Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Zen of tapestry

If you want to be a tapestry artist you need to be willing to unweave as much as you weave. That became crystal clear to me these last few weeks. I spent about 3 weeks laying the foundation of my piece, City Life. I decided to border the scene with the street and curb, putting the viewer at the corner looking along both sides of the sidewalk. I looked at photos of curbs and decided that mine would be a three-part curb with a horizontal apron, a vertical step and a horizontal element that met the sidewalk. I had put in all the elements and was starting on the sidewalk when I took a rough rendering of the scene to my study group. Immediately my mentor and another member of the group saw a glaring error. I had carefully measured the different pieces of the street and curb and wove them taking care to keep each element straight. The problem was that I forgot about perspective. Yes, shame on me, an art history teacher to forget about linear perspective, I even test my students on the concept in their midterm.

So what to do. Well there were several suggestion. I could make it a frame but it would only be on 2 sides. I could ignore it and say I meant to do it, or (and this hurt) I could take it out and start again. Well after a bit of pouting and scheming (I even missed my exit on the way home, I was concentrating so hard on how to resolve the problem) I decided to take the hard road and take it out. But that was not before I tried to push up what I wanted to save and needle weave the offending elements back in. Of course that didn't work, I created pulls and messed up the spacing on the part I was pushing around. "Ah, hell," I thought, "just do it and get it done with. You know you won't be happy with it until you make it right." So for 2 1/2 days I unwove three weeks worth of work. It is amazing how much easier it is to take things out than it is to put it in. Luckily I had plenty of bobbins to wind with the yarn. I was the recipient of about 100 quite nice bobbins from a friend in my weavers guild and even after I took a passel to the study group for use by newbies I still had enough to keep everything in order. I guess I won't have to wind a bobbin for quite some time (there is a silver lining for every cloud).

So two weeks later I am back where I started. The curb is now two parts with the vertical element dwindling away as the sidewalk moves away from the viewer. The longer element, the part that is right now going up the side of the tapestry will reverse this trend with the top of the curb eventually disappearing as the vertical part become more visible. It is hard to see how that will look right now but I think it is a better resolution.

I guess it is all about subordinating your own ego to the image. I may have been pleased with how straight my lines were, how good my selvages were but I would not have been pleased with the effect they had on the overall scene. So instead of worrying about the time spent doing and undoing it I decided to get into the zen of weaving. I weave for enjoyment and for creativity.

When I was doing research for my master's thesis I visited an embroidery guild in London. The women I talked to told me that they were not as interested in getting the stitch right, as they were in pushing the envelope. They said that this was the difference between them and American artists. They suggested that we are too caught up in the process to be willing to take creative risks. I was impressed with this and try to live by the same creed. So now I think about what works for the overall image. I am still trying to keep my edges straight and my spacing correct but if I have to take measures to fix it that are not exactly technically correct then I am fine with that. These measures will become design elements rather than crappeaux (not sure that is the way it is spelled but I know you tapestry artists all know what I mean). Twining to help realign spacing will be incorporated into the piece where needed. I like the dimensionality it adds to the piece. A little dip here and there will be preserved as part of the perspective of the piece.

So the project continues on, sometimes forward sometimes backward. I am sure this will not the be last time I will have to take something out so I will just get into the zen of weaving and not worry about it. Ah, life is like Persephone's cloth woven and unwoven each and every day. How deep is that?