The Importance of Viewing the World Outside the Studio: Story Gathering, Tea and Hattitude!

Today, I needed more watercolor paper to complete a current book project for an author who is self-publishing (The Elves of Shady Elm book two) so I set out to my local art store in White Plains to get some.

It happened to be one of those gorgeous spring days that I have been craving. The desire to leave the studio behind for a while was one I just couldn’t ignore, so I pushed those thoughts of ‘hey, you got TONS of stuff to do, you can’t just take off,’ aside.

After returning some library books and taking out the following:

-The Shadow Queen by Sandra Gulland (about an actress and spy from the Paris in the year 1660, it looked interesting!)
-Peony in Love by Lisa See (I love all of her books, especially Snow Flower and the Secret Fan)
-French Milk (an autobiographical comic by Lucy Knisky about her month’s stay in France)

For curious locals, the graphic novel selection in the White Plains Library is massive. I have been working my way through it, but I am careful not to take out too many, as I will spend way too much time reading comics and not getting work done! I am the type of lady who will read a comic in one sitting, it’s really difficult to set one down once I start. D:

On the way, I took advantage of my proximity to ArtsWestchester and checked out their Hattitude exhibit of hats both historical and modern. In a serendipitous moment, I happened to walk in just in time for a tour.

The young woman who lead the tour was clearly pleased to be doing so. I could immediately tell that hats were one of her passions. To my delight and envy, she had gotten to try on every hat on the floor at one point; everything from the ancient first birthday hat from China to the Downton Abbey-style ladies hat with creamy silk roses.

The types of hats that were displayed encompassed everything from couture to ceremonial, even religious church hats and an thoughtful display about Arabic Hijabs. What was particularly interesting about the display was that it included paintings of various wrap styles accompanied with quotes by the women who wore them. The confidence that exuded from each woman’s words attempted to educate the viewer that they were proud to wear the hijab and felt it not to be a symbol of repression, but a symbol of modesty and femininity. This viewpoint surprised me, and gave me much to ponder about how my own physical location in the world impacts my feelings about something as simple as women’s fashion. Who ever knew a hat show could raise such provocative ideas?

In addition to the hats on display, the ‘vault’ section of the art space contained a milliner’s workshop where the docent briefly explained hat forms (a base that helps to create the shape of a hat, often made of wood) felting techniques and various materials used. It was really neat seeing the old-fashioned small milliner sewing machines that were still used to this day.

As I took a moment to grab an earl grey soy latte and vanilla bean scone at the nearby Hastings Tea, I thought about how much the creation of characters could be enhanced simply by giving them an interesting hat. A hat could say a lot about a person’s station or role in the world. I realized that so many of my characters were bareheaded, and resolved to apply what I had seen and learned in my future work.

Unfortunately, yet understandably so, commissioning a hat from a milliner can be a pricy experience. However, someday, I will obtain a custom Purple Lantern Studio hat and I will wear it proudly! Perhaps I will even make one. I’d like to try my hand at wet felting, fancy feathers and hat forms, but I expect it could also be expensive to learn and obtain materials. Maybe not?

The show is going on until Saturday, so if you are local, try and catch it. More info about the show can be found here. Sadly, I wasn’t allowed to take any photos of the hats, but the image below is of my sister and FIT grad knitting guru sporting the first hat I ever knitted. I plan to knit more in the future for sure!

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Since I am self-employed, I tend to take the occasional decision to take a break during the day very seriously. You have to when you work for yourself, but in retrospect, I am so glad I did. Sometimes, being in the studio, relying on one’s own imagination can cause the artist to fall back on patterns and relying only on what they know.

I’m so glad I went outside today. I’m thankful to live in an area where the arts are so important and appreciated. It sure makes me proud of what I do, and grateful that I can continue to create.

~Rayna

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