December 3, 2008

Picking colors, Inate Ability, and Talent

I had a lovely time this morning picking fabrics and colors to use in the Watt & Shand work(s) in progress. (If you are new here, you can track back by clicking on Watt & Shand under "labels" in the right sidebar.) Not all of these will make it into the final work; there will be additions and subtractions as I go along, but I'm happy that I've established the basic color palette. It looks a bit muted, perhaps, laid out like this, but rest assured that it will evolve into something more energetic. That's the potential downside of showing work in progress--I know where it's headed, but it might not look like much to you. I'm willing to take that risk in the hope that it's still interesting watching the process unfold.

I work very hard at what I do, both in terms of time put in and effort expended; I take this job very seriously. But picking colors is so much fun because it's not hard at all. It's clear and obvious what's needed, and thrilling when I find it in the stash, or paint or print it to fit. I am lucky in that I was born with a good color sense, just like some people are born with perfect musical pitch. I can take no credit for developing it, it's just there.

I once walked into a fabric store and got all excited (yes, I'm easily amused) at finding an acid green and hot pink solid cotton in hues I hadn't seen in commercial fabrics for a long time. It reminded me of a print dress I had sewn for myself way back in the late sixties. When I dug the scraps out of my mother's attic it was a perfect match for the newly acquired solids, and I learned that my color memory accurately goes back for decades. Here's a bit of the print:

And a small quilt it inspired, called "Painted Daisy", with a cyanotype on cotton. I used the print scraps for the backing of the quilt, which is now residing in Scotland.

But I digress.....and I'll wander a bit further before bringing it back around. I know a man who is a natural with dogs; they admire him and want to please and obey him. When he is out and about, dogs show up from who-knows-where to keep him company and do his bidding. I, on the other hand, despite being a great admirer of the canine race, was not born with the ability to command their respect, and it was a source of discontent and inconvenience to me. With my last dog, I made a concerted effort to be the leader of the pack, working on changing my voice and cadence, my stance and the non-verbal cues so important to dogs, and even my expectations of obedience. It was a long process, but eventually I gained the skills I needed. I am probably prouder of getting a dog to take me seriously and "sit", than I am of being able to go fabric shopping without swatches.
So. Which is more valuable, an innate skill, or a laboriously acquired one? Which is more meaningful? Which type of skill is more likely to drive one to create and excel? Is it better to be the musician who practices every day and faces down stage fright each night, or the one who takes their talent so much for granted they squander it?
Ideally, of course, we balance the talents that come easily with the ones we had to work for to make a harmonious whole, but that's easier said than done. Personally, I have a tendency to work with such focus I forget to have fun. Picking out fabrics today was fun.


Virginia A. Spiegel said...

Sue - Interesting discussion. I pursued my first career (acadmics) to the exclusion of all other interests. When I finally found a creative outlet (fiber), it was pure joy and it eventually overwhelmed my "real" career. Making art is often a struggle, but I see it as a skill to be practiced, through bountiful times and drought times. If art making came easily, I would probably discount it and move on. Thanks for sharing your process. Virginia

Wen Redmond said...

As artists, color is supeR important. I once had a discussion with a musician and we compared the 7 colors to the 7 notes- each vibrating at a different frequency. As I go through my life I have color constant favorites and others that I desire as time goes on. I believe we are attracted to the color we need at the moment we need it.
Your post is thought provoking and I shall continue this on my blog!

Susie Monday said...

You do have a gift for color! And so I'd say that's part of your strong suits. I've just finished a book that addresses some of this about innate skills and their nurturance. For more: