Spending a weekend with other artist friends and looking at art inevitably leads to talk about what we’re seeing, what we can learn, where we are going, and the like. I had actually sent an email to everyone about some long range planning a few weeks previously, so we kept coming back to each of our thoughts on where we were and where we were going. After attending the SAQA Conference, I thought really hard about my Five Year Plan as an artist. I think about it every few years, but I quickly get stuck when I realize that I don’t even know where I’ll be living in five, or even three, years. This time, I told myself that was just an excuse to not do the hard thinking. I am at a point where I am trying to figure out where my work fits in the world. The quilt show circuit doesn’t seem to be quite the right fit, so I am wondering if I am focusing my talents in the wrong direction. Maybe there is something I don’t see in myself that I should be exploiting, like my design or drawing background, or a turn I should have made along the way. Or maybe, I really am a studio artist. I am compelled to make. I know that much.
I am in the enviable position of not having to support myself or my family, so I could/should just make art (since that’s what makes me happy), and leave it at that. But, unfortunately, I’ve learned that is not enough — I’m the type of person who craves feedback and context for my work. I am just not satisfied making solely for the sake of making. I am discovering that I want feedback — be that through sales, shows, collaborations, whatever. I find myself getting wound up when the quilt world posts happenings around Quilt Markets, and I think it’s because I see others getting feedback and finding a context. They are creating something people want, and I want to do that too. I want to feel like I have a purpose. I’d love to just be satisfied with making art, but not worry about showing or selling it, or producing anything marketable. The problem is that I know I’d be left bitching and moaning about how no one appreciates my work (because I’d get little to no feedback on it or context in which to put it).
One of the things that came up over and over again with my friends this last weekend is that art is a conversation. We say something, and we need someone to complete the sentence, or answer the call. I am trying to wrap my head around what my conversation is about. Where the intersection of what I can do, what I want to do, and what people want from me is. So, I made some lists to see if any pattern or epiphany emerges.
First, I can’t make any site-specific plans. But so much these days is accomplished online, without borders. On the other hand, if I want to go a gallery-oriented route, being able to make connections in person really does seem to be the more effective modus operandi. I think this means that I should do what I can now, but some goals with just have to be more more long term or amorphous.
If I wanted my work to have more exposure and to grow a marketable side of it within the context of the creative world I am currently in, IQF (Quilt Knit Stitch, QuiltCon, Quilters Take Manhattan too?) is an opportunity to promote or pitch ideas — if what I have to offer overlaps with what they can provide. I keep seeing what others in the quilt and fabric arena are doing and feeling like I could do something like that too. But just because I can doesn’t mean I should. I may not have the skills or temperament to follow the same path. I need to find my own.
I keep asking myself, what is my “Do what you love; live your dream?” So many stories start with “I didn’t know what I was doing but I jumped in anyway because I loved it,” and now are “and it became the successful thing you see today.” I need to think about how I can do this — am I too timid to see the big idea, or am I just not clever enough to even have a big idea? One goal could be to find my big idea.
If the quilt shows and markets don’t offer any opportunities for me, then where should I go to find the kinds of connections I need? I need to seek the artier versions of the quilt-oriented bloggers, conventions, and products that I follow now. I should find things to get inspired by and wound up about that are more appropriate to the work I could be doing.
I can easily make a Three Day Plan. That is essentially tasks. In fact, I make a list of tasks/intentions each morning. But without a long term goal, I can’t really know if my tasks are making steps in the right direction, or if I am just going in circles.
My Three Month Plan is pretty well laid out too: Finish gun, TSA, and shroud quilts. Submit to Quilt National and QuiltCon. Follow through on Privacy show. Vivien pointed out that again, these are still tasks. I need goals at this point. Refine my elevator speech is one. Just the process of doing that will help me determine what it is I do, and hopefully give insight as to what I want to do. The weekend reminded me that I need to always be on the lookout for connections. Reach out to those who I admire, even if it’s just to watch. Cultivate a diverse group of friends (says one of those whom I admire). Keep learning!
Where I’ve been (that I can tap into because maybe I’ve been barking up the wrong trees):
• Crafty projects like costumes, plushies, knitting, and pin cushions
• Practical bed quilts usually riffing off existing patterns and trends.
• Fabric (or wrapping paper, or…) designs of a graphic nature.
• Graphic design in the identity, annual report, and ephemera vein.
• Teaching basic patchwork and quilting
• Writing about process and inspiration i.e: my blog, 12×12 book
What I do (because what I do should light a path):
• I make conceptually based narrative textiles in the themes of current culture, military life, homes and roots.
• I make scrappy, practical, bed quilts usually riffing off existing patterns (could these be marketed to upscale retailers if they were simple and graphic al la Denyse Schmidt Works line or Weeks Ringle? But more Americana, edgy?)
• I attend life drawing sessions
What IQF Houston (Quilt, Knit, Stitch, QuiltCon, Quilters Take Manhattan) offer (what others appear to be making happen through these venues):
• Show fabric design portfolio to company reps
• Pitch a book idea (technique based, or ?) Interweave, That Patchwork Place
• Pitch a magazine contribution
• Pitch a special exhibit (geek art, pop culture, cat quilts…)
• Make connections for teaching
• Look for sponsorship from thread, fabric, gadget, sewing machine companies. Bernina!
• Find a unique way to promote a gadget.
What in my general area do people want that they see value in?
Fine craft with a purpose/use (for example, bed quilts, jewelry, vessels, How-to books, classes to inspire and allow emulation).
Potential Three Year plan:
• Join a McGuffey-like art center wherever we move to.
• Have an elevator speech.
• Be proactive about shows at various types of venues and with friends and peers.
• Apply to and receive grants to continue making art in my current vein?
• Deepen my knowledge of Photoshop and Illustrator (specifically for use in creating fabric designs?)
• Learn how to use the embroidery module on my Bernina better and to digitize designs?
• Draw more, better, bigger…
What I already have planned
• Be a part of the Privacy show at McGuffey in Feb 2015 and help take the show to DC or beyond. “Those Who Would Sacrifice” and the TSA quilt in progress are well suited for this. Maybe return to woven envelopes.
• Homefront & Downrange show in NC summer of 2015 with photographer Hunter Rudd and selected works from Combat Paper.
• Submit to Quilt National 2015: Finish gun quilt and shroud quilt.
• QuiltCon 2015: submit Zeitgeist.
• Dinner@8: Selfie is accepted. Will travel for most of 2015?
• Unraveling apron to be in JAM show Marci McDade is curating
Talking with my posse this weekend, it’s become more and more clear that even though I have the opportunity to follow my Selfie quilt to IQF in Houston, or potentially Zeitgeist to QuiltCon, and network there, and I have a history with the art quilt world, the traditional art route may be better suited to me. My girlfriends see me closer to the fine art world, and McGuffey juried me in based on my drawings. I would stick with SAQA, but leave the quiltier quilt shows as pure enjoyment. Change my focus a little. Not dramatic, but a change. I would like to try to support my art habit through sales, grants, and other projects, which would all require getting my work seen and therefore validated. I will remain flexible. I will cultivate connections. I will focus on the art. I will make the art. And, I have accountability partners in my friends.