Saturday, May 18, 2019

Last week on Art With a Needle

It's been a quiet week as I try to get myself back on Eastern time, restock the groceries, catch up with the laundry and get all the suitcases put away after our trip.  I'm wondering whether I need to deliberately try something new with my daily calligraphy (am I getting into a rut just making beautiful letters with my fancy new pen?). 

I'm getting my work tables cleared off so I could (theoretically) get started on a new quilt.  Maybe next week!

Here's my favorite miniature of the week.  We found a box of junk in the back of the closet at the gallery that included a little cylinder lock -- apparently dug out of its original site in a desk or box, and without a key.  It made the perfect base into which I could make an elaborate knotted construction.

Friday, May 17, 2019

A glimpse of Van Gogh

Although our brief visit to Amsterdam last week was well before the high season for tourists, there were plenty on hand in the rock-star sections of the Rijksmuseum.  As usual, as many of the people were looking at their phones as looking at the Van Goghs.  I mostly stood back and looked at the people.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Daily art on the road

I've always believed that a successful daily art project depends on setting rules that you can live with, so for instance if you spend lots of time at your wilderness cabin where you can't get a cell or internet signal, don't choose a project requiring a daily Instagram post.  Since traveling is a big part of our lives, I need daily art that's portable.

My calligraphy project is easy to take along -- just a sketchbook plus a pen or two.  For this trip, knowing that I would mostly be in a ship cabin with a nice desk, I decided to bring along two dip pens and a bottle of ink, wrapped carefully to avoid spills and packed in carry-on luggage so it wouldn't have to endure pressure changes.  I also brought along a wire brush to clean the pen after writing.

My miniatures required a bit more thought.  Decided to bring a scissors, a glue stick, a needle and one spool of thread and a pair of tweezers.  From that point in, I had to forage for raw materials each day, a process that I find exciting.

When you go ashore from a cruise ship, which we did occasionally, you can always look for native plant life or rusty nuts and washers, but on board you generally find neither category of stuff.  So I worked mostly with paper, and that spool of thread.  One day I made paper beads, the kind where you cut a very long, skinny triangle of paper, put glue on the back and roll it up around a skewer.

Once I made a little book out of teabag tags, with quite an elaborate sewed signature binding (if something less than an inch long can be called elaborate).

Once I made a collage depicting the beautiful sunset, finding a range of blues and purples in the newspaper I had brought aboard.

Toward the end of the voyage I was getting sick of red thread so I saved some strings from teabags,  using them in their natural white and dunking them in my ink to dye them gray.

I also used the bamboo picks that held martini olives, the manufacturing dates from breakfast cereal boxes, the little card that reminded us to set our clocks forward (six times during the trip).  I only used the needle twice, once to sew my little book together and once to do kantha stitching on the fancy plastic that wrapped our silverware on the plane coming home.

Back home, it's already a thrill to use a thread color other than red!  But the fun of finding art materials in a foreign environment always gives me a creativity boost.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Last week on Art With a Needle

Actually, it's the last three weeks...

After I showed pictures of my heavily stitched houses mounted onto batik-covered panels, Sylvia commented, "They need something -- maybe a key? or some lettering?  I do like the batik background but they look unfinished to me."  And Sandy wrote, "Reading Sylvia's comment makes me think.  I agree.  Perhaps what they need is just a dark line of stitching like you did for the windows.  Sort of visually to stop the house from blending into the sky.  Or something?"

I have to say that I agree too.  The houses still look a little insipid.  But the joy of fiber art is that you never have to be finished until you want to.  I'll probably think about it and do something more, and write about it when that happens.  Thanks for your comments -- they reinforced my original gut feeling that these are not masterpieces yet.

After I wrote about my new calligraphy pen, which is prone to leaving blobs while it gracefully swells from thin to thick, my namesake Kathy wrote, "Definitely embrace the blobs!"  We share not only a name but an opinion.  I'm blobbing away (although the more I use the pen the less frequently I get blobs -- maybe practice is starting to pay off).

Mckittycat wondered if I an familiar with the calligraphy of Denise Lach.  Yes, in fact my dear friend Uta Lenk gave me a copy of Lach's book a couple of years ago, and that was part of the reason I decided to do calligraphy as my daily art this year.  I have not been rigorously going through the book and using her work as prompts, but I plan to start doing that soon.  Again, I'll keep you posted.

