Thursday, October 18, 2018

Getting ready for the show

I've told you that I'm getting ready for my solo show at PYRO Gallery, opening a week from today.  The topic is my daily art, which I've been doing since 2001.  So unlike many artists, who as their show approaches are chained to the studio, wildly sewing or painting or whatever to make new work, I don't have to make anything new.  But I do have to figure out how to display all the stuff I have made over almost two decades.

Yesterday my wonderful friend Vickie came over to help me get set.  Our first task was to cover foamcore boards with felt to make a background for collages that will be pinned up.  I've written before about my frustration in ordering foamcore boards that arrived with all the corners crushed in, but fortunately the felt concealed much of the crush, and we decided it was good enough for government work. 

We had to decide which collages would go on the board -- I had spent a lot of time narrowing the choices down, but when it came to the last decisions, I outsourced to Vickie and my husband.  They chose which five to lose, or sorted poems into yes and no piles.   Ordinarily I'm a control freak but as this show reaches its completion I guess I'm tired, and happy to relinquish ownership of the final cut.

Then we arranged and rearranged the cards on the boards, both by subject matter and by color.  Finally ended up with four boards occupying every horizontal surface in the living room.

After lunch we moved on to photos.  I had made prints of 80 of my favorite daily photos, but only ordered 50 mat sets.  I will have room to display only about 25 photos, but thought I would get about 40 matted and put the rest in a flat bin for immediate purchase.

I was disappointed to find that some of the photos, bright enough when seen on a computer, looked drab as prints.  But no harm done -- the prints cost only 39 cents each.  We put a bunch in a pile for Photoshopping and reprinting sometime in the future. 

We had to hinge the cut side of the mat to the back board, and then tape the prints inside.  Since I had foresightedly bought two rolls of archival framer's tape, we could each work separately and crank out a big pile of beautifully matted prints.

I realized that I hadn't bought enough of the tiny T-pins to get all the collages pinned to the boards, so I let Vickie go home.  I'll have to finish that part of the task on my own -- certainly before the next baby visit to our living room.

I know I could have done these things by myself if I had to, but it was such a joy and relief to have a helper, if only to be able to talk through the decisions that were already 90 percent made, and to give somebody else a chance to say "OMG don't put THAT collage up on the wall!"  I've always believed that everybody needs an editor, and Vickie was my safety net.  As well as my dear friend, especially after today.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Piecing fine lines -- a nifty technique

I had the pleasure of leading a workshop over the weekend for Loose Threads, a small group of fiber artists from the Evansville IN area.  We worked in several varieties of fine line piecing, and it was great to have an enthusiastic bunch of sewists who were happy to keep cutting and piecing when others might have been ready to call it a night and go to bed.

Every time I teach a workshop I learn something -- maybe a new technique that a student shows me, maybe a new way to explain or organize my own presentation.  What I learned this time around was to make good use of what we came to call "test strips."

When people make slash-and-restitch compositions, it's essential to contemplate what's going to happen before you actually make the slash, because there's no going back if you change your mind.   I confess that when I was doing a lot of these quilts, I would usually just lay down a long ruler over the quilt, stretched flat on my worktable, and if I could find a straight course across the quilt without running into obstacles such as a preexisting seam intersection, I would go ahead and cut.

Do as I say, not as I do.  I recommend that my students put their work up on the design wall, as their designs get more complicated, and audition different pieced lines before they cut.  Here's an example of how most of them would proceed: use a strip that you've already cut for a fine line, and slap it up on the design wall.

The problem with this approach, of course, is that the strips auditioning on the wall are three or four times as wide as the finished pieced-in line is going to be.  So they don't give an accurate idea of how the quilt will look.

A better idea, we realized, is to cut "test strips" that are the width of the finished line -- about one-eighth of an inch, rather than one-half inch as in the quilt above.

With accurate test strips, you can try different cuts, stand back and get a much better picture of what you have in mind.  Here are three possibilities we auditioned for one student.  In a very close view, you might see the pins or fingers holding up the test strips, but otherwise it would be hard to differentiate the real lines, already pieced, from the hypothetical ones.

We had such good results with the test strips that I'm going to incorporate that method into every fine-line-piecing workshop I ever teach again.  If you work with fine lines, I highly recommend this approach!

The best thing about it: you have to invest less than one inch of fabric into enough test lines to audition many, many cuts.

Friday, October 12, 2018

It's fiber, but is it art?

Last month we took a cruise on the Zuiderdam, the same ship we had been on earlier in the year.  Apparently all the cabin stewards on this ship have to take the same professional development class, because on both cruises, when you returned from your dinner or entertainment at night, you found a critter on the turned-down bed:

This was my favorite:

I could have attended a demo/class on towel folding one day on the ship, but I decided to concentrate on the fiber arts I already know rather than learning a new practice area.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Cyanotype on parade

I was in Memphis last week and visited Crosstown Concourse, an exciting new residential/commercial/community development built inside an old Sears distribution center.  And was pleasantly surprised to find fiber art on display in one of the gallery spaces.  John Pearson, an artist who has apparently taken pains to make sure we can find out nothing about him on the internet except that he went to school at Cal Arts and the Art Institute of Chicago, showed a dozen cyanotype prints on fabric.

