Wednesday, May 30, 2012

"Individuality Bites" Or "No Artist is an Island"

I've always been a sort of unconscious rebel.  I realized this when I was in my thirties.  Wherever I am, I seem to gravitate away from the established norm.  I don't do this purposefully, it just seems to happen.  It doesn't hurt that I've lived in two very extreme places in my adult life, Berkeley, California and Texas, where I attended one of the top ten conservative universities in the U.S., Texas A&M.  And when I say extreme, I mean complete opposite extremes. 
 Both places have influenced me, naturally, but what I noticed when I lived in California was that I had my own ideas about things - I didn't automatically follow the sheep who all think they are wolves there in pretty much any way - politically, morally, philosophically.  And in Texas, I rarely am part of the herd, either. 
This led me to believe that I am simply a contrarian - a word I'm not sure exactly exists, but which seems an apt description for my inability to fit in completely, no matter where I am.  I'm okay with it, but it certainly doesn't make my life any simpler.  Oh well.
I bring this up because I'm finding that with my art, I seem to be this way, too.  For example, the two major trends right now in quilting are to quilt heavily, to cover every square milimeter of the piece with thread, and to make "pictures" with fabric - taking a photograph and turning it into a quilt with small specs of fabric and again, thread painting - to awe-ful, gasp-inducing  effect., I might add.  I appreciate it greatly - I love the amazing beauty I see created by all the prize-winning quilters...but I don't want to make them. I see them and they are gorgeous, and I appreciate the amazing skill that goes into them, but my fingers don't itch to do it. Not at all.  Is there something wrong with me, I wonder?  Why am I not inspired by these amazing works of art?
Now, if it makes it any better, I am wondering if it's just due to laziness - not wanting to spend that much time on a piece, or if it's lack of confidence...admittedly quilting is my weakest skill (I'm working on it!) But if I'm honest, I really don't think that's it.  I just don't feel like it.
In fact, at the moment, for whatever reasons, I find myself wanting to create more graphic images, which naturally require more graphic quilting, and less of it. (Again, I'm not doing this on purpose, I swear - it's like an autonomic response or something!)  It's just what's coming out of me right now - I can't help it. 
So what I'm getting excited about is pretty much the opposite of the trends right now, but is it because I'm trying too hard to be different, or is it because it is?  I mean, I can't necessarily control the creativity that flows through me, and if it's what makes me excited, isn't that alright?  "Of course," said my lovely sister-in-law, Katerina when I brought up my concerns to her the other day, "you don't want to be like everyone else, do you?" (Contrarianism seems to be a trend in the entire family.)
Actually, I just want to be myself - whatever that is. At the same time, I strongly believe I'm connected to the people and the world around me on a molecular level, and I don't kid myself that I'm not part of the collective consciousness wherever I am, even if I seem to be different. 
So my conclusion is this:  First of all, I may not be obviously directly influenced to create precisely what I'm seeing are the trends, but I am being influenced by them nonetheless.  And if I am truly just being me - not looking at what everyone else is doing and poo-poohing it, not trying too hard to be 'an individual', but just letting it flow, however it does, then whatever comes out is true...real...not trying to be anything, just be-ing. 
 And that, I know is okay.  
So I'm just going to let the creativity flow - in any direction it wants to. I'm giving free rein to it.  I'm going to stay open to everything, to learn from and be influenced by everyone - and then whatever happens, happens. 
And I certainly don't need to take any of it too seriously or to fret or worry that I'm not doing "the right thing."  I'm not doing it really, to win any prizes (although recognition is not a bad thing).  I'm just doing it.  And it's not the outcome, but the doing and the spirit of it that matters, anyway.
 So - everything - and nothing - are right.  They just "are."  And that makes me feel so - so -FREE!  Like a paper-winged butterfly floating on the breezes from one breathtaking batch of flowers to the next.  Totally refreshing and ready to land, well - just about anywhere.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

In Memorium

Since today is Memorial day, I'm sitting here remembering.  I'm thinking about the first quilt I ever made, which, miraculously, I still have, although I admit it's rather shabby and faded.  I haven't gotten rid of it only because - well, I'm not sure why.  I suppose I'm sort of still using it to cover up a couch that's even worse off than the quilt (a colorful flannel "throw" quilts that was all in vogue back then).  It's pretty simple, but I was instantly smitten with the quilting arts - even though my mother did most of the work and my fingers developed serious cramps from snipping the edges of the squares, I couldn't wait to make my next one.    
 Later that year I attended the Houston Quilt Festival.  This was what really solidified my interest in quilting.  Not only was I amazingly inspired by the incredible talent I saw, I was freed, too.  Because once I saw what other people were doing with fabric, I realized that there truly are no limits to what can be created with fibers, textiles and some crazy imagination.  If I thought I was enthusiastic before, at this point I became a wee bit obsessed. 

