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Responsibility To Art.

March 30, 2017

creativeprocess.png© no idea

A few months ago I decided to sign up for an art exchange with women I know through a sober-ladies-private-Facebook-group.

Recovery Gals Art Exchange, we’re called.

With each exchange, the two women who started it, Tammi Salas and Sondra Talbert Primeaux, choose a theme and draw names out of a hat to partner us all up.

In signing up I was committing to creating (and finishing) a piece of art, on a schedule, and agreeing to OWE someone something. That was all pretty outside my comfort zone. I enjoy art but adding responsibility to it stresses me out. I also was in-between living situations and had for the most part, left my creative self in storage. I don’t really know what it was that lead me to sign up but before I knew it my name was on a post-it note and the deal was sealed.

The theme of the Spring 2017 exchange was EMERGE and I was partnered up with Susan, a lovely woman I barely know who lives in New York.

emergemindmap© Tammi Salas, 2017

As soon as I thought of the word emerge – an image of a flower growing out of a pile of rocks came to mind. Beauty, softness and light growing out of stuckness, surviving through darkness.

At the beginning of this project I also happened to be starting a brand new obsession with embroidery. So while my go-to visual art form had always been painting, I decided to try something new.

My two-week-long experience with embroidery up to that point had consisted of pre-printed designs in kits that contained rules and charts on exactly what colors and types of stiches to use. I looked for examples of flower and rock patterns online, and then decided to try making my own.

I bought an embroidery frame and thread in the colors that matched the vision in my head, drew the image with a pencil and got started. With the first outlines stitched, I wondered if this was a good idea. Nothing about it said “awesome” to me.

first pic

But I was going to see it through because Susan was depending on me to do what I said I was going to do. She would be spending her time and energy on a piece for me and I would rather die than let that be one-sided.*

I spent about two weeks on it, still not in love with what was happening but begrudgingly committed and beginning to be resentful. I didn’t know how to embroider curved lines.  The rocks are going to look weird. I hate this.

flower outline doneflower second layer donestem and leaf done

I was convinced that I’d end up in the all-too-familiar place of being unhappy with my artwork. If you’re any kind of artist then you know the special kind of hell I’m describing.

Then I went to Los Angeles for about three weeks to find an apartment and some furniture and I left my EMERGE art project up North at my mom’s. I needed a break and pretended not to know that that meant I wouldn’t finish in time. I got back to the Bay Area two weeks before our art projects were technically due to our partners and I needed to spend those two weeks getting ready to move myself to LA. So I emailed Susan to proactively apologize for the fact that I was going to be late. Big sad frowny face. The truth was I still didn’t want to start working on it again.

On night 2 in my new apartment – the first one I’ve ever lived in alone – I started Susan’s EMERGE project again. Mostly because I didn’t have anything else to do.

As soon as I started though, the energy and love and fierce drive to create was BACK!

Up until that night, I’d been in-between lives. I’d moved out of my apartment in San Francisco 7 months before and had been living at my mom’s while I saved money for a big move to Los Angeles.

I had space in my mom’s house, but not a lot and all my art supplies remained locked away in storage.

Something happened to me when I found myself in my own space, full of only my stuff. A part of me that had been locked away in storage – emerged!

I fell in love the piece and worked on it every spare minute I had. Before my eyes, my vision took shape and it was perfect.

finished still on frame

And then new ideas came to me like a rushing river of creativity.

I knew I was going to cut the flower and rocks out of the frame and I knew exactly how. I knew I was going to put it on a blue background and knew exactly which two blues to mix together to get the exact blue I was picturing. I spotted an old polka-dot shirt at the bottom of my “you may use this in an art project someday” bag-o-stuff and knew that it would be the perfect addition as clouds.

I’d originally tried to embroider the word “emerge” along the stem (you can see the holes from the failed attempt in the picture above) and gave up on that… that was during the “I hate this piece” phase.

But once I was in the heavenly dreamland of everything I tried working out, I sewed the word “emerge” again. It started out imperfectly (how dare it!?) but in the heavenly dreamland of art-that’s-going-well, I believed in myself and let go of the need to be perfect – which is always Such. Sweet. Relief.

Here She Is.  Beauty Softness Strength and Survival. Emerged.


~~~~~~ ~~~~~~ ~~~~~~

I’m so grateful that I signed up for this exchange because as it turns out, having a responsibility to art forced me to step outside my comfort zone and to stay there until I reached the finish line.

Watching this final piece take shape became a metaphor for me as I sat there in my new apartment, in my new space, in my new life. The beauty and softness and truth of who I am is emerging as well and I’m grateful for this visual representation of that.

Life is good. And for that I am grateful.

*this is an exaggeration but it sounds good, right?

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  1. I love your piece so much and how that served as a theme to finally being in your own place. And I LOVE the little Emerge stem. Beautiful.

  2. tammisalas permalink

    Sarah! I love what emerged from you once you said yes to the project. That’s kind of how these projects work out. It’s almost a meditation for our own recovery and then we give it away to someone else who will accept and interpret the artwork in a way that they see fit. It’s all kind of magical, right? I’m glad you stuck with it. I’m glad you joined in. I’m glad you emerged into your own life down in LA. Sounds like you were more than ready. XO

  3. linda permalink

    Love it….and you

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