I began accepting commissioned work over 40 years ago; it remains an important part of my textile time. Two weeks ago I found myself praying for the courage of my gifts. I was in the middle of a custom table runner in which I was combining favorite techniques, new tools, and an unfamiliar size. The delivery date was less than a week away, a tighter time frame than I usually provide for myself. Fear began seeping into the studio work.
The fear was irrational. I had stopped evaluating my efforts and results and started listening to that inner voice of judgement. I had provided myself plenty of artistic cushion: two extra linen runners, practice samples with paint color and new stamps, a sample pillow to give a better sense of design space. I had been true to what I needed to bring the project to completion. Even with all that spread before me, I doubted my abilities. This is a dark place for a creative soul.
I prayed for courage. I also read the quote from William Stafford that hangs in my laundry room, a highly visible space in my daily routine. It is advice to poets: “Lower your standards.”, given in conjunction with the assignment to his students that they write a poem every day. I moved beyond doubting the placement of the grass around the bunny. I stopped second guessing the color of the flower. I inked up the stamp and pressed the final bee into place.
The client received the runner on time, appreciated the work, and paid the invoice. I like commissioned work because it involves communication as much as craftsmanship and design. I enjoy the skills I have honed in these areas. I evaluate my creative process and product. I end excessive fear with appropriate standards.
How do you overcome irrational fear in your creative endeavors?
“What three words will help you in 2013?” That was the last sentence of the last post of 2012. I planned to write this post a month ago. I had my three words. But I also had doubt, the kind of doubt that sabotages movement.
“I believe in the power of words. Each year I choose three words to shape and focus my time, space, and energy. They usually arrive in my brain sometime between Thanksgiving and the New Year. I am grateful when they appear early, because I can roll them around and get comfortable with them.” I wrote this in the last blog, too. I got the 2013 words in late November and they have been rolling and rolling, but there is no comfort.
The words are prepare, practice, and evaluate. For me, they are derivatives of last year’s “invent,” the word that wanted more time. Some days these words elate me. On dark days, they seem to illuminate my inadequacies. Elation and illumination. I like it when my art causes that response in my viewers. Perhaps these words will make me a more wholesome artist.
Does your work inform and illumine your days? How does that happen? Do words help?
I believe in the power of words. Each year I choose three words to shape and focus my time, space, and energy. They usually arrive in my brain sometime between Thanksgiving and the New Year. I am grateful when they appear early, because I can roll them around and get comfortable with them.
Last year these words arrived: trust, invent, and nurture. I have come a great distance with trust and nurture. They have been invaluable for leaving old structures and evolving new relationships. It was pleasurable to spend time with practices that were once central to my daily life. I welcomed these old friends back.
Invent was chosen because it seemed like the more intellectual side of creativity. I love revelling in the intuitive. Invent triggers visions of research and controlled experimentation. Invent was a choice beyond comfort towards a new balance. I believe I need more time with this word.
How do you use words to shape your life? Do you make resolutions? What three words will help you in 2013?
I collect quotations. They are tucked into books, into drawers, into baskets. Some are neatly assembled in a small notebook. And some roll around in my head, waiting to be recalled. On certain days those head rollers push into my routine and demand attention.
Today two quotations have pushed their way into fabric calculations and food preparation. The first is from Edward Albee, collected in my college days. “Sometimes it’s necessary to go a long distance out of the way to come back a short distance correctly.” It has always reminded me of my childhood chore of bringing in the cows for evening milking. Today it applies to family relationships. And always, it informs my creative process.
The other quotation is from the poet Adrienne Rich; a copy of it is framed on my bedroom dresser. “We must use what we have to invent what we desire.” Today I am not thinking so much of my tangible possessions (Except when I was chopping left over turkey.) as those items I carry in my metaphorical backpack. Creativity, humor, inventiveness, faith, craftsmanship, wordsmithing, passion.
Those are probably good things to be carrying as I work myself round to coming back that short distance correctly. I am hoping that the end point and my desire are the same, and that I will recognize it as such.
What good words are informing your day? What are you inventing?
I do not like the word deadline. I do not read nonfiction books from the beginning. I am in essence a maker and I favor neither the starting nor the finish point. I like the exploration that comes in the middle.
I am planning the next 6 months of studio work, during which I will make many items. As I schedule commitments into the calendar, I have started with the finish points, many of which have been determined by exterior circumstances. Yes, that was the easy part.
