(un)Fashion: Creativity and Translations

Hard to believe that the book (un)Fashion hadn’t yet made its appearance  into my house and blog until this weekend when a friend brought it to my attention.

(un)Fashion presents a kaleidoscope of people from different cultures and portrays how they dress and adorn themselves away from the fashion shows and chain stores.  It refreshingly ignores  the Western conventional view of what’s beautiful and what’s not. Tibor Kalman, one of the graphic geniuses of the 20th century and  editor-in-chief of Colors magazine and his wife, illustrator Maia Kalman created this stunning gem of a book.

Take a look:

Some of the images remind me vaguely of this book: Natural Fashion: Tribal Decoration from Africa by Hans Silvester, which I blogged about in one of my first posts back in 2010. I’ve always been fascinated by culture and its expressions through fashion, music, film, art  and language.

Right now I’m busy working with languages;  another area that fascinates me since I first learned English 35 years ago in small town Germany . Currently I’m exploring different ways and avenues how to make language learning more accessible, fun and effective using a variety of tools including technology/art/music etc. (Which, by the way is a great excuse for reading French Vogue extensively and spend time watching foreign language soap operas on Netflix.)

Trying to understand what it takes to learn a language is fun and frankly quite creative.  Creating is closely linked to the process of translating or transforming an idea into “an expression”. Without a doubt, creating and translating have a close relationship.

These days I’m in the process of re-orienting myself and re-evaluating this blog, looking into ways of making it more into a cultural exploration.

As an example, here is one interesting clip from the Indonesian version of “The X-Factor”.  The clash between the singer’s voice, her selected music, the format of the show (exported to more than 40 countries)  and her dress display exactly the kind of cultural mélange that interests me.

Once I have a clearer picture of where this exploration takes me I’ll be back.

ISBN-10: 0810992299
ISBN-13: 978-0810992290
Tibor Kalman (Author), Maira Kalman (Author)


Dopamine and Empathy

Yesterday night I discovered the answer on why I’m so driven to find questions and their answers on the internet; questions, that arise while looking for answers. And where did I find it? On the internet, of course.

We are all addicted to information and there is a reason. Taking in and processing  information was essential for survival such as scanning the landscape watching for predators or other dangers. And nature has made this an incentive by giving us a warm ‘fuzzy’ feeling through the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine. It’s  the same way nature rewards sexual behavior to ensure the survival of the species.

Scanning the horizon yesterday has been replaced with browsing the internet today and that bar that  B.F. Skinner‘s rats hit over and over again for the reward of food has been replaced by the “Enter” key that we press all day for our dopamine fix.

However, what do we do with all that information that we strive so hard to seek? Isn’t it all too much? And what else suffers as a result of this?

Nicholas Carr, who has written extensively about the effects of the internet on cognition, talks about the consequences of information overload in this 15-minute lecture. Hopping from article to article is a lot like multitasking, something we’re all familiar with. But multitasking doesn’t actually exist, it is rather the process of shifting from task to task, adjusting constantly to the new stimulus in front of you.  It’s not an efficient process, because it interrupts a more sophisticated exploration and leads to a lack of important processing skills required for creative  and systemic thinking.

And guess what else it affects and this was a surprise to me…..Empathy!

Research suggests that along with the decline of book reading, college “kids today are about 40 percent lower in empathy than their counterparts of 20 or 30 years ago” according to Kevin Dutton’s article “Psychopathy’s Double Edge” in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Isn’t that scary?

Here is why the 500+-year old art of reading a book is today more important than ever:

Reading a book carves brand-new neural pathways into the ancient cortical bedrock of our brains. It transforms the way we see the world—makes us, as Nicholas Carr puts it in his recent essay, “The Dreams of Readers,” “more alert to the inner lives of others.” We become vampires without being bitten—in other words, more empathic. Books make us see in a way that casual immersion in the Internet, and the quicksilver virtual world it offers, doesn’t.

- Kevin Dutton

Usually when reading a book we become immersed in the story as the protagonist and imagine life from the viewpoint of the hero/ine. How about reversing this? What about imagining your own life and the people around you through the eyes of a Jane Austen, or William Shakespeare. Isn’t that an interesting thought?

Trying to see the world through someone else’s eyes is not only an entertaining experiment but also applied empathy. Often I try to see life through the eyes of someone I don’t like that much. That usually helps me understand the motives of the other person’s actions and helps me to stay calm.

Empathy is important. And not only for the ones at the receiving end.

Credit for finding Kevin Dutton’s fascinating article and the video above go to Andrew Sullivan at the Daily Beast.

John Cleese On How to Be Creative….

Do you remember John Cleese?  This video from 1991, which I watched last night instead of writing a post, features him and his thoughts on creativity. Cleese, you may remember is famous for his work with Monty Python, and if you can, watch the whole video. It’s worthwhile not just for his delivery, but also for his practical advice. And after all, who doesn’t want to be a bit more creative?

If you only have 10 minutes, here he is again in 2009 brushing up the theme.

Cleese describes creativity not as talent, but a modus operandi. He distinguishes between two modes of operation.

First, is the closed mode, which is our normal daily attitude, which repesents work, errands, family, friends and social media all of which are simultaneously competing for our attention.

The second is the open mode in which exploration is the main objective and goal. Kids call it playtime, the  mode where creativity blossoms. To implement a new idea or concept, both modes are necessary. Once a creative thought or insight occurs the open state has to give way to the closed one to implement the new idea or concept without hesitation or doubt.

