Category Archives: Words

Size and Relative Dimension

This is where I make my art.

Over the past few months, I’ve been seeing pictures in magazines and posting on different internet platforms that show an artists studio. This studio could be a room in their home, an out-building, or a rented commercial space in which they create their artwork. There are times in which I find myself both green with jealousy and completely baffled at the exact same time regarding these spaces of artists and creators. Jealous when I see such lovely spaces, totally dedicated to the pursuit of creating art. Studios with big steel sinks, kilns, banks of windows, racks on which to dry prints, paintings or fabric, big, long tables with vises where large three-dimensional pieces can be constructed, as well as sections where multiple sewing machines can be set up, with adequate space to lay out, cut and store fabric and sewing supplies. Shelves upon shelves for storage of everything a given artist could possibly need or want to create their own unique pieces of art.

This all makes me green. Very, very green with envy.

Some of the photos look impossibly perfect to me though. Some look tremendously styled, with items placed here and there, ‘just so’. It makes me wonder how art can be made in such a place. Then I remind myself that photos are styled to look good, so that people will actually want to look at them and go ‘Oooooh! Ahhhhh!’ and dream about their own creative spaces where things can be ‘just so’ for them as well. Those photos are an idealised vision of what a studio could be, can be. The photographer is an artist after all, telling a story with their art.

Over the past few years, I’ve carved out what my husband affectionately calls “The Midden” My work space is at one end of our flat, with a fairly large desk, facing out onto the lake just a few hundred meters away. My tools, materials and supplies are tucked-away in boxes, bags and stashed here and there in baskets and cupboards. I have a small set of drawers to use as well. All in all, it measures a few square meters at the most. All of the artwork that I have created in the past few years has been created in this very small space. Papier maché, clay, painting, drawing, sewing, bookbinding, weaving, sewing, embroidery, appliqué, etc., has been done sitting at a small desk looking out on a lake.

When compared to the photos that I’ve been looking at, my studio space seems small and rather shabby by comparison. I mentally berate myself, telling myself that a ‘real artist’ would have a better workspace, a ‘real’ studio, something rented in an old building, where lots of other artists worked. My work would be taken more seriously then, right?

I don’t think that’s true. The idea just runs roughshod through my head, especially when I’m feeling a tinge of ‘green’ coming on. To be truthful, my physical surroundings, when it comes to the creation of my artwork is important. I need to be able to do the things I want to do, to create the types of artwork that I want to create. I’m not wealthy and my childhood taught me important lessons about ‘making do’, and my internal creative drive has made me fairly adaptable to a variety of creative workspaces and conditions.

What it all comes down to for me is that the vast majority of my creating takes place is within my own mind, and that doesn’t take up much space, so the relative smallness of my physical workspace doesn’t seem to matter in comparison.

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

Breakdown the Pretence

Marcel Duchamp New York, Bicycle Wheel 1951 (third version, after lost original 1913) MoMA

What is the problem you are solving for?

I’ve been thinking about this question for quite some time as it relates to the artwork that I create. I’ve been pulling at strings to see where they go. I’ve found myself surprised at what parts of my thinking and feeling that these strings have become attached to. There are times in which I become impatient and pull a little too hard on that string, from a little too far away. Then I find myself knee-deep in an emotional mess that will take me days or weeks to mentally clean up. Curse my never-ending curiosity! Curse my never ending impatience! (insert angry fist shaking at the sky)

The aforementioned question is related to what I think is simple envy. Envy of artists and creators that have found a level of acceptance and/or acclaim by I guess what you could call, the ‘larger professional art world’ as well their levels of financial success. As the mortal sins go, envy is one that I do not like seeing within myself. It can get ugly unbelievably quickly. I spreads and begins poisoning all thought and emotion. This the thread that I have been tugging on.

I have recently had some small successes in selling some of my own artwork. It’s been nice to have some extra money coming in. I’d like to be able to make that continue. Small sales successes are super-nice and I am insanely grateful to those people who have purchased my artwork. Maybe doing that would keep envy at bay for me?

No. I don’t think so, because I’ve been looking at the question all wrong and being far too simplistic in my answer to myself.

The artists and craftspeople who are successful are working their collective asses off. They hustle hard. Then they go and hustle some more. They are dedicated and keep plugging away, making pieces of artwork to sell. Packing it up and taking it to art and craft shows. Putting it all up. Tearing it all down. Turning around and doing it again, and again, and again. The whole while, they’re making more artwork to sell. (Insert the sound of a needle being ripped from an LP)

Wait a minute, what was the problem I was solving for again? Oh yeah. I make my artwork for me. In the words of Colin Moulding (XTC), “I am the audience.” I make the artwork that I want to make, when I want to make it. I do not make artwork for an imagined customer. It’s great when people do purchase my artwork. They’ve seen something that they like and they like it enough to give me money for it. I don’t know what people in the ‘greater art world’ think of what I make. I never seem to get far enough along in the process of showing my work in well established galleries to find out what they think. (shoulder shrug inserted here)

There have been times in my past where I have made artwork expressly for sale, but I never quite got the knack of it. It never felt ‘right’ in the sense that I don’t feel like I was being true to myself and my own need for free creative expression.

