Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Knitting Keeps Me Sane, Except When It Drives Me Crazy

Y'all, I do not know what has happened to my knitting mojo lately. I have tons of projects going, and keep on starting things, and knit every day. But apparently I am making absolutely zero progress.

I am up to over 300 stitches per row on Glee, and let me tell you what. I put a safety pin on the row I started Friday night, just to mark my progress for the weekend. Knitted all day Saturday on it, as well as a lovely hat I'll have to show you when the light is better. Knitted on it a ton on Sunday. And GUESS how much progress I made? One-and-a-half inches of fabric. THAT'S IT. So really, pictures of my knitting right now would be like watching paint dry.

So today I am going to distract you with one of my ruminations on the creative process. I don't know why, but I woke up thinking "art is in the details." I've been making a lot of illustrations lately that involve tons of layering - many, many layers of graffiti, silhouettes, scrolly things, plants and other business. Colours. Textures. It's amazing (even to me) that I do this professionally and yet I still don't *really* know what's going to happen when I start an illustration. After years of doing it professionally, I still have to trust the process. There is something organic going on that I can't put my finger on.

In other words, I've studied typefaces since 1991. Photography. Composition. Colour theory. Layout. Design. Fashion. I spend days every month looking - at fashion, album covers, web design, movies, magazines, trying to get ideas. I read design theory, I sketch. (If you are in a creative pursuit you would be wise to do the same kinds of things. I joke all the time that I have a little team of guys who live in the back of my brain who come up with my ideas. They need raw materials - different things to combine, interpret, rework. Many of the 'end-result' things I do are a direct result of simply looking around, filling the well in my brain up with whatever I can get my eyes on, and letting my mind reinterpret it.)

People, I am going to say this, because it needs to be said. Having a good camera will not make you a photographer. Having a set of ebony pencils and graphite sticks will not give you the ability to become a sketch artist. Having an arsenal of typefaces will not make you a type designer. Art is about much more than tools. You can use a disposable Kodak and a #2 pencil for all I care.

The web has made it much more convenient to self-publish all this "art," but what is really happening is that people are skipping the thinking part of making something, spending too much time on actually making it, and ending up with junk. I'm not referring to anybody in particular - you might have a nice camera, but it doesn't mean I'm talking to you! I think good materials are important - I am certainly not saying we all need to go back to film and watercolour paper. But I *am* saying that tools won't do the work for you. The mental work. The creative work of seeing a thing in your mind and being able to know what you need to do on paper to make it real.

Knitting is essentially a technical pursuit, but there are times when each of us uses creativity and problem-solving to make something into what we want it to be. Having a full set of rosewood needles and rooms full of expensive yarn won't make you a good knitter, and it won't help you get those short-rows just right. It will make your experience a more comfortable one, but it won't do the mental work for you. Buildings are three-dimensional sculpture, as knitting is. But not all buildings are art. Some are purely functional, and some are truly visionary. The in-between is where most of us spend our lives. Pretty and functional is what most of us want.

In the same way, then, I am saying that there is more to being creative than just making something. It has to be functional in some way, even if it's simply inspiring someone to think. (This is the *commercial* artist in me talking, remember.) Some things are art for some people, but not for others. Not all of us are makeup artists; but most of us still manage to get out the door in the morning and don't get made fun of. Not all of us are photographers, but most of us still manage to make technically sound, useful pictures of our knitting. Not all of us are writers, but most of us still manage to get a good blog post going.

My advice to you in any creative pursuit is - give your workers some materials to mess around with. Develop your technical skills, down to the very last detail. Your work as a photographer will never be good enough if you can't get skin tones right. Your work as a designer will never be good enough if you don't learn to properly set type. Your work as a knitter will never be good enough if you don't learn how to knit evenly and skillfully. Work on honing those skillz, and work on seeing. What makes something work? Why does her hair work in that ponytail, day after day? What makes her outfit hip, but not stuffy and unimaginative even though it's still appropriate for business? What makes that shot work - colour? composition? personality? light? What makes that magazine readable (now we are getting into the geekiness, for reals).

Do your thing, and do it well. Don't cut any corners. Pay attention. Keep changing. Work *hard* at it, not halfway. "Good enough" really isn't. If you're going to be a professional, you have to know that at minimum everybody you are competing with will have near-perfect technical skill. And you have to build on that minimum to really get anywhere. An art director like me...I'm not just looking for a good photographer. There are thousands. I'm looking for that something special, and 'that something special but not lit quite right' is not going to cut it.


Blogger Casey said...

I've been reading your blog off and on for a while but don't think I've ever commented. We have Kirsten in common! Well, and knitting too. I totally agree with your thoughts on creating things. It drives me crazy when people I know spend hours making something that isn't even very good when they're all done and they don't care about improving. If you're going to do something I think you should at least *try* to do it well. Anyway, I mostly wanted to say hi and to thank you for giving Kirsten "gas money." :)

4:31 PM  
Blogger Jen said...

Aw!! Any friend of Kirsten is a friend of mine! You are welcome! :) Good thoughts on creativity, too!

4:33 PM  
Anonymous Heather said...

i had to chuckle about having a good camera doesn't make you a photographer. Isn't that the truth!

5:56 PM  
Blogger Jodi said...

Hmmm... for me knitting, photography, and blogging are relaxing hobbies. I strive for perfection in my scholarly pursuits, which are creative and artistic in their own way. Knitting is not about perfection -- mistakes, design elements, they're all part of the learning process.

6:28 PM  
Blogger Jeanne said...

Yep. I agree totally. Having worked in prepress and graphic design, I'm well aware of "desktop publishers" who believe that having CorelDraw and The 100 TrueType Font Collection makes them a Designer. Heh. Four years of art school and I still feel uncomfortable referring to myself as one.

7:06 PM  
Blogger Bethany said...

I love this post. You know, sometimes it's hard for me to connect the you I know with the you I know you are...if that's a coherent thought. I know that you (YOU!) are the one who edits/designs the magazine I read faithfully for 6 important years of my life, but...you seem younger-than-expected in real life, and downright friendly, and I forget to be impressed. This post kinda merges the you's (ewes?) in my head, and I like it. ; )

11:27 PM  

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