Friday, 2 September 2011

Starting the Sketchbook

Dear Helen,

Try as I might to pretend I am sitting next to you at Cedar Farm, I am faced -- literally -- with reality.  So while your Cedar Farm chai is on my computer screen, here is the view I see:

So restful and suitable for creative contemplation, no?

Ah well,  I consider myself quite lucky to have a room where I can have my sewing machine permanently up and ready, and a table for creative work, and my computer right here.  And I can keep an eye on the comings and goings of the Teen, and I can leap up to shift laundry from the washer to the dryer when I hear the end of the cycle.  The clutter is my own fault and seeing this picture is an impetus to clearing it.  Later.

I am so glad to see that the Visual Language exercises are working for you and it does seem that they are doing exactly what they are designed to do -- making you see your subject in some new and different ways and spring-boarding you to all sorts of exciting discoveries.  I love what I see.  And doesn't this seem like you are doing what our Sketchbook Idols have suggested this sort of process will do -- creating fodder for future explorations while you're exploring your theme?

Those stamped designs are just lovely, by the way.  It would make wonderful fabric on its own.  Perhaps it could serve as the basis for making a thermofax screen so you could print it in larger hunks?

Sharing our respective processes is going to illustrate how different we are in our approaches.  You are, it seems to me, single-minded and focused when you have a path you want to pursue.  Me, I have a sense of path but I tend to ramble onto side routes and wander about a bit more.

But I have made some progress, in my rambly way.  First, I decided to go forward exploring "Tea" as my theme, and I selected a journal (from one of many stockpiled in my closet.)  In a step that feels foreign and slightly uncomfortable to me, I've started sketching in an effort to get familiar with the subject and maybe even improve my drawing along the way.

By the way, Laura Kemshall has two very helpful short video lessons on drawing over on Design Matters TV right now, and I have found in my sketching that what she says about the purpose of sketching is true:  I'm discovering information about the subject through the act of drawing it.  With a simple tea bag, there are things you KNOW are there but don't really think about:  the slight seam that seals the bag, the little staple that holds the string, etc.  But drawing makes you SEE them and become aware of how they affect lights and darks and shadows and shapes.  So I'm sketching one or two teabags a day to see where that will lead.  It's quite pleasant and meditative, too.

I've also got my own "word map" sort of thing going in my journal.  You and I are both "word people" so I know you think this way somewhat too -- I keep thinking about different associations with tea and I'm trying to keep track for future research.

I was reading something earlier this week about the creative process which I found interesting.  In this book ("From Ordinary to Extraordinary: Art and Design Problem Solving" by Ken Vieth -- a book about teaching art to kids and how to get kids thinking about art as problem solving), the author describes how researchers have attempted to define the creative process.  Apparently German physicist Herman Hemholz set out 3 steps:

1.  Saturation, the period after research where you have information about your subject

2.  Incubation, the time during which ideas are contemplated and mulled over

3.  Illumination, where you suddenly find a solution to the creative problem

Then sometime later, French mathematician Jules Henri Poincare added  a 4th step:

4. Verification, the act of putting the solution into concrete form

And even later, American psychologist Jacob Getzels added a preliminary stage:

0.  Identifying the existing problem, asking new and searching questions

I am honestly not sure whether this is a reasonable list for most creative people, but what struck me about this was how it applies to our own processes.  You and I have talked about how much of our creative process happens inside our head.  So this was interesting to me as I think you and I tend to be good at the mental "incubation."  Some people work that part out (if they do it at all) by moving fabric around and responding visually to putting pieces of fabric together, moving color around on paper, etc.

And here is another thing I have been thinking about this week: what of my work so far is work I truly love and represents a style I want to pursue?  I don't think of myself as a "representational" artist, but time and time again I return to that.  It's not that it's easy for me -- in many ways, the realistic aspect is more intimidating than free abstraction... But there is something that pulls me to taking something real and ordinary and morphing it a bit into something artful.  Here are some examples of small pieces I made a long time ago in connection with a group project:

I love those pieces.  I loved making them -- taking the image and reducing them to color and value and simple shapes.  And some of my favorite 12x12 quilts involved that sort of work:

So I'm thinking that, while I like veering off to try other techniques and experiment with other visual styles, the work I like best of my own is this simplified realistic sort of thing, not aiming for photo-realism at all, but a stylized imagery.  

But then I see work like Sophie Munns (thank you for that link!) and I see the possibility of the exploration from real to abstract and it makes my heart leap up and I think "let's try!"
So who knows where my little teabag sketches will lead?

Last: You asked about what I think about ritual in creative production.  I have to confess that, having little ritual in that respect, I can't really speak to it personally.  But it makes sense to me, and I've found that it's helpful in other less creative aspects of my life.  But I've not consciously applied it to the creative side of my life.  There is definitely something to be said for just showing up regularly, inspired or not.  I think your Cedar Farm sunday mornings illustrate what can come of that sort of ritual: You take yourself away from the distractions, and you give yourself the treat of time and space to focus on art.  You are training yourself to use that time well.  

I thought I would try visiting my local coffee place my own Cedar Farm.  But The Flying Goat here in Healdsburg (or "The Goat" as it is called locally) is too social of a place.  Every other person who comes in is someone I know from PTO or the neighborhood and while it's great fun to see everyone (it's a sweet reminder of how nice it is to live in a small community), it's not conducive to artful contemplation. 

I am eager to see what you have done this week.  What are you thinking about the ritual?  And I'm wondering -- if you aren't able to get to Cedar Farm, can you transfer that energy to some place in your own home?  (Your desk!  The all-important desk!)



Terry said...

I like those steps for creative problem-solving. I, too, spend a lot of time working things out in my head before I ever even sketch, much less start moving fabric around. And I have always found my best work comes from solving a problem. Probably why I found our challenges such good exercise.

Karen said...

I agree with Terry that I work a lot out in my head, but I find when it's up on my design wall, it never looks as good. That's when I become instinctive, trying out different fabrics, different shapes. Then I leave it there for a few days and go back into my head to figure out what's not working. Ususally this second time around, I'm able to come up with workable solutions. I think I'm someone who needs a concrete starting point before my subconscious will take over.

Kristin L said...

I definitely think those are reasonable steps for creative people. And, I think that they are generic enough to be useful. What I mean is that the preliminary stage could be an idea that pops into your head, a spur off another path, a prompt from a group, etc. The saturation and incubation periods could be of any length -- minutes, months, etc., and could be of many types as well. Incubation could easily be that which happens in the head OR on the design wall... it's all information that eventually informs Illumination and Verification. I think we do follow these steps, but are maybe not always aware of it. Awareness though, would probably help one to use the steps more effectively.