I always have a vision that I am going to do more writing in a given year than I wind up doing – best laid plans… But it has been a busy and fruitful period in so many other ways. Here are highlights from this last quarter of the year, starting with my natural dye workshop which finally happened in September!
I participated again this year in annual Hambidge Auction. I am grateful for the space the Center provides for artists/creators at all stages of their careers to meet, make and/or meander and contemplate. Perhaps one day I will make it there as a resident myself! Meanwhile, the work continues in my own humble studio. See more about 3-D and Stitched Modules. Images L to R: “Receptive 4” plus 2 tannin/indigo/ferrous stitched modules; last: another tannin module with a recently completed piece from the “Receptive” Series.
The work continues as this facet of my art/design practice enters its next phase. Visit the Petal Website to see more of this work, including the latest pieces created with wax-resist cloth which I produced this past Spring/Summer.
Image: Mine; Ice storm “castings” in the garden (from a few years ago)
I am pleased to be writing from other side, more or less, of the health “challenge” I alluded to in a post last year. I am back on my feet and have begun to reengage with my studio practice, which is already pulling me in various directions. Some things I now know for sure: I am more in love than ever with this Work in its myriad facets. I am more relaxed than ever about it, too. Fear was at the root of so much of what I did before; fearlessness has moved in to take its place.
There’s nothing like a major illness (or other significant life change) to shake loose habitual patterns and force a reexamination of one’s motivations. In that spirit, I am compelled to dive back down into my creative soul and explore my roots – teasing out the fundamental tendrils, breaking up the dense, knotty scar tissue blocking the flow, and loosening the soil a bit to unlock the deep nutrients . (Nothing like a good botanical metaphor.) I want to expand the on-going conversation I have with myself about what inspires, enhances flow. I also want to understand more fully what expires, inhibits flow by taking a look at the influence of preparation and planning on finished product. That is, look at, not for the first time but in a specific way, the tension that exists between process and product. For example, is it really possible to fully let go of the planning, the pre-visualizing, and the expectations and just make art? What does that look and feel like? To what extent am I doing that already? How much does it matter? What is the nature of the resultant work? Etc. These are just a few of the ideas I want to investigate this year – both in this blog and through the work itself.
I thank you for following/reading. This is not the first time I have relayed my struggles the blogging process – I love writing but I am hopelessly inconsistent. Yet, something within values it and will not let it go… so I continue. Maybe this year I will actually post more frequently and with regularity – stranger things have happened!
It is in my nature to seek metaphysical roots and metaphorical tendrilsin much of what transpires/crosses my path in life. Through that process I unearth grounded, practical symbols and solutions to aid in resolution/transmutation/evolution. Life is change – sometimes subtle and easily integrated; sometimes profound and world-rocking. I am living change of the latter sort: I was recently shaken by a health setback, one which has necessitated quick, unequivocal, and fundamental shifts in personal priorities, beliefs, values. Adversity has a way of shaking one’s foundations and, at minimum, calls into question one’s habitual responses to life’s little challenges, especially those in the creative realm – which is just about everything for me.
Coincident with my diagnosis, a very old, large oak tree fell in my yard. This long-lived tree had been a fixture in my life for over 20 years. It had a seemingly solid presence, and I was attached to it. Although it continued to grow (and was over 100’ tall), the tree lacked vital root structure to support its crown; eventually it fell over under its own weight (with a bit of aid from weeks of ground-saturating rainfall). It was inevitable but I didn’t see it coming. Just like this little health set-back – didn’t see that coming either. But I am not one for dwelling or wringing my hands over statistical probabilities/possibilities. Don’t we all just cope with whatever arises when it arises anyway?
But back to trees: for me, they have always been powerful symbols of strength, endurance, aspiration, inspiration, and mastery in the moment. They come as they are, and if they are lucky, grow up in and around others like them. In being held up by each other at their roots, they are a bit more resilient to some external pressures and shocks. (Not unlike us humans, as Rumi observed: “Every forest branch moves differently in the breeze, but as they sway they connect at the roots.”*) The glorious oak in my front yard lived a long, lush life but it didn’t have the good fortune of community. However, in falling it did create light for the understory. And as my friend Lori pointed out, it has created symbolic illumination for my own life situation. Areas of my life which have heretofore been covered in shadow can be potentially cleansed by that light. This is the kind of light I will need as I journey through recovery. A bitter-sweet recognition.
I did briefly go through a period of fear that I would not be able (or have the desire) to create again – everything was so turned on its head. However, a good deal of light has been cast upon all aspects of my making/creating as well, leading me to bring a more balanced practice on-line – something more receptive, in which my expansive, project-orientation, end-product fixation yields some ground to a quiet, plodding, more directly process-oriented, work. There is always tension between these two dynamics, the resolution of which makes way for completion. Moving effortlessly between being (receptive, mindful, process-oriented making), and doing (action-oriented, planning, product-focused making) can yield the most interesting results (whether they are marketable or not). The joy is in the flow and embrace of both, as they come.
*from Birdsong, Rumi (fifty-three short poems translated by Coleman Barks); Maypop Press, Athens, Georgia. 1993:
Spring overall. But inside us
there is another unity.
Behind each eye yere,
one glowing weather.
