Thursday, January 31, 2019

Found poetry 53

A little stitched house

My gallery is having an all-member theme show in April and I have been trying to figure out what to make.  The theme is "home" and the organizer had lots of philosophical thoughts about how we are supposed to contemplate the true meaning of "home."  I find myself turning off when asked to contemplate the true meaning of anything, so I am just trying to come up with something that will kinda sorta have to do with "home" and not be too cutesy or precious.

So what to do.  My first thought was to make some more refugee quilt people and stick them under the interstate bridge to represent the homeless people that we have way too many of.  But I realized that I would have to build an interstate bridge for them to live under, and that would get pretty involved, since I am not a woodworker.  I also realized that while I am personally concerned about homeless people, I didn't particularly want this to become a subject for my art.  (I am personally concerned about a lot of things that I don't want to become subjects for my art, and I don't feel a bit guilty about that.  Your art practice has to be a lot more selective and focused than your personal political agenda.)

My second thought was to riff on the stitched pyramids that I made a couple of years ago.  These were so heavily stitched that they took on structural integrity and were able to stand by themselves, a theme that I have been exploring in various ways.  After I finished the five pyramids below, I thought I would continue with different shapes and thought I might equip them with doors or awnings or other architectural features.  But I had never gotten around to this.

I have written many times about how I will respond to theme challenges only by making something that was already on my to-do list, and adding doors to pyramids qualified.  So I made a little house with a little door that opened.

Here's a picture of the heavily stitched house, complete with door:

Although I had made a carefully measured template for the house, I was unhappily surprised at how some of the segments got distorted with the heavy stitching.  In particular, the left-hand house side developed a droop at the lower left, and the door ended up bigger than the opening it was cut from.  The sides of the roof also weren't exactly the same length as the sides of the house they had to be connected to.

When I stitched the pyramids together it made absolutely no difference whether the sides ended up exactly the same length.  I was happy to leave half of the seam unstitched.  But that approach wouldn't do for a house.

So I had to do a fair amount of remedial sewing by hand to get everything put together.  Some roofs ended up with an overhang, and all of the walls ended up with bulges.  But in the end, everything fit together.

I still don't know whether this piece is too cutesy for the gallery, or too glib and superficial, or too lacking in artistic substance.  But at least it's finished.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Isaac's Christmas collage

Isaac wanted to sew something for his mother for Christmas, so I cut a piece of denim from my jeans-for-art box and he rooted around through a bag of scraps to make a collage.

My contribution was to cut the zigzags in the top of the tulips and to stitch on some curly gold wire that we found on the worktable for hair.  Isaac did the rest.  Now that he is eight years old he is an old hand at the sewing machine, having made his first collage three whole years ago!  I know he's getting big because he no longer has to put the foot pedal on a shoebox; a thick book does the trick.  And he wondered if he could set the speed control up a little higher this time....

He wanted to use beads for eyes so we had to do a side project for him to learn how to sew on beads before he could do it on the gift.

In the past we have just made sleeves on the back of his collages and suspended them from a piece of coat-hanger wire or a chopstick, but since this was a Christmas present I thought we should splurge and mount it on a burlap-covered canvas, which I did for him (and did a number on my left wrist by having to hold it at an unnatural angle to avoid sewing into the top stretcher bar).  Since I discovered this product at my local craft store I have been using it for various purposes.  Surprisingly, the burlap has made a good backdrop for delicate silk collages made from old kimono as well as art brut pieces such as this one.

We look forward to our next project.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Last week on Art With a Needle

Vivien left a comment on my post about daily art:  I've always wanted to do a daily art project, but I feel I don't have enough control of my day-to-day to commit to it.  Then again, I guess that speaks to the "rules" of the project; how might I define my daily project and what are my objectives.  Interesting to read your thoughts on the matter.

