Sabbatical and the Quilt Artist (gabrielle s.)

Taking a different course this month as well, let’s think about if it is feasible for quilt artists to take a sabbatical. Can someone in our fast-faced, production is everything, you are only as good as your last quilt world take time off? Other artists working in different media do so frequently. Some artists think you should never do so. Robert Genn, a painter, has an interesting take in one of his open letters titled Artist for Life.

Mr. Genn’s take is filled with along list of things to get you back into the studio. The final advice is to continue with self-education and go to the studio.

Great information but let’s focus on the self-education. To learn, explore, experiment might take you away from the direct work. For myself and June, our fearless leader, exploring has brought delving into other media. Speaking only from observation, June is exploring painting. My exploration has been in both painting and photography.

This time of “self-education” has been creative time, but certainly, not quilt making time. Potter Dick Lehman has posted an article on taking a sabbatical to develop new techniques in his article, Planning a Potter’s Sabbatical. Mr. Lehman sells from a retail location. His concerns deal with being an employer as well as needing time for education. While most of us don’t have to deal with what to do with the store, we certainly have to face the “falling off the map” concept.

Does the heart and spirit of sabbatical apply to us? For my two cents, taking time away from the work to explore other media has brought great reward. There is a new sense of appreciation and new imagery to explore that would not have happened otherwise. Sabbaticals provide renewal time both professionally and personally. However, the question still looms, can we afford to take sabbatical?

One possible sabbatical would be to keep your foot in the water while not making quilts. Blog, attend conferences, whatever comes to mind so that folks in your chosen media still see you. Tell them you are on sabbatical and explain what you are doing during that time. By doing this, you will still be in touch. The word sabbatical has a mysterious air to it. Explaining what you are doing will generate interest in the work that will follow.

Below is one of the photographs, manipulated via Photoshop, taken during my sabbatical. What will it bring back to my work? New considerations for color, possibilities for abstraction, and most of all a day of observation. An easy sabbatical for anyone is the “artist date.” A day of simply seeing the world away from the studio provides us with so much material. Imagine that day being more than one. What would it offer to you?

My conclusion on the subject was to take the time off, regardless of what the results would be. My sabbatical was to renew the work with greater energy. What would your sabbatical be? Or do you feel it is not possible for us?

oad Trestle
photo credit Gabrielle Swain .

©2001-2008 Gabrielle Swain
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10 Responses to “Sabbatical and the Quilt Artist (gabrielle s.)”


  1. 1 lyric May 17, 2008 at 3:46 pm

    I’ve just come off a two year sabbatical. Two years of not making any major work, of focusing my priorities elsewhere. I kept my foot in the water by writing a few articles and it was amazing how wonderfully everything was prepared for my return. My sabbatical was like giving the soil a rest from an intense crop – planting something else that will nourish the soil even if it won’t produce a salable crop.

    I think the whole idea is to nourish and refresh and to learn something new.

  2. 2 Angela Moll April 9, 2008 at 9:59 pm

    Thanks Gabrielle, you make a great point. I am glad you brought this up. Yay for sabbaticals!

  3. 3 Gabrielle Swain April 5, 2008 at 5:52 am

    Seductive and immediate, June. I so agree with what you said. When one starts the self-education sabbatical, you probably need to make a bargain with yourself to return. That being said, if you discover another pursuit that speaks to you what is the problem. God forbid that we should have more than one talent. Ahem!

  4. 4 June April 4, 2008 at 1:26 pm

    My painting “sabbatical” is raising interesting questions in my mind about the visual relationships between quilted art and painted art. I’t strange to call this a sabbatical because I’m churning out paintings as if I knew what I was doing — close to one a day. It’s as if I’m having an affair — every day seems full of new possibilities.

    However, I’m also seeing some of my quilted art with new eyes and really wondering if I want to go on with it.

    So beware — sabbaticals can lead you astray. Passion, you know, is seductive.

  5. 5 shiborigirl April 4, 2008 at 7:53 am

    eileen is right about not being able to get away from the concept of making (art). it’s kind of like taking a sabbatical from yourself. (although that may not be a bad idea…)

    me? having been a ceramacist my whole career i changed majors by giving myself the gift of a year long sabbatical to discover shibori and now that is what i do. it was refreshing, challenging and continues to be so each day.

  6. 6 Gabrielle Swain April 3, 2008 at 7:54 pm

    So true, Eileen. We never stop being who we are. My suggestion was to take time venture into that place of dreaming, planning and occasionally working in other media. I am not sure anyone can get away from the muse once you have found it.

  7. 7 eileen April 3, 2008 at 6:34 pm

    While in the car on a very long road trip last summer, gazing out the window at the passing landscape, i realized that artists never get a real vacation. We are always looking, always thinking, always planning and dreaming. So perhaps we can take a sabbatical from needle or paintbrush, but not from the concept of making our art.

  8. 8 PaMdora April 3, 2008 at 9:39 am

    I think there are both kinds of artists, some are highly identified with a certain media, but there are others who seem to have an idea and then find a way to express it.

  9. 9 Gabrielle Swain April 3, 2008 at 6:12 am

    Thanks, Pam for the thoughtful reply. Being a fan of your blog, I envy the trips and visits to other artists which you have posted. My journey started with a trip to Taos last year and has finally come full circle. Since many quilt makers don’t come from a background in the arts, I wonder if the idea of working in other media or sabbaticals is familiar to them. Possibly I should have posited that question.

  10. 10 PaMdora April 2, 2008 at 7:47 am

    Nothing wrong with sabbaticals, I’ve often envied academics because this is a natural stage for them — a time to take time away from the everyday routine and explore something in depth that the normal teaching routine wouldn’t allow.

    Me, I thrive on incongruity. I think part of creativity is the ability to step out of one’s self and look/experience the world from a totally different or unexpected viewpoint. Therefore, I don’t do the same thing everyday, and you might be surprised at some of the different activities that I’m engaged in when I’m not making quilts.

    Just like the body isn’t healthy when it has the same food day after day, so the spirit and mind. Thanks Gabrielle!


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