Monday, July 16, 2007

Time, Money, and Art: A Delicate Balance

My mother used to tell my sisters and I that the most important lesson she learned in college was "how to budget time and money". Even as a high-schooler, I understood what she meant...but I didn't really learn the lesson until I, too, went to Ohio State. Years later, I found myself saying this same thing (and, shockingly, many other good pieces of advice) to Mathias and Alex. Of course, Mathias instantly understood. He took to "discipline" like a fish to water. Alex, however, has always struggled with both "time" and "money". He's learning though. The job at Subway has been a very good thing.

(Above, one of the little pieces I made using the embellisher.)

The strange thing is...I'm still learning this lesson. Many little things over the past week have reminded me that "time", "money", and "art" require a delicate balance...a "budget". It's hard. The answers aren't always obvious; life requires constant adjustments. One must often revisit a lesson.

(Above, another little piece made using the embellisher.)

For example, a lady came to Vista Studios. She admired the "In Box" on display and we started to talk about the process. We talked. Then, I gave her a business card and told her that I had posted a "how-to-make-an-In-Box" on my blog. She was thrilled and left. Another artist, however, had overhead the conversation and asked me why I'd publicly explain my techniques...why I'd spent time telling others how to do what I do. I laughed it off, of course; but, it got me thinking.

I knew why I chose to spend my time writing that post. The answer was easy. It was my intention to share with others because others had shared so generously with me. In a very short time, the Internet can spill hundreds of inspirational ideas at the click of a few button. I've felt indebted to so many blog writers. By writing my "how-to" post, I was "paying back" and "saying THANK YOU".

"Thank You" got me thinking some more. My mother insisted that my sisters and I write notes of gratitude...even for gifts we didn't want. It was polite. It was important. It was communication, but I never really "learned" this lesson. I often forget to express simple thanks.

(Above, another little piece made using the embellisher.)

So many other blog writers don't forget. I've received dozens and dozens of "thank you" notes..."thank you for visiting my blog and leaving a message". Now, I've got all sorts of messages and haven't written a single word in reply. So....THANK YOU TO : Arlee, Nikki, Purple Missus, Alis, Stef, Anna, Doris, Kate, Maggie S, Micki, Corrine and Lizbeth (Altered Books Yahoo Group), Carol, Sue B, and my sister Wanda. In fact, thank you to everyone who's ever left a comment on my blog. I know I don't reply the way I should...the way I'd like to...the way I feel about comments....I'm a mess. I'll have to work on this childhood lesson!

The most important THANK YOU, however, goes to Jacqueline. I admire her work greatly. It is incredible. Like me, she works, has a family, and is mounting an upcoming exhibition. Like me, she deals with the delicate balance of "time", "money", and "art". It is hard. Her comments and posts have given me so much to think about lately. One comment, in particular, really kept me focused. Jacqueline asked what I planned to do with my new embellisher. It was a very, very good question, a wise way to make me think.

(Above, llama and mohair scarves made with the embellisher.)

I have to admit that I wanted the machine because it seemed like a wonderful new "toy". I didn't even know what an embellisher was...but I wanted one. I saw all the great things created with this mysterious machine...and I wanted it. Sometimes such a plan works out...and this one probably would have worked out...but, it was so much smarter to think about the FUNCTION and MECHANICS and APPROACHES first. In the long run, learning to use the embellisher instead of trying to make some "great masterpiece" would save lots of valuable time. Jacqueline's post reminded me how precious studio time is. There's never enough time to stitch.

(Above, samples made with the embellisher...following Dale's ideas for "getting started" in her book "Surface Tension".)

I had Dale's book Surface Tension. I read it from cover to cover before touching the machine. I've read it again since then. Thank you Dale! You provided simple exercises for exploration...ways to discover how the machine works and how different yarns, threads, and materials will look. I spent an entire day trying every material in the studio...learning tons of things as I went...learning how to USE the machine.

I realized quickly that the embellisher really is a fabulous "toy". It is so much fun...but, since I took the time to experiment quickly and with intention, I'm pretty sure the embellisher will be a WORKING TOOL for me. My "rationalization" for buying the embellisher (or...what I told my husband!) was that I could use the embellisher to create retail merchandise...scarves, purses, pillows, etc. He rolled his eyes, knowingly; I don't generally make anything remotely useful! I claimed that the embellisher would make back its expense in no time.

