Taking Your Mind Offline

Mind Offline founder Nicole Delma chats about glaze techniques with a student. Artist and ceramics expert Mary Jaffe is close behind with words of wisdom. Photos courtesy of Mind Offline Press

In Nicole Delma’s experience, the human brain expects rapid, repetitive handwork to result in a tangible, physical result — from cooking, painting and knitting to planting, baking, or just simply creating.

But in an increasingly online world, the digital marketer found her hands shifting from her hobbies to her keyboard, her eyes from a finished product to a screen, robbing herself of the reward she experienced when actually producing something real — a meal, a scarf, a garden, a work of art.

Her mental health paid the price. Her anxiety skyrocketed, insomnia kept her up at night and her general wellbeing suffered, affecting both her interpersonal connections and her relationship with herself.

“The detriment of too much time online is that disconnect, or cycle of work, work, work, with nothing physical to show for it,” Delma said. “For me and others I talk to, the antidote is time offline, working with real physical materials that enable us to be fully present in this time and space.”

Her most recent venture, Mind Offline, does precisely that. Operating out of a new storefront in Amagansett — located within the Grain NY Surfboard shaping store — the business encourages people to reconnect with their innate drive to create through workshops, maker kits and the sheer inspiration that the shop instills.

“A customer came in the other day and was enjoying some of the beautiful hand-blocked napkins and tea towels we had for sale, and then noticed the kit where you could make your own hand-blocked napkins alongside it,” Delma said. “She was stunned but delighted to realize that each napkin was actually printed by an artist with her own hands rather than mass-produced in a machine.”

The hand-blocked napkin kit is just one of the Mind Offline Kits, a carefully curated variety of at-home creative projects that push participants to detach from technology and connect with creating, especially as they navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with the “dramatic political and natural disaster news cycle” that has made online time even more stress inducing, Delma said.

A young ceramics student sits alongside local landscape artist Edwina Von Gal as they glaze their one-of-a-kind Mary Jaffe vases.

“In times of uncertainty, the ability to imagine, create, build and discover provides real comfort and reconnects us back to simpler times before we had so much distraction and emotional tugging and pulling,” she said.

With the help of East End artisans, including potter Mary Jaffe, illustrator Peter Spacek and Grain Surfboards themselves, each kit comes complete with artist-approved and locally sourced materials, as well as a thorough list of instructions that range from simpler crafts to more complicated builds.

The impressive array includes pottery, woodworking, drawing, knit and soap felting, chakra smudging, flower pressing and more, offering varied activities for families adjusting to a new normal.

“For children, the novelty of screen time is wearing off — thankfully — and for adults, they’ve had enough Zoom time to last a lifetime,” she said. “Mind Offline is here to easily introduce new potential hobbies, arts, natural discoveries in a format that gets you started and hopefully inspires you to keep pursuing a new interest on your own.”

Many of the families that attend the Mind Offline workshops — which, so far, have covered ceramic glazing, botanical ink painting and an animal tracks excursion — have recently relocated from New York, where they didn’t have the opportunity to sit and create outdoors with their kids,  Delma said, or reconnect with their own lost loves.

“Another wonderful customer, who has returned for two workshops with her daughter, shared how the ceramics workshop brought her back to her days as a ceramist,” Delma said. “She had lost touch with that part of herself and is now looking for studio space and kiln time to practice again on her own. We are trying to focus on applied arts that have as much practical appeal for adults as children, and it seems to be working.”

Since its official launch in June, Mind Offline has consistently expanded, most recently including a deeper involvement in the world of New York textiles in partnership with North Fork-based wool producer Browder’s Birds. The collaboration has resulted in a selection of woolen products on sale at the shop, which also carries hand knits, ceramics, Shibori Japanese aprons, quilted kimono jackets and zero-waste personal, home care and lifestyle goods.

Over the holiday season, Mind Offline will participate in a number of local markets, offering a variety of seasonally inspired block-printed napkins and towels for Hanukkah and Christmas, as well as felted ornaments, seasonal treats — like salted caramels and tea biscuits — and gift boxes to order.

Expectant mother Jessica Howell enjoys a moment of “Pregnant Vase.”

“Initially, I expected the Mind Offline experiment might come to an end as quarantine restrictions lightened up, but I found interest kept building,”  Delma said, “which inspired and compelled me to keep evolving it into a model that could endure, regardless of what uncertainty was going on in the outside world.”

While the coronavirus pandemic is what motivated the Mind Offline founder to press pause on her two-decade-long career — and the tremendous amount of screen time that it involves — in order to slow down and be with her husband and their two daughters, she had been ruminating on the idea for about two years.

When she finally built the website and began spreading the word one artist and family at a time, the encouragement and response was overwhelming, she said, bringing her back to the excitement she felt when she launched her email consulting firm, The FOND Group, 10 years ago — and even further back to her childhood on the West Coast.

“I actually had a ‘business’ at age 10 making and selling beaded jewelry at Seattle arts and music festivals, and that was something I truly loved to do. It was all I thought about,” she said. “They say you should pursue work doing the thing you lose track of time doing. For me, that is knitting and making and turning others on to the ‘fun’ things I have discovered along the way.

“Mind Offline is allowing me to do this and to share it with my children and my community. I still do work in my other career ‘online’ for part of the day, but the balance I have now between time on screen and away is so much healthier,” she continued. “I sleep better, I’m so excited for the next day and I don’t mind working on a Saturday one bit.”