“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” –Pablo Picasso
I’m one of those people who came to art and design the ‘long way round’ - I didn’t do anything in school, and it really wasn’t on the radar for me until I became an apprentice in my mid-thirties at the Royal School of Needlework. Imagine being faced with a ‘design day’ in the first fortnight to work out what my Jacobean Crewelwork piece would look like!
Anyone can learn to paint or draw; the trick is learning to see in the first place.
Knowing that I would be expected to design my own pieces, before I actually started on the apprenticeship I spent several weeks with a couple of art instruction manuals just to learn the language. My favourite book for this was (and still is) Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards. From her I learned the importance of seeing before you even pick up a pencil. I still recommend this book to fellow stitchers to this day. Twenty-one years on (good lord!) I’ve done a great many designs for classes, kits and clients, but I’ve never returned to that regular drawing practice which became part of life just before and during my training.
When learning any new skill (including embroidery), it’s vital to practice regularly - this locks in something that is called ‘muscle memory’ - the more you do an activity the less you have to properly think about it, because your muscles can ‘remember’ the feel of the thing, and take a lot of the thinking away from the brain. Even eyes need practice at seeing things in a certain way for their own version of muscle memory. But it’s so easy to do something else, to ‘not have time’ and find any reason not to practice a new skill - and I’m just as guilty of this as anyone I know! So, just like having a regular day each month for ‘playing’ with stitches, I’ve now slotted in a day a month for focussing on an art project. Really I should be practicing my drawing skills every day for half an hour or so, and I hope I’ll get there eventually - one step at a time. There are actually daily hand exercises for drawing that I’ve been shown by a friend - practicing straight lines, spirals, repeating shapes and so on, which I’m tempted to start doing daily until I’ve got my head around doing more in my sketchbook. Watch this space!
In my workbox...
A lot of my students ask me what the little black bits of paper are in the clear bags I pack my gold in - they’re actually anti-tarnish paper for jewellery! Gold tarnishes with exposure to air (and skin), but the usual waxy envelopes, known as ‘glasseine’ bags, are completely opaque and you can’t see what’s inside, which is one of my pet peeves, so I had to look at another way to protect the gold, and I found this solution. So far, all of my gold supplies are as bright and untarnished as they were when I got them, so something is working! I get mine from Amazon: