Thursday, March 22, 2018

An altered book 1, and happy birthday!

Quite a while ago a friend gave me a book and said "this looks like something that you might like to work with."  It's a strange book, beautifully printed on excellent paper.  Each two-page unit is not printed front-and-back on one piece of paper, but on the same side of a long piece of paper that is then folded on the outside edge.

Even stranger is the content.  Each eight-page section of the book has a single graphic theme, after which it switches abruptly to a totally different theme.  Many use collage, some use computer-drawn graphics, some human-drawn graphics in various themes.  Several of the sections include text that reminds me of my found poetry, pasted up in ransom-note style, some in French, some in English.

Sadly, many of the drawings and text are kind of sophomoric, the kind of drawings and remarks that I recall from seventh grade when there were 12 girls and 20 boys in our class, and the boys delighted in making rude noises and crude gestures behind the teacher's back.  My challenge to myself was to embrace the good parts of the book -- its gorgeous paper and printing, and many of the non-scatological illustrations -- but obscure the outrageous parts.

The book sat around for a while as I pasted a few things in, but it wasn't until my recent week on retreat that the project took wings.  Most of my work during that week consisted of sorting through piles and boxes of paper, deciding what I wanted to save and organizing it.  I realized that I was coming across a lot of bits and pieces that were too special to throw out, but didn't really go into any conceivable art project.  So I started to paste them into the book, and it started to take on a most engaging personality of its own.

I added some maps, of course, and photos that I had cut out for collage but seemed to want to play right now.  A wine label that I had peeled off and saved for many years, memorializing a great time with my brother in Australia (I don't remember that specific bottle or the specific occasion, so it's an archetype for so many good times and good wines -- and by the way, happy birthday to my favorite and only brother!)

A newspaper clipping, decades old, that I had saved because it is so concisely meaningless, and deserves to be saved forever.  A certificate of weevil-free sweet potatoes.

Travel brochures from Prague, advertising the medieval torture museum and the Kalashnikov firing range (or you can buy the Bullets and Karts combo, going next door to drive go-carts after you shoot).

Handwritten labels pinned to doilies that appeared in the grab bag.

All kinds of miscellaneous that I didn't want to throw away but also didn't want to keep moving from pile to pile, looking at them every couple of years and saying "oh yes, that's nifty."

The book isn't going to be just a scrapbook of random stuff; I hope it has some mildly artistic moments.  I'll show you some of them in a later post.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Serendipity today

I'm a huge believer in serendipity, aka never cleaning up your studio too much.  So many times I have found a piece of fabric or a button or a paper or a piece of rusty metal lying around and a few minutes later realize that it's just what I need for a piece of art in progress. 

The latest recurrence came about as I was sitting at my worktable cleaning up, and what appeared from under a pile of stuff but an empty slide mount.  I do have a box full of slide mounts that it could have been filed into, but that would have required me to get up, find the box, open it up, put it back.  Seemed like an awful lot of work for just one little piece of plastic -- simpler to just use it!  And anyway, I needed a break from all that cleaning up.

So I took some thread that was also sitting on the worktable and warped up a little loom.  What to put on it -- beads? thread of a different weight or color?  Plenty of stuff was within reach. 

Including a leftover bit of map from a collage.  I cut it into narrow strips and used that as the weft.  The weaving was fiddly because of course I didn't have heddles or any other mechanism to make a shed, so each thread had to be pulled up with tweezers for each strip of map.  But it was a nice zen hour, lost in the process (which after all, is why we've all become sewists and textile artists, isn't it?).

I'm making this my daily map.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

On retreat 2

Those of us on retreat last week had a lot of fun watching Cindy Rollins made felt.  Her first project was to make a pair of slippers, and we made her call us over to watch each time she did a new step in the process.

First, she made lasts for the slippers.  She put on a pair of throwaway socks and proceeded to apply many layers of duct tape over her feet.  Then she cut through the whole contraption, removed each one from her foot, taped it back together and stuffed it with plastic bags.

She marked the forms with the height she wanted the finished slippers to taken.

Then she started to lay small patches of wool roving onto the forms, gradually building up several layers of felt.  She massaged soapy water onto the slippers as they developed, wrapping them in nylon net so she could work them vigorously without the wool coming off into her hands.