And do I have some thoughts!  You're right, it all has to do with the rules.  You should set rules that work with your day-to-day.  If you travel a lot, don't commit to work on the sewing machine every day.  If you have to work on your breakfast table, don't choose something that has to be laid out to dry overnight. 

If you have limited time, as Vivien alludes to, don't choose a daily task that will take an hour.  But how long can it take to make one photograph, or draw in a small sketchbook like this:

or onto a small card like this:

or make something tiny like this, which is my favorite miniature of the week:

Although it's often fun to use your daily art project as a way to try out new materials and new tools, that takes time.  If you're feeling stressed, much better to have a half-dozen pens or pencils in a little packet that you can reach for every day than to have scores of them, each in its own storage place.  Better to use a self-contained pen than dip into a bottle of ink, risk spillage onto your worktable, and have to clean the pen afterwards.  Or at least work this week with this pen and this bottle of ink, and switch out next week instead of finding new tools every day.

everything at hand -- keep the pack next to your sketchbook (yes, it's the toothbrush pack you get at the dentist)

So Vivien, I'd be interested to hear your thoughts -- can you try 30 days of a low-commitment daily art project and see how it works?  Let us know.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Daily art 2018: post mortem 2

As I wrote on Monday, the main thing I didn't like about my 2018 daily art project was that it was too varied and thus too hard to keep track of.  No neat file boxes with everything in order.

I also am mad at myself that sometimes I didn't get the day's art done on that very day.  I've always permitted more or less slippage to fit into real life -- always those days when you're in transit for 29 hours straight or sick in bed or have six house guests or need to attend a wedding and you just can't fit in daily art. 

When I sent daily postcards to my mother, I often mailed or even wrote them late, but  that it was OK because who knew when the post office would actually deliver them.  One year when I was posting daily photos, some from my archives, I did two weeks worth in advance, allowing Blogger to post them each day, because I was going to be in Antarctica and out of internet touch.  When I did daily quilt blocks, it took until February the following year before I finally figured out how to illustrate the last day of my trip to Yellowstone National Park.  The only year I religiously did the daily art every day was 2010, where I took a photo each day.  Many times I raced around the house at 11:30 pm searching for something to photograph.  Some of those photos were lame, but I like the fact that I kept the rules more than I regret the weak showing.

In 2018 I let myself get behind too often, and each time you get behind it gets easier to rationalize getting behind again.

I also went wrong in 2018 by not documenting my work until a long time later.  I did write things down in my ledger as I did them, but didn't scan or photograph some of the work until a few weeks ago.  Bad move!  I don't know how many people visited my Daily Art blog last year, but they would have been appalled by how little current art was posted.  And it was way more work to get things organized and posted at the end of the year than if I had kept up with the task week by week.

Finally, last year it took more time than I should have devoted to daily art, especially days when I drew maps in my sketchbook or did bookbinding.  People often ask me how long I spend each day on these projects, and I say anywhere from five minutes (for a kissoff day) to two hours (if I take my sketchbook along to a meeting and work on it all afternoon in between talking and snacking).  I liked working on my maps, and so I didn't begrudge the time, but in retrospect I spent a LOT of hours last year on maps and what I have to show for it doesn't seem worth the final happiness-per-hour ratio.

this imaginary city map took a LOT of time
And of course, spending too much time each day made it easier to rationalize falling behind, easier to neglect documentation.

Lessons learned: This year I swear I will do both my daily arts on the very day.  No excuses.  I will scan and post them every week.  At least that's my plan.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Daily art 2018: post mortem 1

I always like to evaluate my art projects when they're finished, in part so I can figure out what to do and what not to do again.  And I think on balance my 2018 daily map project was a disappointment. 

At this time last year I thought it would be exciting to have a theme instead of a format, so one day I might draw a map, another day I might use a map in collage, a third day I might make a little book.  I would achieve my structure and documentation by writing down each day's map in a calendar book.  As it turned out, I found this approach unsatisfying. 

