Monday, February 8, 2016

Filling the Well - Doing the Work

Walking through Wellington's Botanical Gardens again this week, I am reminded of a concept I first heard about in Julia Cameron's well-known book, "The Artist's Way". She talks about "filling the well" - exposing oneself to all sorts of experiences, and the probability that they will encourage creative ideas to flourish. Sometimes I feel that my well is almost too full, and that the ideas outstrip my ability to flesh them out. Sometimes I feel that ideas are cheap - a substitute for doing the work. But I only have to spend time deep in the woods or walking along a beach to be reminded of how important these occasions are to my sense of well-being, and to the creative process. 

The improbable shapes of tree trunks, the gnarled mess of roots trying to find purchase, the flash of brilliant colour against the grey of the trunks, the myriad shapes and sizes of deciduous leaves - my eye takes these in, records them, and percolates them. In some mysterious way, some of them will inform the work I do. My job however, is not to figure out the connection between the two - filling the well and the work that results - but to just get out there and experience as much of it all as I can.

Julia Cameron talks about taking yourself on an "artist's date" once a week, and an outing such as this one fits the bill. However it could be something else entirely - a trip to the stationery store, to a gallery, to a museum, to a second-hand shop. Because there's just no telling where the next inspiration will come from. For example, I was at the Te Papa Museum here in Wellington last week, where I saw short clips of immigrants to New Zealand and their stories. They weren't flashy, but a wonderful compilation of the diverse experiences, speaking of when people came here, and why they left their own countries, and what they made of it all when they arrived. It spoke strongly to me, and I found I had tears in my eyes, hearing of these tales of brave individuals, going out into the unknown in the hopes of a better life for themselves and their families. Now the idea will simmer for a good long time, as I wonder if there is a way to express this concept in fabric.

But what happened back in my "studio" after all this "well-filling"? The piece I've been working on needed to be stitched, and I've been working on that. Soon it will be completed. I've called it "It's a Fine Line", and it's my response to an invitation to make a piece for the Fibre Arts Voices group exhibit "A Fine Line". The quote that inspired it is by Charles Hazelwood, a conductor who in describing Mozart's music, stated that "Mozart, in his music, captured this something that is the human condition . . . the fine line that we all constantly dance between joy and pain, between absolute happiness and absolute heartbreak."
So there it is in a nutshell - the cyclical dance between experience and response, between inspiration and creative ideas, and between feeling deeply about something and then trying to express it in fabric. A series of circles really, overlapping and unending.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

A Movable Studio

Last week I moved to a new abode, still in Wellington, New Zealand, but time I have a room in someone's home. Jenny co-owns a gallery, and is away for chunks of time. Which is when I take her up on her invitation and convert her dining area and kitchen into my studio-away-from-home. The house is old,with only one electric outlet in each room, so I gently move the table so it's close enough for me to be able to plug in my sewing machine. And a towel-covered tiled countertop becomes my ironing surface. Bring out the fabric, the scissors and cutting mat, and I'm ready to go.
I have so much less in this temporary space than I've become accustomed to at home, and yet really and truly, it's all I need. In fact I might go as far as saying that I'm as content in this set-up as in my usual location. Less sometimes really is more. Maybe it has something about boiling down what I actually need to the basics. I know that having less fabric choices is actually helping me stay focussed. I'm sticking to working with the selection of brightly coloured fabrics I brought with me. Maybe there's a little wisdom in working like that at other times - to limit my choices, thereby freeing 
me up from being distracted by too many possibilities. Something to think about.

Jenny's home has her collections of books and of art, and interesting items like this cube, discovered today, each side featuring a different quotation from a different artist. This one's my favourite - "Go on working freely and furiously, you will make progress." Paul Gauguin. I'm taking his words to heart. 

And interspersing time spent sewing blocks together by machine with time spent hand-stitching a piece I showed you a couple of weeks ago. It should be nearly finished by the next time you hear from me, when I'll be ready to show you a full-on photo of it. A piece I've been working on for an upcoming Fibre Art Network exhibit has been completed, all except the binding, but I'm not able to show that to you just yet unfortunately. And new ideas are being jotted down in a visual journal I bought at the beginning of this year. just for this purpose. So lots of happy creative pursuits this week, interspersed with time spent with my now 6 week-old grandson. Life is good.  