Eventually she encased the slippers, still on the lasts, in bubble wrap, tied them tightly in a pair of old knee-high stockings, and put them in the dryer for one last round of heat and agitation.

Everybody there gathered around to see each step of the process.  We were impressed by how neat Cindy had managed to be while doing wet felting, with all the mess contained in a big plastic tub and a lot of old bath towels pressed into service to keep things dry.  And of course we all wanted a pair of slippers!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

On retreat 1

Twice a year, a handful of people from my local fiber and textile art group go on retreat to a quilters' getaway venue about a half-hour up the road from us.  It isn't all that far away -- if you have to go back into town for a meeting or a funeral or a dentist appointment, you can -- but it's a world away from home.  Recent retreats haven't been all that wonderful for me; on the last one, I got sick and had to come home early, and a year previously, I fell on the first night and broke a toe and spent the whole time in pain.  But this time was great for me.

You can read about some of my other retreat experiences here and here and here and here.

The ladies who typically come to this venue are traditional quilters.  Occasionally some of them who are working at the next-door facility will drop by for a visit, and we can always detect their slightly uneasy smiles covering up the thought "what the hell is going on here anyway???"  Because we rarely have more than one or two people making quilts, and those quilts aren't usually traditional in any way, shape or form.

So this year, we had people doing felting, hand-stitching, machine-stitching, assemblage, sketching, and yes, quilting.  One of my fellow retreatees, Beth Schnellenberger, wrote about the week and said that the mediums being practiced included "organization."  I had to laugh, because that meant me.  And if organization is indeed an art form, I'm a pretty lame practitioner.

For years now, I haven't taken my sewing machine to the retreat, nor have I produced much that could be described as art.  I usually take several boxes of miscellaneous clippings and junk, plus a bunch of unread newspapers and magazines.  I have the bad habit, when left to my own devices at home, of clipping things from the newspaper, or saving entire sections that I haven't read yet, and putting them in a pile.  This occurs at the dining room table.  When somebody shows up for dinner and we need to clear the table, my pile often gets picked up and deposited into a box.  Where it may stay for weeks, or months, or years.

So I take those boxes with me on retreat, and I go through them.  I clip what needs to be clipped, I paste up what needs to go into books or daily art, I file things to be kept in folders, and throw out the rest.  This takes a long time, because much of the stuff has to be read first.  In 3 1/2 days I came up with one huge grocery bag full of discarded papers to be recycled, plus a whole lot of bits and pieces to be filed or processed.

clippings to go into an artist book

I also came across things to give to others in the room.  Beth was working on a quilt that happened to be the same colors as a little scrap of batik fabric that I found in my pile.  Who knows why that scrap got into a pile of clippings, but it ended up in Beth's quilt.

Somebody else asked if anybody had a bit of MistyFuse, because she needed to add some new fabric to her hand-stitching project.  What had I come across only a half-hour before in my boxes but a sample pack of MistyFuse!  I don't remember where I got it, but it leaped into action when it was needed.

I gave a piece of tatted lace that happened to be in the trunk of my car to somebody else, and some clippings to yet another person.

Best of all, I got several weeks ahead on my weekly "found poetry" project.  Every Sunday I post a "found poem" on the blog, composed of clippings from newspapers and magazines.  In the ten weeks so far this year, I have most often been composing and pasting up my poems after dark on Saturday night.  This makes for stress.  And I have been looking forward with a bit of trepidation to our longish vacation planned for late spring, because the kindle I carry on trips doesn't allow me to do much blog posting.  So it was good to crank out a bunch of poems and put them in the queue in advance.

I'll tell you more about the retreat later this week.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Maps everywhere

Since I have been doing a map a day as my art project for 2018, I'm on the lookout for ideas that I can try out.  So I was intrigued to come across three different artists in the last couple of weeks who have used maps in their work.

Stacy McKnight Maney, At Home

She pasted a map onto a wood panel, covered it with semi-opaque paint, then added the big at sign as a gel transfer over the top.  What's not to love -- wood panel, map, typographical character!