As was confirmed in spades as I got ready for my solo show last fall, I like being able to go through my old daily projects, with everything in one place and on display.  I like to see and feel the accumulation of day after day's art in a box or bag.  I like being able to find what I did on Valentine's Day or on my birthday or on Thanksgiving and put my hand on it. 

But last year that didn't happen.  Many things ended up filed in a big portfolio; small, lightweight 3-D work went into a file box; big heavy 3-D work got put somewhere among my finished artwork storage.  A few things are currently MIA.  This all makes me nervous. 

As I spent the better part of the end of December organizing and documenting all my maps from 2018, I mentally kicked myself a lot.  I was happy with daily pieces that fit into series, like my "I've been there" collages.  But I was happiest with the many "I've been there"s that were all on the same size card, less happy with the ones in different sizes or in different formats. 

I like this one
People who have visited my studio may laugh to hear me say that I crave organization and structure, but just because your studio is a world-class rat's nest doesn't mean your daily art shouldn't be neat and tidy.  Maybe that's one of the things I love about daily art: it can be perfectly organized and managed, even though I have a hard time achieving that in the rest of my life activities.

I actually anticipated that the way I defined the 2018 daily art project might be a problem.  My blog post from January 1, 2018:  When I started thinking about my next daily art project, in October and November, I was a bit apprehensive about this approach.  Was it too loosely defined?  Would I be afraid to work without the net of the strict format?  Fortunately, the minute I heard myself think that last question, I realized that was the dumbest thing I had thought in a long time.  If at this point in my artistic career I couldn't work without a net, I didn't deserve to call myself an artist.

Well, I was right to be apprehensive.  I wasn't afraid to work without the net, but as it turned out I didn't get as much satisfaction as I expect from a daily art project.  I like working within a strict format, at least in this context!  So for 2019 I'm back to rules.  Lesson learned.

I'll write more about my problems with the daily map project in another post.  Meanwhile, you can check out all my daily art here.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Last week on Art With a Needle

The cataract surgery went beautifully and a few hours later I could already see a dramatic difference in the amount of light entering my left eye.  I was sitting at the table in front of a white plate on a dark green tablecloth.  When I looked through my untouched eye the plate was a lovely warm white; when I looked through the new eye it was brilliant blue/white, like the computer screen turned too bright.  Vision is still blurry but improving every day.

Here's my favorite daily miniature from this past week. Several days ago I found a stray slide on my work table and for some reason took the film out.  I did nothing useful with either bit, so both film and slide mount lurked about for a while.  Here's the film cut in two and made into a little packet, layered with a bit of yellow cardstock that was sitting on the work table.  How nice that I had yellow thread in the sewing machine already.  Serendipity is what this project is all about.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Daily art with a kick

As a lover of daily art, I was taken by a story in yesterday's New York Times about a woman in Germany who got fed up with delays in her daily rail commute into Munich, because of track repairs.  So every night when she got home, she would add two rows to a scarf she was knitting.  If the delay was less than five minutes, she would knit gray; for up to a half hour, pink; and for more than that, red.

She did this for a year.  Then her daughter posted about it on Twitter and the scarf went viral. On Monday it sold for more than $8,000 on eBay, with the proceeds going to a charity that helps people at train stations.

What a great daily art project!  The track repairs aren't done yet, so she's making another scarf this year.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Rising to be art?

A reader's comment: "One of your entries was about how there were many collages and how only few 'rose to be art.'  How did they?  How did you decide?"

Maybe the hardest question for any artist, in any medium, is "Is this art?"  Or as a variant, "Is this art yet?"  We're always evaluating our work for composition, design, craft.  We sketch, we audition, we turn it upside down, we let the piece sit in plain view for a week while we think about what to do next.  In the end it's a matter of judgment.  People without a good sense of artistic judgment, or those who hurry into completion without enough thought, often end up producing stuff that doesn't "rise to be art."

