10 things I learned making things in 2017

I like making things. I also like reviewing what I learned. It seemed only natural that I should combine these interests into a “things I learned making things” list.

A few things I made in 2017:

Making things out of clay

And what I learned:

  1. I like to make things that are beautiful, useful, and efficient. I already knew I liked to make things. But this year, I realized that I find no enjoyment making things that are ugly or inefficient. I know sometimes you have to make ugly, inefficient things; but I’d prefer to spend as little time as possible on those.
  2. Copy great ideas and designs. They are great for a reason. Understand why they’re great. Try to mimic them. Then, add your personal touch.
  3. Make, then reflect. Then make again. It’s pretty simple, but too often I don’t take the small amount of time to reflect on what went right and what could be improved. Next action: get a separate notebook just for reflecting at the end of each day.
  4. Acknowledge fears, but don’t let them drive you. I found this happening often last year. I’d let my ‘fear of not completing something’ drive me to ‘make anything’, and the result would be crap. It would have been wiser to take the day off. Next year: take breaks every hour and a half to assess how I’m feeling. If there’s a lot of fear/worry driving me, it might be wise to step away for a bit (or the day).
  5. Small steps add up. Sometimes I don’t take a small step, because it’s so small. But these small steps add up over time (and time flies pretty fast).
  6. The visible difference between good work and great work appears small, but takes significant effort to cross. My favorite ceramics bowl from the whole year is only a few millimeters different (and a slightly different hue) from other bowls, but the proportions, shape, texture, and heft add up to something that is just right. It also took a significant number of iterations to create, and I assume the next level up will require even more. This reminds me of an Ira Glass quote: 
    Everybody I know who does interesting, creative work they went through years where they had really good taste and they could tell that what they were making wasn’t as good as they wanted it to be. They knew it fell short. Everybody goes through that.
  7. YouTube: Leveling-up your skills only takes 5 minutes*. This includes a caveat: it’s quite difficult to find the exact 5 minute video you need. This was one of the driving learnings behind an app I built this year: Guidable.org. More on this in a later post.
  8. Study the greats. Take classes from teachers. This is an area I don’t do well. I usually just teach myself. This past year, I took a ceramics class at Portland Community College and asked the teacher for 1-on-1 help. The advancements I made were huge — and much faster than I would have made on my own.
  9. Set goals and actions — emphasis on actions. Goals are great and all, but they are nothing without action. Goals can also be discouraging because they often fail to predict/allow fantastic opportunities that surface along the way to your goal. See this post by James Clear.
  10. The core things I enjoy about making things: learning, improving, and seeing the results.