My question is answered. Envy has been abated.

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

PS: Here is a Santigold song, L.E.S. Artistes that I’ve had as accompaniment in my head for the past week.

 

Mental Bonfire Making

I have an incredibly distorted view of how I’m seen and understood by the people around me. My assumption is that people do not like me. Whatever situation I find myself going into, I actually think to myself, “Now remember, people don’t like you. You are loud and obnoxious. People will hate that. Oh yeah, and you’re fat too. People hate that as well.” I tell myself that I need to compensate for these deformed bits of my personality and physicality, as well as preparing myself mentally and emotionally for ‘Personal Interaction Scenarios A thru ZZZ’. I seriously hear the flipping of a rolodex in my head when thinking about my mental and emotional ‘contingency plans’.

I’m constantly surprised that I have friends who actually willing to spend time with me. As a write this, I’ve got plans this afternoon to meet up with some friends for our annual Christmas cookie exchange. And even thought I’ve known these lovely people for more than four years, I’m still surprised that get invited to do things like this.

Until meeting, dating and marrying my husband, I had an incredibly ‘transactional’ understanding of the concept of love. Romantic love, fraternal love, all kinds of love and friendship, etc., it had become hard-wired into my mind that if I wanted someone to love me, or simply want to be my friend, I needed to give them things (gifts) to make them love me or at least tolerate my company. The more things I gave them, or did for them, the more likely it would be for them to love me and accept me for the loud, obnoxious, lumpy creature that I am.

What does this have to do with anything other than explaining how incredibly messed-up I am? This malformed part of my emotional functioning is one of the foundations upon which stands career as an artist. That is to say, my hesitation and difficulties in creating a more stable artistic career for myself.

As I’ve written previously, my artwork is personal and comes from weird mental and emotional head-spaces of my current and past life experiences. Having this as inspiration for art work creation is well and good, but when money is added to the equation, my mind and heart race and panic begins to set in. (As I type this, I can feel my heart-rate increase.)

Uhh…what are you talking about?

Money makes me panic. Having too much money. Having too little money. Having exactly the right amount of money. It just makes me panic. I don’t like thinking about it. I certainly don’t like worrying about it. For me, money is panic and panic is not good. I like being in control of my mind and body and panic takes that control away from me, until I can wrestle it into a modicum of control.

Anyway, back to how adding money to the equation that includes quantities like my artwork. (Man. For a self-proclaimed ‘non-mathematical person’, I sure do use a lot of mathematical functions to explain myself.)

If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I create a lot of artwork. I post a lot of pictures of my artistic process and how my work comes together in the physical sense. My most recent work has not been offered for sale, mostly because I don’t think anyone would want to buy it. I spend weeks working on individual dolls, and I feel as though the prices that I would ask would put off prospective buyers, with most thinking that my prices were too high for an unknown artist. Even calculating a price for one of these pieces sent me into a panic-spiral.

There are times in which I create art that I think might be something that an individual might want to purchase. I do at those times, offer my dolls, my artwork, for sale. When those pieces don’t sell, then enters my malformed internal ‘transactional love’ mechanism.

Allow me to explain via a scenario: I make a piece of artwork. It gets a lot of likes. People tell me that I should be selling this artwork. I feel love and acceptance, because people I have never met tell me they like my artwork enough to buy it. I post the artwork for sale. No one buys the artwork. Love and acceptance fading. Malformed internal ‘transactional love’ mechanism reinforced. Money = Panic bond reinforced.

Let me be the first to say, I KNOW THIS IS REALLY, REALLY, STUPID AND NOT AT ALL THE WAY THAT ANY OF THIS HAPPENS OUTSIDE OF MY OWN, TINY, INSULAR HEAD. NONE OF THIS MAKES ANY SENSE. I’m not so mentally and emotionally unaware that I do not know that this is incredibly, horrifically, insanely messed-up, and that all that ‘messed-up’ is totally on me. I grew up with this weird understanding of love as being something transactional. I know that the world owes me exactly nothing. I am free to make all the artwork I want to, but there is no law that says anyone has to like it and/or buy it. I know this. I know this. I know this. But this is the logical part of my brain, the emotional part of my brain is still madly scribbling complex mathematical equations on a chalkboard, sobbing uncontrollably and contemplating creating a bonfire of my artwork.

