Tuesday, September 11, 2007

working in a series, continued

Your comments on working in a series were really fascinating and I really appreciate that I am not the only one who has difficulty working consciously that way. The fact is, there are lots of ways to define a series and I don't suppose any two of us would define it exactly the same way.

Your responses generated an e-mail from Russ Little, who asked such salient questions that I thought I'd post his message so we could keep talking. Here it is...


I've loved reading the flood of comments on quilt backs and working in a series. It seems like the surface design equivalent of stem-cell research--everybody's got an opinion and none of them are lukewarm! "What makes a series a series?" It sounds like there isn't general consensus among your readers about whether it is (a) it is a consistent subject; (b) a consistent theme; (c) a consistent design element ( e.g., color); (d) an intentional exercise; or (e) some combination of the above. This Wikipedia page shows a good sampling of works from Monet's Haystack series , which I think illustrates so clearly an artist intentionally focusing on light, color, and mood by holding other elements of the composition static. Personally I would have grown weary of the haystack (or the lilies, or the Houses of Parliament, or the Japanese bridge, etc.), but I see the value of the study, and it's amazing to see several of them together in the same room and to feel the differences between them.

If I'm drawn to the shape of leaves, and I execute 10 finished pieces that deal with leaves, is that a series?" What if the designs are radically different? What if they are created months or years apart and only later presented as a "series"?
What I'm hammering away at is that if you take a liberal view of what constitutes a series, then there are a lot more of them out there. And, perhaps some of them might even be created by people who hate the thought of working in a series.

Good food for thought/discussion, Russ. Any one of the above can be a series if you deem it a series. My Poland Series began as a way to process what I had seen and felt -- but I didn't think "oh, I'm going to do a series." I just began to work. This was an early one. And over the next 10 years, pieces emerged that became - IN MY MIND - part of that group. Even though the pieces are visually different and it may not be obvious that they are part of a series, their genesis was the same and they are all exploring aspects of memory and loss -- both personal and collective -- sparked by that trip to Poland. This is the last piece - or should I say the final piece? It took me a decade to get this one made to my satisfaction
and I didn't know what it was till I was 3/4 of the way finished. Then I realized what it was about -- and it was the piece I had been trying to make for years. When I stopped thinking about it, it just happened by itself. Now I have said all I wanted to say and I can move on.

In the meantime, a number of my Poland pieces will be part of a two-person exhibit in January. The other artist is a photographer.

So, to get back to Russ' questions about what makes a series...what does it mean to YOU?
(a) a consistent subject; (b) a consistent theme; (c) a consistent design element ( e.g., color); (d) an intentional exercise; or (e) some combination of the above.

19 comments:

Russ Little said...

Wow! Thanks Rayna. I can't wait to see what happens with these questions. Here's the address of the Wikipedia page on Monet's haystacks to which I was referring in my e-mail. I think I omitted the url or messed up the link.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haystacks_%28Monet%29

If for some reason this URL doesn't work, you can go to wikipedia.org and search for "Haystacks (Monet)"

Russ

Del said...

I think all of the possibilities that you give can constitute a series. I think of the bird quilts I make as a series - one that started about twenty-five years ago. The only commonality is the bird image. The styles range from traditional to innovative and the colors are all over the spectrum.

TALL GIRL said...

Well, here I am about to eat my words; please pass the wasabi. While I said working in a series would bring me to tears; it sometimes has! I have been working with a consistent theme for the past two years on the Tall Girl Series. Most of the work does not resemble other pieces, but the underlying thought process is the same. I have now designed 12 pieces and have been encouraged by my mentor to do 20 to be gallery worthy.

I like Russ Little's thought provoking input so much, I have now subscribed to his blog. Thanks, Rayna! See you soon.

Karoda said...

Rayna, I appreciate your perspective and that of Russ' also. Its provided a great measure of how I think about "series" work. My view was a bit narrow which is why I was frustrated when I've tried to approach it and then end up dismissing "series" as not for me.

j.dávila said...

I almost always work in series, though usually on more than one at a time. My Pescado series explores death and loss, the new series of beetles deals with climate change, for example. I think when a thought or an idea gets into your head the only way to get it out is to follow it and see where it leads you - thinking deeply as Rosemary said on SAQA. When you run out of questions to ask yourself, you're done (although I find myself revisiting a series years later as new questions or avenues occur to me). Working in a series helps me to develop a concept more fully, to gain a deeper understanding of why I was obsessed with an idea in the first place. I usually start with a few pages of thumbnails and render them in a variety of sizes and sometimes media. The underlying thought is what holds it together as a series.

Rayna said...

Jane, I agree that the underlying thought is what makes something a series. It's a matter of exploration and processing those thoughts -- at least for me.

Clairan said...

ues, exactly, Rayna! You don't always know (in the front of your mind) what you want to say until you're working on it (or thinking about what you've done). But if you don't work in a series, because "that's so dull" you'll never say it. And that's exactly why you should try working on a series about something you care a lot about. So you can find out what you really care about and why.

Sandy said...

One point that has come up a couple of times is how many are in a series- Rayna *thinks* she is done with the Poland pieces, but another one just may pop up at some point years down the road, mayb a piece she *thinks* is part of another series altogther. Tall Girl has 12 and is aiming for 20, but what if you burn out at 18 or 14 or even feel the need to do #23? My suggestion is to not TRY to work in series, just explore and mess around and play for how ever many pieces it produces. Also, it isn't necessary to make them sequential- it can be something that you return to during flat times, that pop up unrequested when there is a little voice that mentions another aspect as yet unexplored.

Like this whole thing we have chosen to spend out time on, there aren't any 'rules' so make up your own as you go along. There is not *end*, only continuum. And no qualifying number!

