Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Easier to Begin Than Finish: a Concept I Have Often Noticed in Both Arts and Crafts

Across the years, dabbling in ceramics, jewelry making, crochet, sewing and collage, this is what I have learned is a common conundrum: it is much easier to begin making something than to finish. Ask any knitter, quilter or crocheter about their unfinished projects and most often they want to run and hide. We all have too many half-finished projects stuck away. Often in the excitement of picking out new materials, we get excited about a new design and jump into that project. Yes, sometimes it all goes smoothly from start to finish. But often the finishing details are the bugaboo. And the more time you spend on a project, the more important it becomes to finish it successfully. The project shown above is a collage I put aside for months before I felt brave enough to add paint to the canvas.
Here is a Texas map I began making in response to a recent Cloth, Paper Scissors magazine Readers' Challenge. The rules were that it had to be no more than 8 x 8", and use a mix of cloth and paper. See above the start of my Texas map. At this stage, I am just playing.

After I completed my paper map, I cut out a blue cloth outline of sorts. Future steps will include sewing the various elements. And this is where it really got tricky for me, as I was not at all used to sewing on paper. It really could have ended badly.

But ultimately, things did work out. I had an easy time of sewing on the map itself. Sewing on the darker blue fabric was truly a mess and I thought I had ruined it. I tried all different kinds of stitches using red thread. Somehow I got away with it and I am glad to say that in this case, the efforts were worth the time and this image was just published in the July/August 2015 Cloth Paper Scissors issue. I even got a whole page -- page 88, to be specific! (I can not link to it since the magazine comes only by subscription. It is available in bookstores right now.)

In traditional paper collage, getting such works ready to enter art shows can be challenging. I can not always afford to have work matted and framed by professionals. Lately, I've been doing a lot of work on wood panels. The tricky part there is the finish, often varnish or other clear mediums. I spent hours getting the wood ready for collage on a piece recently. It was a small slab of found wood with layers of peeling paint colors. After I did a lot of sanding and smoothed out the area with wood filler where I needed to mount the collage, it was time to clear coat the thing. No wait, before that, I painstakingly glued green velvet ribbon around its sides, finishing the upholstered look with brass nails (sorry, you can't see that effect in the photo below). Then I used several layers of semi-gloss matte medium, fighting a few little bubbles and buckles. Hurray! It was finally ready to enter in a show.

And here is the outcome on that: my piece, called "Dreamwaltzer," was not accepted for the intended show. Oh well, win some, lose some -- that is part of the creativity game. Before that piece, I completely ruined a decent collage I had worked on for days by attempting to sew on it.
There is no way around such investments of time and technique. It is all a part of the process. You learn as you go along. I have gotten used to the inevitable failures. At times it feels very healthy to abandon or destroy a piece. In college, I took a lot of ceramics courses. You might love the pot at every stage and then hate it when it came out of the kiln with a lackluster glaze. In collage, most of the time, I have three or four pieces going at once. Things need to dry or flatten, etc., so I work on an alternate piece. Often I reach a sticking point towards the end of a collage when I find myself backed into a corner, unable to devise or find the last few pieces needed. At that point, I need to set it aside for a day or longer and come back to it fresh. Sometimes that works like magic and I am able to solve the problem easily enough. Yet I do have a file full of iffy unfinished work. One of the great things about collage and mixed media is that you can always cut up whatever it is and use it in some new way, or cover up what you don't like with new materials.
Anyway, when I am feeling weary of complicated projects, I turn to simpler creations, be they small stuffed toys for donation to charity or quick postcard collages. Or I get compulsive about organizing my art supplies, always a fun process. Inevitably I find things I can't wait to work with. And I love having an orderly work place. Both my parents were neatniks, so I've got plenty of those genes. Being organized helps keep me on center. This year has flown by with plenty of days or weeks when my attention was turned towards home and garden projects. Now that it is so hot, I am spending more time inside making art. No day is long enough! I love the creative life.
This small collage, "Cityscape 3," was a fun piece that came together quickly.
This piece, "Femme Undulata," took a little bit more effort and actually contains part of an etching I did in college, as well as a suminagashi experimental scrap. I have a lot of fun experimenting with different materials.
Thanks for reading my rambling thoughts and looking at my images!
"Much of the beauty that arises in art comes from the struggle an artist wages with his limited medium."
- Henri Matisse

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