Friday, April 29, 2016

Opening the mystery package

A few years ago, my dear friend and fiber art pal Joanne Weis went to Tuscany on vacation, and bought a mystery package at a Sunday flea market for a couple of euros.  The woman who sold it to her thought it was a roll of old linen, but it had been neatly sewed up so Joanne bought it pretty much sight unseen.  She brought it home and put it away, and just recently came upon it and decided it was high time she opened the package and saw what was inside.

She decided this needed to be a ceremonial occasion, so she brought it to our fiber art support group.  First we surveyed the package and heard the story.

Then we noticed how neatly the roll had been sewed together, and the tiny brown cross-stitched motif on the roll.

Joanne cut the stitches and undid the roll.

We measured it -- about nine and a quarter yards.  It had brown spots on the first foot or so but was creamy white on the inside of the roll.

Best of all, Joanne gave me a piece to use in my next flag quilt.  If I can stand to machine stitch all over it; maybe I'll have to keep out a bit for hand-stitching.

What a find to come across such a treasure in a faraway place, and how nice it is to have fiber friends who appreciate it to share the moment with.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Flag quilt progress report

I'm nearing completion on my first flag quilt, and got it to the point where I could hang it on the wall. Which is easier said than done, since it's almost 100 inches long and the ceiling in my studio is almost 84 inches tall.  Fortunately I have a display space in my front hallway, with a rod right at the ceiling and a wall that extends down the stairway to the nether regions.  So I was able to put the quilt up and see what it looks like.

It looks very imposing, but it doesn't hang straight.  The right-most white stripe bows toward the left, which forces the middle red stripe to double up on itself.

I am not opposed to this quilt hanging wonky; in fact, it fits with my conceptual theme of going wrong, but this just looks like accidental wonk, not deliberate wonk.  The latter I would embrace; the former I have to fix.  So when I get back from my road trip next week the quilt is coming off the wall and back to the sewing machine.

I'm going to cut a wedge out of that wonky white stripe and hike it up so it will hang closer to vertical.  Then I'll put it back on the wall and see how the right-hand red stripe feels about its relationship to the revised white stripe.  Maybe I'll have to either take up some of the extra height of the right-hand red stripe, or re-stitch it to the white.  I'll keep you posted.

Meanwhile, I already LOVE this piece and think I'm going to love it even more when it gets tweaked!

Monday, April 25, 2016

Very afraid

During the SAQA conference a couple of weeks ago I heard at least four presentations in which the topic of fear played a prominent role.  Yes, in the final reckoning fear was always vanquished, at least temporarily, but I had an uncomfortable feeling about the whole subject being brought to our attention so frequently.

Several trains of thought left from that station.

First, I wonder why fear is such a popular subject for artist presentations.  Maybe starting with the famous "Art and Fear" book, there seems to be a pervasive assumption that yes, of course artists suffer from fear, and that overcoming fear (aka self-doubt) is the major task one has to accomplish in order to unlock one's full artistic potential.  If only we could get past our fear of success, or maybe our fear of failure, or perhaps it's our fear of being liked, or being disliked, or something....  then we could MAKE ART!!!  In 20 years of working among actuaries, and in 40 years of working in communications I never once heard a professional development talk in either field exhorting people to overcome fear, so I wonder just what is there about artists that makes us so fragile.

Second, I wonder whether this fear of fear is gender-related.  Let's have a thought experiment.  Let's imagine a professional group called the Heavy Metal Sculpture Artists, of which Richard Serra is the president, and let's further imagine that it's 90% male, because you know those welding tools are really heavy.  At the HMSA annual conference, how many presentations do you suppose will talk about conquering fear?  I imagine not very many.  (After all, a guy packing real heat with a welding tool is almost as well-defended as one packing mere metaphorical heat.)

Third, I wonder whether all this talk about the need to overcome fear really helps people overcome fear -- or whether it actually encourages and enables fear.  People who do have doubt and fear are comforted: apparently everybody has doubt and fear, I must be just fine, I'm like everybody else, it's OK to be afraid.  You could walk in to a conference fearing nothing, your self-esteem at an all-time high, and by the time you sit through four or five of these talks you could start thinking geez, I'm not afraid, what's wrong with me????

All together now, let's sing:

Whenever I feel afraid
I hold my head erect
And whistle a happy tune
So no one will suspect
I'm afraid.

While shivering in my shoes
I strike a careless pose
And whistle a happy tune
And no one ever knows
I'm afraid.

The result of this deception
Is very strange to tell
For when I fool the people I fear
I fool myself as well!

