I spent part of the 12-hour flight to Berlin reading through Design Basics (David A. Lauer, Stephen Pentak). This is the textbook for the design class I’m taking, and while I haven’t been able to absorb everything at once, I’ve found it quite enlightening and interesting to think about. I also read through Shibori by Karren Brito and Woven Shibori by Catharine Ellis.
These helped point up the source of the creative confusion I’ve been experiencing to date. It’s really just two questions, which need to be answered for any artist:
- What do I, as an artist, want to say?
- What can I say using this medium?
Identifying these questions has been really useful for me. It’s made me realize that, to date, most of my explorations in the fiber arts have revolved around the second question – exploring techniques, rather than expressing myself via those techniques. In part that’s because any novice must explore technique before getting down to expression, but it also reflects my own tendency to focus on developing technique, as that is more intellectually interesting and familiar to me than the pure self-expression. But to succeed at what I am after, to go beyond interesting variations in technique, I need to find out what I want to say as well.
That is what is so exciting about drawing and painting! I had been thinking of drawing as a technique – the objective being to duplicate what you see as closely as possible – but the exercises I have been doing so far have pointed me in another direction, expressing the essence of an idea. Gesture drawing in particular has been helpful for this, as the objective is to capture the gesture and the emotion of the moment, sacrificing pictoral accuracy in favor of emotional expressiveness (even if the completed drawing makes no sense to anyone, even you, after drawing it). The varied styles and even the different types of line used in drawing have made me realize just how personal a thing drawing is – one cannot say that one person draws exactly like another, even if they have drawn the same object, because their technical styles and experience of the object will differ. This is quite different from weaving, where duplicating a published pattern is quite possible, though it may take some skill.
The other challenge this poses for me is the wordless nature of the question, “What do I want to say?” Much of the communication in the art pieces in Design Basics is emotional, subconscious reactions to placement and repetition of color, shape, and line. It does not necessarily say anything explicitly (such is the nature of art), and as a result it is difficult for me to think consciously about what I want to express. My thinking is language-dominant, and lacking the words to express the ideas that I see in the art pieces, I find myself at a loss.
So that is today’s challenge: figuring out what, as an artist, I want to “say”, without conceiving it first in words.
Meanwhile, going back to the tried-and-familiar question of technique, I am really excited about the possibilities in woven shibori. I had not been very interested in woven shibori previously, as the examples I’d seen of woven shibori don’t catch my fancy, but after a short conversation with Karren Brito (an accomplished shibori artist) on the subject, I’ve come to realize that many of the things I didn’t like about the pieces I’ve seen are correctible. With better use of color, and finer threads, and more shafts, it might become an excellent way to synthesize dyeing and weaving. So I am eager to give that a try, and may actually cut off and rethread the taquete warp to something appropriate for shibori. (The tied threading I am using isn’t appropriate for woven shibori, as the floats wouldn’t be long enough.) I may also try some traditional shibori techniques on commercially woven fabric, to better familiarize myself with those techniques.
So many questions and opportunities for study! I’m practically collapsing beneath an avalanche of ideas. But soon enough it will settle out, I just need to give myself time for all these ideas to meld and “cook down” into a new understanding.