Monday, December 27, 2010

What Inspires Me

In the last post, I discussed what motivates me.  This time I talk about what inspires me.  Inspiration and motivation are, to me, two different forces working from opposite directions.

Motivation is the push--the emotional context that is behind you that guides you from your past.  It is what you've already experienced.  It is the motor in the car that moves you forward.

Inspiration, on the other hand, is what pulls you forward.  It is in front of you.  It is the vision that guides the movement that motivation starts.  You may be moving forward, but Inspiration helps point you in the right direction.

So this post is about my inspirations.  And oddly, I derive one of my most precious inspirations from my past:  my great grandmother, Ferne Marie Carver.
When I knew Ferne in the 1970's, she was my mother's maternal grandmother.  She lived on a family farm in southwest Iowa near Coin, smack dab in the heart of the midwest.  I didn't know her long as she passed away early in my own life, but she left behind an indelible impression that has inspired me for years and continues to influence my work today.

Ferne painted porcelain china dishware, mostly.  Apparently, painting porcelain has quite a history (which I know very little about), but I know it was popular enough to have a magazine based on the discipline.  I also know that there are several websites for china painter out there, like and some sites that teach how to get started like this one at  There's even Porcelain Painters International Online.

But my  great grandmother's work is what inspires me.  I remember sitting down at a table and learning how to mix paint, how to clean brushes with turpentine, how to handle a plate and sponge on a background of soft color for underneath the flowers.  I remember learning how to put in color, then lift it out with a clean brush to leave white behind.  I remember the smoothness of the paint, and feeling a bit in awe of the fact that it didn't use water as a medium...  Ferne tried to teach us a bit about what she did, and I still have those flashes of memory in my head.

I also remember her china closet--a complete walk-in with shelves stacked to the top with different items of porcelain, and paints, and completed pieces.  It felt rather like walking into a Pottery Barn or Crate and Barrel feels like today...  Lots of dishes stacked everywhere, blank white and creamy tinkling fine.  Soft with a fine layer of dust, yet glistening and polished in the half light of the incandescent bulb... I also remember her huge kiln on her back porch that would reach ungodly hot temperatures.

But I know very little of who she sold items to.  Or the classes that she taught.  Or where the bulk of her work ended up...  I know she painted sets of dishes with a variety of different plates and cups and saucers, sugar bowls and creamers, candy dishes and salt-n-pepper shakers.  The variety of porcelain items was stupefying!  She even painted tiny keepsake shoes for all us great-grandkids that had our birthdate on them in gold lettering.

And I know that there was enough left over to divide up among her three granddaughters.  I know that my mom gave me some for Christmas this last year and that my sister, Nicole, has many of her magazines and books that related to china painting--some of which she loaned me for inspiration in my own work.

You see, Ferne inspires me not because she's part of my past, but because I see what she accomplished as an artist and I am pulled forward to do the same.  I marvel at her delicacy with her flowers and arrangements on the plates she painted, and I strive to do the same with my fabric painting on the attire that I create.  It's her accomplishments, her style, and her way with beauty that I try to emulate.

Apparently, Ferne painted in something that is clearly recognized as an "American" style nowadays.  I don't know enough about the art to categorize it.  All I know is that I really love her roses, and I want to imitate them as closely as I can.  And there's something about velvet and velveteen that translates into the same richness, refinement, and soft delicateness that porcelain china has.  To me.  

So I'm going to continue to work toward the goals that I'm setting, and use Ferne's beautiful work as a guidepost.  And we'll see where it takes me.

Until next time, Live Life with Relish!

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