Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Print fabric -- spawn of the devil??

When I wrote last week about the trendy colors in modern quilting and showed an array of prints in said colors, I was surprised at some comments from people who apparently don't like prints in any way, shape or form, whether the colors are trendy or not.  Even though I know that most people who think of their work as art more than as quilts don't use commercial prints, I wasn't expecting the vehemence of the responses.

Although I generally haven't used commercial prints in my own work in more than six years, I don't share that disdain.  I own a truckload of prints in every color and style known to mankind, and have a fond hope that someday I will figure out how to use them.  In other words, don't write and suggest that I could eliminate my problem by sending the truck over to your place or to the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation.  I like my prints, just don't know what to do with them at the moment.

Here are glimpses into some but by no means all of the drawers I have filled with commercial prints.  You can see that I take some care in putting them away -- folding them to be the same height, sorting them by color.

Most of these are quarter- or half-yard cuts, although I have taken pains to save bits after using some of the fabric. 

One of my best quilting friends says she loves nothing more than to use up the last piece of a fabric that has been around for a while.  I am exactly the opposite -- I will never use up the last piece unless I absolutely have to.  When I've used almost all of a fabric, I'll fold it into a really tiny little packet and move it to a box reserved for "endangered species."

I will admit that many of my commercial prints look dated and even ugly.  Who knew what caused me to buy them in the first place?  And in some cases, I didn't buy them, I inherited or otherwise acquired them. 

It's probably time for me to sort through the drawers and pull out the fabrics that look ugly.  I still own a lot of old-fashioned small calico prints, but they've mostly been pulled out of the drawers and put into a separate place so I can give them to new quilters who want to work with a traditional look.  In general, I still love my prints.  I like visiting them in their drawers, even if they don't get to come out and play very often.  I like straightening them out and arranging them in neat rows so you can see everything there without having to paw through a pile.  I like HAVING them, even if I don't use them.  As vices go, I think you could come up with worse.

Photo du jour

sign of the week

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Found poetry 3

I've written before about my practice of "finding" haiku on the printed page, and art form that is satisfying to me because it combines visual art with the written word.  I had the chance to use this practice in a challenge project with my local fiber and textile art group.

Seems that one of our members is active in her Friends of the Library group.  Several months ago that group was given 16 large boxes of romance novels, and after disposing of many of them at book sales, simply couldn't even give them away any more.  So the remainder came to our textile art group and we held a challenge to make art out of the books.  Last week we had the great revelation.

I decided to find haiku in the book to make a reader's digest version of the novel, and pasted them into a book I made using various stamps and stencils with acrylic paint. 

Here's the first page, which was also the first page of the book -- you will notice that it didn't take long for our heroine to start losing her clothes.

I won't show you every page, but will give you the full text:

stripped down to her slip
her rented car.  It was hot...
taken a wrong fork

Like a black panther,
energy to stalk his prey.
the danger in him

hard against the bed
his scent... the scent of danger
Why don't you lie down

What are you  hiding?
swept her up against his chest,
muscles of his chest

outrageous passion.
wrapping like satin barbed-wire
her widening thighs

like a scream of pain
She drew a breath on a sob.
Do you even care?

the unspoken pain
she didn't yet comprehend.
A tingling began

Your beautiful skin
creamy velvet all over.
he had studied her

breath caught in her throat
Falling in love at my age
want to marry you,

Lots of fun with this project!   The only drawback was having to read the novels in the first place.  It was kind of like watching a snake eat a bunny rabbit -- so awful that you can't look away.  Do romance writers think that women are attracted to men who treat them like dirt and regard rape as a logical, if frowned-upon, courtship tactic?  Apparently, since they publish over 7,000 romance novels every year.  Even in the readers digest version it would be difficult for me to get through many of them.

Photo du jour


Friday, November 25, 2011

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Collaboration project 10

Last month some people in my artists book club got together at my house, and somehow the conversation turned to my postage stamp quilts and how I got the idea to make work in that format.  Since we were, after all, at my house, I was able to run into the studio and bring out a handful of my sew-off squares to demonstrate the process.  One thing led to another, and everybody in the group went home with a square or two to see if they would inspire some art.