They're big -- the largest one is more than eleven feet tall and seven feet wide.  Most of them were seamed vertically down the center before being set out in the sunshine with stones or palm fronds laid on top to make a resist against the sunlight. 

The cyanotype process requires the fabric or paper to be soaked in a cyanide-derivative solution, dried, and then exposed to light.  Where the light strikes, it develops as deep blue pigment; everywhere that was masked out is left the original color.  The one piece that Pearson made onto red and white striped fabric was the most striking of the show.

The others were made onto plain white, yielding more subdued compositions.

 (detail below)

I found the pieces beautiful and intriguing, but I thought they suffered from the same existential dilemma that faces many of us who do surface design.  You make a beautiful piece of fabric, but then what?  On the one hand, you don't want to cut it up into little bits for piecing or collage, because you will lose the gorgeous sweep of color and design that makes the big piece beautiful.  But on the other hand, if you just pin it up on the wall, or turn it into a whole-cloth quilt or hanging, is it art yet?  Or does it need something else, and if so, what?

I thought these would benefit from something else, not that I have any brilliant ideas about what that something might be.

One last thing that I loved -- these works are described as "soft photographs."  I've never seen this locution before but it's certainly appropriate!

The show continues through November 25 at Crosstown Arts East Gallery, 1350 Concourse Avenue in Memphis.  If you go, make sure to take some extra time to poke around and appreciate the huge complex of buildings.

Monday, October 8, 2018

World-class artist photography

How many times have you heard impassioned and stern warnings about the quality of your photography being so important in getting into juried shows, and for the artist's life in general -- you'll never get anywhere if you have any visible background or tree limbs or clotheslines or god forbid grasping fingers in the photo.

So I got a laugh when the New York Times design section, that arbiter of all things stylish, ran this photo last week:

Jonas Wood, Los Angeles artist, with "Yellow and Orange Orchid Clipping" rug

Nifty rug, don't you think?  It's hand-knotted in Nepal of wool and silk.  A silk rug nine to ten feet long by this artist sells for about $30,000; this one looks a bit smaller, so certainly affordable for your front hall.  Read the story here, about how artist rugs are seen as art, not rugs.  Very heartening!

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Wishful thinking

Seen in Bar Harbor:

Yes, I'm hoping for a dead end. 

And I don't even have to think about sexual assault to reach that conclusion.  Enough that he's a self-confessed sloppy, obnoxious drunk, filled with rage and entitlement, rude and insulting to the senators questioning him, lying about the meaning of his own juvenile yearbook boasts.  This is the judicial temperament we want on the Supreme Court?

Monday, October 1, 2018

Found and lost -- Geta Brătescu

Last month I had the pleasure of a day at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and discovered an artist I had not previously known -- Geta Brătescu, born in 1926 in Romania, who worked in fiber.  The museum had three of her works, collaged and machine-stitched onto heavy canvas, in an exhibit called "The Long Run."

Medea's Hypostases II, 1980 (side view below)

The conceit of this exhibition was that artists with long careers keep on being innovative and creative (duh!), and included works from their later years.  Some of the artists in the exhibit are well known -- Louise Bourgeois, Ellsworth Kelly, Georgia O'Keeffe, Andy Warhol, Philip Guston -- while others were new to me, including Brătescu. 

Each of her pieces was about 30 inches tall, rippled from the heavy stitching, with the edges roughly zigzagged.  The wall tags identified the medium as "drawing with sewing machine on textile."

Medea's Hypostases III, 1980 (detail below)

Medea's Hypostases IV, 1980 (detail below)

When I got home I tried to understand the titles -- "hypostasis" (the preferred spelling) in philosopher-talk means "substance, essence or underlying reality".  In medical and science talk it refers to blood settling in the lower part of the body or sediment settling to the bottom of a fluid.  In genetics it refers to the action of one gene being suppressed by the action of another gene.

Apply all of these to Medea, Euripides' tragic heroine who kills her own children to spite the husband who cruelly abandoned her, and maybe we're seeing the revenge course through her system and sink, overpowering her motherly love.  Or maybe something else...

As you might imagine, I loved these works, took pictures and looked forward to sharing them with you.  Finally last night I got home, ready to write some blog posts after a long time on the road.  But in this morning's newspaper was an obituary of Geta Brătescu, who died at age 92 in Bucharest, the week after I saw her work.

