Finding Your Style
By Brian Kerkvliet, Copyright 1995
My last article, Magic Kiln Tactics, used up too many of my left brain cells, so this issue I want to explore the more abstract and elusive topic of style and creativity. Hopefully it will feed the right side of my brain, giving time for my left side to regenerate.
For some people finding their style comes easily. Often It is an outgrowth of other creative pursuits. All they need to do is acquire a vocabulary of glass working techniques before their creative style shows in their beads. For others it's not that easy. They have to jump-start their creative process by what may be considered copying other work. Remember the paint-by-number oil paintings? Well this is the same kind of thing except you don't have a canvas to work on. By following a basic blueprint, one can prime the pump for the creative process to begin. This is one way to explore your creative style. It is important, however, not to rely on this as a crutch. This could have the effect of blinding you from your full creative potential, thus depriving the world of what you are truly capable of.
Looking at what has been done before is inspirational! For instance, I choose to do pieces in the ancient Egyptian theme, not because I want to make replicas of the old pieces, but because I want to learn by going through the process of making these pieces. In doing so l related with the earlier masters, and they taught me little secrets you can only learn by walking in their foot steps. Take what you have learned and add a piece of yourself. Find out what makes this work so captivating for you and add that back into the creation process. In other words, make a piece that is not just the result of the process, but rather the melding of your spirit and technical skills. By doing this I not only learned about technique and style, but also about myself, which is part of what making art is all about, isn't it?
Throughout history, beads have had a very close tie with the culture they originated from. This tie has evolved over time, and like many of the fine arts, it usually began with the classics. I see the contemporary glass bead movement trying to make a bridge between the historical classics and the relevance of beads in a contemporary setting. With beads' earliest beginnings around 1300 B.C., we in the modern world have quite a history of classics to draw on. What do we define as the classics in the bead world? I believe everyone out there would have a slightly different answer to that question depending on what their historical reference is. However, I think we could all agree on one classic, the eye bead. Let's look at the traditional eye bead for a moment. This is one of the simplest techniques using a series of dots to create an eye like-motif. It has been used throughout history in every culture that made glass beads. Many of these cultures developed their own unique style of eye beads distinct from all the rest, so that historians can tell the difference between a Chinese, Roman or African eye bead. With a little time and practice, anyone who plays with this technique will eventually come up with their own style of eye bead that's distinct from all the others, like Michael Max's "Seed Pods", Kristina Logan's "Harlequin Bowl" or Patricia Frantz's "African Eye Bead". All these pieces use the time-honored technique of dots, and yet they are all unique and identifiable as those artists' beads. The point I'm trying to make is basically everything has been done before in one way shape or form, so it's not whose technique you are "stealing", it's what you put of yourself into the piece that really matters. I'm not saying you should start copying the persons work you like the most, or the one that sells the best, because that would be missing the whole point. What I'm saying is, If you feel you must copy a piece you've seen ( and I can say I've had that urge), do it for your own personal collection and to learn from the experience. Copy the bead to see how close you can get . Then do it several more times. Each time tune into what it is about that particular piece that really inspires you. When you find the answer, play up that aspect each time you make a bead. By doing this over and over again, you put more of yourself into the creation process, and you will slowly start to see a shift in your work that reflects your hidden interests and aspirations. Your style will slowly begin to emerge!
Over the years I have engaged in numerous discussions on the topic of style They always seem to start out like this: Do you know who is copying who, or who did it first , and how close can your work be to someone else's before it's considered copying? If you look hard enough in the museums and in books, at some time or another you will find the thing you think is so special about your work has been done before. Alas, the ghosts of masters have popped your ego bubble. Don't let this fact get you down. When you see traits in your work that are derivative of other work, look at it as a sign of history passing through you. You're on the right track! Look at your work and learn from what you see in it that has some kind of historical reference; then find your new interpretation of a classical idea. Frantz said the influence for her African Eye Beads came from some beat-up old Kiffa beads she had sitting on her lampworking bench. " I inhaled the energy of the Kiffa beads and exhaled the patterns on the African Eye Beads. She said this of the creative process, " It's not a formula; it's an experience" Max said this about his inspiration, " My biggest influence has been following the process of what the glass wants, journeying with the glass to encourage its forming." When speaking about the first time he made the seed pods he said "the creative process took over and I made two right off the bat. Then I had to relearn how to make them after I realized what I had done." Tom Holland mentioned that through his creative process he was drawn to make the Zhou Dynasty beads. " By following my excitement with glass I looked to build a large pallet of technical challenges. The Zhou Dynasty beads were of great historical significant, yet they were technically challenging" He said "my works are a response to a individual moment in time." "By working hard and consistently, a technical flair and style will be born." When discussing style with Patricia Sage, she said this " To create a personal style one must compose distinctive works repeatedly. The identifiable results are a window into ones envisioning process. Personal style can be the natural outcome of self discovery through artistic expression, but usually its from long hours of hard work and research and development. These investments of energy can be very personal, exposing intimate revelations of our emotional being, yet style is not actualized without the influence of those who came before us, whether in a historical or contemporary sense. May we all contribute to the future of the Artisans Spirit! "
Often when I have had a good creative burst, I feel I have done this before in a previous life. This cumulative knowledge is available to all of us if we just renew our membership in the cosmic library. In this way we can continue to leave our mark on the world for the ones who follow.
I would like to explore this issue further in the future. If you have any thoughts on the topic, I invite you to send me a short statement about your style and how you found it, along with three slides of your work for possible inclusion in a future issue of Glass Art. Please send them to me C/O Glass Art, P.O. Box 260377, Highlands Ranch, Co. 80126.