By Kim Werker
I’m a craft-project self-saboteur. It’s true. When I get really excited about a crafty idea, I often end up intentionally ruining it to avoid the disappointment of it not turning out perfect. Over the years I’ve turned this pesky habit into an asset, most significantly in developing the Mighty Ugly project. Mighty Ugly is a challenge to create an ugly creature – not cute-ugly, but ugly-ugly. It’s a creativity exercise that many crafty folks find threatening, since we usually avoid making things ugly.
If you’re intimidated or downright frightened by the idea of intentionally making something ugly, here’s a step-by-step project I recently made. Remember, ugly-making is mostly about the process – making different kinds of design decisions, challenging our instincts, leaving perfectionism at the door – and less about the finished product!
So, when might you use some ugly-making in your creative life?
When you’re feeling blocked. Creative blocks come from many sources, but sometimes, immersing yourself in pure ugly-making can help you reconnect with the parts of you that make pretty things. It’s all about letting go and having fun with it.
When you’re nervous about starting a big project. If you have an important piece to make for a show or a customer and you’re worried about messing it up, try channeling all those worries into making the ugliest thing you can. That should help you through your inhibitions.
When you’re in a group of crafters. Try some ugly-making at your next craft night! Not only does it generate lots of laughs, it raises great conversation about creativity and how we relate to it. At the end, you can gather all your ugly creatures together for a commemorative photo.
Just for the heck of it. We’re never tasked with making something ugly – just setting out to achieve that can be an unusual creative experience. Even if it makes you feel icky the whole time you’re crafting, I guarantee you’ll be glad you did it (even if only because the ick is over, and that can be enough of a wonderful refreshing feeling all in itself!).
Let’s walk through an ugly project I made, and you can use it for inspiration in your own ugly-making escapades.
A small pile of scraps and/or junk you won’t miss or would otherwise throw out
Glue, glue gun, sewing needle and thread, optional
Step 1: Gather materials. I keep a bucket around to collect scraps, bottle caps, and other stuff I could throw away or recycle but instead want to reuse for the purposes of ugly-making. I went through the bucket and pulled out some things I thought would be helpful or inspiring. You can mine your scraps, look through your recycling, or spend a week being a magpie for things like rubber bands, twist ties, pull tabs, random bits of string, etc.
Step 2: Set constraints, if any. I’ve been extraordinarily busy lately, so for this project I set some constraints for myself with the goal of simply creating for an hour. First, I gave myself only an hour. Second, I found myself unusually fixated on using my glue gun, so I prohibited myself from using it. Third, aside from finding a pair of scissors, I didn’t allow myself to seek out other tools or materials once I got started. Arbitrary rules can be great fun!
Step 3: It’s all in the eyes. I was drawn to the yellow bottle thing. Obvious for eyes! I wanted to dangle bottle caps inside the holes, and had to get crafty about how to attach them. It took a while to figure out which combination of bottle caps was ugliest. To attach, I used one weird square-spiral paper clip and one strand of lace ribbon. I wanted the eyes to lay flat, but I chalked the wonkiness up to ugly and moved on.
Step 4: Lemme hear your body talk. I immediately decided to forget about trying to make a head to surround those eyes. Or a neck. Straight to the body, then. I played around with the fabric scraps I’d grabbed until I found one that was the least pleasing. The plaid one looked too good with the yellow eye sockets, see. Then I had to figure out how to attach the body to the giant eyes, and felt very lucky to have pulled some big safety pins out of the bucket. Easy peasy.
Step 5: Arms! I had that one green wire, and I tied it in a simple knot and cinched it midway down the body fabric, thus creating arms and a waist at the same time. Efficient!
Step 6: All hands on deck. I really wanted to use the discarded baby-bottle nipple, and what better use than as a hand? The existing holes in the tip of the nipple were too small to admit the wire, which made me fret for a bit. Then I remembered I had my trusted crafty sidekick, a wee pocket tool, in my pocket! That was almost divine intervention – saved my patootey. I poked a larger hole in the tip of the nipple, inserted the wire, wrapped it around a bit to secure it, et voilà. A very, very heavy hand relative to the flimsy wire arm. Hmm.
I had to rig something to alleviate some of that weight, otherwise this ugly creature was going to be all hand, and that wasn’t the kind of ugly I wanted to end up with. So I grabbed the tasselled red string/rope thing, used one of the eye-sockets as a bit of a hook, and I put that heavy nipple-hand in a sling. This ugly creature is not a knuckle-dragger.
Step 7: Accessorize! I wanted to weigh the body down so the creature wouldn’t be so top-heavy, but I couldn’t figure out a way to do it with the materials I’d gathered, so I stopped trying. After staring at my materials for a few beats, I realized I was done. I find that all my ugly creatures accessorize, though, so there were some minor final touches to perform. The creatures seem oblivious to their ugliness, and as we all know, accessorizing can be intensely fun. So I added some bling in the form of a sparkly bracelet on the non-nipple-handed arm, and I arranged the tassel-sling so it provided a bit more schmancy in the head/eye area, as if the creature were wearing a flower in her hair.
I was so efficient in my decision-making that the project took me only 32 minutes. Though I’ve certainly made ugly creatures with more personality, I had a blast making this one. I did some nifty problem-solving, made some pretty ugly decisions and, most importantly, spent 32 minutes completely focused on being creative – without any pressure for perfection. Fun times.
About the Author
Kim Werker is a writer, editor, speaker, author of crochet books, blogger, crafter, and founder of the Mighty Ugly project. When she’s not eking out her living from some creative project or another, she’s chillin’ with her seven-month-old, reading good fiction, watching sci-fi, or trying to find time to knit. Say hello and catch up with her at kimwerker.com, on Twitter @kpwerker and on Google +.