As an artist/designer/craftsperson, I rarely felt alienated from my work during Pandemic 1.0, although the work and focus have certainly changed. Fortunately, inspiration abounds and I continue to make, if only for myself(!). We can all probably attest to the the foundation not feeling as steady as it did before – not quite back to “normal”…and sometimes, we may feel we (collectively) are regressing…. but we press on. And so it goes in my world. Here’s what’s been happening (at least some of it) and what’s on the horizon.
The third piece in my natural dye series revolves around printing/mark-making (specifically on cloth) with thickened natural dyes. 9/18-19/21, SEFAA Center, Atlanta, Georgia. Learn more.
Much of my decorative and fine art work is created with naturally dyed cloth, including emerging 3-dimensional work and hand-stitched, applique layered modules. This work continues. See more about 3-D and Stitched Modules.
My “artisan apparel” line, Petal-Una Collection continues, for now. This container for my wearable work is now entering its 10th year! From this point forward, I’ll be celebrating its unfolding as I continue to create a limited number of RTW and custom hand-dyed/painted/printed wearable pieces. Look for changes in the coming year as this part of my practice enters its next phase. Visit the Petal Website to see more.
Winding down a crazy year with a final studio update. I thank you for following and look forward to the possibility of seeing you in the new year! K.C.
I’ve been busy with several strands of work since the year began. Each have, in their own way, been integral to my overall practice. Some of them will continue to be so. Here are the highlights:
Natural Dyes. In keeping with my work earlier this year as well as in previous years, I continue my deepening understanding of natural dyes and their applications. In recent months, I have worked in a more focused way with yellow and brown tannins (Cutch and Pomegrante primarily). By blending these tannins with Indigo, and shifting them with iron, a surprisingly wide range of surface design possibilities exist. You can see some of my recent results with Pomegranate rind in my Instagram/FB feed.
Stitching. The work I have been doing with stitching has proved to be incredibly beneficial as a centering practice, as calming as it is creatively stimulating.I recently posted on a diptych I created for the 2020 Hambidge Auction. These stitched works began as modules for a natural dye sampler quilt. As I began to stitch more frequently, I realized that their creation offered space and time for intentional grounding. To that extent, the modules have become elements of a personal time capsule – part of the narrative work that will mark my pandemic experience. As both singularities and parts of a larger composite, they tell me a story of an effort to find some sort of stability in a very unstable, uncertain time. Hand stitching, especially the running stitch, can be deeply spiritual in its repetitive, focused, quiet rhythms. I have found in “stitch space” a calm refuge – necessary more than ever right now.
Artwork: 3-D. I have also begun building 3-dimensional “containers” or “vessels” which I am collectively calling “Receptive”. They are slow-going and emerge when the time is right. 2-D – My work with Black Walnut Hull and other inks continues, as does my work with enhanced monoprints. I will have more to say about these streams of work in the future.
And finally…Petal-Una Collection. Petal continues to be a destination for much of the naturally dyed/painted/printed cloth I produce in the studio. While it has been a slow year, I still managed to pull together a diverse collection. The images below include Cutch, iron-modified Cutch, and Indigo-dyed pieces. I am already brimming with enthusiasm and possibility for the 2021 collection! Visit Petal-Una Collection.
This year, I was invited to submit work to The Hambidge Center auction (www.hambidgeauction.org). If you don’t know about it, Hambidge is a non-profit arts center in the North Georgia mountains offering short-term residencies, as well as other programs and events. I have not yet experienced a residency, but my work has – in years past, I have had pieces in the Weave Shed Gallery at the mountain campus; I’ve also had work in past auctions. I have always felt honored to be included with the amazing and diverse group of artists featured at each auction.
While an historically live event, things are a bit different this year. Much of the process will take place virtually. As an adjunct to that, I thought I would tell you a bit about the pieces I have in the auction. Bidding started on 10/9/20 and will continue until 9:00 pm on October 24. Typically there are two components to the auction – one, a fixed-price gallery with 2-D works and then the auction itself.
My offering for the fixed-price segment is entitled “Network One” – Monoprint on paper, enriched with ink, pastel and gold leaf. It is a stand-alone artwork part of a larger and continuing series of pieces with the same character and foundation. I was trained in a discipline (Landscape Architecture) which, at the time, relied on hand-rendering/2-D graphic skills for project design, process mapping, and previsualization. (I went to school during that window when working in CAD was an elective pursuit!) Fast-forward, as a textile and fiber artist I continue to spend a certain amount of time working on paper. Much of my 2-D work now is still rendered by hand and is primarily process sketching. Occasionally though, the results become part of a different sort of thought process. The idea of “networks” is not a new one in art, and especially not in fiber art. This is my contribution to that conversation. This work is on-going. Check out more from the series here.
