Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Planning vs. plunging -- part 3

More today to follow up on my post about planning and plunging.  From the comments to that post, apparently there are many of us who plunge -- we work (write, sew, whatever) in order to find out what we want to say. We’re the bad girls, the noncompliant students, those who won’t do what we’re told.

By contrast, the good girls are planners. They write their outlines first, then their term papers. They keep sketchbooks and journals, plan out their quilts, arrange their compositions on the design wall before they start to sew. They are teachers’ pets.

Because so many people seemed intrigued and heartened by this line of thought, I want to stick with it for a bit. First, a response to Janet’s comment: “Okay, what's the difference between carrying a sketchbook around and carrying a camera around? Just because you're not putting pencil to paper doesn't mean you're not looking, seeing, thinking about art, which I presume is the point of using a sketchbook.”

Well, there is a difference, in execution if not in purpose. Some people don’t think well with a pencil in their hand; I am one of them. I have long ago realized that although I am working as a visual artist, I do not generally produce images in my head that need to be documented. Instead I produce ideas, expressed in words, that need to be transformed into images. I might jot down my words, but not my images, because they don’t exist yet.

Perhaps this strange brain wiring is why I have come to love my camera so much. When I see images in nature, I do scrutinize them and look for the picture inside the scene. I often take several photos of the same interesting thing, experimenting with cropping, camera angle, zooming in or out either with my controls or by walking closer or farther away. But I don’t know the picture I want to take until I’ve taken a lot, looked at them on the big screen back home, and selected my best. Again, I work in order to find out what I want to say.

Janet is absolutely right about “looking, seeing, thinking about art” -- that is the whole point. But some people do it with a sketchbook, others with a camera, others with neither of the above. Just as we discover the medium and the style that suits us best (fiber? paint? marble?) (representational? abstract? geometric? cartoony?) as artists, we need to figure out the working method that suits.

I realize that my propensity to plunge is one reason I stick with fiber art rather than moving into painting, which in many ways I envy.  I can sew up a wonderful area of red and yellow fabric, pin it up on the design wall, and let the rest of the quilt evolve around it. I don’t know yet -- and don’t have to know yet -- whether it’s going to end up in the center of the quilt or at the lower left-hand corner.

But if you’re doing a painting, you have to decide immediately where to put your brush full of red. If you put it in the lower left-hand corner, it’s going to be there forever. Sure, you can paint over it and try to reproduce it in the center of the picture, but unless you slice up your canvas and paste the red and yellow bit somewhere on a new canvas, you can’t change your mind.

Another commenter said that she plunges in her writing: “I appreciate being able to just start writing somewhere in the middle and add pieces here and there.” That could just as well describe my feelings toward fiber art. Make that red and yellow, and then see where it ends up.


  1. I appreciate this dialogue! Thanks! I just want to add that this lends itself to something my friends and I talk about a lot - there are structure task oriented people and unstructured task oriented people. I start a list and work down it to finish at the bottom. I have a best friend who starts in the middle of the list and works all the tasks in whatever order she feels like. Still we are best friends and work on committees together - how? We appreciate that that's our working style and we let each work (or create) in her best manner. Makes for a much nicer friendship. So yep - I a planner - sometimes my piece doesn't end up the way I planned but there is ALWAYS a plan :)

  2. Thanks so much for these fascinating posts. I have only just seen these as a result of a link from the Contemporary Quilt Yahoo group. Lots of food for thought. The main thing I have gained is an acceptance that I am as I am - a "plunger" who despite never having been able to get along with "planning" none the less gets quite a lot of things completed.