(For those of you who were unable to attend the recent Surface Matters Symposium or were at a concurrent talk, we have asked fellow SDA members to write about about the various presentations. In this post, Lorraine Edmond writes about Jane Dunnewold’s presentation, “Strategies for Exploring Your Visual Language.” )
Jane Dunnewold is well known for her positive outlook and consistent support to artists at all stages of development. Her presentation on “Strategies for Exploring Your Visual Language” began with these encouraging words: “There are as many ways to get started at
this as there are people working.” The range is broad– some people are color field people, while others are focused on very specific content and messages. What is important is to make work that is recognizable as your own. If you don’t know where to start, start with content, OR just begin somewhere, pick an object, work on design exercises, collect techniques.
Jane acknowledged the tendency many of us have to focus on “filling our toolbelts” with techniques, however, and emphasized that although there is a time for that, there is also a time to stop collecting techniques, to settle in on some that speak to us, and to put our own spin on them. She described this evolution as “our responsibility as artists.”
For those of us who are still working at developing that visual language, she offered a multitude of possibilities for starting places. Some are as simple as selecting a shape or image you like that can be interpreted in your own way (she showed several examples of circle imagery). Another option is to pick a specific color or color palette to work from. Jane emphasized that there are many ways of working that are “pre-cloth.” Choose something to work with every day or until you’ve done a hundred. Some people take a photograph a day for a year, while others carve a stamp or a printing block every day.
The “expanded square” or Notan is one good visual exercise to start from (do a search for “notan” and you will find an abundance of images as well as an inexpensive Dover book on the subject). This exercise is a good way to learn to see positive and negative space, and it is worth doing every day for 30 days. You can use the results of the successful ones to form a repeating pattern that can be applied to cloth in any number of ways.
Jane predicts that you will begin to recognize that your designs have some symbolic meaning, even if meaning is not your starting place. She also believes it’s OK to work with public domain images and clip art when you don’t feel ready to make your own, but she stressed that “you have a right to make all your own” and that once you get started, you’ll actually love to make your own version of the usual symbols. Another recommendation (good advice that may be hard to follow) is not to jump around from one thing to another—it is OK to use the same image over and over. The question Jane invites us to explore is “How many ways can you use those images authentically?”
Verbal, rather than visual, approaches can inspire work, too. Try a free association exercise, starting with one word (her example was “boundaries”). Set a clock and begin writing everything that comes to mind. You may be surprised at how many visual images emerge from the list.
One way to build a series of work is to figure out your message, then develop the images. But not everyone likes to work that way—you can choose to be more or less structured. You can also stay with some simple ideas and images. “It is OK to go in the studio just to fool around, but it takes some planning to pull off what you see in your head.”:
After many of examples of the “how” aspect of working on visual language, Jane concluded with her perspective on the “why:”
“Life is too short to not love what you’re doing. If you do love it, do it enough to be good at it. You deserve to feel true passion for whatever it is you’re working on.”
(For those of you who were unable to attend the recent Surface Matters Symposium or were at a concurrent talk, we have asked fellow SDA members to write about about the various presentations. First up is Christina Fairley Erickson who writes about Gail Harker’s who spoke on “Awakening the Creative Spirit”.)
For those who haven’t visited Gail Harker’s Creative Studies Center (http://www.gailcreativestudies.com/) in La Conner, WA, it’s amazing to realize that we have such a treasure here in the Northwest for the fiber art world. Gail’s lecture at the Surface Design Symposium in March was limited… when you have such a breadth of knowledge, it’s tough to narrow it down to a hour lecture. Yet Gail was able to focus in on
sources of inspiration as a way to help her audience understand the process of narrowing one’s interests and by doing so to go deeper artistically. Gail encourages her students to find a theme or idea that interests them and to look at it more closely. Through looking at things in your own way- through your eyes, your camera, and your sketchbook-you’ll be able to develop your personal style without resorting to copying another artist’s work.
Some of the ways Gail proposes to study one’s theme include the pattern, line and shape of any aspect of the idea you’re studying. This returns you to the foundations of your theme and can help you see detail, repetition, and silhouettes, which can be used in your surface design. A life-long lover of color, Gail finds all the colors on the color wheel within nature, and encourages all to take up a study of color. Texture is another avenue, which you can examine in your theme, through manipulating your materials to get different textures relating to or mirroring your topic.