My main piece is Sheltering in Place: A Meditation Series – Weld Appliqué Diptych This project was launched at the beginning of “lockdown” (March, 2020) as part of an on-going exploration of natural dyes. As time passed, the repetitive rhythm of hand stitching became a source of daily calm during the anxious early days of the pandemic. As a diptych, they are metaphorically “hinged” by process and intention. As part of a series, they are a witness to the moment and reservoir of hope for the future.
I continue to work with natural dyes and create these modules. While I have several other pieces along these lines, the fresh, Spring-like, warmth of the Weld color feels the essence of hope as we continue to slog our way through this current version of normal. I hope you will visit the auction and support the Center (www.hambidge.org). Here is a video short I put together about the Sheltering piece and process.
Fall approaches and, as expected, we are all still riding the pandemic wave, hopefully able to adapt to this new meta-reality, one which is not likely to change for some time. I will soon follow this post with a studio update, but I had a few ideas to share in connection with a book I recently read (actually listened to, since I spend a lot of time working in my studio) – The Death of the Artist: How Creators are Struggling to Survive in the Age of Billionaires and Big Tech, by William Deresiewicz. It was published in July of this year but was written pre-pandemic. The book is dense and there is plenty of commentary and criticism to explore elsewhere online. However, the book definitely stimulated my thinking about what it means to be an artist in the early 21st century. I don’t agree fully with its conclusions or some of its recommended solutions, but much of the book rings true. If you refer to yourself as an Artist, you will want to read the book and draw your own conclusions. Here are just a few of my own (surprisingly motivational) observations – maybe they will resonate for you too.
The posts on this platform address my experiences as an artist / designer / craftsperson* – these have not fundamentally changed during the current pandemic. As noted and evident throughout Deresiewicz’s book, navigating The World and its economic terrain as a creative professional** is fraught with chills and spills, to which I and every artist/designer/craftsperson I know can attest. I love what I do, but challenges exist. Wherever we are on the continuum, we have to attend to the needs of body (as well as mind and spirit). Choices must always be made and for most of us that means, in part, doing something to pay the bills. I have worked “in the world” to meet many of those needs. I am currently able to work full-time as an artist / designer / craftsperson and a lot of that work still takes place “in the world,” except that it is nearly always provisional (a fact on which I prefer not to dwell). Committing to a life as a creative professional without a financial safety net requires a certain amount of blind trust, incredible motivation, and a deranged desire to manifest a personal vision. It can be pretty daunting (if not impossible) to sustain this level of energy and commitment day-in-day-out, especially as one ages. Throw in a pandemic and attendant economic downturn and it might be downright suffocating – exposing and nearly extinguishing the fire at the heart of what has always been a fragile and uncertain proposition. And, as Deresiewicz notes, these insecurities have an impact on the nature of the Art one makes.
However…..In the face of the current and continuing challenge to the arts and artists on all fronts, I find numerous bright spots. First, I think this pandemic era, as horrifying and dislocating as it has been, has given us an opportunity to see and appreciate with greater depth our humanity and our frailty. This feels crucial: artists must be able to take this perspective if we are to speak to the concerns of our time with authenticity. Second, importantly, we have the opportunity to look at our historical past as a point of reference for understanding our current lives and predicaments. Where art/artists, etc. are concerned, the body of historical evidence demonstrates that the means and media of transmission, the financing of the work, and the nature of one’s audience are neither stable from one era to the next, nor generally within our control. This we know with certainty. For example, step back a spell and rather than “Billionaires” and “Big Tech” (to use Deresiewicz’s behemoths), you find the Church. For centuries, the Holy Roman Empire garnered the power to profoundly influence the type of art being made, the manner in which it was made, and the lives and exertions of those who made it. On this point, Deresiewicz reminds his readers that the makers of art during the “Middle Ages” (much of it architectural and commissioned by the Church), comprised countless anonymous artisans and craftspeople. The concepts of Art as a stand-alone discipline and Artist as individual/inspired genius did not come until later.
