Category: Success & Failure

Looking forward to the journey

Unlike most of the world, things kind of slow down for me this time of year. I’m able to spend more time catching up on projects. Since the sun goes down pretty early these days, there’s a lot of darkness that makes me want to stay home. I try to get out a little during the day, but I’m home early and working with projects that have been waiting for my attention. I feel productive.

It is also a time that I contemplate on what’s next. Two weeks from today, not only do we have a new year ahead, but a new decade. Wow! A great time to think about what I want to accomplish. I’ve been doing some behind the scenes planning and stepping back to my technical roots (I use to design websites). I forgot home much fun it can be to learn new software that provides a creative outlet.

If you’ve been following me, you may know about some of what I’m planning. But, there’s another component that I’ve been holding close until it’s ready. I’m pretty excited about this next phase of my life. I’m not giving up on my artwork, but just reaching for another outlet that will enhance things.

While I’m learning new software and catching up on some things, I feel like I’m looking at a sunrise along the beach. There’s a new decade ahead and I’m looking forward to the journey.

Cutting it up

Have you ever made something you didn’t like?

A number of years ago, I made two artquilts that had a giant yellow sunflower appliqued to the center of a square painted quilt background. At first I thought what I made was a good idea, but it was a bit large (about 32″ square). What do you do with it? I pondered it a while. Tried showing it a few places and then realized I was over it.

But what do you do if you’re “over” something? I pondered that for awhile. Every once in awhile, I’d find it with the other quilts. I’d look at it, think about what I could do with it. Undecided, I would just put it away again. Eventually, I gathered them up, along with some other pieces I was over with, and stashed them in a pillowcase marked “Donate or Cut Up.” There they sat for a couple more years…until last week.

In a class I’m taking, we were challenged to revisit something we’ve made and do something new with it. Re-purposing the sunflower quilts came to mind. What I liked most about these pieces were the wool flower centers with the beading and 3-dimensional effect. What I didn’t like was their overall size and the fact the flowers were set dead center on the piece. I found nothing interesting about the design.

Last week I decided to cut up the large sunflower into smaller pieces. I donate to a charity auction that want 6″ x 8″ and 12″ x 12″ submissions. I could easily cut these large quilts to fit those parameters, and there would be plenty of leftovers to cut the rest into 4″ x 6″ postcard-sized pieces. I think this was a win. From two no longer loved pieces, I was able to make about 18 useful items. Cutting up your art is a pretty bold thing to do, but if you’re no longer happy with it what do you do with it? Why hang on to it? Why not re-purpose it into something else, even if that means cutting it up?

Creative inspiration

“Goldfinch in My Garden” by Nanette S. Zeller – NanetteSewZ.com

November was a busy month for me.  Unlike most people, my life kind of scales back in December. Time to catch up on things and find “free” creative time. I’m looking forward to enjoying some down time. It’s also that time of year when I reflect on my journey and plan for the next year.

This year was definitely full of travel for me. I feel so fortunate to have had so many new experiences this year. My life has been enriched by these journeys. I realize that being here, where I live, doesn’t creatively inspire me as much as I’d like. When I travel somewhere new, I gain new perspective.

I try to capture beauty whenever I can on my camera, then use it for creating new artwork. I’ve committed to participating in an exhibit in 2021 and really need to make some new work. My traveling and resulting images definitely have given me lots of ideas.

Here’s an example: In late September, I visited my aunt in Northern California. She always was a gardener. When she down-sized a few years ago, she made sure she had a space to grow things. While I was there, I took photos of the plants and birds that visited her small patio. When I returned home, I knew some of my images would be rendered into new artwork. In my latest art piece (just finished last week), I capture a goldfinch swinging on a stem while it ate the flower’s seeds. The position of the bird’s head seems contemplative. (Note: I’ve submitted “Goldfinch in My Garden” to a call for entry. Fingers crossed it gets accepted into the exhibit.)

While I think of the process for inspiration, I realize I get stuck in my head and need to walk away sometimes. It’s not that there’s no beauty where I live, it’s just the same beauty I see every day. Ordinary. Walking away and seeing something new is an opportunity to look at things differently and be inspired. What do you do to find creative inspiration?

 

If you weren’t afraid

Over the last 2 weeks, I had the opportunity to give several presentations to quilters who live in the Piedmont area of North Carolina. I received warm and gracious receptions from these creative people. It’s a rewarding feeling to know your message connected with the audience. It reminded me I’m on the right track.

I’ve been working in this profession for a fairly long time. It was 17 years ago that I started teaching sewing. When I started, I mostly focused on basic skills, but I always wanted to teach art. I can say I’m finally there. Art has always been a powerful and consistent part of my life. I explored and created. I made some things I felt were noteworthy and other things that I felt needed to be destroyed. I consistently embraced the ugly and, even with some set backs, I didn’t give up. I kept trying.

In some ways, I’m looking back at how far I’ve come. In other ways, I’m looking forward to what’s next. No matter how old you are, there’s always room for improvement and growth. We don’t have to change, but if we want something bad enough the opportunity is there. In my life, there are many things that are inspiring me to continue. There are new ideas and techniques I want to explore and a serious amount of ideas in my brain waiting to be generated into cloth.

