Sunday, November 28, 2010

Parting ways with City and Guilds

You may recall that I have been doing the City and Guilds in Embroidery with Stitchbusiness. Of course having a house with a kitchen that looked like this, to say nothing of the other rooms which need attention, meant that I became  more than a little sidetracked.
So, before the distance learner weekend last weekend, I took a new notebook and filled several pages with all the tasks I needed to do before I finished up the course. None of which seemed related to the other list in my journal of all the ideas I wanted to work up - ideas I was excited about but didn't have time to do because of the C&G tasks I had to devote time to. I had noticed the textile content of this blog declining in direct proportion to the time I had to do non C&G projects. And, more privately I had noticed that my brain was not spontanously producing ideas at odd times of the day. It was full to the top with to do lists.

So, as I drove to Durham, a little dialogue began in the back of  my mind between Me and I as to whether I should continue or not. Was it 'feckless' not to finish? Was it a waste of money? Or a mature well thought out decision?

 Now, one of the tasks which I had actually done was to do some edge samples. Mine is an A4 piece of fabric demonstrating various ways of doing it. It passed the requirements but it is not exactly a wonderful textile work. When I did it I had to do a sample so I did, but nothing I was working on for myself at the time required edging like that and so it was a 'bare minimum' sample.

I sat down in class and there in front of me was this most beautiful sketchbook stuffed with painted pages, edging pictures, notes, examples. Bulging. Hours and hours worth of work. I loved to see it. But there is no way on God's earth I either can, nor want, to devote that much effort to a book like that. And I am not required to to pass. But it kind of prompted me to really think about what I needed in my life right now to improve my abilties and to inspire me. I decided that I did not need samples and I did not need  to work to a syllabus that didn't co-incide with the creativity welling inside me.

Dennis had come up for the weekend and so when we met for lunch I talked to him. Amongst other supportive and insightful comments which - I admit to my surprise - did not include encouraging me to finish - he suggested I should go and talk to an artist he had discovered working in Durham Cathedral bookshop. So I went up there and she was expecting me and allowed me to sit with her and chat whilst looking at her portfolio. Her name is Judy Hurst and she says her website is badly out of date but you will get a good idea of her work there anyway.

She had no idea what I was thinking about but said several things which confirmed my thoughts. In particular I commented that she really knew who she was in her art. She smiled and said, 'I've spent a lot of time learning who I am not'.
She also asked me about my work and what it was about in a way which forced me to really think about why I made textile works and what direction I wanted to go.

I thought that Stitchbusiness taught the City and Guilds course really well. And I learned a lot. I did it because I wanted to learn more about modern embroidery and to add that element into my quilts. I have learned that.
But I have also learned that I am not someone who needs to makes samples to prove to someone else that I know how a technique works. If I read a book about edges, I know how to do it and when a work requires that finish, I shall go back and do it - with a sample related to the piece if needed. But samples in abstraction - not my way of learning.

 I learned that I want to learn. I am excited to learn. But I need to follow my nose down an independant line of enquiry and see where I go with it, far more than I need to follow a structured syllabus. I have learned that I want to do things well and that doing the bare minimum when I would like to do better does not satisfy me. Particularly when it prevents me form doing a task I could do well.

I have learned good design processes and have loved to see the sketchbooks and final pieces of others but the works that are inside me wanting to get out are not going to fit into the requirements of the City and Guilds final projects. I will no doubt work with sketchbooks, but as the muse leads me, not as the City and Guilds verification woman requires.

 I have learned that I am not interested in decorative for decorative sake. I like to work with meaning (even if it is only obvious to me) or a aprticular purpose, or I am not engaged enough. I like concepts and connections.

I concluded that whilst I am still moving towards finding my own distintcive 'voice' and and still learning techniques to enable me to achieve what is in my head, the course was no longer sustaining me. It was stifling my creativity. I had found that the wellspring of fresh ideas had dried up in the face of a long list of course requirements.

