Diablo’s managing editor reenergizes her creative spirit with a Thing a Day Challenge.
Photography by Katrine Naleid
On day 27, I finally reached the limit of my crafting ability. Making bottle-cap magnets seemed simple: Cut one-inch circles out of pretty paper, place them inside bottle caps, fill to the brim with clear resin, wait for them to dry, and glue magnets to the backs. But hours later, all I had to show for my efforts were two sad caps with cloudy varnish over waterlogged paper—and a headache from the fumes.
OK, so maybe I won’t be selling cute bottle-cap magnets on Etsy anytime soon, but on the whole, my crazy idea to take on one creative project each day for 30 days—the Thing a Day Challenge—was a whole lot of fun.
I’ve been creative for as long as I can remember. Childhood crafts led to community art competitions, which led to studying graphic design and journalism in college. But in the years since graduation, life got, well, busy. My priorities changed, and my stash of art supplies was largely ignored.
It was only last year, after the fun and excitement of planning my wedding had passed, that I realized something was missing. I’d spent months looking at beautiful bridal magazines, considering the perfect combination of autumn-colored flowers for centerpieces, and working with an artist to create hand-painted invitations, and suddenly, there was nothing left to do. Having a big creative project to work on was exhilarating; it was also my mode of self-expression and my stress reliever. Without it, I didn’t feel quite like myself.
So I started a blog. I wrote about the work of artists who inspired me and built up a blog roll of creatives—one of whom was making a craft a day. There was no better way to force myself into artistic action than to take on a similar challenge. I set basic rules: I committed to one creative thing per day for 30 days. The activity and scope could vary, and following tutorials was acceptable. Everything had to be documented on the blog, where friends and family could follow along, and provide encouragement and accountability.
In the beginning, ideas for the projects practically hatched themselves. The first was something I’d had on my to-do list: make an anniversary gift for my husband, Paul. Going with a traditional paper anniversary theme, I made a message in a bottle—written on pulpy paper and rolled into a glass bottle embellished with red ribbon and a heart charm. Following that were two digital scrapbook pages of our newly adopted kittens. This project not only met the challenge requirements but also helped me relearn Photoshop, another longtime to-do.
I then began looking to the blogging community for ideas, and I found a treasure trove of how-tos. Inspired by Princess Lasertron—an Omaha, Nebraska–based crafter who creates felt and vintage button bouquets—I made a felt flower with basic embroidered details. Scrapbooking website DCWV Diary, design inspiration blog Paper N Stitch, and teal-obsessed crafter LollyChops yielded tutorials for paper flowers and trees. I also made Amish friendship bread, took photos of blossoms and architecture around my Dublin neighborhood, stocked up on Glimmer Mist at the annual Scrapbook Expo at the Alameda County Fairgrounds, and joined a friend for paint-your-own pottery at Café Art in Livermore.
Halfway through, I began to get ambitious, and “thing a day” became “thing every three or four days,” because the projects were more complex. They were bigger, messier, and ultimately, I think, more successful. It took a week of evenings to finish a strand of Peeps-theme bunting, and another few evenings to cut and tie fabric strips onto a wreath form. The bunting became part of the decor for my family’s Easter celebration, and the wreath inspired a few family members to make their own. I tried things for the first time, such as making jewelry, candles, and a stuffed animal (it was a stuffed monster, actually). And I took on something that had eluded me as a child: an origami crane.
Committing to do something every day is a very serious, yes, commitment. There were some evenings that I didn’t have time to fit in a project. Rather than give up entirely, I got right back on track at the next opportunity (something I’ve never been very successful at when it comes to diets!). It ended up taking closer to 50 days to complete my 30 projects, but I completed my projects, and I’m proud of that.
I learned new techniques, discovered new talents, met new people, and purchased a bunch of cool new art supplies. Stresses of the day became lost in the tactile process of cutting paper and running backstitches, and the exhilaration of being an artist returned. In the end, I truly got my creative groove back. I’ve gone crazy for crafting, and my head is filled with ideas—for the blog, for new projects, for a potential Etsy.com store—that I can’t wait to make happen.
In the meantime, I’ve purchased several different types of resin and adhesive, and I’ll be working on perfecting those darn bottle-cap magnets.
View the Thing a Day Challenge on Jones’ blog at artfaithlove.com.
Jones’ Favorite Resources
General Crafts: Richard’s (in Alamo and Livermore) is a one-stop shop for everything from kids’ crafts to floral design to custom art framing. Plus, its website offers project sheets and ideas to download. richardsartsandcrafts.com.
Fabric Crafts: Downtown Livermore’s quilting shop, In Between Stitches, sells beautiful fabric and has an uncommonly helpful, friendly, and knowledgeable staff. inbetweenstitches.com.
Inspiration: There are countless cool art destinations in Oakland and Berkeley, but if you’re east of the Caldecott, check out Calypso Twist in Walnut Creek. The colorful shop features home accessories and gifts by 200 artists, and you can’t leave without feeling inspired to create. calypsotwist.com.
Classes: Want to learn something new? Walnut Creek’s Civic Arts Education is the largest organization of its kind in Northern California, offering classes in ceramics, painting, jewelry making, and digital media. arts-ed.org.