Thursday, September 21, 2017

Processing Inspiration - An Attempt at Explaining My Method

Anyone familiar with me knows that I get much of my inspiration from my local rural surroundings. I am endlessly drawn to the beautiful landscape and am completely in love with the amazing worn and weathered barns, so many of which are in a delicate process of decay.

But how exactly am I influenced? How does my inspiration get interpreted into what I make?

I wish I had an answer that I could easily document... such as sketchbooks full of drawings and diagrams. Color swatches carefully pasted in and margins filled with notations and arrows pointing back to those diagrams. I love when I see artists work that way to develop their ideas.

But that process has never worked for me. My process is much less defined. More ethereal I suppose.

I begin with lots of visual absorption. I just look, and look, and look at my surroundings. I soak it in. The shapes, the colors, the lines, the textures, the various details that make up the whole, and the mood... at least the mood that is evoked inside of myself. 

And I take lot's of photos. The photos help solidify the impression and mood of what I see into my consciousness, and I suppose subconscious, so it all feels like it is a part of my being. Sorry if that sounds spacey... I just don't know how else to put it.

And then I just let it come back out...

I hold the images in my mind, I feel the mood that it brings up in me, I stay open to all possibilities, and I start to work. 

Below, I will show 3 of my barn photos, (all of the same barn but each one different) and three projects that express how I am influenced by this sort of inspiration. We will start with this first photo below and the following work...

Ok, so above we have one of the typical, (and yet uniquely beautiful) Lancaster County old barns that thrill me so! I see all sorts of design inspiration here, but we will focus on four areas, Line, Color, Mood and Detail.

1) Lines. Specifically in this shot, how that upper seam line wraps around the barn, the bands of wood that create the Z shape on the open door, the rusted post and metal fence part, the lines of the window panes, and the short white lines that are the hinges to the closed doors.

2) Colors. Of course I notice the bright greens of the grass, but also the areas of rusty brown earth, the subtle yellow/gold along the edge under the first 2 windows, the soft brown-grays of the barn, the deep multi colors reflected in the glass window panes, the earthy brown tones of the rock walls, the jet black of the upper window where the glass is missing, and the soft blues of the sky.

3) Mood. Organic, primitive, rustic, comforting, archeological, curious, layered, soft, hard, earthy, aged, rural, poor, frayed, old, worn, weathered, hopeful, peaceful, loved, hopeful, strong, enduring. (Note that some of the moods evoked can seem opposing, such as soft and hard, that's ok. Life is multi-dimensional. I just pay attention to everything that wells up in me.)

4) Detail. The windows, the open doorless area, the rock walls, the soft fray of the grass and plant life, the chimney. 

Now below is an amulet that I made, (yup... barn to amulet) and hopefully you can see how some of this detail that I soak in has flowed back out into this tiniest example of work. Remember though, I don't try to interpret inspiration in any forced or direct way. It's all an interpretation, and that interpretation of the exact inspiration could change from day to day based on other things in my life. It's all a mix that plays off of everything else.

So here is the amulet. The idea behind it was to gather bits of objects that I have a tendency to collect and which give me comfort, (in this case shells, fabrics and beads) and then bundle them together someway. So I choose a fragment of a seashell found along the beach of Cape May, covered it with bits of shot cotton fabrics and stitching and adorned it with a few beads and a vintage brass charm. 

Where some elements of the inspiration comes into play would be the soft muted and earthy colors of the whole piece. The fray of the cloth, (reminiscent of the fray of the grass). The open middle area, (that  pale green place on both the front and the back and reminiscent of the open door). The long scattered stitches, (reminiscent of the lines created by the hinges). The macrame cording, (made with a hand needle and thread) that is reminiscent of the window sashing as well as that seam line that wraps around the building. The glass beads, (reminding me of the colors found in those bottom windows). And the overall mood of something weathered, old, rustic, primitive, frayed, soft, hard, comforting, archeological, curious... you get the point. (I do wish I'd had rusty wire on hand, but you make do with what ya got.) I like to think though that this amulet could have been found hanging off of a bent nail inside the barn, or found tucked into one of the stone wall crevices.

Ok, so next we come to this photo of the same barn...

