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.

Monday, March 05, 2007

The Constant Learner

Karoda said...

Dear Gabrielle,

speak to me as the frustrated artist that I am...I'm all about skill/technique at this point in my process...I get these ideas and images rolling through my head but cut myself short out of uncertainty of how to execute them. Sometimes I think the answer lies in taking local classes at the quilt shops but that seems like a waste of time because I'm not working on MY designs...I was able to take a week long workshop last summer that focused on technique with the main focus of developing one's own unique designs and it was over the top energizing and effective for me...but what can you suggest for the in-between times?????

Frustrated in KY :)

Karen asks in her comment a very relevant question that any artist, no matter what their discipline, is faced with. We all wonder where to go from here in technique, design or subject matter. I am not sure this is the absolute answer but it seems to have worked for me and in my reading for many others. Here goes and I welcome your responses, if anyone is still reading my poor neglected postings.
During times of transition, turn to yourself for the answers. Going outside yourself to classes or coaches can be of benefit in certain situations but occasionally as Karen suggests they are a waste of time. I am self-taught in construction techniques. What I did was read books on a wide variety of techniques and then practiced them for long periods of time to see if they worked for me. Through this process, I discovered that I cannot accurately operate a sewing machine for complicated work but can do simple things with it. I am far better with needle, thread and my hands. Certainly, I had ideas, like Karen, that I wondered how I was going to construct but I came to them willing to do them incorrectly so that I could move on to another technique. The most exciting time for me as a quiltmaker was when my technical skills were on the edge of my design skills. Now after 20 plus years there is nothing that I can draw or conceive that I cannot execute. So as the old adage goes: Practice, practice, practice.

Do not be concerned if you will fail in your attempts. These are not failures they are learning what not to do. Thomas Edison experimented 2000 times before he discovered the method for making a filament that would serve to light our homes. Someone asked him why he kept on with all that failure. Paraphrasing his response, "They weren't failures. They were simply learning how to not make a filament." Meaning he used each attempt as a lesson to move forward for another attempt.

So, Karen, I would respond to your question with: Keep on sewing. Using the techniques you have to apply to your designs. When you get yourself backed into a corner, put that aside, see what it taught you and use that to move forward with another approach.

My other suggestion for all of us is that we be constant learners. Study other artists, look at clothing construction ( I didn't say make clothes) but discover what a French seam is, how to apply facings (now a very popular way for binding to the back so there is no stopping the image with a front facing binding), use your local library or buy second hand books if your budget allows.

As some of you well know, I am fascinated with research and studying other artist. It has been a constant inspiration for me. I in no way intended to do their work but I want to see how they approach composition, color, design to add to my own bag of tricks. It is when we become complacent with where we are that we tend to get bogged down. That is not to say that I won't return to leaf quilts at some point in time but am interested in following another path at the moment. I know I will receive resistance from the fans of the leaf quilts but I cannot be concerned with that. I keep my own counsel and follow through the open door.

Yes, Karen, after your amazing experience with freedom to explore, it is hard to hold on to that energy. I am not working in the studio at all at the moment but am concentrating on research and development. This is simply a plateau for both you and I. From this plateau will come a rise in movement, growth, improvement. Try to appreciate and enjoy the plateau, knowing that change is on the way.

Lastly, I will harp again on the pressure to produce in our particular discipline. We are expected to constantly have new work every year for whatever show or exhibit. We are way over the top on this particular aspect of artistic development. Bands spend months, even years developing new music.....which involves hours of practice in the studio and many do-overs until they get the right sound. I personally know painters who have worked on a single painting for many years. Often putting it aside, doing smaller works and then returning to their major piece until it is just what they are trying to express. My hope is that we would/could allow ourselves that same kind of latitude. However, I observe that we fear we will drop off the map if we don't continue to crank out work constantly. This sets us up for continual repeats and gives little time for exploration and experimenting.

A long answer to a short question but I hope it helps. The constant learner never faces fear of failure but instead welcomes anything that falls short of their vision. This isn't failure to the constant learner but instead a way to gain mastery over their medium.

Returning to contemplation, I remain certain that you will find your own techniques that are suitable for the work you wish to accomplish. Sending you lots of light and energy for your adventure.


Karoda said...

Gabrielle, thank you for this post. I declared earlier today that I'm putting up the mixed media stuff for the moment and setting up the sewing machine tomorrow without any expectations but to sew strips together and see where it leads me.

I've been looking at other abstract/outsider art trying to validate my own intent with cloth. I think I went past the point to where it wasn't the healthiest of things to do.

Caitlin said...

ABSOLUTELY! Well said. And Thank You, G, for your continuing willingness to share your experience with your readers.

I went to a huge art show here and found that it raised so many new options for me that I need the reflecting time now to just ingest and explore - I still have pressure to produce work for school (but am able to submit experiments, failed or not, so that's ok). Thanks again, sweetie!

Irene Urban said...

I wish to thank you for this post. I happened to drop by yesterday and found this process of slowing down so well described. To be able to feel what you are doing, to find out what you want to be doing and what you want to say with your work needs time off -and patience!Thanl you so much, you are not neglected!