When in doubt, make stuff.

Thinking out loud…

John Ford was quoted as saying, “When in doubt, make a Western.”  In other words, go back to what you know.  Go back to what you love.

Hand work, made by hand, made with whatever is around into whatever comes to mind—craft, folk art, art—useful, needful, whimsical, uplifting, meaningful, silly, joyful, sad, angry, mournful—all the human voices one can imagine, giving voice, making something, making stuff.

 

I enjoy collecting hand made things, whether in photos or the real object.  But I really love making stuff.  Really.

I have macrame’d, embroidered, knitted and crocheted, quilted (by hand and machine), sewn clothing that would only fit into the decade of the 60s, made all manner of things necessary to boost one’s home decor, and even tried jewelry making.  All things relating to fabric and stringy stuff seem to have stuck with me.  And I am glad.

It is so comforting to sit with my hands busy while my mind can roam.  I also love losing myself in the stitching or knitting as I problem solve my way through the tricksy bits.  I love petting the fabrics, knitted or woven.  I love seeing my made things used, displayed, and treasured for what they simply are—I made that, and I am glad to have done it.

I am going to keep on making stuff.  Some of it will be useful, some whimsical, some—probably and eventually—kinda, maybe, sort of…meaningful.

You never know…

 

Déjà Vu, All Over Again.

Thinking out loud…

Called back to teaching, in a pinch, for a good friend, I learned a few things about myself.

I have thoroughly enjoyed teaching.  After I retired, and then after my new hip, I wondered about stepping into the classroom again, maybe just once in a while.  Thinking about going back to teaching is one thing, actually doing it is quite another.  Reality check.   But I am oh so glad I got a chance to try it out once again, and know for sure that the decision I made two years ago was the right one.

It is a matter of energy and stamina.  It is also a matter of accepting my own limitations, as well as my own changing focus.  I heard myself saying to students, “trust yourself, trust your ideas, trust your instincts.”  Those words turned around and spoke to me.  “Don’t be afraid to play out your ideas, don’t be afraid to screw it up”.  I realized I have been afraid to listen to myself, really listen.

I have been trying to force myself to keep to the path I started many years ago—to be a quilt maker, to use the quilt as my artistic expression, my voice, when in my heart I knew that I had said “it” (whatever “it” was) with my last two quilts—

“Threadbare” and… 

“Weathering Out”

I have had my “say”.  I satisfied something elusive in those last two quilts.  The passion to speak in that form is no longer tugging at me.  I can’t be finished! I thought.  I still have good ideas!  But what I don’t have is the passion to sit down and do it.

I have been sad and puzzled about that, conflicted and troubled on one hand, and on the other hand, enjoying the heck out of my (mostly) unscheduled life.  I’ve been writing, and taking lots and lots of pictures.  I have been exploring my interests without trying to make them practical.  I have been savoring life—unfettered, spontaneously, quietly, consciously, and as responsibly as I can.  That I do have passion for.  I have time for that.  I am taking my time.

So I will “cut myself some slack”, trust my instincts, and see where this leads me—playing  it out, trusting that it is the right path, mistakes, missteps and all, right now.

As I fly home across this country I am listening….really listening.

And to all the students I have ever had, I send my heartfelt thanks.

 

Hang Ups.

Thinking out loud…

There is what you do, and what you think you should do…where you are, and where you think you should be…who you are, and who you think you should be.  Well, at least that’s the stuff that bosses me around in my unsuspecting moments.  I blame it on a strong work ethic, learned from a long line of hard working people in hard times.

As a kid, I wondered about things a lot.  My brain was very busy thinking, figuring out things, watching.  I felt I could almost go unseen and slip into the natural world quietly and peacefully, but alert and observing.  I could lose myself in a world of books borrowed from the mobile library that regularly visited our street.  In our household, this looked like inactivity, laziness, time wasting, shirking.  So I took to going off by myself where I could be out of sight.

That was then, but I certainly internalized all that, and I still prod myself in the same way.  I’ve noticed this a lot since retirement.  Having the time to ponder, taking the time to ponder brings up an internal tug of war—this is what I want to do,  but that is what I should be doing.

The difference now is that I do not accept the self-bullying.  I hear it, but I don’t give in to it.  I know it is what we actually do that matters.  It is what I do that shows me where I am going.  As an artist, I have learned to trust this, trust myself—though not without a lot of internal questioning.

Right now I am following my instincts to explore.  I notice that it sure seems to involve a lot of yarn and knitting and fabric building.  My thoughts are beginning to turn to what this might be leading to, but it still feels too soon to jump in and nail down.

I have a lot of questions for myself, and I want to learn how to do so many things that I keep being happily pulled along in the current.

