Monday, March 18, 2019
I wrote last week about my attempts to make "home" art with machine stitching, and how I abandoned them. But meanwhile another train of thought was chugging along.
Previously a fellow artist in my gallery had suggested that I go through my 80,000 photos and find some having to do with homes. I found a bunch that featured people's front steps, and I made 4x6 prints to show to my art pals.
I was not wild about these ideas, because I have never done any of those things with my photos and I don't have enough time to experiment.
What else could I do to get extra oomph? Stay tuned.
Saturday, March 16, 2019
Great drama in our home this weekend; I was awakened at 6 AM Friday with beeping. Was it a truck backing up? No, upon exploration it was a never-before-heard alarm from the Bose radio in the living room. Either the 8-year-old or the 1-year-old, both of whom had been visiting the day before, had apparently activated the alarm while playing with the remote.
After only three minutes of hitting the wrong buttons I managed to turn it off and stumble back to bed. Mentioned this to my husband, who said he had the user manual in his desk and would look up how to turn the alarm off.
I was awakened again at 6 AM Saturday with beeping. He had not looked up how to turn the alarm off, but at least I knew how to stop the beeping on the first try. Later we got out the user manual, followed the directions, and couldn't unset the alarm. Cussing. Looked up the Bose website. Nothing worked. Cussing. Finally I noticed that the remote in my hand didn't look like the remote in the user manual. Guess what -- the Bose in the living room is a different model than the Bose in the kitchen, although they look the same and both have always responded to signals from either remote. Not that we ever tell the radios to do anything other than turn on and off and change volume.
And the remote sitting in the kitchen belongs to the radio in the living room, while the remote sitting on the table in the living room belongs to the radio in the kitchen. Since the 1-year-old likes to take things from room to room, we suspect her as the culprit, but then it's always more comfortable to blame somebody else. The other remote worked. The alarm will probably not beep tomorrow morning, although I wouldn't put money on it.
Anna left a comment on my post where I described my unsuccessful attempts to make stitched "homes" for our gallery show: "Thank you for the insight into your process. I love that you can just push through the try/fail cycle." Anna, I guess I love that too, although the fail part of that cycle is not much fun. However, it does help to document the failures. First, I can often get an amusing (to you, at least) blog post out of the most abject mess. Second and more important, analyzing failure helps you figure out what to do next, whether that's a tweak to the technical process or an understanding of why something didn't meet your artistic expectations.
A couple of other readers left comments that they like the stitched homes, even though I rejected them. I took heart from Mags' and Mac's comments that they like the pyramids, even though they look like they're falling on their faces. Maybe I will finish them and make more, leaning, bent, crumpled, bulgy. Among lots of other falling-down structures, they will look deliberate rather than pathetic. At least that's the plan. So thank you all for your words of encouragement!
Here's my favorite miniature of the week, a sprig of lavender from California:
Wednesday, March 13, 2019
Faithful readers know that I have been struggling with something to make for our gallery theme show called "finding home." I made a little stitched house, but that seemed too cutesy. Then I made some stitched pyramids but the first one seemed to be not stitched enough, and when I made two more I failed to allow for distortion of the fabric under the stitches, with the end result that the pyramids were falling over on their faces.
hand-stitched pieces that I mounted that way, and they were all bought within days of going up on the wall in the gallery. Maybe I could achieve a similar effect with machine stitching. My plan was to make three pieces -- all with pink houses, but with different sky colors. Maybe I would call them morning, noon and night.
I was getting discouraged. The art has to be on the wall two weeks from today and while I could easily produce three of them in time for the show to begin, I didn't feel great about it. Usually I am not bothered by negative critical comments from others, perhaps because I don't often show work in process to others. But for some reason this show has me jinxed, and I have lost my self-confidence.
Do not give me any suggestions, please; my problem now is too many ideas and too little focus. In the next posts I'll tell you what I've decided (I think) to do for the show.
