Monday, January 30, 2017

Fantastic Fibers coming up

The entry deadline for Fantastic Fibers, the annual juried show at the Yeiser Art Center in Paducah KY, comes at the end of this week and if you're on the usual-suspect email lists you may be getting reminder messages.  I'm here to tell you why I'm not going to do an entry.

First off, what's good about FF.  Although Paducah is way off the beaten path of the art world, and the Yeiser is a small museum, the show runs during the huge AQS exhibit so lots of the 30,000 quilters making the Paducah pilgrimage will see your work.  And the awards are decent: $1,000, $500 and $250, and there's going to be a printed catalog.  There are no size limits, especially appealing if you love to work big as I do.

In recent years FF has succeeded in attracting excellent work from around the world; I particularly remember a fabulous piece by Eszter Bornemisza, the great fiber artist from Hungary, in the 2012 show. (Read more about it here.)

Eszter Bornemisza, Primitive Findings (detail below) -- in Fantastic Fibers 2012

So why am I not going to enter this year?  Money.

The entry fee is $25 per piece!  You can enter up to five pieces ($125), but even if you don't have that many wonderful creations lying around, we're talking way too much $$$$ for me.  On general principles, I am hostile toward shows that seem to regard the entry process as a revenue opportunity rather than a way to simply cover costs.

Since I never delete old emails I can report that the FF fee was $12 per entry in 2014, $15 per entry in 2015 and 2016 (25% increase), and now is up to $25 (66% increase).  That's pretty steep -- both the fee and the rate of increase -- for a small museum in an out-of-the-way town.  I think it's overreaching.

So I'm opting out, thank you.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

My favorite things 5

I am privileged to count as a friend Elmer Lucille Allen, who is quite a local celebrity, and not just in the art world.  She was the first African-American chemist to work for Brown-Forman, a huge liquor company, back when those "first" distinctions were hard to come by.  She loved art since childhood and became an accomplished ceramicist, getting her MA after she retired.  Wanting a more attractive way to display her teapots, boxes and other vessels, she perked up her ears when somebody suggested she drape fabric over the shelves -- and proceeded to learn and master shibori dyeing. I met her at our local fiber and textile art group.

Several years ago she had a show of her textiles and ceramics together.  I missed the opening and by the time I got to the show, all the beautiful pots had red dots on them, so the next time I saw her I whined that I wasn't able to buy anything.  She said she had boxes and boxes of ceramics all packed up for some reason, and she would be happy to bring them over to show me.

So we unwrapped all the things in my living room and these two cubes called out to me -- heck, why wouldn't they, since they have my initials on them!  (I know, most of the Ls are backward, but they're still Ls to me.)

The cubes have patterns on all six sides but are glazed, in a beautiful pale celadon, only on the top five sides.  My only regret: Elmer Lucille didn't sign them.

Friday, January 27, 2017

All the news that's unfit to print 2

In my continuing war against stupid, worthless, ridiculous factoids in the newspaper, this latest piece of evidence:

Do we really believe that 20% of the American public thinks that meeting new people is "harder than selling snow to a snowman"?  Maybe, if the question was phrased something like this:

I think meeting new people is harder than:  

A.  herding cats

B.  pulling teeth

C.  selling snow to a snowman

D.   pissing up a rope

E.   putting toothpaste back in the tube

You'd probably get about 20% response for each of the options.

I might mention that the sponsor of this "survey" is an app that lets you "get to know new people without the awkwardness of one-on-one meetups."  Well, at least that ought to cut down on date rape.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Famous in my little pond

Sometimes you can go for years without anybody noticing how great you are, and then sometimes the gods of fame smile on you.  Last week within a couple of days I got to be interviewed on the local arts radio program and then was featured in the daily arts blog, both sponsored by Louisville Visual Art.

I refuse to listen to myself on tape so I can't swear to the quality of this recording, but I do recall the conversation as being relaxed, serious and interesting.  You can listen here.  Do not be put off because the caption calls me "athleen."  At least they didn't call me "athy."

