An Interview with Tsia Carson, author of Craftivity — 40 Projects for the DIY Lifestyle

With projects that range from yarn to wood, from found objects to fabric, with contributors from all over the craft spectrum, Tsia Carson has put together a creative lightening bolt — a force of craft. I’m not at all surprised, really. I’ve been a fan of her dynamically charged SuperNaturale.com site for quite some time (and have been fortunate enough to contribute to its Glimmer blog, along with many others, for the last year or so). But the book, Craftivity, takes the whole crafty mission up a notch — it’s inventive, wondrously colorful and full of creative surprises, and I am not alone in singing its praises. I’m really happy and honored to present an interview with Tsia about her new book here at 52projects.com.

Craftivity — what a wonderful name for the book. What does that word mean to you?

I wanted to get across the idea that crafting is active, that it is an activity and that the practitioners are activist. They take agency over their lives by making beautiful stuff. Most of the happiest crafters I know craft in groups or have a community of people they engage with about their work. I think that this is at the heart of what makes it relevant interesting culture and not just more stuff to consume and own. But I have to give props to Holly Gressley and Aviva Michaelov for introducing me to this term.

How have you met all these crafters? How much did your website have to do with pulling together all the artists for your book?

Most of the makers I have met but not all of them. There are a few I can’t wait to meet! The website was instrumental in meeting and discovering contributors. It’s the best calling card in the world.

Tell the truth — what was the hardest project in the book to make happen?

Twist my arm! I think that knit hammock, while not the hardest project to do in terms of skill level, was the hardest to make happen. It took a really long time and knitting with the hemp twine was really hard because it has a mind of its own. Poor Annika (Annika Ginsberg made it)! She is a master knitter and it was driving her nuts. Every step of the way something went awry with that project. Even building the harness at the end was nuts. But I think I would know how to do that much better now.

If you had to pick a theme song for your book what would it be?

"One Nation Under a Groove" Funkadelic?
"Who’s Got the Crack?" the Moldy Peaches?
"One Divine Hammer" the Breeders?

Gosh, I don’t know.

How does your background in design flow into your personal crafting?

I don’t really separate these creative activities up. I am heavy on the concept, I think through things and have to be excited by the idea before I make anything. If anything, becoming a designer has made me more sensitive to detail and more particular.

How do you think the web has impacted the world of crafting?

The way it has opened up communities to like-minded individuals rather than geographic location has been phenomenal. It has really facilitated discourse and making in a way that would have been impossible. I think that it has fueled the scene so that people are not working in isolation.

Do you recall your very first craft project? What was it? Why did you make it?

I was such a craftive kid. My parents totally encouraged it. I think what comes to mind is that I made a whole zoo of cut-out paper animals and then photographed them against a dark window so you could see the backs as well in the photograph. I wanted you to be able to see the back and front at the same time. It was all about the image. I was a total OCD kid. My father is an artist and when I just learned how to write I signed my name on all his work. That was a good idea too. Also there was my "multimedia" JFK presentation in 2nd grade…

In terms of crafting, knowing you’re a partner in a design firm and have a baby — when do you get it done? How do you find the time?

I still haven’t put together almost any of my personal projects.

There’s a baby quilt, a lampshade and house painting. Honestly, I have started to outsource and have people help me. It’s funny — I do find time to do those activities I enjoy. For instance I hate to sew, so that is going to be outsourced to a friend. But I like to knit, so I made my daughter a red scarf just like her favorite book character — Jenny Linksy the cat.

How is your crafting different as a mother from how it was when you did not have a child?

What project will take an evening max is the major deciding factor.

What’s the one craft project you’ve always thought about creating but have yet to get started on?

I thought I would be really DIY’d out after this book but it has actually fueled my desire to make stuff. I am going to study permaculture over the winter and my husband and I are going to make our property into an edible forest garden. I would also like to implement a grey water system for the house to feed the water from the washing machine through a drip irrigation system for the garden. Even saying this stuff makes it clear why I haven’t had the time to do it yet.

More on the book.

Buy the book.

Read an interview with Tsia at Craftzine.com.

An Interview with Julie Blattberg,author of Backstage with Beth and Trina

Not Beth and Trina. That’s illustrator Wendi Koontz on the left, and author Julie Blattberg on the right.

