Things are getting more and more eccentric at Casa de la Swain. Changing styles in my textile work, falling in love again with painting and photography...and then there is the ever illusive quest for continuing creativity through working with Eric Maisel. Still on the road teaching, posting now at the Ragged Cloth Cafe and taking the pledge to keep handmaiden up to date.

Sunday, November 27, 2005


As the year draws to an end, we usually reflect on the experiences of the past 365 days. What would we like to pursue, what would we have done differently, exciting and moving experiences that we shared with others or experienced alone. Warning: You can tell already that I am about to do one of my life unexamined speeches. Stop now if you aren't in the mood.

Instead of doing all the normal end of year reflections, I have chosen to turn my life upside down and inside out. It is time for transitions. The first transition, of course, is in my already well taken care of...don't call momma to get them out of trouble any more. Why make a transition in your work if you are experiencing a modicum of success? Why make a change in work that comes easily to you? Crank it out over and over in the same formula, get into shows and "make a name" for yourself. Answer: Exactly that, you are doing formulaic work that requires no thought, all looks the same and holds no meaning. By that I mean, you aren't investing yourself in your work. It is safe and comfortable but empty. Where is the artist in this work? What part of the artist has been revealed to the viewer?

So, in that vein, you may not be seeing much new work from me for a while. I have made a conscious decision to push myself out of my comfort zone into unknown territory. IMHO, art is meant to be evocative (we have discussed this before), but also it should come from some inner exploration of the artist. It doesn't not have to be political or socially revelant, but it must be infused with the spirit of the artist. Artist are the soul of our society; if we don't do anything but mass produce imagery, we are leaving society in a void of commercial, it looks good over the sofa concepts.

For the past few years, I have been trying to express my feeling about our environment, how delicate the balance is between man and nature. Occasionally, I have succeeded in this endeavor; often, it has just been make another leaf quilt. I do not want to be absent from my work, mindlessly working without intention just to get another quilt done. I want to be fully involved in making meaning....looking inward and bringing this out visually.

This is the most impossible task I have faced (other than learning to sew a straight seam). However, internally there is something at work forcing, pushing, asking me to take this leap of faith. As artist, we constantly work toward a vision, when we find that vision, we work it in every way possible and then reach a plateau. It is up to us whether to stay on that plateau or to try a climb to another level. Whether I can do this or not isn't the question? Maybe I will fall flat on my face and make some of the worst art ever. Still not the point, the impetus to move forward, to seek, to make mistakes and learn from them, to look deep inside at the reason why I must create is the answer.

Yada, yada...are you all sick of this coversation now. Okay, good cause I'm moving on to another transition. The second transition I have decided that needs to be made in my life involves marketing. Yes, I have started the dvd business and that will continue. Why? Mainly, because I do like teaching, think I do a fairly good job at it and want to open new possibilities to students.
The marketing of this part of my life will continue along its natural course.

The marketing I am transitioning away from is the market of my work. Of course, it is exciting to get accepted into shows, get offers for writing magazine articles, make the cover of the Rolling Stone, so to speak....and marketing is a necessary evil. However, it takes time away from the work. Your mind has to disengage into a completely different mindset. My mantra has always been it's about the work, it's about the work. I have even been chastised in the art quilt world for saying so. "No, it isn't about the work; it's about the marketing."

Well, dear readers, sweet Ronnie, is in the market business and can tell you that you can sell ice to Eskimos if correctly marketed. They don't need the ice; it may not even be quality ice but you can make them buy it through clever manipulation and demographics. I hesitate to mention Thomas Kincaid because of the firestorm it might start, but this work is a perfect example of why I have chosen to take on this transition.

Not bored enough, yet? Lucky you, I am drawing to an end this tome. The final transition I have chosen to work through is to not take every teaching date offered to me. This is very hard to do. I do love teaching, the traveling is hell, but the students always inspire me in my own work. However, at the end of this year, I discovered I am losing valuable studio time and quite frankly, somewhat exhausted....wanting to work, but just not having the energy. Don't panic, I am not retiring from teaching just picking and choosing a more reasonable schedule that allows more studio time.

