Friday, July 20, 2007

Embrace/Avoid

More tedious work in the studio today - tracing and tracing again, careful slow cutting - but it's cool again today and the results are going to be so worth it, I think. When I held the first scroll up to the quilt top, my thought was, "Oh, how elegant. Yes, this is just what I wanted." Here they are, my 4 elegant scrolls which will be added to the side borders. They are much more refined than the modification based on them. Now those scrolls which I'd planned to use around the arbor look quite clunky.

Elegant is not a term I've used to described my work, or anyone elses, I don't think. But I liked the sound of it. It's akin to the term "quiet sophistication" that I started using several years ago and talk about here. It came about after the completion of Changing Seasons in 2005 (seen here on the right). Changing Seasons was a bit of a breakthrough quilt for me, not only different in style, but in the way it was put together. It was quieter, more subtle than my usual attempts at quilt art, and it jettisoned my usual approach of piecing the design or hand appliqueing. It's not even fused although I had started using some fusing in my work, but with its satin stitched edges, it was a quicker way to design and execute without sacrificing my aesthetic. I remember stepping back to look at it and thinking, "This is what I want to make, work that is sophisticated." See this post for more details about my process.

Two years later, I'm not sure I've made a great deal of progress towards making consistently sophisticated work. That may be part of what prompted me to start a list not long ago. That and a thought that popped into my head unbidden as I paged through a book or magazine of other artists' work: "I want to make interesting work. I want my work to be interesting." Just as unbidden, its opposite quickly came to mind: "I don't want my art to be trite or cliche." Over the next few days, more descriptive words of what I'd like and not like my work to exhibit surfaced. And that is when I thought to start a list, two columns, one to be things to embrace, the other to be things to avoid. I posted it prominently by my sewing machine as a constant reminder, and continue to add to it as thoughts occur.

On the top of the list is that word I've been holding on to since 2005 - embrace sophistication - followed by the more recent things to embrace: interesting work, subtlety, calm, relaxed, and my new favorite, elegance. I can read them off the list like a mantra. Across from them are their opposites and more to avoid: cliches, triteness, predictable work, "punniness", unrefined, frantic and uptight. These too are good to repeat out loud once in a while.

Studying my list, it occurred to me that the things I want for my work, I also want for myself and in some cases am struggling to achieve. And that does make a lot of sense. If someone wants to be the life of the party, a joke teller, then it should be no surprise to see that personality coming out in the person's art, for their work to be full of fun, puns and color. A bit of frantic-ness might work for some, but I seem to do better work with calm, and that makes me more comfortable with my quilts that exhibit a bit of calm. If I'm struggling to feel calm myself, is it any wonder that I can't strike a calmness in the piece I'm working on? If feeling a bit sophisticated when out with friends makes me feel good inside, doesn't it follow that sensing I'd achieved a bit of sophistication in a quilt would made me feel good as well?

My list is just that, my list, and is giving me some insight into my developing personal style. It's a reminder when I stray, full of answers when I'm unsatisfied, benchmarks for critiquing my progress. Not every quilt I make has to adhere to this criteria, but I sense my best work, the work that satisfies me the most, will.

1 comment:

Exuberant Color said...

"Changing Seasons" is definitely elegant. It is the choice of fabrics and how subdued they are that achieves this. I have looked at other peoples' quilts and quite often thought how elegant they were. They were in color combinations that I never use. I like your list idea as a reminder to what you are trying to achieve.