2018 is here and that means it is time to think about goals for the year. I have a list of quilts that I want to get done, and of course, there’s the American Patchwork & Quilting UFO Challenge, but I received a gift from dear friends that perfectly sums up what I hope to do this year:
I was so touched by what Lyric Kinard wrote in her most recent newsletter that I wanted to share it (with permission):
Be the change that you wish to see in the world.
I have a simple message for you today. With turmoil and conflict everywhere, it is up to each of us to be the light, to be the good, to be the change. We can’t sit back in fear and wait. Nobody else is going to make it better for us.
Alone, we cannot change the whole world but we certainly can bring comfort and peace to one individual. Every small act of kindness makes a difference. If enough people do one small thing, and then do one more small thing, and one more – the world WILL change.
You are a quilter.
You are an amazingly creative and generous person.
What we do is not frivolous, it makes a difference.
How will you shine your light?
Last month, I wrote about inspiration and the awesome experience of having inspiration strike. What I didn’t write about was how this happens because frankly, I haven’t completely wrapped my brain around it yet. The notion that inspiration can come from some source outside of me is a little too big for me to process. Thankfully, it’s a topic that Elizabeth Gilbert covers well in her book Big Magic and in a related TED talk. In Big Magic, she describes inspiration as like a wind blowing through containing ideas. If an artist or writer catches the idea and holds onto it, it’s theirs. If not, it will just keep flowing until it finds a willing body. She shared some compelling stories of inspiration landing or passing along, such as one from a poet who described poems coming to her and having to race to get pen and paper before the poem passed right through. In her TED talk, Gilbert describes inspiration as a Muse, likening it to a house elf like Dobby from Harry Potter that stays with you unless you send it away. Though I find the notion of inspiration as a house elf a much more vivid and funny one, I have to say that I’d rather be visited by an idea-carrying wind than a house elf.
I don’t think that it’s an either/ or situation though. I think that both of these concepts describe different methods of inspiration. Inspiration coming in on a wind is just like I described inspiration striking in last month’s newsletter. The key is to catch the inspiration when it comes – to take the idea, accept that it is yours, and start planning – or to release it to find someone else to be its creator. Inspiration as a house elf, however, implies that the inspiration is always with you and that you have to call on it when you need it. Regardless of the method, the key takeway for me is that inspiration is all around and will come when you call.
I never knew what that phrase “inspiration strikes” actually meant. Until recently, inspiration was really more perspiration for me. I’d decide to start a project and then I’d think through options until I planned what I wanted to do. I might start with a piece of fabric or a block design and go from there and I thought that I was “inspired” by the fabric. I have since come to realize that working on a design that grew out of something else wasn’t inspiration at all. Inspiration is a design that grows out of nothing at all, that comes flitting into one’s imagination unbidden.
Having this experience of inspiration, these moments when inspiration does truly strike has been one of the unexpected outcomes of my creativity journey and my experiments with creative play. As I have started to play more with no goal in mind, to experiment more, to try different media and generally just open myself up more to chance, I have had more and more moments of true inspiration. These moments are truly awesome, as in creating awe.
My first experience with true inspiration came over a year ago. I was merrily sewing along, minding my own business, but I was thinking of the Orlando shooting that had just happened that week. Then, in the midst of those thoughts, I thought about making a quilt and the idea for my “Victims” quilt began to form. I negotiated with the source of the inspiration for a bit like a petulant child. “Oh no,” I said. “I’m busy. I don’t want to take this on. This is a big project. This is a difficult project. No way.” I didn’t get a response. But, having read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, I realized that if I didn’t take up the project, the inspiration would leave me and move on to someone else so I sighed and said, “Fine. I’ll do it.” Then, I grabbed a pencil and a sheet of paper and sketched out the whole design in a few minutes.
Since that time, inspiration has struck more and more often and I have gotten better about accepting it. I now skip the step of complaining and go right to grabbing a pencil. In truth, however, the pencil is totally unnecessary. These ideas that come dropping into my mind when I least expect it are also tenacious buggers. Many times, they just stay there lodged in my brain poking at me until I get to work. The good thing is that once I do start work, these inspired projects have come together amazingly quickly with nary a broken needle. (Again, awesome.) The best part of all of this? The works that I have created from these strikes of inspiration have been the most powerful, most meaningful pieces that I have ever done. They come right out of my soul and when I see them finished I am truly amazed.
I rescheduled my Creative Play Date to last Friday and had a wonderful day. I met a friend at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston to tour the Matisse in the Studio exhibit. We also stumbled upon an exhibit of politically-motivated art, which was particularly appropriate since she is one of the curators of the Threads of Resistance exhibit being developed by SAQA. We toured the bookstores, where I had a heavy shopping day and then had to lug home three beefy books, and we enjoyed a lovely lunch in the cafe. I should do that more often.
The Matisse in the Studio show was wonderful. It was such a treat to see objects from his studio next to the works he created from them. I, of course, loved seeing the Islamic textiles from his collection.
Here are my key takeaways from the exhibit and from Matisse’s work in general:
- Matisse used the same objects as subjects repeatedly. This is a strength of the exhibit, being able to see the chocolate pot or vase itself next to several paintings that include the same pot. Such positioning makes clear just how often Matisse went back to the same objects for inspiration, but with very different results.
- Matisse experimented with different styles. The work that I consider to be his signature style only made up a small portion of the works exhibited. I was particularly struck by two roughly-contemporaneous paintings. One was dark and more realistic and the other colorful and more abstract. And in fact, the more colorful, more abstract one that is in more of what I recognize as Matisse’s style was made four years earlier than the other. The pursuit of one’s voice as an artist can still include experimenting with different styles.
