Tag Archives: Tapestry weaving

Committment to the Creative Spirit

I’ve known for a while now that when I start to feel negative about one area of my life, it will usually spiral downwards into other parts.  I often start off not feeling all that great about: a. the work I’m producing, or b. the work I’m not producing.  I  consider myself a pretty optimistic person 90% of the time, but I’m most definitely my own worst critic, and it seems that the only person whose kind words can get me out of this mess is, well… me.

I was in this funk just the other day, facing a deadline at midnight for a scholarship application to take a workshop at Penland this summer.  My college professors had written me glowing letters of recommendation, I had spent countless hours on my essay, and all I had left to do was to add a few more images of my artwork and then hit “submit”.  I was almost finished with the thing a couple of weeks ago, but I suddenly became completely absorbed in playing the piano, writing music, practicing scales and arpeggios, and feeling for the first time in my life that I actually might be really good at this whole music thing!  I’ve been playing off and on for almost 20 years, so this isn’t exactly a new passion, but it is a new sense of confidence for me.

As I dedicated myself to perfecting my playing of Ave Maria and writing my first original piece, I had naturally kind of forgotten all about the scholarship.  My lack of enthusiasm for my latest weaving coupled with my focus on music left me wondering, “Why bother? I never seem to stick with anything so why bother seriously pursuing one thing over another?”

“But then again, why bother playing piano?  I hate performing, so no one is ever going to hear me play at Carnegie Hall any time soon, nor am I going to start making an album.  In fact, I live at home with my parents, I work at a grocery store, blah blah blah…”  You see what I mean about this downward spiral?  Once I start on one thing it’s only a matter of time before all the other aspects of my life get dragged in for a harsh and unrealistic beating.  “Why bother being an artist if you can never be renowned?  Why bother being a pianist if no one will ever hear you play?  Why bother making tons of needle felted wizards that no one will ever buy because you put them in a shoebox under your bed and wont sell them on Etsy?”

Why bother making art or music if I’m never going to be seen or heard? Because what else am I going to do to add interest and beauty and substance to my day to day existence?

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Seriously, what else is going to give me the same sense of fulfillment and satisfaction and creative expansion and growth and joy and hope and self-expression that music and art give me?

So after mentally rolling around in this imaginary pile of stinky, negative, self-sabotaging poo all day, I sat down at the computer and I finished my application.

I wasn’t forcing myself to finish the application, but rather committing to what I had started.  I was putting the brakes on my fear and taking back the steering wheel.  When I finished uploading all of my images, it was the first time I had seen almost all of the tapestries I’ve woven in the past several years together in one place, and it was the first time I honestly reflected on how far I had come as both an artist and an individual.  I saw brilliant colors and imagination and stories.  I saw all of my growth, progress, discoveries, successes, failures, and most importantly, the emergence of my own authentic creative voice.

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While it’s kind of sad to see how harsh I can be on myself, the realization has given me a catalyst to commit to making some positive changes in my life.  I know fear and self-doubt and criticism will visit me again in the future .  But the one thing I know for certain is that I have never, and will never, give up on myself or my creativity.  Even if I don’t get accepted for this scholarship, the most important piece of this story is that I committed to my creative spirit, and that’s what really matters.

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I Love a Good Beginning

It’s true, I love a good beginning.  That feeling when you sit down with a book and after a few pages you think, “Oh, this is gonna be good.”  Or when you hear a new song and the rhythm or the harmony or the vocals hit you right in the feels.  A newly discovered walking route, adorable neighborhood, or path in the woods. When you meet the person who becomes your best friend.  A fresh start, a clean slate, when all things seem possible.

I also love the beginnings that slowly unfold.  When your not so sure about that crazy leap of faith you just took, but then you start noticing the tiny miracles that occur as the result.  The person who you never imagined would be a friend, and what a wonderful friend they turned out to be. The quickening plot, the road that delivers surprisingly stunning views, the blossoming romance, springtime.

beloved1But while these good beginnings are nice and certainly welcome, I also appreciate a difficult beginning and everything it teaches me about patience, courage, and self-compassion. Rough starts come in many forms, and currently mine is with my latest weaving.  I’m really jazzed about it and really frustrated all at the same time.  I planned the whole thing out to be a certain size and only now do I realize I easily could have made it bigger.  Why do I automatically tend to work so small with such tiny detail?  Sometimes I feel like weaving so small makes me want to rip my hair out.  Maybe I could weave with that….

