Category Archives: Creating Art

My Own Path

I recently read a blog post by an artist named Salley Mavor regarding how she feels about creating patterns and instructions for people other than her self to purchase and use. You can read the post ‘To Teach or Not to Teach’ here. It was interesting to read about how an artist, who works in the same realm as I do, hand sewing, embroidery, doll creation, thinks about their own original art creation and the creation of patterns and instructions of their original work for sale to others.

Before I go any further, I should note that I have owned a copy of her book Wee Felt Folk in the past. I think it’s a lovely book with clear, easy to follow patterns and instructions for creating incredibly sweet, tiny dolls. I made a few dolls from the book and while they were a lot of fun to make, I found myself more interested in creating my own original artwork and art dolls.

One of the many reasons that I found Mavor’s post so interesting is that I have been working on a project that would at least partially encompass patterns and instructions for doll creation that I may offer for sale. Some of the points that Mavor makes struck a chord within me and made me think that maybe I didn’t want to make and sell patterns and instructions for doll making. This made me feel as though perhaps I had wasted the time that I had already spent planning, writing and creating patterns for my project.

There were three points that Mavor asserts that she feels negatively affect her feelings towards creating patterns and instructions for sale.

Salley Mavor, in addition to being an artist, is also an accomplished illustrator. She creates intricate embroidered illustrations using a variety of different embroidery techniques as well as her own original compositions that are just brimming with amazing details. Her work is enchanting, sweet and elegant all at the same time. The longer you look at them, the more little surprises you find within them, which makes them all the more fabulous!

Mavor speaks about how there have been people wanting to know if she would ever create patterns for some of her illustrations. Which on the face of it sounds like a huge compliment, but is in fact more complicated than that. Mavor states that she feels creating patterns for some of her larger illustrations and pieces of art would stifle her own artistic creativity, because she would constantly be thinking about how to create instructions for other people, instead of being within the moment of creation, actually making the art.

What makes this complicated is that would people ever ask a painter or a sculptor for instructions on how to re-create their original artistic creation? Did anyone ask Picasso for instructions on how to re-create Guernica? Was Rodin asked for instructions about how to re-create The Kiss? This is a weird double standard that artists who work with textile and fiber arts, and something that within a consumer economy, where everything is for sale, customers think that they should be able to get that pattern and those instructions, because, you know, it’s just sewing and embroidery, right? It’s not like…you know, Art of anything. It’s just craft…right? (Okay, I’ll get off my soapbox of sarcasm now.)

Another point that Mavor makes is that she wants to keep some of her own creative secrets for herself. She has her methods of construction and creation that she has honed over decades of artistic practice. Why give that away? In addition, what she does and how she does it may not be something that can necessarily be ‘taught’ via a set of instructions and a few pattern pieces.

I know that I have ways of holding the pieces of felt that I’m sewing together that work for me. Doing it the way that I do it has simply evolved over my own decades of artistic practice. At this point, I don’t need to always create a pattern either. Sometimes I just sit down and start cutting. That’s efficacy and it’s earned by years of dedicated work within an artistic medium(s). That cannot be conveyed through a set of patterns and instructions, unless the purchaser is someone who already has a fair amount of knowledge, skill and ability under their own belt. So, I get that point. I like the idea of keeping some of my magic for myself as well.

Salley Mavor has published a book of patterns and instructions, Wee Felt Folk. She took one of the simpler elements (the dolls) within her own artwork and broke down the construction into easy to replicate steps, complete with patterns. She hoped that people who purchase the book would put their own creative spin on the dolls — alter them so that they are more an expression of the person who is utilizing the patterns and instructions, rather than just an attempt to copy exactly what Mavor creates herself as an artist. As stated previously, I’ve worked with her patterns. I chose to create my own dolls instead, because…I’m an artist too. I want to make my own create visions, not the visions of someone else.

