Saturday, September 29, 2012

Daily art -- "So, why?"

When I wrote earlier this week about my daily art projects, Helen Howes, one of my internet friends, left a provocative comment:

"I understand completely the need to make Daily projects, if there is less Art in ones life than one needs; for discipline; for a little pleasure each day; to make Personal space etc. etc. But I find that mine tend to founder, because all my life is one big thing, which is Art. The small things (daily projects, blog etc can get lost, and I get tired.. I suspect your life is pretty much like this too.. So, why?"

I had to think about this for a while.  I agree with Helen that the small things can get lost in a busy life.  I guess one reason I do daily art is to prevent it from getting lost.  It's kind of like joining a gym -- the temptation to skip a day is easier to resist when you have made a public commitment.  

In fact, one of my daily art projects turned out to be kind of like joining a gym in terms of making me get out and exercise.  I hate to exercise, and am always having to find ways to bribe and threaten myself to do it.  I discovered that my commitment to take a decent photo every day was a strong impetus to take a walk every day, because it was a whole lot easier to find a picture when I was out and about than if I stayed home (only so many times you can interestingly photograph your rug).

I suspect that many people who do daily art embrace it for just this purpose: to force/encourage/bribe themselves to make the work.  The busier the schedule, the more this may be a compelling motivation.  But as Helen points out, when making art is already the focus of your life, do you really need encouragement to make more?

Some people may use daily art as a learning tool.  If you do something every day you can't help but get better at it -- think of piano practice, or conversational Spanish.  Again, I know that taking a photo a day greatly improved my photo skills.  But I regarded that as a fringe benefit, not as a major motivation.

I realize that I look upon daily art as a work of art, not as practice and not as mere warmup exercises.  In addition to the stuff I make, the dailiness and the ground rules are an integral part of this work.  It's conceptual art: the idea is about as important as the execution.  Somehow I think that doing an embroidery every day for a year is different (and I guess in my opinion, better) than doing 365 embroideries over some indefinite period of time.

That's just the way my mind works; your mileage may vary.  If you've done daily art, why did you do it?  If you're thinking that maybe you might want to do daily art, what aspect of it is appealing to you?  Inquiring minds want to know.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

More thoughts on daily art -- plan ahead!

Last week I wrote a couple of posts about my daily art projects.  This year I'm doing hand-stitching every day, and a weekly themed photo collection.  Several people commented about their love for, or non-love for, similar endeavors.  Linda asked how I deal with obstacles like holidays and visitors; Drew wondered whether she might want to start a daily art project on her birthday rather than waiting for the first of the year.

For them, or anybody else contemplating a daily art project, I would say that planning is the key to a project that works or one that fizzles.  You have to choose something that will fit in with your life and your capabilities.  But the good news is that you get to set the rules.

For instance, my project in 2001 was to make a quilt square for every day.  On days when I was home, usually working in the studio, it was easy: at the end of the day I would gather up bits and pieces left from that day's work and piece them into a square.  On days when we were traveling or too busy for me to have studio time, I would look for a striking visual image from the day.

I knew that we were going to be on the road a lot, so I set my rules to accommodate that.  I didn't require myself to actually sew the square that day, just to have one square per day at the end of the year.  While we traveled I would think about my project and try to decide which image to use and how I might execute it, but sometimes it would be weeks before I actually finished the square.

a trip to Washington DC in cherry blossom time

Similarly, in 2010 I resolved to take a photo every day and post it to my blog.  But again, I knew we were planning to travel a lot, and at the time I didn't have a way to access my blog remotely.  So my rule was that if I was away, I'd wait and post the photos when I got home, as long as I actually shot the photo on the given day.

By contrast, in 2011 I changed the rules so I had to post the photo that day, but didn't have to actually shoot it that day.  This allowed me to go to my archives of old photos for good images from the past.  And it gave me the freedom to post in advance when we were going to be away.

This year my hand-stitching project has proven to be extremely flexible.  Even if I'm going to be away for a couple of weeks, the fabric and embroidery floss fit into a small ziplock bag and I can work on it anywhere.  I can sew and talk (or listen) at the same time, so if I'm visiting somebody or somebody is visiting me, I can do the day's stitching while carrying on a conversation.  I enjoy days when I have meetings, because I can stitch/multitask instead of carving out time in which I'm only stitching.  I also gave myself some flexibility by writing the rules such that I have a day of grace period -- if I don't finish today's stitching today, I can do it tomorrow.

this will hold me for one week -- or if I'm tight on space, I can take lots less embroidery floss

Last year I had a project in which every week I would make at least one bundle or package of things I found around the house, in the studio or on the street.  If I was on the road, I had to find and assemble bundles from things I acquired en route.  Obviously the bundles from travel weeks were smaller than those made at home, because I knew I had to shlep them back with me, but that was part of the challenge.

bundle from a trip -- luggage tags and other travel detritus, tied up with luggage tag elastics

I've learned not to bite off more than I can chew.  If your rules are flexible, it's much easier to keep up with the project.  For instance, I made at least one bundle per week.  In busy weeks, there was only one; at more leisurely times I might make six, seven or eight bundles in the week.  That was fun, but I didn't feel guilty if I only had time for one.

