I am on an e-mail list for quilt artists. People on the list often ask questions about supplies, techniques, etc. Last week, I read and re-read this one question and response. The question is paraphrased, but the response is verbatim:
Q: I want to create a drop shadow in my work. I’ve looked at and read about different ways of doing this, but I’m not sure what would be the best technique for me?
A: "It sounds as if you have some learning to do before setting to work on your quilt.
Make a sample of each of the options and see which one suits you. You can ask people what they prefer or recommend, but none of us can see your quilt and none of us know which technique you'd be better at, either.
There is no getting round it- it is time to try out the options for yourself and see which looks best on your work.
Making samples is never a waste of time."
Those last two lines are so clear and so full of wisdom. Let's break them down.
"There is no getting round it -- it is time to try out the options for yourself...."
I get asked a lot of "how to" questions. I have found that people don't like it when you say: Experiment. Try it for yourself. See what you like.
Those words are not a cop out. In fact, they're the best advice I can give.
If I tell you what works for me, then you start to think that it's the "right" way. It's not. It's what works for me. The thing that makes each of us unique is how our brains work; our impulses. You need to try out ideas and supplies and see what you like and enjoy.
I had a brief correspondence with Alison, who wrote the answer quoted above, and in that e-mail she said another thing that I heartily agree with: "...whatever works best for you is a right way, even if I solve a problem a bit differently." Yes! So much of making art is problem solving. If you look to other people for how to solve the problem, you're not really showing who you are.
The best way to become familiar with a product or a technique is to make some samples. Try it out for yourself.
"Making samples is never a waste of time."
This is so true! In my early days of art making I didn't really "get" samples. I mean, I saw them and they looked cool, but I couldn't understand the purpose.
The purpose of sample making is knowledge. When I get a new art supply I like to put it through its paces. For example, with a new pen I might test...
- Does it write on top of slick surfaces like dried acrylic paint? (A requirement for my art journal.)
- Is it waterproof? Is it watersoluble?
- How long does the ink stay wet on paper?
- Can you use the tip of the pen in more than one way? (ex. thin line & fat line)
Could you read the packaging and go on the internet to find out the answers to these questions. Sure. But I think that (a) making samples helps you to remember the details of how a product works and (b) claims/reviews about products are not always true.
I have often thought about teaching a class that is highly sample-based. However, as useful and important as sample making is, I fear it's not a sexy topic that would attract students. And so I will just say to you: make samples! Label them so you can look back on them tomorrow or two years from now. Samples can become a magical shortcut when you're working on a project. Not sure what to do next? Grab your rolodex of samples and see what worked for you in the past!
I hope you'll spend the weekend making some samples. They're an art resource you can never have enough of!
Thanks for stopping by!