So again, we soak in the details and the mood... the soft muted colors, the barren yet warm feel, the juxtaposition  of that pale white wash against the dark of the weathered wood, the lines and stripes of the wood, the multi shaped squares and rectangles, the curving lines along the lefthand side of the barn as well as that slightly off-hinge door, the rural-ness of it, the oldness of it, the sense of hard-times it evokes. And look at those two small square boxes, sitting inside a larger box structure... they look out of place to me, especially that tan one... It looks like a filing box. What's in it I wonder?

And now below is a small wall quilt I recently stitched up that hopefully works as one possible interpretation. (Oh, but I believe there could be a thousand plus interpretations from this one image).

Do you see the juxtaposition of the pale against the dark? The soft muted colors? The various shaped squares and rectangles? The stripes? The soft curves of the shapes? The rural feel? The sense of oldness? The feeling of something utilitarian? The boxes inside of boxes? 

Now even though I am giving you these side by side examples of photo + work, I almost never actually reference my photos while working, As I don't want to get too literal in my interpretations, (and I will definitely get hung up there if I start looking at the photos while I work). I just try to hold the image(s) in my minds eye and the mood(s) in my heart and soul. 

After all of these years there are also some elements that I continue to explore and often will incorporate regardless of images I may be thinking of. One of those elements would be the windows, including the shapes, the reflections, and the visual energy that comes from the broken and missing window panes. Also, the cross shapes created by the window sashing. You can see it repeated over and over in many of my quilts, including the quilt shown above. 

Another element that I keep going back to is the curved lines of the plowed farm fields, which I express more often then not by doing various interpretations of Baptist fan quilting, again as shown in this quilt example. Here as I often do, I combine hand and machine quilting, which is a nod to living in Lancaster County where the modern technologically driven world co-exists with the beauty of the world of the Old Order Amish.

Now let's take a look at the last photo of this particular barn and the connected work...

As with the other photos I am drawn to the lines, the colors, the shapes and the mood... it feels mostly abandoned to me, yet it's also strong and commanding, much due to the close up shot as well as the   angle of the shot where you are looking ever so slightly up. Another thing that brings a mood of strength to this structure is the shape of the barn. The way the roof top angles out to meet the top sides of the building, which then angle inward... to me it looks like a mother, stern but loving, shoulders up, elbows out, with hands on hip.

My eye wants to go up to that window, yet for some reason keeps getting pulled down to that one little angled pole that seems to be bracing the left side door from flinging open. It reminds me that someone has been here, someone is connected to this otherwise desolate looking structure.

Below is a small mixed media piece I recently did titled "Homeward". Do you see the interpretation of inspiration? 

With this piece, I'm definitely influence by the desolate mood and the connections, in all their varied forms, that we feel to home, no matter how far removed we may be. The shape of the road that leads homeward is reminiscent to that simple pipe shape that symbolized the lone human connection in the photo and also of the missing section of the door that it keeps from flinging open. If you look slightly up past that shape in the mixed media piece and just to the right you can faintly see a shape reminiscent of the window shape. The home shape is really only half of the barn shape, but it's enough.

The photo below shows the 2nd and 3rd barn photos side by side with their respective works. Seeing it this way may help connect the image and work a bit more.

And that is about the best that I can explain/show my process. It's a bit of a challenge to show what is in one's head and heart and how it gets processed into the work... again, I rather envy those that can produce sketchbooks bursting at the seams, filled with their process, but I hope this post helped to illustrate my process in some small way.

And in truth, I think it boils down to a lot of absorbing, whatever interests you, and then just staying open to what comes out. I have found that there's no need to force it, or even fully understand it, let alone try to control it. Gravitate to what you love. Trust that whatever inspiration is needed is inside and will find a way out once you show up to do what it is that you feel called to do.

I'd love to know how you process your inspirations... please feel free to share in the comments.

And here's a bit of exciting news to share with you all...

will be one of Pat Sloan's guests on the American Patchwork and Quilting Podcast this upcoming Monday on September 25th! You can listen live, or catch it afterwards, just click on that link! Yay!

UPDATE: Unfortunately, due to technical difficulties, the podcast was unable to tape September 25th's show. I will be rescheduled to talk with Pat sometime in November, so stay tuned!