This week most of the people came back with their artwork, and the overachiever's prize went to photographer Keith Auerbach, who had taken his two little squares, scanned them and played with them in photoshop.  He ended up with a whole series of compositions that he printed off as notecards and gave to me.

Here's the first square:

And the finished image:

With some color manipulation:

And some shape manipulation:

Here's the second square:

And here are some of the finished images in this series, with various manipulations:

If you've been following my year-long efforts at collaboration, you may think that this work doesn't really qualify, since I did 0.01 percent of the work and Keith did the rest.  And you would be right.  So to keep things honest, I'm going to take some of Keith's images and put a lot of work into making something with them as a starting point.  Not sure when this part of the project will be complete, but I'll show you what I come up with.

Photo du jour

sign of the week

(good luck)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Monday, November 21, 2011

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Modern quilting colors

Over the last few months I've been doing my best to keep you posted on my ongoing project to understand what Modern Quilting really is.  If you haven't been paying attention, so far we've established that Modern Quilters tend to be younger than non-modern quilters, that they want to Break The Rules, that they love gray and white among their colors, and that they like to depict their quilts artfully draped over furniture or shrubbery rather than photographed boringly head-on against a neutral background.

This week I was happy to read that several Modern Quilting gurus have shared with us their ideas of exciting color combinations

We all know that colors go in and out of fashion, just as patterns do.  A year or two ago I was crushed to discover that it's very difficult to buy striped fabric -- just when I had realized that stripes worked marvelously with my newly developed style of piecing.  I made a huge quilt that exhausted most of my stripe stash, and went out to buy more for a second quilt in warm colors, but oops, no stripes.  Plenty of polka dots, though.

Crazed 8: Incarceration, 2010 (detail)

Most fiber artists that I know don't spend much time in the quilt shop, however, making most of their own fabrics with various surface design techniques, whether dyeing, painting, screenprinting, discharging or whatever.  So maybe you will be as curious about what's hot these days as I was.

In a nutshell: gray and gray/beige, orange, mustard yellow, pink, warm dark red, grayed teal. 

Should fiber artists spend even a millisecond thinking about this?

Maybe not.  But then again, I was present in a room once when a Famous Artist was judging quilts in a juried show, and after some consideration, passed by a quilt that I thought was quite striking.  Why?  "Because the color palette is so old-fashioned, it just doesn't look fresh."  And if you, like me, are toying with the idea of doing an article or book or pattern or workshop that might appeal to quilters who do frequent quilt shops, perhaps you would like to think that your samples look fresh rather than old-fashioned. 

A few months ago you, my friends, pitched in and helped me win a contest in which I wrote about what I thought Modern Quilting meant.  My prize included a nice little pile of fabrics that, sure enough, fit in nicely with this new color vibe.  In furtherance of my own commercial development plan, which I'm not yet ready to go public with, I'm going to use some of these new trendy colors to make a quilt!  And since my stash dates back decades, I can probably go into my drawers and find a lot of fabrics that are just as trendy to go with these new ones, saved from the last time orange and gray went around.  When was that -- the 60s?  the 70s?  the 80s?  I can't remember.

Modern quilting fabrics on the left; my stash on the right.  If you're younger than I am and would like to save me from myself, please let me know which ones are mortifyingly old-fashioned.  Thank you!!!

Photo du jour

blue bench

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Photo du jour

street ball

What do I think about this?

The question du jour on one of my email lists has to do with self-critique, and what questions you should ask yourself as you work on, and then after you finish, a new piece.  This is a subject guaranteed to get me to the keyboard, because I've long felt that a formal process of evaluation is necessary to a serious artist. 

I'm sure some of my former students and readers will be rolling their eyeballs if they read this -- oh no, here we go again!  But yes.  I don't see how intelligent people can conduct any part of their lives without self-evaluation.  Does this pair of jeans make me look fat?  Why do I always end up going out with losers? Can we afford to remodel the kitchen?  Should I rat out my co-worker who's sneaking money out of petty cash?  If I make this recipe again should I use less rutabaga?  How should I invest my 401(k)?  Is this art any good?

for instance, is this any good?  (detail below)

My hobby-horse is that the more serious the issue, the more it deserves a formal process rather than just some fleeting thoughts in passing.  So when it's your financial affairs or how to treat a blockbuster disease, do research, write stuff down, discuss it, get second opinions, revisit your decisions periodically. When it's your jeans, don't spend too much time on it.

