Friday, 19 April 2013

The three R's


Dear Diane,
This week has been hectic at work. Early starts, late finishes, short lunches and difficult decisions. Not excatly conducive to blogging or creativity in the evenings. But I always find that the universe provides just when you need it and the God's have sent me a kind colleague who has helped me out today to allow me time to catch up on paperwork and to leave work intime to visit Boc Boc for some sanity cafe time on the way home.
I have with me a notebook I started specifically to write notes about working in a series. Page two starts with a list of topics my first entry threw up as fodder for this blog. The first on the list was "How important is ritual?"
Well, lets think. I have been aware I am not blogging and have been dithering between thinking," I need to get my act togther, my filofax out and my brain in gear and plans some posts," and thinking, "Oh, sod it. Who cares about blogs? Maybe if I have no passion for it, its something I should just let go of anyway." Then I get this precious free hour or so. I could go home but its noisy there becuase my husband is hoovering ( well, Dysoning to be accurate, but either way I know I am lucky!) so I popped in here and sat at one of my usual tables and ordered my usual snack and suddenly, ideas for blogs came pouring in and I have had to whip out the ipad and get going. It really was remarkable. That always happens in here.
So it got me thinking. I am in similar doldrums with the art making, having just finished off three big projects and being distracted wth studio construction stuff. So is there a similar ritual that I can engage to get me restarted in the studio? I am not sure I do have one and whilst just being in the studio is a good impetus it is not as much like Pavlov's bell as the arrival of toast in Boc Boc for some reason. So I am wondering. Do you have a conscious ritual to get you going? I know your Rituals quilt was all about wine tasting but knowing you I am pretty sure drinking yourself into art is not your style! But that said I used to drink a lot of a 'tea' called Dreamtime ( I think I brought you some last time I visited) until I worked out it had never seen the gate of a tea plantation and was basically delicious flavoured sugar in hot water.. I used to call it Quilting Tea! Maybe I should brew some up when I get in. I have read about people lighting candles or having a moment before an little altar but I wonder whether the 'Boc Boc effect" can be artificially created like that or if it has to be something spontaneous and natural.
In any event the second R is for Re-organisation because, even as I sip tea the fitter is in the second studio putting the lino flooring down. So lots of this week has been spent carrying things up and down from one studio to another reorganising myself into wet and dry and receiving various mail ordered items of equipment. This was just one day's mail. Our postman hates us.
So the ritual question may be accademic. It would be simply BAD to build not one but two studios and then not make art in them. So in one sense the complete overprovision of space is going to make it a requirement that I simply get out of the doldrums and create. After all, it does not take any inspiration to just dye some fabric a pretty colour does it? ( Although the research as to precisely what type of glove - medical or decorators? Latex or non? Powered or not? - might actually prevent me dying my hands fuscia yet again, can be a convenient delaying tactic.) And of course I mentioned the first world problem of whether paints to be used for design but not production belong in a dry or wet studio! I totally appreciated the enabling response that I required two sets and I will order more once the restraining order the postman has taken out to ban himself from having to come near our house has run out.
The R for Re-organisation is also applying to the sorting out of my mind though. A few months ago I set myself goals to reach by Easter ( including this totally insane plan to make a lifesized African shack which is currently deteriorating in all weathers in a park in Belgium).
So now are three huge quilts all sent off and I need to regroup and decide to do next. As part of that I journalled about what I would like my art life to look like in ten years time and worked back all the steps I neded to take to get there. In all areas I came down to the hardly startling discovery that the first step was to build a body of work. Now I have lots of quilts but I see myself in the process of to defining my voice. So I use body of work not to mean 'stuffed cupboard full of past projects' but 'a coherent consistent collection of pieces that can be recognised as being in my voice.' I was somewhat frustrated that even though I have been thinking of that for a while now I still feel that I am all over the place stylistically. And thats how I come to the third R word: Refine
So I sat down and wrote a list of the quilts I had made over roughly the last twelve months give or take. There were twelve of them ranging in size from 20x 12 inches to 90 x 84. Plus a shack! But I counted the 20/12 as one set rather than individual quilts. I then looked at each one and made a list of what I saw to be their features. I came up with this list
  • Paint scraping/ stamping
  • Handdyes
  • Writing
  • Africa theme
  • Sense of location
  • Socio-political message
  • Shacks
  • People
  • Machine applique
  • Hand embroidery
  • Machine stitch
  • Screen printing
  • Use of bought african textiles
So, 13 characteristics. The least any one quilt had was seven ( the shack). The most was 12, which was my Joe Slovo Township quilt
. Of the characteristics almost all had multiple occurrences with the sense of location and the social political message being in every quilt. The weakest featured was the screen printing, which is because I have only just started to learn to use that, and the use of genuine african textiles.
It was easy to see that the list of quilts fell into two categories (a) ones which featured my own surface designed fabric and (b) those with what I call 'Magie Fabric' i.e using my stash from my friend Magie's shop of imported fabrics. What I could see clearly was that the (a) quilts were the ones I had dedicated he most design time to and that I was most invested in. I would say they were my better works. The two (b) quilts I did for fun and to please other people. Indeed I cant show you the african one that was not the shack above because it is a suprise for a friend. Plus the thing is so humungous that I can't photograph it at home!
I got two very important things from this.
1. If I need to focus down and refine more, the african fabrics have to go. Well, snippets may appear as they do on the shacks in Joe Slovo but the quilts completely of african fabric is not where my work is headed. Rather I need to be focusing more in my surface design skills.
I know this in my gut but I am fighting it a bit. I like working with Magie fabric, I like that is a collaboration with african artists who make beautiful cloth. I like suporting the fairtrade commerce that ensues. But I know that the result is my hand and the voice of Esther/ Musa et al. I believe that it is possible to work in two very distinct series, although it takes two lots of marketing if an aim is to get gallery space. Plus I know a gallery where a whole african village of life sized shacks surrounded by walls of african textile quilts would look great. And it wouldfe fun to do that. So its tempting to try to do both.

