Illustration by Allegra

As a freelance writer and an English major, I spend a huge percentage of my time thinking about words and typing them into various documents, so thank god I enjoy writing. I love being able to express myself in words, and it’s satisfying to finish an essay or a story or an article and feel like, Oh, word, I made something. Sometimes, though, it can feel a bit anticlimactic. It’s like, after hours or even days and weeks of work, all I have to look at is boring blocks of text on a screen or a page. Bleh.

While I can “decorate a sentence with words” (imagine me saying that in my best night-school creative-writing teacher voice) or whatever, I sometimes want to put my creative energies into a project that I can actually see and touch and otherwise admire when I’m through. However, I have never been someone who could be considered “good with her hands” (THIS IS NOT A SEX JOKE, GET YOUR BRAINS OUT OF THE GUTTER, JEEZ). I’m more the type who looks upon even the simplest DIY tutorials with a mixture of admiration and hopelessness—like, I’m supposed to know what to do with rick-rack or Mod Podge? To me, those words sound like names for oatmeal from a fairy tale, not useful tools to help me create my masterpiece.

For my whole life long, I’ve been jealous of those who are able to visualize and carry out arts-and-crafts projects. My sister Laura is one of these people. We shared a room as teenagers, working side by side on our different artistic ventures, and it always felt so frustrating to fill notebooks with all these quiet sentences while she made gorgeous paintings and sketches that other people could so easily enjoy. Next to her talent, mine felt lonely and invisible.

Then one day, while absentmindedly playing around with some scissors and a stack of fashion magazines, I found myself arranging paper cut-outs into the shape of a lion’s head. It wasn’t “as good” as any of Laura’s artwork, but it was definitely satisfying in a whole new way for me. I realized that anyone can make beautiful things, no matter their skill level. I know I can’t draw for shit, but I can collage; I can BeDazzle. It was just a matter of finding what was right for me. And guess what, guys? Making visual, tangible stuff, even if I’m not the best at it, turns out to be something of a miracle cure for my nerve-shredding anxiety (besides, like, actual medication).

Me with my very first scrap-paper lion head, circa 2008.

So, when deadlines and assignments are piling up all around me, none of which are going to result in something I can hold in my hand, I head to my bedroom, put on a pretty, low-key album, dim the lights, and craft like the wind. I attack magazine pages and rearrange them in the shapes of zoo animals, and transform junky old T-shirts I’ve had since childhood into hot crop-tops. I affix plastic flowers to everything I own, turn shoeboxes into cleverly decorated little vessels for my sunglasses and nail polish, and make flower crowns for my friends. I GO BUCK WITH THE HOT-GLUE GUN.

In experimenting with different kinds of materials, I’ve compiled a list of crafting projects that even the least aesthetically creative people, aka folks like me, can have a glitter-glued ball with:

1. Collage, collage, collage!
Although I find them boring to read, fashion magazines like Vogue and Elle work best for collaging purposes, because there are so many gorgeous colors and textures in their editorials. The only other things you need are scissors and some kind of glue—I use a straight-up Elmer’s Glue Stick, kindergarten-style (I told you this would be mad basic). Then, go to town on paper, a shoebox, or anything else your heart desires. This is my go-to quick project.

2. Flower Crown Realness
Tavi and Petra kind of wrote the book on this one. Let me just tell you that it’s just as easy and awesome as they make it look in this video.

3. Flair You Can Wear in Your Hair (OMG I feel so crafty just saying that)
This category is maybe the simplest one of all. Take whatever boring hair clips or bobby pins you’ve got laying around, then hot-glue dollar-store knick-knacks to them. Bam. Done. I was inspired to start making all kinds of these after I met Ruby, who was wearing a bobby pin that she’d glued a walrus toy to. My mind blown, I copied her, and now we can all have bonkers sea-creature barrettes. Thanks, Rubes.

4. Tiny Baby Zine
I love making little zines when I have a free hour or two. All you need is a piece of printer paper, scissors, a straightedge, maybe tape or glue if you’re feeling fancy, and this guide. Then, fill it with whatever you like. Maybe you’ll even make collages in it? PROJECTCEPTION. Who knew you were so artsy? (I did. Just saying.)

5. Origami Mobile
Take any kind of paper and get down with some YouTube tutorials—I’ve done this two-minute fox one a few times, and it’s super cute and easy. You can stop there if you want, or take some string and tie your creations to a hanger. All of a sudden you’ve got a floating zoo above your bed where you didn’t before. That rules, huh?

6. T-Shirt Surgery
The number-one rule of this project, which I have learned the hard way many times, is this: DON’T TAKE SCISSORS TO A SHIRT THAT WOULD MAKE YOU SAD TO RUIN. It’s so weird—I’m always able to successfully beautify ugly shirts that say, like, “PARK AVE FORD” on them, but the minute I try to do something to a band shirt I love, disaster. So pick a terrible shirt, then cut off the sleeves, stomach, and collar—et voilà! Crop top. Or you can get a little fancier and do one of these rad fringed-bottom ones, of which I probably have 10 million now because they’re so fuunnnnn and easyyyyy and cuuuuuteeeee.

Although I still think of myself as uncoordinated and something of a nightmare in terms of visual intelligence, that makes me feel more triumphant when I finish even a small art project. Each time I put the final flourishes on a flower crown or DIY my own accessories, I overcome my artistic insecurities a little bit. By crafting I prove to myself that I am capable of doing other things besides writing—and having another creative outlet, however casual it may be, takes a little bit of pressure off of my literary projects. I feel way less self-conscious about my word-work when it’s not my only means of expression. Isn’t it funny what just a little hot glue can do for a person’s self-esteem? Also, unlike my term papers about Virginia Woolf or these here articles for you fine people, my lil’ crafts can be private if I want them to be. While it is rewarding when people freak out like, “OMG IS THAT A PIKACHU on your flower crown?!” and then I get to be all, “Oh, I made it myself,” whilst casually flipping my hair a little, I mostly make stuff for my eyes only. When I want to let off creative steam outside of any expectations from other people, I use my collages and rudimentary origamis as little physical diaries that are just for me to enjoy. And once I’m done, writing seems fun and new again.

So, to my sisters whose still lifes look like a collection of mysterious blobs instead of fruit, who accidentally draw five legs on an illustration of a cat (as I once did)—please don’t give up on making things. Maybe your talents lie more in sports or words or math or music or dance, but you can still create your own kind of visual artwork, and possibly even find a special kind of comfort and relief from it. If you experiment with materials and ideas a little bit, I’m sure you can find something that works for you. Find your inspiration, close the door, and then craft your heart out. You’d be surprised at all the things you’ll find you can make, if you try. ♦