Origin Story

Days and weeks and months and years have passed since I assumed the moniker of Shanalines. It happened so long ago, I sometimes forget that others don’t know the story. In fact, I recently shared the story with my dad for the first time, and I’m pretty sure the original story took place over 20 years ago. (How can that be possible?!?!?)

By now you know that my background is architecture: I studied it in both undergrad and grad school, and I keep my license active, though I don’t use it daily in any regular sense. I will say the training and study helped shape me, and even though I shudder to think about the sleepless nights and thankless clients, it’s still the right path for me. But enough about that. This post is about how I became Shanalines.

Part of design education is the critique process. When a project is complete, the instructor sets up a critique where students present their work individually for review while the rest of the studio class watches. Sometimes the instructor invites in guest critics to review the work, and sometimes there is peer review, with some students assigned to be critics themselves.

This particular class was an analog drawing class. We were each assigned an abstract painting, and tasked to reimagine the piece as if it were composed of geometric forms. We were tasked to create orthographic projections (measured line drawings without perspective) of our analysis of the forms, interpreting foreground and background through lineweights. A general strategy for lineweights is that objects farther away are depicted in lighter lineweights, and those in the foreground are darker, with the darkest lines being the section cut. Think about the world around you: closer objects are in clearer focus, and therefore bolder to your eye. I remember creating my drawing and determining where I would show the section cut, and reeeeealllly using bold lines. I loaded my lead holder with a heavy lead– was it 4B?– and created overly exaggerated dark lines.

The day of the critique, our instructor had invited in a guest critic to review our work. We pinned up our drawings in the critique space, and each took turns sharing our work and getting feedback. When it was my turn to present, I introduced myself and shared my strategy. Honestly I don’t remember exactly what the critic said, but he did remark that my section cut line was rather bold. Other than that, the review went fine, and I felt relieved. Sometimes reviews can be harsh, ending in tears due to harsh feedback combined with utter lack of sleep.

A classmate who presented a few after me had exquisite work, but very light lines. At this time, I was sitting in the audience with my other classmates, happy to have survived my part. The critic had to get up from his seat and move in closely to the wall to examine her drawing in greater detail, as the delicate linework was lost from a distance. I remember what he said to her:

Your drawing is lovely, but rather light. You need….” (at this point he looked around the room, and his eyes landed on me) “What was your name again?

Startled that the critic was speaking to me after my turn, I looked around to make sure he meant me. “Me? My name is Shana.”

(Looking back at the student presenting) “You need some Shanalines.”

And there you have it, folks. Shanalines are the bold, assertive lines, the ones that are a little too loud, but aren’t mistaken for anything else. They’re almost comical, but simultaneously strong and expressive. Love them or hate them, they’ve got personality.

And now, just for fun, here’s the original Shanalines drawing.

Pencil on arches 90 lb watercolor paper, 22” x 30”, 1998. I’ve saved it all these years for this very moment.

Process

I’m one of those people who holds on to scraps of paper and carries around full sketchbooks filled with photos, notes, and drawings. I have boxes full of completed books, many with bits of paper or post-it notes jammed in the sides, or dogeared tabs, or those tiny sticky highlighter flags marking something that at one point or another was super important. I’ll never get rid of them. What if I need to refer to this someday?

Honestly, though, I may never refer to many of these books again, but the act of making the marks sticks with me. For me, the act of making marks on a page and documenting my ideas and feelings is an intrinsic part of me. If I’m at a meeting of a group of people, I do a little sketch of where everyone is seated at the table, adding names and other identifying characteristics to my notes, such as what a person is wearing. I write single words of emotion on meeting agendas, I sketch in the margins ALL THE TIME.

Recently I had an opportunity to share some of my knitwear design in a Zoom call (ah, that Zoom life!), and I found myself immediately drawn to architectural models to talk about my design process. Models that seemingly have nothing to do with my knitwear designs, but act as physical symbols of my creative process.

Linear modular model (left) and planar modular model (right), circa 2003. Both are based an exploration into the structure of a cell under a microscope. I’m fairly certain it was a potato cell. Go figure.

I keep these elements of design to root myself in my own personal process of concept development and execution. Just like revisiting an old favorite book or vacation spot and indulging in memory, I hold these pieces (and others!) in my hands when I’m stumped on a project. While some of the details of creating these models are fuzzy, I remember the lightbulb moments and hope to create more.

