This is one of those questions that guarantees the page will remain blank, the canvas untouched, the design wall bare. This is a question best left unasked. It’s like asking, “Do I look fat?” Whatever the answer, it will do nothing to placate the nagging doubt. Ask 100 people how they define “art” and you will receive 100 different answers, and anyway their definition likely is not yours. Getting caught up in what is and isn’t “art” is pointless and ultimately not helpful when it comes to creating. Or so I keep reminding myself. Still, these are the kinds of questions that lurk in my mind, sullying my ideas before they’ve even made it out onto the wall or page.

Yesterday I returned home from a week in Ohio where I was lucky enough to be with a terrific group of women all there for a workshop with Sue Spargo. Sue developed an original way of working with hand dyed felted wool; creating layers using other fabrics, ribbons, velvets, cotton, linen, wools and then applying embellishments and stitching to create yet another layer, before machine quilting. Her work is exquisite and unique, and while many have taken her techniques to use in their own creations, her layering and designs are easily identified as “Sue Spargo”. So much so that I began using her name as a verb and noun, as in – “this needs to be Spargoed up” or “I’ll just add a little Spargo to it,” or “once I’ve Spargoized it, I think it will be finished.” All of which meant that whatever it was, it needed layering, embellishing, more, more, more!

My dilemma has been that because Sue’s style is so utterly unique, it is difficult to use her techniques and do anything that doesn’t feel to me like something she’s already done and done much better than I ever could. As a designer/artist, I don’t want my work to look like someone else’s. When I began designing jewelry, my cousin’s wife, who had started a jewelry business and was designing stunning pieces, had a huge influence on me and in the beginning the things I designed, looked a lot like her work. However, over time, I began to find my own voice and my work became more and more unique to me and my vision. This is what I hope will continue to happen with the things I am designing, using fabric and stitching. I have to trust that over time, just as with my jewelry, I will create things that look more and more like my own creations and unlike anyone else’s.

Last week’s workshop began with the idea of a landscape. As I thought about what I wanted to create, I incorporated some of Sue’s son, Jason Spargo’s gorgeous hand dyed wools, for the sky, moving into more sunset like colors, to greens and earth tones. But first I began with a very rough sketch.

A Sketch begins
And it continues…
My initial sketch begins to take shape

As I developed my idea, I added to the large shapes…

Adding layers

And finally when I felt I had what I wanted, I began appliquéing everything down…

Stitching everything down

Now I will begin stitching using a variety of threads and stitches. As I look at it, I am thinking I need to add something to the right hand side as it’s looking a bit claustrophobic. It is likely that this will become quite a bit larger than its current 18″ x 26″. This piece is still very much in its adolescence. But is it art? I don’t know and I don’t care. It is in the beginning stages of a much longer, wonderful, and thoroughly enjoyable process that I have only begun to explore. Asking that question ruins the process and makes me want to tear everything down in an effort to pursue some elusive enigmatic goal that I may never realize. Someone once said to me – “Start where you are.” And so I am.

The journey continues!