On Inspiration and Process

What I'm noticing about my process with Saori is this: I start out with an idea in mind. Not a goal, not a plan, but something around which I build the piece. In the rainbow scarf for Kate, the idea was simply to use rainbow yarns: variegated through a bright spectrum, or multicolored plies, or whatever else I found. The landscapes themselves from the colors as I went.

Now I'm working on an oceanic piece for my mom. I wanted the feel of the warm ocean off Florida (where she lives and I grew up), the Gulf Stream, the Gulf itself, the waters around the Keys. I began to build a yarn stash for it around those colors and those images. Some of them were things I had already in my stash, that I had bought before or that someone had given me (I have a bunch of odds and ends that people give me, actually), and some were bought with the project in mind. I thought a lot about the sea in its different moods as I knew it, in summer and winter, in clear weather and in hurricanes, at the beach and in the deeps, on the surface and below it. I wanted all of those. A light chop, huge rollers, the dim grey waters at the winter solstice (my friends and I used to stay up all night, watch the sun rise on the beach, and take a cold dip), the bright warmth of snorkeling in the summer at Looe Key. I wanted kelp forests and tropical fish, and the light refracting through the water on the white sand below.

So I collected yarn in those colors, and I browsed Google Image for pictures that struck a chord with me. Photos, but also drawings and paintings. Japanese paintings of towering waves and the fish-waves from Ponyo inspired me. So did the art of Guy Harvey (somewhat to my chagrin; he's a something of a cliche among sportfisherman and sailboat types, but he actually turns out to be pretty nifty). Photos like this one and this one of macrocystic kelp forests. Oh, and pictures like all of these of sunset at Key West. And these, of the beach in the area where I grew up.

I live in Seattle now. I don't know much about the cold waters around here. I make it out to the beach on the Sound relatively often, but rarely out to the Pacific. It's beautiful, but not in the way the waters I knew for twenty years were. And it's not the water my mother knows and loves, so it's not what I want to make for her.

I'm spending lots of time building small curves and large ones, for the movement of the water. Waving seaweed. Right now I'm working on a coral reef. It's all fairly impressionistic, rough outlines, swirls, feelings-as-shapes. It's not meant to be representational, but evocative. I'm using tapestry techniques to achieve much of it, as well as Saori techniques. There's one of the latter, I can't remember its name or find the book to look it up, but I think of it as "wandering yarn", that's proving to be quite a good way of giving the flavor of fan corals and branching corals. I say that I'm not a tapestry weaver, and I mean that, because I don't plan what I'm doing more than a step in advance, much less draw out cartoons and then charts. I don't have the mindset for that. But I can grab those techniques and use them to good effect as impressionistic, evocative images in Saori weavings, unplanned. They'll never be as precise as a traditional tapestry, but they serve my purpose and my imageries.

My next big piece will be another rainbow scarf, this one for my dad. He asked for one that was "all bright colors, like Kate's." Nearly twenty years I've been out, and he's never caught on why I and the women I date like rainbows. That's ok, whether he knows it or not, he'll be wearing Pride colors, and I know he's proud of me.

But I didn't want to repeat myself, of course. So I started casting about for different inspiration. And I found this:

It's Jupiter in chain stitch, and it sparked something. My dad has his PhD in astrophysics and cosmology, and he taught astronomy. I remember staring up with him at a clear, clear sky full of stars, while he pointed them out to me and told me about them. As soon as I could read, I started to learn why the stars had the names they had, what the constellations were and what stories were told about them, as well as about what they were and what they did. It led me to Greek mythology, which, in the long run, led to my religion (shhh, don't tell him that).

So then I started collecting images of the the storms of Jupiter and rings of Saturn, and then I quickly moved further out, finding nebulae and galaxy clusters and voids and things I do not understand at all, but are gorgeous, galaxies, a supernova remnant, this fantastic cone shape that graphs the expansion of space over time, if I understand it correctly. These and more I have stuffed away in a bookmark folder, to look at as I start, and as I look at yarns to buy. More of the Mochi yarn I used for Kate's, although possibly fatter. Pulled silk sari threads, to spin loosely and deconstruct in the middle of the piece for wisps. Silver filament plied with deepest black, for the billions and billions of stars.

That one is months off, though. I still have Mom's to get to. I'm one yard into a three yard warp, with ten hours logged, probably another two I forgot to log. Call it twelve hours, over a month. There's only so much of the delicate, fiddly work I can do at a time. (And I got sick, which means I lost about ten days there where I just felt too crappy to move.) Most weavers want the loom down around waist-level, as it's most ergonomic for simply passing the shuttle back and forth. But since I'm doing lots of pick-ups and small passes and trying to see which thread I want to turn at this time, I need it closer to my face. I'm now weaving sitting in front of a tallish table, with the front of resting on my (rather ample) chest, just so I'm not bending over it constantly to see and giving myself huge knots in my neck and shoulders, When I finally get a Saori loom, I'll have to get one of the adjustable ones, so I can jack it up high when I need to. My upper arms do get tired, though, and I may work for an hour or two without gaining more than an inch of fabric out of it.

One of my Rav boards started talking about quotes we found inspiring or applicable for our weavings. This was my contribution:

She became dance’s analogue of the jazzman.

Dance was, for Shara, self-expression, pure and simple, first, last, and always.

Once she freed herself from the attempt to fit into the world of company dance, she came to regard choreography per se as an obstacle to her self-expression, as a preprogrammed rut, inexorable as a script and as limiting. And so she devalued it.

A jazzman may blow Night in Tunisia for a dozen consecutive nights, and each evening will be a different experience, as he interprets and reinterprets the melody according to his mood of the moment. Total unity of artist and his art: spontaneous creation. The melodic starting point distinguishes the result from pure anarchy.

In just this way Shara devalued preperformance choreography to a starting point, a framework on which to build whatever the moment demanded and then jammed around it. She learned in those three busy years to dismantle the interface between herself and her dance. Dancers have always tended to sneer at improv dancing, even while they practiced it, in the studio, for the looseness it gave. They failed to see that planned improv, improv around a theme fully thought out in advance, was the natural next step in dance.

-Spider and Jeanne Robinson, Stardance

I wouldn't go so far as to call myself a jazzman in that sense, but it is very much how I try to work. A starting point, and improvisation.