WHAT DO YOU NEED TO CREATE ART?
Here's one way to answer that question:
This blog is about the maker's life. The teacher's path. The stitching and dyeing and printing of the craft of art cloth and art quilt. The stumbling around and the soaring, the way the words and the pictures come together. Poetry on the page and in the piecing of bright scraps together. The inner work and the outer journeys to and from. Practicalities and flights of fancy and fearful grandeur, trivial pursuits and tactile amusements. Expect new postings two or three times a week, unless you hear otherwise.
WHAT DO YOU NEED TO CREATE ART?
Here's one way to answer that question:
We fiber artists live in a very rich and connected community. And sometimes (often, actually) it's important to travel outside to see what other "countries" in this universe of art are up to. The valuable messages may come in the form of technical tips, some new materials that could enrich your own work, or in broader messages about the business and/or creative trajectory of being an artist.
This great podcast showed up on my phone this morning on my commute into Palo Alto College for more bookmaking with the Centeral American teachers. If the copy and link don't show up for you, you can find the page link to the Design Observer site here. Louise Fili is a wonderful typographer, designer and inspiration to those of us who like to include text and lettering in our work. This interview is a wonderful reminder about the power of timing, about paying attention to opportunities and the importance of taking what my coach Lesley Riley calls "imperfect action."
Louise Fili designs specialty food packaging and restaurant identities, and is pazza for tins that speak Italian. A graduate of Skidmore College, Louise designed books at Alfred A. Knopf in the mid 70's, worked for Herb Lubalin from 1976-78 and then joined Random House as Pantheon’s art director in 1978. In her eleven-year tenure as art director of Pantheon Books she reinvented book jacket design. Louise’s passion for 1930s Italian and French poster design migrated from her book covers to her restaurant design. You can read more about Louise in the introduction to her most recent book, Elegantissima.
Today, (a couple of days this and next week) I'm working at Palo Alto College in San Antonio with 20 Central American and Caribbean teachers -- part of an international education program that I have been part of for the past 10 years. These teachers (and those who have been here over the years) come to San Antonio for the equivalent of an education degree from rural "underserved" communities in El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Dominican Republic for 6 month or 1 year terms of study. They return to share their knowledge in their schools, communities and nations. This program, funded by USAID and administered by an international expert staff at Georgetown University (and our own Alamo Colleges International Programs) is one reason I don't mind paying taxes.
These teachers who work under conditions that most U.S. teachers would find impossible (50-60 kids in a SMALL classroom, few if any books and supplies, often limited electricity and no running water, in communities with high incidence of absentee fathers, illiteracy and poor nutrition. They work long hours for not much pay -- many of them work second jobs to make enough to support their families.
Today I am facilitating a design workshop to help them find their strongest illustration style for personal stories that will become the first books in their classroom and school libraries of handmade books. These are simple products, made with inexpensive and recycled materials, and the teachers return home to teach their students and parents how to make the books based on their own experiences. I LOVE these books and have a great collection of art from throughout the past years -- I'll share some favorites over the next few days.
The just-past post covered a lot of territory. As I take on this new expanded adventure of art out into the world, it's a good idea to think about my story, and what I bring to the table. (Perhaps you should do so, too! Post a link in the comments to your blog about your creative path and we'll see where this takes us...)
Where does my story as an artist begin? With paying attention.
Paying attention, this skill, like any other, needs focus, practice and to be honored within the environment (culture) of its practice. Fortunately from my childhood, I had mentors, parents and teachers who gave me that skill and fostered it's development.
First, a family who loved nature and beauty: Birdwatching was the usual activity on any trip; a geology pick was always in the back seat; composition books for note-taking are STILL a Christmas stocking standard. We looked at plants and creeks on Sunday afternoon drives as we searched for farmland (soon thereafter purchased with the GI Bill). My chemist father shared his love of observation and my intellegent stay-at-home mom nurtured beauty in the everyday life; both of them honored the skill of paying attention and modeled it to us four.