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

 

Wringing Meaning from Turnips

I’ve established the beginnings of my own personal, artistic vocabulary during the course of the Creative Experiment. I talked a little about it in the previous post. There is always a fear for me in revealing what my artwork means as a whole, and what each individual part means to me on a personal level. My fears are many fold. The first among them being the feeling that I’m ‘over-sharing’ and that the vast majority of people could not care less about my artwork or its meanings. The second is that I will be viewed as wrong, broken, mentally and emotionally unstable, and just weird. The third fear is that by giving voice to the meanings behind specific elements of my artwork, that somehow they ‘lose their magic’ and become useless objects.

I’ve been told more than once that I would, ‘share my life story with the person sitting next to me on the bus’. I’m a chatty person by nature, sometimes overly chatty and I am painfully aware of this. I view it as one of my biggest faults. Living in Finland has helped me to (most of the time) be more aware of my tendency to talk too much and/or remedy the situations as they arise. It seems like it would be a natural think for me to want to talk about my artwork endlessly with anyone who will listen. But strangely, it’s the one thing I tend to become tight-lipped about. Talking about it seems grandiose, as if I actually thought well enough of myself to want to have attention called to it and to me as a person. I do think that most people really have no opinion about my artwork, and that’s fine. I’m down with that. Not everyone is into art and art creation. We all have our own ‘things’ that we do, use and participate in.

Talking about what my artwork represents and what the elements mean, requires me to reveal parts of my mental and emotional states that can at times make me look…not so great. I spend an inordinate amount of time inside my own mind, poking around, rummaging through my thoughts, feelings and memories. Couple this with my imagination and add in my compulsive need to be making things with my hands and you can see why I’m an artist. No one wants to reveal the most sensitive parts of their being to people who may reject them, especially if it’s happened at points in the past. Once bitten, twice shy, you know?

I know that magic might not be the best word to use, but it works for me. It actually has a lot to do with the artwork I create and why it’s created in the first place. Perhaps I should say, why my artwork needs to be created instead. It almost seems to me that the artwork that I create is imbued with my thoughts, emotions, prayers, wishes, needs, etc., and that by speaking them out loud, I break that spell and render the art useless, meaningless and hollow. That seems like a profoundly bizarre thing to think, but here we are.

All of the above being said, remember the picture at the top of this post? It’s me. I’m tiny. I’m small. I’m happy. I am fragile. This is me before the world happened to me. Before I was too loud. Before I was too obnoxious. Before I was told that boys don’t date fat girls. Before I was told that I was too much. This is what’s left of being truly and completely content. This is who I am when I look inside myself and see who and what I am. I create myself over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again in the hopes that I can get back to that contentment. In the hopes I never forget what it was like to feel like that. This me keeps getting smaller and smaller the older I get, so she needs protection. I put her in safe places. I put her in boxes. I hide her in drawers. I give her tiny blankets. I give her tiny pillows. I give her guardians.

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

Another interesting video from The Art Assignment. I particularly identify with the the night sweats and insane amounts of self-doubt.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2LNiJK3rK9s

Where does it all come from?

Max Ernst, The Inner Vision: The Egg, 1929 I have a version of this tattooed on my back. This how much I love Max Ernst.

 

A few months ago, a woman who was seeing my work for the first time asked me how I made my artwork. I told her that I created a pattern, sat down and made the art. What I told her didn’t answer her question. After a little back and forth, and with the help of an interpreter (Finnish was not either of our first languages) what it appeared that she really wanted to know was, where I got my ideas from. What were the things that inspired me to create the artwork that she was looking at. It was a good question that I did not have a good answer to.

My studio art degree is in Visual Communication, e.i., graphic design. I took a lot of illustration and fine art printmaking and classes in book binding. While my studio art experience did have ample fine arts courses, the vast majority of my courses were in graphic design, typography and illustration. Each of these courses were centered heavily around conveying pertinent information to the viewer. Most of my graphic design jobs after graduation were centered around delivering information to a viewer in the easiest and quickest way possible. And that worked for me. It was my job. I didn’t ever have a great deal of creative freedom within any of my graphic design jobs. That was fine. It didn’t make me happy all the time, but my rent was paid and there was good in my belly.

The artwork that I created outside of my graphic design job was mine. I could do whatever I wanted with it. Many of my earliest drawings, paintings and prints, were highly illustrative and often times contained written passages, words and sometimes song lyrics. By the time I started creating dolls as an adult, that clear delineation between any career containing art and my personal artwork was almost carved in stone. Never the twain shall me.

I continued doing this when I was teaching art in the elementary school, although there began to be a bit of an overlap between my teaching of art and my personal art creation. As the years wore on, I felt as though my career as an art teacher helped me to open up and be more creative with the types of materials and techniques I used in my personal artwork. As my efficacy as an art teacher grew, so did it grow in regards to my personal art work. I felt as though I had struck some kind of balance between the two that satisfied me.

