An artist needs limits

When I went to school, I studied fine art and english. I left school believing that I was an artist and a writer, although I had very little evidence to support either point of view. My Uncle Tupper has always said that you may use the professional term “writer” or “artist” when you have paid the rent that way… so I guess that at this time in my life I am entitled to use both terms, though having not painted for a few years, I no longer think I am an artist or…maybe I still am. Can one stop once one has started? (By the way, I think this combination of visual artist and writer is really common…anyone else out there have their interest in the arts leak through various mediums?)

For many years I painted, I drew, I had some shows, I sold some paintings… I would have starved had the income been from art alone, and I’m really glad that Tuppers definition didn’t include paying the rent multiple times… but it was validating on some level to just hang up art and ask people to look at it. It would have been more validating if I had sold fewer paintings to my relatives and more to complete strangers, but you can’t have everything. When I was very young, still in school, I was a realist.


Not unusual. Many artists begin as realists, it’s the safest form of painting and drawing, and certainly the easiest to put in public. Both the artist and the viewer can tell (with very little emotional or intellectual effort) whether or not it is good. If it is good, it looks real. That foot really looks like a foot….good art. That hand looks like an octopus in heat…bad art. The limit of asking the artist to render real life accurately fences them in and makes making art easier.

Now, many artists continue to use realism as their limit for the rest of their careers. Nothing wrong with that. Obviously Michelangelo and Jules Bastian-Lepage were not any less great for sticking with realism for their whole careers. I however, did not stick to it very well. As of 5 years ago it was obvious (probably because of the shaky grasp on reality that all mothers have during those trying early years.) that I was beginning to enjoy the idea and images around fracturing realism. I still needed a limit (as I believe most artists do) to avoid being overwhelmed by an idea and to keep it reined it enough to make it possible.


It’s a snowflake. Somewhat departed from reality, reined in by a monochromatic palette (one colour) and strictly controlled by the lines.

Forgive these photos by the way. They are digital images of old photos of paintings long gone. They lack the detail and straight lines that I like to believe were present in the paintings.


This one’s trees. (Trust me. It is.)


Mosques. You can see that by the time I got to Mosques, I was obviously using only the suggestion of realism as my limit and relying more heavily on geometric form.

It should come as no surprise then, that this:


Was next. Pure geometric limit with no realism left at all. Just colour and line.

That limit was eventually pushed even further to this one:


Which is really just a colour study, using only a palette of colour as the limit.

(I admit that I didn’t even control myself entirely there…there’s a gold in that painting that is nail polish ripped off from one of the kids.)

Where am I going with all of this? Glad you asked. (I was starting to wonder myself there for a minute.) My point is that every artist limits their work in some way. Even the most avant garde artist bent on breaking down every perceived barrier or limit ends up needing to fence an idea in eventually, or they would never be able to call a piece “finished” and move on. Since I am not painting right now, but writing, I satisfy a great deal of my visual need for art and colour with knitting. What I am knitting is important to me, not just because it is expressive (and making something always is, even if it’s a washcloth) but because it keeps me in touch with colour, flow, line and artistic limits. Knitting has a natural set of limits. (It needs to be done on needles, it needs to be done with a continuous “thing” be it yarn or string or chain…) and it gives me a chance to divine new limits for myself, and sometimes I don’t even know what they are until I’ve been doing it for a while.

Apparently, and I should have noticed this some time ago, or certainly when Ryan pointed out to me at the Market at Madrona that what little stash I was buying was the same colourway over and over again, just in different forms…


When I got to choose my colourway in the mitten class:


When I got to choose my own colours in the plying class:


or as I have been knitting the Bohus, I should have noticed that I have a new limit I am working within.


Clearly I am choosing to express myself these days, by working within the limited palette of


Appliance colours from the 70’s.

Sigh. I was hoping for more depth.