Mavor speaks about being a bit of an outsider within the greater world of Art (with that capitol A). She’s expressed that she doesn’t even really fit with current trends within sewing and embroidery movements, which are much more modern than her personal style of needlework. There is also the resurgence of needleworkers who create patterns and kits for people who want to follow someone else’s creative vision, instead of creating their own unique pieces of work. And that’s fine, but it should be noted that when you create something using someone else’s pattern and instructions, without making any type of creative alterations yourself, you are creating a craft, not a piece of original artwork.

The weird space that I feel as though I tread is not considered Art and not considered craft, simply because I utilize tools, materials and techniques that are not considered by the wider world as a form of Art — with that capitol A — and is somehow less than a painting or sculpture. I’m not bemoaning this; it just seems to be the way that people other than those who work within the same creative realm think when they look at my work.

I can see my own thoughts regarding my artwork reflected in what Mavor writes. There are two big differences between the two of us though. 1) I’m a very, very, very small art creator by comparison and 2) I’m an art teacher.

I truly enjoy teaching people how to create artwork, especially their own artwork. This may mean that they begin their work by utilizing a pattern or technique that I have demonstrated or supplied, but their end product should be, will be, their own. Mavor stated that teaching people how to create using her techniques is not something that she is interested in. And she totally has the right to say that. She doesn’t owe anyone anything, period.

As an art teacher, I have learned how to give the student enough information to get them started, to allow them to get comfortable with the entire creative process, so that when it comes to the point within the creative process in which the student needs to take that leap and put themselves into their artwork, they are brave enough to be unique and add themselves into their artwork. Teaching art is not something everyone can do or wants to do. I love being there when the art begins to happen. When the confidence is built. When the students tries out an idea, and another idea and another idea. I love the planning, creation and implementation of art lessons. I think the biggest part of why I love it so much, is that I want to share with my students this amazing thing that makes me so incredibly happy and I want them to be able to experience it as well.

So, I am going to continue working on my plans for patterns and instructions…and the other things I want to go along with it as well.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you again next Tuesday.

My Mistakes

I spent the greater part of two years working on something I called the Creative Experiment. The experiment was a success. I learned a lot about why and how I create artwork. I pushed myself to let go of some of the creative processes that were no longer proving themselves useful to me. And most importantly, I became much more comfortable within the active creative process without knowing for sure exactly what the end product would look like. I feel as though I built a great deal of personal creative efficacy over the time I spent creating the dolls in the experiment.

Over the past month or so, I couldn’t help but compare the differences in the how the Creative Experiment dolls and the Little Ladies dolls have been received. More to the point, why was there interest in purchasing the Little Lady dolls, but almost none in the Creative Experiment dolls? What mistakes had I made in with the Creative Experiment dolls that I haven’t been making with the Little Lady dolls?

The reason that I want to sort this out is for business reasons. These bodies of work have their similarities and some very distinct differences. The Little Ladies are selling. The Creative Experiment dolls are packed into boxes, to the greater extent, unsold. I need to understand the why and how of this, so that I can identify and fix future mistakes quicker than I have in the past.

There are three main reasons that I think the Creative Experiment dolls did not sell well.

1. No Advertising:

I made absolutely no attempt to market the Creative Experiment dolls. I was at the very beginning of an entrepreneurial course and did not think that I wanted to be in the ‘physical product business’ and chose to focus on developing art seminars and workshops to teach. I didn’t use my website or Instagram to market the Creative Experiment dolls. I think I felt as though if anyone saw photos of these dolls, that they would make an attempt to contact me to inquire about purchasing my work. I think I sporadically added a “contact me if your interesting in purchasing any of my work” to the end of my Instagram posts, but that was so lazy.

I have not sold a single Creative Experiment doll through any internet platform. The few that I’ve sold were to people who knew me personally. I think that my reluctance to advertise or market myself and my work is due in large part to: I don’t want to be perceived as ‘pushy’, and I don’t want to attract attention to myself. Because when you get attention, you don’t always get just positive attention.

I didn’t advertise. I didn’t sell any work. It was my completely my fault. Lesson learned.

