Let me start by saying I've had the urge to make stuff for as long as I can remember. My mom jokes about how anytime she needed a pair of scissors or some scotch tape she knew where to look-- in my room. I have an early memory of getting in big trouble because I was up at my desk cutting paper chains instead of in bed sleeping. I must have been four or five. I was lucky to have an artist mom and family that encouraged my desire to make stuff. I had weaving looms, paper, art supplies, and jewelry making kits galore. In high school, I decided to pursue art seriously. I took every art class they offered (which was a lot at my high school). High school art was great. I had incredibly supportive and inspiring teachers and I feel like some of my best artworks were made during this time.
Mixed media piece done in high school. It's a story quilt about my grandfather, inspired by Faith Ringgold. I wasn't sewing then. All the fabric is crudely stitched together by hand. There's some xerox transfers and painting in there as well.
College art was a little different. I still had great art classes and have some works I'm very proud of. But it wasn't as accommodating as high school art. In college, I felt the pressure to be a fine artist. Fine art, imo, is supposed to be academic. It's about technical skill as well as expression. My artwork needed to be refined, polished but also conceptually slick. That's a lot of pressure. That's a lot to expect from every artwork and makes it really hard to get started. There also seems to be a competitive nature to being a fine artist. I should say that I didn't feel this kind of pressure in every class I took, but a lot of them I did. I noticed it the most when I was studying abroad, surprisingly. I should also point out that I don't think there's anything wrong with wanting to be a serious artist. In fact, I have the utmost respect for people who try. But for me, I felt like some of that pressure was taking away from the fun of just making art.
Sagrada Familia Study
Oil on paper, done in grad school
Fast forward a few years and I am teaching art to five hundred elementary students every week, ages five through eleven. It's fun. Very fun and entertaining, but also exhausting. Kids have that desire to just want to make art. They don't really care whether or not it's a masterpiece. At least not the little ones. I can see that in my students and it is refreshing. Two years ago, though, I was not making any sort of art at all. Yes, I was an art teacher. But not an artist. I wasn't even making examples for art lessons except when I absolutely had to. Part of it was time. Being an art teacher requires so much time and energy. Especially now with increased class sizes and almost no planning time. But part of it was the pressure to be an artist.
Then sewing came along in the form of giant 16 foot tipi. I was hooked the first time I threaded the machine for J. All of sudden, I was making things again. I was making things and not feeling the pressure. I was enjoying the creative process for just what it was-- creating something. At first, I separated sewing as a craft-- not really related to making art. In fact, the first time I wore a handmade item out, a friend commented that I was "crafty." I was kind of offended. I didn't want to be crafty, I wanted to be artsy. But over the last year I've realized that is a misunderstanding I've had about art for a long time. It's not about having this tangible, intellectual end-product. It's about the means that gets you there. Process over product.
Sewing has changed my teaching style. I focus much more on the development of an artwork than I used to. I like to think it's made me a better art teacher. I try to make my students aware of the higher order thinking skills they are using when they are making art. It's all about decision-making and thinking for yourself, something kids don't do a lot of in school nowadays. Information is not handed to you in art. Your ability to recall that information is not what is important, but how you use it is. The heart and soul of making art, expression, is something intangible. There's no right or wrong in art. I try to remember that for a child, sometimes just the joy of making something is enough reason to do it. Something to remind myself of, too.
And you know what? I've started making some art again here lately. Not anything too involved. Mainly I draw and doodle at school. I forgot how much I love to draw. I take the time to make an example before I teach a lesson. Sometimes I make something along with students. I think it's nice for them to see me doing it, too. I haven't started anything big like a painting (in the "academic" sense of the word), but I'm close to trying again. I'd love to illustrate a kid's book one day.
A drawing I did of little kitty. You remember her from this post? I did it when the kids were doing a drawing exercise on point of view and was really tickled with it when I finished.
So, what in the world does this post have to do with the question, "Has sewing changed your life?" I just sort of talked about art, didn't I? Well, I know it's kind of all over the place but that's just where I'm at right now. I feel like sewing is changing my life. In the process. I have all these dots out there right now- art making, art teaching, sewing, kid art and design- and I'm just trying to connect them all. (I feel like furniture should be one of those dots, too.) Maybe I'll wrangle all the dots in and figure out something really awesome to do one day, maybe not. I'm content where I am but it's fun to think about anyway. Fun to write about it, too.
Alright, enough of my scattered thoughts. I enjoyed putting this down on (digital?) paper. Feel free to comment. I'd love to hear your thoughts on sewing vs. art, or just on the creative process in general. Something I'm very interested in as an art teacher. I still haven't totally resolved my feelings on art vs. craft, but it seems silly to totally differentiate between the two. Also worth mentioning that I find it way harder to post pictures of my art opposed to pictures of things I've sewn :)