And here's the blog post, which includes great photos of some of my flag quilts.  This one got my name right and had a nice write-up of my work.

All in all, a lovely ego trip.  

Monday, January 23, 2017

Vickie makes a little book

When I wrote last fall about making a book of "newspaper poetry" and invited readers to copy the idea, Vickie Wheatley left a comment that she was going to make one herself.  Yesterday I was so happy to see her finished book, and it's wonderful!  She gave me permission to share it with you.

I had used early/late as the theme for my little book; Vickie used up/down, and found lots of raw material.  Since both "up" and "down" are parts of so many idioms, she had a lot more variety than I found with my theme.  Here are a few of her pages:

Just as I found when making my book, Vickie discovered that some of her pages strongly resembled poetry.  Best of all, her husband, who writes music, used some of the "poetry" as a basis for a new song!

Well, done, Vickie!  And thanks for sharing your work with us.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

My favorite things 4

My paternal grandmother played the harmonica, but she called it a "mouth organ."  As a kid I was terribly impressed that you could get tunes out of a tiny box (somehow I wasn't quite in awe of getting tunes out of the large box piano).  I'm sure she never had a music lesson in her life and I don't know where she learned to play the harmonica.  I don't think she had a very large repertoire; the only tune I recall her playing was "Home, Sweet Home."

But the harmonica was a part of our bedtime ritual (we lived with her until I was five), along with several songs in German.  The one best remembered is "Müde bin ich, geh zur Ruh," a traditional child's bedtime prayer ("I'm tired and going to rest...).  The way we pronounced it, the name of the song was "meedee beenee."

Although everybody in my grandmother's generation (all born in the US) was bilingual, they spoke German in the home and in the church.  But they largely abandoned it during World War I.  It was my father's first language, but he switched to English at age five when we entered the war and never was very fluent despite a lot of time spent in Germany in later life, as a soldier, teacher and tourist.

By the time I came along, German was used for bedtime songs, for talking about things that children shouldn't hear, and for the occasional curse.  When I got to college and took German I once asked my grandmother why she hadn't taught me German in infancy; it would have been so simple.  She said it never dawned on her that an American child should speak anything but English.

Her harmonica was made in Germany by the Hohner Company and was the "Unsere Lieblinge" model -- "Our Sweetheart."  The writing is faint, worn down by years of use.  I found several on eBay advertised as 80-90 years old but I'm sure this one is a lot older.  If you still have the original box you can get $75 or maybe even $95, but I'm not going to sell mine.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Think about this...

Lyndon Johnson once said, "If you can convince the lowest white man he's better than the best colored man, he won't notice you're picking his pocket.  Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he'll empty his pockets for you."

-- referenced in "White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America" by Nancy Isenberg (a great read, although long and a bit scholarly) 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

An art experiment

My art book club (in which we don't actually read books) had an assignment this week to bring in a report on an artist that nobody else had ever heard of.  I have been consumed with activities surrounding my gallery show and left it till the last minute to prepare, so I had to go with an artist that I own a whole book about, H. N. Werkman.

Werkman was from the Netherlands, born in 1882 and died in 1945, executed by the Nazis just two days before Canadian troops liberated his town of Groningen.  He owned a printing business and used type to print artwork that looked quite avant garde and sometimes painterly, but it wasn't produced that way.  Here are two of his pieces:

I love his work and after I re-read the book I decided to try my hand at some Werkman-style art.  I found two capital Ls, two capital Os, a hyphen and an exclamation point in my type case and set to playing.  I inked the type with a foam brush and printed each character individually onto the paper, unlike Werkman's typical process of setting up his type face up on a flatbed press.  So my characters weren't as neatly lined up as his.  Also my hand-inking left blobs of paint around the edges of some of the characters.  But after the paint dried I decided both these irregularities added something to the effect.  Werkman often used the bottom of his type to produce plain rectangles rather than letterforms.  I did a little bit of that too in my experiments and liked it.

