Monday, November 29, 2010

warning--lists may be dangerous to your art

Let me be blunt this time. Too many todo lists may be dangerous to your art.  There--I've said it. I know that most art consultants recommend that you create these detailed lists to maximize your studio time. My quilting friend Lisa Call in one of her blogs stated that having the list allowed her the space to create art. SAQA even has a whole group devoted to setting visioning goals for an entire year. Lisa and I have been having a discussion about lists and systems on our blogs--here is one of my posts--you just need to have a system. Her blog site is

Now if it works for you--fine.  Isn't there a saying, if it works don't fix it. Pretty good advice, don't you think? And I would never say you shouldn't have goals--of course you should. To achieve them, you may need a plan of action--those steps you need to take to get from one place to the other. Think of the plan as a recipe--to cook the delicious Moroccan squash and chick pea stew I made for Thanksgiving, I had to write down the ingredients and figure out the important steps in the recipe. Without the curry powder, the recipe would just not have worked. But there is also room for improvisation--I forgot to get the spinach, I added frozen peas. Still tasted great.

No, the problem I have with lists is they can be overwhelming and distract you from the quilts that you want to make--the art you want to produce. Let me explain.

Take my friend--I'll call her Mary. Now Mary quit her successful job so she could fulfill her lifelong dream to become an "artist." More power to her I say. She does have talent at design.  She has a studio, a considerate husband. And a lot of lists. She goes up to the studio and starts to tackle her lists--clean studio, done. Do bookkeeping, done. Take out stitches on quilt 23, done. Soon she has spent her time in the studio. She rewrites her todo list--notes all the things she has yet to finish and feels discouraged. Though she has made the space for her art, she has not made her art and her list is just as long if not longer.

I read an article on becoming your own personal coach. Great advice. Chris Brogan says we all have our own inner critic that tells us everything we do wrong, every failure. Just count the times during the day when you criticize yourself--he got up to 37 times a day.  However, there is a solution-- we can train ourselves to have our inner coach. We need to visualize this coach and keep telling ourselves that we are doing things right. Great point. Isn't the list becoming part of the inner discouragement--can one ever get to the end of a todo list.

Lisa sends me a link to her blog post discussing a Zen approach to making art. Forget those lists
Zen Habits advocates. Just do something, make something, surprise yourself. Yes, Lisa is right, I like parts of this post. Why get bogged down with too many lists? After all, if I don't create the art that I want to make, why do I even worry about getting things done to allow me time to create art.

Now I will be the first to admit that I can't just follow this Zen approach. I am also in business. I need to get work shipped off to shows. I need to finish orders, buy fabric, send postcards. Check the colors of placemats. So many little things I need to organize.

Right now I am in one of those between seasons--in between shows, waiting for the Connecticut couple to purchase placemats. Wondering if I will get the order that I promised before Christmas--I will give the customer one more day and then move on--she knows that time is of the essence.

These are the between times--in March it is called mud season around here--winter has ended but spring has not yet come. There is the waiting. Bed and breakfasts have specials just for mud season. Same thing for the week or so after Thanksgiving--not quite time for most holiday parties, too soon for winter sports, but not much work in the garden left. For me, the times when I can do the little endless things that will give me the space to work.

I also have these down times throughout the day--when I am puzzled about a quilt, when I am tired of sewing, when I am waiting for a customer. That is when I prepare the postcards for mailing, do the bookwork, pay the bills, check out the applications. Why spend good creative time scratching things off an endless to do list? This is the filler time.

And the Moroccan squash recipe--it came from Cook's Illustrated and is very simple.

1. Saute 2 diced onions with 1 TBSP curry powder and 2 tsps cumin in oil until onions are soft.
2. Add 6-8 minced cloves of garlic. Stir quickly. Add a diced jalepeno pepper--or other hot spice.
3. Add 3 cups roughly diced yellow squash or sweet potatoes. Cook for a few minutes. I also diced a bell pepper. Mushrooms or white potatoes could also be added.
4. Stir in one large can tomatoes--could be diced or use whole tomatoes and cut them up a bit. Cook until the squash is soft. (It takes a while--at this point there may be a bit of harshness from the curry powder--don't panic--I did.) Drain one or two cans chick peas and add to the stew.
5. Open a can of coconut milk and reduce it by half--it does sweeten the flavor. Interesting.
6. I added about a cup of frozen peas, Cook's suggested some spinach. I also added the coconut milk and the flavors came together.
7. I used some of the leftovers with chicken over rice--also delish!!!

What do you think? Should you kill that todo list?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

art and the audience

This morning as I am getting psyched for work after too much "Moonlight Madness" the night before-- (No,  No it is not what it sounds like--it's just a marketing event in Shelburne Falls)--anyhow I saw an article on Twitter--marketing research and the artist. Of course I had to read it--after all I really do not enjoy being open late even if I don't stay until the bitter end so if I could sell more...

Alas the main point of the article is that artists need to learn what "the public" wants to know about the art. Now I am sure that there are lots of artists who would benefit by getting the opinion of "the public"--learning the language and questions of "the public." Indeed I know some whose work is just not selling--hmm, not my place to offer suggestions.  But I have just sat through Moonlight Madness for the umpteenth time--my studio is open to "the public".  How many craft shows have I done? I know more or less what "the public" thinks about my work. Even though that also changes. 

And the methodology of the article seemed awfully complex to me--holding a party... I am not sure that I even agree that artists have different opinions than non-artists. Am I missing something there. But I do think the basic premise is more interesting than the article. Let me explain.

