Friday, September 30, 2016

Adam and Eve 3

I'm not sure why Eve is resisting arrest; I can't seem to get a figure that works.

The version I copied from somebody else's print had wide hips and thighs but virtually no shoulders or upper body.  I drew that several times but I didn't like her legs; it looked like she was wearing pants.

So I tapered her calves and ankles to almost nothing; the poor thing could barely stand up.

Sometimes she was pregnant.

As with Adam, on the occasions when I let facial features slip into the drawing I generally regretted it immediately.

I can't decide whether I want her to be a massively swollen fertility presence like the Venus of Willendorf, or a curvy cutie. Can't decide whether the breasts or the hips are the female archetype I want to emphasize.  I guess I'll just have to keep drawing her until she reveals her true nature to me.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Adam and Eve 2

For some reason, I'm finding it much easier to draw Adam than Eve.  The wide shoulders from the original stolen idea seem to always be there, but I've experimented with other small variations in the figure.

Sometimes he has a nose.

Sometimes he's missing a rib.

Lately he seems to have arms more often than not.

Occasionally he has a hint of other facial features, but I'm usually sorry I did that, so I try not to do it again.

I'll show you some Eves in my next post.

You can see all my daily drawings HERE.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Adam and Eve 1

A few weeks ago I wrote about a little book that I made with words clipped from the newspaper.  My dear internet friend Margaret Cooter left a comment on that post saying "I am fighting hard against the idea of stealing this idea."  I subsequently wrote a post encouraging anybody to steal my idea, or any of my ideas.

But I really got a laugh out of Margaret's comment about stealing ideas, because a few days earlier I had stolen an idea from HER blog.

She was writing about a printmaking class she took, and showed work from other students in the class, including this print.  For some reason, the gray ghost images called out to me.

My sketchbook happened to be within arm's reach of my computer, so I pretty much copied the figures for my daily drawing.  Before I had finished, I realized two things: that I saw these people as Adam and Eve, and that I was so taken by them that I would be drawing them over and over.

That first Adam and Eve was on August 18, and I've been drawing them exclusively for more than a month now, with no end in sight.

This sudden love affair is surprising me.  I have never had much desire to represent the human form in any medium, and I struggle in my monthly session in which we draw from a live model.  But something about these primitive figures, with no arms and no features, made me think I could draw them without fear of them looking stupid.

Since then I've been experimenting with every different pencil in my box, trying to achieve different effects of shading and outline.  I haven't varied the forms much but often the figures want to be much bigger than the page.

Sometimes I draw only one of the figures; I'll show you some of them in my next post.

Meanwhile, back to the original thought: stealing ideas.  I don't think there is such a thing.

Ideas are out there in the cosmos, circling around our heads in a huge swarm.  If one chooses to sting you and infect you with its virus, you're no less sick because that same idea bit somebody else last week.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Friday, September 23, 2016

The workshop you're glad you weren't in

Once upon a time I went to another city to teach a workshop.  The topic was improvisational strip piecing.  People were asked to bring three yards of Kona cotton solids in colors they thought would go well together: one light, one medium, one dark.  The agenda was to construct five or six strip-pieced panels, then cut them apart and arrange the pieces into a composition.

As people unpacked their stuff and set up their machines, I walked around the room to get acquainted and noticed that several of them didn't bring the Kona called for in the directions.  I commented on this.

One person said, "I have literally thousands of dollars worth of other fabrics in my house and I'll be damned if I was going to go buy three yards more for this workshop."

One person said, "I bought my fabric before the directions got changed."  I noted that the directions had been posted wrong, and the minute people noticed the mistake they fixed it.  The bad directions had only been online for five hours, and that was four months ago.  "Well, that's when I bought my fabric."  

One person announced, "I have a really bad attitude today."  Why is that?  "Because I absolutely hate Kona."  Why is that?  "It frays in the wash, it's flimsy, it comes apart, I have LIKE A WHOLE GARBAGE CAN FULL OF THESE NASTY THREADS -- I HATE IT!!!"  She made her feelings clear by picking up her fabric and slamming it down on the table.

