Wednesday, 27 June 2012

An Embroiderers Ledger

I am taking part in Karen Ruane's class at the moment, and honestly it could not have come at a better time. If you are not familiar with Karen's work, I highly recommend you pay her blog a visit, she is stitching inspiration personified!

As mentioned previously, I received a bursary to study a 3 year course in Design and Embroidery, and I have really struggled so far with the design aspect of this course.
My creative approach to date has been somewhat haphazard, and completely unconscious. I look at lots of visually inspiring material online or in books and closely observe my surroundings, and by the time the cloth and thread comes out, an idea has formed in my head and I just make it.
For my course, I am required to evidence this creative process, and a more structured approach is quite difficult for me to grasp. There is a strong element of presentation required, and well, my higgledy piggledy drawings and process just doesn't cut it.

I do find it frustrating if I am honest. I have always been of the opinion that it is the end result that counts. Surely it is better to have a bulging portfolio of beautiful work that evidences the skill and creative flair of the student? Apparently not so when taking a course.

The internet is of course awash with inspiring examples of artistic process. None more so than Jude Hill over at Spirit Cloth. I find her approach a breath of fresh air, she writes so eloquently and profoundly about her process, what iffing here and there and asking poignant questions, this allows us to be witness to the evolutionary process of an idea or thought into something more, a cloth, a scrap of applique... It is fascinating insight into the working mind of an artist, but it is not entirely structured, however this is exactly why I like it. It's a freeform method of working, it's beautiful and natural and just entirely what I believe artistic process should be. I like how Jude starts with a small idea or question and then expands on it as she goes forward, there is often no grand plan, no detailed drawings of how the piece will look on completion, just an intuitive continuation, freedom to allow the piece to grow. I believe Jude calls this cloth whispering.

Studying a course does not allow this kind of freedom, I feel straight jacketed. Sometimes I may have a lightbulb moment, and I want to be free to dive in and start stitching, to capture the rays of light as they appear, the very idea that a piece conceived in such a way would not be acceptable is incredibly frustrating for me.
I guess I just have to go through this process, and I am sure I will be all the better for it (trusting abound), this is where I am at right now, and I have my arms and heart wide open, it's just hard...

So, I was excited to start Karen's class, I am hoping it will open up another method of working and give me some ideas of how to present my ideas and research in a more pleasing format, the first excercise did just that.

This is a colour study, we were asked to choose a print that inspired us and to do a colour study which will consequently inspire stitch. I chose an Angie Lewin print, don't you just love Angie Lewin?


And so I continue... it's all good fun.
I would love to hear your thoughts, have you taken a course before? Did you find the design process a struggle? or not?


  1. I think it's important to work in whatever way suits you best: following prescriptive methods can be very restricting especially when it's left-brain creative stuff which is often inspired by unconscious thought. I follow Jude's work too and I agree, she inspires a lot of people because of the fluidity of her process. She's refreshingly free, unlike a lot of traditional embroiderers who I think are quite rigid and Neat. I also am really inspired by Karen Turner at stitchinglife who also has a very inspiring approach and communicates her processes well. Despite all this though, I've yet to start any serious (fun?) stitching myself!!

    My advice: enjoy yourself!! follow your own path as much as possible x

  2. I would love to join this class of Karen's - just not enough time at the moment (work 'n that!)I've never analysed the design process. I think it would be very helpful and certainly not easy. Thanks for the intro to Angie Lewis - what gorgeous work!

    1. Ah Angis is marvellous, thanks for taking the time to say hello :) Oh, and I DO recommend Karen's class, barely a week in and I am LOVING it.

