Fun-A-Day: on creating while in Winter’s deathly grips

Well, we are a few days into February now and that means that Fun-A-Day 2015 is over.  For those who don’t know, Fun-A-Day is a project where people commit to doing some “fun” thing each day over the course of the month of January.  Get off to a creative start!  Keep motivated and stay productive during a month that only wishes to grind you down.  Then at the end, everyone gets to show off their projects at a group art show.  This year’s show will be Friday, February 6th through Sunday, February 8th at The Mr. Roboto Project.  (more details here).

This is the 6th or 7th year i’ve attempted to do a Fun-A-Day project and the 3rd time that I’ve successfully made it start to finish.  The other years I was successful I had done drawing projects where I had made one small (roughly 5″ square) illustration each day (see the 2009 and 2013 projects).  This year I decided that I would try to make something each day that would fit into a 1″ gumball machine pod.  I have all of these pods left over from when I bought a gumball machine for a 1″ button art show I did a couple years back.  I figured I would make 2 of each days “thing” and then for the show one would go on display and the other would go into the gumball machine so people could potentially walk away with a souvenir.  I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting myself into or what all I would end up creating.

I decided that I wanted to make my daily project from stuff just around the house using whatever tools at my disposal.  I didn’t want to buy any new materials or tools for the project.  Make do with what you got, especially since Emma and I were beginning a year of austerity after blowing through a ton of money in 2014.

A final part of the project would be that I would write up a small bit of textual accompaniment for each piece.  I imagined these as small poems, rants, mantras, etc.  In the end, many were just that, while a good number also just ended up being quotes, song lyrics and other pop culture references.

There were challenges to each stage this project and I want to talk about all of them a bit.

Choosing what things to make.  – A 1″ gumball machine pod is not very big.  Hand making something to fit inside one means choosing carefully because you only have so much room for detail.  This meant mostly picking fairly simple designs.  Of course a simple design does not mean it would be a simple thing to make.

Choosing the materials – Once you have a concept of what “thing” you want to make, you have to decide what material to use to make it.  Most of projects ended up being made out of bits of wood, but I also used wire, thin sheet metal, cloth, paper, string and even flour (see day 8 for that).  Having your “simple” design and your chosen material, now comes the next tricky part.

Finding Your Process– Once again, these gumball pods were small, so the items were small.  They required a certain nimbleness and a certain dexterity.  This was especially important considering the tools at my disposal.  Using a tablesaw to chop off tiny 1″ pieces of wood or using a Dremel tool to remove bits of wood and metal require a certain confidence.  Safety issues aside, often times attempting to make a certain cut or to drill a hole would result in the whole piece disintegrating in your hands.  Several projects (tiny forks, tiny lightbulb) were tried, had dismal results and were abandoned on one day only to be returned to on a future date when a clearer sense of process was imagined.

Writing the Accompaniment – This turned out to be more of a challenge than I had initially thought it would be.  Sometimes you had to ignore the draw of the easy joke (“More cowbell” could’ve easily have happened on Day 22) and other times you just had to go for the ridiculously obvious (Nickelback “Photograph” lyrics for Day 25).  Sometimes a rant would just naturally flow out (Day 3) and sometimes I allowed things to get ever so slightly personal (day 9).

Over the course of the month I spent a lot of time in the basement with a dremel tool in hand or a a sheet of sandpaper, slowly shaping a chunk of wood or otherwise trying how to shape tiny bits of construction detritus into some little treasure.  It’s a weird space to find yourself in – 40 years old, making tiny racecars and cinder blocks in your basement.

But ultimately this was a project about discovery, about process and about patience.  Ok, you tried that and the drill ripped the piece to shreds.  What if we try a piece of MDF instead of pine?  What if we try sanding that whole section away instead of trying to cut it off?  These often ended in the results that I wanted, or at least a closer approximation.

I’m happy to see the project to come to an end (mostly as I was beginning to run out of ideas of things to make) but each year I’m grateful that I’ve attempted the Fun-A-Day project.  After the insanity of December and the holidays, a Fun-A-Day project is a good way to remind yourself of setting aside some moments in each day for conscious experimentation and learning.  It’s very much about re-establishing a daily schedule (you need to set aside some time each day to do this project) but also without that schedule just being wake up, go to work, eat dinner, huddle under a blanket while binge-watching TV shows.  Even those years where I haven’t completed my project from New Year’s Day to the 31st, I’ve found it has been a project that has helped me keep the brain active during the deep freeze and usually sets up some ideas for the year ahead.

Check out the full set of this year’s creations here.

For more information about Fun-A-Day Pittsburgh, go here.