Here are the three collages that I decided were good enough to hang in the gallery, and what I like about them:

Gold Star

Gold Star:  I like the simple, perpendicular composition: a large rectangle of complicated straight-edge shapes hovering symmetrically over a small square and an even smaller star.  That stack is moved a bit off-center and balanced with the tall vertical line at left, and the massing of gray squares at left in the large rectangle keeps it from falling off the page.

I like the simple palette of yellow and gray, and the variety of textures that become apparent when you look at the piece up close -- smooth on the "quilt" piece, rough on the sew-off square beneath, smooth on the star, ridged on the oval bead sewed to the square, ropelike on the twisted cord.

Slick Dude

Slick Dude: I feel a bit guilty over calling this piece "art."  It's almost cute, which makes me uncomfortable, but this guy is so obviously made out of leftovers that he has a compelling personality.

The bit of snakeskin calls out to be part of a living creature (interestingly, Uta used this material twice in her collages, and both times ended up with creatures -- here and here) and the practice buttonholes gave him shifty eyes.  The preexisting hole in the snakeskin made a sneer.  All he needed to be complete was a spiky hairdo.

I liked the background interest of mounting him on four separate panels of linen, joined with subtle hand stitching to give more texture.

Pig Newton

Pig Newton:  I like the juxtaposition of the two varieties of text -- one a replica of the Gutenberg Bible, one a scratch hand-lettered screenprint -- and the serious animals on the background fabric.  I like the red-white-and-blue palette, accentuated with buttons and hand stitching.

I like the composition, the severe vertical of the old text and the flowering vine, lightened up by the horizontal fragment of the hand lettering and the curvy line of bubbly buttons.  The sewoff square at the bottom is almost invisible in the composition, anchored by a blue button, but it plays an important role in keeping everything grounded.

And I like the title.  It might have been more appropriate to call it "Pig Gutenberg," but that would have just been weird, not funny.

Maybe you won't agree with my analysis, and that's OK, but I hope that when you look at these three pieces -- or any other work of art that you're trying to describe and evaluate -- that you will think in detail about what you like (or don't) and why.  That's the most important part of developing and strengthening your own sense of artistic judgment.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

What makes it "rise to be art"?

Recently a reader left a comment on my blog:  "One of your entries was about how there were many collages and how only few 'rose to be art.'  How did they?  How did you decide?  I would really like you to discuss this more, sometime."

I had talked about making a fabric collage every month in 2015 as parallel play with my great friend and art pal Uta Lenk.  Each month, we each opened an identical envelope of three or four miscellaneous bits and pieces, and had to use them all in a collage.  The collages, of course, looked very different, but part of the fun was trying to find where the same bits showed up in each piece.

August -- Uta
August -- Kathy

For instance, in August you can find the hand-dyed red fabric in both pieces, along with a shiny ring, a silver button and some red cord.  There's red netting (Uta wadded hers up while I mostly spread mine out) and ribbon with a woven rose (Uta used the back side, mainly pink, while I used the right side, mainly white).

I think my August collage is cute, and indeed, I might even hang it in the gallery to see if anybody needs to buy a Valentine's Day present, but I see it more as a clever challenge to use the random bits than as an intentional piece of art.  You can see how I kind of hid the silver button in the bottom right corner -- not sure whether it would have made it into the composition if it hadn't been in the envelope, and the red ring at center bottom was probably added just to make the silver button look more at home.

April -- Kathy

Here's another that I rate as a clever solution to what was in the envelope: a white lace medallion, some selvages from blue hand-dyed fabric, and four little metal L-shaped brackets.  With the help of a lot of hand stitching, this turned into an attractive floral composition, but it probably would have been better if the blue strips had been ribbons or torn silk or mulberry paper.  And the metal brackets, doing their best in a bad situation, would probably never have made it into the collage if I were making "art" instead of playing a game.

