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!



Margaret said...

Am I correct in thinking that although you do not have the photo in front of you, you do have a specific photo in mind? I understand that you have hundreds of impressions of old barns in your memory and the feelings they evoke, but is it true that you will focus on one for immediate inspiration?

Victoria said...

Hi Margaret. Sometimes yes and sometimes no. Usually I have a collection in my mind, such as these three photos. When I work I am usually going for mood first, and everything else second. Afterwards when I go back and look at the images compared to the work I am often surprised by how much of the photo image(s) my subconscious/conscious absorbed and put back out into the work. Possibly others don't see it as I do, but I see the connections very strongly. The best I can relate it to would be like when one dreams... the mind can absorb amazing details that it picked up throughout waking hours and then recall those details later, playing bits and pieces back into the dream, reconfiguring things into something new.

Angela said...

I am inspired in a still more indirect way and usually not by pictures I take, but often by somebody else's. Here is a link to a post in my blog where I speak of this.
I really like this post as well as the work shown.
Thank you.

Victoria said...

Thanks Angela for sharing. While I wasn't able to find the exact photo that inspired you from the link in your post,( I saw many photos and wasn't sure of the exact one you were referring to) it does seem that we both absorb images and then find a way for them to come back out in our own personal interpretation.

Angela said...

This is the one, Victoria.

Angela said...

I don't know if I am linking it correctly, let's try this

Victoria said...

That last link worked and yes, I definitely see the source of inspiration and the connection to your work! Totally get it. Great Job!

Jenny M said...

Thank you so much for sharing your thought process in regards to your creative work. It is always so interesting to read or hear how others find their inspiration then turn that into reality.
Loved seeing your photos of the old barns & the beautiful quilt you made.
I have only just recently started 2 quilts which are of an improv style, and I look & look at books, pinterest and nature for a starting point. I often have a internal feel for how I want my piece to look like, but I can't put that into words. I am not an artist so I don't use a journal as a starting point, I just pull out fabrics & play, then when I find that special one piece of fabric that just seems so right, it is though I knew it was the right fabric from the very beginning and just couldn't find it.
But creating my own improv quilts is a hard task, much doubting of my fabric choices or scale of pieces, yet when one looks at other people's quilts it seems so natural or easy to 'see/feel' that the colours or scale are right or wrong.

Victoria said...

Hi Jenny, Thanks so much for your comment! I audition fabric as well, and like you I know it's right when I see it. That tells me that you have an artistic eye, and an artistic intuition. Keep working on that, like using a muscle, to help you trust your improv intuition. You could start with a fun little exercise that borrows from improv theatre performers:

When doing improv acting, the key is to always respond in a "Yes" way. No matter what line is given to you, you need to respond to it in a way that keeps the dialog going. (Sort of like tossing a ball back and forth.) So just for fun, and with no pressure to make anything special, start with a piece of fabric... a square, a rectangle, a long strip, a little triangle, and place it on your design wall. Then add something to it... find or cut another piece of fabric to fit in next to it. And then keep going. Don't judge it, just keep going until you have at least a something that could be a small to large wall hanging, or go much bigger if you want.

If that feels too wide open to you and you need some sort of perimeter, then only use 3 or 4 fabrics to start with.

When you are finished designing, stand back and allow yourself to feel it as you look at it. Does it feel right?, does your eye move nicely around it taking it all in? Or does your eye keep landing and getting stuck just in one place? If it is the latter, try rearranging some things, or substitute a different fabric. Remember, this is just for fun and only a learning exercise. Think of it like playing the scales. After awhile you will be able to intuitively "feel" what works and what doesn't, design wise, just as you already can do color wise!

Jenny M said...

Thank you, Victoria, for your response and for sharing that idea of the fun little exercise. It's a great idea, as I don't give myself time to just 'play' and experiment.

Karen@littlebirdiequilting said...

Thank you for this blog post, great reading. I also loved the barn photos and the pieces they inspired.

Debbie said...

Loved reading about your processes, thank you for sharing. I do a lot of thinking and taking of photos as well. Sometimes I work from the photos sometimes not. I love looking at other artists sketchbooks but do not do my own. I write notes sometimes but most of work is intuitive. I am mainly a tapestry weaver so I choose a selection of yarns and then just start weaving and see where it takes me.

Anonymous said...

Lovely work all and I can really see the influence of your landscape in each work, so amazing. xox

Quiltdivajulie said...

WONDERFUL post -- like you, I take a LOT of photos. Mother Nature, old buildings, colors and shapes that catch my eye . . . and your description of the way you absorb all that and let it come back out in your work sounds a lot like my style. You said it SO well . . . thank you!

Victoria said...

Thank you, Karen, so glad that you enjoyed the post!

Victoria said...

Jenny, you are very welcome. I think one of the main things that so many of us struggle with is not giving ourselves permission to play when it comes to creativity. Somewhere along the line we went from happy children with an anything goes outlook, to persons afraid to make a mistake when it came to creativity. (Ironically it is so often the mistakes that teach us the most. Lord knows I have learned so much from the slew of mistakes I've made along the way!) I think Picasso was so correct when he said, "Every child is born an artist, the problem is how to remain one once we grow up." xo

Victoria said...

Thank you Debbie. Interesting to learn that so many others also work intuitively with what they absorb visually. And I agree with you, thinking a lot does play into it as well. I think for me its thinking while staying open and receptive which is probably similar to you and others that work intuitively. I adore weaving, and yours is just lovely. (Tried to leave a comment on your blog but I had trouble getting it to go through. Might be a glitch on my end, or just plain old fatigue and me messing up something that is otherwise very easy.).

Victoria said...

Thank you, Corrine! Xo

Victoria said...

Thank you, Julie! I can't tell you how great it is to hear I'm not alone in working this way and that my attempt to describe the process made sense! Like I said, I wish I had sketchbooks full of ideas... so much easier to show the process. But really grateful to learn that this is another valid way of processing inspiration that apparently lot's of us do!

Cathy aka Luvswool said...

What a wonderful job you did on explaining your process, and I really appreciate your sharing. I was able to follow along pretty well with the painting and quilt pieces but did not quite "see" the talisman. In any case, I enjoyed the blog. Recently on my natural dye blog ( I tried to explain my process of collage, but I found it difficult to put into words. Still, I think it's quite lovely when artists give readers a peek into their process.

Victoria said...

Hi Cathy, thanks so much for your comment. I understand why it would be hard to see the connections to the talisman. That was by far the most loose and open interpretation, followed I think by the quilt, and with the painting being the most obvious. It's hard to show concrete connections as I work abstractly, but I appreciate you hanging in there and appreciating my attempts. Will definitely check out your post. Thanks for sharing.

Connie said...

Why has it taken me so long to find your amazing blog. You are truly an inspiration. I have been going through post after post and I love your tutorials, you make them so simple to follow. I'm a visual learner so photos in a tutorial are fantastic. I guess it is easy to see that I am excited to be your newest follower.
Happy quilting!
Connie :)

Victoria said...

Thank you, Connie! How sweet of you to share, and I truly appreciate your kind words. I am also a visual learner and find many tutorials confusing, which is why I try to present mine in the way that I do. So happy to hear that you find them helpful! Thanks for following along!