Friday, January 19, 2007

The Value of Working in a Series

I've not worked in a series before. Oh, I've done variations on a theme, but for the most part, I've never felt I had the luxury to keep re-working an idea to either improve it or explore ideas that keep generating while working through a particular design. Deciding to embark on the Grid Series as a true series is a very new process for me.

I'm only on number three in the series, but already I'm discovering that my attitude is changing. By declaring a series, I am freeing myself from my well-ingrained habit of approaching a piece thinking I have just one chance to get this right. That's a great deal of pressure to put on oneself, and can even lead to making grave mistakes or spending a lot of time undoing work. It can derail play and limit learning that can be gained by following the "what if" trail. It can lead to a lot of beating up of oneself when something doesn't work out quite like one expected.

It's not as if I don't already have a lot of ideas, but I'm also finding that by working within a series framework, even more possibilities surface as I work. I think it's that thing about the subconscious mind doing problem solving that the focused mind can't. Also, as I keep working with the same familiar shapes, I seem to be working faster and with more confidence. Well, it's no doubt the familiarity gained by time spent working and reworking the same basic idea. Certain parts of the work don't take as much thought, and I can focus that energy on the new parts.

I was thinking about all this while I was satin stitching the squares on Grid 3 above. It occurred to me that I didn't have to use the same color thread around each square. These lovely Oliver Twist threads are packaged in collections that work well together, and it is a joy to have a project where I can use more than one thread. Although the squares are cut from the same batik, some showed more blue/green and others more plum. So I chose the two threads that worked the best and matched the blue/green to the blue/green square, and the plum thread to the plum squares. Part way through the stitching, I had one of those hand-hitting-the-forehead moments - Geez, instead of matching thread to square (my default thinking), I should have used the blue/green on the plum, the plum on the blue-green. Just as quickly, I thought - ok, note to try that on another one in the series. The old quilter in me was trying to be heard from the back of my mind - very faintly - making disparaging remarks, no doubt, about my abilities and demanding I rip out the stitching and redo it. Sorry, not necessary in a series...

My brain was so fired up that later I dug out my sketchbooks and looked through my file for the series to see how many of the ideas floating around in my head had actually gotten sketched out and/or noted. Not many, it would appear, so I spent about an hour sketching and writing and thinking about where I can go from here. Pretty exciting stuff for someone who's creativity has been on a bit of a hiatus.

One question though. Just what does one do with all the quilts that a series can generate? Theoretically, only a small percentage of them will emerge as really good pieces worthy of exhibiting or selling. Are the rest destined to live out their lives in a bin in the back of a closet?


The Wittering Rainbow said...

What an interesting point. Yep, I know what you mean! The trouble (or delight?) in working on something and thinking deeply about it, is it will spark off other thoughts and new directions. Sometimes the ideas flow so fast that I know I won't remember them, so keep a small notebook on my sewing table so I can jot them down as they come to me. They don't have to be fabulous ideas just anything that comes to mind. It's then "safe" in my little book and I can move back to the piece I'm working on rather than try and change it as I go along. These ideas sometimes form a series of quilts - though there's not always an obvious connection between them! What do I do with them? Well, to be honest, I do sell a few quilts but not enough to make a living so I have freed myself of the thought that I need to sell all that I make and am doing what I do out of a need to express myself in this way. I keep the quilts on a bed in a spare room, and if at some point I destroy them, or give them away, or whatever, then I'm not too worried as imput is the thing for me!!

Lisa said...

My opinion is that a higher percent of work that is done in a series will turn out "good" than if the artist just jumps around and does different things - as you note the pressure to do it "all right" if you just make one can lead to pretty bad work.

When working in a series I can concentrate on a more narrow range of issues and really perfect my skills in that area, which I think leads to better quality work than if I just jump around.

I'm not sure if I'm right - just my thoughts on the subject.