Kristina Arnold, Specimen Series: Meles meles

Bottom layer: a topographical map of Wyoming.  Middle layer: a drawing of the jawbone of a badger (Meles meles) that Kristina found while walking in the woods in England.  Top layer: a map of the English town where she was living at the time, including the route she took when she found the bone, drawn on vellum.

I liked the translucency of the vellum, and especially the concept of layered maps of different scales, different mediums, different colors and different places.

Kayla Bischoff, Synapse Map 3

Again, a wood panel, papered with bits of maps -- all cut from the Rand McNally Road Atlas, but from different states and places.  Top layer: a network connecting nodes of brain activity or maybe other neuron bundles, its map-like qualities echoing the underlying road maps.

It's true that once you start looking for something, you're likely to find it everywhere.  Since I've been watching for maps, I'm seeing them!  I'm not one to steal visual images but I am happy to try on other people's concepts for size.  I'm intrigued by the layered maps, by the small map sections abutting one another, by the overlay of (other) symbols on top of the total-symbol map.  I had already started exploring some of these concepts before I saw the other people's artwork, but maybe I'll add some borrowed ingredients to my daily art going forward.  I'll show you what I come up with!

Monday, March 5, 2018

My new toy

One of my wonderful daughters-in-law gave me a present the other day.  She had been at a weaving workshop and got the chance to buy a leather bracelet that is also a tape measure.  It wraps around your wrist twice with just enough slack so you barely notice it's there.  Unwrapped, it's 17 inches long (or 40 cm).

She said she thought I might find this useful.  And she was so right -- not even two hours later, I was walking down the street with two of my gallery colleagues, looking at the temporary vinyl signs that a neighboring business had hung on its fence.  We were thinking about signs, and somebody said "How tall do you think that sign is?  Maybe 24 inches or so?"  I started to eyeball it, and then I remembered!

"WAIT!  Look what my daughter-in-law just gave me!!"  I whipped it off my wrist and measured the sign (it was 30 inches).  Rarely has a gift meant to be useful proven its worth in such a short time!

Having never seen an accessory like this before, I was surprised to see, the very next day, the same bracelet on the arm of a friend of mine whom I saw at an art fair.  Synchronicity in the universe!   (She thought she was ordering the same color that I have, but it came pale and raw.  Since she dyes things for a living, she just dunked the leather in some red dye and got this beautiful coral.)

I plan to continue wearing mine every day.  Who knows how frequently it will be whipped into action -- I suspect quite a bit.  Thank you Kristin!!  I'm so glad we married you.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Kimono challenge -- my response

Last fall I wrote about the kimono challenge in our local fiber and textile art group, and showed photos of several of the different things that people made.  But I never got around to showing you a picture of my own pieces.

I made two small hand-stitched pieces with bits of kimono fabric stitched on top of larger kimono backgrounds.  Mostly running stitches, in a variety of different threads, with french knots for emphasis.

I did a lot of experimenting with different threads.  Silk thread felt elegant and I thought there was a certain karma to using it on the silk kimono fabrics, but even doubled, it made a pretty faint line.  Rayons and polyesters worked the same way.  They were fine as background running stitches but didn't have the substance to make assertive french knots.

After trying every thread in my stash, or so it seemed, I found two spools of variegated Aurifil cotton in the very heavy 28 weight.  I don't know why I bought them in the first place, because Aurifil is an expensive toy to get if you don't have a plan for it.  But the ivory-pink-coral-rust colorway looked just perfect with my pink and coral fabrics, and made beautiful, fat french knots.  I had so much fun making the knots that I started piling them densely on, totally covering the background.

Before I display these in public I'll have to come up with a way to mount them.  I'm thinking of affixing them to wood panels, like the ones I've been using for collage.  The contrast of the soft fabric with the hard panel seems appealing.  I'll let you know how that works out!

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

No secret squirrel

Friends, when you leave comments on my blog I read them!!  Although it may take a while, I try to respond to any questions that you ask, because the whole reason I do a blog is to have conversations with other people.  So when Other Kathy in New Zealand asked a question before Christmas I knew I had to get back to her eventually.

I had written a blog post about collage, and O.K.i.N.Z. wrote:  "Is your work secret squirrel at the moment, Quilt National prep or other things we can't look at?  I noticed that I've not seen much sewing lately in your posts."

