Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Taking A Chance

Mixed Media work from Fran Skiles Workshop

I will be teaching at Quilting By the Lake in a few weeks and I have been reviewing my lesson plans. One day will focus on the value of chance in opening doors to new ideas and new work. The pictured mixed media composition is a piece I created in a Fran Skiles Workshop about a year ago and it demonstrates chance, faith, and process.

Sometimes, after an artist has developed a known style, it can be difficult to move away from the known, the sure thing. You know how to do whatever you do, you know what will happen if you do certain things and while there will always be varying degrees of success, you aren't always surprised by the results.

One of my favorite passages on chance is from an interview with Nancy Drew by John Baldessari in a book titled Chance. The book was edited by Margaret Iversen and is one of a series of books called Documents of Contemporary Art.

The passage reads as follows:

(It would) be unbearable if our intentions were regularly frustrated. Yet there is something terribly arid, not to say mechanistic, in the idea of a world where all our purposes result in predictable consequences, where we are completely transparent to ourselves and where intentions always result in expected actions. We value the degree of interference in human intentional activity offered by the unconscious, by language, by the apparatus of the camera or computer, by the instruction performed 'blind.' In short, we desire to see what will happen.

I stated that the piece I have pictured demonstrates chance, faith, and process. For me that was true because I made elements for the piece without knowing how they would be incorporated into a work, faith because I knew that Fran had a bigger view of how this would work and I followed the process as presented by her.

You might try this approach for yourself. Make some elements, make a lot of elements. Enjoy the process of making. Do it freely and without too much of a critical eye. Don't think too much about how you might use them. Try something new. Use something old in a new way. Then look at what you have done. You might be surprised. Take a chance.


Recently I had some correspondence with Jane Davies who designs a wide array of products for many prestigious manufacturers. She is also the author of several books on collage and mixed media. I have enjoyed her book Adventures in Mixed Media as her illustrations and directions are very clear. You can check out her site at:

Thanks Jane for all the great information!

Thank you for spending time at Studio 24-7.
I love hearing from you and Remember...

Commenting is FREE!!


  1. Brenda Gael Smith commented on your post.
    Brenda wrote: "Hi Terry. Here's the comment I have been trying to leave on your blog...Yes! An element of serendipity is integral tothe art of quiltmaking. Or as other have put it: "...there's a fine line between good planning and overplanning. You never want the planning to inhibit the natural evolution of your work...your creative endeavours can never be thoroughly mapped out ahead of time. You have to allow for the suddenly altered landscape, the change in plan, the accidental spark - and you have to see it as a stroke of luck rather than a disturbance of your perfect scheme. Habitually creative people are, in EB White' phrase, "prepared to be lucky". The words here are "prepared" and "lucky". They're inseparable. You don't get lucky without preparation, and there's no sense in being prepared if you're not open to the possibility of a glorious accident." [page 120 chapter 7 Accidents will happen in The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp] As observed in Art & Fear – Observations on the Perils and Rewards of Art Making by David Bayles and Ted Orland: "Control, apparently, is not the answer. People who need certainty in their lives are less likely to make art that is risky, subversive, complicated, iffy, suggestive or spontaneous. What’s really needed is nothing more than a broad sense of what you are looking for, some strategy for how to find it, and an overriding willingness to embrace mistakes and surprises along the way. Simply put, making art is chancy – it doesn’t mix well with predictability. Uncertainty is the essential, inevitable and all-pervasive companion to your desire to make art. And tolerance for uncertainty is the pre-requisite to succeeding.” [page 21]"

    post by Terry on behalf of Brenda

    Thank you for the great response!

  2. And not just in art, I believe the oft-cited quotation "Chance favors the prepared mind" is from Louis Pasteur.

    Looking forward to your QBL class.

  3. Yes! I thought of Edison as I was writing this. I'm looking forward to the class as well and meeting you!

  4. Thanks for posting my comment Terry. I tried three times before I headed to bed and gave up. However, I think "it's me, not you". I regularly have issues with the comment interface on Google blogs and images not showing up. Usually, I leave it and come back later but I wanted to respond in your morning.

    I enjoy your thoughtful posts.

  5. Thank you very much. I love the interaction with so many wonderful people!

  6. Just found your blog and I love the organic look of your cloth . It's the kind of thing that has always caught my eye and looks like something you might find under a microscope...just love it . Also, your book quote sums up what I have been trying to explain to people about my felt animals... but said much better then I ever could . Thanks for sharing .

  7. I like the relationship between the right and left sides of this piece Terry. Its like a dialog.

    As I spend time with other artists in the blog world and in other ways, I am aware the ways each works is suited to personality. Some people need to plan, to be pretty sure what will happen, and they use that in very creative ways. Other people would be bored and squelched if they had to plan and prepare and predict. I don't think either way is better than the other, just different. The bottom line, I think, is to honor your own unique vision and process.

    I was in a work shop with water color artist Pat San Soucie once, when she explained how she "discovered" her unique process of pouring water colors through a variety of items to create very unique patterns, textures and marks.

    She was working in her studio when she came upon a spill - the watercolor had spilled on a surface - like a Kleenex. It dried. When Pat removed the Kleenex, she saw amazing results on the paper below the spill. Her comment to her self was "Now that's interesting..."

    If she had chided herself or making a mess, where would she be? Instead it opened a whole new world....

  8. Thanks krex and Leslie! I appreciate your taking time to comment.

    Leslie I love your example of how Pat "discovered" her process. This is a beautiful example of being open and aware and then using the new information to carry you forward.

    My interest in "chance" is just what you described, staying alert in your practice and using chance as a way to jog your practice when you need a boost. For me, never knowing what might happen would be even more frustrating than always knowing.

  9. I have recently started attending printing classes in order to throw a spanner into the works of my designs. Learning new techniques in a parallel medium (the whole cloth of my quilts are essentially prints) is how I am trying to inject new thinking into how I approach the textile work.

    I work next to someone who has very defined outcomes in mind, and she and I discuss how it is that I try to make the best of what shows up while she tries and tries again to achieve that goal which she firmly has in mind. Her work is beautiful, while mine is definitely miss and sometimes hit so far. But for me those few hits are worth it all. As so many have commented above, it is being ready to grasp the positives that chance throws in the way that makes the journey so rewarding.

  10. Olga, Thank you for sharing your experience. In the end it is very personal and we each must know ourselves. It seems to me that you and your friend are acting as wonderful teachers for one another.

    Isn't it delicious though when it all comes out right!

    I appreciate your taking time to comment.