- Matisse continued to experiment and evolve as an artist until the very end of his life. One of the things that I find so inspirational about Matisse is how he continued to create art in old age when he was no longer able to paint like he used to. The paper cutouts of Matisse’s later years are some of my favorite works of his and they only came about because painting was no longer an option for him. Rather than retiring, he found a new medium and continued to create incredible art; I hope to be able to do the same.
I’ve been doing a lot of hand sewing lately. I decided to do a quilt-as-you-go technique on the Victims Quilt so that I didn’t have to put a king-size quilt under the machine and I’ve been hand sewing the seams closed on the back. It’s time-consuming work (each of the long seams is taking over 2 hours) and I know that glue would be more efficient because I am machine sewing later, but this is the route I chose. The great upside of all of this hand sewing time is that I am blowing through a lot of interesting podcasts. Here’s what I am listening to:
Pat Sloan’s American Patchwork & Quilting Podcast – She’s having a very special guest next Monday!
Tara Gentile’s Profit. Power. Pursuit Podcast – Covers the details of running a small business, particularly a creative business.
Melissa Dinwiddie’s Live Creative Now! Podcast – About creativity and living a creative life. I find myself nodding in agreement with all that she’s saying.
So, if you’re finding yourself with some time on your hands and are looking for a few good podcasts, I recommend the above. If you’ve got others that you love, please share!
Fifteen months ago on my 40th birthday, I wrote that my gift to myself was going to be to finally live my authentic life. Though I wasn’t bold enough to call it that then, that day was really an announcement of the journey that I was going to take to figure out what my authentic life really was. Today, I am trying to think of a way to celebrate because I think that I am here. I certainly don’t think the journey is over, but I realized that the road seems to be a lot flatter and the journey a little easier and that I am truly happy. (How did that happen?!)
Probably six months ago, maybe more, I reached a point where I was really stuck. As I envisioned it, I came walking out of the deep woods, carrying a heavy pack, sweaty and dirty and tired. I walked out into a clearing and. . . looked straight up at this enormous mountain rising out of the trees, its summit obscured by mists. In that moment, I dropped the pack and sat in the dirt, starting at that God damned mountain, feeling utterly defeated because I’d already been walking for a long time and was ready for my journey to end, only to be confronted with an insurmountable obstacle. I kicked at the dirt, cursed a string of words that would have shocked my grandmother, and growled in anger at the unfairness of it all. I sat there, staring at that %&^%*% mountain for days or weeks, knowing what it was and trying to figure out a way around it or over it, but I could not find a solution. Finally one day, I said, “To Hell with you!” I shouldered my pack and went back the way I came, into the deep woods.
I haven’t been thinking about my mountain all of these last months, but I realized today that I must have been walking around it. Today, I envisioned again walking out of the woods, brushing aside a few last branches and walking out into the sunlight, looking ahead at a clear road with nothing on either side. I turned back to look behind me and I saw that mountain, no longer shrouded in mist, and BEHIND ME. In this moment, I’m still staring at it in disbelief because I’m astounded that it’s behind me. I never climbed it. I never saw it in all of these months of walking, but there it is, behind me. I don’t really know how it happened either, but sometime during all of those months of walking around that mountain, I became happy. I’ve been happy for a while and actually telling people, “Yes, this is what happy looks like on me. You’ve not seen it in a long time.” But, somehow it still didn’t dawn on me until today. As I stared at that mountain behind me, I thought, “Wait a minute! I’m happy. I’m actually happy!” That’s why I feel like celebrating. It sneaked up on me, but I’m living my authentic life and I’m looking forward to the road ahead. (Oh, and that heavy pack? I’m leaving that %^& thing at the mountain.)
I didn’t get my photo challenge homework done this week either (silhouette). So instead, I am sharing a photo of some sun from the island of Sant’ Antioco off the coast of Sardinia. When I started planning my “Running with Scissors” quilt months ago, this image is what I had in mind when I started. My challenge then was to use the color “Shocking Pink” and I first thought of colorful island houses like these.
I’m killing two birds (so to speak) with one stone this week. A friend of mine has recently started a new creative community called BirdZeed. Each month, she posts a word to spur our creative juices and we share what we create. July’s word is “Circle.” When she posted the word, this UFO was hanging on my design wall and honestly, I had decided to trash it. I thought that I had learned what I needed to learn from it and it didn’t need to be finished.
But, I turned to it and thought, “Hmm. Circles. I’m going to trash it anyway so let me cut it into circles first and see what happens. If I hate it, it can still go in the trash.” So I started cutting. I tossed down some circles on some black fabric, sewed them down, did a little machine and hand quilting and voila! A finished project that I absolutely love that also saved a UFO from the trash.
I heard recently that the brother of someone in my art group passed away suddenly. An image formed in my mind immediately upon reading about it of angel wings on a purple background. Other images have popped in my head over the years and just as quickly popped back out again, but not this one. This image lodged there firmly in my mind and kept calling to me. When I finally got a chance to work on it, everything came easily. I used textile paints to create the background and it was exactly right on the first attempt, nothing too dark, no spilled paint, etc. A few days later, I sat down to create the angel wings and had the same experience. I cut white silk to create feathers and sewed them down to a heavyweight stabilizer using Superior Threads’ Glitter thread and I didn’t even have any thread break. A few days after that, I sat down to quilt a message on the piece, “In my thoughts and in my prayers.” No thread broke during the quilting either and I didn’t mess up any of the letters. When was the last time this happened to you? When was the last time you had something in mind and were able to create it perfectly without so much as a broken needle? Yeah, I can’t remember either, which is why I think that these angel wings didn’t really come from me, but were a gift to a dear woman from someone beyond me. I was merely the construction crew.