Many fiber artists are drawn to challenge projects in which they are given specific fabrics to use.  Because fabric is so distinctive in appearance, even when cut into smaller bits, it's particularly suited to this kind of challenge.  (It doesn't work in other mediums -- think if painters were each given a tube of alizarin crimson and challenged to use it.  Lame.)  And especially if the fabrics are beautiful, it's hard to resist this kind of temptation.  But the work that results is often identifiable as stemming from a challenge rather than from an artistic vision.

If you're lucky, you can achieve both, and out of my 12 collages, I judge three or four to be pretty good.  I'll show them in my next post.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Last week on Art With a Needle

Following our discussion of leaving comments on blogs, I decided I need to be more rigorous about responding to readers.  Yes, I could email you privately if you leave a comment, but then nobody else would see what I have to say.  So I'm going to try a new plan: on Saturday night I'll try to respond to any loose ends that have come up during the week.

Jenny wrote:  "I like text too and I enjoy experimenting with changing and distorting it.  Do you know the work of Idris Khan?"  No, I didn't know about Idris Khan but a fast google makes me want to spend more time looking at his work. 

Sandy inquired about my cataract surgery -- it's scheduled for this coming Wednesday.  While I don't look forward to the long interim before both eyes get fixed and new prescription glasses are ready, I really need to do this, so let's get on with it!

Vivien wrote:  "I'm encouraged to read that you think a blog is still a viable way to connect with others. For so many it seems to have had its day and folks are onto the next big thing."  Yes, I've noticed that blogs are becoming less popular and certainly less trendy, while many people have moved on to Instagram and Twitter and who knows what else.  But the blog still works for me.  I like to talks about things in more depth and with more thought than you can do on the newer platforms.  If communication without hashtags cuts me off from much of the great world population, so be it.  I'd rather have 363 people who read than 30,000 who like pictures and 140-character remarks.

And I'll also show you my favorite miniature that I made during the week. (I've decided that's a more dignified way of referring to my second daily art project than saying my favorite piece of stuff that I put in a plastic bag.)

This one features half a sparkplug (I think) that I found on the street, dolled up with a bead and a blue holographic thread topknot.  For scale, the little plastic bag measures 1.5 x 2 inches.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Calligraphy -- a funny new alphabet

Looking through my inspiration book I saw an almost-illegible alphabet in which the letters were squashed together horizontally but stretched out vertically, and decided to give it a try.  In the book, the writer allowed the S to break the rules, letting it swoop out several times as wide as the other letters, so I thought I'd try that too.  And because I like the way I draw a capital G, I decided to let Gs break the rules too, whether capital or lowercase.

I liked the way the letters formed patterns as they extended in stripes across the page, and how the S and G rulebreakers brought some air to the pattern.

Another day, I decided to make the S skinny and just leave the G fat.

One day I made everything skinny.

Then I made the G skinny and the S fat.  This is definitely the best one in the series.  Making the lines closer together gives a more cohesive look to the page.  I could easily keep working with this style of letters, practicing how to keep a more uniform slant and maybe ruling the left margin in advance.  But it's time to move on!

All my daily arts are posted to my other blog.  Here's the link to the calligraphy project.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Daily calligraphy -- how it's going

It wasn't until the fourth or fifth day of my new daily art project that I realized: the choice of what I was going to write was just as much an artistic decision as what pen and what style of lettering to use.  I started out the year with the first lines of Ode to Joy, because I always use that text when I need to write something.  It's one of the few poems that I can recite substantial parts of in German, and I love the idea.  The next day I wrote from the Battle Hymn of the Republic; again, because I know the words to all the verses by heart I can do calligraphy even if I didn't bring a book along to copy from.

The third day I decided to copy from a book I had just finished reading -- and I highly recommend it: Educated by Tara Westover -- and realized that if I write from every book the day I finish reading it, I will have a journal of what I read for the whole year.

