• The Roots of Creativity

    Today, I want explore the roots of creativity – where do my ideas come from?

    Our minds are powerful computers – massive databases of everything we have ever seen, experienced or thought. The older we get, the more data that is filed away. Accessing it is the problem but even if I can’t remember creating a particular drawing it is filed away in the database quietly biding its time and whispering in my subconscious ear. There are designs I have created in recent years where the seeds were sown long ago in my past, seeds that germinated, put down roots and then faded in the winter season of my mind. The roots remained though and much like a perennial flower that slumbers for a time only to reawaken when conditions are right, these roots will sprout again.

    Some time ago, my brother who had been the ‘keeper of the family albums’, passed them on to me. “It’s your turn to hold on to these”, he said. Many were old photo albums with this generation’s pictures – my parents and grandparents, my siblings, pictures of myself – some triggering delightful memories and some embarrassingly awkward. Other albums housed older pictures, people vaguely familiar – old eyes staring out of young faces. Many I did not recognize and mourned the fact that no one had bothered to make notations of who they were; relatives – probably – but lost in time.

    One album did not contain photographs. It was a scrap book where my mother lovingly pressed all of our childhood artwork. drawings, Mother’s Day cards (prompted by teachers) and in some cases, class assignments. A surprising percentage of the artwork within was mine. I don’t think it was that our mother held a greater affection for me than my siblings but simply a matter of quantity; I was by far more prolific in my artistic endeavors than my brothers and sisters. Looking at all these pictures was a walk down memory lane; most I had forgotten ever creating until I saw them. My drawings and paintings spanned many years but as I almost never dated them I can only guess at what age I created them. There are clues – a cat I had when I was about 6 years old, the memory of when I received a set of pastels as a gift and first used them… most of the time I have to rely on looking at the relative skill in the artwork – as Monty Python famously said – “I got better” (in reference to a man claiming a witch turned him into a newt).

    What really surprised me was how many of the drawings have lain dormant for all these years only to blossom out again in the form of one or another of my quilt designs. Hand on Bible, I swear to you that I had no recollection of these original artworks when I created the quilts

    The Captain's Wife - I never was quite sure why this image was embedded so deeply in my head
    The Captain's Wife - I never was quite sure why this image was embedded so deeply in my head
    I must have been around 12 or 13 when I drew this. I can't remember what the inspiration was
    I must have been around 12 or 13 when I drew this. I can't remember what the inspiration was
    One of my Postcards From Japan series - Windswept Tree inspired by the twisted Cypress trees along the beach in Carmel California
    One of my Postcards From Japan series - Windswept Tree inspired by the twisted Cypress trees along the beach in Carmel California
    Carmel Sunset, crayon drawing. A drive along Carmel Beach was often a weekend treat when I was a child.
    Carmel Sunset, crayon drawing. A drive along Carmel Beach was often a weekend treat when I was a child.
    Center circle from my quilt Evening Song made in 1998 as an opportunity quilt for Northwest Quilters
    Center circle from my quilt Evening Song made in 1998 as an opportunity quilt for Northwest Quilters
    I'm guessing I was about 10 years old when I painted this watercolor
    I'm guessing I was about 10 years old when I painted this watercolor
    One of my Animal Totem quilts - Thunderbird
    One of my Animal Totem quilts - Thunderbird
    If I remember correctly, this crayon drawing was inspired by seeing Navajo carpets. I think I was about 6 years old at the time.
    If I remember correctly, this crayon drawing was inspired by seeing Navajo carpets. I think I was about 6 years old at the time.
    Another one of my Postcards From Japan series - Waterfall
    Another one of my Postcards From Japan series - Waterfall
    I guess I have always been impressed with the vision of a moody sky viewed through a notch in a mountain range.
    I guess I have always been impressed with the vision of a moody sky viewed through a notch in a mountain range.
    One of my embroidered Folk Art ornaments - the cat. I started making these felt ornaments back in the mid 1970s
    One of my embroidered Folk Art ornaments - the cat. I started making these felt ornaments back in the mid 1970s
    I have always LOVED drawing cats, this drawing was probably done when I was about 7 or 8 years old
    I have always LOVED drawing cats, this drawing was probably done when I was about 7 or 8 years old

  • In Celebration of Pencil and Paper

    In this digital age of technology I would like to pause, unplug and contemplate the low-tech pencil. These days, most of the quilters I know are all about the high tech toys. Tools like Electric Quilt and CAD programs, Adobe Illustrator… I admit I am partial to Corel Draw to bring my patterns to their pre-press stage.

