I broke things.
It didn't seem like something I'd do. But it felt right.
Since late summer I've been experimenting. Drawing and painting, trying new things, and reveling in the freedom of it all. I've felt this amazing ability to let go of the guilt one usually gets when not doing what one is "supposed to be doing".
I’ve felt taken over by creativity, and I’ve allowed myself to let it happen. It's been a gift.
But, I've got responsibilities, timelines, goals, and a Fiber Art Project Grant. The free-wheeling can’t continue indefinitely. Which, I'm not going to lie, has been a tough fact to face.
Fitting the Broken Pieces Together – in a New Way
For a while I actually thought I would have to give up on my textile art. It was simply too hard to pull myself away from drawing and painting with pastels. That amazing feeling of flow that I’ve been experiencing when I draw and paint, has been a true siren call.
I reminded myself that it wouldn't be in my own best interest to not complete what I had set out to do. Also, did I really want to give back the $5,000 I received for the Project Grant? Did I really want to tell the wonderful people who awarded me that money that I was giving up?
Not at all.
What I needed to do was pick up all the pieces I broke and figure out a new way to put them together. A way that would work for me now, in my new place.
I got serious and wrote down a daily routine for myself that would allow me to fit in all the parts.
The Ah-ha! Moment
Writing it down was the easy part. As I struggled to start my new routine, I realized something huge. The fiber work was feeling really hard. Not because I didn’t like it anymore. No; but because in my mind it felt scary. Unlike when I created textile art in the past, this time the stakes are high: I have a Grant, an upcoming Exhibition, and Very Important People to please and impress.
The pastel work, on the other hand, is just for me. It has an experimental feeling and there are no stakes.
I realized that I needed to take the pressure off my textile work. I didn't want to get started on it again because it felt so risky and I was having a fear of failure. So, using what I learned from my research on creativity – in fact, exactly what got me started on pastels – I decided to re-frame things in my head.
I told myself, the next textile piece I made would be a warm-up. Like when you’re learning a new card game and the first round you play is just to get the rules figured out. No pressure; just explore. Plus, you know that Picasso quote: “Inspiration exists, but it has to find us working.” I needed to get to work.
And what do you know. For two weeks now, I’ve had my new routine working. That first week, I created a piece of textile art that I don’t know how I feel about. It’s not so great – but who cares, it was only for practice. The real point of that piece was that it helped me get into the new routine.
I’ve started to realize these seemingly disparate undertakings are all part of my year-long Jerome Project Grant. All of it: researching creativity, breaking my routine, experiencing the freedom of the pastel work, the challenge of getting back to textile work, discovering the necessity of a new routine.
Actually, sorting out all of this has accomplished exactly what I wanted when I originally wrote my grant proposal last May:
I’ve gone through all of this to discover my new studio art practice. Wow.
I'm starting to settle into my new routine. It includes both textile art and pastel painting. Things are flowing easier. I’m feeling inspired by both mediums. In fact, every day I feel like pinching myself because I can hardly believe I got what I wished for: a studio art practice.
It feels good.
Human beings are a confusing species. There is such a duality to us. Consider the two opposing human desires of predictability and exploration. How is it that a species can desire both? They are opposites. But yet, they must be two sides of the same coin, because we do.
On one hand, we love to fit things into boxes. We want simple explanations; we want there to be absolute answers, we want things to be black and white. We like predictability. It makes it easy for our brains to process information if we can quickly name it and file it away.
It is comforting and comfortable to live with the known.
Contrast that with the human desire for exploration. Humans crave the new. We love to learn, make discoveries, and explore the vast unknown. We like a challenge. We are curious beings. We strive for creativity and originality.
There is joy to be found by stepping into the unknown.
So, there’s a dichotomy. We want to feel comfortable; comfort is such a warm and cozy feeling. As for the unknown, there is discomfort there. There is fear: of uncertainty, of failure, of insecurity; there is stress.
It doesn’t make sense to always be outside of your comfort zone. It would be utterly stressful to never have the comfort of the known. It also doesn’t make sense to always be comfortable. Boredom, perhaps even regret, is sure to follow.
It can’t be one or the other. In fact, I think it’s actually the contrast between the known and the unknown that is most beneficial to us. We can’t have one without the other, because it's the contrast itself that provides the enjoyment. If there is too little contrast, what is life but monotony?
We need to allow ourselves to go through the uneasiness of the unknown, so that we can find the delight of discovering new things; about ourselves, about our world. Once we push ourselves through this discomfort, the unknown is unknown no longer. We will find our minds expanded and we will become comfortable with this new way of being.
Then we can begin again. Push and expand, understand and relax. Both, and.
Although I've always loved creating art, I feel stiff and scared whenever I try new art materials. I have a fear of not knowing what I'm doing and I worry that I'm doing it wrong and it won't turn out. In fact, I haven't tried any new art materials in quite a while. I think it's because I have this preoccupation with the final result.
Currently, I'm researching creativity for my grant project and I've been doing a lot of reading on the subject. In the book Trust the Process: An Artist’s Guide to Letting Go, author Shaun McNiff urges us to be playful with new art materials. He wants us to simply see what the materials can do without an expectation of the final result.
He says, "We do not have to know where we're going at the beginning of the creative act. People who control the work in advance are pushing against the grain of creation, so no wonder there are feelings of inhibition and emptiness."
The other day my son dropped his pristine set of chalk pastels and was utterly devastated. In that moment, I had a flashback to my own childhood urges to keep everything perfect. I thought, what was the point in keeping all those art materials looking new?
