Rut kicking

One of the problems with blogging is that the subject matter is feast or famine. On one day, you have nothing but silly and trivial thoughts to share and on another, everything is a ten-page essay. For the last few days I’ve had a myriad of possible posts swirling like leaves though the windy space that is my mind and simply haven’t had enough hours in the day to get them out.

Creativity goes like that, I find, as does life. Some days I chug through in the most mundane of fashions, painting, designing, piecing and so on. The results are usually perfunctorily satisfactory and pleasant to look at, but lack power, punch or whatever it is that I feel makes a piece of mine distinct. Most days in recent months I haven’t actually fought this feeling too hard, but rather let it do its job, which is to say I did mine and made nice pieces that people could buy for a reasonable price.

After a certain point, though, it gets oppressive. Making production line stuff (what I loosely use to distinguish my smaller, more quickly executed works from my bigger, more time-consuming pieces) is to creativity what setting up voice mail is to a computer programmer – tedious in a way that hurts, numbs and wears away at your self-confidence all at once. What starts as an instant gratification feeling of being able to complete something quickly changes to a feeling of being stuck in a very deep rut. You start to wonder at your own ability to be original and question whether you actually can make anything meaningful. That’s a sure sign that you have to stop production line and go back to experimentation and originality.

I’m not talking about anything new here. I suspect that most artists go through this on a regular basis. Hell, I’m guessing people in other careers have similar awakenings periodically. It helps, in some small measure, that I’ve been here before and know the landmarks. I also have something of a road map, which is helpful.

One thing that helps is flipping through my idea book, photos and magazines. I tend to jot down possible ideas for pieces just for such an occasion. Sometimes visiting a particular place will inspire me, other times reading an article in a magazine about a technique will trigger a thought process in which that technique could be used to implement an idea. Another sure-fire way I’ve found to get started is to actually paint some fabric.

Most people don’t realise that my work largely starts with white fabric. I use acrylic-based fabric paints and create the skies, oceans, greens, rocks and other textures that I need. I’m getting pretty good at it, but even with the practiced amount of control that I have gained in recent years, I’m still frequently a welcome recipient of gifts of serendipity. Fabric painting is in some measure like watercolour painting, in that the paints handle and flow with the fluidity of watercolours. The effects can be the same in many cases, as well. Where thethe experience differs, though, is in the fabric. Fabric causes paints to bleed and blend, creating the most marvelous textures and patterns. I’ve gotten to the point now where I can generally paint the fabrics I need consistently, but most painting sessions yield at least one unexpected result which blows my mind.

So when I’m stuck, I go back to the beginning. I look at ideas, reread the magazines that have piled up in my inbox, revisit photos taken and start with a fresh, white canvas and a full palette of paints. Then I paint and trust, in an almost religious way, to serendipity and its ability to help me surprise myself with what I can do.

In the last two weeks I have:

  • read two new books on new techniques
  • reread two years of Quilting Arts magazine
  • played with rubber stamps and letters and using them with a variety of inks and paints
  • used acrylic medium to effect transfers of text and images
  • revisited pen and ink drawing on fabric, accentuated with paints
  • planned each of the pieces for the show in detail
  • drafted and planned three fabric books to tie the pieces together
  • put together a rough book to test construction techniques
  • painted 30 pieces of fabric (skies, sunrises, oceans, greens, rocks, etc.)
  • tidied my studio
  • researched image transfer techniques
  • read two art books, one on Leonardo da Vinci and another on Wallace MacAskill
  • organised and categorised photos to be used in artwork
  • started practicing using my calligraphy equipment with fabric paints
  • relearned foiling techniques for embellishment

So I’m tolerably happy with how I’ve hauled my brain out of it’s stupour and into a creative high. It gets a bit easier each time…


2 Comments Add yours

  1. sarai says:

    I’ve been struggling with similar things, actually, trying to find motivation and a belief in my ability to do original work. Sounds like you’ve got a great handle on things. Reading about what you do helps keep my own mind productive. 🙂

  2. mary hood says:

    The important thing about rut kicking of course is that one often doesn’t see the necessity for it. It is easy and we think necessary to put blinders on and continue on in the same old same old. Kudos to you for seeing the neccesity change. What fun to move off the beaten path!


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