The Tiny Big Challenge

Welcome to Good Enough Creative, a podcast for creative people.

Hi again, welcome back. I’m your host, Marie Greene, and today we’re trying something a little different. Today I want to talk about tiny things and big things, and how we reignite our inspiration and generate fresh ideas by changing the size of our work.

Have you ever seen the artists who make very very tiny food out of clay? Each little piece is so intricate and lifelike, but in miniature. And there’s another artist who has set up a very tiny, but functional(ish) kitchen, where they create itty bitty omelets and teensy tiny ramen bowls. Each finished dish is about the size of a U.S. quarter – and they’re edible.

There was once an artist who challenged herself to paint a postage-stamp sized piece of art every day for a year.

There are those who make miniature scenes of bookstores and gardens. A dear friend created a miniature of the yarn shelf and the plant that are featured on the cover of my fourth book, The Joy of Yarn, and she even wound little tiny balls of yarn out of thread so that each cubby on the shelf matched exactly what was shown on the book cover. It is probably one of the most magnificent gifts I’ve ever received in my life.

And just recently I saw an artist online who painted a rock to look exactly like a sunflower seed – but it was a large rock. She had been challenged by an art teacher, I think, to either make something that is very large into something tiny or vice versa. She chose to make something that is normally tiny into something large.

And this really got me thinking about the size and the scope of… well, everything. It’s amazing how when you look at something at a noticeably different size than it normally is, you see it in a completely different light. The giant sunflower seed looked exactly like a sunflower seed, but it was amazing how different it was to see on such a large scale.

I am notorious for underestimating the size and time-demands of pretty much everything. I think I tell myself that it’s a small project and it’s not a big deal – I’ll be able to squeeze it in between all the other things, but really it’s a big project. Squeezing it in is a lie that I tell myself, and it means I am always in a perpetual state of busyness.

Do you ever underestimate a project?

But we might also overestimate a project, by assuming it’ll take a long time so we drag our feet. Maybe we find excuses not to get started, and build up a little bit of dread because we’re worried that it’ll end up being so much more work than we expect. But then, surprise – you actually get started and realize it’s not that big of a deal.

Either way, we can be wrong about the size and scope of a project. And I think it’s an interesting idea to funnel these ideas about perception into our art – because it allows us to turn an idea over, shake it out, and see what it’s made of.

I also find that the parallels between life and art, and art and life are always present; there’s really nothing that we do in our creative work that isn’t somehow tethered to the world we’re in. In life, we sometimes turn tiny things into big things emotionally, and we might turn big things into tiny things because we’re not paying attention or we’re distracted or we simply can’t cope with the size of the problem.

So what I want to do this week is issue a challenge, and we’ll call it The Tiny Big Challenge. I want to encourage you to take on the size and scope of an ordinary everyday thing and find a way to transform it into something much smaller or much larger. 

Think of it a bit like a creative writing practice. For writers, we are often encouraged to free write or brainstorm, something that is meant just to work our creative muscles. It’s not meant to produce something for other people as much as just to keep the gears turning, you know what I mean? There’s something to be said for a random but interesting challenge, because – as I mentioned – these kinds of challenges can get us out of our routines just enough that we can start thinking about what ELSE is possible.

I’ve seen knitters who knit tiny miniature sweaters on sewing needles. And years ago, I saw that someone had knit a house cozy. Yes, a knitted cozy that fit over a house. I kid you not.

When we look for ways to expand an idea and make it bigger or smaller, we get to experience that thing in a very different way.

  • What if you were to knit a little bitty mitten with toothpicks?
  • Or paint a penny the size of a laptop?
  • What if you were to make very tiny clay Monsteras? (If you’re a houseplant lover like me, then you will know that monsteras have these beautifully large leaves, so what if you were to mold them out of clay and make them the size of a pony bead?)
  • What if you were to make a very teeny tiny stack of homemade paper? With each page just big enough for one little word.
  • Or what if you made a puzzle and each piece is the size of a welcome mat outside your front door?

It could be anything. But the idea is to create something that changes your perception – that changes how you (and how others) see it.

Last fall I went to Taos, New Mexico and saw Georgia O’Keefe’s painting, The Lawrence Tree, at a museum there. It was a very strange painting, and to be honest, when I looked at it, I didn’t think much of it. At first glance, it wasn’t very appealing. But my friends spent a little more time with it than I did and they came back to tell me that the reason it looked weird is because you have to visualize that this is the view of the tree when you lay on the ground and look up at it against the sky – at night. When you shift your perspective, it suddenly makes sense.

And that’s similar to the challenge here – we’re changing our perspective by approaching something familiar at a very unfamiliar size. In doing so, you will notice details you never noticed before. You will discover interesting symmetry or shading, or nuances that had never been obvious before. Because when we change our perspective, we see what was previously unseen.

This kind of challenge is a way to keep your creative skills fresh and inspired. Sometimes all we need is a little challenge to try a different approach. You never know what might come from it.

Writer Rob Talley, in his article, The Power of Art, said this:

“Art has the power to change the way we see the world, awakening us to new perspectives, ideas, and values. It can take us back in time to reflect on our past or push us further into our future.

This week my challenge to you is to use art to change your perspective, whether it’s to turn something big into something tiny or vice versa, learn to look at the ordinary things in your life with fresh eyes. New ideas and inspiration might be waiting on the other side.

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Until next time, my friend – you’ve got this.

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