Deborah S.

A few weeks ago, Ricky Tims' photo challenge was "scissors."  I explored the theme in a number of ways, including a photo shoot of a couple of my mother's dolls and metal scissors.  Here are my thoughts/critiques about this photo.

·       I like the use of the lower F-stop here, where the focus is crisp on the central hinge of the scissors and much of the rest is in soft focus.  My goal here was to create a sense of menace, and I think the sharp focus on the scissors does that well.  The focus on the hinge of the scissors also puts us in a defined location that is both stable and has "leverage."  It's not a bad place for a visual anchor.  It also puts us into the middle of the photo, approaching the doll figure.

·       The soft focus of the doll and truncating the shot in her torso makes her "every girl" -- she stands in for all females and lacks a singular identity.  I found that shots including the full face of the doll seemed less impactful; I think her obviously doll-like features detract from the emotional impact.

·       I like that the placement of the main figures is not in the center of the photo.  I don't know that I followed the rule of thirds here, but at least I'm not planting things dead center.

·       I like that the scissors and doll are at a slight angle -- there is a nice diagonal line created through the image.  I like the energy of diagonal lines.

·       There is a parallel structure of the v-shape of the scissors and of the doll's legs, creating some repetition of form, and also following the diagonal theme of the photo.

·       Positioning the points of the scissors towards her spread legs evokes the idea of danger to her genitalia.  It calls to mind rape, sexual abuse, female genital cutting -- the dangers women face around the world.  The fact that the doll's attire is girlish and old-fashioned increases the emotional impact.

·       The low angle lets us follow the path of the scissors, making the image more visceral than if we viewed it from above or from the side.  It is as though we are wielding the scissors.  (Hmm -- what if we were even closer so that the handles of the scissors were truncated?  Would that make it feel as though we were actually holding the scissors?)

·       The scissors are large but not outsized.  These are embroidery scissors (smallish); when I did shots with sewing shears, there was a different feel with scissors that were so much larger than the doll.  I thought it would evoke greater menace (and perhaps it did), but it also created a greater sense of unreality.  This feels appallingly realistic in some ways, even though it is a doll.

·       I'm glad to have put down black velvet for the photo shoot -- there are no distracting elements of wood grain or other surfaces.  We are focusing entirely on the main subjects here.  I don't usually like to do these kinds of posed photo shoots, but I can see their utility -- I did a lot of different shots and was able to pull a number of interesting photos from the shoot.

·       The lighting picks out some nice highlights on the scissors.  I used a location with indirect natural lighting, so I didn't create any special lighting patterns here.  I wonder if a lighting set up could create some interesting effects.  Perhaps more work than I want to do right now, but worth thinking about for the future.

            I like this image -- I don't have a lot to critique at the moment.  But much of this was not planned.  I did have the content message in mind, but most of the specifics of composition came about because I took a LOT of photos, so I had a lot of choices of different f-stops, etc.  So I can't take credit for the specifics of composition, but I can realize that I will need to take a lot of photos to get these elements in place (at least where I am now as a photographer).

            This was not the image I submitted for the photo challenge, in part because it was potentially so emotionally disturbing.  But part of what I like about this is the implied message.  So many of the photos I take are either pure explorations of composition, photo techniques, or "wow, pretty!" photos.  I am not sure that I am likely to create a lot of dark or disturbing photos, but I am glad to have explored the possibility.  It also connects with content themes that matter to me (gender, sexuality, women's rights).  So there is alignment here with my content interests.  Though it won't mean anything to others, it is emotionally significant to me that this is one of the dolls from my late mother's collection.  This gave me the opportunity to reconnect with memories of my mother.

