Thursday, December 29, 2016
Faithful readers know that I'm a huge believer in daily art -- or perhaps I should call it regular art, because some of my projects are weekly or monthly or otherwise time-denominated, but in any case it's a project where you commit to do something every so often. And then you do your best to actually follow through.
I've done daily art every year but one since the turn of the century. Six of those years were something of a performance art project: I mailed a postcard to my mother every day that I didn't see her in person. But since 2009 I've been more visually oriented, making or photographing something every day.
daily photo, 2010
Of course, once you've done it this long, the concept takes on a life of its own. Ask me why I do daily art, I'll tell you that I like the discipline and structure, that it makes me think about art every day, that the regular work improves my skill and focus, that the repetition allows me to explore ideas without the risk of a "real" work. But I also do daily art because I do daily art. It has become a part of my life and I would feel bereft, missing an essential part of me, without it.
daily hand-stitching, 2012
So here it is, the last week in December, and I'm still not clear about how I'm going to define my project for 2017. For months I thought I would simply continue my 2016 drawings, but inspiration has deserted me in the last month or so (maybe because my last sketchbook has brown paper?) and the thought of another year of it is depressing. Shall I return to collage? Or try to think of a fiber project? Don't know yet.
But I do know that I want to encourage others to try regular art. If you think a whole year is too long a commitment, try for a month, as I have persuaded my art book club to do in January. If you're in love at the end of the month, keep going. If not, at least you have a nice little body of work to be proud of.
monthly fabric collage, 2015
I've done similar limited-duration projects in the past by starting a 50-page sketchbook on some arbitrary date, and doing daily newspaper poems until the book was filled.
Or you might do what my art pal Debby has done. Constitutionally unable to do daily art, last year she bought a sketchbook and resolved to draw on both sides of every page before the end of the year. If she missed a day or a week she knew she'd still fulfill her resolution, even if that requires several drawings on New Year's Eve.
daily newspaper haiku, 2011 (I don't know why there was a Fourth of July story in the August 11 newspaper, but there was)
One year I resolved to do a bundle of something every week -- or more than one a week if the spirit moved me. Several weeks I did only one bundle; other times I made a bunch. Some years I've done weekly or monthly art.
The trick is in framing your commitment. Don't try to do too much, because you will be frustrated; don't set rules that may prove difficult (for instance, don't plan a sewing machine project if you're booked for two weeks in Europe). You may want to set a time limit -- 10 or 15 minutes max? But make yourself do something that you wouldn't do otherwise, perhaps something you've been wanting to try, or wanting to improve, so you can see progress and accomplishment as the year goes by. You might even choose to link daily art to unpleasant household chores, such as throwing something away every day (make yourself document it, to make the project feel less like work and more like art). And remember, you don't have to show this to anybody if you don't want to. It's a totally low-risk way to explore something you're not particularly good at (but you will get much better at it as the year goes by, I promise).
All of my daily art for the last five years is documented in my daily art blog, and occasionally discussed along the way in this blog. I hope that at least a few of you might get inspired to try regular art. January 1 is a good day to start, but maybe you'll choose your birthday, or Inauguration Day, or Martin Luther King's holiday, or some other time. Let me know how it works out!
And Happy New Year!
Tuesday, December 27, 2016
If you've ever used one of the self-publishing sites to make your own calendar, cards or photo book, you may have noticed how excited these folks get around the holidays. I started getting almost daily emails from both Blurb and Snapfish in mid-November, with new special offers in every message. I love making my own books, and after much trial and error have pretty much figured out how the software works, but I always have sticker shock at the pricing and am always on the alert for special offers.
So on the morning of Christmas Eve, I was drawn by Snapfish's offer of 70% off on all photo books. I took a vacation with my siblings in New Mexico last month and had thought about making photo books as mementos, had even started to go through my pictures and choose the best ones, but it took 70% off to make me actually do it.
And since I was blissfully without social obligations for the whole day, I spent a couple of very pleasant hours revisiting my trip and coming up with a little book.
