Friday, January 30, 2015

A year of found art

You know I'm a devotee of regular art -- projects in which you commit to making something every day, week or month according to the rules set at the outset.  I've been doing daily art every year since 2003, which you can check out at my other blog.  These projects have been my personal activities, but for some time I've also had the pleasure of doing regular art with a partner, Uta Lenk, my quilting pal in Germany.

We started out in 2010 and 2011 by exchanging emails every day, each with at least one photo.  Then in 2013 we did thirteen posts, each consisting of thirteen images of thirteen objects.

Last year we changed the rules and exchanged photos of "found art" --  accidental patterns and compositions created by man or nature and discovered by camera-carrying observers.  We had both enjoyed taking this kind of picture in the past, so we didn't have to search very hard to come up with our weekly contributions.

One of my favorite places to find found art is on the sides of dumpsters.  They get scratched up by rough handling, then they rust in the scratches, they attract graffiti, and occasionally they get painted over, yielding surfaces that remind me of Pollock or Rothko.

One of Uta's favorite subjects is reflections, and she's much better than I am at finding them.

I'm posting our found art to the blog we started in 2013, Dreizehn Thirteens, in case you want to see what we have been up to on both these projects.

And yes, we're doing a joint project this year too, but for now it's just between the two of us.  We'll fill you in later.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Learning Photoshop -- posterization and abstraction

Yesterday's lesson in my online course in Photoshop Elements was abstracting a photo to a gray scale with simplified shapes.  Since the course is geared to quiltmakers, the assignment was to make an image that could theoretically be printed out and cut apart into templates.

What fascinated me was the vast spectrum of abstraction that can be achieved with a couple of slider bars in the program.

Here's the image I started with:

After putting the photo into a gray scale, you use a filter called "cutout," which has three slider bars.  The most powerful seems to be "edge simplicity," which goes from 1 to 10; the higher the number the greater the abstraction.

So here's the image at 7:

and here it is at 10:

The 10 image just above is shown with four tones of gray.  If you chose three tones of gray, you'd get an even simpler image below:

If you chose seven tones, it would be more complicated:

As you can imagine, there are many hundreds of possibilities just playing with the three sliders in the cutout filter.  If you did want to make a relatively realistic quilt from your abstracted image, you'd have to walk a fine line between simplifying too much, so the adorable child is unrecognizable, and not simplifying enough, so that the templates would be way too detailed to work with.

Here's the image I chose to work with; I think the edge simplification was about 5 and I think it had seven tones of gray.

It was a lot more detailed before I got to work with my brush tool, painting out a lot of irrelevant stuff.  For instance, the sink and the window on the upper right side of the picture are now gone; the T-shirt no longer has cartoon characters.

You could easily spend the rest of the week fine-tuning, and I think that using the brush tool to overwrite a posterized image is very conducive to overkill.  You start "improving" this part of the image, then you zoom out to look at the whole thing and the part you just "improved" doesn't really match the adjacent parts, so you work on them for a while, etc.  Just like when you buy a new sofa and realize that the carpet looks pretty shabby and the drapes don't match....  I wonder if Photoshop Elements has a filter called "enough already."

And as I was fussing away at this process, whiling away the afternoon, I was thinking how terrible this would look as a quilt, and how I would probably prefer to have hot splinters driven under my fingernails than to try to make a quilt from templates.

I've seen so many quilts made from photoshop patterns, and almost every time I wonder why.  So much fiddling and fussing to produce an imitation photograph.  But that's my prejudice.

I think this lesson has revealed so much to play with in photoshop that my head is spinning.  Not at all sure what I might ever want to do with the images I come up with, having pretty strenuously ruled out the possibility of using them for quiltmaking, but I am eager to play some more and see what happens.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The SAQA collection -- seeing it all

I wrote yesterday about the new fabric collection designed by SAQA members, and got some comments about the different colorways available.

Each design has three colorways.  I tried to put in a link so you could see all of them, but for some reason that page has the same URL as the page that only shows one colorway per design.

