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Finding inspiration outside your wheelhouse

Sometimes, finding inspiration for what you do best comes from trying something totally different. In this post, Liz O'Brien writes about the importance of moving beyond the familiar to try new things.

Posted on January 24, 2024
by Liz O'Brien

"Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson 

As I was first considering the Artisan Development Program, one of the biggest draws was the seemingly limitless time in which to spend practicing and mastering my main craft of study, in addition to the liberty of exploring other disciplines. One of our first tasks after starting the program was to choose a few different classes we wanted to observe. In particular, we were encouraged to select classes outside of our area of discipline, to step outside our comfort zones so to speak. I was quite fortunate with the classes I chose as the instructors allowed me the freedom to observe as well as participate in their classes as a student. In each of these classes, I left energized, my brain pinging left and right with new ideas of how I might want to incorporate some of the techniques and skills I observed and experienced into my own craft study. 

New weaving techniques—rya!

Since then, I’ve spent quite a bit of time reflecting on this first task. Specifically, I’ve given a lot of thought to how it has shaped my approach to learning, my ability to adapt, and the creative inspiration I felt after each class I observed or have been fortunate enough to take as a student. While I have thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself in the world of natural dyes and all it encompasses, there have been times I’ve felt overwhelmed and bogged down. In those moments, I decided to pivot back to some of the skills I’d gained from the classes I observed, seeking inspiration from other directions. 

Working with willow for the first time, weaving a small garlic basket

By switching my brain back into student mode, it became intensely clear to me just how important learning something new is to your overall well-being. It takes only a quick Google search to see that there are endless studies emphasizing the importance of continued learning— specifically learning something new—and for good reason. It is empowering, energizing, humbling, and motivating all at once. It facilitates a rekindled sense of wonder, creativity, and deep appreciation for the efforts that go into the things we make with our hands. 

Tying horse hair bristles for a hand brush

Not only that, but this ability to pivot when certain tasks are not going as intended is so important. Switching gears to work on something different allowed me time and space to problem-solve in a different kind of way I may not have otherwise done. I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve felt an internal aha! moment as I waxed individual pieces of thread to tie horse hair bristles into a brush handle or braided the fringe on the end of small weaving. My studio has slowly filled up with little reminders of each challenge I faced and the times I tried and learned something new. 

Shrine of learnings

This adaptability is a skill transferable to almost any situation in life and one that allows you to continue growing even after you think you’ve mastered everything you set out to. It’s what allows us to show up, experiment fearlessly, and take risks on ourselves, continuously keeping us open to opportunities and possibilities that come our way.

Harvesting horse hair from a friends horse for future brushes!