Looking for inspiration we often find ourselves on social media. We often find beautiful pictures, quotes and inspirational words. They are meant to inspire or help spark a new idea. One of the topics, I often see, is based around the idea that we do have a comfort zone. And often we are encouraged to break out of it. I have to admit I have been nodding my head and been thinking: “Yeah! That is what I need to do! Break out of my comfort zone!”
However, when I sit down at my clay table this notion suddenly has a very different feel to it: where do I even begin? I know I am not alone with my thoughts. So today I would like to get a bit deeper into this topic and try to figure out what that actually means: “to break out of one’s comfort zone.”
My most pressing questions are: “Why?”, “What?” and “How?” do I do this. So let’s tackle them one after the other, shall we?
First things first: why would we even want to leave our comfort zones? As I see it: the comfort zone, and we are talking artistically here, is the things you are used to, you have been doing for a while and are comfortable with. You know how to do them and they are predictable. There are of course reasons why you are doing what you are doing! Maybe that is what you are best at. Or you may have spend a number of years to develop your expertise in that area and also this might be the zone were you feel the best! So why would you even want to leave this path? Well, I think it is pretty obvious: if you keep on doing the same thing, you will be getting the same results, again and again. It’s safe and secure. And most of all you will be repeating yourself and get bored. This of course is the opposite of growth, exiting, novel and challenging. If you have any ambitions to grow as an artist the later really is were you want to go! Because if you are just repeating and replicating yourself, you are a machine and not an artist, really! So breaking out of your comfort zone, changing directions and finding new exiting things are definitely an important part of your artistic journey.
Let’s take a closer look now: what exactly was you comfort zone again? Things you tend to always do and repeat. But do you know exactly what that is? What exactly are you always repeating? To see a bit clearer, you need to have a closer look at your present work. Make notes about what you are working on. Go into details!
To help you out, I have a couple of questions that you might ask yourself: what category of clay work are you working in? Do you sculpt? Are you creating jewelry or are you into miniatures? Are you a mixed media artist or are you creating mosaics, to name just a few. Is there a certain project you always seem to go to? For example: if you make jewelry, do you make lots of earrings, but nearly never brooches or pins? Or if you are a miniaturist, do you go for flowers but never for miniature animals? And of course: are there colors you always use, or colors you never even touch? Do you have a special technique you will always do? Are you a caner, or do you do silkscreen a lot? Do you mostly work with figurines, or always use the same tools? Find out about all these details (and more!) and write them down! You might be surprised about how small the range is that you are circling in! Now take a close look at your notes: all the colors, techniques and categories you are choosing again and again are what defines your comfort zone!
Okay, now you know a bit better where you stand. So let´s move “out of your comfort zone”. “How?” I hear you saying. And the “How?” will lead you to new areas, challenges and, at times, make you unsure of what you are doing and even make you feel uncomfortable! In short: it puts you back to the mind of a beginner! Of course, you are not expected to forget everything you already know. Once you start with the first couple of steps you might get over “feeling stupid” and start to enjoy the exploration! All these thoughts we still could ponder over in our brains, or maybe write about them. But at some point, you will need to sit down and actually do the work with your hands and polymer clay! You will need to be open for “failure”. Or a project not turning out the way you were expecting it. And that is okay! It is about the process and what you will learn on the way, see, experience and find out. And maybe what you will learn. If you find out that some of the new things are not for you, that is also okay!
Be ready to repeat things, or your (mini) projects! You might be in a different mood another day and so get a totally different outcome when you do the same thing again! You might need to learn a new skill, that you will need for some of your new projects. Repeating steps is part of the learning process Think about a child learning to walk. You would not expect him to try it once and then be able to walk, would you? Keep that picture in mind when things don’t work out the way you were expecting them to go.
After you have finished one of your learning projects, evaluate what happened: did you use new tools, skills, colors, techniques? Did you succeed at using them? Do you need to learn something else to find the right way? Did you enjoy the new material or process?
Everything we talked about so far have been pretty theoretical. I would like to give you a list of projects or ideas to help you get started. Try any or all of them! They should help you to get new ideas. Most of all: don’t forget to have fun while doing these projects! Oh, and by the way I would love to see what you come up with. Post what you created on social media using the hashtag #howdoyouSculpey so I and others can see what you created, please!
List of projects an ideas to experiment with:
- Do a 100 day project (give yourself a theme or topic and do it for 100 days!)
- Take part in a contest
- Find a comfort zone buddy and switch your projects
- Do a limitation creativity game (see my article “1.700 Pieces of Jewellery – A Limitation Creativity Game” in “The Polymer Arts” magazine -Winter 2014)
- Pick 5 tools or materials from your stash, that you have not used up to now. Make a project using them now.
- Pick things you normally would not use. For example I hardly ever use pink. So I did a project with pink as one of the main colors!
- Be open to “failure”! The aim is to learn and grow, not necessarily to have a finished piece.
- Be ready to repeat things, lots of times if you must!
- Evaluate your process and find out what you can learn from it.
- Post pictures of work in process, or unfinished pieces and ask for help or comments.
- Look for online groups working with material that you would like to try out.
- Have fun experimenting!