I think I'll try more of this technique in the future.  I might even decide that this qualifies as "text" and thus can count as my daily art.

Monday, January 16, 2017

What is this stuff?

Cleaning out my studio I'm finding a lot of mystery stuff.  A lot of it I realize that I don't want or need, and put it in the grab bag bag.  At least I know what it is.  But I am totally in the dark about this big bag.

Think dozens and dozens of absorbent sheets, kind of like disposable diapers, maybe a half-inch thick, of a shape and size that must be suited for something but I can't imagine it.  Somebody must have given them to me thinking that they would be useful for some phase of fiber art, and I must have agreed, but ??????

Does anybody out there know what these things are?  How would one use them in fiber art?  How would one use them in non-fiber art?  If I wanted to give them away, who would use them?

All suggestions gratefully accepted.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

My favorite things 3

Starting in the late 1950s my father went to Canada frequently on business, and he liked to bring home souvenirs.  Not tacky refrigerator magnets, but Inuit soapstone sculptures, an art form that he discovered early on.

At the time I thought this was a traditional folk art, but have learned more recently that the first peoples hardly ever carved in stone until 1949.  At that time the Canadian government decided to encourage the production of artwork among natives who no longer followed the old subsistence lifestyle.  While they had traditionally carved ivory, bone and antlers, now they were steered toward soapstone, which was found in the Arctic.  (Interestingly, some of the Inuit artists are importing their soapstone from Brazil.)

Dad bought sculptures of varying sizes, the largest being about the size of a shoebox, but mostly little things that would happily sit in your palm. Three of the pieces that I was given at the time or subsequently inherited are faces or masks, but most are animals of one sort or another.

Carvings done before 1990 are now called "vintage," so I guess my little trove might even be valuable if I ever needed to part with it.  Meanwhile, they live on a little glass shelf within reach of my place at the dining room table.  Isaac likes to rearrange and play with them and I like to think of them keeping me company while I sit and eat or read.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

All my flags flying

Here are the "installation views" of my flags on display at Pyro Gallery through February 18.

We'll be having a gallery talk at 12:30 on Saturday, January 14.  If you're in the vicinity, drop in and visit!

Memorial Day 
at left, More Equal Than Others; at right, Fading


Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Amy's quilt

I wrote yesterday about Amy Pabst, who has been corresponding with me for some time about her fine-line quilt in progress.  Shortly before Christmas she wrote to say she had made a bunch of modules, and to ask for advice about how to join them.  I gave her a couple of hints, and decided that it might be a good idea to write a more extensive tutorial to share with everybody.

I mainly thought this might be a help to Amy, but I moved too slowly.  Once this woman decides to sew, stand back!

Here's what her design wall looked like on December 3:

On December 16:

And here's her quilt top, finished on December 22:

Although it's not apparent in the full view, all of her white fabrics are striped (some are white-on-white).  The full quilt measures 63 x 70 inches.

I think this is a beautiful quilt!  It reminds me of a couple of my own quilts, which isn't surprising because Amy used them as models.  And I think I own and have used several of the same red stripe fabrics.

After she finished, Amy wrote:  "I was very surprised at how well everything fit together. I had to do a little fiddling, adding and trimming here and there, but for the most part everything ended up a good fit by what seemed like pure chance.....  I love working with small pieces, but normally I paper piece and plan and calculate everything to exact measurements. The free style construction of this quilt was brand new to me and very refreshing after all the rigid perfection of paper piecing."

Amy, I'm so glad that you made this quilt, and that you like the improvisational approach. Yes, it is a very different way to work, with very little advance planning and certainly no exact measurements, and yes, it is refreshing!  Thanks so much for sharing your photos, and I hope we'll get another look when it's all quilted.

