Sharpening the Saw, or Barn Time


It’s been years since I first read Steven Covey’s book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” At the time I found it refreshing and inspirational. It’s back in my reading queue, and I’m curious to see how it’s stood up to the passing of more than a few years. I mention this book because I’ve always remembered that Habit 7 is “Sharpen the Saw.”

Let’s say you have a wonderful saw that cuts perfectly. Maybe it’s one of those beautiful, precise Japanese ryobas. If you spend all of your time sawing things and never take time out to clean and sharpen it, the saw will gradually become rusty and dull, and eventually useless. So too with humans—and I’m going to go further and say artists in particular. We all need to allow time for rejuvenation, growth, learning, and connection with both other people and nature. This week I had some of all of those things at the Crow Timber Frame Barn in Baltimore, OH.

The Barn is a study center for art quilting and other related media and methods (e.g., textile surface design, dye methods, and foundational art skills like 2D design and color theory). I’ve been here many times over the last decade, and it’s become a touch point in my life for learning and renewal. It’s that way for many people. and it’s evolved into a sort of community. Coming back is a little like a family reunion.

This week I had the wonderful experience of participating in an intense 5-day painting and collage workshop with Deborah Griffing. We drew, painted, screen printed, and collaged; we experimented with new materials, and I got some hands-on experience with oil-based media. It was fantastic. The things that I created are all workshop exercises, but they’re exciting nonetheless. Everything is a departure from the way that I’m currently working and from the marks I’m currently producing. I’m taking home new experiences and new ideas, but it all needs to simmer around in my head for awhile before I can really see if or how it will change my work. But—and it’s a big but—it was just good to break out and try new things; to exercise different parts of my artistic brain.

The piece in the photo above measures 9 x 12”. It’s ink, cold wax, oil pastel, and water color on clay board. The lines are engraved into the clay surface. It’s time consuming, but so satisfying. It also taught me about the value of spending even more time developing the surface of a composition. A few more of my workshop pieces appear below. Click any of the images to page through larger images in a gallery. They’re a mixture of works on paper, board, and yupo (a plastic “paper”) using a who range of media and technique.