So if you click here you'll get the following screen, showing the designers of each of the fabrics.

And if you follow the hot pink arrow and click on the tab called "The Collection," you'll get all the colorways.

By the way, last week I wouldn't have known how to make that nifty hot pink arrow, so you see I'm really learning things from my class with Pixeladies.

Friday, January 23, 2015

New SAQA challenge -- it's quite a challenge

First, a shout-out to the Pixeladies, Kris Sazaki and Deb Cashatt, two art quilters who have made a great day job out of their computer knowledge.  They conduct online classes in Photoshop Elements and I am taking class 1, the total beginners' program.  I may write more about the classes later but for now just let me say they're great teachers.

Yesterday I tackled the lesson on how to make quiltlike designs by copying a fabric swatch, cutting "squares" out of it, and arranging them into patterns.  Sure, I could have googled "fabric designs" or gone to any one of the prominent fabric manufacturers' sites, but only minutes before I had looked at my email and found a call for entries from SAQA.

It seems that last year SAQA paired up with Andover Fabrics to put out a collection called Urban Textures, six different fabrics designed by six SAQA members.  Now the fabrics are in the stores, and there's a challenge to make quilts from the fabrics, which will be shown online and in the SAQA Journal.

Longtime readers of this blog may recall my ambivalence about challenges; they're a temptation I try to resist except in closely defined circumstances.  But now I needed some "fabric samples" to practice my Photoshopping, so I got them from the Andover site.

After most of the day I think I have pretty much mastered the art of making nine-patch "quilts" on my computer.  I can even make twelve-patch quilts!  But what I realized about the SAQA collection is that it's not really a collection, it's a bunch of unrelated designs.  Each of the designs is attractive by itself, and if you were to combine all three of its colorways you could probably make an interesting quilt.

I particularly like this first pattern below,  "Urban Gesture," designed by Elizabeth Brandt.  I can't tell from the website how big the designs are on the fabric, but I hope this one is REALLY BOLD.

Unfortunately, the six patterns don't play well together.

Not sure what kind of responses they will get to this challenge; I suspect those who participate will buy just one of the fabrics, perhaps in different colorways, and combine it with stuff from their stash.  I don't anticipate much mixing.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Fiber art -- this proves it

I wrote several weeks ago about my new knotted cord constructions that are looking a lot like sculptures.  But I didn't realize how much until I showed one to my artist pal Keith Kleespies.  He snatched it away, zipped into the other room and brought it back in a minute.  An hour later, I found this in my mailbox:

I guess this is a validation that I need to be working bigger.

Monday, January 19, 2015

But that's MY design....

Two interesting discussions on my email lists last week about quilters who were hurt, angry and/or confused about how other people responded to their work.

Quilter A wrote that she published a pattern for a quilt design that she has made several times; it's been selling well on Craftsy.  But a local quilt shop advertised her design as its block of the month, mentioning that they got the photo from Pinterest and made their own pattern from it "based on a quilt made by Quilter A in 2002."

Quilter A contacted the shop owner, said there is indeed a pattern, and would they please have their students buy the pattern if they want to make the block.  The shop owner refused and things got ugly.

Quilter B wrote that she just got an email from somebody who saw a photo of her quilt on Pinterest and fell in love with it.  What kind of fabric did she use?  "I intend to make it and would find it helpful if I had a starting point in my quest for the fabric."

Quilter B didn't know what to do next.  "I can't decide if I should laugh? be angry? or feel honored that she likes it that much?  I am at a loss for words."  A complicating factor: the Pinterest photo has been pinned and repinned many times over the last several years, usually identified as having been made by somebody other than Quilter B.

I was struck by the two unrelated tales and realized there is a wide gulf in expectations and understanding between people who make original designs and people who generally work from other people's designs.  And there's also a gulf among the people who make original designs!  Some of those people want to monetize their designs and techniques, through patterns, workshops, books, etc.  Some are happy to share their designs and techniques, even without getting money for it.  But other people are jealous of their designs and techniques, getting upset and offended if somebody wants to make copies or attempt the same technique or even take a picture.