Monday, January 9, 2017

New Year's resolutions

OK, if I haven't convinced you to take up daily art for 2017, or make a huge striped quilt with fine-line piecing, what ARE you going to do to perk up your artistic life in the new year?

Here's another suggestion -- learn Photoshop, or if you already allegedly know it, relearn what you once knew and have forgotten because you haven't used it in way too long a time.  (If your copy is Photoshop Elements 9, I'm talking to you!)

Time for my periodic unpaid testimonial to the Pixeladies, Kris Sazaki and Deb Cashatt, who taught me everything I know about Photoshop and thus enabled me to do all kinds of things that have come in handy, such as this banner for the Pyro Gallery website which I whipped out two weeks ago (yes, that's my flag quilt on the right).

I've written a lot about my experiences in their two online classes -- click here for my posts.

Kris and Deb are starting a new cycle of classes later this month and I guarantee you'll not only learn plenty but have fun.  And they're not very expensive either.  I've dabbled in various online learning approaches, ranging from college credit on down, and by far this is the best-organized and best-supported platform I've ever seen.

As I've said before, these women are not my sisters-in-law and they're not paying me a kickback for referring students.  I'm just a very satisfied customer who thinks you might become another one.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

My favorite things 2

My parents each had one brother, but my dad's brother drowned at age 19 and my mom's brother for some reason became semi-estranged from the family and moved to California, which might as well have been on the other side of the earth.  The concept of "uncle" was exotic to me -- yes, there was Uncle Irv, whom I met in person once for an evening when I was 7 or 8, but he wasn't really a part of my life.


Uncle Irv did send presents once in a while, and one of them, a wooden Japanese doll, is still in my office, standing in the window to keep watch.  I suspect it was made in Japan after the war.  It's well made; the head turns a bit on the neck but in 60 years has never gotten wobbly or fallen off.  The brushwork of facial features and floral motifs is delicate and beautiful.  I don't know what it says on the bottom; perhaps the artist's signature?

Why have I kept it so close all these years?  I think it has less to do with my desire for family connection (my sibs and I kind of liked being an isolated nuclear family: no tiresome big family gatherings, no cousins for rivals, much more adult attention for us) than with a taste for sophistication.  Living in small white-bread Michigan towns didn't offer much diversity or excitement, but Japan ---         Japan was even more cosmopolitan, foreign, faraway, thrilling than Berkeley!   What kind of a wide world was out there, anyway?

As time went by I got to see a whole lot of that wide world, including Japan, where I'd wanted to visit since childhood.  Did Uncle Irv's Christmas present kindle that desire?

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Installing the show

Today is the opening of our show at Pyro Gallery, so Tuesday and yesterday were installation days.  How hard could it be to put up four quilts?  Heck, I've hung shows with 40 quilts in a single day and been out of there well before cocktail hour.  But I hadn't anticipated how much harder it is to hang REALLY BIG work -- or more accurately, REALLY TALL work.  It doesn't really matter how wide something is, but things get difficult fast when you have to get farther up on a ladder.

Fortunately I invited my very tall son to help, and there's a very tall ladder plus a regular ladder plus a stepstool in the back closet.  The stepstool came in handy because I am forbidden to climb ladders until my broken toe heals (also forbidden to drive my manual transmission car, lest pressure on the clutch knock the bone out of alignment).

One of the four quilts is 97 inches tall, one is 86, one is 82, and one is a short and squatty 59 inches tall, which still required me to go up on a stool to hold up one side while Steve secured the other.  So how does a person forbidden to use a ladder help the other guy?  I stood on the stepstool, nice and flat on my bad foot, then climbed onto my good foot one more step up the ladder.  Steve did lots of moving the ladders while I stood in place holding things.

