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A Creative Journey

December 16, 2016 , In: Beadwork, Fiber, Journaling, Mixed Media

As the year draws to a close I usually find myself looking back at what I have accomplished over the year as far as creativity goes and contemplating what I would like to do in the upcoming year.  Some years I have been very prolific and some years, not so much. The past several years have been very good for me in terms of being productive. I attribute this to the year I spent creating an art journal with a friend of mine, Cindy Kuo.  Cindy and I had just attended a lecture by the wonderfully talented Natalya Aikens, a fiber/quilt artist. Natalya brought examples of her work (amazing pieces) but what struck a chord with me were all her art journals and sketchbooks that she had with her. She said she is constantly sketching possible works of art, making notes, doodling, keeping track of favorite colors, etc. As my friend Cindy & I were browsing through her sketchbooks we came up with the idea of spending a year creating an art journal.  Although we decided that ours wouldn’t be your typical art journal per se, but something to help us ‘find our voice’ and keep us doing something creative every week. Natalya’s lecture was in November 2012, so we vowed that we would begin our art journal and a year of creativity in January 2013.

I should backtrack a bit to let you know that at that point in time I was extremely frustrated at my lack of artistic work. I was a member of several fiber art groups and had taken numerous workshops in quilting, surface design, dyeing, etc. There were so many ideas swirling in my head but I just wasn’t following through with them. Sure, I made a few small art quilts and created a few necklaces/bracelets here and there but I didn’t have a “body of work” that I could look at and be proud of or see any cohesiveness to my work. Sooooo- this art journal thing sounded really good to me. I was in need of something to jumpstart in creative juices.

Before January even started Cindy & I came up with our goals and a monthly theme (photo below-right) Each week we would create something that was loosely related to the theme. Some months were just a shape, some months we wanted to try out a specific product (like lutradur), some months it was just technique oriented. The whole idea was very basic and could be interpreted however we wanted. We could spend an entire week working on our weekly piece or just a few hours.  To keep us accountable we checked in via email almost daily. We would get together from time to time to share our projects that we created and go over the techniques as well. It was really nice to compare our work and notes since we never created the exact same thing.

Large Binders As Art Journals & The Goals/Outline For The Year

Naturally, a regular sketchbook would not be feasible for the project we did. I wanted something substantial to hold all the pieces I was planning to create. I settled on 2 large 3-ring binders (above left photo) I used clear page protectors to hold the items and I also used a sheet of cardstock behind the item.  On the front of the cardstock I wrote the monthly theme, the week and the date. On the back of the cardstock I wrote ‘The Plan’ and described what I wanted to achieve, then I wrote ‘The Execution’ and described my process for creating the piece (second photo below). This has served me well because I refer back to certain pieces to see what process I used and what problems I may have encountered.  On many of the pieces I also wrote how long it took me to create that particular item. Some months there were completed pieces, some months there were just samples or examples to reference for future projects.  It amazes me now when I get my big binders out and look at what I achieved during that year. What is even more amazing is when you allow yourself the time to be creative it inevitably sparks more creativity.

First Week January 2013-Circles

Back Of Cardstock-Circles: Week One


Prior to that year, I was reluctant to drag out any of my supplies because I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to create OR be when I grew up. I have loved fabrics for most of my life and am an admitted fabriholic! Naturally, I just knew I was meant to be a quilt artist or something along those lines. Well, guess what I learned that year? My passion is BEADING. I had used seed beads to embellish quilts and small artwork but I had sworn I would never use seed beads to create jewelry or a fully beaded piece due to their small nature and my natural ability to be a klutz.  But the very first month of the art journal our theme was circles. Any kind of circles-draw, paint, knit, quilt, bead, stitch etc.  I had wanted to teach myself how to do a simple peyote bezel (even though I had sworn I would never use seed beads) so I beaded around a ceramic face and that was it-hooked on bead embroidery AND seed beads! After the first month of the art journal I wanted to keep beading and beading. I continued with all the weekly projects but managed to complete many beaded projects along the way that year.

Circles: Week Two-Another Wet Felted Piece AND The Simple Peyote Bezel That Ignited My Beading Passion

More Beaded Circles After The Beading Bug Bit Me (January)

By design, our art journal project was an exercise in stepping outside our comfort zones a bit, trying to learn some new techniques, working with products we had bought (and never used) and expanding on talents we already possessed but were too reluctant to push further. It was a year that sparked not only creativity but courage. I submitted a piece to Cloth, Paper, Scissors magazine, I created a small quilted piece for SAQA’s 25th anniversary Trunk show that is still traveling, and I was invited to be a guest artist for an exhibit with an art quilt group in Chicago. I am not sure I would have been able to participate in those things if I had not been creating regularly and felt empowered by it.

Upper L-Nuno felted gridwork (February) Below L-Layered fabrics, fibers, tyvek; R-Layered lutradur, painted papers,plastic mesh (both from March)

My year of doing the art journal resulted in even more great things. Cindy & I created a small bead/fiber group where we have done group projects which we have been exhibited several times. The art journal also prompted me to challenge myself to a year-long project in 2014 (12 Months of Buddha) as well as 2015 (12 Months of Goddesses). I had planned a year-long project for this year but moving kind of got in the way, so I will resume that in 2017. Having a year long project can be very satisfying, but more importantly you get to see the progression of your work. Your techniques will improve, your body of work expands and you develop your own voice.  Spending that year on the journal was possibly the best thing I could have done, not just artistically speaking but personally as well. Having a creative outlet is a wonderful thing; finding your passion is the icing on the cake!

