This past weekend I took a road trip to see the Sacred Threads art quilt exhibit in Herndon, Virginia. This exhibit was originally scheduled for July 2021 and was postponed until this year (we all know what was going on then).
The Sacred Threads exhibit is a biennial exhibition which was established as a way “to provide a safe venue for quilters who see their work as a connection to the sacred and/or as an expression of their spiritual journey.” For the past 3 events, I’ve had the honor of having my art selected to be apart of this exhibition. It is an extremely special event. What I didn’t know driving there was how important this year’s event was going to be.
The art quilt community is unique. We are kindred souls. We understand how important it is to create our art in a society that may only recognize our talents as common craft. Many of us have deep messaging behind what we create. Sacred Threads honors all of that. (Note: sadly, as I write this, it is uncertain if there will be another.)
As artists, we create because we are called to. And at gatherings like this, we are collectively understood by each other. No need to explain what we do, or why we do it. There are no quilt police looking at stitches per inch or accurate piecing. There are no critics making judgements on what is or isn’t good art. None of that matters, because we are purely expressing ourselves with textiles.
What struck me most was how good it felt to be among my peers. For many of us, it’s been a long time since we have gathered like this. I’ve missed them. Its been more than 2 years since the start of the pandemic. Meaning it is more than 2 years of being isolated on our journeys. Sure many of us have turned to video conferencing and social media to connect, but there’s nothing like seeing textile art in person. There is nothing like hugging a long time friend and seeing their smiling face looking back at you. And, there is nothing like knowing you’re not alone on this creative journey.
I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a “beach person,” but I do love the beach. I don’t like the beaches that are crowded with people. I like walking the beach early in the morning or in cold months when no one else wants to be there. I had some time this past week to stroll barefoot in the sand and I kept running into great blue herons. This one stood still along the coast and pretended not to notice me. I was acting like a Frozen Charlotte and I knew he was watching me. Whenever I made the slightest move, his gaze would change or his body would move to reposition. It was a stand-off of mutual respect.
Had I been with other people, I know this encounter wouldn’t have happened. They likely wouldn’t have been so patient or quiet in waiting. Watching. It was magic. I watched how they interacted with people and tried to survive with the 2-legged trespassers. I watched how they adapted their feeding, as they attempted to steal the fish reeled in by the people fishing the surf. No longer the independent hunter, just a well-adapted opportunistic thief. I walked away emotionally changed.
I knew in just a few hours of my walk, things would be different for them. Instead of an occasional morning walker, they would deal with a steady stream of people passing up and down the coastal sand. They did what they could to survive. One stolen fish at a time.
This is were creative inspiration comes from; Stopping. Observing. Witnessing life around you. Take the time to slow down. The inspiration will probably be there looking right back at you.
I’ve been video editing a new online course I’m creating. The progress is slow, because there’s only so much intense computer time that I can handle in one day. The creative time for my art is limited and I must admit, I’m stuck.
It would be nice to have a new textile piece in progress on my work table, but I don’t know what I want to do next. My brain wanders between ideas, but nothing is sticking around to say “Start THIS one!” I wonder if you’ve felt stuck, like this. I try not to be too hard on myself. You can’t force art, but you can feed the creative sprite.
Here are some things that I’m doing to encourage a new project idea:
- Journaling and meditation: This is a great way to clear the clutter and negativity from your brain.
- Sketching: – Sometimes an idea arrives, but its not fully developed. Sketch it out anyway. Just a simple drawing is all you need to remember it later. I know, if I don’t sketch it, I will forget it.
- View artwork: Visit art galleries to see other artist’s work. They might use a theme or technique that inspires a new design idea.
- Read: Go to the book store or library and look through art books and magazines. Much like viewing art in a gallery, flipping through pages is eye candy. If you buy the books or magazines, you can even rip out, or flag, pages for future reference.
- Observe nature and take pictures: Even if you don’t create nature-inspired art, the colors or patterns in nature can spark design potential.
- Experiment: Take classes or just play with some techniques or tools.
I’ve been doing all these things the past 2 weeks. Spring is definitely a time to be outside and exploring. It is also a great time to renew and grow. While encouraging my own growth, I’ve decided I want to jazz up my backgrounds on my art quilts. I’m learning how to use gouache paints to see if there’s a new way I can paint my fabrics. I also plan to experiment with several different fabric collage ideas, one from an idea I saw in a magazine and another a friend showed me. Maybe the two idea will morph into something totally different.
So, right now I’m OK not producing…instead, I’m feeding the soul and growing inspiration.
Finding inspiration. I feel challenged by it sometimes. I have tons of ideas in my head but where’s the inspiration to create it. I think sometimes we need to go somewhere else, either in our mind or through physically traveling.
Get away. If you could go anywhere, where would that be? Would you come back refreshed? Would you come back inspired? Would you come back ready to start work? Or would you need a vacation from your vacation?
I’m thinking about traveling for leisure next year. There are so many places to see. What place have you been that gave you the most creative inspiration?
Fear. Why do we have fear? By definition: fear is a response to perceived danger that leads to a confrontation or escape from the threat we’re facing. In other words, what is approaching us is either something we must fight or flee.
Ok…makes perfect sense. However, I’ve been wondering why the sense of fear arises when making art? I don’t know that everyone has experienced fear while they are working on an art project, but many of us do.
I’ve definitely had times where I felt overwhelming fearful anxiety while creating. My over-thinking shouts at me, “What if, the very next step (process) you do on this piece ruins it?” It’s not like its a life or death situation. Is fear really necessary here?