First, I promised not to mention any details of the backstage "experiences" author Julie Blattberg may or may not have had with Vanilla Ice, David Lee Roth, Jon Bon Jovi, and Madonna.

Now that that’s out of the way, I can let you know about Julie’s very cool new book, Backstage with Beth and Trina (illustrated by Wendi Koontz). It’s a colorful, sexy adventure story about two rocker chicks who are determined to get backstage and, well, party with the band. But this book goes beyond the visual and ventures into the realm of scents. How does it transcend the normal confines of the picture book? By reaching back to the tomes of our youth. That’s right: Backstage with Beth and Trina is a scratch-and-sniff adventure. But the scents in this book go way beyond strawberry and banana — we’re talking beer, cigarettes, leather and latex. Beth and Trina are rocker chicks, after all. I interviewed Julie about the new book. What follows are her on-the-record responses.

How did you come up with this idea? When did the scratch-and-sniff element come into play?

I’d been working for a publisher of children’s books for a few years, and it occurred to me how unfair it was that kids have all of these different books with fun formats — scratch-and-sniff, lift-the-flap, glow-in-the-dark, and so on. I thought about existing formats and wondered what could be done for grown-ups. Around the same time, I was photographing a lot of rock bands and concerts, and thought I could do something cool with music. The brainstorming led to the characters, which led to the rock club setting, and the rest, as they say, is history. Rock shows are full of…interesting smells…

How much testing was done to get the smells just right? Any misfires that didn’t make it into print (and scent)?

My favorite part of the process of having this book published was a meeting requested by my editor: "Can you come downtown this week? The swatches are in." The two of us sat in her office scratching and sniffing scent samples, suppressing giggles when staff walking by overheard phrases like, "This doesn’t really smell enough like vomit," and "I know what we can use for the condom!"

The one aroma that we couldn’t quite get was Jack Daniel’s. But everyone knows what that smells like anyway, right?

Are you Beth, or Trina?

What do you think?

How old were you when you first tried to get backstage?

My first success story: High school. INXS. Jones Beach, NY. A friend of mine was infatuated with Michael Hutchence (R.I.P.) and HAD to get backstage. Despite our best efforts to sweet-talk security, it was time to give up hope…until an angry guy stormed out of the backstage door, due to a "situation" we overheard. He saw three forlorn-looking girls on the sidelines and did the right thing: He gave us the backstage passes that he and his friends could no longer use. We got backstage, had underage drinks with the band, and talked about mundane things like popular movies and restaurants in Manhattan.

Any tips to getting backstage?

Get a job in the music business. Or (and I hate to say this), if you’re a girl: get a boob-job, wear lots of makeup and little clothing; crying works, too.

What’s the soundtrack for this book?

The soundtrack is the self-published debut album of a hard rock / heavy metal band of undetermined origin. There are so many talented singers, writers, and musicians out there, trying to make it in the highly competitive and somewhat shady music business. The headlining act in BACKSTAGE WITH BETH AND TRINA is not one of those bands. Instead, imagine a cross between Whitesnake, Cinderella, and Def Leppard; take away half of the hair product — and half of the charisma; and turn the amplifier up to 11.

Will there be further adventures for Beth and Trina? I’m pushing for a catfight…

Further adventures are in the works. And rest assured — there will be guitars and there will be long hair involved. Now what do you suppose a catfight would smell like, Jeff?

Visit BethandTrina.com | Check out their myspace page | Buy Backstage with Beth and Trina

An Interview With Chris Dunmire,Publisher of Creativity-Portal.com

You better really mean it if you’re going to put the word "portal" in the name of your website. You better have lots of links and lots of stories and cover all the seasons and in general be opening up your audience to all kinds of new stuff all the time. And if your focus is creativity, well, then you’ve really got to have it together. Creative types are always looking for fresh ideas and original concepts and new ways to further their own endeavors, whether they’re old hat experts or new to the craft. Well, Creativity Portal means it. The site, run by Chris Dunmire, is a launching pad to creative quick fixes and craft ideas, as well as in-depth explorations of inspiration and living the creative life. I interviewed Dunmire about Creativity Portal and creativity in general.

Why did you start Creativity-Portal.com?