She worked in many styles and mediums, in graphic design, collage, drawing, photography and film; turned to textiles only in the 1980s.  After the breakup of the Russian bloc, she was discovered in the West, had some high-profile shows and represented Romania at the Venice Biennale last year. 

In some ways Brătescu's work reminds me of that of Ana Lupas, another Romanian fiber artist whom I discovered a couple of years ago -- both of them working with modest materials and basic sewing stitches, but with a lyrical quality and powerful presence.  Indeed, when I googled Lupas just now to see whether she is still alive (I think yes) I found that she and Brătescu had at least one joint exhibit, about ten years ago.

I'm happy to have discovered this work, but unhappy to find out, so soon, that this artist is gone. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Daily art report 9 -- sketching real places

Bringing you up to date on my daily map project.  Earlier I wrote about drawing maps of imaginary places.  I'm also using my sketchbook to make maps of real places.  Sometimes I print out an actual map and use it as a template; other times I'll look at a real map and draw it by eye.

I may label interesting things that I saw along the way -- on this map, I found a penny in the alley and saw two toilets set out at the curb for the junk pickup.

Frequently I'll map my travels of the day, or draw the neighborhoods where I lived as a kid.

Or I'll copy a map of a faraway city or country.

Sometimes I try to be very accurate --

other times I'll do a "mind map," where I just draw without consulting a source.  Often that works out OK, but just not exactly to scale.  But sometimes I realize that my mind doesn't map very well.  I can drive or walk from Point A to Point B and back with total confidence, but if I start drawing from both points simultaneously they sometimes don't meet in the middle.  I label that as the time-space warp.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Documenting the package project

Longtime readers of this blog may remember that in 2011 I did a regular art project in which I made bundles or packages of stuff that I found lying around in the studio or on the street.  Although I had set up a blog specifically to record my daily art projects, for some reason I never posted my packages.  I had rationalizations: it wasn't technically DAILY art because I only required at least one package per week, and I hadn't gotten around to doing a good job of photography.

Years passed, and at the end of August I had an impetus to clean up my act -- I am getting ready for a solo show about my regular art projects of the past.  I wanted to have my daily art blog up to date with everything I've done since 2010, and also wanted to publish a magazine about the package project.  That meant I needed to haul the packages out of storage and photograph them, which meant I needed a photography station with a better background than the green cutting mat that I had perched packages on at the time.

Fortunately I have in my possession a whole pack of foam core boards (yes, the corners are all bashed in, but that wasn't a problem with this particular use) and many yards of black cotton.  So I made a photo booth:

Here I'm shooting my sketchbooks from 2016, in which my daily art was drawing, but the same setup worked great for the packages.  And you will be happy to hear that the picturesque drapes and droops of the fabric became invisible in the photo, leaving just a nice lush black.

So now all my packages -- 99 in all -- are properly photographed and identified and posted to my daily art blog.  If you want to check them out, go HERE.

And here are all the packages that were made out of packaging -- all the stuff that wraps, protects, swathes and bulks up the stuff we buy.  It has always seemed criminal to me to throw all that away.  I feel much better when I can wrap it up in a bundle, stash it away in a box and call it art.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Online publishing -- the easy way and the hard way

I wrote last week about sending a new self-publishing project off to the printer, using the Blurb service.  Although I get laughs over Blurb's spellcheck, I mostly admire their platform and its ease of use; same with Snapfish, another service that I have used several times.  In both cases you choose a format and up pops a template for you to work with.  It shows the dimensions of the page, with a pink line around the margins to show where you don't dare put anything because it's too close to the edge.  If you have chosen a format with information that has to go in a certain place -- for instance, if you're making a calendar, the grid goes HERE and your photos go THERE -- that's obvious on the screen.

Coincidentally, while I was working on Blurb for project 1, I was also working on project 2, the postcard for my solo show, opening in late October.  I needed a supplier who would not only print the card but mail it so I went with Modern Postcard.  I went to the website and downloaded the template for a postcard.  But wait -- it was a zip file and I don't have an unzip program on my computer.

Plan B was to just find a schematic for how a postcard has to be laid out.  Postal regulations are very picky about where you have to put the mailing permit into, where you have to put the address, which areas you have to keep blank for the bar code.  I sort of knew about all that; I didn't know that there are also large areas that must be kept free of any state abbreviation or zip code lest the optical reading devices at the post office get confused.

Surely there would be a diagram somewhere on the Modern Postcard site that would show me these specs.  And after only ten or eleven clicks I did find one -- but it was so small and blurry that I couldn't read it.

I had to run the video and pause it when the diagram came on screen; fortunately that wasn't quite so blurry so I could read and copy down the dimensions.

Now into Photoshop Elements to set up the postcard -- I made myself a little template marking off the no-fly zones.

Then I put in all the info in the space that was left, and I was all set.  And it only took 15 clicks around the Modern Postcard site to get me there.

