Author: Nanette Zeller

Little Secret

I have a confession. I sometimes wonder if I’m “cheating” when I make my art. In last week’s post, I shared progress on my newest artwork (a red-shouldered hawk). I used a similar process to create my little saw whet owl pictured in today’s post. Underneath all the thread work on this owl is a photograph printed on fabric. I left his bright eyes un-stitched and that’s probably why it looks so impressive.

I also ask myself that … this is all my creative work, so how is it cheating? I guess I’m remembering school day discussions of what is and isn’t art.

I took the photo of the bird at an avian rehab center I visited. I also had processed the photo, reducing some of the complexity, in Photoshop. And then I had to successfully print it on fabric. After all the prep work, it was finally time to add the stitching, which, I definitely does take a certain level of skill. After all the threadwork, I then had to complete the design by giving him/her a branch to sit on and, finally, finished it all with an interesting quilted background fabric.

My process is complex and takes a great deal of time to complete. I’ve been fine tuning my skills for many years. I think it’s Ok to sometimes doubt myself, but then I also remember why I shouldn’t. Instead of cheating, let me just call it our “little secret.”

Practice makes precision

I teach a “Paint with Thread” class. The class sample is really quite simple, but when you understand the basics of what I teach you can adapt the technique to work on more detailed projects. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about in the hawk foot that I’m currently working on.

I modified a photo that I took of a hawk and had the image printed on fabric at Spoonflower. I then chose about 16 colors of brown, beige, and yellow threads to fill in the design. In the photo, you can see a detail of the hawk’s claw. On the left is the printed image. On the right is after about 4 different colors of thread were stitched over the image.

I think it’s clear with this comparison, that the more colors you use in thread painting, the more blended and realistic the completed design looks. I have a few more hours of stitching to do on this piece, but I’m happy with where it’s going. There is no such thing as perfect, so I say “practice makes precision.”

Ok, We’re done

I’m enrolled in a class that studies archetypes in our creative lives. Archetypes are a way of viewing people (yourself) based on personality or character traits. For example, maybe you have nurturing tendencies? (Mother/father archetypes). Or maybe you like to joke around? (clown/jester archetype) Or maybe you enjoy figuring out how things work? (Engineer archetype) [note: Caroline Myss is a great resource]

Exploring your archetypes helps you understand how you work, process things and what you like to do. While developing my list of 12, I realized I have a strong Artist archetype. You may think, “Well duh? You didn’t know that?” Well…I believe I am an artist and I’m working as an artist, but I never realized how strong/innate this trait is within me. Art has always been my favorite go to activity (even at a young age). It’s something that gives me relaxation and calm.

Whenever I travel, I pack an activity bag filled with knitting and, more recently, “slow stitch” projects. I remember doing embroidery as a child, but I use to hate my hand stitching. I would say, I don’t like doing it because I didn’t sew neat and tidy (aka perfect).

A couple years ago, I stumbled on this new trend of mindful stitching and mending. I loved seeing all the pretty stitch work and clearly noticed the un-perfect approach these stitchers embraced. This recovering perfectionist had to try it. Well, I’m hooked!

It is extremely meditative to stitch the layers of scrap fabric. As I stitch, I have no plan. On a whim I’ll change direction or try a different design. It is good to have projects that don’t require perfection or planning. We all have an inner critic and sometimes that voice is stifling. We get so hung up on making things perfect that we miss the enjoyment of just doing.

If your inner critic says you can’t, then find an activity that allows you to ignore it. Slow stitch is a good place to start. Search for inspiration on the Internet using terms like: Slow stitching, boro, or mindful mending. When you start, release all expectations, tell the critic to take a hike, and start stitching. Don’t judge the work in progress, just stitch until your inner creative says “Ok, we’re done.”

A marathon, not a sprint

It’s time for me to start working on something new. My days are always a juggle. I am preparing for an art exhibit that opens in June. Three talented friends of mine (2 textile artists and 1 potter) are getting our work ready to show at the Arts Council of Moore County’s Campbell House Galleries.

