I am not good at following directions like a recipe or a pattern. This is why I’d be a terrible scientist. I’d never be able to reproduce my own results! I am good at improvising and cobbling things together, however.
I never know where to start. In order to orient myself, I have to pick up fabric, move it around, cut it up, move it around some more, and then start sewing. As I sew, I can start to see the path. I have only met one other quilter who works in this way. This method holds true for me whether I’m doing traditional piecing or art quilts.
The great thing for me about my current process is that the background is a separate element. I can make backgrounds and then let them sit in my studio until they speak to me and tell me what belongs on them (assuming they don’t tell me before that point).
When I started making art quilts in 2012, sometimes I would think, “ha, I am going to do that thing” and then I would go find “that thing” on the computer as clip art and I’d print out the shape, cut it out, and trace it. Then I’d have the element I needed as the focal point (for example, a starfish). However, these felt a little hollow to me and as I started to think about the possibility of selling, I knew I needed to move away from copying elements.
It was terrifying. I don’t draw well. I had no idea how I was going to translate images that I couldn’t even draw! Sometimes I make myself draw something (as I did for a skull), and then by the time it’s embellished I think, “ok, that’s not so terrible.” The key thing I’ve learned in this part of the process is that I don’t actually want to make a direct copy. What I want to do is capture the excitement that I see.
Having already done a few neurons before I tackled the Josephson Junction Neurons (see previous blog post) allowed me to focus on the colors and the interplay between them before I needed to worry about defining the neurons. I felt free to stitch the details over the shiny angelina without worrying about where each axon and dendrite fell. It is not my intention to produce an artistic rendering of scientific images.
I want my quilts to please the eye, to excite people, and make them wonder “what is that thing”? I love questions and my process works best for me because I can stop and ask questions along the way. All I need is an initial vague idea and then the wheels can start to spin. I don’t usually have a concrete vision in my head. I’m flexible to the process and love discovering what emerges as I go.
I would like to note that I’m still struggling to own the label “artist” for myself. I have virtually no formal art training (I took one private class when I was about 14 and I took one semester of art in high school with a teacher who basically gave me the message that I should give up and do something else). I sometimes have to look up theories on design composition or color. The excitement comes naturally, but everything else I’ve had to learn.
I also struggle with this idea that my art is “good enough.” I feel very strongly that everyone’s voice is important. There is room/time for everyone’s voice. Life is not a zero sum game and even moreso with art. I think we build a stronger humanity when more voices are represented. I know there are people who do better neuron art than I do (on a qualitative basis). I know there are people making art quilts much better than mine. Still, what I make is unique every time and I feel there is value in my work for that reason alone.