Well, I decided to take the whole thing apart, right back to when I tied on the warps.  It’s amazing how three to four hours worth of work can be taken out in less than half the time.  The process of tapestry weaving is so much more than just following the cartoon.  The techniques and experimenting along the way can add some time onto the piece.  However I tend think of it as time well spent because I always learn something new through trial and error.  I’m sure the more experienced weavers out there have a better understanding of how to get the effects they want, but I’ve also seen evidence of these weavers ripping hours worth of work out, too.  It may be that we are our own worst critics, but I also think it’s something else…design1

In the past, may well-meaning friends have lunged towards me shouting a slow motion “Noooooooo…” as I took an eraser to the drawing I spent countless hours on, or covered up the painting that just wasn’t working, or ripped out seams and rows of weaving.  Sure the work is beautiful to them, but I’m also doing this work for myself.  It’s my dedication to my ideas and creativity that makes me courageous enough to know when to start over, even if I feel a huge sense of guilt.  Even if I fear I may not ever get it right.  Even if I feel I’ve already spent enough time on it.  I think many other artists feel this same way.  We know we wont be able to live with the finished results if we had pushed through and tried to make it work.  Sometimes the solution to a rough beginning is to take what we’ve learned and start over.  Sometimes the solution is to scratch the whole idea all together.  I’ve done that too. Of course, this always has to be kept in check when it’s the drive for perfection that is causing us to continually start over.  Perfection can do the opposite of what we want it to do.  Perfection can be a real creativity killer…

 

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Discovering what didn’t work before has helped me to change a few things about the design, a big one being the overall size.  I haven’t even started weaving this improved piece and I’m already glad I decided to start over.  I’m also glad I don’t have a deadline!  Whether the beginning is slow and meandering, or fast and thrilling, sometimes the most important thing is just to start, and to not be afraid to start over.

 

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Resolution: Make More Art

Sorry I haven’t posted in so long.  I have a whole list of reasons for my absence, but mostly it’s that I’ve been too busy.  Too busy caring about what other people will think of my work to make any work.  I’ve been paralyzed with self-doubt and fear, worse than my years in undergrad sitting through another grueling critique.

“It’s so… trite,” were the words of my art professor in regards to a felted piece I made with an owl on it.  Now I made this piece BEFORE owls came back into fashion and you could wear them on shirts, leggings, and socks and pour salt and pepper from ceramic owl shakers into an owl shaped bowl and eat your delicious whatever with owl chopsticks. You’re welcome.

Despite how crappy I felt after this particular critique, I still brought that felted owl bag with me out in public.  The first day I was out shopping I had three people ask me where I got it.  I probably should have just sold it to one of them, but I still had that lingering feeling, that word “trite” hanging over my head like an unrelenting rain cloud.  It just wasn’t good enough, even for the complete stranger who had to know where I got it. I eventually gave it away to a friend, but my love for putting animals on things has never gone away.

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I’ve often sketched out designs for tapestries or paintings that feature animals, stars, moons, and my passion for adding just a hint of sparkly gold.  But then my art school critic challenges me to consider just how trite it is.  Where is the concept?  The social/political/environmental struggle?  Where does it talk about the important topics of our times like gun violence, equal rights for women and trans people, and justice for the lives of young black people that were violently taken away?

I know what my work means to me, and what I want it to mean to the viewer.  My work is a reprieve, an exhale, the brightness of moon light on a dark, cold winter night.  My art illustrates the beauty and magic that still exists under the surface of the harsh realities of current events.  It’s not naivety, it’s not delusion or denial, and it’s not even trite.  My school had a motto: “Learn the rules to break the rules.”  I may have lacked the level of conceptual understanding my teacher wanted me to have, but I gained the technical knowledge to create what I’m here to make.