If you've never made a photo book with one of the online services, or if you have been frustrated with your attempts, maybe these helpful hints will make you more likely to try again.
* Learn on their dime. You can start a project that you don't even plan to print, just to play and figure out how the site works. I have also had good luck with Blurb's help desk, sending emails when I couldn't figure out how something worked and receiving fast, helpful responses.
* Photo sites have long memories. Feel free to start a project, upload photos, even get the whole book finished, and then walk away. Sometime in the future they will offer you 70% off, and you can go back and hit the "print" button. But review your work first; I often find that my second look at a project reveals things I'd like to change or improve.
* Upload more photos to the site than you think you'll need. It's easier to upload one big batch and omit some of them than to be interrupting yourself to upload more, one at a time.
* Make your own cheat sheet of the photos you have uploaded. The book sites arrange your pictures in teeny weeny little thumbnails in a long column that often extends off the page. To find what you're looking for you have to scroll, squint and try to remember what you have already used.
When I get all my photos on the upload page, I take a screen shot and paste it into my Paint program, and keep this window open alongside the photo site. Then as I use each photo in the book, I cross it out with the pencil tool. For a more complicated project, I would label them with the page as well as cross them out. It's way less frustrating to navigate around your own familiar desktop programs and zoom in if you have to than to keep track of things in the photo site program.
You should forgo the themed books, the ones with pre-decorated pages, the ones with fancy curlicues around the photos. Look for the "simple" option, the one where you design your own book.
When they show you a blank page, check out the tab called "layouts." For my latest book I wanted one photo per page. I chose two options from the layout menu: one with a landscape photo, one with a portrait photo, and for each page, used the appropriate layout depending on my photo. Those were the only two layouts used in the entire book, so it had a consistent look.
You should especially forgo the option to have the site automatically flow your photos into the layout. You know which pictures are best, which should come first, which two should go together on a spread. This is the joy and creativity of making your own little book: designing and arranging the pictures and text for the effect you want, not a haphazard collection assembled by an algorithm.
* If you want text on your pages, you don't have to choose one of their text layouts, which generally place centered type smack in the center of your page. Instead, call up a text box and choose your own font, color and point size, then move the text box to exactly where you want it. With a full-page photo, I look for a place in the picture with an uninterrupted area of solid or almost-solid color, and choose either white or black type to show up against this solid area.
* Write down what you learn! Every time I use one of these programs I discover something new about how the platform works -- often I learn how to do something that had me cursing and throwing things the last time. I have a Word document called Blurb and one called Snapfish where I document my projects -- my personal user manual.
* Have fun! I love making little books -- so far I've done two personal ones (this one for my siblings, and one for my husband) and four "general readership" ones that I sell or give away. Last month I also learned to make calendars. If you like taking pictures and think some of them are worth saving, I encourage you to try one of these sites and see if you like the process and the product. Let me know what you think.
Monday, December 26, 2016
As usual, I made Christmas ornaments this year -- except that I probably should just call them "ornaments" because I decided that I needed to give some to a few Jewish friends. Since there are no religious symbols on them, I hope they can be appreciated as Hanukkah gifts, or just plain end-of-year gifts.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, the main tool this year was the heat gun. I had discovered many years ago in a workshop with Jeanne Beck that a heat gun does interesting things to synthetic fabrics, and I had also noted that when you heat up nylon cord, it will melt together and resemble blobs of glass. So that was the concept. But there were plenty of learning experiences along the way.
I needed the ornaments to include the recipients' initials and the year, which obviously couldn't be done with a heat gun, so I wrote the data onto small strips of ultrasuede. I discovered that a Sharpie works a whole lot better than a Micron pen for writing on ultrasuede; the Sharpie dries instantly, while the Micron takes forever, risking smudges if you handle it carelessly even days later.
