Artist in Solitude: Molly Strohl
At BMC, we're proud to say that our greatest strength is the creative power of our staff. We are a company fully staffed by imaginative individuals who are passionate about their art, and therefore are passionate about your art. With our recently initiated Artist in Solitude program, we hope to both foster and harness this passion by providing a quiet space away from work for our staff that encourages their creative expression.
There are many important ingredients to the successful explorations of one's imagination and the creation of art - having space within which to create, both physically and in a temporal sense, being one of those crucial elements. As our staff participates in our Artist in Solitude program we will be sharing their experiences, both for you to enjoy and hopefully to inspire you to do the same for yourself.
First up, Molly Strohl:
After culling through every pen, marker, needle, and thread I own, and selecting an appropriate sketchbook, I placed the last bag in the trunk of my car, said my goodbyes and I-love-yous, and I was off. For the next three hours I drove, white knuckled to my steering wheel (winding country roads make me sweat), to the coast. Once I realized I was just moments away from the house, the anxiety transformed into pure excitement. My stomach did a flip as I pulled up into the driveway. I struggled with the door key for 5 min, and even began to wonder if it was a sign that this was all a mistake. Finally, I felt the key turn, and a part of myself unlock with it.
Stepping into that house felt like stepping into the great unknown where nothing bad or negative could possibly arise out of the next 48 hours. The feeling of isolation in a new place opens oneself up to infinite creativity. Being on the coast by myself in that large house, just steps away from the Tillamook Bay's water and the vast nothingness that exceeds beyond the coastline to the west, allowed my mind to become limitless. Pure artistic bliss awaited me, but what I didn't know about was the metaphorical mountain I was about to climb.
Once I made it into the house, I unpacked my car and spread everything out on the table so as to not leave myself any excuses for not trying something due to accessibility. I made myself a dinner of peanut butter toast with banana and honey, sat at the long table, grabbed a pen and began pouring all the ideas I'd been saving onto the paper.
Before my arrival, I had a pretty set idea for what I would be producing. There was a game plan. The week before, I had spent some time in the darkroom printing off a series of self portraits. The idea was to take those prints and create an embroidery on sheer fabric that I would then layer over the print to create a multidimensional piece. Spoiler: it didn't work.
The next morning I woke up, made a big pot of coffee to carry me through the day, and got to work bringing the sketches to life. The first piece I made was exciting, until I held it up to the matching print and saw that I had stitched the image completely backwards. As someone who normally draws the pattern directly onto the fabric, I wasn't accustomed to using a transferring method. I thought maybe it could work as a happy accident, but it just looked like someone who stitched an image backwards. Slightly frustrated that I just spent the last four hours on an unusable product, I went back to the sketchbook. I spent some time looking through my folder of inspiration and thought of a new idea of how to put stitching over these photos. The rest of that day was spent eating fish n' chips from the diner across the street, and stitching the next piece (which I made sure was not going to be backwards). When I was done, and with much anticipation, I placed it over the photo. I stared at it. And stared at it. And stared some more. Until eventually I came to the conclusion that it wasn't necessarily bad, but definitely not that great either.
A wave of defeat fell over me. This was the one thing I was most afraid of happening. That my time here was wasted and I would come out with nothing to show. Despite everyone telling me, “Even if you don't make a single finished piece it doesn't mean the time was wasted.” I still felt like a total failure. I allowed myself to wallow in that self pity for about twenty minutes before I threw everything I'd been working on aside, and picked up my sketchbook once again. I dove into one of my reference books, Constance Howard's “Book of Stitches”, and began drawing patterns of stitches to see how they could work together. I did that until my eyes crossed and I decided I needed to let loose and make something for fun, as opposed to something I'd spent hours planning and stressing over. I picked up the tin of colored inks I threw in my car last minute, put down a bunch of newsprint, slapped a scrap of fabric on top, began making abstract shapes and letting the ink do its thing. I made a few of these and set them aside to dry. In the meantime, I repeated this process on a few sheets torn from my sketchbook so I could have something to experiment on. By now it was roughly two in the morning and my eyes were struggling to stay open, so I called it a night.
The next day I nearly jumped out of bed, and could hardly wait to get my hands on the inked fabrics. I took my pen and began loosely drawing simple abstract shapes and stitching them up. I was practically shaking with excitement because for the first time the whole trip I was really loving what my hands were making. I even ended up applying my initial idea of “layering” and began stacking the fabrics on top of each other to create one with depth and mystery to it. I was having fun and, finally, I didn't feel like such a failure.
The saying “you have to make bad art to make good art” probably defines my entire experience during the residency. I made a lot of art that I wasn't proud of, but once it was out of my system, I was able to stop trying so hard and let the creativity flow like the ink onto fabric.
Going into this, I brought plans and ideas that I had been sitting on for so long, and with that my identity as a perfectionist. By doing so I also put myself in a box. It took a full day of fumbling for me to see that, and to climb out of it. Once I was out though, I felt the magic that comes from making art for the sake of making art.