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I normally don’t create New Years resolutions because I feel like life is always a work in progress, and positive change doesn’t have to wait for the first day of the year.  And like everybody else who loses motivation for their resolutions, I hate the feeling of guilt when I fail.  However, I think this is the year I learn to stop giving a s**t what other people think of my work.  Not everyone is going to like it and that’s fine.  I can’t let it affect me personally.  There’s lots of art out there that I don’t like, Instagram accounts that I don’t follow, but those artists are still making.  My only responsibility is to make my art.  And to other artists who doubt themselves and their work, you need to make your art too, because there are people in this world who need it, whether it’s trite or not.

 

The End and the Beginning

Hey, remember how I said a while back that I was going to finish this tapestry by the end of January?  Well I did it, I just forgot to tell everyone about it!  While I was out for a walk this evening the bright full moon shining down on me reminded me of this piece, and how happy I am that it’s finished…

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Compass, 2015, 14.5″ x 22″, cotton, wool

This piece embodies my own inner journey of finding and following my inner light, my “compass”, to wherever it may lead me.  Often times the voice that keeps me small and safe overpowers the soft and steady whispers of my intuition.  Ever notice how fear and worry sound so big and loud and commanding inside your head?  “Don’t do that!  You’ll never succeed.  Stay right where you are or you might make a big mistake!  What if you fail?”

But the voice of truth and wisdom is delicate and heartfelt, like bird songs in the morning.  “Why don’t you give it a shot?  You never know until you try.  This opportunity might be just what you need,” or even, “you can do great things.”

By finding and following our own inner compass, we find what our truth is, what our goals and dreams are, what we want to bring to the world, and the courage to follow that through.  This tapestry marks the end and the beginning for me, a time to get more in touch with the art I want to create.  I realize I want to work more with the symbols and stories in my own imagination, and for my own sense of personal and creative satisfaction.  I’ve been trying to design and weave tapestries to fit the demands of competitive juried shows, and while I’ve certainly had some success, it hasn’t felt authentic.  I don’t enjoy creating something to hopefully appease the aesthetic tastes of the jurors, just for the hope of tacking another show onto my resume.  I want to make art for myself, and let it reach out to those who are meant to be touched by it.  I’m not a contemporary conceptual artist, at least not right now.  My interests lie in nature and animals, mythology and storytelling.  Once I get back to the loom, it will be to weave the stories of the world into life.

A Looming Deadline

compass_wip1Almost done!  I’ve set my own deadline to finish this tapestry by January 30th, because sometimes all it takes is a looming deadline (ha, get it?) to get me to sit on the weaving bench.  I think I’ve got about an inch left, then I’ll weave the hem, and then it’s off the loom!   I’ve been breezing through this weaving with a renewed feeling of passion and enthusiasm, and I know the boxing classes have a big part to play in this.  I’m building new muscle skills, not just physically but mentally, emotionally, and creatively as well.  I go to class feeling terrified of what insane workout I’ll push my way through today, and leave feeling so much appreciation for my coaches, my courage, and my strength.  I carry this feeling of resilience, this deep appreciation for how strong I am, courageous I am, for everything I know I can do, to my art practice and the rest of my life.  Boxing is teaching me to go deeper, to push harder, to love myself, my creativity, and my life more than I ever have before.

I’m also currently building the next online tapestry exhibit for the American Tapestry Alliance.  The curator picked some magnificent pieces and it’s been so fun to see so many incredible artworks.  I’m sorry I can’t give you any details, but I’ll post a link on here when the show goes live for those who are interested!

A Few Steps Back…

Time really flies, especially when I get into the rhythm of weaving.  I fall into just the right state of calm focus and inspiration, and the colors and shapes flow from my fingers.  It can be hard to stop and take a step back, view the work, and take note of the progress, but this is one of the most important aspects of art making.  I first learned this from my painting instructor in college.  He would always remind us during class, while we were deep in the process of painting still lifes, to step back from the easel and view our work.  Up close, you could only see the tiny details, but from ten feet back, you could see the whole picture.  The sculptor, the painter, and yes, the tapestry weaver, need to get some distance between themselves and their work to see how it’s coming along.  How do the shadows, light, contrast, and colors look?  Is the composition still working?  Are any shapes or forms slightly off?  When your face is a mere 14 inches away from the canvas, it can be hard to take in the bigger picture.  Viewing our work from a distance is also how our audience will see it, and it gives us a chance to admire our hard work.