The main part of the ornament was going to be a roll of fabric to give body, then wrapped with nylon cord and beads and melted all together. I didn't want fraying edges, so I pinned the bit of fabric into shape (the bottom edge was a selvage, so it was OK as is) and stitched the ultrasuede and the hanging cord firmly in place.
One of my early learnings was that ultrasuede, being a synthetic material, will scorch and melt when hit with the heat. And the cotton fabric, while fairly heat-resistant, will scorch with too much heat. So I wrapped up the vulnerable parts in denim to protect them, and put the package into my holder. (Wood also scorches with heat, as you can see.)
After I got the nylon cord melted, I loosely wrapped the bundles again with a metallic thread, which frizzled up beautifully with the heat to make little halos around the bundles.
I like these ornaments; they're way different than anything I've done before, and that's a challenge after you've been at it for decades. Early recipients have told me they look mysterious and rich -- exactly the effect I was hoping for.
I hope you all had a good Christmas, or Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa, or whatever festivity you might care to celebrate at this year end. It hasn't been the best of years, but let's find all the joy we can where we can.
Sunday, December 25, 2016
Wednesday, December 21, 2016
Reminder: if you buy a copy of my book, Pattern-Free Quilts: Riffs on the Rail Fence Block, before the end of the month, you can get a rail fence quilt block, made by me, as a present from me! A couple of days ago I sent out a block made of leftover fabrics from the watermelon quilt my granddaughter Zoe made for the book.
To get a free rail fence block, buy a copy of the book from CreateSpace (click here) or Amazon (click here). If it's all the same to you, I'd rather you use CreateSpace -- same book, same price, but more of it comes to me and less to Jeff Bezos, who already seems to have plenty.
Then email your receipt and your street address to firstname.lastname@example.org.
News flash: When I announced this offer earlier I said we couldn't send outside the U.S. But since then I've realized the quilt blocks can go as plain old letters, so what the heck. If you live across the ocean, go for it!
Tuesday, December 20, 2016
Last week a surprise package arrived -- a copy of Martha Sielman's new book, "Art Quilts International: Abstract & Geometric." It has finally been published, after a long and tortured path.
You may recall that Martha has written two previous books about different sub-genres of art quilts: "The Natural World" and "People & Portraits," published in 2012 and 2013. She had a contract with Interweave to do "Abstract & Geometric" and asked for submissions in July 2014. More than 450 artists responded, and I was thrilled to be selected as one of her in-depth artists; I submitted additional images, and answered a detailed set of questions. Then disaster. In January 2015 Interweave was acquired by another company, which cancelled the contract for Martha's book. After several months of scrambling, she hooked up with Schiffer Publishing, and in the fullness of time the book has finally been issued.
It's a beautiful book, with excellent color reproduction and LOTS and LOTS of quilts!! There are 29 artists chosen for in-depth interviews, which means four full pages, about six quilts, and quite a bit of text. In addition, 95 other artists who have one quilt pictured in the book.
At the time I was so impressed with Martha's questions; instead of asking everybody the same things, she had clearly done a lot of research and tailored the questions to the individual. For instance, she asked me about my daily art projects, why I have said needle-nosed tweezers are my favorite sewing tool, how I chose the title for one of my quilts, and how my love of leftover bits from other people's projects has affected my art.
I haven't yet gotten through the whole book, but have read enough to know that it's going to be one of those books that will stay on my reference shelf forever. I know a lot of the people in the book, some of them very well, but was impressed at the number of people I had never heard of. Martha has gone to great lengths to find people from outside the US and those who aren't regulars on the big show circuit. And the quilts are just plain wonderful to look at.
Why not buy yourself a present? It's available from several online sources, including here and here.
Here's one of my quilts pictured in the book:
Monday, December 19, 2016
Earlier this year SAQA put out a call for people to submit images of their greatest quilts from each of the last five decades for a book project. As I recall the rules, you could only submit one quilt per decade. When the call came out I thought about it and realized I don't have good images from farther back than the last eight or ten years. Before that I have slides, which I had digitized but have been disappointed in the quality, or early digital photos with not enough pixels for decent reproduction.
