The Struggle for Simplicity

Simplicity

When you look at my linocut prints, you might describe my work as: Simple. And that would be fair - I love a good line, enjoy white space and generally use a restrained, if not singular color palette. As the artist, I know that the process behind the final work you see is anything but simple, though I too would be willing to use that word as one adjective to describe my work. (Since you're curious, the other words I'm currently striving for are: Raw Elegance.) Even those who know me might assume that simplicity comes easy to me in my work. Yet those same people might also remember the girl who painted every room of her first home in multiple colors, or once bought a plaid (!!) sofa. Over the years, I've found myself drawn more and more to simplicity in my home, and that carries over to my artwork. In my home, I've found that simple surroundings are easier to live with long-term, and my goal with my artwork is that it will find homes where it can nestle for longer than a season, maybe even a lifetime. 

So... I thought it would be fun to share my own struggle for simplicity, by following the path that led to my new print: Vessel No. 2.

Giorgio Morandi painting, image by Tommaso Calabro

Giorgio Morandi painting, image by Tommaso Calabro

Slow Art

About 20 years ago, I discovered the work of Morandi and was totally captivated by his use of every day vessels and restrained color palette. My husband and I bought an inexpensive print of his work which still hangs in my kitchen. 

It takes me weeks to make up my mind which group of bottles will go well with a particular coloured tablecloth. Then it takes me weeks of thinking about the bottles themselves, and yet often I still go wrong with the spaces. Perhaps I work too fast? -Morandi

What Morandi knew, and I am learning is that the best ideas take time. I find that my work is at its best when it is slow, almost when I'm not actively thinking about it, or trying to make something work. It's a struggle to slow down when marketers are telling you to post new work on Instagram every day, but doing the deep work to find my best work is worth a few days of bad photos on Instagram...

Shirley Poppy pillow by Samantha Hirst

Shirley Poppy pillow by Samantha Hirst

One of my earliest prints was a set of vessels which I printed on kitchen towels and pillows - inspired by Morandi (and the Shirley poppy). I still quite like the simple lines of this print, though I can see clearly that it lacks the refinement I'm searching for in my work now. And if I could go back in time, I'd likely try this print in some other colors... and I'd probably do well more than one drawing before starting to carve the print. 

Vessels pillow by Samantha Hirst

Vessels pillow by Samantha Hirst

About seven years ago, I had begun making pillows using a bit of applique and created one with a series of overlapping vessels in muted shades of linen. Again, this idea is interesting, and I would happily put one of these on my sofa today if I still had one. But I remember that I struggled then with the outcome - it always looked better in my mind than in reality. I wanted to make the result feel more elegant than it did, yet I never went back to the drawing board to struggle for something better.  

Vessels by Samantha Hirst

Vessels by Samantha Hirst

A few weeks ago I stumbled on the vessel templates that I used to create those pillows, and loved them even more, all in white - I think this is what I had been searching for then, a more refined, even singular color palette. Once found, I left these vessels on my desk and sorted them around in different arrangements a few times. Around the same time, I was in Japantown with some friends, and saw a Micro-Maidenhair Fern for the first time. I took a few reference photos so that I could sketch the plant, came home and made a number of sketches. The younger version of myself would have launched immediately into carving a new block, but I've learned to let my sketches sit for a while, until the final idea for the artwork is better formed in my mind. 

Fern sketch + Vessel by Samantha Hirst

Fern sketch + Vessel by Samantha Hirst

I laid those sketches on my desk, nearby the vessels I'd been fussing with and a couple of weeks later, in the morning as I was waking up, the idea came. I began layering the sketches over the vessels until I found the combination that worked best and then used the pieces to create a new, final sketch which became the block for my new print. 

Vessel No.2 Linocut Print

Vessel No.2 Linocut Print

It's so easy to look at a final print like this, and to think: Simple. Yet, this print is really the culmination of ideas I've been working with for years. Vessel No.2 is available in my shop now, and my hope that its simplicity will nestle in a few homes for longer than a season, maybe even a lifetime.