Well, I guess what’s really happening is the next step in the process is unknown. It could all go wrong. But that’s life, isn’t it? We don’t know what will happen tomorrow. I’ve been thinking, I still have 2 choices; fight or flee. I can also chose to do nothing and see what happens.
If I’m facing an art challenge, the choice to do nothing means nothing happens to my artwork either. It will remain incomplete. If incompleteness is OK, the threat goes away to … or, maybe not. It may nag at me every time I look at it.
However, if I’m passionate about what I’m working on … that’s where I have to really make a choice. Am I ready to take a deep breath and get ready to battle the obstacles? This choice is about courage; aka the hero’s journey. I’m ready to fight for my vision. I know what it can be. I also know that if it defeats me and I’ve ruined what I was trying to make, that’s OK, because I tried. What I know is, if you want it bad it enough you have to keep trying.
It’s clear to me that this new-normal is affecting many of us. I definitely feel a different level of anxiety. Things are clearly different than they were 2 years ago. It’s not just about my physical and mental health, there’s also external stressors like access to supplies. I can’t tell you how many things I normally use which have become difficult to find/purchase. Where I live, I frequently find empty shelves and it requires extra diligence to track down that thing I’m looking for. [Honestly, how many stores do I have to go to find my cat’s favorite food?]
Add to all this, the constantly changing procedures. As a teacher/artist, I regularly have to adapt to new policies. All the little things start to add up. Sometimes it’s easier to stay put, than venture out. For some (namely introverts), this might sound like a glorious opportunity to have more creative time alone.
Last week, I was battling this scenario. Do I cancel my trip and stay home or walk through the fire to travel. It took a lot of courage to convince myself that I must face the beast in my mind. I also had to make some modifications on what I was doing to allow myself some down time while I was away. It’s important to listen to what your body/mind needs.
I’m home now. While away, I put myself in situations that felt a bit out of my comfort zone. It’s been almost 2 years since I traveled out of state. I survived. In retrospect, being in a different environment was a healthy change for me. I was able to come home with a new perspective and appreciation. I saw what I could have had and realize the fortunes I’ve created by taking chances along my life’s journey.
I realized that sometimes you have to step out of the box to see the jewels inside. When you get stuck, go somewhere else. It doesn’t have to be far. When you get there, stop. Listen. Be. Observe. Take mental notes. Sometimes that’s all we need to find a new perspective.
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?”
My post last week described my thoughts about how I would feel after my trip to California. I wrote that post a week before I left and scheduled it to publish on the day I returned from my trip. So here I am, a week past vacation and I can tell you that the journey was worth it.
I don’t usually bring my DSL camera with me when I travel. It’s bulky and heavy. I worry about putting it in my checked bag. I bring it as carry-on so I don’t have to worry about who might be mishandling my equipment. It is a hassle, but this trip it was worth it.
My intent with bringing the camera with me was 1) to get some practice taking pictures and 2) find some artistic inspiration for my art quilts. I’m please to say: Mission accomplished! I was able to capture images that I would never get with the camera on my phone.
Several of the photographs are already inspiration for new art quilts. After posting today’s blog, I’m going to sign off my computer and start designing some new art. Before I sign-off, I’m curious, what inspires you to get into the creative spirit?
This post is kind of a “back to the future” scenario. I wrote this last week, just a few days before I left for another trip to California. Last time I was there it was cool and spring. This time it will be cool and fall. I love to travel, but I’m not good at it. Maybe it has to do with so many years of not traveling. I don’t have a rhythm. I spend days fretting about what to bring and what needs to get done before I leave. Once I’m on the plane, I’m OK. Returning home is also much easier than leaving.
When I travel my camera usually gets full of pictures; images of people, places, and things; memories. I’m hoping this trip provides some artistic inspiration. I love the Northern California forests and I want to create more work representing its grandeur. I can only hope that weather cooperates.
As I write this post, I wish I was already on the other side of the journey. I’m not really trying to rush it, but I can’t help imagine how I’ll feel when I’m heading home. I wonder what grand things I’ll encounter. Did you ever wish your future self could give you advice? Or, what if you could go back in time now and give advice to the younger you? What would you say?
It’s been a little while since my artwork has hung in a group exhibit. This past week I got to see “Summer Sunshine” hanging in the Sacred Threads exhibit in Herndon, Va. This biennial exhibit will hang until July 28 and it’s the second time my work has been in this exhibit. Sacred Threads is not just about the artwork; it’s about the story the art tells. “The show does not emphasize any particular religion or theology but conveys the spirituality, healing and inspirational messages that transcend all people. “
I spent Saturday afternoon looking at the quilts and reading as many stories as I could. Some were heart breaking, some uplifting and other’s just made me smile. It gives me great pride to have my art hang along side all the others. These experiences connect me with new people and old friends. And, I’m definitely inspired by all the artwork I see. (Note: If you can’t go to the exhibit, you can purchase a catalog with the stories and pictures of the quilts at Sacred Threads online store )
While walking the exhibit, I heard someone tell their friend “One way to become a better artist is not only to make art, but to view art.” I agree! If you don’t know what looks or feels good to you, how can you create it? Art is more than just following some technique, it’s reaching into your soul to tell your story. If you haven’t already found that place in your heart, I encourage you to look at art, spend time exploring/seeing the details of everyday life, and find time to play with techniques. You’ll discover that place where it all clicks and you’ll know when you found your voice.
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.