“OK brain, what are we gonna write about today?”
“I don’t know! You’ve only written about 400 of these things, are you out of topics yet?”
“Oh come on, there’s always something new. You’re the guy that’s always talking about abundance and creativity and contribution!”
“All righty then. The name of this newsletter is Monday Love, so let’s flip the script and shine my light on Isabelle, the woman I love most in this world, and talk about what an inspiration she is!”
“That sounds great! After all, it’s her birthday week and we are coming off a great weekend that was a huge success for her and that’s what I’m most excited about this morning. And since her success is due to her creativity, and we both feel like we bring each other good luck, and creativity and relationships are both related to the second chakra which is plenty woo-woo for my audience, then so be it, that’s what I’ll write about today!”
And just like that, the old brain kicks into gear and I can immediately think of several tangents to dive into. Now I’ve got a story to tell, so let’s get to it!
When we got together back in the fall of 2019 I remember her telling me about the polymer clay artwork that she had done for years. Jewelry, small sculptures and figurines, and really elaborate ornamental clocks were her stock in trade.
She’d put tons of effort into it, created innumerable items, and spent many an hour vending her wares at various craft fairs, artisan markets, even Berkeley’s Telegraph Avenue in the pouring rain. But with all of the big transitions going in her life she was sure that she was done with Fimo and the whole endeavor was a thing of the past.
By early spring of 2020, we found ourselves blessed with the opportunity to spend a lot of quality time together! While many lamented the lockdown, we felt lucky to be able to take long walks every day and relax at home at night. Her passion for jigsaw puzzles opened up a whole new world for me.
As an analog guy from way back, I’ve always had a soft spot for jigsaws. When you are doing a jigsaw, you drop into a screen-free meditation and your mind sort of slips into a different gear. It is simultaneously an act of creativity and organization, balanced with non-attachment, since they usually come apart at the end. The perfect activity to complement deep listening to rare jazz records.
I learned a lot about the field which was one of the few areas of commerce to see off-the-charts growth during the pandemic. Having only ever done cardboard puzzles prior to meeting Isabelle, I soon discovered what the serious collectors and jigsaw aficionados are into.
Hand-cut wooden puzzles are where the history of jigsaws begin. Continuing the Old World European tradition are the master puzzle-makers at Michèle Wilson in Paris. I experienced my first one with her at her parents’ house in Chartre-sur-le-Loir during our first Christmas together in France.
A lot of wooden puzzles nowadays are laser-cut, but these are done by hand with a scrollsaw. Watching the videos of the cutters at work reveals a fascinating process. It turns out that there are quite a few artisan makers out there today, along with a healthy market of collectors and enthusiasts.
As the lockdown lingered, we kept puzzling and the wheels in her head kept spinning. By the end of last year she let on that she had an idea: it was time to start cutting jigsaws herself. Serious research ensued and in January of this year the professional scrollsaw arrived.
By mid-year she was getting up to speed, after putting hundreds of hours in practicing the cutting, trying out different materials, and generally dialing in the process, a journey every artisan must endure. Many more hours behind the screen were put in building a website, setting up an Etsy shop, and figuring out the business details.
Beyond the work and workmanship of the puzzles is the artists behind the art. She gets to be both creator and curator by making some from her own original art or photography and by working with artists she admires from here and in France.
Fast-forward to this past weekend. The Crucible, (the industrial arts school where I teach) welcomed the return of The Gifty Open House after missing last year due to… (well, you know). Gifty brings together artists, artisans, and the Bay Area arts community for a holiday weekend of crafts, commerce, and creativity.
For Isabelle, it was a return of sorts. She attended several times in years past with her polymer clay work so it was familiar territory. Expectations were uncertain, this being the first real foray into the living breathing public, and beyond the internet with her puzzles.
Suffice it to say, we were blown away. The response and demand for her work was off the charts — well beyond her most optimistic forecast. Dozens of happy families now have unique and engaging heirlooms to cherish for the holidays.
And Isabelle knows she’s on the right track. Puzzle-making is her passion and the encouragement from eager puzzlers willing to plunk down their cash is wind in her sails. Who knows, you might be next! If you’ve never dropped in to a traditional hand-cut puzzle, you’re missing out on a great form of mindful magic. (Take a look at her Instagram feed to get a peek at the process.)
The moral of the story is that creativity opens the door for passion and inspiration. It doesn’t have to be art per se, but channeling your creative spirit in service to your contribution to the world leads the way to fulfillment.
Love and creation walk hand-in-hand in the realm of the second chakra. May your spirit express itself in a way that brings you meaning and joy!
All the best and much love till next Monday!
Director of the Dance First Association
Publisher of Conscious Dancer Magazine