Throughout my life, I’ve explored new ideas. I remember as a kid making papier-mâché masks. My mom taught me how to sew and crochet when I was 10 years old. I messed around with paints and drawing. In high school I “minored” in art and had the most wonderful opportunities to study Chicago architecture and stained glass. Special bonus in my youth were field trips to the Art Institute of Chicago, Field Museum and the Museum of Science and Industry, each captivating my creative eye.
Later in my life I became more focused in what I created. You may have even found me through my art; nature-inspired mixed-media textiles. Even though my art is focused, I still dabble in a lot of things. My love of wool is pretty strong. I love to knit and felting is addictive for me too. This week I took some time for creative play and made these felted bowls. (Do you ever take time for creative play?)
Sometimes I forget about the importance of creative play. I get focused on what needs to get done – NOW! I frequently push back on the idea of taking time for fun creativity. Sometimes I almost dread it, because I know I’m going to create a mess, which means I’m going to have to clean up too (more work- ugh!). However, I truly believe its an important activity to add to your life. The easiest way to proceed is to take a class … explore something new with the guidance of a knowledgeable instructor. I do this occasionally. (Pro tip: one of the perks is you won’t have as much clean-up afterward. YAY!)
Playing is a way of learning. And, if you let go of expectations, it can also be a mindful experience. Felting is one of those crafts that you almost have to let go of expectations. As I built the bowls, I chose fibers from my stash that I had no idea how they would react with the process. I also selected colors that I wasn’t confident would work together (e.g. purple and orange?).
My point is by playing without expectations we can be present in the experience. If it fails, so be it. If it works, bravo. But either scenario, we learn and likely improve our skills. Best of all we take time for ourselves and let go of the other junk that consumes our brain. I give you permission to play!
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.”
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.”
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.
The past couple weeks I have been working on a commission art quilt. I’m re-making my “Goldfinch in My Garden” quilt from the Sacred Threads Backyard Escape exhibit. It’s not going to be exactly the same, but very similar. This new version will be part of a permanent collection at INOVA Schar Cancer Institute – Fair Oaks in Fairfax, VA.
It’s kind of fun re-visiting something I made before. The best part is I KNOW how it’s suppose to go together. Usually when I make something new, the entire process is play it by ear. I envision how something will work, but I’m not that sure that it will. This time around the construction was much easier.
The size of this quilt is different. I knew I was going to make the same goldfinch, but it needed to be larger. The new quilt is square versus the rectangular version I made last time. The process of making the applique bird is the same. I documented it on a new YouTube video that you can watch here. I’m having fun making these videos, so expect to see more soon.
I’m also working with the Global Quilt Connection (GQC) again. So many of us want to take classes and with this pandemic our opportunities are limited. So GQC is partnering with teachers who offer online classes for individual enrollment. After I finish this commission piece, I will be back to work on building new classes. My plan for early next year is to offer some live Zoom classes you can sign up for where we can create together. GQC is offering teachers, like me, the opportunity to show what we offer in classes. There are some great teachers lined up to present. So if you’re craving some new ideas on things to do from home be sure to check out the presentations at http://globalquiltconnection.com/studentmainpage.html. I will be presenting on November 17th.
I hope you are staying inspired and finding time for your creative passions. Above all things…find time for what brings you joy!
Over the past few months, I’ve spoken to several of my friends about how they are coping with this “new normal.” Everyone I know seems to be re-evaluating what’s important to them and trying to figure out where they belong.
I have frequently written about the treadmill mentality. Every day you step on the treadmill and let the belt drive your movement. Sometimes there are so many things coming at you that there’s no time to think, you just have to keep moving…and sometimes it feels like you’re not going anywhere. This covid situation has broken the patterns. Most of us were given forced time to stop.
Now what? The future we planned isn’t there. Those of use who are working artists/teachers are forced to find new ways of working or be unemployed. For some, this is a good thing, because they received the extra push they needed to finally retire or stay home to care for their family.
What I’ve noticed is, creative people don’t stop being creative. They find another way to focus their creativity. Maybe they move into the kitchen and experiment with cooking. Or they change their focus from art quilting to making functional quilts (blankets) for family. How are you coping?
I personally have started pulling out materials in my stash that I haven’t used in awhile. My wool for felting, that I excessively hoarded a few years ago, has become an opportunity to explore and share a fun craft (see my classes at Artworks Vass). I’m also going through craft books that I purchased over the years and revisiting ideas.
Unfortunately, there aren’t any fabric stores within 25 miles from my home. So, I’m forcing myself to use what I have. By reading the books, I’m re-thinking how I buy and use fabric. I’ve become fascinated with mindful repairs and hand stitching. It’s a calming, productive use of time. I’m pondering how I can use these skills going forward. Do I keep them as handy projects to keep me busy while watching TV? Or does it become part of my art form? We shall see.
