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It's not over 'til it's over

New and old version of "Observation"

Every artistic medium requires a deep familiarity with the materials, which is only acquired though experience working with them. When I switched mediums from quilting with fabric to felting with wool, I was playing in a different sandbox, for sure! I struggled (and still struggle) with this medium. One of the challenges is that every action is slow to complete, and only once it's completed can you see whether you've made a mistake or not. Unfortunately, if you've made a mistake, it's a little heartbreaking and physically challenging to undo that mistake. My tendency is to continue to add elements in an attempt to balance out what I see as unsuitable. Sometimes it leads to the correct solution, but just as often, it leads to more work and frustration. Eventually, after staring at a piece for weeks or months, I'm ready to declare it done, just to get it out of my way and off my mind.

That sense of finality can help to clear up my thoughts, but ultimately, every time I see the picture, I'm still haunted by a nagging feeling that the work isn't right. Luckily, after some time has passed, I have the energy again to sort it out, rip out hours of work, and start fresh. Also, with time and experience, new materials and new techniques have been discovered, which might just provide the solution to the problem I had encountered so long ago.

So it was with "Observation". From the very beginning, something wasn't working for me. Maybe it's the composition (once laid down, so hard to change), definitely it's the color palette, so unusual for me. I also had a limited range of colors at that time, and was challenged to make them work together. It was a piece whose primary goal was to experiment with the sculptural possibilities of wool. I was feeling nostalgic for the precision and beauty of quilting, and wanted to unlock the potential of wool, something which could not be matched by quilting. In what sphere could wool stand on its own, I asked myself. I understood that it is in its ability to be molded, to form a relief. I set out to exploit that in this piece. I'm happy with the results of that exploration, the achieved texture, but everything else felt like a mess. Even though I knew everything was off, eventually I just needed to be done with it.

I don't know what finally pushed me to unpack this artwork and start ripping everything off it, but I'm glad the inspiration came. I replaced all the figures with soft and subtle versions made from beads. They have a light airiness to them, and a faint sparkle. They seem there, yet not there, as opposed to the heavy, solid figures of the first version. The primary figure at once recedes and captures one's attention, as opposed to .... I don't quite know what, but it wasn't effective. Also, when I made that piece, I hadn't yet discovered how to blend wool and apply it to create variegated foregrounds. In this piece, the ground appeared splotchy and in spots too high contrast and in others too low. I overlaid a piece of silk organza to give a more consistent appearance, as I didn't want to completely cover and restitch the ground. That really would have felt like starting from scratch. If I had the equipment to dye fabrics, I would have created a more customized color, but instead I had to use what was available to me.

So, I have to say that, while this process and results are not perfect, I'm pretty satisfied with the improvements, and I'm glad that I made them. Now I have an eye to other earlier artworks that can be tweaked :)

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