Sunday, April 11, 2010

Winging It

Time to develop creative ideas always seems to be in short supply. Actually finding enough time in the day, week or month frequently is a premium commodity all too often. I think, we have become victims to the intensity of the noise around us, which tends to agitate us rather than inspire us. We read of others’ success and great accomplishments, and wonder, What’s wrong with me?

The perceived lack of adequate time pushes the artist to run into the studio and just start flinging supplies around hoping something wonderful will come out of the chaotic frenzy. Plowing full steam ahead may lead to spending time and money on a project that once finished, may be very disappointing. Trying new techniques and approaches without the benefit of experience and, yes, practice, can be fun and exhilarating but expecting awe- inspiring results can be deflating and anything but great. There’s nothing wrong with playing with your favorite supplies just to see what happens, but winging it is not recommended as a full time pursuit. One of my favorite sayings is, Winging it can be an artist’s best friend or their worst enemy.

I am one of those people, who will try-out, rehearse a new technique or a new art supply just to see what happens. Can I use it in my art? Is it a viable alternative to some method I know and use frequently? Will the technique accomplish what I envision for an image? Mostly, do I understand and appreciate the tar pit I may fall into if I use this technique?

Consequently, I make small samples before incorporating a new idea into a larger work. My example is Feather and Dot, 9" x 12". The smaller portion is 4" x 6½" and is the results of experimentation with a new supply in my arsenal. I like using tulle netting as shadows in my pictorials. I read about spraying tulle netting with "505® Spray and Fix", a temporary fabric adhesive, to position a single layer of tulle. I needed to know does it work? And, is it easier than another method of attaching netting? Yes, and the one pitfall is, the netting remained sticky to the touch for a very long time. Until the adhesive evaporates on tulle netting, it will attract dust, bits of thread and, I suppose flies and mosquitoes, although that did not happen.

The lessons learned were the advantages and disadvantages using 505® spray on some textiles. Making a small sample meant I didn’t lose 10 days on a larger piece because of tacky tulle netting. I also learned to place whatever I wish to spray with
505® in the bottom of a cardboard box to contain the spray droplets from lending stickiness to other nearby surfaces. It has its uses, is a great product, but one must read and follow carefully the instructions on the label.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Pattern Envelope Contents

Because I am preparing for an art gallery show in July, and also working towards having an entry to meet the May deadline for the annual Houston show, the clasp envelopes I use to keep everything in order are the only "control" I have over potential chaos. When completed, each file goes into a file cabinet.

The question may be what kinds of items go into each envelope?

Using Badlands as an example that I have just pulled from my file cabinet, I open the labeled envelope and find not only the Master Pattern, but also, I discover small sketches of the beadwork pattern used on the jacket and the experiments I made to create the faux beadwork. A deadline prevented me from
learning genuine beadwork, which is taught locally by Native American artisans who learned from their grandmothers. Neatly folded are the tracing paper template patterns I followed of various sections in the master design. There is a small practice swatch of a border quilting design I did use. Each piece serves to remind me what occurred during the process.

For current work, I will place in its envelope a sample swatch of each fabric selected & glued to a recycled shirt cardboard, and the tracing paper template from which each piece is cut from freezer paper. I do not cut up the tracing paper template because I need it to keep an accounting of what has been done. Rather I make a freezer paper copy that is cut apart to make each fabric piece. If I am interrupted by another concern, when I come back that traced pattern serves to help focus me where I need to be without spending time matching and comparing, wondering and spinning wheels. The full size master pattern is on a wall and does not come down until the work is completed. It, too, is my reference guide throughout the work.

Another bonus for keeping envelopes is I love sorting through any envelope because I will discover notes written to me so I would not forget flashes of ideas during the building of a wall hanging. Revisiting former designs provide me with reminders of possible titles I conjured up in the middle of cutting or stitching. Ideas are written on a scrap of paper or on the Master Pattern. There may also be an address or a quote I heard on the TV or radio. Who knows what I will find on any piece of documentation? Occasionally, it can be down right hilarious to see the notes I wrote to myself, which leads me to ask another question, What in the world were you thinking, Carol?