We started to cut and sew on the panels.  The panels were to be 21 or 22 inches long (half the width of the fabric; we cut through the fold at the beginning of the workshop) and about 13 inches wide.  Each panel had its own "recipe," written on the direction sheet.

As I walked around the room an hour later I saw one panel that was about 10 inches long, not 21.  What's happening here? "Don't ask," she said.  I was supportive.  Not to worry, you'll just have a little less of this color combination when you make your composition.

A while later I came by again and noticed that her second panel was 21 inches long, but had a big horizontal seam through the center of one strip. What happened here?  "Don't ask," she said.  I was supportive.  I sliced it apart horizontally, got rid of the seam, and said it would be just fine, she was going to slice it anyway after lunch.

The next time I came by I noticed that her third panel was full of lumps.  I had previously announced that there was only one thing I was picky about and that was pressing; that if I taught them nothing else today it would be how to press their piecing as they worked.  I told her this panel wasn't pressed well enough; did she need another demo?  "Don't ask," she said.  I said, "I'm not asking; I'm telling you to press it again." She sulked.

The guild had appointed a classroom assistant for me, and I asked her to do two things: bring me a sandwich at lunchtime, and learn how I wanted things pressed so she could teach people if I wasn't available.  It became apparent that she had larger ambitions.  Instead of just showing people how to press their first panel, and watching to make sure they did their second one right, she was helpfully doing the pressing for them.

I kidded her for being an enabler, and told her people had to learn to do their own unless she was planning to move in with them and press all their work forever.  She promised to stop.  But that left her with time on her hands.  Hold that thought.

The fourth panel was supposed to have a neutral color in addition to the three colors people had brought.  They were to choose a neutral from the big pile of browns and grays I had brought.  Many people asked me for help in choosing the color, but some moved ahead without me.  As I discovered, some were "helped" by my assistant.

I came by one person's wall and saw that she had four finished panels but no neutral in sight.  What is your neutral color?  She thought about that for a while and finally said, "Green?"  Well, green isn't a neutral.  This was news.  My assistant had helped her choose it.  "We thought that green looked really nice," the assistant helpfully explained, hovering about.

As the afternoon wore on, I came by and saw that one person's "13 inch wide" panels looked awfully wide -- I measured one at 20 inches.  What happened here?  "Oh, I guess I didn't know they were supposed to be 13 inches."  It says so right here on the directions.  "Oh, I didn't look at that sheet, I guess I should have."

One person hadn't made a single slice into her panels or attempted to arrange them into a composition.  What's happening here?  "I never finish things I do in workshops," she explained.  Hmmm.  We still have an hour -- you've done all the hard work of sewing these panels together, and you haven't done any of the fun stuff yet!  Maybe you'd be pleasantly surprised.  Well, no. At the final walkabout, when each person talked a bit about her composition, she gave a user testimonial about the brand of fabric she had brought and why it was better than Kona.

As I drove home, I worried about this workshop.  I was sorry that the people who hadn't brought Kona couldn't contribute their strips to the community swap pile, and that if they took from the pile the fabrics wouldn't sew up well together.  I was glad that some of the people who were following directions, doing good work and having fun were in one corner together, so they could reinforce one another's positive attitude.  I was glad that Don't Ask had a table to herself.  I hoped that the people who had been "helped" by the volunteer hadn't been too confused, or lost too much time on wrong turns.  Most of all, I wondered whether I had been able to keep the people who seemed determined to have a bad time from passing their negativity to the others.

Fortunately, most workshops aren't anything like this one.  I'll be teaching the same subject -- Improvisational Strip Piecing -- at Quilting by the Lake next summer, except in a two-day format instead of a single day, so there will be lots more time to sew and lots more time to compose.  Maybe I'll have the pleasure of seeing some of my blog readers there!

For more info on the QBL workshops, click HERE.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Serendipity strikes again

I wrote yesterday about a quilt I made for my International Threads group challenge, responding to the prompt "green.".  I'm embarrassed to say that in the rush of making three huge quilts for a Quilt National entry, I got way behind in my work for International Threads.  But I'm almost caught up now.  Here's how I made a quilt for our "autumn colors" challenge.

