I’ve come down with a nasty cold, which is perhaps not surprising considering the amount of stress I’ve been through in the last month. The sniffling and coughing is mildly annoying, but it’s also slowing down my creative life, which is the really frustrating part. It’s hard to focus when your head’s stuffed up.
However, I have gotten some things done: I completed the Heaven and Earth sections for my design class assignment, and will be completing Hell tonight. I am also just about done candying the citron peel, which is a good thing considering I have eight pounds of Meyer lemons on the kitchen counter and expect eight pounds of Kaffir limes to appear on my doorstep this afternoon. I am not sure where I’m going to fit two large bowls of candying citrus peel in the kitchen, but I imagine I’ll find space somehow! I may switch from large bowls to half-gallon mason jars if really pressed for space.
I have also started working seriously on my guild presentation. One of my guilds (Black Sheep) has invited me to be their featured speaker for January, and I proposed that, rather than talking about specific techniques, I talk about the creative process – common roadblocks and how to get around them, illustrated with examples from my own creative process. Including the screwups, because I feel quite strongly that if you are going to talk about the creative process, you have got to talk about screwups. They are an essential part of the creative process.
“What?” you say. “Aren’t screwups something to be avoided?”
Well, yes. And no. How do you define a screwup? It’s like trying to define “weed”.
How do I define a weed? A weed is a plant that you don’t want growing wherever it currently is. This does not mean that the plant has no value! The dandelions that we North Americans spend hours digging out of our lawns every summer are not native to the continent. They were considered so valuable by the early European colonists that they deliberately imported them from Europe, giving them precious cargo space in the Mayflower to make sure they were established with the first colonies. Virtually every part is edible – the root can be roasted for a coffee-like beverage, the young leaves can be eaten, as can the flower buds, and of course the flowers can be used for dandelion wine. Moreover, the roots can be dug up and “forced” during the winter to produce shoots, giving the colonists green foods (and various vitamins associated with them) during the cold colonial winters.
A valuable plant, indeed.
Screwups, by the same token, are results that you didn’t expect. This does not mean they are valueless. A pulled thread might be a mistake in a woven scarf – perhaps it got snagged during finishing – but in woven shibori, it is an essential part of the pattern. An unevenly tensioned warp can produce ripples and sags in one context, but produce a very nice seersucker in another. A sett too dense for a balanced weave can produce frustration, but also produce a very nicely draping warp-dominant piece if a thinner weft is used.
And so on.
The only time a screwup represents actual failure is if your sole purpose is to produce a flawless product. That may sound bizarre – aren’t we all trying to create something perfect? – but in fact this is pretty rare, at least for me. Usually when I am weaving something, I consider each piece to be a study in that technique or that concept. So if I learned something, then I have accomplished my goal whether or not I got the results I expected. I find this a much more productive approach than viewing the object as an end unto itself. If you are simply experimenting, there is no way to fail. Usually at the end of a series of experiments, I turn out a more successful experiment that then gets called a finished piece. But there can easily be four or five “screwups” created en route to that finished piece.
So I will bring quite a few of those “screwup” pieces to the presentation, because I consider them an essential part of my creative process. Also because, in my observation, one of the single most limiting factors for novice and intermediate fiber artists is the fear of “doing it wrong” – i.e., screwing up. If I could communicate just one thing to someone just starting out, it would be that there is no such thing as failure. If you didn’t get the results you wanted, hopefully you learned something for next time – and that learning process is what artistry is all about, not churning out One Perfect Piece. The more work you make, the more mistakes you will make, and the more you can learn from those mistakes – making your future work that much better.
That theme is a good chunk of my presentation, and is evolving along with the presentation as I write it up. The real challenge, of course, is going to be chopping it up into bullet points and pretty pictures, and illustrating it with photos of my work – I expect that to be time consuming and to occupy a good chunk of December/January.