My artwork has undergone some major changes since moving to Finland. There are many reasons for this, time, money and space being at the forefront. But I think there are other mechanisms at play as well, driving me to create the things that I do.

What I have begun to discover is not just where my artwork comes from, but why my artwork comes from there. This is equal parts kind of cool and completely terrifying. I’ve tried putting it all into words and trying them out on my husband. He says that he understands, and I do believe that he does, but he knows me better than anyone on the planet, so of course he would get me. And this gets me no closer to explaining it to the person reading this, because you don’t know me at all in a personal/friend like manner.

The closest that I can get to why I am making the art that I am currently making is that I am attempting to get to a place in which I was safe and was as close to completely happy that I can remember. I told Berin that at times, I feel like I’m chasing things from my past that have no real form or shape, and that I cannot name, but I know them. I can feel them. When those forms, shapes, colours and textures rise to the surface of my consciousness for a split second where I can recognize them, they become parts of my artwork.

Memory is never a completely linear thing. My mind bounces along lengths of my life and where ever my consciousness lands is where I may be presented with things that end up in my artwork. These memory influences are different, but related to objects and events that I can point to directly and say, “I remember that.” and then use it within my work. It is clear that the doll that I created called Audrey is influenced by 70’s Fisher-Price Little People toy sets, down to the colours that I chose for the body. However, the style in which I have presented her is decidedly not Fisher-Price circa 1970. This is not true for every piece of artwork that I create. There are some that I still cannot quite figure out where they came from.

My artistic style is far more surrealistic, hopefully a bit dadaistic as well, and this is what I think is confusing to some of the people who view my artwork. It’s made using craft-oriented techniques and materials, yet it also has aspects of fine art design, painting and sculpture, but still doesn’t seem to make any sense. I think the reason it may not make any sense, is because the artwork is my personal memory/sensations cobbled together in a surrealistic/crafty-looking manner. They don’t seem to make any sense.

At this point, knowing at least a little about where it all comes from will hopefully help me to make sense of the pieces and parts of the visual language that are a result of the continued creation of doll after doll after doll.

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

Links:

The Case for Surrealism: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wtPBOwE0Qn0

Max Ernst is one of my favourite artists: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sWAzhHQKX5c

Shop Small Saturday!

November 30th is Shop Small Saturday! Please contact me if you are interested in purchasing any of the artwork that I have made and posted pictures of on my Instagram account. You can contact me with questions about pricing and shipping via my Contact link at the top of this page!

Artist or a Crafter?

She seems super-jazzed about this post. Her papier mache, bamboo skewers, felt and aluminum foil are all a twitter!

(Warning: There is a derogatory term used in the fifth paragraph of this post. It is used as a means of detailing cruel things that have been said to me by people wishing to cause me emotional harm.)

I have absolutely no problem personally calling myself an Artist (Yes, with a capital A). Yet making that same declaration to the world makes me hesitate. I find it incredibly frustrating that I understand something about myself so profoundly as to make it part of the bedrock of my personal identity, yet feel as though the way in which I am perceived by society is in direct opposition of that. I’ve examined this puzzle from so many different angles over the past few weeks. I’ve rummaged though my own personal experiences to see if they could help me in an effort to better understand what I believe about art and craft. I think I’m on the right track to some sort of solution I’ll be okay with, but as always, time will tell. So allow me to ramble on. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_284RNK8eCo)

I had two courses at the university in which student culture and society were examined more closely. I learned that there are functions of individual cultures and societies that their members are not entirely aware of until such time as they are outside that home culture and society for a length of time. In one course, we talked about the cultural lenses we all use when we are learning about or experiencing another culture or society first hand.

The culture and society in which we are each born and raised make indelible marks on who we are and how we intellectually and emotionally interpret all others who are on the outside of our culture and society. Urie Bronfenbrenners Ecological Systems Theory has always made sense to me.

Those cultural lenses with which I see myself and my world were poured and cured without my being consciously aware it. It started at a very young age and began to gel while I was in middle school and then solidify when I was in high school. I think that I simply interpreted accepted my cultures established societal norms as ‘knowing where I fit in the pecking order’ or something like that. I had begun to know who I was, and what I was about, and more painfully, that who and what I was did not fit within the narrow constraints of what my culture and society valued.

I was not physically attractive. I was not pretty. I was not thin. I was interested in subjects and activities that didn’t seem to have a whole lot of value to the people around me. I was too loud. I was too obnoxious. I was too opinionated. I was too weird. I was too dramatic. I was histrionic. And there were people around me that let me know how ill-fitting I was. Sometimes not always in the kindest way or the nicest terms. I was the fat kid. I was a ‘dog’. I was called ‘art fag’.