After I finished the Quilt National things, I decided I needed to do some cleaning of the studio and was sorting and consolidating a bunch of samples that I had made in Nancy Crow workshops a long time ago.  I came upon this piece,

noticed the colors, and decided it might be recycled into an "autumn" quilt.

My first thought was just to take the left-hand part of the composition, trim it to size and quilt it, but then decided that would be a kissoff.  It needed something more.
There were no leftover bits of the autumn colors fabric in the bag with this piece, but fortunately in my cleanup I had also come upon some yellow, orange and red fabrics that were sitting there waiting to be put away, and I used them for fine lines.  Here's what I came up with:

In my long artistic career I can't tell you how many times serendipity has played a huge role.  The fact that I hate to clean up the studio and put things away means there's often something sitting around wanting to play.

For my green quilt, it started with the pile of fabrics that I had lent to somebody else who needed some green, and never put away after she returned what she didn't need.  For this quilt, it was the found work-in-progress plus the red and orange solids.

I think that my messy studio is not a sign of moral turpitude, but an integral part of the way I work.  If everything had been neatly put away neither of these two quilts would have happened.  And I suspect that had I started from a clean worktable and an empty mind, I might not have had nearly as much fun.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

A little extra

My art group International Threads, eight quilters from four countries, makes quilts to a theme or prompt every couple of months, and a recent prompt was "green."  As happens so frequently with my smaller projects, serendipity plays a big role in my decision-making.

Faithful readers may recall that several months ago I wrote about a quilt I really liked in a show, and about the pieced "ladders" that were an important design element.  Somebody left a comment that she wished she could figure out how to make pieced ladders, so I did a how-to blog post.  I used some blue and green fabrics that were sitting on my worktable waiting to be put away (I had given them to a quilting pal who needed more greens for a project, and she brought back what she hadn't used).

So having pieced enough ladders for the tutorial, I decided to make more and use them for my Green quilt.

The quilt sat on my design wall for weeks.  It was technically finished, but somehow it seemed a bit lame.  Finally I decided it needed some hand stitching to give it additional interest and pizzazz.

So here it is in version 2. 

Not sure how much additional hand stitching I will do, but already it's looking way more peppy.  I guess the two morals of this story are first, that when a piece of art seems sad you should leave it on the wall and wait for it to tell you what it wants.  And second, that sometimes more is more.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Don't fail to miss this show

The Speed Art Museum, our local establishment, has a big show that opened last weekend, and I went to the festivities.  The subject was sneakers.

You might wonder what this has to do with art, and why it's in a museum.  You would not be alone.

My art pals and I thought maybe there would be art related to sneakers, but no.  Instead there were sneakers.  Three rooms full of sneakers, each pair exhibited importantly in vitrines with extensive info on the signs.

I  don't know about you, but this information doesn't do much for me.

The shoes weren't displayed with much imagination.  For every pair that got tipped up to show the fancy sole --

like these commemorating the election of President Obama -- there were two pairs that just sat there like lumps on a log.  The pair below was supposedly special because it was designed by Christian Loboutin, complete with red sole.  Which we had to imagine.

This next pair supposedly had "insoles printed with a unique water graphic," which again we had to imagine.

There was one piece of art, which I liked.

Nari Ward, We the People (detail below)

But I wonder why a show in an art museum didn't include more art.

I know that in recent years fashion has become the great hobby of the rich and famous; "supermodels" are rich and famous themselves, while movie stars and other celebrities jostle for front-row seats at the designer shows.  Who wins the Oscar is only slightly more important than who wore what to the ceremony.

Mainstream museums like the Met have had blockbuster shows in recent years showcasing the work of famous designers, but that's in a town where fashion is still a huge economic sector.  I have to wonder who in Louisville KY really cares about sneakers. Yes, we have more than our share of basketball fanatics, but I wonder how many of them will make their way to the art museum, especially if they have to pay $8 to get in.

