Sunday, April 28, 2013

I've been coached!

While attending the Studio Art Quilt Associates (SAQA) conference in Santa Fe this week, I had the privilege of a coaching session with Leni Levinson Wiener. Leni is an accomplished fibre artist, with a background as a professional photographer and as a sculptor.  Based in New York, Leni uses her camera to capture the figure, alone and in groups. Her images hint at a story or situation, often because of the suggestion of body language and gesture.
Leni Wiener, In Her Footsteps

Leni offers "Voice Coaching", helping artists to discover a personal style or point of view. Having a consistent thread in your work is important if you wish to sell your work through a gallery,  to teach workshops, or to publish a book. It's what allows the viewer to recognize your work as yours before they've read the signature.

Leni Wiener, Three Graces on a Blue Monday
I was able to sit in on Leni's coaching of three other quilt artists before my interview with her. One of the things I learned as Leni talked about her own work was the importance of eliminating the parts of your process that you don't enjoy. Leni doesn't like to use batting: she stopped using it. She wasn't enjoying the functional quilting required to hold larger pieces of her fabric collage to the base: she decided to work smaller. She couldn't abide putting bindings on her work: now she turns the edge over, sews it with a running stitch, and then stitches the piece to a stretched canvas. She enjoys making the figure, but found making the background tiresome: she has simplified her backgrounds.

Leni Wiener, Out in the Cold

The key is to examine your process and decide what you enjoy doing and what you'd rather not do. When you focus on your strengths, your work becomes stronger.

So often I've been told that sketching is a requirement to making art. Leni uses a camera instead of a sketchbook, so now I am reassured that I can dispense with the sketchbook too.

Leni Wiener, The Man in the Black Track Suit
Leni admitted that she is very drawn to abstract art, but that complete abstraction is just not in her personal repertoire. I was encouraged by that too.

Being in Santa Fe, visiting dozens of galleries, and seeing all this amazing art is a bit overwhelming. I was completely smitten by some abstract paintings, by the surface textures achieved by paint and encaustic. Maybe I'll be able to incorporate that into my art, but maybe not. You can't be all things to all people.

Leni Wiener, The Empty Chair

I would highly recommend Leni's coaching, which she also offers online. It was fascinating to witness how she was able to look at what seemed to be a disparate body of work and find the common thread, to tease out in an interview with the artist the essence of what they wanted to do.

And something I learned in another workshop: the importance in investing in yourself and your art.

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