Imagine a daily sketchbook where, instead of paper, ecclesiastical linens are your pages. Instead of drawing with a pencil, you explore surfaces with a rich variety of threads and dyes. Picture what you’d create with these tools if you sat down every single day.
Toronto artist Lynn Harrigan doesn’t have to imagine what she would make. She spent a year doing just this — facing the challenge of a blank slate every day of 2015. And her creation, the Calendar Project, is a remarkable study of an artist’s visual exploration of her entire world.
What a gorgeous world she created.
I first interviewed Harrigan in March, 2015, in the early months of her year-long, daily sketchbook project. Over the course of the next nine months, hundreds of us watched her daily art pieces emerge in her Instagram feed.
Over the year her work transformed. What follows is an interview we conducted via email in May, 2016. I’m excited to share this with you.
It looks like by May, 2015, you started layering fabric on the calendar squares and pushing beyond the boundaries of the 1.5 inch spaces themselves. And by October, you started to add leaves and other objects to the Calendar. Can you tell us about how you made that transition?
I began layering eco-printed wool and silk fabric over the linen because I liked the organic and textural qualities that they added to the embroideries. The shape of the calendars also changed. As the months passed, the squares began to feel too confining. Dissatisfaction with the 1.5″ boundaries of the square led me to push the limits of the calendar format. I wanted the shape of the calendars to develop more organically, just as the days of our lives do. This turn of events injected some much-needed energy into the project during its final phase.
Was there any point in your daily art-making practice where it was difficult for you to continue? If so, what do you think caused the friction? And how did you push past that roadblock?
The beginning of the new school year in September turned out to be a huge roadblock. All summer long, I was enjoying the Project so much that I toyed with the idea of continuing it in 2016.
It quickly became clear that this was not a good idea when my teaching schedule resumed. The first few months of the school year are particularly labour intensive and I became frustrated with being stretched thin between work and creative commitments. The Calendar Project was so close to completion that my determination faltered only briefly and I was able to see it through to the end.
How did December 31st feel? A relief or did you experience a sense of loss at the end of this project?
Completing the final square on December 31st brought feelings of relief tinged with sadness and anxiety. The Calendar Project had become an integral part of my day to day routines. I enjoyed the daily practice so much that I worried about how not having this project to work on would affect my sense of equilibrium in the New Year.
The positive effect of the end of the Calendar Project was that I suddenly had the time and breathing room to explore parts of my practice that had to be set aside in 2015. My return to natural dyeing, eco-printing, and patchwork created a relaxing transition back to working on series of discrete images.
Finally, I see you’re working on Ephemeral City, which is a collection of beautifully lush images. Can you tell us about this project?
Scott M2 released the dreamSTATE – Ephemeral City multimedia iPhone app in January 2015. I was particularly taken with the images that evolved as the music played. The images are digitally treated photographs that Scott took of buildings in downtown Toronto. The constantly morphing shapes and colours of the Ephemeral City inspired me to create a series of embroidered cityscapes in response to Scott’s haunting images.
The stitching technique was inspired by Claire Wellesley-Smith’s beautiful book, Slow Stitch. In the past, my embroideries were executed mostly in split stitch. This stitch lent itself to a heavy, dense feeling; I wanted to open things up, giving each stitch some space. I was happy to see running stitch achieve this sense of open space and excited to discover that running stitch becomes its own language when it’s the focal point of the piece.
When Scott M2 mentioned that he was planning a limited edition of cassettes for Ephemeral City I wanted to contribute by embroidering tray cards for the project.
Harrigan says that showing the work is not a pressing concern, in part because The Calendar Project was conceived as a daily sketchbook. She has no interest in selling this work, which makes showing it in a commercial gallery problematic.
I confess that I would love to see it in person someday. However, I’m grateful to Harrigan for sharing it with us everyday online. She is one of the most inspiring and generous artists I’ve ever come across. She is open about her process and tireless in her creativity.
And her work is simply stunning.
Olisa Corcoran is a stitch artist and blogger living in Durham, NC. She speaks fluent Nuyorican and always keeps her dial turned to 11.