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The sands of (ALL my) time

Updated: Jun 7, 2022

Bay of Kotor, Montenegro

Acrylic gouache, embroidery thread

5 x 5 inches, 8 x 8 inches with frame


I've always been fairly ambitious with my art making. Rarely will I say that something seems "too hard." Instead I like to focus on "How can I do it?" In undergrad, I worked on 5x7 ft oil paintings of interiors, then, in graduate school, I made large abstract landscapes invented completely from imagination. So now, in these nebulous post-grad working-artist years, I have traded in oil paints for thread in order to stitch as much detail as I can into 5-inch landscape embroideries. This might seem like a jarring change in practice but it's not a big of a leap as you might think. For me, the process of creating a piece of art can almost always be divided into three reliable parts:

Part one: Naive excitement!

Even though I have been down this road many times, I always think starting a new piece is exciting. There's so much potential! The first sketch of an idea on paper/canvas/etc... represents so many possiblities, and since I am creating something from nothing, it can only stand to improve. As my embroideries have become increasingly complex over the past year, I now draw an initial sketch on paper, then transfer it to the fabric by taping the drawing to the fabric, holding it to a window, and tracing. Nothing fancy.

Part two: Reality sets in...

After the initial idea is born and the first strokes (or stitches) are made, the speed of progress immediately slows down. This is natural and all part of the process. However, once you are well into part two (too far along to abandon ship, but not far enough to see land) things will start to go downhill. You realize you are in over your head, all of your ideas sound stupid and you begin to question all of your choices: "Why didn't I realize how long this would take?" "Does this look really, really bad, and I just can't tell?" "Why am I making this?" "Why did I go to art school?" "What is the point of art?" These are just a sampling of increasingly counter-productive questions your brain will come up with to try and sabotage your creative process. Maybe the biggest challenge of art making actually has nothing to do with creating something, but is instead the mental athleticism of overcoming your own internal saboteur... just a thought.

So for me, Part 2 kicked in shortly after beginning the beach portion. When I chose this composition, I thought, "stitching all that sand will be... interesting, but I'm sure it won't be too crazy." Famous. Last. Words. I really loved the way the composition was divided into four stacked rectangles of different textures (sand, water, mountains, sky) so I jumped in, even though the sand was clearly the biggest of these rectangles.

After it was all finished, I really liked how this texture turned out. I loved the limited palette and the freedom to make the stitches in different directions and the pressure of all of these little pieces pushing together. But it was a journey!

Part three: The obsessive finale

Part two comes to an end when you have made enough progress that you can really start to visualize the finished piece. Things are finally coming together and you have beaten your inner saboteur into submission (for now at least)! At this point you have probably been working on this one piece for more hours than you would ever admit to another person, or even yourself! And, just like seeing the finish line during a marathon (I can only assume), you pick up speed and push yourself to work, work, work until its finished and you can have your life back!

Even though it most likely involved the same number of stitches, I enjoyed working on the mountains more than the sand. Probably for the sole fact that I got to use more colors!

As you may be able to tell from the sketch and early stages of the embroidery, I had planned to include a few people in this one. I thought they would help to show how deep the space was in the composition. Alas, I made the classic mistake of avoiding this new challenge until the very end. Everything was finished, and I was mentally congratulating myself on a job well stitched. But after an hour of stitching the lady laying out on the sand, a little alarm started going off loudly in my head, "ABORT, ABORT!" This actually does look really bad. Apparently stitching little people in complex positions is something I need to practice a bit before I can confidently stitch into an otherwise completely finished picture. In a moment of level-headed panic I painstakingly unstitched the past hours' work, filled it in with more sand (just when I thought I was finished with beige!) and called it a day.

Where is the Bay of Kotor?

The Bay of Kotor is located two hours south (by car) of Dubrovnik, Croatia in the Balkan country of Montenegro. We arrived around midnight, thanks to a delightful series of failed airport connections, and completely missed seeing the bay until the next morning. It was quite a sight to wake up to! We spent the next two days exploring old town Kotor, which like Dubrovnik, is completely surrounded by medieval walls. We spent the days soaking in some rays on the rocky beaches, petting wandering cats, and climbing the old fortifications to get some breathtaking views! I may have to stitch this view later. I just loooooved these mountains and the way them seem to grow right out of the water!

On our drive back to Dubrovnik from Kotor, we drove around the Bay during a perfectly cloudless afternoon and got to take in all that we had missed a few days before. Including this lovely view of the town of Perast. I'm not ashamed to admit that one of the reasons we made the journey south to Kotor was because I had seen a picture of this view on Pinterest and it had been haunting me to go and find it! And we did! Though my pictures never turn out was well. Not unlike, all of the gourmet meals and yoga poses that I have also attempted to recreate over the years.

A cat museum?! No complaints here!

What am I working on now? Follow me on Instagram to find out! @libbywilliams


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