Phrase for the Year 2023

Passing on a creative skill.


When I re-read my yearly posts on goal setting, I have to admit my goals stay the same from year to year, but that doesn’t stop me from trying.  🙂

For my guiding phrase this year, I am indebted to a string of people — late last year Karen Brown of Just Get It Done Quilts had a YouTube video on gifts for quilters, where she recommended UPPERCASE magazine (for the creative and curious).  I followed through and ordered myself a whole batch of back issues — In the issue on hand-lettering, Kendra Dosenbach, owner of All Hands Workshop**, said, “All Hands’ mission is to build creative capacity through the teaching and learning of handcrafts, art, and design.”

The phrase “build creative capacity” leaped out at me.  What a concise way to express a continuum of both goals and obstacles.

First, the goal.

To further quote Kendra, “Creative handwork is tremendously restorative and healing thanks to its ability to focus our attention on a challenging but achievable task, and thereby silence our mental chatter.”

I fully agree, and I love turning my attention to a creative task as often as possible.

To define what “creative capacity” means to me, let me share an example from that same hand-lettering magazine issue.  As the publisher Janine Vangool puts together each issue, she asks her subscribers to participate and send in something topical to be considered for publication.  For the hand-lettering issue, she asked people to “perform their own handwriting analysis by writing a paragraph about their relationship with their handwriting.”

So just picture to yourself how you would answer that prompt, what you might have sent in.

This became a 14-page spread in the magazine. 76 entries were published, and the great majority of them were written in blue or black ink, on a plain white postcard or index card.  Knowing they might be published, in a magazine promoting creativity, they just answered the prompt in a straightforward fashion. And I bet that’s what I would have done as well.

But then I noticed more creative submissions —

Two people wrote in white on black cards. Oh, I start to think of this prompt in a different way.

One person wrote in red, one in green.  One person changed colors with every sentence. Small changes, but more creative than the majority.

One person added little ink flourishes, and only one added tiny illustrations. No one said it had to be ONLY handwriting.

And only one person hand-painted the background of their card, and then drew a sketch of their own hand, writing about writing! This opens my eyes to a realm of possibilities.

So for me this goal, Build Creative Capacity, means seeing where I can push my creativity beyond my initial impulse, to something more interesting, and seeing where I can spark more creativity for other people too.

And overcoming obstacles.

This phrase also reveals why my own behavior causes obstacles to my goal:

  • I spend a lot of time following interesting rabbit trails in books, magazines, podcasts, and videos.  I get so lost in other people’s creative capacity, that I don’t use my time to complete my own projects. Or, I think, someone has already done this, so I shouldn’t.
  • I have art and craft supplies that I don’t have room for, and that I never use — but I see their creative capacity, and I know that they could be turned into something useful or beautiful some day.
  • I start a lot of projects just to see what will happen — how will this pink print look next to this green one?  Can I make this block with strip piecing or should I use a template?  Will this thread complement the piecing, or overpower it?  And then when I have done enough to the project to stretch my creative capacity a little bit, I lose interest in it, and pick up another project that intrigues me.

The time spent shifting supplies and unfinished projects around, robs me of the enjoyable time of actually creating.  That is not a unique insight, but I hadn’t thought about it before, that I often flounder in the shallows of creativity and I would rather channel my efforts.

I think recognizing these tendencies will help me increase my creative capacity.  I can allow myself time to enjoy looking at others’ creative work, without starting similar projects.  When I have to move a pile of art supplies out of the way so I can find what I am hunting for, I can pass those supplies on, and know that someone else can surely use their creative capacity as well as I can.  And whenever I am about to set a project aside, I can ask myself what steps I could take to build more interest into it.

So that is my guiding phrase for 2023.  I look forward to reading your thinking on guidance for the year!


* I love UPPERCASE magazine.  I own about a dozen issues and I find inspiring things in all of them.  Just before Christmas, the warehouse where Janine stores and ships her back stock, notified her that they were terminating their agreement with her, and she has just until Feb. 1 to get all her inventory out or they will destroy it.  So there is a huge sale.  I don’t think I have ever promoted a product here in any way, but this is an extreme case.

** This article was published in late 2019, and sadly, All Hands Workshop was closed permanently due to the pandemic.