Every forest branch moves differently
in the breeze, but as they sway
they connect at the roots.
I feel like the year has been progressing at a rapid pace (even though it is only January 19th!) 2016 was the “year of the wearable” for me, primarily. I am beginning to find flow in my wearable art line, petal-una collection. That work will continue this year, likely branching, as usual, in a variety of directions…but all pointing back to the center – all of my work in the studio circles back on itself, cross-referencing, cross-fertilizing. In addition to creating art-wear in 2016, I was gifted with the opportunity to expand the horizons of my fine art fiber and interior textiles work via a decorative “tile” commission. 2016 may have been a relatively light year for art and interior works but I am ready to resume that stream of work in earnest and look forward to exploring new territory as I dive deeper into 2017.
In the spirit of fresh beginnings, I forgive myself the laying aside of regular posting and other essays/investigations initiated in this journal. My best-laid plans to more deeply pursue natural dyes were “bookmarked” while I worked on my wearable line. I will return to the naturals and pick up where I left off in the coming months. As for the other perennially set-aside plan to post regularly here, I once again begin the year with hopes of improving on that front. To the extent that I do post anything at all, I greatly appreciate your reading and following in this and other platforms (links to all of them are scattered throughout the opening page of this site)!
Wake up and stay awake. Connect and stay connected. Jump into the fire occasionally then dive into the one Ocean with complete surrender.
January 2017. K.C.
P.S. The images are from my Instagram feed – the “best 9” from 2016.
I am in the early stages of fully reёvaluating and re-purposing my blog in the face of a fundamental shift in values underlying my studio practice. What follows is the first of many posts focusing on what it means to me to be a designer/ maker in the early 21st century – a time when a recognition of the Earth’s limits necessitates redefining how we work, how we engage with each other, and how we preserve the planet’s finite resources (and honor its complex systems).
A point of beginning. I am a one-person show, manufacturing on a micro scale. Arguably, my scale of production has negligible environmental impact, as compared with industrial textile and apparel manufacturing. However, as I do produce textiles and apparel, I participate in some aspects of that supply chain, and feel it necessary to look more closely at my own studio activities and choices. Why now? Why didn’t I just start out with sustainability in mind? I will address that at length in some future post, but the short answer would be that for many years, I was held sway by the “psychology of prior investment;” i.e., that it is difficult to break away from something to which one has invested copious amounts of time, money and energy. Alas, things are getting spooky on Planet Earth and I think it’s time for a thorough examination of my life, including my creative practice and output. My ultimate hope, I suppose, is that through this process, I might join a positive and constructive sea-change in response to the likely environmental (as well as social and economic) crises ahead (in the event we are unlikely to avert them). Perhaps this is wishful thinking, but better to start somewhere than to continue living with my head in the sand. If not now, when?
Laying the groundwork. I had been trying to write about this inner shift as it relates to my studio practice and work-product for a while. With so many possible entry points though, I felt overwhelmed and muddled. In turn, every attempt I made to put any of it into words was incoherent and disjointed. Then, I recently ran across this Design Museum “Design Ventura Toolkit” short (http://www.vimeo.com/170177851 ) which offered the perfect starting point. While the questions posed in this video (and listed below) are specifically concerned with evaluating sustainability in product design and development, I instantly recognized them as an ideal framework for my task, so I decided to adopt them as a working outline and a foundation for future inquiry. My appreciation goes out to the creators of the film.
Here’s the list:
Overarching/Environmental Sustainability: Will my product harm the environment?
Overarching/Ethical Sustainability: Will my product be designed in a fair way?
Will my product disadvantage or hurt any people?
Can I source materials that are recycled or repurposed?
Can I use natural materials rather than highly processed ones?
Are my materials from an ethical or renewable source?
Is my product going to stand the test of time?
Is it built to last?
Can it be reused, repaired or recycled when it comes to the end of its life?
Can my product modify the way a user behaves? i.e.:
Can it help them carry out an activity or live in a more sustainable way?
What kind of waste does my manufacturing process generate and how can I reduce this?
If I am making my product from a sheet material, for example, have I used a cutting method that will minimize left over material?
Have I considered the cost of labor in my budget?
Is the person making the product being paid fairly?
Is my packaging environmentally friendly?
How much packaging do I need?
Can I keep packaging to a minimum?
How far have the elements of my product traveled to get to the consumer?
Once it’s been made my product will have to be transported to the shop. How can I reduce the carbon footprint of my product?
Can I make it lighter or flat-pack it so it can be transported more efficiently?
Going Forward: There are a number of practitioners who have dedicated their resources to addressing these concerns and I am grateful for their continued work and inspiration. There are also many individuals looking at these interlocking ideas and issues from a variety of perspectives and I will necessarily rely on their research and analysis as I undertake this process. In addition to my own experience, I will be drawing on the work and practices of craft/artists, craftivists, designers, makers, sustainability experts and commentators in industry, institutions and incubation centers, as well as academicians who are working at the intersection of textile/apparel design/ manufacture and social, economic and environmental sustainability. Along the way, topics as diverse as technology, labor, economics, craft, fashion, personal expression, spirituality, doing “good” and living truly sustainably in the early 21st century will find their way onto these “pages”. I hope you will join me!