Friday, 26 April 2013

Shall we sit under the oak tree...

Dear Helen,

I loved your last blog post.  And speaking of rituals, let's sit right here and discuss it. Pull up one of the old white adirondack chairs and we'll sit here under the big oak tree and gaze out at the vineyards and enjoy being at the ranch.  It's very conducive to contemplation, don't you think?  Perhaps I will try to incorporate this as a new ritual.

As you know, I have been at the ranch for quilting retreat over the last few days and, as always, I had a wonderful time.  Setting foot onto the ranch premises just brings on an instant feeling of peace and well-being.  Plus there is the delightful sense of being surrounded by women with creativity and enthusiasm and a love for fabric and quilting -- it is a very nurturing and fun and happy energy.  I spent a lot of happy hours sewing and chatting and laughing until my face hurt. 

My foremost sewing task was completing a quilt for Betty, our chorus director, who at age 92 is retiring after directing the community chorus for the last 25 years.  We'll present it to her on Sunday.  I had the top pieced and sandwiched before I went, so while at the ranch I got it quilted and bound.  It's a soft and gentle quilt, with the pastel palette she favors, and I hope she will like it. The back has a label which includes a picture of the full chorus, as well as everyone's signatures, so it's a sweet addition.

From there, I went to piecing some tops that were in various stages in completion, mainly scrappy things I'd started.  Satisfying but mindless sewing so perfectly appropriate for sewing while talking with friends. 

I tried to take time each day to do some painting in my sketchbook.  On one sunny afternoon, I turned one of the adirondack chairs around, with my back to the vineyard view, and painted the beautiful old ranch house.  I'm not sure that you can tell that that's ivy growing over it.  Ah, well.  Sorting out how to do foliage that looks like foliage is something I'm trying to learn right now.


On another afternoon, Pat D and I decided to paint together, so we set off in search of a good site -- every view is a good site, really.  But it was quite windy, so we went into the ranch house and sat inside to paint the view out of the living room window, which looks out at the wisteria arbor.

Here is Pat's take on the same view, by the way.  It was fun to see how each of us interpreted the same view.

You might be amused to know that on another afternoon, I spent about an hour drawing and painting my shoe for an assignment in the online class from Jane LaFazio I've been taking.  This might seem as unappealing to you as drawing a lemon (I am saying that with a big smile, because I know you will know I am joking) but it was very enjoyable and a bit of a challenge to paint the reflective surface of those shoes.

 So all in all it was a very fun and productive time.  The most important thing for me this time around was just the sheer enjoyment of being surrounded by those wonderful friends.  I came home feeling very lucky indeed to have found such a collection of women and to have that twice-yearly event as a regular touchstone in my life.

But back to your post.

 I can so relate to your finding yourself in the doldrums, creatively and otherwise, and not liking that unmotivated and listless feeling.  I suspect that listless for you feels different for me, as for you it likely involves Boc boc, tea and cake, a basket full of decorated Filofaxes and pages and pages of lists and journaling, while for me it most likely it involves a cup of coffee, perhaps a bit of journalling, and a whole lot of staring into space.  

(I have just popped away to look up the derivation of "listless," as I suddenly wondered if it had to do with an absence of lists.  Wouldn't that be funny?  But no, it comes from the middle English word "liste" for "pleasure, joy, delight".  So now we know.)

In any event, I think it's not surprising when one has come to the conclusion of various long involved projects. And I don't think of it as a bad thing, actually.  Maybe it's about reframing the lull into a quiet celebration of completion and getting ready for the energy to start something new.

I do not have a ritual to get my creativity going.  Probably the closest I have is sitting in the wicker chair in the corner of my bedroom with a notebook to sketch or write ideas down in a brainstorming sort of process.  Actually, now that I think about it, I don't usually go into my sewing room with the question "what will I create today?" in my mind.  Instead, I go about other chores and activities, thinking about what interests me, what I'd want to make, what images or themes are pulling at me, so that by the time I head into the sewing room I'm already decided.  It's usually a constant thing, one that just happens whether I try to put it in the forefront of my mind or not.  I think perhaps the mulling going on in my head is a continuous sort of background to the things I'm always doing and thinking.  

Hmm.  Maybe it's a right brain/left brain thing, because I often notice that when I have a period of feeling busy with  legal work assignments, I will often have spontaneous creative ideas pop up -- new ideas or solutions to problems I've been pondering if I've been stuck on something.  At any rate, I suppose that might be, in part, why I've been especially lacking in creativity over the past few months.  My head has been so full of all of emotions and decisions and processing involved in making some drastic changes in my life situation, so it's no wonder that there hasn't been energy or brain space for the creative idea marinating that is usually going on. 

I whined often enough to you about this in private emails, but you know that I was feeling sluggish and ambivalent about a deadline for a specific project, but I pushed myself forward and got the thing finished.  I'm so glad I did!  That is where the adirondack chair above comes from, my piece "Serenity":

So even though this didn't come about via a ritual, perhaps having an impending deadline serves a similar purpose!  I was very pleased to learn that this piece (which is big -- 24 by 60 inches) has been accepted into a juried exhibit called "An Exquisite Moment," which will travel to the International Quilt Festivals in Long Beach, California and Houston, Texas later this year.  And I was very touched by the reaction when I showed this at the ranch's show and tell.  I told them about struggling to decide on what would represent my "exquisite moment," and then I unfurled the quilt and several of the quilters actually got teary-eyed.  I don't think I could ask for a better reaction than that.

(Speaking of exhibits, I wanted to say that I love your shack.  Will it just stay there?  Or will it ever come back to you so you can install it in your garden?  It looks FABULOUS set up and in a natural setting.)

Remember when we talked sometime ago about identifying words to define what we wanted in our work?  Your methodical analysis of the work you've made over the past year or so reminds me of that a bit.  Did it surprise you to see the results of your examination of your work like that? I mean, you obviously knew you were incorporating those elements in your work as you chose them consciously -- but did compiling the information that way surprise you? You said that there was more in common in your work than you thought.  That surprised me, as you plan things out so carefully and it has seemed to me that you were well aware of continuing to work with various elements.

I am intrigued by your decision to abandon working with african fabrics.  I'm not criticizing or disagreeing, mind you.  Not at all.  I'm just struck by how differently you and I approach these sorts of things, which is partly why these conversations fascinate me.  May I make a suggestion?  Even while you are recognizing all that you want to do with surface design and creating your own fabric, I know how much the patterns and colors and textures of african fabric call to you and make your heart sing.  My suggestion is that you not decide on an "all or nothing" choice, when that's not at all necessary.  Focus your time and energy on your own surface design stuff.  But recognize that sometimes sewing with the Magie fabric you love gives you pleasure and produces beautiful work, too.  You might find a certain relief in working with it from time to time, too.  Lots of artists have different series of work going at one time, without having all of them going full-tilt at the same pace all of the time.

So that's my suggestion.  Go forward with the surface design and use that beautiful new wet studio!  But don't prohibit yourself from working with the Magie fabric if you feel like it once in a while. If you love it and it makes you happy, it will fit.  And I have seen how you are inspired by those patterns and colors -- they'll inform the surface design work you do, I'm sure of it.

I will go now to put the last bits and bobs away from the retreat, and then feed the dog who is staring at me with great intensity.  Oh, and OF COURSE I want a video tour of the studio!

love, Diane

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