Do you collaborate? With yourself? Pat Solon does. From poetry to painting to drawing to fiber, she uses what she learns in one medium to push the boundaries in another. She creates work to focus on the joy of learning, to stimulate thought and for the satisfaction of making art that matters to her.
How did you find yourself on an artist’s path?
Am I? By definition, I’m not a professional artist because I don’t actively sell. But I love learning and open-ended questions. Artwork is just one delightful way to feed that appetite.
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You have worked in a number of mediums. How do they influence each other?
Art mediums seem to be promiscuous with each other. I signed up for watercolor classes long ago because I had hoped — some day — to create companion paintings for my poems. My original motivation for jumping into an art school with both feet was the hope it would lead me to create quilts that were more interesting, even though the school teaches no fiber arts. The principles are the same. I have written poems that are meditations on photographs or other people’s paintings. I have created quilts that tried to “channel” the spirit of some painter I adore without merely copying one of her or his paintings in fabric. And I have recited a favorite poem to myself as I created an art quilt, letting the poet’s words work on my subconscious to influence the quilt.
What inspires you?
The works of creative people that boggle my mind and shatter my self-imposed boundaries. Materials that beg to be celebrated. Reading, reflection, and contemplation. Thinking how lucky we are to exist. Color. Loving this generous yet ferocious planet. Remembering how small and temporary we are.
Are there recurring themes in your work?
I aim for a degree of ambiguity in my work, regardless of medium or subject matter. The idea is to welcome people to add their own meanings and emotions and creativity as co-creators of their experience. I hope my works avoid lecturing, telling you what or how you should think or feel, but that doesn’t mean I don’t hope they make you somewhat uncomfortable.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? What does it look like?
Ha, ha! I have lots of areas for creating in my home, all of which coexist with other functions. For example, I paint and dye in my laundry room, which has terrific light but not much space. All my sewing equipment and supplies hang out in a room with my computer, off-season clothing, manuscripts, reference books, and TV. Like that.
What are your favored/most used tools and materials? How do they improve your work?
It’s essential for creating complex fabric designs to be pieced, à la Ruth McDowell. The shiny side makes a good palette for either oil or acrylic that can be tossed or allowed to dry to be used in collages. You can draw or paint on the matte side. Iron freezer-paper cutouts onto a surface as a resist for dyeing, silk screening, painting, and other manipulations. I’ve heard you can wrap sandwiches in it.
Another favorite “tool”: deadlines. Deadlines are really, really good. Otherwise, these children might never leave the nest. (“No poem is every finished, only abandoned.”)
Do you have a mentor?
I owe debts of gratitude to many teachers and instructors in many creative mediums, but I’ve had only one mentor. Madeline DeFrees guided me by word and example in many lengthy and involved one-to-one conversations over a period of 25 years. She was a poet and had been an outstanding professor of creative writing, but every principle I learned from her about the dynamics of writing and reading poetry applies to any creative effort. Her intellect and her listening abilities were extraordinary. She spoke with candor about her own state of mind as she rode the creative cycles. She encouraged me to develop my craft and to pay attention to my own sensibilities to make my work my own. Her contribution to my life is immeasurable. (I miss her.)
Tell us about your most challenging piece. What were the obstacles, and then how did you get past them?
I wouldn’t choose a project that wasn’t challenging, maybe even over my head. I can get struck or frustrated when my skills are far out of sync with my ambitions (i.e., often). If I’m really, really stuck, then my most successful strategy for moving forward is to say “Oh, screw it” and start misbehaving, just to see what happens. I suspect that this is where art occurs: when I start to follow the materials instead of trying to beat them into submission. But sometimes I just have to wait. The quilt “Shards” sat 80% complete for four years before I realized how to pull it all together.
Have you had a “never again” moment, then gone and did it again?
Have I ever made the same mistake repeatedly? Oh gawd yes.
If you mean have I ever sworn off a field of endeavor because I failed, the answer is no. (Well, maybe yoga.) I learn more from a good failure than from the occasional facile success. The more magnificent the failure, the more I might learn. (Except yoga.)
