When I got all excited about The Creative Spark, about what it is that gets the ideas buzzing around in our heads, I asked some of my favorite artists to talk about their own creative sparks. I love Jeanie Thorn and her work and the way her mind works, even though it’s nothing like the way my own mind works (I think hers is able to Do Math & Stuff). Here’s what Jeanie wrote~~
I guess I should start by describing my artwork…I weld steel sculptures and for many years I’ve been doing a series of wall pieces I nicknamed “window rocks” which are steel plates with window openings with rocks in those openings. Occasionally I’ve done some other things but I’ve always returned to that theme.
Lately, however, I’ve had the urge to explore another series, something that would challenge me intellectually as well as emotionally. And that’s important to say because if it’s too easy I lose interest. I tremendously enjoy what I do but the process needs to be rigorous for me to see it through. I only get a sense of satisfaction if I can say, wow that was hard and a lot of work but I did it. It’s like the good feeling you get after a strenuous workout that let’s you know you’re alive. For more on this see my blog entitled “Life on the Edge.”
Anyway, several weeks ago I answered Seth Apter’s survey for The Pulse. In addition to a series of questions there was an assignment to “photograph a still life that you create using an array of objects”.
Well that got my mind to racing. I immediately went out to my storage shed where I keep an assortment of metal ephemera and I found a box of steel balls that I had purchased a while back thinking that I would someday find a use for them. My back yard is surrounded by block walls and on these block walls I have hung steel “shelves” that during the winter months (Phoenix winters are spent outside) I fill them with hundreds of candles, invite friends over who are “forced” to light them all, and we have dinner on my patio. So, on those very same shelves I arranged 3 (because odd numbers always look better) steel balls (I even got a ruler and measured the distance between them) and took several pictures. I actually spent considerable time framing the balls with the sunlight and shadows on the block wall and with the vertical support of the shelf that had just a touch of rust. Then I selected my favorite and sent it to Seth.
Well that picture haunted me. I’ve never used photography before to spark an idea but all I wanted to do was make a wall piece from that photo. I like to work with long slender shapes…steel is heavy and vertical pieces hang well…so I began sketching and debating all the dimensions…should it be 5” or 6” wide, how long should it be, where should the shelf be located, how far apart should all the shapes be from each other, etc. After I had a drawing I liked I made a full size foam core model and hung it on a wall in my studio. At this point I had become too close to the design and could no longer make rational decisions so I stopped thinking about it for several days. This allowed me to return to it with fresh eyes. This is the hardest phase to move on from because once I start working in steel it gets more difficult to make changes. The cardboard model got reworked a couple of times and when I was satisfied I started thinking about how to fabricate it out of metal. That started another series of debates…what gauge steel should I use, how I should connect the parts, and so on. To help me with these decisions I made a steel mock-up of the most important feature of the piece and re-evaluated all the dimensions. For some reason things always look different when they are made out of the real material. Once that was done I began cutting all the shapes and started the assembly process. Last, I had to devise a way of hanging it on the wall taking into consideration how the piece will look from the back and sides….which for me should be as thoughtful as the front. As you can see I always work in phases and I never move on to the next phase until I’m satisfied with the phase prior. Although I may have several designs going at once I only construct one piece at a time. I feel each piece requires and deserves my entire attention until it’s complete. It’s kind of like a reverence to the art.
By the way, it’s almost always quiet in my studio when I work. I have such an intense dialogue going on in my head that music becomes a distraction. And that’s really interesting because now that I think about it I realize that what I said above about “getting too close to the art and needing distance and coming back to look at it with fresh eyes” is only part of what’s going on. What’s also happening is that when I get distracted, I lose that inner voice and I need to quiet my mind in order for it to come back and “talk” to me.
To answer some of the other questions: How do I know when the piece is complete? There is so much planning and intention that goes into what I do that there’s no question when it’s done. It just is. And how do I feel? I feel on top of the world. But the best part is when I get that call from one of the galleries that represent my work that someone has purchased a piece. Yes the money is wonderful, I couldn’t continue to do what I do without selling my art, but knowing that someone appreciates the design and the time and effort that went into making the piece to want to take it home and hang it on their wall. That it might make someone happy to wake up to it everyday…that’s priceless.
By the way…the new series is called “Still Life on Steel.”
To see more of Jeanie’s work, visit her website at jeaniethorn.com.
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