After we saw the exhibit, I said to my friends, this is a two-fer: it demonstrates all that's wrong with American society (where sneakers can go for thousands of dollars and kids can get killed for their shoes) and it demonstrates all that's wrong with American museums (where all kinds of trendy, expensive objects can be deemed art and displayed with a straight face next to the Rembrandts).  To get the bad taste out of our mouths, we went out and got ice cream on the way home.  It was the highlight of the evening.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Outsourcing the quilting 3 -- show time!

I've been commenting on the recent long discussion on the SAQA email list regarding the outsourcing of tasks such as quilting to other people.  Last week I wrote about whether this counts as collaboration (my thought was generally no) and whether and how you should give credit to some or all of the people who help you.  But some readers may well have read that post and thought SO WHAT?

A few people who commented on this blog and on the SAQA list talked about "giving credit" as a factor of what you write on the label of the quilt.  Since I don't put labels on my quilts, that's not a question I engage on.  What I mainly think about is entering shows, and that's where it can get complicated.

The first decision is how you fill in the first box on the entry form -- do you put your own name alone, or put two names?  Some shows are pickier than others about how to deal with more than one maker.  As I mentioned last week, my last Quilt National piece was quilted by somebody else, and I put my own name as the artist and wrote "machine quilted by M J Kinman" in the materials and techniques field.

But some shows have stricter rules.  In SAQA shows: "Collaborative work is allowed as long as all individuals (including a long arm quilter) are current SAQA members. The collaborative piece is entered as a separate work under the names of all collaborating artists (a field is included on the entry form)."   So if your quilter isn't a member, you either induce her to join or the quilt can't be entered.

Somebody wrote on the SAQA list: "IQF (the Houston show) has a policy of not accepting quilts with work for hire. So if a long arm quilter is paid for their work it cannot be entered into the World of Beauty show. The quilt must be a "collaboration" between the designer and quilter."  That has potential problems, too -- such as how you find a quilter who is willing to work for nothing, on the off chance that the work may win a prize.  I have trouble understanding what this rule is supposed to accomplish.  Seems to me it either encourages exploitation of quilters, or encourages lying.  And of course leads to problems if there is a prize, and how it will be split.

Seems to me that we in the art/quilt world retain a lot of the habits of the traditional quilt world, such as our love for shows and prizes.  And categories!!  Boy, do we love our categories!!

One comment on the list:  "Do most shows have separate categories for quilts quilted on domestic machines as compared to long arm? If they don't I definitely think they should have because there is a vast difference in what one can do on a long arm machine compared to a small machine."

Somebody else reported that her local quilt show has different awards for the person who makes the quilt top and the person who quilts it, and the awards are further subdivided by the kind of machine used to do the quilting, such as "Machine Quilting -- Longarm/Computer Assisted."

I think many shows have way, way too many categories, whether the slice-and-dice refers to subject matter -- different boxes for people, pets, nature, architecture, and heaven knows what else -- or to size or to method of execution.  Maybe there's a difference in what you can do on a long arm machine compared to a small machine, but why should they be judged separately?  Same with hand-quilting compared to machine-quilting.

And there's a long slippery slope ahead of making those distinctions. Should we next have different categories for sit-down and stand-up longarm machines?  For machines with a 16-inch harp and those with a 13-inch harp?  For machines with a stitch regulator and those simply guided by hand?  For quilting with a walking foot and quilting with a darning foot?  For hand-quilting in a hoop and in a frame and just pooled in your lap?  For cutting with a scissors and cutting with a rotary cutter?  For cutting with a rotary cutter with and without a ruler?  For quilters who wear bifocals and those who wear contact lenses?  For quilters who have a big studio and those who work on the kitchen table?  Yes, there's a difference in what you can do with all these binaries, but so what?

Fortunately the shows that I'm most interested in entering don't do this kind of silliness.  All the quilts go in the same basket and are judged against one another, no matter how they were made and by whom.  And that's where I circle back to after all the discussion about whether you should have somebody else help you with your quilts.

