Sunday, August 2, 2020

Checking in on calligraphy 1

Although one day seems very much like the next in these lockdown/quarantine times, I do have my daily calligraphy to keep me honest.  When I run out of inspiration I grab my book by the German calligrapher Denise Lach and try to find an illustration that looks interesting.  And then I shamelessly copy it, maybe several times, trying it on for comfort to see if I can make it mine instead of hers.  I'll show you three different examples in posts this week.

Here's what I copied from, what I would describe as whimsically drawn letters:

Denise Lach, Schrift Spiele

And here are several days worth of my alphabets.  I have found that 26 letters seem to fill one of my pages quite nicely.

Lach's calligraphy has a smaller range of colors than mine, but somehow looks snappier.  I'm lazily working just from the bottles of ink that happen to be living on my dining room table.  Yes, I could probably root around in the studio and come up with some paints in different colors, or maybe colored pencils, but that would require energy, a quality that I don't seem to have a whole lot of lately.

I kind of like these alphabets, but I'm not sure they're going anywhere.  Maybe I should be trying to contort my letters into more non-traditional shapes, or trying to find more colors.  Or maybe find just one color, as Lach did.

You can see all my daily calligraphy here.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Up against the wall!

PYRO Gallery is preparing for our first show since we closed abruptly in early March.  It seemed like the perfect opportunity to unveil my new postage stamp quilt, which is not only new and big but timely, because it's about coronavirus.  (I wrote about this quilt in April when I first started working on it.)

And so this afternoon my wonderful, tall and handy son helped me install it on the tallest wall in the gallery.

The lights haven't been adjusted yet so this isn't a very good photo, but you can see 169 little postage stamp bits socially distanced from one another.  (Some are more vigilant and compliant than others, just like actual humans.)

To make it hang properly, the columns needed to be weighted, and I wondered how to do that.  Then I found a whole bag full of rusty washers shaped like coronaviruses!

The show will run from August 6 through 29, at 1006 E. Washington St. in Louisville.  The gallery will be open from noon to 3 pm on Fridays and Saturdays, and the entire show will be up on the PYRO website for virtual visitors.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Masks for Australia

After I wrote in April about making masks for friends, family and supporters of PYRO Gallery, my sister-in-law in Australia asked whether I could make some for them.  I said of course, whipped out four beautiful masks, packed them up and took them to the post office.

I regularly send stuff to two foreign countries: Australia and Germany.  I've dabbled in other carriers but my go-to is the post office.  I love the post office; I love the stamps, and the ubiquity of the service, and the daily delivery; I love getting and sending real mail to and from real people.  I've read the history and learned how the post office, serving all the 13 colonies, was the major institution to hold the disparate settlements together before independence.  For many years I sent a postcard to my mother every day and found joy and comfort in the ritual of the mail.  I am appalled at the president's attempts to cripple or kill the post office.  So I'm a big fan.  Hold that thought as I tell you the rest of the story.

Time passed and I realized, weeks later, that I hadn't received a thank-you note for the masks.  I found the receipt somewhere in the pile of stuff on my desk, and checked the tracking number.  Here's what I learned:

May 1 -- mailed
May 2 -- arrived at Louisville Distribution Center
May 5 -- left Louisville Distribution Center
May 5 -- arrived at Chicago Network Distribution Center
May 5 -- arrived at Chicago International Distribution Center
May 6 -- arrived at Chicago International Distribution Center  (yes, I know it arrived the day before but now apparently again)
May 6 -- left Chicago International Distribution Center 
May 10 -- in transit to next facility
May 21 -- processed through Chicago International Distribution Center 
June 8 -- arrived Chicago (where I thought it had been for the last month...)
June 9 -- departed O’Hare

Now, I like Chicago as much as anybody, and I would personally be happy traipsing around the place for a month, returning periodically to my base of operations to change clothes and regroup, but I didn't think that mail did that sort of thing.  Guess I was wrong.  

After its month in Chicago, the package set off for the Southern Hemisphere.  By boat?  By carrier pigeon?  It arrived on June 20.  Must not have been by boat, because when we took a cargo ship across the Pacific it took 14 days from Los Angeles to New Zealand, and this was only 11 days.  So probably an airplane, albeit a mighty slow one.  And then it took another 11 days to get to my brother's house 100 miles west of Sydney.  No details on whether its week in Sydney was like its month in Chicago.

