Where Creativity Thrives

Where Creativity Thrives
by Cassie Noble Beyer

Courtesy of Handmade Business

In this competitive day and age, professionals from all walks of life have their eyes set on improving their skills in order to remain relevant in the job market. Understanding the latest advances in your field keeps you relevant rather than redundant, while broadening your knowledge base makes you adaptable and flexible. Industry standards change and any savvy worker understands the importance of staying on top of them.

The handmade world is no less competitive, and every artist knows it. Each new ceramic piece, painting, or jewelry item is the result of further practice of one’s art as the maker experiments with new methods, materials, and tools.

When asked how they improve their own craft, the instinctive response from many artists is: ''practice, practice, practice.'' Certainly, practicing within your own working space is crucial. However, there are other avenues to investigate as well. Artistic brilliance thrives in communities of creativity, environments where artists can observe and adopt the best ideas from one another and integrate them into their own techniques and styles. A wide variety of classes offer a wealth of potential opportunities to artists seeking to improve their current skills and embrace new ones.

In-Store Classes: Blue Buddha Boutique

Wholesale Display Many crafting stores host classes on numerous topics for a variety of different ability levels. These classes offer inexpensive opportunities to try new techniques, work with new-to-you materials, or even investigate a completely different type of craft.

The Blue Buddha Boutique in Chicago, Ill., has been offering classes in chain mail jewelry making since 2002. They have something for everyone! While the average class is two to three hours long, beginners can learn to make a simple pendant or earrings in a 60-minute course, while much more advanced projects are covered in six-hour workshops.

Blue Buddha also offers 90-minute Guided Learning Sessions, in which students work on their own projects and instructors provide support as needed. The resulting environment is one where students are comfortable asking questions outside the scope of one specific project. ''They can use the time to pick my brain about various techniques and other weaves,'' explains Rebeca Mojica, Blue Buddha’s owner. ''Sometimes they’ll even ask me about how to sell or market their work.''

Besides offering classes throughout the year, Mojica makes sure to take a few herself. Sometimes it’s to learn a new technique to incorporate into her own work, but more often it’s a chance to play, to stop thinking about what would make a good product, and to just enjoy creating a piece of beautiful artwork. ''These classes rejuvenate my creativity. The next time I sit down at my worktable, I feel even more excited to create.''
Metalsmithing Tools

Online Resources: Beaducation
While the claim ''everything is on the Internet'' is a bit of an exaggeration, there’s a huge amount of helpful materials online for both professional and amateur artists looking to improve their craft and expand their artistic knowledge. Browsing through craft sites exposes you to new trends and techniques, for example, while projects on Pinterest can offer inspiration.

Wire-Wrapped Rivoli Crystal Necklace And if you’re looking for something with more how-to content, there is a sea of online instructional videos available to take you step by step through projects. Like an in-store class, you can see exactly how a certain process is performed. Didn’t get it the first time? Rewind and watch it again, whenever and wherever you want.

Beaducation is an online jewelry supply store offering hundreds of video tutorials for free. The classes cover all aspects of jewelry making, including beadwork, wirework, metal stamping, torch enameling, soldering, and more. Depending on the complexity of the project, the lessons run anywhere from five minutes to over 90 minutes.

''Adding classes and new techniques to an artist’s repertoire can only help them further develop their own voice and their own style,'' shares Molly Sweeney, owner of Beaducation. Even if you’re already familiar with a particular technique, seeing another person perform it can provide new tips and tricks, so there’s always something to be learned.

Local Guilds and Councils: Pennsylvania Guild of Craftsmen
Art guilds and councils serve the artistic community in a variety of ways, including through the provision of artistic education.

The Pennsylvania Guild of Craftsmen attempts to embrace everyone with an interest in art. For absolute beginners, two-hour introductory courses give them a taste of artistic creativity. On the other end of the spectrum, nationally recognized artists teach master classes to help professionals improve their craft.

It’s important to keep in mind the purpose of a class isn’t merely to learn the scheduled lesson. Classes create an environment where like-minded people can share ideas and provide feedback to one another. ''For craftspeople at all levels, a class can be helpful in giving techniques and tools, but it can be even more important to get a deep level of sustained feedback from classmates,'' says Mackenzie Snader, education manager of the Pennsylvania Guild of Craftsmen. ''That kind of feedback helps push creators to the next level.''

Fellowships: Wheaton Arts and Cultural Center
Fellowships offer artists a unique opportunity in which they are essentially paid to pursue their craft. Depending on the program, a fellowship can last weeks, months, or even years.

The Creative Glass Center of America at Wheaton Arts and Cultural Center in Millville, N.J., awards 10 fellowships a year. The longest run for three months, but shorter-term projects are also available, a response to the fact artists are finding it increasingly difficult to leave their jobs for an extended period of time.

Securing one of these programs means gaining access to the Center’s state of the art facilities as well as the assistance of studio staff (local housing is also included). While you won’t be working on your usual projects—the items that fuel your day-to-day business—you will be paid a stipend, so you can spend less energy on worrying about bills and more on artistic development.

Fellowships are provided by organizations that actively value artistic development. They are frequently not schools and, thus, are not connected to any sort of formal coursework. They’re meant to give artists the resources to let them challenge themselves and explore new directions, including collaborations with other artists.

Getting accepted into a fellowship program can be highly competitive, and prospective fellows often have to submit a project proposal in addition to having current work judged.

Networking With Peers
Making Glass Art Interacting with fellow artists is an important part of the creative processes. Simply observing the works of others can jump-start your own ideas as well as motivate you to investigate new techniques. And that investigation can easily start with a discussion with the artist in question. ''We may pick up pieces of work and inspect each other’s craft,'' explains Jeff Platt of Highwind Steamworks, whose interactions are most commonly at steampunk conventions. ''That usually leads to a discussion of what methods and tools were used, how the other maker would have done it, and problems in the manufacture of the product.''

In short, communication within the artistic community can be a driving force behind your own development. The complex relationships formed between students and teachers as well as among artists can significantly contribute to artistic growth. So if you find your creativity stalled, or you simply value learning new things, consider the array of venues available for potential new growth.