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Creative Cross-Training

18 January 2023
Ellie Thompson on her bike in the woods during a cross training competition

The custom design process usually provides plenty of inspiration, constraint and collaborative exchange for me to produce thoughtful designs that delight my clients.  There are times, however, when this magical combination is lacking and the clarity to move a design-forward is absent.  When realistic ivy vines compete with hammered scrollwork or domed minimalism, I take a break and do some “creative cross-training.”

Cross-training has been part of my life for many years now. The idea of supporting one muscle group used in a competitive sport with a workout in the gym to create more strength and stability has been used in athletic training for many decades. In cycling, this process complements leg strength acquired from pedaling by working and building supportive core muscle groups.

When my cycling evolved from casual Sunday rides with my family to daily commuting, to competing in mountain bike races, I added resistance training to my workout routine.  Creative cross-training supports my acquired strength and experience as a designer by augmenting my artistic voice with new ideas and ways of approaching challenges.

 Ellie Thompson Cross Training

This creative process takes many forms. A few years ago, inspired by my time in Yellowstone National Park, I decided to embark on a project I titled Five Dozen Black Birds. Each day I made one or two drawings of a raven. I allowed myself 30 minutes per drawing, working from photographs I found online. The project was challenging at times, sometimes relaxing, and ultimately inspiring, but not in a very direct way. I did not want to create a collection of black bird pendants….yet, I found my rendering skills improved and that I had honed my ability to see. Seeing is the basis for creating a portrait, a design or conveying an idea. What you see is what you get.

 Blackbird 1Blackbird 2Blackbird 3

I regularly explore types of activities that are either meditative or stimulating in nature. Finding a way to clear my mind so my intuition can be heard above the din has led to new ideas and ways of looking at my design process. Travel introduces new shapes, colors, flavors and energy to my senses, creating a rich experience to draw upon later. These experiences acquired in new places and from the literal movement of the body across space seep into my work in unexpected ways, sometimes literally, other times subconsciously. 

 Scroll ring Rail RingRail Earrings

Writing moves my mind in a different, more linear direction.  I write in different styles from haiku and free verse poems to blog-style essays to the occasional season of journaling. I write mostly in an unedited stream of ideas about people I’ve met and the places I’ve explored.  The spatial exercise of interior design or creating a new pair of earrings benefits from using my brain in a different way for a while. 

 Mountain biking creates a flow state that brings everything I see on the trail to a place where I can access it later. The ferns, feathers, and flowers among the ripe blackberries sit peacefully waiting for their turn to move a design further.  Riding is at once stimulating and quieting for my mind and body, feeding and creating hunger in the same instant.  Like my time on the bike, my yoga practice provides a daily opportunity for creative as well as physical cross-training.  Making time for other activities as a matter of practice energizes my work and allows me to have ideas readily accessible for my clients and for creating new collections.

Thoughts on “Creative Cross-Training”

What would you like to know? Write to me, or comment below. Are you interested in being a guest blogger? Tell us your favorite gem or jewelry story, a grand journey you took, or an everyday adventure that brought you a laugh or a Pearl of wisdom! I’d love to hear your stories.

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