Susie Monday

Artist, maker, teacher, author, head cook and bottlewasher.

Sign up here for monthly newsletters from me!

The art I make is the result of a life-long love of pattern, texture and color. How I teach is a skill honed by experience (I started teaching creative arts to younger kids when I was 12). After earning a B.A. in Studio Arts from Trinity University, I helped lead an internationally recognized educational foundation, designed curriculum exhibits for schools and other institutions, wrote and edited for a major daily newspaper, opened the San Antonio Children's Museum and then, a dozen years ago, took the scary but essential (for me) leap to become a fulltime artist and art teacher.

About This Blog

This weblog is about the maker's life. The teacher's path. The stitching and dyeing and printing of the craft of art cloth and art quilt. The stumbling around and the soaring, the way the words and the pictures come together. Poetry on the page and in the piecing of bright scraps together. The inner work and the outer journeys to and from. Practicalities and flights of fancy and fearful grandeur, trivial pursuits and tactile amusements. Expect new postings two or three times a week, unless you hear otherwise. 

To reach me, leave a comment after a post, OR email me at 


To receive a notice of new posts in your email, scroll down this column to the end of the page and subscribe via FEEDBLITZ or add this blog to your own subscription service. You can search the blog with any phrase or word, by typing it into the seach window below:

Subscribe .. Or Write Me!

Subscribe to a email feed of this blog by filling in your email address in this box. Your email will not be sold or shared with others.

Preview | Powered by FeedBlitz

This form does not yet contain any fields.
    « Your Path, Content and Themes | Main | The Big Leap; Learn as You Go »

    Finding Your Voice, Your  Path


    We all want our work to be distintive and unique. Really, don't we? No matter how much we admire the work we see of other artists, when we embark on the journey of living the artist's life, we want our work to sing with our own voice. I think there are several parts to finding that voice, that path (if voice in a visual sense seems too mixed a metaphor). I also think the process is similar no matter your medium and whatever the field you pursue, be it art, quiltmaking, physics or cookery. As I've been teaching this past week, and heading into two more workshops this week -- one in Austin for the Austin Fiber Artists and my own recurring Artist Journal/Artist Journey retreat this weekend -- this piece I wrote a couple of years ago -- and revised for the upcoming events -- bears repeating. Today, Part One:

    Think about "Pure Form:"

    I believe – and my belief is supported by more than 30 years of work with children in creative learning environments – that each of us is born with an innate preference/leaning toward a particular way of perceiving and giving form that is directly connected to what I (and my colleagues in this work) call the Sensory Alphabet. This vocabulary of non-verbal qualities – line, color, shape, space, light, texture, movement, sound and rhythm -- is a way of thinking about and organizing one’s individual strengths of perception and invention. Looking at one’s preferences and natural tendencies through this lens serves as both a way to self discovery and as a bridge to understand other creative work. This vocabulary is not just an artistic one – it can hold as true to creative work in business as in design, in science as in art.

    If you think about letters of the alphabet as being the building blocks of literacy (both spoken and read and write) and numbers as the building blocks of mathmatics and physics, then the Sensory Alphabet is what can be a symbol system for everything else (and even math and words, sinces it's more primal, more connected to our bodies and minds in a very basic way.)

    Think about which of these constructs is easiest for you to notice, to manipulate, to play with –is it pattern (rhythm) or texture or color? What did you love as a young child? Which of these elements are most important to you in your home, your environment? What artists do you resonate to? Design exercises and experiences for yourself that feed your mind’s natural interests, or find teachers that share your sensibilities (look at their work and see what they say about it) who can provide classes that feed your perceptual strengths.

    An understanding of your own creative style in terms of this vocabulary can be the starting place for finding your voice – and even help you find the best and strongest medium for work. For example, if color is my strong suite, I might take time to do dye and discharge samples, study Albers and other colorist’s work, take photos exploring color themes, investigate watercolor and glazing, look at color as understood by chemists and physicists, etc. If movement is a strong suite, I might see how to incorporate moving elements in my textile work, take up techniques that use my body in strenuous and challenging fashion, look at how movement blurs an image and how to capture that sense with dyeing or printing, I might even want to dye fabrics and construct garments for dance performances or architectural installations with moving components.

