What’s holding you back?

The last few weeks I’ve been finishing up details for an exhibit that opens up June 4, 2021 (see below). I’m making the final selection, labeling, creating an inventory, and taking care of hanging details (frames and hanging rods). I’ve been working on this exhibit for 2 years. That’s usually how long it takes from notification until hanging. When you’re looking forward, 2 years seems like a long time. When you’re looking back it seems like seconds.

I’ve had high and low points during this journey. Always questioning and seeking the energy to keep the procrastination away. There were things that I made which I think were failures. But, nothing really is a failure is it? It may feel that way, but it’s not. It’s all part of the learning process.

As I look at the artwork that will hang in this show, I think back to 10 years ago. In 2011, I submitted a thread painted portrait of my dog to the Quilting Arts Magazine calendar competition. “The Perfect Storm” was selected to be “Mr. September” for their 2012 calendar. This was the first time my art had been recognized by someone outside of family and friends. I felt I was on to something; my artistic voice was starting to appear.

Over the last 10 years, there have been many changes. I have matured physically, mentally, spiritually, and artistically. The “failures” along the way where opportunities to learn and grow. If I didn’t have the failures, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. I also don’t think my art would be where it is.

My driving mantra … especially when I was ready to throw in the towel … is “never give up!” When what you do is a passion, you can’t give up, because passion is part of your soul.  And, how do you give up on your soul?

As I reflect on my journey, I’m thinking of you. Do you have a passion? Are you pursuing your dreams? What’s holding you back?

 


Cloth & Clay
June 4-25, 2021
Artist reception:
June 4th – 6-8pm
Campbell House Galleries, Southern Pines, NC

On this journey today

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 its 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.”

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.