For Librarians

Mighty Ugly is beautifully suited to be a maker workshop or crafts event at your library. Below are some tips for running a workshop based on the flagship exercise in Make It Mighty Ugly. Please contact me if you’d like to arrange for me to Skype in to your event or provide any additional support or information!

What's a Mighty Ugly Workshop and Why Host One at Your Library?

A Mighty Ugly workshop is an opportunity to spend a couple of hours examining our creative experience and getting to know our creative demons a little. Over a couple of hours, participants talk about how they feel about making ugly things – which are, generally speaking, considered to be total failures of our creative efforts – and they use basic arts-and-crafts supplies to make an ugly creature that’s ugly on purpose.

You should host a workshop at your branch because you love bringing people into the library to learn, experiment, ask questions and engage with ideas. If you’re like many librarians I’ve talked with, you’re also pretty keen on the maker movement, and you may struggle to bring not-young and not-elderly patrons through your doors. A Mighty Ugly workshop involves having adult participants use everyday doodads, items from the recycling bin, and basic craft supplies to make an ugly creature. The point of the exercise is to do something we usually avoid when we make stuff – by deliberately making something ugly (not cute-ugly, ugly-ugly!), we’re able to confront the creative demons that try so hard to make us feel bad when we try to make stuff under normal circumstances. And it allows us to gain some perspective on our general experience of making stuff. No matter who we are or how we think of ourselves – as artistic or untalented or creative or not at all creative – we all make stuff, whether it’s dinner for our family, blankets for charity, or art to sell through exclusive galleries.

  • "Make It Mighty Ugly has us aim directly for failure so we can get it over with. Upbeat without being saccharine, Kim invites us to identify our personal monsters and listen to what they have to say in a series of exercises designed to loosen up our creative muscles. The paperback is a pleasure to hold, small enough to fit neatly into a handbag, with a lovely thick, nubbly paper cover. It feels really good to write in, too." [link]  

    Knitty

What To Do In Advance of the Workshop

  • Book a room.

    Book a room that can accommodate eight to sixteen people, each with a seat at a table. The workshop should be about two hours long. (You’ll need an electrical outlet to power a glue gun for quick gluing, and you’ll probably want to cover the tables in kraft paper or drop cloths.)

  • Get the word out.

    Publicize the workshop. It can be tricky to convey the gist of a Mighty Ugly workshop, since most people are programmed to avoid ugly things. I try to keep the language fun, and address the real purpose of the event, which is to challenge participants’ creative demons. The workshop is for anyone at all, whether they have craft experience or not, whether they think they’re creative or not. I usually limit participation to people ages 18 and up, with exceptions when appropriate.

  • Raid the recycling bin.

    Start a box to gather craft materials (be sure to ask registrants to collect materials to bring, too!). Raid the recycle bin for things like bottle caps, toilet-paper rolls, pop tabs, random bits of packaging, cardboard, etc. Anything that’s not sticky or smelly can find an extra life in a Mighty Ugly workshop.

  • Gather other basic supplies.

    Gather other basic craft supplies like scissors, a stapler or two, markers, crayons, tape, sewing thread and needles if you want, etc. No need to go out and purchase anything you don’t already have, unless you want to build a collection of craft supplies at your branch.

How To Set Up on the Day of the Workshop

  • Get the tables ready.

    Cover the tables to protect them from the messes. Depending on the size and layout of your room, you may choose to put materials and tools on the table(s), or set up an additional table to serve as a tools and materials buffet. Set only enough chairs out as there are participants – we don’t want anyone to end up sitting alone because too many chairs are set out.

  • Lay out the materials and tools.

    You can lay materials and tools out in the centre of your table(s), or use an additional table, buffet-style. Put out all the stuff you rescued from the trash and recycling bin. You can use small bowls or containers, or just make piles – a mess will develop either way! I usually put out a pile of fabric scraps, a couple of bowls of pop tabs and bottle caps, etc., any other things like pipe cleaners, etc., a pile of paper/cardboard, and so on. Do the same with tools. I usually put scissors out where people will sit, but not a pair for every person – sharing helps break the ice. Same goes for glue, etc. Be sure to plug the glue gun in around fifteen minutes before the workshop begins, so it’s ready to go. (I use an old cookie sheet as a surface for using the glue gun, to minimize mess.)