That leads me to some closing thoughts (and thank you for persevering). We are likely living through another great transformation. Historians will be able to put it into clear perspective later, but it is apparent that ideas, information, and other cultural and social underpinnings (not to mention our physical world) are in serious flux. That can feel pretty destabilizing, and it is actually. But is also full of possibility, and that is an energizing prospect. Adopting a broader historical perspective, whenever possible, can help to dissipate some of the anxiety we feel as individuals, whether as creative professionals/practitioners in contemporary culture, as members of a civic body, or as friends, spouses, parents, children, sisters and brothers. Further, if we define Art as the product of “individual creative (wealthy/well-appointed) geniuses”, then it has historically only been easy for and accessible to the lucky few (notwithstanding the seemingly arbitrary nature of the criteria for their selection). That mean that the rest of us still have to get up every morning, face our limitations and do the Work anyway, because we have been “called” to do so. Thinking about ourselves as creative beings traveling along a historically rich and varied continuum feels more inviting, inclusive and open-ended.
Embracing my life as a creative expeditioner has given me “permission” to renew my commitment, to mark the spot and get busy making (and living), each day hoping that the mastery of balance between needs of the body/mind and the needs of spirit will be forthcoming!
The scope of my practice layers the sensibilities embodied by all legs of the primary triad of creative disciplines: Art, Craft and Design.
**I know the word creative is off-putting to some but I am using this is a broad sense to include the full spectrum of the arts, “fine” art, literary arts, the “applied” arts (design, craft), as well as the performance arts. Deresiewicz looks at the broad categories gathering anecdotal evidence from practitioners to support his arguments.
My personal response to this unusual time in history has been varied, moving from a fear-based emotional roller-coaster ride to an increasingly calm, pragmatic, and emotionally sustainable progression, punctuated by moments of true equanimity. It is the uncertainty that gnaws the most, but more reason to come to accept and befriend it. In addition to staying as connected as I can, my solution is to continue my work with as clear an intention as possible, staying the course. So, although shows and other events have canceled, the work continues. Here are some of the highlights so far this year:
The Sampler Quilt
I continue to print, paint and otherwise employ natural dyes in a variety of ways and use the by-products of that work to various ends. When I work with any dye class, I tend to have a lot of bits available for piecing. I am now deliberately creating pieces of cloth specifically for a sampler quilt, which I hope to have completed in the Fall of 2020. This may be ambitious but I am weekly working toward the goal. So far, I have 2 sets of modules either completed or being stitched (and appliquéd), one in Cochineal & Logwood; one in Cochineal, Logwood and Madder. Next up: Weld, Myrobalan and Pomegranate (alone and with Indigo). I am posting these results regularly on IG (@kathycoltartisan) and FB, and will certainly show the quilt as it grows.
My artisan apparel project progresses. I am determined to keep all lines of inquiry open in the studio and wearable work continues to offer opportunities for exploration and cross-fertilization. I’m also currently working on my web shop and exploring other means of sharing this work in the absence of my regular seasonal studio sales. If you’re interested in learning more about this work, follow this link.
I developed a curious aversion to “nuno” felting during my cancer experience. Perhaps the end of that line of work was looming anyway. In any case, now that I am in thrive mode (getting busy livin’), I am finally liberated from that particular prison of the mind, and have begun to reengage – not with felting per se – but with the ideas I was exploring through felting. This hiatus (and who knows how long it will last) has allowed me to incorporate new materials, forms, ideas and motivations, as well as explore the intersection between my chosen media and other non-fiber media. There is much more to come here. My eyes are wide open.
Before the “stuff” hit the fan, I was able to facilitate a workshop and also record further reflections on Indigo. Late last year, I had scheduled a workshop on direct application (painting/printing) with natural dyes. That was supposed to take place in late-June. It was, of course, canceled. Unfortunately, I have not yet found a way to convey this work on a digital platform without taking an inordinate amount of time from my studio activities, so that will have to steep some more. Perhaps all will be revealed in the coming months. Meanwhile, there is much to do elsewhere and I will still look forward to the time when we are able to gather again in a live workshop setting. (I trust this day will come again one day.)
Finally, It is an odd set of circumstances that leads us all to where we are at this moment. Life is short. There is much to do but still time to rest and receive. I am therefore grateful to my yoga teacher Uma Devi and her Guru, Swami Jaya Devi, at Kashi Atlanta, as well as Dunya McPherson and her work, DanceMeditation. Thanks to live-stream and the ubiquitous Zoom meeting, I have been able to reincorporate these vital movement pathways into my life. This has been a great gift in these times. Keep working on cultivating/activating those blissful moments in the studio, in your work, on the mat… and carry them into your lives as fully and as often as you can!
