Gail Harker’s “Awakening the Creative Spirit”

(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 ( 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

Gail Harker at the Surface Matters Symposium. Photo by Jennifer Nerad.

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:  and find her on Facebook at:

Christina Fairley Erickson

One comment on “Gail Harker’s “Awakening the Creative Spirit”

  1. Ann Darling says:

    thanks so much for a little view into one of the workshops …unable to attend, I appreciate your writing about it … at least I get a little taste.

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