Getting the Creative Wiggles Out

Jen Hewett on getting the creative "wiggles" out

In almost every one of my classes, I have a student who will attempt, for her first project, something that is technically difficult. Unless the project is so complex that it can’t be completed during the class, I rarely discourage ambition – nor do I discourage simplicity – because I don’t want to step in the way of someone who has a vision and tenacity.

But I also know from experience what will happen: the student will complete her first block, print with it, dislike it, and then turn around and quickly create a simpler, more compelling block and print.

This is part of the process. My friend Stef calls this “getting the wiggles out” (which is also a preschool phrase; Stef has two daughters). Often my first (and second and third) drafts are very wiggly. The wiggles demand to have their say before they depart, leaving behind the thoughts/ideas/work they’ve been trying to mask. It’s part of the process.

Now that I’ve been an artist for many years, I can regularly tell when I’m working on a wiggle – for example, the piece above is a wiggle. I liked the blocks, but the layout of the print just didn’t feel right. My wiggles usually appear in the sketchbook phase; other times (as in the case above), they make me go so far as to to expose a screen or carve a block. But the important thing is to take a step back, and tell myself that a particular piece is wiggly, taking it as far as it needs to go before setting it aside. Its purpose is to be the wiggle. I don’t have to do much more with it that acknowledge that, and then move on.

As for the print, above? After numerous iterations, I ended up with something that appears more spontaneous, and has more movement. I can’t show you the finished piece yet, but you can get an idea of what it looks like here.

And on that note, I return to my work, hoping that today I can push through and create something I really like.


Making Natural Ink

Jen Hewett Studio: Making Natural Ink with Kenya Miles

This is my friend Kenya. Kenya makes beautiful textiles using natural dyes, having studied the craft in Ghana and Oaxaca, Mexico. We met through the craft show/Instagram/mutual friend circuit (those of you who are artists know how that happens).

Jen Hewett Studio: Making Natural Ink with Kenya Miles

Jen Hewett Studio: Making Natural Ink with Kenya Miles

Over coffee one day, Kenya mentioned that we could make printmaking ink out of natural dye. I was intrigued, but, given the amount of time it already takes for me to produce one screenprinted bag, I’m much more of a buy-a-jar-of-ink-from-Blick kind of girl. But then she invited me to her house, fed me sausages and potato salad, and patiently explained her process. And then we experimented using the ink she’d made on different fabrics and with different types of printing blocks. Or, rather, she experimented, while I picked roses and figs and pears from her garden.

Jen Hewett Studio: Making Natural Ink with Kenya Miles

That’s not entirely true. I did work with the ink, but none of them worked well with the blocks I normally use. So my goal this week is to spend some time with the three jars of ink made from cochineal, Brazil wood, and another tree whose name I constantly forget, and figure out a print medium that will showcase the gorgeousness of these inks.

Jen Hewett Studio: Making Natural Ink with Kenya Miles

A collaboration is in the works. You know, when we both have time (like me, Kenya has contract work that keeps her busy, in addition to her creative work). But this whole natural dye thing is incredibly addictive. I can’t wait to show you what I make with it. Unless it’s fugly. Then I’ll just keep it to myself.


Building a Pattern Library


I love pattern. I realize I’m stating the obvious here, since you’ve probably already noticed that. Often, though, I’ll see a pattern I like, or I’ll sketch something pleasing, but won’t have a use for it at that moment. Or, I’ll need to futz with my sketch until it works for me. I often file these ideas away in my head – and then promptly forget them.



This year, in an effort to be more disciplined about my daily practice, I’ve started my own, physical library of patterns. I spend a few hours each week looking at patterns, dreaming up patterns, and then doing quick, one- or two-color sketches of them in a physical sketchbook that is far more enduring than my memory. When I need a jumping-off point for a new design, I can refer back to my sketchbook filled with patterns, and pick something to flesh out. It’s the visual artist’s version of the writing prompt.

Oh geez. I just explained the concept of a sketchbook to you. Let’s just keep calling this a “pattern library,” okay?

It’s so easy to fall down a rabbit hole of visual stimulation (I’m talking about you, Pinterest). The simple, regular practice of rapid pattern drawing has allowed me to take bits of inspiration and make them my own. At the end of each week, I can look at the zillions of pages of information I’ve taken out of my head and put onto paper, and feel like I’ve gotten something done.

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Posted by Jen  |  Category: process  |  Comments Off on Building a Pattern Library