When Perfection isn’t Perfect

I took a walk in the countryside last Thursday. It was a slow day for work, the sky was blue and the temps a breezy 75°F, so I couldn’t resist the chance to take a few pics of late Summer’s splendor. The greens of the foliage will soon transpose to a rainbow of oranges, reds, yellows and browns, and although this transformation is gloriously breathtaking, it might be another 12 months before I get this view again. Playing hooky seemed justified.

Taking advantage of photo opportunities is one of those perks of being an artist – it’s a fun necessity. I must continue to build my library that I reference for various projects, such as when creating embroidery designs in a realistic style. Oh sure, I could surf around the net for hours trying to find the right details in a Maple leaf or the wild shapes of Oak branches, but I wouldn’t get the inspiration and clarity of details (not to mention, exercise) that I get from memories recorded in my own images.  And I like to strive for perfection – well, sorta. The objective for a realistic style is to replicate details perfectly, but Nature isn’t always perfect. If I were to create a symmetrical daisy, with each petal exactly the same by punching one petal and duplicating it for the remaining petals, the results would be so very wrong, at least for the realistic style I’m trying to achieve.

It was quite nice to have a guilt-free excuse on a work day to hike through one of Minnesota’s Scientific and Natural Areas, and this particular place is dear to me – I called it “home” for 15 years. You would think I should have enough pictures after living there so long, but the area is forever changing, especially since the house and barn were removed and the natural foliage allowed to flourish.  Each time I visit, I find something new to capture and add to my reference image library.

The leafy Sumac bushes that once camouflaged the heating fuel-oil barrel now cover the spot where I washed countless dishes, and OxEye Sunflowers have sprung forth from where the old, weathered outhouse once stood proud.  Yes, we even had one of those, and although rarely used, it was kept clean for those particular visitors who were strangely attracted to the experience of using a tattered, wooden privy in the fresh outdoors.

We were also quite grateful for having this not-so-perfect commode, of sorts, as it was the perfect solution one extremely cold year of -50°F when the drains froze.  (I had experienced an icy hell in them thar snow mounds along the frozen path in the moonlight.  I went on a diet until Spring.)

The Violets, Irises and Lilies that had lined the house and other wildflowers have devoured what once was a perfect city-like lawn. Little ferns carpet the ground under tall Goldenrod, Milkweed, prairie grasses and more, scattered throughout, making it necessary to step carefully, so as not to destroy small wildflowers – or be surprised by a snake or other critter I’d rather see from afar. It might have grown to be unfamiliar territory for me, if not for the valley left from the gravel driveway, my surviving patch of Rhubarb and the stately Oaks, Elms and Birch trees that remain.  The bright patches of Goldenrod and Purple Loosestrife still dot the one-time horse pasture on the hill this time of year.

A part of me is sad I no longer live there, but I’m so very delighted I can still occasionally visit and experience this abundance of natural beauty.  Having something to draw on when I’m lacking inspiration is priceless.  I find it well-worth studying the details – those that are symmetrically and/or consistently the same, and those of many changing variations – because these memorized details eventually appear somewhere in my work.

Now, on the other hand, digitizing anything – whether it’s the variations found in Nature or the crisp symmetry of a corporate logo – distortion must be applied to achieve quality results. Compensation for the threads that pull in or push out must be observed, such as widening and shortening columns so the width and length are correct in the final sew-out. Depending on the substrate, this can be a tedious procedure for digitizing small elements, most especially tiny letters. Veteran digitizer, Erich Campbell of Black Duck Embroidery & Screen Printing, recently shared a project he completed of 4 MM letters that turned out quite nice for what he described as a quick job. Most impressive is the clarity of letters that are embroidered on a textured polo, which is a situation that often results in crooked columns with ragged edges.  It’s somewhat tricky to digitize the elements of each letter seemingly wrong for them to appear right. Erich credits one of his favorite lessons learned from the masters, “Embroidery is the art form of distortion.”

Erich also posted a recommendation for perhaps one of his secrets, a Gutenberg book titled OF THE JUST SHAPING OF LETTERS from the Applied Geometry of Albrecht Durer, Book III.  This free e-book download, is an excellent reference to have in reach during the creation of any size letters, be it print or embroidery, as it explains everything you need to know about the basic rules when replicating shape. An excerpt regarding the letter B: “… in this way you shall describe both curved limbs: and they must both be broader towards the top than towards the bottom, as follows naturally with the stroke of a pen, and, moreover, while approximately round, they are not to be circular ….”

From this point, we as digitizers, must apply the embroidery rules of distortion to achieve exact replication in the final sew-out. The book is available for Kindle, and if you didn’t know, you can now download the Kindle for PC application, making e-books available to even those without gadgets.

