Productive Distractions with Amanda J. Clayton
Distraction, the antithesis of a productive life, right? Well, this isn’t always the case, as I found out with my recent visit to the studio of textile fine artist Amanda J. Clayton.
With National Novel Writing Month as the basis of this month’s theme here on the blog, productivity has also taken centre stage in the agenda. Namely, what is the best way to create a productive routine and atmosphere in your creative life. I was intrigued, then, when chatting to Amanda about her recent work and preparation for the upcoming Knitting and Stitching Show in Harrogate that much of it has developed through distraction from her intended project.
‘I became obsessed’ she tells me. While recently out in Cyprus, where she adjourns for several periods throughout the year to focus upon her stitching work, she was asked to put on a workshop for two local artists, one a florist and the other an encaustic artist. Clayton wanted to utilise source materials from her local surrounding and have something that might connect with these two individual artists who used such different techniques within their own work.
As anyone who is familiar with Clayton’s work will know, natural forms have been a theme throughout some of her other series of work, so it was not surprising that she was inspired by the vast selection of leaves in the area around her apartment. ‘There were so many different forms to work with,’ she says, ‘and I was particularly fascinated with the ones that had a less-expected asymmetrical shape.’
Working from a solid visual foundation is a key aspect of her work and she stresses to me the importance of demonstrating this when she is teaching or running a workshop. The use of the leave, then, offered a concrete example to her two students in this incidence to illustrate this principle.
Best Laid Plans
Clayton had originally planned to work on a project that many of her previous students will be familiar with; the matchbox. Inspired from her early childhood when her parents would challenge her and her siblings to go and fill a matchbox with whatever they could find, she would often set it as a project for others. That is, you would need to fill a matchbox with various objects that you find interesting and then they, through drawing, stitching, or other observational media, are the basis for your work. She explains that this was the choice of work for her on this occasion not only because of the nostalgia attached to the concept, but also out of practicality – travelling necessitates a minimal approach to art supplies.
This project had been going well; she had already visited a number of museums and monasteries within the Paphos region of Cyprus where she was staying and had committed a number of reference drawings to her sketch book. This type of work, emerging from fragments of cloth is a signature of Clayton work, and as she tells me, ‘I am at my best when working with a bag of scrap silk fabrics.’
However, the leaves of Cyprus had other intentions. As she started stitching a small sampler to use on her upcoming workshop the tunnel vision obsession of the fine artist kicked in:
I had a long strip of fabric, as a portable piece. I started to stitch some leaves to show them in the workshop and suddenly became obsessed. When I stopped I realised it was 3 yards [that’s almost 3 metres, for the metric generation] long and thought, why not carry on?
What started out as a small sampler for a workshop has taken on a life of its own and developed into a piece of work within itself. It is now double the length at 6 yards [5.5 metres] and demonstrates a range of techniques that Clayton utilises in her work as a hand embroiderer, and she is keen to pursue this work further. The Matchbox project now on hiatus, this leaf sampler and what it has inspired will now form the basis of the work that she will have with her at the Knitting and Stitching Show nest week.
It is a vital lesson that within the arts; not all distractions are equal. While spending an hour or two sidetracked into procrastination by social media or a binge on the latest series on Netflix can be a destructive habit to give in to, finding the spark of inspiration in an unexpected place and seeing it through to conclusion can reap its own creative results. Sometimes that creative distraction can open up a whole new world of possibilities, or yield unexpected results that have links back to other work. Creativity is not a pre-determined path. It strives to diverge off the well-trodden path and go off into the wilderness exploring. Sure, every now and then you may get lost along the way, but you also may stumble upon something beautiful, untouched, and completely yours for the taking.
As the wonderful J. R. R. Tolkien wrote: ‘Not all those who wander are lost’. For an artist, this is a prescient truth.
Amanda J. Clayton will be at the Knitting and Stitching Show in Harrogate from the 24th-27th November 2016. Find her on the Art Van Go, Art in Action stall, where she will have her leaf sampler on display and many beautiful other hand-stitched pieces for sale. Keep up to date with her other upcoming work and workshops via her website and Facebook page.