2. People Didn’t Like Them:

Okay. On this one, I could simply me making assumptions. I know that the Creative Experiment dolls were not to everyones personal taste. They were a radical change in the direction of the types of dolls that I have made in the past. They were smaller, lacked human like faces (all the parts of the face in the correct places), and were not always humanoid. I gave them holes in their abdomens with screw-top lids (recycled from milk cartons) and buttons in lieu of faces. I can see where some people would find them weird, and off-putting. I can also see where some people would really like them. The people that I think would like them are a fairly small segment of the potential doll-buying community, and very targeted marketing on my part could have helped me get my artwork in front of people who might have been interested in buying it.

I feel as though I let my Dada flag fly when creating the dolls in the Creative Experiment. I worked on instinct. Picking and choosing whatever colors of felt, fibers and threads that I wanted to in that instant and not asking myself why. As the experiment continued, the embroidery and the appliqué work took on a like of it’s own and I just went with it, creatively speaking. I had no real idea of how I would ever sell any of these pieces, even if I wanted to.

I’m sure that there were people who looked at the Creative Experiment dolls and found them creepy as well. There are people who find regular dolls creepy, so I can only imagine what they might have thought of the Creative Experiment dolls.

3. They Aren’t Traditional Dolls:

I suppose what I mean by this, is that they weren’t really like the types of dolls that people were used to seeing. They were called dolls, but perhaps my work didn’t fit into what their idea of a doll is, or their belief in what a dolls primary use is: a toy for children.

I’ve always wanted to ask people about this. Children always seem attracted to my work, no matter what kind of dolls I make. The Creative Experiment dolls were abstracted, colorful and small. It makes perfect sense that children would be attracted to them. Children’s ideas or beliefs about what things are and aren’t supposed to be are not carved in stone. Adults, while they have the ability to think more abstractly, sometimes have beliefs can become more fixed and rigid over time.

There is also the fact that even if a child really liked one of my Creative Experiment dolls, 40€ or more for a tiny, handmade doll may seem tremendously expensive, especially knowing how hard children can be on toys. And…my dolls are not necessarily toys to begin with anyway.

So…now what?

I’ve made the comparisons and feel as though I have discovered some valid reasons for why I sold so very few of the Creative Experiment dolls. The fact that I didn’t actively try to sell them was the main reason I feel as though they didn’t sell. I will be putting some of them up on my website for sale over the next few weeks. I need to do choose a dozen or so out of the almost two-hundred that I made, shoot some photos and decide on some prices, and then I can see how it all goes. If they still don’t sell, then I guess they just aren’t marketable and I will have to live with that.

Pricing for these dolls is difficult. And if I’m honest, pricing my work is always, always, always difficult for me. Is the price too high? Is the price too small? What will the shipping cost? How do I adequately convey the amount of time, energy and thought it takes to create the doll I am asking 75€ for? I had a few people, years ago, contact me and express interest in a doll, but when I quoted them a price — I think it was 75€, including shipping, I never heard from them again.

I’ll figure it out, I will need to, because I want this business to be a success.

Forks and Spoons

I’ve received criticisms about the artwork I make. When I say ‘criticisms’, I mean to speak about the good, the bad and the not-so-great things about a specific piece of artwork that I’ve created. I majored in Visual Communications (Graphic Design) in art school and learned a lot about how to critique another person’s artwork. Within my studio, we could get into some fairly gory depth and detail during our critiques. I never took the negative comments personally. It just meant that what I was trying to do wasn’t working and that I needed to try something else. I also felt that these sorts of critiques would prepare me for the much rougher world of graphic design that I would eventually enter once I graduated.

What this early training in art criticism did not prepare me for was the world of non-commercial art. (Regular art? Fine art? Gallery art?) To be more specifically, it didn’t prepare me for the things people who are not makers of art will say to me about my artwork, techniques, materials, craft and presentation.

The how and why of some of the things that people have communicated to me leave me confused and sometimes annoyed. I’ve talked to another artist who work in the same vein as me and they have too have had some similar feelings and experiences. I talked at length about these weird, confusing and annoying comments, in an effort to try and figure out why a person might say these things, and what the root causes might be.