It’s always exciting to hang a show. There’s a lot of preparation and pressure beforehand though. Over the past year, I’ve been creating new pieces specifically for this show. This is where the juggling comes in. You probably know that I’ve been teaching too. I find switching between these very different tasks works well for me. I can work several hours (or a full day) on my art, then switch to work on class prep.

Having this type of schedule the last few months has helped me realize the pattern is good for me. The skills are totally different mental processes. It does me good to walk away when I get a bit over-tired of one task. The down-side is I frequently feel like I’m moving too slow.

It’s interesting to learn how people work. For example, some people like to start in the morning and work through the evening, with few or no breaks. There’s also a well documented ultradian rhythm theory, that says humans are more productive if they alternate between 90 minutes of high-intensity work followed by 20 minutes rest (known as the Basic Rest/Activity Cycle – BRAC).

Our society seems to encourage us to power through everything we do. I know I frequently fall into this pattern, also known as: “Hurry up… it needs to get it done yesterday!”

Whether you’re working on your art professionally or for fun, do you ever think about how your work pattern impacts your creativity? It’s interesting to get feedback from others, but it’s more important to pay attention to how it feels to you. I definitely need to take breaks. When I don’t take them, I sense the tension building in my body…. and the quality of my work starts to decrease…which adds more to the tension. A wicked cycle of potential failure. This realization just means it’s going to take awhile to finish thread-painting this big bird. As they say, “it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

Have fun!

I feel comfort knowing that life is slowly creeping back to normal. The world seems to be running more like an out of tune sports car versus an old “hit ‘n miss” tractor.” We all have been affected by this past year and life will never again be like 2019. We’ve all adapted to changes. I’m kind of liking this mask idea, because I haven’t gotten sick (knock on wood) in over a year. And, I’m also embracing the Zoom technology. Yesterday, I held my very first live Zoom class.

I’m a bit of a technical geek. In 1990’s and early 2000’s, I use to design e-commerce websites. That was a time when most people didn’t have a “personal computer” (PC) or know what the Internet was. Even with this techie background, I wasn’t ready to embrace Zoom. I spend enough time in front of the computer and I wanted to find ways to get away from it. Zoom wasn’t for me. As the shut-down continued to stop my livelihood, I knew I had to think out of my box.

I took my first Zoom class presented by my friend Jodi Ohl. She is a mixed-media painter. I love her sense of artistic whimsy, so I signed up for her class. What I discovered was live Zoom art classes can be a lot of fun. You’re not sitting there watching a boring lecture, you’re actually working along with the instructor. You’re in your own comfortable creative space and everything is within reach, including the snacks or fresh pour of coffee. Need a different color thread? … just go get one. Forgot your machine pedal? … go grab it from the other room. And bonus!! … everyone participating has front rows seats. No more, standing behind tall people during demonstrations. (YES!!) You can work along or sit and watch…You can be you!!

Yesterday, my students praised these aspects of Zoom classes and I got to see what it was like to be on the other side. When I would teach in-person, I would grab my little “kit” of supplies and go teach. I learned that my kit needed a lot more supplies. Before class, I had to produce videos that show my sewing techniques (which eliminates many uncontrollable levels of chaos sewing live). I needed more step-out examples to demonstrate my processes and I needed to plan ahead to get class handouts to the students. And I had to get comfortable with all the new equipment, lighting, computers, cameras and software.

I was apprehensive at first, but I realized I liked the process. During class, I forgot I was in my room alone. We chatted and shared stories. They worked on their projects and I anxiously waited to see their progress (unlike in-person classes you can’t see what someone is doing on their sewing machine). BTW, everyone did great!

My follow-up verdict is I’m going to continue doing this. And, if you find you’re missing taking classes, check with your favorite artists and see if they’re teaching online; enroll if it fits. I bet you’ll have fun!

