I have indeed been absent from writing for a long while.
It's nothing bad, nor have I abandoned my blog. Instead, life has been overly-full with good things, including two major projects. I'll write about one of them today.
I just returned from a less-than-24 hour trip to Cornwall, VT, where I stayed overnight at the Oxford Rug Hooking School and completed the requirements to become a Certified Teacher Punch Needle Rug Hooking. (!! Hurrah !!)
And as if that weren't wonderful enough, just look at the weather and views I had while I was there (even though I hardly had time to be outside).
There was earthy eye candy everywhere.
Here are some samples, a photo journey for your enjoyment:
Amy Oxford's school is a bit of heaven on earth, one of my favorite places to go and well worth the four-hour drive for me. (Although TWO four-hour drives in 24 hours just about did me in.)
And then there is Amy herself, one of the kindest and most generous people I know. A fabulous artist, teacher and businesswoman. And there is also Heidi the dye wizard, working her magic on both creative and administrative aspects of the school--and just as nice. (Heidi also can repair absolutely anything.)
It is sheer pleasure to be in residence there.
I am ready to collapse for the evening and try to take in the fact that I'm now certified...a fact which just makes me think, "But I have so much more to learn!"
My one regret is that I couldn't stay longer. Anyone who has been to the school and is reading this will know exactly what I mean.
As for the other project I'm involved in: that one is bigger, longer-term, and more disruptive, and may prevent me from writing much for a while.
It's all good. But it's also all-consuming.
To quote the old Beatles' move, Help: "I can say no more."
When I was a kid, I remember my mother complaining that I never finished what I started. She was right. I would develop some sudden enthusiasm and throw myself into whatever-it-was and then just as suddenly lose all interest and drop it. I had unfinished projects littering the house.
I remember being furious with her for pointing this out--because I knew it was true.
I made a vow to myself that I would "finish what I started" from then on. And mostly I've stuck to that vow. My mother did me a big favor.
After completing a really challenging project last week (more about that in a future post), I had finally cleared the decks of all my recent textile endeavors and was free to think about what's next. I do have one additional rug underway but can finish that as soon as the weather turns cooler and I can get back in the studio.
As soon as I asked myself, "What IS next?" I realized I had two ancient unfinished objects that I truly wanted to complete. One is a quilt I started at least 30 years ago. But that's in pieces in various boxes and will have to wait a while longer, until I can find everything. The other, though, is a punch needle embroidery face that I started at least seven years ago. Here it is.
I finished 9/10s of this back around 2009, and then I had to stop for reasons I no longer recall. Not smart.
This morning I finished the face, despite running into a soft spot in the backing that was threatening to disintegrate completely. (Eeeek! Desperation was only seconds away.)
The piece itself is actually in full color, but I used an app to switch it to black and white to study the values.
I think I could have done a better job of finishing. However: If one has abandoned a project for over seven full years, and one has been silly enough NOT to store it neatly in a bag with its appropriate colors, then "one" will have to spend most of the day guessing at what colors were used, at how many threads were being used per stitch, and at what in the world I was thinking when I put it down with so little to finish. Jeez!
After I got all that sorted out--kinda--I finished the tiny space that remained in less that half an hour. I mean, by dropping this piece to work on something else seven years ago, it just made everything so much harder when I went to pick it up again. Oy!
Perhaps I thought I'd get right back to it. I never did. And I've thought about finishing it ever since. There is still a lot of work to be done.
Next up: punching the hair, then some type of background.
I'm now thinking of a whole series of embroidered portraits. I know that when I finally finish this project and post a color version, it will be clear just how far I still have to go to improve--but that's half the fun of learning to draw/punch/paint/hook. I can only get better!
Or so I tell myself.
And much as I hate to admit it: Thanks, mom.
"Consider the postage stamp: its usefulness consists in the ability to stick to one thing till it gets there."
"The artist uses the talent he has, wishing he had more talent. The talent uses the artist it has, wishing it had more artist."