Now I'm at a point in my creative life where I can no longer remember all of the quilts I've made since I started quilting only ten years ago.  If I think hard, I  can picture a few of them that I've given away, but I'm sure I can't possibly remember all of them. Some of my friends and family are constantly exhorting me to take pictures of the quilts I make, but I've forgotten to do so often. 

Recently a friend of mine asked me how I could sell or give away my quilts when I spend so much time and energy on them - it's not an issue with me at all. Once I'm finished with something, I can enjoy it, and I've kept a few for my own house, but really, what I've realized is that it's the act of creating that I love so much, not necessarily the piece itself.

Which is completely fine with me because even though I may not specifically recall each one, they're all a part of me.  With each new endeavor I attempt, I most certainly use something I learned from a previous one; I build on skills I already have, and even when I learn to do something new or I "invent" a new technique, it's all coming from that very first quilt I made. 

I feel like any creativity that flows through me runs into, around, over or under something that I've experienced before and is influenced by all that to come out as it does.  Even when I don't consciously "channel"  something I've created in the past, it's probably there, if even in a small way. 

It's like any life experience, I suppose.  We carry everything we've learned from our lives with us always, and luckily we possess good enough memories to be able to use that knowledge to build new experiences - it's quite excellent, really.  Even the things that haven't turned out the way I intended have taught me things that I can and do use all the time - lucky me..

\So I guess that with every thing that I (or you, or anyone else) create, I'm remembering the things I've made in the past, all the people who helped, encouraged and influenced me, and those whose creations inspired me, too, even if it's only subconscious.  The memories are in my cells, and with every stitch I'm honoring them.  It's that good old circle of life again, creating connections that just expand exponentially in a good way. 

 Lovely, lovely thought.   

Also, a superb reason to get out there and just keep on creating

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Evolution of an Idea

In the last year since my wonderful mother died, I've been in a frenzy of creativity.  Grieving seems to have unleashed in me a sense of fearlessness and a freedom to create and try things I've never tried before - I consider it a parting gift from Mother, who was always so positive, encouraging, and enthusiastic about my efforts. 
 I'm sharing the evolution of a quilt which, I am just now understanding, evolved from both my my feelings of grief at losing Mother and my job at the same time, and also from learning the brilliant Carol Bryer Fallert's appli-piecing technique, (What an amazing gift is this technique! It allows me to create whatever I want in my head and gaves me a tool to be able to make it real!  My sincere gratitude to CBF for sharing it.)  
At this time  last year I felt pretty bruised, as if my life's trajectory had been pretty straight with minimal impacts and suddenly I was being bounced randomly as if by caprice, hitting something or someone in every direction and being uncontrollably hurled into places I never even conceived of for myself.  Even the backdrop of my life, which I thought was pretty orderly, was constantly and randomly changing.  Literally, I was out of control and I could not stop the spinning.
One night I was sitting on my bed and I drew a sketch.  I didn't know where it was coming from at the time, but as I write this I understand it completely - I was drawing my life!  The result is "Bounced Around."
What I've come to believe in the last year is this:  My life, regardless of what I thought, has always been a series of random bounces - everyone's is.  We are all little spheres careening around, bumping into life's barriers and obstacles and into each other, spinning in directions untold.  Any illusions we have of control are just that - illusions.  And those illusions are what tends to create unhappiness in us.  They block our acceptance of life as it is.
 I've also realized that whatever obstacles we meet are just that, something to simply accept, or to crawl right over...under...around...through - and are not to be taken so seriously, even if they hurt.  Really, in some ways these bumps are gifts, because they offer us opportunities to grow. 
There's something far more vital about "Bounced Around," however, than even the amazing way it has revealed such a deep truth regarding life and how it works - the most significant thing to notice is that there is deep love and uncontained joy that stands out in this quilt, even though it depicts an incredibly sad and confusing time in my life.  This piece is no depressing, maudlin, colorless piece filled with the stale air of defeat.  It's colorful, hopeful - even cheerful.  Which to me shows that even in the midst of living our deepest darkest fears, there is beauty and elation in life that will not be contained or shadowed by anything, no matter how painful.  And that's what we need to focus on and hold onto.  That's what makes this whole, dancing, spinning, bouncing orbit worthwhile.

**Just a note.  When I started writing this it was in response to a contest for bloggers who quilt from.   But as always, the original intent ended up illuminating something much deeper and more meaningful - just another little bounce.  Thanks to Amy for giving me a little nudge!

<div align="center"><a href="" title="Amy's Creative Side"><img src="" alt="Amy's Creative Side" style="border:none;" /></a></div>

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Lessons Learned

A couple of interesting lessons for me this week that I want to share:  First, on the link between creativity and being in the moment:  I just finished a wall hanging inspired by my week long foray into the tunnel of the Modern Quilt Guild website.  (I loved it in there – only my love for my family and need to work pulled me out, otherwise I might still be wandering around in there ooohing and aahhhing and getting generally very excited but accomplishing exactly nothing.  It’s a good place to visit for short periods, though – lots of inspiration.) 
I was pretty excited about the wall hanging - it was much more minimalistic than other things I’ve been working on, but it had possibilities.  Then one day I sold two of my art pieces.  I was glad about this, but I quickly reminded myself that while helpful, that isn’t the reason I create and to keep being present and not focus on what may or may not happen in the future with it.  (Good discipline, Carrie!  Good job being present!)  I was not being externally motivated – good for me. 
Well…I told  myself not to be external, but secretly (even I didn’t realize it) I was, and here’s how I know:  I fussed and cursed and got frustrated while I was working - much more than I have in a long time.  I felt impatient to be finished and my mind kept wandering to the next quilt I wanted to begin.  So there was little joy in the moment or presence while I worked – I wasn’t having much fun.

Secondly, when I did finish it, I felt – well, nothing.  I didn’t have a sense of peace or “rightness” or accomplishment I often feel when I finish something.  That feeling of ‘Yes, that’s it!’ never happened.  It just left me cold.  There’s nothing wrong with it – it’s fine technically, but I don’t like it that much, and I’m sure it’s because I lost touch with that creative vibe and became too wrapped up in the idea that I need to get more stuff out there as soon as possible because it might just sell.  In other words, I was focused on the outcome, not the doing, and the result is that I just don’t like this piece.  It’s too bad, too, because I spent a lot of time on it. 

It wasn’t a total loss, though.  The good news is that I learned a little something   I realized how important it is to true creativity to not think too much – about anything, in fact, but especially about a possible outcome that may or may not ever happen again.  I realize that often in the past when I was trying to create I missed a lot of the fun, although I didn’t realize it at the time.  I was always so focused on the outcome – I wanted to finish too much - hence the cursing and fussing and gnashing of teeth.  (Well I’ll be damned -  here I thought I was just a naturally impatient, ill-tempered guttersnipe, and it was all just a matter of focus…although I still blame a little of it on hormones….there’s no getting around the fact that menopause completely sucks!)
So it turns out that being truly creative is actually a discipline !  (And here so many people think artists are un-disciplined.)  Yep, it takes a lot of discipline to actually do the work, but the more important discipline is to be fully awake to each thing you do while you are doing it – that’s where the enjoyment comes in, that’s where the fun comes in - and now I know for certain - it’s where the beauty comes in as well.

 And no, I haven’t forgotten the other thing I was going to share – the first one was just rather long-winded. The second thought is that the universe is truly miraculous at giving one exactly what one needs exactly in the moment one needs it.  If not for the fact that one hour after I made some money on my art I went to the dentist and found out I have to have a root canal (to the tune of precisely the same amount I made on the sales), who knows how long it might have taken me to make the first realization?  I can only feel deeply grateful that a) it was an even trade, and b) for the time I’ve already saved in the future on things I might have wasted my time on because I was thinking too much about possible outcomes -Thanks, Karma!  J

(And while I may sound just the teensiest bit like I’m being ironic, I actually really am and do feel grateful – but still, it is  a little ironic, isn’t it?)

And just to keep myself honest, here is a picture of the quilt, called not-so-originally "Blocks of Color."