Susie Monday

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

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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.

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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. 

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    « FInding Your Way in Media and Materials | Main | Finding Your Voice, Your Path »

    Your Path, Content and Themes

    I have a cousin who when young would go take on a topic and do it to death -- several years, it was trains -- he not only had a train-themed bedroom, he knew the whistles and engineers on the train routes that went past his rural home. Another year, he decided to dig, starting with a root cellar under the house and then went onto a swimming pond in the front yard. No kidding. This kid had a knack for content and theme. His life, though not that of an artist in the traditional sense, has been rich with exploration and investigation, taking him through careers as varied as archeologist, chemist, political organizer.

    For me another part of personal voice has to do with content and subject matter. Many artists who are just starting out jump around from one topic to another, one genre to another --  this is an important part of learning. Sooner or later though the time comes to get beyond the surface of a topic or interest, whether it is rural landscapes or flowers or political activism or portraiture. Or how oil paint goes onto a canvas, or the way couched lines of yarn take on contour.


    Committing to solving the same problem different ways has a real benefit In the process of finding one’s voice. Perhaps this is where series comes in. (And, to respectfully disagree with artists who defend their unwillingness or disinterest in working in series) have you ever known an artist whose work really took them somewhere who did not have serial work that built one on the other? I don't.

    Your series may be connected to content and subject matter or it may be a more formal approach with color or line or a particular attack in the realm of stitching that comes into play. For example, Lisa Call's structured series has a content that not only relates to her perception of land and fences, but a theme of stitch and intersection. Geography can provide a thematic content, as is does with Virgina Speigel's Boundary Waters series. Even a shape takes on a thematic weight if it's used often and explored in depth. Darcy Love's amazing art cloth and fiber art always returns to the animals and plants in her world and in her travels. Jane Dunnewold's work at Art Cloth Studios is often grounded in her study of Zen concepts.


    How do you pick? Start with something that holds some passion for you – something with enough personal interest that you might have a chance of making it interesting to someone else.

    Sometimes the content of one’s work is directly related to “formal” interests (for example, an artist interested in rhythm, might find a study of African mudcloth patterns particularly inspiring and influential, or maybe exploring the visual idea of windows would appeal to an artist who likes spatial concepts.) For others, a theme or content is something important because of experience, story and memory – journaling can help you identify these kinds of themes. Themes and content lead one to develop personal imagery, ways of handling materials and tools, narrative content sometimes.

    I have a number of recurring themes in my work -- mermaids, iconic spiritual figures, angels, prickly pear cactus and other plants around the land, my own handprint, the colors and actual materials of Latin America. All of these come and go, layered and justaposed in my work. I come and go with them, with these series, since my particular way of working in one that honors my own need for variety and improvisation. But I keep them alive, adding perhaps along the way, dropping one or another and then circling back around. These do become the elements and approaches that make my work recognizable -- and that IS important to me. Both as an artist and a one who wants to sell my work to collectors and institutions.

    What about you? How is recurring content, interesting themes, important to your work? Have you ever committed to doing something more than once?

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    Reader Comments (9)

    I love this post. I have been working in series lately after thinking in the past that it wasn't something I was interested in. (Too much like production) I've found that it has really helped me to find my voice and I like the idea now of exploring a theme through to the end. I also like your cyclical approach of bringing back themes and elements as they come back into your life.
    January 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterWendy Edsall-Kerwin
    Thanks for the mention Susie. My answer is obviously, yes - I've made over 100 pieces in the Structures series.

    Exploring a theme, motif, concept in depth allows me to not have to say everything I want to say in a single artwork. I can explore at my own pace and as new ideas are discovered they don't have to integrate into an existing work but held for the next piece.
    January 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLisa Call
    This post especially resonated, after having been at the jorunaling workshop retreat, spending a time out weekend, remembering and rediscovering my life paths and themes. Thanks for making a place where there is support safety materials guides and simple comforts to allow one to do that. with great appreciation.
    January 27, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjulia jarrell
    WOW, Susie
    You should write a book! Better yet, I think I need to take some of your classes.
    I can totally relate to your post. I'm like your cousin, somewhat. I just didnt know how to explain myself to others. It's more obvious and usually pointed out at my 8-5 job. One way my personality is pointed out is: "YOU take an idea and run with it"... My answer is always: I take a task, learn it, explore the big picture, then I master the task! But, now you've made it much clear to me, why my personality is like that and better clarified. You also made me feel as if I'm normal and not lost in space.
    It makes alot of sense.
    "Committing to solving the same problem different ways has a real benefit In the process of finding one’s voice".
    After raising kids for 20 years, I'm finally able to take time to explore my craft. I guess as I try different mediums, even though i love them all, it will lead me to finding my true"voice".

    At least this is my opinion and how I interpreted your post.

    Thanks !!!

    I'm addicted to your posts
    January 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMaria Davis
    Susie, your posts are always so insightful, such as this one about finding your own voice, working in a series, and recurring themes. There are definitely recurring themes in my work: crows are very important, as messengers between beings and different states of being. Mandalas often show up, either formally or in circular shapes, denoting wholeness and the spiritual quest. Winged beings, stars, spirals are also signs of longing and investigation of the soul. I call art a spiritual quest, and that questing, or questioning, is the underlying theme for everything I do.

    I am very intrigued by this idea of a Sensory Alphabet and will be looking into it further. Congratulations on your recently published book, New World Kids, by the way. If your previous writing is any indication, the book will be a treasure trove of exercises and ideas to encourage creativity in our lives and the lives of the children we interact with. I will definitely be ordering this both for myself, and the school where I am a librarian.
    January 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCarol Wiebe
    I keep re-reading this post (amongst others), so I thought maybe I should comment. The themes in my head (heart/soul, whatever) are not dissimilar to yours, but they rarely make it into my work. I'm not sure why. They used to, once upon a time. I've been slowly moving back towards a more personal expression & exploration, and your posts tend to stick with me while I absorb and distil and feel my way back out. Thanks :)
    February 2, 2009 | Unregistered Commentersion
    Thanks Sionwyn, I hope you will step back into that content, as I think we are all looking for genuine, heartfelt stories in art work. Thank you for reading.
    February 4, 2009 | Registered CommenterSusie Monday
    And Carol, too. Your comments always show insight -- sometimes more than what I put in the original post. I appreciate that. Susie
    February 4, 2009 | Registered CommenterSusie Monday
    Right now I'm obsessed with houses; even birdhouses. Not sure why but I think it has something to do with what goes on inside those homes that no one really knows about.

    And I need to figure out what is going on between me and the heart shape. I don't want to use it because I'm afraid it will be seen as too cliche, and I work soooo hard to avoid it. Yet, somehow, it just keeps popping up! I know I should just keep working and let it flow, but the idea of a house and a heart in the same piece completely wigs me out, and I just won't do it.

    Obviously something I need to work on, huh? Probably with a good psychologist!
    March 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLauri

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