 

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Bee-done

We all have those days that we’re hard on ourselves. I’m trying to stay focused on what I need to do, yet be mindful that my expectations for getting things done may not always work as planned. Admittedly, I sometimes overthink things. And, although I may be recovering, there’s still that perfectionist inside of me critiquing the process. It’s a constant juggle of doing things well and letting go of when they don’t.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

I finally found a visual of my feelings most days; the one-man band. As a kid, I remember seeing a guy like the one pictured. I found him fascinating and fun. A traveling musician that is responsible for playing all the instruments of his mini-orchestra. I have such fond memories of watching him play.

Yep…that’s what I’m doing. I’m responsible for all the parts of my tiny enterprise and I’m trying to have fun. Eventually, all the little bits and pieces I’ve been working on fall into place and I get to acknowledge progress and bee-done.

 

Bee-kind to yourself

As I posted last week, I resolved my hexagon challenges on this new art quilt. With the edition of my latest design element, I hope it is obvious where I’m going with this. The little buddy needs some wings and the background (honeycomb) needs quilting. I’m almost there.

I feel like I’m moving in slow motion. I’m juggling many things “behind the scenes.” Unfortunately, they are things that aren’t really tangible items. I’m doing a lot of computer work, scheduling classes and prep work for the June exhibit. This upcoming week, I’ll be sharing some news that is a major new direction for me. I’ve been producing pre-recorded, on-demand classes. Now I’m ready to take the next step and do some live instruction on-line. More soon…

The thing is, I realize I’m still in this covid-funk. As much as I try to accept the current normal, the things I use to do aren’t the same. I have no desire to teach machine sewing classes in-person right now. It’s not that I don’t want to teach in-person … I am teaching locally, just not machine sewing. Moving forward with live Zoom-based classes will help me work through my mental process of changing focus. I’m looking forward to seeing where this leads.

Creative professionals are a silent statistic in this pandemic economy. Musicians, artists, and actors alike are grappling with their forward momentum. The gigs aren’t there and it’s uncertain when they will be. To stay viable, we have to find innovative ways to share and sell our art. The current “normal” is giving all of us a pause to self-reflect and possibly change direction. The momentum can sometimes feel slow, but there’s always that light inside that reminds us everything is going to be alright. Just remember “Bee-Kind” to yourself.

Stuck when creating

As I mentioned last week, I don’t work with a real “plan.” Maybe that’s good, maybe not. I have a vision or idea, and start working with stops and starts along the way. The following description is an insight to my creative process.

Over the past week, I attached the hexis to my background fabric and created an applique element that will go on top (you’ll see that next week). When I auditioned the applique on the hexis, it looked flat. There was no pop or interest and the applique didn’t stand out.

So, I auditioned some fabrics that I could lay in the center of the hexagons to give it a dimensional appearance. I found a loosely woven material in my stash, laid it on top of the design and stitched around each hexi shape. Then, I cut away the excess material. Tedious.

While I was stitching I noticed the there was a little pocket between the two layers of fabrics. I didn’t like that. I thought, I “should have!!” put Mystifuse on the back of the woven fabric. Then after stitching, I could iron it to adhere it in place. The problem … I didn’t use Mystifuse. Grumbling to myself, I kept on going.

As I continued to work, I thought about … “matte mediums.” I think of mediums as akin to Mod Podge but of higher quality. Mediums are acrylic liquids that can be used by artists to adhere collage material or used to thin acrylic paints. The word matte means there’s no sheen. If you wanted a shine, you would use a gloss medium.

Once the woven cloth was stitched in place and the excess removed, I then “painted” it with matte medium. This not only adheres the 2 layers of cloth, but also stops the woven cloth from unraveling. I succeeded with my vision and I’m ready for the next steps.

