Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Overcoming Creative Blocks


 Last week I wrote about some of the common blocks to creativity. This week I thought I'd list some of my favorite ways to overcome them. Here are my top four.

Do Something
The simple act of entering your workspace can spur ideas. Begin by cleaning or straightening. Pull out items from your stash and play with them. Hang up works in progress and brainstorm next steps.  You might want to keep a list of things to work on when you find yourself with no inspiration.

Daily Practice
Just as you need to keep your muscles active to prevent atrophy, you need to keep your creative “muscle” in shape. Make a goal of doing at least one creative thing every day. You might want to begin a visual journal or come up with short activities you can do to exercise your creativity.

Allot time each week or month to try something new. It might be a new technique, a new medium, a variation of something you already do. The idea is to expose yourself to new things, which often opens the mind and brings in new ideas. Make sure you keep in the spirit of play and avoid judging the result.
(The photo above is a piece I created while playing with textured gel mediums and acrylic paint. I really enjoy working with them and now I incorporate them into some of my fiber pieces.)  

Idea Journal
Our best ideas always seem to come when we least expect it. When do you get your best ideas? In the shower? In bed at 4 in the morning? On the way to work? Develop a system to capture those ideas. It might be a notebook you carry with you, it might be an app on your smartphone or tablet, it might be a tape recorder. It’s great to have a stash of ideas to look through for inspiration.
What is your favorite way to overcome a creative block?

Read more strategies for overcoming creative blocks.

If you could use some help in overcoming your creative blocks, join me in my online class, Re-Discover Your Creative Self.  The materials are now available online and you can sign up through the end of February. Work at your own pace and join in the class discussion if you have questions or want to share your thoughts.(For more information, visit my website.)

Monday, January 28, 2013

More "Now Points"

Last summer I spent a month working on some compositions that were inspired by a quote. (Time is not a line, but a series of now-points. -Taisen Deshimaru)

I was drawn to that quote because it is a good reminder that we should focus our energies on each moment as it comes. That is all we really have. I see it as a hopeful message, because it doesn't matter what we did with our "now-points" in the past.  Each moment is an opportunity for redemption.  An opportunity to treat others with compassion, to take a step toward our goals, to live in the manner we desire. 

I created numerous medium-sized pieces to determine my approach for two longer pieces of art cloth (9 ft x 3 ft). The ultimate goal was a juried exhibition for the Art Cloth Network. I finished my two pieces just in time for the deadline.

Now Points: Journey
Journey, detail view

Journey may look somewhat familiar.  I created a smaller piece as a study and wrote about it in a
previous blog. 

Now Points: Converging Paths
Converging Paths, detail view
The first piece was accepted into the exhibition, Interpretations. Later this spring, we'll have photos of all the pieces that were accepted into the exhibition available to view online.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Public Art San Antonio

San Antonio is a wonderful place to live as an artist. (It's great even if you aren't an artist.) It offers numerous programs that support the arts. One of these programs is the Public Art program. This program is responsible for both permanent and temporary exhibits. The temporary exhibit program has expanded over the past few years and showcases local artists' work in public buildings throughout the city.

I have the honor of being one of the artists chosen for the 2013 temporary exhibit program. Other participating artists include:Jane Dunnewold, John Dyer, Andrea Huerta, Norma Jean Moore, Sabine Senft, Luis Valderas and James Woodard.

Last night the city held a small reception for the artists to show us the exhibits in the City Hall and Municipal Building. The artwork is exceptional and it really adds warmth to the public spaces. The lighting wasn't the best for photography, however they will eventually be posted on the PASA website, Below is a photo of two of my pieces, located outside the city manager's office.

What types of public art programs does your city offer?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Screen Printing with Stencils, Part Two

Last week I showed you some of the screen printing stencils I created with interfacing and acrylic paint. Today I have photos of stencils I created using resists. I use resists on silkscreens quite often. It is a great way to do deconstructed or breakdown printing, because as you apply the wet medium, the resist breaks down, changing the pattern as you work.  That can be a disadvantage, however, if you want a particular design and don't want the breakdown to occur. That's where the stencils come in.  I thought it would be a good way to create a design that can be used indefinitely. The resist is applied to the stencil. When it dries, paint is applied over the open areas. Then the resist is washed off, leaving behind a pattern.

A little warning: the process is not for the faint of heart. Depending on which resists you use, it can be difficult to wash the resist out of the interfacing. I found flour paste and mashed potatoes particularly difficult to remove. It is also more time consuming than just applying paint to the interfacing. Depending on which resist you use, it can take 2 or three days to complete a stencil. Not good for those who want instant gratification.