Rayna said...

So right, Sandy. I never started out to make a series - but the underlying thought, as Jane said, crept out from time to time. As I said at one point, something is a series if the artist feels that it is.

One great way to find a series is to spread out your work and look for the patterns - what emerges, what the common elements are, what the piece seems to be saying. Often, we can't even see it ourselves - it takes another pair of eyes looking at our work with a fresh vision to see what is really there.

pamelala said...

Hmmm I have been tempted to think and post about this topic ...it is touching base with many of us. I NEVER think I am working in a series. But I look at what I do and I suppose by virtue of a repeated theme ( BIG mature women) or repeated imagery ( Lots of wine glasses, eggs, wing chairs) they could be construed as a series. My DH...also an artist...jokingly says I am "deeply shallow" because at first glance my work tends to be light hearted and even humorous. But I know I am saying something, however veiled, about women of a certain age. On the other hand, expediency has fuelled some explorations. I realized recently I have done a number of "Fish and Chip" pieces. And at the moment I am doing a second "Very Stingy Tooth Fairy" Why? Because the first ones were quickly sold, and I still wanted one to exhibit. That's where the deeply shallow moniker might fit. In my defense, I DO try to make each rendition different from the last. Quite easy to do as my stash consists of mostly old clothes so I never have enough to use again. Also I can get bored quickly with a piece if there isn't some inherent challenge in it.

Anonymous said...

I guess any of the possibilities listed could be the basis for a series. As I am more fixated on color than many other things, the two consciously defined series I have going are (1) color and (2) colors plus materials. The first was based on green and greenish hand dyes from my stash with some yarn and bead embellishment. The second has embroidery in various threads and yarns and beads on fabric bases, all (or most) black, white and grey.


I don't think I am making any statement -- just enjoying the exploration of shapes, line and texture within a defined range of materials.

Jacquie

Rayna said...

Jacquie - I don't think a series necessarily has to make a statement - an exploration of color is just as valid a reason for a series as anything else.

And Pamela - the phrase "deeply shallow" is hilarious - and in fact, is a very layered concept. More than meets the eye - which is always good.

Sonji Hunt said...

I'm up to number 149 in my bundle series...that's over a three year period. They sometimes explore color, sometimes texture, simplicity or excess, structure. I love working in series. If I checked, probably almost everything I've ever created has been part of a series. I like exploring the options of one thing until I'm finished and there is nothing left...that of course, has never happened. There's always something left to go back and explore and develop into ANOTHER series. All my work is very linked together.

PaMdora said...

I think that a series means different things to everyone. In my case, I can't seem to get off it. One thing leads to another, it's not really a path I chose, more like it chose me.

Norma Schlager said...

I frequently work in a series. Often I make a piece that I love and then wonder, what would it look like if I did this or that----changed the colors, added more of this or less of that, if I changed it's orientation, proportions, etc. When I finished my Houston Reflections, one of the things that I really liked about it was my "wonky piecing". So I went on to make 4 other quilts, using that piecing, but changing colors, layout, size, etc. I think they were all successful in their own way. Then I went on to make several other unrelated quilts and now I'm going back to that series again, which I am calling Configurations.
As for my backs, I like them to coordinate with the front. I very often will hand dye a large piece to go with the front, especially when the front uses my hand dyes. I like the way it shows off my FM quilting and I just think it's a good idea to have the whole package to go together. That's just me.

Natalya said...

Hi Rayna! I am coming out of lurkdom to participate in this discussion.
I seem to be working in a theme (Russian Fairytales) and within that theme I have two series that consist of images that are especially intriguing to me (windows and flowers). I've done 7 flowers and 11 windows and now am starting a few new windows pieces because I have been newly inspired by my recent trip to Russia. Even the abstract piece I recently did could possibly fit into the Russian Fairytales theme as I used free-motion machine stitching in similar style...

Sarah Ann Smith said...

Rayna: you wrote: "Jane, I agree that the underlying thought is what makes something a series. It's a matter of exploration and processing those thoughts -- at least for me."

This brings me back to the definition of series, which Russ discussed. I think the definition of series also has to do with how our brains work, and how we make art. My way isn't necessarily your way, your way isn't necessarily the way Russ works, and so on.

When the discussion began, I was thinking "series" as a deliberate (and with fore-thought) exploration of a subject or theme by an individual, with the intent of creating a number (series ... duh!) of pieces. That is what would make me crazy, because my mind and imagination just don't work that way. I'd just as honestly clean house or do the filing (usually at the bottom of ANY priority list).

Instead, thanks to being an over-extended, tired Mom, I do a LOT of imagining and sketching and editing in my head before I begin work on a piece, and it is often 90+ percent complete /clarified in its imagery before I pick up the first piece of cloth. Changes may well happen, and often do and improve the image, but there are few wholesale revisions or complete suprises (like the one in your Poland series).

Couple that with the fact that I am inherently not introspective or philosophical, and you get my somewhat allergic reaction to the concept of working in a series. I am seized by an image or an idea, and then I work it out in my head, and finally get to work it out in cloth. Sometimes it takes years, sometimes a few weeks. The time it takes is sometimes a function of the imagery, sometimes a function of not enough time to do even ten percent of what I'd like to create.

Are there recurring themes in my work? Yes. Ditto for recurring design elements, and there are parallel tracks for groupings of colors. And there are probably underlying currents of which I am not aware (remember, I said I wasn't introspective!). I guess it is part of my intuitive nature and being constantly on the go.

Shirley Goodwin said...

Thank you so much for your kind words, Rayna -isn't it amzing how the camera can lie??!!

I admire people who work in a series - i am far too impatient to try other things, or maybe I have Adult ADD cos I bounce from one thing to another.

ENA said...

very beautiful