Reflections on a Life I Love…

I took myself on an Artist’s Date today, after spending some time yesterday evening quietly reflecting on where I’m at in my life. I felt a major shift come over me in terms of the who’s, what’s, where’s, when’s, why’s, and how’s of the life I’m currently living. A good and honest look at things revealed to me many answers to my questions of what is my life purpose, what are my goals, where do I find inspiration, who do I want to spend time with, etc. The questions seemed so big and yet the answers are so simple, it’s just a matter of me living them everyday, and also paying attention to how they show up. I think sometimes I can get so caught up in life and what I want to have that I forget that I already have everything I need. It’s all right in front of me. It’s the essence of who I really am, my source of inspiration and joy.

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My favorite view across the lake

This is what led me to the woods today. It’s been ages since I stopped by to marvel at the sweeping limbs of the tall pine trees, to feel the breeze against my skin as it drifts across the lake, to turn off the constant chatter in my brain and tune into the bird songs that fill the forest. It’s all about the present moment and the beauty around me. Being in nature is where I feel like my truest and most authentic self. It’s where all of the drama of everyday life completely melts away, and all that’s left is peace. I can’t believe I haven’t gone on more adventures to the mountains and the forests since I moved back home, but after today I know it’s a priority. I need many more Artist’s Dates to the source of where my inspiration and creativity begins, even if it’s just once a month. My schedule can get filled up very quickly with all of the things I’d like to do (and some I don’t want to do but need to, for instance, adulting), but taking some time away from it all is the one thing that always brings me back home.

Keep creating,

Laura

 

Claim Your Space

A few days ago, I made a new board on Pinterest.  It’s called Studio Spaces and it’s filling up quickly with images of spacious lofts with skylights, white walls lined with cupboards for organizing materials, empty work tables waiting for ideas to be spread across their surfaces, and lots and lots of beautiful fiber art equipment.  Here’s what my studio space currently looks like…

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Inspiring, am I right?

Believe it or not, I actually like nestling myself in among the moving boxes.  It’s cozy and for some odd reason allows me to focus on what is directly in front of me.  While I love seeing where the magic happens for many artists, some famous and others unknown, I’ve also realized that there are loads of other artists out there who, like me, have to make do with what they have, and are doing a fine job at it, too.  Since establishing myself as a tapestry artist just over five years ago, I’ve moved several times and I’m about to move again. When I began tapestry weaving my loom was stuffed in the corner of my little bedroom, so fingers crossed the next place has at least a few more feet of corner!

My mom, before I came along, set up her easel in what she calls a nook, and when she wanted to work on a drawing she spread out into the equally tiny upstairs bathroom. When we moved to a bigger house, she started sewing and set up her sewing machine and fabric stash under the slanted ceiling of her bedroom. I have a friend who sews in her cozy living room, and another who paints in her bedroom, and still another who shares a small, ground level book arts and printmaking studio with a fellow artist friend.  To allow enough space to use her massive floor loom in a tiny studio apartment, my friend from college slept in the little closet under the stairs.  And of course there’s Van Gogh, who worked out of very small and simple spaces when he wasn’t doing plein air painting.  In the same vein, I once worked for a brilliant artist who had one of the most glorious studios I’ve ever seen, and hardly ever used it.

I love these stories about the creative ways we artists figure out how to set up shop. However small or spacious an art-making space happens to be, what matters most is what the artist is creating within that space.  That they are present to the work that their hearts and hands are creating.  Tyarn62017hat they are showing up for, and claiming, their own individual artistic journey, and seeing where it takes them.  I know this can be a challenge for some people, especially those with children, or a tight budget, or a small living space where dedicating an area to something besides the necessities seems impossible, or even all of these things.  I have seen it done however, by people from all walks of life.  And just because one doesn’t have their dream studio now, doesn’t mean they wont be able to create that in the future.

It’s also imperative that we don’t wait for conditions to be just right before we can start on that masterpiece we feel called to create.  You could spend so much time amassing materials and waiting for things to change for the better or the right studio situation to come along, and all the while the inspiration and passion could be slipping right between your fingers.

