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 far...so good...except, I hate making scarves; they don't inspire me.
(Above, stack of scarves waiting to be embellished...my "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 done...it'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!