I will be the very first to admit that I find it important to ascertain that I am communicating with my work. I remember the first time I showed up at a major craft show--all the other artists advised me that this would be a graduate level course in art appreciation if I could just listen to potential audience. After being told far too often that their seams were straighter than mine, I decided I would not rely on straight seams. How to hang the work? How to care for it? I learn the questions I want to answer--the discussions that take them away from the work.

Where does the quilt work in their house? What colors do customers want to live with? I remember that I can always make a new piece for the studio but they are going to be living with it for years. It is a humbling thought.

How do I remain true to what I want to make while also selling the work so that I can make more?
What is the role of the artist in the world we live in. Anne Truitt speaks of when art coincides with contemporary artistic concerns so there is a historical cogency--a relevance of the personal struggles of the artist with current trends. She speaks of the need to be true and sensitive to oneself rather than succumbing to the will of the public. What a balancing act.

Listening to Khrista Tippets On Being radio show I hear John O'Donohue--an Irish poet--discuss art and beauty. I learn that the word  beauty has the same Greek root as the word calling.  Did you know that? Beauty can be the calling forth of the universal--get it?  Joining the visible and the invisible worlds. The landscape of the inner world. Recalling you to the rhythm of the universe. A discussion using large broad words but creating a feeling for what art and beauty is.

I remember years ago when I took lots of poetry workshops. The leader of the group--a very kind and wise woman--would gently tell me when the poems were "too personal." What I felt so intensely and what I explained so that I clearly understoodt was a puzzle to my intended readers. 

At the shows I see lots of work that is--shall I say "trendy".  Lots of work that fits whatever is hot in the market. Sometimes  during quiet times at the studio I try to make work like this--solid colors, simple designs. There is a look that is hot but it is not me. I miss the commercial prints--the act of taking ordinary fabrics and creating wonderful surprising colors. I love that jumble and intensity of the fabrics and know that it is what I must do.  My seemingly simple but also complex landscapes inviting the viewer into my world.

So I seek other ways of listening to my audience. Can I explain it better? Perhaps another color? Another size? Am I hunting for the wrong audience? I keep asking these questions. A juggling act between what the audience wants and what I want to make. And how do you answer these questions? What is the roll of the public and the contemporary art scene? How do you balance it?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Giving Thanks to All

What a wonderful day so far. Cloudy. That hint of winter storm in the air. My DH and I finish splitting the wood for the year. An old old maple tree down by a vernal pond. Definitely it led an interesting life. Must have seen the cows come and go when this was pasture. Then forest again after the Civil War. Another attempt at pasture--that didn't last long either. The tree itself was just enough out of the way--just twisted enough--that it remained undisturbed for years. Instead it grew burls on top of burls. Beside it a younger red maple sprouted some hundred years ago.

When I knew the old maple, the inside was hollow--a family of porcupines considered it their winter home. They would chatter at us when we went ice skating. Little heads peaking out of one of the holes in the tree. In the summer just a few branches that still had leaves. How hard it tried to keep going.

Never would we have taken it down. We loved the porcupines with their crazy trails in the snow too much. Certainly we did not need the wood. But this summer, a gust of wind hit the younger red maple--knocked its top off and on the way down felled the old tree right into the pond. Now if the maple had fallen in the woods we would have just left it to rot--but it was just enough in the way that it needed to be moved. Being good Yankees of course we cut it up. What a pain it was to split. The wood already starting to rot. Twisted and turned. It split into strange chunks of wood. Not easy to stack but so dry we could burn it right away. Every Sunday we would spend an hour or two working on this wood--a really big pile. Finally today we finished. The last rounds just as ornery as the first ones.

The perfect thing to do on Thanksgiving morning. We have enough wood that inside the fire is roaring. I have an apple pie in the oven--just made some cranberry sauce with pears and apples. Then for Thanksgiving dinner I will make squash and chick peas--Moroccan style--with tomatoes and coconut milk to take over to our friends. It sure sounds good.

And I think of all I have to be thankful for--my DH, my step-children. Family and friends. Three cats sleeping by the fire. I read a blog post by skinny artist and realize that I am indeed thankful that I can actually support myself making quilts. I never dreamed that would have been possible when I was growing up. Pretty amazing the world we live in.

I think of the old maple tree now gathered for a final celebration in the fire. Isn't this what November is--Thanksgiving--gathering up all the life of the year with it gnarly burls, the hollow insides, the adventures and splitting and stacking them to use for warmth during the cold dark months. The celebration of life.

Emily Dickinson compared the month of November to Norway.  I have never been to Norway but I like November--the subtle colors, the anticipation of snow and long cold nights by the fire. Time with family and friends. The contrast between light and dark. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday-- wonderful foods and pure enjoyment of being. And I do have lots to be Thankful for.

And you--what do you have to give thanks for? What are your thoughts of November?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

on alligators, art quilts and great adventures

My friends--the ones who are spending the winter working in the Everglades--write of driving, driving south shedding jackets, flannel shirts, heavy blue jeans as they approach their destination. The endless sawgrass of the Everglades. For them, this is a long dreamed of this. They have prepared for it for years. Now they are almost there. Will they have alligator on the grill for Thanksgiving? I wouldn't put it past them.

She takes pictures. He sends long thoughtful group e-mails:

          I know my destination.  Physically speaking, anyway.  The crazy of the trip has a tendency to     bloom in mysterious ways, no matter how much you try to think and anticipate.  We're here.  Not too far away, anyway. 

For them this is their great adventure.

