As the year draws to a close I usually find myself looking back at what I have accomplished over the year as far as creativity goes and contemplating what I would like to do in the upcoming year. Some years I have been very prolific and some years, not so much. The past several years have been very good for me in terms of being productive. I attribute this to the year I spent creating an art journal with a friend of mine, Cindy Kuo. Cindy and I had just attended a lecture by the wonderfully talented Natalya Aikens, a fiber/quilt artist. Natalya brought examples of her work (amazing pieces) but what struck a chord with me were all her art journals and sketchbooks that she had with her. She said she is constantly sketching possible works of art, making notes, doodling, keeping track of favorite colors, etc. As my friend Cindy & I were browsing through her sketchbooks we came up with the idea of spending a year creating an art journal. Although we decided that ours wouldn’t be your typical art journal per se, but something to help us ‘find our voice’ and keep us doing something creative every week. Natalya’s lecture was in November 2012, so we vowed that we would begin our art journal and a year of creativity in January 2013.
I should backtrack a bit to let you know that at that point in time I was extremely frustrated at my lack of artistic work. I was a member of several fiber art groups and had taken numerous workshops in quilting, surface design, dyeing, etc. There were so many ideas swirling in my head but I just wasn’t following through with them. Sure, I made a few small art quilts and created a few necklaces/bracelets here and there but I didn’t have a “body of work” that I could look at and be proud of or see any cohesiveness to my work. Sooooo- this art journal thing sounded really good to me. I was in need of something to jumpstart in creative juices.
Before January even started Cindy & I came up with our goals and a monthly theme (photo below-right) Each week we would create something that was loosely related to the theme. Some months were just a shape, some months we wanted to try out a specific product (like lutradur), some months it was just technique oriented. The whole idea was very basic and could be interpreted however we wanted. We could spend an entire week working on our weekly piece or just a few hours. To keep us accountable we checked in via email almost daily. We would get together from time to time to share our projects that we created and go over the techniques as well. It was really nice to compare our work and notes since we never created the exact same thing.
Naturally, a regular sketchbook would not be feasible for the project we did. I wanted something substantial to hold all the pieces I was planning to create. I settled on 2 large 3-ring binders (above left photo) I used clear page protectors to hold the items and I also used a sheet of cardstock behind the item. On the front of the cardstock I wrote the monthly theme, the week and the date. On the back of the cardstock I wrote ‘The Plan’ and described what I wanted to achieve, then I wrote ‘The Execution’ and described my process for creating the piece (second photo below). This has served me well because I refer back to certain pieces to see what process I used and what problems I may have encountered. On many of the pieces I also wrote how long it took me to create that particular item. Some months there were completed pieces, some months there were just samples or examples to reference for future projects. It amazes me now when I get my big binders out and look at what I achieved during that year. What is even more amazing is when you allow yourself the time to be creative it inevitably sparks more creativity.
Prior to that year, I was reluctant to drag out any of my supplies because I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to create OR be when I grew up. I have loved fabrics for most of my life and am an admitted fabriholic! Naturally, I just knew I was meant to be a quilt artist or something along those lines. Well, guess what I learned that year? My passion is BEADING. I had used seed beads to embellish quilts and small artwork but I had sworn I would never use seed beads to create jewelry or a fully beaded piece due to their small nature and my natural ability to be a klutz. But the very first month of the art journal our theme was circles. Any kind of circles-draw, paint, knit, quilt, bead, stitch etc. I had wanted to teach myself how to do a simple peyote bezel (even though I had sworn I would never use seed beads) so I beaded around a ceramic face and that was it-hooked on bead embroidery AND seed beads! After the first month of the art journal I wanted to keep beading and beading. I continued with all the weekly projects but managed to complete many beaded projects along the way that year.
By design, our art journal project was an exercise in stepping outside our comfort zones a bit, trying to learn some new techniques, working with products we had bought (and never used) and expanding on talents we already possessed but were too reluctant to push further. It was a year that sparked not only creativity but courage. I submitted a piece to Cloth, Paper, Scissors magazine, I created a small quilted piece for SAQA’s 25th anniversary Trunk show that is still traveling, and I was invited to be a guest artist for an exhibit with an art quilt group in Chicago. I am not sure I would have been able to participate in those things if I had not been creating regularly and felt empowered by it.
My year of doing the art journal resulted in even more great things. Cindy & I created a small bead/fiber group where we have done group projects which we have been exhibited several times. The art journal also prompted me to challenge myself to a year-long project in 2014 (12 Months of Buddha) as well as 2015 (12 Months of Goddesses). I had planned a year-long project for this year but moving kind of got in the way, so I will resume that in 2017. Having a year long project can be very satisfying, but more importantly you get to see the progression of your work. Your techniques will improve, your body of work expands and you develop your own voice. Spending that year on the journal was possibly the best thing I could have done, not just artistically speaking but personally as well. Having a creative outlet is a wonderful thing; finding your passion is the icing on the cake!
As you can see from all the photos above, I pursued many different mediums, techniques and supplies. (You can view the rest of the pieces here if you’d like.) It was a year spent playing around with the idea of ‘what if’. When there’s no pressure to create something that will be for sale or for a show/exhibit it frees you up to have fun and break some rules. There’s no need for perfection, just create for the sake of creating. Playing with your supplies can be liberating and might just help you figure out what you want to do when you grow up!
Today, I am proud to say I am a jewelry artist AND a fiber artist. I will never give up my fabrics or my felting, or my fabric dyes and paints, but beads-specifically those darn seed beads I never wanted to use-are my favorite. I urge anyone who is unsure of where they want to take their art, unsure of their artistic voice or if you want to be creative but unsure of where to start-take a year to find your creative self through an art journal or a year-long art project of your choice. Just make that decision now and by this time next year you will be looking back on your own creative journey and smiling.