Until next week … I’ll leave you with the suggestion to begin your own reference image library for design, starting with captured shots of your surrounding, natural environment. There’s a design to be created from Nature found everywhere, from the driest desert to the wettest swampland.  It can even be seen pushing through the cracks of cement and asphalt or rooftops of the biggest cities. Perhaps, visit a local florist who is willing to let you take a few snapshots, and at the same time, you just might snag an embroidery order for garden aprons, donning a logo with tiny letters.

Embroidery designs pictured are available at Moonlight’s Design Shoppe.

Creativity Awaits Outside the Window

Watching the raindrops hit the leaves of the Crabapple tree outside my office window today, I considered how fortunate I am to actually have a window.  I’d spent at least 20 years employed at various jobs working in spaces without windows.  Three of those positions required that I create, either by writing or designing or both, but rarely did I find muse while on the clock.  Inspiration necessary for motivating creativity was acquired during outside walks during breaks and lunch hours or at home – where there was a window.

For about 18 years I’ve been working from a home office with two large windows; one is half-draped to keep light hitting my computer monitors and the other is devoured by the Crabapple tree.  I can’t see very far beyond the window from my chair, but what I can’t see, my mind’s eye can.  The seasonally, changing view is embedded in memory, as I routinely walk over to the window every hour for a Yoga stretch.  (CTS and PAD will not be my downfall if I can avoid it!)  Within minutes after opening the window – even when it’s Minnesota cold – for a relaxing daydream, along with a meditative, breath of fresh air, my mind kicks in with an uplifting fervor and the creativity flows!

Not being able to steal a glance at nature every time I have a mind-block would be so drastically stifling!  I’ve spent a good deal of dead time staring at a blinking cursor on a white doc page or canvas of a graphics or digitizing program, and then, later during a walk or gazing out the window, I’ve been hit with an epiphany.  I jot a note or capture a picture to examine later and it’s the image that helps me recall exact details of my bright ideas, because it triggers what I was thinking at the time.  I’m then able to move forward in my project at a faster pace and with more clarity.

I never question why it works (I’m a firm believer in “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”) but sometimes I wonder if it’s actually nature that turns on the switch of creativity or just the physical act that tells the brain to take a break so the “juices” can flow.  I only know that when I find myself just sitting there trying to squeeze out the next paragraph, design or digitizing solution, staring at my pencil cup just doesn’t cut it as well!  The weather can be sunny or snowy, or rainy and cloudy in a blue sky or grey, and after a brief gaze at the Crabapple, the wheel of creativity never fails to turn.  Oh, sometimes a Cardinal or squirrel interrupts my focus, but the experience usually enhances inspiration, which sometimes leads to an idea for an entirely new project I can tuck away in the slush pile.

Curious to know if this is a common or personal experience, I did a little research and found that there’s actually a study of the affects to employees at work places with and without windows called “A Room with a View: A Review of the Effects of Windows on Work and Well-Being” by Kelly M. J. Farley and Jennifer A. Veitch.  Now, I haven’t read the entire study (yet); however, a statement in the abstract told me I wasn’t alone.  “Windows with views of nature were found to enhance work and well-being in a number of ways including increasing job satisfaction, interest value of the job, perceptions of self-productivity, perceptions of physical working conditions, life satisfaction, and decreasing intention to quit and the recovery time of surgical patients.

Fresh air from an opened window is also said to spur creativity, because it enhances brain power, according to various claims.  If you can’t open a window, brief outdoor walks should be mandatory, because it helps you get your Vitamin D, as well as “’Vitamin G’ – what experts call time spent in green spaces”, explains Prevention Magazine in The Fresh-Air Fix”.  The article also offers six ways you and your family can benefit from being outdoors, which by the way, spending time socializing has also proven to be another way to pump up creativity.

If you aren’t fortunate enough to have a window in your office and find it difficult to arrange hourly breaks outdoors, try taking a few tips from the ancient Chinese system of Feng Shui.  Whether you believe in its laws of aesthetic energy or not, many of its principles are in agreement with scientific facts, as well as the results of health studies.  Good air quality is the first thing on the list in “Create Good Feng Shui In A Small Office with No Windows” followed by displaying various types of art, including a wall mural depicting nature.  That would be my preference, along with a small aquarium, if forced to work in a windowless room.  I must have some place to look where my mind can take frequent walks – my body is just not that ambitious!

If you have one or more employees whom you depend on to produce great creative works, provide nature in the environment, but give them more than a potted plant.  (Yes, plants do improve air quality, but it’s simply not enough!)  If possible, arrange for an office with a window or hang a large photo of the Rainforest or of somewhere a mind can tip-toe through brain-titillating tulips.  And by all means, allow brief, outdoor breaks for rejuvenation as frequent as reasonable.   Sitting still for too long can cause dead stares into pencil cups.

Finally [and I suggest this, of course, at your discretion] cut a little slack when your hired “creator” occasionally appears to be dawdling in daydreams, while staring out the window or other focal point on your dime.  Have patience.  Surely, a masterpiece is about to be born!