BadAssHerstory: I AM HER(E) NOW

 

When Shannon Downey put out her call for BadAssHerstory, I knew I wanted to participate.

Initially I started doodling, so to speak, on these two pieces which were left over from aikido uniform jackets. I had this idea about cloud chambers and a secret code being representative of different stages of my life, but when I got to the top of the left side, where I start to spread my wings, I didn’t know where to go from there. So I put it down. (The blue side was dyed with indigo a year after I did the stitching in blue, and then I just started stitching in white as a contrast to the other side.) This piece is more about mark making than it is about me or my story.

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In the meantime, this past spring, in April, I decided to start a bullet journal. The idea was never that I would use it faithfully every day. In fact, I barely touched it over the summer, BUT I have used it regularly and one of the things I use it for is to write down or (gasp!) sketch ideas. One day, I had this very strong idea of just presenting myself in mountain pose saying  in bold letters I AM HERE NOW.

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Kintsugi

2016 was a pretty terrible year for me. I experienced heightened anxiety that randomly started in April and it was August before I realized it wasn’t “just going to go away.” I spent another two months adjusting to meds before I realized how impaired I’d been. I cannot tell you what a relief it is not to have to worry that my body is going to dissolve when I go out though.  The meds do not “take the edge off”: they provide a sort of prosthetic skin.

So, when I got a commission in November, I was a bit cautious, wanting to understand what the person wanted, especially as it was for a usable quilt and I’ve not made anything other than strip quilts for a couple years.

The person wanted a strip quilt, as I’d done before and color preferences were for green, blue, and purples. So, off I went.  When I make strip quilts, I try not to think too much ahead. I just work with the colors I have in hand and make sure they work next to the colors around them.

This is good therapy for me. It’s useful for me to not overthink when I’m creating and let’s my subconscious do the driving.  I noticed as I got about half way, that it was no longer straight on both sides, so I added a sliver of orange/red, inspired somewhat by Leonard Cohen’s death and his lyric about the cracks being where the light shines in. That is why I call this quilt Kintsugi.  It’s about being made of pieces and mending the broken or wonky parts when we need to. It’s about letting all the parts of ourselves exist in harmony together, even if they seem disparate. We contain multitudes and we are star stuff.kintsugi

Some thoughts on my creative process

As prompted by my twin sister and her blog post on her writing process, I am going to try to document a few things about my creative process as it relates to art quilts.

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.