  3. Wow, Angie's prints are truely inspiring !!!!
    Ha, when I look at your sketchbook I see a bit of Karen already ;-)

  4. Hi Hoola,
    It took many many years & dropping out 3 times from 3 different art schools from 1973-1989 to complete my degree in Visual Arts & there was a lot of rebelling & wondering how the h..l to tame the tiger of the imagination enough to fit into any kind of institutionalized learning that went down even in a course as loose as Sydney College of the Arts (where I did finally graduate) which was based on autonomous learning, setting your own goals and documenting the process but yes, it was definitely worth the journey! Y'know having a blog really helps as you are objectifying your process already, so you are halfway there already, here's a little story that was a huge lightbulb moment for me.
    When I was in second year the teachers said my work wasn't objective enough & I simply could not get my head around that, art making is a subjective experience after all!
    A friend who was doing a doctorate in semantics helped me understand...
    She asked, "What are you making?"
    I said, "Glass dragons"
    she said, "Tell me what you know about dragons."
    So I talked at length about the history of dragons in myths from all around the world & the various lizard dragons that live on earth now and in prehistoric times.
    Then she asked, "How does what you know about dragons relate to the dragons you are casting in glass?"
    & in that moment a lightbulb came on in my head, suddenly I was able to view my art objectively, taking the me as maker/dreamer out of the work and seeing how it relates in the context of other similar work in the world.
    These days I just make the work and hope for the best & then make the next dream thing that needs to get done... and y'know I have almost none of my own artwork here as Kiki Smith said "the good thing about being an artist is the work has to go away"
    Good luck & here's some good words from a glass artist I met a long time ago "The fun is in the process the outcome is just debris" that thought always helps!

    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment, that was SO super helpful! I guess I need to step out of my own head and think about what I am doing more. You are absolutely right . I know it sounds silly, but I feel so intimidated by the very idea of looking at my work in that way, and I am not sure why. Perhaps it is my hobbie crafter mentality. What you are suggesting is to look at my work as art, and I have never done that, to me it is just my wonky, higgledy piggledy, never quite as I want it to turn out crafting.

    2. hey don't worry about the art/craft debate that's just a label you are a maker just do the work as Neil Gaiman said so beautifully in his address to the University of the Arts Class of 2012- "make good art"
      & for documentation the simple scientific approach helps heaps
      keeping a journal/sketchbook/folio with each "experiment" documented is a worthwhile exercise and write the dates on the spine! it helps for future reference when you're looking through 50 identical black notebooks kept over 30 years... I did finally get around to doing that one year when I was procrastinating a lot about starting a new project!

    3. ahhhh that Neil Gaiman video is FANTASTIC, so inspiring, thanks for sharing and for your kind and super helpful words, I feel totally wired!

  5. oh, i appreciate your thinking about all of this. i have been thinking about going back to school, and having the fear of not being able to fit my swirly method of approach into whatever boxes may be required. i also find myself w/o words about my creation process. "what do you do?" "oh, i make stuff". again, really so glad you're sharing this process.

    1. Nice to know I am not alone in this!

  6. I adore Angie Lewin...I have two of her books and love them both. Her style and colours really resonate with me.
    I've followed Karens blog for many years and her work is just amazing. I would love to do one of her courses, maybe when we can get a faster internet connection (we live in hills and can only get satellite connection which is still VERY slow). I have signed up for many workshops that I havent been able to download the videos which is really disappointing.
    Luckily with Jude Hills her videos are usually only 2-7 minutes, which still take a while for me to download, but at least the computer doesnt time out and I finally get to see them.
    I love your journal page (is this part of your course?). I've always wanted to do a course like you are...but procrastination is my middle name.
    I'm looking forward to seeing you body of work as you embark on this great creative adventure.

    Happy stitching.

    Jacky xox

  7. i've been thinking about some of these issues too!! there's a fiber arts program about an hour away that i've been dreaming about for a while now, but i have similar concerns... and i also dearly love jude's approach. i've never tried to keep a journal or ledger of my process, mostly because i'm very intimidated by drawing, so i am very inspired and interested to see you keep going!!

  8. I've had exactly the same problem, with a design course that asked for "Mood Boards" about the design. My lightbulb moment came when a tutor said I should find a few words related to the design I had planned, and then pick elements for the mood board based on those. I hadn't realised until that course that I'm actually a verbal thinker, and not a visual one at all!

  9. I stopped by from Jacky's blog. You ask an interesting question I went back to grad school at 48 in literature, a parallel love to art. It was tough, but marvelous. What I learned: how to analyze and be objective, how to come up with a working hypothesis and prove it, how to think. And in the end it changed how I read, which I don't regret. It seems to me that your course of study will force you to do something similar: to learn to analyze and be objective, to nail down a process and mine it, to have a wider view and vision. And it will be tough and you will grow. It's the idea of learning all the rules so well that you can eventually bend them and twist them to further enhance your art.
    I might add that Jude Hill's teaching methods belie her training. She makes it appear easy and seem intuitive, but in point of fact, she has studied and worked hard in the field for years and years. Her technique is impeccable and she has invested an enormous amount of time into her art. She has gotten to the point where she can write the rules herself! So I would wish you best of luck in following those courses and getting that degree. It will take you higher.
    best from Tunisia,