Short answer: Because I’m a creativity enthusiast!

Long answer: I started the Creativity Portal Web site in 2000 shortly after leaving a corporate job at a company I’d been with for seven years — one that I originally thought I’d be with for several decades until I retired (it was that kind of company). However, in the years leading up to my departure, an astonishing number of life-altering events took place that forced me to take stock of my life and realize that I was undergoing a creative awakening that needed to be tended to and incorporated into my working life somehow.

As I was in the process of changing career paths, I began to embrace my creativity enthusiast nature more and knew I needed a dynamic "container" to pour my creative energy into. A Web-based project based on my creative vision became that container — the Web site known as the Creativity Portal.

How has the site evolved over the years?

Watching the Creativity Portal grow and evolve over the years has been such a satisfying experience. The site began with a hand-selected directory and profile of instructional art, craft, and writing resources and grew to include my own creativity-inspiring projects, articles, and book reviews. I opened up the site as a creative community project after an author approached me with her syndicated column series and asked if it could be published on the site. Welcoming that collaboration resulted in other creative professionals working with me to add their voices to the collective Creativity Portal project.

Today the Creativity Portal features over a half-dozen regular monthly columns in addition to ongoing contributions by various authors, coaches, and artists to help educate and inspire visitors no matter where they are in their creative lives. The site has earned a generous share of accolades as well. It’s been named a Writer’s Digest Best Web site (since 2002), was lauded as a Kim Komando "Kool" Site, and has appeared in Imagine magazine, a college textbook, and on Blogger’s Buzz. Several authors have also acknowledged the Creativity Portal in their books and on their Web sites, which is a great honor.

How do you balance a site about creativity with all your personal creative projects?

Serendipitously, the Creativity Portal is a continuous source of inspiration and motivation for my own creative life. The same articles and resources that inspire its readers also inspire me. As the sites’ creative director and publisher, I read every single article and project published on the site and work closely with its regular contributors in the shape and direction of new site features. All of this has a very personal and profound effect on me that spills over into my personal creative work.

It’s no coincidence that many of my creative projects are weaved through the pages of the Creativity Portal Web site even though I have my own personal site devoted to my creative play (www.chrisdunmire.com). I am thrilled to be the site publisher and an active contributor. It’s like running an ice cream shop while inventing new ice cream flavors on the side in the back room. It all just flows together in a fulfilling, creative dream kind of way.

We’re all creative beings, doing creative things all the time. But how important is it to emphasize creativity in one’s life?

I’m naturally biased about this and pro-creativity in the fullest sense of the word. Having said that, I believe the gauge on this is for each of us to decide for ourselves — how much or to what extent we should personally emphasize creativity in our lives.

You are correct in saying that we are all creative beings, doing creative things all of the time. Not everyone recognizes when their creativity is engaged as artists, inventors, problem solvers, or ‘outside the box’ thinkers. It happens in the kitchen, at the store, while we’re driving, during meetings, while we’re playing, and when we’re working. Creativity permeates every aspect of our lives, whether we label it as such or not, and we all benefit from the freedom to be creative. Creativity keeps us progressive, improves our lives, and gives us the opportunity to express ourselves and communicate with others.

How has your personal view of creativity evolved as you’ve built up and worked on the website?

My personal view of creativity has grown so much over the years — and I suspect it will never stop evolving for as long as I live. Every person I come into contact with contributes to the dynamic definition of creativity that I carry within me.

Long ago I used to think that creativity was only about artistic expression and problem solving, but I have grown to understand it also as a tool for healing, personal growth, and spiritual practice. It is a multi-faceted component to our lives that makes everything possible.

What kinds of things do you hear from readers of the site?

I’ve received an abundance of affirming feedback from visitors who enjoy the Creativity Portal’s vision, articles, projects, and resources. I get a lot of fun comments from people who’ve used my novelty Money Plant Project. I also receive kind personal notes from newsletter readers about my musings and the community projects I invite them into.

Recently, one reader shared with me how an article from the site discussing how "getting outside of your routine promotes creativity" helped inspire her writing life during some challenging times after Hurricane Katrina devastated the area in which she lived.

