The value of working in Series

Escarpment #13 2009 24x24"

Escarpment #13 2009 24×24″

“The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature.”
Joseph Campbell

Way at the start of my art life, all my passions were directed at exploring techniques and trying out new materials. I wondered how any artist could deliberately limit herself to one particular subject for two consecutive pieces, let alone an entire series! The infinite possibilities were too exciting. How could I possibly choose one over another? What if I missed out on something even better? And truly, the textile industry marketing machine is built on distraction, with new materials, techniques and equipment introduced every day. Overwhelmed and scattered, I began to realize there were fewer and fewer satisfying and tangible results for my constant industry. It was time to rethink the value of limits.

For me, this realization preceded a beautiful turning point. Now, I rarely do one-offs. Nearly all my new work somehow, either formally or loosely, fits into some kind of series. I want to write here about the value of working in series, not from a curator’s or collector’s point of view (because this is well covered in many excellent articles already), but from my own experience as an artist. How does it work, with respect to my creative path?

Perhaps I am predisposed to working in repetitive mode. At our family cottage, my favourite activity is to walk the very same 45 minute trail from our property to a rocky shore on the opposite side of the point. I do this at least once a day, at different times and in all weathers and seasons. While walking, I might mull over whatever is foremost in my mind, or just watch for butterflies. Each step is a rhythmic motion, a heartbeat, that carries me from one thought to the next. Invariably, by the time I reach the end of the point and back, some insight reveals itself that would not have come otherwise. For me, this trail provides a consistent platform from which to frame and recalibrate my inner world. Over and over, on the very same trail, I never fail to find something new.

As in life, so with art. A subject chooses me, and so the trail is set. When I first moved to the Niagara Escarpment area eight years ago, I found myself observing how the layers of unyielding rock supported certain vegetation and trees. What a rich vein of imagery and ideas to draw on! And so my Escarpment series was born:

Escarpment #1  2008 23x32"

Escarpment #1 2008 23×32″

The first pieces I produced really primed the pump. I loved working on the rock imagery in collage and appliqué, and I loved the results. Fresh ideas began to suggest themselves. With each new step, my thoughts turned to the metaphoric value of these images, like Triumph over Adversity:

Triumph  2011  30x40"

Triumph 2011 30×40″

No single piece in a series can possibly tell the whole story, and why should it? In this piece, I can tell the story of Courage:

Courage  2010  24x24"

Courage 2010 24×24″

In this one, I can talk about time and memory:

Between Now and Then  2009  36x48"

Between Now and Then 2009 36×48″

Or I can simply have some fun with colour and materials:

Escarpment #16  2009  24x24"

Escarpment #16 2009 24×24″

The possibilities are endless, series within series, and all kinds of spinoffs. Each piece is a step, like a sentence in a paragraph. It leads to the next, and so on, until the thought is complete. Sometimes it takes only two or three pieces. Other times, as with my ongoing Hawthorn series, the conversation continues intermittently for years and years.

Like all good things in life, the Escarpment series led to another, my Fertile Ground series. And I trust that eventually, by keeping to my trail, new ideas for series will grow, either building on the ones before, or shooting off on other tangents entirely. Working in series is a rhythmic, organic process that resonates with the pulse of nature. I feel the music of the Universe within me, with every step.

Do you like working in series? How did you start, and what are you working on now?

Fissure #5 2011  24x24" - another tangent!

Fissure #5 2011 24×24″ – another tangent!


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5 Responses to “The value of working in Series”

  1. Not intentionally having worked on a theme, but knowing I want and need to, your message here attracted me. My work is organic with its shapes and colours of the land (Australian outback in particular), and so discovering your wonderful work only today, made my heart skip a beat! I am excited to “meet” you. Thank you for sharing and encouraging.

  2. Jessie Schut says:

    I read this entry once before, but was not working on a series. Now something has happened to get me going on one. I was using your technique to create a winter tree that symbolizes my wishes as I become an old(er?) woman. On top of a bare branch, above everything, I popped a Fimo crow, to symbolize my desire to speak out and have the courage to say what needs to be said. That crow has hooked me. I now have 3 more crow pieces, and ideas for many more. I love how one idea leads to another. In the meantime, I’ve read everything I can find about crows, and have learned much. Soon I will send you some photos.

  3. Holly mcLean says:

    I was fascinated with your escarpment series a couple of weeks and bookmarked it. To-night, looking for something to read, I came upon it and read about you working in a series. Your quotes and what you had to say about being in sync with nature resonates with me as I too especially see my nature walks as you do. Although I’m not a religious person, I quite often feel that I’m in tune with the natural world.
    I’ve never thought I’d be good at working in series before, being somewhat ADD, but I’m starting to feel the value of it. Nature has always been a theme for me but I’m starting to narrow my focus at times. For instance I just did some pieces with birches and will revisit it.
    I must say that I’m completely enthralled led with your work. I really connect with all the textures, colors, and patterns. Trees are most often in my work as well.

    • Lorraine says:

      I love that you are intuitively making a distinction between being spiritual and being religious. One can indeed connect with higher powers in communing with, and learning from, nature. I look forward to hearing more about your explorations, Holly, and thank you for your positive comments!

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