Studio Musings

Monday, January 9, 2017

Cataloging UFOs

A recent email got me thinking about UFOs.  Those UnFinished Objects that collect in drawers and clutter up the work space.   Being that time of year, it got me to thinking about resolutions - new and old, and what I want (and hope) to accomplish this year. 

Sorting through some of my UFOs I realized that there are a number of reasons why different projects fell to the wayside.  I'm coming to think that the more I understand WHY a particular project got set aside, the better chance I have of determining which, if any might ever reach the coveted "Completed" state.

So I started cataloging my Reasons why particular projects end up as UFOs.  Here's my list to date:

Too Many Ideas, Too Little Time
 It's a fact: the larger a project is, the longer it takes to complete.  Not just in terms of the hours spent working on that particular project.  But also because of the times when the long-term project gets set aside in favor of smaller, quicker projects. 

The word "Done" has such a nice ring.  Done!  Bingo! Hurray!  There are some words that are just such fun to say.  That likely explains why I have more snowflakes than any other single beaded project.  They are incredibly fast - how many bead weaving projects can you finish in under an hour, and each one be unique?  So, big projects get interspersed with smaller ones, making the larger projects take even longer.

I've also found that the more time I've already invested in a project, the more risk adverse I become.  The worry about "what if I screw it up" that barely registers these days when stitching a beaded cuff, rears its head on a regular basis when working on my latest sculptural endeavors.  Bead sketching can help with this - doing little sample pieces to work out how I might move forward.

The best solution I've found is to set a concrete deadline for completion, and a reason for that deadline.  The deadline must be far enough in the future that I can reasonably finish the project.  And I need a reason for the deadline because my creative side is like a little kid, and will do it's best to find wiggle room and extensions.  Saying I want to finish it by September isn't enough.  Saying I want to finish by September so I can photograph it for a blog hop or submissions for "X" show.  Even simply telling people it will be done by a specific date is a much stronger motivator, because now someone is expecting it besides myself.

Lost without a Map
Here, I started out with a grand idea, but partway in, the project morphed into something I don't recognize.  Good, bad, it's almost impossible to tell because it simply ISN'T what I expected.  And I therefore have no clue where to go next.  Into the box it goes.  I think this is one of the most common reasons freeform beadweaving projects get left behind. 

That's okay, sometimes projects simply need time to gel.  From my own experience, my Rattlesnake Necklace is a prime example.  I'd originally designed it as a choker, but somehow the length got away from me, and it was way, way too long.  What to do?  I liked the colors, I liked the stitching, but I had no idea what to do with it.  It was several years before I thought of finishing it as a sort of Western-kerchief style choker instead.  The key is to remember to pull it out every once in a while, and keep noodling on the question "what could it be?"  (It also helped that I decided to finish this piece for a blog hop).

Too Ugly to Live
This is the second most-common reason freeform beadweaving projects get left in the dust.  The big question is whether the poor dear is simply stuck in the dreaded Ugly Duckling stage or if it has truly deadly flaws.  A cool-down period may be in order before I can make that determination.

Put it away until the disgust has faded to something more akin to pity, then pull it back out. To evaluate it's potential rebirth, I first look at the piece's stitching - is it structurally sound?  If the stitching is a mess, then it's likely toast.  Stitching is sound?  Then how's the color balance?  A quick way to play with color is to take a photo (a white or light colored background works best), print it off my computer,  then draw over the top.  Quick simple lines will do, with markers, colored pencils, crayons - whatever I have to hand.  The goal here is to play with ways to improve the color balance.

If both the stitching and color seem good, and the pieces simply seems awkward, that's a really good sign it's in the Ugly Duckling stage and I simply need to keep stitching. 

Bored Now
For me, projects that require a lot of repeats are most likely to fall into this category.  It's one of the reasons I veer away from many traditional bead weaving projects.  I get bored and I start improvising to liven things up (often with 'interesting' results) or it gets shoved into a drawer for "later".

Personally, the best way for me to work through this particular problem is to have a rock-solid, clear-cut reason for wanting to finish the project.  "I am making this as ThisYear's birthday gift for my Mom" or "I will wear it at the formal dinner on our September Cruise with my 1940s-style dress" are much more compelling reasons than "it's beautiful and I'd love to make it".  The 'it's beautiful' might get me started, but is likely to leave me stranded mid-stream as boredom sets in. 

Got It!
This is a sort of variation on the Bored Now theme, but is a little different.  When I looked at my motivation for starting these projects, I find that my true goal was simply to master a technique or determine whether something was simply possible.  Once I have the answer (either way), there's little motivation to continue.

Almost ten years ago now, I took a workshop with the artist David Chatt.  He had two Large tables covered with beading samples, mostly unfinished pieces, and explained that they were his 'sketchbook'.  They were where he worked out ideas and problems, and kept the results as quick reminders and references.  These days, I have my own 'beaded sketchbook'.  It's not as extensive as his, and I have a feeling I'm far more likely to poach from my sketchbook than he tended to be, but that's okay.  Every artists' sketchbook is entirely their own. 

One thing I have found is that it's very freeing to realize that not all beaded objects are meant to be completed.  Some are simply meant to answer a question.  Little sketches, doodles and thoughts. 

So there's my UFO Roster
Now I'm curious. 
  • How many of these resonate with you?  
  • Do you have UFOs that fall into other categories that should be added to the list?  What are your categories?
  • Which types of UFOs are you most likely to complete, eventually?  
  • What do you think of the sketchbook idea?  Do you have UFOs that are really sketches; never intended to become completed objects?  
  • What would you think of joining a crafter's UFO Support Group?  A group where we challenge each other to identify, and complete one UFO at a time on a regular basis.  Say one UFO every two months?

I'd love to hear from you!  


  1. These almost all resonate with me to some degree ~ you certainly have pointed out the reasons we have so many UFOs.
    I have often thought of shadowboxing UFOs and tiny samples, almost like a crazy quilt for beading. I do like the sketchbook idea a lot. I will have to explore that and start cataloging mine.
    A UFO Support Group is a great and scary idea all at the same time, because if I join, I will HAVE to take out some of the projects and work on them. Some have been buried in a drawer for a decade now. But ok, I am in!

    1. Christine - I would love to have you (and your friend) join in the UFO Support Group!

      Your idea of shadowboxing UFOs and tiny samples is a great one. I have one little beading sample that lives in a velvet-lined box as a sort of impromptu version of this.

      My hope is that we can make this fun, because I understand the scary all to well!

  2. A UFO support group sounds good to me. Most of my UFO's are because I got bored with the project and put it down to do something else, the project I got bored with went into a box of other ho hum prodjects.

    1. Therese - did you get bored with the projects because of the repetitions involved (my most common issue) or because the project didn't quite interest you?

      If you're interested, I'd love to have you join the support group!