O.K., you are one astute reader.  You're right, there hasn't been much sewing in my posts because there hasn't been much sewing in my life.  Hand-stitching, yes, and one of these days I need to show you a couple of pieces that are either finished or nearing completion, but no piecing or quilting.  Truth is, I haven't felt much like embarking on a big quilt.  I am feeling very ambivalent toward the quilt world as the outlet for my artistic yearnings.  I have no desire to devote the next six months to making three huge things for Quilt National, not to mention no brilliant ideas. 

I have to make a baby quilt for the grandchild of a friend who died last year.  Our local textile and fiber art group, of which she was a member, went over to her house and cleaned out the studio at the request of her husband, who talked about the baby due in June.  I knew that Linda would have loved to have made a baby quilt, and felt that I needed to do this task for her and her family.  So I went through her fabric stash and picked out some appropriate pieces, but I haven't started working on the quilt yet.

What has happened to make me totally uninterested in big quilts?  I've been asking myself the same question.  I have been getting disillusioned with the juried-show business model, in which the artist pays the venue for the opportunity to show her work.  Entry fees keep inching up every year, as do shipping costs.  More troubling, when you show in these venues people never have a chance to see a body of work.  Those with very good memories may recall some things from the past but otherwise it's hard to distinguish between artists who make a lovely one-off quilt and those who have been building a body of work over some time.

I know one answer is to seek out solo shows where you can display many works, but that takes a lot of work and perhaps a lot of politics.  I have not summoned up the energy to go in that direction.

But more important, probably, is that since I have joined PYRO Gallery, a co-operative, I have a venue where I can show some work all the time, can be in group shows once or twice a year, and will have a solo show this fall.  The gallery is not conducive to showing huge quilts, so I have put up some smaller ones, but I have been much more excited about the chance to explore some new mediums and formats.  And this summer, instead of chaining myself to the sewing machine for Quilt National, I'll be chaining myself to some other piece of equipment in the studio for my solo show.

Maybe it's just time for something new.  Whatever I come up with, I'll share with you.  And I'll still be teaching and writing about quilts, because I love them and I love sharing that love with others.  Maybe there will be new quilts in my future again, but not this week.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Daily art report 4 -- I've been there!

I've written before that because my daily art project this year has no rules regarding format or medium, I can explore lots of approaches to the theme "maps."  Recently I've started a new approach, finding a reference in the newspaper to a place that I've been, then illustrating it with a map.  Here are the ones I've done so far.

Some are faraway places from foreign travels, such as Brazil and Germany:

Others are run-of-the-mill US places that many of you have probably been to also, such as O'Hare Airport, although I'm willing to bet that I've been there more times than most of you (unless you live in Chicago). 

And still others are out-of-the-way US places, such as Quincy IL, where I spent a trimester of graduate school living in the Lincoln-Douglas Hotel, an establishment without a public ice machine, necessitating my learning to drink scotch neat.

I'm mounting these on 5x8 index cards, and at the end of the year I'll probably make them all into an accordion book.  But should it be horizontal or vertical??  Or both???

Friday, February 16, 2018

Art and fear this week

I wrote last year about making collages on wood painting panels, or perhaps they would be better described as assemblage because I added a lot of found objects to make them 3-D.  Check them out, with lots of photos, here and here.

For the last couple of weeks I have been working on a new batch, and I took them to my critique group a few days ago.  As I pulled them out of my bag and started to pass them around, I said "Clearly this one isn't finished yet...."  And somebody said "Why do you say 'clearly?' I think it's finished right now."

I was taken aback by the question and stammered around for a bit, trying to figure out why I had said that.  The answer took more soul-searching than I'm usually asked to provide; I'm usually pretty articulate about what I'm doing with my art.

What I came up with was that I am still struggling with the whole concept of making art on a painter's surface, because I feel very insecure about doing anything resembling painting.  And so I have probably been adding the 3-D elements as a protective barrier between me and anything painting-like.

My friends all agreed that two of the pieces were finished.  A couple more coats of matte medium to seal everything and give it a uniform surface, and they can go on the wall.