The concepts in The Missing Alphabet speak to my second set of lessons in paying attention. When 12, I was enrolled in a Children's Theatre at Baylor University, part of the department of drama headed by legendary regional director Paul Baker (he also headed the Dallas Theatre and worked with Frank Lloyd Wright on the design of that forward-thinking structure on Turtle Creek). His wife Kitty, and the young woman who became my mentor for decades, Jearnine Wagner, had started a children's program based on the same principles and ideas that were at the heart of the college drama program. These were: that each of us is creative and has a unique story to tell in our art and that all art/perception and creative thinking can be discerned through a vocabulary of form: line, color, shape, movement, light, rhythm, space, sound and texture. These perceptual/sensory tools could be harnessed by the artist (no matter his or her genre or field) as tools for telling that unique story. These, called by Baker "the elements of form," have moved into our missing alphabet book as "the sensory alphabet," a change of language that helps us explain to parents and educators that these are not just "art" words.
I've been able to take these perceptual and creative tools into my life in so many ways, I use them daily as "screens" for my thinking and inventing and imagination. They are the tools that I teach to the participants in many of my workshops, retreats and courses. I find them invaluable in defining and critiquing, in helping other artists find their own strong suits, their own voices and their best ways of working, simply by asking them to pay attention to these perceptual elements in their lives and work. The Missing Alphabet, while its a book targeted at parents, is still a useful resource for emerging artists who would like some specific information about the sensory alphabet, as well as lots of activity ideas that have no expriration date according to age!
Art school introduced me to another set of tools for paying attention, principally, that of drawing. I am not a natural "drawer." In fact, as a young woman (and even in art school) I pretty much decided I could never be a "real' artist because my drawings in junior high and high school never measured up to the cpaturing of reality that I expected as artist should be able to achieve. And though my college drawing classes at Trinity University were dully attended, I still never really fell in love with drawing until much later -- like a couple of years ago.
Paired with the sensory alphabet, some simple ways to approach the blank page have helped me to get over my fear of drawing and to actually treasure the time I can carve out to pay attention through drawing.* I have a new group of "drawing" mentors, in real life, my friend and artist Sarah Jones, in the digital and print world, the work and writing of John Berger .
That's why I am looking forward to the next Fearless Sketching workshop here at El Cielo. It's scheduled for April 12-14, costs $180. There is still room for a couple more participants, so if you are interested, send me a note through the comments or on the contact form on the sidebar to the right.
Perhaps you have this problem, too. Lots of different people living under one head (or in one).
I've been challenged to tell the story of how and what I do that ties it all together. This book, The Missing Alphabet, my teaching (here and there), art work (big and little), my work with Central American teachers...the occassional foray into designing kid's programs, training teachers at Big Thought in our New World Kids programs or volunteer work in pr for the upcoming SDA conference. (Whew!) What is the strand -- well, perhaps multifiliment cable is a better image -- that ties it all together?
At the core of what I do is a deep and well-grounded interest in the creative process, an interest, and profession, that has 50 years of history behind it. I was one of those lucky kids who found a creative path at a young age, nurtured by a very, at the time, radical children's theatre program. That was not only integrated racially, but integrated creatively. And this in Waco, Texas, go figure.
What those early experiences in inventing, presenting, working long hours, delving into personal and collaborative visions did was to give me a grounding in both the how and the what of creative work. As a result of that children's theatre I had experiences as a teen, young woman and young professional that took me from, at age 18, running a visiting children's program for 20,000 participants at HemisFair '68 to the Year of the Child with Erik and Joan Erickson (PS she was also a weaver) at the Smithsonian Institute, to a fulltime model school that won international accolades and a Ford Foundation designation of model educaitonal program, to the Kennedy Center for exhibit and program design, to Cleveland in the era of serious racial disharmony to teach in inner city neighborhoods, from there to Neiman-Marcus with window designs and products that showed up in the Christmas catalog. (again, whew) I am so grateful for such a rich and complicated creative path.
The new book for parents, The Missing Alphabet, is ONE summary of thaat informed inquiry that started when I was twelve and developed through that career in first in arts education, then in journalism, museum exhibit design, writing and art making. This book is what's come of my experiences and those of my co-authors (with similar and diverging paths) as written for parents who want their children to meet the challenge of 21st Century thinking and literacy sklls.