I read about it in the morning just before I get in my van. I too am driving, driving. Though I am heading north. The trees shed their leaves. A cold front is racing in. I add a coat, long sleeves. I too have a destination. I have just finished doing the Washington Craft Show. My mind is full of ideas for new quilts that I want to make. I have had one of those wonderful conversations--a conversation I could only have dreamed of with a sophisticated craftswoman. What is art? What does it mean to be an artist? When can one call oneself an artist? Questions I have been rolling around in my mind. Posting about in my blog.

One reader has responded to my blog  post on putting the fine back in fine craft:

Here's my take on the whole issue. It goes along with the "everybody gets a trophy" mentality. Excellence is not as important as it once was. To be called an "artist" used to mean that you had a base level or ability and/or talent. No more. Everyone's an artist now. 

Yes, I think there is something there. I turn--again to Anne Truitt's Daybook: The Journal of An Artist. How I love this book, the honesty and intensity of her questioning. The depth of her perception. She writes that even to state she is an artist makes her feel uneasy--is she good enough or is this just her reaction to the over-inflated public definition of what is an artist. (Page 44). Is she limiting herself by not accepting this definition, she questions. Should she just be true to herself?    

She writes in looking at the work of another she seeks "the spontaneous rise of my whole being." "It is ultimately character that underwrites art." "Purity of aspiration seems virtually prerequisite to genuine inspiration." (Pages 67-68) I savor passages in this book as I mull conversations at the craft show.

Acceptance that my quilt rainbows of summer is art--fine craft that transcends craft. The finish work I put into it is important but not key to the piece. The quilt is strong--reads as a whole that you can grasp in a couple of seconds and then spend time absorbing the details. This is not what I think but what I was told. I must confess it made the whole show worth it for me.

 She wasn't sure that the smaller wall hangings make the leap. Are they just sketches? Or were they overpowered by the presence of  rainbows of summer. Others said the same thing too. Colors of autumn. Moonrise. I must listen to what is being said--not to be governed by it but to hear it as a voice, a direction. Should I take myself more seriously?

As I drive back I wonder what I should do next. I think of the conversations--the possibilities that the show offered me. I mull it over in my mind. If I make it, will "they" come? Do I trust in myself? And I realize as I drive north through Connecticut listening for some reason I don't know to a Seattle radio station reporting a blizzard on the west coast, that for me this is part of my great adventure. I will have turkey for Thanksgiving and then make the quilts that I dream of. 

And you, what is your definition of the great adventure in your life? How do you decide to fulfill your dreams?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

color at the craft show

The Washington Craft Show is one of those shows where I get inspired. There is so much wonderful work around me that in my "spare" time I find that I am constantly making sketches of new work--quilts that I hope to make. What fun to feel alive and to have new designs just pour out of me.

Part of it is the building itself. Not only does it have wonderful complex patterns but also great use of colors. On the way up the escalator  I love admiring this color field--not sure who it's is by--it is on another floor so there is not easy access to it but just look at these color progressions. Even the glimpse of it intrigues me.

My booth is next to that of Dan Mirer a talented glass blower from upstate New York. I had seen his work a couple of years ago at a show in Rochester, NY. I love his hauntingly simple use of color progressions.

 Gorgeous isn't it? I asked him how he got his colors--it is actually pretty interesting. Glassblowers buy colors from a manufacturer. He goes to and selects his color. The colors are apparently not like paints and can't be mixed. Instead to create this color progression he blows not one but two spheres and then inserts them one inside the other. Pretty amazing isn't it?  He even has to do it for this piece. Wow!!!

The final booth I stopped at is Mija Art--the quilts of Libby and Jim  out of Asheville, NC. I have known Libby forever it seems and seen her work evolve. What fun. She uses recycled clothing that she carefully selects and pieces to create these amazing color ways. Recently she has been playing with black and white color gradations--isn't that wonderful?

Just look at the detail she uses. On top of the piecing she then applies very detailed stitching often using metallic thread that swirls and curves. Here is one of my favorites with little bits of red in the fabric as well.

Pretty cool isn't it. And now I must get ready for the last day of this show. Can you see why I am inspired? What inspires you?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

musings on patterns and the Washington Craft Show

As I ride the escalators--and there are several of them--up to Level D of the Convention Center to do the Washington Craft Show I am struck by the patterns around me. The building itself is a wonderful modern building of steel and stone and glass in great geometric designs and constantly shifting shadows.

Inside there are  reflections from the windows. A massive open space and some wonderful installations. But--maybe because I am a fabric person--my eye is drawn to the carpet. Check it out if you get a chance. The basic overall pattern--so simple and yet complex of the design. Note the little red blocks that pop against the soft blues.

The center area has more design--great arches matching the lines of the building. Then the  burnt orange--red guiding you to the stairs. Standing in this focal area the first time I felt the glow of the colors. Try it--subtle and magical.

Further patterns of the admissions kiosk--clearly a Sol Lewitt design. So geometric and beckoning. Playful and joyous in its celebratory colors. So much more to see outside the show but I want time to peruse the aisles while I still can.

I am delighted that my friend Liz Alpert Fay is showing. Liz is one of those multi-talented artists. In one life she was a wonderful quilt maker. Then she began making hooked rugs that kept the charm of the tradition while also having a contemporary feel. Now she has moved on to mixed media. There are some small wall hangings where she uses shapes in nature to create very unique juxtapositions of shape and form--worth studying. A sculpture made by stringing filaments of a plant similar to a thistle on fishing wire with the seeds falling to the bottom. Wonderful in its graceful and simplicity.

