Friday, June 23, 2017

Invaluable Feedback

ArtWalk 2017 - Columbia Bank Venue - not the order I had in mind but it works
It has taken me all week to decompress from and process my interactions with everyone who came out for the ArtWalk opening reception - really quite well attended and fun (but also draining) for me. It's always scary when you go in a new direction with your art, at least it is for me. No matter how excited one may be about it, the unfamiliar makes one question, "Is it any good? Am I on the right track? And will people like what I'm doing, want me to continue in this vein or return to my tried and true that they are used to and love?"

Some of the viewing public - as you can see, a casual affair.

These were my thoughts going into ArtWalk with the new series. It turned out my worries were unwarranted. These Leaf Cluster variations were enthusiastically embraced, and nearly everyone who passed by wanted to ask me questions and/or tell me which was their favorite and why (which is often not the case at these receptions). Much of what was noted confirmed what I already knew or felt, some were good ideas I had not considered, and in one case I received a fairly thorough critique that finally gave me some concrete reasons why I was so unhappy with one of them. I got excited again about the series, ready to continue as many said they hoped I would, armed with feedback that should help the next pieces be stronger. Here's how the feedback broke down.

I was a little surprised by how many noted the framing, though I've known for a long time how framing up smaller textile pieces can give them more presence in an exhibition. It leaves no doubt that they are art, and as the critiquing fellow artist pointed out, "It makes them look more like art than (very long pause) craft." I think she hesitated so long wondering if using that term "craft" would offend me. But I totally agree. I think having them all the same size framed identically also contributed to their impact.

That it was a series
Again, I was surprised at how many people remarked that they liked that I did more than one using the leaf cluster motif. Several also shared that they could easily see two or three of them hanging together. One twenty-something woman voiced that because they had such a modern look, they would look good hung vertically, one over the other - something I hadn't considered, but found exciting to consider. And best of all, one of our "elder statesman" icons of the Sandpoint arts community came up to me with a big smile, grabbed my hands and said, "I am SO GLAD you are working in a series!" Well, yes then, I guess I must continue on with it!

Leaf Cluster III - a crowd favorite due to all that quilting

Fabric and quilting choices matter
I was not surprised that Leaf Cluster III drew so much attention and was often stated as a favorite. I had an excellent location on the third floor tier with lots of natural light from the ceiling which is like one giant skylight. It accentuated the quilting on all of the pieces, but especially on this one. Everyone wanted to know how I did it, what kind of machine I used, and then after my explanations, was I crazy. Why yes, just a bit! I think I could use that garnet stitch exclusively and no one would tire of seeing it. Leaf Cluster II (below) was a close second, that wonderful batik drawing people in just as it had on Leaf Cluster I. Many couldn't decide between the two and I feel the same way. It was obvious from the many comments that people were being drawn almost as much if not more by my fabric and quilting choices than by the leaf motif, and that in the case of the two favorites, those choices went with and enhanced the image of leaves.

Leaf Cluster II - that batik made it a favorite

Imperfections are assets
As you probably remember, it took me some time to get comfortable with the way my leaf clusters had printed up. Initially all I could see was failed prints because the paint had not transferred evenly. My blog readers, my art group and some distance from those first looks at them finally brought me around as people pointed out how much they liked the unevenness in the printing, especially where it allowed the fabric to show through as in Leaf Cluster II above. And more than one non-artist looking at Leaf Cluster II remarked how much they liked the varying lines and texture in the paint across some of the leaves, and even those little carving marks outside of the leaves that I tried so hard to keep from happening because, and I quote "they add interest." Ok, ok, I've got it!

Leaf Cluster V - the camera caught more of the sparkly beads. Click to see.

Not everyone likes the same thing
Poor Leaf Cluster V. Even in this excellent light, it remained a very dark piece, but at least the beads were picking up the light. Very few people commented on it, except maybe to ask about the beading. And then one man steps in front of it and loudly announces that it is his favorite, that he likes the colors, the beads, he just likes everything about it, and seemed ready to argue its merits with anyone who disagrees (and a few standing nearby weakly said they liked different ones but he stood firm - hysterical!). So the lesson here is that variety is good, because not everyone's taste is the same. I did ask two women who had described what they thought was going on with the other leaves (those are floating in front of tree bark, that one is coming down a wall) what was going on with this one. The first women furrowed her brow and said she didn't know. The second one described my vision perfectly - a leaf that has landed on the water. We all see differently too.

