The Paper Tigers of Creativity
Written by Hannah P.
My creative journey began when I was very little. I am, and always have been, inspired by the creativity around me; the books I read, movies I watch, and art I examine. Ever since I can remember, all I’ve wanted to do is learn and create new things. When I was little I would write dozens of little books and illustrate them. They were usually about mundane things like eating and shopping, but they were my way of communicating to others the way I felt about life. When I got a little older I started to write about more creative things like pirates, princesses, magical lands and cities of gold. These were usually my take on a popular fairytale, like Swan Lake or Eldorado, but I was beginning to expand my imagination into the realm of fantasy.
Then, I got a little older and I became tired of merely retelling old stories in a new way. I wanted to create works of my own, and so I began to write and illustrate original creations. I wrote about animals, bicycles, the Titanic; anything I was interested in and wanted to talk about. My imagination was full and wanted to be expressed. Happily for me, (and sadly for my mother’s stash of old fabric and photo album supplies) new avenues were ready to be explored. Sewing doll clothes and designing dresses became my passion for several years, until the Christmas my mother bought a card-making kit for my sister. I was interested in the kit as well, and helped my sister make a few cards. Little did she know that within a few days I would become so enthralled with paper folding and making cards that I would completely usurp her gift and claim total control over the kit supplies.
That is where my present love of paper crafting originated - I commandeered by sister’s card-making kit. Don’t feel too sorry for her, she has found a new avenue of creativity herself, making friendship bracelets by the dozens. But I have her and my mother to thank for the origin of my current passion. Indeed, paper crafting has dominated my life for about three years now, and I no longer make only cards. I also make paper boxes of all shapes and sizes, bookmarks, paper flower bouquets, garlands, and wreaths. I have amassed a supply of paper, punches, crafting tools and ribbon, to last me a lifetime (although I am constantly running out of glue). I make presents for friends, hostess gifts and party favors for friends and family, and sell my creations at a booth in a local antique shop.I make so many different kinds of paper crafts that I was surprised when I sat down to start typing a story summary and went blank. Usually my head is swimming with ideas for stories, because even though paper crafting has taken precedence in my creative life, writing always has been my favorite subject. I began to wonder where my ideas went, attributing it to a severe case of writer’s block. But from then on, whenever I sat down to write, to put my fully formed ideas into words, nothing would come out. Trepidation took hold and I ceased to write creatively.
It took a long time, and a lot of instructional books on writing, for me to realize what was keeping me from writing: fear. I was afraid of writing and making mistakes, of not getting it right the first time. It’s a common fear for writers, especially those like myself who harbor a perfectionist mindset. The fear of failure stifles creativity, but when it comes to expressing ideas, opinions and emotions through art (writing, paper crafting or otherwise), these fears are only “paper tigers.”
For those unfamiliar with the phrase ‘paper tigers,’ it means “the fear of something that is in reality, harmless, ineffectual and meaningless.” I first came across that phrase when reading about writing. It was something I was suffering from, a fear of something that could easily be overcome. The solution for my writer’s block became clear when both books and friends advised the same thing: the only way to overcome the fear of something is to do it.
But there stands another obstacle in the way of creativity: inspiration. How to you begin to create when you feel uninspired? Inspiration for me isn’t a sudden burst of genius and productivity when I come across a brilliant idea (although that does happen sometimes). It usually happens in subtle ways. I will come across something small like a phrase in a book, a scene in a movie, a section of a painting, a pattern on a piece of paper, and it will strike me as extraordinary and unique. It engrains itself in my mind, and usually stays there for a while, joined by other miniscule observations. Eventually, pieces will come together and form a picture of something that I would like to create. I don’t know how it happens, but I am glad that it does because my life wouldn’t be as full of color and enjoyment without it.
For example, recently I was given a small cardboard box with dividers in it. The box used to contain small ceramic bowls with elaborate flower designs on top. We had used them as party favors and now the box was empty. I knew when I received the box that I wanted to make something that would fit into the small spaces made by the dividers, but I didn’t know what I could possibly do. Then, a week later when I was working at the local antique shop where I have my booth, a customer came by who needed a gift box to put a necklace in. When I got home and saw the divided cardboard box, I finally had an idea. The next week I spent making small gift boxes (fashioned after the original ceramic bowls that had gone in the cardboard box), perfect for small items like jewelry.
I have found through my struggles with paper tigers that there is no “one-way” to overcome fear and find inspiration when inspiration isn’t immediate. Sometimes just doing something will breach the divide, and sometimes it takes time for pieces to come together. Despite all this, I hope that my creative journey will last a lifetime; because my imagination will prevail despite the battles I will face along the way.