Yesterday, inbetween sewing, I cleaned out my thread drawer. I had a ton of old wooden spools of thread rolling around, unwinding themselves and getting tangled in everything else in the drawer. They had become worse than useless, (the thread is so old it breaks if you tie a knot in it) they were annoying. I was just about to throw them all in the garbage, but as I pulled them out one by one, I remembered why I kept them in the first place. They were beautiful. Their colors and sheens varied from dull to intensely rich and shiny. Each was unique and together they had the potential of becoming art.
So I put them on my shelf. At first I started lining them up in even rows, but there were so many of them and I was still remembering, with frustration, the mess they made in my thread drawer. I began impatiently placing them haphazardly on the shelf. Annoyance turned to enjoyment as I intuitively moved them around till they looked “right”, letting the tangled thread do what it wanted. Such freedom! what I was doing had no consequence. If I came back in an hour or tomorrow or the next day and didn’t like what I saw, I’d just move it.
Next I looked at the bottom shelf with the faded Holly Hock Ladies that Mary Kellogg made. I rearranged their “room” for the first time in over a year. (they must have been pretty bored looking at the same stuff for so long.) Not only is it more colorful, but it was fun to do.
I realized I had forgotten about the importance of play. When I was going to art school there was a woman in the studio next to mine who would distinguish between “playing” in her studio and “working”. They were both equally important, the playing lead to new ideas and eventually to work. I remember trying to play in my studio, but I was so serious at the time, the concept was hard for me to make real. I eventually drew a Jelly Roll game on my floor and had people come into my studio to play. (Jelly Roll is a game like hopscotch, in the form of a spiral divided into boxes. You hop around it till you get to the middle then hop back out) It was forced and not much fun, most people couldn’t even make it to the middle. Hopping on one foot in a spiral is easy and fun when you’re 7 years old, but difficult and jarring when you’re 35. I did eventually use the idea of the Jelly Roll game for a piece in my MFA show. I wove used teabag strings into the rug of the gallery creating a Jelly Roll. It was the adult version of the game, no one played it, they just talked about it.
So now, 11 years later, I’m finally figuring out how to play in my studio. Picasso said to be a good artist he had to learn how to draw like a child again. Perhaps it’s time to unleash the playful kid and see what happens.