By Sue Caulfield

One of life’s lessons that I return to over and over again is the importance of listening to my inner voice.  Sometimes I name this voice intuition, other times I name it my muse.  In this writing, I focus on the muse as it relates to my creativity.

Those familiar with my work know it is quite eclectic.  It ranges from the intertwining of words in meditative wall hangings to wall hangings devoid of words, to wall hangings focused on images, to hand-dyed clothing.  Prior to my focus on printmaking, a lot of my creativity focused on what I call functional art or art for the every day.  This includes hand-made napkins, table runners, pillow cases, pillows, coin purses, purses, snappy bags, tote bags, etcetera.

As I have developed my printmaking skills (see previous blogs, titled chapters 1 through 6), I have thought I should shy away from art for the every day and focus on what some might call my real art (i.e., wall hangings, printmaking techniques, design concepts).  Indeed, there is an ever present duality within my creative self (art or functional art).  The two voices of this duality can be overwhelming at times and, indeed, can stifle creativity.

I have discussed this with many artist friends and all of us agree that this is a constant struggle.  For example, some of my artist friends who are photographers ask themselves whether they should stick to one-of-a-kind framed prints or perhaps make greeting cards that highlight their photos.  Another perspective is whether to make only original pieces or to produce multiples of one thing.  It is not a simple question and it raises issues about the scope of one’s work, selling out, focusing on marketing rather than meaning, and a host of other possibilities.  When I want to focus on functional art, my inner critic begins yelling at me, telling me I am not making good use of my time.

By the way, my inner critic gets quite loud when functional art also involves the use of pre-made patterns.  According to my inner critic, if I am working with someone else’s pattern, where is the creativity?  To be fair to my inner critic, as a general rule, I do not like to work with pre-made patterns.  Mostly, however, this is because I prefer to not have to follow directions.  Whether that proclivity is grounded in creativity or control is worthy of its own Eclectic Threads piece.

Twice in the last two months, I have listened to my inner voice (not the same as my inner critic) tell me to focus on functional art. In early January, that voice was telling me to create aprons.  So I did.  I made three.  Below is an image of one of those aprons.

apron b & w

This past week, that voice told me to create reversible tote bags.  So I am doing so.  I have completed three of them and have several others in the works.  I first worked with this reversible tote bag pattern about 18 months ago.  The minute I saw this pattern, I knew I wanted to work with it because it allows me to work with six different fabrics for one bag.  Here is a place where my functional art really serves me well.  It allows me to play with fabric that is not conducive to the wall hangings yet, nonetheless, gives me great delight.  As most of my functional art demonstrates, the joy is in the combination of fun fabrics.

These next two photos show one of these reversible tote bags.  What fun to have one bag with two distinct personalities!

tote vers 1 a tote vers 1 b





This next series of photos shows another of the reversible tote bags.  These six fabrics all represent aspects of New York City, the place of my birth and a favorite place to visit.  Note how the fabrics are alternated in such a way that no two sides of the bag are the same and each version of the bag (inside and outside) is composed of different fabrics.

tote vers 2 c tote vers 2 atote vers 2 btote vers 2 d





What I am learning is that it does not serve me to fight my muses.  Sometimes, what I need most of all is time in the studio where I follow a pattern, sew straight line after straight line, and have a functional and beautiful outcome.  Indeed, while making reversible tote bags this past week, I had a bit of an epiphany.  Perhaps in this busy world in which I live, where much comes at me on a regular basis, making containers to hold some of it all serves a great purpose.  And, with these reversible bags, if I don’t like how things look, I can simply reverse them.  Oh, if life were only that simple.  Still, good lessons.

Another good lesson is one I was introduced to nearly twenty years ago when I first studied with Angeles Arrien.  She asks that we view the world from a “both/and” rather than “either/or” perspective.  While the latter perspective forces us to choose, the former opens us up to possibilities.  The word “and” leads us toward joining, bridging, including and adding. “Either/or” means that one of us has to be right.  “Both/and” allows that both of us are right in our own perceptions of the world and perhaps we could honor both of us.

So, in listening to my muse this week and working with reversible tote bags, not only have I created functional beauty, I have re-immersed myself in lessons about possibility and acceptance.  I have been reminded that each of us is more complex than any one perspective. Indeed, we are multi-faceted.  Perhaps I was drawn to the pattern of the reversible tote bag because the end result of this patten was a tote bag that did not have a right side and a wrong side.  These tote bags have no “either/or” – they epitomize a “both/and” perspective.

I end with photos of two beings that serve as important muses in my life.  On the left is Bel, the muse that reminds me to get outside as much as possible and lie down in the grass at every opportunity.  On the right is Leonard, the muse sent to remind me to stop what ever I am doing and sit with him for a spell (always inside, as he does not leave the house).  Outside/inside, both/and.  May the next week lend itself to more listening to my muses.

bel muse leonard as muse