But what to write on the fourth day?  When I do calligraphy I like to write something meaningful and intriguing, because I'll be going slowly and focusing on the words as well as the drawing.  Song lyrics and hymns always work, probably because it's easier to remember the words of a poem if they're set to music.  So I wrote from a Christmas hymn, Joy to the World.

The fifth day I wrote from the Gettysburg Address, always a favorite.  The last time I remember doing this in calligraphy I miraculously got the whole thing to fit perfectly on a 6x8 card; this time I ran out of page before I ran out of address.

I promise not to bore you with any more of what I'm writing this year.  Insofar as I report on my progress, I'm going to talk about the drawing, not the text.  After two days of free-form writing -- nothing special, just my usual "arty writing," I decided I needed to be more adventurous and look for specific inspiration to emulate.  I'll show you that in my next post.

Ode to Joy, with a brush

Battle Hymn of the Republic, with a Micron brush pen

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Daily art for 2019

My daily art project for this year is going to be called "calligraphy" (literally, beautiful writing).  I can cite three important reasons for this decision.

First, for many years I have been influenced by Laurie Doctor, a wonderful teacher whom I have studied with several times (look here and here for posts about her).  Every time I think about what I learned from her I'm inspired.

Second, my dear friend Uta gave me a book about a year ago called Schriftspiele: Experimentelle Calligraphie.  I've looked at it a lot but never sat down to emulate and learn from it.  It's in German, so I'll have to brush up on my vocabulary if I want to read the text, but even without the explanation, what the artist (Denise Lach) is doing with her calligraphy is wonderful.

Denise Lach

Third, my art pal Bette told me a couple of months ago about an artist from Iran, Golnaz Fathi, who does calligraphic art.  The minute I saw her work I knew exactly what to do for daily art in 2019!

Golnaz Fathi

And that is: I want to write/draw/mark with ink in a sketchbook.  Sometimes it will resemble writing but it won't always be readable or legible.  I might want to use pens as well as brushes.  I might want to use paint as well as ink.  I might want to draw lines that don't contain letters.  But I hope that over time the daily sketches/drawings/writings/marks will start to develop their own cohesive character.

As Justice Potter Stewart famously said about obscenity, "I can't define it but I know it when I see it!"  That's what I say about my daily art intentions.  You gotta have a label, though, and calligraphy may be as close as I can get.

I'll keep you posted on what I come up with.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Happy New Year!

Do I tell you all frequently enough how much I love you?  I'm starting the tenth year of this blog and the reason I stick with it is because it's so gratifying to make contacts with so many internet friends around the world.  If not for you faithful followers, there would be no reason for me to blog, but with you out there reading, it's a never-ending conversation that enriches my life and, I hope, maybe enriches yours too.

Last week I posted about people having trouble leaving comments on my blog and received many responses -- some came to me by email because, guess what, people had trouble leaving comments on the blog.  I'm going to try to tweak my settings in the coming weeks to make that easier and may be asking you to be guinea pigs, but not now.

One of the commenters said that she hates it when you leave a comment on a blog and the writer never responds.  Perhaps I am guilty of that sin, because I don't reply to every comment.  I don't enjoy reading blogs where the comment sections are dialog: 
   Reader 1:  I liked this post
         Blogger:  Thanks for commenting!
   Reader 2:  I hated this post
         Blogger:  Thanks for commenting!
   Reader 3:  Your quilt looks wonderful.
         Blogger:  Thanks for commenting!
   Reader 4:  I also hated this post
         Blogger:  Thanks for commenting!

But I do read every word that you post, and I always respond to questions and debates that show up in the comments.  Mostly I do it in a new blog post -- because if you leave a comment, and I respond in the comment section, how are you going to find it?   Unless you keep it in your mind -- gee, Kathy owes me an answer -- and keep going back to see whether she has given you one yet -- you may never get my snappy comeback.  And other readers won't either.

A couple of those issues will show up in the next week or so, because you asked.  Stay tuned!

Meanwhile, I hope we can all have a good year ahead, full of art and full of friends.