Thursday, September 06, 2012

Tiny Bits of Creativity

When I started on this journey to support my friend as she received treatment at the Mayo Clinic, I said that it would be a bump in my creative journey. I was very much sidelined for the first 3-4 weeks here, dealing with a schedule and emotional drain that left no time or energy for creative thought. Still, the eye noticed all kinds of things to photograph for future inspiration, although no thought of new designs for quilts popped into my head. I absorbed the bounty of art displayed throughout the clinic campus, without a thought to creating my own art. I appliqued on the Azalea Mosaic piece but only because it required no thought or creativity and provided a bit of relaxation and escape in odd moments of limbo. And occasionally, I got out the sketchbook, another form of relation and escape. One of the first things I did was try out a technique I'd seen in a Quilting Arts e-letter for creating interesting text: draw gentle curved guide lines in which to place your letters. What words to choose? These were foremost on my mind.

I've fallen away from sketching and I knew I needed to get back to it - it is such good training for the eye. So when things calmed down enough for us to take side-trips to local parks the sketchbook often went along. 

But eventually, the brain started sending messages - images that related to this ever lengthening experience. The first was one of black ellipses, chunks taken out of a mountain landscape (sketch on right). I realized I'd been thinking about how illness doesn't just put your life on hold, it actually removes parts of it. Judi and I were losing the summer to a place we didn't want to be. This sketch is a poor rendition of what popped into my head, but at least I will remember the thought once I get home. Judi and I started talking about our art about this time, and several more ideas were percolating - a possible cathartic series about the lost summer. It might be a way to work through the aftermath of this experience, deal with a certain kind of grief it was creating, what Judi's illness had stolen from both of us.

So much of our time has been sitting in waiting rooms or walking from one appointment to another. One doctor's example of patients entering the top of a funnel and not all coming out the bottom really bothered me. He was referring to the percentage of patients who actually make it through the entire process to successful transplant. We both found his emphasis and imagery very negative, and I liked much better a different doctor's emphasis on upticks. I thought about all the lives we interact with here on a daily basis, how each individual life tends to be a circle. I liked the idea of all the Mayo patients being on the upward tick, some struggling more than others but still moving up, not being sucked down into a funnel (top of left sketch). I continued with the circle idea, different colors and overlapping just like we were meeting people from all over, of different nationalities and races and religious backgrounds, our lives intersecting quite randomly, but always with some lasting impression. (bottom of left sketch).

When Judi started radiation three weeks ago, there were many mornings when she didn't have another appointment directly following her 20 minute session, i.e. we had time to go back to the motel room. I'd barely be able to get the car parked at the ramp and make it to the waiting room before she'd be ready to go. So on those mornings, I'd just drop her off, park a short distance away on the street and wait for her to call when she was ready to be picked up. I'd packed a tiny notebook for sketching which I started carrying in my purse, and its small size turned out to be perfect for a quick sketch in that 20 minute wait in the car (top sketches). This sketching was not for quilt design ideas but for training my eye, and I challenged myself even more by doing it in ink. I'd read that it is a good idea to do some sketching in ink, forcing yourself to be even more observant because you know you can't erase and fix errors. I didn't like the idea but now that I've tried it, I can really see the value. It reminds me of my machine quilting mentors advice: don't just practice your machine quilting on sample pieces or you'll never really improve. "Practice" on real quilts - you'll concentrate more and try harder. I found she was right about that, and it seems to be the case with the sketching too.

Once I got over my fear of the pen, I started pulling the notebook out during other short stretches of waiting (bottom sketches). I'd noticed the upholstery on the chairs in one waiting room were very much like patchwork. My intention was to draw one of the leaves, but I couldn't resist doing the whole chair back. It led me to look more closely at the rest of the chairs in the room to see if the design was identical on each - fussy cut if you will. I thought they all were, and then found a few aligned differently. Judi & I agreed this was just one more thing proving we've been here too long!

We're very nearly done with Judi's treatments and appointments - a longer, more difficult journey than anticipated, but one that has ended in success. I am looking forward to getting back to the Pacific Northwest and my studio, transitioning from Mayo Clinic mindset back to something a bit more normal.

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