I have a pretty big to-do list for the next few month. Less computer work and more time in the studio manipulating fabric. I’m looking forward to this change of focus. It’s always a challenge to find the right balance of creativity and business time. Both are equally important to me. For other’s it might be more about finding time in your daily life for your creative outlets.
In my life, I try to include events and activities that encourage my creative being. I don’t want to lose the joy of creating by focusing only on the commercialization of art. I frequently find projects that are just fun. Sometimes I just want to do mindless knitting or sew squares of fabric together for no other reason than just to sew.
Earlier this year, I challenged myself to spend a few minutes every day drawing in a small sketchbook. I didn’t set a specific time limit, but I usually didn’t give it more than an hour. Over the past few days I have been flipping through these sketches. Some I think are ok, others not so much. Some I’m considering making into an art quilt.
If you are a creative person, I think it’s important to find time for your art. It doesn’t have to amount to anything specific. You don’t even have to show it to anyone, if you don’t want to. I just encourage you to find time for it. I promise it will feed your soul.
Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time reflecting on who I am and what I believe. Some things you train to do and some things you just are. I think we are born with certain personality traits and some we learn.
As I reflect on my life, I know I am a scientist. I always have been. As a kid, I would spend all day playing in the yard; picking flowers, looking at bugs, playing with worms, hugging trees and discovering my environment. I also had a passion for art. My mom encouraged me to do arts, crafts and draw. In high school I had a major in art and took several art classes in college. My major in college was environmental science.
My brain is wired for both science and art. I question things. Always at the forefront of my thinking is why did, or do, things happen? But how does that connect with my art? Sometimes I seem both left- and right- brain dominant. Until recently, I never could connect it.
The other day I was watching Quilting Arts TV (episode 2603). Susan Brubaker-Knapp was talking with Lauretta Crites about the creative challenge of making art quits. With art quilts, you sometimes come up with an idea that doesn’t work. So, you have to go back to the drawing board, ponder it awhile and come up with an alternative method to complete your vision. Susan made the comment that this is why she enjoyed making art quilts, because you are always figuring out how to do something. ~ Insert LIGHT BULB moment! ~
It all makes sense. I’m attracted to this form of art because it is a scientific process. I come up with an idea (hypothesis) and try to make it work. I may make a pattern, but my materials may not work as well as I envisioned. Do I go back and try again…or do I continue forward and find another approach. Making art quilts is like doing a science project. I present my idea, compile my methods and materials, and see what results. My final artwork represents the conclusion of what worked and what didn’t. And with this, I discovered why an art quilt is like a science project.
I hope this finds you well. It’s been a rough month for most of us. It’s surreal to think about how life has changed. I’ve been busy doing many things, but my motivation for sewing is lacking. I have reason to be making new art; I’m scheduled to participate in an art exhibit in June 2021. I’m doing a lot of things toward supporting my business but I’m just not creating textile pieces right now. Should I be worried that it feels like I’m procrastinating?
I’m keeping busy working on things. Catching up on computer work, spent a few days making face masks, and working on a few other ideas. But every time, I think about making art my brain seems to say…”nope!…not yet.” Maybe you’re feeling the same way too. One thing that’s helping is that I’m drawing. I set aside time almost every day to sketch. I don’t spend tons of time on this…at the very most an hour. When I sit down to draw, my intent is to sketch things that I’d like to incorporate into my art. Sometimes I work on refining my skills, like trying to draw birds. Other times, I’m trying to sketch an idea that I have that might turn into an art quilt. While sketching, I’m working out new ideas and that’s important.
Most of the time when I create, I have some vision of what I want to make. I sketch it out and then work through the process with fabric. This past month I’ve learned its ok to sketch out multiple ideas and then re-draw and refine them over several sessions. It’s preparation for when I get started stitching. Right now, my ideas (vision) is not clear in my head yet, so I’m “procrastinating” about starting to work with fabric. But then again, I’m not sitting idly by waiting for inspiration. So am I really procrastinating? Sketches are an important part of my process, and I’m seeing this practice as a very helpful.
I often come up with ideas that I’d like to pursue…and then forget about them. In the past, I would jot down the ideas in a list form, but having a visual sketch makes it more realistic. Months from now when I flip through my sketch book, I’ll SEE where I was planning to go with an idea. So, if you’re feeling unmotivated pull out a sketch book and start scribbling. It doesn’t have to be a good drawing or idea…just something you’ve been thinking about. As you work with your new sketch practice, your brain will start processing what you’ve drawn and come up with new ways to approach and idea. The next time you sit to sketch you’ll have a stronger visions to put on paper. So put it on paper, let it age a little and work on the idea some more. Keep at it! I have confidence we’ll both create some amazing art.
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?