I just realized a funny connection about my old sketches and models and this blog, in fact. I keep these sketches, journals, and analog memories because they are part of my history, whether I revisit them often or let them sit dormant. I’m writing this blog for me, and I have pretty low expectations for people following along and reading it– yet it’s still important for me to do. In a time when I feel extremely disconnected from people and the interactions I crave, I turn to this version of digitally journaling my very analog thoughts.

Creative Freedom

(Editor’s Note: Ha! That’s funny to think there’s an editor here! Really just a note from me, Shana, after I’ve written the whole post. Some of you know me in real life, and some of you just know me through the screen. I tend to tell long, seemingly random stories, but as one of my students once said, “trust her. She always brings it back around”. So yes, this is a long post. If you’re here just to see my new sweater, just scroll on down to the bottom.)

Given a multiple choice option, I think many of us would say we prefer to write our own story vs. follow a prescribed path… but do we all follow through?

I’ve mentioned here before that I spent some time in higher education teaching architecture design studios. I truly loved this work, and I think my skillset is tuned in to working with others to develop their own design personality. I’ve always felt pretty strongly about working with a design student to help cultivate their own personal strategy. It doesn’t — and in many cases, shouldn’t— align with my own preferred aesthetic. I viewed my role as coach and guide, helping the designer become the best version of themself. I vividly remember solidifying this idea in a group grading session with other design professors. We had all evaluated our students on the same rubric, and spent an afternoon sharing our students’ work with each other to make sure our metrics were fair across the board. A colleague showed off a project that he identified as one having strong execution. He showed the study models, the drawings, the concept diagrams… and then said “I know what you’re thinking, I don’t really like it, but the student did a great job executing their vision. It’s a top project.”

I really appreciated this statement out loud. It’s not for me, but it’s done well. It sets out to solve a problem and it follows through. I’m not sure I had ever said this out loud up to this point, but it resonated so clearly with me. That student created a cohesive body of work that answered the prompt, and whether or not I actually like it, I see the value in work well done. It’s like getting food from a nice restaurant. You can value the quality of the product but perhaps not enjoy the taste. You can recognize that it’s good, just not your taste.

This is a hard concept sometimes. I think we all struggle with wanting to like the “it” thing. We struggle with wanting to fit in, with wanting to be part of the “in crowd”. Especially in this age of not being able to see each other in person, we get wooed by photos on the tiny screens of our phones. We set reminders to make sure we don’t miss out on the new products. We want the same things as others… or do we really want them? I don’t even know anymore.

This has become a longer post than I originally intended…hope you’re still with me.

There’s a balance between fitting in and standing out. In my recent creative ventures, I’ve observed this happening a lot within the fiber arts community I consider myself to be a part of: the struggle between making the same thing others are making vs creating something that feels uniquely you.

With all of that in mind, here’s a recent finished object. I followed a pattern but I created the color sequence all on my own. The pattern itself is straightforward- it’s the Westknits Go to Raglan (Ravelry link) by Stephen West. I appreciate and admire his creativity and writing style. He suggests how to blend colors for different outcomes but encourages the maker to make it their own. Most of this sweater is marled (that is, 2 thinner strands of yarn held together to make a thicker weight / gauge) and I’m proud of the result. I ripped back a few times to get the right proportion of color and dimension of stripe. I reknit one entire sleeve and knit the bottom band twice in order to get just the right color. Here’s a link to my version on Ravelry, which lists the colors I used. I used partial skeins leftover from previous projects and some yarn I received as gifts.

My version of Westknits Go-To Raglan that ended up perfectly mine. Let me know if you have any questions about the sweater.

The final result is a bright, bold garment, and no one else will have the same one. I hope you can appreciate my color choices without necessarily wanting to wear them yourself. I think you can see the quality of execution without wanting to have an exact replica. Maybe it inspires you to make something of your own. Do a good job, and make it your own.