Look! You can see the stitches! Wait - don't look at those stitches!

The value of a good critique
Leaf Cluster IV looked so much better hanging in this spot of natural light plus some additional light from the nearby sconce - the quilting actually showed up, and yikes! I also noticed that you could now see the thread too, which means my uneven stitches could easily be seen (I really did have some places where the stitch length got long in comparison to the rest of the line). It got more comments than Leaf Cluster V but I think only because it was easier to see. I still felt uncomfortable about it, felt it was the weakest of the four but thinking it was mostly because of the quilting. I had nearly 3 hours of reception to stare analytically at the group and consider the comments I was getting, and I still wasn't 100% sure why some were working better than the others. As the crowds thinned, another artist wandered over, another local icon who, with her partner, received POAC's 2017 Artist of the Year Award. She looked at my pieces for a bit and then began a critique that told me why some worked better than others and declared Leaf Cluster IV the weakest of the lot. She kept glancing over to see how I was taking what she was saying, but I assured her that her comments were very helpful and that I totally agreed that IV was the weakest but didn't understand why. Well, in her opinion it was the one leaf, the way it was turned, how the paint on the stem faded to nothing at the end and did not "attach" in any way to the outside edge. To her it looked lost and like it didn't know where it belonged. None of the other pieces had that problem to her eye.

Leaf Cluster IV in a different and better orientation

I decided to ask her if it would improve it if it were turned a different direction. Maybe, she said as she cocked her head to one side. Well, let's turn it then, which put it back in the original orientation I'd had in mind when I printed it, but changed when considering how the four pieces would look together. She sounded quite surprised at the change that turn made, said "yes it's better and here's why. Look at how that circle of quilting now seems to hold the leaf up. It knows where it is now." It's still the weakest of the lot, but better in the turning, which led us to talking about often you do have to turn your work this way and that, depending on where it hangs and what it hangs with. As for Leaf Cluster V, she sounded sorry for it because it needed better lighting, was not getting its due down there, didn't really go with the other pieces, all things I agree with. I so appreciated her taking the time and being so candid with me, pointing to specific things that I will know to avoid in the future, giving me tips about design that if I pay heed, will help me create stronger pieces as the series continues. Because, after all, that's kind of the point of working in a series.   


The Inside Stori said...

Well, I for one am not a bit surprised your new direction was so well received……it’s common for us to be critical of our work……and I know you struggled through every phase. But now, sit back and enjoy the success!

Olga Norris said...

Sheila, it seems that this exhibition has given you so much insight and reassurance. We always want feedback, critique, and advice - even if we disagree with any or all of it. It is great to have other folks' reactions to our work, and when a critique comes from a point of view we respect, then that's a bonus. I imagine that you are now glowing with positive creative energy, no matter how tired.

Margaret Ball said...

I'm glad you got so much (well-deserved) positive feedback, because I like the direction you're going and hope you continue.

My favorite, of course, is Leaf Clusfer Five. : )

Chris said...

Boy that is a lot to take in and process. How wonderful to get such useful feedback rather than the usual "that's nice." I thought it was interesting that different people had their favorites and they did not necessarily agree with each other. That reminds me of a blog that EB wrote on that topic. At any rate I'm glad that your new artwork got such positive feedback. Keep being creative.

Lucia Sasaki said...

Dear Sheila, congratulations for your Leaves series in ArtWalk exposition. You are beautiful near your art, as always.
Thanks for sharing this awesome moment, you inspire me a lot, do you know this?

The Idaho Beauty said...

I so appreciate all your comments. Yes, Olga, a bit of a glow still going on and renewed confidence on many levels. Professional artists actually making their living with their art as well as those of us doing it for the love of it in varying degrees of expertise exhibit side by side here, which I find both a little intimidating and great incentive to keep upping my game. Exhibiting with POAC has really helped me grow as an artist because of the caliber of who I show with as well as these opportunities for feedback. Lucky I am indeed.

Mary and Margaret, thanks for encouraging me to continue with this new direction - Mary and Chris in particular know how often I doubt myself, and I sometimes think of you guys as my cheering section, occasionally beating some sense into me when I get muddled - much appreciated!

Lucia,thank you too for your sweet words and constant support. I am happy that my sharing of struggles and triumphs inspires you. You have your own talents that inspire me too. Am looking forward to seeing photos of your sumi paintings on exhibit soon.