All the while I kept thinking how much more difficult this was than project 1, which was proceeding at the same time.  If Modern Postcard had a user interface like Blurb or Snapfish, I would have just gone to their site, chosen "4.25 x 6" postcard," and up would have popped an interactive screen onto which I could have drawn text boxes and typed into them, drawn photo boxes and flowed images into them, and moved things around until I was happy.

This is not to trash Modern Postcard -- I've used them in the past and been happy with their quality, and get this, I even have a personal representative, based in the same hemisphere as me, who calls me on the phone and responds to my emails within minutes!  After I hit the SEND button on this project, I told her that I wished they would take a look at Blurb and Snapfish and maybe put in something like that instead of what they have.

Anyway, here's what I came up with:

If you're going to be anywhere near Louisville during the month of November, I hope you'll drop by and see my show!

Friday, September 7, 2018

A death in the family

I've had freezers go kaput three times in my life.  The first time was 40 years ago and that load of bad meat represented not only a big waste disposal problem but a huge hit in the pocketbook.  I remember sitting on a stool in front of the open box, loading rotten steaks into a garbage can, trying not to puke from the smell, with tears running down my face every time I caught sight of a price sticker.

The second time was two and a half years ago; a different house, and this time the freezer lived in the garage.  We started noticing a bad odor in the house -- was it a dead animal?  It took us a couple of days before we realized that it wasn't a dead animal but a dead freezer.  The chore of cleaning out the rotten food was just as unpleasant, but at least this time I didn't cry over the hundreds of dollars down the drain.  The intervening years had given us not only a bigger bank balance but a more mature perspective on life: on the disaster scale, a freezer full of rotten food wasn't anywhere near the top.

The third time occurred last weekend.  We had had premonitions for a week or so beforehand, a gallon of ice cream that wasn't rock hard, but the temperature still seemed cold enough and we forgot about it.  Then on Saturday a gallon of ice cream was not only soft to the touch but sloshed around when I lifted it.  The bacon was soft and pliable.  The big ham yielded a bit to finger pressure.  Oops.  Of course this happens on a long holiday weekend when the repair people are off duty.

We bought two huge bags of ice and put them in the freezer, and monitored the temperature twice a day.  We invited people over for dinner and cooked up the big ham.  I sent a box full of food home with my daughter-in-law.  We moved some food into the little freezer in the kitchen fridge.  We cooked up a pot roast that was thawing and had bacon for breakfast.

Days passed.  The Maytag repair shop reopened -- but couldn't send a guy out until Thursday.  We watched the thermometer in the freezer go up.  Finally on Wednesday it hit 40 degrees, maximum fridge temperature. Time for the final solution.

I gave five pounds of ground beef to my house cleaner.  I gave ten pounds of chicken breasts to my friend Debby, who proceeded to poach it all, eat some for dinner and package up the rest for future use.  We moved various containers of leftover soup and spaghetti sauce into the fridge, told the previously frozen bread and nuts they would just have to get by at room temperature, and pitched a stack of TV dinners (good riddance).

No tears, no rotten meat; five stars on the dead-freezer-experience evaluation form.  My only big regret was that the two-year limited warranty had expired -- wait for it -- on Sunday of Labor Day weekend!  That is, the day after we realized we had a big problem.  I kicked myself for not acting sooner when the first gallon of ice cream seemed soft.

By the time the repairman got here yesterday the freezer was empty.  He diagnosed a leak in the plumbing, allowing the Freon to escape.  To fix it, he would have to inject dye into the innards and come back in a couple of days (at $89 per visit) to see exactly where the leak was.  Then, he thought, it would cost about $350 to fix it.  The whole freezer had cost $550, so the decision was a no-brainer -- DNR.

There was one bright spot: the two-year limited warranty wouldn't have covered Freon leaks anyway.  The repairman cynically pointed to the sticker on the door that in large type announced a ten-year warranty on the compressor.  He told us that compressors never go bad so why not be generous!  But leaky plumbing is only covered for one year.  Makes you think twice about buying a new freezer.  I guess we'll do that we did the last time around -- try to get by without a big freezer for a while and see what life is like.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Don't you love spellcheck?

I spent the last couple of days at the computer, trying to finish up two big projects.  One was to put out another issue of my art zine with Blurb, my in-demand publisher of choice, with whom I have made several books and magazines. 

The very last step before you hit the "SEND" button is a spell check.  I don't put much faith in spell check, because I have seen it leave too many trusting souls in the lurch, but I always run it anyway because you never know.  And with Blurb's version, because it provides a dose of much-needed humor.

Blurb's grammar mavens obviously don't approve of contractions.

They apparently don't believe that a quotation can start with an uncapitalized word.

They never heard of a blog.

Strangely, for a publishing company, they don't recognize the copyright symbol.

And the coup de grace is always what the spellcheck thinks of my blog name.