Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Making the Hard Choices

The process of art can be a therapeutic and rewarding experience. I often share my own personal experiences of using art to work through difficulties in this very blog.  There is another side of art making that is sometimes not discussed; the side that is full of creative blocks, frustration and questioning oneself.

Sometimes I just want to get to the making.  I wish I could standardize things to take the difficult decisions out of the process.  Figure out the most successful way to get my point across, the basic common steps of the process, and the easiest way to frame each piece. Then I can get to the fun/easy part. But each piece is different, a different application is needed, and thus a decision needs to be made.

Awhile back I had an artist friend who was dealing with some difficult life circumstances.  Knowing how art has helped me, I asked if she was doing any painting. She said that her art had become automized.  She worked on it assembly line style to create a work of art that was cohesive and quicker for production. At that moment I felt so sad for her. Something that could help to give her joy and be used as a way out of the darkness had been lost.

Sure, I would love to get better at my work but not at the expense as to where it becomes too easy. The struggle is where the magic happens. Not only do the hard choices add interest and emotional power to your pieces but they also keep the fire inside alive. I know it is cliché to say it but I truly don't know where I would be if I did not have my art. Trying to make the hard choices easy is when the light in your fire starts to go out.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

A Retreat Inside of Oneself

For my milestone birthday this year, I gave myself the best present I could have ever asked for... I always wanted to go on an art retreat to learn from wonderful instructors and spend my days creating art! I signed up for a week-long retreat with Squam Art Workshops called "Into the Mystic."

What I ended up receiving from this experience was so much more than the creative techniques and art making that I expected.  The gift I received was spending time in the company of the person who I take for granted on a daily basis...myself! Even the art classes were a life lesson. Instructors, Joetta Maue and Colleen Attara embrace the imperfections of creating art.  The art is the process and sometimes letting go can create the most beautiful outcomes.

I would never consider myself a nature girl.  I'm the girl swatting at flies, fighting with humidity, running from bees and covered in mosquito bites. With time seemingly standing still, I naturally slowed down as well. I laid on the hammock with butterflies, coexisted with massive spiders and walked through trails to sit riverside with my journal.

My life  is usually so loud- days are packed with conversations, podcasts fill my daily commute and days off often consist of chores, obligation, planning and "should dos" with art squeezed in between it all. In the mountains in the woods, I loved the quiet sounds of nature. There was no need for constant stimulation. Instead of my non stop inner voice commentary, I was alone with a sense of peace. The should dos became the question, "what do I want to do?"

Now back for over a week, I admit, it is a struggle to keep that inner quiet and peaceful feeling. I find myself craving walks through nature, time to meditate and journal.  By allowing myself the gift of granting these things whenever I can, I find that magical place in myself again.  The skills and lessons learned from that transformative week will stay with me forever. Every single woman that I met on this retreat I love and cherish like family. There is no possible way for me to describe this experience properly-nor do I wish to- doing so would take away some of the magic. It was a personal journey in which I feel extremely grateful to have had.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Studio Mates

Creating art is a personal and often solitary activity.  Being alone with my thoughts and the rhythmic process of stitching is something I not only enjoy but also crave.  However, I would always welcome the company of a furry friend. 

Banyan and Jasper always needed to be the center of attention.  Sometimes it was down right impossible to get anything done with them around! Banyan would insist on creating a nest from anything I was working on.  It was as though he could sense the love that went into each piece.

There was nothing better than having Jasper sit beside me as I stitched. He liked to be nearby and I liked his warm company. His cuteness would make it hard for me to get up which was a positive motivator in crafting productivity.  Last year he couldn't move around too much and I had to settle for him just holding down the studio in a corner while I stitched. 

It has been an extremely hard year without them.  I have missed their company and their little warm bodies beside mine.  Their absence has been much of the inspiration behind my latest quilts.  Time goes on, studio mates change but their presence remains.  Recently, there has been new joy in our lives with the addition of Squirrel and Captain, two tabby kittens.  The energy, playfulness, agility and love that these two kittens exude have offered up a new source of inspiration and companionship.  As much as I look forward to a time when they too can sit by my side while I work on a new project, for now they have to watch from the outside...kittens are way too mischievous for a sewing studio full of pins, needles and threads!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Changing Course

Sometimes when we create, we become married to our ideas...even if our idea isn't working out. I begin a project with a concept first and a design second.  To me, communicating the idea is more of a priority than anything else.

Currently I am working on a piece that is incredibly close to my heart.  The focus of the piece is empty baskets. I used monoprinting to bring in the basket form but my heart was set on creating a three dimensional basket to mount on the piece. I spent hours (and painful wire through skin moments) creating the 3D basket form out of floral wire.  I then strengthened the wires with layers of floral tape. After saving a week's worth of used and dried coffee filters, I added them as my next layer for an aged look. A final basket layer was created using cheesecloth to set the mood. I can't even begin to imagine how long all of this took!  I set the piece aside until the quilting was done and ready for the main event- the basket.

