Who are you doing this for?
Crafting and creating lie somewhere between two extremes for me: pure artistic expression and pure utilitarian design. I feel that there needs to be a healthy balance between the two, folding together the “what it is used for” and the “how good it looks”. Sometimes you may get much more of one side than another and that’s just fine. However, I was recently struck with a thought that I really had to ask myself; “who are you doing this for”? I'll save the reason why for the end.
I went back and forth about it, and I may still waffle about it in the future, but I first landed on the thought that we need to do it for ourselves. Each of us has a creative spark deep inside that yearns to catch fire. It may present itself through whatever way works for your time and your abilities. This guy over here sings in the car when he is alone, that gal over there doodles mindlessly in class when she should be paying attention, and that person down the hall at work arranges the baubles on their desk in different designs. Some of us are lucky in that we can intentionally create things as a hobby. For me, it started as many small video projects and short stories. I also would build model cars and airplanes. Through tabletop games and role-play gaming with friends, my outlet grew and evolved into crafting and terrain making. I found that the act of making something itself is a release, regardless of the medium and the manner in which it is created. In short, it makes you feel good to make things for others.
There’s a sense of pride you feel, when looking at what you have created, well before you have shown it to other people. “Hey, look at this! I made this!” you say to yourself. It may not be what you had envisioned in your head exactly, but it is has come to life and you were able to make that happen. So yes, it’s fun! Engaging in making art (whether we’re “good” at it or not) can help us to relax and relieves pain and anxiety along the way. Win-win.
Interestingly enough, it seems to help in other avenues of our mind, both during, and shortly after you finish a project. When we are engaging in crafting, we use the often much neglected, creative, emotional side of our brains and we encourage new neural connections. This creates more balance. Often relationships between experiences and ideas can become clearer and we will begin to notice new things and get a different perspective. It can be like taking a walk to cool down, using that time to look at your situation from new angles.
Creating something also makes you a producer, which is a position of power and creation. You are taking control and you are creating a desired effect according to your will. This is an incredibly powerful outlet, especially for people who feel stuck in certain roles in their life where maybe they are being victimized or feel worthless. Regular engagement in art helps develop a robust positive alternative self image against strongly defined roles that you want to take back control over. You may have had to do the grunt work all day today, but tonight you craft a kingdom. That very liberating!
But then, I had a moment this weekend that further cemented how important it is that we need to create things for others.
I had a few close friends come over to my place and I thought that I might leave out a few terrain pieces that I had worked really hard on. I had debated doing it, if I was being silly, and my wife encouraged me to do it, thinking they'd be mightily impressed. Well, they weren't, exactly. I don't believe that my friends were being intentional in their reactions, but I felt as if they were being rather condescending. There was a short compliment or two, such as how I should come over and help paint their house (which was a positive message I would say). But even the way in which one person claimed that I "couldn't made it because it looks like [I] had bought it" was a bit of a low blow. I shrugged it off and tried to move the conversation back away from my projects, but for the next little while I felt humiliated. I wanted to take my pieces down and hide them in another room so as not to draw attention to them any further. Again, I am sure that no offense was intended, but it wasn't really appreciated like I hoped it would be.
I had a conversation with my wife about it afterwards. It really made me ponder the use of my time and the focus of my energy. Yes, I get to be all artsy-craftsy and play with paint and glue, but if it isn't appreciated.... then what is the use? I know that I get benefits from creating, but maybe I was wrong in the execution. I wanted to make things for other people to enjoy, but a few of the people whose opinion matter to me greatly didn't find it all that interesting. Truthfully, it took a bit of soul searching that night and on into the next morning for me to see the other half of my thought on through to completion. (Maybe it would have helped to have been crafting at the time!)
I needed to remember my audience.
To make things for other people is a fine act. It is generous to think of others and do things for them. A few years ago I randomly made a little doodle for a friend of an astromech droid (a character in a Star Wars game we were playing) and I left it for her at work one day as a simple gesture. She has that doodle on her fridge to this day and I didn't know she had done that until a few weeks ago! Come to think of it, I have half a dozen personal doodles festooning fridges all throughout my family and friends. They appreciated what I did because I did it for them. These same friends of mine who weren't as complimentary as I had hoped were very pleased with something that I had written for them in the fall of last year. Because I made that for them.
I call it the Hospitality of the Game Master. It is a form of expression, a gesture that means you are welcome here and you are accepted. A dice box that is hand dremmeled, a custom painted miniature to match a character's description, or just a terrain piece that your players know you made just for that game night. It is as sophisticated as it is simple and it means that the adventure is equally as important as the time spent together.
Regardless of how specific what you make is for that person you have in mind, or for the genre of game they are playing, the act of making something that you think they will enjoy has a power and a connectedness all unto itself. If you are a professional game maker or game master and you create a new game element for your audience, they will appreciate it. If you are a novice woodworker, then anything you make by hand is an expression of physical poetry. It's not a matter of proficiency, but of intention and heart.
I have read before where some people philosophize that true inspiration comes from within, while some others believe that true inspiration uses us as its muse and comes from a more divine source. Some good ideas just have to happen, like the divine union of peanut butter and chocolate. In the end, it doesn't matter how you do it, but that you do it. Do it for yourself, do it for your friends, do it to pay the bills, do it for your fans, do it for the vine. Do it because you enjoy how it makes you feel and share your results with the world, even if they aren't receptive in the way you hope. It is an important thing you are doing. These are ideas that are waiting to be born and you are the one who is destined to bring them to the world.
I would like to finish with part of a quote from my favorite Sci-Fi show of all time, Farscape. In the later seasons of the show, Ben Browder's voice can be heard of the intro, saying that he is lost in space wants to come home. But then he muses, simultaneously warning of the dangers out there but also encouraging us that we should "look upward and share in the wonders I have seen." Take them into the worlds of your imagination and share your voice through your creations. Let people share in the wonders you have seen.