There is a warmth to John’s ‘Social Knitworking’ image—currently found on paper and cotton, soon to be found on big, beautiful totes and on lovely, Bone China mugs—that has nothing to do with the fluffy wool pompadours, or with the fuzzy lengths of neatly knitted yarn. The warmth generates instead from the image’s tender portrayal of female friendship (no horns to be seen here) and general feeling of contentment. In this image, in short, John has lit upon a balance that has proven evergreen throughout Artiphany’s evolution: an intimate moment of humanness, blended with wordplay, quiet comedy and the animal kingdom.
“Social Knitworking is based on the phrase,” John explains. “Of course, I’ve seen social networking so many times” (Sidebar: Artiphany is born and bred in one of the global centre’s of networking: Silicon Valley) “and my mind being of a turn to think of wordplay I thought of ‘knitworking’ instead of ‘networking.’”
“I worked through the idea of the knitworking/networking pun,” he continues. “And it worked on a couple of levels. Many, many sheep—in a flock—is like a network of people, in itself, and the knitting of a garment is a network of another kind. It seemed like a rich little joke to play, not so one-dimensional. Then, what I discovered, which was really interesting, was that there’s another network of people who like to knit. Lots of people like to share yarn and talk about their knitting and share patterns. (I found out about that after I shared the image, because it was so popular). And I found out that the people who like knitting were quite a few.”
There’s a reason why the knitters among the Artiphany community respond so enthusiastically to this image. As John says, the metaphors at work in “Social Knitworking” run deep, three-fold in fact. For laymen (i.e. non-knitters), this may seem like a revelation (as it was to yours truly), but for knitters, I will take a guess and assume that they are nodding their heads in appreciation—because metaphors like these, as these knitters are well aware, weave their way through each step of the knitting process. The yarn knitters knit runs together to create either a work of art or a warm goody for a loved one. The circle they knit in is as much about peer review as it is about peer support. And the bag that keeps their work-in-progress together is symbol for security, as much as it is a practical vessel. In other words, there’s no way around metaphor, in the world of knitters and their needles: Knitting is always a labor of love, whether it is out of love of the form or love of the one who will wear that form.
Yet, it is not only the knitters who are enamored with this image. This is a scene with universal appeal, one that draws out a short, satisfying “Aww” at the same moment as it makes you laugh. John helps explain this phenomenon. “The idea of sheep knitting is ridiculous in itself,” he says. “And as I started to draw them I realized that, with the way that sheep look—either shorn or with all their wool in abundance—, it would be fun to draw that texture that they have; to play with their hair and comb it up, or put bows on them. And they’re an interesting creature to draw for me. I like their faces and their floppy ears.”
In addition to the comic and aesthetic joy of the sheep’s portrayal, “Social Knitworking” contains one major juxtaposition, one which makes both sides of this contrast pop. While the sheep are cast in shades of grey (or, sometimes, shades of blue), the yarn they are click-clacking away on is vibrant, in juicy washes of orange, red, yellow, purple (depending on the edition). And within this dichotomy, John has—unwittingly—placed another bit of comedy. “The pattern I chose for the sheep to be knitting, I realized after somebody reminded me, is the zig zag pattern that was made famous by Missoni sweaters. So there’s a little inside joke there that these are a special breed of sheep called Missoni.”
“I’ve never revealed that to anybody,” he adds, sheepishly. “And I don’t know how funny it is.”
Before we chase our ball of yarn too far down the hallway, let us put on the breaks, and pitter-patter back to where we began. Beyond the metaphors, beyond the comedy, beyond, even the sheer cuteness of it all, there is something that is still unsolved about Social Knitworking: what about this image is so calming? Why does it seem like these well-groomed sheep are the very image of fleecy peace.
John again: “As I started to draw the sheep, I realized how expressive I could make them appear. Big sheep, little sheep. I wanted to test myself to see how many versions or how many varieties of poses I could make and how I could give them an expression that mimics a human expression. I wanted to make them look content and sort of pious, even. The attitude of knitting seems to be meditative to me, as if you’re in prayer or thinking about something deeply and repeating an idea. I’m not a religious person...but the repetitive act seems almost like a chant to me.”
“I’m not sure if it strikes anyone else that way,” he adds, “but that’s one of the things I like about that image.”
That’s all for now. I hope you enjoyed our latest behind the scenes series with John and his art. And keep your ears and eyes peeled for new products—namely, a big, beautiful tote and a coffee vessel in gleaming china—featuring our beloved Social Knitworking image.
Now....get off your computers and tablets and phones and out to the dog park! All of you! Don't make me bark at you!
Love and dog bones,