I whistle a happy tune
And every single time
The happiness in the tune
Convinces me that I'm
Not afraid.

Make believe you're brave
And the trick will take you far.
You may be as brave
As you make believe you are.

So if I were organizing the next SAQA conference I would tell all the presenters that there will be no talk of fear.  There will be talk of hard work, and continuous learning, and rigorous reading and thinking, and brave self-evaluation.  Focus on those things, and maybe fewer people will be afraid.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Art Quilt Elements 3 -- pieced quilts with pieced stripes

The theme for today is stripes, and I know whereof I speak, having worked largely in stripes for at least the last three or four years.  But I admit it, I cheat -- I buy commercial striped fabric.  So when I see other artists who skip that step and construct their stripes by piecing them, I admire their dedication.  Here are two pieces that do it the long way.

Hope Wilmarth, Fault Line II, 40 x 40"

This quilt really resonates with me; in addition to using my beloved stripes at wonky angles, it even shares a title that I have given to several of my own quilts.  I like the stripes and the wonky angles, and the occasional white lines that edge some of the shapes.

Niraja Lorenz, Strange Attractor #3 -- Riverway, 41 x 41" (details below)

This is another artist whose work I have not seen before, but I'm impressed!  I love the complexity of the piecing and the wide variety of forms and shapes.

Seeing these two quilts next to one another (in the show they were in different rooms, I think) makes you realize and appreciate how many different ways there are to use little stripes.  Wilmarth's piece is calm and simple, even though the stripes make sectors of varying shapes and angles; by contrast, Lorenz's is unpredictable and exuberant, with way more going on.  Which do you like better?

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Readers want to know -- how to piece ladders like Cher Cartwright

Yesterday Robyn left a comment on my blog post about Art Quilt Elements: "I'm trying to figure our how the ladder work was done by Cher Cartwright...  I don't know if I have the ability or the patience to hem tiny squares ... if that's how it was done!

Cher Cartwright, Chutes & Ladders 2, 28 x 40"

Well, Robyn, I'm here to tell you that you DO have the ability to make pieced ladders!  It couldn't be easier.  Here's how.

Decide on two colors for your ladder (or three or four or whatever).  Cut some strips from each of the colors, maybe six inches long.  I like to cut the strips freehand for a more informal look, but if you are feeling very hesitant, use a ruler.  I also like to cut the strips at different widths, for the same reason, but if you want uniformity cut them all the same.

Sew them into a strip set, alternating the colors.

Slice your strip set into skinny columns.  Freehand or with a ruler, doesn't matter.  If you want your ladder to be straight and regular, cut all the columns the same width.  If you want it to be a little bit wonky, vary the width a little, like the column second from the right, which got skinnier at the top.

Sew the columns together into one very long column for a tall ladder.

Decide which color is going to be the ladder, and cut some side pieces as long as you need for your design. Sew them to the edges of the ladder.

Obviously you can achieve many different effects by your choice of dimensions for the original strips, and for the columns you cut from the strip sets.  All the pieces are going to end up significantly smaller after piecing than you cut them.  Before you invest a lot of time and fabric into a bunch of piecing, make a little sample and see if you like the way it turns out.  If the bits are too small for your liking, cut your strips and columns wider for the real thing.

You can also achieve different effects with your color choices.  I used just two fabrics to make these samples, but because it was hand-dyed fabric with a lot of variation, you're seeing several different hues of green and yellow in the one fabric.  You could have every other strip always the same (for a same-color ladder) or make strips sets with several different colors at random (this arrangement would probably look more like a path of stepping stones than a ladder).

I suggest that you make more strip-set-columns than you think you are going to need; you can always use the leftovers in another quilt.  It's better to have more than not enough, because then you would need to eke out your column with fiddly sewing of little bits.  Much easier to sew larger strip sets and slice them into the small size you need.

I'm not even going to offer suggestions on how to use the ladder(s) in a composition -- you're on your own for that!

If you decide to piece some ladders, send me a photo -- and even better, wait and show me how you put them together into a quilt.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Art Quilt Elements 2 -- more pieced quilts

More pieced quilts today from Art Quilt Elements.

Bonnie Bucknam, Ripple Effect, 84 x 41"

I've known Bonnie for years and have had the pleasure of sitting right next to her for two weeks at a workshop.  Even with that very close view, I remain in awe of her ability to sew complicated, irregular curves together and make everything lie perfectly flat!  She's been riffing on geological forms for some time, but this is the first in a new series inspired by topographical maps.  Whatever the subject, her jittery curves and zigzags are masterful, enhanced with great free motion quilting.

