Monday, June 8, 2015

Reflections on Human Mark-Making with Dorothy Caldwell

Attending a workshop this last week was a gift. It was a week-long workshop with Dorothy Caldwell, renowned textile artist from Hastings, Ontario. I have long admired Dorothy's work, but to be privy to guided explorations into some of the ways marks can be made, to editing these images until they become their own story, and then collecting them together in a small book, was a remarkable journey. We made marks with finger and thumb prints, with extended paintbrushes, with smoke and with burning incense, with batik and bleach resist dyeing. We came to know our materials and how they might be altered and collected, in pursuing a particular way of interpreting our world. And yet it was not a "how-to" workshop, but more of a process workshop. I'm home now, and still mulling it all over, and will be for some time to come.

These are a few of the things I came away with. First of all, the importance of working with your own found materials. For example, in making a piece about leaves, it would be important that I collect the leaves, and that I experiment with how leaves interact with the materials with which I choose to record those leaves. Photos, even those that I have taken, remove me from the rawness and immediacy of the very thing I want to get close to. For Dorothy, that has meant walking the land, in places like Australia and Baffin Island, with the work coming much later. Next, I am confirmed in my love of collecting things. And when I collect, I needn't know how these materials will be used. It's enough to begin with gathering those things that are peculiar to my own travels. And thirdly there is being open to exploration and where it takes me. Not needing to know the end at the beginning. Enjoying the journey. One quote she gave us was particularly apt  for me:
     "Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You see only as far as your headlights but you can        make the whole trip that way." E. L. Doctorow
I have come home from this entire experience profoundly thankful, feeling that I have had the honour of spending time with a remarkable woman, not to mention a number of gifted fellow travellers. Sometimes life gives you something so unexpectedly grand, that's all you can do - give thanks.


  1. I find that Doctorow quote particularly thought provoking. Part of me likes the freeing insight - you don't have to have all the details planned in advance, take it as it comes, enjoy the process, don't obsess about the end result. Another part of me screams, but what about the hazards I can't see in the dark, like moose?! I think this describes my internal creative struggle perfectly - trust vs. caution. Very interesting thing to think about. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. You're welcome, Lee. And I know what you mean about the internal struggle. And yet it's so freeing to let go of the need to know the outcome. (I am reminding myself here!) And when you're in that place of making design choices in response to what's happening when one fabric meets another, it's as though there's a conversation going on - an almost magical place to be.