Category Archives: Blog Posts

Into the Night Sea

Into the Night Sea is a project navigating the world of childhood nightmares; a series of short films incorporating visual art and dance with an accompanying soundtrack of re-imagined traditional lullabies. Into the Night Sea is a collaboration of some of Kansas City’s premier creatives including: Brad Cox, Jennifer Owen, Kristopher Estes-Brown, Jennifer Tierney, Shay Estes, Victoria Botero, Jeff Harshbarger, Tiffany Sisemore, Mike Stover, and Sam Wisman. As project directors, James and I have been so incredibly grateful to work with such an amazing crew!The premier screening & live performance at The Toy & Miniature Museum on November 16th will be completely open to the public with no admission! But this means it is especially important for us to finish funding the project as soon as possible so that this magical event can happen as planned!Please join us at the Fundraiser Event THIS SUNDAY, October 20th from 5-8pm at Californos in Westport. Ticket information is listed below.

This event will be a special evening of music from the crew of Into the Night Sea.  The live music will include portions of the never-before heard soundtrack for Into the Night Sea and a wide selection of night-related songs! Be the first to hear the music created for the films! Attending patrons will also be treated to a special sneak peek at footage from the project.

Into the Night Sea also marks the first non-10,000 Hours related project in which I’ve incorporated knitted works. The conjoined-twin teddy bears, the hand-knit dragon puppet, and the constellation shawl will be on display at the fundraiser so you can get an up-close look at what my needles have been up to the past five months.
Don’t miss this opportunity to meet the Into the Night Sea crew and help us reach our project funding goal while enjoying a music-filled evening with some of Kansas City’s top musicians!Fundraiser Tickets are $25 each (or in groups of 4 or more for $20 each.)
Available through Brown Paper Tickets here: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/477537Make sure you buy your tickets now so that we can let Californos know a headcount for seating and staff.

We’ll see you Sunday!!!Blog10-14-13

The Price of Expertise: Part 4

This is the fourth post in my several-post series The Price of Expertise exploring the topic of money in relation to 10,000 Hours. (Click here for Part 1: The Etsy Equation, here for Part 2: Pirates and Trolls, a Contemporary Tale, and here for Part 3: Apples of the Hesperides.) I’m finding more and more that ideas about money are inextricably linked to this journey and it is having a major impact on the way I experience the pursuit of mastery. This particular topic encompasses many different aspects of 10,000 Hours and I’ll try breaking them down into their various categories over the next few posts.

Part 4: No Words

One month has passed since the last installment exploring money-related issues with 10,000 Hours. This is because the next part will cover the valuation of my time.

This is a really difficult subject for me. I have been thinking about it and working on it pretty much non-stop since January of this year. And still, I sit down to type this post and I freeze. I’m just not ready to talk about it yet. I don’t have the words. Well, that’s not quite right. I have too many words and they all spill out at once to the front of my mind where they strangle each other and leave me with nothing coherent to type.

After a summer of living on the threshold of poverty (we live at the edge and when the academic year is over, the edge comes that much closer), discussions about what my time and efforts are worth, about what I am worth, are too painful to have right now. But I am aware that it is a discussion that must happen. And as I’ve said, it’s been one I’ve been having privately and offline since January. Discussing with friends and trusted colleagues. Discussing endlessly. Being told on one hand that I must demand what my time is worth, what is equitable and sustainable… and also being told by those very same people in that same conversation that there’s no way I can charge that for my time and even that maybe I should charge Chinese-factory-labor wages to make a statement. A statement I feel which would be lost, given that just this week I had to explain to yet another customer that $2.95 was for the pattern and not the gloves themselves. Again. (See: Part 1.)

This conversation is too painful. I will have it with you. I will come back to this. But right now, I can’t.

Identity

**I will return to The Price of Expertise and money-related issues with 10,000 Hours soon.**

As I found myself spending a Saturday night in my studio carving a dragon head out of cushion foam for Into the Night Sea… I mourned the part of me that used to know how to operate a printing press; the part of me that carved blocks, etched copper, and mixed ink. I used to be a printmaker. And that was a simple title.

Now, my label is interdisciplinary artist; to which even other artists reply, “So, yeah, uh, what do you do?” Not an easy question to answer. Sometimes I knit, sometimes I tweet, sometimes I draw, sometimes I take pictures, sometimes I wield a can of spray-paint or sit in mixing sessions making endless notes about “warmth & reverb.” 10,000 Hours has lead me far out of my comfort zone in a myriad of ways. I approach all of my work now with a “what needs to happen and what are the materials I have to work with” mentality. So far, the projects I’ve worked on since completing my master’s have not required a printing press.