Saturday, March 9, 2019
After I wrote about the "home songs" I'm doing in calligraphy, Gail left a comment: "When I read this, my earworm immediately started alternating between My Indiana Home and Tie a Yellow Ribbon. Yesterday it was Sweet Home Alabama and today it's Simon & Garfunkel's Homeward Bound. LOL!"
I've already calligraphed (if that's a word) Indiana and Homeward Bound; Alabama is on my list but I haven't gotten to it yet. But I had totally forgotten that Yellow Ribbon has "home" in it! In case you've forgotten too, it's in the very first line of the song -- "I'm coming home, I've done my time."
So I immediately looked up the lyrics and did that as today's daily art.
If anybody else thinks of some home songs, please let me know. Not the easy ones, like Home on the Range or Home Sweet Home, but ones like Yellow Ribbon where the magic word is incidental to the theme. So far my favorite hidden treasure is Take Me Out to the Ball Game -- sing it to yourself and you'll find the home!
Here's my favorite miniature of the week. When I was grating a nutmeg (hand-imported from Grenada) I realized that the inside was hollowed out, so I grated some more from the other side to make a ring.
You can check out all the daily calligraphy and miniatures here.
Thursday, March 7, 2019
I have written about how our gallery is having a theme show about "home," and one of the ideas I had about potential art I might create was to tie in with my daily art focus on calligraphy, by writing some of the many song lyrics that include the word "home." Actually this idea struck while I was lying in bed at 3 a.m. not sleeping, and without even moving my head from the pillow I was able to think of at least a dozen songs that qualified. A bit of googling the next morning, and three days of back-to-back music at a jazz festival gave me plenty of additional ideas.
I don't think this is going to be my actual art to exhibit, but I have been having lots of fun with "home" songs as my daily calligraphy. You can probably even read some of them:
You can check out all my daily art here.
Wednesday, March 6, 2019
Saturday, March 2, 2019
Not much happening in the way of art this week, as we are in California attending the Monterey Jazz Festival. So far I have learned a lot in our educational sessions, including something profoundly disillusioning.
Ever since I took on the task of teaching myself to play Scott Joplin on the piano, I have clung to the mantra attributed to him and printed on his sheet music: Ragtime should never be played fast. This always made me feel better, because despite lots of practice, I could barely play it slow.
This week we were told that Joplin never said that, it was his publisher who didn't want to scare away potential customers. And that real musicians not only played it fast, but won points among their peers for playing it fastest. Now instead of feeling law-abiding I feel inadequate.
Here's my favorite miniature of the week:
You can check out all my daily art, miniatures and calligraphy, HERE.
Thursday, February 28, 2019
As "education chair" of my local fiber and textile art group, I get to organize workshops and as a side benefit, show up to give out nametags, collect money and say hello. Sometimes I hang around for a while to see what's going on. Earlier this week I dropped in at a book-making workshop led by Debbie Shannon.
She wasn't sure exactly what people wanted to get from the workshop. With a room full of intermediate-to-advanced artists, she knew that having everybody do the same project wasn't going to go over well; some people would want to finish one book, while others would want to make samples of two or three different kinds to have as references for future work. Some might want to know where you buy this or that or how you work with a particular kind of paper; others might think it a waste of time to talk about that.
So Debbie did an approach that I'd never seen before -- but plan to steal and use in the future.
She gave each person a half dozen tiny post-it notes and told them to put their names or initials on each one. Then she had a sheet on the wall with a half dozen possible subjects for discussion. Each person was asked to put a post-it note above any subject she wanted to cover in the workshop.
The finished grid showed what the group wanted to do, and what they didn't particularly care about. this way Debbie could make sure to cover the important subjects -- learning to make three different book structures -- and leave those less interesting to the end, or not at all. So much more efficient than asking for show of hands, or proceeding with a set lesson plan only to learn that many of the people in the class were bored or frustrated.
Saturday, February 23, 2019
After my post about a workshop I led for SAQA/Indiana, a commenter wrote: "This experience of yours reminds me of the value of taking a hands-on class over an on-line one.... I found these kinds of group evaluations always turned up unexpected ideas. A pooling of knowledge energizes the whole experience. Something similar CAN happen with on-line classes, but something is lost by not being in the same room with each other."