Denise Roberts, SISU #2, 60 x 60"

A strong composition with low value contrast, giving a somber tone.  It's intriguing to see how the different pieced shapes merge into larger areas, obscuring the four-patch construction.

Diane Melms, Crossing Paths, 33 x 47"

The simplest of motifs, a cross, executed in different variations and sizes, is strong enough to carry a whole quilt, with cheerful clear colors and well-managed value shifts.

Still more pieced quilts in the next post, and then I promise I'll write about some other kind!  There are other kinds of quilts, I know.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Art Quilt Elements 1 -- pieced quilts

I wrote earlier about the first two winners at Art Quilt Elements; now let me tell you about some of the other quilts that struck me at this excellent exhibit.  You know I'm a sucker for piecing, and I was happy to see so many pieced quilts.  Let me show you some of them.

Karen Schulz, Two Eggs, One Basket, 29 x 41"

First off, it's always nice to see Karen Schulz's work (she got best in show at the last Quilt National). I thought the very straight lines were an interesting twist that I don't think I've seen in previous pieces, and I was in love with the lavender/red color juxtaposition in the middle; I have used those two colors together many times myself.

Cher Cartwright, Chutes & Ladders 2, 28 x 40"

I met Cher several years ago at a Nancy Crow workshop and you can see that she has mastered improvisational piecing -- those confident freehand curves show the individuality of the artist's hand in every line of the quilt.  I like the cheerful clear colors, saved from rainbow predictability by that strong black triangle.

Kerri Green, Fun House, 68 x 40"

I am not familiar with Kerri Green's work but I like this piece a lot and will keep an eye out hoping to see more of her quilts in the future.  The "floor plan" is elegantly, asymmetrically balanced and the red-orange palette is beautifully handled.  Simple machine quilting sets off the architectural lines nicely.

Elizabeth Brandt, Selected Stories, 88 x 89"

Another new name to me, but one that I'm sure I'll be seeing again in the important venues.  The quirky quarter-circle motifs and odd palette give a mid-century vibe to this quilt.  I like the way the large shapes are offset by a few skinny lines and bits for contrast.

This doesn't begin to exhaust the piecing at AQE; more in another post soon.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Knots get their day in the sun

I wrote several posts last winter about my new art technique of tying a bazillion overhand knots in a piece of thread to build up large sculptural forms.  My plan was to enter them in Fiberart International, but they were rejected.  So they were open to be entered again, this time in the Transgressing Traditions show sponsored by Surface Design Association, and this time I had better luck.

Unspooled (details below)

Here's the one that got in.  The knotted forms are emerging from wooden spools.

The show will be held at the Schweinfurth Memorial Art Center in Auburn NY, a lovely venue where I have had the pleasure of seeing some great shows in the past.  Don't know if I'll be able to make it to the opening on June 3 but I can hope.

Monday, April 11, 2016

I think I'm 😊 about this

As one who has been writing for a living since the dark ages, I have gotten crabbier over the years as the general public seems to have lost its ability to write standard English.  I'm afraid the decline has been technology-aided, or perhaps technology-enabled, thanks to first email and then texting.  Somehow the fact that it's so easy to send a message, without the pesky tasks of finding paper, pen, envelope or stamp, has induced many to think that it's no big deal, why bother with nuance or nicety.

Grammar and spelling became optional, because after all it's just email, not a real letter. It was fun to use profanity and silly abbreviations and acronyms and ;)s.  Many users of those silly abbreviations defended their use because your readers might misunderstand that you were making a joke and take offense unless you used a :) or LOL to signal humor.  Few of them stopped to contemplate that people have been writing letters for centuries and until recently had been able to convey humor or other emotions simply through careful choice of words!  How quaint!

Pretty soon :) started to look quaint too and some genius invented emojis to help people's increasingly feeble writing skills get their points across.  I knew I hated Microsoft when a couple of years ago it became impossible to type (a) in an email, because a smiley face would appear 😊.  Yesterday when my son asked for some financial advice I learned that you can't type 401(k) in an email, because the (k) comes up as a set of kissy lips.

I don't text unless my life depends on it, but I understand that the loss of English is way worse on that platform than in email.  Not only r words deliberately mispld and abbrv, sometimes there r no wrds at all in txts, just emojis; 4 inst, 💃 means "let's party."  There are thousands of emojis and several international organizations and committees in charge of vetting and approving new ones, each assigned a bureaucratic official name such as Happy Person Raising One Hand.  You will be happy to learn that there's even an emoji called Smiling Poop, which is delicately described as looking like a pile of soft-serve chocolate icecream with a face.