Additional thoughts:  My writing in response to this week's prompt resulted in a couple of interesting realizations.  1) I am not as out of alignment as I would have predicted, though the skills and tasks that I enjoy include a LOT of time spent on tasks I really dislike.  2) While I have my own standards with regard to the quality of my work, I also really want the accolades of others to affirm the excellence (or "perfection") of my work.  Shallow, but true.  3) I need to recognize that I am thin-skinned with regard to criticism of my work, but make sure that this doesn't inhibit my ability to continue to improve my work.  I am unlikely to "toughen up" any time soon, but I can think of ways to manage this personal quality and keep it from shutting my creativity down.

Christine W.

My feet have been dragging in direct proportion to how much work had to go into the self-analysis. Sigh. So, finally, looking at my skills, gaps, expectations of excellence. What I came away with was a convergence of ideas that have been coming at me from many different directions.

Many of the soft skills like teaching, technical writing, project management, public speaking I've already gotten to the point through my professional life where they are good enough. For the most part, any of the techniques I use I am already good enough at, just out of practice. There are only a couple of techniques I want to get better at, such as hand dyeing. Greater mastery of the skills will come as I plug away at my 10000 hrs and hone my own style.

The greatest gap is in the fundamentals - understanding and being able to effectively and intentionally apply design principles. Right now my focus is on understanding composition, which I started not too long ago. I instinctively headed where my gap was but didn't understand it until I did this exercise. (FYI, see Blender Guru, Understanding Composition on YouTube. And excellent starting place for anyone. He also has one on colour.)

What does excellence/perfection look like to me? A piece that is well designed, with balanced colour and composition. Where the technique is (appears) flawless and shows a mastery of the material. Where it is deceptive in the simplicity... the artist makes it look easy. Not there yet. I realized that I have achieved excellence in the past but not yet in my artwork. It is a great place to be.

Rayne V.

The big lesson from this week's assignment was that my idea of perfection is possible but that I needed to drop some counterproductive habits to get there.  Writing down and rating my skills was simple.  Writing down things I wanted to learn and improve on took ideas that floating in my head for years and made it real on paper.  Writing down my idea of perfection made me look for another class to sign up for because I do my best work in a classroom.

Not surprising drawing, painting, writing and teaching art classes were high in the heart's desire department.  I've had the opportunity to work as a substitute art teacher for kindergarten through fifth grade.  I never worked so hard and had so much fun in my life. As expected sewing was on the bottom of the heart's desire list.

Writing the things I wanted to learn was more difficult because there is so much.  I wonder what will stay on the list as time passed.  I found three activities I listed had to do with wax.  I listed encaustic (wax) painting.  I would love to see how they make Indonesia batik fabric with the wax-resist dyeing technique.  Learning how to do Ukrainian pysanky eggs was on the list too, and it uses the same wax-resist dyeing technique.

Perfection for me is when I see the artwork in my mind and I know I have the skills to make it.  To do that I need to change some things.  I followed a lot of comic strips as a kid and have read about all my favorite comic strip artist.  I see comic strips in my head and can't draw them.  Buying books to teach myself cartooning isn't working. I need a classroom setting, peers and deadlines to motivate me. I did not find a cartooning class yet.  I found a drawing class to sign up for in May at our library.  Drawing is one of those skills that will always be on the "want to improve" list.

I believe my road to perfection for right now is to keep finding the classes I want to take and the community of people that want the same thing.

Susan L.

This week’s lesson was relatively simple .. or so it seemed at the beginning. I’m a list maker, and taking inventory is just another form of lists, right? But once into it, I had to think a little deeper.

I divided my skill inventory into two parts: my work/everyday world, and my creative world. When I stand back and look at it, I see that in the creative side, I simply like most everything, so it is hard to purge from there, although I could give up handwork things for now. Although I am reasonably good at many of the items, I don’t feel I’ve had the time to push any one of them deeply, which is a real goal for me. Thus, my main enemy is ‘time’.

When I look at my Personal/Work items, many revolve around my professional day job; I’m a college professor. It is easy and clear to see that I’d like to get rid of the administrative evils that gobble up so much time. I don’t really enjoy them.  I also need to start saying ‘no’ to outside activities (such as lectures, collaborations), although I enjoy being involved with them; just not when I have so many other demands.