  • Make relevant info visible.

    Use a white board, blackboard or poster board to provide any information you’d like the participants to have handy. We usually use the #mightyugly hashtag to encourage people to post photos of their creatures on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc. If your branch is on any of those services, be sure to list your handles so people can use them in their posts! Other project-relevant bits include @mightyugly and @kpwerker on Twitter, and www.mightyugly.com and www.kimwerker.com.

What To Do at the Workshop

  • Welcome everyone.

    Say hello, introduce yourself, and make sure each participant has a seat. Give a brief overview of why you wanted to hold this kind of unusual workshop, and maybe warm the group up by sharing one of your own creative demons. (Not to put you in the hot seat or anything, but opening up a little about yourself first will do wonders for making the other participants comfortable!)

  • Remind people of the point of the exercise.

    The point of the exercise is to do something we usually avoid when we make stuff. By deliberately making something ugly (not cute-ugly, ugly-ugly!), we’re able to confront the creative demons that try so hard to make us feel bad when we try to make stuff under normal circumstances. And it allows us to gain some perspective on our general experience of making stuff. No matter who we are or how we think of ourselves – as artistic or untalented or creative or not at all creative – we all make stuff, whether it’s dinner for our family, blankets for charity, or art to sell through exclusive galleries.)

  • Talk a little bit about ugly.

    Spend about fifteen minutes starting a conversation about ugliness, creative demons, etc. Ask participants how they know if something is ugly. Have they ever made something ugly (not on purpose)? How did they feel about it? Do they think about ugly (failing) when they start a new project?

    • Make an ugly creature.

      Spend 45 minutes to an hour making ugly creatures. There are only two rules – 1) UGLY, 2) creature. If someone asks you how you’ll know if it’s ugly, remind them you’re not there to judge their work – it’s ugly when the maker says it’s ugly. Assure people it’s normal and acceptable to struggle with this – even to have a physical reaction to it like nausea or feeling faint. It’s also normal to feel overwhelming joy and freedom. There is no wrong reaction, and no wrong way to do this. Note that some people will, ironically, fail to create a creature that’s ugly – their creature may be cute. Happens all the time. The point of this exercise is to do the exercise, not to worry too much about the final result. It’s why the original tagline of the project was, “Where failure’s kinda pretty.”

      • Wrap up with a show-and-tell.

        About half an hour before the end of the workshop, or when at least 1/3 of participants have finished their creature, begin the final discussion. Go around the room (obviously, begin with people who are done, and let the others know it’s time to wrap up), and have each person introduce their creature. Some people will have concocted an elaborate back story for their creature and others will have to make it up on the fly – again, neither is right or wrong. When people draw a blank, I ask questions like: “Does your creature have a name?” “Do you think it’s ugly?” “What makes it ugly?” “Was it hard to make it ugly?” “How does this project to compare to other projects you do? Did you feel differently doing this one?” “Have you gained any insight or perspective into the creative demons that make you uncomfortable about making things?” (Note: Occasionally, someone will cry at this point [or earlier]. It’s okay. Doing this exercise in this context can bring up some intense feelings and thoughts. In my experience, people who cry usually do so because they’re experiencing a catharsis, not because they’re traumatized. Don’t feel you need to solve their problem; let them speak if they want to, or be quiet if they want to; give them space to work through it.)

        • Drop the mic.

          You’re done! Thank everyone for coming, and please encourage them to get in touch with me if they’d like to discuss their experience further. You might suggest the last exercise in Make It Mighty Ugly as a good follow-up, or thing-to-do-next.

        Thank you so much for wanting to host a Mighty Ugly workshop at your branch! Again, please don't hesitate to get in touch if I can help you in any way.