Fortunately the last two months have not been a complete waste! Currently I am addicted to embroidery and I’ve even completed a couple of projects in the last few weeks. I will admit, my embroidery style is a bit informal or unorthodox, to be generous. Basically, I just kind of make it up as I go along. My personal philosophy about embroidery is that it should be fun and organic. Embroidery has allowed me to have a creative outlet without the anxiety of having to do it perfectly, like I feel with painting. During my illness last month, I came to the conclusion that the reason I was having a creative block was that I have become extremely rigid. To the point that my creativity was no longer active, or flexible because I had gotten too hard, then lazy, and where I was for years up until a couple of weeks ago: stuck! There’s a detachment I feel when I stitch. It’s not my main medium, so I don’t feel obligated to “play by the rules.” And that’s when it dawned on me!
In the last few years I’ve struggled with painting in a way that felt honest to me. Nothing I paint feels true, and I feel like a fraud. I’ve been creatively paralyzed because nothing I start feels like it’s mine. Every time I start a painting, or have an idea for one I get stuck and I can’t complete it. I am terrified, almost phobic, of making a mistake. My work has not evolved, I haven’t grown as an artist because fears and anxiety have rendered me immobile. I’ve been mired in inertia not knowing which way to go next.
I didn’t know that the big step that I was unwilling to take for many years was to let go. To let go of the idea that everything I make has to be perfect or else it’s not worth my time; or that if my work doesn’t fit a certain style that it’s not relevant. I have to let go of the idea that painting is my only medium. I have to let go of my fear of failure, my ego, my father’s disapproval, my need for acceptance. I have to let go of the idea that my work has to be grand; and that every piece I produce has to be absolutely perfect and original and all those other great things we associate with “art.”
During my recovery I didn’t want to lose the momentum I’d gained before I got sick. But, before I got sick I was working on a large painting in oils. I wasn’t really sure where I was gong with it but I had laid down an interesting abstract design that I was happy with, what I was struggling with was the colors. I tend to be unintentional in my color choices when I paint or design, this was problematic when I was in design school and I have been self-conscious about my color selections ever since. So I was stuck, and feeling anxious that I wouldn’t finish this painting either (along with all the others I’ve started and never finished, in the last few years.) Then, I got sick! I got a terrible flu that knocked me out for a couple of weeks. Since I vowed to live more intentionally and to honor my true self by living a more creative life, I started to embroider again because I could do it from the comfort of my bed and there was no mess and the materials are light-weight.
I used to embroider when I was a young girl, it was a nice escape from the tension at home. Plus my parents appreciated that it was a quiet activity, and pretty cheap as well. My grandmother Ernestina would buy me embroidery needles and thread and I would draw my own designs on random pieces of fabric I’d find around the house or pillow cases. When I was about eight years old my grandmother taught me a few simple stitches after I saw her make a cozy for my dad’s coffee cup. I’ll never forget it! It was two white squares of fabric sewn together with a blanket stitch in green thread, on the top square she had embroidered a simple tea cup and saucer, also in green, just the outlines. It was so simple and so pretty. I could feel the love with which it was made. I was hooked. I wanted to make drawings with string too! So before my grandmother moved to Seattle, away from us, she taught me a little bit of embroidery. And the way I learned from her is still the way I stitch now, with the exception of a few tricks I’ve picked up along the way.
I’m finding it very liberating to embroider. The pieces are small and decorative, nothing too pretentious. For the first time in years I’m able to finish a project, and to not be too attached to the outcome. It soothes my nervous energy. This may sound crazy, but I feel more like an artist when I’m embroidering. What I mean is that I feel less rigid, I feel like I can explore with lines, and I get to use all the colors I want without feeling like I’m doing something wrong, even if I am! Anyway, I think starting small like this will help me find a groove so that I can be creative and productive every day.