creative process

The Index of Days

Welcome to February! I've had a busy week in the studio and I'm going through the white paint, that's for sure! As our winter wonderland of white began to melt and evaporate, I noticed in my drives to town, that naturally more and more of the other colors in the landscape were reappearing. As readers might remember from my first post of the year in which I stated my desire to be more observant, I've been trying to do just that as I go out into the world....notice and pay attention. Sometimes little vignettes of the landscape take my breath away....sometimes it is color....or shape, or line. So, even as I worked on a couple more pieces in the Winter White series (see below), I was struck by the warm golden yellow of the grasses peaking up through what was left of the snow banks. Or that hedge of rich red in the dogwood bushes I would see here and there. My commute into town takes me along the golf course where an amazing willow tree holds forth majestically, with delicate lines and a most luscious golden yellow. And all that evergreen....and the umber browns against the snow and the soft blue gray of the distant bluffs....well, I was overwhelmed. 

And then somewhere, in the New York Times I believe, some image of people gathering hemp, that also took my breath away and it began to occur to me that all those things I saw and nearly wept over during the previous days, along with the things I'd read, the conversations I'd had, and everything else I'd seen and done, had become some kind of repository inside me. And I understood that, for me, the creative process, is one of accessing all that stored memory....and maybe the pieces are akin to mnemonic devices, of a sort.

I'd finished up the fourth and fifth in the Winter White Series and decided I'd break the ice on a couple of unfinished pieces on the same paper that had been staring me in the face for a couple of years. Perhaps you know the kind....those careful works you've spent countless hours on, yet remain dull and lifeless....and now lay abandoned.

The two pieces above were made using those two old drawings as a base. They were already divided in half, like a book page, and that notion of the book, along with everything I'd been thinking about, combined to lead me to create the pieces above. As I began to let go of the preciousness of the work I'd put in on those pages, the series title announced itself to me....Index of Days. What if you could capture memories in a way that would point to a conversation, or a thought you had....or an image you'd seen? If you could create some sort of index? What if you really let go and let your hand move across the page, following your instincts and wouldn't that inner repository of memory know just what to do to create the index? Maybe you wouldn't be able to articulate everything that came out, but you would recognize it as something interior, something that once resided in you and now was there to communicate with the world. Maybe others could access your index to find their way into their own interior.

I recognize a number of things in these pieces....the reference to the wispy red and ochre lines of those beautiful winter grasses rising up out of the ground and through the snow banks. I recognize the gingko leaf as a marker of memory and I traced it from a cut-out gingko leaf that lays on the corner of my desk. I recognized the reference to that rich hemp I saw momentarily, which reminded me once again of the grasses....the grasses that I love in the landscape here. And that spot of aqua....that was the color of the river I glimpsed briefly as I rounded the curve on the road back home.

Before I knew it, those old cast-off drawings had become enlivened....they reignited my interest in palimpsest as a metaphor for the richness of memory in the overlay of our accumulating days.

So, while the Winter White series will continue in some fashion, especially when we get the next snow that transforms our land, the Index of Days is an outgrowth of that series. As the snow melted and the edges of the landscape began to be seen again, there were new inspirations and a new kind of seeing. I'm excited by the release I felt when I finally let go of those drawings in limbo....letting go of the preciousness and trusting in my hands and heart.

The work I make is never planned....the work that sees the light of day, that is. My work comes from an interior place and the lesson to be learned over and over again, is the need to trust our own wisdom. 

So! As we move into February, I thought I'd have a bit of a sale over at Missouri Bend Studio....a kind of Art for the Heart sale....10% off in my shop to entice you to give a gift of original art to someone you love. Everything is on sale through February 15th. I'll be back here before then, but it's not to early to think about Valentines Day! 

Also, please remember you can always sign up for my monthly newsletter, which goes out the first of each month....I'm off to finish up the February issue right now. You can find the link on the About Us page of the website or by clicking here.

Enjoy your weekend. Cheers!



Over Lunch: A Conversation with Patti

Work table in Patti's studio

Work table in Patti's studio

In our last post, Johntimothy and I had a morning interview/conversation in his studio about printmaking and teaching that we shared with our readers. We turned the tables and Johntimothy interviewed me over lunch at the dining room table about my creative process. 

Johntimothy: You are always raising the importance of “thinking through your hands.” Can you elaborate on what you see as the significance of that process?

Patti: It’s hard to describe, but let me just say that when I try to think about an idea and what it might look like and then go about trying to make that thing….it just never works for me. But when I begin with nothing, letting go and letting my hands move across the page without consciously thinking, then things begin to flow. Often it takes some time for me to understand the internal conversation that is going on, but that’s what it is. It’s like the door to the conscious mind is closed, the “thinking” mind is left outside and the conversation is more below the surface....the murmur you might hear on the other side. Sometimes the result, the finished piece, is such that I still can’t put it into words, as it is beyond words…much deeper. Other times, I can articulate what I couldn’t have before I’d begun drawing.

Bloodlines (acrylic and embroidery on handmade paper)

Bloodlines (acrylic and embroidery on handmade paper)

Johntimothy: But you often work with a theme….Notes From The Ancestors, for example. Or you might have an idea about the blood-soaked land. You were reading about things and thinking about them before you made that piece….what was the title?

Patti: That piece you are thinking of was Bloodlines and yes, it is a good example of what we’ve been talking about. It is an older piece, from a period when I was working on your handmade paper with layers of acrylic and sewing.  It was not that long after we moved out here to South Dakota and I was doing a lot of reading about the westward expansion, the displacement of native peoples and the violence…the blood spilled out across the land.  The land was literally carrying the memory of what had happened, but I didn’t understand that until I made that piece. I understood that idea slowly, through the many layers of painting and building the surface and then the time consuming stitching. I didn’t set out to talk about or make a piece about that idea. I came to that idea of the blood soaked land holding memory through the making of the piece.

