Why Simplifying is Good for The Artist

I’ve been writing rather a lot about weeding out, paring down, simplifying and trying to have less Stuff. It’s freeing, and it’s inspiring, and this morning I got to thinking that it’s not just about your life and where you live; it’s also about your work. It can bring real opportunities to almost any artist, especially mixed-media artists who are bombarded with maybe just the tiniest bit of eye candy in the form of Stuff You Have to Have. You know what I mean: on Facebook and Pinterest, on people’s blog and websites and on Instagram, you’re treated to photos of the most amazing stuff: new products (Gel plates! Stencils! Sparkly chalks!), collections of ephemera (for sale on Etsy and eBay!), newly-found rusty stuff (for sale by the finder!). You can buy stuff that looks old and stuff that’s straight from the Flea Markets of Paris and stuff that was created just for you, the artist, to use in your own work. You could, literally, spend all your free time surfing the web and visiting art supply stores and going through online catalogs, making lists and sending in orders for stuff to add to your collection of things that will help you make bigger and better and more astounding art.


I know. I’ve been there: I used to have an entire room devoted to paper (lots and lots and lots of paper) and paper-related supplies. I had tiny shelves of rubber stamps lining three walls in the studio, floor to ceiling. I had every kind of stamp ink out there (granted, this was back when there wasn’t the endless variety there is today, but there was still rather a lot of ink). I had tools I never even used. I’ve been there, and you’ve probably been there, too. I’ve talked to artists who admit that what was once about making stuff has become more about collecting stuff. They admit they spend more time hunting and gathering than they do making art, and they tell me that their studios are so crammed with Stuff that they have maybe six square inches of space in which to work. They still make stuff, sure, but it’s more about the stuff than it is the making, and the components—the china doll heads, the antique prayer beads, the hand-crocheted lace—are the focus.


On Monday I wrote about my Tommy Hilfiger Dumpster Quilt Jumpron, which I made from a quilt found in the dumpster (and laundered, thank you very much for asking). I worked on it for months, putting in miles of tiny stitches, all by hand, and it didn’t cost me anything. (I bought extra floss, but it turned out I didn’t need it.) Beyond that, though—beyond the goodness of not buying anything and the idea of using what I found and the urge to recycle—beyond all that was the supreme satisfaction of creating something that was about idea and inspiration rather than content. Instead of fancy fabric and sparkly beads, I used an old, worn-out quilt. Instead of being about trying out the latest, hottest tool and seeing what it would do, it was about taking a virtual rag, some embroidery floss, and a needle, and seeing if I could make something amazing out of something that had been destined for the trash.


Here’s what the experience led me to believe, strongly: when you use minimal supplies and tools and rely instead on your basic skill set and what you have at hand, the process itself becomes the focus. It’s about your experience taking the very most basic supplies of your art and using those to create something that, until then, lived only in your imagination. It’s a collaboration between you and something simple: paper and pencil, plain clay, rocks, weathered wood. It’s not about showing off those cool buttons you scored on eBay or highlighting those scraps of expensive antique French lace you brought back from your teaching trip. You may use the buttons or the lace, but it’s not about them; it’s about taking something and seeing what you, and only you, can do with it. When you don’t fall back on your Stuff, relying on it to carry the load for you (if you use cool enough stuff, that’s what people will notice, never mind if you didn’t actually do much with it), you’re missing a chance to see just what you’re capable of doing.


I’ve got an idea; come back on Friday and we’ll talk~~

Z2888 CraftCycle CM1.inddMore upcycling and recycling ideas can be found in the Craftcycle eBook.







Ricë is the author of Living the Creative Life, Creative Time and Space, and Destination Creativity. She also blogs at The Voodoo Cafe.


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