My favorite though is her tribute to her chickens. This is the most personal of her pieces I feel. She and her family have four chickens and she wanted to convey the inattention we currently have for where our food comes from with the beauty and the diversity that the chickens provide.

An interesting piece worth studying both for its wonderful patterns--the circles of the eggs and the hooked rugs. The thought that went into the labeling of the eggs. In the center is the first egg--as a farm girl I remember what a treat it was when finally the pullets started laying eggs--at first tiny eggs. So special and such a celebration of life.

The other eggs show the diversity of sizes and colors that eggs come in--all from her chickens. There is something very personal about this--so different from store bought eggs. The rug is one of her hooked rugs. This time she included facts about chickens that we don't often know. Again there is the wonderful humanity of the rug--round, exquisitely crafted but still made by a person. I want to spend the time to absorb the text.

However I must also spend a bit of time appreciating the charm of Carolyn  Beard Whitlow's quilts. Oh what an interesting person she seems--I didn't realize until I checked her website that she is also a Professor of English and an accomplished poet. As she said, she is improvising on the African American tradition to create poetry with her quilts using fine quality fabrics collected  from the Caribbean, Ghana and the United States she cuts them into small pieces and then pieces them into fabric collage with a sure knowledge of color and effect. What an exuberant and complex use of color.

And yet just as the viewer might get overwhelmed by the color and intensity there is the border enclosing and containing the color. Brilliant and sophisticated.

But alas the show starts and I return to my booth to see what the day may hold. Hopefully I can see more of the show tomorrow morning. See how the pattern will influence my work. And you--what patterns have you noticed recently?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

putting the "fine" back in fine craft

Today I must confess I got my dander up. Now that is truly a wonderful opening sentence which I never thought I could use in my blog. I don't even know what dander is--can it go up?--maybe like the hair on my cat's tail. Do I get my dander up or does my dander just go up? You tell me.

Anyhow, my latest issue of American Craft Magazine came. Now I don't know about you, but I associate American Craft Magazine with work that is so finely made that it seems impossible that a person could actually do it. As was noted in this issue about Paul Stankard--known for his intricate recreations of botanical scenes in paperweights--he truly "minds the details." I think of the brilliant ceramics of Cliff Lee--he can spend years perfecting the right ancient Chinese glaze--and then render perfect dragons arching around vases with necks so fine and thin it doesn't seem humanely possible. As is explained on his home page, he is taking time honored techniques and making them his--saying something new with them.

I think of my friend Kari Lonning with her exquisitely made baskets of dyed reed--hairy baskets, double walled baskets. They tell stories of distant landscapes, different events all clearly identifiable as made by Kari. The amazing wrapped and woven glass sculptures of Jeanne Heifetz--not a single hole in the piece. Gorgeous dreamy work that again you can't believe a person actually made. You get the idea.

So when I turned to the article about the quilt maker Malka Dubrowsky in the magazine I was more than a bit taken aback. The picture of her with a quilt draped over her shoulders outside. The many designs she created of hand dyed fabric--perhaps a little too reminiscent at first glance of the quilts of Gee's Bend not only in their designs but also in their lack of sewing technique--and don't get me wrong, I love those quilts--great article about how they used fractals as a design element in the SDA Journal--but some of them are sure not square. Big hand quilting stitches-(as you may remember my grandmother took out stitches that were too big.) Machine quilting that displayed its own problems. Here is my blog post about my grandmother's oak leaf quilt.

Now I must admit that in looking at Malka's work a second time, I did find intrigue in some of her designs. Her colors were nice and bright. Clearly from the home page of her web site she is going for a "down home" quilts on the front porch look. Check it out at Her blog had some interesting points as she discusses a bit her thought process but... And I will be the first to admit that I liked how "hand-made" her work looks. Very cozy. To some extent similar to the concept that I am trying to achieve in my work. I also have the feeling that she is a great businesswoman and I do always admire that.

But unlike the work of a Cliff Lee or Kari Lonning  I really don't think she is taking a technique and by her attention to detail and skill making it her own. I don't even really think that is her purpose in making the quilts. There has been an interesting discussion both on the Studio Art Quilt Association (SAQA) forum and in the Surface Design Association magazine about the problems that quilts have getting recognized as "art." Maybe I am wrong--maybe quilts should just be quilts--fun and funky and functional.  But I think they can and should be more. Whether the quilt is meant to be functional or a wall hanging, I think it can also convey that additional artistic something that takes us beyond the realm of cozy and functional to that place of "take your breath away."

And I guess I felt a bit betrayed by American Craft Magazine--aren't they supposed to be promoting the best in American Craft--not just something that they consider to be fresh? Shouldn't they and by implication we be pushing the limits of what we can say with quilts just a bit more? Shouldn't we be trying to respect the craft in fine craft? Or am I wrong--is that so yesterday? What do you think?   Where do you see the place of fine in fine craft?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

getting ready for a craft show--a time for lists

Recently, as those who follow my blog know, I have been dialoguing with Lisa Call and others on strategies for getting work done. Interesting discussion--I love the comments on my blog post about systems and strategies.

Now normally I don't like to make todo lists--I know what needs to be done and I attack it from various angles until it gets done. But I am leaving for the Washington Craft Show tomorrow morning and I have to get packed. This is a wonderful craft show--truly some of the very best most serious fine craft artists in the country--I am honored to be included here. Of course it is also a very expensive show to do. I do want to make money at it.

It is also a show I have not done for a number of years and never in this venue. There are systems here I do not know. How to get my work from my van to my booth? Where to park my van while I set up my booth? Hey, I don't even know where I can get a cup of coffee at the show.