So, at the end of the day I announced that I was going to cease my particpation. The tutors Julia and Tracy were very understanding and not at all suprised. And as soon as I made the decision all the ideas came flooding back. I felt excited about art quilting again. I felt like a lot of heavy long hair had been cut off me. And the ideas are involving a lot more embroidery than they would have done had I not done the course. I dodn't regret starting it at all. I got from it what I needed. but now I am done.

So, I now have some projects I am excited about which I shall embark on over the next few months. I am also going to allow myself to play. And I hope that means I shall have more work to show you.

And yes the photo of the kitchen was a pathetic attempt to get a picture into this rather non-visual post! And it looks better now.But that is another post....


Anonymous said...


About the only reason to regret not having a lot of samples is that the samples are a great teaching tool.

I would love to be able to show people an actual sample of each of fifteen ways to applique, then denonstrate the one they are most drawn to, but like you, I read about something, then put it out of sight, out of mind until I need it, then get out the reference, and then maybe make a sample.

I guess it is all about how each of us learn new skills! Making samples of something I may never use is not mine, norsterc yours!

Judy B

Terry said...

Helen, this was a very interesting post and is in line with a lot of things that I believe. I have a friend who has been involved in the City and Guilds training for quite a few years now and so I have been observing her "education." She is a very methodical and exacting person--an accountant by trade and the C&G training provides her with the kind of checklists and measurable results that she needs. That is how she deals with things and is not good with uncertainty, serendipity or spontaneity . She is doing wonderful work. It has provided her with just what she needed to focus her work, but my observation is that this kind of education would not work for me at all! She once said she was doing the C&G program because she had not studied art in school. Fair enough, but I did study art and got my degree in art and my education was very, very different from the C&G approach. I think you are very smart to understand what YOU need. I have no criticism for C&G, but it is a very specific kind of training and not for everyone.

Deborah Boschert said...

Yeah! In my life, it seems that the "big decisions" weren't really so big. The right course of action becomes quite clear with careful, honest introspection.

I'm eager to see what you create next! And more kitchen pictures.

Kristin L said...

Kudos to you for moving forward even if it seems on the surface counterintuitive. I recently made the decision not to do something because I had realized that I was procrastinating not because I was lazy, but because my heart wasn't in it. I think it's important to listen to yourself and it sounds like you've done exactly that.

About four years ago I was really, really impressed with the work coming out of C&G courses and it seemed to me that that was the best course towards being taken seriously as a fiber artist, and it could help pad my resume for teaching. I was having a hard time seeing where it would fit in my schedule though, as I didn't want to be overwhelmed with the to-do lists. I read accounts like Diane's in which she credits C&G for teaching her new ways of looking at things and think of how great it would be.

However, like Terry, I did go to art school, and I recognize many of the exercises. I know myself well enough to know that although I use a sketchbook/journal and understand the importance of it and of drawing every day, if I spend my time and energy making IT incredible, I will never do the larger, potentially more impactful work that I would like to do. I also had a respected friend tell me that C&G was a lot about decorative techniques and she and I knew, like you recognize in yourself, that I could do those on my own or with a little focused research. The other design and concept related skills were ones I already had and C&G would be redundant. I never did enroll.

So, I understand your decision and look forward to see where you take your art next. BTW, perhaps some of the time, $, and energy you would have otherwise put in to C&G can now go into teh occasional workshop with artists whose work you admire and whose brains you'd like to pick. :-)

Erica Spinks said...

Hear, hear! I have always believed that we know in our own hearts what suits us best and what works for us. Sometimes this knowledge is instinctive; other times it takes lengthy thinking. I'm pleased you have found your own way.

peneller said...

Thank you for this post Helen. I have been toying with the idea of a C&G course for a while, but have had real doubts that it would help me move forward in my attempt to become a textile artist. Reading your post has been the spur I needed to realise that I need to put my energies into producing the work I want to without having to worry about producing a lot of extraneous stuff just to meet an arbitrary standard!