I recommend that if you give yourself a grace period in your rules, you don't make it too long.  If you allow yourself to put off the daily art for days or even weeks, you're losing a lot of the essence of the endeavor.  Also if you get too far behind you will find it harder and harder to catch up; the project will become a chore rather than an adventure.

I also recommend a dry run before you embark on a year's worth of daily art.  Thinking about a project and actually doing it are two different things.  Unless you know how long it takes you to stitch a certain sized piece or make a certain sized collage or draw a picture, you won't know whether it's feasible to do that day in and day out.  Be realistic, and it's better to underpromise -- you can always do a little more some days, and feel good about it.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Embroidery update 2 -- faces

Hard to believe that we're almost three-quarters of the way through 2012, but a daily art project has a way of reminding you how time passes.  A couple of years ago my daily art project required labels that said "Day 264," which really kept the issue front-of-mind.  But this year I see how long the sewed-together panels are getting.

I've picked up a few new themes since the last time I reported to you.  Recently I've been trying to do faces.  Since I don't draw, this is a challenge.

This guy is drawn in my own style -- I frequently doodle whole pages of faces in the crowd and they all look pretty much like this.

Copied this one from somebody's drawing -- can't reconstruct who it was or where I saw it.

Copied the next two from Picasso.

Here's a faux Picasso.  (He does it much better than I do.)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Daily art thoughts

I love daily art and in fact I started this blog as a vehicle for my daily art project in 2010.  Since then I'm on my third year of daily photographs (well, this year it's weekly, but same concept...) in which posting to the blog is the essential step in the rules.  I've also done various daily and weekly art projects in which the essential step is just to make the things, not to post them, so blog readers may see an occasional update, but not the entire array.

I decided I should be more organized in documenting and displaying my daily art.  While you can click on "daily art" and read all of my posts on this blog, they're kind of disorganized and you might have to look through posts on several different projects to follow just one.  So I'm getting my house in order.

I've started a new blog, Kathy's Daily Art, solely to show my daily art projects, current and past.  The three years of photos are there in full (I hope I can remember to cross-post new photos to both blogs).  And I plan to take complete photos of my other projects as soon as possible.

Unfortunately my seven years of daily postcards are unavailable.  For six years, I sent a postcard to my mother every day, and after she died I got them all back, but still haven't been able to summon up the grit to go through them, let alone organize and photograph them.  And the year after she died, when I sent daily postcards to all her closest relatives, I didn't keep good track of them.  It would probably be too much to expect that all eleven recipients faithfully kept all their cards and could let me document them.

But I'll be posting pictures of my daily art quilt (2001), my weekly bundles and packages (2011), and my daily hand-stitching (2012).  And I'll keep posting the photos to this blog, as well as updates on my non-photo projects.

Somehow this feels especially right.  I love daily art because of its structure and discipline, and I realize that it's even better when you can record and present everything you have done.  So please check out my new blog at your leisure.

And a reminder -- it's getting toward the end of the year!  That means it's not too soon to start thinking about whether you might like to do a daily or weekly art project yourself in 2013.  Some years I have come up with my daily art idea on the morning of January 1; others I have thought about it in advance and maybe even done a few dry runs in advance.  One year it took all of one day of dry run to realize that my idea was unworkable, but I'm glad that happened in December instead of on New Year's Day.  If you're intrigued by daily art, maybe you'd like to try a month of it and see whether you like it.  October and November would be really good times for that experiment, if I might be so bold as to make a suggestion.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Monday, September 17, 2012

Quilt National -- mixed feelings

In management training courses they tell you to always preface your criticisms or suggestions with some praise.  "Jack, you designed a really beautiful building!  Too bad the roof leaks and you forgot to put in electrical outlets...."

So here's my praise.  I think Quilt National is the best venue in the world for non-traditional quilters who want their work to be seen more as art than as decor.  The show is beautifully presented, the catalog is first-rate, the two-year tour allows the work to be seen in many other cities, it attracts the best quilters in the world.