The task was made easier by the fact that I decided not to hang two of the quilts in the conventional way from a sleeve and stick.  Instead, we simply nailed them to the wall.  Since the quilts are quite distressed to begin with, with spots and holes and mended places and raw-edge seams, I figured nail holes wouldn't make any difference, and it's sure easy to get those suckers up on the wall fast.  And if the side bulges a little or the bottom edge ripples out, just hold it down with another nail.  You've never seen a quilt hang so perfectly flat against the wall!

Things worked out pretty well until the last and tallest piece, which had to be suspended from the ceiling molding.  This one had a sleeve, and a brass rod extending about an inch out on either side.

The quilt had to hang above a credenza, which didn't seem sturdy enough to stand on, and probably wouldn't have been tall enough anyway.  The credenza was immovable, so we could only get the ladder so far in from either side.  Steve had to climb way up, then lean in perilously to get clamps positioned on top of the molding.  We hung loops of fishing line from the clamps, then slipped the brass rod into the loops.

As we were proceeding toward the actual placement of the quilt we realized -- how would I hold up the free end of the brass rod while Steve moved the ladder around and climbed up on the other side?  We rooted around in that back closet and came up with a paint scraper on a 6-foot pole, with a hole in the handle so it could be hung on a hook. The free end of the brass rod fit neatly into the hole, the handle was rubberlike so the rod didn't slip, and voila, I could hold the rod up at ceiling level while Steve went up and down and around and did all the hard work.

The flags all look wonderful, three of them displayed for the first time and on walls big enough to hold them properly!

The show opens today, with the gallery (909 E. Market St. in Louisville) open at noon and the reception from 6-9.  If you miss that, tomorrow is the First Friday gallery hop and we'll do it all over again!  And if you miss THAT, we're doing an artists gallery talk on Saturday the 14th at 12:30.  I hope to see you at one or more of these events.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Joining modules

About a year ago Amy Pabst, one of my blog readers, wrote to say she was inspired by my striped fine line quilts and wanted to make one.  She said, "I am a fairly traditional quilter who tends to follow patterns rigidly and I find your improv-looking blocks and grout to be somewhat of a challenge when I try to think how I would make it myself.  Any info at all would help!"

We've been corresponding back and forth and recently she sent me photos of her design wall full of little striped modules.  She wrote: "I have quite a few modules now, and they all have square edges but very few are the same size. Do you have any tips on how to get them to all fit together?  I'm a little worried about this part."

Yes, this is the hard part!!  Making modules, whether in my fine line technique or in any other piecing approach, is easy, but getting everything to fit is tricky.  I thought maybe a fast tutorial would be helpful not just to Amy but to others.

The first step is to pick low-hanging fruit, if you want.  Assuming you don't have a specific way you want your modules to go together, spread them all out and see whether you have any two edges that are the same size.  If so, sew them together.

If not, or if you want to join two particular modules that are not the same size, here's how.

These two are almost the same size.  You could simply sew them together and chop off a half-inch from the right-hand module to make a straight bottom edge.  But a half-inch strip isn't big enough to be re-used, and if you're a frugal (cheap) sewist like me, you hate the thought of throwing away any of your precious pieced work.

So  let's make them both the same size by addition, not subtraction.  Sew a relatively narrow strip onto the larger module.

Now add an extremely wide strip onto the other module.  Sew the two modules together and trim straight across.  This leaves you with a wide enough leftover bit to incorporate into another module, and you don't have to waste any fabric at all!

To  use this approach with strip set "fabrics", such as those I'm using, you should not cut your entire batch of fabric into narrow strips to begin with.  Sure, cut some narrow strips to sew together into modules, but leave some wider chunks to use for filling out modules.

Eventually, of course, the modules are going to keep getting bigger and bigger, because every time you join two modules you'll add strips.  You'll then have to make your strip sets wider so you can get long enough bits to sew to your larger modules.  And your ever-increasing chunks of sewed-together fabric are going to grow quickly toward the end.

But that's OK -- the whole point of this construction method is to start with small bits and make them bigger and bigger until you get a whole quilt out of the deal.

