Hannah Miller interviewed Mighty Ugly project creator Kim Werker.
You’ll find Kim Werker’s Mighty Ugly table at VMMF littered with crafting odds and ends. You’ll notice the other participants at her table, their tongues stuck out in concentration, deeply engaged in constructing creatures that may strike you as not so pretty, or even – hideously ugly. Kim will invite you to join them and be a maker yourself. The one challenge: make something ugly – on purpose!
As adults, there are times when our expectations or fears about the final product of our making may limit us. Would you say that Mighty Ugly takes the focus from the ultimate result and places it back onto the act of making itself?
Yes, Mighty Ugly definitely focuses us on the process of making, rather than on the product. I even tell participants to pay particular attention to the decisions they make as they work to create an ugly creature – how are those decisions different than the ones they make when they usually make stuff? Very few people end up keeping their ugly creature, which I find fascinating. We’re not usually so quick to toss our work in the trash, but I take this as evidence the focus on process over product really works.
Obviously, it’s a message that many creative-types can relate to. Have you had participants from unexpected industries apply your lesson?
My dream is to do Mighty Ugly with industry groups. Alas, thus far I’ve worked either with arts or crafts groups, and with individuals who participate at a large event like Maker Faire. But there are definitely some participants I remember clearly. There was the man at last year’s Vancouver Mini Maker Faire who participated with his young son. As his son happily made his own creature, the man literally sweated through making his entirely out of buttons. He explained to me that he has a button phobia, so to him, a creature made of buttons is the ugliest thing he could imagine (I thought it was adorable; he was horrified by it). And I once had an artist in a workshop use only staples to assemble her creature, explaining that in her opinion, technology has no place in art.
Who do you think struggles the most to make something ugly?
I’m always surprised that I don’t find distinct patterns in this. Certainly artists and crafters exhibit the most discomfort. But once people get going, regardless of their background and their experience, I think it’s the perfectionists who have the hardest time.
Even though the challenge is to make an ugly creature, the creatures documented in your flickr pool could be seen as beautiful in their originality! How do you define ugly and beautiful within your project?
Heh. I don’t. I push other people to talk about *their* definitions of ugly and beautiful.
Something I do stress is that Mighty Ugly allows us to explore beauty by paying very close attention to a quality we often try to pretend has no place in our work (ugly). And I also stress that my hope is that through the exercise of making something ugly on purpose, people will see that there’s great value in exploring our concept of ugly. Just like beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so is ugly. See my comment about the man’s adorable/terrifying button creature, above.
What lessons do you bring from your Mighty Ugly experiences to your other crafting work, when it requires you to follow a pattern, or make something wearable or fashionable?
I’m much, much more relaxed as a crafter now. I’m far more comfortable ripping something out and starting again if I’m unhappy with what I’m doing – and I’m also more comfortable living with mistakes. I’m more inclined to try something that intimidates me, instead of shying away. I almost never feel shame anymore if I fail miserably when I try something new. And I’m far more comfortable admitting my ignorance about something, and asking lots of questions.