Sunday, August 23, 2020

Critiqueing one's own work


Unexpectedness is a great way to attract attention!

The last time I taught a class I asked for suggestions for an upcoming blog.  When later I read through the suggestions I was surprised by how many people mentioned self-evaluation as being important.    

As a first step, I'd suggest really training your eye by critiquing other people's work.  The problem with critiquing your own is that it's really hard to be objective.  When we look at the piece on the wall we see not only the actual pattern of shapes in cloth but also all our hopes, beliefs, intentions, inspirations etc.  It's very difficult to shut off those.  Especially if you're learning how to evaluate the strength of a piece.

  Therefore, I suggest getting together with friends and bringing examples to the get-togethers of Truly awful work (in your opinion) and fabulously brilliant work.  Take images from the internet, or from books or magazines.  You're not going  to be publishing these, your comments will go nowhere but the group!  So don't worry about that...but when you show the others the work and make your comments you have to totally justify and say why you think the piece is Awful, or boring, or exciting or fabulous. Gradually you'll learn ways of expressing these things...and you are training your's like wine tasting!!  you've  got to have the wine!

The most important thing about a work of art - which you'll notice immediately you go out surfing on the 'net - is whether or not it attracts your attention.  D'you want to look at it for more than the standard 3 second glance that most images create? d'you lean forward, and hit Ctrl + to see it better?  D'you want to "pin it" or save it in some way?  D'you want to come back to it later to look at it again?  These are the key hallmarks to a successful piece.

All the rest is the nitty gritty of how the artist achieved a successful work...those "principles" we've all heard about?  They are the means by which the artist caught and held our attention.  They've been derived by critics and teachers looking at artwork that has stood the test of time figuring out what characteristics  those artworks have in common.

Some are technical: unity/harmony, variety/tension, rhythm/movement, balance/proportion, economy. 
Some are more emotional: does  the work make us feel? Is an emotion created within us?  whether it's delight, or despair - does the work affect us?  what is the artist communicating?  
or is the emotion we sense one of boredom?  this piece is boring, it's empty, it's been seen before.  As human beings we are definitely hard wired to be attracted by something novel.  If the quilt or painting or piece of music is the 17th, or 70th or 700th iteration of something we've seen/heard before, it's not going to have much effect on us.

If the piece is interesting but somehow doesn't feel quite right, the problem is likely to be something technical.
If  the piece is boring, the problem is likely to be that the artist is not able to communicate something  to us...possibly because they have nothing to communicate...or that they are so inarticulate that they have failed to do so but more likely the former.

Once you've developed your critiquing  skills on other people's work, it becomes easier  to see your own and judge it.  BUT to aid the transition, put your work into the same format as that which you used for others' work. ie. if you looked at all the images on line - on your computer monitor, then put your work up there.  If you printed it out...then print it out.  Also I strongly recommend having more than one piece to look at at a least 3 is good.  And that has the added benefit of having you make more work!!  More work is always one of the best ways of improving in anything.

And now I shall go and make yet another cup of tea, I'm sure it will be better than the last one!
If you have been, thanks for reading!
And do - please! - comment!      Elizabeth

Friday, August 7, 2020

How to be creative in stressful times

A reader asked a very good question in response to my last blog...and, as i think many of us are experiencing similar problems, I decided to write an open letter in response.

She wrote:

I'm having difficulties I don't remember having before the pandemic.
 am paralyzed by too much time, too many choices.
I feel untethered and aimless.
Even when I have all the supplies  for a project, I still can't get going. 
In the evening I feel excited about what I'll do in the morning, but come the morning, I just don't have the creative energy.This isn't like me. 

Reading this I had a lot of different thoughts.  Some of the problems described often occur occasionally, but many of us are experiencing something like this now as a result of the situation we are all living in right now, especially here in the USA.

We are all under a great deal of stress: the result both of fear of the virus, the uncertainty of the future,  and frustration with "them" - i.e. those who could do something about it, and don't...or won't...  Other countries have shown the way, we know what to do to alleviate the problem...but we're not doing it. Actually, I find this creates more tension in me  than the virus itself. We're not all acting together for the benefit of all, but rather infighting.

I think the first step is to address the very real threat of disease and sickness and assure yourself that you are doing all YOU can to be safe...and for your loved ones.  Then say to yourself: I am doing ALL I can, therefore I need to stop reading the news, watching tv or listening to the radio about the virus or politics or global warming etc etc!!