I have to agree that being in the same room with other people is usually the best part of attending a workshop. Even when the teacher is fabulous, it's better to be there when others are learning and doing alongside you. If the teacher is less than fabulous, it's really better to have comrades in learning; often you can come up with a group DIY response that compensates for whatever holes the teacher has left unfilled.
From the teacher's standpoint, it's also helpful to have several people in the room. If one doesn't understand your point, another often asks the right question; if one is being obdurate or crabby or goes off on a tangent, the others can often exert peer pressure to bring her back in line.
I have had good experiences with on-line classes -- the Photoshop classes from The Pixeladies were wonderful and I recommend them to any quilter who wants to up her tech skills -- but I have also had lukewarm ones. The better ones, as I recall, were those in which there was group conversation as well as individual back-and-forth with the teacher. Which is exactly the point!!
I had my second cataract removed on Wednesday and am thrilled with my wonderful new distance vision. For the first time since I was six years old, I can see out the window without lenses, and the trees are in focus! The tradeoff, of course, is that my wonderful new distance eyes are useless up close. I'm experimenting with my husband's drugstore reading glasses and they let me read, but I get vertigo if I try to look or walk across the room with them on. Another trip to the drugstore seems in order to find a better prescription. But this should last only a month until the eyes are both fully healed and I get new glasses.
Meanwhile I'm doing my daily calligraphy and my daily miniatures even though I can't really see what I'm doing. It will be interesting to look at these pieces later and see how bad they are! Here's my favorite miniature of the week, front and back:
Tuesday, February 19, 2019
I wrote last week about the workshop I led on hand stitching onto a finished quilt. After practicing stitching onto sample sandwiches in the morning, people pulled out their own quilts and decided what to do.
Whenever you teach a workshop the first time, you are surprised at how it turns out. I had anticipated that people would be productively stitching away within minutes. But instead, we spent the entire afternoon on evaluation and auditions.
We put the quilts up on a design wall and talked about what they needed next. Usually the maker already had an idea of what she wanted to do next, but sometimes after we kicked the tires, it turned out she needed to do something else. Some people knew there was a problem with the quilt but weren't sure what it was, so we talked about design, composition, color palette.
Eventually each quilt got to the color-choice stage, where we draped floss in various colors over the quilts, stood back twenty feet, and contemplated which ones worked (and which ones were even visible!).
We did the first couple of evaluations with everybody listening, and from then on people could bring their work for "private" consults -- but many of the participants decided they would rather listen in on a lot of consults than do much stitching on their own. That was good, because many times the comments from the onlookers were more helpful than the comments from the teacher.
So the workshop changed course in midstream. Instead of a lot of practice in hand stitching, it turned into a lot of practice in evaluation and auditioning. In the long run, practicing those skills is probably going to be way more valuable than practicing how to make french knots on a thick, densely stitched quilt (hint: use pliers to pull the needle through).
Saturday, February 16, 2019
Readers had some great suggestions about how I could free up my calligraphy, such as writing left-handed, holding the pen way up at the tip so it is not well controlled, or wrapping the pen so it would be harder to get a firm grip. All excellent ideas, which I promise to try soon.
Several comments about the yearbook flap in which the governor of Virginia appeared in blackface in the mid-1980s and is now catching hell. Leigh posted a thoughtful comment: "Making fun of a group of people as a young adult with no sense, in that time period, was really tasteless and stupid, but not illegal. While it undoubtedly caused a general harm in encouraging idiotic attitudes, it didn't cause lasting (and illegal) harm to a specific person. I would however like to see what has changed. Has he actually done anything to stop institutional racism or is he just status quo?"
I don't live in Virginia and I don't know much about the governor, but I did some research and found that in the year he has been governor, he has vetoed 20 bills, including those that would suppress wider voter participation, enable unfair redistricting, encourage inferior health care and prohibit cities from raising the minimum wage. As a state senator he voted in favor of reproductive rights and expanding Medicaid coverage. To me that sounds like he has actually done something good.