To enter the open mode can be difficult. Life usually get in the way.

According to Cleese there are 5 elements to help set the stage for the open mode:

1. Creating space: Make room (physical and mental) to explore. Cleese calls it setting up a space/time oasis.

2. Time (quantitative) : Set aside an hour and half or so with unobstructed time. No phone, no email, no interruptions. There needs to be a clear separation between your daily tasks and “open mode time”. Nobody gets creative in front of a computer.

3. Time (qualitative): Wait for the mind to calm down (which can take up to 30 minutes or longer you may know this from meditation or trying to get to sleep at night) and stop your mind’s chattering, if that’s possible. It can be hard in the beginning, but the mind does get quiet faster over time. Think about something interesting like two juxtaposed concepts and explore how they connect. Ponder until your time is running out. If something occurs, great, if not, don’t worry. Wait or sleep over it.

Good ideas often need time to “incubate” below the threshold of awareness. Cleese also warns off getting get rid of the discomfort of not having an answer/solution right away. He says that the most creative people are prepared to tolerate the discomfort of “not knowing” longer than other people. In other words, don’t grab the first creative idea or insight that comes to mind. Wait on it and even more creative ideas could follow. I thought that this is crucial.

4. Confidence: Don’t let the fear of failure get into the way. Don’t expect anything to happen. Play and experiment without aiming for a result. I find that the hard one. We are all taught to view “play time” as losing, or worse wasting time and are always concerned with setting and reaching goals.

5. Humor: Humor is a fast way to change from the closed mode into the open one.


The lecture is peppered with Cleese’s usual humor and the end memorable when he explains how and why creative people pose a threat to the establishment.

I will take his advice to heart this week and spend less time in front of the computer and more in my own space/time sanctuary.


Foto Lucas Gölén from the book “Yllebroderier

Ever since I’ve discovered Hallandssöm last week, I’ve been exploring the world of Swedish embroidery.  Thanks to very helpful reader M. I spent more time on the internet than with my family last week. She sent me a wealth of information and links to explore the many talented brodös, which is Swedish for embroiderer.

Yllebroderi, or in English: wool embroidery dates back to the 17th and 18th century,  a time, when Mary Delaney created her wonderful botanical compositions of hand cut flowers all mounted on black background. When I saw yllebroderi for the first time I was instantly reminded of her botanicals, even though the nature of her work is quite different.

Hemslöjdens Förlag in Sweden publishes beautiful craft books including this one: Brodera på ylle.

and also this one: Yllebroderier (see close up at top images):

On my Scandinavian internet journey, I also discovered Frida Arnqvist Engström, who writes the interesting blog Kurbits, covering embroidery, arts and crafts.

Lina Holm offers wool embroidered accessories translating traditional designs into modern accessories.

And here are more craft/art/embroidery blogs (all in Swedish). WARNING: Don’t visit, if you have any plans for the day.


As for my own experimentation with wool embroidery, I decided to make coasters experimenting with wool, which is completely impractical and was prone to fail. And fail it did.

What I discovered it that counting and making a precise pattern is not what I like doing. It worked when creating the initial sample for the fabric manipulation, because at that time it was a brand new challenge. Subsequently I saw myself creating many beautiful designs and projects using Hallandssöm.

Reality looked more like this: Yes, the pattern is still great, but I discovered that I didn’t like to do this this kind of “almost thread count”. It usually happens that the “figuring-out-part” is what interests me and after that’s done, my interest wanes. Or better yet, it pops, just like a balloon. Not that I don’t appreciate the technique and the end result, but it’ll end up in my “future projects bin”.

Small scale free hand embroideries are next on my list.

I secretly hope to discover one day a technique/theme/material that ignites my passions so strongly, that I would explore in great depth and detail.

But, I’ll be patient; after all Mary crafted her whole life before she “discovered” collage at the age of 72.

Till then, more ideas, more experiments, more wandering.

Earworms, Patterns and the Zeigarnik Effect

Do you sometimes have a song stuck in your head; a song insidiously intruding into your thoughts, one that you can’t get rid of?  In German that condition is called an earworm and according the Wikipedia they last longer (and are more irritating)  for women than men. Someone has to study that further. When I […] Read more »

Nunalab: Manipulating T-shirts

Ever wondered what else you can do with old t-shirts? Nunalab rescues jersey remnants from factories around Lima, Peru and transforms them into unique contemporary accessories: fabric manipulation at its best! Nunalab was founded in 2010 by Ursula Alvarez and Mariela Bazan who have been working with Peruvian artisans for over 20 years. The concept […] Read more »

Is There a True Self?

Is there a real you? Of, course there is! Or is there? Find out for yourself. “I suppose everyone continues to be interested in the quest for the self, but what you feel when you’re older, I think, is that — how to express this — you really must make the self. It’s absolutely useless […] Read more »

Are You Creative?

Do you think you’re creative? One of my deep irrational fears is not being creative enough. Sometimes I have good ideas. But there are large intervals of walking through a tunnel in the dark with no spark of creativity in sight. Because deep down I still stupidly believe that creativity is something one either possesses […] Read more »


Didn’t think I would launch another blog during the holiday season, did you? Crazy? Yep, you bet. While there was a relief in not blogging these past several months, there were insidious side-effects… I stopped making things, because  there always seemed more “important” things to do. Like worrying and….worrying. The less I made the less […] Read more »