So I asked my son if I could use his broken pastels.
I found some black paper and I sat myself out in my backyard. It was a lovely summer evening and I sat for a minute and watched the bumble bees buzzing on my coneflowers. My daughter's interest was sparked, and she sat down next to me and asked for paper. We both started drawing. We chatted. We broke the pastels even more.
It was just right: she was without self-consciousness and I felt the same. We were in the moment and it was playful and relaxing.
I can already see that during the process of this grant project I'm going to be doing more than creating fiber art. I'm giving myself permission to let go of expectations. I'm going to explore new art materials and simply play.
I may even break things more often.
My latest work of textile art “Two Views” got its start back in September when I had been making an overabundance of sharks and I needed a creative break. It wasn’t in my schedule, but I pulled out some fabrics and decided to work on something different for the day.
I do a lot of ruminating on philosophical ideas. I like to consider things like: what makes us human, how society works, and the intricacies of human relationships. I also love to learn about the latest science on the human brain.
When I took out the two blue patterns five months later, I had been thinking extensively about the concept of reality. Everyone is different. Our upbringings and our unique life experiences are like filters, and it is through these filters that we understand the world. I like to ponder if there is an actual true Reality when we are all looking at the world in so many different ways.
In his book The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen wrote, "Life has a kind of velvet luster. You look at yourself from one perspective and all you see is weirdness. Move your head a little bit, though, and everything looks reasonably normal." I find this idea fascinating. I frequently notice that I hold two seemingly contradictory feelings or thoughts or views at the same time. I decided to explore these ideas further as I worked with the two slightly different blue striped patterns.
Most of the time, I don’t have a predetermined design that I’m working to create. Likewise, for this project I used the process of cutting and arranging to lead me to the final design. This way of working can itself be a contradiction since it's both exciting and nerve-racking to work when the outcome is unknown. I have to do a lot of stepping back and looking and thinking during the process.
I think this artwork would look wonderful framed in a modern white float frame. Its complex, yet soothing pattern, simple straight lines, and beautiful blues will bring a sense of calm and interest to any space.
You can see this piece in person at the upcoming American Craft Council Show in St. Paul, April 20 - 22, 2018. I'll be in booth 510.
As always, please feel free to contact me with questions.
I started last year with intentions of spending a whole lot of time exploring my new love: wall art. I got through the winter and the spring creating new works and exploring new ideas. It was thrilling!
I made my first sale of wall art at the American Craft Show in April, where I was also awarded the Award of Excellence in Booth Design. Things were looking good! Then, my handbag line got picked up by the prestigious Walker Art Center's gift shop, as well as the UptownMN shop in the MSP Airport. I was so happy!
And then came mid-summer. Unexpectedly, the year turned into (cue the Jaws theme music: dun dunnnnnn, dun dun dunnnnnnn... ) The Year of the Shark.
At the end of July, with a single day's warning, Etsy chose to feature my 'Out to Sea' Shark Bite Pouch on their front page.
This launched a tidal wave of orders!
Only a few weeks into the feature, I was booked with 12 weeks worth of work! At that point, I removed all Shark Bite pouches from my Etsy shop to stem the tide of incoming orders.
As Autumn rolled around, I was ready to stop making sharks and get back to my explorations of art.
My favorite retailer, Uncommon Goods, was looking to get in on the shark action! After a smattering of small orders, they suddenly placed an order for 120 sharks (!) in November. I almost told them, "No thanks, I've had enough of sharks for the year." But, I challenged myself to take the order and completed 120 sharks in just three weeks.
That comes out to about 5 months worth of working on sharks full-time!
What got me through such an intensive amount of time creating sharks? Well, it was helpful to have a vacation to look forward to!
I ended the year with a much needed break: a family dream-vacation in Maui, Hawaii.
Although, I didn't see any sharks, I did see: humpback whales, eels, an octopus, sea turtles, manta rays, and loads of fish and coral!
I went scuba diving, surfing, snorkeling, whale watching, and spent plenty of time swimming in the sea and exploring the island. It was wonderful.
Now I'm back in my studio, thinking about the year ahead. I plan to make some changes. I'm ready to make this year The Year of Exploring Textile Art. And so that it doesn't get away from me again, I'll have to do things a little bit differently.
I think sharks will need to take a back burner if I want to make progress on my art.
First, however, I have an order of 30 sharks to complete...
Happy New Year!
I didn't do anything with that one piece at the time, and it fell to the bottom of the pile on my side table. But the idea of creating wall art grew on me. Throughout the fall my mind was full of ideas. Color combinations I wanted to work with swirled around in my head.
I couldn't take action at the time; holiday shows and orders took precedent and I had to wait until the new year to start exploring my ideas. But once my time freed up, I went all in -- and for the past few months, I've been wholeheartedly enjoying the process of assembling textiles into arrangements of pattern and color.
Creating larger works, without the constraints of turning them into handbags, has allowed me to explore so many ideas.
I've been able to think about how to create the look of movement with arrangements of fabric.
I've been enthralled with exploring the idea of opposites, especially at a time of such polarization in our country.
There is a lot more that I want to do. In fact, it seems that I have an over-abundance of ideas for color combinations and patterns that I want to work with. I especially want to think more about how opposites can work together. And I don't want to stop making more.
I hope to see you there!
I am an artist and designer based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. My specialties are textiles and pastels.
I also enjoy reflecting on the human condition.
In my blog, I write about my musings and my art.
Find my bio here.