The Super-Highway

comments: 51


My intrepid and adorable co-workers say thank you very much for your generous reviews of their performances! I gave them all raises yesterday (they are paid in pats and kisses). We've had a staff meeting this morning, and come to a few conclusions about our team's workload. Today it is clear that we have a LOT of projects going on. As Creative Director, I seem to have a lot of ideas. I always have had. I tend to start them all. I always have tended to start them all, because that's exciting. They don't all get finished. A lot of them do, but not all. Sometimes I bite off more than I chew and get completely overwhelmed, and then I pack whatever project is overwhelming me all in its own little box and put it (quickly! quickly!) in the cupboard. And then I walk away (whistling obliviously) and move on to something else for a while. Most of the time I really do go back and finish; occasionally, by the time I go back to finish I am not into it anymore and can't even imagine what I was thinking there, because that thing is not cute, and then it gets stuffed back into my cupboard and I try to forget it ever happened. That's not that hard. I don't really get hung up on things like that, or things that just don't work. (When I was a kid my dad told me that if I didn't like a book I should definitely put it down and pick up another one, since there are thousands of "good ones" out there, waiting. I think that was some of the best advice I've ever received.) I love the beginning more than the middle. But I love the end. Whenever I finish something, that night I take it upstairs and hang it on my bedroom wall next to the bed and then I get in my cozy bed very happily and look at it, whatever it is. I just really like that moment. Very satisfying.

When you have a lot of ideas, you get used to having various projects in all different stages of completion. I have seven different projects going on right now. That might be kind of a lot, even for me. I think a lot of this creative energy still has to do with the residual creative burst of freedom and energy that immediately follows finishing the book. One of the very hardest things about making books (for me) is not being able to share the projects (because publishers don't like that) as they are being inspired, developed, and completed. This runs so incredibly counter to my natural instinct and love of blabbing. I find it really difficult to work in that sort of total isolation. It's almost like you have to have two creative lives at the same time — the one you live in secret for the book, and the one you live for everything else in your life. It is hard to manage both at the same time, since the book is such a huge project. And if you are responsible for doing everything for your books — the ideas, the embroidery, the sewing, the writing, the illustrations, the styling, the sourcing of locations and models, the shopping for props and wardrobes, the photography — some days it's all enough to pretty much completely blow your mind into a thousand strands of tangled up embroidery floss. It's just a lot. You can be sure that on a lot of days you will be doing almost all of those things in the same day. You don't have much left to give (creatively speaking). You don't even have time to eat dinner, really. It's not a sustainable way to live, but it is what it is, for a while, anyway. Nevertheless, you think, "When I'm done with this, all I will do is sit in my Adirondack chair and watch the dogwood tree grow, and that will be work enough."


But then, once the book is finished and off to the printer, the strangest thing happens. Andy compares it to being on the expressway, doing 65 mph, and then getting off: You come up the exit ramp, make a right onto the (familiar) side street to head back home, but everyone else seems to be going way too slow, and your foot still feels like lead. You still have that intensity and momentum, and it takes a while for it to burn off (and I guess there's also that ever-present little thing called "making a living" that has to be done). So even though you're so excited to be "home," your body has been on the road for over two years, and it still feels like it's traveling. But now that you get to go wherever you want, you're sort of surprised to find yourself getting so quickly off the Ad. chair and back in the car. So you start seven projects and, compared to thirty, you feel like you're on a Sunday drive.

Still, my work crew would like to get a few of these projects (Tulipfield dresses 1, 2, and 3; the seat cushion; the apple-blossom handbags; the Alice-in-Wonderland pinafore; the embroidered alphabet sampler) actually finished, so they just told me to stop waxing metaphorical, referring to myself in the second person, zip it in general, and get back to work. Bye.


gorgeous photos !

A great post! I can totally relate to the expressway feeling! Probably in your case the way that the exit ramp and Spring came at the same time added some more lead to your foot as well! :-D

i love those white-background, back-lit blossom photos. i think you might should (to use a purely southern construction) consider having them printed onto a sateen cotton as a tapestry print... and then making a bunch of gorgeous dresses and pillows from it!

very pretty; had to come take a closer look to see if they were pressed or painted.

Great post! Too bad we can't skip from the exciting and filled-with-promise beginning right to the wow-I'm-done ending. But then I guess we'd miss the satisfaction of working through that middle part where the real effort comes in.

Can't wait to see the pinafore!