I am thoroughly enjoying making stuff!  I currently have  5 knitting projects to hand—all working with something new to me—fiber, techniques, design or color.  I switch back and forth as the spirit moves me, slowly making progress.  Some projects allow my mind to roam, some require intense focus, and some just feel good in my hands.  I am watching fabric build in my hands.  And at the end of it, there is something produced, to use, to wear, something made.

 

 

Summer Songs…

 

 

Thinking out loud,

The robins get up very early around here.  We know because they sing the morning song just outside our bedroom window.  Even though it is barely light, they are ready for the day.  I turn over and doze until I hear the raucous call of the Pileated Woodpecker, or the crows, or all of them together.  It’s time to get up!

I really don’t mind this kind of wake up call.  I don’t have to leap out of bed, but my brain starts working on whatever is “up” for the day.

As a kid, summers seemed long open ended weeks, time for anything and everything, time to let my mind roam and the ideas sort themselves.  There was time to dream, to imagine, time to watch a stink bug make its way through a puddle, time to watch a popsicle stick sail the rugged seas of the street side gutter, or time to figure out what a shadow was and how it came to be.

I treasure those memories.  And I treasure the ones I build each day.  I watch my back yard bunnies helping manage the lawn.  In the evenings we watch the swallows soar way up high over the back yard.  We watch the dragonflies cruise back and forth on mosquito patrol.  Dragonflies are my special friends because mosquitos seem to think I am on their particular menu…

And in the studio there is relaxed activity.  You could almost say lazy, but it isn’t really.  My imagination is busy…I am stacking up fabric from my stash as an idea brews.  Pulling fabrics out has been pleasurable—I have some pretty good stuff hiding in those shelves.

I’m not in a hurry.  I aim to let the fabrics sing to me.  I’m going to watch them and imagine and discover what story they have to tell me.  I am going to take my time.

Questions to ask…

Thinking out loud…

There are questions to ask, (What was I thinking??), and some not to bother with, (Where did I put that?), and some that just naturally unfold themselves. (What “meaning” am I looking for in this piece?)

One of my strategies for figuring out what meaning an in-progress work holds for me is to list all the words that come to my mind.  I let myself be literal and symbolic, obscure and obvious, humorous or not—just listing the words, the qualities that dodge through my thinking.

Sometimes this gives me clues as to a direction change.  Sometimes a title appears.  I like to have working titles as I proceed, and often these change as the work progresses.

And eventually I bring out my trusty thesaurus, and look up the words I am most interested in.  I look for words that carry the meaning (or hints of it) that I am searching for.

Titles are the clue I provide to the viewer—a place from which to stand and look at my work, a starting point.  Hopefully, the viewer has to (or wants to) ask the questions I have asked myself.  And, hopefully, the viewer finds answers in her own (his own) experience.

It is that connection between the viewer and the work that I value.  It is what I value about looking at art.  If I can bring my own experience to the conversation between me and the work, I am able to have a dialog with the artist.  It doesn’t matter if my experience is different from the artist’s, it only matters that meaning has been carried, transmitted, communicated, shared.

Art grows and advances civilization.  That may seem obvious, but think about it, let it sink in.  Let the necessity of art give you hope and purpose in your work.

 

Experimenting!

Thinking Out Loud,

Sometimes I just like to cut loose and try something.  Not really preparing or thinking about it a whole lot, just grab the stuff and give it a whirl.  I’m not sure if this ever really works at once, but it gets me in the ball park, and the ideas begin to build on one another.

So began the coffee and tea experiment.  Things in my mind:  staining (anyone can do that!), weathering fabric (yeah, I can do that), using what comes to hand (yep!  I have lots of coffee and tea), sitting back and watching what happens—got it covered.  First off white sateen, poured leftover tea and coffee over, outside hanging from the line.   Check.  Next day, repeat.  Simple experiment, pour stuff over and repeat.  Let it rain!  Only it didn’t rain.  So I just kept it up.

Getting a bit bored, I thought to toss some cotton Pima in a dye bath of very old Safari Grey dye.  Check.  Added soda ash at appropriate time, and rather than wash it out, just hung it on the line and proceeded to pour coffee and tea over that on a daily basis.  And wait for rain…

It began to get interesting….

Then it rained, a little bit.  Now, I fully expected the rain to wash out a lot of what I was seeing, but I wanted to see if staining had occurred and if it would “stick”.

Hmm, that’s not too bad, let’s keep going…..

Then, we went away for a week, traveling, and while we were gone it rained.  A lot.

And I was back to square one…

I’ve had more staining when I mopped up a whole coffee pot spill!  But, I figured I would lose most of the color and detail, just sort of wistful that it pretty much took all of it.  However, along the way, it was fun, interesting, and got my brain thinking about how to get the effects I liked in a permanent way.  It was a process.

