February already!  It’s always a month that seems to slip away before it has barely begun!  Here is a recap of the past month’s activities and musings:

My readers are hopefully now familiar with my “light” artisan wearable collection, petal-una (www.petalunacollection.com).  I have been working on these seasonal collections since 2012 and the upcoming Spring/Summer 2016 group builds on this foundation.  My desire throughout the design/build process is always to further my understanding of cloth, form, fit and finish as well as to successfully present my completed work at market.  Until now, I have generally approached the collection from the textile, rather than the garment, per se.  But things are shifting.  For a number of reasons, my textile/fiber artist-self is beginning to catch up with my landscape-designer-self.

As my creative selves become more fully integrated, the petal-una collections become more integrated, conscious acts of art and design.  That means I am taking into account cloth, surface and garment while also holding a variety of production variables in mind like time and cost, work-flow, utility use, marketing (including, but not limited, to social media activities), and a host of other allied considerations.  All of these undertakings figure into each piece created in the studio.  And, since I am still very much a solo operation for the time being (and there is only so much this body/mind can make manifest in a given calendar year), it is vital that I work as efficiently as possible from concept/design to development, production and completion, without losing sight of my mental and physical well-being.  This is particularly important since I still want to make room for art-making!  If you would like to see more day-to-day snapshots, please follow me on Instagram! (www.instagram.com/kathycoltartisan).

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The fact that I am finding the time and energy I require to undertake all of my creative work is in no small part attributable to coach/consultant/project manager-extraordinaire, Mary Quinn Templeton (www.maryquinntempleton.com / mqpmatl@gmail.com).  Mary Quinn and I met as fellow fiber/textile artists.  At that time, I was at a turning point in my work, not sure what I wanted or where I wanted to go.  Since we started working together, the path has begun to clear and my foot-steps are more deliberate.  (If this sounds like a testimonial…it is!!)  Obviously we are all responsible for making our own “it” happen, but we also don’t live in a vacuum – fresh insight can be liberating – I highly recommend it!  

In the process of getting my work back on track, other beautiful gifts have been bestowed:

A Rekindling of Deep Joy. Somewhere along the way, and for a variety of reasons, I started to lose touch with the sheer joy of making.  I am now remembering and reconnecting with the reasons why I choose to do what I do in all of its multi-disciplinary, multi-hat-wearing complexity and glory.  Bring it on!

Befriending and Embracing Fear. Letting go of judgment and anxiety about myself and my work, the future (and anything else falling into the “monkey-mind” category) is huge (and I don’t think I am alone here!).  Radical acceptance of the what, where, when and how of it all, the now of it all, and just getting on with it all, has opened up new and previously unimaginable pathways.  After all of these years, I can finally get busy living and doing the Work, and be at peace with that!

Restoring the mental/emotional power grid: Taking responsibility for how I react to all phenomena and circumstances in my life is an on-going process, taken one experience at a time.  It’s not always easy, but cultivating equanimity makes for a clearer mind and greater capacity in one’s creative and life work.  Why not make more room for that, right?

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I am constantly reminded that being a working artist is not for the faint-hearted.  Luckily I was blissfully ignorant of the pitfalls or I would not have taken the first step.  Well into the journey now, I realize I do it because I must; however, it takes a lot of heart, soul, metaphoric blood, and a lot of sweat, persistence and constant insistence on a daily basis.  The day-to-day experience moves back and forth along the continuum: sometimes the process is uneffing-believable in its rich, diverse upwellings; sometimes it is incredibly physically exhausting and/or highly anxiety-provoking to an intensity which weakens creative flow and output.  Somewhere in the middle is the Balance, and in that space is the “zone”.  After all of these years of designing and making, I recognize a cultivated ability to access the “zone” with greater ease, and finally feel capable of efficiently managing my time, energy and finances to manifest my creative/life vision.  Next level?  Yes, please!

 

*footnote: I also think that I have been resisting the idea of myself as a “fashion” designer.  However, I am a designer and I certainly work in the fashion idiom from time to time, so maybe it’s time for me to embrace my inner-fashionista more fully!