But if you're serious about your art, or wonder whether you should get more serious about it, then it may deserve a more formal process.  Here's mine.  I suggest you review a just-completed work on four counts:

-- What you liked or thought was successful
-- What you disliked or thought was unsuccessful
-- What technical issues or problems you had
-- Decision points where you had to choose between equally appealing alternatives, and what alternatives you rejected

Then you use these answers to plan your next work:

-- Do more of what was successful
-- Don't do what was unsuccessful
-- Try to solve or minimize the technical problems
-- Try one or more of the alternatives you haven't used yet (you may go back to earlier pieces to find rejected alternatives to try this time)

Before you start a new work, define conceptually what you are planning to accomplish.  Think about how it fits into your body of work, whether it extends a current series and if so how, or whether there is a reason to do something outside a current series.  (Just playing is a valid reason, as long as you don't do it all the time.)  If you can't describe this clearly, maybe you shouldn't start.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Packing fever

The good news is you got into a show!

The bad news is then you have to get the quilt to the show.

Yesterday was a bad news day.  I had to ship two quilts off, which shouldn't be too big a deal.  I own plenty of pool noodles on which to roll things, plenty of long boxes, plenty of dowels and sticks for hanging rods, plenty of screw eyes in case I have to make a new rod.  I have a roll of clear package tape in every room of the house, with a scissors nearby.  But it took me the better part of an hour to get those two quilts on their way, not counting the drive (in the rain) to FedEx.

Didn't take too long to find them because I'd recently packed up almost a hundred quilts, leaving only those in current circulation on the bed.  But after trying 35 different pre-existing hanging rods, finding none to be the right length, I had to cut a new one and set screw-eyes.  I did find two rods of the right length for the other quilt, but one required a little remedial maintenance. 

Only had to root around for a minute or two to find the right length noodle.  Found a box just the right size quite easily, since the larger quilt had come home from another show in it and it was at the front of the box stash.  Found a nice fabric tube to put the roll in, because I had recently cut up an old sheet and made THREE such tubes, each one already labeled with my name and address.  Did I feel proud of myself!  Found several nice cords to tie up the roll and the package, because I had recently cut the hems off some curtains and made a dozen ties of various lengths.  More proud of myself.

As packing days go, this was a walk in the park.  Sometimes I have spent an entire morning on a frantic, prayer-punctuated expedition to find the quilt in the first place -- looking in drawers, boxes, rolls, piles, straightening up my studio to an alarming degree before the damn thing shows its face.  Sometimes I can't find a noodle long enough, and have to construct one by joining two shorter ones with a dowel for a spine.  Sometimes I have to build a box by cannibalizing cardboard from other sources.

Perhaps you have noticed that the operative verb in this narrative is "find."  It's not that any of these steps are difficult or even time-consuming -- once you have your materials and things at hand.  I remember fondly the mail room at my old place of employment.  Big empty counters where you could spread out your stuff and pack your boxes, sealing tape right out there on the counter 24/7. 

I suppose that in an ideal world I would have a big rack for my hanging rods, like at Home Depot where dowels of different lengths each have their own little compartment and you could instantly go to the 35-inch space.  It would go right next to the big empty counter with the sealing tape, under which would be a dozen empty long boxes in assorted sizes.  I'll invite you over when I get this all organized.  Perhaps in the next century.

Photo du jour

still life

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Monday, November 14, 2011

More about the Q word

Perhaps you have seen episodes on PBS, or read promotions urging you to buy the DVD of a new documentary series, "Why Quilts Matter."   It was produced by Shelly Zegart, who was interviewed last week by our local alternative weekly newspaper.  I read it with interest, partly because I am one of the quilters who was shown in the documentary, and wondered how the subject would be presented to the younger, hip readers of this publication.

Sure enough, the interviewer announces early on, "I have to admit I thought quilt making was a dying art..."  (Don't you love it when the reporter is so proud of her preconceived wrong ideas that it gets into the story?)

The rest of the interview is relatively innocuous, because of course you can't go into enough detail in one of these feature stories to treat anything substantively.  But I perked up at this Q&A:

Reporter:  "What do you consider to be the most important quilt in history?"