As 2005 draws to an end, I find myself right back where I started 22 years ago when I first became a quiltmaker. Excited about studying in a new medium, without a clue as to what I want to create and un-educated about the principles required to create the work.

Maybe we all need to re-evaluate where we are going from time to time....don't go there if you aren't feeling the need....but for me, the times they are a'changing.


Karoda said...

First, I find it appealing that you speak of transitions instead of resolutions...more often it is about flow and not balance for me.

Secondly, it synchronizes with a conversation I had last night about making room for being "Karoda" instead of Karen and clearing out the clutter in our apartment...her perception was that there wasn't room for 4 generations of women to live in this space. The place is stuffed with furniture and knick knacks belonging to my great grand and grand, plus me and my daughter. Her take was make room for the emerging Karoda to grow.

I'm going to think about my own transtions and will post later in December. I love your speeches, btw.

Valeri said...

Firstly why is everyone hell bent on rushing to the end of the year when it isn't even December yet. The world might change in December and then the look back would be different! OK rant over! Secondly your very thoughtful piece made me look inside myself. Thank you! I personally don't agree with all you said but I do agree with you 100% about marketing. You can sell anything to anyone if you package it right. Its easier to be a writer than an artist if you want to influence the world. For me art should be about creating harmony and peace in a tragic environment. We all need hope and that is what art gives us. I don't do angst but then I don't do sugar either. I've never thought your work was 'samey' the way some quilt artists work is. And thirdly what about the FUN! OK enough already!

Gerrie said...


I think what you are doing is so important to nurture anartistic life. I have hear do many quilt artists say that teaching saps their creative time. I think Katie Pasquini- Masopaust took some time off to regroup and is teaching something new and had time to do another book. I applaud you for looking at where you are, where you want to be and coming up with ways to get there!

I know this is going to be a huge transition year for me inmore ways than one and I am so excited.

Lisa Call said...

Gabrielle - congratulations for making a decision and going for it. I totally understand where you are coming from.

I spend almost no time at all marketing my work or entering shows or any of that "business" stuff as for me it is totally about the work. Being the best artist I possibly can.

And honestly - it's hard. It's hard to ignore the voices out there that measure the value of an artist by what shows they've been in and what they have sold. I sell very little (only 2 quilts this year) and entered only 4 juried shows this year.

So not very much on my resume to impress others and very little external validation, which means I have to have something inside of me that values the work to keep on going.

It is very hard at times to keep the blinders on. To ignore the calls for entries. To not cave in and make small things that sell, or lower my prices, or spend some time marketing. To stick to my goals and just make the work.

But for me - it's absolutely worth it. I love what I'm doing with my artwork.

I'm so glad when I hear of other artists (especially quilters) thinking about going down a similar path.

Welcome - and Good luck!

cfent said...

wow gabrielle...i am awed at your ability to put thoughts into words.
not somethign i do well.
i can absolutly idetify with wanting to get out of yoru comfort zone. it was what spurred me to go back to school.... in fact, it coudl be argued that my art career was going way better b4 i went to school than it has since. it;s often difficult to listen to those inner nudges, but also exciting.
it;s been a year since i did my senior show and i still am not totally sure where that transition is taking me but i;m ok with being patient with the process.
of course, havign these damned storms has *helped* in that dept....
thansk for sharing yoru internal process...... in addition to yourartistic process....
you know i;ve been a number 1 fan of your teaching. whaqtever you do to enhance your art will also enhance the teachign experinces you choose to have in the future. to the day job.....

laura said...

well said.

teri springer said...

"Artist are the soul of our society; if we don't do anything but mass produce imagery, we are leaving society in a void of commercial, it looks good over the sofa concepts."

He, he....take THAT, Thomas Kincaid!! Good on you, G.

Re: teaching less- I wish David had had this revelation before he pushed himself to the point of not teaching at all. I sure do miss him but, reading his teaching schedule the last two years he was on the road exhausted me!!

Oh...and tell that cute fairy I would invite her to flit into my garden but she would freeze her tah-tahs off!!

teri in snowy (and expecting 5-7 more inches tonight- YIPEE) Michigan

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