If you want to try this yourself, two things to keep in mind.  First, the thickness of the interfacing does matter.  I prefer medium weight. Very thin interfacing becomes fragile when wet and tears easily.  Heavy weight interfacing absorbs so much dye or paint that it is hard to get a good print. Second, you may need to use several coats of paint to completely block the interfacing. 

The first stencil was created by applying flour paste resist with a spring whisk. The areas which had the flour paste become the open areas that the paint or dye goes through.

Flour paste resist

For this stencil, flour paste was applied to the entire piece of interfacing. Then a wire whisk was pressed into the flour to remove some of the paste.

The last flour paste sample I created is shown below. I applied flour paste to the entire piece of interfacing, then used a window chamois to remove some of the flour paste. The three stencils form a nice suite, don't you think?

Soy wax is a bit easier to wash out than flour paste. The stencil below was created by stamping the wax on the interfacing with a square sponge.

It is a bit difficult to see the above design in the sample, since it was created with several layers of stencil screen prints.

This stencil is one of my favorites, although it took forever to get all the mashed potatoes washed out. I applied instant mashed potatoes over the entire piece of interfacing. When it dried, the potatoes cracked into large chunks.

Have you tried  interfacing screen printing stencils? What were your results?

Monday, January 21, 2013

In a Creative Slump?

 Post-holiday blues got you down? No motivation or ideas flowing your way? Been away from your art so long, you aren't sure how to get back into it? You aren't alone! I've been in a creative slump on and off for the past 4 months. I've been through this before, and I know how to work though it.  So when it came time to plan my online classes for January, I jumped at the idea of teaching a creativity workshop.  I relished the opportunity to go through all my books on creativity and review all the techniques and tricks I've learned over the years. I knew that by sharing these techniques with others, it would motivate me as well.
(You can read about my success story in the last paragraph.)

A good place to start is to become aware of what is blocking your creativity. A number of things can cause you to lose touch with your creative side.  Below are some of the most common.

Stresses of daily life
Who doesn’t have stress in their lives?  A certain amount is expected.  However occasionally something happens to kick up the stress levels – troubles on the job, a sick loved one, financial issues. It is normal to feel disconnected from creative thoughts at these times. However this is the time when you most need a creative outlet.

Negative thoughts
Even the most positive among us occasionally thinks “I’m just not creative” or “Who am I kidding, I can’t do this”. It's easy to let those thoughts take over and to give up on creative pursuits.

Some people put enormous pressure on themselves – either to complete things in an unrealistic time frame or by feeling that everything they create has to be a perfect. The harsh truth is, not everything you create will be great.  (This is still a problem for me - I want everything I create to be a masterpiece. Ha!) Probably only one out of 10 pieces will be really great. One or two may be awful and the rest of them will be good or acceptable. Putting on the pressure stifles creativity. Allowing yourself to fail puts you one step closer to something really good.

Attachment to a specific outcome
It’s hard not to have any expectations, but they can blind us. I visited an artist’s studio years ago and saw a beautiful ceramic urn she had created. I commented on how much I liked it and was told it was destined for the trash because it didn’t turn out the way she wanted. All she saw was failure, rather than seeing the beauty that was there. Just because a piece doesn't meet your vision doesn't mean it is worthless.

Fear is a big creativity killer. People are afraid of lots of things – of what others will think, of trying something new, of failure. And fear often disguises itself, so it may take a bit of probing to determine the underlying fear.

What are your biggest creativity blocks? 

If you could use some help in overcoming your creative blocks, join me in my online class, Re-Discover Your Creative Self.  The materials will be available online beginning Tuesday, January 29 and you can sign up through the end of February. Work at your own pace and join in the class discussion if you have questions or want to share your thoughts.(For more information, visit my website.)

Now for the rest of my story. As I began to develop the workshop, I found myself becoming excited and energized.That energy extended beyond class development and into my work.  The end result - I've been waking at 6 every morning full of ideas for a new piece. Next week I'm taking a week long independent study at Art Cloth Studios, so I'll have all week to follow through on my ideas.  I can't wait!

Read my blog post about strategies for overcoming blocks.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Communicating Through Cloth

Many cultures have developed methods for creating cloth that imparts meaning through woven patterns, printed designs and embroidered imagery. I've become particularly interested in adinkra cloth, which originated in Ghana. Adinkra is a technique in which symbols are stamped on the cloth.  There are hundreds of adinkra symbols, each with its own meaning. When the symbols are stamped on the cloth in the traditional grid pattern, the cloth created has its own unique message. Adinkra cloth was traditionally used for funerals. “Adinkra” essentially means a message to one whose soul has departed. The family of the deceased works with an adinkra artisan to choose symbols reflecting the life and the qualities of the individual who has passed on. Once completed, the adinkra cloth is worn by the family at the funeral.

