The Creative Process

Emma Goldman's Handkerchief, 2011. Hand embroidery, cotton on linen.

It's not the embroidery. In fact, the embroidery is the least of it. Embroidery is the means of delivery, and provides endless amounts of pleasure and satisfaction, but, for me at least, it is not creative.

When I tell people I am an artist, the comments I get indicate that some think artists work in a state of unbridled creativity, a constant bringing forth of ideas. There definitely may be some artists out there who work like that, but not me.

Most of my work time is spent in production. The ideas are where the art happens, a relatively brief time where I get a flash of an image or phrase and take it through to the stage of where it enters "real life". It goes something like this:

1. The flash. I come across an image or a few words that zing in my head, often with humour.
2. Sometimes the idea stays, simmering in the background. Occasionally it will assert itself with urgency.
3. A fairly complete, detailed vision in my head forms. I can "see" the finished piece and know how it will be manifested.
4. Research begins. I hunt for everything I can find related to the work: stories, fact-checking, cross-cultural meaning, ducking down side paths. This is the stage of living with the work quite intensely.
5. Materials are sourced. Potential starts to become reality.
6. Design comes together. Hand drawn sketches, photocopies, text galleys are collaged together. A final, full-size layout drawing is made, but it is doesn't contain too much detail, just the main outline and landmarks.
7. Layout is transferred by hand onto cloth. The creative part is 90% done. All the big decisions have been made.
8. Production! Here the stitching, which takes the most time overall, happens. It is also when the remaining 10% of the magic occurs, when the idea becomes embodied in material reality, where serendipity steps in and lends a hand.
9. The work is finished - signed, stretched, framed. It is the object at the end of the process. There is a nice little moment of sitting and gazing upon the work, assessing. Occasionally there will be some small corrections or additions. Once I added some text a year after first completing (or so I thought) a piece but usually it's all ended up pretty much as I hoped.
10. Then the piece goes out into the world. It is seen by others, and grows away from me. I might see it ten years later and ask, with some amazement, "Really? I made that?"