On Technique And Toilets

Sometimes it takes a bit of controversy, or reasonable facsimile thereof, to make domestic chores attractive by comparison. So I cleaned the toilet this morning. That gave me time to think about some things I read online this week.

Interesting questions were raised. Thoughtful discussion resulted. I’m not going to rehash it here. I’ll just say this.

As I see it, fluency with techniques and materials may not be a guaranteed route to the artistic expression of ideas. But the struggle to achieve a desired effect when you’re not fluent can be like trying to write poetry in a foreign language. For a lot of fiber artists, technique is the vocabulary with which we achieve expression of the ideas that drive our work. Having a rich and diverse vocabulary allows an artist to choose how best to express themselves.

What bothers me about some of the commentary is this: It gives the impression that, to be taken seriously as an artist, you don’t talk about technique. Let me be clear: I think that’s the impression. The intention of the commenters, I suspect, was closer to expressing a desire for deeper, more critical discussions about concept and design. And I’m all for that.

I’m less engaged by the subtext, intentional or not, that implies a them-or-us divide over the question. It does sort of sound like those who’ve worked hard and paid their dues now want the club to become more exclusive and not just more thoughtful. Perhaps I’ve read it wrong, but I can see how people (of any age) who are still developing their craft and their voice might feel disrespected.

So I want to encourage anyone who’s feeling that way to go clean the toilet. Then get back to making whatever it is you make and reflecting on whatever it is you want it to say. This is not a new conversation, and it’s not the last time you’ll hear it. And that’s a good thing, because you’re going to need to clean that toilet again soon.

As for me, I’m studying some millinery techniques now because I’m interested in how they can be applied to vessel construction. All this serious discussion compels me to leave you with a photograph of Canadian silent film star Marie Dressler.

Marie Dressler in lampshade hat, 1909
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The Art Of Making Choices

Can a blog post with a picture of paperwork inspire you in your fiber art?

It won’t if you believe the fairy tale that real artists ignore the world and just disappear into their studios, where everything they create is magical. The truth is closer to this: Real artists create some stuff that is magical, some stuff they have to get out of the way to get to the magic part, and some stuff that seems barely related to studio work. Stuff they’d rather ignore altogether. Like paperwork.

Over the years, along with a whole bunch of studio work that is less than magical, I’ve produced a lot of paperwork. Nobody’s going to hang it on the wall and say, “Did you notice how that workshop description reflects the state of the world at the turn of the millennium? How about that that file from the end of the Aughts?”

Yesterday I purged files. Four file drawers yielded three boxes of paperwork to recycle from more than10 years of teaching. I can now close the top drawer I had been using as a horizontal surface for stacking stuff that wouldn’t fit inside. I pitched double prints from photos I took before we got a digital camera and the option to just delete the yucky shots. I pitched old contracts. I pitched handouts and outlines from classes I enjoyed teaching but for various reasons know I will not teach again.

(Here’s where I get to the part I hope will inspire you.) Making choices like that last one is hard. It’s easier to say, “I might need that again” and save it than to let it go, less scary to add things to a list of what’s possible than to take them off it. Nobody wants to burn bridges. But how much infrastructure can you maintain?

There’s more glamour in talking about finding your voice as an artist than in talking about finding your voice as a self-sustaining studio artist. But both generally involve making an individual approach to some form of creative constraint. That means choosing both what to hold on to and what to let go.

So now I’m curious. Did you make New Year’s resolutions about what you will do this year. Did you also make resolutions about what you will not do? How do you decide? I’d love to hear your comments.

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Supply And Demand

Any true magazine junkie will understand why I would pick up an old copy of Guitar World from the share table at the library (no, I don’t play), or haul away the unsold periodicals from a garage sale. You also know that nothing feeds an addiction like the excuse, “it’s research”. This explains a number of lost hours at newsstands and a whole expense category in our accounting system.

Recently I bought a copy of Mark Lipinski’s Fabric Trends For Quilters. I felt like a poseur, because I’m not a “real” quilter. Real quilters piece and organize their fabric neatly by color, right? But it was research, and I’m an avid learner.

Here’s what I found particularly fascinating. In Mark’s editor’s letter he writes that all of the fabrics featured in Fabric Trends are currently on their way to shops, and photos of actual quilts:

have been traded out for computer-generated designs, but that compromise means you can now actually make the quilts you see.

So here are the thoughts that swirled around in my head while I stitches this week.

  • Making projects that exactly match the pictures in a book or magazine isn’t my style, but I can appreciate why people do it.
  • How much is tied up in inventory in my local fabric shop? Yikes! And yet what they probably hear the most about is what they don’t have in stock.
  • How long can a manufacturer afford to warehouse and sell last season’s fabrics (or book titles, in the case of publishers) when it’s no longer the newest / latest / bestest thing?

And finally:

  • How long will it be before print-on-demand technology changes all of this? 

One day, will I be able to walk into my local fabric shop for needles and thread, browse racks of fabrics that reflect the current trends, then step up to a kiosk to reorder fabric from a year or two before? In the store, so the store owner who answers my dumb curious questions gets some benefit from the sale?

I am totally in love with Spoonflower, and have my own designs for sale there. You can upload your own designs or pick one from another designer and choose the type of fabric. Spoonflower will print the design, and it comes to you in the mail. But will this option kill the desire to buy fabric in person? No more than methadone alone eliminates the desire for other addictive substances. No more than e-readers will eliminate books you can flip through with pages you can dog-ear.

Stop. Rethread. Make a cup of tea. Resume stitching and pondering.

Earlier this month as I was working on the redesign of my web site, I debated what to do with my bibliographies. Some of my old favorite books are out of print, and some of my new favorites won’t stay in print for long, it seems. Perhaps in another decade, print-on-demand technology will make it possible for another generation of artists to obtain some of these titles without waiting for the yard sale that will begin shortly after my funeral. Perhaps it will be possible for me to get a copy of Toshiko Horiuchi’s From A Line without hocking the car. I can’t see any possibility, though, that the option of obtaining old titles would keep me from wanting new ones, too. That includes magazines as well as books.

For what it’s worth, I moved an abbreviated bibliography to this page here on Two Red Threads.

As for the rest of it, I’m curious about how you would use today’s print on demand technology to shape the world of tomorrow. What are your thoughts?

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