Johntimothy: But you have to start somewhere…you choose colors, symbols, marks that end up conveying the ideas.

Patti: I don’t choose them exactly. It’s more like an on demand kind of thing….or a just-in-time idea. I “know” what to do at the right time. It starts with play…especially going back to those early mixed media pieces, like Bloodlines. There are many layers in that piece, many layers of red, which I came to understand as blood…and later lots of sewing.

Johntimothy: Did you see the sewing, the stitching, as a metaphor for healing?

Patti: No, but that is an interesting notion! It was more about another source of layering….I think a lot of the works from that period were a reflection of my understanding of palimpsest and perhaps the land being a metaphor for palimpsest. Recently, I’ve gotten away from the layered painting on handmade paper to the more pared down layering on the Japanese paper, but it is a similar process. It is the same “not knowing” when I start out.

Notes From The Ancestors no.1 (graphite, ink, beeswax, collage, sewing on Japanese paper)

Notes From The Ancestors no.1 (graphite, ink, beeswax, collage, sewing on Japanese paper)

Johntimothy: Most of the work you’ve made in the last few years has been on Japanese paper dipped in beeswax. You’re concentrating on a more direct drawing now, rather than using paint.

Patti: Yes, like the Notes From the Ancestors series. I found myself thinking about what our collective ancestors say to us about how to live, how best to proceed at this point in time. We are not necessarily good about learning from the past. Each generation seems to have to learn the lessons over and over again. We don’t always listen to the voices from the past and I think there is a kind of arrogance about looking back, learning from history about how to move forward. There seems to be a sort of limitation on how we see what I think of as a continuum of the past, present and future. But all that came after I started to make a couple of those drawings on Japanese paper, which I divided into sections, making drawings in each section that related to one another in some way. In the process, the notion of what I was doing and the title for what was becoming a series, came to me as Notes From The Ancestors. Those drawings and most of those that have followed are dipped in beeswax and then often have sewing, beads or buttons as well.

Notes From The Ancestors, no.8 (graphite, ink, beeswax, collage, button on Japanese paper)

Notes From The Ancestors, no.8 (graphite, ink, beeswax, collage, button on Japanese paper)

Johntimothy: So, you become conscious about these ideas in the process. You move from not knowing to knowing?

Patti: Yes, that is what I mean when I say “I think through my hands.” It is how I come to understand the world or how I think about the world in which I find myself. It is an embodied knowing, just as there is embodied learning. But, we don’t give credit to the whole body. We separate our mind from our body. Why can’t you think through your whole body? What comes out is an expression of what you are thinking, feeling, experiencing. We all internalize the physical world in some fashion, but it is often happening on a subconscious level.

Notes From The Ancestors no.11 (graphite, ink, beeswax, embroidery on Japanese paper)

Notes From The Ancestors no.11 (graphite, ink, beeswax, embroidery on Japanese paper)

Johntimothy: So, your process of making art is your way of excavating that internalization of the world…to get at it, make it visible and then begin to “see anew” and understand. I think I am starting to connect in a deeper sense to your process. So, this very much relates back to the drawing exercises from your early mentor Richard Loveless. You have talked about this exercise on finding your personal mark since we first met. Can you elaborate on how this works?

Patti: The exercise relates to what I have come to call meditation drawings. That exercise, given by Loveless in one of my long ago teaching certification courses, was pivotal for me. He described it in terms of an internal landscape of mark making that each person carries within them and the assignment he gave us was a way to discover that idea, as well as the individuality of the drawing marks that we make. It was the beginning of understanding my own internal landscape and learning to trust it, as a vast source of wisdom. Not just my wisdom, but the wisdom of everything that has come before. I realize now, that my daily drawing practice grew out of this exercise.

Daily drawings available in  Etsy shop

Daily drawings available in Etsy shop

Johntimothy: So how did the exercise work…can you describe the process?

Patti: Each person was to start with a stack of 50 sheets of blank photocopy paper and a mark-making tool…pencil, pen, brush, whatever was comfortable. We were to find a quiet and uninterrupted place that allowed us to relax….this was homework, so we were doing this alone in our own at homes. Basically, it was then a process of making marks on each of those 50 sheets without thinking about what we were doing. You were to just let your hand move and “listen” to when to turn the page over and make marks on the second sheet, the third, etc. until you came to the end of the 50 sheets. As I recall, the whole thing took less than half an hour. The idea was never to make “drawings”, but to let go and just work through your body and not think about what you were doing. I remember most folks in the class were art education majors and not studio artists, so many found the process frustrating. I think many of them were not able to let go of trying to make drawings. When we all came back for the next class, Loveless had us lay each of our 50 sheets out in individual groups on the floor in that very large studio. I got it right away. I recognized myself in my own 50 pages. Like looking in a mirror….those marks were my marks and could only have been made by me. It was not about filling the page, but feeling when enough was enough and when to turn the page. So, on one of my pages, for instance, there might have only been one tiny x in the corner. So, it was the weight of the lines in the marks you made, but also where you put things, the spaces, the density of the page. That was a powerful moment for me to recognize myself in the mirror of those fifty pages. I began to really trust my own creative process and I came to believe that we each have an inner landscape of mark making.

Getting people connected to such an idea and to trust in it is a whole new conversation. I think our creativity is a fundamental part of natures. Maybe our next conversation will focus on our ideas about creativity and how to help people rediscover that in themselves.

Johntimothy: Yes, that's a big one for both of us!