Okay, I've now made a few scarves. I happened to have about a yard and a half of 100% virgin llama material...from some auction, I think...there's a lovely fabric tag on it. I happened to have about a yard of 100% mohair...a remnant from House of Fabrics here in Columbia. I've got a stack of scarves ready to be "embellished" too. Each has its edge turned under and simply "machine felted" into a finished seam. So good...except, I hate making scarves; they don't inspire me.

(Above, stack of scarves waiting to be "Blues Series" hanging in the background.)

Another comment from Jacqueline mentioned (paraphrased) "the things you have to do for money". Well, the scarves are one of those things. I will finish them, but it is clear that the embellisher isn't going to be used primarily for "making merchandise". I would need a plan that would really work. Again, Jacqueline's wise words got me thinking.

I thought about the South Carolina Artisan Center in Walterboro...where I'm represented. They sold the last bunch of scarves I forced myself to make. They want more. They are also dangerously low on book markers. I had to face that "money" issue. Sure, book markers don't make lots of cash. In fact, after commission and expenses, I net only $2 each....but I sold well over 150 last year...that's more than a month's rent for my studio. It was time to concentrate on "money"...make book marks while thinking about how, exactly, I want to use the embellisher in the future.

Meanwhile, I've been reading my book, Stitch, Dissolve, Distort. My mind is spinning with ideas but remembering a class I took once in Louisville, Kentucky under Valerie Campbell-Harding. One of the things that I learned during these four days was an approach to making art by first creating dozens of pieces of "complex cloth"...backgrounds (something I'm rather good at doing!) and then cutting and assembling these pieces to reflect the symbols, ideas, and images of a desired subject. I really identified with this approach. I've often "threatened" to take a month and make nothing more than stacks of "complex cloth"...backgrounds, experiments, ways of marking and manipulating material...foundations.

(Above: Peacock feather on a once ugly, incomplete collage...with scraps of a worse looking acrylic transfer of daffodils collaged on both sides.)

As if I needed a little encouragement, something else happened...just yesterday. I read a post on the Altered Book Yahoo Group from a woman asking for suggestions about adhering a peacock feather to a journal cover. I've used peacock feathers and wrote to her with my suggestions. Then, in the studio...there were two peacock feathers sticking out of a brush container. They seemed to beg for use. On the floor, leaning against a bunch of wooden boards were two ugly, incomplete collages on 8-ply mat board. Within a minute, the peacock feathers had a place. One needed something more....I came upon old acrylic transfers of daffodils. They were too ugly to be shown to anyone; but, torn, they were just the right touch. There in the pile of other papers was a Xylene transfered Xerox on a page from a mythology book (dated 1655!). It seemingly was begging to be used too...on one of the boards beside the collages. Pandore took about five minutes.

(Above, Pandore. Xylene transfered Xerox on antique page from a mythology book published in 1655 applied to a newspaper collaged, wooden board.)

Somehow...all this made sense. Somehow...all this related to the embellisher. My "empty" threat is now a promise. I've learned how to use the embellisher. I've discovered it's potential. I'm not ready to create some grand masterpiece, but I'm quite ready to devote the next month (as soon as the last "In Box" for my exhibition is's halfway there) to making "complex cloth" using the embellisher. While doing so, I'll think about what new series I want to create with this stash...maybe something based on the mosaics of Venice and Ravenna. I'll bet that by the time I get a series planned and a pile of "backgrounds" stitched, the finished work will fall into place just like Pandore did...just like the peacock feathers salvaged poor collages.

Whatever happens, the result will be uniquely my own...not a copy of someone's work with an embellisher. This will be time well spent...a workable plan, a journey, and a new body of art. The time I spent thinking about it was also useful...I got the book markers done, some scarves, and a few items to help pay for the rest.

So, in addition to my promise to read my books: I will take the time to create work of deep meaning and originality. I will resist the temptation to "waste" time by playing and trying to retrieve projects that need to be set aside. (Their time will come!) I will do the work that pays the bills but not get caught up in the activity. I will remember the approaches and inspirations that really work for me and use them. I will "budget my time and money". Art and life can and will coexist in this delicate balance.