    Most of us have three or four of these strong suites that interact in interesting ways and can pose intriguing puzzles for our work. Tracking down your strongest perceptual elements is usually just a matter of paying attention to preference, to what you notice in a space, to the materials that call your name. Journaling about childhood preferences and doing detective work in your closet, your home, your memory bank can help you name your sensory strengths.

    Our book, New World Kids, The Parent's Guide to Creative Thinking includes investigations and invention activities for adults as well as for adults and children, despite the title. We think parents need to nurture their own experience with this alphabet in order to recognize their children's strengths and learning styles. Here's an example for TEXTURE -- since most of us who end up in the fiber arts are almost certainly drawing on some interest and facility for texture, I figure it might spur you own with some Sensory Alphabet play!

    From NEW WORLD KIDS, all rights reserved.

    TEXTURE investigations to do on your own:

    1. Examine your wardrobe and make a texture inventory.
    What textures really suit you? What feels good against your
    skin? Make a point to buy something with a pleasing texture
    the next time you shop.
    2. Cook a meal with a conscious plan to include contrasting
    textures, as the Japanese do. Do certain kinds of tastes correspond
    to certain kinds of textures? Think temperature as well
    as crisp, creamy, grainy, smooth.
    3. Where can you experience coarse, slimy, mushy, matted,
    abrasive, elastic, sleazy, itchy, silky, downy, frothy, fuzzy?
    Consciously create one new tactile experience each day for a
    4. Listen to different music with an ear toward texture: contemporary
    jazz, baroque, chant and heavy metal are a few contrasting
    genres to try.
    5. Visit a museum’s textile or fiber arts exhibitions or explore
    some online exhibitions or galleries. Try one or more
    of these key words for a search: fashion, art quilts, traditional
    quilts, art cloth, knitting, weaving, wearable art, basketry, fiber
    arts, shibori, batik.
    6. Study and write a poem about the textures of your body,
    inside and out.

    EmailEmail Article to Friend

    Reader Comments (5)

    GREAT work Susie

    I love the 10 TEXTURE investgation steps. I plan on following those in the next few days.
    January 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMaria Davis
    Boy, did you get that right! Color has been the driving force behind my creative pursuits ever since first grade when we were introduced to finger painting! That has been a constant in my life, evidenced by my latest project which is an explosion of color! Wonder if anyone noticed while I was in my formative years...
    January 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJudy Sall
    What a great post, Susie!
    I 've never really thought about our strengths of perception that way. After reading what you had to say about texture, I thought about how much I'm drawn to painting pastel on the textured surface of watercolor paper. Then I noticed that my favorite cotton tops(I have at least 9) all have that same similar texture. And the texture of the handful of sesame sticks I'm snacking on - ditto. What's with that?
    I can't wait to read your Part 2!
    January 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJeannette Cuevas
    Thanks for the comments. The more I notice and work from my strengths, the further I can go -- the more entry points I have into important ways of working that may not be as obvious to me.
    January 26, 2009 | Registered CommenterSusie Monday
    I am a color junkie, and texture is right up there with it. My ENTIRE wardrobe consists of denim (mostly bluejeans) and 100% cotton shirts, most of those being t-shirts in every color you could possibly imagine!

    As for texture in other areas, there are some that I just have to touch as I'm passing by my fingers over or through...and some I wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole. I am also very sensitive to food textures and sometimes I suddenly have to have a certain texture in my rice pudding. Or, like when I was pregnant with my oldest daughter I would eat slices of dill pickles on top of a saltine cracker, because I had to have the feeling of my front teeth sliding through the pickle slice, then hitting the crunchiness of the cracker.

    People think I'm weird and have "food issues", but really it's just all about the texture!
    March 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLauri

    PostPost a New Comment

    Enter your information below to add a new comment.

    My response is on my own website »
    Author Email (optional):
    Author URL (optional):
    All HTML will be escaped. Hyperlinks will be created for URLs automatically.