Other contributors to the Creativity Portal have also been recipients of life-changing feedback to their work. One author was approached by a popular health magazine after her article on creativity was published on the site. They wanted permission to publish her article in their print magazine! Another author received so much feedback on one of her articles about day jobs that she went on to write a book about it.

How does a creativity coach work? I’m sure each has his or her own creative approach, but for those who have only heard the term, can you provide some insight?

You are correct — professional creativity coaches, depending on their background and training, may have different approaches to their coaching style, focus, and philosophy. I have trained as a creativity coach under Eric Maisel, Ph.D., and his coaching philosophy is well-reflected in the many books he’s written on creativity and coaching.

In the broadest sense, creativity coaches help support artists and creators of all kinds with their creative work in working regularly and deeply, overcoming blocks, and achieving success in the marketplace. Some coaches have specialty niches and may work primarily with writers, visual artists, or performers in-person, by phone, or through e-mail.

For anyone interested in more information on creativity coaching, I recommend visiting the Web sites of Eric Maisel, Ph.D. and Jill Badonsky M.Ed., who are two well-known coach trainers.

When was the last time you were creatively stuck, and how did you get past it?

I get creatively stuck all the time. How do I get past it? Sometimes it’s a matter of allowing the creative process to work (you know, idea gathering, incubation…). Other times I need to shift into self-coach mode and figure out what’s going on with me. Do I know enough about a subject? Am I being a perfectionist? Am I afraid? Do I need to take a nap? Do I need to eat more cookies? And on and on it goes.

Sometimes getting past it means I have to put aside my fears and do it anyway. Sometimes it means accepting that doing things creatively average is okay. And sometimes it means scrapping an idea and saying "Chris, what WERE you thinking?!"

It’s summer timeā€¦ Any good summer creativity prompts?

Yes, go outside to your favorite park, lake, or forest preserve and really notice what’s going on around you. Whether you see ducks floating on the water, little kids hanging on the monkey bars, or families enjoying quality time eating together, you’ll find all of the creative story starters you need to last you until autumn. Here’s your first one: go count all of the white butterflies you can in five minutes fluttering through the flowers and then write about what you think they’re really up to. These family-friendly prompts are brought to you by the letters C, D, B.

What’s currently inspiring you, and what are you working on?

I am currently inspired by flowers. Flowers are such amazing works of art. I am gifted with a teacher friend who is educating me on all kinds of flowery things and has some very cool ones growing in her yard that I’ve never seen before in my life. She’s recently sent me a postcard from her vacation in Minnesota featuring the state flower called "Showy Lady Slipper." The flower actually looks like an elegant slipper shoe!

I am working on many creative things. I recently finished a coaching writers training with Eric Maisel and have plunged deeper into my writing life. I have a growing list of writing projects that keep me busy, and when I’m not doing that I’m doing my best to chronicle my creative journey and reflect on the richness of being alive in the now.

Describe a perfectly creative day:

I think that it’s okay to live un-perfectly creative days. My current philosophy is this: I believe in meeting a day creatively where you are, knowing that tomorrow is another day you can continue on the journey if you are up to the challenge. If you’re not, rest and recharge. Some days I am exhausted from all of my spent creative energy, and other days I am resting and queuing up for the next exciting project. Occasionally, in between days I unplug from it all and put my creative life on pause. I’ll admit though, that’s really hard for a creativity enthusiast to do.

Favorite Movie Scenes

These are not necessarily favorite movies, just favorite scenes from random movies. These are selected moments that have just struck a chord with me, float to the forefront of my mind from time to time, ones that can make me start laughing so hard I can’t finish my sentence, scenes I like to relate to others on long car drives when we’re all just talking to make sure the driver doesn’t fall asleep at the wheel.

The aforementioned "Custard Scene" from Young Adam.

Bill Murray’s "It just doesn’t matter" speech from Meatballs.

The scene where Wil Wheaton sees that deer in Stand By Me, and explains that he kept the sighting to himself, didn’t tell his friends about it.

When Anthony Michael Hall tells his friend "Don’t mess with the fantasy" in Weird Science.

The scene in City Slickers when one of the ice cream entrepreneurs, in response to Billy Crystal’s challenge to name the perfect ice cream to eat after a hot dog, says, "Scoop of vanilla, scoop of chocolate (throws his plate down) — Don’t waste my time."

