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Art Journal Every Day: More January 2019 Daily Pages

Guest Post: Taking Risks to Open Up Creative Possibilities

While I'm settling into my new role as a mother, some of my art friends have agreed to keep you inspired with guest posts!  First up is my friend, May Flaum, with a wonderful post about stretching yourself creatively. 


I was above 95% success rate in my creative endeavors, and I was miserable. Now I know this is going to sound crazy, but I was winning at making good projects way too much and somehow that became a bad thing. It took a good amount of time and self-reflection, but what I came to realize is that I had bound myself into a very safe box which I did not venture out from because “risk/failure=bad” without ever realizing the problem that I had created. Mastery of techniques is a wonderful thing and leads to greater creativity, so where had I gone wrong? I was creatively frustrated, and not making any progress or seeing any growth in my skills. Without the risk and stretching creative possibilities past what I know I can do, there is no gain!

When Julie asked if I would contribute a guest post, I thought this would be the perfect time to address this whole failure thing, and sing its praises as one who has been diving back into the deep end of spectacular fails and problems. Oh, the tangled thread webs, hideous drawings, and wildly awful creations I can show you now. I love them all! Why? What makes a victory so sweet is the struggle and the journey to get there. The fight to master something, the hours to learn, and to better yourself is why that win means so much. When there is no fear of failure, or at least when the fear is not allowed to be a deciding factor, you become much freer to wildly experiment and test new limits. This leads to new discoveries and far more learning!

Now, I’m not actually afraid to fail which was why it was so surprising to find that I’d put myself in a “risk-free” zone. How I got there is a different story, but getting out would prove both challenging and a whole lot of fun as well. Essentially, I questioned each project, and I also started saying “yep!” to more risky techniques and projects as well. Now when I say risky, I mean just that there is more of a chance that I’d have to fix, redo, get frustrated and have to watch tutorials on, or live with some aspect that I am not totally happy with.

When working on a creative project I ask myself: is this my vision? Or am I closing off ideas because they might not work? In the above photo you see a shirt that I wanted to sew beads and lace to, but I didn’t think I could pull it off and have it work. So, I took the risk. Oh, it’s not perfect and I would change some things next time– but I learned, gained more experience and skill, and ultimately the aspects of ‘fail’ don’t actually ruin anything. I am pleased with the results as is the recipient of this gift.

Another way that I am challenging myself creatively is to go freestyle more, formula that works less. Above is a cross stitch (a new to me craft that I am very much a beginner at!) where I filled in the hard lines according to the chart, and now for all of the colors to fill in I am “painting” with my thread following no rules or set guide. What colors these waves and sky will be around that whale are going to be determined by my mood and thread choices. It’s risky – all these hours working on such a time-consuming craft could create something ugly… but I’ll have a whole lot of fun doing it! I decide what color to try each day and add a few stitches. So far, I am having a blast, and really just focusing on what does or doesn’t work with this format.

This way of working and reconnecting with my sense of curiosity and “what if…” has led to some pretty cool places mentally for me. For example, I was looking at 1 ½ cups of apple sauce I had leftover and suddenly found myself without an actual recipe making that into a loaf of bread. (Here is that recipe, if you want it) After I made it I thought whoa where did that come from? Then I realized by opening up each creative project I am taking on it has over time begun to rewire my brain so the ideas that are crazy or high risk of fail pop right up and I am not instantly slapping them down – I’m evaluating them and trying more.

Here are a few ideas that I have been trying big and small to open myself back up to creative risk and I hope they prove helpful to you as well:

  • Try a variation on something you already do (hand embroidery vs machine, creating a paper collage vs card making)
  • Try adding a new to you material or technique into your craft of choice
  • Take a class on something completely new to you or outside your realm
  • Take on a new craft entirely
  • Test a new style or method
  • Reorganize your supplies in a new way
  • As you are creating, be open to testing new methods and styles vs go-to

Basically, opening up the door for learning and potential failures is going to reap bigger rewards and much more exciting creative projects than simply settling for what you can already do well.

I love mastering new skills and adding them to my creative toolbox, but just as important I have rediscovered that the failure and the struggle part of the mastering process. As soon as I hear “but that’s high risk for failure…” in my head while I am crafting I know I’ve got to try now, and that I’ve got to take bigger creative risks. The benefits are that I’m happier, I’m creating more, my ideas are flowing better than ever, and I am having the maximum amount of fun. Isn’t that what creativity should be about? The wild fun and creative play are back- and I’m loving every ugly drawing, icky stitch, and questionable design choice I make.

May Flaum is a lifelong creative living and making in Northern California. When she isn’t traveling and having adventures with her family, she can be found with her 3 dogs crafting up crazy ideas in her home studio. You can find her sharing weekly tutorials on YouTube and craft win (and fails!) on Instagram as well.

Thanks for stopping by!