In the words of Henri Matisse, “creativity takes courage!” That’s what this all comes down to for me. When I am feeling my lowest, I muster up as much courage and drive forward. We all have those days, weeks, months… or maybe even years … of feeling discouraged. Just know it’s OK to take time for yourself. If you want it bad enough, don’t give up. As Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg asks, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”

 

“Tool box” of ideas

In a world where most TV programming can’t be watched unless you have a subscription service, it is nice to know PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) is still going strong. I can honestly say, my life has been enhanced from watching PBS programs. Shows like “This Old House,” “Antiques Roadshow,” “Sesame Street,” “Electric Company, “Mister Roger’s Neighborhood,” “Zoom” and “Victory Garden” all bring happy smiles to my memory.

When I started quilting in 2001, I was glued to the weekly broadcast of Alex Anderson’s “Simply Quilts.” I was inspired and learned so much from watching her guests talk about their craft. After “Simply Quilts” came Quilting Arts TV which was another program that impacted my life. I think I’ve watched every episode since it aired. Watching the guests on QATV, I gained confidence to challenge myself artistically using fabric as my medium. It’s kind of full circle to know that I am now part of the PBS legacy that I so treasure.

Depending on where you live in the US, Season 2400 of Quilting Arts TV may already be finished (each station airs the programs independently – check your local listings). For my friends in North Carolina who watch UNC-TV, we have 2 more episodes left. My last apparence this season (episode 2412) will air locally on Thursday, Oct 31 at 4pm. In this episode, I share more of my thread painting techniques, this time making 3-dimensional elements. [Note: Instructions from this segment were also published in the Oct/Nov 2019 Quilting Arts magazine]. In total I filmed 4 segments of QATV. This season 3 were broadcast, the 4th will air in season 2500.

This has been an amazing opportunity for me. I hope you get to watch the program and find inspiration, just like I have all these years. It is wonderful to know we still have PBS as a valuable resource. If you’re interested in learning more about sewing and quilting, check your local listings for QATV and other related programs on PBS.  It’s a great way to learn new things and build a larger “tool box” of ideas.

Part of your toolbox

I’ve been in a little bit of a slump this summer, distracted by too many things. I’m finally clearing my plate of responsibilities and finding time in my studio.

While I was in California, I took a photo of a goldfinch. The composition of the photo really inspired me. Even though the photo is bit blurry, I could still see the details of the bird and use it to draw the pattern for my applique. There’s still a long way to go with this piece.

When I look at basic fabric applique, it always looks so 2-dimensional. I like what I’ve created, but see that I’m missing definition and shading. Once the fabric composition is complete, I’ll pull out my colored pencils to add shading. Then I’ll add some stitching to create definition, texture and secure the pieces to the background fabric. Many layers of technique will be used for this new composition.

I love the fact that this piece is inspired by something I actually witnessed and was able to capture with my own camera. Usually my compositions come from a mental image I have and I use photos for general reference (e.g., shape of a tree or flower). In this piece, I used Photoshop Elements to manipulate the photo to get things placed exactly as I wanted. I will be using the new image as a direct reference for my composition and to create the pattern pieces for applique.

It’s great to have an array of tools and techniques available when creating art quilts. I call this my “toolbox.” Whenever I’m creating new art, I can pull from many different techniques to create a desired affect. It took many years of exploring for me to acquire all these resources. If you’re just starting to work in fabric art, don’t get overwhelmed by it all. Learn as you can and practice. You’ll gravitate towards things that you feel confident doing and discard things that you dislike. All these skills will be available as part of your toolbox.

 

Click away

Uhoh! What happened to the last 2 weeks? I’m usually pretty good about posting every week, but I got side-tracked by a number of things this summer.

At the end of August, I was happy to deliver 2 commission quilts that I’ve been working on. I don’t usually do commission pieces, but I really had a good feeling about this one. You never know what people will expect and sometimes that makes working on a piece challenging. Will they like it?

In this case, my friend already had great photography. She had a special place on her wall and wanted to commemorate a trip she made to Japan. At first, she asked me to create an original quilt using her photo for inspiration. When I saw her photo, I realized this could become a collaborative effort. She already had a great photo, so, why not just print it on fabric, do some of my thread work on it, then finish the piece. We both agreed to the plan.

The technology these digital fabric printing companies have is amazing. You can print your images on almost any type of fabric. A little bit of tweaking in a photo editor and it’s ready to upload to their website. Two weeks later beautiful fabric arrives in your mailbox and you’re ready to get stitching.

I’ve printed a lot of things lately and will share more another time. With all the things we can access to online, it makes the world feel like a smaller place. Everything seems like just a click away .

Interesting challenge

I don’t know about where you live, but the heat of the summer is getting to me. Living in the southeastern US, I realize it isn’t the heat, but the humidity that saps my energy. I look out the window and see the beautiful sunshine, but sadly realize it’s best for me to stay inside.

In a way, this really isn’t a bad thing. I can definitely find things to do. Today I am finishing up a commission project I’ve been working on. When I’m finished writing you, I’ll sit down with needle and thread to do some slow-stitching and binge watching. It’s time to stitch down the facing, then add the sleeve and label.