I hope this inspires some of you readers to go spend some time at the sewing machine and be alone with yourself and some nice music -- excellent therapy to recover from the hectic holidays.

Next week: update from Amy.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Daily text for 2017

I wrote last week that I didn't yet know what to do for my daily art project in 2017.  At practically the last minute, I decided to do a composition with text.

I've been noticing for the last four years that text keeps creeping into my artwork, even when I try to express myself visually rather than verbally.  During my first year of daily collage so much text sneaked in that for the second and third years I made that part of the rules.  And even when I switched to drawing last year, text sneaked in there, too.

Two other elements entered into the decision.  One was totally serious.  Several weeks ago when I posted about my "found poems", Sharon Robinson left a comment that I might be interested in her friend's found poems.  I clicked on the link and fell in love with the work of Judy Kleinberg, who posts a found poem almost every day.  I have spent a long time contemplating her poems and wondering how she does it (well, it's obvious how she does it technically, but I am in awe of how she makes actual serious poetry with her torn bits of text).

© j.i. kleinberg

The other element was totally trivial.

A long time ago I bought a one-pound package of "scrap cardstock" in a variety of colors, cut to 4x6", the size I was using for daily collage.  When I ran out I went back to the store where I thought I had bought it, only to find nothing of the sort, and the clerk swore they had never carried anything like that.  So I had to finish out the year with plain white index cards.  Three weeks ago I was in another store and found my scrap cardstock!  Always one to overreact, I bought five packages, brought them home, and wondered what I would ever do to use them up.

five pounds of scrap cardstock

When the idea to do daily text struck, I knew exactly what I would paste it onto.  Clearly the universe was ahead of me in enabling a project that I hadn't even thought up yet.

So  here are my first two daily texts.  I'm not giving myself too many rules about this project, so I'm not sure what I'm going to come up with.  I suspect a lot of them will be found poems, but maybe I'll come up with other models as the year goes on.  As in previous years, I'll be posting all my daily art on my daily art blog.  Please check them out!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

My Favorite Things 1

Happy New Year!

Faithful readers who are as obsessive as I (probably not many of you out there) might be expecting a photo suite today.  From 2012 to 2015 I posted a photo suite -- a collection of several related pictures -- every Sunday, and then last year cut back to the first Sunday of the month.  I do love the idea of grouping related photos, because so often they say more than one could say on its own.  But I think it's time for a vacation.

So this year, every Sunday will showcase one of My Favorite Things.  I do love my things.  I refuse to read books about tidying up or downsizing or parting with your possessions.  That may have to come later, but it doesn't have to come now.  My precious things provide inspiration (and sometimes raw material) for my art and repositories for my memories.  This year I plan to revisit 53 of them and share their stories.

Today is the eighth day of Christmas so I'm focusing on 8 maids a' milking, one of a set of ceramic Christmas cups that were given to me probably 25 years ago by Dennis Watkins, the best printer in the world, with whom I worked to produce hundreds of publications in my previous career.

Dennis and I always joked that he was the perfect printer and I was the perfect client.  We never wasted time with competitive bidding or price negotiations; he charged me a fair price and I paid promptly.  When I needed a publication in a hurry, it went to the head of the line and Dennis might work all night to move things along; in return, I never said "hurry" unless I really meant it.

The cups were made by Louisville Stoneware, a local institution that has been in business for 201 years.  Its folksy designs and blue-on-gray color palette are a fixture in Kentucky homes; even if you aren't into primitive art you make room for this stuff when somebody gives it to you.  

We try to bring out the cups right after Thanksgiving, and use them in the morning for orange juice, at cocktail time for scotch or eggnog, maybe even at dinner for wine.  They're quite handy; drinks stay colder in heavy stoneware than in glass, and you never get your drink confused with anybody else's.  Sometimes I request a certain cup and sometimes I take pot luck.

My husband makes me put them away on the twelfth day of Christmas, so I'll have to drink fast for the next couple of days.