These experiences were internalized. As much as I dislike having to admit it, but these words, these ideas, these beliefs, all foisted upon me by people who had no vested interest in me as a person, still affect me to this day. These beliefs make me hesitate. They are the chorus voices that tell me that every single person that I meet thinks I’m fat, ugly, stupid and weird.

(I would like to note here that I did in fact have friends when I was a child. I had very good friends that somehow managed to keep me from being alone. I am forever grateful to these friends, many of whom are still in my life today. They saved me and taught me how important friendship is.)

What does this have to do with being an artist or a crafter?

Those cultural lenses that I’ve mentioned? Those are how I interpret the difference between artist and crafter. Real artists paint pictures or create sculptures. Real Art it displayed in museums. Real Art is oil paint and marble and graphite. Real Art has grand, important subject matter. Real Art is expensive.

While this is true for some Art, it’s not how I feel about Art. It is the culture and society speaking over my own personal ideals regarding Art.

The art that I create is made from what I can afford. Recycled materials. Second hand materials. I sew. I embroider. I crochet. I paint. I draw. I sculpt. My sculptures are made of cardboard, newspaper, bamboo skewers and glue. I create patterns and bring them into the physical world through layers of news print and glue and plaster and endless sanding. My sculptures are doll like. They have moving parts. They are colorful. They look like toys.

Add to this the fact that I am a public school art teacher. Again, my culture and society steps in with stunningly ignorant phrases like, “Those who can’t, teach.” followed by assumptions that I am somehow not intelligent enough or talented enough to be a a ‘Real Artist’, because I apparently teach finger painting to small children all day, and after all, how smart or talented does one really need to be to do that?

According to the my society and culture, the artwork that I create is not valid within the narrow, predetermined definition of ‘Art’ that has been engraved in stone by my own culture and society. My artwork is considered craft. And this is a hard thing for me to shake. By all my own calculations, there are some pieces that I spend well over a hundred hours creating. I use the same sorts of tools, techniques and materials that are contained in ‘Real Art’, yet my artwork is still considered craft by the culture and society in which I was raised. There is still a part of me, who calls herself an artist, that believes that BS is true, that I’m just a crafter.

Now, I understand that there may be people reading this who don’t understand why this is such a big deal for me. Artist or crafter, they can be seen as interchangeable to some people. Some people may see no distinction between the two at all. For me, it’s all about the perception of the people, the society, the culture around me. I can call myself an artist. I can present myself as an artist, but that by no means guarantees my acceptance as an artist. I want my personal identity to match what is perceived by the world around me. I suppose I require a certain level of validation by the art gate-keepers, which is kind of a twisted way of thinking about being an artist. 

But when viewed through the personal experiences that I have detailed above, you may be able to see how knotted-up my perceptions about myself and how I am perceived by the people around me have shaped my thinking, and why I can’t seem to figure out this artist or crafter thing more easily.

I had a conversation with an instructor of mine way back in art school about the differences between art and craft. He saw them as separate and distinct entities, that may come close to one another, but that they didn’t necessarily overlap. I told him that I saw it differently. That craftsmanship was part and parcel of art. Creating art and doing it well. Knowing your materials, having experience with the tools and the techniques was incredibly important to the creation of original works of art, whether it was painting, drawing, sculpting, etc. I still believe that.

I truly believe that creativity and art creation is for everyone, regardless of skill or ability level. For some people, crafting and following a set of steps to create something is as valid a personal experience as any painter or sculptor in my book. You are engaged with yourself and your materials. You are creating. That is a very good thing.

Okay. Now what?

For me, I think that getting to the point in which my internal definitions of who and what I am matches, or at least comes somewhat close, may be a longer road that I’d originally thought. And while there is part of me that thinks that wanting to have my internal beliefs and external world line up a bit better is just really not needed, there must be something to it for me if it bothers me as much as it does.

The cultural lenses that I view myself and my world though don’t seem to work the same way here in Finland. The assumptions that I have about how art and craft (or teaching or teaching art) are viewed aren’t the same as the Finnish mindset, which is refreshing for me, but also make me hesitate. In my experience with the people I have worked with here in Finland, from my entrepreneurial mentors, to students, workshop participants, and those who have graciously offered me public spaces in which to show my artwork, has been so much more positive for me. I don’t feel as though they have ulterior motives. I don’t feel like I have to keep a sharp look out for some weird, mean or strange thing they try to do to me. Which is one of the reasons I’d started to become aware of all the mental and emotional baggage my cultural lenses were making me think was there…when it wasn’t.