In my memory, I decided to hell with it, wasn't worth entering.
But the other night as we went into a party my friend Marti said to me "You are famous!! You got accepted into the SAQA book!! It was in the SAQA email blast this afternoon."
I was mystified. I told her "I didn't even enter," but apparently I did, because when I got home and checked the email, yes, there was my name in the list of 240+ quiltmakers who were accepted. The announcement said, "After careful review of hundreds of quilt artists working all over the world, final selections have been made for Art Quilt Retrospective, the book organized by SAQA celebrating this art form's development over the past 50 years."
Then it said, "SAQA will be contacting the participating artists individually via email during the coming month to determine which image(s) will be published. Please do not contact SAQA at this time about the book."
So I'm in a mysterious limbo. What did I submit? What was accepted? I can't find any record of my submission -- usually I make a folder on my computer for any new show entry, and put the images and paperwork there, but maybe I entered online through the SAQA website and neglected to keep a record.
Half of me feels elation to be in such great company -- all the great names in art quilting (sadly, many of them have died), so many people whose work I have admired for decades, so many people whom I call friends today. But half of me feels embarrassment at not remembering how I responded to the call. Wait -- maybe somebody else nominated me, just as somebody else must have chosen those dead artists.
I hope I (or somebody else) nominated Memorial Day, probably my most memorable quilt.
I'll let you know when I find out something.
Sunday, December 18, 2016
Friday, December 16, 2016
My brother said "We're in New Mexico -- we have to go to the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum." So even though nobody else was wildly enthusiastic, we did. I was surprised at a couple of things: first, that the museum is so small, and second, that there are so few of the iconic Georgia paintings. Only one skull, as I recall, and only two or three big flowers. That was fine with me, since I'm no big fan of her skulls and flowers.
I am a big fan of her upstate New York barns, and disappointed to find only one such painting. It was a nice one, in a subdued palette, with only a touch of red at the far left edge to enliven the scene.
I also like the urban scenes from her New York City days.
This skyscraper painting, done in the 70s, is very similar in composition (but twice as big) to one made in 1926.
Perhaps my favorite paintings in the museum were among her last works, from the late 1970s, when she was severely impaired with macular degeneration. These vivid watercolors use simplified forms and from-the-tube colors, and glow with the mastery of a hand that remembered very well how to paint, even if the eye had problems keeping up.
Wednesday, December 14, 2016
It's always nice to encounter fiber art in mainstream art venues; makes you feel vindicated for working in a niche world. For many years Thirteen Moons Gallery in Santa Fe carried only fiber art, but proprietor Jane Sauer closed that business a while ago. Yet here was Jane back again last month, curating a show at Tansey Contemporary called "Fictitious Fiber" -- many of the works resemble fibers but are made from other materials.
For instance, here are two "baskets" woven from clay and a "doily" cut from wood.
Jim Kraft, Keep Blue Rutile
Jim Kraft, White Basket (detail)
Some non-fictitious, actual fibers sneaked into the show, despite its title. I was familiar with Carol Shinn's densely machine-embroidered pictures, and Judith Content's silk kimono-shaped quilts.
Carol Shinn, Alone in the Sun
But my favorite pieces were those using textile techniques on non-textile materials.
Here are two large weavings, I guess you'd call them, by Gugger Petter, using newspaper and hemp cording. Some areas were done in plain weave, others used tapestry techniques to lay in different colors. I could look at these for a long time.
Monday, December 12, 2016
If you noticed last Sunday's post about the blue gates in Santa Fe, and if you inferred that I'd been there recently on vacation, you would be right. Got on a plane the morning after the election to meet up with my brother (from Australia) and sister (from Michigan) in a place where none of us had been in many years, if at all. Santa Fe is a big arts center, and we enjoyed our hours of gallery strolling, over three different days, in which we barely scratched the surface of what's available.