I have a love-hate relationship with shows as it is. I love the deadlines of working toward a show. I love seeing the work come together as a unit and getting the feedback from the customers. I love the possibilities. But I always feel that I have to stop working just when I am really getting going on a theme and I know my thought process will be different when I return.

I try to make it as easy for myself as possible. I pay all my bills. I make an appointment to get snow tires put on my car. For good luck, I make a donation to the Western Massachusetts Food Bank--yes, I am a bit superstitious--if I do good for others, maybe whatever that bigger force is will think of me kindly. I ship out orders. The blue hills quilt is now headed to its new owners. I hope they like it.

 I sketch out my display parts--though I have set up this display hundreds of times, right now the pieces are in different boxes. The craft show I had done just before I switched vehicles had involved a bigger booth and more parts. I must be more organized this time. I want to check my lights--some of the fixtures got pulled apart at the last show--no need to fight it during set-up. As I work, I make a list of things to remember--I contact the Post Office, put the mail on hold, change the message on my answering machine. Pull out things I must not forget. Leave post it notes for things I need to do when I return.

As the studio gets emptier and emptier. I want to clean it. I take a walk across the Bridge of Flowers--yes, it is still open this year. So neat--most of the annuals carefully removed, the leaves on the iris trimmed.  I see the little orange flags--post it notes for the spring.

I walk slowly admiring the remaining flowers--this may well be my last walk across it for the season. How beautiful the kale is in its white and purple feathery splendor. I enjoy the fact that it is still there but also  know that once I am on my way down to Washington, I will look forward to the excitement of the show.

The couple who were supposed to come and buy placemats postpone their visit. I will try to finish the new grey quilt--then organize my studio for packing. And you--how do you prepare for a show? Am I the only one who wants to clean before leaving?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

"you just need a system"--a reply to Lisa Call

Every family I think has their own special sayings. Once my DH got told that I made his life "too cushy". Yes, we repeat that one frequently. Usually with a smile. And I am sure we are not the only ones who have "cat alarm clocks"--they pounce on us at six in the morning to remind us that they  want their breakfast NOW. One of my favorites though came from my step-son, when my DH had misplaced something one too many times. As he said, "You just need to have a system, D--a--a--d." You know how teen-agers can emphasize the word Dad.

It is a good point though. Systems work.  Recently Lisa Call and I began exchanging blog posts on the systems that we use to get work done. Now, for those who don't know Lisa's work, she is a very successful quilt maker who writes a wonderful blog about how she makes her quilts. In a recent blog post, she advocated making todo lists so she knows exactly what she is going to do when she gets into the studio.

I responded that for me the lists were too limiting.  I never know what will happen during the day--I just want to make sure I get something done. We agree that a dialogue would be interesting--what methods work for each of us?

Lisa begins the discussion with a wonderful blog post on how structure leads to creativity. Check it out--even the blog post shows how organized Lisa is. Basically her point is that if she has a plan for what she will do in the studio then she can just work when she is there rather than worrying about what to make. Lots of great hints as to how she works. What do you think?

I think about her posts--how do I proceed? Well, certainly my process is different--just like my circumstances are. I have been supporting myself making art quilts for 29 years. This is what I do. During this time I have gone from living by myself to marrying my wonderful DH. When I was single I would frequently work mornings and evenings and run errands during the afternoons. A regular schedule that gave me time to work and time for myself. I knew I could leave in the afternoon because I had already gotten something done.

About fifteen years ago, I got studio space in town. The town itself--Shelburne Falls--is a delightful tourist destination and while I don't get a lot of traffic through my studio, I try to be open regular hours. After all, I never know when the person who really wants to purchase a big quilt will show up. I have a found that these regular hours make it easier for galleries, designers and others to contact me. Oh I do love these set hours. I don't feel the guilt about working or not working that Lisa mentions--I just show up at work and then at 5 I leave. 

I try to make it so I that I have to work when I am in the studio. No novels. No games. I can work on the Internet. Friends can visit--briefly--but I don't usually no long phone calls. I actually learned this technique from listening to authors on the radio--was it John Updike who said he had to sit by the typewriter for certain hours every morning even if he had nothing to say that day? Some authors force themselves to write even if they are going to tear it up at the end of the day. Others retype what they did the day before to get themselves going. I am constantly listening for more tips and try the ones that interest me. 

I am a morning person--I like to get something done right away--it starts the day out right. Sometimes it is working on a new quilt. Sometimes it is packing an order or applying to a show. I just want that feeling of accomplishment for the rest of the day. By three I may have done as much sewing as I can for that day. Then I make potholders, placemats, fold fabric, vacuum. There is always something to do. Some days I get inspired at four--I start the project, leave myself notes. Still I almost always leave at five.

I just don't like to write it down. I don't do well with those strict charts--it makes me nervous and when I get nervous I don't get work done. Besides, what if the quilt does not cooperate? I try to remain calm--yes, I can solve this challenge or deal with that issue. Lists, charts make me feel less successful. Not good. Even when I have an order due, I may plan my schedule out in my head--calculate the number of rows of hand sewing I have to do,  but rarely do I write it down. I just slog it out one stitch at a time. If I think about how much work I have to do, I get nervous--don't sleep well at night--then I get even less done the next day. Not a good approach.