I rated some of my items in multiple columns (e.g. good, needs work), as the item is varied, and some aspects of it are good; others are not. This leads me to wonder if more focus is needed, or once again, just more time.

I truly am at a crux point of my career/life. I’m ready in my mind to retire from the college, but I can’t quite swing it financially. So, my head is in two places, and my creative life suffers as a result. I am so ready to exercise my creative fiber arts muscles with projects that have depth, not just the overview, as I feel has been my mantra lately. I think that is what I learned most from the exercise; I want some depth to my work.

Helen B.

I have been really hesitant to start THE LIST and I guess that’s mainly because then it would be obvious what I had moved on from.

As I have talked about before patchwork was a big part of my life before and during owning my patchwork and embroidery shop.  In the 7 years since it closed I have hardly sewn anything and I have always put it down to burn out from making samples of patterns for classes and magazine articles.  I still have quite a bit of fabric and I love all of them dearly, they are like familiar faces, friends.  I can slowly feel the need to sew creeping back but not in the context of before, so it will be interesting to see how it returns.

There are a lot of skills I have that I enjoy doing;

The ones in bold are skills I have but I’m working on improving.

  • Printmaking - Relief and etching
  • Embroidery more contemporary
  • Artist books from recycled books and ones I create myself
  • Mixed media art journaling
  • Writing usually to get stuff out of my head
  • Researching for art projects
  • Drawing – a skill I’m working on
  • Colour and the use of it an on going learning process
  • Mark making on paper and textiles.
  • Water colour a learning process.

For me the hardest thing is coming up with ideas in a world of so many possibilities, I place a lot of pressure on myself and am almost paralysed with fear of failure and being judged.

I know this is a problem a lot of artists.

Anita M.


The first thing that popped into my head is perfection is what others think. Something is only validated by what other people say about something I’ve made.

But…there’s a pot I made a while ago , that had family saying wow…but now looking at it, with more knowledge and understanding. I can see it sagged and isn’t symmetrical, because I built it too quickly. I was rather fond of it at the time.

The pot is for the chop!

Saggy pot.

Saggy pot.

So can perfection ever be achieved as your knowledge and skill is always, hopefully, improving?

Then I realised that I am my biggest critic and look to others to relieve some of the criticism I heap on myself.

Why, do I do that? After lots ruminating, I think it’s because I don’t spend time on things….wanting a quick make with fantastic results. So why be disappointed when I haven’t put the time in? I guess because sometimes, by some fluke, something rushed does turn out well, laying down reinforcementfor future projects.

One of my sons asked me to make him a jacket…..and as I know he is very critical with a good eye for detail, I made a test one first, from a pattern, in calico.I’d never done this before…normally straight into garment. Because of his expectations I took my time and did it properly…guess what….I was pleased with it!

I need to take that on board and make that my template!

Jacket template.

Jacket template.

I’m carryingon thinking about why does everything, for me, need to be done to perfection first time with out skill acquisition and where does it come from? Along with what is it I really want to do….I find that question really hard.

Is not specialising in on one area, giving me an excuse of not being good at something or am I concerned focusing on one thin might mean I miss out on something else or have I really not found what completely fore fills me?

I wasn’t brought up in an era wherepraise was given for everything, regardless. Criticism was freely given, often rather bluntly. I know in several instances at primary school, when harsh criticism completely removed my confidence. From winning a prize for hand writing to writing so small no one could read what I had written, a good way to avoid criticism!.

But I guess I’ve lived quiet awhile in the everything praised culture….. of course you can do it….with the important…if you put the effort in to acquire the skill. Certainly instant gratification plays a big part and is re-enforced by media, even if sublimely sometimes.