The clasp envelopes are my documentation of each work that I create. If I ever wish to piggyback from a former work and use an element in a different manner in a new work, I can open any envelope and find the starting point. I can read my notes of inspiration to cheer me forward to completion of an original idea with a different viewpoint. Or, I can be reminded of pitfalls I may have encountered along the way. Either discovery is highly useful.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

My Patterns File

When I speak of My Patterns, these are not sale items but are a collection of all the paperwork involved with my artwork carefully filed in one place. One element of my organization plan, which is rated very high on my list of necessary things-to-do, is the careful keeping track of and containing all the bits and pieces of each new project from the beginning sketches to its conclusion. My system is fairly easy and goes far towards keeping track of stuff especially in the middle of the designing debris and chaos. It is most helpful during those times when I am designing and working on more than one idea, doing what I call ‘leap-frogging’ from one project to another. Who does not work on more than one task? The brain becomes tired with concentrating on only one design challenge at a time.

Each artwork begins with rough sketches as I try to capture the essence of an idea. As I zero in on the plan and begin to expand the concept, I will pull out a crisp, new 9 x 12 clasp envelope to make ready for containing all the bits and pieces: sketches, procedural notes to myself, and anything having to do with the design at hand. As time marches forward, the envelope is labeled and filled so nothing is lost because of chaotic studio effort. If the project is extra large in size, a 2nd envelope is started for the master pattern and any related sections used to make templates.

When the title for the art is determined, it is written on the envelope, and eventually a listing of contents is added for quick future reference. Each envelope is placed in alphabetical order in a metal filing cabinet, where each creative endeavor can ‘talk’ to one another about their high-ho times in my studio. Yes, my imagination tells me, that the envelopes start whispering to one another after I close the drawer.

This filing cabinet is important because I am able to return to artworks done years ago, open an envelope to refresh my working memory of any project. What did I learn from it? I have also on occasion borrowed from past work to launch a new and different one. I call it piggybacking, which makes further use of a great deal of designing effort performed earlier. I do not always have to re-invent the wheel with every new creative tasking.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Inner Voices?

I appreciate musings about how to find the inner voice because it implies there really are voices that whisper motivational messages into the inner sanctum, which force the creation of superb examples of artistic talent. Oh, what if I do not hear the voices? What is wrong with me? And, if I hear conflicting advice from the sanctified ramblings, am I ready for the funny farm? The simple answers are: Don't worry...Nothing, and...Maybe, yes.

Let us become a little more realistic about that inner spirit each of us possess. Is one suppose to actually feel its presence, guidance and influence? The voice you are suppose to hear is YOURS, you are the Muse, and not some ethereal spirit waving a magic wand over your head. In order to tap into that part of your being, you have to give it space, quiet and freedom to do the back-flips you expect.

Your Muse requires frequent feeding, something like fertilizer we spread upon the flower beds to make the blooms pop open. A complete Muse fertilizer may have a variety of ingredients: Books, music, time alone, silence, sleep, change of scenery, nutritious food, sensual contact, moving at a snails pace as in slow down. The special ingredients are a little different for each of us. For me, in addition to the ones already listed, a glass of a very good wine, and the daily walks with my dog and husband are important. Ho-hum? Not at all, such things provide needed diversion for my Muse.

My Muse requires time and space for massaging the ideas and influences that may contribute to the really big idea worthy of my time and effort. She does rebel when overloaded with too many expectations, and she will shut down, go flat and stall. For many artists, we are our own worst enemy, in a sense, because we place such demands upon our Muse. We beat on her, expecting instant results, inspiration and blinding insight. We demand she run the marathon, meet the deadlines, weave fabric into golden panels, crank out those pieces of art to inspire awe from the public, and to keep up the frantic pace. Our personal Muses are often overworked with no time allocated to recuperate, repair and prepare for the next round of creative activity. We provide little time for getting anything in order and expect everything to be sensational. And, when it does not happen, we think "there is something wrong with me".

For those having a problem with kick-starting your Muse, give yourself permission to take a break to refresh yourself and your Muse that so much is depended upon. She's in there, she's just tired and needs a vacation from her benefactor. Or, perhaps she needs a boost with another plan of attack, another perspective, or a re-evaluation of the other priorities that weigh on the creative processes.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Trumpets of Spring

In my past posting, I mentioned the yellow crocus that had survived the ice storm, and announced that the jonquils have bloomed. This cluster is ever faithful and poked up through the dark brown soil when I needed a boost in spirits the most. How can anyone be a grump when she spies the resounding joys of jonquils? These perky blooms are the ones I used last spring as inspiration for one piece in my garden series last year.