And finally, my friend and former student Mieke wrote that she hopes I enjoyed Amsterdam, right in her backyard.  Yes, I did!  It's a wonderful city, if you can avoid being run over by bicycles.  But in its favor, unlike in the U.S. the cyclists (a) stop at red lights and (b) don't wear spandex.  Next week I'll be writing about some of the art we saw.

Here's my favorite miniature from this week:

As always, you can check out all my daily art here.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Airport surprise

I haven't posted in a week because I have been busy!  After a two-week sea voyage from Florida to Amsterdam, and a couple of days doing museums there, and a marathon trip home yesterday, we're home.  I will have lots to share, but here's a quick one.  As you walk through the Amsterdam Airport (and you'd better bring your hiking boots, because it's about a half-hour stroll from where we checked in to where we got on the plane) what do you see but a sign that says "Rijksmuseum."  And it's not a billboard advertising the museum, but an actual tiny museum set up in the middle of a concourse.

Inside, two large rooms with pictures.

No Rembrandts, but real pictures, giving you a birds'-eye view of the great moments in Dutch art: rich burghers, landscapes and seascapes, still lifes, a big sea scene painted on blue-and-white Delft tiles.

And of course a little gift shop.  Impress your friends and loved ones; make them think you spent your time in Amsterdam at the art museums instead of at the Museum of Hemp & Marijuana or a Red-Light District Tour.

I thought this was a fine idea.  Surely the Rijksmuseum must have thousands of artworks good enough to be in its collection but not good enough, by comparison, to make it onto the main gallery walls.  Surely it's better to have them on view than in crates in the basement.  And how many frazzled travelers will benefit from a few minutes of peace and beauty before they hit the road again.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Calligraphy update -- my new pen 2

I have been playing with my new calligraphy pen, enjoying the way the two halves of the nib spread apart under pressure to make thick-and-thin strokes.  Then I saw this photo on Instagram, posted my my friend Jane Lloyd:

and knew I had to try it.

I've always loved the elaborate calligraphy that Andy Warhol used so much in his advertising and art directing career.  He had his mom in Pittsburgh do the writing and send it to him to paste into the layouts.  Later she moved to New York which sped up the production time.  Here's Andy's business card/letterhead, which Mom wrote for him:

So armed with my new G nib pen, I am now trying to channel Julia Warhola.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Calligraphy update -- my new pen 1

It's been a while since I wrote about my daily calligraphy, except in passing.  Recently I bought myself some new pen nibs, spiffy ones from Japan whose packaging I can't read, except to see that these are G nibs.  I searched them out because I wanted the pen to spread apart under pressure, making a much thicker line.  These are quite springy and give a good contrast between thick and thin strokes.

This feature is most dramatic on swoopy curves, but other letters can also be attractive if you put wide strokes in some places and hairlines in others.  I have watched some videos on copperplate writing, which would use this kind of pen, but I don't think that's a direction I want to go.  I'm happier continuing with writing-as-drawing, in which the words take a back seat to the overall visual image.

Here's the full view of that composition: the writing makes right turns every time it gets to the end of the space, and spirals in to the middle.

I like that effect and need to explore it more.  The problem, of course, is how to deal with the absolute finite amount of space left as you get to the center.  Do you write smaller to make sure you finish your phrase (as I did in this sample) or just stop writing when you run out of space?  Does it matter?

The learning on this one: watch your hand while you're turning the book around so it doesn't smudge.

I am so happy with this new pen!  Its only drawback, I was warned by the people in the art supply store, is a tendency to drop blobs of ink.  Yes, that is true.

For purposes of my daily art, I don't care at all.  The blobs add character, I tell myself.  If I were addressing wedding invitations for a living, or making a piece of actual Art, maybe I would have to start over (or at least learn how to control the ink flow better) but for now I'll embrace the blobs.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Calligraphy update -- adding collage

As the second quarter began I thought maybe it was time to shake it up and add a new element to my daily calligraphy -- collage.  My first experiment was to cut up one of the "home song" pages that didn't make it into my artist book, paste the bits down in my sketchbook and then write over the top.  Unfortunately the card stock was so tall that the brush stuttered when it went over the edge.

I found a piece of thin paper on the work table and tore it into strips.  The pen hardly noticed the difference in height so the writing continued seamlessly over the collage, more what I had in mind.

I also tried laying down blue painters tape in strips, writing over it and then removing the tape.  I thought the composition was more interesting before I took the tape off, so maybe this approach is a dead end.


