i love to we


for six years i’ve been teaching crafts in a bar, with varying responses from the unsuspecting public. What have I learned so far from running this self-imposed community service, where the gluing of puffballs and the twisting of pipe cleaners has the potential to offer catharsis and comfort from the scratchy and insistent paws of the Los Angeles rat race?

The how and why of CraftNight is a fairly simple recipe. But like the average recipe with few ingredients, it can become complicated quickly. In most cases, someone walks in, asks what’s happening, and then they exclaim with disbelief “You’re having CRAFTS?!? In a BAR?!? Wow!” The average craft candidate has already imbibed at least 1.5 alcoholic beverages, and is ready to be persuaded to come and try their hand at crafting. Fostering an atmosphere of bohemia and great cordiality while generating the opportunity for play and idle time in a non-competitive space is the cornerstone of CraftNight’s methodology.

But there are times when no drink, no amount of hospitable encouragement or beautifully low lit atmosphere is going to quell the sense of despair and hopelessness that some crafters go through once they attempt to create. Every week, CraftNight attempts to break down the walls built by pretense, perfection and pessimism. This is no small feat, since it seems that everyone has at least once in their life, had either a well-meaning, or not wellmeaning family member, friend or instructor, who blurted out at some point, “You’re doing it wrong.”

craftnight in action
Photos by Van Tran

And so “wrong” just doesn’t exist at CraftNight. I get crafters who arrive with a chip on their shoulder saying, “I don’t want to do the designated project, I don’t like perameters, I want to be free.” You can always bring in your own project to CraftNight, or start a project that deviates from that evening’s theme, but most people will assume that they are supposed to do what is posted for that evening. The big surprise at CraftNight for me was that crafters tend to make elaborate rules for CraftNight that don’t exist. My mission as Craft Captain is to unlearn such notions.

A crafter’s defiance is the sign of a hungry mind. Experiences are very planned and prepared in the US, from Disneyland to the mall. We’ve handed our creativity over to “professionals” who get paid to figure out what is entertainment, and then we throw down money for their devised “adventure” that requires minimal participation from us, instead of looking to our own inner resources for recreational activity. I’m not preaching against passive entertainments like video games and roller coasters, since they can be quite enjoyable, but there is something to be said for generations of people who have learned interpersonal skills chiefly from the television. Long-term dependence on that sort of thing squooshes creative impulses. It makes people think that if what they do, or make or become, doesn’t share the polished and perfect aesthetic of scheduled and scripted amusements then it must not be worthwhile.

In a cookie-cutter world where uniformity of thought, and modern manufacturing and machines have overtaken the one-of-a-kind uniqueness of innovative ideas and handcrafted goods, it is more important than EVER to explore and construct projects in first person. To connect to the joys and sorrows of making stuff. It is even useful to feel the anxieties and concerns of creation bubbling to the surface of the mind so that you can meditate more heartily on why the hell anyone would have cause to feel shame or angst over a cardboard and yarn-laden macaroni mosaic! CraftNight strives to exercise parts of our brains that have been immobilized and atrophied by the culture’s need to formulate our every activity.

Competition between crafters’ projects is discouraged, and I never ever build an example of a craft before presenting it since most crafters will instinctively mimic the “example” in an effort to conform or please me or their friends. Crafters are encouraged to figure out that evening’s project themselves, possibly even ignore instructions and come up with something different. The annoyance of some crafters with my acute refusal to add more guided structure to their experience makes me rather glad.

There are a lot of new and fancy craft magazines out there, a lot of crafting blogs, kind of a resurgence of people getting together and making stuff, which is GREAT! But there is still an emphasis among those groups implying that their crafting is actually “good” or “useful.” Those crafts seek approval from the oligarchy of cool. CraftNight is egregiously uncool, and happily clunky.

At CraftNight, not only do I hope you make something useless, but I hope you give it to someone who actually feels a tad chagrined that you made some kind of ridiculous knick knack that will “take up space” in their fabulously coiffed home. The recipient of a CraftNight craft should feel a little odd, beholden and perhaps even burdened with the strange piece of art they’ve been gifted. I want CraftNight crafts to specifically imply that YES, your friend, of their own free will, wasted hard-earned leisure time making a blatantly purposeless item such as a potato print art piece or a paper bag puppet for you.

My most challenging CraftNight to date has been “Tissue Paper Flower Night.” Tissue paper flowers are just that: a flower that one fashions out of tissue pieces and wire. This sent many crafters into a flurry of freak-out, the likes of which I have never seen! I did my best, but my usual chirpily optimistic comments were met with scowls. Crafters were heavily invested that evening to suffer the pains of feeling imperfect. One crafter exclaimed woefully “Mine doesn’t look like a flower, it looks like an alien!” to which I responded “Have you looked at a flower lately? They look like aliens!”

Our only rule at CraftNight is, “You’re not allowed to talk about how much your piece sucks.” Because it really doesn’t suck and I’m not being corny. It’s crafts, not the Sistine Chapel. Existentially, your craft can only suck as much as you want it to; the meaning you give to it is how it exists. And from a post-modern viewpoint, your craft may actually be the most amazing piece of art ever to be created; incredibly complex and packed with meanings that haven’t even been discovered yet, meanings that could take years to decipher!

What cannot be denied is that your craft, sitting there, lopsided, covered in glitter, oozing with glue and catty-whompus pipe cleaners, is unique. There’s none other like it, it will never exist quite that way ever again. This glimmer of an instant is the crown jewel and personal triumph of the human spirit that we celebrate 52 times a year at CraftNight. And it is what has kept me going for 6 years as Los Angeles’s Craft Captain. Come see us sometime, every Wednesday from 9 to midnight at Akbar, corner of Sunset and Fountain, in beautiful Silverlake, California.

pysanki a' la craftnight
more really fun images of crafts made at craftnight at http://crafthead.com/


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