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creativity (104 posts)
In 2008, when Liz Gerber began teaching mechanical engineering at Northwestern, she set about conveying to her charges that, more than achieving sleek design, an engineer's responsibility is to help her fellow man. "I wanted them to look at problems and succeed in solving them where others have given up," she says. To that end, Gerber founded Design for America, an extracurricular program in which students strategize innovative solutions to social issues. Four years later, DFA chapters have sprouted up across the country: The University of Oregon's group is improving eldercare with Remobile, a spring-loaded chair to help people with physical limitations sit and stand; after learning that hormonal fluctuations can cause dental problems during pregnancy, Dartmouth's team came up with a "smart" toothbrush that detects gingivitis; and Northwestern's DFA team is battling hospital-borne infection with SwipeSense, a roll-on hand sanitizer that clips onto scrubs. "The program is all about human-centered design," Gerber says. "We get to imagine ways to help people thrive."
Four years ago, marketing director Allyson Morehead offered to throw a bridal shower for a friend. Eager to find the perfect invitation, she went to a local card store and began scanning the racks. But Morehead was disappointed by what she found—or rather, what she didn't find. Most of the smiling women depicted on the cards were white. A few were black. But none of them resembled the bride, who was biracial. Worse, the so-called multicultural stationery she found often featured stereotypes. ("The cards would say things like 'Hey, sista girl!'" Morehead recalls.)
Certain she could do better, Morehead began toying with her own line of stationery—some of which, she envisioned, would be fully customizable to match any skin tone or hair color. In May 2011 she launched Sweet Potato Paper, a stationery company that allows customers to personalize select invitations and announcements by choosing from eight flesh tones, eight hair colors, and six hairstyles. The originality of the concept quickly struck a chord: "I thought sales would start slow," she says, "but I got a lot of orders right out of the gate." Morehead says the company's mission is to celebrate uniqueness in a way that's open and welcoming—not exclusive. "I keep things modern, clean, and contemporary," she says, "so anyone can feel comfortable purchasing my products."
The conversation that followed is notable in many ways, not the least of which was the advice Mr. Invented the Computer offered: "Nothing is withheld from us which we have conceived to do." This, from an innovator before there was an internet full of innovators, from the man who, among other notable accomplishments, scanned the first image (in yet another instance of this man's foresight, the photo is, like so much of the Internet today, a picture of an adorable baby). The other advice Runyon shares? "Do things that have never been done."
Yes! Don't you love when inspiration comes from unlikely places? Like that person sitting next to you, maybe, who you've been ignoring while you read?
Beating Your Creative Blocks
The Invention That Makes Everyone Smile
When it comes to Elva Fields, Emily Maynard's lively jewelry line, the name of the game is reinvention—whether Maynard is transforming flea market beads into eye-catching earrings or reinvigorating an estate sale necklace with a blingy brooch turned pendant. Maynard's one-of-a-kind pieces, as colorful as they are unique, combine midcentury flair with a thoroughly modern aesthetic. "I love that I'm able to make each item into something people will wear again," she says.
"When I was growing up," Maynard says,"my mom had an uncanny ability to find lackluster furniture at the flea market and resurrect it into something amazing." While planning her wedding in 2003, Maynard applied the same concept to jewelry, transforming 1930s celluloid pendants and gemstone beads into keepsakes for her maid of honor, mother, and grandmother. "From then on," she says, "I couldn't pass a garage sale or antiques market without stopping to see what kind of materials I could dig up." Elva Fields—named for Maynard's great-grandmother—launched that year.
With two young daughters, Maynard has had to curb her frequent flea market runs; she now goes on dedicated buying trips all over the country a few times a year. (She does admit, however, to braking at the sight of any yard sale.) She stores her finds by material or color, experimenting with new designs by juxtaposing strands and beads until a felicitous combination emerges. "With vintage pieces," Maynard says, "everything you're working with has a story. I try to let the personality of each piece tell me about the new life it should take on."
The first photograph dates from 1982, when the five teenagers decided to pose on a fence, showing off "dark and mysterious faces," shirtless torsos, and a pet cockroach in a jar. Though the friends went their separate ways, they regrouped for a reunion vacation five years later. Someone had the idea to recreate the photo and a tradition was born. According to CNN, "The guys all agree that this trip has been the glue that has allowed them to maintain their friendships." "I look at the photos and think of the relationships I went through. Wedding rings come and go, if you look closely," one of the men told CNN. "We plan on doing this for the rest of our lives, no matter what. Up until there's one guy just sitting in the same pose! Even then, maybe someone will take a picture of an empty bench for us."
That mental image of the empty bench gives me shivers. Think of the empty jar, sitting there, containing all of eternity instead of a cockroach! For as much as we love our photographs nowadays, as much as we all love to immediately gaze at our digital memories of a moment ago, a photograph becomes all the more eloquent when telling a story that's over, documenting a life that's changed, or gone. And the almost-extinct posed photograph has a certain evocative nature all its own. The curator of Who Were They? knows this: the blog is a moving tribute to the stories photographs tell. These pictures are kind of the negative image (to use photographic terms) of the Five Year Photo guys. Here we have the image only, and as Who Were They? blogger does we must imagine or hunt down the life story it tells. "Mrs. Marvel" writes of a grand old dame, "She has the hard face of a woman who has lived a lot of years and the sad expression of a war widow." Or sometimes Mrs. Marvel's photo collection helps to fill in a family's genealogy: "I got goose bumps when I read that Clifford had been searching for a photo of his great-great-great-aunt for 30 years. And I had one. Wow." As she writes on her blog's "About" page, Mrs. Marvel is looking for "a glimpse of those who came before us." Strange to think that some day, we will be someone else's photographic mystery.