The Zone

Is anyone else having trouble focusing these days? I’m embarrassed to admit how many lists I’ve made in the past 6 months (longer, really) and the stacks of books, notes, and papers I keep moving from one area of my home to another. While this “organization strategy” isn’t new for me, it seems magnified in these unpredictable pandemic times. I cherish the times when I can access a space that I’ll refer to as “the zone”. I’m brought back to a semester in college when my studio instructor encouraged us to wholeheartedly embrace our work. I’m paraphrasing here, but I seem to remember it like this: Don’t think, just do. He encouraged us to become so immersed in our designs that we felt a compulsion to make and create without pausing to analyze. (Sidenote: I often think about whether or not that’s what he actually said, but I’ve managed to store the memory like this, so let’s roll with it. I’m sure I’ll talk about memories again soon. The amount of in progress / unpublished blog posts is also…. hefty, but unsurprising. Life of Shana.)

I think my classmates and I looked at each other when our instructor said this, and maybe even rolled our eyes. How is that even possible? we thought. Shouldn’t we be thinking and being intentional? What is he even talking about?

Months later, one of my many late nights in studio, I remember working on a study model or drawing (of what, I have no idea, but that’s not important to the story) and just creating version after version, trying to execute my concept to the best of my abilities, totally in it. Don’t think, just do. Yes, this is it! This is what he meant!! I looked around, wanting to share this euphoria, but realizing it was all inside me. It was my moment of connection, and to share it would feel inauthentic. (Remember, I like being authentic.) So I smiled, and probably turned up the volume on my music, and kept going, feeling proud and feeling like me.

I paused while writing to take a photo of one of the stacks sitting next to me right now. I know it’s easier to store digital notes, but at heart, I’m all analog, and I’ll continue to use pencil and paper FOREVER.

It’s hard to access this don’t think, just do feeling. It’s not about being self-centered, it’s not about ignoring others, but it’s being in the zone. For me, my hands move, whether it’s typing or drawing or knitting or creating something else, and I just feel compelled to make something that’s inside me. I wish I could access it on demand, but because I can’t, it’s even more special when it comes together. I’m not even sure I’ve explained it that well here, but I tried.

Don’t think, just do. Find your place. And if and when you do, smile your smile and know that you’ve got this, whatever the heck it is.

Authentic

I’ve been thinking about so much lately, getting stuck in my own head. I hear myself giving my son rules of things we should do, things we shouldn’t do… I see myself as an adult constantly working on fitting in with societal expectations– with following the rules. This is all good, mind you. For me, though, there’s a big component of my actions and behavior that I qualify as being authentic. It’s being true to myself. It’s caring less about what others think I *should* be doing, and instead doing what feels authentically me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to be argumentative about anything, or trying to break any rules. I’m just recognizing the value I place on authenticity of self. Of being the person to wear the outfit that feels good. Of being the person that speaks up with often unpopular opinions. Of being the person who questions things.

My dad bought me this stamp when I was… 5? 6? Not sure. Having a less common first name means you rarely find personalized things! Imagine my delight in having my own personalized stamp. It’s not wonder I’ve kept it through all these years. It has a whimsy to it, right? I’ve used it to sign greeting cards and label items, both personal and professional, because it feels authentically me.

I tend to encourage those around me to amplify their own personal qualities, to be the best versions of themselves. Throughout years of college design teaching, I encouraged my students to be the best versions of themselves in their design endeavors and beyond. I cringed when they presented their work saying “Shana told me to ____”. Do it because it feels like you! You can say “Shana and I discussed some ideas, and I decided to _____”. See the difference in those statements? The former is about doing what you *think* someone wants you to do, and the latter is about conferring and making your own choice.

Student project, 2011. One of my favorite parts about this is the placement of the horn and strobe just above the project.

This image is a part of a final project a student created in one of my design studios in 2011. I co-authored and co-taught an architecture design studio relating to sensory perception within design. I had encouraged this student to work on a drawing throughout the semester, living with it on the wall in his room. I remember cringing when he presented this: “Shana told me to put a paper on the wall and create a drawing all semester long.” Really? Did you just say that?? And then he quickly followed up with saying “And I wasn’t sure why, but I gave it a try, and here’s what I have.” Now, 9 years later, I’m struggling to remember what this collage was about (whoops) but I remember a change in my own emotions, a growing confidence in knowing that he took the advice to just create without expectation of the final outcome, without knowing what it should look like in the end. He used this as a living learning document, and added to his toolbox of design and problem-solving techniques.

