Have You Found Your Feather?

Today’s guest blogger is Barbara Winter of http://www.joyfullyjobless.com

Today my sister Margaret is headed to the garment district in Los Angeles on a field trip for her business. I know she’ll return with all sorts of treasures that will take on a new life in one of her hair ornaments.

Yesterday she participated in a bridal show, introducing brides to her Over the Top Fascinators. Since starting her business earlier this year, Margaret has acquired feathers, jewels, fabrics and combs of all shapes and sizes. She’s also acquired two rescue dogs that need a lot of attention. Happily, she can combine both in her living room.

A few days ago, she and I were having one of our frequent Skype chats (where she often shows me the latest creations she’s working on) and for some reason the conversation turned to the subject of resumes and cover letters. Margaret suddenly looked thoughtful and said, “I’d be working on my resume right now if I hadn’t found the feather.”

“If I Hadn’t Found the Feather could be the title of your autobiography,” I joked. She laughed, too, but is quite aware that this happy enterprise has made a huge difference in her life. Her perpetual enthusiasm is downright contagious.

Like many wonderful enterprises, this one seemed almost accidental. Last fall, Margaret’s daughter had a friend who was getting married. Alexis, the bride, asked Margaret to make a fascinator for her to wear at the wedding. I’m not sure if Margaret knew much about fascinators at the time (I was oblivious until she introduced me), but she found the experience so delightful that she bought a few feathers, some veiling and began creating a few more. Then she had some new ideas and turned those into hair ornaments. Suddenly, she was headed in a new direction.

Margaret’s daughter Gretchen shared her enthusiasm and offered to build a Web site for her. Gretchen rounded up some friends and a photographer and scheduled a photo shoot. In its brief lifetime,  Over the Top Fascinators has had disappointments and detours, but Margaret’s passion has moved it right past those interruptions.

Watching my youngest sister evolve as an entrepreneur got me thinking about tiny Bhutan, a small country in the Himalayas. Bhutan is an unlikely place for the birth of an international trend, yet its policy of determining success based on Gross National Happiness has gotten the attention of leaders from around the world. The term was coined by Bhutan’s King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, when he ascended the throne in 1972. GNH defines prosperity based on spiritual well-being and environmental responsibility rather than consumption. 

Imagine that…building prosperity that takes into account personal happiness and well-being. And to think it could start with finding the feather.

Barbara shares ideas and inspiration with other creative entrepreneurs through her blog Buon Viaggio, her long-running print newsletter Winning Ways and Joyfully Jobless News ezine. In addition, Barbara conducts seminars and retreats across the country and internationally. Since it first appeared in 1993, her book Making a Living Without a Jobhas been a handbook for thousands of people. An updated edition makes its appearance on September 1, 2009.

Margaret Winter’s stunning designs may be viewed at http://overthetopfascinators.com

Mud pies, Fingerpaint and Creative Block

A theme seems to have emerged among my entrepreneurial “peeps” recently about creativity, creative blocks and self expression.  Some of my favorite bloggers, Sandy Dempsey (thedreamingcafe.com) and Ken Robert (Mildlycreative.com)  have posted on the topic recently. This got me thinking about the art classes I’ve taught and attended over the years, the “creative” writing instruction our children are exposed to and how so much of it stifles our expressive flow. 

As a fine arts and art education major, I was immersed in theory and technique. While developing those skills was necessary in order to implement the images dancing around in my head, a focus on “getting it right” got in the way of getting the feeling down. As my work moved towards precision, it moved away from expression, became stiff and too cerebral. In other words, I spent too much studio time in my head instead of my heart. For me, the process of painting became joyless when I began judging my work on outcome. 

I realize that classic elements and theory in visual art, music, dance or writing are vital aspects of a solid education in the arts. I cringe when I read grammatical errors in literature. But how do we balance the mastery of the details with letting the creative light flow from our inner source? 

