In one episode of the podcast Hidden Brain, host Shankar Vedantam describes a theory called the edge effect, which is the point where two ecosystems adjoin. It's at this location that the most new life forms are created.
Shankar then asks the question: "What could happen when strangers meet?" He explains that interesting things can happen when people from different cultures, backgrounds, and points of view, work together. Just like the edge effect between ecosystems, innovation is more likely to occur when diverse ideas come together. Diversity and creativity go hand in hand.
Photos of "The Edge Effect" in progress.
I've found that I can use the concept of the edge effect on an individual level to spark creativity in my art practice and my life. Simply by doing something different, trying something new, listening to another point of view, or putting uncertainty into my day, can cause a spark of creativity. Trusting that spark and seeing where it takes me is a challenging, but satisfying thing to try. In the past year, I've used these concepts to break things and start anew.
It is scary and uncomfortable to step into the unknown. But it's also exciting. And it's amazingly gratifying to come out the other side and see how you've grown!
Everyone has a desire to be comfortable and safe, but the most interesting things can happen when you allow yourself to be uncomfortable. Open your mind to possibility. Be curious.
Opening Reception for the Exhibition 'Orient, Disorient, Repeat'
Images of My Work at the Exhibition
Photography by Rik Sfarra
Thank you to everyone for coming to the opening reception! If you missed it, you can see the exhibition through July 27, 2019.
Yesterday I wrote down a sentence I heard Joshua Johnson say on the radio: "How you see the world depends on where you look." It's a timely quote for me.
Personally, I think we probably need them all. Who is to choose which ones we don't need? Everyone has a different viewpoint. Everyone has a different opinion.
I hope to see you there! I'll be more than interested in hearing your viewpoint.
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
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.
- Jerome Project Fiber Grant
- Textile art
- Pastels: drawing and painting
- Making money
- Taking a break from making “products”
- Feeling free to be creative
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
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.
Actually, sorting out all of this has accomplished exactly what I wanted when I originally wrote my grant proposal last May:
“My main goal in asking for this grant is that it would allow me the opportunity to step away from my product-based business and have dedicated, uninterrupted time to work on my studio art practice. The possibility of having the freedom of time to get my ideas out of my mind and onto my “canvas”, so to speak, is very exciting.”
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.
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.
"There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort."
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.
"What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?"
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.
"Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties."
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.
"What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness."
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.
“Expectations are blindfolds. They come from thinking that we need to be somewhere other than where we are. Start working right now, from the immediate place, with the feelings you have at the moment.”
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."
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 may even break things more often.
Generally, I think about ideas for weeks or months before I begin a project. I used to feel odd about the fact that I don’t do a lot of sketching before I start, but I’ve come to terms with it. That’s just not the way I work. Instead, I turn ideas over in my head for a long time. I let ideas come to me when I’m on a run or when I’m lying in bed, and I only rarely sketch.
As for color selection, I take quite a bit of time to find the right color combinations for a project. My fabrics are to me like paints are to a painter; my color palette. I really enjoy coordinating each project’s color scheme.
After I chose the blues I wanted for this project, I cut the fabrics into strips. I decided to create two slightly different patterns with the same colors so I could explore my interest in contradictions with this work.
For one of the patterns I cut narrow blue strips and placed them between wider gray strips. For the other pattern I did the opposite: wide blue strips and narrow gray. I sewed all the strips together and ironed them flat.
At that point, I had to set the project to the side. It wasn’t until February that I was able to take it up again.
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.
With my rotary cutter and straight edge, I began to slice the striped patterns into strips of varying sizes. I arranged and rearranged these strips into a new pattern. As usual, I ran out of table space and had to use my studio floor.
I worked to create two interwoven, slightly contradictory, and alternating patterns to represent two views of the world being held simultaneously. As the arrangement came together, I took my seam ripper and broke up the strips into smaller pieces. I added more details, including a touch of contrast with the color yellow.
Once I was pleased with the arrangement, I started to sew everything together. I like to be very precise in my work and this took a fair amount of time.
I carefully lined up each strip of fabric with the next one and pinned them together. Then I sewed, and ironed, and continued on to the next strip with pinning, and sewing, and so on.
When all the strips were sewn together, I added a wide fabric border. The final step was to stretch it over a canvas wrapped wooden frame. Then the piece was finished!
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.
An unexpected year of sharks reinforced the idea that there is no path, you make the path as you go. But, it's also gotten me thinking. Yes, sometimes it's a good idea to ride the wave when it's coming in. But, maybe other times it's wiser to go against the flow. In order to make progress on my art, I may need to be more mindful to stay on task this year.
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.
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.