This design is an element from a larger tapestry that I will eventually make…  when I have a bigger loom.

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The cartoon and a colored pencil sketch of the design

The main design it’s taken from was partly inspired by my summer hike up to the alpine meadows of Mt. Jefferson near Bend, Oregon, and partly inspired by many late night moon viewings from my fifth floor apartment.  The moon/star symbol makes an interesting composition without the mountain and trees in the original design.

CompassWIP1So far, I’ve had to take two sections out, about four hours of work, because the areas weren’t following the cartoon (the white paper behind the weaving).  Eventually this “small” error would have thrown off most of the overall effect of the design.   Sometimes I don’t have to follow the cartoon exactly, and I enjoy the spontaneity that comes with improving, but I don’t have that freedom with this design.  Again, another great example of the importance of taking a few steps back to get some perspective!  I can’t emphasize it enough.  *If you’re an artist, take a break every now and then while you are making (not just at the beginning or end of your studio time) and get some distance between you and your art.  Soak in your progress and what you have learned, take note of what looks great and what might need to be improved.  Then pick up the paintbrush, or bobbin, or carving tool, and keep making.

*Even if you’re not an artist, this technique still applies to you; the artwork that you are looking at is your life!

Making time… when there is no time

I’m sure the vast majority of people, not just creative types, will agree with how difficult it can be to find the time to do what you love, especially if what you love is not how you make your living.  I consider myself fortunate as my commitments are simple.  I work full time… and that’s pretty much it.  Besides doing my errands, paying my bills, and cooking something besides a bowl of cereal, I have a lot of free time to spend as I wish.

So why do I get sucked into a youtube vortex when I get home from work?  Because there are endless hours of kitten videos to watch, that’s why!

But seriously, this is a pattern I’ve noticed with myself lately; I have quite a bit of time that, if used constructively, I could get a lot done with my art.  And not just the actual art making, but I could also be sharing photos on Facebook, posting here, sketching and painting ideas, searching for shows, etc.  When I choose to troll around aimlessly on Facebook for an hour, I am choosing to not create my work, to not bring into physical form the ideas and images I want to share with others, to not fulfill my life’s purpose: to be an artist.

I have a lot of creative friends, some of them with as much time as me to make their work, some with less.  I’ve seen the friends with less time produce incredible artworks that came from making a choice and a commitment to their art, no.  matter.  what.  I admire that, and I ask myself, “What’s my excuse?”  If I have a vision for my next piece, why am I choosing to not take the next step?

I have this book sitting on my shelf, perhaps you’ve heard of it…

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And yes, that is a little peek at my finished tapestry!

I actually have not read this book past page 37, but I think it’s time.  My resistance to making my art is not serving me and is preventing me from bringing forth the thoughts and ideas I want to share with the world.

When we deny ourselves, through fear of failure, criticism, or even success, the time to bring our artistry out into the light, we are doing ourselves a disservice.  I think of it as a form of self-sabotage, and other people lose out because they never get to experience our creations.  Our audience, our readers, our listeners will never get the chance to be inspired, to be influenced, or to be changed by the messages we wish to share as long as we continue to deny our creativity.  When we perform a disservice to our creative self, we also do a disservice to others.  It’s a lose-lose situation.

Now, I should also clarify that I’m not supporting the whole work-you-butt-off-until-all-joy-is-sucked-out-of-you kind of work ethic.  In order to be at our optimal creating capacity our minds and bodies need rest and relaxation.  Life is for enjoying, for spending time with friends and loved ones, for being inspired by others’ creativity, and for recharging.

One of my fave places to recharge, the Portland Japanese Garden

Without this time for self-care, our artistic process can lose it’s feeling of fulfillment and satisfaction, and that will surely manifest itself in the end product.

What it really comes down to is a choice.  When we have the time and energy in our busy lives to either pursue our life’s purpose or to stare blankly at the computer screen, I hope we make the first choice.  I’ve been wanting to write this post for a month now, and I guess I just needed to make the time.

How do you overcome your blocks to making your art, music, writing, dancing, or other pursuits?  If you struggle with this like I do, I encourage you to pick up a copy of “The War of Art” and read it with me.  Let me know how it inspires you to make the time for your creative work.