Saturday, April 25, 2009

Word by Word



I love words, but I almost didn't graduate from high school because I was failing English. That has always been a little ironic given the fact that I am a published novelist and I dig the heck out of the written word. Granted I did struggle through diagramming sentences and to this day I probably wouldn't know a participle if it bit me on my adverb, but it was a badly timed appendectomy followed almost immediately by the chicken pox that was my downfall that year. I managed to make up enough of the work I missed to satisfy my other teachers, but Mrs. Boyce was a whole other story. "If you can not master the English language, you will fail at every thing else in life." I was quite sure that re-reading Beowulf for the fourth time in order to meet her requirements for mastering the English language was not going to make me a better singer...which afterall, at 17 was all that mattered to me. But I persevered with my assignments, begged her more than once to please let me graduate and I managed to walk across the stage with my classmates. I threw my cap in the air, stuffed my diploma in a box and headed out on the road with a band. I convinced myself that the D she ultimately gave me stood for Determined to leave town.

But now many, many years later (and I mean many, many) I find myself embracing languages of all types and not only that...I am teaching one. For years I delved into the language that is music. Anyone who learns how to read the scribbles of rhythm and a melody penned on lined paper should be considered bi-lingual. So, too, should artists who teach themselves the vast language of their mediums.

As I begin my workshop, KC Willis Collage Camp, I am learning that I am teaching more than the "tricks" I use to create my work. From the moment I offered the video series, people have been writing me and asking me if I feel comfortable showing so many others exactly what I do when I make the work of Lipstick Ranch. At first I thought, geez maybe that's not such a good idea, but I immediately considered it in a different way. Asking that is like asking a writing teacher if they feel comfortable teaching someone all those words that were in their book. They will take the same words, but they will tell a different story, just like a musician will take the same notes, rearrange them with his heart and have something entirely different than the last guy.

What I am teaching is the language of Fabric Collage. In order to learn this language they will, in the beginning, mimic my words as I show them step-by-step the sentences of fabric and trim that I string together. Their pieces will look like my pieces, just as when a musician first begins to play the guitar they will listen to music they like and play it note for note. It's only when they have a good working knowledge of what these notes do that they take off and write their own songs. Art is the same way. It requires a vocabulary of sorts. When I first decided to become multi-lingual I looked at the words that other artists put down on canvas and on collage and decided I wanted to be fluent in rust and rhinestones. I spoke all wrong at first, but that was ok. I decided right from the beginning that if I was ever going to be good at it, I had to first be willing to be bad at it. And I had to learn to trust the language I was speaking. Who knows where the words come from that fly through your head when you're writing, or what prompts my hand to move a piece of fabric into a certain place on a collage. Sometimes people will ask me where I got an idea. Beats me. That's like asking Miles Davis where he got that note. We're just talking the talk.

If you take my workshop, learn the language that I teach by showing you my words and sentences, become comfortable with their phrasing, practice them over and over again, and work like hell to create your own stories...books and books of them.

And if I were to ever run into Mrs. Boyce again I would tell her that I still can't diagram a sentence, but I am fluent in fabric. Enough said.

15 comments:

Candy said...

What a wonderful way you have with words, wouldn't Mrs. Boyce be proud! I just had to read the whole thing (which is something my mind hates, give me a picture any day).
Love your work. You're awesomely talented.
Cheers, Candy

Lisa said...

Very well said or shall I say...well written! It takes more talent and creativity to think outside the box. Unfortunately when many of us attended school there was only one right way to think and perform. Thank goodness times have changed.. it's ok to celebrate yourself nowdays...creative and individualism is praised. Maybe we were all just ahead of our time....

Lelainia N. Lloyd said...

KC, I think you are prefectly right. I've taught for years. I've shown people what I know and not held back anything. I think that's the hallmark of a great teacher-a generousity of spirit.

I can teach people what I know, but I also know that I have a gift. It's how a friend can look at something I did and know instantly it's my work. It's the way that I weave the pieces of my art together, the colours I use to tell the story and the symmetry of it as a whole. Those almost intagible things are uniquely mine and I am never worried that anyone else will make my art because that's just completely impossible.

There's a freedom in knowing that. Good for you for getting it!

Coco said...

I hope she was still around to send a copy of your book. Interesting story.

Thistle Cove Farm said...

Oh goodness...while math was never my strong point I do know when we multiply our love, it returns to us multi-fold. When we divide our love, we all lose. So it is with everything in life - we need to multiple, not divide and our lives will increase and we'll all be the richer.

Anonymous said...

Oh, what a narrow-minded teacher. Like my first grade teacher, Sister Martina, who called my mother in for a serious reprimand because I doodled on my penmanship papers. So I was a blocked artist for the next 40 years. Fortunately, I'm moving forward now! I think you are an amazing writer, with beautiful words and content! I'm thrilled to be a member of Collage Camp. Warm wishes, Bonnie

Kaz said...

Teachers can be so so wrong and leave such a bad impression can't they? I had an art teacher told me to give up and never do anything artistic and I still think about him when I craft now...
How cool you went on the road with a band! what sort of music were you into? My son is in a band now and I'm so jealous I didn't do anything like that.
I thought about the copycat thing too, when I first took Joanna Pierottis' workshop, suddenly all over blog land there are "Mossy style collages" (including my blog I might add!) and I wondered if I could ever do that...but you are so right, we take the song and "make it our own" as Mr Cowell would say!!
I for one am grateful to people like you and Joanna for sharing your knowledge and letting us see exactly how your process works, and I can't wait for camp to start!!
:)

The Rustic Victorian said...

Wisdom,,,you got it girl. Nothing can be taken from you...and those who try,, fail..
Your giving will come back 10 fold.
Now ,,,when "are" we going to start camp!?! I know "patience is a vertue"....What a gem you are,,,love the words "rust and rhinestones".
Marcie

Charmingdesigns said...

Your words are perfect! You said it just right...learn what we can, then make it our own. I love what you do! Plan on signing up for your class payday! Laurie

Heather said...

Love this post and am so excited I'll be part of your workshop! I agree...it'll take baby steps, but Im thinking our babysteps wont compare with your refined works ;) and by the time we're refined, we'll be able to put so much of ourselves into our pieces that it will become our voice.
Lord, I had some strange teachers...so much of what we learn in school I simply forgot. Dont ask me about adverbs or things like that, but I can speak and have a voice and managed to write as a journalist for a few years before "people" burned me out...but I still love the writing :)
Cant wait to delve into this collage language with you...
Heather

Jane said...

Wow KC. That was well said. I pray all goes well with you and your teaching.You have a big heart and much wisdom.
Jane

Donna said...

KC - I just figured out how to put my badge on my blog. I'm new to all of this but wanted to be in the running for the drawing tomorrow. Thanks for teaching this workshop. It's just what I've been looking for.
Donna

Charmingdesigns said...

Hi KC. I just paid for your class. I cant wait to get logged in. Laurie

Halo Hill said...

What a beautiful story. You know so many "languages" so well! You are very blessed with so many talents, and I know that you know that. Thank you for sharing yourself with us. It is so appreciated by all of us, I know. I will cherish everything I learn in class.

Hugs,
Sheila

Jane Jeffress Thomas said...

You are so right about teaching. You can teach what you do, but the learner takes what is taught and crafts it into something entirely different and makes it his own.