And I think it's good that QN has gone to online entries this year.  It hasn't been all that long since they switched from slides to digital, and now they've bypassed the CD, which was cumbersome at both ends of the entry process.  I remember how long it took for many art venues to abandon slides a decade ago, and the creative excuses they put forth for clinging to obsolete technology.  At least the shows that I typically enter, including QN, have been a lot more reasonable about going online.


(You knew that was coming.)

I got a bit crabby after going through my online entry process for Quilt National last week.  Fortunately I had been warned by some of my fellow artists that the process was lengthy, so I prepared myself with a fresh cup of tea and a whole morning with no other commitments.  But even in that frame of mind I found the task to be unnecessarily arduous.

a whole summer's work

I've used several different online entry systems for various shows, and encountered some glitches, but they seem to be improving.   Obviously there's more than one choice out there for a show to choose from.  So I'm not as tolerant of the glitches as I was a few years ago when people were inventing these systems on the fly.

The directions were clear about how the images were to be sized and named, so that was fine.  Having done online entries before I know to have all the images in a single folder, to have the dimensions and correct titles written down, to have my credit card at hand.

So I proceeded to "click here to register and upload."  Typed in my name and other info, got the message that I had been successful in registering, and attempted to move on and upload.  No, I had to wait for an email confirmation.  That came several minutes later, after I checked my junk mail folder (no, not there) and asked for the system to resend.  I clicked on the link in the email "to activate your account."  That took me back to the site, but with a "sorry, you lose" message that my account still hadn't been activated.  After two or three times I realized I should try copying and pasting the link instead of just clicking, so finally I was in.

I didn't take notes, but as I recall, the first screen called immediately for me to upload the images for my first quilt.  That worked pretty quickly.  The next screen asked me to "label the image" of the full view, which meant to type in the title, month and year of completion, dimensions, sale price and insurance value (65% of the sale price).  OK, I zipped through it pretty quickly.  Now to label the detail shot -- which meant to type in the title, month and year of completion, dimensions, etc. etc. -- everything I had just typed in for the full view!

Then I had to provide a bunch of information on the work itself -- a series of multiple choice questions to describe the materials, processes and nature of the quilt.  Then more questions to see if I would be eligible for various awards: the surface design award, if I had dyed, painted or otherwise created the image on my quilt; a special award if I lived in Ohio or one of its bordering states; a young artist award, if I were under 30.  Then whether I had entered QN before, and whether the quilt had been out in public, in the flesh or on the web.

One of the questions asked me to "Describe the embellishment on the face of the quilt: paint, machine or hand enbroidery, dye, beads, found objects or other."  Since I had no embellishment, I left the question blank.  But the computer caught me and made me answer.  I settled on "other" and wrote in "none."  (Thought maybe they could have provided "none" as a possible answer -- aren't there lots of quilts out there with no embellishment? -- but that would have been too easy.)

This didn't take all that long to slog through, so I was soon at the last step: the credit card page.

QN has a new pricing policy this year: instead of $35 for up to three quilts, it costs $35 to enter one quilt, and $5 each if you want to enter one or two more.  But the three charges had to be rung up separately.  After I finished all the paperwork for Quilt #1, I had to pay $35.  I typed in all my credit card info: number, address, verification code, expiration date, you know the drill.  And I was done!

With Quilt #1, that is.  Now I returned to the top of the page and went through the same routine with Quilt #2.  Typed in the dimensions, etc. of the quilt twice, once for the full view and once for the detail shot.  Told them that I still live in one of the bordering states and I'm still not under 30.  (Wonder how many people were under 30 when they started, not when they finished... )  Typed in my credit card number, verification code, expiration date, etc. to pay another $5.

Now I did the whole thing all over again for Quilt #3.  I wish I had kept track of how many times I typed in my name, my address, my phone number.  Several.  At least the process was fairly clear, if vastly longer and more cumbersome than it had to be.

Whenever I encounter busy-work extravaganzas like this entry process, I wonder about how the decision was made to use that particular format.  Did anybody sit down and pretend to be an entrant, typing in everything that was asked for?  Did that person notice how many times she had to type in her name and address?  Did she say "can we consolidate some of this information to make it easier for the people?"  Did she say "it's been years since Amazon invented the shopping cart -- why can't we run through just one charge for whatever you owe?"  And if not, why not?

Quilt National, being the 800-pound gorilla, can get away with this kind of red tape.  I guess.  But why would it want to?