I recently facilitated an Indigo vat workshop at the SEFAA center in Atlanta. The focus was on learning about quick-reduction alternatives. (Fn 1). Naturally, we were dyeing with indigo as well. In the workshop we used a simple paste resist, along with traditional Japanese “mechanical” resist techniques, to make marks on our cloth. I, for one, came home feeling inspired by the spirit of exploration and experimentation shown by the participants. Lots of interesting results!
For artists/craftspeople/designers creating in the modern/post-modern reality, Indigo and its related processes offer elements of a studio “meta” practice which can provide a means of merging our deep archaic (pre-rational) and more recent, modern/postmodern (rational) sensibilities. Taking the time to witness the transformation of Indigo, from a pigment (its leuco “clear” state) to a dye accessible to fiber (its blue state), monitoring a vat on a daily basis and keeping it active – these can be conscious, intentional acts which begin to imbue the simple Indigo dyeing experience with deeper meaning. It does seems to me that to incorporate Indigo into our textile and fiber practice – to dye, spin, weave, stitch, print, paint, wear, utilize, admire – is to infuse our creative cycles with its essence and be invited to surrender to the larger Mystery, if only temporarily. And that is a very good thing. (Fn 2)
1. For the uninitiated, indigo manifests its blue color through an oxidative/reductive chemical process which is pretty cool and makes it distinct from other dyestuffs (except those derived from plants closely related to it). I am not a chemist although I am learning.
2. I hasten to add that there are many profound and elevated wisdom/spiritual traditions existing around the world – if you follow one of these paths, pursuing any creative process is an adjunct practice with deep historic and cross-cultural roots.
I am happy to announce the second installment of my natural dye series at the Southeast Fiber Arts Alliance. This time, we will look at two ways of achieving blue using natural Indigo pigment, one “chemical” and one “organic.” The synthetic pre-reduced indigo alternative will also be considered. This is a two-day workshop. We’ll build the vats on Day 1 and prepare samples for immersion, including pieces printed with a simple paste resist. Day 2 will be dedicated to using the vats, comparing and contrasting results. Saturday, February 8th through Sunday, February 9th. Both Sessions: 1-5 pm. For details visit: SEFAA Center/Indigo
It has been a full month since my last post. Teaching/facilitating technique through one-on-one, small and large group gatherings has become a more regular feature of my weekly activity list. Among other things, Indigo has figured prominently in this work. As noted elsewhere, I have also increasingly incorporated other natural dyes into my creative practice and will be facilitating another workshop this July at the Southeast Fiber Arts Alliance. See the sidebar for the link.
I have had three opportunities to share the indigo experience this year so far. One I mentioned in my last post. The two most recent were quite contrasting experiences: In one case, I worked with pre-reduced indigo serving 80+ participants during a “Family Fun Day” at the Michael C. Carlos Museum in Atlanta; in the other, I facilitated a gathering of two at my home studio, where we worked with resist paste and an organic indigo vat. Both events were inspiring, energizing and life-affirming. Here are some images:
Things have been quite busy in the studio and I realize I have not posted since November of 2018! (Again, best laid plans – I am beginning to see pattern here (wince)!) However, after this little update, I have some natural dye reflections I initiated back in March and never got around to publishing, among other things. As “archaic” as this format sometimes seems, it still has relevance across the spectrum. For me, it serves a real purpose, which I had lost track of for a spell but now reclaim: writing as process-witness.
My practice continues to evolve. Two full years after a cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment, I never thought I would find myself in a hopeful place around my studio work…but I do again. I finally found my way back to the heart of the work, to my true flow, and that feels pretty fabulous. The work begins to look and feel different to me although clearly on the continuum of a process begun so many years ago. And while I have never been one to rest too long on one technique – I am sure that is my Aries nature – I am still working with cloth and fiber because there is still so much there to explore!
So, before I resume essay-esque pursuits, I thought I might just provide an update for the record – a brief flashback to the first several months of 2019 as a way of clearing the way for whatever is to come.
