Category: Nature Inspired Art

Change is inevitable.

I had a conversation yesterday with a family member which brought up some vivid memories. Due to life circumstances, the family life I had was different than my siblings. My brother and sister and their spouses all went to the same high school … and I didn’t.

As the youngest of 3, I moved with my parents into the city (Chicago) at the start of my freshman year of high school. Yesterday’s conversation reminded me of how important that change was to my future self. I started high school in a brand new school that was designed to be an arts magnet schools. I wasn’t recruited, but was just lucky enough to live within walking distance of the school, so I was in.

I joined the theater program doing all sorts of back stage jobs. My freshman elective was beginning band. I didn’t know how to play an instrument but quickly took a liking to the clarinet. From there I continued through the remaining 3 years in band classes, marching band, and orchestra (I still have my letterman’s jacket to prove it). And then in my junior year, I enrolled in my favorite class, “Chicago Where it Art.” Talk about mixed media exposure in those last 2 years. Drawing, painting, stained glass, architecture… you name it Mr. Erklin was teaching it to us. Wow!

After high school, I didn’t pursue art in college (except for a couple electives). I chose science as as my curriculum of choice.

And here I am now thinking back to the past, while I try to pursue a dream that maybe I should have started when I  was 19. In hindsight, it’s odd the way things happen. I believe, what’s meant to happen all comes around in it’s due time.  Had I not had these early opportunities of exposure to art in the Chicago Public School system, I probably wouldn’t be on this journey today.

 

There for a reason

This week I finished my hawk quilt. It’s been quilted, squared up and a facing added (instead of binding). Overall, this is a simple design; a bird on a branch. The fact that the hawk is 24″ tall is really where things got complicated. All said and done, I used 18 colors of thread to finish this piece. In my Paint with Thread classes, I teach the exact techniques that I used for this piece, except I significantly scale down the number of thread colors.

When I create my art quilts, I always use an oversized background fabric. Whenever you add heavy stitching (e.g., quilting or thread painting), the fabric pulls in and you wind up with a smaller piece than you started with. The amount of shrinkage correlates with how much stitching you add. At the end, I square things up, removing the excess fabric.

When I create, I go through various stages of anxiety. This is especially true when I’m creating for a deadline. Each step of the process supports the next, if anything goes wrong the outcome might lead to starting all over again. Hopefully, if the worse happens, I can develop plan B, but that’s not always the case.

Squaring up a quilt is anxiety provoking for me. At this stage of the process, starting over is not a welcome option. I realize the anxiety is helpful by making me hyper-alert and focused on the process so I do it correctly. Why? because if I do it wrong my rectangular quilt could wind up with obtuse angles versus right (90°) angles. Obtuse angles make the quilt look skewed and hang wonky or ruffly. I embrace the perfectionist in me during this process, because it will show if done wrong. I just have to remind myself to breathe, this anxiety is there for a reason.

 

Work in Progress

I’ve been thinking about being an “artist.” It took me a great deal of time to accept that title for myself. I always knew that I was creative. From a young age I was interested in arts & crafts: knitting, crochet, modeling clay, painting, drawing, paper mache, needlepoint, cross stitch, etc.  When I was in my 40’s, I had great debates with my Aunt who insisted I was an artist and I would insist I was not, but I wanted to be.

I’m confident now and it’s mainly because I found my artistic voice. There’s a medium (textiles) that I prefer to work in and my subject matter is well defined in my brain. My artwork is original and not copied from someone else’s vision (or style). I’m never lacking an idea for a new piece and the subject always is nature inspired. I still dabble in other things, but they are solely for me. For example, I’m working on a quilt to commemorate my grandmother’s journey to the US via Ellis Island. I always have at least 2 knitting projects to work on. And, I like this new slow stitching, because it (along with knitting) settles me when I’m sitting.  But these things aren’t my art.

As I’ve traveled this journey, I’ve struggled with the title “artist.” It reflected in me through imposter syndrome: “How dare you call myself an artist? You’re working in textiles and that’s CRAFT!” Through the journey, I realized that this is not something I’ve made up in my own head. It’s things that I’ve heard and used to judge myself. Studying art, I realize there isn’t one definition (although some insist that there is).

One perceived distinction is the comparison of professional artists vs non-professionals. I’ve heard some people argue that artwork should be viewed (judged/juried) differently between professional and non-professional artists. Well, what is a professional artist? If I sell one piece during the course of my life does that make me a professional? If I quit selling my art, does that remove the title “professional” from my classification? Does it mean someone who chooses to never sell their work can never have the talent of a professional or show in professional categories?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this and realized the term “professional” to describe artists really bothers me. It is part of what fueled my imposter syndrome and self-doubts. I hear a level of arrogance in the term when people demand to be segregated because they are “professionals.” Wouldn’t a ranking by mastery be a better judge of skill (novice, competent, experienced and master/expert)? I still have some growing and refining I want to achieve  with my art. So, until the rest of the world catches up to my thinking, I’m going to refer to myself as a “working” artist who is highly experienced. I am a work in progress.

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.”

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.”

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.

As a new person

The last few days, I’ve been digging through my digital photos and I’m flooded with ideas. I love birds and I’m not in any short supply of inspiration. I can easily set up my camera and take pictures of my backyard (yes…every spring, the red-headed woodpeckers visit my feeders).

Where do you find inspiration? I think it’s important to look around you. I take a lot of pictures that inspire me. Looking back, I’m not always sure why I took a photo, but I knew the scene held my interest for awhile and I had to capture it.

Digging through my photos was a reflective practice. I was able to see where I’ve been and who I am now. What interested me 10 years ago is not the same as what interests me now. There are definitely common threads that have carried along through the years (e.g., birds). However, I noticed that there’s a certain level of refinement that has occurred.

We change with each new thing we learn and experience. These changes may be subtle, but over time the cumulative effects can be significant. Your source of inspiration is very likely to be changing over-time too.

It’s important to reflect on these changes, because they say something about what you like to do. If you’re doing something because you’ve always done it, that doesn’t mean that you enjoy doing it. It’s important to reflect on the balance between what you love to do and what you’re good at. I like to think with each new revolution around the sun, we are traveling as a new person.