Playing With Lutradur And Machine Embroidery (April)

Weaving With Paper And Weaving with Fabrics (June)

Upper L-Strip Pieced Quilting (Sept) ; Below L-Needle Felting Onto Wool Base( March); Right-Wet Felting With Cheesecloth/Wool(July)

Playing With Sun Printing/Stenciling/Stamping (August)

Surface Design Which Spawned Many Small Works Of Art(May)

Mixed Media Piece That Appeared in Cloth, Paper, Scissors

Knitting Samples-Double Knitting Upper L And R; Basketweave Pattern Lower L (October)

As you can see from all the photos above, I pursued many different mediums, techniques and supplies.  (You can view the rest of the pieces here if you’d like.) It was a year spent playing around with the idea of ‘what if’. When there’s no pressure to create something that will be for sale or for a show/exhibit it frees you up to have fun and break some rules. There’s no need for perfection, just create for the sake of creating. Playing with your supplies can be liberating and might just help you figure out what you want to do when you grow up!

Today, I am proud to say I am a jewelry artist AND a fiber artist. I will never give up my fabrics or my felting, or my fabric dyes and paints, but beads-specifically those darn seed beads I never wanted to use-are my favorite. I urge anyone who is unsure of where they want to take their art, unsure of their artistic voice or if you want to be creative but unsure of where to start-take a year to find your creative self through an art journal or a year-long art project of your choice. Just make that decision now and by this time next year you will be looking back on your own creative journey and smiling.


Cathy Spivey Mendola

Cathy Spivey Mendola has been creative her entire life. After a short career in the medical profession she became a stay-at-home mom which allowed her to dabble in various arts and crafts. Many years and mediums later she has finally found her passion-bead embroidered jewelry. When she needs a break from jewelry she creates bead embellished art quilts and wall hangings.
  1. Reply

    What and inspiring post Cathy! I had exactly the same opinion of seed beads and fibre is definitely calling to me more and more so thank you for the insight.

  2. Reply

    Wow, love this article! You certainly are getting more into blogging which I know was another goal of yours.

    That year of journalling was very inspirational. I also love going back & looking at this pieces I created. And I love the work for the group that came from that.

    Your work is beautiful & inspirational. Keep moving forward – you are VERY good at it!

    P.S. Miss having you so close 🙁

    • Reply

      Thank you Cindy! That year was so much fun. It really was a turning point for me, so thank you for taking that journey with me. And I really miss being just down the road from you too!

    • Kelly
    • December 16, 2016

    Cathy, wow…loved this post. Your journey is facinating. It’s so cool that you had someone to take that journey with that was dedicated. I LOVE this idea. I get stuck in my head often when I am creating and start over thinking things…what a cool way to free up the pressure and just create! Thank you for this post!

    • Reply

      Thank you Kelly! It really helped to have someone to do the journal with me and keep me motivated.
      It makes a huge difference in how you create when you don’t put any pressure on yourself. It really frees up your imagination. Hope you’ll give it a try.

  3. Reply

    I love your story! Not having a “Cohesive body of work” resonates with me. I want to find my “look” so others will know it is something I made when they see it. I know I will get there eventually but I like the idea of doing a journal to track my progress. A year long project sounds like a good way to stay on track too!

    • Reply

      Thank you Cory! It truly was a good exercise in finding out what I love doing versus what I like doing. The journal helped me figure many things out and the continuation of doing year long projects has really helped me establish a ‘body of work’ & helped me develop my own style I think. Try it and let us know how it goes.

  4. Reply

    Thank you Lesley! Fiber was my first love after-well at least after crayons:D

  5. Reply

    Absolutely fabulous. The journal with prescribed themes is a fantastic idea. I love every piece here but especially the mixed quilted pieces (I’m an avid quilter too, and also a fabriholic!)

    • Reply

      Thank you Karen! No matter how hard I try I just can’t give up my love of textiles. Hand stitching or machine stitching is equally satisfying.

    • Wendy
    • December 17, 2016

    What an inspiring post! It sounds like a fantastic way to spend a year. I particularly love your circles pieces, thanks for sharing. Maybe you could share this year’s project with us monthly?

    • Reply

      Thank you Wendy! I would love to share my new project this year. Hope you will continue to check back and see the progress.

    • Lola
    • December 17, 2016

    This post spoke directly to my soul as I heard it say, “Yes! This! We must do this and find out what we want to be when we grow up!!!” Thank you so much for sharing the beautiful details of your Art Journal journey! You’ve inspired me to start one of my own!

    • Reply

      Thank you Lola! I am glad I have inspired you to start on your own journey. I hope you figure out what you want to be when you grow up 🙂

    • jewelsofsayuri
    • December 18, 2016

    Wow, they all look amazing. I wish I could be as focussed as you increating

    • Reply

      Thank you so much! I am not always so focused only if I have a plan and stick to it.

    • Cooky
    • December 18, 2016

    This was such an inspirational post. A small group of art friends are mulling over ideas to start in January! Thanks Cathy

    • Reply

      Thank you Cooky! I can’t wait to see what you and your art friends decide to create. It’s always fun to have a partner or several partners for artistic endeavors!

    • Leona
    • December 21, 2016

    Interesting and inspiring post that I can relate to – especially the gazillion ideas running around in my head and not having a body of work to point to as MY own. I feel I am in an incubator on the verge of ….something. I signed up for a year long mandala course about a month ago. We begin on Jan 1st! Thank you Cathy.

    • Reply

      Thank you Leona! A year long mandala project sounds like a great way to jumpstart your creativity. I hope you enjoy your creative journey!

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