Other summaries have developed into courses I teach to adults, such as Creative Jumpstart, Finding Your Path as an Artist, and the Artist's Journey. But the philosophy and approach informs all of the workshops and retreats that I teach -- even those that are somewhat technique oriented. I always try to move beyond or below or above or inside of a technique or tool, teaching it as a means for someone to find as the ideal expression for her or his story. At the core of my teaching is a deep and abiding belief in the power of individual story and expression. I do firmly believe that each person on this earth has a unique, powerful and absolutely unrepeatable experience to express in some or another medium, be it art, science, music, research, homemaking, poetry or any other field you can come up with. And I make art myself because I am passionately drawn to figuring out what it is I have to say -- and, besides, how could I have any credibility in this world of wonderful artists I find myself in, if I didn't make my own statements?
I've had many ways to express my story and my creativity in my life, in my art, in my relationships, in my teaching, writing and designing. I love having the opportunity to open the doors for other's creative work though example and through nurturing connection and conversation. The personal values I have selected as guiding stars for the next stage of my creative life are: CREATIVITY, CONNECTION (CONVERSATION), ADVENTURE, IMAGINATION, and ALIGNMENT
Post Script: And speaking of conversation between the this and that of our lives, here is another wonderful piece from David Whyte:
In an effort to make my story bolder, bigger and more adventurous, I recently signed up with a coach (I'll share more about that as the process processes!) and, as a result, am doing some of that deep-digging internal work that is both exhilerating and terrifying at the same time. Like trying to answer the question: What do I really want in my creative life? And, what do I need (to have, to do, to think about, to change) to make that happen?
And, of course, as often happens when one is paying attention to one thing or another, two smart amazing people whose work I follow came through with related posts.
First, poet, creative consultant and teacher David Whyte wrote a wonderful "letter from home," and in it he describes this aha moment:
One of the most beautifully disturbing questions we can ask, is whether a given story we tell about our lives is actually true, and whether the opinions we go over every day have any foundation or are things we repeat to ourselves simply so that we will continue to play the game. It can be quite disorienting to find that a story we have relied on - is not only not true - it actually never was true. Not now not ever. There is another form of obsolescence that can fray at the cocoon we have spun about ourselves, that is, the story was true at one time, and for an extended period; the story was even true and good to us, but now it is no longer true and no longer of any benefit, in fact our continued retelling of it simply imprisons us. We are used to the prison however, we have indeed fitted cushions and armchairs and made it comfortable and we have locked the door from the inside.
The imprisoning story I identified by the time the entree was served was one I had told myself for a long time. “In order to write I need peace and quiet and an undisturbed place far from others or the possibility of being disturbed. I knew however, that if I wanted to enter the next creative stage, something had to change; I simply did not have enough free space between traveling, speaking and being a good father and husband to write what I wanted to write. The key in the lock turned surprisingly easy, I simply said to myself, “What if I acted as if it wasn’t true any more, what if it had been true at one time, but now at this stage in the apprenticeship I didn’t need that kind of insulation anymore, what if I could write anywhere and at any time?” One of the interesting mercies of this kind of questioning is that it is hard to lose by asking: if the story is still true, we will soon find out and can go back to telling it. If is not we have turned the key, worked the hinges again and walked out into the clear air again with a simple swing of the door.
Read the rest of the story here to find out what happened when David Whyte took action with that insight. And join me in asking what are just old stories I am telling myself?
Also in my inbox, a newsletter from Lisa Call, another of my on-line gurus. A systems analyst by day and artist in heart and soul, Lisa has a work ethic I admire, and such complex and organized systems for her own creative goal setting that they make my little improvisational soul quiver. I don't even aspire to such a level of organization, but I do really find her inspiring and motivating. She says:
To come clean about my coaching commitment, I've signed up with Lesley Riley and even after just a week o work on visioning my goals and how to go about them, the universe is responding in kind. I decided to take this step of hiring her as my coach after seeing an amazing panel discussion that Lesley put together (and only half of it at that) at the International Quilt Festival. She invited a group of successful artists to talk about their work, approaches and how they capitalized on their strengths and talent to get where they are. Lesley has online courses and does one-on-one coaching with her Artist Success programs -- check it out!
Wouldn't one of these upcoming El Cielo Workshop/Retreats make a wonderful gift? If no one you know has asked what you really want, perhaps your inner artist needs a restoration, recreation and renewal gift just from you!