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Celebrating Risk Not Success

So I had an idea that I would incorporate some bare-branch tree shapes in with the improvisational blocks I've been making. I sewed some yellow scraps together to use as a background, and using a rotary cutter, freehand cut a tree shape through the background. My intent was to piece in curved branches. But after stitching the first one, I realized that I was going to get a huge amount of distortion of the background, not to mention that it was now hard to get the pieced fabric to lie flat. By the time I added three more branches, I knew I would be in trouble and have a result with which I was less than happy.
 
So on to my second attempt. This time I made straight cuts for the branches. There was still a little distortion in the background, but far less than with the first attempt, and with a little trimming it came out to the size I had intended. I made a second one using the same method, and put them up on the design wall along with my improvisationally-pieced blocks and a couple of my windows. They are OK but not great. I liked the effect of the curved trees so much better and think I'll give it a third try, this time using appliqué to add the branches, not piecing. Or maybe I should just carry on with the stick trees and think about adding leaves to them to give them more life. Or maybe they'd look better on a grey background. Or maybe they should be in a straight line rather than staggered. 
 
The one thing I'm sure of, is that I need to keep trying, until something feels like it's working. This is the part of "process" that we don't always hear about - the part when we try one thing and then another and then another, in the hope that something we try will soon give the look we had in mind when we dreamed about making this particular quilt in the first place. Sometimes this takes quite a bit of time, not to mention courage and fortitude and patience. It would be easy to give up altogether. But it is a rare thing indeed for anything to turn out exactly as I anticipate, and if I give up trying I will never make anything I feel good about. So here's to risk! Celebrating success is wonderful, but here's to the risk-taking that preceded the success, to all the people who get out there and try, who do their very best, and even when their work falls short of their hopes, dust themselves off and give it another try.


Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Wisdom of Doing What You Love

I began this week with a plan to work on a piece which would include a village grouping of houses with improvisationally-pieced windows in them. It was going to be by the sea, and was going to include a washing line. This was not something I'd just dreamed up overnight, but something I'd been wanting to do for some time. I'd even made the sketches for it. So I set to work and made the windows, but by the time I had three houses more or less finished, I knew that my idea wasn't going to work out quite the way I'd had in mind. Very disappointing. I wandered about feeling a little lost for awhile. What was I going to do now? Push through or set them aside? I set them aside. Perhaps they'd speak to me later, and tell me what they wanted to be.

Meanwhile, my sewing table was still covered with a wonderful array of brightly-coloured fabrics. "Why not go back to what I love?", I thought. And very little has given me more pleasure over the last few years than piecing together little scraps of fabric improvisationally - that is, making it up as I go along. I had two blocks made using this method that I brought to New Zealand with me. I'd started making them earlier in the year, but quickly decided to set them aside in order to concentrate on getting my traveller's blanket done. Perhaps this would be a good time to get back to them? The next three were put together in no time, and while I have a couple of ideas of where I'm going with these, but there is no definite plan right now. I'm going to keep on making these colourful blocks,and sort out what I do with them when I'm further along. So what have I learned through all this?  I think it's that while there are times when it's definitely good and helpful for me to stretch myself, but there are also times when it is wise to return to what I know and to do what I love.
I do have one other tiny project that I started this year. When I was at the stationery store, I picked up a package of paper labels. There is something about small collections fascinates me, and I wondered if I could use these labels as the basis for making little collages, week by week. So I've set myself the simplest of guidelines - that each week in 2016 I will make one tiny collage, using only the scraps of fabric in my garbage. At the end of the year, I will end up with 52 labels that are a sampling of the fabrics I've ben working with during the year. I have no idea if or how I would ever try to mount these, but in the meantime I'm thoroughly enjoying myself.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

