By Grey Catsidhe
As part of the Art Guild study program requirements, I am to choose two mediums to focus on. It was suggested they should force me to focus on different dimensions, brain power, and physical movements. Choosing a first medium was effortless. Deciding on a second was a little more challenging, but I think I have found something that will prove helpful and complimentary to my studies.
I’ve been sewing since I was four or five. When I was younger it was my mother who first taught me how to thread a needle and do a basic stitch. I made a pillow and, quite ambitiously, declared that we should call the local museum and ask about submitting it for their exhibit. I still have the ratty pillow as a reminder of how proud sewing has always made me, and how a simple craft can inspire me to reach for the stars. As I’ve grown, I’ve explored other fiber arts such as knitting, crochet, and embroidery. Textiles is my medium of choice and I’m filled with such joy and purpose whenever I’m engaged in it. Of course there are frustrating moments – jammed bobbins, uneven seams, knots, misread patterns – but the end product and the feeling of having created something beautiful, unique, and, possibly, useful is so fulfilling. I am excited that the Artisan Guild study program exists as it gives me an excuse to further explore my favorite craft and how it can become a greater expression of my spirituality.
Choosing a second medium to focus on in the art guild has been a challenge. There are many arts I would love to learn about – many of which would compliment my sewing. At first I thought about sculpting, an art I’ve had experience in and would like to pursue once more. Jewelry making was also something I considered. Each would help me create more involved dolls and costume accessories. When I discussed this with a fellow artist and ADF member, she suggested to me that, although they would be helpful to my sewing, they were three-dimensional mediums and that I am already engaged in such a process when creating dolls and clothing. I am basically sculpting with fabric when I create my dolls or costumes.
Thinking along these lines, I decided to revisit drawing. I studied art all through public school and even took a drawing class in college. Although never a blue ribbon artist, I did develop an understanding and enjoyment for drawing. I’m proud of some of the pieces I completed.
Although sculpting and jewelry making are obvious compliments to doll making and costuming, drawing will be just as helpful. Having focused more on textiles than anything else, the drawing skills that were so practiced in high school have suffered. I would like to practice more so as to be better able to sketch designs for dolls and costumes. Learning more about perspective and proportions will help me perfect my understanding of anatomy – an important aspect of dolls and costume design!
Will you be able to take classes at a local art center?
Although I’ve had several years of experience, I realize that I have much to learn and that I have many areas to improve upon. I was lucky to have both a mother and a father who sewed. I learned a lot from them and a few other family members. As I grew I started looking at books for further inspiration and technique. In college I was blessed to meet a fellow sewing enthusiast who shared some of her own tricks with me. Now I’m an adult, moved away from home, and living in a new town in Northern NY, far from my old teachers and peers. I am left on my own with my books, websites, and how-to internet videos. That said, I’ve recently learned about the Thousand Island Arts Center and it seems like just what the proverbial doctor ordered. Although their website is being reconfigured and their classes have yet to be updated, last year there were courses on weaving, spinning, quilt making, pattern drafting, and all manner of traditional arts. Quilting, weaving, and spinning are skills I would love to learn about, and taking any classes would undoubtedly provide me with an opportunity to perfect my skills under master teachers.
As stated, I’ve already taken plenty of drawing classes throughout my educational history. I’m definitely not close-minded to taking more! Should I see a class that focuses on a skill I feel lacking in, I would be inclined to take it. I believe I already have an understanding for the basics that most introductory classes present, and that I would most benefit from workshops focusing on a certain area such as portraits, figure drawing, or landscaping. I would also like to learn how to better use the materials. As with sewing, the Thousand Island Arts Center has offered pertinent classes in the past and I look forward to seeing their updated calendar for possible consideration.
Will you need to use well-illustrated how-to books and the rigorous school of trial and error?
I’m hopeful that the art center will update its website and class information soon. In the meantime I have to rely on tutorials, trial and error, and my own tenacious creativity. It’s part of the game, I suppose. Luckily I already have some wonderful books that can help me with the more technical annoyances of sewing such as the Signer Sewing Book by Jessie Hutton and Gladys Cunningham. It’s old but full of useful information. I would like to find books on spinning and natural dying.
I am definitely opened to using books to better understand certain drawing techniques. I think well-illustrated books would be especially helpful with anatomy. Otherwise I will rely on trial and error to perfect my shading, perspective, and other such skills.
How available, affordable and sustainable are the materials you will need?
I already have many tools. My husband recently revived my old sewing machine, and my father fixed another that will arrive at my home sooner or later. I also do a lot of hand stitching lately which is, I’m sure, more sustainable than using electricity. I have various sized crochet hooks and knitting needles. I like to buy fabric and thread from garage sales and second hand stores. I also like to recycle clothing and scraps. Unfortunately this doesn’t always meet my needs and I do buy a lot of fabric and other materials from art and craft stores. I try to research sustainable and organic materials but, unfortunately, many of them are a bit too expensive for me at the moment.
Some more sustainable and affordable materials have crossed my radar recently. I’ve noticed more felt made of recycled plastic for example. There are also some recycled buttons. I’ve found a few skeins of organic/bamboo yarn.
Luckily, as long as I can find thread and keep my needles straight, I will be able to sew. There are always scraps around. Plastic bags can be turned into “plarn” for knitting or crochet. I would love to learn how to spin wool and eventually weave my own fabric. In Northern NY, there seem to be plenty of sheep and alpaca farmers with homespun wool for purchasing.
I am lucky to have a couple craft stores in the nearby city of Watertown, NY, one of which has a plethora of drawing materials. In addition, the city of Syracuse, NY, which is about an hour and a half away from my home, has an amazing art supply store with even more materials. There are plenty of graphite and charcoal pencils, watercolor pencils, and inks for my use. The art store in Syracuse has an amazing selection of canvases and specialty paper should I ever feel so inclined.
I recently purchased some watercolor pencils and noticed that some brands guarantee that the wood did not come from rain forests. I favor those brands as deforestation is a very real problem and I want to do all in my power not to contribute to it. I am not aware of where the pigment comes from, but this is something I would love to learn more about. I know that some drawing paper is recycled and I would prefer to purchase this should I find it.
Is there anyone in your community who can serve as a resource for you?
The Art Center I mentioned before will, I hope, become a resource. There are also bound to be other local artisans I have yet to meet. Within my own tribe there are plenty of crafty, needle-happy people. My friend Parallax is an accomplished seamstress who also has a degree in art. My mother and father are both talented and are my original sewing teachers. My aunt used to make her own clothing. My husband also studied some art in school. Although he focused on photography, he has a keen eye for detail and notices when things don’t seem quite right. In addition, my sister, Sara, her fiancé, Trevor, and my grandmother are all artistic. My sister and her fiancé majored in art and are rarely seen without a sketchpad. Sara focuses on interior designs and Trevor’s interest is character design. My grandmother, though mostly a painter, always starts with a sketch. These people will be the first I turn to for suggestions and help. If that fails, there is also the internet with its many tutorials and forums.
Are there opportunities to work and learn collectively with other novices?
Should the Art Center offer more classes, then yes. I also have my eye on local colleges as many have non-credit classes open to the community and there have been quilting or fiber arts classes offered before.
What kind of assistance or advice will you want/need from the Artisan Guild, if any?
I would expect the guild to be a community of learners at various levels of expertise. I would love to bounce ideas off others and receive honest feedback as well as encouragement. I am always open to advice and help.