Friday, September 14, 2012

More with sew-off squares

I've written before about my love of sew-off squares, those little bits of fabric that serve an important function in piecing and quilting, preventing loose thread ends from complicating your sewing machine process.  Instead of cutting the threads when you get to the end of a seam, you sew onto the little square, then cut the thread between the work and the sew-off.  Your needle never comes unthreaded, you avoid long thread ends around the edges of your work that might get caught in subsequent seams, and you use a lot less thread.

No sooner had I discovered the functional benefits of sew-off squares than I decided they could have artistic benefits as well.  I like to make little designs on the squares, then collect thousands of them and sew them into large compositions.  But I almost always have the squares separated by a threadwork grid.  For some time I have been thinking that the squares would also look good if they were placed much closer together, almost covering the background.

I had a chance to experiment with this concept last week when I made a small stretched piece for a community art project.  My local fiber and textile art group is making work to hang in our regional drug and alcohol rehab clinic, and I had signed up to do a piece.  We each received an 11x14 stretched canvas, and had to perform some kind of textile art on it.

I started with a piece of fabric dyed with black walnuts, a project that I worked on last fall.  It was the perfect size to wrap around the canvas.  Then I chose some sew-off squares out of my collection that seemed to share a character or sensibility.

They're all kind of rough -- not carefully composed, not evenly stitched.  They seem to have been sewed together like mending or surgery rather than like embroidery.  I thought that was a good metaphor for people in rehab, trying to put together the bits and pieces of a life that has been going through hard times.

I know that in my own hard times I have found comfort in sewing together a bazillion tiny bits of fabric, proxies for the messy bits of life that had gotten out of control.  I hoped that the people at the clinic might find a similar comfort in looking at these patched-together squares.

I machine-stitched the squares to the base fabric first, then stapled the fabric to the frame for a neat finish.

To see what other fiber artists have been up to this week, click here to visit Nina-Marie's Off the Wall Friday blog.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Embroidery update 1 -- running stitch

I've been asked to give a plug to In Stitches, the e-magazine published by Quilting Arts that featured an article about my daily embroidery project.  Since I jumped the gun and ran the post last week, I'll occupy my appointed day on the blog hop with an update on the project itself.  Meanwhile, do check out the magazine!

I'm still working on running stitch as the latest stop in my travels through the embroidery reportoire, trying to make it my own rather than just lifting the technique from a book or from somebody else's work.  I wrote earlier about the gorgeous running stitch technique of Julia Caprara, and I've kept up with it since the post.  But in the small confines of a 4-inch square there's not much I can do to develop a personal twist.  The doodles keep turning out faux Julia, but I'm still working on it.

Now I'm trying to do other things with running stitch.  Here are a couple of spirals, shamefully lifted from -- no, I mean inspired by -- a recent work by Christine Mauersberger.

And here are some plain lines.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Monday, September 10, 2012

Junk mail haiku 1

I've written before about a twist on found art where I search out "found poetry" on the printed pages of books and newspapers.  I've posted some of my compositions here, and more on a blog called Haiku Art.

Recently I started a new project, finding haiku in junk mail.  This is an ideal art project for the terminally frugal: your raw materials are in endless, renewing supply, and your equipment cost is minimal, one glue stick lasting for many months.

The rules of this project are simple: the junk mail has to come in a conventionally shaped envelope, and I paste the found haiku onto the front of the envelope.  If our address is printed on the envelope, I cover it with a blank label and put the poem there; if there's a window I usually put the poem inside it.

Eventually I plan to bind the "pages" into a book, but for now I'm just finding the poems.  I've been on a roll in the last several days, as I'm trying to go through the piles of stuff that accumulated on my kitchen and dining room tables during the months I was quilting nonstop.

When I work on projects like this with a strong element of conceptual art, I find that half the fun is thinking about the different ways to categorize and organize the work.  When I made bundles last year, for instance, I enjoyed grouping them by contents, by theme, by source, by size, by style of labeling tag, etc.

This project is no exception.  Having finished almost 100 so far, I'm delighted to sort and contemplate the many themes and variations that are appearing.

Let me talk first about the poetry, and come back in later posts to the visual aspects.  My basic choice is whether the poem should be a fair representation of the appeal, or whether I should take words and phrases out of context for surprise, irony or humor.  Much as I enjoy the latter, I sometimes feel it's disrespectful to make fun of the real human suffering in question.  I tend to play it straight with humanitarian appeals, but exterminators, insurance agents and used car salesmen are fair game for anything silly I can find.

Many of my haiku end up simply describing the dire situations that the appeal is trying to deal with.  You can't always tell exactly what is under discussion, but you certainly get the drift.

Slightly different are the poems that present the appeal itself.

Still others present a call to action.

Are you sobbing yet and reaching for your checkbook?  The poems will be more fun in the next post, I promise.