DSCN1687adjcutoutalt3reducedI woke up not too long ago realizing how much like my pre-show self I feel again – brimming with enthusiasm for new work and the energy to undertake it.  I am incredibly honored to have been juried into the ACC/SF show.  It was something I have been working towards for many years, and to have made it in was an affirmation that I am on the right track (however slow the train itself may run!).  While I still have much to learn about producing a show of this scale, there is no question that it was a resounding success overall.

I took away a lot of practical information from the experience; however, the biggest post-show revelation related to the cyclical nature of creative work and life, and the absolute necessity of honoring the less expansive phases of these cycles.  On point: If ever there was a need for a deliberate “completion” ritual, my return from San Francisco was the time to do it!  Unfortunately, instead, I continued to work as if nothing had changed; however, I struggled for weeks against an unidentifiable and draining force which I later identified as my body/mind’s demand for genuine rest.  Eventually, only “total surrender” made it possible for me to collect and organize my thoughts, analyze my experience, and prepare for a new cycle of work.  What follows is a little musing on the topic of work cycles to which I may refer when I find myself once again working way past the “expiration date”( of a work day or a project cycle) without taking rest.

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We all know about the cycles of life even if we would sometimes rather they not tug at us the way they do: day yields to night, summer to winter, youth to maturity, life to death. Yoga practitioners know that the breath cycle is the ultimate expression of expansion, contraction and renewal (life, death and rebirth):  Inhaling, we fill the well; at the top of the inhalation, we crest and plateau; during exhalation, we intentionally release; and at the bottom of the exhalation, we rest before drawing in a new breath.

Even if we “know” this, it bears repeating that the creative cycle is much like this: a project begins with inspiration – the youthful, energetic and expansive period filled with information gathering and “visioning”; after which we embark on the work of making/manifesting (a process itself replete with expanding and contracting mini cycles). We are riding the crest of the wave and will soon begin the process of completion – a winding down and release of the work into the world.  After the “expiration” of the project, there is space, a sort of void, within which to rest and receive new inspiration.  And thus the well is filled again for the next creative cycle.

Alas, while this rest, this period of deep contraction, is as essential to creative work as the actual making is, it is also supremely undervalued in our society. Rather than honoring the importance of quiet contemplation and reflection inherent in all creative cycles, we more systematically reward continual, expansive and ever “higher” achievement loops.  So is it any wonder we struggle with the contracted side of any cycle?  We are programmed to keep working, keep something perpetually in motion, something ready for launch.  At any hint of a deceleration, of a contracting of energy, we wind up pushing ourselves even harder, becoming emotionally and physically exhausted in the effort.  It is no mere platitude that life is a turning, a constant rotation between motion and rest (and the spaces in between) – it is a universal imperative.  We can neither artificially perpetuate the expansive phases any more than we can permanently dissolve, banish, or repress the contracted phases.

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So dear self/friend, remember: Pay attention to your inner cues. If you are feeling “out of synch” you may be revving up when you need to be downshifting – you may just need 24 hours (or you may need 24 days)….but know that resisting the natural progression of a creative cycle is detrimental to the creative process and your health.  The work becomes hollow and repetitive; the body/mind becomes frayed and tattered.  When the time comes, just surrender and turn inward.  Reclaim the right to rest and swim in the deep void – you will be rewarded!  

laurelblossom1sreMy ritual review of the past year is over.  I look back on a year dedicated to recovering and reknitting pieces of a vision and a dream.  I am happy to be firmly back on the path and its relevant parallel investigations.

A new year is always so fresh with possibility –  a symbol of hope for renewal and reinvention – infused with a trust that we will be graced with the strength, wisdom and balance to meet another turning of the wheel.  This year, I seek further integration –  a uniting of the loose ends, side-windings and insights of the past year with the patience, plodding, and open heart/mind needed for the next phase of the adventure.  Through a fusion of movement and stillness/nakedness and adornment/earthly pondering and ineffable direct-knowing/under the influence of mountain and ocean, I add to the story I tell myself about existence on this small orb called Earth, Erde, Tierra, Terre, Terra, Gaia…

Even in the uncertainty and chaos which mark this point in the early 21st century, my heart thumps with excitement.  I am grateful to be on a coherent path and engaging fully with the next phase of the Work.  I wish for all of us a clear path going forward, one rich with grace and hope, clarity of purpose and intention, and of course, good fortune/abundance, both tangible and intangible.

