Sunday, February 5, 2023

A long-overdue update -- part 1

At least one of my faithful blog readers has noticed that it's been a long time since I posted anything, and wrote to ask me whether something dire was going on.  Thanks for asking, Karen, and no, nothing awful has happened on my end, except that for some reason I have gotten out of the blog habit and will have to perform some brain surgery on myself to get back in.  So I will do a couple of posts to bring you up to date on what's been going on since last fall.

First, an update on my daily art.  After 365 paintings in 2022, I came to the conclusion that I love to paint, but I have no ideas that I want to express in that medium.  I love the paint on the palette, the paint on the brush, the feel of the brush on the paper.  I love mixing colors and watching the accidental effects of wet-into-wet.  But throughout the year I struggled with what to paint.  I would get an idea, usually by copying from somebody else, and paint it more than once to see if it might strike a chord and stay with me.

In the past, when a student in my workshop or a blog reader would ask me whether they had my permission to use a technique I have used or taught, I would say of course you may (nobody owns an idea).  And if you like the technique, make it three times and by then it will change enough that it will belong to you, not to me.  I tried to apply this rule of thumb to my painting.

I've posted about the faces I painted based on black-and-white photos in the paper.  I did that 52 times, and maybe10 of them were pretty good.  But they were getting repetitive, and I didn't think that they in any way belonged to me.  

I thought maybe if I put some stitching into the paintings it would resonate, since stitching is so integral to the rest of my artistic life.  I made several with hand stitching, and a few with machine stitching, and again, I liked them, but there was no surge of desire to keep on making them and after ten tries I stopped trying.

I had a nice long run at the end of the year with 15 paintings following the tutorials of Vanidas Mangathil on Instagram (he's also on YouTube).  I loved painting the little people and I highly recommend his instruction if you're into painting little people.  But after two weeks I didn't see any signs of them moving into my art space.

By the end of the year, I had decided that I was done with painting.  In fact, I even cut up a bunch of pages from my painting sketchbooks to make my Christmas ornaments.

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Daily painting -- lots of faces

In my last post I showed you the very start of what has turned into a fairly long series of faces in my daily paint project.  I have been finding photos in the newspaper and using them as references to paint my own versions: all spaces heavily outlined, faces rendered in two different non-face-like colors against usually dark backgrounds.  I'll share some of the ones that I'm proud of (but you can see them all on my daily art blog). 

As you can see, I do better with men than women!  I have tried women but have never been happy with the results.  Maybe it's the hair -- and why so many of the ones I like feature bald guys or those in hats!

So far I've done 45 of these faces and am not sure what if anything I'm accomplishing.  As time passed, I started experimenting with different techniques, such as washy shading of the facial contours, and yet I worry about getting away from the flat, graphic quality that I liked from the start.  

When I go through the whole series I find that the ones I like best are those toward the beginning.  That doesn't seem like a good sign.  The more you work in a series, the better you're supposed to get, not the other way around.

I still don't know what I'm going to do next.  In two days I start a new, much smaller sketchbook and a new series, because we're heading off on a long trip and I don't want to carry a huge paint kit.  What will I put in the new sketchbook?  Will I return to the faces when we get home?  

I think that December 31 will be my last daily painting.  Several times in the past I have kept the same daily art theme for multiple years when I was having fun and felt there was still more to explore.  I know there's still a whole universe of painting out there that I have yet to learn, but I'm drawn more to another stitching project for next year.  I'll keep you posted, of course!

Saturday, September 24, 2022

My good deed for the future

I learned to sew at my grandmothers' knees, when I was 5 or 6 years old.  Since then I have probably sewed on a thousand buttons and mended hundreds of pairs of pants.  Every time I repeat myself with these mundane but so-satisfying chores I think of all the people who don't have those skills, and wonder who should have taught them.  