Where can people see your work?
At my house. C’mon over, and we’ll have coffee. Then I’ll show off until your eyes glaze over and your hair catches fire.
You can find photos of a few of my quilts on the Contemporary QuiltArt Association website, on various pages in the Exhibitions Gallery.
OK, I admit to having my own website, a blog, and a Facebook page, but none of these are open to the general public and they don’t promote my art. As mentioned above, art is not a business for me. Sometimes I donate a piece to a fundraiser or do something on commission for a friend. But mostly, I do artwork for the same reasons I read books, nurture friendships, and take care of my body. It’s about being alive and having all the lights on.
How many UFOs do you think you have?
I don’t worry about it.
If I haven’t finished a piece, there’s usually a problem with it that I don’t know how to solve. If I love the way it’s going, I’ll set it aside until I’m ready to recognize the solution. Or, if the piece is an embarrassment, I repurpose or recycle the materials so that its existence doesn’t talk trash to my self-confidence. If it bores me, then I have nothing to lose by doing something crazy as a next step, like cut it up or paint over it, which is liberating and often has interesting results.
When you are in your creative space, do you listen to music, read audio books, watch TV or do you prefer a quiet spot?
Silence is my friend, but not a requirement. If I have something on my mind, then it will invariably leave its footprint in my work. If a certain piece of music or news story inspires or supports the mood I want in my work, that’s OK. But I don’t want some advertising jingle or the theme of a Disney movie elbowing its way into my creative efforts.
Example: See the photo of “Earthquake”. I was doodling in thread while meditating about that tragedy in the central mountains of Italy a couple summers ago.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
How about five best pieces of wisdom? Because some have these have been with me for most of my life.
#1: “The cure for writers’ block is simple: ‘Lower your standards.'” — William Stafford
Works for any kind of artistic paralysis – guaranteed. (But that doesn’t mean to keep them lowered once you get going again.)
#2: “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.” — Sheldon Kopp
Kopp paraphrases this in another line: “If you have a hero, look again. You have in some way diminished yourself.”
I appreciate my teachers and mentor, but at some point, I need to leave home and stop craving their approval.
C.f. You can find Stafford’s short poem “Our Kind” online in a PDF collection of poems. It’s the fourth one down. The poem talks about critical voices that perch on our shoulders.
#3: “Every day … write a little, without hope and without despair.” — Isak Dinesen
This advice is not just for writers, is it?
Note: Related to this: Adam Grant has a TED talk about original thinkers in which he describes the six stages of the creative process. The part I’m referring to discusses the yo-yo rides between euphoria and loathing (hope and despair). It comes at about nine minutes in, but you really owe it to yourself to watch all 15 minutes.
#4: “Be open minded, but not so open minded that all your brains fall out.” — Murray McCord (writing in my sophomore yearbook)
This is a helpful thought for the critique stage when something surprising is said that leaves me feeling as if I got drafted into an ice bucket challenge.
I can hear only the criticism I am ready to hear, so if something doesn’t make sense to me, that may be due to my immaturity as an artist or my tunnel vision during the creative process. On the other hand, sometimes well-meaning critics don’t get what I’m trying to achieve, so they try to direct the piece in a way that is closer to their own work or understandings. That type of feedback is going to be counterproductive. So the trick is to tell the difference. That usually takes time and distance, an open heart, and a healthy sense of self. I’m not there yet but am working on it.
#5: “On a toujours peur de ce qu’on desire au-delà des limites et de l’habitude.” — Gustave Thibon
Here’s my stab at translating the gist of the message into contemporary English, even if it might make Thibon shudder:
“It’s a given that we’re afraid when we desire something for ourselves that’s beyond our comfort zone.” (So don’t be so shocked that you get scared. Fear means you might be on the brink of something worthwhile. So have courage. Dare.)
Enjoy more of Pat’s work – especially the way she uses varied mediums to improve her work across the board:
Interview posted October, 2017.
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