With quilting done, it was time to add the prized basket element.  I tried it in various positions, I tried it upside down. It just wasn't working. The weight of the basket took away from the tactile nature of the fabric.

In the past I have been known to fall in love with a piece or an idea to the point where I lose sight of how it is working compositionally.  I tossed the basket aside into a pile of discarded scraps. For me this was a powerful moment of growth. I did not fear letting go of my time and my original idea- I put the art first. It is important to express your ideas but if can do this with a well thought out design, the idea comes across in a more effective message.

Monday, May 30, 2016

A Very Productive Day at the Lake

It's Memorial Day weekend and the traditional kickoff to summer! With an extra long winter of record breaking snowfall and an extremely cold and wet spring, the warm temperatures are greatly welcomed.

Being the first nice weekend in over a month, it was tempting to stay at home and work on gardening or one of the many other chores that seem to pile up.  As is typical for me, I began the weekend with a post-it note to do list of things I wanted to accomplish.

All of the to dos were tossed aside when my husband suggested a day at the lake. Sometimes the most important thing you can do is nothing at all. To stay creative and to create work that evokes emotion, you must slow down from time to time.  Create space to observe, to breathe, to feel.

I have always sung along to this Fiona Apple song, Waltz (Better than Fine) but never subscribed to its message:

If you don't have a date
Go out and sit on the lawn
And do nothing
'Cause it's just what you must do
Nobody does it anymore
No I don't believe in the wasting of time,
But I don't believe that I'm wasting mine

Instead of viewing the time as being unproductive, it should be viewed as quite essential and necessary.  You never know when that quiet moment in your head will spark an idea.  The color combination of a stroll through your garden can reappear as the color story for a quilt. An interaction seen while observing the company around you will bring about a question in which to answer through paint. The point is that for me, being productive by doing nothing is something I need to remind myself. (and not by putting it on my to do list...)

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Changing Face of Creativity

Lately I find myself on instagram pouring over the #memademayposts and feeling inspired by the creativity.  In case you are not familiar, during the month of May, people post pictures of themselves wearing their hand made items. It can be anything that you made but mostly it's posts of wearable items.

When I first started to sew, it was to make clothing. I always wanted to be a fashion designer long before the days of Project Runway.  I would spend hours picking out my pattern and make myself all types of clothing; from pajama pants to a lined suit!  Once I got to high school I even began making my own patterns.

Somewhere along the way I decided to quilt which then evolved into what I do now-  mixed media stitched art pieces as well as the meditative stitching on the side. I completely lost all desire to sew clothing of any kind.  And now here I am, back to the beginning wanting to make clothes.

Interesting how the desire to create is a constant but the subject matter is ever changing. Our life circumstances play a big role in this. Before I started my own business, time was never an issue. I think that is why doing something precise and structured like pattern making, garment sewing and even quilting was more enjoyable for me.  As my time became more scarce, the desire to be spontaneous and use creating as an escape mechanism took precedence over creating a functional piece of clothing. The meditative stitching grew from a need for more relaxation and balance.

So what does it mean that I want to get back into garment sewing?  It certainly is not due to an abundance of time!  Maybe the answer is not so deep. Sewing today is much different than when I was sewing as a kid.  Prior to the internet, you were limited to the small selection of fabrics at the local fabric shop and patterns from McCalls, Simplicity or Butterick. These days you can buy patterns from unique young indie designers, fabric of any kind from all over the world and see endless pictures for inspiration.  I already have a project in mind.  We will see what happens and if this creative urge sticks!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Just Keep Swimming

One of the most motivational quotes that runs through my head on a regular basis comes from a cartoon. It's hard to believe but Disney Pixar's Finding Nemo offers some of the best advice with that one line.

Just Keep Swimming. It's simple, to the point and easy to remember. In my latest meditative stitching project, I chose these words to stitch. As I come up on a milestone birthday, deal with never ending house projects and manage through life's ups and downs, I try to remember to just keep swimming. Really that is what it's all about. We are all in this together and at different times we have to fight to stay afloat and other times we lead the tide.

Stitching and swimming; it's that repetitive motion- the stroke of your arm as it glides through the water or the motion of your stitch as it pierces the cloth. No matter how busy or stressful your life seems at the moment, taking that time to check back in with yourself slows you down and keeps you going at the same time. Just keep swimming. Just keep stitching.

Monday, March 21, 2016

The Amateur vs the Professional

Last Thursday I headed to the UPS store to pack and ship off a quilt to be included in the Fantastic Fibers exhibit in Paducah for the next two months. I asked a bunch of questions and was assured that everything was ok;  the quilt would be protected, insured and they would include my necessary contract.  I was given a tracking number and they put my art on the table for packing and shipment. I looked back a few times to make sure that I had taken care of everything and to say a few good-byes.  "That's it?  I just leave now?" I left the store without the quilt but with a feeling that I can only compare to dropping my dogs off at the kennel before a long trip.

I thought about my attachment to the piece and what it all meant. I had placed a very high price on it in the off chance that someone would want to buy it.  But then I worried...maybe I should have said it was not for sale?  What if someone did buy it- was I ok with that?