This summer my son got involved with a new venture, the Louisville Tool Library, a non-profit that owns lots and lots of tools of every sort that Library members can check our for their various maintenance and improvement projects.  At first they were thinking along the lines of shovels, saws, screwdrivers, drills, all kinds of building and fixing equipment.  But then people started donating sewing machines and I perked up my ears.  My son has made himself the guy in charge of workshops, and I volunteered to teach one for total sewing beginners -- today.

With practicality in mind, I decided to teach how to sew on buttons and how to patch holes in pants, both by hand.  We started with threading a needle (my students did great -- everybody succeeded on the first try) and putting a knot at the end.  Then they sewed on some little four-hole shirt buttons.  They could choose whether to sew plus signs or equal signs through the four holes.

After a couple of shirt buttons, we moved on to pants buttons, which of course required a stalk or shank.  They switched to sturdier needles and button-and-carpet thread.  We spent time on how to tie off the thread at the end of the task, and how to bury the ends between the layers of fabric (one of the students thought this was the cleverest thing she'd ever seen...).

Then we put patches on pants holes -- just plain old holes near the knees, no blown-out seams or holes in difficult places like pockets.  They cut patches from drapery-weight fabric, pinned them underneath the holes, and did rows and rows of running stitches to secure the patches.  

I had only three students this afternoon, after some who had signed up for the workshop were no-shows.  At first I was annoyed, but after we got started I was glad to have so few people -- especially the guy who had never held a needle in his life.  I could give individual instruction, attention and encouragement.  So future workshops will be just as small.

I came home exhilarated -- all three of the students said they wanted to come back for more lessons, and the Tool Library people want to have me come back as often as I can.  I want to keep teaching these basics, and one of the students asked if I could teach "visible mending."  I'd also like to hold a mending clinic in which people could bring in their own garments that need help, and we could talk first about whether the problem can actually be repaired, and how to go about it.  I am less excited about teaching newbies how to use sewing machines but I suppose I could suck it up and do it.  Supposedly the Tool Library people have tested out every tool before putting it out on the floor, so the machines ought to all work (even if they're not Berninas...  I am so spoiled... ).

My objective here is not exactly what I shoot for in teaching quilting or other fiber arts.  In those classes I wish that nobody will ever have to use other people's patterns again.  In these, the bar is much lower: that nobody will ever have to throw out a garment because it has a hole or a blown seam or a missing button.  Call it Survival Skills 101 -- with a side benefit of helping save the planet.  A good day all around!

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Daily painting update

As July turned into August I started feeling blah every day when I brought out my sketchbook for daily painting.  My intentions when I decided to do painting as my daily art for 2022 were to learn how to use paint and brushes, and with any luck, to develop some kind of personal style or voice that felt good.  I even thought maybe I could eventually come up with small paintings good enough to be torn out of the sketchbook and displayed in the gallery.

But none of these things had happened at mid-year.  I had learned that I loved gouache, especially when watered down a bit so I could use wet-into-wet techniques.  But my default composition of three horizontal segments, stacked one over the other, was feeling stale.  Some days I liked what I did, other days not, and I was definitely in a rut.

My sketchbook ran out of pages toward the end of August and I waited until the last possible day to make a run to the art supply store -- where to my dismay, there were no more 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 sketchbooks on the shelves.  I had to buy the next size up, 7 x 10.  That doesn't seem like a lot, but it's actually 50% larger and the expanse of untouched white looked orders of magnitude more daunting.  

So, time for a life-changing experience -- I painted a person.

I was thinking of Rouault's people, crudely outlined in black, usually dark against dark, not photorealistic by a mile but also not cute or cartoony.  

Georges Rouault, The Old King

Here's my first such guy:

I liked him, but what to do the next day?  I was less happy with the second guy, getting too much toward the cute/cartoon side:

Then an idea: what if I copied my guy from a photo in the newspaper instead of drawing him?  Here's the third guy:


I was much happier -- without having to worry about the outline, I could still do my own thing with the painting, and the two-color face approach was very satisfying.  I'm now two weeks in to the newspaper photo series and feeling pretty good about it.  

I'll show you more of these new faces in another post.