This kind of hot air news with more and more people saying the same thing, but nobody actually doing it is very depressing and it gradually gets you down.  Research has definitely shown that listening to bad news is depressing!

Second, be sure you're getting enough exercise, when we're at home or close to home all the time, it's difficult...but lack of exercise definitely affects mood and drive.  Again, research shows exercise - any kind - here's me dancing by myself!!! - improves mood.  

Third...having eschewed all bad news and started sure to do some good deep relaxation each day.  It's suggested  that right after lunch is a good time.  You can call it deep relaxation, or meditation, or mindfulness...they all involve totally relaxing your body and mind.....ten to thirty minutes. (the cat is optional!)

Don't let yourself feel useless and tiny at the mercy of powerful forces!  Within our own spheres, there's a lot we can do to ensure happiness, creativity and productivity. (yes that's me on his hand!)
Four: More research suggests that getting out into nature is very it's rare that we'll have a chance to have a view like this!! (Maine)...but most of us will have access to some quiet and beautiful natural area.

Five  Social distancing doesn't have to mean social isolation; we need other people.
And we can meet with others, one or two at a time, a little distance apart, friend and I meet to paint and critique in our carport which has a wonderful through breeze.....

Six. Initial inertia. So having take all those steps to feel happier and more does one overcome that initial inertia of getting moving in the studio? Well, starting to move, overcoming the weight of the inertia requires a little more push than usual..a little more gas!

 Don't make the mistake of feeling that you have to wait for excitement and intuition etc etc to carry you gloriously into the task!!  many many creative people have written/spoken about how sometimes it's very difficult  and uncomfortable to get started.  So don't worry about thinking you have to feel tremendous excitement!  Also don't ever feel that everything you do has to be a masterpiece.

A good first step is to set a goal, it can be very small, in fact it's better if it is small.

Some writers aim for so many hundred words, composers so many bars (sorry! not drinks...but measures!), or so much harmonization.

A painter might say - I'm going to paint a very small painting every day...and take a full size sheet of paper and divide it up into little squares or rectangles, one for each day. A choreographer - some steps to the first few bars of a classical piece.

As a quilter, I would decide on a project:  say a small abstract piece, 16 x 10 made from no more than 12 different shapes fitted together.  I would say: okay at 10 am (after the early morning exercise!), I will be in the studio without internet access!!  I will roughly  sketch out 12 different possible designs and pin them up on the wall, and  then I'll have a cup of tea.

yes, you have to push yourself a little to get going...but once you're'll usually stick with it.

I would say to myself (when in the middle of constructing a piece pinned out on the design wall): okay, elizabeth, you have to get just one piece sewn into can stop after that, or keep going, but you HAVE to do that one....often (not always of course, but often enough) I'd find I was onto the 3rd piece before I realised.

Seven.  The use of time.  Many of us are used to schedules and many different activities and for some of us that structure has fallen away because it was externally now is the time to build one's own structure or time table.  It is very helpful to spell it out.  When you get up, go to bed, eat.  When you exercise, when you meet with a friend - zooming or car port!  or gazebo!  Time on emails and internet activities.  Relaxation time.  Studio time. Nature time.  Draw out your schedule, try it for a couple of days, then you can adjust it as necessary. The most creative people have the most discipline and structure.

Eight.  Accountability.  I find this helps a lot - having a critique session with a friend or friends - that's something you can do on Zoom and would be fun, or joining a class where there is a weekly requirement, promising to send somebody a piece for their anniversary.


I hope these ideas help.  Remember you are not alone, many of us are feeling this...but there is a lot we can do. I'd love people to write in Comments and describe their own ideas or experience!

if i get more useful cogitations (it does happen from time to time!), I'll add them and put revised at the top so you know I did!

If you have been, thanks for reading!!!  Elizabeth


From my readers...some extra possibilities:

1. Start with something easy, like following a pattern...that will help to grease the wheels!

2. Divide the day into segments, so you're flowing forwards always.

3. Leave what you're working on at an enticing point, so you're dying to get back to it!

4. Tell yourself you HAVE to stick with it 20 minutes, or so, before giving up!

5. Maintain your social contacts, albeit digitally, with frequent emails and "mini challenges", sharing ideas and work.

6. Say to yourself: now I have the time to sit back and appreciate small things - particularly in nature.

Thank you!