Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Ultimate Encourager

Yesterday it was my great privilege to attend a color workshop led by Brandon Mably, an artist, a colorist, and a sweet person with a vivacious personality. Brandon has been working in the studio of Kaffe Fassett, another brilliant designer and artist for more than ten years. Both men were in my home town yesterday to present their work and to inspire others to embrace color in their lives. The day began in the sewing loft of one of my favorite textile shops, Canvas Works, in downtown Olympia.

The primary medium for our work this day was knitting, and we all were instructed to bring a plethora of small windings and balls of yarn in an assortment of colors. Upon arrival and introduction, we were then instructed to share our yarn and to rob yarn from our neighbors freely. Very quickly, there came to be a large pile of assorted yarns in the middle of the room, something that I found quite exciting and stimulating! Then, we were instructed to choose six small lengths (about 1 yard each) of yarn in different dark-ish colors that pleased us, and to do the same with lighter yarns. These lengths were to be tied together to make two balls of yarn; one dark and one light. Here are my first two balls and my cast on row:
The idea was to create your own self-striping yarn in colors that you think you know and love. We proceeded to knit up a swatch of fabric in a pattern that was created by Kaffe many years ago called "Poppies." The pattern creates circles of color on a background of contrasting colors. It looks like this:

Before you begin, you decide if you want light colored poppies on a dark background, or the reverse. Brandon felt that I was a "Lighter Person" and so he encouraged me to make dark poppies on a light field. What the heck, I would knit myself a corset, if that's what he wanted me to do! And so we began to knit, and we listened to music, so as to discourage us from talking ("Don't ask your neighbor for help," Brandon declared, "She might be a trouble maker!" "If you have a question or need help, ask me instead.") This turned out to be a great strategy as we were able to accomplish so much more than we would have if we had been tempted to "help" our struggling neighbor.
Throughout our knitting, Brandon would drop little bits of inspiration and helpful insights and funny anecdotes. The first thing he said was, "I don't consider myself a teacher, I am an Encourager... I want you to be fabulous, but I can only do my part; you must do yours."

Brandon said that working with color was like working your muscles, you can't accomplish results by studying it, it must be practiced. Mistakes must be made in order to decide what works and what doesn't. In the words of Kaffe later on in the lecture, one must "Suck it and See." This was an expression that Kaffe fell in love with upon his arrival in London. The original reference was to trying a flavor of candy, he thinks, but it seemed applicable to color choice and also to life in general. He said that he overheard two politicians talking one afternoon and heard one say to the other, in his high British accent, "Is this a Suck it and see moment?"

After the first two hours, I had a tiny swatch of poppies that I felt loathsome towards! The colors hadn't come together in the way that I had expected, and I was dissapointed with it compared to what I had imagined, and especially compared to other people's in the room. It was time to break for lunch, and I resolved to eat quickly so that I could begin again and hopefully come up with something "presentable" for our show and tell after lunch. I covered my knitting with a piece of paper and was getting ready to go wolf down my sustenance. Brandon, like a predator looking for weakness in his prey, walked directly over to my knitting, uncovered it, and held it up in front of the class. "Oh NO!" I thought. He held the small swatch against his thigh and looked at me and asked me what I thought of it. Well, actually, from that distance it wasn't as hideous as I first believed. I said that I wasn't overjoyed with it, but from a distance, it wasn't too horrible. He said, "AHA! Lesson number one: we are blind to our work until we step away from it and view it from afar." He proceeded to say how much he liked the swatch and pointed out areas that worked particularly well and areas that probably didn't so much. "But," he said, "No ripping out, and NO re-doing anything. We will pick up where we left off after lunch and keep knitting." And so I was able to eat a thoughtful lunch and plan for modifying my color pallete in the next go 'round, something that Brandon showed us how to do. Here are some of the swatches from the first two hours of work: a rather unremarkable group, really. Mine is the one with yellows, second from the left on the top.

After we spent the afternoon knitting some more, here is what we came up with:

Aren't these GORGEOUS?? Every single one of them had some amazing elements of beauty, and parts that hadn't worked and that the artist was able to learn from and correct in later knitting. I felt so proud and inspired seeing our work up on the wall. Kaffe came in throughout the workshop and at the end he said that he hadn't seen such great work come out of one of Brandon's workshops in a long long time. High praise!