1. The Customer is Always Right:

I almost feel as though this concept is baked into the DNA of most of the people in the US. I take a great deal of joy when I see that my artwork makes people happy. I take even greater joy when a person thinks my artwork is good enough that they decide to open their wallet and purchase it. I know that my artwork is more or less a luxury item, serving no other purpose than to make the customer happy to know they own it. I mean, it’s not like one of my paper maché play-set dolls is going to complete their taxes for them, or perform useful household tasks like dusting and laundry.

What will stick in my craw wrong, is when the customer will offer a completely unsolicited opinion on how I should make my artwork, as well as the types of artwork they think I should be making, you know, so I can make lots more money. Because you know, money is the only possible reason I would spend as much time as I do making artwork, right? Getting lots and lots of money is my end goal, right?

You should make Minecraft and Duck Dynasty dolls. People would buy those!” This comment by far is one of the stranger ones. I also got a “You should make dolls like Ugly Dolls! People love those!” comment once. I would think that the people offering this advice know very little about copyright law.

I think this is part and parcel of a consumer society like the US. There are some people who feel as though the conveniences of buying just about anything they can imagine at any time of the day or night, translates into this being their ‘right’ as a member of that society. And when they do not get what they want, when they want, how they want, they will tell you, either to your face, or through a negative review online.

2. Dolls are Not Always Toys:

My artwork is incredibly personal. To some, it doesn’t appear that way. To some, all they see is a doll. Sometimes that doll is cute and sometimes that doll does not conform to the persons preconceived ideas of what a doll is and isn’t. To many people, a doll is a plaything for children and is therefore something that is almost a disposable item, both physically and mentally speaking. Toys are part of childhood. Period.

The dolls that I make are not play things for children. They are art. As an artist, I’m constantly exploring why the doll is a constant theme of my artwork. It never goes away, which means, I still have things I need to ‘figure out’ about the doll and why it is so important to me. Each individual piece is a creative exploration of who I am as a person.

Dolls have never been ‘just toys’. They have been used to teach children about religion and societal roles, and to train young through creative play as to what is expected of them within their culture as well. For me, the dolls that I create have become a fusion of many different roles that dolls have played for humans over the millennia.

I just don’t know what I would do with a doll. You know, I’m a forty-year-old-woman! I don’t play with doll!.” Said to me at a craft show, while her sticky-fingered daughter touched every single one of the highly embroidered and appliquéd faces of some of the dolls I had for sale.

At the time, I was a forty-year-old woman who was making dolls. Lots of dolls.

3. Handmade Things are Not as Good as Store-Bought Things:

My younger brother once told me that he didn’t want me to give him handmade gifts, because he’d just rather have a gift card or money. At the time, I thought it was better that he was honest with me, but it really hit me like a brick in the face. I’ve never made him another gift.

For some people who may want to purchase my work, they get a little ‘sticker shock’ when I give them a price for a specific piece of artwork. Sometimes, they will try and get me to lower my price, with weird back-handed compliments. When those don’t work, then they start to comment on what they perceive as the shabby parts of my work, thinking, I guess, that I will believe them and say, “Oh! You are so right! 300€ is way too much for this piece! It’s really tremendously crappy construction and made of cardboard and newspaper that I got for free, and you know, the 100+ hours that I have spent working on it don’t really mean anything. I was already ‘paid’ in the emotional sense, so I’ll let you have it for 20€, no, no 10€!”

I once took a doll to work to show my supervisor. He was curious about what I was making and I valued his criticisms and advice regarding placing it in an upcoming art show. A woman in our department saw what I was showing my supervisor and offered me $20 for the doll. It was a large and complicated doll (Cactus Mama, an opuntia cactus with multiple faces and smaller babies) and I declined her offer. She walked away and then came back a few minutes later and hung into the doorway and kind of rolled her eyes and said, “Wellll….I GUESS I could give you $40…” Again, I declined her offer, stating how many hours I had worked on the piece. I put the piece in a show and won a ribbon.