Or perhaps I should have titled this, "Errors in Art."
How does one know if something is ruined, or retrievable?
I spent hours punching today, and only after those hours did I suddenly look at my highly-structured, visually precise geometric pattern and realize that something was very wrong.
This is not a forgiving pattern--it depends entirely on balance. I saw I had punched the entire center of the rug (yes, the CENTER...oy) in a very unbalanced way, since I was being mindful of my delight of the process but not the slightest bit mindful about the plan of the process. When I sat back and looked at the big picture, I was shocked.
(Does this sound like something that has ramifications for life beyond a rug?)
At least 1/3 of the center would have to be ripped out.
And so I ripped and ripped and ripped.
Monks cloth, which is the foundation commonly used for punching, is very sturdy, but somehow my battered foundation is now looking fragile to me. Will it hold?
(Another life metaphor. Sorry, I can't resist.)
And then there is all that beautiful yarn I dyed. I ripped out a mound of it. Can I recycle it, or will I have to discard it all (!!!), and dye more?
I did soak, dry, and recycle yarn in an effort to save it. Since I took this photo I have put these last few bits on the drying rack to straighten out. It will be awhile before I know if this has worked or not.
But I'm not done with repairing...tomorrow I have half as much to rip out and re-do.
I cannot believe I made such a huge error.
So what have I learned: It's not only about the process. When doing a geometric, planning is 50% of what's needed. I knew that already--what made me forget? I'll never know.
Tomorrow I'll get back into it and see if I can finish the repair. When I take the rug off the frame--and not until then--I'll know if this worked, or if I have a much more serious problem to face.
Is the rug still salvageable? I won't know for at least another day.
Centering...that is what I should have done repeatedly as I worked. I didn't, and this is the result.
A lesson for life-in-general, not just an art project.
"Nothing is more intolerable than to have to admit to yourself your own errors."
I have been busy today, despite excessive heat and humidity. Although it hardly seems possible that I actually needed to dye more gold yarn for my current rug (after all the excess I had at the finish of the last one), I did.
But dyeing during the heat of August is not my idea of fun. So what to do?
I woke at 5 a.m. and it was only 70 degrees outside, so I zipped into the kitchen and dyed four skeins before the heat could build. Hopefully this will be enough to finish the rug. After hanging the skeins to dry, I spent a few hours punching also and am coming close to finishing everything but the borders. on the rug Well, perhaps that's pushing it just a little bit...but I'm definitely making good progress and I think the above statement will be true after one more day of work.
Once I wound the yarn, I amused myself by making a yarn-cake mandala on my iPhone. Love these fun iPhone apps...
It's too early to show my rug design, but a took a photo of a small part of the rug and ran it through another iPhone app to make a spiral.
Wow, these apps are powerful...I love this and only wish my rug could look like this! Quite amazing. (Indeed, my rug looks nothing like this at all.)
Honestly, some days it hardly feels like it was worth it to get out of bed. Today was one of those, creatively.
All I can see at the moment is what is wrong with this rug. Not only did I get nothing done on it, but I spent part of the day ripping out what I've already done, and then allowing myself to fall into a funk.
I broke my own rule which is: Just show up and do the work. So, that's my declared intention for tomorrow. I'll get up, meditate, and then work on the rug.
I will ignore the funk, and do the work. It's the only way that art gets done.
“The advice I like to give young artists, or really anybody who'll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself. Things occur to you. If you're sitting around trying to dream up a great art idea, you can sit there a long time before anything happens. But if you just get to work, something will occur to you and something else will occur to you and something else that you reject will push you in another direction. Inspiration is absolutely unnecessary and somehow deceptive. You feel like you need this great idea before you can get down to work, and I find that's almost never the case.”
I could have titled this post:
What I noticed today, as I really dig in to this new piece, is the initial curiosity, restlessness, and insecurity of beginnings.
Oh sure, I liked my design on paper, where it looked so neat and tidy.
But in actually starting to produce the design in wool on monks cloth, I feel all the questions and doubts rushing forward.
