As an artist working from one’s own studio rather than from a shared space or (as I started in) a converted warehouse with multiple artist’s studios, it’s easy to get lost inside your own head. There are some ways that that can be pleasant; the quiet, the absence of interruption… but in other ways it can be stifling.
In much the same way that you can’t really take in the full impact of The Great Wall when you’re standing with your face 3 inches away from it, it’s easy to completely miss the depth of what it means to be an artist if you’re stuck in the thick of your own thoughts.
Because if you’re stuck in your own thoughts you’re really missing out on a huge amount of the world around you. Vast realms of potential pass you by while you have your nose buried in your canvas, page, or kiln. Being an artist is about digging into an idea and finding something new; a new technique, a new approach, a new vantage point. A big part of that is experiences that take you out of your normal neural routines. Those pathways that have been honed and pruned to peak efficiency will also completely miss the forest for the tree-bark when you don’t have something goosing you out of your daily habits.
This is where collaboration comes in. There are lots of layers to collaboration. There’s having a chat with a neighbor who’s also an artist which opens a window on a different conception of something you’ve been thinking about. There’s the wonderful gift of feedback with both complimentary and constructive notes. There’s the rush of striking up a conversation with another artist about their work in a completely different medium and realizing that there’s a way they might get the effect they’re looking for from your own. Even if the concept doesn’t pan out for the goal they have in mind, it can spark related ideas to work with in your own endeavors…
But better still is that the pathways activated by thinking about another artists goals have knock-on effects and start generating other new ideas.
I am fortunate to have several neighbors who are artists. Kurumi Conley is a glass artist working mostly with intricately layered fused glass work. She’s been both kind and giving towards me as an artist. I feel fortunate to have her artistic presence so nearby. Nicole Rawlins is a print artist and painter who’s work is among my favorites. Discussing ideas with her over our mutual fence has been delightful.
Lately I’ve started collaborating with Sam Tudyk, an artist who’s soothingly eerie paintings of decaying billboards and handwriting practice sheets caught at my attention in a way that’s hard to describe. Discussing techniques she’s been exploring in her handwriting paintings got me thinking about ways glass might help her achieve the effect she wanted. That discussion has lead to some early experiments that may develop into a new set of tools she can invoke in pursuit of her goals.
As we started experimenting for her artworks I took inspiration from setting handwriting to glass, mixed with my growing interest in lampshades, and I’m now working on a shade made of “letters never sent.” I’m excited to see if I can develop something out of it.
Then the knock-on effects started to come into play. My kiln is small and each “letter” requires two or more firings of between 8 and 12 hours, so I have plenty of spare time in the studio. I’ve been thinking about taking some origami kusudama I made around the holidays out to my studio, but they’re paper, and would be difficult to clean in my dusty space. It’s a thought I’ve had for a couple months now, but my collaborative pathways were jumping this week and it suddenly occurred to me that re-creating the kusudama as a glass lampshade might be the solution I wanted.
When I hit the stumbling block of not having enough of the glass I needed to finish the kusudama lampshade right away, I used one of the techniques I was exploring with Sam to begin to realize an idea I’d had a couple years ago to make “tiny windows” using mini-Arduino, Altoids tins, and kiln-glass.
None of these ideas would have gotten the kick they needed to develop without the conversations I’ve had with Sam and the other artists in my life. All of these ideas are still in their experimental stages, but it’s exciting to follow these new trails in the woods, back into the solitude of my studio and the boisterous clarity of collaboration.