I can’t say that it was 10,000 Hours alone that lead me away from the print room. I started the project concurrent with my exit from academia, but perhaps the exit from academia itself was, in fact, my exit from the single discipline. 10,000 Hours just happened at the same time.

I turned to my husband and said, “Carving this dragon is giving me a bit of an identity crisis.”

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“I miss being a printmaker.”

“Oh, you miss carving things?”

“No, I miss having an easy identity.”

Ripping the identity out from under my feet was part of the point of starting 10,000 Hours. Identity is not a static thing and sometimes it is changed on us suddenly without our consent. I started 10,000 Hours. I was a willing participant. Even so, I sometimes miss the feeling of walking into a room of printmakers and feeling a camaraderie.

Stars

This post is not part of The Price of Expertise series. I will return to that series of posts about money-related issues with 10,000 Hours later this week.

As I look over my 10,000 Hours posts, I realize that I often neglect to talk about the non-confusing, non-disorienting, and actually pleasant parts of 10,000 Hours. This might be for many reasons. This project puts me in a near-constant state of “identity crisis” with the non-stop examination of where I am, how it all has effected me, and what changes have occurred. I don’t really watch horror movies or crime dramas, so I guess I prefer to existentially freak myself out by deconstructing my “self.”

But there is plenty about 10,000 Hours that is pleasant and happy. But those are quiet still moments; moments that don’t express themselves easily in words. Or maybe in my typical American way I shy away from dwelling on these moments in public because it’s far more culturally acceptable to complain. Or maybe bringing language to something is my way of processing it and the quiet moments don’t need processing… the confusion, on the other hand, does. Words let me sift through the experiences looking for the useful information.

So tonight I will try to bring words to one of the still moments from this week…

I am working on one of the last pieces for Into the Night Sea, a black shawl with small silver glass beads – stars dotting the night sky. Smooth and silky black yarn made from sugar cane, dyed so deeply I must sit under my desk lamp to work even in the day; small silver glass beads that sparkle in the light; hand applying each “star” as I work through the complicated and abstract chart that mirrors the constellation maps from both hemispheres. I’ve long since forgotten which constellation is which in the chart, the dots all blur together without the tell-tale lines connecting them. As it is, the only two things I can ever find in the sky are Orion’s Belt and Polaris. (My father, being one of the rare people actually trained to conduct land surveys by astronomical observation, always made sure I knew which star was Polaris.) Even so, there is something important to me about placing the stars in the order that we see them from our perspective here on Earth.

The work is tedious and slow but the sky grows and hangs from my fingers in silky folds. I look forward to seeing it finished and across the shoulders of our vocalist, Shay Estes, in the films.

There is something calming about pouring so much time and concentration into a work. I could just as easily have “faked” the night sky and randomly placed the beads without having to stop and count the stitches between stars every single row. But that wouldn’t have been the point. Besides, when humans try to create randomness we rarely achieve it.

This work, this night sky, is an expression. My knitting has reached a point where it can be an artistic expression beyond itself, beyond the act of knitting, beyond the attempt to hack my identity to bits. The part of me that explores the world and searches through the noise has taken this tool I’ve gained from 10,000 Hours and is using it.Blog8-13-13

The Price of Expertise: Part 3

This is the third post in my several-post series The Price of Expertise exploring the topic of money in relation to 10,000 Hours. (Click here for Part 1: The Etsy Equation and here for Part 2: Pirates and Trolls, a Contemporary Tale.) I’m finding more and more that ideas about money are inextricably linked to this journey and it is having a major impact on the way I experience the pursuit of mastery. This particular topic encompasses many different aspects of 10,000 Hours and I’ll try breaking them down into their various categories over the next few posts.

Part 3: Apples of the Hesperides*

As I’ve now moved into the realm of professional** with my knitting in 10,000 Hours, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it takes to pursue mastery while simultaneously working on a professional level in that same field. Is it even possible? This probably sounds ridiculous but let’s break it down a bit.

The refrain of 10,000 Hours – to pursue mastery you must push yourself to the edge of your abilities with deliberate practice. What this currently looks like in my practice: trying new techniques, challenging myself with new structural forms, and adding more, often subtle, detail and finishing qualities to my works. This means I’m not necessarily fast. This means I sometimes fail and need to start over. This means I generally produce one-of-a-kind works as I’m conscious of not letting myself plateau too long or too often in my preciously ticking down 7,000+ remaining hours and am therefor hesitant to repeat a project too often, if at all.

But here’s the catch… as a professional knitter I would ideally be much speedier. That means I’d probably need to be working on projects a little less technically difficult for myself. I would also need to fail a little less. “Time is money” and if I waste it on a project that doesn’t turn out the way it should, I “eat” that time and sometimes those materials.