Tuesday, April 23, 2019

All those rejected homes 2

Even though I didn't use them for the "home" show at PYRO Gallery, I thought my three machine-stitched pink houses were worth finishing.  Like the postage stamp quilt I abandoned early on, they're kind of cutesy, but maybe they will be OK for low-price gift items or impulse purchases.  I took the three finished houses to one of my art support groups and asked what to do with them.  I showed them against a plain wood panel, against a black canvas, and against some plain blue fabric I had grabbed from the work table.  Not much enthusiasm for any of these approaches.

Then I noticed a blue batik napkin on the lap of the woman sitting next to me, grabbed it and wrapped it around the wood panel and plopped one of the houses on it.  YES!

I did show restraint in not begging to take the napkin home with me, because I have a full drawer of batiks at home and it was easy to find suitable candidates.  Wrapped them around the wood panels, with one layer of thin batting underneath to make the fabric fit tighter, stapled them down, then nailed the stitched panels to the wood.

I also added doorknobs of bronze and silver metallic beads, and done a bit of hand stitching to make greetings for anyone who opens the doors.

I think these three may be the entire series of pink houses -- there doesn't seem to be much room for further exploration.  But I am happy to have them finished.  What I like: the way the shapes distort under heavy stitching, the way you can put bits of thread or fabric down on the background as you start stitching and they become little hints of color, the contrast between the wonky stitched panel and the neat, firm, taut batik background.  Maybe these qualities can come back again with a different shape in the future.

Here's what they look like all done:

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Last week on Art With a Needle

The mailman brought a surprise: the catalog for Forced to Flee, the SAQA exhibit about refugees.  The designer had a good idea in getting rid of the gray background in my photo, so the refugee quilt people are floating on the white page. 

It's a classy catalog and I found the juror's statement interesting. She said she "found the attempts at abstraction less successful" than the figurative images that dominate the exhibit.

That's understandable, because so much of the world's attention to the various refugee crises stems from the dramatic images that photographers have captured of people in distress. Think of the little girl crying as her mother is frisked by U.S. Border Patrol agents, of the dead five-year-old on a beach in Turkey, of a crowded raft almost engulfed by waves on the Mediterranean.  Indeed, the latter two images were translated into quilts for the SAQA exhibit.

I've always thought of myself as the queen of abstraction, having made all of two figurative quilts in my whole life, but I too went figurative for this exhibit.  And it's probably good that so many of us did; when you think of a problem like refugees as an abstraction, it's easy to be dismissive and cruel.  When you think of it as people, perhaps you get closer to a solution.

Tiger Woods has always been our favorite golfer.  We got to watch in person on the pivotal hole when he won the 2000 PGA tournament in Louisville, and in 2012 I noted each of his tournament victories in my daily stitching.  So to mark his Masters victory on Sunday, here's my favorite miniature of the week:

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

All those rejected homes 1

I've complained at length over the last several months about how hard it was for me to settle on what to make for the "home" show at PYRO Gallery.  Now that the show has opened, I decided it was time to revisit some of the rejected ideas -- many of which had considerable work put into them before I pulled the plug -- and see if they could be remodeled.

First was a project that I rejected early on, without even writing about it in the blog -- a postage stamp quilt with little houses.  I thought I would whip out this quilt far more efficiently than I have done many postage stamp quilts by choosing a stiffer bottom layer, thus enabling construction without a bothersome middle.  There was some gray felt lying on the work table and I thought that might be a great support. Then I could simply layer a background and a house on top, and get right on to the stitching.

I cut out a bunch of 2-inch squares from the felt and started composing little houses.  It didn't take very long before I realized what a dumb idea the felt was.  It was so squishy that it oozed ahead of the needle as the presser foot squeezed down.  I had all those squares cut out, and a whole lot of bits and pieces to make houses, and didn't want to throw them out, so I sewed them up anyway.  But this turned into a small quilt rather than a much larger one as I had envisioned.

While I was sewing them up anyway I realized that not only was felt a bad choice for the bottom layer, the little houses were turning out way too cutesy.  So after I finished this first (and last) batch of postage stamp pieces, I stuck the quilt in a corner and went on to my next idea.

But now I have gone back to the cutesy little houses and finished the small quilt.