Shelly:  "The AIDS quilt -- it put focus on a movement like no other.  It changed the face of the understanding of AIDS and its human toll.  Quilts have always been made for causes, like temperance or to raise money; the AIDS quilt just brought this to the public."

I happen to agree with everything Shelly said except one thing.  She's right about how this project made many people realize that AIDS patients were people, not remote and nameless victims who weren't like us and probably deserved what they got.  (Young people may not remember that in the early days of the disease, that was exactly the prevailing view.)  And it certainly made people realize the size of the epidemic, when it took a huge swath of the Mall in Washington to display the piece.

But wait -- the AIDS quilt is not a quilt.  Call it a fiber construction, call it cloth banners, call it a set of panels (actually that's how the official project website refers to the individual pieces) but not a quilt, because it's not quilted.  It wouldn't even qualify as a quilt under the expansive definitions of most art quilt shows, let alone the strict definitions of your favorite traditional guild or state fair. 

So am I being a terrible party-pooper and pedant and killjoy?  Maybe so, but I find it ironic that to promote the concept that "Quilts Matter," we have to cite something that isn't a quilt as the most important quilt in history.  Just because its promoters call it a quilt -- and wasn't that a stroke of marketing genius? -- doesn't make it one, technically.

I tend to be a little picky about nomenclature in other contexts as well.  Although I often try to avoid the Q word in describing my own work, I do value the technical definitions of the myriad variations of textile arts.  I'm willing to substitute a less-specific umbrella term for "quilt," but I'm not willing to use an equally specific word that happens to be wrong.  So yes, I'm OK calling a quilt a "fiber construction" or a "mixed media piece" or a "fabric collage" but I'm not OK calling it a "needlepoint" or a "tapestry" or a "painting" or a "weaving" or an "embroidery."

I happen to believe that those of us who make art in the fiber kingdom should and usually do understand the world in which we have chosen to play.  Even if we choose to play against the tradition, we should respect it and be cognizant of its history and forms.

Even if the ordinary man-on-the-street or alternative-newspaper-reporter doesn't know the difference between a quilt and a woven coverlet or a crocheted afghan, we should.  Even if the clever advertising people at Northern Tissue think that ladies quilt at a frame with both hands on top, holding knitting needles, we should know better -- and yes, we should do our best to educate the ad guys and get the commercial changed.  Even if other people misspell our name, we shouldn't.

Heck, if we don't understand and respect the picky little details of our own chosen art form, how can we possibly expect anybody else to? 

Photo du jour

sign of the week

Saturday, November 12, 2011

20,000 and counting

A few days ago my camera, which I bought in June 2010, flipped its odometer for the third time, and started counting again at 0000.  That means I've taken 20,000 photos in 17 months, actually more like 15 months if you subtract its three vacations in the Nikon service center.

The high mileage testifies to how seriously I have taken to daily photography; I almost always have the camera in my pocket when I leave home, thus allowing me to take advantage of serendipitous photos like this one:

Or this (yes, I know it's bad practice to take pictures while driving, but the light had just changed and we weren't even moving yet...):

The bad part of flipping the odometer is that now you have three photos named DSCN0032 or whatever.  I've always wondered why Nikon chose to have its naming protocol perform so inefficiently -- fully half of the characters allotted to naming are wasted, while the remaining four don't last all that long for serious photographers.

As a result, my photo folders often have problems.  My food folder, for instance, might have a bunch of Thanksgiving pictures, taken the first time I hit a certain neighborhood in the numbering protocol, interspersed with some of the summer garden from the second time around.  As I go through the folder, I'll come upon a turkey (DSCN3724), then a tomato (DSCN3724 - 2), then another turkey (DSCN3725), then another tomato (DSCN3725 - 2).   I know I could change the names and call them turkey 1 and tomato 1, but I'm getting old and life seems too short.

By contrast, I loved the naming protocol for my old Olympus cameras.  As far as I can deduce, a photo might be named P6263724, which means it was taken on June 26 and was numbered 3724.  The next photo might be named P6273725, which means it was taken on June 27, but the ID numbers, so to speak, continued consecutively.   The same eight characters as Nikon, but a lot more information and a lot less opportunity to trip over your own feet.  Even if you went around the four-digit odometer a hundred times, what are the chances that photo number 3724 would be taken on the same date as on a previous circuit?

