Feature Article: Workshops in Austin
By Becky Bullard
Photography by Jessica Attie
On a recent visit to my in-laws’ home, I found my mother-in-law in the backyard, standing alone, silently surveying her vegetable garden. “Plotting against the squirrels?” I asked, knowing they’d wreaked havoc on her radishes. She looked a bit sheepish and said, “No … You know how sometimes you can’t help staring at Ruby [my 2-year-old daughter], totally overwhelmed and in awe of how wonderful she is? Well, that’s kind of how I feel about my garden.”
I immediately knew what she was talking about. Anyone who’s ever made something probably knows that feeling — that sense of pride and affection for this thing you’ve created with your own two hands.
I remember coming home after class at the Stitch Lab on South First Street with my first-ever sewing project — a pillowcase. All I’d done was sew four straight lines; I think I even had to rip out and re-do one of the lines a couple times. But I brought that pillow home and laid it gingerly on the couch like it was a newborn. I stepped back to admire it for a minute, then proceeded to pat it, fluff it, run a finger along the stitches. When I finally pulled myself away, I couldn’t help but peek back around the doorframe at it one last time before leaving the room. I might have even sighed audibly. Six years and two couches later, that funny little throw pillow is still on display
Why do we get such visceral satisfaction from creating something, whether it’s a garden, a pillowcase, a line of code, or something as purely aesthetic as a drawing or a piece of jewelry? In much the same way that our bodies are wired to enjoy creating new humans, our brains are designed to enjoy creating new things.
Dr. Cathy Malchiodi writes in Psychology Today, “[T]he capacity to find joy in creativity through the pleasure of invention and exploration … is based in evolutionary biology, to ensure survival of individuals and communities through innovation.”
We enjoy attempting new feats, learning new skills, and creating things that never existed before because it’s how we remain adaptable as humans. Our changing world requires new approaches, new perspectives, new innovations. Making things, even things that may seem completely trivial, is part of what helps us evolve.
In Austin, it sometimes feels that creativity is in the drinking water, or at least in the Topo Chico. In 2015, Forbes named Austin America’s fourth most creative city, just behind San Francisco, Boston, and Nashville and just ahead of NYC. Has Austin become a mecca for makers because our city is evolving so rapidly, or is our city changing at lightning speed because of its electrified, creative citizenry? It’s a bit of a backyard chicken-and-egg question.
You don’t need to be a capital “A” Artist with an official stop on the East Austin Studio Tour to experience the joy and satisfaction that comes with creating. In her recent guide to creativity,“Big Magic,” writer Elizabeth Gilbert defines creative living as “ any life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.” Have you convinced yourself you’re not “the creative type,” for whatever reason? If so, you’re missing out. We’re so much happier when we stop making excuses and start making stuff, even if it might not be considered “good” or “important.”
Not only is making stuff inherently enjoyable, it can also be contagious. That may be why so many Austin makers are creating opportunities for others to learn their craft. From sword making to bee keeping to cake baking and code writing, there’s never been a better time to explore your curiosity, learn something new, and experience the elation of creation.
Here are a host of opportunities to set your inner maker free:
Austin Book Arts Center
In an increasingly digital world, the Austin Book Arts Center is fighting to keep “ book” from becoming a four-letter word. Kindle your appreciation for paper through bookbinding, type setting, and letterpress printing classes designed for bibliophiles of all ages.
Austin Homebrew Supply
Amidst the current craft beer explosion, many discerning drinkers are choosing a brew-it-yourself approach. Austin Homebrew Supply offers aspiring brewers all the necessary equipment and ingredients, as well as a monthly “ Introduction to Homebrewing Class” complete with live demonstration.
Austin Learnshop seeks to provide opportunities for more people to take part in Austin’s creative community. Past learnshops taught by some of the city’s most renowned creators have included everything from “ Intro to Woodworking” with BDJ Craft Works to weaving, brush lettering, andeven coding.
Austin Tinkering School
Here, kids create using real tools — casting a sword with molten metal or using a drill press to build a life-size, functional boat. Adults can reclaim their own childhood with a choice of four unique private parties — Nerdy Derby, Toy Boat Regatta, Marshmallow Shooters, or Shop Class 101.
At Canoe, Natalie Davis puts a modern spin on an old-school material — leather. She enjoys sharing her deep knowledge of leathercraft in leather tooling classes at her studio, where students can learn how to stamp, dye, and finish leather.
A mix of DIY tool-and-supply library, maker space, and workshop center, CRAFT’s motto is “ We hoard so you don’t have to.” Workshops run the gamut from “Build Your Own Succulent Sanctuary” to “Hand-Milled Soap Making” and “Intro to Screenprinting.”
Creative Side Jewelry Academy of Austin
For over 10 years, jewelry maker Courtney Gray has offered courses in a wide array of techniques for students of all skill levels. One of her most popular classes is “ Forged Together,” where couples can work with a Master Goldsmith to create one-of-a-kind wedding rings.
Earth Native Wilderness School
Twenty minutes outside of Austin, the Earth Native Wilderness School sits on 25 wooded acres teeming with native flora and fauna. Their summer camp-meets-Survivor curriculum covers everything from basket weaving and plant medicine to overnight shelter making and bow building.
The Art School at Laguna Gloria
For over 50 years, The Art School has offered an astounding array of classes for children and adults at the stunning Laguna Gloria on Lake Austin. Opportunities for artistic exploration range from the prehistoric—stone carving—to the ultra-modern—iPhoneography—and everything in between.
Make It Sweet
The largest cake supply store in Central Texas, Make It Sweet carries everything you need to perfect your confections. Their classes fill up quickly and range from the classic (pie baking, tiered cakes) to the deliciously whimsical (cakes that look like tacos or tiny animals made from modeling chocolate).
Round Rock Honey Beekeeping School
This three-hour course teaches the bee-curious everything they need to know about starting their own apiary. Students will learn all about sustainable beekeeping and honey production practices before suiting up and interacting with one of Round Rock Honey’s hives.
Whether you’re a lifelong crafter or a sew-phobic newbie, this charming studio and its disarming instructors will put you at ease. Learn everything from sewing machine basics to advanced garment design, plus stamp carving, fabric dyeing, crochet, and more. Discover a host of unique fabrics and vintage crafting supplies in their shop.
Sustainable Food Center
The SFC’s food gardening classes are held in the fall and spring planting seasons and are tailored specifically to Austin-area gardeners, covering everything from raised bed construction to pest management. The paid classes at this local non-profit allow them to offer free classes at Austin schools, rec centers, and shelters.
This expansive DIY workshop and fabrication studio is a maker’s ultimate playground, offering access to laser cutters, 3-D printers, a woodshop, welding stations, and much more. Members can reserve and use TechShop tools, but anyone can take classes ranging from 3-D modeling to soldering to garden bench construction.
Web article designed by Tori Townsend
Read more from the Makers + Industry Issue | July 2016