Here's my favorite miniature of the week, made from a 1/4 ounce lead weight (heaven knows where that came from...):
Thursday, February 14, 2019
I just got home from a gig with the SAQA Indiana region. The organizers thought it would be more convenient if participants didn't have to shlep sewing machines across the state, so the workshop focused on hand-stitching onto finished quilts. I am not a world-renowned expert on this subject, having used the technique on only a few quilts, but I was excited about getting to lead this session, figured that I would learn as much as anybody else in the room.
My interest in hand stitching as the last step came with this small quilt that I made a couple of years ago for a group show with the prompt "green." After I finished it and posted the image to our group blog, it sat on my design wall for a while before it actually had to be shipped.
The longer I looked at it, the less I liked it, and finally decided it needed some extra pizzazz. So I got out my embroidery floss and stitched more little rectangles to echo the pieced ones. Here's the final version, so much better than the original:
I'll tell you more about what happened in a new post.
Monday, February 11, 2019
I don't ordinarily write about public affairs in this blog but last week's hoohah (and who knows? maybe this week's too...) about yearbook photos gave me a lot to think about. I suppose most first reactions to the story that the governor of Virginia posted a blackface photo on his yearbook page include "how could he have been so insensitive and stupid?" From that point, many people moved on to excuses -- "yes, it was insensitive and stupid but he was very young" and/or "yes, it was insensitive and stupid but consider the time and place." And then the thought process swung back to "yes, he was young but not all that young -- for heaven's sake, he was already a college graduate."
My parents lived in Virginia for three decades, including the period during which the future governor was attending college and medical school, and my many months of visiting over the years lead me to give points to the "consider the time and place" excuse. Virginia has traditionally been fanatically proud of its Confederate past and racial attitudes among those white people who consider themselves the spiritual descendants of Robert E. Lee are still what most of the rest of us would call unenlightened.
My personal take on Northam is that we should give him a pass. It takes time and and exposure to other kinds of people for young people to realize that the way they have been brought up is wrong, and maturity and backbone for them to decide to change. I don't think a 25-year-old should necessarily be condemned for not having fully completed that process.
But enough about blackface. I want to talk about yearbooks.
Having spent my entire work life in the field of communication, I am always thinking about the role of communication and the media in public affairs. And I am thinking about the particular role of the yearbook in so many recent occasions of public embarrassment. The Virginia Senate Majority Leader also has a yearbook in his past to be ashamed of -- this guy was the college yearbook editor (at the same Confederacy-worshiping college that the guv attended) and blithely passed along many blackface and Klan photos to be printed on students' individual pages. And have we already forgotten Brett Kavanaugh, now on the Supreme Court, whose high school yearbook page was full of smart-ass references to drinking and sex?
I know a thing or two about yearbooks, having been editor of mine in college, and when I hear about these embarrassing pages from the past I have to wonder why they happened. Obviously they happen because kids are stupid and insensitive and have no thought of how something might survive to mortify them decades in the future. But they also happen because grownups enable and encourage the kids to act stupid.
Each of those yearbooks was funded and sponsored by a school and to some degree supervised by a school employee. Why did the grownups sign off on a format that brings out the worst in kids and has so much potential for future backfire? Print the kids' senior photos, OK, but don't let them write their own copy.
The good news is that old-yearbook-embarrassment-syndrome (OYES -- what a great acronym!) is probably on its way out. Many colleges are simply discontinuing their yearbooks; who needs them when there is so much digital info available on websites. Many others are eliminating the popularity polls that so often constitute bullying (how would you like to be named Fastest Girl or Most Conceited?). And today's teenagers don't have to use the yearbook to publish their stupid and insensitive thoughts and deeds to the world -- they can do it just fine all by themselves via social media and sexting, 24/7, no waiting, no charge.