At this point, if you are still reading, believe me, I commend you for being able to slog it through to the end of this rather rambling post. I’m not sure how I’m going to fix this for myself. I don’t know if I truly need to fix anything. Adjustments may be enough. Perhaps just knowing that I have this weird artist or crafter problem banging around my head is enough, and it will become just another voice that sometimes I need to periodically check in with. To help me with this, I’m going to go and make some more art.

Here are some interesting YouTube Videos that you might find interesting as they pertain to the Art or Craft conundrum:

Is there a difference between art and craft? Laura Morelli https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tVdw60eCnJI

The Myth of the Tortured Artist: The Art Assignment https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rv5-O-jP2i8

The Truth of the Tortured Artist: The Art Assignment https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4IpTxQ_DWy0

Grayson Perry discusses art and craft https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BAdcD4ZCKak

The End of the Creative Experiment

These are the first buttons I purchased at a second hand store that I thought would merely be inspiration for my artwork.

I began my Creative Experiment concerning my own art creation in February 2018. It gave me a mental framework to guide the creation of my artwork. The discovering of a means by which to explore my personal creative processes, was an unexpected bonus. I feel as though the experiment has served its purpose and it’s time to mark the completion of it.

The reason I began the experiment was because I felt as though my artwork had become predictable. I felt as though I was simply going through the same motions with each piece, with each doll, and never feeling quite creatively satiated. I knew exactly what was going to happen and in what order. Creating the patterns for the dolls and clothing were creatively engaging for me. The first few dolls and sets of clothing created from the patterns were fun to make. It is always satisfying to see your art become real as you make it. But over time, I began to feel as though the subsequent artwork created was somehow stale. It was something that I saw as rooted in a different place and a time. It had become somehow separate from my current mental and physical state. And I had no idea how to detach myself from that feeling.

I needed to create artwork, dolls that were completely different from what I had been doing, while at the same time, being similar in many ways to how I had always worked.

Yeah. That makes total and complete sense, doesn’t it? But when you know something is wrong, but cannot completely identify it, then the possible solutions remain ill-formed lumps of gray.

I decided to change the materials, tools and techniques. There were things that I felt needed to be knocked loose within my own mind for my artwork to evolve. Changing my methods seemed like a good place to start. I wrote the following parameters for what I called my Creative Experiment:

  1. Choose a Button: Take the first one that you like or feel drawn to for whatever reason, the color, shape, texture, size, etc.
  2. Choose the Color for the Doll: Fabric, Felt, etc., choose what you are attracted to in the moment. What kind of color or texture do you want?
  3. You may create a very basic pattern for the doll: Do not get lost in the creation of the pattern. Keep it simple. Nothing too fancy or elaborate! Trace the button and draw the pattern around it. Cut out the pattern and start piecing!
  4. Choose Thread Colors and Additional Fibers too, it desired — threads, yarns, floss, etc., whatever is on hand that you like.
  5. Start Sewing! Work. Sew. Choose to do things quickly. Be okay with whatever is happening as you work.
  6. Do not start a new button doll until the current one is finished. It may take a few sessions to finish one doll. Be patient.
  7. Remember, these dolls are three-dimensional sketches. They are not meant to be perfect!

The buttons that I refer to are the ones that I purchased at a second hand store. They were all little faces to me. When I purchased a handful of them in 2018, I thought that they would be reference for a new doll design. Perhaps I could create new patterns based on them. The sketches I created did not scratch the that illusive creative itch, so I had to come up with something else.

This is the very first doll in the creative experiment.

I purposefully created parameters that were directly opposite of the unwritten parameters I had been utilizing while creating my previous body of artwork. That body of work was sketched, had defined themes, were painstakingly put together, had complete outfits of clothing, handbags, intricate hair styles, jewelry, and were somewhat marketable. I worked on several dolls at the same time and shifted between dolls when I felt got stuck, or needed to procure a tool or material. I needed to get away from that way of thinking. 

Initially, the new artwork seemed half-assed, sloppy, and very unsure. Each doll felt like a bit of a failure. I was spent around three to four hours creating each doll. They were small. So much smaller than any dolls that I had created previously. I needed to treat these dolls as sketches. It was okay not to like what I was creating. They were just sketches.

I kept working. Creating on average five to seven small dolls per week, mostly in the evenings. I tried to let go of all of the preconceptions I had about myself as an artist and my previous artwork. I tried hard to be mentally and emotionally present during my creation of each doll. All the who’s, what’s, where’s and why’s required my total attention.

This all just sounds like flow state, and it is. I know what flow state is. I had experienced it while creating my previous body of work. This time around, it was different. I relished being able to lose track of myself while I was working on a doll. The things in my mind were all blank, while at the same time my hands were making the art. I tried not to think so much about what I was doing. I was working more instinctively. And the artwork began to change. The experience of creating each of the dolls became more meditative. Thoughts, ideas, emotions, inspirations were all available for me while I worked within this small space, in these small forms.

