Saturday, June 13, 2015

Finding Artistic Balance Between Competence and Growth


I know I haven't written in a while.  I was away for two weeks in May studying at the Crow Timber Frame Barn.  Now that I am home I am working hard to empty my studio in preparation for some construction work.  More on that later....

I've been thinking about the yin/yang of working as an artist:  finding a balance between competence and comfort with a certain working style versus the need/desire to push outside of that style and deliberately challenge oneself in a new way.   Am I alone in thinking about this?  I've been feeling it for a couple of years.
It may have started when I found myself attracted to the idea of making larger work again.  I think my love for the Gee's Bend quilts coupled with the Modern Quilt movement got it going.  How can I combine my love of surface design with all this?  Where might it take me?
Interestingly, there are many people who were not terribly supportive of my plan to take this little side-trip in my work.  Why was I doing this?  What do I hope to accomplish?  What about my "other" work?
Well, what about it?
Does this exploration mean I'm abandoning the "art quilt"?
I'm writing this stuff because I wonder if I'm alone out there in these things.
Look, maybe I do have a split personality when it comes to the work I do.  I'm very comfortable with that.  I guess I must have a multiple personality disorder if we take painting and mixed media into account.
When it comes to quilts, I began as a traditional quilt maker.  I'm reminded of this as I clean out my studio to prepare for a major remodel of my wet space.  I'm finding many "artifacts" from my earlier work!  Not very prolific early on due to professional and family responsibilities, I began producing more work about 12 years ago when my family responsibilities changed.  Coupled with my passion for mark-making with dye and paint it seemed a natural fit to make art quilts.
Frankly, it still does.
I know that my work will not evolve unless I am in my studio making art a regular practice.  There is no substitute for just "doing the work": it is how the work evolves.  I have interests other than my textile work, but there is no question that the textile/surface design/quiltmaking work is the main focus of my artistic intent.  I love to paint, embroider, and do encaustic work (such a parallel to surface design work on cloth!).
 I had a desire to explore new territory in my quilt work.  I tell people I like to "poke a stick at myself" to see what shakes out.
I've been doing two new things this year:  I'm studying with Nancy Crow and I am trying to learn how to use a longarm machine.  So far both are challenging, and in a good way.
Here I am begin my critique, held at the end of week 2 in May.  I am pictured with a portion of the 
work I generated while there.  I worked very hard and put in long hours, as did all my fellow workshop participants.

In working with Nancy I am learning about figure and ground.  I'm beginning to view my improvisational freehand rotary cutting as my new form of line drawing.  I'm learning a new way to work with value as it relates to color.  I really can't explain how exciting all this is for me!

And then there is the longarm learning curve.....!
Loading my first "solo" quilt on the Bernina Q24 longarm machine...

Some of my free motion quilting.

With the longarm I am learning an entirely new set of muscle memory.  I hope to become halfway competent at it because, as stated earlier, I am working larger.   I am weary of pushing large quilts through a domestic sewing machine.  I've done it many times, but my body is starting to resist the idea of it.  Since the quilt line is truly the third design element in this wonderful medium it seems to me that I should work to master a larger machine format.  I continue to hope that my million hours of free-motion quilting will work to my advantage as I surf this new learning curve.

These are my two newest artistic challenges.  I do not mean to imply that I have mastered my other artistic pursuits:  most of them continue to humble me on a regular basis!

I am interested in hearing what my reader have to say about this.  If you have a few minutes to comment, I'm "all ears".


  1. First of all, how exciting that you are curious and want to evolve. You create for yourself not others. Awesome!
    Second, man how cool to study with Nancy Crow!
    Third, I'm like you. I have interests in many areas. I always feel like people want to pin me down for their comfort. And sometimes, I wonder where I fall in the big scheme of things. Do you have to have a narrow focus to become licensed, published, etc? I bounce all over with ideas. I'm an artist more than strictly a quilter, painter, illustrator, jewelry maker.
    I think you and I could spend hours talking about process and journey!

  2. Excellent post. Hopefully, we as artists are always changing and evolving out of our comfort zones and into new and amazing work! Follow your passion. Never stop learning. You are on your way!

  3. I agree with everyone that this is an excellent/great post. As artist we have the need to evolve and grow. I wouldn't want to be an artist who sticks one style or medium. That's why I like to say that I'm an artist than to say fiber artist or collage artist or whatever. I'm looking forward to future posts to see what direction your art is taking.

  4. Such an interesting post. I am feeling that after our home has emptied out we seem to be given another chance to pursue our drive to create except this time we have it all and we struggle to know where to direct our energy. It is a great time to learn and expand our creative direction, it is just hard to know in which direction, so I am finding I really need to look at which direction I want to progress. So interested to see the direction you are heading in with your creative journey.

  5. All these comments interest me, so much so that I went back in and wrote a bit more in the original post! At each stage of our path we will find obstacles to studio time: work, young children, aging parents, you name it. I've done all of those! How we continue to push ourselves interests me. I think the experience is different for each artist. An "empty nest" creates some new opportunities for creative energy. The loss of my mother, though sad of course, meant I was no longer commuting back and forth from TX to KS constantly. I think my mother would be very pleased that I now have the gift of more time to work in my studio. I thank her for it each time I walk into my space.

  6. You are not alone in these thoughts! I have struggled with my inner voice for the last few years. While I am still in love with cloth and stitching and paint, I am less enamored with the "quilt sandwich" these days. So, I am exploring the other options that intrigue me and enjoying every day of studio time!

  7. Enjoyed this post and all the responses. This post provoked many thoughts that I am not able to get into words yet. But jam very interested in this thread.

  8. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. As my children grow out of their need for me on a very regular basis I find I do have more time for my artistic pursuits. I am struggling to find focus and balance between all of my different interests (ooo that looks fun, let's try that!) and perhaps melding them together in to various projects ... I look forward to hearing more. And your work with Nancy Crow looks very cool!


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