If you have meant to make it out here to the Hill Country studio before, now's the time to make the commitment --I've decided to take a sabbatical from the El Cielo workshops from May 2013 through April 2014 in order to spend more time in the studio, and to consider other ways to teach and share my approaches to creativity. I will be teaching online, teaching private workshops, and I also anticipate teaching at the International Quilt Festival in Houston in 2013, but for this year I won't be an instructor at the Southwest School of Art or holding any other workshops here at El Cielo after these next three.
If you've recently acquired an iPad, this workshop will help you take it into your world of creativity and art.I've explored dozens of sketching tools, art journaling, collage and photo apps and this workshop will take you through some hands-on work -- then into the studio to print, make thermofaxes and use what you've done on the tablet for fabric printing to use in your art quilts, mixed media or other work. If you don't have a tablet yet (and are trying to decide what or if to buy), you may still want to attend, I'll have a try-out table that one or two participants can share (yes, we are a two iPad family!). This El Cielo workshop retreat will take place March 1-3 (optional Friday night potluck) ending about 3 pm on Sunday. The workshop fee, including most supplies, is $180.
Someone once asked me what I regarded as the three most important requirements for happiness. My answer was: 'A feeling that you have been honest with yourself and those around you; a feeling that you have done the best you could both in your personal life and in your work; and the ability to love others.'
But there is another basic requirement, and I can't understand now how I forgot it at the time: that is the feeling that you are, in some way, useful. Usefulness, whatever form it may take, is the price we should pay for the air we breathe and the food we eat and the privilege of being alive. And it is its own reward, as well, for it is the beginning of happiness, just as self-pity and withdrawal from the battle are the beginning of misery From Brainpickings today
Continuing in the vein of gift-giving, I'm working on a series of posts for The Missing Alphabet blog that reccommends gifts for kids who have proclivities and strengths in a particular sensory alphabet element (line, color, shape, movement, rhythm, space, texture, light, sound). You may be interested in that post about creative gifts if you have a child, grandchild or other child in your life whose creative imagination you'd like to spark. But maybe you would just like to honor your own inner artist child who loves shape!
So, I adapted that blog, expanded and edited it here for the grown-up lover of shape. You may recognize yourself or a friend, and find something here that makes for an imaginative gift -- or maybe you just need to gift it to yourself! We all need to do a little encouraging of creative playtime in our lives!
Stencils and stamps
Any shape lover will have a ball with different kinds of stamps and stencils. Find a set of simple geometric shapes, perfect for fabric or mixed media uses from Discount School Supply: set of 14 geometric Easy-Grip Shape Stampers. Though made for kids, these are really ideal for fabric stamp work, and the alphabet stamps at the same company are great, too.
You can also buy giant ink stamp pads from the same source and use them with thin fabric inks or paints. Discount School Supply also carries a wide variety of stencils, best to use with rollers or foam brushes. Some basic shapes are in this kit.
Origami paper and how-to books
SHAPE lovers might be interested in origami and other paper folding crafts. This is probably one of those activities you should “test out” before investing in books or materials. Your public library (and the web) has plenty of origami resources. Here are some websites to check out: http://www.origami-instructions.com, http://www.origami-fun.com
And if it’s a go, you can find beautiful origami papers, at this site (and others) http://www.origamicorner.com
A shape collage kit
Fill a plastic shoebox with shapely stickers, glue sticks, double-sided tape, paper die-cut shapes, hole punches that make different shapes, a good pair of craft scissors and colored origami paper (fun because of its two-sided color). Give this kit along with a pad of bristol board or card stock, some sturdy paper that holds up to collage fun and games. Die cut shapes are available at local dollar stores often, or you can find them online, too.
Great shape collectibles
If the shape lover you know likes to look at shapes, consider a collectible such as a beautiful ceramic piece, a woven vessel, Mexican folk art masks, antique bottles or jars, or any wonderful shap-ey object of beauty.
I've mentioned some of these apps before, but all of them are good for shape sensitive minds.
Tablet and Smart Phone apps for the SHAPE Lover:
If you have a digital tablet (or smart phone for some of these), there are some great art apps out there with lots of shape fun to be had. Some of our favorites:
Stencils from 7Twenty7 at http://www.7twenty7.com/apps/stencils
Draw Free from David Porter Apps for Ipad, also available for Android. This free app (has ads in a small banner) strikes a great compromise between features and ease of use.
