Monday, 9 February 2015

Working in series - some thoughts.

I've had an ear problem in the last few days which has meant dizziness and a short term inability to sew or paint.  So I've been reduced to the internet where touch typing means I can keep my head still!

Most bloggers get the occasional surge in stats - visitors to their site - and I traced a recent one back to a workshop with the title Working In Series. I've heard the term many times of course, but hadn't considered myself as intentionally working in series; in my mind, I was just working!! 

Prior to the Life Stories, I used to work by making what I wanted when I wanted to, and on the right are a number of past quilts.  Most of the time, each piece is different from the last one and there is no real continuation between them.

Working like this is probably fine for the person doing it, but I guess for the viewer it can be disjointed and lots of different works say nothing about the person making them; their philosophy, themes, concepts, interested topics etc.  I suppose you could just about find a theme on botanical subjects, or the colour orange if you really wanted to, but it's a little vague!

Why is that important? Maybe it isn't unless you want to try and push yourself into exhbitions and selling etc. It's much easier to look at, understand, and judge someone's work, if not overwhelmed by disparate variety.  Too many choices means it becomes difficult to understand what makes the artist tick, and what they're trying to say.

Working in a series is not boring.  It's about allowing yourself explore what's in your mind, to investigate, to think about particular ideas and themes, to play with compositions, concepts or topics in a far deeper and more meaningful way.  By comparison, a one-off piece of work feels like a brief encounter - a passing moment and nothing more!

This doesn't mean you do the same thing over and over.  You find new ways of saying the same things, of making connections between pieces, and ultimately, working in series like this, adds clarity to your work, and people will understand you and hopefully appreciate you more.

Perhaps when your sitting at your machine busily stitching away at a new piece, things come into your mind:  "Shall I use this colour thread, should I move that over there, what would happen if I did this, or shall I do this bit in the middle a bit bigger and put something else around the edge?"  I'm sure you know what I mean!  Why not keep a notebook by the machine, (don't rely on your memory), and write your ideas down the minute they happen. Don't alter the thing you're working on, rather keep the ideas in your book for a new piece of work when you've finished.

If you find working in a series difficult, try choosing a subject -perhaps the coastline, or beetles, or palm trees, anything, and try working on several pieces at the same time, right from the word go. Start with a separate plan for each piece and then stick to the plan and don't jumble your ideas up. Be focused and disciplined.

My original plan for the Life Story series was to do 20 quilts.  I often feel like a change would do me good, and I have other plans in the pipeline, but the series will never be finished, and any new topic I investigate, will also be a series.  So yes, I guess I do Work In Series, much as I hate the label!!


  1. Gadflies and butterflies abound in the textile arts! It's good to experiment and play with different media or techniques, but trying everything is not going to result in cohesion. Settling on only a few that are strong, mastering them and then strengthening one's touch with those is what enables some of us to build that recognizable "body of work". I don't think of myself working in series either, except that when i look at the completed work there *is* a unifying source, style, "voice", flavour, whatever you want to call it. To me, a "series" is one that has something that endures across the works, is enhanced by either the technique (though i am not technique driven) or the subject matter coming together in unexpected ways: the lift of a hand, the breath of something that isn't obvious.

    1. Thank you Arlee, all great points. There are advantages to working in a series from the makers point of view, but even more from the viewers, which might be more important in the long run! I agree, the essence of you will come out in your work if you let it.

  2. Well - now I won't have to write on this topic on my own blog, as I've been thinking of've covered all the bases and I swear you pulled some of them directly out of my brain. ;-) Great minds, you know! But seriously, you have described two things that I have experienced - the thoughts that arise while in process about the little variables one could choose that for some reason never occurs to one beforehand, and the main reason for series work, to explore in depth certain themes or ideas. For me, I seem to be caught up in water. The more I think about it, research it, experience it, the more I realize I don't know or have fallen into false ideas about it. It certainly has not been boring! You are right about series work bringing clarity.

    1. Sorry to steal your thoughts! The key is to think and each time one makes a decision, to think of it as a path dividing giving many different ways. Gosh, I'm feeling Zen this morning aren't I?!!

    2. No problem! But it is really spooky when one runs across identical thoughts like that. Affirming but spooky...

      I love it - the key is to think. And that is what I think is the problem with so many art quilts these days - not a lot of thought going into them. Your Zen thoughts are exactly how I've always looked at life itself, no one straight path, but with each decision come more options to consider. I do enjoy following your process.

      The other thing I "think" is that most people, artists and non-artists alike, get it into their heads that the finished piece of art work they are looking at just happened because of the talent of the artist. Easy Peasy if you have the talent. It was so helpful to me, for instance, to find out that you had not stitched that stone wall without any markings. I know that there are machine quilters that COULD do that, and I thought perhaps that's what you had done because I think your quilting is so good, but I surely cannot, and sometimes even get chided for being so "uptight and concerned about perfectionism" when I mark a lot of things ahead of time. Has nothing to do with perfectionism but more with avoiding an unhappy outcome or even disaster.

      That tip about playing with perspective by positioning masking tape was a bit of a revelation to me too. So simple and perhaps even obvious but something I hadn't thought of.

    3. thank you again IB, I think there's another posting in there somewhere! A x