Today I want to propose a new Universal Law of Art Physics. Are you ready? The New Law is a nice simple equation, kind of like Einstein’s E=mc2 that describes mass-energy equivalence. But, unlike theoretical physics, I know you can relate to my New Law. Without further ado, here it is:
Say what? Let me explain. In the theoretical world, there is this thing called perfection. In the real world of Art Physics (at least as it occurs in my studio), this perfection thing goes to hell in a hand basket as soon as I start working with my hands.
No matter how hard I try, no matter how careful I am, no matter how firmly I plant my “patience” hat on my head, nothing comes out perfect. Nothing.
My current project is a perfect example. I’ve been working on it for a year, and I’m clocking a lot of hours on the stitch-o-meter as I near the end. It’s beautiful, but if you put it under a magnifying glass, it is one big mass of imperfection. In fact, those imperfections are like dust bunnies — they multiplied as the project progressed. (The Dust Bunny Effect is Corollary 1 to my New Law, by the way.)
My Steady Stream of Imperfections
In the beginning, it was perfect. I had huge beautiful printouts of my beautiful design, waiting to be cut into stencils. By hand. Oops — we all know what that means. I do a pretty good job with an X-acto knife, but perfect? No.
After I cut the stencils, I realized I made a Big Design Mistake. Right in the middle of the design. See that small medallion that is peeking out over the larger one? Big mistake. It needed to float behind that big guy. At least I saw the problem before I started painting.
My next big challenge was getting the stencils attached to my fabric — without the benefit of the work table in my studio or an extra set of hands. I did most of the painting on a card table during a personal art retreat in Mexico. The only large flat surface was the bed.
Plus, the size and the circular nature of the medallions made it pretty much impossible to get the spacing perfect when I placed the stencils on the panels. Can you see what I mean about the dust-bunny effect?
I did manage to solve the layering problem by tucking that small medallion behind the larger ones. (Keep in mind that these are whole-cloth panels, not pieced or appliquéd.) It required painting most of panel 2, then rotating stencil 3 to match the missing portion of stencil 2 to finish the painting. (Don’t worry if you didn’t quite follow that. It was complicated.)
But the stencil shifts? That I had to live with. See how some of the pointy arcs are wide and some are narrow? That’s what happens when parts of the stencil are shifted over from the “perfect” position. And there is no “fixing” this once the paint is on the fabric, short of starting over. Ummm, nope. That wasn’t going to happen.
Thankfully, hand stitching is a lot more forgiving that any machine. As I stitched along the arcs, I adjusted the size of my stitches to fit the wide and narrow sections. Is it perfect? Not by a long shot. At this point, “camouflage” was the name of the game!
Except for doing the initial design work on the computer, every step of this project has been done by hand. Stencils cut by hand, painted by hand, embroidered by hand. I’ll use a machine to quilt the panels, but they will be moved by hand as I quilt. And that, by the way, won’t be perfect either.
And you know what? This mass of imperfections that is my three-panel project will be beautiful. In fact, it will be beyond beautiful. In will be incredibly, fantastically, and unbelievably imperfect. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I’ve had a year of of learning to accept imperfection, to dance with imperfection and to embrace imperfection. Yes, it has been frustrating at times. But I feel incredibly blessed to learn about the joy of imperfection in such a beautiful way.
Go forth, do good work, and make something beautifully imperfect today.