Now think of the other group -- people who don't make original designs.  How are they to know which kind of person they're dealing with when they see a quilt they like?  Is this a quilt they're allowed and encouraged to copy, or one they mustn't touch with a ten-foot pole?  The presence of a dollar sign and the word "pattern" or "kit" is a clue, but not always.  And some people may not even realize that a quiltmaker regards her work as original art, rather than just a nice piece of handmade decor.  They may not even realize there is a certain etiquette regarding original designs, let alone understand the nuances of that etiquette.

Of course, the unindicted co-conspirator in both these stories is Pinterest, but we might equally blame Google images.  I bet we have all found our own work pinned to somebody else's board, or popping up when we google some other artist.  Often the work is not identified (it should be a felony to post photos with the remark "oh I forgot to note who made this") or is wrongly identified.  The only absolutely certain way to maintain control over the images of your work is to never photograph it yourself or take it out in public.

Since I am one of those people who am happy to share, and am not trying to make a living from my art, I am not qualified to chime in on Quilter A's dilemma above.  But I do have strong opinions about Quilter B's.  Some of the email list folks suggested that she ignore the request, or respond with some degree of asperity.  But I think it's better to be as gracious as possible.  I suggested that Quilter B say I can't remember what fabrics I used, it's been so long, and there's no pattern, since it's an original design, but you can certainly experiment with the concept, and good luck with it!

When faced with people who apparently don't understand the rules of etiquette that you and your pals live by, I think the best approach is to give them the benefit of the doubt, respond cheerfully, BUT ALSO educate them about that etiquette.  So Quilter B can tactfully mention in passing things like "this is an original design" and "I'd appreciate it if you would mention my name as inspiration."

For quilt artists who actively post their own work on blogs or Pinterest or other social media, I think it's also a good idea to be clear about your expectations.  If you truly don't want anybody to copy or riff on your designs, then you can watermark your photos and slap copyright notices and nasty language all over the place.  (Not that it's going to stop everybody, but your lawyer might be glad for the additional evidence if you end up in court.)  But if you are willing to share, then say so prominently and frequently.  When I did corporate communication for a living, all my publications had a note at the end reading "Copyright MY COMPANY.  You are welcome to reprint short quotations or extracts from this material with credit given to MY COMPANY."

I don't have a similar note on my blog, but I have said many times in describing my designs and techniques that I am happy to have you use my ideas and suggestions.  Go ahead and make a quilt that uses my techniques or looks like my quilt (just don't enter it in a big show as your own original design), but I hope you will make it three times, because by then it will stop looking like a Kathy quilt and start looking like  your quilt.  Mention my name as your inspiration if you are so inclined; send me a picture so I can see what you did and I can be proud of you.

Here's a bunch of quilts from a workshop I just taught in Boston.  They all sort of look like "Kathy quilts" but already they have moved on to reflect their maker's personality.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Photo suite 160 -- in the airport

Killing time between flights is always a drag, even if you have a great book and a decent snack.  But you can amuse yourself for quite a while finding things to photograph.  On a recent trip, I looked for abstraction:

Thursday, January 15, 2015

IHQ 2 -- really sloppy work

What I'm finding as I go through the "International Honor Quilt" boxes is fascinating, so I'll share some of it with you as I work.  My first observation is that much of the handwork is truly bad.

I wasn't aware of the IHQ project in the 1980s but I would have imagined it to be a magnet for accomplished needlewomen to show off their skills while honoring somebody they admire.  And there were obviously many people like that; I'll show you lots of examples if you stay tuned.  But there were also a lot of women whose desire to participate far outran their sewing skills -- and that didn't stop them.

Which I find admirable, in a way.

So often needlework is judged solely on its technical quality -- look at all those dull, boring and artistically empty works that win blue ribbons at the state fair because they were quilted at 24 stitches per inch or knitted on size 0 needles -- and many people think their goal is simply to get better at the stitches, rather than getting better at the aesthetics.  Many people, for instance, have been sewing or knitting or whatever for decades and it has never crossed their minds to work without using somebody else's patterns.

