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Ellen Anne Eddy
Author of Thread Magic: The Enchanted World of Ellen Anne Eddy Fiber artist, author and teacher
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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Musings: Art out of the box. The Egg Fu Young of Design

Every so often someone asks me if I start with a background or with an image. It's probably cruel when I turn to them and say, "Yes!" So sorry. It's true. The chicken and the egg question is always part of the process of art.


I know when someone asks me that,  they want a formula. Wouldn't that be nice? A simple clean pathway that always produces something wonderful! Do a and b, finish with c, dust it with a dash of e.d.f and pat on the head.  All artists have some kind of map like that but it's always got huge territories within that are marked off with the ancient warning, "Here there be dragons." We don't know for sure that there's a dragon in there. We just know it's uncharted territory. Anything could be in there.


Now we don't have to go into uncharted territory as an artist. Not every day. But if we never go near,we're stuck strictly with what we know. That's sometimes very limited. And when you go into that uncharted area anything really could be in there. The mental quicksand of fear. The cure for internal cancer of doubt. A beauty not yet conceived. Uncharted art may be the last unexplored territory, the last frontier, with all the riches and terrors attendant.


But the nurture of any living thing is uncharted land. A child, a dog, a love, a passion, and a piece of art work are all living things with their own rhythms, needs, flows, patterns. We can extrude our own druthers  upon them, but they crack off as a living thing grows like a bad veneer.




I've maintained for a long time that art has a life entire of it's own. I learned long ago that it extends past my intentions, particularly once it's in the public eye. It often goes places I will never go. It has jobs of it's own to do. And hopefully, as one wishes for one's children, it has a life that goes out, past and separate from my own.
So perhaps it's not odd that I can't say for sure that the chicken always comes first .It simply can't be proved by practice. Sometimes you just end up holding the egg end of it first. Sometimes a background insists on an image and there you are. Insist back if you like, but art will demand what it demands. Whether you're up to it or not. Start with the background and listen carefully. It will take you in, layer by layer.




Other times the images are so strong that I form them first and then shop them around one background after another looking for the right home.It's like selling real estate to an image. we drive up to a piece of fabric, walk around in it and see it 's the right neighborhood and if the schools will be good for the kids. All jokes aside, there's a place that clearly right within a piece of fabric or it won't fit in.







Hunter's Moon

Hunter's Moon was completely image driven. In fact, the owl had been made for another quilt entirely. That quilt involved all kinds of images I couldn't quite master. As an demo where I needed an embroidered appliqué to show, I pulled it out of a pile and made a background for it.


It was a fairly simple thing to pull to pieces together and strip piece them to make filtered moonlight, powered by an Angelina fiber moon.In a way, image focused quilts are simpler. You finish your image and then you simply slip it into it's home, nestled into layers of stitchery and sheers. I added bats and moths because they too hunt the night by moonlight. They're part of it.



Balcony Scene
Background based imagery takes more of a leap of faith. The background for this quilt fairly squished with the kind of marshy land that grows calla lilies and extra large frogs. The frogs weren't exactly an afterthought, but they came after the callas. The butterflies came after that as a way to move the eye through the background.It built up in layers until the butterflies soared around the edges.


If art is alive, if it is a quivering, living thing, then it makes sense that we can't make a formula that works each time. We can't really paint by numbers without somehow losing something in the process. Instead, like every living thing, it grows accordingly to it's own inner map and clock. Like egg fu young, the chicken and the egg are both there, both present. But only in their own way. I can only be present myself, and lend myself to their growth.

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