Now, within the context of 10,000 Hours as an art project, I have more options. I don’t need to worry quite so much about the failures because the failures are a part of the project. In fact, my time in general is part of the 10,000 Hours project. Because the project is not the knitting; the project is my metamorphosis. So, consequently, there’s a heavy dose of observer effect happening here. I must remind myself to not be swept away in the current of professional pressures; that my directive is to continue to expand my boundaries, which includes falling flat on my face, a lot.

This isn’t to say I’m completely free of the pressure to succeed. There’s quite a push-and-pull here for me.

  • In order to really journey this path shouldn’t I be pressing myself forward, deeper into the professional realm?
  • How can I balance that with the need for continued training and growth?
  • I also need to fund this training as well as the time for failing.
  • As my training needs become more advanced the cost will also increase.
  • I will more than likely need to do a fair amount of traveling to meet with instructors, although Skype may be able to cover some long-distance training needs. I have not exhausted the resources here local to me just yet, but as I approach the 1/3 mark in the next several months, I have to consider my options for continued instruction that keeps me moving forward.
  • The trajectory I’m currently following will, more than likely, eventually involve enrollment in a fashion institute. Tuition? Relocating my family? Putting the rest of my work on hold? How could any of that be possible?

And over and over again I am left to wonder, just how is it that anyone working professionally in their field full-time can afford to pursue mastery? Because “business as usual” is not going to get you any closer to the expert level, no matter how many thousands of hours you do it. It takes training, expert training, and lots of it. It takes time spent on projects that don’t need to succeed, at least not the first or even second times through. It takes understanding and support from the professional network around you.

I think, very possibly, this is the biggest reason why mastery and expertise at the “outlier” level is so rare. It’s a nearly Herculean task to balance your professional career with all of these considerations.

*Apples of the Hesperides – the eleventh labor of Hercules.
**Professional – participating for gain or livelihood in an activity or field of endeavor often engaged in by amateurs < a professional golfer, a professional gardener, a professional knitter > Merriam-Webster Dictionary

The Price of Expertise: Part 2

This is the second post in my several-post series The Price of Expertise exploring the topic of money in relation to 10,000 Hours. (Click here for Part 1: The Etsy Equation.) I’m finding more and more that ideas about money are inextricably linked to this journey and it is having a major impact on the way I experience the pursuit of mastery. This particular topic encompasses many different aspects of 10,000 Hours and I’ll try breaking them down into their various categories over the next few posts.

Part 2: Pirates & Trolls, a Contemporary Tale

As I mentioned in Part 1, I have written some knitting patterns which I sell. One of these patterns in particular has become quite popular. So popular that it’s been pirated multiple times. It’s inspired by the iconic creatures known as Daleks from the British Television series Doctor Who. Sensitive to copyright issues and wanting to creatively branch out from simply knitting a Dalek, as well as make something I’d actually wear, I opted to make an abstracted pattern for fingerless gloves inspired by their geometric shapes. I did my due diligence at the time and internet searches turned up no similar results. In fact Daleks and gloves didn’t really appear in the same sentence together. That was in June of 2011.

Now pop “Dalek fingerless gloves” into Google. There are 15,700 results and a quick scan of the image results shows that a vast majority look a lot like mine. Now a lot of those actually ARE versions of mine that people created from my pattern after purchasing it legally. But a fair number are, well, rip offs. In fact a year ago I came across at least two other people selling knock-off versions of my pattern (for more than I was charging). I felt somewhat disheartened. But knew it was probably inevitable when dealing with something millions of people are fanatical about.

I took to the forums on Ravelry (the knit & crochet social media site) for some solace from fellow designers who must have experienced the same thing. There are several discussion threads there specific to designers. I came across one that posed the question, “Is it legal to reproduce a hat I saw in a shop window and sell it?” This was kind of similar to my issue, people were recreating my abstracted-pattern and passing it off as their own to sell (again, abstracted, these are not literal Dalek-image gloves and it’s obvious when it’s a rip-off of my design).

I was further discouraged to see that people had responded to this question with overwhelming support for the pirating of designs. They absolutely felt that if you could reverse-engineer a design then it was yours to sell. Without speaking to legal issues at all I suggested that “it wouldn’t necessarily be the ‘right’ thing to do as it undermines the work of the original designer who took the time and skill to create the original and might possibly rely on the income from these creations to continue their work in creating innovative designs.” This is what I said and nothing more. I was immediately pounced on by no fewer than ten trolls; by the end there were nineteen.

