Learning to be Creative

"You can accelerate your development by giving yourself a fresh set of challenges, or the same set viewed from a different angle, every day." ––Paul Foxton, painter

Handwoven fabric designed by Margo Shelby  
Color, material, and structure all contribute

to successful design.
 

In my home when I was growing up, there was an ongoing discussion about discipline and creativity between my father, the engineer, and my mother, the artist. This came to the forefront (and still does occasionally) especially during remodelling projects, when my mother would conceive a grand design, and my father would assure her that the materials she had in mind could not take those particular forms, at least not in this physical universe. Then would come a spirited exchange and at some point, my mother would explain to me that, "Your father has an engineer's discipline, but he lacks my creativity," and my father would roll his eyes and say that he was a very creative engineer (which, in all fairness, is true). And eventually they would settle down and together begin to creatively adapt my mother's vision to my father's knowledge, and the result would be fine and good.

 

As I watched this process, I concluded that creativity without discipline wasn't likely to get very far, and vice versa. But in my own journey and in my meetings with people who have mastered their crafts, I've learned a deeper truth: that creativity is a discipline in itself, perhaps the most challenging discipline of all. For a few of us, creations may spring instantly from thought into being, fully formed, like Athena from the head of Zeus. But I've seen many handweavers who gather materials, keep notebooks of ideas, and sample until materials, colors, structure, and technique converge to realize their original vision.

 

 
 
  Margo Shelby lays out a process for fabric design,
from inspiration to weaving.

I have lots left to learn about the technical aspects of weaving, but I know that there are still more lifetimes of opportunity in learning the discipline of design. Which is why I'm eagerly awaiting the release of Margo Selby's new book, Color and Texture in Weaving. Margo is a fabric artist who designs fabrics on handlooms then produces them for sale to outlets all over the world. This new book takes you through her design process, explaining everything from how to create "moodboards" for inspiration to building a yarn palette and creating fiber wraps to plan texture and color ratios in your designs. Then she shows how to apply these ideas through collections of fabric samples that bring colors, textures, and structure together in fresh ways to create fabric for furnishings or fashion items. There are weave structures simple and sophisticated, but all possible on four- or eight-shaft looms, and the crisp photos show front and back of each fabric and let you see the contribution of every thread to the overall effect. Every collection includes detailed information on how to weave the fabrics, suggestions on how they might be used, and ideas for taking the designs further.

 

We are blessed with places to learn weave structures and techniques, from our wonderful weaving teachers and communities to the excellent books and videos that have been published in recent decades. I've found it more difficult to learn where to start and how to approach the creative process, and so far I've taken only baby steps. But Margo Shelby's book presents an roadmap for combining vision and discipline, a creative approach that speaks to the successful process modelled by my parents (but without the eye rolls). It's something that obviously works and that I could build on. I look forward to reading it.


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