I'm still not sure I have internalized what they told me and I agreed with.  I do love minimalism, so the blank spaces don't scare me.  I guess it's the two-dimensionality that does.

You will note that I still can't bring myself to call them "paintings."  Having wrestled for a long time with calling myself an artist, and my work art, I guess this is my next wrestling match.  I'll let you know who wins.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Valentine's Day in first grade

Because the parents had to take the baby to the pediatrician at exactly the wrong time, we needed a grandparent to attend the Valentine's Day party, and that was me.  I discovered several things that have changed since the previous generations were in grade school.

First, no paper valentines.  Instead they had a whole sheet of Valentine stickers, distributed to everybody in the room.  Many people got two.  Some of the kids affixed their stickers to their faces instead of to their clothing.

Second,the messages on candy hearts have been radically updated.  Yes, you can still find BE MINE and LOVE but you also get TEXT ME, LOL, TTYL and CRUSHIN'.  (I also learned that first-graders don't yet have good chopstick skills.  Don't ask.)

Third, little girls wear valentine outfits.  Do you think they sell those tutus in grandma sizes?

Saturday, February 10, 2018

"I'm Kathy, and I am an artist"

Many times I've participated in discussions of how difficult it is to announce to the world -- and maybe even harder to announce to yourself -- that you are an artist.  I vividly remember the first time I said that to another person.  Strangely, it was probably five years after I had announced to myself that I wanted to make art.  I had become comfortable with that idea, and that wording, but the next step was still hard to take.

I announced that I was going to be an artist to a woman sitting next to me on an airplane, one week before I retired -- my last business trip.  She said something like "that's nice."  The world did not end because the word "artist" had crossed my lips.  This surprised and reassured me.  I soon tried it out again on somebody I knew.  Pretty soon I could say it without even stopping to think whether it was OK.

This memory was prompted by a blog post written by Alisa Golden, an excellent book artist who has recently decided to also make quilts.  She talks in this post about two qualities that enable people to describe themselves as artists (or writers, or calligraphers, or any other kind of non-credentialed but esteemed calling).  The qualities are proficiency and identity.

If you're not sufficiently proficient, compared to others whom you clearly regard as artists, then it should be difficult to call yourself an artist, and if you are, then you should be able to claim the name.  But proficient in whose eyes, Alisa asks.  In your own eyes? In those of others?  And which others count?  Your mom may have thought you were an artist since age four, but her opinion probably doesn't count as much as the opinion of an art professor.

Then comes identity -- whether you feel that you are a member of the group.  Clearly you have to feel like an artist before you can call yourself one.

I like Alisa's breakdown of the situation, and if you have struggled with this situation, or are struggling with it now, you might like to read her entire post.  But I am particularly intrigued with her last remark, "These days, I'm working on accepting a new term for myself: quilter."

Imagine me with a rueful smile as I think of Alisa, who easily calls herself an artist, trying hard to call herself a quilter.  By contrast, I easily called myself a quilter for decades, and then had to try hard to call myself an artist.  Not just that, but since then I have spent many years trying NOT to be called a quilter.

Perhaps it's because I live in a region where traditional quilts were part of the culture, and are still highly prized and widely made.  So many times, when I would say the Q word to describe my work, the response would be "Oh, my grandmother made quilts!!" and then I would have to explain that my quilts were not like those, that they belonged on the wall and not on the bed, that they were made by machine and not by hand, that they didn't use traditional patterns.

I'll make a Q quilt, but avoid the Q word

And within the wider world of art, I have often felt that quilters, unless they come from Gees Bend, are not regarded as "real artists." So for a long time I have most comfortably called myself a fiber artist, and tried to avoid the Q word altogether.  But even that seemed to have a faint aura of second-class citizenship within the wider world of art, so for the last few years I have pretty much dropped the word "fiber" too.

Alisa's right -- it all comes down to identity.  We all have our strange ways of feeling and expressing that, and one person's take can be quite the opposite of the next person's.  How do you describe yourself?  Was it hard to reach that point?  Has your chosen nomenclature changed over the years?

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

An experiment

I haven't been accomplishing much in the studio since the first of the year.  Lots of meetings and writing from the two art groups I'm on the board for, lots of time on organizing and cleaning out the studio and throwing away decades worth of crap, lots of baby time.  But little in the way of art.  I really must find a project and get started on it before the Olympics, so I can work while I watch.