But if that's the biggest complaint I have about my camera, I'm a happy camper.  At least it's in my pocket these days and not in the Nikon service center.  Hope it holds on for another 10,000 pictures!

Photo du jour

junkyard dog

Friday, November 11, 2011

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Photo du jour

terra cotta

Remedial surface design

My 12-year-old nephew was visiting from Australia recently and had some requests.  His mother had bought him new T-shirts at an outlet mall but none perfectly fit his fashion sensibilities.  Could his aunt the sewist do something to remedy the situation?

Such a challenge generally sets the adrenalin going and I said I would do my best.  What was the problem?

The first one was easy.  The shirt had a breast pocket and he didn't like it.  Among other things, unruly boys at his school have been known to grab pockets and rip them off.  He'd already been advised that unsewing the pocket would look bad (even if we managed to get the stitches out without leaving holes, a printed logo was half on and half off the pocket).  So he would settle for sewing it shut.  But I went for the much simpler approach, fusing it shut.

The second problem required more artistic contemplation.  The two identical shirts were plain, solid colors, and that just wouldn't do.  He wanted some kind of design.

I went through the possibilities.  Paint, tie-dye, discharge, applique.  To that last one, his mom said, "you know, like the little heart on your father's sweater" that was one result of my big mending project at last year's visit.  But if Dad has it, would a kid want it too?  Of course not. 

We tested the fabric and sure enough, both the red and the orange shirts discharged nicely with Finish dishwasher gel.  So we put a nice abstract design on each one.

Here's Robbie with one of his new shirts.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

More found art

I've written before about what I call found art, photos of interesting surfaces and accidental marks that make pleasing "pictures" and might even be mistaken for paintings.  Recently I read on another blog about a project of Loughborough University in the UK that is developing an online database of various art topics, including -- yes -- found art, except they call it "found drawings."

They're soliciting contributions so I sent in several of my own found art.  I thought these two were particularly like drawings.  One of them, plus another that isn't pictured here, was chosen for the database.
So far the database doesn't have a lot of these photos, but if it grows, I suspect the next step will be to categorize them, which I think will make it more fun to consult.  For instance, categories might include natural textures, graffiti, aerial landscapes, distressed manmade objects, shadows, reflections.

If you'd like to send in some of your own found drawings, here are the guidelines

Photo du jour

sign of the week

wow, Heather, I want some of your brand of paint!!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Obituary of the week

Yesterday's New York Times carried an obituary that gave me pleasure, not because a good woman died but because the newspaper celebrated a life worth living, and of interest to fiber artists.  The departed is Mary Hunt Kahlenberg, who was curator of costumes and textiles at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and later was an important textile collector and curator in Santa Fe.

Perhaps her most notable accomplishment was to organize, in 1972, an exhibit of Navajo blankets that toured widely and greatly impressed the art world.  Rather than showing the blankets as craft artifacts or in dioramas, she put them on the wall, just like paintings.

The NYTimes art critic wrote at the time, "The range is amazing.  There are designs here — fields of gray with the leanest linear embellishments — that answer to the strictest notions of minimal aesthetics, and there are others that are so vivid in their color, so intricate in their accretion of forms, so overpowering in their optical effect, that they make the inevitable comparisons with recent developments in op art almost laughable.  Nothing that our painting has produced in recent years exceeds in sheer visual power the strongest works in this survey.”

While I had been unaware of this important exhibit, the critical remarks reminded me of a similar blockbuster show at just about the same time, the exhibit of American quilts at the Whitney Museum in 1971.  There, too, the critics raved; quilts displayed on the wall in a museum setting suddenly could be perceived as Real Art (aka painting-like objects).  And of course three decades later came the Gee's Bend blockbuster, where again, quilts on the wall blew the critics away: "some of the most miraculous works of modern art America has produced," the Times wrote.  "Eyes of New Yorkers attuned to modern art will find echoes of painterly equivalents."

Ah, yes, to be Real Art it has to remind us of paintings.  And interestingly, no matter how powerfully the critics were impressed by the textiles, they apparently weren't persuaded to seek out and venerate similar pieces in other venues.  The Real Art world always recovers quickly from blockbuster appearances of non-traditional mediums, at least those executed by artists who didn't get MFAs at Yale or contracts with Gagosian.