January: Lots of natural dye experimentation – mostly direct application and immersion variations with indigo, madder, tannins and ferrous after-baths. Began working on my new wearable collection for the April open studio. I also began experimenting with alternate hand-stitch processes which have now been incorporated into some of my wearable work. In the midst of the studio experimentation, I was immersed in preparations for a presentation on Sustainable Making at the Southeast Fiber Arts Alliance.
February: I continued working with natural dyes, mostly direct application with gum thickeners, exploring layering of color and assistants in various floating (unregistered) patterns on a wide range of cloth surfaces. The process of working with natural dyes is much more labor- and time-intensive than working with their synthetic alternatives and because of this, the work feels almost contemplative. I want to explore this entire complex topic in future posts. But for now, suffice it to say that natural dye print processes are now a solid part of my studio practice. Also ever-present now is my organic indigo vat, and I did get around to making some new pieces for a local craft pop-up and the first installment of the 2019 wearables.
March 2019: My time in March was largely spent preparing for the April open studio, although I did take some time to facilitate an indigo-dyeing mini-workshop at the studio one fortuitously-gorgeous Spring morning. I also received my copy of The Art and Science of Natural Dyes (yay!) and reflected on my early exposure to natural dyes with Catharine Ellis which work has so thoroughly enriched my current studio practice.
In April – I hosted an open studio and continued to develop more work, including a new collection of totes, as well as naturally dyed cloth, and stitched appliqué detailing. All of my wearable work is presented under the label Petal-una Collection. This line has been an active focus of my creative energy since 2012. If you want to learn more about it and see more looks follow this link.
All of which brings me to the present moment. I will save that for next time! Meanwhile for fairly regular and consistent check-ins, I am on Instagram and FB – the links are scattered throughout this website. If you would prefer to keep up via this blog, that is awesome too!
Sometimes all it takes for an artist is a show – it arrives at the perfect moment and can serve as a fuel for future creative reflection extending well beyond the original encounter. Such has been my experience peering into the world of Yayoi Kusama.* The inspiration derived from seeing the diverse body of work (and media) of an artist insistent on asserting an authentic, personal vision (one which not so paradoxically turns out to be deeply resonant for the many), is unparalleled. I was overwhelmed by this artist’s impressive body of work, her years of dogged pursuit, dedication, and perseverance, not to mention her non-binary, multifaceted defiance of any outside attempt to categorize or pigeon-hole her work and life. There was something very pointed and powerful for me in this individual’s career and life, in spite of her struggles along the way. And she continues to create in the face of it all, including, surely, an acute awareness of her own mortality as she transitions into her 10th decade.
I feel certain art-making is Yayoi Kusama’s way of transmuting her suffering (chaos, confusion, pain, alienation, etc.). This must be, in part, why her work and life are so interesting to inhabitants of the chaotic early 21st century. It really speaks to the entire spectrum of the human condition across time and place but which finds its most unrestrained expression in the digital era: self-indulgence, self-transcendence, hopes, fears, failure, success, struggle, resistance, outrage, protest, surrender, highs, lows, light, dark, expansion, contraction, contradiction, loud, quiet, hard, soft, contemplative, monkish, introspective, riding the continuum of an life through successive waves of profound confusion and self-doubt as well as profound insight and self-acceptance.
I was and still am enveloped.
Part II. Layers, Siftings and Further Musings in a Transitional Era.
Yayoi Kusama’s work will continue to stimulate my thinking in a variety of ways for months to come, but as I am now constantly grappling with art/craft/making in an era of increasing resource limits and crisis-level climate alterations, I also wanted to look at her work through a more narrow lens. Regardless of what we all personally “believe”/accept about climate change, we are approaching the Earth’s carrying capacity (i.e., its capacity to carry humans in our current configuration) on many resource fronts. This has implications for every aspect of human life, but in the context of creative endeavor generates many deep and serious questions, not the least of which are: Is it possible to, and how can we, develop a sensibility in our making that can integrate and nurture humanity, other species, as well as the environment we share? And what does an “aesthetic of sustainability” look like and, importantly, can that become as universally embraced as the fossil-fuel driven aesthetic seems to be today? One might ask if these questions and their answers even matter at all, but I think the do. It is my belief that their answers can contribute to how successfully we collectively respond to our many current and future challenges.
We don’t need to look too far into the past to find a time when sustainable making was the only kind of making. Today many draw attention to, for example, wabi-sabi and related aesthetic concerns as antithetical rescue remedies for the excesses of the industrially created artifact: something rustic, direct, uncomplicated, salvaged, organic, entropy-embracing. As I reflect on Kusama-world, I am struck by how much our expectations and aesthetic values are outgrowths of the instant-gratification, fossil-fuel -driven world we all inhabit, and how her work is quite possibly this waning era’s most vivid and exuberant expression.
