Robert Browning said, ” A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for.” That single phrase has been significant to many of us in the arts and crafts. Sometimes it excuses our foolish infatuations with muses that we are unsuited for. But, more likely, it explains the flurry of far-flung projects we get involved in. Critics accuse us of mania, but we call it exploration.
Quietly, some evenings we regret grasping this particular nettle so firmly. It hurts. We imagine what life might be like to be a one-trick pony. All you do is one thing, but you do it so well, make money, and sleep peacefully at night with the satisfaction of a day’s pay earned.
Then you do a show, an exhibit, or someone happens to see your work, and they say., ” I wish I could do such lovely work.”
You smile, thank them, and suggest that it’s all just working hard at it. Then, they walk away with their purchase, and you count the till.
Years ago, my mentor Warburton warned me, “Some days you tread the grapes and others you drink the vintage.” To be trite, it can take a lot of grapes to make a vintage, and sometimes you wonder when the next opportunity to tipple will be. But that’s the critical word; you know you can’t and won’t change. So you really pity the one-trick pony who’d love to create but won’t.
I am sure that a visit to one of the big box crafts retailers will not be a disappointment. It might even astonish with the variety and amount of material to make unique with the paints, beads, putty, vinyl, or glitter you can find on the shelves. Don’t know what you want to do? That’s OK, wander the aisles for an hour or so and fill a cart. You’ll have more than enough to keep you going through the next pandemic.
Full disclosure time: I, too, can be found haunting the aisles at Crafters Heaven. Some stuff is too time or labor-consuming to make on your own. I’m not about to spend hours compounding pigment, binder, and solvents to make paint.
Like all things, it’s what you make of it. There are good quality shows that will not jury you into the show if too many components of your work are prefabricated. Craftspeople refer to items made from prefabricated items as “Granny Crafts.” So before you eagerly take wing to an exciting destiny as a well-to-do craftsperson (snigger), take careful note of what is in good quality shops, fairs, and markets.
Good crafts and art are transformative. Common materials are transformed into lovely watercolors, spoons, pottery, or boxes. It’s less about the materials and more about how you transcend the material. For example, an artisan I met at one show used common birch tongue depressors, felt, and crafts paint to make clever puppets. On seeing them, you did not think – oh, tongue depressors, glue, paint, and felt. Instead, you saw imaginative play with engaging characters.
We won’t always create great crafts or art. But that realization shouldn’t stop us from trying.
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