When we capture every moment of every day, we think we're seeing more. But are we? What stories do your photos tell -- intentionally or accidentally -- about your life?
Wet Grass Photographs Prompt Thoughts on Life
How Everyone Can Be a Great Photographer
Arranged and photographed by Congdon, an arrangement of vases looks like a group of girls standing around at a party. Her drawing of vintage baking dishes resembles a small flock of expectant boats. Browsing through the blog offers the singular pleasure of readjusting your vision to see the beauty of every day objects (who knew tape measures were so beautiful?) And I especially love that she's included "imagined collections." What could be better than an imagined collection? No storage. No dusting. No limits.
Check out more of Lisa Congdon's whimsical work at her site. (Oh yeah, and for all you print media collectors, Collection a Day is a now a book.)
What Our Cookbooks Say About Our Lives
Collecting Advice from the Antiques Roadshow Experts
Of course, they are missing the subtext, which is that for some strange reason grown-ups seem to stop liking their birthdays. How to explain to a child? That you start to put pressure on yourself, or the world does, to do certain things and certain times; that you are supposed to have achieved This and That and The Other by This Age, so that if you haven't you greet your birthday with glum recognition. Oh, and the nearing specter of old age and death. But whatever -- cupcakes!
Blogger Abby Try Again has a lovely solution for again malaise: the birthday list. Of her thirtieth birthday she wrote, "It felt special but not, big and little, insignificant and significant. I'm a believer in recognizing the power of each day—not just focusing on milestones...but I couldn't help but be reflective." So she created a list of 30 Things to do Before Turning 31. I love the idea of making every birthday a kind of a milestone birthday (and by doing so, taking pressure off the Big Ones), and I love the list itself. "Make 3 new friends." "Go roller skating." "Do something completely out of my comfort zone." (Hey, those might just all be the same thing!)
Read (And Make) More:
A Mighty Life List
An "I Want" List
A Bliss List
So it was with only hypothetical interest that I viewed a "Viva Snail Mail!" event held recently at our local playground encouraging kids to write and send - gasp - actual snail mail. (Warning: this had nothing to do with actual snails. I know, we were momentarily disappointed too.) The event, and the Viva Snail Mail blog, which compiles notable postcards, postal history, and a fun idea for a postcard-sending challenge (scroll down), reminded me of the tiny and imminently attainable joy that is the postcard.
The postcard! Prettier than an email, easier than an entire letter, and somehow just so summery. What a delight, to receive a postcard from a sunny vacation, preferably with exotic stamps! What a noble-and-yet-doable goal, to send your own postcard to far-flung friends around the world or across town! Peruse Viva Snail Mail for some inspiration, and then get thee to a post office (or print some postcard stamps online—you can even design them yourself). You'll help someone you know combat their own mail box depression, and perhaps, just perhaps, they will return the favor.
Music to Write Letters By
Write a Letter to Know Yourself Better
Of the many ways to cool off on a muggy day—visiting the pool, perfecting the floppy-hat-look, downing mint juleps like a character in The Great Gatsby, or my personal favorite, hiding out somewhere air-conditioned—the most creative we've ever seen has got to be watermelon carving. This is a pastime like carving a pumpkin, but with more delicious pulp-goop to scoop; like an ice-sculpting but without the need for dry ice and chainsaw.
The website of Japanese artist Takashi Itoh claims that each astounding carving takes about an hour, and that anyone can learn how to make one in about a week. Hmm. I'll just say I appreciate the modesty and optimism, respectively. Look at some of this watermelon-master's work:
I'm proud of myself when I actually cut a watermelon into slices that are somewhat uniform, but okay. Here's the extremely cute, eater-friendly hedgehog from, who else, The National Watermelon Promotion Board. (Instructions for creating your own little melon-pet are on the site.):
And then let's not forget (but how could we?) the Melounovy Festival of Watermelon Carving, which apparently produces some truly wonderful specimens, including this much-blogged, slightly threatening but still kind fun, watermouthen:
An internet search for even more images of carved watermelon is guaranteed to provide you with hours of nice, cool, air-conditioned fantasizing. Or get motivated and make one of juicy creations as a barbecue centerpiece. The only downside? You're going to give your lumpen potato salad a complex.
Mouth-Watering Watermelon Recipes
Sheryl Crow's Watermelon Margaritas
More Food Art We Love
How to Express Yourself With Food, Art, and More...
I'm a sucker for a niche obsession. Mine have included: dog hair brushes, chicken marinades, tasteful bean bags, not-too-thick but not-too-thin milkshakes, and French songs for small children. I plunge myself into these interests with great attention and vigor—only to collapse later, having acquired some understanding of the subject, but not enough to make a life work's out of it.
Which is why I found Evan Leeson's photographs so inspirational. There he was on photography blogger with 19 dazzling photos of......wet grass. An obscure love, sure, but who doesn't love wet grass? It's the sweet, quiet younger brother of the ever popular, relentlessly successful "freshly mowed." Further, Leeson didn't just take evocative pictures of it, ones that bring back those barefoot runs through the neighborhood, post-thunderstorm, he also managed to take the pictures so that one drop of water on a blade captures larger surrounding landscapes, including barns, flowers, and an entire law. In short, he shows us how the great big world might look like, from the grass's perspective. Now that's an understand that veers into empathy, folks—the first sign that a niche obsession has turned into a niche work of art.
4 Reasons You're Not Writing the Book You're Meant to Write
The Unexpected Art of the Latte
Killer Goldfish Inspires Mass Creativity