Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Creating Art in Series ~ Visual & Inner Benefits

The reason for this post, is because recently I’ve been enjoying the work of several bloggers who are working in series with great results. I respect and admire their work. As you follow the links below, see if you notice a trend toward excellence and feel a compelling connection to both the artist and their art.

Kudos to Liz, who recently finished the fourth in a series of bead embroideries depicting religious icons. You can see the first four here. Ganesha, pictured below is her most recent piece.

Ganesha, bead embroidery by Liz Thompson
Kudos to Linda, who is working on a series of embellished, fabric ATCs. Notice how they have a unique style, and how each one develops one aspect of the same theme. Aren’t they great? My favorite of them, so far, is pictured below. You can see other cards in this series here and here and here and here.

Smile, ATC by Linda Frost
Kudos to BeadBabe, who is in the process of making a series of 44 beaded squares on the theme of 17th Century Japanese poet, Bashō. This is not her first series. Read about the impact of working in series during her 16 years of beading here and here and here. Each of the series became a new milestone in her development as an artist. To me, this is fascinating stuff! Below is a bead-embroidered depiction of a friend’s hand, one of 13, “a beaders dozen.”

Beaded Artist's Hand by Bobbi Kirk
Kudos to Juju, whose work inspires me in many ways. She paints, draws, collages, sews, beads, and quilts… all of them beautifully. Recently she’s been making a series of fabric bags. With each one, she refines the technical process and develops embellishment variations. You can see some of them here and here and here. I particularly lust for the one shown below because of her fabric choices.

Fortune Bag by Juju Vail

So, What Are Some of The Benefits of Working in Series?

For the past two months I’ve been creating a series of small bead embroideries, each an example of a different technique. So far, I’ve done 18 of them. I’m not quite ready to post pictures of them yet, because they are examples for my new book. (And, I’d like to get a little closer to the print date before I spill the beans about it.) But working on them is clearly beneficial in several ways.

One interesting thing about this process is noticing rapid improvements. If I were to graph the out-of-the-box factor for these 18 pieces, the line might have little dips, but in general I perceive a nice upward slant. Ditto for technical proficiency and design complexity factors.

Part of this phenomenon may be explained by the adage “practice makes perfect.” However, I believe working in series, making several to many pieces with some elements in common, one after another, increases the depth of expression and speeds the journey to excellence.

Let’s say, for example, that you set yourself the task of making 100 drawings of a tree.

What would that be like? Can you imagine that by the 10th drawing you might start seeing something new about that tree? By the 40th drawing, might the distinct personality of that particular tree be revealed? What about drawing number 75? Maybe by then you’d be drawing the inside of the tree, or perhaps the whole life of the tree on one page. Would your drawing eventually become the tree? Might you and the tree, through your drawing process, develop a profound inner connection?

Yes, I believe working in series promotes a deep spiritual relationship between artist and art, one that can be life changing, healing, and extremely satisfying. By creating many variations on a theme, we can get under the mundane and trite to a place where we can explore and embrace the depth of a subject, and the process of creation itself. Beyond that there is a place where we can find peace and self-acceptance.

The memory doll, pictured below, is a good example. When my Dad died last July, I was devastated and stuck in my grief. Using the fabric from his neckties, I began making a series of memory dolls, one for each member of the family. By the end of the three months it took to make the dolls, the repetitions and the process brought me through my self-pity to a serene feeling of affinity with my Dad. If you missed my post on this subject, you can look here.

Remembering Dad, spirit doll, memory doll by Robin Atkins

What about you? Have you attempted this journey in your work? What did you notice about yourself and your art during the process?

* * * * * *

On a different note... do you know about this????

Bellingham Bead Festival - 5 stars - check it out here
When - March 30 through April 1, 2007
Where - Semiahmoo Resort on beautiful Birch Bay (north of Bellingham, Washington)
Classes - 5 stars - new event, small classes, great teachers, an Ott light provided for every student!
Vendors - open Saturday and Sunday - workshop students get free admission to show!

This is the first annual bead conference in the NW corner of Washington state, a location easily accessible to Canadians from the Vancouver area. It is sponsored by the Puget Sound Bead Festival.

Because it's a new event, classes are not filling as they do at more established events. This is your chance to take workshops from me, Tracy Stanley, Mark Lareu, Kriss Silva, Jeannette Cook and others in an intimate atmosphere, where you can receive lots of individual attention.

Even if you can't attend this year, please help me spread the word... this is a great opportunity!


  1. Anonymous1:18 PM

    Nicely put Robin. I still have trouble having the patience to stick with one subject or media long enough to explore it fully. But the good thing about almost being 40,is that I have been doing things long enough to see themes popping up eventually.
    I think your right though and where I can I try to carry a theme across different media.
    Thanks for the compliments.

  2. I'm having trouble just getting one piece finished each day! I always seem to freeze when the word "theme" comes into play. I always work so randomly that I never think of a theme. Maybe that's what my art needs....a theme.

  3. To Juju ~ Your work is so inspirational to me, as is your writing. I see themes carried across your painting, collage and photoshop work. Awesome!

    To Janet ~ You think your art needs a theme? I see several themes being played out across your drawings, photos, post subjects and ATCs. Maybe it's just an unconscious thing... You don't need to freeze or think about it at all, because it IS there. Besides, I believe the magic happens when any ONE thing is kept constant. So when you make a dozen or more ATCs, you've worked in a series, whether or not they have similar subjects, materials or process. The constant is the form, the ATC card.