I cannot deny that there were many other contributing elements that were integral to the success of my creative experiment. My physical environment as well as my access to art and sewing supplies were important ones. Not teaching art to children also had a lot to do with the success of the creative experiment. I didn’t realize how much I had come to rely on a daily interaction with my students as a means of creative idea generation for my personal artwork.

I don’t resent any of these changes that I have made to my life that resulted in my need to create an experiment to aid me in finding the ability to make art in a way that allowed me to be creatively fulfilled. If my creative experiment had not worked out so well, or had failed spectacularly, I would have simply tried something else.

So, if the experiment was a success, why end it?

Mostly because all things must come to an end, or perhaps cease to be of such importance. The creative experiment has served a purpose, and now I can move forward with other concepts and ideas that I would like to explore in my artwork. The imprint of the experiment is still very visible in my artwork, but it won’t be the reason for the existence of my artwork.

This is Agnes and Tiina. I had almost completed them at this point.  They are the last dolls created under the parameters of the creative experiment.

This is the little flower shape in which the smaller doll, Tiina sits on top of Agnes’s head.

Free Pattern Download: But You Have to Read the Blog Post First

I’ve created doll patterns in the past with the intensions of selling them. The creation of the pattern itself seems to relatively easy for me to do. Writing the initial instructions is a little more difficult, mostly because I want to make sure that I’m telling the reader everything they should know. I want the people who buy my patterns to be able to have a good time using the pattern, perhaps learn a new thing or two, and creating something that they will truly enjoy.

These are the same considerations that I take into account when I’m teaching students in the art education classroom. I strive to create an art experience for my students in which they will have opportunities to learn, grow as well as being able to express themselves and have a good time doing it.

I would assume to have all the requisite mental and physical tools to design and write fairly good patterns and sets of instructions then, right? I looked over the patterns that I’d designed and written in the past few years and couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something lacking in them. There was some essential element that was missing, but I had no idea what it was.

I mentally chewed on this idea for a few weeks. I didn’t see any huge difference between the types of patterns or templates that I created for student use in my classroom. I had to break down the the actions that my students would take in the classroom and the user of one of my patterns and instructions.

What I discovered is that there are two big differences between teaching students in a classroom setting and selling a pattern to a customer:

  1. I’m not present as a teacher to guide the user of one of my patterns, so that they can have a fulfilling creative experience.
  2. I want users of my pattern to make their own art, not an exact copy of mine, and it’s impossible to guarantee that.

Those two differences, combined with my personal beliefs about creativity and art creation, are the biggest mental obstacles that I have when it comes to creating moderately good patterns.

Teaching art in the public school is a contact sport:

I love teaching children art. Seeing my students create their artwork is amazing. I love being there to see them have those ‘ah-ha!‘ moments, where a concept or technique just suddenly comes together for them and you can see their world get a little bigger. Being an art teacher akin to teaching children how to discover who they are as humans. I’m so grateful for all of the years that I have been privileged to work with students.

The student and I are both present in the same space, at the same time, working together, getting and giving feedback, while they are creating their artwork. Because of this, I’m there to guide them as much or as little as they require.

I never liked having students copy my art lesson examples. I felt as though it was as if they were going through the motions of creating art. Using the tools, materials and the techniques, but  not infusing their artwork with their own choices of composition, color, or subject. Not showing themselves reflected within their artwork.

The teacher drew a panda, so I will draw a panda. I will make my work look like hers, because hers is good.”

Creating art is more than simply using the tools, materials and technique. That’s more exercise than a unique creation of artwork. For art to have life, to have meaning, requires the presence of the human creating the artwork in its creation. Growth takes place because the creator is different after the experience of creating; the finished artwork is a physical reminder of the mental and emotional growth that has taken place within the creator, and imbues the artwork with the importance of that growth.

I never wanted my students to make their artwork look like mine. I wanted them to take the lesson, the art experience that I was presenting to them, and make it their own. I wanted them to put their own unique mark on it.

I think that where I get mentally stuck is that I feel as though the patterns that I create must offer to the user every, single, solitary, solution to an infinite number of questions and problems. To be frank, I tend to have mental plans A-ZZZ ready in my head, juuuuust in case I need them, for many possible scenarios. I’ve done it as long as I can remember. In the art classroom it makes me a very flexible art teacher that can adapt quickly, allowing me to work with the students to help them create the artwork they want to create.

“Yeah. We’re all working on huge Sonia Delaunay-inspired mixed media pieces, but I want you to use the colors you like, and the shapes you like, and the composition you find the most personally satisfying. Use the tools or don’t use them. It’s up to you. Don’t want to use the oil pastels? Here, pick some paint colors. I want to see your artwork.”

