Have you ever decided that you were going to start a long-term project and then it quickly fizzled out? So many of us can’t even commit to a 30-day daily project, let alone a 365-day project! But Windy Chien isn’t just anybody. In her book, The Year of Knots, she learned and photographed a new type of knot each day for an entire year. The result of her dedication and motivation is a gorgeous collection of art, catalogued in her book for years to come. We asked Windy some of her best tips and secrets for setting goals and seeing them through to achieve your ultimate dream.
Photo by Anthony Strong
If you had to describe yourself in one sentence, what would it be?
I am an artist making sculptures and installations, primarily using the language of knots.
Tell us about The Year of Knots. What made you decide to start that project?
After quitting my corporate job, I had embarked on a period of creative exploration. I knew I wanted to make a living from my creativity, but I didn’t know what form the creativity would take. I took more than a dozen classes, and one of the only mediums that stuck with me was macrame. You know, the plant hangers from the 1970s, very bohemian craft. I went down the rabbit hole with macrame but soon found myself feeling limited by the constraints of this craft. In macrame, you use only three or four basic knots over and over in repeated patterns. And as a result, a lot of macrame looks the same. Then, one day in early January 2016, I had a lightbulb-over-the-head moment—an epiphany. I realized that I needed to learn more knots. If I wanted my work to reflect my original voice, I needed more tools: i.e. ALL the knots. A fully-formed project just came to me at that moment—I would teach myself one new knot every day of the calendar year and would photograph and post the knot to social media to keep myself accountable.
A year-long project is a lot of commitment. What did you do to keep yourself motivated in accomplishing your goal?
I’m not exaggerating when I say I loved every minute of my year of knots. Not once did I ever feel like the project was a burden, or too hard. I looked forward to it every morning. I am at my happiest when I’m in learning mode, with the attitude of ‘beginner’s mind,’ because in that mode, anything is possible. The project was the perfect size—it would take only 5 minutes, sometimes up to half an hour, to learn the knot, photograph it and share the photo along with the knot’s name and function, on social media. The daily adrenaline hit of making something beautiful and then sharing it with the world was very motivating.
What was the most unexpected lesson you learned during this project?
That I had become an artist. Because at the beginning of the year, I considered myself a ’craftsperson’ selling ‘products’ like a knotted pendant lamp and rope necklaces. And I approached the year of knots not as an art project but as a self-directed exercise in self-education. I was becoming fluent in the language of knots, the same way you would study Spanish or French. BUT, by the end of the year, I realized the knots, which I nailed to the wall each time I completed each one, were holding together as a single, unified artwork. By the end of the year, I realized I had developed a unique artistic voice and I had made art.
Photo by Vero Kherian
…by the end of the year, I realized the knots, which I nailed to the wall each time I completed each one, were holding together as a single, unified artwork. By the end of the year, I realized I had developed a unique artistic voice and I had made art.
What would you say your personal values are? How do you weave those into your work?
My values as an artist include mastery, originality, journeying, awe and aesthetics. I’ve already spoken above about how the year of knots fulfilled all of those values: by seeking mastery, I found originality, awed myself, changed my life and now understood that bringing aesthetics to the existing world of historic, functional knotting is what my art offers to the world. On a personal front, however, my values include self-expression, audacity, growth and freedom. Making art has allowed me to live my personal values. I make work that is personally meaningful to me and that allows me to express myself and live a life of freedom from answering to anyone other than myself. Additionally, telling the story of my journey to becoming an artist encompasses what I call audacity and is related to the risks taken when you quit your job to make creativity your life, the astonishing growth that occurs when you take the leap, and so forth. I absolutely consider telling my story to be a component of my larger purpose.
You recently launched your book, The Year of Knots. Tell us about that process! What was your favorite part? What was the hardest?
A few weeks after I completed the year of knots at the end of 2016, WIRED wrote an article about the work. I think lots of people must’ve seen the article, because soon after, I was approached by several publishers seeking to collaborate on a book. I hadn’t considered writing a book and didn’t know anything about the world of publishing or how to tell a good offer from a bad one. So I found an agent, wrote a proposal, the book went to auction and I chose to work with Abrams. I’m not gonna lie, writing the book was the hardest thing I’ve ever done and took f o r e v e r. But it was truly worth it.
Photo by Molly DeCoudreaux
by seeking mastery, I found originality, awed myself, changed my life and now understood that bringing aesthetics to the existing world of historic, functional knotting is what my art offers to the world.
The easiest part was to figure out what to write about. It was easy because I simply answered, in book form, the two questions I get asked the most: how did you become an artist, and can you teach me some knots. I do both in the book. But while it was easy to figure out WHAT to write about, the DOING of it was hard—putting my thoughts into words, and shaping the story into a coherent narrative.
Who are some other artists and creatives you admire?
The artists of the 1960s and ‘70s on whose shoulders I perch: Sheila Hicks, Eva Hesse, Barbara Chase-Riboud, Ruth Asawa, Naum Gabo, Francoise Grossen, Magdalena Abakanowicz, Claire Zeisler and more. My favorite contemporary artists, alongside Sheila Hicks who still works today, are Janet Echelman and Haegue Yang. Peers whose work I love include Mary Little, Nathalie Miebach and Threadstories. I am also utterly obsessed with Japanese contemporary basketry, particularly the work of Honda Shoryu.
What does creative energy mean to you?
Curiosity. Curiosity is how I grow. It is what informs my process. Curiosity is endlessly motivating, and I suspect that following my curiosity will never fail me.
Photo by Vero Kherian
What advice or resources do you have for those looking to set a long-term creative goal like yours?
Take your work seriously, and then others will, too. But at the same time, have fun: if you don’t enjoy every part of your process, you won’t want to wake up and do it every day.
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