I am exactly this way. I have projects almost finished, necklaces in the "middle stages" and new jewelry ideas pushing in for space. Yesterday, while starting a new commissioned piece, I mentioned to my husband I might want to re-do a few rooms in the house, he almost fainted. He doesn't work this way. He's a one thing at a time kind of fella. I think I'll send him this post today, he thinks I'm the only one!

I've noticed while teaching people to sew, or answering accusations about unfinished projects that the biggest hurdle to unleasing creativity is that little voice that says, "I should finish this first".

You've got to get to it while the idea is in motion and give yourself permission to start something without knowing if it will ever be what it was in your imagination.

I've finished quilts 10 years after I've started them. It's ok. There are no rules. :0)

Wow, I thought that top photo was an illustration. NICE!

Hahahaha, you make me laugh, Alicia.

I love reading your posts. You have a great way of telling your story. I am often way too ambitious. I will see something in a store and think, why I can make that! And then proceed to get supplies...and most the time they get made. But, here lately I fully identify with you. I have been telling myself to go home after work and finish my gazzillion and one projects! I can NOT buy anything except what is required to complete said items. Hmmm...this may take a while. So, I'm taking a sebatical...thanks to your crochet pattern. Tee hee. Yes, another project. Shhh don't tell anyone. ;)
Have a productive day!
Paula :)

Beautiful photos! I start so many projects sometimes I forget about them until I start cleaning stuff! I do finish many things, some I know I won't. And, I am like that with books too, right now there are 5 on my nightstand. I can pick up where I left off by re-reading the last few lines, I go back and forth...when the mood is right. It drives a few people crazy, but I am fine with it...:)

Alice-in-Wonderland pinafore, and embroidered alphabet sampler?? Can't wait to see those!! I have found when you actually blog about art projects you start it serves as a motivation to get it finished!!! :)

Gorgeous photos and hysterical writing! Thanks

With my writing, and my art- it seems to me it is never quite done...I can always do something to it...tweak it, make it better somehow.
xo, Cheryl

In the absence of deadlines, all things new seem way more exciting than all things partially complete, don't they? I can relate (although, I've never done a book) to projects pending!

I have to say, I agree with Miss Stewart up there....there are no rules to creativity. Some of the BEST ideas have the WORST timing!

As always, your photos are magnificent, Alicia!

i love those photos, too! i am so solitary. i will not start a new project until i finish my current one. i get bored and will never go back to it and have no room for an unfinished project closet and will probably never never write a craft book ;).

Great post! I can totally relate! Especially to the numerous projects going at once. Most people think I'm nuts, but that's just how my brain works:)

I love having several projects going at the same time too! I think when you're a creative person, it just happens. I love the beginning of an idea and figuring it out and of course the end, but I agree with you Alicia that the middle isn't always as great. Oh well. Having many things going on at once ensures no boring days, unless of course, that is what is needed.
I, too, have an adirondack chair under my dogwood (it's really more of a puppywood though because it's still small) and it is the perfect place to enjoy Portland's spring afternoons!

The descriptions of the projects sound wonderful and worth the wait.

Enjoy your day (and back to work).

Apple blossom handbags sound wonderful - do show!

Never have heard this aspect of the fertile creative process described so well, Alicia.

It's ephemeral, this creative impulse that is strong enough to actually move the body to action. For me, it's all about wondering how something could be made, solving that question, and then moving onto the next. So, I'm left with several solved projects that are 70% complete.

Then something else has to take over in order for me to come back to them and trudge/push on to actually complete them. That might be the desire to see it fully done and show it on my blog. I'm certain my project blog is largely responsible for my getting most last stages finished.

Your dogwood blossom photos make me swoon!

You are so adept at putting into words your feelings and experiences so that I can relate (on some levels, anyway!).
When is this new book coming our way? Can you tell us?

Oh, I experience the SAME THING when I am writing at the end of each quarter; I just dream and dream of making things because I'm stuck working on a different kind of thing. And after that, zip pow! Burst of creativity ... and that's how I forget to actually rest and recuperate over breaks =)

and your dogwoods are so, so lovely!

These photos just take my breath away. Dogwood is one of my favorite flowers. We have massive amount of them here in NC.

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About Alicia Paulson


My name is Alicia Paulson
and I love to make things. I live with my husband and daughter in Portland, Oregon, and design sewing, embroidery, knitting, and crochet patterns. See more about me at