The take home message had to do with context: "Even a color, which seems vicious and dreadful on it's own, can shine when it is used in the right amount, and in the proper context," Brandon said. He brought out a scarf that Kaffe had knitted, using the poppy pattern. It was gorgeous and filled with every color imaginable. He had each of us try it on, and it looked beautiful on everyone, but looked totally different, depending on the color that the woman was wearing. Here I am, proudly wearing it:
It was such an amazing day, and was followed by a lecture by Kaffe that evening, which was also very inspiring. I found myself thinking about how the decision process used in creating art is very applicable to life in general. Life creates art and art creates life; at least for me! I also learned that the most important encourager is myself!
Thank-You to Brandon and Kaffe for sharing their passion, and Thank-You to Linda and Gary of Canvas Works for hosting this workshop; it was such a fabulous time. If you are interested, you can go to my Flickr photo page to see all of the pictures from this fun day


Jenni said...

You just amaze me! This is a beautiful post--both your work and your reflections on life, color and the artistic process. Makes me want to knit, too :)

wishes, true and kind said...

Just amazing! Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for sharing this. You write so well of the atmosphere of the day and your reflections -- just wonderful. I have always wanted to attend a workshop by Kaffe and/or Brandon, and I so appreciate being able to read about it.

It's funny and interesting that you wrote about the role of different fabrics. I am just finishing a Kaffe Fassett quilt from a kit and have another (also from a kit) at the long arm quilters right now. Although I much prefer choosing fabrics and playing with color myself, I felt I could learn so much by just studying and working with the fabrics as chosen by KF. In each quilt there are some fabrics that I would never have chosen (and don't really seem that pretty to me on their own), but within the quilt and with the other fabrics, they are beautiful. Anyway, thanks again for sharing your amazing experience.

Pam Corwin, Business of Crafts said...

I can only barely knit but playing with color is my joy - this looks like SO much fun! I drove my Canvas works and wondered what the crowd was about, LOVE that scarf!

Pam Corwin, Business of Crafts said...

(that was drive 'by' - woops!

vadjutka said...

Oh, it must have been so much fun, I wish I could have been there - though I cant knit. Why dont we have similar things here? *sigh*

Thanks for this post!!

Also, I would like to ask you to write another post about this sentence you just wrote: "I found myself thinking about how the decision process used in creating art is very applicable to life in general."

Jacquie said...

What a blast from the past Colleen. We stayed with Kaffe's sister Holly at Nepenthe Inn in Big Sur many years ago. I remember devouring his knitting books there and hearing about him in London. And here he is... a real person teaching his beautiful art in your town! I'm so happy you had fun... I can't wait to see what items you come up with using yarn!!!!
love, jacquie

Anonymous said...


Victoria said...

One of the best and well written posts I have ever read!

Color fascinates me, and I totally relate to, "...working with color was like working your muscles, you can't accomplish results by studying it, it must be practiced." How true! Color was the one thing in art school that I just couldn't "get", despite intensive study on it's theory and application. It wasn't until a few years after I started working with fabric that I realized a shift had occurred in me. Color had become a very intuitive and natural thing. Intellectually it still escapes me but I think I am able to feel it and trust those feelings.

How fabulous to have been able to attend this workshop and thank you so much for sharing it so beautifully!

Greg said...

This was fun to read. Thank you for sharing your day with us. I recently started to quilt with Kaffe's fabrics. And after years of working with darker, traditional fabrics, I feel a real sense of freedom in combining all of his brights.

Colleen MacDonald said...

Thank-You all for taking the time to read my long post. It was an inspiring day, and I was so happy to be able to share it on my blog!

Kathleen said...

oh my your post is a delight and so evocative of your day!

here in australia we are so secluded from so much of the goings on in the art and crafts world so i can only dream of this...and you really fi;lled a void with your beautifully written post...i loved the bit about not talking to the neighbours by having music on and the effect of the scarf being different on each person because of what everyone was wearing colour wise

thanks so much... am so thrilled for you!