I’ve got to tell you, seeing things isn’t easy for me. I don’t mean literally seeing, although that’s kind of a chore now that I have not bifocals, but—gasp—trifocals. They’re very cute trifocals, but they are a pain nonetheless.
But what I’m talking about here is seeing things in my head: having an idea for something and being able to see exactly what it’s going to look like. I’ve talked to a bunch of artists over the years, and many of them—most of them, really—say that when they conceive of a new project, they can see what it’s going to look like, down to the finest details. Those may well change as they start to work on the piece and make it concrete, but they begin with a clear vision of what it’s going to look like. It’s like having a maquette and working from that.
It doesn’t work that way for me. I think my mother could envision finished garments, but I can’t. I have a sort of feeling about how I think something might work out, but I never have a concrete idea until it’s done. Even halfway through, I’m still just sort of feeling my way along. Perhaps if I could draw, meaning if I would take time to practice drawing until I was able to make drawings that worked for me (and I’m not; I have too many other things I’d rather practice, and although I’d love to be able to draw well, it’s not important enough to me to spend time practicing the skills required), then I could make what I’m imagining into something concrete. Since that’s not going to happen, though, I’ve had to learn to just begin, just jump in there and do the first thing I thought might lead me to where it becomes something.
For instance, I bought this jacket last year:
It was Cynthia Ashby, and it was cool: I loved the uneven hem and the way the collar showed the inside of the fabric. It was 100% linen and had a nice drape. But the lack of color was painful to me—physically painful, as in making me cringe. But I had this idea, and I all I could say about it was “colors and shapes.” I started off collecting all the odds and ends of embroidery floss that were EVERYWHERE in this house and using those to whipstitch the serged edges. This looked cool, but it took way, way longer than I’d thought it would. I worked on it in spare moments (because, frankly, it was boring) for almost a year.
And then, finally, it was done. Unlike most projects I do, it didn’t take a turn and go off in another direction. Nope. If I had been able to articulate what I was going for, this would have been it:
I love it, and I’m thrilled that it turned out like whatever-it-was I was kind-of-sort-of imagining, but I have to admit I have no idea how that happened. I’m pretty sure it’s not likely to happen with any regularity—I’m guessing it’s still going to be mostly hang-on-and-wing-it around here—but I have to admit this was fun, seeing something unfold just like I would have sketched it out. If, you know, I sketched.
How about you? Can you see the finished piece ahead of time, or is it more of a pleasant surprise kind of thing for you?
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