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This is the story of Janie.
Janie has just celebrated her 57th birthday. She’s an ‘aspiring’ textile artist. ‘Aspiring’ because she tends to ‘look’ rather than ‘do’.
She spends hours browsing textile art online and ends up beating herself up for not being as skilled as the ‘professionals’.
She’s filled with insecurities about not having a formal art training.
She wishes she’d found her passion earlier in life.
Even when she does get around to making something, Janie’s approach is tentative. She’s nervous and confused about making the first marks. And she often loses faith in what she’s doing halfway through and gives up.
And on the rare occasions she sees a piece through to completion, she wouldn’t dare show it to anyone outside her immediate circle because she’s not ready. The work isn’t good enough yet. Other people would hate it.
So what’s holding Janie back? On the face of it…
Lack of confidence.
But let’s dig a little deeper.
Imagine you’re going on a long car journey in a foreign land. Somewhere you’ve never been before.
You know that it’s 100 miles to your destination; a small village buried deep in the mountains.
But you only have a vague idea which direction to head in.
And there are infinite possible routes.
It’s mid winter and the fog is thick.
No map. No GPS. No phone.
How optimistic do you feel about starting out on that journey?
You see without clarity, it’s very difficult to be confident.
It can be tough for an artist to accept that clarity is empowering. Words like ‘open’, ‘free’, ‘eclectic’ have become synonymous with creativity.
But you don’t need to sacrifice being open, free and eclectic simply because you have a clear path forward. In fact, a clear path forward can help you become more open, free and eclectic.
So, where does clarity come from?
Brace yourself. I’m about to throw in two more words that have the potential to send a lot of artists running for the hills; rules and guidelines!
Author of the popular Dyeing and Screen Printing on Textiles, Joanna Kinnersly-Taylor told us that at first she resisted what felt like a ‘formal’ approach to making. But when she embraced ‘structure’ in the development of her work, she found it ‘strangely energising’:
“There is so much to work out when generating ideas and a ‘system’ can really help to focus, define and shape complex thoughts”.
Self-imposed rules and guidelines are formed by making strong and sometimes painful choices about your process. Which influences to dismiss. Which techniques to set aside. Which materials to donate to charity!
Tough decision-making can help bring clarity to every stage of the making process.
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Seeking inspiration everywhere can make you blind to seeing it anywhere! But making decisions about where to seek inspiration can unveil possibilities. Even a seemingly limited subject can produce huge bodies of work.
Free machine embroiderer Shona Skinner doesn’t create work inspired by nature. Or even landscapes in general. The source for every piece she makes is much more specific.
“I am fortunate enough to live on the stunning island of Yell in Shetland. The light up here is very vivid and constantly changing and that is what inspires all my work.”
Being specific and clear about you sphere of influence can galvanise the creative process.
Ever been in that awful state where making the first marks feels like torture? That’s something we discussed in detail in the article Diagnosis: Artistic Paralysis.
A crippling insecurity about the best way to begin often comes from having a seemingly endless amount of options. Which leads to being confused and overwhelmed. Which makes it almost impossible to get started.
Making bold choices early on can be tough but very worthwhile.
Textile artist and former lecturer at Cumbria University Ruth Lee spoke to us about her process:
“I usually have far too many starting points and it’s essential for me to sift and refine down to find my focus”.
Clarifying by paring down gives Ruth the impetus to begin. And the confidence to continue.
Having a clear goal, a direction for a piece or a series of work, drives you forward. When you plan how to reach that goal, you have markers to hit along the way. And when you hit those markers, you’re empowered to forge ahead.
Without that clear end in sight, staying on track can become a struggle as textile artist Dee Thomas knows:
“Without the discipline of a project and deadline my work tends to stay unfinished, I procrastinate and become even more of a butterfly jumping between ideas constantly!”
But with a definite objective to aim for, artists achieve amazing things. My mum, Sue Stone, was asked to exhibit at the Knitting and Stitching Show in 2016 and gave herself the task of documenting her entire life in stitch! She made 63 self portraits, an 18-piece family tree and 2 larger pieces in less than a year.
Being specific about what she wanted to achieve, in what timeframe and for what purpose, brought clarity to Sue’s process.
Have you ever seen a child playing with a handful of LEGO bricks? A limited repertoire of piece types holds the potential for an unlimited range of constructions; a pirate ship, a school bus, a cheese burger…And yet inherent in the building blocks are rules; they’re attached vertically and at very specific points. The rules are what fuel the possibilities.
As we discussed in our recent article exploring how 6 incredible practitioners use a few simple stitches to create intricate areas of pattern and texture, having clarity in your techniques can empower you to make bolder choices with them.
Clarity can be especially important in the experimentation phase. Aimless ‘play’ with unlimited materials and random processes can be fun and will sometimes reveal interesting discoveries, but there’s a huge element of chance involved.
When you have clear boundaries around tools, materials and techniques, you can find the most creative ways of pushing those boundaries.
What happens when you hit a roadblock in the middle of the creative process? When something isn’t working.
If you have a plan, you can adjust it. If you have rules, you can break them. Without any of that structure, you could find yourself scrabbling around for the best solution, never feeling sure you’re making the right choice.
Even perceived failure can be overcome if you use it to bring clarity to you process.
Susan Hotchkis, who has exhibited her abstract forms all over the world told us:
“I might spend a lot of time on a piece only to be dissatisfied and turn to something else which almost immediately works. This second piece is of no less value just because it took less time; it happened as a consequence of the work that failed. The work that gave me the clarity I was seeking.”
So, let’s go back to Janie for a second.
If Janie started to make some conscious choices about the way she approaches her textile art, she could bring a new level of clarity to her process. As well as enjoying a heightened sense of focus and greater productivity, she’d find more inventive ways of bringing her newly defined vision to reality.
And what of the hang-ups about not being good enough? The feeling that her work doesn’t meet the standard of her peers? Let’s be honest. Those thoughts aren’t going to disappear over night.
Finding faith in yourself as an artist is an ongoing journey. But every step you take, no matter how small, is a step on that journey.
Finding clarity in your process will help you ensure you’re stepping in the right direction!
We’ve got help with HOW to find clarity when experimenting with textiles coming up soon. In the meantime, why not tell us in the comments section which part of the creative process you struggle with?