Wow this isn’t at all where I thought this post would go, and that’s totally fine! Let’s get back to what I hoped to leave you with.

I resurrected a blog and I’m developing a website and newsletter that I hope truly reflect who I am. I don’t anticipate having glossy polished content or posts with systematic regularity. I do anticipate being authentically me: writing when I feel like writing, sharing a funny story or observation, or talking about my design process. I think this is ok, because it feels like me, and I’m alright.

Blogging + Shoes + Memories

More than a decade ago, I had a blog. It was a fun way to share thoughts with friends, a fun way to connect with those near and far. Several of my friends had blogs also, and we all subscribed to each other’s feeds. I remember the anticipation of seeing a new post from a friend, and truly enjoyed reading each post, however long or short. I found my old blog (and even shared it with a few others!) and smiled while reading through it, remembering where I was while writing the posts. It’s amazing to me to be able to read through something I previously wrote, or see a photo I took, and immediately transport to a different place and time. Memory is powerful. It is sometimes painful, sometimes joyous, but the power of memory means a lot to me (more on that in another post, at another time).

shoes + discarded waffle pretzels, 2009.

If you followed my old blog, or my old flickr account, you would see I took a lot of pictures of my feet. A LOT. I have a relatively vivid memory of taking this photo, having just walked out a store on a busy downtown street, and seeing this array of pretzels. I remember crafting the story of the pretzels: did the bag pop open and they all fell out? Was someone startled and knocked them over? Did 2 people get in an argument and 1 person threw pretzels at the other? So many possibilities, and the answer isn’t really necessary. What was necessary, though, was to take a photo of my feet, standing in that place, wondering about the pretzel story.

Shana’s shoes at construction sites, 2006 or 2007-2008.

My obsession with taking photos of my shoes in different places started quite by accident. I followed a project through construction and attended weekly job site meetings. (NOTE: I am pretty sure none of these footwear options are or were OSHA compliant. Hush.) I took the first photo here when fiddling with something on the camera, and then later in the day when I uploaded the photos to the project file, decided to leave it in rather than delete it. Maybe that’s like an ‘easter egg’ in a video game? (or maybe I’m trying too hard. HA!) Anyway, the following week at the same site, the floor had been tiled, and I thought it would be funny to take the same photo (second pic in the grid) BUT THIS TIME ON PURPOSE. A colleague of mine told me he could always tell which site photos were mine due to the gratuitous shoe photos. I decided to keep going. And going. And going. And you know what? Looking back at this series, or any of the other *cough* HUNDREDS of photos of my shoes, I can remember being there. Maybe not all the details, but something about the experience. And to me, that means a lot.

I like categories, lists, memories, and sorting. I like finding new relationships between things. Revisiting my old blog– “Vintage Shana”, if you will– is bringing a new energy to my creative space. Let’s see where this goes next.

Mixing Media

In addition to my knitting and design swatches, sketches, and written notes, I have an architectural drafting table with paper, pencils, and some extra fiber. I am slowly developing mixed media techniques to express myself.

Drafting table with gray and white opaque paper, various pencils, trace paper, a utility knife, and gray wool fiber.
Shana S. Cohen, 2019-2020. All rights reserved.

Eponymous

A ‘knit drawing’, if you will. I created this ‘architectural drawing’ out of yarn / knitting rather than graphite or in. I knit the ‘paper’ and built on top of it. The ‘paper’ size is similar to a sheet of Arches, my favorite for actual drawings. It’s a basic section of a house, filled with architectural lines, including a ‘highlighter’ line, all covered with a ‘veil’ of something else… something both trying to suppress and allowing some to escape. The lineweights are thick and thicker– the essence of true shanalines– with 2 sneaky thin ones.

Eponymous, 2019. Shana S. Cohen, all rights reserved.

So it’s me, sort of, as the architect slash knitter. The technical slash free form creative expressionist.

Enjoy, or just scratch your head. It’s all good.

Create with Me

I love asking for input on my knitwear designs. I recently gathered information on sizing for an upcoming design. I will update this page as the design continues to develop! If you are interested in a sneak peak, take a look at the video I created to explain sizing:

This is my first version of the design. It is an open ruana created with marled yarns. The title of this design is “Semantics”. Shana S. Cohen, 2020. All rights reserved.