The tracker recorded that on July 1, "Addressee not available -- scheduled for another delivery attempt today."  Which apparently never occurred, nor did the carrier leave a note in the box.  After I checked the tracker again my brother went to their local post office and collected the masks on July 8.

When I looked at the USPS website just now, I found pages of alerts from dozens and dozens of countries warning of delays and suspensions in mail delivery.  Australia's, for instance, said "Customers should expect delivery delays."  No kidding.  If you're planning to send anything overseas you might want to send an e-card instead. 

During May and June I was feeling like a chump -- why had I even bothered to make and send masks to a country that had pretty much whipped coronavirus before my package got there.  But guess what, this month they're having a resurgence.  The state of Victoria, where my nephew attends university, is in heightened quarantine.  My nephew, deciding to come home for a while, managed to get on a plane hours before Victoria closed its borders.  And a few days ago a new outbreak in New South Wales, where my family lives, has everyone on alert.  So maybe the masks will come in handy after all.

Friday, July 24, 2020

NYTimes strikes again

I love the New York Times.  We've subscribed to home delivery for decades and I couldn't live without its news coverage.  Not to mention its art and music coverage and its editorial columnists and its wonderful photography and its puzzles.  So it really pains me when they drop the ball, over and over, to the extent that I have to make fun of them in this blog.

Such as this spring and summer, when the editors have been desperately reaching for ideas to help people occupy themselves during pandemic quarantine.  I loved to hate their series on Designer D.I.Y.  and so did a lot of you.  Earlier this week, when I snarked a recent NYT article on how to mend jeans with sashiko stitching, one of you commented: "The real mending is called boro."

Gail commented: "In my long experience mending jeans, it's NOT the patch that needs strengthening, it's the thinning jeans fabric around the hole.  I'm going to guess this guy "mends" his jeans not out of need, but rather to make fashiony statements.  As one whose family wore out (still does!) many pair of jeans doing real physical work, the fake wear and repairs just hits me all the wrong way.  Is this where I put in a Harumph! and Get off my lawn!?"

Our running feud with Designer D.I.Y. got passed along to Susan Lenz Dingman, an artist in South Carolina who is one of my online acquaintances from way back.  She wrote me to tell about her recent run-in with the Times' do-it-yourself obsession.  You should know that Susan has made a lot of "vessels" consisting of some cord and a bazillion machine stitches to sculpt and hold everything in place. She writes:

"Last week I received an email from a photo editor at The New York Times.  She found my fiber vessels on the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show's website featuring last year's accepted artists.  She thought they were woven and would make a great DIY "basket" project for the Sunday 'At Home' print edition.  This series of articles is apparently about using actual pages of the newspaper and ordinary things found around an average household.  Her message included links to past projects, including instructions for folding a spread of the newspaper into an envelope and another for coiling strips of the newspaper into decorative paper beads.

"I knew at once that there were problems.

"First, my fiber vessels aren't woven.  I don't weave, never have.  Second, the process is rather laborious.  Third, even though I have written a free online tutorial for making my fiber vessels, the instructions can't be simplified into a neat, four or five step process.  Yet... this was an email from THE NEW YORK TIMES.  I was personally floored that anyone from such a prestigious publication would have found me.  I didn't want to write back with a simple NO.

"Immediately my husband Steve went to our local grocery store and came back with two copies of last Wednesday's edition.  Within twenty-four hours, I managed to create a fiber vessel.  I blogged about it HERE.  My response to the photo editor's message included images and a nicely phrased suggestion that my work is available should the newspaper ever want to feature work by artists who have incorporated their newspaper.  She was impressed but asked if I couldn't figure out a simple woven basket using strips of the newspaper. Politely, I declined, citing my inability in weaving as an excuse.  Yet, in the back of my mind I thought to myself, 'Susan, so you really want to have your name in The New York Times for a silly, simple DIY project that looks like an elementary school craft project?'  My answer to myself was another NO.

