The Year of Knots by Windy Chien

In June 2016, I presented to more than 300 people at the Layers conference for the Apple design community. This is major. It is the first time my lives in art, technology, and music came together as I told the story of how I've been able to navigate giant leaps into the unknown.

I don't regularly sum up my life in overarching, TED-talk ready themes, but as I pondered speaking for Layers' developer and designer audience, a realization emerged.

From 14 years at Aquarius Records to eight years with Apple to launching my art practice and studio in 2015, the principle I used to make big changes is that I give myself permission

No one is going to give you permission; you have to give it to yourself.

At Aquarius Records, where I had happily shared the music I loved and created a container to support the music community, I had to give myself permission to leave an identity. I didn't know who I would be post 'Windy from Aquarius,' but I hoped I would like her. 

After some of the most rewarding experiences of my life at Apple, iTunes, and the App Store, where I evangelized the amazing work of developers pushing the art in tech forward, I realized that promoting other peoples work no longer fed me as it did in my 20s and 30s, and that, in my 40s, I had changed. I longed to explore my own creativity.

Leaving Apple meant giving myself permission to forgo security: the security of the fancy paycheck, prestigious job, approval of family, friends, and society. Scary. But I did it.

And now, I make art and design products. Every day, I give myself permission to say that creativity is the most important thing. Every day, I am immersed in exploring aesthetics and whatever I'm most passionate about. Every day, you'll find me making art, meeting with architects and interior designers, teaching wood carving, or making large scale works for private collectors.

And every day, without fail, I make and learn a new knot. 

The #YearOfKnots gives me many rich things.

  1. It's a daily ritual that allows me to quickly access the blissful state of flow that had previously been so elusive to me.
  2. It's my art school, where I learn the elemental building blocks of art: line, form, shape, space, texture, and color.
  3. It's a history lesson, where I learn knots' context in nautical life, the material and physical properties of rope, and how for any given situation there's a knot that is right while all the others are wrong.
  4. Most importantly, the knots are a new language. As you have figured out by now, I absolutely love new worlds. And every new knot I learn is like learning another letter in the alphabet. Alphabets and letters form words, and words communicate. So the knots are my new form of communication, to make, as Rebecca Solnit puts it, "the mute material world come to life." 

Taken individually, the knots themselves may not seem profound. But my journey to them was.

It has been a journey of giving myself permission to leave an identity. To forgo security. And to allow myself, every day, to focus on creativity.

Thank you for reading.