So, I shall continue to be aware of my trait for instant and quick, by giving myself time and enjoying the process rather than focusing on the result and have the courage to start again if needed or play with the mistake…which I can only do if I haven’t given myself a silly dead line of I need this tomorrow. But equally get on a do the project… son asked for the jacket 2 years ago!

Joyce G.

I am an organizer. At age 12 I took on the responsibilities of facilitating the move of my family of four to a new home in a new large city. I anticipate the needs of individuals and fulfill the responsibility to make life cohesive. I am one step ahead. I am a visionary. I have been referred as an 'Indigo Child'.

I posses excellent spatial skills and drew up the floor plans and elevations of imaginary homes on the wet sand at the Oregon coast beach when I was six-years old. When I look at architect's floor plans I see the relationships of the rooms and the flow and the framed views from inside to the outside through the window and the outdoor plant materials and their relationship to the home and extension of the home to outdoor rooms. As a teen I loved making one-quarter inch architect scale models with foam-core board and balsa wood of the ultra-modern homes where I lived.

I spent the entire year of 2016 designing and building an entirely new organic fruit and vegetable garden which included an eight foot deer proof fence, eight cedar ten-foot length raised garden beds, hand grading the paths, building a 24'x 18' wood garden storage building and installing shiplap walls, electrical, plumbing, galvanized ceiling, painting and stenciling the concrete floors and wood walls. So much work. I am so happy the project is completed, but, I am also very disappointed in myself for taking on such a large singular project that kept me out of my studio for one entire year.

My organizing and perfection is in my work. I see so vividly what I want to produce it takes on a three dimensional aura. My work MUST be perfect when completed that I often do not begin because of my own self limiting need for perfection. I am currently working on embroidery skills that I believe are essential for my piece that I have titled 'Lost Heirlooms'. I have been practicing my embroidery skills for this piece with bits and pieces of the elements for years. I am finally at a point in my life where I have not taken on more 'projects' that would and have diverted my attention. I know that I can produce 'Lost Heirlooms' without all the hand embroidery with a contemporary result, but, I am hell bent on honoring the era of 1910 and using Linen and silk with an emphases on heavy traditional hand embroidery. I love handwork although not an expert. I often remind myself to 'chill out' 'go with the flow' 'take the least traveled path and just let it happen!'

Many of my skills get in my way. My organizing skills become an obsession. I build cabinets to store my 'treasures' sorting through them, organizing them by item and color and placing them in small plastic clear lidded boxes and little drawers. My fabric is folded to expose a folded edge then stacked by color and pattern.

I can spend so much time 'organizing' I do not complete my work. And since I think about a project inside, outside, top, bottom, black and white, four-color, large, small, oversized I become so overwhelmed and then fearful that my work won't look like the pins I save on my Pinterest account and self-doubt creeps into my once overly confident nature and I am frozen in time and view the layout of shapes and colors and embroidery samples on my padded display wall and never complete my 'brilliant' vision.

I am constantly at odds with myself, the tug of war battle. I am enjoying the embroidery for 'Lost Heirlooms' but, I keep envisioning different materials and the layout is very straight forward and simple and perhaps plain and I keep hearing the voices of the devil on one shoulder and the angel on the other one whispering to keep working, maybe your style is simple, the other says "yeah, you are going to work on this piece how many months and it will not be the masterpiece you envision.

"Keep working on 'Lost Heirlooms' for yourself I have to change the narrative.

For the memory of your Swedish Grandmother. Don't give up.

Amber M.

Everything i wrote for this class has fallen out of my computer. Everything. Plus everything I've written over the past several years. Gone. Nothing in the iCloud, either. Good heavens, really: How is one supposed to trust something called "Cloud" to hold things? Evidently the people who named this have never seen actual clouds in operation. A cloud can be dissipated with a stiff breeze.

As was all my writing. Ironically, the topic I had for this week was how moths have got in and everything I've knit is disintegrating before my eyes and I have no way to stop it, and how that paralleled what's happening in my body.