It's still too cutesy and I'm glad I abandoned the idea for the home show, but there is a place in the world for cutesy things and maybe this guy will find an appropriate moment and venue in the future. Maybe a gift for a child?  At least he's finished.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Last week on Art With a Needle

I treated myself to a pile of pen nibs from a sidewalk sale at the local art supply store, cleaning out merchandise that has obviously been around for a long time.  At 12 for $5, how could I resist buying a dozen different Speedball nibs in different shapes and sizes.  I remember my dad using Speedball pens, back in the day when store signs, diplomas, certificates and other ceremonial documents were almost always hand-lettered.  Speedball labeled its pens A, B, C, D and LC for the different configurations of the nib.  A is square, B is round, C is flat for calligraphy, D is oval and LC is a calligraphy flat beveled for lefties.

Apparently the D nibs aren't even being made any more; on the internet they're called "vintage."  Had I known that, I would have bought a whole box.

I bought one each of different shapes and sizes, and have started testing them out on my daily calligraphy.  Didn't buy any C nibs, because I inherited lots from my dad and besides I don't like that style.  So far I have learned that I don't like the square nib either -- too clunky.

Here's my favorite miniature of the week, a little rock with just enough surface roughness that the wrapped thread doesn't just slide off:

You can check out all my daily art, both calligraphy and miniatures, here.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Remembering Enid -- the show!

Last week I got off on a tangent telling you about Enid Yandell, an excellent sculptor from Louisville who had a hard way to go a century ago because of her gender.  Now I'll get back to the show that got me onto this subject in the first place.  Several women sculptors in the region have banded together in a group called "Enid" and to commemorate Enid's 150th birthday, they have a small show at 21C Museum Hotel in Louisville.

My dear friend and art pal Bette Levy had two large pieces in the show, both of them dramatic combinations of ancient farm equipment and new crocheted pieces to complement them.

Bette Levy, Scythe (detail below)

Bette finds doily patterns in old needlework books, executes them huge (this one is probably five feet across) and then stiffens them so they retain their shape when mounted on the wall. 

Bette Levy, Infinity (detail below)

Here the rusty metal pieces are tines from an old hay rake, which would have been pulled behind a tractor.

I sometimes find long curator explanations at museums to be pretentious and artspeaky, but the remarks about Bette's work struck me as worth reading.  The sign said:

"Farm and domestic labor are the focus of Levy's series that combines doilies crocheted in historic patterns with aged farm tools, previously used to reap sustenance from the land, but long since abandoned for larger, mechanized production.  The scale of the crocheted doilies is enlarged to visually challenge the dominance of the tools, subverting the traditional gender division of labor and power, creating a more balanced pairing."

The exhibit continues at 21C Museum Hotel, 700 West Main Street in Louisville, through October.  If you've never visited a 21C, you should -- a combination of hotel, restaurant and world-class gallery, welcoming walk-in visitors as well as paying guests.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Last week on Art With a Needle

You may have noticed that I'm posting found poetry only once a month instead of once a week as I did in 2018.  I've noticed that after I have been doing a particular form of daily or weekly art it's hard to let go.  For instance, I used to post a "photo suite" -- five or six photos on a single theme -- once a week, for four years.  Finally I decided it was time to stop, but couldn't bring myself to go cold turkey, so I dropped back to once a month for another year before I was able to let go.

After a year of weekly found poetry, following a year of daily text, I didn't want to put in that much time every week -- but I still owned (own) a huge pile of poetry bits, painstakingly searched out and cut out and filed, and the thought of abandoning those dozens of hours of work was more than I could bear.  So I'm doing found poetry once a month.

Sonja left a comment:  "Love the words inspired by your art, or was it the other way?"  Almost always, words first, then a big search for an appropriate image to go along with it.  Fortunately in addition to a huge pile of poetry bits, I have a huge box full of pictures left over from three years of daily collage, so after I have composed the poem I look through my box of pictures to find one that goes with the words.

Here's my favorite miniature of the week:

Whenever I go to the beach I look for shells with holes in them, and this shell had been lying on my counter for a long time.  The iridescent blue beads seemed like sea treasures, nestled in the shell.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Remembering Enid

A small but lovely show opened at 21C Museum Hotel this week, featuring work by members of Enid, a group of Louisville-area female artists who work in sculpture and 3-D.  Enid is named for Enid Yandell, born 150 years ago in Louisville, who studied with Rodin and whose sculptures were highly renowned.  One of her huge statues, of Athena, 25 feet tall, made for the 1897 Tennessee Centennial Exhibition in Nashville, was the largest statue ever made by a woman (what a back-handed accolade).