So I might have imagined that women without excellent sewing skills would have shied away from the project, embarrassed to submit work that wasn't up to Quilt Police standards.  But clearly I was wrong.

If I were feeling pessimistic I might take this as bad news, another nail in the coffin of needlework as fine art; if needlework displayed in a museum or gallery looks like amateur hour doesn't it make it harder for us serious artists to be taken seriously?

If I were feeling cynical I might make comparisons to the postmodern practice of sloppy craft, in which Famous Artists are free to do slapdash work, but I don't believe that these panels are in the same ballpark.  The Famous Artists are trying mightily to Make Art, whereas these ladies were just trying to make a statement about somebody they admire.

I've always been a snob about craftsmanship, practicing it myself and admiring it when I see it on others' work.  So I'm conflicted about the occasional lousy craft I'm finding in the IHQ panels. And the fact that these panels are so obviously earnest and sincere somehow makes it worse (apparently my thinking has been corrupted by the pervasive irony that hadn't quite taken hold when the IHQ was made).

I hashed this out at great length last week during a road trip with my art buddy Marti Plager (we've done a lot of good art thinking on more than a decade of road trips).  After much back and forth, Marti said, "Well, Kathy, this is just something you're going to have to come to terms with."  And she is so right.

What do you think?

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Monday, January 12, 2015

IHQ 1 -- Ana Lupas

I've written about my new volunteer gig, helping to catalog the "International Honor Quilt" collection of panels that were made to accompany Judy Chicago's Dinner Party installation.  What I'm finding as I go through the boxes is fascinating, so I'll share some of it with you as I work.

My favorite piece in the first 200 panels I've catalogued is this one, by Ana Lupas:

Yes, at first glance it looks pretty awful, a mess of raggedy interfacing and loose thread ends.  But as you look more closely, you notice the intricate machine-stitched gridwork in the center:

Why did this piece call out to me so loudly?  I love grids, and I love dense machine stitching, and I love old-fashioned typewriters like the one used to type Lupas' name and address on the interfacing.  But what I really admire is the supreme confidence of an artist who can put such humble materials together -- the edges are secured with staples! -- and make them stand up straight and proud.

The panel stood out from the others -- not pretty, not earnest, not awkward or amateurish, despite its seemingly haphazard construction.  It's the only one I've seen so far that strikes me as art rather than as decoration.

I had never heard of Ana Lupas, but some research reveals her to be 75 years old, living in Cluj, Romania, where she was born.  She started her art career as a tapestry weaver and was exhibited in all the major shows, including several times at the the Lodz Triennial, where she won Gold and Silver medals in 1979.

She expanded her work to installations and happenings, especially outdoors where she was among the earliest Land Art practitioners and strongly influenced many of her fellow artists in Eastern Europe.  She would enlist people from villages to construct wreaths, towers and other forms from straw, then leave them outside for years to weather and disintegrate.  Predating Christo's Running Fence, she had 100 women help her cover an entire hill with clotheslines of wet linens.

Ana Lupas, Humid Installation, 1970

I was unable to find more information about Lupas and her recent work, even by painfully reading Google translations of art criticism from the Hungarian. Likewise, I found an artist statement that somebody else had translated into English, but it left most of its meaning behind.  She talks about art having "to contribute, to shape, and to give new dimensions to the social existential universe," whatever that means.  She has no website, and I could find no images of her early tapestry work, predating the internet.

I'm afraid she will remain a mystery to me; her work calls out to me across the years but leaves me hungry for more.

This is cross-posted to Ragged Cloth Cafe, a blog about art.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Photo suite 159 --dis/embarkation

On a recent cruise we got on and off different vessels in many ways:

from a port taxi to a mooring platform

from the platform to the ship

at a dock -- usually the gangway goes up to the ship

sometimes it goes down

from the ship onto zodiac boats

from the zodiacs onto a boat ramp

from a floating platform onto the zodiac