And then the iPad ate it. It disappeared before my eyes and there was no way to stop it.

I'm really hating life right now.

But we were talking about alignment, weren’t we?

I wrote several lists of skills and/or talents I’ve had over the years. Some I don’t really need anymore, so it’s not a great loss. I’m not interested in doing any more counted cross stitch, for example. And there are some skills I very much want to learn but now never will. Weaving cloth comes immediately to mind. Deciding whether my body can handle it requires actually doing it, as in buying equipment and classes and stuff. I don’t have the wherewithal to even consider it. 

Some of my listed talents are gone and I miss them very much. Singing, for instance: I’m a Broadway Belter – or anyhow I was until arthritis got into my ribs and made deep breathing too difficult. Writing longhand. I’ve got an entire 3-volume novel written out in longhand, and I loved writing it that way. I can compose on the keyboard, but somehow there’s a more emotional connection between me and my words when they come directly out through my hand. Even typing is becoming too hard to do, so I have on my “desired skills” list the ability to compose verbally what I re-learned to do on the keyboard and which I’d really rather do with a pen and paper. Each modality has its own learning curve.

And when I look over these long lists filed under 7 different categories, I am absolutely overwhelmed. I’ve lost so much. It’s just not fair. Whining about what’s lost doesn’t do any good, however; focus elsewhere, Kid.

Losing all my work yesterday was devastating. Mark tried in vain to get it back but no soap, no hope. While he worked and ultimately bought me a better word processor app, I made all my unhappy noises. I wanted to scream. I wanted to pace in tight little circles until everything went back to where it was before I pushed the “stupid” button. I was in a panic, in a tizzy, in quite a state. I went back to my room and cried into my sleeve for awhile before picking up the black Kona I’ve been covering with Paint-Stix rubbings. The simple act of making a rubbing, moving the fabric and making another, rinse and repeat, helped calm me and settle me. My tears dried up and my breathing calmed down.

There’s a lesson in that. Switching focus can make all the difference in the way things look. Sometimes life is so stinky unfair bully-mean that the only way to make it through the day is to focus on putting one foot in front of the other. And then sitting down for awhile.


Sara N.

I have found this week's lesson very interesting, and so true! Sharing our work can be really hard, particularly if we know it is not what we really envisioned would be the outcome, or if we really do know deep in our hearts that it is not up to the standard we would expect from ourselves.

I have been making a vest from material I have salvaged from two pairs of jeans, black and olive green.  I machine embroideredpart, appliqued part, fully lined and not yet complete.  But I was brave, and showed one daughter when she last visited.  I am over the moon about the fit.  When she saw it she was silent, and then said it looked like her uncle's fishing vest.  I was mortified!!!...... and yet I knew it to be true, and deep down I knew it to be true before I showed her.  I had my reservations.  It has not turned out the fashion item I was hoping.  Nothing wrong with the construction or fit, just the general look.   And yet I was disappointed with her comments.

However they were true.  And so, I 'toughened up'.  And embraced the critique because it was fair.  I spent all last evening trying to think what I could do to change the look. I ploughed my way through Pinterest looking at similar articles of similarly coloured clothing.   At first I thought, why bother to  finish it?  But then I thought why not finish it?  I enjoyed the whole process, I just hadn't got the look right.  I did manage to refashion existing garments without purchasing any materials to make a really useful itme.  However  I need to put more thought into the finished look.  Maybe sketch my ideas of the finished pieces on paper so I can really look if colours work and what they are saying.  Research more on embellishment and applique.  Work out the primary 'spaces' where embellishment has the most effective response.  Look at colours near the face, colours near the areas I want to draw attention away from.

Today my daughter returned and said she had been thinking. There is nothing wrong with the vest, I need to just wear it and after a month I will 'own' the look and then what does it matter?

So I will take all the above on board, write about my experience to myself and list my strengths, weaknesses, and where I want to head with this.  This experience and reflection has been the springboard.