I hope your kitchen gets fixed soon!

Rachel said...

It is clear from the fact that the ideas started flooding in that you made the right decision, even if it involved a lot of anxious thought beforehand. Perhaps the course taught you a lot to begin with, but now you have outgrown it.

Christine said...

Helen - that was a wise and insightful decision. Maybe it's my advanced years, but when I finally came to do college-based C&G, there was a fair amount of "been there, done that" and the net result was that I found the whole process stifling rather than stimulating. In fact I ended with less creative confidence than when I started. However good the tutors, it's not for everybody. The best part (not so easy with distance learning, of course) was the interchange with other students and I made some good friends. Oh and the college training restaurant made fabulous scones!

Susan D said...

I finished C & G embroidery in August and have to admit I was sick and tired of it by the end and felt as if a great weight had been lifted. I learnt quite a lot but what I did learn was the C & G way of working isn't mine. Yes the sampling can be useful if it's a technique you've never used but I get an idea in my head and then just go for it. It will be nice to have the piece of paper to say I've passed but I've decided not to go on to the Diploma but to study for a Textiles degree with OCA. I will have the freedom to follow what interests me and not what is required by C & G.

Good luck with you journey and I look forward to following along with you.

Sue Dennis said...

Sounds like it's the correct decision for you, at this time & all the comments validate that too. Letting go is a good feeling!

Miriam Weaver said...

Helen, Thanks for this post. Like Susan D, I completed the C&G certificate a couple of years ago. There were many aspects of the course I enjoyed and many I didn't and we were lucky the tutor was brilliant. The final pieces I did I was never happy with, techniques used that I honestly felt didn't belong, boxes needed to be ticked. I made some really good friends a couple I still keep in touch with and one I see every two weeks at a patchwork group we joined this year. At the time of finishing I decided not to go on to the Diploma, BUT recently I have been toying with doing it by correspondence. Something has held me back. Why do I want to do more samples, research into things that I'm not interested in? When I could be doing what I want. I have had similar thoughts as Kristin that the money spent on C&G could be used to do workshops with tutors doing things that I really want to do and will use.
My decision is made I'm not doing the Diploma, who knows I may see you at a summer school or a workshop somewhere. And thanks again.
Good luck with the kitchen, it's all worth the effort in the end.

Anonymous said...

I look forward to hearing your voice and seeing where the quilting journey takes you.
Happier Quilting!

June Calender said...

You are a mature person with the expeience to make thoughtful decisions. This is very different from being a young person in art school building a repetoire of skills. You've recognized that you can learn the skills you will need in specific art projects as you come to them. Plus, of course, you have a whole new house to get in order. It sounds like a very sound and sane and mature decision.

Anonymous said...

Well you're a judge so if you can't be relied upon to make a wise decision on where you take your craft we're in trouble as a society!
Good luck with your new projects and the kitchen. We had a new one last month but, based on our past good experience and other people's bad experiences, took the decision to start with the supplier - John Lewis - and just pick from what they sold. Am convinced it was the best approach.
Joyce F.

Rayna said...

Thoughtful, schmoughtful. Your decision-making process was about giving yourself permission to follow your instincts, which, by the way, will never lead you astray. If your tutors were not surprised by your decision, it was clear all along that your head was overruling your heart/gut, but that they saw right through all that and knew your heart was not in all those samples. Indeed, not for everyone. It would make me run screaming from the room, but there are those who love it.

So happy the burden is lifted and all your excitement and imaginative ideas hae ome flooding back. Life is too short, dear Helen, not to do what you love doing.

Iz said...

Funnily enough, I'm wrestling with these very questions now (2013) but from the point of view of a C&G tutor - very interesting reading! Good for you with deciding to quit when you did, I totally understand about how the list of "samples" can kill the creativity. I'll have a look at the rest of your blog later, to see what you've been up to since. I found you whilst trying to find answers to my teaching questions!