The problem is time. IF I was full time I could do that. I am not. I have worked out and tested that going full pelt with high motivation I can do about 55-60 hours most months including design and blogging and 'business time' ( like entering shows and packing quilts). That's about 35% time. On top of the early start/ late finish full time job. And I like to do other things in life too.
So the choice is: spread thin and take longer to get where I am going or give something up and build up a body of work that is narrower in scope but wider in competence and cohesion?
I know the answer ( jeez, the building of a whole surface design studio might have been a sort of a clue where my subconsious was leading me! ) but you will forgive me if I take a little time to grieve the relinquishing ( gosh there are more R words than I planned in this post!) of the easy and quick option in favour of more work, more vulnerabilty and more risk. And maybe more reward. I know that I will still use Magie fabric or other commercial fabrics, because I will allow myself some R&R time ( oh, they are just rolling forth now!) to make lap quilts and/ or kits just for fun. For example, I am booked on a retreat in a few months time where surface design work is not possible so I could use my African fabrics for fun there. And maybe the shacks will come back in surfaced designed way. Who knows. After all the reason I love those fabric IS the beautiful suface design. And Magie actually has the stamps used to make some of those wax print fabrics anyway. Plus, (she says trying to stop herself crying) quilts still need backings, and no harm will come to my refinement plan if I just sit and cuddle the african fabric from time to ever said that not working with a certain kind of fabric meant you should not buy the stuff. Well, maybe my husband did but I am sure he didn't mean it.
2. The second thing I got from this is that finding time to to looking back and to think is a good thing to do. I saw that actually there was far more in common in my works than I thought and that was encouraging to see my progress which I coud not see as I was on the path itself. And I can see where I can place more emphasis on certain characteristics in the future and to what topics I need to dedicate my learning time.
So I am going to need some support in actually making this choice and not waking up tomorrow convinced that it is utterley wrong. Or, more likley, reaching a difficult time learning surface design and being tempted to slide into the easier route again. Or seeing something exciting at Festival of Quilts and wanting to g off ona tangent.
Right, now my life is sorted I am going to go home and finish up sorting out the studio, mix up some dyes and get going this weekend. Would you like a video tour of the studio, inside cupboards and all for the next post?

1 comment:

suzielhammond said...

Love this post. You have set me on a path of refined thinking and making notes as to where I am 'really' headed. Examining my loves and directions. I want to see that studio set up! What great fun to be able to do that-even though it does serious cut into the creative time for the moment.

Perhaps if you offer your postman some tea and a lifetime supply of elastic bandages you can entice him back into your neighborhood. :)

Rituals is an interesting thought. What am I doing that sometimes sets a creative whirlwind in motion and why do weeks pass with nothing occurring? When I have to write for a living the same is also sort of true there will be weeks with little motion and then a flurry of ideas all clamouring for attention. It is time to subject that process to some scrutiny. Thanks for the ideas.