Friday, June 19, 2015

The analytical approach to spontaneity



I like the idea of improv - but ...with pencil and paper...
I'm not one of those that would happily cut up great wodges of fabric and rush to the design wall and back, frenziedly pinning and unpinning..
Even less would I want to cut up millions of pieces, sew them madly together, then cut them back up and race back and forth to the wall and then sit staring gloomily at them for hours waiting for inspiration to Strike!
 Though I have tried it....and, like the head banging against the brick wall, it sure was lovely when I stopped.
But I have found  that I can happily improv on paper...sketch after sketch, just black and white, giving myself a few rules each time...
Rules? you say, Rules??? But the Great never use rules!!  oh no??  think about improv humor, think about improv in music - they're all about structure....

The first steps in improv in music?  "play only the black keys, designate one key as the "home key" and keep returning to it, set up a basic rhythm...and repeat"  You're playing in a pentatonic scale - only 5 things vary - so repetitions occur basically with or without you thinking much about it since you are limiting yourself.
Second step: play only white keys - now there are 8 things that can vary - but again the advice is to have a "home key" to which you return.

Painter, Amy Sillman says that improv comedy in which she's trained to try to improve her painting, isn't so much a comedic form as a responsive one.  Responsive to the verbal and the body language of the other performers.   The product is language - with which we are skilled..   we know what words go together to make coherent sentences, and how to make associations from one word (or sentence) to another.   The performers also learn to make connections and lead-ins....it is a learned verbal art form, well practiced in the classroom before being taken out on the stage.

 So rules....or perhaps "guidelines" would be a better word...are very helpful in improv, because without some structure and some limitations there would be chaos.   The improv performers are not only skilled in awareness of the audience and each other, but also they solicit the structure, the initial "shapes, lines and colors" from the volunteers.  They observe the "values and  the textures" as the ideas are suggested to them.
And then they juggle them, bouncing the ideas from one to another, flipping them forward and back, making associations, turning  them inside out.  Just as two musicians improvising together might begin with a specific melody (or pentatonic pattern), then begin to augment, to repeat, to reverse, to speed up or slow down, to embellish etc .

And so I shall go back down to my paper and pencils again and give myself a starting point and a few guidelines and when I have 20 such improvs....and only then will I decide which I should translate into fiber,  for our craft of quilting is slow and laborious.  A little akin to the sculptor who works a small model in clay, but then later has it cast large in bronze.   Would the sculptor begin with large chunks of bronze pouring  them at random into moulds?

Allow yourself an analytical approach to spontaneity and I think you'll have more fun, and will be more creative and less frustrated.

And of course, when thoroughly stumped, one can always go and make a nice cuppa tea.....
And, if you have been, thanks for reading!

I look forward to reading your comments...what is your creative process?  Do you give yourself any guidelines, any structure and, if not, how do you fare?  

Elizabeth

9 comments:

Kathy said...

As usual, you have given me much food for thought. I am of the 'grab fabric and cut' school and have been happy that way. However, could I do better with some improv paper and pencil studies? You are guiding me to think that way. Thanks!

Nola G said...

Not every idea is worth pursuing. Choices are good but not so many that it is overwhelming to decide. Guidelines help with the situation of staring at a blank sheet of paper and not knowing where to begin. We should always go with our best choice, not our only choice.

Melanie McNeil said...

I've become more analytical AND more spontaneous over time. I've found that as I've studied design (thanks to your books and some other resources, and some real effort,) I make better choices in both the initial plan (to the extent I have one -- sometimes I don't) and in the mindful changes along the way. Because I understand what I see, I can see where changes need to be made in execution.

Because most of the quilts I make these days are medallions, my process generally begins with conceiving an overall look and choosing a center block to anchor that. Whether I'm using pencil and paper, software, or frame-by-frame decisions, I let what has happened before lead me to the next border. And regardless of the design tool, fabric looks different from scratches on the page or colors on the screen or even notions in my head. So things get adjusted.

The quilt is not always done when I think it will be. I made two different 60" square quilts recently. One ended up 35" square and the other is 87" square. Huh...

I'd like to write a post and link to yours, if you wouldn't mind. Thanks as always.

Janis Doucette said...

Well, in improvizational dance one just throws herself into the performance with or without an idea or subject and all that comes next is due to interacting with either oneself or another dancer, so planning is actually impossible. (This is not a frenetic stage; rather one of responsiveness and immediacy.) You never know beforehand what the next move could possibly be yet those decisions are made immediately and spontaneously and are derived from your response to the previous move. Although not completely devoid of intellectual content, there's not a lot of time for analytical cogitation. We do bring to the dance floor, what we have previously learned from intellectual pursuit and from experience, but it is transformed into dance on the spot. As I used to dance, I often do the the same with my art. It's not a successful endeavor in each case, but neither are the ones I plan beforehand. They each need to be revisited with change and adaptation.
After the improv, comes the choreographer to plan and proceed to the performance. But in that initial spontaneous action, the seeds, ideas and expressed feelings came forth that will give life and rythmn to the act of art.

Gillian Cooper said...

I think working to a set of self imposed 'rules' can make things a lot easier. In the early stages of developing a new work, I often work in black and white so I am not distracted by colour. A limited palette in a piece can also be really effective at making me more inventive, as can the restriction of using what I already have in my studio, as I have a deadline and don't have time to drive to get extra supplies!

Kaja said...

This is very interesting. I am a jump-straight-in-there sort of quilter (though there is nothing frenzied, or indeed even speedy about my process). I sometimes do a little sketch, just to get me started but think if I develop an idea too far then I feel done with it before I even get to the fabric: guess I enjoy seeing what happens next more than knowing what should happen. However, reading your post I realise that I always set myself some rules as I go along: if this fabric is used vertically, I won't use it horizontally; if I follow blue with green once, then I do it every time...I have always thought of it in terms of finding a rhythm, but 'self-imposed rules' is a good way of viewing it.

Kathie Briggs said...

There was a time when I always worked from a drawing. It would get me started even if I deviated from it once the composition began to speak to me. But lately I am working more from emotion than a visual concept. This may be temporary based on my current situation but it the only way I currently can approach art.

When I work spontaneously I limit myself to palette of 3-4 colors and also work only from the scrap boxes. I have a box for each color and 2 for green (light & dark). I find that limiting my choices helps me focus on how the colors and values respond to each other. When I work this way it is at a slow but rhythmic pace. I create blocks, though hardly traditional, and pin each to the design wall. At some point they practically arrange themselves, sometimes calling for transitional section.

So I have rules even for improv work.

Linda Cline said...

I've had good luck and bad when starting directly with the fabric.

Working from too finished of a drawing or pattern can lead to predictable results. I usually get the best results if I start with a sketch, but keep options for improvisation while I am constructing the quilt.

Elizabeth Barton said...

thank you all so much for your comments...I've been "internet free" - or is it "internet deprived"? - for a while and just now got to read them. I think, as many of you say, it's the mix of the two things: planning for basic structure or limitation of some of the elements plus plenty of room for some spontaneity and improv when it comes to construction.
OR, the other way round - some improv studies - as with the dance - that then you organize into a structure.
Getting the balance right leads to both harmony and human-ness.......