Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Three roads to better work...

photo by Chuck Murphy

 Before I  begin on practicing....just in case you want to know! ...the photo is from our local OLLI  (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute)  office where those of us who practice art were asked to display our you can see I've definitely diversified a bit!  There are two quilts, four watercolors and one acrylic, to say nothing of a printer and a card file!  The quilt on the left is "Bluebeard's Castle"  from my Hamilton, ON, steel mill series (by way of Bartok - he chose the colors!).  The quilt in the middle is one of a series I've done of Athens, GA - a college town in the SE of USA.   The  right hand watercolors are both of the pond in the neighbourhood, a nice morning walk while I ponder upon the day's practice....
have no idea how that Yorkie on the left crept in...must have been having a whimsical moment!

Anyway, to the topic of the day:
I've been reading a lot of books and articles about practicing...these are mainly focused on athletic activities like golf or music, but I think much of what I read also pertains to art.

Let's face it: whatever IT is, you don't get better without practicing.  Of course your goal might not BE to get better...but I think for most of us (and definitely everyone reading this blog!) improvement in our art making is a major goal.

If you were to die tomorrow, would you rather leave behind you 200 hohum quilts, or 10 brilliant ones?  Think about it.....
And yet how often do we push ourselves to make something that we've not really thought about very much,?    Halfway through we become aware of its mediocrity but still we feel we MUST finish it.
I used to have this very foolish goal of making more work every year than the preceding year....but finally (and hopefully not too late!) have come to realise it's not quantity but quality.

And how do we achieve whatever it is we do??  I would say three  things:

1.  Time ...putting in at least an hour a day, but four hours would yield much more  progress.  give yourself time and don't resent it, enjoy it! It is very very good for you, and should be a high priority - don't allow excuses!
Getting enough time..may involve saying NO......(thank you, Sharon, for this suggestion) practice  saying:  "I'm awfully sorry...but".    

Practicing is  very calming....don't be thinking about finishing the product in time for the guild meeting  or to enter a quilt show, rather, enjoy the process, enjoy the flow...the lovely rhythms of cutting out the pieces, laying out a design, so satisfying.  And then gently one by one picking up two patches ambling to the sewing machine, sewing them together...then a slow saunter to the ironing board where everything is made smooth and lovely....and the pair now united join the rest of the arrangement!  Smooth, flowing, gently breathing like floating down a slow stream, letting your thoughts drift and your body relax....
Sounds good doesn't it????  Not:  Make Quilts Fast!  A Faster Quicker Way to Make That Quilt!
Short and Easy!  Notice how hard those words wonder we often feel in a frenzy!!

Do, please, give yourself time. Enjoy the practicing....

2. Thoughtful practice as opposed to mindless making.  You get nowhere learning a Chopin waltz while planning what to cook for dinner - believe me I've tried it!!  And creating a strong design for an art quilt whilst watching soaps on telly??? !! Research has shown over and over that we actually can't do two things at the same time...multi tasking isn't that, the brain is rapidly switching from one thing to another - fine if all you need is seconds on the task....but creative work needs more than seconds.
Think it through before you begin...what is your aim?  what is your process?

3.  Objective assessment - which could be lessons, or coaching, or critiquing.
We all need that objective help.
I'm still continually seeing work into which the artist has put a tremendous amount of time, but to the objective eye the arrangement of shapes is boring and predictable, the colors garish and often childishly literal: e.g. bright blue sky, bright green leaves on trees with solid brown trunks, bright blue know the sort of thing.  No coherent message, no real involvement with the topic, no fresh outlook........but hours and hours spent on fancy quilting!

Even advanced musicians get lessons and certainly beginner and intermediate ones do;
the athlete gets a coach, and probably a trainer too.
 Quilters might take a one day workshop where the teacher demonstrates a new technique....which is fun...but it doesn't help you move forward with your own work.

So, if you really want to improve....please think on!
and if you have been, thanks for reading.....
also: would you add anything to the above list in the search for improvement?  What has helped you the most to go to a higher level?  Comments! please.....



sharon said...

thanks Elizabeth! Great post and something I am striving to do this year, along with saying that magic, 2-letter word: No (not that abruptly)

Elizabeth Barton said...

Ah yes "no" definitely the most important support of "Time" good one. I shall add that...thanks Sharon!! Elizabeth

Ana Buzzalino said...

Hi Elizabeth,
Great post as usual! Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I would add studying the work of others to see what it is that appeals to you about them, and why? Not just quilts, but paintings, architecture, sculpture. Certain types of art appeal to us, and I think it's interesting to study and try to understand what it is about a certain piece that attracts us to it ... and then see if you can achieve that same quality in your work (and I'm not talking about copying here ...).
I hope our paths cross again soon. All the best,

Anonymous said...

I was going to say something along the same lines as Ana (and maybe you would class this in your "time" category), and that is to get out and explore, either in the real world or in books, magazines, and blogs. You find ideas you would have never thought of on your own. Ana's work is the perfect example of that for me -- I saw an article she had written about using colored pencils on quilts. That would have never occurred to me and I enjoyed trying her technique.

But I think you have to set some limits your exploration, and just make it a part of your practice, or it is too easy to explore so much you never settle on a direction. :)

Elizabeth Barton said...

Hi Ana, lovely to hear from you - albeit via a public site! I do remember that beautiful drive down to Calgary with the late afternoon sun shining across the frozen fields and the distant mountains.....
yes...extremely good to study other artists work - good artists - and something we don't do enough of.

and a hi to textile ranger...who advocate ranging! Yes...the magazines I get are top notch art magazines, rather than quilting magazines where the work is (mainly, not entirely) at a fairly moderate level...Look at the Really Good stuff - no matter the medium!

tierneycreates said...

Enjoying your book Working in a Series, thanks for writing this wonderful book! One of my blog readers recommended it to me when I discussed struggling with Artist Statements.

Elizabeth Barton said...

Thank you, book Working in Series (and my other book Inspired to Design) are both on sale today from C&T for ridiculously low prices....
I almost think the WIS one was published too early as I notice that the SAQA chat group is just now picking up on the idea of developing one's voice and it was also a topic at a recent SAQA conference in Philadelphia.
Onward and upward!

Melanie McNeil said...

I might be the one who recommended your book to Tierney! I'm also pleased to see my friend Gwen the textileranger here.

You mention making 200 hohum quilts or 10 brilliant ones. That might be about my ratio! I think hohum quilts, for most people, will come first. Some will use them as a way to learn new ways of seeing and thinking, which will eventually lead to a few brilliant ones.

I've spent quite a bit of time recently getting my quilt photos in order. There is a lot of hohum work there, but there are some things that sparkle, too. And almost always, those are the pieces I really reached on, tried something that was mentally or technically challenging for me. AND because of TIME and THOUGHTFUL PRACTICE and OBJECTIVE ASSESSMENT, my work has grown over time.

Thanks as always.

KrisR said...

Yes - I've done my 200 ho-hum quilts and have moved on. :) I sometimes feel like I'm adrift on my own in my exploration of creativity with quilting - not online - but locally. Most people do look at what I do and probably secretly wonder about my mental status. :)

I don't know what I'd do without the creativity of the people I follow online! Not that I don't like my ho-hum quilts - but I don't want to make any more (or not many more).

I find the mindfulness with quilting/stitching very important. In the past I used to multi-task but now....if I want to watch tv, I watch tv. If I want to quilt, I quilt. I guess the only thing I really multi-task now is listening to music while stitching.

Thanks for the post - great suggestions/reminders.