The attachment is not limited to this particular piece. I usually have a very hard time parting with my art. I still think about a particular piece that sold to someone before I was ready to sell it.  I'm grateful that I at least have a picture of it.

One of my favorite books on art and process is "The War of Art" by Steven Pressfield. As much as I enjoyed this book for its motivational qualities, I was surprised when reading it that the author took such an impersonal viewpoint to his work. He separates artists into two distinct categories: the amateur and the professional. One of the qualities he lists as being a professional is this, "We do not overidentify with our jobs. The amateur takes it so seriously it paralyzes him...If we think of ourselves as a corporation, it gives us a healthy distance on ourselves.  We're less subjective."

I once had a very professional artist tell me that my problem was that I fall in love with my art. I can completely understand what he was trying to say and can even agree with it. I don't want to be a corporation. I do fall in love with it. I'm an amateur and I would have to say, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Not Forgotten

There are many reasons to create art. I know that for me,  I do it as a way of expressing myself and sorting through difficult feelings and issues.  The work is not created for sale or for any other reason than the fact that I do it because I have to. This is a statement often made by artists and I completely relate to it.

A few years back, a friend was going through terminal cancer.  She was such a positive person and although honest with me about her illness, I found it hard to talk about.  Her positivity made the severity of the situation difficult to grasp. I felt angry and I felt sad but unable to communicate any of it. I created Goodbye during this time. I can't remember how it took shape, but I distinctly remember sitting on the couch in the middle of a snow storm stitching each line with the dark read thread. I can't necessarily say that it made me feel better, but it did help me in the moments as I worked on the piece.

Not Forgotten is the corresponding piece. It was my attempt to honor the inspiration of the woman that she was, a woman who lived her life with grace, generosity and beautiful confidence. This piece also came about organically.  It was completely intuitive and was a true expression of what I was feeling.

This brings me back to why I create art. When I open my heart without boundaries to the process, the result is honest and powerful.  These two pieces feel as if they were created on their own. They were inside of me and had to come out.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Sit, Sip & Stitch

Sit, Sip & Stitch.  Even just saying those three little words conjures up an irresistible image of calm happiness. This time of the year with winter in full swing, nothing beats a little time on the couch with a blanket, a warm cup of tea and a stitching project.
There is something synonymous about winter and stitching.  During the winter months, Mother Nature can force you to cancel all of your plans and push you into hibernation mode. For a person full of to do lists and a busy schedule, this can be quite frustrating but so very necessary. Similarly, working on a hand stitched project is a slow process. There are no shortcuts to make it happen any faster.  You have to slow down.

Today, as Mother Nature once again forced me to slow down, I resisted the urge to wallow in anxiety about the things that I knew needed to be done at work. I took my time to relax and clear my head while I did my morning meditative stitching. I reminded myself that I can not change the weather and gave myself permission to slow down.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Her Gloves

My grandmother- my Nana Dot, was a happy and strong woman that lived to be almost 95 years old. She was known for her signature drink; the whiskey sour, her family business; The White Swan and her childhood nickname; Giggles. To me, she was responsible for providing me with my favorite childhood tradition...Nana Dot's Christmas Eve party. To be honest, there was nothing innately special about this party other than it was about family, long time traditions and I loved every minute of it!

When she passed away in May, my mom gave me a box of her old aprons, linens, and gloves. I immediately knew that I wanted to commemorate her in some way through stitch using the stories, traditions, and memories that she left behind. I also knew that I wanted it to be a gift to my mom.

The aprons were beautiful and the vintage handkerchiefs were finely stitched but I was drawn to the gloves.  There is something so intimate about a pair of gloves.  The gloves were so carefully cared for that they did not even look worn but I know that at one time or another, her hands were tightly wrapped in this fabric.  Knowing this gave me a mutual sense of sadness and comfort. Stitching these gloves made me feel very close to her.

The stitching isn't perfect, some of the words are hard to read but none of that really matters. Christmas was definitely different this year but there will never be a Christmas that I don't think back to all of the wonderful Christmas Eve parties and remember Nana Dot in her party jewelry, drinking a whiskey sour and hopping around to her big band music.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Reflecting on 2015

I love this time of time of year, when things slow down a bit, and the new year gives a feeling of a fresh start. With this comes reflections and resolutions. In years past, I would spend hours journaling my chosen resolutions with various sub resolutions and large goals. The problem was, it was too many to focus on and halfway through the year I could not even remember one of them.

Maybe I'm getting older and accepting myself more or maybe it has been by trial and error but in the last few years, I have given up on all of those lofty goals. I have taken a more broad approach to it. The overarching theme is just to be a better version of myself. 

Last year my theme was "dream big". And I did. The year brought about many big things...getting married and buying our home, growing my business, starting this blog and sharing more of my own art. By allowing myself to be more open with my art and words; new opportunities have been presented. My life feels more in balance and satisfying.  Looking ahead, I feel excited to continue down this road, to dream big and have the courage to create without self made boundaries and limitations.