At GVG Contemporary this batch of "accumulation paintings" caught my eye. Six inches square and displayed in multiples, they are the simplest of all designs: bits of wood arranged onto a canvas to make a bas relief, and then painted in near-monochrome. They reminded me of Louise Nevelson's all-black sculptures (although hers are more like ten feet across than six inches).
Several galleries had multiples on display, sized from six inches to maybe a foot. The gallerists made a point of telling us how some people come in and buy four, or 30 to make a nice installation. I wonder if that's true, or wishful thinking.
But it makes me think of a beautiful installation of multiples at my PYRO Gallery show that opened last weekend. These pieces are rust-dyed fabric, stretched over 8x8" boards. Wouldn't you love to have these on your living room wall?
Sunday, December 11, 2016
Friday, December 9, 2016
Isaac's kindergarten class was asked to write a letter to the president-elect. Tell me anybody of either party who couldn't agree with this wish list:
I want the president to make donuts free. AND... give 5,000 CATS to me!
Wednesday, December 7, 2016
I saw an extraordinary call for entries last week, for an exhibit entitled "Demographically Speaking." According to the call, the exhibit "will reflect the vibrance of its community through the inclusion of works that speak to a diverse audience." It goes on to say the show "will also address the inequities found within gallery and museum exhibitions posing the question, 'whose stories are being told in the art world?'"
(I gather that's artspeak for no straight WASPs need apply, especially men.)
I certainly agree with the concept of expanding the pool of artists beyond the usual suspects, with the idea that many groups have not "had their stories told" in contemporary art, and that shows with different demographic groups of artists may appeal to a broader swath of the potential viewing public. But I was take aback by what came after the artspeak.
Each artist entering the show has to complete a questionnaire that asks "How do you identify yourself or the subjects in the work you are submitting?" In a series of multiple choice questions, it asks you to describe your age, gender identity, sexual orientation, race/ethnicity, religious affiliation, education level, and disabilities.
I guess I've led a sheltered life, because I was surprised to find five possible choices for both gender identity and sexual orientation (although in each case, one choice was "Other:_____). I confess, I don't know the difference between pansexual and polysexual (but that's OK, they're part of the same choice). Nor do I appreciate the subtle differences between cognitive disabilities ("developed after birth, from neurodegenerative diseases or acquired brain injuries for example") and developmental disabilities ("such as, but not limited to, Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, Intellectual disabilities, or Fragile X Syndrome"). If you're blind or deaf, is that a "physical" disability or a "sensory" disability?
Then, if you haven't already revealed enough about yourself, it says "Any other important identifiers you feel represents you or your work that should be considered not already listed above (social, physical, economic, etc.)? Please share:__________"
Questionable grammar aside, I am horrified by these questions. In most walks of life it's illegal to ask people about their disabilities, let alone their religion and sexual preferences. The prospectus is coy about this; after stating on page one that the questionnaire is required, it later says "Completion of this survey is voluntary" and then asks if they can please put your demographic details on the art labels; if you say no, they won't.
I'm all for more diversity in museums, but can't that be accomplished without such heavy-handed interrogation? Can't a curator or juror detect when an artwork is "telling a story" from a different perspective without the artist yelling "hey, I'm polysexual!!" If seeking out diversity among artists is supposed to get new audiences into the museum, will demographic info be the most important part of the press releases and exhibit postcards? "Come see our show; 12 percent of the artists are Latino, 4 percent are polysexual, 8 percent are transgender/genderqueer, 2 percent are Hindu, 5 percent have mental illness or psychiatric disorders."
Do you want to rush out and see that show? Maybe, but I'm sure not going to rush out and enter it.
Monday, December 5, 2016
In the field of communication, my profession, we have seen several instances of technology upsetting the apple cart. In some ways these technological advances were GOOD because they took production out of the hands of specialists and enabled more widespread use. In other ways they were BAD because the specialists were the ones who previously provided quality control.
