I love problem solving in my art-making. I love tweaking, and trimming, and refining my process. I love watching the work improve with each new little innovation I learn and apply to the work.
This process of improvement is not a quest for perfection, but of excellence. I’m going to try to stay away from any discussion of the perils and pitfalls of so-called perfection. I’ll just say that the pursuit of perfection is nothing more than a futile dead end.
A very long time ago, I chose to pursue excellence with all of its twists, turns, and variations. And what that means in my handmade work that there are variations (not “imperfections”) in the work. These variations stand as a testimony to the maker’s hand in the making. I love the fact that, try as I might, the joins and seams of my collage quilt-block pieces are somewhat uneven. I enjoy that elements don’t match-up precisely, try as I might to make them do so. When I’ve finished, I see the variety of “marks” in the work because I made it all by hand. I love that. Marks of the maker is the inspiration behind the name of my ESTY store – Fingerprints. It’s also a faith thing with me; that God’s hand is everywhere in His creation.
Lately I’ve been building my 4-Panel Collage Quilt-blocks – I call them Quads for short. I got to thinking about what it takes to make just one of them and realized that there’s a boatload of hand-work involved.
I begin by painting the papers; 18 x 30-inch sheets, onto which I paint visual textures using donated (upcycled) latex house paints. I must have some 80 or 90 cans in various sizes, and with various colors. I love latex because it covers like acrylic, but it mixes and washes like watercolors. It’s incredibly versatile, and I’m keeping it all out of a landfill somewhere.
Once the paper-stocks are dry, trimmed and pressed for a week, I cut each collage piece according to the quilt-block pattern I’m following. Allowing for some edge overlap, I develop an assembly process for each design so that I achieve a well made block.
These blocks are glued-up onto either Masonite panels for single block artworks, or onto upcycled file folder card. The “singles” as I call them, are given a finish, framed, and sold. The rest of the work goes into the larger quad-pieces through a series of combining, cutting, and working with all of those “patches”, just the same as a quilt-maker does when doing a quilt top.
There’s a lot of thinking time when I’m working on these pieces. There’s a lot of mental energy spent thinking and re-thinking through the step I’ve just completed, the step I’m into, and the step I’m working toward.
In those mental moments I’m always having to tell my judgmental left-brain to just shut-up and go sulk in the corner. This is right-brain time and I don’t need the criticism and fear. It’s amazing to me that it takes this kind of mental discipline to quiet the judge/critic, even as my hand is approaching the work with another glue-backed piece.
“You’ve got to get it ‘right’!”, I hear, and I just block him/it. I think, “I am getting it right – not ‘perfect’ but excellent, and right.” I remind that little left-brain punk that it’s not an artist. Right-brain is the artist. It’s kind of like having a bold bullying kid going up against a gentler, quieter kid and having to defend the gentler one. I don’t isolate my right-brain, because the conflict teaches me to make choices about which one to “listen to”.
It’s what Betty Edwards teaches in her masterwork. Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. Her entire thesis rests on teaching readers/students how to silence the left-brain, activate the right-brain, and know when that has happened.
What’s your inner judgmental conflict like? How do you deal with what’s so often been called the “inner-critic”? What resources do you use to raise your self-confidence, and maintain it amid the risk-taking of creativity?
What is it about a book – the book – that so many find so absolutely captivating? I mean, the thing doesn’t even need to be filled with words and pictures to be an almost sacred object in the hands of an admirer. I love them. I love making them.
I make books in my art practice. I bind pages together with thread and string and sell them or give them to a select few. Mine are simple creations following centuries old methods developed by those early peoples who saw a desperate need to organize and offer knowledge to their fellow mankind.
Today handmade books are considered optional in the face of our digital technologies. My books are considered a quaint little contemporary craft, and I’m certainly not the only one making them. There’s a whole industry of amateur crafters, craftsmen, artists, and artisans who make books by hand; people who just put together a few pages of fun or who create archival wonders of breath-taking beauty; a gift to future generations.
I find myself drawn to the book, as an object, for several reasons. It is used to gather and store information and knowledge; it’s a vessel. It’s a transmitter used to broadcast ideas, knowledge, and information across time and space. Do you know that we’d know nothing of Biblical events if there were no Bible, or of the mind of Caesar were it not for his campaign journals?
The book, or the pamphlet, was the first human end-run used by the masses to get around the stifling control of their oppressive contemporary gatekeepers. Today we use the internet, but there was a time when hand copies, and later the printing press, was the fastest means of “broadcasting” information into the hands of “the people”.
I like the book because it needs no batteries, it is, itself a random-access memory device, it’s beautiful (when well made), and portable. I like the book because it represents humankind’s first, best, means of long-term remembering, and I won’t even venture into the utterly fascinating history of its development. Let me just say that the book is one of humanity’s greatest inventions.
We accumulate, don’t we. We add knowledge upon knowledge, generation to generation in the hopes of passing along whatever wisdom we seem to have discovered in our own lives. I am reminded of the scene in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings, where Gandalf consulted ancient dust-covered texts.
Writing a book is like tossing a lifeline into the future. We still read the “classics”; To Kill a Mockingbord, Moby Dick, A Christmas Carol, Wuthering Heights, and legion upon legions of others. We still glean these works for the wisdom, or life-lessons we value. The vessel is still needed.
I loved books long before I ever thought about making my own. Like most people I love them for their content. But in making books, in actually folding paper, gluing up and covering the boards, in sewing the signatures (page sections) together I become intimately aware of the technological marvel they are.
Books so simple – a pile of pages with protective boards on both sides. Without the binding the pages would be loose-leaf, a mere stack, and could be lost or damaged. Because they’re sewn together, they stay together and retain what they have to tell us.
Without cover boards, this stack of pages would eventually wear away with handling and storage, and so slightly over-sized boards, sometimes of wood even, are incorporated into the binding, and this highly organized, information gathering tool becomes a book.
What I like about the simple utilitarian journals I make is the gift they are to the lives of the people who buy them. It’s like making a dream-catcher, or a memory box for others. People can fill the blank pages with whatever suits their fancy, and I made the vessel which they fill, embellish, and personalize. I got to give them a place to think, remember, and share their life experiences.
When one journal is full, they buy another, and continue their collecting, exploring, grieving, celebrating, and thinking. With the books I make by hand, people cast their own life line into the future of their own families and friends.
And it never runs out of power; never looses its readable format. One day it may be opened by a grandchild and in their hands become a window into the life of someone they love.