Unique vs. Universal

As an artist, you spend most of your time developing your unique vision, your unique way of making art. You follow what inspires you to keep creating.  I have been doing this for 18 years with fabric art.  A few people on Instagram have said they can tell which Instagram post is my art in a group hashtag such as #AbstractArt, etc with hundreds of Instagram posts a day.  I was happy to hear that I have a unique style that is recognizable to others as my art.  My focus is self expression, pushing boundaries of what I have done in the past, not trying to fit in or make what is culturally popular.  Sometimes being unique and following your own path can leave you feeling too much like a unique snowflake.

Sometimes I feel at odds with this unique approach when I teach private clients or group classes.  I'm obviously not teaching them exactly what I do, because that really wouldn't work.  Sometimes I think maybe I just shouldn't teach because no one is going to really get it or want to do what I do.  But then I found a super student who I have been working with since January 2016.  She made me realize I can teach the process of how you start a project, organize the steps, and get to the completion.  These are universal concepts to any creative project.  I have been able to teach the tips and tricks I've learned over the past 18 years of designing and sewing fabric art by showing her through each step of the process.  She said I am a wonderful teacher!  We have meet regularly while she made a queen-size quilt as a gift to her daughter. Yes, this woman has courage to tackle such a large project as a beginner.

You see at first, I thought I had failed because she decided to start with a quilt pattern sold by a well-known quilter. The kit comes with the fabric and a diagram of how you cut each shape and then sew the quilt top together.  It is lovely.  But I am someone who stopped using patterns almost a decade ago.  I am all about the freedom of expression in art, not the rule-following quilt police who stress you out about perfect seams and exact measurements.  I thought maybe people like the clearly-defined rules and control of knowing what it will look like at the end of the project. 

Bits and Pieces of 2015. Nine daily squares from the series.

Maybe my approach was too specific to just me. My approach starts with an inspiration for a series, like the Sky series I am currently working on.  The color palette comes from the white of the clouds, blue of the sky, and purples, oranges and yellows of the sunset and sunrise.  The design is based on the horizontal trending of clouds and sunrise/sunset colors.  This is what I mean by process-based design. Literally, I cut horizontal strips of fabric in my color palette and sew them together to make a 6-inch daily square. A recent addition to this process is the inclusion of small pieces of fabric sewn together as one horizontal strip.  I am trying to get the complicated colors and shapes of the kind of sunset or sunrise that makes us stop in our tracks and stare.  Most of my process-based designs are based on breaking down landscape scenes into their elemental geometric shapes.  Other types of  process design can be more geometric like my series Bits and Pieces of 2015 where I used left over fabric from last years series and sewed them to a dark grey fabric with a vertical theme.  Just pure geometry really.

The good news is that my super student said, of course, she wants to continue classes with me and her next project will be a process-based, free-form design. This has got me thinking.

Sometimes you have to know the rules before you can break them.  

Many abstract painters were classically trained and then followed the path to abstract expressionism. They had to know what the rules were to break them.

For all my students, I want the vision for their art to be their own.  I don't want to teach people how to be like me.  I want to encourage people to be like themselves.  It takes practice and dedication to find your unique expression.  But there are some universal processes and techniques I can share to help my students on their way.  Hopefully I can make it more efficient for my students and then they do not have to stumble around in the dark as much as I did starting out.  So I'm grateful for my super student because I realize that I do have something to offer besides just making my own art.