Last week we talked about harmony as a principle in creating needlepoint. Today we are going to go a bit deeper into this by talking about gestalt.
You have probably heard this word, even if you never thought of it applying to needlepoint.
Gestalt means, quite simply, that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Here’s an everyday kind of example. You go to see a Marx Brothers movie (we’ve been rewatching these recently so they are on my mind).
It’s one of the early ones, Animal Crackers. There are the four brothers, there’s Margaret Dumont, and lots of horsing around. But think about it critically for a second. Outside of those five most of the actors are average at best and the plot is pretty thin.
But somehow put the silly songs, Chico and Harpo’s playing, the brothers cutting up, and Margaret Dumont looking confused and you get something wonderful. My husband’s Dad still remembered the words to Captain Spaulding 40 years after he saw it once.
Gestalt doesn’t look so much at parts analyzing each bit, but at the whole picture, synthesizing the pieces and seeing what happens when they go together.
While looking at harmony, as we saw, is largely a matter of analyzing what’s there, getsalt is something different.
If you have ever looked at one of your finished pieces and felt as if it is so much better than what you had pictured in your mind as you worked, that’s the gestalt of the project coming and saying hello. The best pieces we do often have the most gestalt and they are the ones that continually surprise and delight us.
I don’t have that in every project, but I’m getting better at it. And, with some projects, I am surprised at them when I see them. I say “I stitched that? It’s good!” I know that when I have that feeling about a piece I’ve achieved gestalt with it.
Let’s look at an example, the heart piece pictured here. I did it as an exercise in going outside my color comfort zone. I don’t use analogous schemes or bright colors very much, so here I used both.
The project has several unifying elements:
- the brown grid lines connect and divide each heart
- every square has a heart that isn’t the usual shape
- all the colors are bright
- all the schemes are analogous
- simple stitches and geometric patterns are used throughout
It achieved my goals for the project but it always surprises me, because it is more than just the exercise I planned. It’s happy and cheerful.
I think it’s the balance between those busy geometric patterns and the contemporary shape of the hearts. It doesn’t take itself too seriously. And that shows in the gestalt of it.
It can be hard to think about gestalt because we focus so much on the individual parts of our stitching. We think about threads and stitches, we wonder if we should add an embellishment, we add bling and more of everything.
And by doing this we may end up missing the big picture.
Although we have to focus on the parts as we work, we should step aside regularly to look at our work from a distance, to look for harmony, to see how it works, to see if it is working together, if there is harmony and, even better, if there is gestalt.
There are two easy things to do as checks. I’ve had more pieces that achieve gestalt since I’ve started doing this.
1. Find a critic. My husband has definite opinions about needlepoint, design, and color. Often these do not match mine. Even so I show him just about every piece I do while I’m stitching it. He gives me his opinion. If it’s lukewarm, I think about why he isn’t impressed. If I won’t show it to him, I know there’s something off.
I’ve shown him my work for years, but it’s only recently that I thought about why he says what he says. Sometimes it isn’t important, but often it gives me clues about what to improve.
2. Step back and look. These days most of my needlepoint lives in project bags by my stitching chair. That’s turned out to have benefits beyond keeping things neat. Now every time I pick up or put down a project I look at it. I suppose I always could have done that, but I didn’t. Because I put things away. the needlepoint isn’t so close to me and I have some distance. This distance allows me to look at the whole project, think about the harmonies I’m creating, and see if I am getting something more — getting that sought-after gestalt.
Your working habits are probably different from mine, but the value of considering the big picture for your needlepoint turns it from just a pretty collection of threads and stitches to something more.
Needlepoint Creativity Club: This is just a sample of the great information you’ll receive weekly as part of my new Needlepoint Creativity Club. Topics about design, color, and creativity will be explored in weekly emails, exercises, and discussions. Members will get extra benefits too.
You’ll see samples of information for the Club on Thursdays throughout June. The club will begin July 15, 2014.
Read more about it in this column.