Almost every day I have a new idea for something: a painting, a drawing, a block print, a necklace, a story (well, not recently, very much, I guess), a poem, a tee-shirt, a knitted or crocheted thingy, a three-dimensional objet d’art, a lampshade, a lunchbag, a piece of clothing, a cd cover, a sculpture, a carving, a you probably get the idea already so I should just stop.
About 4% of the time, I actually make some strides in turning the idea into reality. That’s not a very high success rate. About 1% of the time, I actually complete something I thought about and started. My etsy store is absolutely empty, not a thing in it but white space, hopes, and dreams, the latter two of which happen to be invisible and also not for sale except for the right price (which is probably $200 or so each).
Is my bad success rate, or what I’d like to call my good failure rate, because I’ve dipped and dabbled into all sorts of different creative ventures, but haven’t yet mastered any?
For example, here are some crafty things I’ve tried, with varying levels of accomplishment, just within the past 15ish years (in no particular order): knitting, crocheting, blockprinting, origami, rubber stamping, embroidery, cross-stitch, oil painting, charcoal, tee-shirt printing, calligraphy, acrylic painting, quilling, papercutting, wire sculpture, jewelrymaking, needle felting, wet felting, handspinning, wool dyeing, sewing, watercolor, dollmaking, woodburning, pottery (thrown and hand), glassblowing, beadmaking, mosaics, lettering, cardmaking, bookbinding, altered art/books, tatting, I mean seriously, there are few crafts I haven’t done or at least tried once. I’m try-craftual.
And I can, with confidence, say that there are none at which I’m great. I’m pretty sure the phrase “jack of all trades, master of none,” though coined well before my appearance on this planet, was just waiting for me to come into existence and exemplify it.
There are a few things I’m better at than others; say, I’m better at knitting than I am at pottery. Granted, I took a pottery class at Pewabic Pottery for a year or two when I was 10 years old and learned to knit when I was in my 20s, I would hope that my skillset was a little more evolved when I learned to knit than when I slapped a couple of slabs of red clay together with slip and called it a craft. I’m better at sewing than I am at watercolor, but that’s also not saying much. No one is bad at rubber stamping.
I STILL have the insatiable urge to try new things. Now that I’m more interested in graphic design and printmaking, my thoughts are mostly on letterpress, blocks, screenprinting, intaglio, etching, etc., but I still want to make magnets and buttons and postcards and thermos cozies and little monster creatures made of ribbon scraps and felted eyeballs (shit, I just had another idea). At what point do I say “oh hey, stop that – no more new things. And stop buying supplies for the old things, too, because you know you’re not going to use them”? Or does there even have to be that point?
I worry that if my etsy store, if/when I ever have anything I can bear to offer to the public and risk ending up on Regretsy, is a miscellany hodge-podge multi-craftual experience, it will be too overwhelming and no one will buy anything. I worry that as I try more and more things, I will never be able to hone anything into what I can consider “my” craft. Or am I only continuing to learn/teach myself new things because I haven’t found “my” craft yet? Do I keep going, keep trying whatever new or old craft catches my eye any given day, or force myself to focus on one or two things and try to perfect my aptitude at them? Am I a craft Renaissance woman or do I just have craft ADD?
Googling “jack of all trades” gives me two different ideologies. One says that the “generalist” is a more well-rounded, adaptive, and useful character. Meanwhile, a quote from Napoleon Hill reads “The jack of all trades is seldom good at any. Concentrate all of your efforts on one definite chief aim.” The first guy is the leader of the Four Hour Work Week (aka my kind of work week) movement, while Napoleon Hill was an advocate of the Think and Grow Rich philosophy, which has honestly gotten me nowhere to date. When I was 12 and convinced I’d win the Publishers’ Clearing House sweepstakes, I’d make lists of everything I’d buy when I won. Not just general lists, no. I’d go through catalogs and write down everything I liked, and looked in horse magazines for horses and farms to buy. So I’ve been Thinking and Not Growing Rich for the past 17 years.
I don’t want to give up my eternal quest to find things I really love to do and want to make.
So I don’t think I will. Onward, craft polymath (also philomath and opsimath)!
Now I’ve just got to figure out how to make that good failure rate turn into a good success rate.