artistic development

let’s talk about UFO’s

No I am not talking about little green men from Mars! I am talking about un-finished martian-1674016_1920objects. Those projects that you started, made a little progress on and then abandoned for some reason. At the time you probably said something to yourself like “I’ll just put this aside and do this other thing for a bit but I will definitely come back to this first project” but then you got distracted by something else again so that first project got shoved to the back the closet or the bottom of the drawer. And every so often you come across it and you think I should finish that, so you make an attempt and then abandon it again and back into the closet it goes where it can continue to taunt you until you drag it out again… and the cycle continues and the UFO pile grows and grows and grows…

Why does this happen?

FearWhat if I do this and it wrecks it?  What if I make this cut and I screw it up? 

Some tough love here: there are going to be times when you will make a decision to feardo something on a piece and you regret it.  It has happened to me more time than I care to admit to.  It’s all part of the process and there is no way around it.  But if you let that fear stand in your way of moving forward with a project then you will never make any progress on that piece or the ones that follow it because you have robbed yourself of an opportunity to learn.  Which would you rather have – a closet full of half finished projects or a solid foundation of skills and experience to draw on because you took a leap and  made the cut?

Judgement: What if I finish it and nobody else likes it? What if they don’t get the message I am trying to convey with it? What if it’s not as good as the work that (insert name here) does?

Well who cares if nobody else likes it?! The only person you have to please with your art is you (unless of course its a commission and then you have to please your customer too) and here’s the ugly truth: you can’t control what people are going to see or feel when they look at your art because everyone comes with their own attitudes and circumstances. What you can control is what you want your art to convey and whether or not you see that in the final result.

Doubt: It’s not looking the way I thought it would. I just can’t see how I’m going to get it doubtfrom the from the point it is at now to the finish and end up with a piece that looks the way I want it to.

But you know what – unless you actually push through and finish it you’ll never know how to get it there. I learned that the only way to move forward in my development as an artist is to see my pieces through to the finish. If I don’t then I am robbing myself of an opportunity to learn. If you continually abandon your projects to doubt then you will never develop the experience and skills you need to move past it and your UFO pile will continue to grow.

Shiny object syndrome: You let yourself get distracted by the latest technique or tool that you saw someone else talking about on some social media channel.

Learning something new is fun but I am reminded of a saying – Jack of all trades, master of none. If you are constantly jumping from one technique to the other then you will end up mastering none of them. I am not immune to this either. I see videos of new fun techniques on social media all the time and I think “ooh that looks like it would be fun” and then I take a moment and think well, why do I want to try this. Is it because it is something that will benefit my studio practice or is it because so and so is getting some great results and going on about how much fun it is? A quick technique or project distraction is fine and even something that I recommend when you’re feeling blocked or unmotivated. Just make sure it doesn’t turn into an excuse to avoid completing the current project on your worktable.

AARD (Artistic Attention deficit disorder):  I have an idea for my next quilt, I should at least start it now before I forget.  I am bored with this project and it won’t hurt to put it aside for a couple of days to get a start onideas this next idea that is way more exciting.

Truth is that it will hurt because your odds of turning that first quilt into an UFO at the back of the closet just went way up. Instead of abandoning one project for the idea of another turn to your sketchbook. There are two advantages to this: first you up the odds on finishing the current project and second, it gives you a chance to explore the second idea before you commit to using it. What seem like a great idea in the moment may benefit from some further exploration on paper and it may end up taking you in a direction you hadn’t anticipated and one you wouldn’t have discovered if you had just jumped right in and acted on it right away.

Process not product: I really liked designing this project: the dyeing, the painting, the planning, picking fabrics etc but I hate the technique that I am using to create it – it’s boring, it’s taking too long, I can’t get it to look right,…

Before I started using fusible applique as my assembly technique of choice I tried a lot of others.  I had to try a bunch before I found the one that would give me the result I wanted and that I liked working with.  If you don’t like the technique that you are using, find another one that you do.  If it’s a matter of not having enough experience with the technique remember that you will only get good at something if you practice.  With experience comes skill and a mastery of technique.

Time management: I missed the deadline so why bother to finish it, I have too many other hourglass-620397_1920things I need to do, this project is too big and I don’t want to commit the time to finishing it and this next project will go together quicker.

If you are continually missing deadlines then put a system in place that reminds you of when deadlines are coming up.  Use an electronic calendar to warn you 30, 15, 10, 5, or however many days ahead of the deadline.  I employ a pretty simple system.  I keep a pad on my desk with a list of deadlines where I see it every day.  Simple but it works and I have never missed a deadline.  Before you commit to a new project weigh the benefits and feasibility of it carefully.  Make sure it isn’t going to just distract you from finishing a project or attaining your goals.   It’s okay to say no!

I very rarely work on more than one quilt at a time. Now that is not to say that I am not sketching and brainstorming other quilts in my sketchbook but I don’t ever start a new project until the current one has either been finished or abandoned and trashed.  It doesn’t happen very often anymore but there are times when I am working on a project that just won’t resolve itself and rather than frustrate and torture myself with it I make the decision to let it go. Once I make that decision I don’t want it to distract me from moving forward and the only way for me to do that is to get rid of it.  Now I am not suggesting that you go into your pile of UFO’s and throw them away! And I am definitely not saying that my way of working on one piece at a time is the right way and everyone should work like I do.  Every artist has their own method that works for them and if yours is working for you then stick with it.  But if you have more UFO’s than finished projects then you might want to take a look at why.  Maybe it will help you find a way to stop generating more of them and the less you have the more room you will have in your closet!

Need help with your studio practice?  book a coaching session with me!

4 thoughts on “let’s talk about UFO’s

  1. Pingback: new year, new quilt |

  2. I put them into a plastic bag and leave on free table. They are usually sucked up!
    Then there is always Goodwill

    Now that I’m more experienced I have less of them

    I also put some into my scrap box to enliven another puece


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