30 January 2012

When Uncertainty Lingers

While I may have identified that fear has been keeping me from my studio, it is not the only reason. Uncertainty also plays its part. Not an uncertainty based on fear of failure such as, whether I should paint or whether I am good enough. But uncertainty about what to do with paintings when I am done.

And by that I mean, how do I turn them from painted cloth into a finished artwork*? Should they be stretched and framed? Matted and placed under glass? Or combined with patchwork and stitch to reflect my other creative interests?

 *(That's not to say that all paintings must be finished. Some can just be studies for larger pieces. And some can just be--gasp--failures. But some I do want to finish.)

My instinct has been to add patchwork and stitch. I came to painting through quilting and I want to honor that path. Also, I like the contrast between a painted surface and a pieced/appliqued/stitched surface.

But the question has been: what type of piecing/stitching/applique?

My initial inspiration was the border I added to this quilt started in a class with Robbi Joy Eklow. I liked how the strippy border brought out the colors of the vases.


This weekend I decided to dive in and see what happened. I was feeling a sense of trepidation and that blasted uncertainty. A pep talk from my husband convinced me that all artists have to try things--keeping some ideas and discarding others--and that it was only through the act of trying that I would figure out what I wanted.

I took a painting that I was not thrilled with, figuring that I couldn't really hurt it, grabbed some fabrics that coordinated, and pieced a strippy border. I played for quite a while with border widths, numbers of borders, and so on. I still felt frustrated and unhappy with what I was doing. But I forced myself to make a decision and finally sewed it together.

And when it was done I looked at it and thought "meh." It is pretty, I guess, but staid. I emailed Cynthia with a stream-of-conscious venting of my concerns. She had a couple suggestions and then asked me one question that really made me think,"What does not staid look like to you"

I immediately grabbed my art journal and sat down. I came to a few conclusions:

  • I want to incorporate some type of patchwork/stitching to honor that part of my creative background.
  • I don't want it to feel as though I am just adding a series of static borders. The example above is just static borders. If I just use static borders, I might as well just painet on stretched canvases and use a store-bought frame. There's nothing wrong with that; it's just not what I want at this moment.
  • Most importantly, I want my voice/creativity/hand to continue across the entire piece--from the painting all the way to the outer edge. The finishing needs to reflect my own voice as much as the painting does.
  • Some descriptive words that resonate with me include: layers, fabric, paper-cloth, tattered, raw edges, frayed, stitching, embroidery, applique.
So I decided to embark on a small series of studies to figure it out. I'll paint a number of small 5" squares. And then I'll try different ideas for finishing on each. I'll keep a record of what works and what doe not work, so that I don't have to reinvent the wheel.

I feel a renewed sense of motivation. I'll start today by buying more primed canvas by the yard. Then the rest of the week will be about painting during my spare moments. Next week I'll face the uncertainty and play with different options. I'm really quite excited!

Do you have any suggestions on ways to finish these paintings? Anything you've seen elsewhere that works well? I appreciate any comments or thoughts you may wish to share!

27 January 2012

Back to Imperfect

I haven't blogged in a while. My plan for an imperfect 2012 was to blog more regularly. I haven't. That's alright, I guess, because it is imperfect.

But what isn't alright is why I haven't been blogging. It took a little introspection to figure why, but now that I know, my solution is to put it out there.

And so, I have a confession to make: I'm scared.

Downright terrified.

And immobilized with fear.

Why so scared? Because a couple weeks ago I went into my studio and painted this:

It was incredibly fun and relaxing and I was so shocked when I was done. It was beautiful to me and I didn't know I was capable of it. I had never really painted before. Sure, I have used paint to make paper-cloth, but that was more a matter of slapping it down to create texture. This was a series of purposeful choices, playing with different paint colors and types of brushes, to create a painting that reflected my voice.

So, a couple days later I painted this:

Again I surprised myself. Over the next week or two, I painted a couple more and each time I felt an incredible satisfaction of self-expression.

And then all of a sudden I stopped. I stayed out of my studio and found other things to do with my time. I wanted to go back and paint some more, but I was resisting. I walked around with a tightness in my chest. I couldn't pinpoint what was going on.

So I grabbed a blank sheet of paper and a scratchy pen (scratchy pens are my writing implement of choice when trying to figure out something) and started journaling. The first couple paragraphs were about everyday worries: why is the cat vomiting again? Why is the car leaking oil? And just how much will fixing the cat and the car cost?

But it wasn't until I turned my thoughts to painting and my studio and art that I began to figure out what was going on. I wrote "Fear. Fear. Fear. I'm so scared right now of what I have done. What if I can't do it again?"

And oh boy did that make everything make sense. Originally, I painted for fun, without fear of failure because "Hey, if I painted something ugly, then that was all part of being imperfect anyway." But as I continued I became attached to the idea of making beautiful things and I lost that freedom of being okay with failure.

So fear struck and resistance formed and I walked around with a lump in my chest as my desire to go paint tangled with my fear of failure.

Once I realized that, it was like finding freedom again. This year is about allowing myself to be IMPERFECT, to make mistakes, to have failures, but to always get up and try again. It's not about clinging so desperately to success that I don't try anything at all.

So back into the studio I go.

And I decided to share this because it's real and honest and imperfect. And maybe it will inspire someone to face their fear that is holding them back.

01 January 2012

A Quick Calendar Quilt

As I have been thinking about my Imperfect theme for 2012, I remembered one very serious plan I had for 2011. My goal was to create a calendar quilt that charted my progress with my very serious goals. I thought hard about how to track days when I was serious about art versus days when I was not. I wanted the calendar to have a different form from the traditional calendar layout. I spent many days drafting different possibilities in my art journal.

But because I was so serious about this calendar, I never actually made a final decision as to what it would look like or what meaning it would convey. After all my very serious thinking, I never actually started the quilt.

I still like the idea of making a quilt over the course of a year; I just no longer worry that it is serious or perfect. So this morning, before I headed to my studio, I made a few quick decisions. First, I would use a traditional calendar layout. Second, I decided that each day's piece would finish at 2.5" x 3.5", which would yield a 17.5" finished block for each month. (The blocks then sashed with 2.5" sashing would finish at 64.5" x 84.5", which is a nice cozy throw size.) Third, I would use a utilitarian fabric like muslin or osnaburg for the empty blocks for each month. Fourth, I would just choose a yummy fabric for each day, regardless of whether I was imperfect about art or not. Fifth, I would break up the heaviness of the prints with a simple white fabric.

Here's a really rough sketch in Electric Quilt of what I envision.  January is the top-left block. The calendar runs in four rows, with December being the bottom-right block.

You are welcome to join me if you like! It's sinple!

1) For each day, choose a fabric and cut a 3" x 4" rectangle from it.
2) Sew each day into a calendar format of seven days a week and five weeks a month.
3) Use a plain fabric for the empty days on the calendar format. (Shown by the grayish blocks on each month.)
4) Sash the block with the same fabric. Cut the sashing strips 3" so they finish at 2.5"
5) After 366 days (it is a leap year!), enjoy the easiest quilt you have ever made!