How to Be a Fearless Artist

My found object printing experiment.

cate pratoHow many of us are so fearless in our art that we are willing to go beyond what a medium can do to seeing what it might do? To chuck everything we've been taught about the "right way" and put faith in our own way? To be like the archeologist who must disturb or even destroy the setting of the dig in order to get to the precious find within?

This is the kind of approach to art that fosters originality.  But you have to be brave.

Personally, I am constantly fighting the urge to do things "the right way" when it comes to art. I am much more comfortable with seeing a project I like and making italbeit with some of my own twists. And I tend to think of my materials and supplies as precious: I don't want to "waste them" on something that isn't going to turn out.

But I'm at the point now where my need to have my own voice as an artist is becoming stronger than the need to have something to show at the end of the day.

So, I turned to an artist who is one of the bravest and original I know, Cas Holmes, opening her book The Found Object in Textile Art for inspiration. I've often done this in the past to admire her artwork, but this time I wanted to see what I might discover for myself.

Stitched fern print.

If you're not familiar with Cas' work, you should know that "found object" in her parlance can apply to everything from old clothes to twigs. She wastes nothing: even her "rejected experiments" in art get repurposed in other works or sketchbooks, after she's cut them up, printed on them, or stitched over them.

Kneaded paper, before and after. The kneading gives the paper a cloth-like texture and patina.

Cas is also an advocate of destroying and remaking. Some of her processes include:

Cutting up dry pieces and working them into a wet layering process.

Rolling, scraping, creasing, and tearing the surface.

Distressing, like kneading paper with a bit of oil (momigami) to make it more textile-like and then stitching it.

I decided to try mark-making with found objects on a found object. I took an old hankie with a pretty edge but a few pinholes and gathered some flowers from my garden. Then, using a heavy-bottomed mug on a protected wooden counter, I started pounding the plants onto the hankie to make prints.

Here's what I learned from this experiment:

  • Ferns and other plant matter with a relatively hearty texture (similar to the weight of a piece of printer paper) and a distinct edge make the best prints.
  • Flowers such as petunias offer rich color but an indistinct edge. On the other hand, fibrous petals with a lot of moisture in them (such as pink hydrangea) result in a very light, watercolor-like impression (very indistinct).
  • Bergamot leaves yield an unattractive (to me) brown color, but oh do they smell heavenly while being pounded.

Yes, I had taken a pretty hankie and made a mess on part of it. But I also made some interesting marks and learned a lot about a technique. So I proceeded with some hand stitching.

It was so hard not to try to "make" something of what I was doing or worry about "ruining" what I had just done. But I tried to be very Zen in my approach and just focus on the moment: what was happening with the thread, the fabric, and the stitching right now. I just said to myself "try this" and then "try that."

I liked the look of tightly packed seed stitches; they made the fabric pucker slightly and emulated the organic texture of the fern. Straight-line stitching didn't work as well for me, but maybe it would if the fabric were heavier? Something to try.

What will I do next with my experiment? Prompted by Cas' techniques and exercises, I might be brave enough to try cutting up the piece and putting it back together, printing over it with found objects, applying a photo transfer or over-dyeing it, or dousing the entire thing with encaustic medium.

I might completely destroy it. Or I might discover how to make art in a way that is unique to me.

What might you learn from The Found Object in Textile Art? Are you brave enough discover the original artist within? What are your creative fears, and what steps have you taken to conquer them? Share below!

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