"The most important benefit of working in a series is that it helps you learn how to work from your own ideas and discover your own unique voice [...] Become aware of the the work that excites you, intrigues you, and makes you back to look at it again. This is the kind of work you should be making."
Elizabeth Barton, Visual Guide to Working in a Series: Next Steps in Inspired Design
If you've considered working in a visual series but aren't sure where to begin, you may want to take a look at Elizabeth Barton's book. Especially if the last series pieces you did were those enormous watercolor nudes in undergrad with the nipples that look strangely like bowler hats, which are a bit too graphic to hang on the wall now that you have small children (note that I am not including a photograph, this is a family blog here, people), and/or also, you feel perhaps like you've forgotten how to create anything in a series other than macaroni and cheese dinner out of a box.
A few months ago, I answered an interview question about one of the three series that I'm engaged in called Girl Story. I'm republishing it here since I'm thinking a lot about this series right now. I've got the fourth Girl Story on the wall and the 5th is waiting in the wings, with perhaps a 6th elbowing her out of the way back there behind the velvet curtain. If I don't attend to these ladies soon, somebody's going to get an eye poked or launched off the stage into the mosh pit.
But maybe that's a good thing.
This is question #4 from Kari Lorenson's interview at Knotwe: The Hub for Fiber, Textiles, Surface Design:
"Girl Story seems like a turning point in your work. When I look at Girl Story, it broaches a subject matter that is not talked about in the public sphere but it is an experience of womanhood. Quilts are interesting forms for art because of their multi-faceted history in the domestic/ private sphere to a unique history almost entirely dominated by women. The history as a social document is a rich history as well and there are many aspects about the quilt as an object that are interesting to explore. Did this piece have an impact on how your process and where your work is now?"
Girl Story, like Spontaneous Combustion, wasn’t so much a turning point as a direct response to where I am as a woman and a mother. If Spontaneous Combustion was the question my son asked repeatedly when he was four and my response to postpartum anxiety and the domestic role in general, then Girl Story and Girl Story #2 are the questions waiting to be asked by my daughter and my internal struggle with how to present a normal life process in a way that honors how menarche could be for her, while still acknowledging how it was for me, my mother, her mother, etc.
Girl Story #3 veers slightly, and came about when I was working on the Reliquary Series. I began the piece assuming it was a Reliquary, but deep into it realized that it was my response to a loved one’s addiction and her inability to be a mother for her three children for a time. It was another Girl Story, another struggle related to womanhood made all the more painful by the fact that for all of us with children there are many moments — some of them fleeting — when we just check out and become unavailable. I think it’s a series I’ll work on for years. My role is evolving, so my work naturally will. This is a deep, deep well.
The fact that these pieces are “quilts” is important to the emotional quality of the work. We approach quilts and embroidery with a certain set of expectations and aren’t necessarily prepared to see embroidered menstrual blood on doilies or hear frightening questions from children. I don’t do this for shock value — I find shock value flaccid and annoying — I do this because they are living questions for me and therefore have value. If they are shocking, that’s secondary and something brought to the piece by the viewer’s own life experience.
Are you working in a series? Have thoughts about this process? We'd love to hear them shared here, so leave a comment. We're all about learning from others around this place.
Also, if you'd like to read more about the Girl Story Series, check out the previous posts "A history of pretty" and "Write a letter to your mother."