Each piece has its own time. I draw in one sitting, I rarely return to it. I am in a different place another time and cannot disguise this in the marks I make. Drawing is an honest reflection of myself.
Textiles take time; mine are rarely done in one sitting. How to maintain freshness and flow in a piece worked over days, weeks, months is a challenge. Importance is flow; to feel the honest creative engagement of flow. I trust my physical intelligence to work in my craft, capturing heart, meaning, and content. I don’t have an end result in mind when I begin a piece, it evolves as it goes, it is not overly planned other than that needed for technique.
I spent a day in the studio this week working, particularly reflecting upon obsession. I had planned 2 days in the studio, but my family decided to come home a day early for my birthday. As I had a deadline I ended up doing 2 days work in one and burning myself out. I spent my birthday with a sick headache. I was brought back to a quote I used earlier about fire and water. I decided to revisit the full quote and analyse what it means as Jane did in her feedback last week.
It is a Buddhist principle that comes from a letter Nichiren Daishonin wrote to his followers in C13th Japan called “Faith like Fire and Water”. The quote that was a wake up call for me came from a study lecture given by Daisaku Ikeda published in the UK last year.
“”Faith like fire’ corresponds to the faith of those who, when they listen to the teachings, are inspired to strive actively in their Buddhist practice, just like a fire burns brighter when logs are added, but who lose enthusiasm for their practice as time passes, just like a fire eventually burns out. This kind of faith is not self-motivated, but stimulated by external influences. That’s why when the fuel or inspiration runs out, their passion is extinguished. As a result, they are susceptible to being swayed by other external influences and ‘tend to discard their faith,’ as the Daishonin writes.
‘Faith like water,’ on the other hand, corresponds to the faith of those who have an inner-generated seeking spirit for attaining the Buddha way. Such people continue to press forward unflaggingly, remaining steadfast in their Buddhist practice, refusing to be deterred by external influence.” - Art of Living Oct 2015 p15.
My own nature is to bend to other’s wishes or look to “experts” for advice. I can look back at key decisions I got wrong because I did what my parents or teachers recommended, although I knew it was not what I wanted. I could blame them for their advice, but actually it was me who did not have the confidence in my own wisdom to take my own direction. I am still doing this on a lesser level - giving up a studio day for my family - love is joining my committee. I have seen a number of paradoxes through these essays, two sides of the same coin; but when there are contradictions then it is karma and there is something I can do about it.
So in this quote the thing that struck me was the driving force - external or an inner-generated creative spirit. Do I compromise my creativity all the time, or find compromises elsewhere to satisfy my creative desire? Also, living with M.E. I have had to learn to use the same energy every day, never robbing Peter to pay Paul, I burn when I do. So a continual flow of creativity is much more productive and worth extending from my faith, into living, into my creative life. Keeping a lid on my enthusiasm is hard, not my nature - journaling is helping but there is still an underlying fear that I will run out of time. There are external influences on my creativity through my teaching commitments. Also, it takes a lot of energy to climb a wave, but less energy to surf along the tops of waves if the momentum is sustained. Lots of pondering here to bring on board.
Does Size Matter?
I have made large pieces for exhibitions and they have needed space, physical and time. In a large gallery they have looked disappointingly small, they are large on a domestic setting.
Drawings are on a human scale, A1, using all 4 pivot points. I love the energy of gestural drawing, with some detail. If I had a big wall would I draw larger, dance with a large brush, stretching? If I spent longer would I add more detail, looking harder?
My textiles find there own size, usuallyA4 - A3, on an intimate scale that draws me in and is physically comfortable. I love to hand stitch, holding them. If I do this on an evening then I will sleep better, the comforting rocking rhythm of hand stitch. These take time and I have no deadline, anticipating the completion with mixed emotions. There is always a little disappointment when finished, that the conversation is over.
I have recently started to draw on fabric, but this is too quick. I have a stack of them waiting to be stitched. This is too slow. And they are too large, from the drawing, for the stitch.
My digital designs are too complex for small pieces. Turning them into textiles will require a change of scale. I think that working small modules to build into a large scale piece is my way forward, keep the scale and detail I need to make, but create the scale they demand visually.
If I want to go large with my felts then I will need a felt rolling machine. Is this too mechanised? Do I wish to keep the direct contact between my hands and the fibre? Even though it takes my last energy? I trust my hands, I don’t know the machine.
“Between myself and the material with which I create. no tool intervenes. I select it with my hands. My hands transmit my energy to it. In translating idea into form, they always pass on to it something that eludes conceptualisation. They reveal the unconscious.” Magdalena Abakanowicz
I love this quote and it describes clearly what I hold to be true.
One of my students, who has an autistic son, told me that my mind worked in quite a specific way and I had used it to great advantage. She was referring to my obsession. I work with dyes and print techniques over fabrics I have made and embroidered. Thinking about fibre compatibility and incompatibility is a predominant part of my work and research over the years and I love the results that I get.
I am obsessed by quality and will undo my weaving if there is a fault. I have worked hard to develop felting techniques that preserve the aesthetic with no payoff of felting quality. With stitching I can be more relaxed, overstitching to build up layers. Printing I respond to as I do drawing, heart in mouth at the results I will get, especially if I have spent weeks building up layers of stitch before the colour is applied.
I am obsessed with sampling, developing and extending ideas all the time. I love to use traditional stitching in modern ways and only feel I can do this by trial. I am methodical in my experiments, keeping full records. And love mathematics, so working out possible permutations for tests drives my sampling forward. This can get in the way of letting go and producing creative work, but it also opens doors and possibilities. I have to be keenly aware of myself. Obsessions can be limiting in preventing cross fertilisation, but can also lead to deep understanding and innovative approaches. It can make me single minded and hell to live with when I am breaking through an idea. It took me 3 years to work through my last idea and I had just succeeded and took that piece to show my mum the last time I saw her before she died.