In The Untouchables, when Kevin Costner is trying to stop that baby carriage from falling down the steps, chasing it in slow motion, and then a running Andy Garcia throws up a gun to Costner, slides to the bottom of the staircase, stops the baby carriage from falling with his foot, and has a perfectly lined up shot at the bad guy.

That scene when Booger from Revenge of the Nerds shouts "He’s skiing on one ski!" in the movie Better Off Dead.

When John Candy as Uncle Buck is trying to explain to his girlfriend why he can’t show up for his first day of work at her auto shop, yet again.

The scene in Y Tu Mama Tambien where the boy wakes up and realizes he is driving through the hometown of his nanny, is clearly moved by it, and then decides to say nothing to his traveling companions.

The love-making scene in Late Marriage.

When they leave the old blind man’s house in The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada.

The woman sitting quietly and demurely smiling on the park bench with the true love of her life in After Life.

In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory when Charlie returns the everlasting jawbreaker and Willy Wonka stares at it for a moment and then in a whisper says, “A good deed in weary world.”

The old man on the swing in the rain in Ikiru.

What are some of your favorite scenes from movies?

Opening Shots Project

Jim Emerson, the editor of one of my favorite sites, RogerEbert.com (because I am a huge fan of Roger Ebert and his love of movies), has a very cool project going on his Scanners blog: The Opening Shots Project. He publishes short essays on opening shots of note — why they are great, what they convey, how they impact the overall film. The introduction on the project is here. Definitely worth checking out. It will inspire you to not only take a look at the opening shots of the movies featured, but just of opening shots in general.

And I mentioned I’m a fan of Roger Ebert. Well, he’s in the hospital right now (according to his site), and just want to send some good thoughts his way. Get better soon Roger Ebert.

Part of my weekly ritual is to read Ebert’s reviews. I do it just to get a feel for the new movies coming out, of course, but I have to say, it’s more than that, certainly more than getting a star rating: there’s always some revelatory remark that Ebert makes, something about the movie, yes, but also about life, about dreams and feelings and relationships, and I am always taken aback. See, for example, the last paragraph in this review of Young Adam. Amazing stuff.

I’ve been seeing quite a few movies lately (I think I saw six films on the plane ride back from South Africa alone, plus an episode of Without A Trace and this very cool show The Harry Bikers Cookbook), and I also just jumped on the Netflix bandwagon. I mentioned Young Adam because I just saw it this past weekend (then looked up the Roger Ebert review to see what he had to say about the film). There’s a particular scene in that movie — The Custard Scene — and if you’ve seen the film, then you know EXACTLY what I’m talking about. Well, it got me thinking about my favorite scenes from movies — not favorite movies, just some favorite scenes — and I was able to list quite a few right off the top of my head. Young Adam isn’t one of my favorite movies, but The Custard Scene is now one of my favorite scenes. For my next post, I’ll write up some of my favorite movie scenes.

Yes, I am one of those people who always steers the conversation in the direction of movies.

What’s Your Project #128Dream Journal Project

I keep a dream journal that I write in several times a week. Here’s how to start one of your own:

1. When you are brushing your teeth before going to bed, brush for awhile with the hand you don’t normally use. This activates the non-dominant, non-logical side of your brain and gets you ready to be tuned into your unconscious.

2. Even more important, as you fall asleep, have the intention to bring a dream back with you when you wake up–I think of it as similar to going fishing. Sometimes you will catch something, sometimes not.

3. Keep a journal by your bed. There are several approaches to this. You can be very disciplined about it, making sure to write down every fragment of dream that you can recall, especially when you wake up during the night. Or, you can take a more relaxed approach and just write whatever’s left in your head in the morning.

4. I am using a journal with black pages that I write on with silver and gold ink, because that has a cool look that differentiates my dream journal from my regular journal. Choose whatever notebook and pens work for you, fancy or simple.

5. When you write your dreams down in the morning, just write everything you remember. Then go back and reread, and try to do a little analysis. If any words or phrases are lingering in your head, look them up in a dictionary, even if you know their meaning. There will be cool second and third levels of meaning to discover.

6. Make sure to keep a playful and respectful attitude toward your unconscious mind, which is very powerful and wants to make your life more fabulous!

Anya Weber
Jamaica Plain, MA