Although some people map out their plan, I like the challenge of not knowing. The vision drives me. Most of the time I can work around the obstacles. Usually what saves me is my arsenal of ideas. Mediums are not something quilters usually keep on hand, but other artists do. Because I have exposed myself to many different art techniques, my “toolbox of ideas” is full. And, my stash of supplies is diverse. Classes are a great way to learn new things.

I encourage you to take classes and experiment. Don’t be disheartened if you take a class and find you’re not good at it. You will likely always learn something new when you take a class. Understanding what you like and don’t like is part of the learning process. The more you learn, the more options you have. The bigger the tool box, the less likely you’ll ever truly feel stuck when creating.

What happens next

From teaching people how to make things, to creating my own designs to sell, I am one of those lucky people who’s work is art. It’s a constant juggle to find studio time to create. Having external deadlines does help get me in the studio. (How do you prioritize time for making your art?)

I’m trying to get better at setting priorities and time for different tasks. I have a bunch of videos ready to be turned into YouTube clips. My on-demand “Photo to Applique” class is waiting for my attention and I need to be working on a few final pieces for an exhibit I’m participating in this June. Time management will definitely be priority these next few months.

Today I’m working on an art piece that will consist of many hexagons. There are several ways to make a hexagon. Templates are an easy way to cut them, but what if you don’t have the right size template?  This video shows how to cut one using a straight quilters ruler (YouTube is awesome!). So you can quickly and easily cut any size hexi that you want. I cut a bunch of them last night.

(Can you tell I don’t work with a real plan?  —  The idea drives me and I figure out the process as I go along. )

Then I had to decide how to attach them to my base fabric. I thought of several different approaches … I decided to sew 2 hexi’s together; cut a slit in one; then, turn it right side out. This is going to give them a bit more dimension (relief) than a single layer of fabric. I’ll sew these, slightly puffy, shapes onto the background fabric to create my design and then proceed from there. I like where this is going, but let’s see what happens next.

Rest in Peace

My life is starting to normalize into this new groundhog day style of normalcy. In December things were in upheaval and in January it slowly started to return to it’s daily drumbeat routine. I am actually catching up on things.

Yesterday I mailed this 23″ x 26″ (finished size 20″ x 24″) block to Social Justice Sewing Academy’s (SJSA) Remembrance Project. Rashiya Melton was an 18 year old woman who was killed at a Halloween party on Oct 28, 2018 in Cedar Grove, NC. She was with her twin sister, doing what young people do: have fun. An innocent victim of gun fire.

The morning after the shooting, I remember hearing the story in the local news. I volunteered to make a Remembrance block and I was honored when SJSA asked me to memorialize Rashiya. They warned me going into this that it may be emotional. All I had was a name, it was up to me to find out the details.

I found very little information about Rashiya, just a few pictures of a beautiful young woman and a couple news articles. Her twin (who also was dealing with the death of a younger brother 6 months earlier) expressed her deep loss and said, “she was the funniest person I knew.” All I thought was I had to do this well!

This style of tonal applique is pretty common these days in textile portraits. The photo I had was very grainy and I struggled trying to make it work. In December I came close to finishing the portrait. When I was nearly done, I said “no way!” There were details that I thought didn’t show her beauty and the fabric colors weren’t working. I mean “really” weren’t working. I have never tried anything like this before and I needed to take a break. There was too much going on and having me rush to finish this wasn’t going to give Rashiya the respect she deserved.

About a week later, I received an email from the Pixeladies. Their newsletters frequently include tips and tricks for using Photoshop Elements. This particular edition included directions on how to render a photo into comic strip style illustration. I was inspired to try their method with Rashiya’s photo and I was able to create a pattern that was more user-friendly than my first attempt. It also proved to make a more elegant portrait of Rashiya.

Lately my blog posts have been about learning by experimenting. That’s true in this block, but it’s also is true how important perseverance is. I shredded my first attempt and am ever so grateful SJSA gave me time to recover. I could have given up, but I didn’t. I’ve learned. I’ve grown. And I hope my efforts honor Rashiya and her family. My heart is full, may she rest in peace.