K.C. Atlanta/January, 2014

 

 

After years of thinking about it, I finally had the wherewithal to start a vegetable garden this Spring.  It has been incredibly gratifying and I am learning quite a lot, not just about vegetables, but about my commitment to keeping this endeavor alive.  I am also reminded of the extent to which the plant world nourishes: literally/physically, spiritually/emotionally, mentally, and creatively.  I bring all of this up because the garden is always such a fitting metaphor for all aspects of life and work.  When one nourishes the garden, waters and feeds the soil, attends to individual plants’ needs, the garden flourishes.   And so with creative work, which thrives on the regular infusion of love, imagination, effort (and surrender).  Inattention to the garden manifests in ways not unlike inattention to one’s creative work – it withers and retreats into dormancy and, if allowed to languish, finally enters a phase of decline.

Like the Fool on the edge of the abyss, we are challenged to keep our creative acts and aspirations alive and nourished in the face of post-modern life’s demands, but we so would like to surrender to the pull of the abyss.  Such is often the case with artists and dreamers at one time or another (and maybe every day) – dancing along the edge of that cliff between one necessity and the other. 

In recent months, for the sake of my physical being (food, roof over one’s head, other related commitments and obligations), I have been through a readjustment in my life situation that resulted in a certain degree of neglect (I won’t say abandonment) of my Work (I use the initial cap intentionally).  Now that I have been able, gratefully, to re-immerse myself in those labors (albeit with less time but with no less intensity), I reflect that I came dangerously close to completely losing this precious gift (the gift of the work itself and the gift of being able to actually do it).  Although it was painful to endure what turned out to be a temporary hiatus from the Studio, the experience definitely clarified what is important in all of this, and what is less so.  It was also a direct realization of the vulnerable nature of a creative life.

If one is determined to keep the Work from withering and retreating, the Work (and the maker) must be nourished on a regular, arguably daily, basis.  This sustained attention, devotion and sacrifice to the work is the “gratitude” Lewis Hyde speaks about in The Gift.   This is a dense but fluid book and one I would suggest no artist be without.  The following series of passages are relevant to recent experience:

 Once a gift has stirred within us, it is up to us to develop it.  There is a reciprocal labor in the maturation of a talent.  The gift will continue to discharge its energy so long as we attend to it in return. . . . .A gift isn’t fully realized until it is given away. . . .Those who will not acknowledge gratitude or who refuse to labor in its service neither free their gifts
nor really come to possess them. . . .

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The labor of gratitude is the middle term in the passage of a gift.  It is wholly different from the ‘obligation’ we feel when  we accept something we don’t really want. . . .A gift that has the power to change us awakens a part of the soul.  But we cannot accept the gift until we can meet it as an equal.  We therefore submit ourselves to the labor of becoming like the gift.  Giving a return gift is the final act in the labor of gratitude, and it is also, therefore, the true acceptance of the original gift. . . .    (pp. 62-65)

I often turn to Lewis Hyde when I am trying to make sense of the conflicts that arise between the timelessness of creative labors and the necessities of life in the early 21st century….the need to nourish our creative spirit and the need to nourish our physical bodies; the desire to do the work without charging a fee for it and the need to “make a living;” and the philosophical tangle embedded in the desire to earn a livelihood from the Work itself versus doing the Work for its own sake and making a living in some other way.  We have all felt the desire to just not have to worry about the money and do the Work but also knowing that if we had a choice between one form of work over an art- or design-based livelihood, we would probably choose the latter.  Then, when the choice is made, it is sometimes hard to grapple with the demands (and the heartbreaks) of an art-based livelihood.

This is all material for the mind to chew on while the Labor continues.  No resolution here but to keep on going.  It certainly isn’t the first and won’t be the last time I encounter and do the dance with these issues and questions.  Meanwhile….back to nourishing the seed I planted and raised to its present form 5 years ago(!)  There is no question but that the Labor will and must continue.