It’s not about where you create, but what you create.

To begin setting up your space, look around for items that aren’t being used that could get you organized. Thrift stores, yard sales, and consignment shops can also supply you with vases for storing paint brushes, baskets for yarn, and a simple table and chair for working.  Also, those Michael’s coupons come in really handy! Do you have a corner that’s not being utilized?  Claim it.  Put up a cork board for pinning inspiring pictures, or just use washi tape in fun colors.  Or regular tape, it really doesn’t matter.  See if any of your furniture can do double duty.  Even if your work is confined to a basket or a tote bag that you can carry with you, you still win because now you have a portable studio. Tah-dah! Also, keep your eyes open; as time goes by, you’ll find lovely items through people and places to add to your studio space that make it feel even more inspiring.

Bring in any little objects that help inspire your creativity, like souvenirs or mementos, photographs, rocks, feathers, and tokens of good luck. My personal favorite is a strand of paper stars that I hang across the heddle bar of my loom.  It always reminds me to stay true to myself and my own artistic voice.

By claiming your space you’re also claiming your right to be an artist, even if you only have a little time here and there to work on your craft. 

My mom always says it’s a sign of a true artist when they can work with what they’ve got.  I often sit on an over turned milk crate when I weave, and all of my yarn is sorted by color into unattractive, yet practical and affordable plastic bins.  I store my knitting needles, pens, and brushes in glass jars that once held pasta saucpeony62017e.  I would LOVE to have more beautiful storage items for my supplies and materials, but by working with what I have right now, I’m saving money AND I can dedicate more time and attention to doing what I love: my art!

So let’s start now.  What can you do today to make and claim a space for yourself?  What resources do you have that can help you to work on your artistic goals?  Remember, it doesn’t have to cost a lot of money, and often the simplest shifts produce the biggest results!

In the spirit of creativity,

Laura

 

The Social Media Detox

It’s been a while since I was on Instagram, even longer since I took a peek at Facebook, and you know what?  I’m still here, and all is well.  In fact, my voluntary social media detox has made space for the very thing I’ve been longing for: more time for creativity.  But it’s not easy to remove oneself from a community, especially one that is filled with excellent and inspiring people. My fellow fiber artists on IG are wonderfully supportive folks from all over the world, many whom I’ve never even met, and yet we have all spun an interactive web of sharing and networking that can keep us all updated on who is weaving what and where the next great art show is.  I can see how for some, social media keeps them humming along, nose to the grindstone, posting a photo of their latest masterpiece to share with their community.  The scrolling newsfeed of inspiration can keep the imagination flowing, and everyone benefits from the participation and consistent updates of the other artists. For me, however, it ended up turning into a distraction, an excuse to not finish – let alone start – anything, and I only felt worse when I saw all of the beautiful work that others were creating and sharing and I didn’t have anything to contribute.

On top of that, I was going through a dark night of the soul, and my muse seemed to have disappeared beyond my reach.  I counted the months since I had finished my most recent artwork on the big loom; 10 months.  I’m used to doing about three larger pieces a year.  I began to create more excuses; my day job was taking up too much time, I had to make dinner, I needed to knit a new hat, and there was my long Instagram feed to scroll through.  I continued to play piano and thoroughly enjoyed that creative outlet, but I was secretly worried that it was the end of tapestry weaving for me.  My imagination was blank.

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I decided that since I wasn’t making anything, and I was checking IG way too much, I would do a detox from the app and Facebook and just see what happened.  Around the same time, I began to pack up most of my things and temporarily live with just the necessities in the upstairs guest room in my parents house until I found a new place. The abrupt change in my physical space, along with the freedom from comparing myself to others on social media, resulted in the perfect recipe for returning to my own authentic creative voice.