Parents and onlookers might wish that these opportunities weren't so easy, that some grownup mediator or automatic ten-second delay might help protect young people from themselves, but then again, look what happened in the past when the grownup mediators were asleep at the switch.
Saturday, February 9, 2019
After I posted about making heavily machine-stitched pyramids that would fit a "home" theme, Sylvia suggested that I might make a yurt. That was an exciting idea until I realized that stitching the pyramidal roof to the cylindrical walls would require 1. careful measurement and 2. a bunch of hand stitching. Decided to put that idea on hold until I have run with the pyramids as long as I can. But thanks for the idea, Sylvia, it will stay on my radar screen.
After I posted that I'm having trouble making my daily calligraphy look more like drawing, Olga suggested that I try asemic writing, in which what you see on paper resembles writing but actually has no words or readable characters. I had done some asemic writing many years ago when I was in a bleach discharge phase of quiltmaking, "writing" with a squeeze bottle of bleach-containing dishwasher gel onto the wonderful old Walmart black fabric that discharged to gray and white.
So yesterday and today I did asemic script as my daily calligraphies. They greatly resemble my normal calligraphic handwriting, even though I took pains to make "letters" that don't exist in the Roman alphabet.
Meanwhile, Rachel suggested that I start with a text in an unfamiliar language or an unfamiliar alphabet and write it in mirror image or upside-down to focus on the shapes instead of the meaning. I think that's a great idea and after I explore Olga's idea for a while I promise to come back to this one.
Having been a professional word person throughout my career, it's hard for me to not think about the text and its meaning, but maybe I need to work on this in order to push my calligraphy project more toward its intended objective of creating art. After all, I didn't take on this year of daily art to become a better monk copying the Bible.
And speaking of not being able to read the text, here's my favorite miniature of the week:
Friday, February 8, 2019
In my daily calligraphy project, I've been trying to get a little more "artistic" in my writing, but it's a struggle. I am trying to draw rather than write, paying more attention to shapes and patterns instead of just the letters. The struggle is in getting my brain to stop doing handwriting and make it do art, and so far my brain is resisting.
A couple of weeks ago I achieved a piece of calligraphy that I really liked, but as with so many other art experiments, it's really hard to do it again and get the same flair you got the first time.
I did it again two days later and started off as planned, but as I wrote farther along the page, the drawing seemed to revert back to writing, and the text became more legible. Ordinarily I'm a big fan of legibility, but that's not what I was striving for. Brain forgets to do what it's told, goes back to what it always used to do.
Tried it again yesterday and maybe did a little bit better. Using an unfamiliar text (do you recognize it?) probably helps the reader "see" the drawing rather than "read" the words.
I think this is an approach I need to come back to many times, perhaps experimenting with different pens and brushes. I know I have only begun to see where I want to go.
Tuesday, February 5, 2019
Thanks to a kick in the pants from my astute reader Shannon, I have decided to make more pyramids and call them "homes" for the gallery show in two months. The first one is almost stitched together, and the second one is on its way.
So here's my plan -- while I'm not seeing well I'm going to do machine stitching. Do you really need to see to go back and forth, over and over and over until you have fully covered the surface? When in doubt, stitch back and forth some more.
I will wait till I get my new eye and then my new glasses to stitch the pyramids together. At that time I will also be able to detect whether any spots need more machine stitching. For the one that's almost stitched together, I will put everything on hold -- the threaded needles will stay where they are until I can return and see what I'm doing.
Saturday, February 2, 2019
A couple of days ago I wrote about my struggle to make some art for my co-op gallery's theme show about "home," and how the little stitched house didn't seem to be good enough. Shannon left a comment that snapped things into focus for me: "As for your houses, I actually think the little pyramids seem pretty house-y and home-y in a non-cutesy way.... you might consider making more tetrahedra, since they seem to come together better and at least IMO would fit the theme."
