I have always been a person who “made stuff.” I dabbled in many arts and crafts, often made my own gifts, etc. But I would never have called myself an artist! Does this sound familiar? Read on…
Years ago, during a bleak period in my life when I had lost two people I loved, I got an email from someone I didn’t know. (She had sent it to members of a book group in which I was no longer active but still on the group emails.) She and a couple of other creative friends were planning to work through the The Artist’s Way, opens a new window (by Julia Cameron) and meet regularly to discuss and support each other’s efforts. She wrote that if anyone would like to join this group they were to come to a coffee shop on Saturday morning at 10. This is not the kind of thing I would normally do - go to meet with people I didn’t know? Without some requirement or force involved? But the thing was, at that moment in my life I really had no comfort zone, which gave me a certain bravery I hadn’t had before. I had also found that creative endeavors were comforting and healing for me, so I showed up at the coffee shop...and 15 years later we are still meeting regularly.
This group is hugely important to me! Some early members left the group, and new members joined, and we reorganized a couple of times. But we continue to meet regularly. And we worked our way through another book which I found even more helpful, The Creative Habit, opens a new window (by Twyla Tharp). By the way, my current favorite book for accessing your creativity is Creative Strength Training, opens a new window (by Jane Dunnewold). Groups like this are especially helpful for creative folks whose day job does not feed or express their creativity. But there are lots of motivations for joining a creative group. Some people want the social outlet, others want to develop their skills with help from more experienced artists, and still others simply want to keep creative ideas and endeavors on their radar. Likewise, there are lots of different types of groups...and if you don’t find a group that suits your needs, you can start one.
Some groups and guilds are formed around a specific medium or technique, such as knitting groups or quilt guilds. Lawrence, being a very creative community, has quite a few established groups. For example, the Lawrence Bead Society meets monthly at the library, and the Yarn Barn has 2 groups that meet monthly on different Thursdays. We have put together a directory of local groups and guilds who welcome new members, and it is available at the library - or here is a downloadable/printable version, opens a new window.
Other groups have a different styles of organization and focus. Local artist, Diana Dunkley, participates in a group that meets monthly; members decide on themes or prompts for each month. Then each artist interprets the monthly theme in their artwork, and they get together to share. My own group is something of a hybrid; members work in a variety of different media, and sometimes we meet and share our work, challenges, and inspirations. Other times we get together for a hands-on art-making play date, sharing our techniques and favorite media with each other. So you see a group can be organized in a variety of ways to motivate and inspire its members.
Starting a group can happen naturally or it can be more intentional. According to Sue Reeder, the beading group was formed when she was at an estate sale and “saw a lady with a necklace made using the same bead weave as the necklace I was wearing. We looked at each other and our necklaces and said maybe we should get together to bead.” As the beading group grew they needed a larger meeting space, so they began meeting in one of the library’s meeting rooms.
If you choose to start a group, there are a few things to think about. Do you want to focus on a particular medium? Do you want discussion? Hands-on art-making? Both? How often will you meet? Where will you meet? (If you need a place to meet, you can reserve a meeting room, opens a new window at the library for free.) It is very important that members have common goals for the group, so communication is key. And it's really important that group members feel "safe" sharing their creative thoughts and projects. It can take courage to express oneself creatively, so it's important to be gentle with each other. And what happens in the group stays in the group!
I now have the experience and confidence to call myself an artist - but that’s not the best part. The best part is this group of wonderful people in my creative life who have supported and inspired me - and who continue to do so.
-Jill Mickel is an Info Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.
Watch for more creative opportunities at the library in 2020 including multi-session programs for bookbinding and felting as well as an exhibit of artwork by participants in the library's Mindful Crafting workshops! And yes, Mindful Crafting will continue.