From a materials standpoint alone, Kusama’s work is saturated with acrylic paint, a wide range of plastics and other petroleum-derived components, as well as vast arrays of electric light. These are the materials for the vast majority of 20th and early 21st century artists/designers/makers. These are also peak fossil-fuel-consumption-era materials, by-products of processes contributing to habitat-degrading greenhouse gas emissions. Include the energy and resources embedded in manufacturing these materials and components, the embedded and operational energy of a large scale exhibition of this type and its mass-manufactured “swag” (which, as a child of this space/time I will admit to being attracted), and the energy embedded in the cloud-dependent mass social-media feeds (to which I am also a steady contributor and participant), and we have a completely unsustainable model …unless of course we can very quickly (like, yesterday) develop an energy source dense enough to match the miracle of fossil-fueled energy, one that doesn’t destroy the habitability of our planet!
It is a poignant moment. I am clearer than ever as an artist/designer/maker as to my own purpose and vision and how to manifest it; I am also increasingly aware that I need to find new (or return to earlier) ways of creating to reduce my ecological footprint. Rhetorical question: Are the imperative to create and the imperative to reduce my footprint mutually exclusive?
We live in an era of dissonance at many levels of our lives. We attempt to hold many truths which are ultimately mutually exclusive. So it is for fossil fuels: Can’t live with them, can’t live without them. This fact is one source of a host of misunderstandings and conflicts, of mis- and mal- investment, of alienation from wealth and power on one end of the spectrum and the dense consolidation of wealth and power on the other. In an era of transition, we will be looking for ways to hold on to whatever we can of the by-products of this energy system, even if to do so endangers our core support system. We hope something will come along to save us before we are forced to make hard choices. This dissonance can be paralyzing, and it shows no signs of abating as new generations come of age. It suggests a repeating “error” code firing in our brains coupled with an increasingly dysfunctional “reset” switch.
And so it is, at the likely twilight of fossil-fuel driven exuberance, that Yayoi Kusama’s work is a beautiful, joyous, riotous, inspiring symbol of life. Her work and being are also about persistence and resilience. I think we flock to its material abundance and ebullience for comfort and affirmation in an uncertain age. I love the show for this but I am also sobered by it because it reminds me of the hard work ahead. We artists and makers especially must work to realize a new, unified, resilient vision of person and planet and stay the course in the same way that Kusama has continued to work her entire life to realize her unique vision – it’s demanding, arduous and on-going. That is the nature of making/creating, of life and work….And it’s all-hands-on-deck now. K.C.
Images: My own, taken during the show (except from the large composite above: a friend captured the frequently elusive shot from the Dots Obsession viewer): some composites of highlights; my digital montage of Kusama’s celluloid montage, and mash-up selfies from The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away and Phalli’s Field.
*Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors! is showing now at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta – I received a gift invitation to the show or I would not have made it at all as tickets are, alas, sold out. However, there are numerous windows into this show and her work on YouTube and elsewhere on the fabulous Internet. Check it out!
A preface to the series on sustainability and sustainable making: This inquiry into sustainability is a personal odyssey, although you will likely already find yourself delving into this process. You may already be compelled by increasingly dire warnings by climate scientists to make adjustments in your practice and, if you have, you will realize the process is not as simple as it may at first appear. If you are making for yourself only, then it is quite a simple matter to make “sustainably”. My practice goes a bit beyond that scale but not as far as the industrial model. Ultimately, we all need to become experts in sustainability in all facets of our lives. I feel that it is an important undertaking, materially and spiritually. So, I begin in earnest the search for the “right” sustainability model for my own particular practice and life. In the process, beliefs, assumptions and expectations will be reexamined. It may get messy but it will be interesting! I hope you find the fruits of my labor helpful in your own process. A note: At the end of each essay in this series, there is a personal practice component in the form of questions or exercises. Wherever you are in your process, they can help increase understanding and refine clarity.
*** I am in the middle of a great flow of production in my studio right now. It is a good time to resume my look at sustainability, sustainable making, and the small textile workshop. Health circumstances interrupted the endeavor which I initiated in writing here in late-2016 (see https://kathycolt.com/2016/08/30/a-guiding-light/). Going forward, these posts will take on more granularity as I dive down the rabbit-hole that is this most complex subject. In my last writing on this topic, I intended to launch into dyes and other colorants. However, since there has been such a span of time between now and that last post, I am going to revisit the underlying premise of this series.
