June 26, 2008

It's Not a Linear Process

Two years ago I received as a gift, from someone who knows me well, some catalpa leaves that were wonderfully weather beaten and tattered. I made some prints that I was all excited about, and hung them up on the design wall. Then I got distracted by other projects that were currently underway, and deadlines that had to be met, and so on and so forth.

I thought about the catalpa prints from time to time, and painted some fabrics in similar colorways that could prove useful, but that was as far as it went.

Yesterday I found myself in a park outside of my usual rounds, looked up, and realized that I was standing under an enormous old catalpa. I took a lots of pictures, from all possible angles, and some of them turned out very well.
So now I am all excited again. I'm thinking about ways to combine the prints and the pictures, and what kind of orientation to use, and how I want the piece to flow. One day soon I hope to carve out the time to completely immerse in the intensive work of putting the top together. Then there will probably be a break, short or long, while I assimilate what I've done and contemplate how to do the stitching. That will be followed by the grunt work of wrangling it under the machine for the quilting, adding the binding, and possibly the many meditative hours of beading.

Next there's the photography and photo editing, adding it to the website, and other documentation. I'll enter it into shows, hope it gets accepted somewhere, and keep track of shipping schedules.

I enjoy every part of the process, with the possible exception of the binding, but it's not a linear one. The physical work progresses in certain steps, but they are not always orderly. And the really important part, the conceptualization, can be encouraged but not forced.

So I am often at a loss when I am asked about a piece "how long did that take"? I am thrilled when someone cares enough about my work to talk with me about it, so I try my best to answer. Sometimes it's just an icebreaker of a question, a way to start a dialogue, and I can talk about the process and what's involved, and we go from there.

Other times there is genuine and understandable curiosity about the actual number of hours involved. I've read that some quilters actually keep a time sheet, but I am not one of them. Where would I start? The hike I took to discover the plants? The photography and editing? The time spend making prints? The years invested in collecting fabrics and working on technical skills? How could I possibly quantify the time spent corralling inspiration and wrestling design principles to the ground? So my standard answer in this scenario is, "this piece took several hundred hours", which is surely true!


Carol Sloan said...

That's a tough question...someone ask me that when my husband (who had watched, suggested, begged for attention, etc while I wasworking on any given piece) and his answer was to laugh manically...go figure.
(lurking from the quilt art mail list) I love your work!

Anonymous said...

It's not being aware of the time passing while conceptualizing and working on it that makes the whole process so rewarding.

I can't wait to see your Catalpa quilt develop....

Mary Manahan

Anonymous said...

I was asked to estimate the amount of time involved when entering a local show. I gave it serious thought and wrote what I considered an acceptable amount of time, all things considered. I didn't win any ribbons, but found a note instead.
"What a wonderful, joyous use of time and effort."
I wish I knew who left it, it appeared I was the only recipient also.
It's been 5yrs, I still beam when I think of it. That was a gift from an angel.