I need to know what the starting point looks like. Is it a sketch, a shopping list, a contract? My inner voice strongly suggests I choose and get moving. I would like to choose well.
What do your starting and finishing points look like? Do you also prefer the making in the middle?
I am safe and warm and puttering in my studio. Pressing fabric sets me free to pray for those in harm’s way. – my Facebook status for today, posted so that my family and friends knew that I had weathered my experience of the storm named Sandy.
I was intrigued by the number of “likes” and from whom they came. I believe that they were largely responding to the second sentence. The artists among them know how comforting and liberating the pleasant repeated tasks can be. The praying people among them are grateful to have another companion to lift up the weary.
Before me on a pin board are words from Matthew Fox: creativity and imagination…..constitute our deepest empowerment. How are you using creativity and imagination today?
I like being in that place between work and play. It is not a blurry, ill-defined place for me. It is where my imagination is happy, and often, productive. I create games that make my work more playful. And I have a new one.
It is called “I own it; I use it.” It is less than a week old, but I like what it is doing for me. I received an inquiry for burgundy and gold Christmas stockings. I have suitable fabric in my stash. There is a vegetable soup simmering in my kitchen, created from what was in the refrigerator and the pantry. There is nothing new about what I am doing. What is new is the focus. And my attitude.
If I am simply using up what I have, I can miss the pull of another shopping experience. When I am playing my game, I feel empowered by my choices. I have collected these materials and equipment and today I am choosing to use them for what is required now. The game is not about stuff. It is about my attitude. I believe it is part of my journey to discovering my own “enough.”
Do you want to play? What have you used today that has delighted you?
I am a morning person. I like waking up. My better mornings are when I remember to prepare the coffee and set the delay brew the night before. But with or without the smell of coffee, I like the moments between waking and leaving the snugly comfort of my rest.
I think about those I love. I stretch my body and am glad to be in it. I let my mind wander and wonder. In that brief journey, my mind often goes to the recurring themes of my current pursuits: a life of enough, creative process, seasonal living.
I was rather startled last week when those thoughts brought me to two questions: what’s under my bed? and what possesses me? They are rattling a complacency in me. They persist in revisiting me. Today I looked under the bed, a place where I have historically stored textile projects with which I didn’t want to be concerned. I found at least two bins of fabric ready to be used. Surprise! My pursuit of a life of enough is changing my habits. There needs to be more new habits before I want to answer the second question. What possesses you?
This is the beginning of the 8th week of my full-time pursuit of studio work. I had envisioned merrily using the summer to produce so many of the things that my heart and hands had longed to make. What I have encountered is the need to edit. Already. The need feels premature and a bit unwelcome. But it is not to be denied.
I could be rejoicing over this. Abundance is one of the three foundations of my studio work. I have stuff. I have work. I have commitments. I have 800 square feet in which to work and live. I have 24 hours in a day. But now I know that I need more surface space, effectual storage, a faster pace, a bit of emptiness for contemplation. I know this means changing the balance of stored fabric to production area. I know this means more intense focus and better rest. I will achieve this through editing the abundance.
But at the very same time, I will be creating what my heart and hands desire. Without that, there would not be enough joy.
My brother,Paul, is a wood carver. Periodically we have phone chats between his wood shop and my fabric studio. The one this week included the question “What do you about UFOs?”. For the uninitiated, that is short for unfinished objects. I believe all makers of art and artifacts have them.
Paul liked my approach. About four times a year I get the UFO beasties out and review them. The first question is “Do I still like the essence of this work?” If the answer is no, it goes out of the studio. It has taken me a very long time to get to this place. Living in a small house that doubles as my studio has been very beneficial.
If the answer is yes, the next question is “What is the next step?” I write the answer to the question on paper and attach it to the project. And then on to the next UFO.
I have discovered that this approach reduces the frustration of not completing projects and increases my creativity by the process of “chunking it down,” (my daughter’s name for small steps of the journey). I am practiced enough that I rarely have problems determining a next step. But I have found that when I do, I take me and the UFO to a trusted set of eyes to help with the answer.
When all the pieces have been reviewed, they are put away. The next steps are fresh in my mind and I have actually generated some excitement about them. That energy and my curiousity typically results in the next steps being taken in the next 4 to 6 weeks.