I already have plenty to get nervous about as it is. There is my love-hate relationship with craft shows. Right now, I really don't want to drive down to the Washington Craft Show. It is a long drive down there and an even longer drive back home. My last long distance drive had far too many adventures to mention. The show may not even be that lucrative--ugh!!! When I get home, I will have to put the studio back together, go grocery shopping and get ready for Thanksgiving Dinner. Will I forget something? Will set-up and take-down go smoothly? What problems will I have to deal with? I try to go one step at a time--reminding myself I can deal with it. I need to sell quilts to make quilts. I love having orders and work to do. I enjoy the feedback I get from the customers browsing at the show. And of course I enjoy the energy of being around so many other great craftspeople.

Again I try to keep myself calm. I like to finish a big piece just before a show--not four days before a show, if you know what I mean. I look around the studio and try to figure out what will sell--these days, that is impossible to do. Work that I think should sell, doesn't. Work that I don't expect to sell does. A couple is planning to come to my studio to buy placemats on Tuesday. I am leaving for the show Wednesday morning--should I make more of those to replace what they may purchase? I think about it and decide--no. Placemats are fun, but not that fun. I can't anticipate what colors they will choose.

I look at the colors of quilts I have in stock--yes, there are colors I could use. But I am getting some back from a show, just after I return from Washington. I don't feel like making a quilt in the "right" colors. There is another piece I have been thinking of--now that excites me. I plan it in my mind. Not too much. I don't want the excitement to dissipate. Dark colors, greys. Dramatic. That should be fun. This morning I will go to the studio and start it--see where it takes me.

OK--that is my system. It is different from Lisa's just like our lives are different. Nothing wrong with that. The most important thing I think is to be aware of what works with you. Don't take my word for it--don't even take Lisa's. Try and see what works for you. Experiment with different systems until you are getting done the work that you want to get done.

And now I must get to work.  This dialogue is fun. It reminds me of a poetry slam. Did you hear the discussion on Here and Now about the poetry slam in Chicago. Each trying to bring his or her best "game" to the competition. It was wonderful--check it out--  No, I didn't answer all of Lisa's points--working in series will be another blog post. And you, how do you work? Feel free to comment--even create your own blog post. Let's keep the dialogue going. I know I am always hunting for more tips and methods.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

getting it done

Oh I have too much work to do before the Washington Craft Show. Orders to finish. Work to make. The list just seems to go on forever and ever.

This week I have been struggling to finish a long--or should I say --l-o-o-o-o-n-g wall hanging. They need it before Thanksgiving. I want to get it done. The piecing seems to take forever. It is a huge quilt. One hundred and two inches long.

Finally I get that done--then I must sew it together. Hand finishing all those seams. I turn on the Diane Rehm Show--learn about Cleopatra--interesting. The fiscal policy--not so interesting. My DH tells me I should just work faster. I can't. I don't want to do anything stupid. There is only so fast one can sew anyway. I plug along. It is hard because hand sewing is sufficiently reflective that I can think of all of the projects I want to finish. I look at the studio and want to clean it--but no I must focus. I want to update my web site--but no, not now.

Finally it gets done. I just have to "finish" it. Wrap it up. I iron it. Pick threads. Add the Velcro for hanging. Pick more threads. Luckily this time I have tried to be neat in the work. It is not that bad. Label it.

I hang it up over my design board so I can clean the back of the piece.

 Hang up the quilt on the wall so I can pick threads once more. Get a snapshot of the piece.

Then I have to make the boards for hanging. I have been using a pressed board Venetian blind that is easy to cut to size. They can just be screwed into the wall. Of course the quilt is so big I need four boards. I wrap them together and cover with paper--I will roll the quilt around them. After the boards are mounted,  the Velcro can put in place. I measure the Velcro. Wrap it up for packing. I make a muslin cover for carrying the quilt. Put my web address and phone number on it.

Then I put one of those plastic drop sheets on the floor. It is clean and lint free. Spread the quilt out on it. I put a business card inside--just in case. Put the boards on one end and start to roll the quilt--again hunting for threads. I know I will miss some but I don't want to miss too many. I tie the quilt into the roll with a few muslin strips. Slip it into the muslin cover. Then wrap the whole thing in some of the plastic drop cloth--tape it shut and put it into the box. Yes, this took a couple of hours.

Now I must just contact the future owners. Add another card or two. A bit of padding in the box. Then tape the box shut and ship it. How nice to have this piece done. Though there is just a tiny bit of regret--an absence. I have grown accustomed to the piece on my design board and miss it though I know it will have a good home.

But I can't linger long in this feeling of regret--there is too much to do. I eat lunch and then get back to work.

And you--do you miss work when you send it out into the world? Or are you so eager to move on to a new piece? Any any tips on working faster--is it possible?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

stake out--Mothertown Quilt Guild

It was a dark and stormy night. This was where Google maps had landed me--an unnumbered church lot in the middle of Massachusetts. Alone. Outside it was cold.  Was I at the right place?  The rain kept coming down. There was a bar at the corner--I watched cars stop, leave, return with bags of food. On the side street,  cars drive up to the mail box, stop and then drive off. I felt like I was in a Walter Mosely novel.

I confess I have always wanted to start a blog post like that. Never thought I could. Maybe I have also wanted to be in that Walter Mosely novel. Or sitting in an unmarked car with Renko on Hill Street Blues.

Then, the lights came on in the church building. Women were streaming in. Such a happy eagerness to see each other. Tables for the Civil War quilt raffle, fabric exchanges, some wonderful holiday blocks--snowmen and angels. I spread my quilts on other tables--a logical progression from the start to the finish--and sit and watch. Collect my thoughts.

I always get a bit nervous before I speak. Can I bring the audience along with me as I describe my grandmother and her search for beauty? Can I help them see why I love quilts and give them a few tips? Did I bring the right quilts to help their imaginations run with ideas for their own projects?