The skeptic in me was delighted to learn that the worldwide rush toward emoji sophistication has hit a snag.  It seems that if you have an iPhone and you send certain emojis to somebody with a Samsung, there's something seriously lost in translation.  For instance, when "Grinning Face with Smiling Eyes" shows up on an iPhone, it's perceived more as a grimace and iPhoners think it's conveying negative emotion.  But when the same emoji shows up on a Google device, the smile is rendered differently and users think it's conveying highly positive emotion.  The difference is five points on a ten point scale!  Just think, when your friend asks if you want to go to Joe's Bistro for dinner and you text back Grinning Face with Smiling Eyes, meaning "no, I don't like that place very much," he will take it as wild enthusiasm and make reservations.

graphics and research from here

This could be serious!  I have a radical suggestion that will help those who seek better communication.  How about if you just text back "no, I don't like that place very much"?  Try it; you might like it.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Fun with Photoshop

I have been playing around with Photoshop on a quest to put familiar art images into different backgrounds.  Not only is this fun, but it's serving as valuable continuing education, because if you go too long without using a tool you can easily forget its nuances.  So I'm brushing up on my cutting and pasting and resizing.

Here's Venus in my bathroom.

If you are somebody who finds Photoshop useful in your art practice, or think you might find it useful if you could only learn how to use the #$&*@# thing, then you should immediately click on this link (here) and sign up for the Pixeladies online classes in Photoshop Essentials.  I took these classes last winter and loved loved loved them.  You can read about my experience in these old posts if you would like to know more about how the class worked.

The beginners course -- Photoshop Essentials 1 -- will run from April 18 to May 15, and the follow-on PSE 2 will run from May 23 to June 19.  I guarantee you that by June 3 you will be able to put Venus into your bathroom too.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Working in series 1 -- the questions!

I was pleased to have had the opportunity to give a presentation at the SAQA conference in Philadelphia last week, on the subject of working in a series.  I asked three other well-known series wonks -- Judy Kirpich, Kathleen Probst and Maria Shell -- to let me show some of their series works, along with my own, and the four of us addressed questions like why do we work in series and how do we think our way from one piece to the next.

Afterwards several people noted that all four of us do abstract work, and wondered whether it was possible for representational artists to work in series too.  My first response, when the question was posed from the floor, was that I didn't see why not -- the concept of evaluating the work you just finished, then proceeding another step down whatever road you were taking, seems to be just as valid no matter what kind of images you're making.

But as several other people brought up the same question as we sat together at dinner or stood in line at the ladies room, I had to admit that representational artists who work in series didn't come as easily to mind as abstract artists.  And I have been giving a lot of thought to why that might be true.

Of course, it could be that I, as an abstract artist, just pay more attention to others who work in the same genre.  It's true that I am not usually a lover of the more realistic end of the representational spectrum, at least not when executed in fabric (I don't think the medium is well matched to the subject matter).  But I do follow and admire many people who work at the more abstract end of that spectrum.

And when I visited the Art Quilt Elements show at the Wayne Art Center on Saturday, I saw several pieces that reminded me of what hadn't come immediately to mind.  The first was the best in show winner, Diane Siebels, whose work I have seen and liked several times in the past.

Diane Siebels, Head 10 (detail below)

It's obvious from the title that she works in a series.  Here's an earlier piece that is in Quilt National '15:

Diane Siebels, Head 7 (detail below)

Just a quick look reveals what has happened in the series between those two pieces.  The background has become more complex, with floral patterning, and there's lots more hand stitching, decorative as well as functional.  Clearly you can stick with the same basic image or theme and experiment with variations in technique as you progress in a series.

I'll show you some more examples of representational series in later posts.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Second prize

You've heard the W.C. Fields joke that first prize is a week in Philadelphia, and second prize is two weeks in Philadelphia.  Well, I'll take second prize in a heartbeat.  I've always loved Philly, since I spent my first summer away from home with a summer internship there in college, and it was a treat to visit there over this past weekend for the SAQA conference.

I'll have a couple of posts about the conference later, but this morning I wanted to share my good news from the Art Quilt Elements show, which had its opening reception on Saturday.  (Always nice to have a SAQA event at the same place and time as the opening of an important quilt show, because it boosts attendance for both.)

My piece in the show is Linear B, in which my fine pieced lines, formerly relegated to duty outlining larger background shapes, rose up and took over the place.  And to my delight, it won the Juror's Award, which seems to translate to second prize in the show.

Linear B (detail below)

I'll have lots more about the other quilts in the show in later posts, so stay tuned.