    BUT – for the preliminary design stage nothing beats a pencil and paper (and a good eraser). The sheer joy of holding an organic tool that is a natural extension of my fingers and hand. There is a sensory link between my fingers and the pencil, I could swear my nerve endings run right down the wood and minerals down to the paper. I know there are some who would say the same thing about a mouse or a stylus but to me, there is an electronic barrier with those much like the difference between a phone conversation and speaking to a person in the same room or like listening to a recording vs. listening to a live performance. Digital drawing is like trying to caress and feel an object while wearing gloves.

    The process of drawing with a pencil is a meditative Zen experience – just me the pencil and the paper – no electricity, no digital translation of my motions through a filter of circuitry. Anyone who has explored tone drawing will know exactly what I am talking about; it’s like controlling your breath to evoke musical notes from a flute or the pressure of your fingers teasing ethereal sounds from a violin.

    I know it is more painstaking to work with graphite on paper, mistakes are harder to change or remove and for many processes such as duplicating a repetitive pattern, drawing by hand is more labor intensive and time consuming. I do it purely for the pleasure, the delight of seeing line and form emerge from the pencil like my life blood running down this  appendage that once had a life of its own as a part of a living tree.

    Here is an example of a contemplation in pencil, trying to work out a border design for one of my Totem quilts.

    Playing with border designs
    Playing with border designs

    And a final observation of the humble pencil – I have heard it said that NASA spent millions of dollars on research and development of a pen that would work in zero gravity; the Russians bypassed the expense and hassle by using – A PENCIL!


  • What to do while you are snowed in? Make Potstickers!

    I love potstickers, we always order them when we go to our favorite Chinese restaurant (Hunan Pearl in Lake Oswego – if anyone cares to ask). I had just cooked up the last ones from the previous batch I made and froze and though I have some commercial ones from Costco in the freezer, I have yet to find a brand I like as much as my own. Luckily, I had anticipated making them and had the raw ingredients on hand. My husband doesn’t eat pork so I use ground turkey, it’s a great pretender when trying to replace pork (plain ole ground turkey, not ground turkey breast, it’s too dry and has a very distinctive taste). I also have diabetic issues and try to steer away from white flour so I used a mixture of AP unbleached white with King Arthur Whole Wheat White flour (very finely milled so it’s a pretty good substitute for regular white flour) at a ratio of about 3/4 whole wheat to white. I like to make my own wrappers, I do not like the commercial wonton/dumpling skins and there is an art to making the dough. I found a great tutorial online at Steamy Kitchen Cooking Shortcuts. For the filling I used the ground meat, minced Nappa cabbage, chopped water chestnuts, scallions, grated ginger and a bit of toasted sesame oil and soy sauce, and as an afterthought, threw in a bit of a dried tangerine peel/Szechwan peppercorn salt mix I make up myself. We had some with dinner last night – YUM!!! The rest are in the freezer in zip lock bags.
     
    I just hope that this doesn’t follow a precedent set about ten years ago in another record breaking snowstorm where I had just made five dozen potstickers to freeze the day before we lost our power in the storm. We were without power for 6 days and our generator was not working. Authorities tell you to keep at least several days worth of non-perishable food for emergencies – which we do, but we never touched it. After the first couple of days eating whatever we didn’t want to go bad from the refrigerator food we put outside in the snow (it was colder out there than in the fridge) our daily meals consisted of deciding what had thawed out enough that it needed to be eaten NOW and we had nothing but potstickers for dinner that night. By the second night, they had thawed out – probably perfectly safe but they had congealed into one big mass of dough with little meatballs. It hurt more to throw those away than the expensive roast that had to go into the trash; the roast may have cost more but didn’t take hours to make.
    My partially whole wheat flour potstickers
    My partially whole wheat flour potstickers