I love the process!

Balance,

Thinking out loud…

It isn’t easy, is it?  I’ve been feeling pretty blown around by the human climate in our nation, in our world, on our planet. It is too easy to sink into fear and despair, and that does not help anyone, anywhere.

So, as an act of will, I turn away from that option, and in my small way, do my best to make every action and response positive, to act out of goodwill, not fear, not despair.

What we think matters, what we say matters, what we do matters.  I do believe that the goodwill of each single human gesture adds up, and that there is power and balance in that.

 

Best Laid Plans…

Thinking Out Loud,

Well, it took me one day to figure out that an imposed routine doesn’t work for me right now.

I can see that that has been generally my MO—set a plan and make myself follow it with discipline and the knowledge that “work” should feel like “work”.  My new work routine did feel like work, and I got a start, but it wasn’t enjoyable.  I wasn’t even going for the fun part, but I did want to enjoy “working”.  Trust  me, over the years work has been fun, challenging, engaging, exciting, difficult—all that good stuff.  But change happens and time passes.

I guess I want something else now.

Yeah, one of those would be really good, too.

Anyway, by bedtime, after following my new work routine, and after setting a plan for the next work day, I ached all over, felt a bit bummed, and was definitely NOT looking forward to doing it all again the next day.  I wondered–what the heck is the matter with me?  This isn’t how I want to feel.  This isn’t how I want my work to feel.  This isn’t how I want each day to be.

I had an epiphany.  I really did.  I announced to Jim (my hubby)–because I figured he should know it too– I am retired!   At first he looked at me like  I had skipped a beat, then we both had a good long laugh…(I retired nearly 2 years ago, but I guess it has taken a while to sink in…)

Here’s what I think about it today…I don’t want to work to accomplish something, I want to savor something—my process, my experience, my expression.  I want to play!  Pure and simple.

I feel light hearted about the whole thing.  I feel like playing with the same stuff I have been working with, but with a different attitude.  There is no road map for that, no logical following the scientific method, no agenda, no commitments or schedules.  But there is curiosity, lots of it.  I wonder what will happen if I…?

Anyway, I’m retired from the business, not the art making.  I know, duh…

Routine, what routine?

Thinking Out Loud…

That’s one of my favorite Gary Larson cartoons.  The old Far Side calendar copy is long gone, but photo copied so I can keep it pinned to my design wall–an old friend, it seems just the right thing.  As I encounter rethinking the way I work and re-establishing a work routine, believe me, this feels very familiar.

But this morning I feel ready, a shift in my thinking.  I’ve spent the past week finishing up a major knitting project (yea!), and I can feel the urgency to knit (and finish) relax its hold on me.  So I’m clearing a space on my sewing table and looking fresh at my design wall.

 

There are layers of stuff on my design wall…at this count, three layers.  Projects roughed in and left, covered over with fleece, and new ideas fleshed out on top.  There are actually some good ideas in there, underneath, somewhere.

One that keeps nagging me is the sweater on the yellow plaid field.  Something about this one makes me feel really good, makes me smile–until I think about how to actually DO it.  I’ve got lots of ideas about it, but up to now, not quite the energy to dive in and try it.  I think I am there.  At last.

While often over the past few years I berated myself for not “working”, I realize now that I was simply not finishing anything.  I’d see my design wall everyday, look past the work up there, somehow going blind to it, and end up feeling overwhelmed and discouraged.  But occasionally, I’d fling something else up there–very rough, very incomplete, but an idea that compelled me in some way.  Then I’d think about making it and go lie down.

I have to chuckle at myself…about a week ago, after my last post, I walked into the studio, sat in my comfy chair, looked at the design wall, and I SAW my work.  I saw that I had been producing, not finishing, but producing viable ideas.  Maybe I didn’t want to finish them in the ways I have worked  in the past, but that seemed OK with me.  It seemed interesting to me.  I felt the energy to find a way.  Well dang….it feels good.

So I’ve cleared the decks and thought out a new work routine.  I’m going to take it easy on myself and start out gently, slowly–a couple hours in the morning, doing some trial and error projects to grease the wheels, and to figure out some things.  I am going to allow myself to venture into uncharted territory, explore materials and ideas I am curious about.  And I am building in time to screw up.  At last, that sounds like good fun.

Also, I’m going to add a few minutes of exercise bike time to my work routine–and do some research/reading while I pedal–easy going.   My current pedaling fav is this book…fascinating text accompanying beautiful images.

It’s time to cut myself loose from expectations–mine.  It is time to experiment!

I could not resist adding this–my NEW sweater!  A hand knitting experiment in “will this fit?”  YES!