The Value of Slow, Ponderous Walks and a Sense of Curiosity

I have been living in New Zealand for almost a month now, and will be here until he end of February. The happy reason for coming was the birth of our grandson, but staying in a new-to-us place - Wellington - and visiting new beaches and taking new walks, reminds me again that one of the benefits of travel is a sharpening in my sense of observation. After getting my bearings in a new landscape, getting my feet solidly on the ground, I begin to notice details in a new way. Photos that show beautiful vistas remind me later of what lovely places I've been able to visit, but it's when I start noticing the details, the particulars of my new world, that I begin to connect with it.
For example, these gorgeous orange daisy-like flowers - I've still to find out what they're called - grow along the side of the road, just before it dips down onto a craggy beach. The flowers only open toward the sun, and close up tight on cloudy days. Their leaves are like succulents, and they must be incredibly tenacious, to withstand the onslaught of the "Welly wind". I could have come and gone from this place without ever noticing them, but slow, ponderous walks have allowed me to discover them.
There are all sorts of grasses here too, most notably the flax that grows at such interesting angles along the beaches and in gardens. And even the manhole covers are note-worthy. This is one of several I've seen with Maori designs on them. And of course there are all sorts of shells. I'd never noticed before that mussel shells eventually get worn away to reveal an indigo inner coat. And just here on the beach in front of us divers hunt for paua, or abilone, as we would call it. And what has all of this got to do with quilting? I'm really not sure, except that there's something about being present and being curious about and taking note of where one is that is inextricably linked to making art. 
When I collect stones or shells or take photos of wildflowers, I often don't have an exact purpose in mind for them. It's more about me being interested in where I am right now, and in what I see here. It has something to do with being open to surprises. And it's got a lot to do with treasuring and cultivating a sense of wonder. Collecting comes into the picture too, as though I'm looking for a way to remember or to mark my exploring, and to recall what I find that's important to me. 
As for my stitching, I've just finished the final block on my Traveller's Blanket, and more red and orange and pink blocks have been pieced and added for the work up on my design wall. Next week I'll be ready to share more about both with you.



Saturday, January 2, 2016

The Beginnings of a New Year


No matter how old I get, I can't seem to get over the habit of making a few new resolutions at the beginning of every new year. And this year is no different. Some of them are those ones we all make - get more exercise, eat a healthier diet, and so on and so forth. But one resolution I've made for myself this year is to blog every Sunday, and to share my work and my world in this space whether something truly remarkable is going on or not. I have very little idea who reads this blog, but am doing this for myself as much as for anyone else, so will carry on regardless. It's a form of journalling really, and I am a journaller from way back.


So this photo gives you a bit of an idea what it looks like in my little home away from home right now.  Hubby and I are staying in a little cottage on Breaker Bay in Wellington, New Zealandwhere  our front window faces the sea and we are close to our daughter and son-in-law, Emily and Michael, and their new baby, Griffin. We spend lots of time over there trying to make ourselves as useful as possible, but there's also been lots of time for reading and beach walking (more on that another time) and stitching.

It was difficult to decide what stitching to bring with me, but in the end I settled a couple of handwork projects and a selection of fabric scraps - lots of these in the yellow/orange/red range. One of the handwork projects is my Traveller's Blanket that I've been working on for more than two years now, and only has one block left to be stitched before I can baste it to the backing and stitch it all together. Each block features a different leaf from a different place, some from my own back yard, and some from places as far-flung as Uganda and New Zealand, and each is hand-stitched onto a background rectangle with embroidery floss. The very last block will feature a piece of seaweed - an underwater leaf, I'm thinking - picked up on a nearby beach while we were taking Griff for one of his first walks.

Meanwhile I've spread the fabrics I brought with me from home all over the dining room table - my sweetie is starting to complain that I'm invading his space, but I see lots of room for his computer, don't you? - and have started sewing little rectangles together. I'm not quite where it's going yet, but it feels good to be stitching again. Emily has loaned me her little Janome, and it's working just fine for now, although I must confess that I can be heard doing a little moaning from time to time, missing the luxury of the Bernina I'm more used to sewing on. And a piece of fleece hung over an oil painting is working as my design wall.


Just before coming to New Zealand in mid-December, I made a quilt for a friend whose mother is dying. She called it a "prayer quilt", a term that was new to me. She and her three sisters wanted to have a quilt with which to cover their mother in her hospital bed, while also covering her in prayers.  Instead of the usual quilting it was "tied", with the ties only being completed when she and her sisters got together and offered prayers for their mother. Ena (their Mom) is Dutch, and one of her great loves all her life was her garden and flowers. Miranda told me she can remember when she was quite small, and she and her sisters and her mother would walk down the lanes near their family farm in the Fraser Valley, picking wildflowers to bring home. So it seemed appropriate to choose blue and yellow floral fabrics for the quilt and a fairly simple rectangle pattern in which to set them. 


It just struck me that the little red rectangles I'm piecing right now echo the rectangles in Ena's Quilt. Only they're very much smaller and I still have only the vaguest idea what this piece is going to be about. It's a very satisfying shape to me, and I'm happy to be working with the collection of reds I've been collecting for a little while now, thinking that I'd like to work with them in a new project. I will be very interested to see where it leads. Perhaps being away from my abundant stash at home will help me to focus better on what I'm working on, as my mind does seem to run off madly in all directions with new ideas at times. That would be a definite bonus. As a post I read on Facebook lately described it, being creative is like being a person with 2,794 browsers open all at the same time. Love it!