Thursday, October 18, 2018

Getting ready for the show

I've told you that I'm getting ready for my solo show at PYRO Gallery, opening a week from today.  The topic is my daily art, which I've been doing since 2001.  So unlike many artists, who as their show approaches are chained to the studio, wildly sewing or painting or whatever to make new work, I don't have to make anything new.  But I do have to figure out how to display all the stuff I have made over almost two decades.

Yesterday my wonderful friend Vickie came over to help me get set.  Our first task was to cover foamcore boards with felt to make a background for collages that will be pinned up.  I've written before about my frustration in ordering foamcore boards that arrived with all the corners crushed in, but fortunately the felt concealed much of the crush, and we decided it was good enough for government work. 

We had to decide which collages would go on the board -- I had spent a lot of time narrowing the choices down, but when it came to the last decisions, I outsourced to Vickie and my husband.  They chose which five to lose, or sorted poems into yes and no piles.   Ordinarily I'm a control freak but as this show reaches its completion I guess I'm tired, and happy to relinquish ownership of the final cut.

Then we arranged and rearranged the cards on the boards, both by subject matter and by color.  Finally ended up with four boards occupying every horizontal surface in the living room.

After lunch we moved on to photos.  I had made prints of 80 of my favorite daily photos, but only ordered 50 mat sets.  I will have room to display only about 25 photos, but thought I would get about 40 matted and put the rest in a flat bin for immediate purchase.

I was disappointed to find that some of the photos, bright enough when seen on a computer, looked drab as prints.  But no harm done -- the prints cost only 39 cents each.  We put a bunch in a pile for Photoshopping and reprinting sometime in the future. 

We had to hinge the cut side of the mat to the back board, and then tape the prints inside.  Since I had foresightedly bought two rolls of archival framer's tape, we could each work separately and crank out a big pile of beautifully matted prints.

I realized that I hadn't bought enough of the tiny T-pins to get all the collages pinned to the boards, so I let Vickie go home.  I'll have to finish that part of the task on my own -- certainly before the next baby visit to our living room.

I know I could have done these things by myself if I had to, but it was such a joy and relief to have a helper, if only to be able to talk through the decisions that were already 90 percent made, and to give somebody else a chance to say "OMG don't put THAT collage up on the wall!"  I've always believed that everybody needs an editor, and Vickie was my safety net.  As well as my dear friend, especially after today.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Piecing fine lines -- a nifty technique

I had the pleasure of leading a workshop over the weekend for Loose Threads, a small group of fiber artists from the Evansville IN area.  We worked in several varieties of fine line piecing, and it was great to have an enthusiastic bunch of sewists who were happy to keep cutting and piecing when others might have been ready to call it a night and go to bed.

Every time I teach a workshop I learn something -- maybe a new technique that a student shows me, maybe a new way to explain or organize my own presentation.  What I learned this time around was to make good use of what we came to call "test strips."

When people make slash-and-restitch compositions, it's essential to contemplate what's going to happen before you actually make the slash, because there's no going back if you change your mind.   I confess that when I was doing a lot of these quilts, I would usually just lay down a long ruler over the quilt, stretched flat on my worktable, and if I could find a straight course across the quilt without running into obstacles such as a preexisting seam intersection, I would go ahead and cut.

Do as I say, not as I do.  I recommend that my students put their work up on the design wall, as their designs get more complicated, and audition different pieced lines before they cut.  Here's an example of how most of them would proceed: use a strip that you've already cut for a fine line, and slap it up on the design wall.

The problem with this approach, of course, is that the strips auditioning on the wall are three or four times as wide as the finished pieced-in line is going to be.  So they don't give an accurate idea of how the quilt will look.

A better idea, we realized, is to cut "test strips" that are the width of the finished line -- about one-eighth of an inch, rather than one-half inch as in the quilt above.

With accurate test strips, you can try different cuts, stand back and get a much better picture of what you have in mind.  Here are three possibilities we auditioned for one student.  In a very close view, you might see the pins or fingers holding up the test strips, but otherwise it would be hard to differentiate the real lines, already pieced, from the hypothetical ones.

We had such good results with the test strips that I'm going to incorporate that method into every fine-line-piecing workshop I ever teach again.  If you work with fine lines, I highly recommend this approach!

The best thing about it: you have to invest less than one inch of fabric into enough test lines to audition many, many cuts.

Friday, October 12, 2018

It's fiber, but is it art?

Last month we took a cruise on the Zuiderdam, the same ship we had been on earlier in the year.  Apparently all the cabin stewards on this ship have to take the same professional development class, because on both cruises, when you returned from your dinner or entertainment at night, you found a critter on the turned-down bed:

This was my favorite:

I could have attended a demo/class on towel folding one day on the ship, but I decided to concentrate on the fiber arts I already know rather than learning a new practice area.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Cyanotype on parade

I was in Memphis last week and visited Crosstown Concourse, an exciting new residential/commercial/community development built inside an old Sears distribution center.  And was pleasantly surprised to find fiber art on display in one of the gallery spaces.  John Pearson, an artist who has apparently taken pains to make sure we can find out nothing about him on the internet except that he went to school at Cal Arts and the Art Institute of Chicago, showed a dozen cyanotype prints on fabric.

They're big -- the largest one is more than eleven feet tall and seven feet wide.  Most of them were seamed vertically down the center before being set out in the sunshine with stones or palm fronds laid on top to make a resist against the sunlight. 

The cyanotype process requires the fabric or paper to be soaked in a cyanide-derivative solution, dried, and then exposed to light.  Where the light strikes, it develops as deep blue pigment; everywhere that was masked out is left the original color.  The one piece that Pearson made onto red and white striped fabric was the most striking of the show.

The others were made onto plain white, yielding more subdued compositions.

 (detail below)

I found the pieces beautiful and intriguing, but I thought they suffered from the same existential dilemma that faces many of us who do surface design.  You make a beautiful piece of fabric, but then what?  On the one hand, you don't want to cut it up into little bits for piecing or collage, because you will lose the gorgeous sweep of color and design that makes the big piece beautiful.  But on the other hand, if you just pin it up on the wall, or turn it into a whole-cloth quilt or hanging, is it art yet?  Or does it need something else, and if so, what?

I thought these would benefit from something else, not that I have any brilliant ideas about what that something might be.

One last thing that I loved -- these works are described as "soft photographs."  I've never seen this locution before but it's certainly appropriate!

The show continues through November 25 at Crosstown Arts East Gallery, 1350 Concourse Avenue in Memphis.  If you go, make sure to take some extra time to poke around and appreciate the huge complex of buildings.

Monday, October 8, 2018

World-class artist photography

How many times have you heard impassioned and stern warnings about the quality of your photography being so important in getting into juried shows, and for the artist's life in general -- you'll never get anywhere if you have any visible background or tree limbs or clotheslines or god forbid grasping fingers in the photo.

So I got a laugh when the New York Times design section, that arbiter of all things stylish, ran this photo last week:

Jonas Wood, Los Angeles artist, with "Yellow and Orange Orchid Clipping" rug

Nifty rug, don't you think?  It's hand-knotted in Nepal of wool and silk.  A silk rug nine to ten feet long by this artist sells for about $30,000; this one looks a bit smaller, so certainly affordable for your front hall.  Read the story here, about how artist rugs are seen as art, not rugs.  Very heartening!