A brief introductory recap and some definitions.
Textile (and by extension, apparel) manufacturing on the industrial scale is historically associated with high resource use (primarily energy and water), pollution (primarily of waterways) and labor abuses. The concerns of the small textile workshop in these areas have no equivalent at the industrial scale. I have noted elsewhere that the scale of my activities necessarily produces a much smaller footprint. In fact, I take it as a “given” that the micro-scale fabrication of an art or craft object is a sustainable undertaking, when pursued with mindful regard for the concerns outlined below and to be discussed in future posts. Along the continuum, there are greater or lesser degrees of “sustainable” in all aspects of life, including one’s livelihood and creative practice. However, since I am a professional and wish to build my livelihood around sustainable textile design, fiber art and making, it is incumbent upon me to 1) examine my assumptions and expectations, habits and patterns of making; and 2) understand the systems on which I depend, and the materials and substances with which I work.
“Sustainability” and “sustainable” are slippery concepts and the words are used in a variety of contexts with variable meanings along the continuum. It is always important to understand how someone is using these concepts and to what purpose. For the purpose of this essay series, I am referring broadly to environmental sustainability and specifically to the role which humans play in that equation; i.e., can the planet, its systems and other life on which we depend, sustain the impacts of human endeavor and activity, and to what extent do we humans need to modify our activity to support the planet’s ability to sustain us? From this standpoint, arguably all human endeavor in the 21st century is up for reёvaluation. It is a massive project for humanity undertake. We have a difficult time agreeing on what the priorities are let alone how to, and how we should, get there. And we still live in an era of relative energy and resource abundance! We continue to enjoy the many by-products of this apparent abundance. How can we practice sustainability within an unsustainable model? We can start where we are. For, while we are figuring it out on the large-scale, we can continue working at the small scale. We can gather information and experience and become experts at evaluating and modifying, as necessary, what we do, the way we do what we do and, along the way, understanding why we do what we do.
Fortunately, if you are a textile or fiber artist/designer/maker like me, you practice within a discipline which has a long off-the-grid history. Many textile/fiber technologies predate the steam engine. To be sure, industrial societies have made fabulous use of fossil energy resources to mechanize many textile production processes since the dawn of the industrial revolution. Household sewing machines are great tools, but most of us can still make a stitch by hand. We can purchase ready-made cloth and yarn spun in faraway lands but can increasingly source fiber from our own regions, and ply it into yarn, which can then be fabricated by hand into some kind of composite cloth. Today, we yield amazing hues from the laboratory (via fossil energy), but we can still derive colors and auxiliary chemicals from plants, harvesting them from our gardens, processing them by hand. There was a time when this was all we had. How far back can we go? How far back should we go? I will be looking at all of these topics (“fibershed”, global supply chains, embedded and operational energy, handwork and demechanization, degrowth, and more) in future posts.
The process of answering these questions is complex and involves fusing logic/science and ethics/spirit. Each level of inquiry requires a long-form response rather than a simple yes or no, keep or toss. Our responses are almost entirely determined by how we look at the world in which we live, our place in it and the value we place on natural systems as well as human constructs like economies. So, one person’s responses may not initially look like another’s. Unless you are already living off the grid (in which case you aren’t reading this essay in its digital format), there is always more (or less) to do from a sustainability standpoint. Again, the point of the process is to start where you are: the more you investigate, the more you know, the more you understand, and the more flexible you will be at modifying your own practice and lifestyle. Every conscious act toward a more sustainable model is additive at the individual and societal level. Life and creative practice merge, signaling a personal paradigm shift, a shift which reverberates throughout the larger framework.
Personal Practice: Part I. Start Where You Are: Taking Stock. Important Note! This is not meant to be a judgmental (or self-critical) process but a thoughtful examination of the current conditions and context of our creative endeavors.
What scale of making do you engage in? (e.g., personal edification, fine art or craft for exhibition, fine art or craft for market, micro-design/build for market).
What techniques do you rely on? Remember to include marketing pathways if applicable.
What materials and substances do you typically work with (include those which come from outsourcing but are still embedded in your finished work)?
Do you use machines (include any outsourcing like textile printing services, 3-d printers, computer and desktop printer for marketing, etc) in your practice?
