I recently attended a class at Penland School of Crafts on sculptural weaving with Nathalie Miebach. I purposely chose this class as I thought it would be a really good addition to my knowledge base about basket weaving. In the class, we were taught the traditional methods and materials of weaving a basket, then urged to “think outside the basket” almost literally. In other words, our assignment was to take the knowledge that we gained and create a non-vessel expression of a story that we had brought with us to class.
The class presented a problem from the beginning as I don’t usually work by starting with a story, I tend to allow it to write itself as I create. Many artists have an idea, a sketch and then reproduce it three dimensionally. I don’t seem to be able to do that. I usually start with a shape or a material that intrigues me. I then let it grow. Sometimes the growth happens smoothly, sometimes I have to tear away large sections and start again…in essence I have to go backwards in order to go forwards.
This morning I told this to my friend Melinda Byrd of Byrdcall Studio. She made the observation that what I do is sketch three-dimensionally. I really liked that way of describing my process. Since I find it difficult to sketch a three dimensional piece, I must do it on the piece itself. I am hoping that his mindset will diminish some of the frustration I feel when I have worked myself into a corner. Perhaps if I realize that everything is just a sketch until I actually sign the piece, then I won’t be so hard on myself for having to tear stuff off and start again. As my teacher said, sometimes you have to actually put something there before you can find out that it doesn’t work.
Allow me to show you a few of the fits and starts of the piece from Penland. I tried so hard to make it about my story (I had picked The 13 Clocks by Thurber) but I decided to let that go after a couple of days. Then I was trying to figure out what to do with the start of the basket form and problem solved one night at 3:00 a.m. (Problem solving at night does not usually work, but I tried it anyway.) I struggled with that 3-D sketch for a few days and then tore away two thirds of it and started over. It was at this point that some objects that I had brought from home “jumped into my hands” and the story began to tell itself. There were some more sketches that didn’t work before I finished the piece. Some of these did not get photographed unfortunately, but I think you’ll get the picture (pun intended). To see the finished piece, visit www.virginiasperry.com/contemplation-of-a-life
As a final thought, I am still intrigued with the shape I drew in the early morning hours and am looking forward to starting a new sculpture with that shape.