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For the Joy of It: Unicorn Culture
Reflections on making art for art’s sake
I have been reclaiming the creative freedom of my childhood by creating art for the joy of it alone. As part of this practice I am sharing reflections on the growing Joy of It collection I started in 2022. These are creative projects I’m doing for fun, for pleasure, for delight and whimsy! They are free of capitalist expectations of productivity and monetization.
My hope is that these reflections will inspire you to do things for the joy of it as well, as joy is a precious and unlimited feeling we could all use more of. Please leave a comment sharing anything you’ve been doing for the joy of it!
For the Joy of It, installation #4
This summer I had the great joy of spending time with my niblings. The younger of the two is one of those toddlers that observes quietly, occasionally giving input with a loud squawk or a rambling sentence in indecipherable toddlerese. The elder is five and in a near constant state of narration about things she’s learned, ideas she has, art she’s working on, and embellished stories about her days. She’s really into unicorns, facts about dinosaurs, and the show Bluey.
One of the days during their visit was dedicated to making art and crafts. This included a great array of projects, from book binding and writing (very reminiscent of my own childhood) to sculpting with plastercine, to painting. I opted to work on my latest design for Sacred Love/Sacred Lives, a medieval-inspired unicorn stitched onto black cloth.
The five-year-old took a break from book illustration to ask what I was doing and if she might take a look. I showed her the design and in a very five-year-old way she said, “That’s really nice. Maybe when it’s done you could give it to me.”
I made a counter-offer. “I can’t give you this one, but I could stitch the same design onto the back of the jacket you’re wearing.”
She considered this and then solemnly nodded, taking her pink denim jacket off and handing it to me. “Yes,” she said.
I brought my sewing kit out and had her select the colours for the body, mane, and hooves and horn.1 Then I traced the design to dissolvable paper, pinned it to the jacket, and began.
I’ve shared many times before that not putting deadlines on my art was a valuable lesson for me to learn. A deadline means I get stuck on finishing a thing and not on whether it is actually what I imagined. I used to create work only to the strength of the skills I’d already mastered, never pushing beyond and improving but simply maintaining for the sake of a completed product. The resulting artwork is rendered flat, uninteresting, and bland.
It’s a really terrible way to make art.
And yet, here I was, committed to completing a relatively complex embroidery design that I’d normally take up to a month to work on, in just two days. One and a half since I didn’t start on it until the middle of the craft day.
For the remainder of their visit, in every spare moment I had, I worked on the jacket. Often this was accompanied by my nibling dancing around me, launching off the couch I was sitting on, and telling me stories whilst checking in on if it was almost done.2
My nibling’s excitement was what fuelled me. The deadline wasn’t a Capitalistic one, but one of love. She would leave Sunday morning and I wouldn’t know when I’d see her again. This visit marked the first time I’d seen her since 2019, when she was still an only child and at the delightful toddler stage of her now sibling. Our shared love of unicorns was being expressed in this piece. It was also a lesson in how to simplify a design without compromising on the integrity. I knew my plan to satin stitch the mane for the Sacred Love/Sacred Lives piece wasn’t something I had time for, but a back stitch would still look good and give the mane texture apart from the rest of the image, which I chose to use a whip stitch for.
I managed to finish all the stitching before the Sunday morning deadline. I dissolved the paper template, threw the jacket in the dryer, and then spent a chunk of Sunday morning pulling little specks of undissolved paper from under the finished stitches.
When I delivered it to her, she beamed. She pulled the jacket on and danced about, telling me how excited she was to wear it to school and show her friends who were also very into unicorns.
How could this have been anything but a joy to make?
What about you, dear reader?
What are some projects you’ve been doing For the Joy of it? What are some spontaneous requests you’ve turned into creative gifts for someone you love?
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The five-year-old found my sewing kit fascinating and, again, in reminiscence of my own childhood, spent a good fifteen minutes playing with the floss like it was a collection of vibrant coloured action figures. Childhood imagination and creativity truly is boundless.
Ah. Nothing like a five-year-old to give you a sense of the relativity of time.