I’ve written before about stopping too soon, where you kind of think something’s finished because you’ve done what you sort of planned to do, and it looks more or less OK and you’ve done rather a lot of work and so it’s just seems like it must be time. And so you declare it done and hang it up or set it on the table or workbench and look at it, and it is, indeed, OK. But you’re not entirely satisfied with it. Maybe you know that right away, and maybe it takes a while for it to hit you, but at some point, you get that little niggling voice that goes, “It’s not what it could be.”
I see this a lot: projects that someone shares online and about which they say, “It’s not quite what I had in mind, but it’s OK.” You see this with Alabama Chanin-inspired garments, especially. The maker has seen the originals and fallen in love with the intricately-embellished fabric, and so they follow the pattern and create their own, but about halfway through, they realize exactly *why* these garments, if you buy them already-made, cost thousands of dollars: there is a TON of work involved. And so they finish up what they’re doing and call it done, and it’s lovely, but they’re not satisfied, not completely. Because they stopped too soon.
A while back I showed you this, The Summer Day Jumpron with the poem by Mary Oliver stitched on it.
I took these photos to post on my own blog because I thought it was almost finished, but when I looked at it on the mannikin, I knew I’d never be satisfied if I quit. As it is here, it’s OK. I did what I wanted to do—tried embroidering script—and it turned out like I wanted it to, but the garment is just a decorative garment, something that could have been machine-embellished. I might wear it once, but then I’d have that nagging feeling that it just wasn’t right, that it was mediocre at best, and that I’d wasted a *lot* of time. But there was something there, something salvageable: something that could turn it from a decorated top to a piece of SoulWear, something I’d love and wear a lot. So I stood around and looked at it for a long time. You know: you get a cup of coffee and sort of balance on one foot and stare at whatever you’re working on, maybe humming tunelessly to yourself. You take some time to get a feeling for what you’ve done so far and where you need to go next.
Since I took these photos, I added a lining to the bodice and have begun stitching the lining to the in place with rows and rows and ROWS (lots and lots of rows) of tiny white stitches, like kantha. It’s very tedious, and it doesn’t show up that well unless you really look at it, but it’s Right. It feels like it’s going where it should, rather than like something that was finished before it was finished.
How can you tell when it’s Really Finished, rather than just finished? Ah, that’s the tough part. For me, it’s internal and subjective: it feels right. There’s usually a point when I’m working on something and I feel that, “Aha” moment when it starts to take on a life of its own. With garments, it’s a weight and drape and movement, as if they’ve literally moved from being some pieces of fabric into something whole and cohesive. As you work and learn your medium, you learn what tells you something’s finished. Perhaps it’s a glow when the light hits the surface you’ve been working on, or perhaps it’s like a click as everything comes together. Maybe it’s something you feel in your hands as you heft it, or maybe it’s something that catches you unaware after you’ve hung the canvas up in the studio and walked away for the evening. Whatever it is, you learn to work until you get there, and—the tough part—you have to do it enough so that you can learn to trust it when it happens and keep working when it doesn’t. That, of course, is the fun part.
For more inspiration to keep going, check out Incite, Dreams Realized: The Best of Mixed Media to see artists who push their artwork to the max.
MORE RESOURCES FOR MIXED MEDIA ARTISTS