My lessons are simply a blank pattern, that the students finish in their own unique way. Once I had mentally sorted this out, my problems creating patterns for other people to use became clear. The pattern is just a starting point. Once you learn how the pattern works, you can then begin to alter the pattern to suit your own specific creative needs.

My art is mine. I am the audience.

As a practicing artist, I’m constantly creating my own patterns for my work. There are times in which I don’t feel as though I require a pattern and just kind of ‘wing it’, but that’s the benefit of about three decades+ of accumulated professional efficacy at work. I put myself into every piece that I create.

No one tells me how to create my artwork. I research materials and techniques. I create test pieces to make sure that I have a construction method or technique well in hand before I start a new piece of art. I never listen to advice from non-artists/creators that begins with, “You know, you should make…” I know that this advice is meant well, but more often than not, the person offering it doesn’t know why I make art. And that’s okay.

I think there is also a part of me that thinks that if I create patterns for other people to use, that in some way, I’m giving away my own ‘magic’ for free. That there will be someone out there, who takes my ideas, my methods and techniques, and calls them their own and that somehow I’m materially damaged because of that. It’s completely irrational, but I thought it should be noted, as it is something that crosses my mind as regards the creation of patterns to sell.

So…what do I do?

I need to go through the mental block, or around it, or maybe under it:

With all of the above, swirling around in my mind, I thought I would try and create a simple pattern for a doll that people could download for free. In the download, you’ll get a pattern, a list of tools and materials and some very basic directions that show the user how to create an articulated doll using recycled materials (carton board, cardboard, magazines) as well as easy to find tools and materials like scissors, glue sticks, pencils, buttons, pipe cleaners and wire, and other things that you may have around the house, like fabric, felt and yarn.

Here’s the thing, I don’t show you how to create a face, or clothing or hair. I suggest materials, but how they are to be used is up to the person using the pattern. Some people may want to only use colored paper and markers to complete their doll. Other people may want to use wiggly eyes for the face, and add a lot of texture with things like beads or beans glued to the cardboard surface of the doll. While other people may want to paint fabric and then wrap each individual doll piece, and using small pieces of wood to put the doll together instead of buttons and pipe cleaners. There may be people who want to use a copier to increase the size of the pattern, while there may be others that want to make the wrists and ankles moveable.

The thing that scares me, and makes me feel like the user of one of my patterns will not be happy with the pattern, instructions or the art they create, is that I’m not there to guide them. I have no part in the users creative process beyond making a pattern available to them. If they don’t like the pattern, they could tell everyone they know that they think I stink and am a bad pattern maker and everyone on the planet should avoid me, my artwork and my patterns at all cost.

Whatever the user of this pattern does with it, I hope it is a unique expression of who they are and that they have a very good time creating their own artwork.

(I will have a Finnish language version of this pattern added very soon. I am having a native speaker go over the Finnish before I post it.)

Doll Pattern English 1_Nov 2019

Doll Pattern_English 2_Nov 2019

 

Exhibiting My Artwork or Getting Past My Fear

I’m the first to admit that I’m far from a prolific blogger. The majority of my activity online is on Instagram. I post there a lot. Mostly pictures of my artwork and my artwork in process. I’ve made contact with other artists and I enjoy talking with them about all things ‘art’. I had decided earlier in the year that I was just going to start writing and posting on my blog every week, and I just didn’t do it.

My attentions get pulled in other directions, mostly in the direction of creating my own artwork. Taking photos of my artwork and the process of creating it fits with what I would rather be doing 99% of the time; making my own artwork.

That all being said, I do want to post on this blog more often. To that end, I have decided to take more of a baby-step; posting every Tuesday for just the month of November. That seems much more do-able to me. Four posts is much less daunting to me. Hopefully, I can build this into a habit.

For my first of four blog posts this month, I’m announcing a small exhibit of my artwork at the Jyväskylän kaupunginkirjasto. My work will be on display for the month of November. Displaying my artwork in a public setting, is something that makes me not just very nervous, but takes my own personal senses of personal self-doubt and complete inadequacy and turns them up to level ten. I know where these feelings come from and why they are an omnipresent presence within me. It is through creating my artwork that I sorted this all out. Every piece of art that I make gives me a greater understanding of myself. I create my artwork primarily for myself. It’s my therapy.

Over the past few years, showing my artwork and my creative process through Instagram photos has allowed me to have a level of control that I found comforting. I had control over who saw my artwork and who I talked to about my artwork. I could hide my self-doubt and sense of inadequacy in the physical buffer of the internet. The viewer on Instagram only sees and reads what I am comfortable sharing with them. When showing my artwork in public, there is no buffer. I have much more limited control, and that is a big step for me as an artist. A big, fat, terrifying step.

I suppose my next question should be, now that I’ve started to work on my fear of showing my artwork in public, what should I do next?