Sharon C.

Mining Content

I worked for many years as a writer and editor with several agencies of the Federal Government.  The experience I gained in both composing topics on demand and fixing other’s writing was in some ways rewarding but could also be tedious and stressful—especially the having to come up with something on demand.  I’ve read comments from writers who are always concerned about their ability to produce when they start a project.  I would often have to call on my creative side when putting together an article or composing an award nomination with very little information or perhaps figuring out how to best word a publication that Congress would see.  Lots of different ways to approach the task.  What that means is that the bulk of my experience in writing or composition was “topic” driven.  Yes, give me something to write about and I can produce.  Writing on demand.  

I have much less experience, however, in free association or journal-style writing.  Such writing is difficult for me.  Apparently I lack the discipline to keep a journal and except for diaries I kept as a teen and one I kept when I was first married, I have rarely been able to sustain a book of daily thoughts—typically feeling as though I needed a topic.  

I know my skills and because of that I’m often drawing on what has worked in the past.  For example, I get great inspiration from all things visual, and once I get an idea in my head I want to try and accomplish it.  I recall another CST participant post a comment about feeling herself a “jack of all trades” and how she kept searching for something to lock onto (my words) but continued to simply go from one thing to the next.  I could totally relate.  

Early on in my life, being creative and having a curiosity about all things artistic and/or creative was often seen as the inability to focus rather than being something positive.  It’s the kind of input I frequently received during my marriage of 20 years to someone I obviously thought smarter than me.  A good example of his negative feedback was when I went back to school during the marriage and decided to major in anthropology—and frequently heard from him what a waste of time and money for me to take such courses (because, you know, where can you find a job?)—a subject I thoroughly enjoyed and did quite well in.  And possibly because of that kind of negativity, I have been hesitant to explore to a fuller extent what I felt my strengths to be as well as my talents.  I could go on all day about this, but it probably belongs in a therapy session so I will stick to the part that applies most to free association.

What that all boils down to is that although I was stung early on by a creative bug, the harsh realities of “fear of failure” crept into my thinking and I tended to simply dabble into numerous artistic endeavors.  I have “dabbled” with sketching, watercolors, pastels, oil pastels, and acrylics, along with writing short stories, poetry, and essays.  Sewing and quilting seemed to be a constant.  I never really latched onto something longer term until I got into two things—the first, digital design and the second, making art quilts.  My excitement flourished as I learned more about surface design techniques and printmaking and dyeing—areas that I now frequently want to incorporate into my digital work.  I discovered I had a talent for textiles and color and composition—without knowing how I did it.  It just happened, all kind of magical, and as the saying goes, without having done the hard work.  For my writing and editing, I feel as though I’ve had to work at it some, but some of that—like my textile work—felt intuitive and magical.  Words just came easy.

So, that being said—“Mining content” is extremely difficult for me, and I am very self-critical of anything my pen might put to paper in journal style, feeling that there must be a reason or a purpose—you know, topic driven!  

Part One

1.  Thinking.  I can do a lot of things well, but love most the energy I get working in a class or with like-minded quilters.  I tend to “think” visually anyway, so one idea easily flows to another and before I know it, my head is filled with “wants” or “should try”—with the top few winning out.  I’ve tried writing them in a sketchbook and drawing various ideas in a book, but often by the time my motivation takes hold, I’ve moved onto new ideas and inspirations.

2.  Writing.  Having done writing and editing for a living, as I’ve mentioned, I tend to respond much better to topics.  Writing for this class is also topic driven but when it gets down to free association, I tend to do it in my head or on the computer as one thought feeds and blends into another.  This class has admittedly been cathartic, and I’m realizing some things about myself and how I work (which, by the way I’m mostly comfortable with).  

3.  Cultivate and Embrace.  Yes, I like going with what sparks my interest.  For example, as I’ve mentioned, I like to put together what feels to me interesting digital art and then print and use.  I’ve been thinking a lot about how I wanted to create an entire piece made exclusively from digital prints so last week I collected images (or created) black and white with some yellow thrown in—a bit of an outgrowth of another quilt I intended to do it with but that turned out differently.  I considered this black, white, and yellow an experiment.  I quilted it today. (See photo)

4.  Prioritize.  With the exception of my Depression era quilts I discussed last week, I’m not good with series quilts and although I’ve done several in a row that could perhaps be considered as such, I did not plan for it.  They just seemed to happen.

Part Two

I tend to work in my own little world—deriving great pleasure and satisfaction experimenting with ideas on the computer or putting fabrics or colors together, so I think this section might be best for me to accomplish with someone I can share with or talk about a topic.  Perhaps I might try this at a later date to stimulate more ideas but for some reason I like to go with what comes to mind rather than what I see as “forcing.”  So, even after all these years of thinking what my skills are and how to use the, I’m very good at focusing.  

So does it boil down to my work being distinctive?  In many ways, I think it is and I try to remain true to myself and my ideas.  I want my work to stand out and feel that it does especially when I use my own designs, which I seem to be doing more and more.