Yodeling, dance and other ways of beating the creative block.

sue beevers headshotElin Waterston

By: Elin Waterston – QCN
Date: 04/06/2010


Several years ago, Jane Dávila and I began teaching a 10 week class, called Art Quilting 101, which ultimately became the basis of our first book,The Art Quilt Workbook. AQ 101 students were required (yes, required) to do homework each week based on that week’s subject or technique. At the end of the 10 weeks, we held an exhibit in which the students could enter up to 6 art quilts they’d created based on the course. One of the requirements for the exhibit was that each student’s set of quilts have a unifying theme. Since Jane and I wanted to encourage all of our students to participate, we each made a series of quilts too, every time we ran the course. 

One session I had chosen "1950's Housewives” as my theme. I don’t know why I chose that or what my original thought was, but I was all psyched to start the series. I made a few studies based on the theme and quickly realized that I couldn’t go any further with it. I always liked to do at least 3 quilts for the exhibit and I preferred to do 5 and I knew the housewives weren’t gonna cut it. No problem, I could come up with another theme. So I came up with something else only to have that one stump me as well. The more subjects I tried and disliked, the more nervous I got, until I was in full blown creative block mode. I had always been able to snap myself out of a block without much effort, but this one was different. I would never have bailed on the exhibit, so I knew I had to keep trying. The problem was that the more I tried to unblock my creativity, the more blocked I got. 

Finally, I threw my hands up and said I can’t do this anymore, I’m done. I put headphones on and played one song, on infinite repeat, super loud and yodeled (yes, yodeled) along at the top of my lungs. When I was sufficiently exhausted from yodeling (to be honest, I’m sure there was some wild dancing involved too), I grabbed a bunch of fabric scraps that were lying on the floor, a photograph of a skyscraper that I’d previously printed on fabric and a little strip of paper with Chinese characters on it, and sort of threw everything together. Voilà. I machine quilted the elements in place, free-motion stitched a bird shape and painted it blue-black. 

This first piece was the study for my series Mind + Memory. The pieces from that series remain some of my favorite work that I’ve ever done. 

Waterston Quilt

Mind + Memory (Ansonia)
Click image to enlarge in a new window

So here’s the lesson... I needed to get out of my head. I needed to stop thinking “I’m gonna be creative now.” I needed to remove my deliberate intention to be creative and just let the creativity happen on it’s own. There will always be times when I feel I’m not in the zone or I have nothing new or different or unique to say artistically. I know now that I just need to push through those times with wild abandon, and leave my head out of it. 

...and in case you were wondering, the song was “El Paso” by the Old 97’s.



sue beevers headshot

Elin Waterston is an art quilter, teacher, and author (just to name a few). Elin is active online, and can be seen and heard here:

Elin's website - www.elinwaterston.com

Elin's blog - http://willlovelogic.blogspot.com


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