Back Fence Conversation

This time of year, there are many articles written offering help on many topics. Recently, I read an article about recommendations for starting home improvement projects and was struck by how similar the suggestions were to what I generally follow when creating my pictorial art.

Plan-Plan-Plan. Winging it can be an artist’s best friend or the worst enemy. Acknowledge the difference. Establishing goals and milestone markers fall under this idea, too.

Spousal support. No one needs a spouse laying cinderblocks on your creative path, stopping forward moment. Frequently, a spouse views these creative impulses as silly until the first works are sold, then suddenly, the light goes on and understanding is reached, as in "You can actually make money doing this stuff?"

Ask for Help. Plowing ahead can ruin some great projects. Asking for help does not mean you are committed to following that help or direction. Example: I ask my husband frequently what he thinks of a new idea I have or what he sees during the initial stages of a new work. I also tell him up front that the question does not require him to make a decision or take action. It is just talk, feedback that I need, and I may not follow his advice. He has learned to understand what I am asking and does not sulk when I ignore his opinion or suggestions. No spouse? Establish a small support group of artist friends to handle this concern.

Be realistic. Do you want to invest the time and money? Do you have the skills to do the project? If not…

Develop the Skills you need. Take classes and workshops. Read. Research. Experiment. Do the baby steps that will advance your mastering of skills and techniques required to reach the anticipated end results. This step also has great long-term benefits because an artist’s next project will be better than the last one.

Create a Budget. Determine the limits you are willing to spend if you have a tight budget. This is simply making the most of limited resources in order to reach the artistic goal. This may also suggest that conflicting budgetary demands may require re-evaluation and family cooperation. Where can I save money elsewhere so that I have the resources for the new projects? Again, be realistic, focus and be choosy about the next effort.

Create a Materials list. Identifying the supplies needed in advance of starting a new work will reduce wasted time rounding up stuff, trips to the store, or waiting for the arrival of postal delivery. This step also saves money.

Buy the right tools. This suggestion is not meant to provide the go-ahead to buy more tools. Rather, it means having the correct tools for specific tasks that the project requires, which eliminates frustration, poor workmanship and possibly on-the-job accidents. Invest in good quality tools, the best that you can afford. You may have to be patient and save up for the quality. You will have them a very long time and you will be happier.

Take care of the tools. Properly clean, repair, sharpen, oil, and put away carefully at the end of usage means those tools will be available the next time. I still use paintbrushes that I bought 30 years ago because I bought the best I could afford, and carefully cleaned them every time I use them. I wipe off my good scissors, periodically clean the rotary cutter, and have my sewing machines routinely serviced.

Measure Twice. Cut Once. Carpenters know this mantra–by–heart because it reduces waste and mismatched seams. If one is an artist that free–cuts and doesn’t like measuring anything, this tip may simply suggest that paying attention to what you are doing may eliminate the pain and suffering of not meeting the expectations.

Be safe as you work. Developing good work habits may spare the artist injury from inhalation of toxic fumes, from the tools and from the lack of concentration as you are working. Be aware of your surroundings and what you are doing to protect yourself, but also to shield little children and perhaps your pets that share your workspace. If your mind is wandering, stop and do something else.

My final word of advice is:


A cluttered workspace leads to muddled thinking and chaotic working, which interrupts the workflow in general.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Alliance for American Quilts

This past week I was honored to be interviewed for the project called, "S.O.S.–Save Our Stories: The Alliance for American Quilts. I was interviewed by Karen Musgrave who asked me to share a photo of my quilt, Prairie Thunder, for the archives, and to discuss my work: what inspires me, what is my creative process for making my textile artwork, how did I become interested in quilts and other personal insights. I was also asked to provide my views on other quilt-related topics, such as the meaning of quiltmaking in women's history.



Prairie Thunder, 67" x 54" (in a private collection)

Knowing that I am one among 1,000 participants-to-date in this program, I was highly complimented by the invitation and thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity. To realize that my words and my voice have been archived for use by people conducting research, and I suppose, by those who may be curious, is a humbling thought. I am grateful.