A Gem of an Idea: Working in a Series

MJ Kinman Between River and Sky_Finished Full Size_Transparent edges

A Gem of an Idea: Working in a Series

Each of us makes art in our own way. And that’s the point. David Bayles and Ted Orland suggest in their classic book, Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking, that our job as artists is to make OUR art – as only we can do it. And so, we must get on with making our art…and lots of it.

The way I prefer to get on with making my art is by working in a series. I find tremendous value and satisfaction in working this way for a number of reasons.

MJ Kinman_Blush_FULL

Blush

Diving Deeper

Working in a series allows me to explore an idea from different perspectives. The most interesting subjects can be viewed a million different ways; series work allows me to dive into those meanings. In fact, working in a series actually helps me think more deeply about a subject because as I’m working on one piece, ideas for the next work fly like sparks off a blacksmith’s anvil. Then those new questions and insights lead to new questions and insights. I love that process of discovery.

“The unfolding over time of a great idea is like the growth of a fractal crystal, allowing details and refinements to multiply endlessly — but only in ever-increasing scale.”
David Bayles and Ted Orland, Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking

I’m working on several series right now. The series titled “Angle of Repose” focuses on work that features gems in relationship to one another. These pieces depict their interaction and how they’ve come together at a certain point in time.

MJ Fire and Ice_82x50_FULL

Fire and Ice

The term “angle of repose” is a mechanical and geological term that describes the point at which an object sliding down an incline plane comes to rest. If the plane tipped a fraction of a degree more, the slide would continue. But for now, it is “position” not “velocity” that matters. I love that analogy, since it describes how I feel in my quilt studio. For all the craziness of the world and my life, that time I get to spend creating in my studio is a time I’m in repose, at rest, in communication with my quilts.

The other series underway is the “Bourbon Diamonds” series. (I love my research for this series!) An aspect of a bourbon distillery here in Kentucky inspired each piece. Inspiration has included the physical aspect of a distillery, such as a gigantic copper still that commands the distillery floor, and the character of the bourbon itself.

MJ Kinman Makers Flame_Prof Photography 2

Maker’s Flame

Next year’s goal is to start on a series inspired by the National Gem Collection housed at the Smithsonian’s Gem & Mineral Department within the National Museum of Natural History (Washington, DC). The National Gem Collection includes the Hope Diamond, the Blue Heart Diamond, the Hooker Emerald, and other less well-known but equally beautiful gems. I’m excited to start working on this series!

“In essence, art lies embedded in the conceptual leap between pieces, not in the pieces themselves.” David Bayles and Ted Orland, Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking

MJ Kinman Devils Due_53x78_FULL

Devil’s Due

Take the Pressure Off

To try to express everything there is to say about a topic or an idea in one single work, I think, puts tremendous pressure on us as artists. It can lead to paralysis, which leads to not starting at all. Knowing that I have the freedom to explore other aspects of an idea in future work allows me to fully engage and enjoy the work at hand.

“To require perfection is to invite paralysis….Believing that artwork should be perfect, you gradually become convinced that you cannot make such work. (You are correct.) Sooner or later, since you cannot do what you are trying to do, you quit. And in one of those perverse little ironies of life, only the pattern itself achieves perfection — a perfect death spiral: you misdirect your work; you stall; you quit.”
David Bayles and Ted Orland, Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking

MJ Kinman Copper Queen_1800 Pixels

Copper Queen

Solve Problems & Grow New Skills

Vision always exceeds execution, according to Bayles and Orland. Because it’s supposed to. So tackling a new work in a series is an opportunity to explore new techniques or approaches to your work. This process allows me to grow not only as an artist, but as the craftsperson who is responsible for ensuring the quality of my work.

“At any point along that path, your job as an artist is to push craft to its limits — without being trapped by it. The trap is perfection: unless your work continually generates new and unresolved issues, there’s no reason for your next work to be any different from the last.”
David Bayles and Ted Orland, Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking

MJ Kinman_Communion_FULL - Copy

Communion

As an example, I called the first work in my “Angle of Repose” series “Communion”. I struggled with how to quilt it, knowing that I wanted to be sure that the viewer was drawn in primarily by the flow of light and color across the gem facets and NOT the quilting pattern. I was unhappy with my first attempt at machine quilting; it looked like a rumpled bed quilt. So I ended up ripping it all out. Then I spent the next six months hand-embellishing the piece with little hash marks all across the surface.

While I loved the time I spent stitching the facets, I knew it was far too time-consuming. I’d be 400 years old before I completed all the work that was in my head! So, I went back to the drawing board. Then after lots of trials, I decided on a random, non-directional free-motion machine quilting technique. It acts as a screen through which the viewer can see the light and color of the gems. So that’s now my preferred technique and one that I teach in my classes.

“You make good work by (among other things) making lots of work that isn’t very good, and gradually weeding out the parts that aren’t good, the parts that aren’t yours. It’s called feedback, and it’s the most direct route to learning about your own vision. It’s also called doing your work. After all, someone has to do your work, and you’re the closest person around.”
David Bayles and Ted Orland, Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking

MJ Kinman Lila_Full Size

Lila

Help Your Viewer

Viewers also benefit. Working in a series allows viewers to contemplate one idea across many pieces, considering how the individual pieces contrast and complement one another, and how they tell a complete story as a group. It helps your viewers to understand your work better; it helps them “get” you.

If your viewers include gallery owners, museum curators, and others who plan exhibits, it helps those folks envision your art in a coherent, cohesive way on their gallery/museum/exhibit walls. Think of series work as a great marketing tool.

MJ Kinman Char 4_300 dpi_4512_3008 pix

Char #4

If you haven’t considered working in a series, I would definitely encourage you to consider giving it a try.

“The only work really worth doing-the only work you can do convincingly-is the work that focuses on the things you care about. To not focus on those issues is to deny the constants in your life.”
David Bayles and Ted Orland, Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking

MJ Kinman Between River and Sky_Finished Full Size_Transparent edges

Between River & Sky


MJ Kinman Head shot_July 2017Guest Post by MJ Kinman, Textile Artist, Pattern Designer and Teacher.
Read our interview with MJ Kinman.
Learn more about MJ and her work on her website.











Facebook Comments