This post is the story of two creatives, well, maybe three. One is an artist living and working in Los Angeles. That’s Kevin Umaña, up there.
And then there’s me, but you know what I look like.
Some time ago, my nephew linked me over to Kevin’s Instagram feed, as he knew I am slightly passionate about quilts and designs, and I’m especially in love the the “grid.” Apparently Kevin loves it too, as well as color and shape and repeated lines. (All these images are posted with his permission.)
I had sort of been in a creative slump, slightly burned out, not really knowing what to do next besides bee blocks and the Same Old. Idly scrolling through Kevin’s feed one afternoon, I found a few designs that interested me; he and I began to correspond, and then collaborate.
About the same time, Uppercase Magazine‘s Janine Vangool announced that they were producing an Encyclopedia (images from Uppercase’s website), and the one that interested me was her Stitch-Illo, one of three that was launching the Encyclopedia series. Since I’d missed submitting to her Compendium (which is always on my nightstand), I went right to her website and started choosing pictures to submit, planning on getting the submission in early. Everything was going along swimmingly until I hit this question: “What makes your work unique?”
No matter what I wrote, it sounded trite and useless and idiotic and banal and cliched, and believe I re-wrote the answer to that question about 50 times. I felt dead in the water. (I’m sure Kevin wondered what happened to me.) It was like coming up to a mirror and instead of seeing a reflection of my image, it was like seeing past me into an empty sewing room, forty million quilts stacked to the ceiling, but they were all somebody else’s vision or creation or idea. Nothing unique anywhere.
That question rattled around in my head while on a trip with my husband, and where it rained nearly every day, giving me lots of time to think. I slowly reviewed all the quilts I had pictures for while sitting in my hotel room, wondering; do we all make the same quilt, over and over? Not our own same quilt, but the One of the Moment, currently seen on everyone’s Instagram feed, or splashed all over the quilty magazines? Where was my unique? If someone saw one of my quilts, would they say, “Oh, yes–that’s Elizabeth’s!” And if I really had a unique, what was it? What did it look like? How could I tell it from someone else’s?
And in my more cynical moments, I’d say, “Well who cares, if it’s unique? Doesn’t matter enough that I’m a maker, that I express myself with cloth and sewing and cutting and stitching?” Really helpful, right?
Back home, I began looking at Kevin’s designs again. In college we were encouraged to do “imitations” of writers, using their form in order to get the meter and the words under our creative nails, as a way of training up a writer. It was a form of limiting, giving us structure, but not letting us off the rails, so to speak. So I decided to allow Kevin’s form to give me structure. And I chose to limit my fabrics to a (delightful) bundle of Janine’s Uppercase fabrics, which I’d purchased at Market.
The first experiment (above) with Kevin’s work was almost an exact copy.
But the second quilt took off on its own.
Crossroads, after Umaña • Quilt #166
Until finally, I’m here.
I won’t tell you what I wrote for Uppercase, because in a way, it’s really irrelevant to the idea of this particular story. What resonates is that challenge laid down in those words of the application, one that I think about to this day. I’m incredibly grateful to Kevin for allowing me to collaborate with him, and to borrow a little from his light when I needed it.
I’m also grateful to creatives who make fabrics for me to use, such as the excellent line shown in this post. All fabrics, with the exception of the solid white, are from Janine Vangool’s Uppercase Fabrics line. Yes, even the wee metallic letters in the sunglasses below, an echo of Kevin’s at the top of the post.
(Chuck Nohara block #345. Pattern for the Crossroads quilt coming soon to Craftsy.)
And finally, the cheesy way to close out a conundrum: let somebody else do the talking for you.
I narrow-mindedly outlawed the word ‘unique.’ Practically every press release contains it. Practically nothing ever is. (Fred Hechinger)
Every person born in this world represents something new, something that never existed before, something original and unique and every man or woman’s foremost task is the actualization of his or her unique, unprecedented and never recurring possibilities. (Martin Buber)
Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else. (Margaret Mead)
Nobody can be exactly like me. Even I have trouble doing it. (Tallulah Bankhead)
When I saw Janine at Quilt Market, her booth was handing out free Uppercase Magazines. Since I’ve been a subscriber for several years, I mentioned to Janine that with the free magazine I could instead do a Giveaway on my blog, and she handed me another magazine, her fabric catalogue and the charm pack of her fabrics to sweeten the pot.
To enter, please leave a comment. Blog followers get double their chances (shameless promotion), but it’s not necessary to follow to win.
NOTE: Giveaway now closed. Thanks to all who entered.
…congratulations to the winner of the Dresden Carnival book, Beth T, who wrote about making a squared Dresden plate block for her niece’s quilt. I’ve sent you an email and I’ll get that off to you this week. Thank you to all who entered. You have lovely Dresden Plate Memories!