They bring out more and more chairs. The audience grows. New members. Guests. They are right around the tables where I will speak. I get more nervous. Then I start and immediately the questions. This is a very involved group.  How do I do it? What inspires me? How had I planned the black definitions in rivers of autumn--I confess my memories of making this quilt focus more on choosing the colors of each row--waking up in the morning thinking of the next colorway to get the same ethereal effect--some intense and some lighter. The need for the little splashes of light to give the piece motion. How the colors in the corners caused me the hardest time. The black was just something I knew.

I show the progression of my quilts to blue shadows. At first they don't see the color folding onto themselves. Then they squint--get more distance. Follow the colors. Rainbow hills. Hidden lake. I have blogged about these quilts--won't go into them now. Lots and lots of questions. After the talk, my tables are swarmed with women wanting to ask more questions. Sharing their stories--they were just out in Wyoming and so loved first mountain. Hidden lake reminded one of taking off on a small airplane. Have I ever seen? What do I think of? Where do I buy fabric? They examine the samples carefully. Look at my book of photographs. I try to be attentive, responsive.

Too soon, the  break is over. They begin their regular meeting. I pack my quilts and head out to the rain--after all I have a two hour drive home and a quilt to work on tomorrow. While driving I ponder why I give these lectures. Sure it is fun having my work admired--but that also happens at craft shows and at my studio. The money is sweet--and I know there are many that depend on teaching and lectures for good portions of their income--but I prefer to make and sell my quilts.

No, it is something more. I think of the warm shared fun those women were clearly having in their bright church hall. How glad there were to see each other. Planning sewing parties. A holiday party with hand made gifts drawn at random. Shopping expeditions. So many projects and exchanges. I think of their wonderful name tags--they each had one--so different and yet so inclusive. Some with beads, embroidery. I snapped a few photos. Cropped out the names.

And my favorite. She assured me this was her house in Bermuda--although she quickly added she did not have a house in Bermuda. And she was still waiting for the palm tree to grow, she said with a smile. What a conversation starter.

Yes, I think that it is this shared warmth that I enjoy watching. The name tags so no one is a stranger. I envy this sense of belonging. I think of other groups I belong to--daylily groups with hat contests. The shared purposes of business associations and family gatherings. Thanksgiving with dear friends and good food. So many ways we connect as people.  Transcending the "stake out" in the rain  to the warmth of the so aptly named Fellowship Hall where "everyone has a name".

And you, where do you go where you have a name? Do you also have the need for both the "stake-out" and the Fellowship?  How do you create the balance?

Monday, November 8, 2010

the opportunities of rejection

Yesterday the rejection came. It really wasn't a surprise. Sure I had hoped for another result--at least a "Wait List". But I sort of knew it would happen.

After all the craft show that rejected me is one of those very very prestigious ones--you know hundreds and hundreds of applicants for about 120 places. And I know that at least five to ten of the applicants--the quilt makers--are just as qualified as I am. Moreover, I knew it would be even harder to get in--the show likes to accept those who have not done it before. Probably great from their perspective. Harder for me. I have done the show before.

So though of course I was disappointed--the show is absolutely lovely and I do very very well there--I wasn't surprised.

And I certainly don't have time to be upset about this. Instead, this will give me a chance to maybe do a craft show or two that I haven't done for a while. I wonder which one I will choose. I think of my house visits--those have been getting me some great results. I should do this more often. After all, I am doing the Washington Craft Show in a couple of weeks--maybe I need to arrange a time to come down and visit those who are interested. I order more postcards so I can promote myself.

Maybe I can also apply for a couple of quilt shows. I have been going so non-stop that the deadlines usually pass me by. I read a great article on LinkedIn by Rhonda Schaller on "Creating a DIY Strategy for Exhibiting Your Work"--great article--check it out--yes, creating my own show. That would be fun. I love how my work looked at the Landmark Campus. That show was supposed to travel but the next location ran out of funds. Too bad. I start researching on the internet--where would I like to show? So many possibilities. I need to reread this article--explore possibilities. There are hints here

I think of my quilt red barn, blue silos II.  Yes, I should keep my focus on my goals like the red barn is the focus of the fields. Keep this vision in mind.

I read the blogs of Lisa Call--she is so organized. Check out this blog of Lisa's. I love how she can write out her goals for the week--so much she hopes to accomplish. I love the structures of her work, the plans, the way the pieces create the whole. But I am not sure that is for me. I make my quilts almost by intuition--I get the palette right and then it is almost a gut reaction. What comes next. It is the same with my strategies, my goals. I create a general concept in my mind, a purpose and then start moving toward my goals. I don't know if this is the best way--should I write it all down? I don't know. I tend to get overwhelmed with possibilities. I like the freedom to accept opportunities if I can keep that red barn in mind.

And you--what do you think? How do you reach for those goals? Are you a list maker or gut reaction? Do you have any great tips?

Friday, November 5, 2010

the quilts of Ann Brauer--November news

How quickly the seasons have changed. From the golden browns of October--and yes, we did have a wonderful foliage season after all didn't we--to the subtler greys of November--it just happened. In between cleaning up the garden and raking the leaves, I have been busy in the studio trying to get a couple of orders done. Oh and I did manage to see several rainbows this month--including one day I saw two separate ones out my window of the studio--always a good sign.

Let me get down to the news--and I do have a fair amount this month.

