on creative dabbling

It’s been a long held motto of mine, that focus is overrated. a quick scroll through my instagram, or my blog archives will show how very much I go by that. I might drop into short lived hyper focus (see: my 2021 obsession with sewing my own clothes), but to present a long term, cohesive body of work? Not a chance. Maybe if the theme of that work was “girl, pick a lane”? In early 2020, before the world exploded, I actually considered something like that – a virtual exhibition of works in different mediums, around a central theme. There’s just too much opportunity for creative play out there, in my mind, for me to be another other than what I am. A dabbler.

I have always been a dabbler. As kids, we would often get a class for Christmas, to try something new. Folk art & paper tole are two that come to mind straight up. We were surrounded by crafty women, who would teach us their skills, or simply be working on their projects around us. A visit to nan would include her current TAFE course, be it cake decorating, or flower arrangeing. From a young age, I was exposed to so many creative pursuits, and each felt like their own type of magic. Each was taking something simple, and performing some kind alchemy to turn it into something else, something fabulous.

As an adult, I have taken on all those little snippets – sometimes literally. My great aunt, a fabric & fibre dabbler, kindly gifted me a pile of her supplies when they downsized to a retirement village. Likewise, my nan handed down a solid portion of her sewing and crating supplies when she also downsized. But more broadly, I am using their skills, the muscle memory inherited from generations of resourceful farming women, each and every time I write my to-do list and fill it with making all the things. As a mother, I am doing my best to pass on that playfully creative spirit to my children, with the kids craft box holding everything from yarn to watercolours, from origami paper to carving rubber. It is one of the greatest joys of my parenting life, to see them dive head first into a project they’ve dreamed up. Just this week, they’ve written and rehearsed a play, for which Miss11 is planning on spending her birthday money on face paint to create stage makeup. She’s also painted a treasure box, and designed a cut file for my Cricut. Mr13 has made a full suit of Ancient Greek armour from cardboard boxes. Mr8 has made a toy walkie talkie from paper. In a completely different creative outlet, Mr15 has built a working computer in Minecraft.

It’s been weighing on my mind quite a bit lately, dabbling vs focus. We discussed it a bit in our final podcast episode of season one, that we were aiming for a broad range of crafters, because niche is overrated. For me, especially. Car is slightly better at holding a niche. It’s also been a regular discussion in our group chat, as I work to develop more classes for Crafty Monkies. I don’t have a niche hobby, I’m not known for a style or a medium. It also makes it harder to grow an audience, both here on the blog, and on instagram. In my classes, too, for that matter. It means monetisation isn’t as practical an option as it is for people of a similar following who are well known for a style and a product, and can sell courses, or printable, or whatever. Numbers aren’t the be all and end all, for sure, but also I am aware that the hot mess of things on my feed, mean I’m less likely to be followed by someone who’s just a quilter, or just a scrapbooker, or just a writer, or just a bookstagrammer. To balance out the mix of projects, instead, I have niched down my photography style to quite a tight and consistent aesthetic. My followers may not have a freaking clue what I will post next – could be my bible, could be me made undies, could be a crochet blanket – but they do know what to expect in terms of what the photos will look like. 

I think sometimes maybe I should niche down. Make better use of my time and my craft budget and my space, only focusing on one hobby. That thought lasts about 30 seconds. When I was a kid, I had a game I would play, where I had a craft chest with unlimited supplies of any kind. More recently, I reorganised my craft boxes, unpacked them onto shelves, in boxes sorted by category, and I have to say, it still brings me so much joy to go into the storage container, and look at my shelf, and all those labeled boxes lined up, waiting for whatever goodness my crazy, unfocused, wild brain has come up with in that moment. It’s such a little thing, but man. Twelve year old me is giggling delightedly, convinced I have Made It. Life goals achieved.

It is also that wild playfulness it affords me, that further drives my creative process, bouncing from one idea to another. My life long dabbling means I have a huge variety of random supplies on hand for when the whim takes me. If I don’t have what I need, chances are my mum does. I can drop in and out of projects based on my mood. Those with a niche do it so fabulously, but I would be bored in five seconds flat. It’s a hot mess of playful creativity, and while it means I will never be A Name in the crafting world, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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