Make a quilt.  Get help if you need it.  Pay the person who helps you a decent wage.  Give credit if it's a contribution that made a visible difference.  It's not that hard.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Outsourcing the quilting 2 -- is it collaboration?

In the long discussion on the SAQA list about having somebody else quilt for you, there was a wide range of opinion about whether the quilter should be treated as an equal partner.  A few of the commenters believe that anybody who touches a quilt becomes a collaborator, an artist whose vision is just as important as that of the person who made the top.

One comment was:  "Even adding binding is an art and a major component of any successful work, therefore since part of a quilt is the binding, in my opinion if another person has contributed this, then this piece should be considered a 2-person collaboration."

This argument strikes me as kind of silly.  First off, binding is not a major component of any work, successful or not.  (Not to mention that binding is kind of passe in the art/quilt world, where the more common finish is to face the edges.)  More important, no matter how beautifully the binding is sewed on, it rarely involves artistry -- in other words, decisions to be made, choices, alternatives weighed to achieve just the right effect.  OK, if the binder chooses the color and width, and whether to miter the corners or not, that might make a tiny difference in the way the quilt looks, but no more.

And where does it end?  Do you give credit if your cleaning lady did the wash after you hand-dyed your fabric?  Do you credit your granddaughter who wound the bobbins?  Do you credit the clerk in the fabric store who rooted around in the back room to find a bolt of the perfect orange?  Do you credit your husband for cutting the hanging stick and affixing the eye hooks?  Do you credit your critique group for helping you decide whether you needed more of that perfect orange?  I say none of the above.

Sometimes when other people help you they have indeed contributed to the art.  Sometimes they haven't.  I think the former should be credited; the latter shouldn't.

When it comes to quilting, there are definitely times when your helper does contribute to the artistic vision.  But there's a difference between skill and artistry; skill is when somebody does a technically beautiful job of what they're told to do, artistry is when somebody's own ideas are part of the mix.

I'll give two examples from my own experience.

Several years ago Nancy Crow, who does none of her own quilting, asked me to machine quilt some smaller pieces.  She had been working exclusively with hand-quilters but wanted to explore whether machine quilting would allow her to finish more work, and more quickly.  She gave me detailed instructions, complete with a diagram of each quilt showing the direction of the quilting lines and the thread colors for each sector.  She sent me the thread, the batting and the backing.  I was told to stitch parallel lines somewhere between 1/4 and 3/8 inches apart, and since her shapes were of course not perfect rectangles, I had to use my considerable mathematical skills to make sure the lines were the right distance apart all the way from top to bottom, closer together in the narrow places and farther apart in the wide places.  That was the limit of my "artistic input."

Nancy Crow, Constructions 90, 2007; machine quilted by Kathleen Loomis

She was gracious to put my name in small type someplace in the credits when the quilts were shown and published, but certainly not as a collaborator, nor did I expect that.

A couple of times I have had people quilt my tops.  On my large piece Entropy, I had no clear idea of how it should be quilted, even after working on it for several months.  I discussed it at length with M J Kinman, my friend and quilter, and after we came to no conclusions, she took some leftover piecing and experimented with several different designs.  The one I chose was her invention, and I went with it because its seismographic zigzags complemented the concept, and because she thought she could get into a rhythm and make it work.  Had I done my own quilting I would probably have come up with something quite different, but I was willing to turn it over and be happy with whatever she did.

Kathleen Loomis, Entropy, 2014; machine quilted by M J Kinman (detail below)

Partly this decision showed my confidence in M J's abilities and artistic sense, but partly it simply reflected the fact that on a very large and complicated quilt, I didn't think the quilting was going to be all that visible.  As long as it was neat and consistent I really didn't care that much.  My emotional investment was in the design, not the quilting. I wanted the quilt to be done.

When the piece was accepted into Quilt National '15 I wrote in "Machine quilted by M J Kinman" in the box for techniques, and that's how it appeared in the catalog and signage for the exhibit.  That's exactly the way Nancy Crow credited me, and yet M J had more artistic input on my piece than I did on Nancy's.

