Crafting Happiness: Why Starting Small Matters

In a recent New York Times article, the emotional attachment many of us feel toward the objects we create was beautifully explored. The piece delved into how these handmade items, even if they’re a bit rough around the edges, become cherished parts of our lives.

Michael Norton, a professor of business administration at Harvard, shared his experience of carting around a stone carving he made, despite its toddler-like appearance, every time he moved. This attachment stems from the deep connection we feel to the things we make, as they become extensions of our identity and sources of pride and confidence.

Crafting isn’t just about producing tangible items; it’s about the creative process and the sense of accomplishment it brings. Engaging in DIY projects boosts happiness and reduces stress, making it a valuable activity for mental well-being.

However, the thought of diving into a new craft can be daunting. This is where starting small can make a significant difference.

In my Cut Loose Collage Workshops, I’ve seen firsthand the benefits of beginning with simple projects. One of my favorite starter crafts is making collage bookmarks. They are practical, quick, and easy to create, making them the perfect introduction to collage art.

The Importance of Starting Small

When people hear the term “art making,” many feel intimidated. The idea of creating something from scratch, especially if they haven’t worked with certain mediums before, can be overwhelming. This hesitation often stems from a fear of failure or not knowing where to begin. That’s why I always recommend starting small.

In my experience, asking people to create bookmarks has been an effective way to kickstart their creative journey. Bookmarks are small and easy to work with, providing a sense of accomplishment without the pressure of tackling a large project. Plus, they’re useful! 

I’ve led bookmark-making workshops in a variety of settings, each with its unique audience and needs. From residents in assisted living facilities to young adults with developmental challenges and autism, and wellness counselors working to help students reduce stress, the simplicity and utility of bookmarks make them an ideal starting point. Even in my themed workshops and corporate retreat events, I find that beginning with a bookmark project helps participants get comfortable with the materials and the creative process.

Starting small with a project like a bookmark can help alleviate the initial intimidation of art making. It allows individuals to experiment, play, and build confidence, paving the way for more complex and ambitious projects in the future.

Big Wins from Small Starts 

Below are some inspiring examples of collage bookmarks created in various Cut Loose workshops. Each one tells a unique and interesting story, showcasing the creativity and personal journeys of their makers.

Tear Without a Care: The creator of this striking black-and-white piece began the workshop with a hesitant declaration: “I’m not good at art.” After some discussion and encouragement, they agreed to simply start tearing and reassembling, trusting their instincts and not overthinking the outcome. This approach led to a remarkable transformation. Not only did they shift their perception of their artistic abilities, but they also produced one of the standout pieces of the session. Starting with a small project allowed them to explore the medium freely and without pressure, unlocking their creativity.

Let It Fly: This maker, a bird enthusiast and lover of arts and crafts, had never tried collage before. The small size of the bookmark provided the perfect opportunity to test the waters, allowing them to explore the materials and various composition options without feeling overwhelmed. Despite starting the session with some apprehension, they were thrilled with the outcome of their bird-themed bookmarks! The project not only ignited their creativity but also brought them immense joy.

A Little Goes a Long Way: Inspired by nature, this maker employed a creative technique to get started. Initially unsure of where to begin, they selected an appealing image to serve as a background. From there, they added birds, butterflies, and text to craft a new, captivating scene. They particularly enjoyed the meticulous process of cutting out small bird images, finding it to be a very relaxing and therapeutic exercise.

Less is More: The creator of this striking one-piece collage had mobility issues, so we focused on simplicity. I suggested they choose an image they liked, cut it to the size of the bookmark, and glue it in place. They selected a section from a midcentury cigarette ad in a 1960s LIFE magazine. The result is simple yet compelling, demonstrating that collage doesn’t need to be complicated—sometimes, one well-chosen piece of paper is all it takes.

WATCH: How to Make Collage Bookmarks

Tune in to my segment on Mass Appeal (NBC WWLP-22) for a step-by-step guide on creating your own collage bookmarks.

Art making isn’t just a fun activity; it’s a valuable addition to your wellness regimen. But the key to reaping its benefits is simply to start. Go easy on yourself and embrace the process. Take baby steps, get used to the materials, and enjoy the journey. Remember, every piece you create is a learning experience and a step toward greater confidence and creativity.

If you’re an activities coordinator, wellness counselor, or part of an employee resource group, hire me to help your residents, students, and teams build an art wellness practice. My workshops reduce stress and foster community through creative projects like collage bookmarks. Let’s bring the benefits of art making to your group!