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.
The Portrait Project is full! Thanks to everyone who signed up to participate. If you'd like to follow along, please see my Instagram feed. If you'd like to find out more about requesting a custom portrait, go here.
I’m about to start a 6-week long portrait project and I’m inviting you to participate!
You’ll help me to build up a body of portrait work in my own style, with a variety of subjects. In return, you’ll receive a creative, original work of art at a reduced price of about 50% off!
I plan to take on only five portraits for this project, so if you're interested contact me soon, or purchase your spot in the portrait project now. Find all the details below.
Details of what to expect
Each portrait will be of a single subject (one person per piece). I'm requesting full creative license for this project. You’ll need to be okay with letting go and perhaps getting something slightly unexpected.
What Mary will choose:
Price to participate is $150 per portrait (plus tax and shipping, if applicable).
Feel free to contact me with any questions you might have, I'm more than happy to chat with you!
I'm looking forward to working on a wide variety of portrait subjects!
How is it possible that I started working with soft pastels just a short five months ago? I feel such an affinity for this medium. I've been drawing and painting almost continuously since I first asked my son if I could use his broken pastels!
Starting a New Habit
When I began, I decided I'd try to spend about an hour a day getting into the habit of drawing, just for fun, nothing serious. But, silly me, I had no problem starting; instead there were many times when I felt that I couldn't stop. I felt this incomprehensible urge to just keep drawing. It was an amazing feeling; like coming alive again.
Click on the photos below to see each finished piece.
I love this line I heard a while back: "There are no mistakes, there's only data collection." If you look at life as a learning process, you're simply collecting data with each thing you do, and there is no such thing as a mistake. Use what you learn and build upon it, one step at a time. Step one isn't a mistake, it's just the necessary foundation for step two.
So, after creating many scenes of nature, a subject I've always felt comfortable with, I decided to keep an open mind and try drawing people. In the past I never felt comfortable drawing people, but, when there are no mistakes, just learning, there's nothing to lose in trying!
A Commissioned Painting
After my return from the One of a Kind Show in Chicago, it was wonderful to have a commissioned painting waiting to be started. This particular request was very meaningful: it would be a very special Christmas gift for a woman who is honoring her 50th wedding anniversary, five years after the passing of her husband.
What a feeling to be trusted with such an important task. My heart was filled with gratitude and I couldn't wait to begin. The photos I received of the couple showed them dancing at their son and daughter-in-law's wedding nine years ago. I could see such love and joy between the two of them in the candid photos, I immediately knew the painting should impart those feelings.
To accomplish this, I decided the dancing couple would be the whole focus of the painting. I did this in two main ways. First, I highlighted the dancing couple by having the two of them be the only element in the painting that continues into the foreground. Everything else fades away into the background.
Secondly, I decided to include a photographer who was off to the side in one of the reference photos. Including her in the painting worked to my advantage. The viewer's eye first gazes upon the dancing couple at the center, then the viewer's eye is drawn over to the photographer with her camera, which in turn leads the gaze right back to the dancing couple. I love the effect.
The blurry twinkle lights, the guests clapping and watching the couple dance, and the dark night outside the windows, all offer an ambiance of magic to the painting.
I'm pleased to report that the gift was well received! The daughter-in-law sent me this note, "I wanted to let you know the pastel was a success! There were lots of tears, mostly good ... We got a text after everyone had left [on Christmas] letting us know that she will treasure it forever. Thank you again for everything!"
I already have two more commissioned pastels to work on in January. What fun! I will also continue to create textile art, as I am working toward my Jerome Grant Project exhibition in May.
I am really looking forward to the New Year ahead. It is promising to to be a year filled with art and learning! I hope your New Year is wonderful, as well!
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.
I am an artist and designer based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. My specialties are textiles and pastels.