Thank you, Mom, for the lesson. I'm still learning it. Thank you, Jacqueline, for reminding me to do so!


Nikki said...

You've give alot to think about. I know being intentional and budgetting aren't my strong points. Currently my art is more like a small island in the chaos, but I'm sure this time will pass all too quickly.

And don't feel guilty about not saying "Thank You." An occaisional "Good Job" and "Keep Going" is all I need.

Alis said...

I always love to read your blog and see your work. My comments on them are my thanks for you sharing.

You have given me much to think about here. I dive about like a butterfly and should be thinking more about what I want to achieve. Thank you for making me stop and look.

It is funny though how we say the same things to our children that our parents said to us. Wisdom!? Maybe. But according to my brother we all turn into our parents in the long run and really can't help ourselves.

Hugs, Alis

Jacquelines blog said...

You are giving me too much credit!!! I wish I was that wise!!! At least you have tried to give your husband a reason why you bought it (that piece really made me smile) I am still trying to give myself a good reason :-)
Seriously, I think you allready have done beautiful things with the embellisher. You will find a way to make it work for you! Thanks for sharing!!!!

Micki said...

Acknowledgement is nice but not always necessary. I read your blog because I love the kinds of work you have done and look forward to your future pieces. You are very generous in sharing with us.

I am still trying to justify my embellisher purchase.

Wanda said...

Vipin told me that the "perfect gift" was something that you WANTED, not NEEDED. A complete luxury...and every one of us deserves a luxury here and there. I got my rock polishing machine. Do I need it? Heck no. Do I love it and am I enjoying it? Heck yes. Susan...keep sharing. That's who you are. That's who WE are. Another childhood lesson that we will continuously learn for the rest of our lives. Yeah..the older we get, the smarter and/or wiser Mom and Dad are. I've been noticing that for years. And even though I have no children to mother (and be like our mother to!), I do a good enough job on myself. At least try to. I am forever learning that I value our parents' experience and advise. Yeah...I may not take or even heed that advise and it really makes me mad sometimes when I don't and they end up being right but....guess that's what we do...learn. Dad taught me to never pass up an opportunity to learn something. He was a teacher. We LIVED and LEARNED that. THAT'S why you share so willingly and lovingly. It may not be in a traditional classroom setting (although you do that as well) but the passing on of knowledge is what makes a teacher. OK...I'm rambling. Sorry to do that on your blog. But it'll give you something to read when you need a break or something! Things are fine here. I think I am reading too much about quilting. I need to just "jump in and swim". But I'm not done with my blackwork piece yet and I'm just not good at working on more than one project at a time. I'm still having major difficulties finding the black thread that I need to finish the stitching. I'm getting done with the couching...up to the place that the stitching isn't complete. I'm trying to keep the back nice for you (since you are, of course, the only one I would trust to frame it) but, well, you remember how you mentioned those places that were a little thicker than they should have been? Well, with the couching....! I gotta go get ready for work...working late shift. No big deal. I don't mind it. My love to Steve, Alex and Mathias!

SeamRippstress said...

Well thank you Susan for your kind comments on my blog and for your encouragement. Gorgeous embellished creations!

arlee said...

Susan, what an inspirational, thoughtful post! I too always feel i have to "justify" purchases, especially large ones, even though it's just on me--my loving DH just wants me to be happy and creative with whatever i buy :}I'm craving craving craving an embellisher as well.....maybe for my birthday in the fall :}
I'm working on a bunch of "backgrounds" as well. At first it was hard to just do without a "concept" for the finished product BUT...
Oh now, i have to go blog it.....phooey :}
Keep up the sharing and thanks for the thanks----yer the bestest!

katelnorth said...

Interesting post, Susan, and lots to think about. As far as saying thanks goes, or responding to comments, well, I comment on blogs mainly because I like to read comments on my blog and hope others feel the same way. And because it's like if you walk through a quilt show or art show and say to your friend or yourself - "ooh, I like that one" - it just seems like the appropriate thing to do, you know? And although I enjoy getting responses to my comments, I don't _expect_ people to answer me back (unless maybe I actually ask a question) and with my own blog, whether I respond to comments has to do with time, and what they say, as much as anything else... Anyway, thanks for all the things to think about!