But I would say neither of these encounters was a collaboration.  To me, collaboration means that both partners are in on the thinking and the decision-making from the very beginning.

What do you think?

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Outsourcing the quilting 1 -- to quilt or not to quilt

Much discussion on the SAQA list for the last week about whether, how and how much credit and prize money should be shared with somebody who quilted your piece for you.  Opinions ranged the full length of the spectrum.  At one end, "I am actually a bit amazed that so many seem to hand their work to someone else.  I guess I puzzle about why choose quilting if you don't want to quilt?"

As someone who has done her own quilting for decades, and who has also outsourced some quilting here and there, and who has had some quilting outsourced to her now and then,  I have lots of dogs in this fight (and maybe a few of them are fighting each other).  Today I want to respond to the naive commenter above.  For her, and others who lead sheltered lives, I'll suggest several possible reasons why an artist might outsource her work.

1.  An artist may find it physically difficult or impossible to quilt her own work, but still wants to make quilts.  In my own case, after I free-motion quilted two huge pieces five years ago for an invitational show, and just about killed my back and shoulders, I swore I would never do anything that large again.  I relented and subsequently did straight-line quilting on some pieces almost that large, but I find it easier to deal with a roll of quilt with a walking foot than a big pile under a darning foot.

not so formidable when it's all rolled up!  

2.  An artist may want to make lots and lots of work but doesn't have time to both piece and quilt.  Nancy Crow would fall into that category, and she is famous for outsourcing all her quilting.  For many years she worked exclusively with hand-quilters but in recent years has had several people (including me) machine-quilt her work.  This approach allows a prolific artist to make ten or twenty quilts a year instead of one.

3.  An artist may like the piecing or surface design or applique or whatever much more than she likes the quilting.  Hiring somebody to do tasks that you don't particularly enjoy is a longstanding tradition among people with discretionary income, whether it's to clean your house, mow your lawn, change your oil -- or do your quilting.

Few people can quarrel with reasons 1 and 2, but a lot will balk at 3.  Isn't it intrinsic to being an artist that you do your own artistry?  There's a definite snob factor that enters the conversation here, where people who take justifiable pride in their quilting then extend that to taking pride in the very fact of doing it themselves, and feel superior to people who don't.

I've had those feelings myself, both toward quilters and toward famous painters and sculptors who have studio assistants to do some or even all of the work.  Damien Hirst, for instance, doesn't even tell the assistants who make "his" polka dot paintings what colors or sizes of dots to paint!  I've long been on the lookout for art involving fabric that was actually sewed by the artist's mom, and found quite a bit.  I still have some ambivalence on this subject, but as I get older and more decrepit myself, I think I'm more forgiving toward accepting help from others.

Besides, what's the alternative?

1.  I could buy a longarm machine, a popular approach among quilters who want to work big.  But I have no space to set one up, my ability to stand for long periods of time is compromised, I don't want to invest the time necessary to learn a new and quite probably temperamental machine, and I can think of many things I'd rather spend 10 grand on.

2.  I could work small, since I can easily handle the quilting on anything under 5 feet square.  But I want to work big!!

3.  I could abandon quilting as an art form, and take up collage or hand stitching or mixed media sculpture, all of which I have dabbled in, or learn to paint.  But none of those genres allow me to work as I like, making huge abstracts.  I love the quilt format, probably as much for emotional reasons as for artistic.  And more practically,  I am already established in the art/quilt world.  It's easy for me to enter shows, get teaching and lecturing and juror gigs, and get published.  I have lots of friends, both in person and on the internet, with whom I can network and consult.  If I were to switch to another medium or approach I'd have to seek out a whole new world in which to operate and become comfortable, and that might take a long time.  It took me a good decade or more to work up to that comfort level with quilting; not sure I want to devote the next decade to climbing another mountain.

So I'm sticking with the quilts.  If that means I have to outsource the quilting, I'll do it, although a bit of reluctance remains.  I'll tell you about another alternative in a later post.