In an article for Mindful magazine, Hugh Delehanty shares his experiences of getting back in touch with his creativity at an artist retreat.  After several days of struggling with painting what he felt he should paint, what he would usually paint, he reached a point of awareness to what was holding him back from expressing his genuine creativity.  I’ve read this article several times, and am continually fascinated with how so many artists share the same struggles of censorship, guilt, and trying to create what the world wants to see, instead of the visions that are stirring in their imaginations.  I’m particularly in love with a quote from the retreat instructor, Barbara Kaufman…

“Everything leads us back to ourselves… Sometimes we have to go too far to see that.  But what we usually do is play it too safe and close up.  Once you start opening, you get a sense that you can stretch more, and then you begin to realize the potential that’s available to you at any given moment.  The invitation of creativity is to move beyond the boundaries we’ve set for ourselves.  To allow life to permeate those thick walls that we think are so secure.”

I can see now that I was attempting to create within a very rigid mindset.  What would get me more followers and likes online?  Instead I should be wondering, what is it my soul wants me to create?  What images inside of me do I need to bring to life?  What wants to come forward and play into my work? I got so caught up in posting content that I forgot about the process.

While I was working on my thesis in undergrad, smartphones had just come out and cost, like, a million dollars and I wanted nothing to do with Facebook.  I instead stayed close and honest to the images and artworks I was creating for my thesis.  I had no filter for what I thought the art world wanted to see and instead followed the inspiration and beauty that resonated most within me. My passion and dedication to this vision resulted in a moving body of work that was a hallmark of my college career.  At times, I even surprised myself with what I was creating, and I know that it was because I stopped caring what other people would think. I instead opened up to the vast expanse of my own imagination, and followed it through the whole whirlwind process of completing a large body of work.

This isn’t to say I don’t think that social media is a useful and necessary tool.  As I said earlier, it can bring like-minded folks together to share stories and ideas, and therefore add more beauty and culture to our world.  I do think, however, that there are times when a break is imperative and healing for the soul.  It allows us to get back in touch with who we really are beyond the walls and boundaries we’ve set up for ourselves, and even to dissolve the stories of who we think we are.  Am I leaving social media for good?  Probably not, but until I return I will be putting my energy into getting back in touch with that authentic creative force within me, and creating the artwork I long to make.

Stay tuned, and keep creating!

The Importance of Creativity in Difficult Times

There’s no question about it, we live in difficult times.  Actually, it’s down right frightening.  Yesterday morning I woke from a repeating nightmare to find that the nightmare had come true.  I felt waves of anxiety and adrenaline rush through me.  I could barely cook my oatmeal, my hands were shaking and sweaty, and I don’t even remember getting dressed but thankfully I didn’t go into work still in my pajamas. But there was also a fire in my heart, a calling I now know I have to follow.  The message was how vitally important the creative arts are to this broken and fragmented world. That as artists and creators we are the messengers and the torch carriers, the ones who can help bring beauty and joy into a troubled world.

The news can usually make me want to slip away to the peaceful isolation of my studio, where my imagination can break free from the limitations of reality.  I can sort of “check out” from the pain of the world.  But I never retreat to this space to forget my troubles, I go there to be fully present with them.  Without the sensationalism of the media, I can process these difficult events with compassion and empathy.  With yarn in hand and hope and prayer in my heart, I put my intention into creating something of beauty from the pain. I sort of Rumplestiltskin things; I try to spin straw (or in this case, s**t) into gold.  Handmade wooden bobbins full of yarn clink against each other as each awaits its turn to be woven into a tapestry.  Colorful yarns intermingle and coexist harmoniously in this artwork that is part cloth, part image.  Needle and thread bring the pieces together.  My art is my tool for processing and healing, a metaphor for life, and my gift to others.

The world is full of writers, poets, musicians, actors, healers, painters, weavers, crocheters, jewelers, peacemakers, dancers, mothers, fathers, grandparents, bakers, gardeners, bloggers, dreamers, believers, needle-felted cat portrait artists, and so on.  I don’t believe there is a limit to the different kinds of creators and what they can create.  And the healing power comes from the heart of the one who is bringing that creation to life.  What we focus on grows.  If we lean into fear, we find more to be afraid of.  And if we lean into love, we find there is more love than we ever knew before.