Digital Tangram Puzzles can be found with these and other apps: Tangram Mania (non-traditional tangram-style puzzles with different shapes), https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/tangram-mania-free/id514992796?mt=8 and New LetsTans Premium, a traditional puzzle set (free version is available, but lower ratings) is at https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/new-letstans-10-in-1/id548830132?mt=8
Speaking as one, here's what I think any artist would love to get as a gift this holiday season (from big ticket to stocking stuffers).
1. A handwritten letter that specifically and deliberately tells me what you like, enjoy, appreciate and find interesting about my work. We so often feel like our work is out there in a vacuum. We would love to know what you like about it, what it makes you feel like. I know these things are hard to put into words, but putting them into the words you can really would make us happy!
2. Scratch materials -- what do you see in my studio that gets used over and over? Maybe (for any textile artist, any way) a terrific new set of scissors, even a coupon for scissor sharpening or a sewing machine cleaning would be very appreciated gifts. Quality watercolor pads are expensive and always welcome for the water media painter. A gallon of gel medium or tar gel might make the heart of any mixed media artist happy. If all else fails, a gift certificate from one of the online art stores or fabric stores could be just the ticket. Check out Jerry's Artorama, Dick Blick, Dharma Trading Company, or Pro-Chem.
3. If the artist on your lists likes blank books, just some really functional ones like the black bound ones from any art or book store will do. Different sizes are fun to have.
4. At the top end of the gift bestowing standard, (if your artist doesn't already have one) a new iPad tablet. Whooo Hoooo! Or if your artist already has one, how about an iTunes gift card for those apps that just need testing out. Another idea would be an iPad workshop for said iPad-owning artist -- there are some online ones, and (modestly, I say) I am teaching one here at El Cielo March 1-3.
5. Speaking of workshops, another welcome gift might be a gift certificate for travel or lodging to be used at a workshop or conference, or a workshop or conference fee paid in advance. The Surface Design Association conference will be held in San Antonio in June, a great gift to give any fiber, mixed media or textile artist on your list. For an event less directly art related, but inspirational for any artist, see if there is a TEDX event scheduled in your community and offer your artist the means to attend (there might be a fee, parking, babysitting, whatever it takes).
6. At the other end of the supply spectrum from a supply something used everyday, how about giving a luxury, unusual, international or unusual material that you think your artist could use in her or his work. Some treats that I've seen online lately:
Shizen papers -- handmade papers from Asia and elsewhere -- (lots of arts stores online carry these)
7. Something inspiring. For example, an art book of one of your artist's favorite artist. A big beautiful picture/photo book of something your artist includes in his or her work (fruit, flowers, landscapes, shells). A book about creativity, such as my own THE MISSING ALPHABET (yes, for parents, but it's a great book for those of us looking for artist dates for our inner artist kid) Inspired, How creative people think, work and find inspiration, or The Art of Looking Sideways:
8. Travel. Travel is inspiring to most, if not all, artists. Maybe its just an overnight to a nearby city with an art exhibit worth seeing, or a weekend to a nearby spot of natural beauty -- or an extravagant gift of India or Italy. Be sure to package the gift with an appropriate postcards, set of travel tools (book, watercolor or sketch tools, guidebook or tickets!).
9. A gift certificate for your artist to make a hard-cover book of his or her art using iPhoto, Blurb or Lulu, or another of the online publish-on-demand sources. You can specify hard cover or soft, size, type of paper (choose the upgrade for better art reproduction).
10. With caution I suggest, A studio clean-up partnership-- just make a little coupon offering your services for a weekend clean-a-thon, and throw in some new storage containers, plastic boxes, filing ideas or other support for an organized workspace. You'll know whether your artist would welcome or reject such a gift -- some of us like our messy ways, others would love some help putting things into order (even if chaos was just around the next corner!) For additional inspiration, add a subscription to Studios, the Interweave Press publication that showcases wonderful artist studios of all kinds, sizes and shapes.
Do you have idea? Post them in the comments section and we'll see how many of us get the gift we really want this holiday season!