4. People Who Have No Knowledge of Art Creation of Craftsmanship:

I make the artwork that I make, with the materials and techniques that I use, because it suits me to do so. In my personal experience, that’s kind of how creating my own art works. I’ve spent more than thirty years making art with anything that I could get my hands on. I’ve been an art teacher, and continue to teach art workshops here in Finland. I have been fascinated with my hands since I stuck my own right thumb into my mouth while still in utero. I started drawing as soon as I could hold a crayon and have never stopped. So it always surprises me when someone who does not make art, or do any kind of craft or activity with their hands, attempts to tell me what they feel I’m doing ‘wrong’ in my artwork, and how I might fix those things, so I can be more successful as an artist. Their only credentials seem to be that of ‘personal opinion’, and that their personal opinion of my work is something that I should change my own personal artwork because of. (Fnck my drag, am I right?)

I spend an insane amount of time inside my own head. I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about, planning and physically creating my artwork. As I’ve stated previously in this post, my work is extremely personal in nature, but I do reference other artists (of the older, more dead variety, as well as of the more alive, breathing, and contemporary kind), art movements, music, literature, nature as well as vintage toys (GAH! The toys of my childhood are now ‘vintage’!) and contemporary toys. I am mining my own life experiences and how I interact with the world around me while creating my artwork. My life. My experience. My thoughts. My art.

A few weeks ago, my husband came over to look at some of the tiny dolls I was working on. He said, “You know these kind of look like Lego Minifigs, right?” Yup. Totally. I was aiming for something in between a Lego Minifig and a Playmobil figure visually speaking, so his observation told me I was more or less, on the mark with my artistic intensions. These are toys from my childhood. Take those toys and smash them up with my fascination with miniatures and dollhouses, and my creating these tiny dolls makes sense.

I suppose that this section paints me in a rather snobby light. The insinuation being, that if a person doesn’t have the experience of what it’s like to make or do something with their own hands, that encapsulates their own unique visions, emotions, thoughts, and dreams, while using a variety of materials, supplies and techniques, as well as having a depth and breadth of knowledge and practice about the subject of art (or gardening, or writing, or cooking, or modern dance, or film, or carpentry, or playing a musical instrument, or sewing clothing, or crocheting items, take your pick of all the creative fields!) then deciding that without any of the aforementioned credentials, that they can tell an artist how to make their work better, or more sellable, does not hold a whole lot of water with me. Making art is when I feel the most ‘myself’ and I’m fairly sure that there is no one out there who can tell me how to ‘be me’.

My husband and I talk about ‘forks’ and ‘spoons’ a lot. When I was teaching art in the elementary school, I would have lessons in which I would give the students a lot of three dimensional recycled and up-cycled items and we’d create sculptures. I remember on exercise in which I was holding up some of the materials they would get to use to create these sculptures and as a group, we would brainstorm about all the things that the object could become. I held up a plastic fork first and the whole class said, “It’s a fork!” I asked them again, but what could it be, use your imaginations! “It’s a fork for a person!” Okay. Okay. I will re-frame the question for them. Imagine you’ve never seen anything like this before, and you find it while you are walking in a forest, what do you think it could be? I got a lot of silent stares, until…someone yelled, “I’d use it to eat food with!

I was about down to my last spoon with that last answer.

Some people see my artwork for what it is and accept it. There are others who don’t find it attractive, or interesting, and simply move on without saying anything about it. Then there are others who think my work should be a fork and they tell me why it should be a fork. Hopefully, I will have enough spoons to deal with it internally.

And occasionally through a blog post.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you again next Tuesday.

 

A little additional reading, if you are so inclined:

The Customer is Always Right

Spoon Theory

I’m good at thrashing around inside this concept: The Dunning-Kruger Effect

I’m Teaching an Art Workshop!

I have begun working locally, teaching art workshops. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed creating art with the wonderful people who have attended one of my workshops! I have an up-coming workshop at Jyvälän Settlementti, teaching a one-day workshop in which the participants will create their own, unique worry dolls, inspired by the Mayan people of Guatemala.

If you live in the Jyväskylä and are interested, contact Jyvälän Settlementti at +041.217.202, or you can visit their website, at www.jyvala.fi. They have a lot of interesting courses to choose from!