When we do the things that bring us joy, when we work to create happiness in our lives, we are leaning into love. We are leaning into the things that makes us come alive.  We are living with integrity and refusing to stay small and fearful.  You can create hate, or you can create love.  Today, and everyday, I choose to create love.  I refuse to become cynical or to lose hope.  Instead I will stay with my creative spirit and make as many things of beauty as I can, whether it’s a big tapestry weaving, or a pair of knitted gloves for a friend.

The very intention of such seemingly simple creations is what holds the greatest gifts: generosity, thoughtfulness, and kindness.

Whether you’re a parent who’s mission is to raise compassionate children, or a baker who loves to see people find pleasure in a humble loaf of bread, or a painter who seeks out the beauty in the natural world, create from the heart.  Create to heal yourself and to bring healing to others. We may not be able to bring immediate and radical change to such a chaotic and fragmented world, but I truly believe we can start with what we create.  Let’s stand together and lean into love.  Let’s reach out across the divides and pass the torchlight from one troubled soul to another, and watch how love begins to grow.

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What Four Days Away From “Work” Can do…

I just spent four glorious days away from reality, or at least away from my “real” job.  And what a wonderful time it was.  I saw Finding Dory, which if you haven’t seen it yet, it’s Ah-mazing.  Bring tissues.  I also went to the beach with my friend and we collected seashells and had a picnic under a beautiful old, twisted crab-apple tree.  We were joined by lots of bugs too, since it is summer and they like picnics as well.  But mostly I got a lot of work done on my art, including finishing the weaving for my latest tapestry!  It’s off the loom now and I’m letting it rest for a few days before I do the finishing work.  The fabric needs time to relax after being stretched tightly on the loom for several months, and this resting period makes the weaving so much easier to work with later when I clean up the back, sew up slits, hang it on a wall, etc.

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Untitled… for now….

Like most of my pieces, there are things I love about this one and things that I would love to fix.  On this piece in particular, however, I struggled more than any previous weaving, all due to not having a good solid cartoon and notes to follow.  In fact, most of my weaving frustrations are caused by a lack of a good plan, and for the most part my designs depend on careful planning. Usually I’m so excited to start weaving that I just quickly draw out the cartoon, attach it to the bottom hem and take off, sometimes even saying to myself, ‘I’ll figure it out later.’   That clearly hasn’t been working too well!  I also need to take notes on what colors I use, so that when I have to use that same color 7 inches and 2 months later, I don’t have to crawl behind the loom with a flashlight to see what colors were on the bobbin.

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Another thing is just simply practice and experience.  By making these mistakes, I’m gaining valuable insights on how to improve my technique for my next piece, and the next, and the next… I lost count of how many times I took hours of work out on this tapestry and rewove it to get the design and shapes and colors just right. Sometimes I had to rework an area several times.  And some of those areas still aren’t right, but I know I gave it my best with the skills that I have.  I can tell you that the moon and the symmetry of the background were the toughest parts.  Although these corrections added extra hours into the piece, my skills and knowledge have increased as a result, and that’s certainly worth it.  So note to self: plan a more detailed cartoon and take good notes!

I also began the finishing work I did for a tapestry from last year.  It feels good to finally get some work done on these weavings, rather than just rolling them up and stuffing them in my closet… like I normally do.

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Compass, off the loom February of 2015, but never finished due to a cross-country move.

This piece, Compass, is about trusting my intuition, my inner voice and guiding light in all that I do.  I worked on it during a difficult ending of one chapter of my life, and my hope was that it would serve as a reminder to trust in my own individual journey.  I already have my next weaving planned, a companion piece to this one, a continuation of my story and of trusting the unfolding of my life.  And I think I have the skills and experience now to really make it shine.  Now it’s back to reality.  Until next time, happy creating!

 

A Date with the Creative Muse

In The Artist’s Way, author Julia Cameron talks about “artist dates”.  These are special times that you set aside for yourself to go off in search of inspiration, to be with your creative muse.  When I lived in a city, I would make sure that at least once a month, I would spend some time in quiet contemplation in one of my city’s beautiful parks.  This reset time was precious to my creative energy and inspiration.  Normally artist dates are done alone, but today I went on one with my mom.  I guess we went on a double date with our creative muses?