So look at the invention of movable type in Europe. Gutenberg figured out how to print cheap multiple copies of books and pamphlets; if you wanted a Bible, now no need to hire an army of monk/scribes to write it out by hand. All over Europe printers sprang up, ready to produce their own versions of the Bible or devotionals or theological commentaries. But that meant the church no longer controlled the dissemination of scripture and theology, and the next thing you know, printing enabled the Reformation and Christianity was forever fragmented.
In my lifetime, the personal computer led to the development of what was termed desktop publishing. Instead of sending your employee newsletter or your advertising flyers or your wedding invitations to the printer for typesetting, you bought a clunky computer, taught yourself or your secretary to use it, and cranked out your own type. And you SAVED MONEY! Whatever you produced and pasted down, the printer would print. Of course, since your secretary didn't know beans about typography or readability or printing quality, many of these works looked like crap. We saw the proliferation of ugly fonts, unreadable gray-on-black layouts, type set in curves, and other kinky practices that no self-respecting professional typesetter would ever allow clients to commit.
A few years later, the development of digital photography allowed anybody off the street to buy a camera and produce print-ready pictures, no need for expensive film or messy darkroom processing. And you SAVED MONEY! So instead of hiring a photographer to shoot your employee retirement banquets or fundraising galas or family Christmas portraits, you handed the camera to your secretary or propped it up on the mantel, hit the delay button and raced to get yourself back in the picture. As a result, we got blurry photos showing too much background and too little of the subjects, plants growing out of people's heads, guests lined up grimly like watchers at Stalin's May Day parades, boring grip-and-grin shots. Not to mention sexting and selfies.
Arguably these two latest technological revolutions have not threatened the foundations of civilization. So what if employee newsletters and wedding invitations have that clunky, crappy do-it-yourself look? So what if there were typographical errors? So what if a lot of professional photographers and typesetters were put out of business?
But that leads me to another revolution that is far more disturbing if you care about civilization and democracy: the supplanting of professional journalism by social media and other content-churning internet providers. If you see a bunch of buses parked near downtown, and you later hear that people were protesting against Trump, you do a fast google search to "discover" that no conferences were being held, so obviously the buses brought the protesters. Then you whip out your phone and tweet same, and next thing you know, it goes viral and maybe a million people read and pass along a blatant untruth. (The google search failed to reveal a software conference with 13,000 participants; the hapless tweeter later said "I'm also a very busy businessman and I don't have time to fact-check everything that I put out there.")
"Fake news" is the euphemism being used to describe the lies carelessly or deliberately disseminated through social media and low-end "news" purveyors these days; Obama was born in Kenya or Hillary Clinton led a ring of child molesters. The quality control provided by professional reporters and editors is disappearing, not just from the free-for-all of Facebook "news" but from formerly good local newspapers who have fired their editors and required their reporters to practice 24/7 you-see-it-you-post-it babble without sufficient investigation. (And they SAVED MONEY!)
Perhaps in some cases this is GOOD. The wide availability of cellphone video has exposed lots of police brutality and fueled useful grassroots movements of many kinds. But on balance I think it's BAD -- terribly BAD -- that a huge proportion of Americans cannot distinguish between facts and lies, that the "news" driving our public policy and voting decisions may have been manufactured by teenagers in Macedonia or manipulated by the Russian government. And worse yet, a huge proportion of Americans, including some at the very highest levels of our incoming government, seem to believe that facts are irrelevant and lies are OK.
If there is no such thing as truth, there can be no functioning democracy. As a former journalist and a current and passionate small-D democrat, I am in despair.
Sunday, December 4, 2016
Friday, December 2, 2016
Mary left a comment on my last post wondering whether and how we displayed the title and price info for the works on display. I grouped my tags at the bottom of each column of quilts rather than stick them right next to the piece.
Reminder to Louisville area readers: our opening is tonight, 6-9 pm, in conjunction with the First Friday gallery hop. PYRO Gallery is at 609 E. Market St. I know the food is going to be delicious, having seen a preview. Please drop in and join us!