Friday, August 5, 2022

I have not been dead, it just looks that way...

I am so embarrassed at how long it's been since I last posted.  June and July have been the busiest months in years and while I've kept up with the daily painting and the daily Instagram posts, I have sorely neglected my blog.  I guess that proves that, at least for me, making a commitment to daily art works much better than just trying to do something as frequently as possible.  I'll try to catch you up on what I missed telling you about at the time.

So the end of June was a marathon of getting a truckload of art ready to hang in my solo show at PYRO Gallery.  A bit more than half the pieces in the show were new work, made in the last two years.  The rest were older, but mostly never seen locally.  Among the very oldest was this quilt that appeared in the special "I Remember Mama" exhibit at the Houston Quilt Festival in 2003.

Household Textiles, 2003, details below

When I wrote an artist statement for the Houston show, it was pretty sweet -- kind of embarrassing to me as I read it again for the first time in almost 20 years.  I talked about women who "sit with our needles and contemplate our lives as we sew, finding joy, peace, and a brief respite from chores and chaos."

When I gave a couple of gallery talks during the run of my show, I found myself taking a different and darker tone.  I pointed out that household textiles come is two different varieties: as instruments of female drudgery, and sometimes as instruments of female creativity and pleasure.  I noted that the ladies on the quilt (three of them are actual people, including Viola, my mother; two are made-up names given to unidentified photos found in the family box) obviously spent a whole lot more time on drudgery than on creativity...

I was particularly happy that my sister was able to come for the opening of the show, and got to revisit her old wedding dress incorporated into the quilt. 

The marriage didn't last, but the dress sure did.  It was made of that luscious heavy, drapey polyester that was so popular in the early 70s and it will no doubt outlive every other piece of textile on the entire quilt, if not the entire world. You can see in the photo that I stuffed the long sleeve so it rises a good three inches off the surface of the quilt, and I was astounded to see that after 19 years on a shelf, the sleeve is still just as perky and wrinkle-free as it was when I folded up the quilt and stowed it away.   Go, polyester!   (Now, of course, people sneer at polyester, while loving microfiber, which of course is the same thing...) 

On another note of remembrance, I couldn't help but think, many times during the show, of my dear friend Marti Plager, who died a year ago.  She had always loved this quilt and on many occasions urged me to find a way to get it up in public again.  A few times I almost did, and Marti was disappointed when it never happened.

So it finally happened, and I hope Marti got to look down from heaven and see it displayed so nicely.


Saturday, June 11, 2022

Getting ready -- a lot of work...

My new show opens four weeks from yesterday and I'm now in the stage that is probably the least fun.  All the art is made, but it has to be made ready to hang.  I've made about 20 hand-stitched pieces in varying shapes and sizes, most of them pretty small, and to make a cohesive body of work they're all going to be mounted on stretched canvases, covered with black fabric.  

Unfortunately, the black fabric is not tightly woven (I bought the cheapest cotton in the store) so the white canvas shows through when it's tightly stretched.  So I had to paint the outer border of the canvas black first. 

Then to the stretching.  The parts in the middle are easy to do, but the corners are tricky if you want them to be as flat as possible.  (The purchased canvas already has a triangle of three layers at each corner, so perfectly flat isn't going to happen, but by pulling tight you can get them to fold neatly, without bulges.)  

I do this by pulling and pinning and inspecting and pulling some more and repinning everything before putting in the final staples in the corners.  

I sew the embroideries to the canvas,  sometimes with the stitches invisible (time-consuming, but it's almost like magic when you're done) and sometimes visible.  Fortunately it's easy to stitch through the canvas and sometimes I got into a groove, carrying many of the stitching lines off the original fabric and well onto the background.  

I am deliberately avoiding calculating how much time it takes me to get a "finished" embroidery onto a canvas.  If I did, I'd probably realize that I'm paying myself a minimum wage of about 95 cents an hour.  But there are compensations, such as seeing a big stack of canvases, all looking the same, ready to go.