Susan Lenz Dingman, "Black & White and Read All Over: The New York Times"
"I am writing today mostly to say THANK YOU!  Your blog posts confirmed my suspicious regarding this odd opportunity.  I'm glad I didn't attempt to figure out something appropriate!"

Meanwhile, at today's breakfast table my husband pointed out a NYT feature for kids, in which they're supposed to get points for doing various virtual activities with their best friend, such as writing a letter, reading a book together or watching the same movie together/apart.  They're supposed to check off when they do an activity, and keep a running total in the corner.

Let's hope there's a white gel pen at hand to do that checking.

Monday, July 20, 2020

More DIY from the Times

I was kind of disappointed to see, a couple of weeks ago, that the NYTimes had discontinued its weekly Designer D.I.Y. series of articles on pathetic fashion craft projects.  It was so much fun to make fun of them!  But somebody must have picked up on my unhappiness, because here's a new pathetic advice feature in yesterday's Times.  This one's in the Sunday Magazine instead of in the styles section, so some other editor is responsible.

The Magazine has been in the habit for a long time of providing a very short "Tip" every week.  Usually the Tips are for how to do things that nobody actually wants or has occasion to do -- for instance, how to survive a tsunami, how to dig up a grave, how to grow hemp, how to herd reindeer, how to toss a pizza, how to wheat-paste posters, how to catch a swarm of bees.  But this week it's right up our alley -- how to mend a pair of jeans.

illustration by Radio for NYTimes Sunday Magazine

Most of this little article is a paean to a guy who grew up in Japan, "a descendant of many generations of experts in a kind of decorative needlework called sashiko" and is now doing it for a living in Pennsylvania. How sashiko is so beautiful, how many patterns there are, how this guy has found meaning in his family heritage in sashiko and "has spent hundreds of hours covering jeans he owns in stitches patterns to make them stronger."

Then there's your actual how-to tip.  There's a supply list: sashiko thread, a thimble and "a two-inch-long needle with a small eye."  There's a direction: cut a denim patch bigger than the hole.  Now "stitch all over the patch first to make the fabric stronger."  Digression on how to transfer sashiko patterns to the fabric (washable pen or carbon tracing paper).

Finally, "place your patch on the inside of your jeans and sew the two together."  Do not do this on a T-shirt.  (No danger, since you told us in the headline that we're mending jeans.)

That's it.

Hmmm.  As one who has mended dozens if not hundreds of pairs of jeans and other pants, I take issue with this process instruction.  First off, if I were going to mend a pair of jeans I would not bother doing sashiko all over the patch first.  After it's on the pants, maybe.

Second, I would not obsess over precise transfer and execution of a sashiko pattern to my patch, unless I were a guy who wants to make a living off his ancestral craft and enroll you in a workshop to learn same

Third, if I had put beautiful sashiko stitching onto a patch I would for sure sew it to the front of my jeans, not the inside where people would only see the little bit of it visible through the hole.

Fourth, if I didn't know how to mend jeans (otherwise why would I be reading an article entitled "How to Mend A Pair of Jeans") I would probably feel cheated when the directions told me "sew the two together" and left the hard part to me to figure out.

The takeaway: again, the New York Times proves that it loves the concept of people doing craft at home, but hasn't a clue as to how to guide them toward actually doing it.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Fiber art on the obit page

Today's New York Times had a two-fer: fiber art prominently displayed in both the obituaries on the first page of that section.  You rarely see even one, so this was good.

Obituary 1: Molly Parker, 81, master basket maker from the Passamaquoddy Tribe in Maine.  She learned her ancestral craft from her mother, and as a young woman made work baskets for fishing and potato farming.  Later her "fancy baskets," like the strawberry below, became collector's items.  Go to the obit and make sure to see the video of her at work, with close-ups of the elaborate techniques that make the baskets fancy.

photo from New York Times

Obituary 2: David Kaiser, a great-great grandson of John D. Rockefeller.  What he did was intriguing (fought to make Exxon, the descendent corporation of the Rockefeller oil monopoly, more accountable on climate change) but what caught my eye was the photo of the antique quilt in his office.  I think it's hung in a plexiglas box.  Loved the colors; would be happy to put it in my own office if none of his heirs want it now.

photo from New York Times