I work in layers when I create my art quilts. I start with the fabric design (in this example it’s a photo printed on fabric) and then I add my free-motion embroidery (aka thread painting). Then it’s time for batting, backing and quilting. Doing things in this order allows me to cover up some of the ugliness that happens with the embroidery work. It also keeps the thread-painted areas from becoming too flat.

Sometimes the quilting stitches on the back of a quilt are equally as interesting as the design on the front. I keep threatening myself to deliberately create a piece backwards so when it hangs, the design side faces the wall. That would be an interesting challenge.

Don’t give up!

One of a Kind GalleryLife has been busy the last 4 weeks. In my last post, I shared my experience with Sacred Threads. After I returned from that, I prepared for a “Meet the Artist” event at a local gallery where my work is on commission. It was fun being part of this event, meeting new people and seeing friends.

Pillow ArtBefore this event at One of a Kind Gallery, I decided I needed to do something a little different. I have all these great photos of my artwork, but once the art sells the artwork is gone. I decided to use an on-demand print service to print my art on fabric, then make it into something else. I decided to start with pillows and totebags. It appears I’m onto something. In the 1 week they were there, I already sold several pieces. I was also asked by another gallery if they could to carry these printed items. So, it’s time to make another order of fabric. Hopefully, I’ll be able to keep up with this and get some up on my Etsy shop.

Then while all this was happening, I entered my “Sounds of the Trumpet” quilt into the Fine Arts Festival exhibit at Arts Council of Moore County’s Campbell House Galleries. 2nd PlaceWhen you enter this exhibit, you assign your artwork to 1 of 5 categories. There isn’t a fiber art or textile category, so I assigned it to mixed-media. Since I use other things besides fabric and thread, I definitely fall into that category.

Prior to the exhibit opening, a juror selects the 1st, 2nd, 3rd place winners and honorable mentions. This year the juror was Bob Rankin, a well respected abstract painter from Raleigh, NC. I enter these exhibits knowing that there’s some heavy competition and that as a textile artist the juror may or may not appreciate my media. (As some of you already know, textile art is often looked at as “craft,” not fine art.)

Juror StatementSo there I was running around one afternoon, when I received a call from the Arts Council. I do volunteer work for them, so it’s not unusual that someone calls me. What was unusual was the message, I had earned 2nd place in the Mixed Media category. This is a major milestone for me. It was the first time that I won an award in a non-textile exhibit.

I share these wins in my life, not brag…but to encourage. To be honest, I occasionally question why I’m doing what I do and I know other people sometimes feel the same way. I create because making art fills a void in my soul. I have to do it, otherwise it pents up inside. Stepping out publicly to share your art takes guts. When it’s a flop, I think “what can I do different?” When it’s a success, I think “how can I build on this?” I always have to step back, evaluate, and learn from the process. And, I encourage you to do the same. If it’s in your soul, don’t give up!

 

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See me on Quilting Arts TV Season 2400 (episodes 2401, 2408 & 2412).
Check your local PBS station for dates and times — or program your DVR.

I’ll see you later!

Why do we make art? I’ve always had a creative drive. I’ve dabbled in multiple processes, but I’m usually drawn to textiles; sewing, crochet, knitting, embroidery and, of course, quilting. When I started quilting, I worked in a “traditional” style, piecing blocks together to make bed or lap quilts. What do you do with them? I  gave them to family and friends who I hoped would enjoy them. Eventually everyone I knew had something I made and I started to develop a stock pile.

Around this same time, I became frustrated with myself. I walked away from quilting and started to pursue mixed media art. You may have heard this story and my later decision to return to quilting using mixed media techniques (also known as surface design).

Well, that’s not the entire story. Around this same time, I also was involved with a small, local gallery where I sold some of my art. I realized, I could keep creating as much as I wanted and re-home it by selling it. I didn’t have to keep everything I made. If I don’t sell or exhibit my art, it stays locked in a room away from light, usually rolled up in a protective cloth bag. It’s safe and sound, but out of sight.

Art is meant to be seen. Storing it away forever, doesn’t make sense to me. I’d rather it be loved, appreciated and SEEN! That’s another reason why I sell my artwork. Of course, some pieces mean more to me than others and there is a part of me that’s sad to see them go. It’s like saying good-bye to an good friend, “I’ll see you later (maybe).” Sadly, sometimes life happens and you never see that friend again. Same is true with saying good-bye to your art. Some creatives never want to let go and keep everything they make. I’m not one of those people. It has to go, so I have room for new pieces.

So…why do I make art? Because I love the process and I love when someone loves my work enough to buy it. When I make art, it’s only meant to be mine for a short time. It really belongs to someone else who will see it in their home every day and who will smile when they see it, because they love it. It is my mission as an artist to find that special someone.

Yesterday, “Silenced” found that special place. Today it is in the home of someone I know who appreciates art, adores birds, and understands the plight of extinction. They love this art quilt and understand its deeper meaning without needing me to explain it. Today, I’m happy to say, “goodbye, I’ll see you later!”