As a belated birthday gift my mom took me to Boston for the day, and we spent most of it at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.  My mom went to art school in Boston, and spent many of her own artist dates here, back when the now roped-off courtyard was open to the public.

 

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How dreamy it would be to stroll through here, like stepping back in time…

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The courtyard was definitely a highlight of the museum, and coupled with the small gallery rooms and furnishings, gave the feeling of a rare invitation into someone’s luxurious home.  I felt immersed in the artworks and in the time period they were collected in, a very different feeling from the cavernous white-walled rooms of other art museums I’ve visited.  The first and only other time my mom brought me here was when I was about 15.  Time sure has changed me.  For an art history nerd like myself with a passion for pre-Raphaelite and medieval art and architecture, this place was a gold mine.  As I walked through the rooms and hallways full of carefully arranged artworks, furnishings, books, and manuscripts, I could sense just how important this collection (and it’s availability to the public) was to Isabella Gardner. And of course there were…tapestries!

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One of several Flemish tapestries with the same workshop initials of B B.

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This tapestry was definitely my favorite on display.  I love how the weavers perfectly captured the folds, textures, and elegance of the ladies skirts, not to mention the gorgeous shimmers of gold throughout the weaving.

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The apparent chaos in this weaving was pretty funny to me, although for the audience at the time of it’s completion, I’m sure it had to do with morals and refraining from sin.  Is that a guy falling on a wasps nest?  What I love most is the stunning mille-fleur in the background.

Unfortunately, the main room I was here to see, the actual Tapestry Room, was closed for roof renovations!  I was pretty bummed about that, but I can’t wait to come back when it reopens…. in January.  It’s a long time to wait, but until then I’ll be dreaming about this place and weaving onward…

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The Myth of Mastery

I’m sure most of you have heard the saying, “Jack of all trades, but a master of none…”  I’ve always wanted to be a master of something, whether it was piano, or guitar, or baking, or drawing, but nothing has propelled me to want to be a master like tapestry weaving.  While I was sitting at the loom working on figuring out how to create a particular effect in this latest weaving, I started to really ponder my drive for mastery.

I began imagining what it would be like to create a tapestry and know exactly how to execute everything.  How would it feel to just weave that design and not have to re-weave a certain area three times in order to get it right?  What would it be like to know exactly which colors to blend and how to use them?  To just magically be able to do it all on the first try?

It actually sounds ridiculously boring.

Yes, I hope to gain skills and knowledge, to grasp techniques and be able to execute them.  I want to be able to troubleshoot and problem solve so that I can one day help others who are just starting out on their own weaving path.  But more than anything, I want to always be learning and growing and trying new things… because that’s the good stuff.  I live for those “Aha!” moments, like working through a challenging design and finally getting it right.  As a self-professed Instagram and Pinterest junkie, I absolutely love seeing the innovative and creative ways that other tapestry weavers and artists are doing their thing.  There’s an endless stream of inspiration out there because everyone has a different approach and a different way of creating.  Some might be more traditional while others are a bit off the wall (that may or may not be a tapestry joke), and it’s all great inspirational material.  Tapestry is both ancient and contemporary, and there’s about as many ways to do things as there are weavers.  That’s what I love about it and why it’s a medium I feel really passionate about.

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My first attempt at weaving the highlights on a tree at the bottom. On top, and after ripping the work out three times, I finally got it right! I love the feeling of success when I work through a certain problem a bunch of times and then discover the solution!

My mom, who is a prolific and versatile artist, has always told me that art should be an adventure.  To me, mastery has meant reaching a level where you can go no further, and that few have reached.  Right now, I’m going to bust my own myth for myself: I think a master is someone who has reached a level of expert skills and knowledge, but they always have the spirit of the student within them.  They continue to play and explore and learn because they know that the creative journey has no end.  They seek out challenges and innovative ways of doing things.  So now, being the master sounds just as exciting as being the student, because it’s all about the journey.