Enid Yandell and Pallas Athena (in pieces)

As a fan of Enid, my favorite statue is one that was never made.  In 1894 the Kentucky Woman's Confederate Monument Association held a big design competition to choose the sculptor of a monument in Louisville.  Enid won the contest, but it was just too forward for a woman to be given such a prestigious commission, and the members of the association overruled their selection committee and let a local gravestone company build the statue instead.  In a huge slap in the face to Enid, the monument was topped by a statue of a generic soldier, sculpted by a German artist -- anybody with money could order a cast for their cemetery or street corner.

But in the long run, it was probably better for Enid's reputation to not have gotten the commission.  Louisville's Confederate monument was one of hundreds built around the beginning of the last century in a concerted effort to romanticize the "Lost Cause" of the Civil War and reinforce Jim Crow laws and customs in the U.S. South.  It coincided with the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan in many states, even outside the South.  As time passed, many cities decided that their Confederate monuments were nothing to be proud of; in 2016 the Louisville monument was taken down (not without much outrage from those who still refuse to admit that the Confederacy lost the war).

Well, here I've gone on and on about Enid and not even touched on the show.  I'll do that in another post!

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Last week on Art With a Needle

The "home" show is open, and those installing the work decided that my artist book needed a suitable display, so they put up a shelf that allows the entire book to be open and readable at eye level.  A great vote of confidence in a project that died many deaths before completion!

I made all the gallery tags for the show, which occupied many hours.  You wouldn't think it would be too hard to ask each artist to provide the title, size, materials and price for one artwork, plus a short artist statement, but you would be wrong.  It took at least a dozen follow-up emails to elicit the right info from 32 people.  So very little art was made this week.

Here's my favorite miniature of the week, made from the sharp tips of skewers that, cut down to size, are providing support to the back of the artist book:

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Beautiful shibori

On a beautiful, warm, sunny spring day I got out for a wonderful long walk, but beforehand, fit in a museum visit to the Carnegie Center in New Albany IN to check out the work of Elmer Lucille Allen, who has been a much-admired friend for many years.  The show featured nine of her shibori pieces, most done with stitched resist.

For a long time Elmer Lucille worked exclusively in dark blue Procion dye on white fabric (it looked like indigo) but here we saw her branching out into other colors. 

ELA 19-013, 72 x 43", 2009 (detail below)

This one spun an optical illusion in the gallery, although maybe not so much in the photo -- it looked to be like the vertical stitched panels were actually an open weave, showing the white gallery wall behind. 

ELA 19-009, 53 x 44", 2012

Here's one in color, on silk noil:

ELA 19-006, 44 x 24", 2014

And probably my favorite, the only piece in the show that wasn't made of a single piece of fabric but seamed, allowing her to combine both clamped and pole-wrapped resists:

ELA  19-001, 60 x 44", 2011 (detail below)

The show continues at the Carnegie Center for Art and History, 201 E. Spring St, New Albany IN, just across the river from Louisville, through April 20.  Paintings by Sandra Charles and Barbara Tyson Mosley are also on exhibit.           

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Last week on Art With a Needle

A bunch of interesting ideas for my "home" piece in the comments this week.  One suggestion:  "Print on fabric and add oomph with thread?"

Many years ago I tried printing on fabric with the aid of Bubble Jet Set, but always felt the colors were washed-out or otherwise strange.  For one quilt I printed out old black and white family photos without any setting solution, did thread line work on top, then put them through the washing machine.  A lot of the pigment washed away, giving a nice faded look to the photos.

One of the photos from that project came out more purple than black, so I made the best of it. 

Purple Myrtle

But since then I have avoided printing onto fabric.  I know that technology has improved and the colors turn out much more vivid, but I don't see this approach as part of my art practice any more. 

Then again, maybe I will try it some day and see whether my opinion has changed.

Another reader, after I revealed what I finally came up with for the "home"show, commented, "Sometimes the simple solutions give us the clearest picture of what we are trying to convey.  This looks like it does the job."

I'm not sure this was a simple solution -- it sure took a lot of work and worry to get there -- but I hope you're right that it does the job.  Thanks to all of you for taking such an interest in my trials, and for all your encouraging comments.

My favorite miniature of the week started with a tiny piece of driftwood that I found while scavenging with my son at the river after a lot of high water: