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Determined to ask "What if?"

Completing a Ph.D dissertation taught me determination, a quality I've carried into my creative life. Things go wrong. They don't work they way I expected. They don't work at all. What to do about it? Before the dissertation, I would have thrown in my hand in and said, "I'm never doing that again."

But now I know to come back to the failure another day asking the question, "What if?" and try again. That's a question creative people ask themselves all the time because it's often the best way forward.

I'm not sure there's much difference between writing a Ph.D dissertation and creative work: both take hours of experimentation, inevitable moments of failure, a slow movement forward and a great dedication to something so arcane that most people have no idea what you're doing.

Since coming home from Jane Dunnewold's botanical printing class, I've been making prints at home. Some leaves print better than other, and I've had success printing on paper. Here, for example, are two paper prints from a pretty little Japanese maple in my back yard:

But I've failed completely with printing on cotton, which is what I really want to do. So I've been asking myself the "What if?" question: What if I scoured the fabric before making leaf bundles? That means boiling the cotton in a mixture of soda ash and detergent to remove anything that may act as a resist to the leaf print. I got slightly better results, but still disappointing:

So what if I scour the fabric and then layer the fabric with good quality, thick paper, the kind I use to make the paper prints? This would give the fabric something stiff to press against to encourage the leaf to make an impression.

Bingo! Here's the result:

Really beautiful prints, crisp and subtle. It took three go rounds, each attempt taking hours of work as I prepared the fabric, then made the leaf and fabric bundles, and steamed them for two hours. Finally, I washed out the fabrics and then ironed therm.

I showed these to my friend, Julie, this morning when we had our play date to do botanical printing on cotton scarves. I was sure I'd get good prints on the scarves. I didn't. I got three scarves that look like someone used them to change the oil. As Julie texted when I sent her photos of the duds, "Well poop." Creativity and certainty just don't make good partners.

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