Tag Archives: weaving

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!

 

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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.

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So I had been planning on starting over on this piece you might recall from a couple months ago.  I was really excited to make this weaving bigger and better than it was before.  And then, everything came to a stop.  One of my closest friends passed away.  Even though I knew she wasn’t doing well, the suddenness of her passing knocked me to my knees.

I have never experienced a loss quite like this before.  My friend was a witness to my journey as a young woman, who offered me courage and wisdom, who saw my beauty and flaws, and loved me for all of it.  She never let me settle or deny myself all of the goodness that life has to offer.  She saw my true essence, my creativity, my soul’s calling, and always supported me in pursuing my dreams.  She was also hilarious and witty and we shared a similar sense of humor that would put us both into fits of laughter that would make my stomach hurt.  She was my rock.  And I miss her.  I miss her every single day.

When she died, a part of me died, too.  I stopped playing piano.  I had no desire to create ANYTHING.  I didn’t want to pick up a pencil or open a sketchbook.  I didn’t want to sit at my loom.  I was lucky if I even thought about coloring in my coloring book.  I wondered when and how I’d ever want to create again, and what would that look like.  The odd thing is that my beloved friend was an incredibly creative person.  A huge admirer of Van Gogh’s work, she was a self-taught painter who had an amazing ability to capture light and shadows, and her colors radiated off the canvas.  During a time when it felt like I should be creating something as a tribute to her, I found that I was just completely empty.

Vincent Van Gogh, Cypresses with Two Women, 1889

Vincent Van Gogh, Cypresses with Two Women, 1889

And life kept moving forward.  I had to continue to go to work and keep myself together.  I still had bills to pay, I had to feed myself, get enough sleep, and most importantly I had to make time to be with the uncomfortable and, for me, unfamiliar feelings of grief.  We don’t really get enough time to mourn and process our grief these days.  There’s this expectation from society that we get about three days to mourn and then we have to be back on our game.  But from my experiences with grief, both mine and that of friends, is that it’s always cyclical and it has its own timeline.  It comes and goes like the tide and the seasons.  Sometimes it just sits there quietly like a dull ache and other times it feels like a vast and painful emptiness.  But I turn towards the grief and honor it, and in that same way I’m honoring the love I have for my friend.

I’ve been listening to a talk by Martin Prechtel, a Mayan shaman, on grief and praise and how both come from the same place.  To paraphrase a line from his inspiring talk: “You gotta love the thing you lost just like you gotta love the thing you’ve got.”   I grieve for my beloved friend, and I praise the beautiful gift that was her coming into my life and sharing in my journey. I’ve used this time as an incredibly humbling and deepening experience.  I’ve never felt so raw or so totally human before.  It’s given me fresh eyes to look at how I’m living my life, how much love I’m giving to myself, how much praise I have for life and all of the beauty that it offers.  And loss, even profound loss, is part of that beauty.

My friend, who is just a tiny speck doing a backstroke down the river!

My friend, who is just a tiny speck doing a backstroke down the river!

So here is my tribute to my friend, one of the many I will create as a way of celebrating her life and her love.  One of her favorite places to be was at the river, soaking in the sun and swimming in the cool clear water.  Like a tributary, her life and her beauty flows into the hearts of her loved ones who carry her spirit onward.  I’ve been spending lots of time outdoors lately, being in the woods and recently hiking to some frozen waterfalls.  Spring has arrived and these once giant frozen icicles are flowing again, and I feel the same sensation of thawing out, melting into water, the soft flow of a river in my soul.   Nature has always been my creative inspiration, so I’m going back to what I know.  I also have plans to create a piece honoring my friend and the beauty she brought to my life.  I’ll let you know how my new journey goes!

Can you find me?

Can you find me?

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.

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.