Over time, adinkra has begun to be used for other rituals, including weddings and baby naming ceremonies. Today in Ghana, adinkra symbols are common on everyday artifacts – signs, pottery and clothing. While commercially printed fabric with adinkra symbols is readily available, hand-stamped adinkra is still used, particularly for sacred rites and rituals.

Traditional adinkra cloth from Ghana

 The traditional process of creating a hand-stamped adinkra cloth is very time consuming. The ink is created from the bark of a locally available tree, the badee. Adinkra cloth is typically made up of several long panels sewn together. The adinkra symbols are created with stamps made from a calabash gourd.

Visit the link at the end of the post for a detailed description of the process and to see photos of adinkra artisans at work.

Below is an adinkra cloth created for a newly married couple. The symbols represent love and devotion, cooperation and interdependence, united hearts and the presence of Spirit.

This is a baby quilt created for one of my grandchildren.  The symbols represent wisdom and creativity, learning from the past, strength and humility, safety and security and reconciliation.

Below is a silk prayer shawl. The symbols represent faith, the presence of Spirit, eternal life, and the soul.

If you would like to learn how to make your own adinkra cloth, join me for my online class or my 2 day retreat.

The online class allows you to work at your own pace in your own workspace. The workshop files are available beginning next Tuesday and you can sign up through March 1.  Learn more

The retreat provides a hands on opportunity to explore adinkra cloth in more depth.    Learn more

For more information about the traditional adinkra process, visit

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Screenprinting with Stencils

I've been creating a variety of stencils to use with a blank silkscreen.  I haven't done it in awhile and forgot how much fun it is! My goal was to come up with imagery for a new series. I learned about using interfacing as a stencil from Jane Dunnewold. The basic idea is to apply acrylic paint to the interfacing to block out a pattern.  Then you tape that to the back of a blank silkscreen. The paint or dye, when pulled through the screen, will not go through the areas that are painted. It is a convenient way to create a silkscreen without dedicating the screen to one image.

I also tried lutradur as an alternative to interfacing.  It is more open, so it doesn't work as well, although I did get some interesting patterns from it. I also used window sheer fabric. Below are some of the stencils I created and the corresponding print. I'll post part two (resists on interfacing stencils) once I get the photos taken.

Acrylic paint brushed through lace

Acrylic paint brushed through lace

Acrylic paint brushed through lace on lutradur

Acrylic paint brushed onto sheer polyester fabric

Monday, January 14, 2013

If You Create Art Cloth, Here's A Great Opportunity

I've been a member of the Art Cloth Network for four years. I have found that the opportunities for community, conversation, inspiration and sharing of techniques and resources has benefited me both personally and professionally. We limit our group to 30 members and when membership falls below that, we open up to new individuals. The Network is now accepting applications. If you are interested in joining our group, please read on for more information. You may also email me if you have questions about the group.

Our group is focused on art cloth and its specific surface design techniques and approaches.  This includes making lengths of cloth, rather than just small samples or fat quarters. While some of us also make art quilts or mixed media work, as a group we focus on art cloth. Please read the information about art cloth on our website and look at examples, to make sure that you are interested in this field.  Only those artists who submit examples of art cloth that meet this description will be considered for membership.
We meet as a group every 9 to14 months in different regions of the United States, usually between August and October. Since these meetings are critical to our growth and vitality, we require attendance at two out of five consecutive meetings. Your membership will begin with the first meeting you attended. Members bring and discuss their work at these meetings, and share other professional concerns and opportunities. Previous meetings have been in Texas, Minnesota, Illinois, Florida, California, Georgia, Arizona, and New Jersey. Only applicants who can and will attend the next meeting will be accepted into the Art Cloth Network during this membership call period. That meeting will be in Evanston, Illinois from September 19th – 22nd, 2013. Full details about the conference and this financial commitment will be mailed to those extended a membership invitation.
We also produce a new exhibit annually, with a call for entries each year. Since opportunities for showing art cloth are limited, this is an important membership benefit. Members are required to enter three of five calls for entry in order to maintain their membership status.
The current deadline for membership applications is March 15, 2013, and you can send in your application materials at any time prior to the deadline. You will be notified by April 15, 2013 whether your application has been approved. 
Send a request to in order to receive detailed information and application instructions.
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