I don’t know if other forums have the same buttons that Ravelry does, but on every post in a discussion thread anyone has the ability to anonymously click “educational,” “interesting,” “funny,” “agree,” disagree,” and “love.” Up until now I had only seen people click “funny” on actual jokes people had posted. Now my comment was racking up the “funny” and “disagree” clicks at a record speed. When I defended myself from the verbal attacks that were coming in, I just got more “funny” and “disagree” numbers. I tried to stay non-emotional and non-inflammatory in all of my responses. One person sheepishly stepped-up in my defense but quickly got taken down by the trolls as well. Within 45 minutes I was in tears and had deleted everything I had posted to the discussion thread not wanting to get anymore notices of comments.

I’ve withdrawn from Ravelry and have not really been back on a regular basis since. For one thing, I am not anonymous on the internet. Every site I’m a part of has my actual name as my username, my own face as my avatar, and my profile links back to my website which has my email and business cell. I am not anonymous nor do I want to be. Every single person on that forum had a random username filled with numbers, an avatar of a kitten, rabbit, or Ryan Gosling, and their profiles only listed their celebrity crushes. Despite what you might think given the avatars and crushes, the ages ranged from 30-65. Rarely you might find out a city. It could be the city they live in. Who knows.

I also haven’t posted any new patterns for sale, though I have a stack ready to go should I feel like flinging them out into the ether. I know this was a very mild troll attack as I wasn’t physically threatened, all of the trolls were needless-to-say NOT designers, and that piracy by a few shouldn’t completely cloud the large number of people willing to pay designers for their work. But this really exposed some of the craft-culture-mentality to me and I hadn’t entirely been prepared for this quirky “it only counts as yours if the yarn passed through your hands” theory.

There are entire websites devoted to illegally posting patterns by living designers, fellow designers have also shared their tales of coming across their designs in magazines they had never been contacted by, and on and on. But if I can distance myself a bit from this, it’s fascinating to see that crafts (particularly those predominantly associated with women) have been so devalued in our culture that crafters themselves actually devalue it as well.

The Price of Expertise: Part 1

When I started 10,000 Hours I knew that I would have to be completely honest about my experience, otherwise it simply wouldn’t be worth going through the process. I have held to this. And now there is a topic that I think I finally need to address although I have put it off for quite some time – money. I’m finding more and more that it is inextricably linked to this journey and it is having a major impact on the way I experience the pursuit of mastery. This particular topic encompasses many different aspects of 10,000 Hours and I’ll try breaking them down into their various categories over the next few posts.

Part 1: The Etsy Equation

My 10,000 Hours journey has taken me down a knit-wear designer path. Along these lines I have made both custom-one-of-a-kind commissions for people and I have also written some knitting patterns to be sold.

One of my knitting patterns has been quite popular. I sell it both through Ravelry (the knit & crochet social media site) and on Etsy (the online site for hand made items and craft supplies). The pattern in question is for a pair of fingerless gloves, it comes to the purchaser as a downloadable PDF file, and it costs $2.95. Because it is a downloadable digital file there is no shipping cost.

Apparently many people think this is the price for an actual pair of hand-knit gloves that will appear on their doorstep (despite the fact that I have labeled the item description with “Please note this is for the pattern only.”) It happens a lot. Someone gets upset when they discover that their $2.95 has bought them the instructions to knit their own pair of fingerless gloves rather than a pair of pre-made hand-knit fingerless gloves. TWO DOLLARS AND NINETY FIVE CENTS WITH FREE SHIPPING… It would cost me that much just to ship the gloves to them. The yarn alone could cost between $5 – $40 depending on how fancy you like your materials. I tend to pick the higher quality yarns myself. And it takes me 18-20 hours to knit a pair. Now, yeah, I’m not the fastest knitter out there (always being at the edge of my abilities and all, I haven’t developed quite the same speed as many long-time knitters). But even if I could shave 10 hours off of that time (which would be some crazy fast knitting), calculate at minimum wage; the cheapest we should realistically expect a pair of these handmade fingerless gloves to be is:

$5.00 materials + ($7.35 Missouri minimum wage x 10 hours) + $2.95 shipping costs = $81.45 (Never mind the % both Etsy & Paypal take.)

So keeping in mind that it’s widely known that minimum wage is not a living wage, nor is it at all appropriate for a self-employed worker given there are additional overhead costs that cannot be covered in that amount… the price of fingerless gloves changes quite a bit, doesn’t it?

I know most of us would understand that $2.95 would be a ridiculous price for a hand-made item requiring skilled labor. But many of us would also probably cringe a bit at the $81.45 minimum wage + materials cost initially too. If you plug “hand knit” into the search field on Etsy you will see an overwhelming majority of the knit-wear sellers are working at an incredible loss. But then, one of the most-often heard complaints about Etsy is that it’s for and by hobbyists.