o’clock this Friday I’m hosting a party at my house on the theme of “Occupy Black Friday.”  This is an initiative I stumbled upon on a friend’s Facebook page, and immediately loved. The idea is simple:  don’t go to the mall.  Instead, stay home and make a homemade gift.  Or donate your services, or perhaps shop at a locally owned store.  There are a lot of options.

At my house, we’re making homemade gifts—paper winter wreathes, to be exact.  Many of you reading this probably don’t know that I have a whole alternate life as a crafter and artist.  I’ve always been extremely “handy,” being taught by my mother, who was Martha Stewart before Martha Stewart was even born.   My first year in Japan, right after college, I lived in a little Japanese mountain town and stumbled upon a washi paper store Kami Yakata Shimayu run by an elderly man and his wife, both accomplished traditional paper artists.  They took pity on the hapless young foreigner constantly haunting their store, and kindly invited me to learn the techniques of Japanese paper arts.  I’ve been hooked ever since.

There is nothing like a real, old-fashioned washi shop. The mind-blowing colors, the feel–smooth, rough, knobby, fibrous, silk-like, tissuey–of the different kinds of washi, and above all, the indescribable smell… these fascinated me then and fascinate me still.

A section of the washi shop interior

I first learned to make traditional three-dimensional paper dolls, with their layers upon layers of washi kimono, their flamboyant obi, and their exotic hairstyles.

One of my early washi dolls

One of my teacher’s washi dolls.

I have made my own paper using traditional Japanese techniques, and I’ve made cards, postcards, chigiri-e art (where you gently tear gossamer thin unryu tissue paper into pieces and combine to make flowers images), origami, three dimensional doll-making, and many other Japanese crafts.

Seasonal washi paper art

Eventually I started making jewelry out of paper and selling it under the name Paper Demon Jewelry. I sold it locally, and online in my own Etsy shop.  It sold very well!

Washi pendants

A brooch of washi paper and found materials

A necklace using washi-backed charms I designed to raise money for victims of the 2012 tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan–it raised $2000!

I did that right up until about a year ago, when The Professor Is In got so big that I no longer had the time to keep a jewelry business running.

But I still love the washi, and have a huge collection.  I actually love all artisanal paper and have a collection of handmade paper from Nepal, India, and Italy as well.  I have a secret love for Japanese fabric too, actually, and have another collection of vintage kimono, obi, and chirimen fabric gathered in the Nippori neighborhood of Tokyo.  Last year I made homemade Christmas ornaments for everyone!

Chirimen Christmas ornaments for my kids’ teachers

I believe that art is something a person needs to do to stay sane and balanced.

For Occupy Black Friday we’re making a simple project, but it’s a high impact one.  It is based on this wreath idea from Red Thread.  We’ll cut paper of all kinds into leaf shapes and staple or glue them to a cardboard back, and then embellish as we see fit!

Paper wreath project

You might wonder why I’m telling you all this about my life as a paper-crafter.  Well, two reasons.  The first is, I think Occupy Black Friday is one of the coolest ideas I’ve heard in a long time, and I want to share it with all of you! Get your friends or family together and just STAY HOME and make something!  Art is good for the soul.

The second is, that when I was selling my jewelry, I would always talk about the jewelry exactly the way  grad students talk about their work.  “Well…I, um, you know, make jewelry out of paper, and you know, it’s not like it’s fine metalsmithing or anything, I mean, it’s just paper and it isn’t even 100% waterproof so you have to be careful not to wear it in the shower, but you know, the paper is from Japan and it’s really cool–I’ve been collecting it for 30 years and I taught myself all these techniques of using it for jewelry….so, um, yeah….”

Sometimes I’d want to strangle myself the way I’d hear myself undermining and underselling my own achievements.  Why did I do it?  Because I was insecure!  I didn’t have what I felt to be impressive credentials as an artist or jewelry-maker; I compared myself to the fine artists who worked with gold and gemstones, and felt inadequate; I had no prepared narrative that told the story of my achievements in a forthright and positive way.  I used to tell my partner Kellee, “Oh my god, I’m the graduate student of jewelry-making!”

I taught myself Japanese washi paper artistry, and you have completed/will soon complete a Ph.D..  Both of these things are fine achievements.  Banish any temptation to make excuses for what you think you haven’t done, don’t know, can’t do, and focus your energies on the truly impressive achievements of your work.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Art and Achievement: Thoughts Before Black Friday — 6 Comments

  1. …This post also serves as a reminder that one needs to have an existence outside of academia, too. Also, that we should make time for the things we’re passionate about. Something I needed reminding.
    Thank you. 🙂

  2. Yes! Creative, unrelated endeavors always pay for themselves in terms of the clarity, satisfaction and calm they provide. For me these days, a little bit of singing during breaks from writing makes the writing sing…. (Sadly, my puns don’t improve.)

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