Permission to Paint with Wool

Permission to Paint with Wool 

While I was on the set of the filming of Sharon Costello's video, Painting with Wool, in October, I couldn't help but think of my mom. Sharon's technique of needle felting small bits of carded dyed wool to make a pleasing vignette has a very painterly appearance. In Sharon's hands, the process of creating a beautiful image with simple tools seems simple and accessible—something that anyone could do, and yet the results are unique and striking.

My mom, Patricia Barr Clarke, is a watercolor artist—and though her works are rendered on absorbent paper with pigments suspended in water, the process was very similar. When we (my sister and brother and I) were little, my mom would often get out paints, paper, and crayons for us and we would work alongside of her. I remember those moments—they stand out in my memory with clarity. When I spin or knit or weave or bead, I go back to that place of pure delight in the process of creating. When I'm writing or editing, I go to that same place.

When I was in college I realized what a unique childhood I had. I grew up encouraged to allow my innate creativity to grow and thrive. So did my siblings. My brother is an accomplished illustrator (did you see the Spinzilla sheep? Yep, that's his work).  My sister is a photographer with an eye for composition and lighting. When I started teaching bead embroidery workshops with a focus on design, I started encountering people who didn't believe they were creative. Somehow they had received a message that creativity is something that some people are born with and others not—that it is a gift bestowed upon us. And yet these same people had a burning desire to make things—they yearned for it. They had signed up for a class, after all.

I firmly believe that creating is something that all humans are capable of and do—whether or not we are aware of it. Creating is an innate part of who we are whether we accept it or not; whether we give ourselves permission to do it or not. It happens within our bodies every second that we're alive—just think of all those skin cells that are growing, hair that is pushing up through the skin, blood molecules, synopsizes firing. If you select clothes to put on your body, arrange your furniture in your house, write a grocery list—you are creating.

Perhaps what we yearn for is creating something that goes beyond the functional, the mundane—that which we all do. But the first step on the road to creating something that is pleasing (to yourself or others) is giving yourself the permission to pursue it, to indulge in it, to enjoy the process, to delight in making things, and to allow it to happen. If you're only focused on the end product, then the process may prove to be frustrating and unsatisfying. But what if you just let yourself enjoy those moments—the wool in your hands, the peaceful space around you, the movements of the little needle, how your hands, eyes, mind, and heart work together in harmony. You may find that in the end you've made something more than an image adhered to wool (or a bobbin of yarn, or a sweater to wear, or a painting to hang on a wall). You have worked on creating yourself and that is a worthwhile pursuit.

Happy spinning,

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