Category: Spirituality

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.

 

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.”

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.”

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.

 

Just keep going, no feeling is final

Today is the last day of 2020 … tomorrow it will all be hindsight (pun intended).

It’s been a challenging year and more so, a challenging month. Forgive my absence. I took some much needed time off to address a few issues in my home and now I’m slowing returning to normal daily operations. But, it’s still not normal… is it?

This year truly has taken a toll on all of us. Some more seriously than others. This time of year I usually reflect on where I’ve been and where I’m heading — but this time it seems more weighted than most. My next moves are being taken with caution. I can’t easily express my emotions and concerns, but I know I have to continue moving. I suspect you feel this too.

The 1st day of January, 2020, I was on a plane heading to an out of state wedding. I had 2 more trips before everything shut down in March. I’m fortunate for the good fortunes in my life, but I’m also sad for all that I’ve lost. I plan to do more self-reflection in 2021. This quote by Rainier Maria Rilke, reflects my feelings best:

“Let Everything Happen to you: Beauty and Terror.
Just keep going, No feeling is Final.”
~ Rainer Maria Rilke

Stay well and have a happy New Year!

Be thankful for all of it

Happy Thanksgiving!
This holiday is a reminder that we’re almost finished with this crazy year. YES!

Have you tried to look through your photos from last year? This photo was taken a year ago at a quilt guild were I was lecturing and teaching. Looking at it I realize this was the last time I did an in-person lecture.

I look back at my photos and feel bombarded with emotions. I was appearing on Quilting Arts TV and published in their magazine. I had work in an art gallery that was selling. I was teaching classes and lecturing. I was also feeling emotionally fit and physically strong. I was enjoying life traveling, going on vacation and seeing family (something I haven’t done very much in my life). Life was good.

If I could go back in time a year ago, what would I tell myself about the future. Although I’m sad about all the disappointments that happened this year, I can only think to say “be thankful.” I’m thankful for my health and a loving supportive husband. I’m thankful for my talents and passion for textile arts, because sometimes it’s the only thing that keeps me moving. I’m thankful I can continue to laugh, sing (not well…but that’s not the point!) and I can adapt to new situations. I’m also thankful for you! Thank you for continuing to read these posts and support my art. I appreciate you!!

As we reflect on what has been and what is yet to come, let’s be thankful for all of it.

 

 

Godspeed

“Contemplation (Lesser Goldfinch)” – 2020 by Nanette S. Zeller

If you’ve been following me for awhile, you may remember my quilt “Goldfinch in My Garden” that I sent to Sacred Threads Backyard Escapes exhibit last year. The call for entry asked for an 18″x 24″ art quilt that, once accepted, would be used to display in hospital galleries. The “Goldfinch” was accepted and slated to travel to International Quilt Festival in Long Beach, Ca. this spring… well, it was … until Covid-19 forced a shutdown of all major quilt exhibits. This was (as we all have experienced this year) a disappointment for me … Until …

About two months ago, Lisa Ellis (Sacred Threads curator) contacted me and 12 other artists from Backyard Escapes. She asked if we could re-create a similar piece for a permanent installation in the newly renovated INOVA Schar Cancer Institute – Fair Oaks (in Fairfax, VA), Radiation Oncology department.

OF COURSE!!! What an honor!

I frequently make line-drawing patterns of my designs to use for my fusible applique work. So, I had a pattern for this quilt. The challenge was the dimensions. Instead of being rectangular, the new quilt needed to be larger and square (30″ x 30″). I definitely had to make a few modifications…see the original version here

Luckily!!! I still had one yard of the gorgeous background fabric. And after an intensive Internet search, I was able to score one more yard as backup. I love this fabric! If you know fabric, you know designer quilting fabrics are usually produced for one year and then retired…forever. Fortunately, I was able to make the new quilt without needing to use my coveted backup yard (note: I’m now hoarding it until another worthy project develops).

Last week I sent it on it’s way to it’s new forever home. It makes me emotional to think about where it is going. My family has been deeply affected by cancer. I think of each of them when I think of this quilt. I hope “Contemplation”, along with the 12 other quilts, provides comfort to the patients and families as they travel their journey of healing. Godspeed…

 

Smile with our eyes

Life feels weird right now. Most of the time I go through my day without thinking about what is different than it used to be. Things become routine and you don’t think about them anymore. But, yesterday I felt gobsmacked.

I was scrolling through social media and stumbled on a video produced by the Virginia Quilt Museum. Like most museum and art galleries these days, they have produced virtual tours of their art exhibits ( www.vaquiltmuseum.org/virtual-tours ).  They recently produced a video tour of their Eye Contact exhibit. Eye Contact was originally produced for the 2019 Sacred Threads Exhibit and is now touring.

I watched this sweet video, with its serene music, while intently looking for my eyes. As I watched the artwork scroll across my screen, I couldn’t help feel sad. There’s irony here. When I made this quilt, I didn’t think about what it really meant. At the time, it was just an exercise in creative play and didn’t have much meaning to me.

While I was traveling early last year, I notice how my pupils looked square in our hotel so I took a photo. I take lots of photos of non-significant things. Sometimes they inspire me. And truly, this photo inspired me to work on a quilt to send to Eye Contact. When I see it, I think of traveling. Last year was a very fun year of travel for me.

Yesterday, while I watched the video and saw all these eyes scrolling past me, I was reminded of where I was in time. For one, no travel plans for me for while. That’s all been cancelled. And, when I go out in public, I no longer see faces on the people I meet. Instead, I see a mask and above that I see their eyes. While watching the video, I felt like I was seeing mask covered faces.

It was a peculiar experience thinking how a little more than a year ago we were in a different place. Back then, I would have never expected the Eye Contact exhibit to reflect our future, but it has. It’s poignant, and a little bit sad. I’m honored to be a part of this exhibit. It definitely means more to me now. When I created my eyes, I was unexpectedly looking into the future.

Now when I’m out in public, I frequently wonder if my mask-faced smile is worth the effort. Will anyone see it? My friends remind me that indeed … we do smile with our eyes.|

 

 

Lyric Kinard and Sue Bleiweis are hosting the free Global Quilt Connection. If you’re looking to hire virtual teachers for classes or lectures, this is the place to start. This live event will introduce you to 90 instructors, shared through 3 meet-the-teacher virtual presentations. Learn more at Global Quilt Connection. You can see me Wednesday, September 2, 2020 from 4-6pm EST.

Priority and ritual

When you wake up in the morning, what drives you to get out of bed? My drive comes from a feeling of purpose. Each morning I awake with the need to get the dogs out and fed. They have an internal alarm clock and we have developed a ritual which requires my participation.

Having purpose keeps us going. Without purpose, we tend to flounder. Whether our purpose is developed from internal needs (e.g., eating) or external obligations (e.g., job), it provides direction and guidance into how to proceed each day.

Finding purpose can also relate to how we embrace making art.  Sometimes creative purpose can just be a strong feeling of “I want to make this.” Other times, you might need to create something for a gift or maybe to sell.

When other obligations have higher priority in our lives, our creative time may be neglected. Highly creative people need to find balance. When we reduce are creative time, we can develop symptoms of depression, like feeling tired or sad. Our purpose is creating and when it’s missing we feel it emotionally.

It’s OK to feel this way. Sometimes life gets crazy and there’s little time to make art. But, it’s also important for creatives to carve out time for our art. Look at your calendar, find a block of time, set a date, and leave yourself written reminders. Give this gift to yourself, you deserve it. And just like your reason for getting out of bed, if you believe creativity has purpose in your life, then it also needs priority and ritual.