Where do your materials and supplies come from (if you don’t know, identify ways you might find out – we will revisit this later)?
By what means and how far have they traveled to reach you (if you don’t know, identify ways you might find out – we will revisit this later)?
Can you identify all natural resources embodied in your materials, supplies and processes?
I recently visited a friend in the fair city of Guanajuato, GTO Mexico – I have been there before and in fact posted in this blog about that trip as well. This visit was a bit different as life-altering experiences had emerged in my recent past, as well as that of my friend. As a result, we both set out with the intention of sewing the seeds of rejuvenation. It really became a launch of the essence of “re” – a return, revisiting, renewal, reinvigoration, revitalization, restoration, revisiting and review on the way toward a new point of beginning. Signs and signals, resources and connections began and continue to be revealed to both of us as we progress through this new terrain.
My images from this trip varied but seemed to have a decidedly architectural focus, especially where roof/facade and sky meet. I was also understandably attracted to the many templos (churches and cathedrals) which populate the religious landscape of Guanajuato (Gto). The architectural residue of a bye-gone colonial era is enriched with structural and superficial decay, but these buildings endure – maybe that was a metaphor taking hold. Even in cases where the buildings have been renovated or “restored” with a nod to another era’s sensibilities, their original presence does not fade. I realize in retrospect that this was a profound symbol of solidity and grounding after a year of standing on shaky ground. In any case, these buildings are essential landmarks which give the entire State of Guanajuato its character, along with the many-colored domiciles stacked on the slopes surrounding the city’s natural structural essence – that of river valley. Indeed, when I arrived, the rainy season had just begun and the imperative of the geographic low point repeatedly asserted itself during my trip as flooding from recurring thunderstorms regularly inundated parts of the city. Of course, the rain also brought a renewal of a green, lush landscape latent during months of seasonal drought in this high desert region.
Rain notwithstanding, I was pleased that we were able to make it outside to see art and eat excellent food, including the most moist and delicious tamal I have ever tasted (thanks to, my sincere apologies to vegetarians, lard). ¡Nos veremos en el futuro, sin duda, Guanajuato! For a slightly different perspective on the trip, visit my wearable site’s journal.
This journal has revolved around my enriching experiences running a small textile/fiber studio. Now more than ever I am revived and inspired to continue recording my reflections on those experiences. After a year of health issues, I have returned to the studio to reunite the many strands of my practice and forge a path forward. Here’s a recap/update of how things have unfolded/are unfolding so far this year. My focus until recently has been my wearable work so I will start with it.
I have been spending more technical and production energy on developing fabrics for my micro wearable line, Petal-Una Collection (where you can also find my Petal Insta and FB page links). Between dips in my indigo vat and direct application (painting and printing) of natural dyes, I am shifting my wearable practice to incorporate cloth enriched with more naturally sourced colorants. I have written in the past about my intention to integrate naturally sourced colorants into my work and to address sustainability in my own studio practice. As a small textile and fiber workshop, I am arguably already producing a sustainable product but there is always room for improvement. From examining material sourcing and supply chains, to energy use, and material waste reduction and reclamation, I continue to look for ways in which I can be more sustainable as an artist/designer-maker. It is a process. A major step for me is the embrace of more conscious fabric enrichment practices in my wearable work. About Petal-Una: Every season I produce a ready-to-wear group (as well as commissioned work). I market my wearable pieces through studio events and, when available, on-line.
Decorative/Interior. I have focused primarily on felted works in the decorative realm but I am currently developing a new collection of textiles incorporating the technical groundwork I laid while creating cloth for the Petal-Una collection (as noted above). These decorative works will include a new line of architectural 2-d pieces. Images will be coming in the next couple of months. In the Atlanta area, his work is exclusively represented by Markay Gallery in Marietta, Georgia. Links to the Kathy Colt Artisan Insta and FB pages are in the left sidebar on the homepage of this website.
Special Creative Projects/Artwork. I am also in the process of developing new work pathways in this stream. Of all of my work subsets, this is the most related to personal excavation, elucidation, and articulation. Its development marches behind that of its more visible creative siblings but it is still alive and well. I will have more to say about this work in the future.
Teaching. Finally, looking ahead, I will be reintroducing the teaching component into my studio practice and outreach. Workshops will resume this Fall (2018). Information and a calendar will be coming soon and will be announced in the usual locations.