Thanks Shannon, I needed to hear that -- you're right. And I'm better off in terms of art quality sticking with something that succeeded in the past and already has a to-do list for further expansion than stretching the concept too far into the cute-o-sphere. So here's what I started yesterday, and stitched all afternoon while listening to the opera (obviously not assembled into a pyramid yet):
After I wrote about Isaac's fabric collage, Martha asked whether we have ever used a handcrank sewing machine, which many kids find fascinating. No, we haven't, but I wonder whether a handcrank is going to have much appeal to a boy who is already asking whether the machine can't go faster. How ya gonna keep em down on the farm after they've put pedal to the metal?
You may have noticed the reappearance of Found Poetry in the blog this week. I used to do one every week but decided at the end of the year to cut back. Too much time was being spent on this task, and it was starting to feel like more of a job than a joy. But I had this poem about the new year almost found, and the concept was getting old as the days ticked past, so I decided to finish it before the end of January. From now on I'll try to do found poetry at least once a month, but without committing to a specific schedule.
Finally, here's my favorite miniature of the week:
Thursday, January 31, 2019
My gallery is having an all-member theme show in April and I have been trying to figure out what to make. The theme is "home" and the organizer had lots of philosophical thoughts about how we are supposed to contemplate the true meaning of "home." I find myself turning off when asked to contemplate the true meaning of anything, so I am just trying to come up with something that will kinda sorta have to do with "home" and not be too cutesy or precious.
So what to do. My first thought was to make some more refugee quilt people and stick them under the interstate bridge to represent the homeless people that we have way too many of. But I realized that I would have to build an interstate bridge for them to live under, and that would get pretty involved, since I am not a woodworker. I also realized that while I am personally concerned about homeless people, I didn't particularly want this to become a subject for my art. (I am personally concerned about a lot of things that I don't want to become subjects for my art, and I don't feel a bit guilty about that. Your art practice has to be a lot more selective and focused than your personal political agenda.)
My second thought was to riff on the stitched pyramids that I made a couple of years ago. These were so heavily stitched that they took on structural integrity and were able to stand by themselves, a theme that I have been exploring in various ways. After I finished the five pyramids below, I thought I would continue with different shapes and thought I might equip them with doors or awnings or other architectural features. But I had never gotten around to this.
Here's a picture of the heavily stitched house, complete with door:
Although I had made a carefully measured template for the house, I was unhappily surprised at how some of the segments got distorted with the heavy stitching. In particular, the left-hand house side developed a droop at the lower left, and the door ended up bigger than the opening it was cut from. The sides of the roof also weren't exactly the same length as the sides of the house they had to be connected to.
When I stitched the pyramids together it made absolutely no difference whether the sides ended up exactly the same length. I was happy to leave half of the seam unstitched. But that approach wouldn't do for a house.
So I had to do a fair amount of remedial sewing by hand to get everything put together. Some roofs ended up with an overhang, and all of the walls ended up with bulges. But in the end, everything fit together.
Monday, January 28, 2019
Isaac wanted to sew something for his mother for Christmas, so I cut a piece of denim from my jeans-for-art box and he rooted around through a bag of scraps to make a collage.
My contribution was to cut the zigzags in the top of the tulips and to stitch on some curly gold wire that we found on the worktable for hair. Isaac did the rest. Now that he is eight years old he is an old hand at the sewing machine, having made his first collage three whole years ago! I know he's getting big because he no longer has to put the foot pedal on a shoebox; a thick book does the trick. And he wondered if he could set the speed control up a little higher this time....
He wanted to use beads for eyes so we had to do a side project for him to learn how to sew on beads before he could do it on the gift.
In the past we have just made sleeves on the back of his collages and suspended them from a piece of coat-hanger wire or a chopstick, but since this was a Christmas present I thought we should splurge and mount it on a burlap-covered canvas, which I did for him (and did a number on my left wrist by having to hold it at an unnatural angle to avoid sewing into the top stretcher bar). Since I discovered this product at my local craft store I have been using it for various purposes. Surprisingly, the burlap has made a good backdrop for delicate silk collages made from old kimono as well as art brut pieces such as this one.
We look forward to our next project.