Will I have enough yarn?
I don't know.
Did I choose the right colors?
I don't know.
Will the new techniques I want to use actually work?
I don't know.
Will unfamiliar yarns/fabrics/techniques add to or subtract from the effect?
I don't know.
Can I really mix those two fibers in the needle?
I don't know.
Does everyone create this level of utter chaos when working on something new?
I don't know.
Can I tolerate the mess everywhere, while I get this underway?
I don't know.
Am I doing this right?
I don't know.
...and on and on. I found myself taking frequent breaks from the work. Reading a book to distract myself. Going onto Facebook. Knitting. Running errands. Taking a nap.
Avoid, avoid, avoid.
It is very hard to tolerate this level of "I-don't-know-ness." I notice it every time I start something new.
And yet...there is something exciting about it as well. The novelty, the experimentation, the not-knowing if something is going to work, and when it doesn't work, the part where I figure out what will work.
Truth is, I don't know.
Indeed, things do happen in the dark. It's nearly midnight, and when I took the photograph below I realized that because I was punching without enough light, I am going to have to re-do this work tomorrow, when I have help from the sun.
But that's ok. I just wanted to get this rug underway, and I did!
What's wrong with it, you ask?
No worries. Easy enough to correct when I can see better. I freely admit this only reflects how desperate I was to get the piece started. There is a deadline (3.5 months away!), and though I believe <hope> the work will go quickly, I want to GET GOING.
Yesterday I drove nearly 7 hours to finish collecting materials I'll need to complete the design. Today I went into the studio and began punching on the edge. But as I suspected, the studio is so freaking hot that it is not possible to be working there during July and August. I took my frame apart and brought it home, setting it up in my air conditioned living room. Thank the Goddess for air conditioning, since the rest of the week is projected to have high heat and high humidity. Hardly an inspiration for working with wool!
Last night, when I got home after driving all those hours, I unpacked some of my swag (mixed in with my hand-dyed wool):
After breakfast with a good friend, I expect to repair what I did "in the dark" and I'm planning on making some real progress with the rug tomorrow. I'm designing as I go, in terms of colors and techniques, and I can't wait to see how it will come together!
And a happy Fourth of July to all in the USA. I am lazing about and having a quiet one; I'm also tidying up some of the many tasks on my to-do list. Everyone has left town. It's extremely quiet, and one telltale sign that it's a holiday weekend is the lack of traffic and a plethora of parking spots everywhere.
One of the tidying-up things was that I ran out of background yarn for an 8" sampler I was making (on the left above). So close...and yet so far. So, I dyed up a skein of yarn to match yesterday morning, and this morning I finished the punching:
I've gotten two other big tasks off my to-do list today, and made a good start on a third. This is one reason I love long lazy holiday weekends. Although I define them as "lazy" because I don't go out and do events, I usually get a tremendous amount done at home with minimum effort. I don't feel that I've been pushing at all, and yet I've accomplished a lot.
Long live holiday weekends. Especially summer holiday weekends when the weather is just perfect.
"Deep summer is when laziness finds respectability."
This is the last installment in the series on my experience at the week-long certification workshop at the Oxford Rug Hooking School in Cornwall Vermont last week.
I'll start with some pictures again--these are from Chris H, with his permission. They are photos he took on a brief walk he took up the dirt road just to the side of Amy's property. (I did not take a walk all week--unusual--and I lived to regret it, but that's another story. Note to self: Always take at least one walk a day...)
It really was that beautiful there, and it was that way all week. Sunny, warm but not too hot, low humidity, Kind of staggeringly beautiful.
Amy is a genius as an instructor. She had the entire week so well-planned...we introduced ourselves, talked about what makes a good instructor, and set goals. And then we set about meeting our goals for the week. Amy modeled the type of teacher we all hope to be. She was completely organized, but not rigid. She was great at time management, without making us feel we were on a "regimen." She told us what we'd be learning for each day--and then we actually learned it. And she had great handouts, clear and useful. The kind of handouts we can use with our own students.