Two weeks ago I thought I had found a project that was going to keep me busy for a while.  I wanted to make a piece so heavily machine-stitched that it would start to bend and ripple.  I wanted to use some of the dozen-plus cones of pink polyester embroidery thread that I inherited from the museum, just on general principles that when you have a dozen-plus of something you should try to use it up.

So I made a quilt sandwich, covered the top layer with scraps and bits of various pink fabrics, and started sewing.  It didn't take long before I realized that first, I wasn't enamored of how it looked, and second, it would take years to finish the piece to the size I had originally thought.  So Plan B: I cut off a small panel and finished stitching that very densely.

Then I cut a piece of paper to that same size and experimented with folding and rolling it, looking for a geometric shape that might be attractive.  I thought it might complement the one stitched pyramid that I have left after our gallery sale last summer (at top right in the photo).

Maybe a cone?  But that would reveal the back side of my stitching, which wasn't very attractive.  I folded and rolled some more, came up with nothing interesting and got discouraged.  Finally I decided to heck with it, I wanted to be done with this failed experiment.  I stitched the two ends of the rectangle together, then turned it inside out to make a cylinder.

Well, oops.  The piece had gotten so stiff and bulky, between that full quilt sandwich and the stitching, that I had to fight it all the way just to get it to turn.  But I kind of liked the lumps and wrinkles that ensued.  The bottom edge had a binding of peach silk, left from our kimono stash, but the top edge was raw, so I turned it inside and sewed the top shut.  This made it about six inches tall and three or four inches wide.

So is the experiment a failure or a success?  I think maybe some of each.  Plan A certainly didn't work, but Plan B may have some promise (as in so many other aspects of life and art).   I love to stitch, stitch, stitch all day so the process works for me.  I like the beat-up, bumpy look.  I don't think I like the cylindrical form all that much, although in some of the views it's intriguing.

Maybe I'll try another one and try to repeat what I like in the first version, avoid what I didn't like, and figure out a way to make it technically easier.  I'll let you know how that works out.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Daily art report 3 -- word collage

One of my objectives in defining my daily map art so loosely was that I wanted to be able to experiment with different mediums, techniques and concepts.  If you're committed to a certain size and shape and kind of support every day you can't always explore a wild idea.  But this year I am empowered to do anything I want.

Years ago I made these two studies in a workshop led my my dear friend and wonderful artist Suzi Zimmerer.  She is a master of surfacing paper: using paint, stencils, and other print techniques she builds up complex patterns and then uses the paper for collage.  I made these papers using alphabet stencils, then cut out nonsense words and collaged them on top so the lettering is almost illegible.  I had always liked the effect and wanted to do more.

So I had the idea to cut words out of maps.  Leafing through one of the old road atlases that I'm cannibalizing for art, I stopped at Michigan and got the idea to focus on Bay City, where my father was born.  Inspiration: I would cut my top collage layer from Texas, which also has a Bay City, and juxtapose the two places.

 I liked the idea of letters blending into the background, but after I cut my script out of Texas and laid it on top of Michigan it blended in so well you couldn't begin to find it.  Note to self: in future, cut the layers from different atlases so you get different color and density effects.  But for now, I outlined the cutout letters with walnut ink before I pasted them down.

Verdict:  I love this concept and would like to try it again, even though it was time-consuming.  Not sure it worked as well with the maps as it did with the surfaced paper, but maybe I can combine both -- how about first surfacing a map with various paint and print effects, and using that as one of the layers?  I'll try that some day.

Monday, January 29, 2018

The excellent Christmas display

I know Christmas is over, but I wanted to show you the wonderful display that my dear friend and art pal Marti Plager had up for the holidays.  I've known Marti for 20 years or so and have been giving her and George Christmas ornaments almost that whole time.  This year Marti hung up a beautiful quilt of her own hand-dyed and -printed fabric, in a subtle green that made a perfect background for a whole lot of ornaments to be pinned up.

Many people have told me that they give some little place of honor to my ornaments, but I've never gotten such a great compliment as to have a whole wall full on display.  I am honored!