Tuesday, July 17, 2012

My Path to Weaving (or how I got my superpowers)

Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.  -Theodore Roosevelt

Sometimes when you are going through a rough patch, some well meaning but bumblely friend will say something like, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.  This causes you to fantasize about giving your friend a little smack…

I have another friend though, who says having trouble gives us Superpowers, and Yay!  Superpowers.  So here’s a little story about how I got my superpowers.
A couple of weeks ago I hurt myself, not terribly, but it kept me from weaving.  So instead, I made fluffy little silk flowers and small, embroidered wool paintings.

  They were happy and bright and I liked them.  So I created an Etsy shop to sell them
 The whole process reminded me of how important it is to be flexible as an artist and willing to create things no matter what else is going on in your life. It took me a long time to acquire the superpower of flexible artist, here’s how it happened...

I was a clay and glass artist in Seattle, with a studio and some modest success. My husband was in the Air force and when we were assigned to Delaware. I assumed it would be easy to start again. I would just hook up my big kilns and get to work.                                                                                                                             The kilns were never hooked up…I chose to “wait” to make art because we were going to move “probably next year.” I was very busy with our family and an unbelievable 5 years went by.I painted occasionally and took some classes and oh sadness, I quit telling people I was an artist.   

It was hard to find a direction 

I tried glass blowing and resin casting, figurative painting and basket weaving. I used my sewing skills to alter wedding and prom dresses for a local store.  I hooked up the little kiln and shrank my sculpture down to half its size.

I made fused glass pendants in my small glass kiln......not my thing really....
 I decided to make tiles. I made some sample boards and headed to tile companies with a “lookie what I can do” attitude. Tile companies liked them. Customers placed orders

one of my glass tiles
whew, I was a working artist again,(okay Artisan but why quibble?)
I was making things and people were paying me for them, Happy Day!  
I made glass tiles, porcelain tiles, tile murals for shower surrounds and back splashes.  It was commissioned work using the customers ideas.  I really dislike fabricating pet portraits, just saying... to be honest I became a little burned out on seashells and vegetables too, but it paid the bills and more importantly bought art supplies.      

Then the housing market crashed-no one was remodeling their custom beach houses, tile companies that had been in business 35 years shut their doors.  I was having a do-over again, but what did I want to do?What did I want to make?  ….not tiles. I wanted to work on my own ideas. I knew I wasn’t going to “wait” again, before choosing a direction.Then, I took a trip to NYC to look at some galleries. I saw a tapestry and I suddenly knew.  
This is one of my tapestries. Its woven from silk and metallic threads

 Tapestry,was what I wanted to do
I had taken weaving in college and dyeing too. I disliked the process….a lot.  In fact, I dropped my weaving class.  I thought about these things as I plunked down money for a small table loom, and bought some books on weaving. Then I jumped right into the whole hands-on learning thing.

 Holey-moley, on a figure eight warp, make one mistake and the whole thing has to be unwound to the mistake- six hundred yards of Irish linen - who knew….?  Weaving seemed slow, very slow… was this supposed to be so slow? 
I consulted a chat room for  weavers. Would I get faster?  
The answer came back…an experienced tapestry weaver can weave 15 square inches a day on average, on the sett (how closely threads are spaced) I was using.  Enjoy the meditative process. What? That's only two inches an hour in an eight hour day.

On my first weaving, I would weave two inches, then find a mistake and rip out an inch and a half.  (My job as a wedding dress seamstress gave me the superpower of not tolerating imperfection.)  
Meditative process my ass..…but then slowly, slowly flowers and faces and waves and ideas began to emerge on my loom and I was hooked…..
So now, when asked, I say I am a Tapestry Weaver in possession of other skills as varied as they are impractical, and I have the superpower of never waiting for things to be perfect before creating  new work!

...so happy day

one of my  felted elves

You can see more of my work at  DeborahJohnsonArt.com

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