At one point, the wonderful Diane Burgess came in for an entire morning to teach traditional rug hooking to those of us who had never tried our hands at that. Diane specializes in teaching traditional hooking to newbies.
Amy even managed to squeeze in a thorough lesson on photographing rugs, something I think we all needed to learn. (She's not mad here--the sun was so extraordinarily bright that she is squinting)
Every day she gave us tip after tip, provided lots of time to punch and to teach, taught new techniques, and then ended with a hilarious graduation ceremony. I managed to photograph most of us at graduation, but unfortunately couldn't photograph myself and because Kathleen came right after me, I couldn't get her photo either.
Here are the graduation pictures. Note the kazoo in Amy's mouth as we go through the process!
Since we didn't have caps and gowns, we pitched balls of novelty yarn in the air to finalize the celebration. And speaking of yarns:
Chris dyed up these colors before coming to the workshop and they caused a sensation. I think all of us used some of his yarns in our work last week, and I also think all of us took home one of the colors. Here are the colors he gifted us with.
I got to go home with the blue one, and just today used more of it to finish one of my homework assignments. Chris raises sheep at his home, and spins; he also has the fleece commercially spun into rug yarn, but the hand-dyed yarns he dyed that are pictured above were, I think, from KnitPicks; they weren't from his own sheep. Thanks, Chris, for letting us all take one of these home.
After graduation Amy gave us each a tiny charm, as well as our diplomas. I loved the charm and am already using it on my keychain.
When I left on Saturday, I left with inspiration, with a good-sized manual for techniques, with the work I'd completed during the week, with plenty of resources, with plenty of homework ahead of me to complete the certification, and with the confidence that I could continue to improve and to pass on this technique as needed.
I forgot to mention that part of the homework is to complete a rug of our own design within the next four months. We had all sketched out our designs in advance, and one of my very favorite parts of the workshop was when we shared them with each other. I think we were all stunned by the level of creativity shown. I was impressed and inspired by what I saw and can't wait to see the completed rugs.
Because we had worked so hard, had bonded, and had so much fun, we were all pretty emotional as we were leaving. I saw tears (and had a few myself) and although we were all eager to get home after such a long time away, there was substantial foot-dragging as we said goodbye.
My thanks to Amy, our incredible teacher, and to the school manager (and dyer extraordinaire) Heidi, who kept everything organized and running smoothly while we were there.
Final thoughts on all the inspirational, dear, creative people I met last week:
"When I find myself fading, I close my eyes and realize my friends are my energy." (Anonymous)
Thanks to all of you for making this such a wonderful experience.
...This is the third post in the continuing saga of my remarkable week in Cornwall, VT at the Oxford Rug Hooking School last week, with fellow students Bob, Chris, Jude, Kathleen, Patty, and Phyllis. (That's Chris's mug on the right.) In the last post I featured some pieces that Jude, Bob, and Kathleen brought along for show-and-tell. I will pick up today with Chris and Phyllis.
But first, Chris posted these lovely photos on his Facebook page, and he was kind enough to give me permission to show them here. The first two show the sign for the school and the building:
And now let's resume the show-and-tell, starting with Phyllis:
In the next post, I will finish up with additional photos and a short description of the experience. There is just no way to do it justice. A good teacher is a powerful and precious thing--as are good companions on the way. We were very lucky.
I'm a textile artist (traditional rug hooking, punch needle rug hooking, and other textile arts), long-time meditator and coach, focused on learning about the interplay of art, creativity, and mindfulness every day.
NEXT INTRO TO ZENTANGLE CLASS:
No immediate group classes scheduled (I'm always open to hearing about a good venue in Western Massachusetts. I am always happy to teach 1-1 and/or in a small group in your home.
Come and amaze yourself!
SITES TO WATCH:
Insight Meditation Society
Oxford Rug Hooking School
Zentangle: The Official Site
Green Mountain Rug Hooking
Massachusetts Tarot Society
Skillful Meditation Project