  4. Thanks for posting these wonderful works!

    And, as you know, ONE of my pieces is a series within itself. LOL

  5. I've tried working in series and don't get very far. 2 pieces with the same general theme is the most I've finished. I started weaving because I admired the Navajo weavers who do one pattern for basically their whole life. For example the Two Grey Hills rugs, etc. have the same general design with small variations. I think I admire that a great deal in others work. One of the bloggers I frequently visit is doing a series of 100 portraits in a minimal amount of time. She is doing some wonderful work. I do have a one series that is going onto the third piece, but I doubt if I'll ever care if I finish it. It makes me sad just to look at it, now as it is over half done, and I still don't care. I think I'll watch what others do for awhile more, before I try to do a series again. Not that I doubt the real benefits, but my mind gets tired of being in the same place. I know, not very consistant of me, but there you are. Oh, you know, I do have 3 of the "Dancing in..." series so the one not finished is #4. Whew! Makes me feel better. 3 seems like a real series.

  6. You're posts are always so thought provoking. Thanks!

    I'm off to check out the other blogs you have highlighted.

  7. Anonymous9:37 AM

    One of the reasons I work in series is that it helps keep me focused- I don't feel like I have to get every idea I have into one piece, I can just finish this one and explore the next thought on another similar design. Trying to get one piece to be perfect, with all my thoughts covered will insure that either I never finish it or it will be awful!

  8. Robin, last night I sat down and read your book "One Bead at a Time". I am discovering that one thing I need to do is start exploring again. Thanks for stirring the creative urge within.

  9. Robin, I think there are a lot of kinds of series.

    My production of yearly 50 Christmas cards is one, and yes they are all in the same vein - but do not bring me any particular sense of learning because they are just a series of repetitions, not an observation or a learning process.

    The other series I've worked on was in fact a sort of immersion. I became strongly attracted to Japanese culture - though I have not been there. First I learnt about geisha training, Kandashi, Zen gardens, Ikebana, furoshiki, sashiko, Iku and learnt a little Japanese too. One thing lead to another quite naturally but intensely for a few months. Then came the series. I produced only 4 items (mixed media paintings), based on Ikebana in textile, but I feel that this is a more rounded effort than the producion of a repetitive pattern. I was trying to summarize the things I had understood about the culture I think, and could have carried on for a few more.

    There must be other series around, "on the same theme", " the blue period"... all a learning process. I'm gathering source for a series on the similitude in nature's designs ( tree bark can look like a map etc)But I cannot find the appropriate medium for it at the moment.

    And I keep reading Juju's blog too, which makes me want to try new things all the time!

  10. Robin thank you for sharing such an inspiring post. I hope Liz brings her series to show us on the Bead Cruise. What an amazing journey she has been beading through.
    As a production bead artist, making the same thing over again with as little variation as possible can drive me a little crazy. I feel so inspired to work on a series of beads that evolve over the process. Thanks again!

  11. As always, enjoyed your post. My very first piece -- still a work in progress -- Life is not Black and White -- is a beginning on a theme. If I didn't keep getting carried away with other beady interests I would have had B & W done. But all these little side trips are learning adventures too.

  12. Anonymous3:12 AM

    Hmmm ... practice makes the master. You opened a new way of thinking about series to me. So far, not having done any series myself, I didn't really admire them. In fact, most of what I have seen series-wise so far spelt either lack of fantasy or commercialism to me. I honestly apologize to everybody whose series do not fall into these negative categories, and promise to go into the subject deeper.

    Last not least, I am keenly looking forward to your new book, Robin. I had already been wondering when the next Robin-Atkins-booktreasure would be due.

    Many greetings, Sabine

  13. Hi Robin, sorry to post here. Email me I have something to mail to you. :)

  14. Thank you Robin for putting Ganesha on your blog. What is amazing for me as I work on the religious icons is that I am one of the most non-religious people that I know!! Why this idea came in my head, I haven't figured out yet. I am still on the search for the cross that cries out to be beaded.

    Thank you again for putting Ganesha and Mooshika out for the world to see!!


  15. To All ~ Thanks for visiting and taking the time to comment!!! I see from the various remarks that "working in series" can have several different interpretations. As I was writing the post, I was just thinking of a group of pieces with one or more things held in common. So, the common factor (making it a series) could be the subject, the medium, a color or color scheme, the type of object... I'm sure there are other possible constants. Your comments about this subject have been very interesting to me... thanks!

  16. As always, Robin, your posts yield so much to think about, as well as wonderful things to see. Thanks so much for putting this out there for us.
    I did a series once of little collage cloth landscapes of a ranch in New Mexico. The best part of the experience was the one time when one of the pieces just came together "by itself" hands were so familiar with working with the fabric palette I had been using...and the piece just flew together with no effort on my part at all. It was magical.
    And it was of course the best one of the series....and ended up being used as the background of the Table of Contents page for a book on landscape quilting, Luscious Landscapes, by Joyce Becker. That was a nice surprise!!

  17. Allison ~ You work in series all the time, not necessarily the final piece, but the embroideries and embellishments on each piece are related by theme, and thus a series.

  18. I love the part about drawing 100 trees. I have found repetition is not nearly as repetitive as it seems. There is always something new to discover that would not be seen on the first trip.

  19. I have to admit I never considered doing an artistic series before though I've seen plenty out there (done well and not). I'm forever experimenting but maybe rather than hopping from one thing to the next, experimenting with the concept of "series" can actually help me find what I've been looking for. My style. Much more thought is needed. Stay tuned.


Thanks you for joining the discussion on this post today!