I recall a conflict with the director of the preschool where I first “taught art” in my early twenties. I used my alloted art instruction time to expose the children to elements of design, showing them how a squiggly line gives a different feel than a straight line and how muddy colors put them in a different mood than bright or pastel colors. I helped them observe how objects further away were less vibrant and smaller than those in the foreground.  Pretty complex concepts for a preschooler, yet they appeared to grasp the basics because we made it fun.  I showed them the color wheel and then let them “play” with mixing colors. Some of the exercises were eatable. Ketchup and mustard make orange. Add mayonnaise and you get peach or what we in those days so socially inappropriately referred to as “skin tone.” 

When introducing the kids to the works of different masters, I tried to make it fun and relevant for them. We had a Jackson Pollack morning when the kids squirted different colored icing all over white sheet cakes and then got to eat their “paintings.”

None of this went over well with the director who said she understood the purpose but wanted to please the parents who didn’t understand why their kids weren’t coming home with identical turkey crafts at Thanksgiving or gingerbread men at Christmas. We butted heads, I stuck to my guns and knew I needed to be self employed soon. 

Fast forward three decades and  I missed the creative process. I’d let it go, I believed, in the interest of earning a living selling other artists work. The truth was, I had stopped creating because when I tried to “do it right” it lost it’s joy for me. I enrolled in creative workshops with descriptions like “Intuitive Water Color” and “Painting from the Soul”.  The first day or so in these classes, I was able to get out of my head and connect more with my heart. the expression flowed and it was joyful. Imagines were forming on the paper, bypassing my head. I swear some of them emerged from deep in my bones, almost as if my DNA knew things I couldn’t possibly know.

Then came the “sharing” and suddenly I was judging my art. In one workshop, the facilitator, a psychologist, had us “act out” our paintings. When I returned to the act of painting after that, the flow was blocked. I knew I’d have to dramatize what I painted and again became attached to outcome. Once I knew what came out of my hand would be analyzed, I froze. 

When my son, Todd, was young, he loved to write. His work had a fresh, open tone. Then an adult in his life began correcting his grammar and punctuation mid stream and he gradually stopped writing for pleasure. He also loved to go to the piano and just “play” as opposed to reading music. Then, lessons meant practice and correction and while he played well once he understood theory, he no longer “composed.”


We’ve all known kids who after their first ballet lessons were discouraged from continuing because they lacked grace and poise.  I think about how different the experience would have been if the same child had been put in a room without mirrors and encouraged to just “feel” the music and move freely without attachment to appearance. 


I recognize that if someone is planning a career in the arts, it’s vital to master technique but what about all of us who were either discouraged because we weren’t “naturals” or eliminated ourselves from the creative game because we judged our outward appearance? 

Looking back over my teaching and learning experiences, I am convinced we should all spend more time finger painting, drumming on pots and pans and dancing blindfolded.

What are your creative blocks? What puts you in the flow? When was the last time you made mud pies or painted with your toes?

Americana made in China?

As we in the US celebrate Independence Day weekend,  we see patriotism everywhere: flags proudly flying,red, white and blue clothing,  jewelry,  picnic ware, even dogs dressed up in little Uncle Sam hats.  The general buying public may not notice this but those of us whose mission it is to support handmade in America  would be hard pressed to find any Americana made on our soil.  Those sequin-studded red, white and blue t-shirts  with the patriotic sayings, purchased at Walmart: made in China. Do you know where your American flag was made? I’ve not been able to locate one made in the US.  

Equally disturbing was my observation last week driving through the southwest. All along the interstate I saw signs and banners for Native American crafts.”  I’ve long admired the American Indian crafts, particularly the textiles and basketry. So, imagine my disappointment when I stopped at some road side stand and found that all the “native american craft” displayed  in the shops was actually made in China.

So, what does this have to do with you? As a crafter, your primary goal in marketing should be stressing not only the handmade aspect but the fact that your work is made in America. People want to be patriotic: they just don’t notice. The average consumer does not read labels and has no idea she is buying an imported “American” flag or “native american” jewelry made in China or India. Right now more than any time since the second world war, Americans want to do something to make a difference in our economy and our country’s future. It’s your job to educate the consumer and help them to feel good about buying work that is made by American hands. It will make a positive difference in your sales and in the consciousness of the American buyer. Speak up. be proud to be an American craftsperson.