Gail’s speech and slide show then took the audience through a quick overview of theme ideas. These included: people (including showing of different emotions and expressions), birds, fish, insects, religion, telling stories, circles and spirals, fruits, vegetables, flowers, the four seasons, and man-made inspiration, such as decaying, crumbling structures, machinery, equipment, mechanical parts, and dwellings. Gail related how many topics and themes are really archetypal – you can research how the idea has been expressed throughout history, as well as how certain symbols are repeated and used to express different concepts.
Once you pick a topic or theme, Gail recommends that you be inventive and try out different ideas until you get your best results. You can extract elements from your main idea and change them or focus in on one aspect of the main idea. She also recommends that when traveling get seduced by what is around you so that you get it in your work. Also, get rid of your fears… of rejection, of being told you’re wrong, and of having to fit in. Be unique and express your uniqueness in your art!
Gail’s Barn House studio and gallery will be hosting student exhibitions May 19-20, and June 16-17. These exhibitions are open to the public. You can also follow her blog at: http://gailcreativestudies.wordpress.com/ and find her on Facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Gail-Harker-Creative-Studies-Center/399755679337
MARCH 3, 2012
Several weeks has passed since 150+ eager fiber-loving people attended Surface Matters, a symposium, exhibition and studio tour produced by SDA-Washington. A team of SDA volunteers is still working to bring closure to this hugely successful event. Thank you to everyone who returned our request for feedback. We had a 67% return rate on our survey which is really incredible! Most of the response was overwhelmingly positive. Bottom line, most everyone was enriched by their experience at Surface Matters and most everyone is interested in further SDA sponsored happenings. Stay tuned for what is next!!
The program line up for the day-long symposium was power packed!! We will report in more detail about the event in the weeks to come but for now, here are just a few highlights:
- Eager attendees lined up early to check in for Surface Matters while a team of volunteers processed 150 people in less than 30 minutes!
- The day opened in a general session with a keynote panel discussion Surface Design: Past, Present & What Lies Ahead. Moderator Barbara Lee Smith guided a rich and compelling conversation with Jane Dunnewold, Lou Cabeen and Marci Rae McDade.
After a quick break, attendees attended one of two concurrent sessions:
- Artist Trisha Hassler generously shared about the progression of her personal style with humor and openness – all were inspired and awed!!
- An expert panel of artists working in felt, Trisha Stackle, Faith Hagenhofer and Janice Arnold shared their vast and diverse experience in a panel discussion led by Layne Goldsmith – Felting: Then Cutting Edge of an Ancient Craft.
Lunch time offered more than just food!! Symposium attendees enjoyed delicious box lunches from the Portage Bay Cafe and also had time to network and play!!
- A spirited team from Artist & Craftsman Supply in Seattle’s University District provided us creative-types with a hands on activity making print blocks. The room was packed standing room only and the creative juices were flowing! Check out this colorful display!
- Over 150 swatches showing surface design processes and techniques were available to be fondled! How inspiring!! The SDA Swatch Library is one of the many SDA member benefits and can be checked out for use at any SDA event.
After a midday break to fuel and network, attendees choose two of four more concurrent sessions:
- Gail Harker shared her wisdom and insight from many years of experience teaching art, design and textile arts in her presentation Awakening The Creative Spirit.
- Michele Wipplinger indulged participants with her expertise about Color: Trends in the Culture of Cloth.
- Jane Dunnewold did not disappoint with her inspiring talk about Exploring Your Visual Language.
- Michael Cepress is credited for wearing the snazziest jacket of the day and it’s no surprise that he wowed us with his presentation Fashion Forward: Where We Are Going & How We Are Getting There.
- At the end of a full day, all attendees gathered together once again for the day’s keynote presentation by Bellevue Arts Museums’ Stefano Catalini. Stefano shared his perspectives about Artists Working In Fiber.
And finally, SDA Board Member and Washington State Area Rep Peggy O’Heron shared some thoughts about what is next for SDA in the NW region. An incredible team of volunteers were acknowledged for the hours of work they gave to make Surface Matters happen. The event’s generous sponsors were appreciated and, everyone in attendance experienced an ‘Oprah Moment’ as abundantly stuffed goody bags were distributed to all!