Freeing the Angel: Unfolding Process in Project M

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“Every block of stone has a statue inside it,
and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”
– Michelangelo

When asked how he created his amazing sculptures, Michelangelo is reputed to have said, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” I hope I am not the only one who is so immensely delighted by the open-ended and curious tone of this comment.

When I think of great masters, I imagine them plotting and planning every detail of their creations, then executing the work with a superhuman force of will—and not a bit of sweat. But perhaps the truth is slightly more playful.

Or at least more … human.

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All of which gives me great pleasure in imagining that I’m in very illustrious company when it comes to the unfolding process of Project M, the steampunk serial I’ll be releasing this fall with hand-appliquéd fabric illustrations. In my own way, I saw the angel in the statue and set about to unlock him.

As it turns out, there’s more discovery than strict execution going on right now. Which is why I love projects to remain works-in-progress right up until the moment I press “Publish” on their final version. Precisely because there’s so much more to discover.

I started out with an admittedly vague plan to applique a representative image for each chapter onto a single quilt square. These images would be more abstract in style, as I understood them, and consist entire of fabric, stitched in a traditional needle-turned fashion. That’s what I set out to learn and execute.

My first step was to purchase these two excellent books, below. To date I’ve leaned more on Alison Glass‘s Applique than Sheri Lynn Wood‘s Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters, but that will soon change.

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I plotted Project M’s cover design loosely and set to stitching, with only the vaguest of guide markers to keep the first design portion centered on the cloth. From there it was all freehand.

You can see the results in the header at the top of this post. (Oh, and by the way, can you see the spot on the taupe fabric where the piece was once affixed to Great Grandma’s quilt? I love those little holes!)

Once I was satisfied that the shape of the design was forming relatively on-point, I evaluated whether the proverbial angel was as free as I had hoped, or whether half a wing or so was still stuck in the stone. The question nagged at me for a few days.

Then, when I was doing some research for another part of the project, I found these absolutely delicious examples of crazy quilts. Ah ha! That was it. I had forgotten about what embellishments could do for these quilt squares.

In fact, I hadn’t planned for them all. (Which was sort of the point, right?)

Anyone modestly familiar with steampunk knows that a primary tenet of steampunk cosplay is: “When in doubt, add more doo-dads.” Even the most seemingly “simple” steampunk cosplay is usually an optical illusion, the result of artful arrangement of multiple layers and details that miraculously harmonize rather than competing with each other.

So it should be for the illustrations of Project M, I decided. I had been in doubt, and the answer was now clear.

I needed to add more doo-dads.

But where to get doo-dads? If you’ve bought sparkly notions at craft stores, you know they can be expensive. And my general rule is to use what I have to make what I love. Resourceful, and all that.

So I took out some tucked-away treasures for a rainy day: embroidery thread, and beads bought for another project long ago. I haven’t worn several of them for a long time. So, like Great-Grandma England’s quilt, which has already become part of this project, I opened the threads and turned those beads into embellishments for this labor of love.

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This weekend I tackled the delicate stitch-work (all of it new territory for me, by the way) and beaded embellishments that will help bring the cover together better. I hope you find it as thrilling as I do to observe the differences between the two images. The first image (below) conformed to my original vision. The second (below that) is the new, touched-up version.

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Thanks to the process of discovery, I think the latter is trending more toward the whimsical, layered and “artfully eclectic” effect I ultimately want each illustration to exude. Of course, this means I’m “off schedule” with my original plan. Good thing I’m making this up as I go, right?

All in all, I’m sure the angel still isn’t totally free from the block. But he’s a sight more mobile than he was before. Pardon me while I go back to chiseling at those feathers . . .

Because if the master of masters could leave room for discovery in some of the world’s greatest sculptures, I can leave a little room from the unexpected in my own humble project.

Next time I post about Project M, I’ll be revealing the cover, which will naturally also reveal the title that “Project M” really stands for. Until then, I hope you’ll join me in getting scrappy with your own creative sculpting.

Because there’s an angel in there, and he wants his freedom.

Happy experimenting,

Signature---Purple

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