First and foremost, I will be doing the Washington Craft Show at the Convention Center in Washington DC November 19-21. This is a fantastic show with 190 of the best crafts people from throughout the country. Exquisite, breathtaking work. I am honored to be included. And even a bit nervous as I haven't done this show for a number of years. I do hope to see some of my Washington friends there.  I am Booth 341. For more information do check out

I am also proud that my quilt "summer sky" is in the exhibit "Sew New: Contemporary Art Quiltmakers" at the OSilas Gallery of Concordia College in Bronxville, NY. This should be a fantastic show with fourteen top quilt makers having work here. If you are in the area, do check it out.

Oh yes and I will be giving a lecture on my quilts to the Mothertown Quilt Guild of Lancaster, MA this Tuesday at 6:30. Guests are welcome for a slight fee. This should be fun.

I am also pleased that my quilt "rainbows of summer" was selected as a finalist for the Niche Awards which will be announced in February at the Buyer's Market of American Craft at the Philadelphia Convention Center. I am in honored company to be a finalist for this award. I think I have shown you this quilt before but if not...

When I am not at a craft show, I am usually in the studio working. Do feel free to drop by--although if you are coming from a distance I suggest calling first. And you can always follow me on Facebook or read my blog.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

musings on long nights, changing seasons

Suddenly it is dark when I wake up. When I return home, the sun is low in the sky. Night comes early.

On WMUA--my local community radio station-- Louise Dunphy does a program on Samhain--the Celtic New Year. A time when the boundaries between the living and the dead are looser.  The turning of the season.  Bonfires, divinations. An old Celtic tradition--the crops must be gathered before the Festival or the fairies will spoil the remains. Men and woman exchange clothes.  It is a wild, uncertain time. Hard to get accustomed to the dark and the dread of winter.

Friends of mine--neighbors--have purchased an RV. They are frantically packing and sorting their lives to head south before "the big freeze". This is a ritual passage--beloved items from his father and his youth are now passed on to the son-in-law for "safe storage."An almost melancholy relinquishing of youthful pranks for the adventure and warmth of the open road. Dreams of alligators and panthers in the Everglades. There will be an absence in the circle of friends. Thanksgiving has been moved.

Across the country I am saddened by how quickly hope has faded. An anger, despair has fallen across so many. The slow progress to solutions has not eased their hurt and pain.  I am glad to live in Massachusetts. I am glad for the governor soft spoken, gentle, kind. Sure of himself and his principles. He actually came to town. I met him. I shook his hand.

And I know that despite this gloom, in slightly more than a month the afternoons will again start to lengthen. We will gather with friends for Thanksgiving. Soon, the snow will provide its own light.  Bright moonlight reflected on the meadow. Sometimes even Venus creates shadows. The crisp air will clear my thoughts as I snowshoe to a nearby vista to watch the sun rise. Then toasty warm next to my DH.

How fitting that I am now making a large variation on first light. It will stretch across a wall in a lovely new living room. Echoing the promise of the dawn. So bright and happy the colors. Such fun searching through my fabric finding just that perfect bit of rose and gold, the dreams of the blue rising.

The perfect quilt to be making during this season of dark.  And you dear reader, what do you do to keep busy during this season? Do you also dread the return of standard time? Or is this a time of thinking inward? Thinking forward? Setting goals?

Monday, November 1, 2010

what makes an artist?

Recently I found an interesting blog post on What Makes a Professional Artist? Even the story of how I came to read this particular blog post shows what a small world we live in. My internet friend Valerie Goodwin--herself a wonderful quilt maker from Florida--had posted this on Twitter and Facebook wanting to raise the question for discussion. The article begins with  a discussion of a situation I am sure we have all been--the nurse, friend, seat-mate on an airplane, even relative who announces that they too are professional artists. What do you say in that situation? How do you define what being an artist is?

Now the word professional is one that I think we can figure out--don't we all know what a professional lawyer is? What about a professional doctor? Would you want to be treated by a non-professional one? And why is the term "professional politician" considered an insult--oh don't get me started there.  Back to the topic at hand, the term professional usually implies a seriousness of purpose and certain standards of conduct and responsibility.

The issue becomes more what is meant by the term "artist". How do you distinguish between art and craft, art and fine craft? Is there a distinction? I know there are many art quilt makers who are trying to get their work recognized in the fine art market. There is a believe that painting is considered more serious--and by definition more lucrative--than quilt making or sewing or fiber arts or textile arts.

OK--I can agree that earning money from your art is a good thing--at least for me.  I have been supporting myself for 29 years making quilts. So I post on a discussion on LinkedIN that I am willing to make a blue and red quilt if that is what sells. And the question becomes whether I am then "selling out." Of course the blue and red quilt has to be in my style--I may love the Double Wedding Ring pattern but I don't want to make.

Indeed currently I am working on an order for a quilt similar to first light.

It is an order for a specific place in a specific lovely architecturally designed home. Yes, there is thinking to do--artistic inspiration. How to make it twice this length and keep the feeling for the piece. What happens when the piece is seen looking up at it? How will the sky appear? Will the lines in the quilt echo the lines in the house?

I think of some of the "old Masters"--the Dutch Masters with their assistants and wealthy patrons, Sargent who painted the four young daughters at the request of their parents. Even the "primitive" portraits of Colonial America painting the sons and daughters of the wealthy.  Audubon published his birds in wonderful portfolios that you could subscribe to. Without the orders and the patrons, we would not have this art.

And interesting I discover on reading more about Nancy Natale--she used to have her studio in the same small town in western Massachusetts where I live. What a small world this is. Note to self-- maybeI should get out of my studio more.

And you--where do you draw the line? What is art? What is professional?