Saturday, September 28, 2019

Last week on Art With a Needle

What a wonderful week of art I've had!  I went to northern Michigan to visit my sister and since I am still laid up with the broken ankle, I mainly sat at the table and did art while other people occasionally brought me food and drink.  So my foot feels a whole lot better with so little walking and standing.

The week was mainly spent in parallel play. 

My sister is still winding up chores and paperwork from her husband's death, so she spent a lot of time on the phone with insurance companies while I did hand stitching.  Very companionable for both of us; just having somebody else in the room when you're performing a solitary task is so good!  We talked while she was on hold, stopped talking when one of us needed to concentrate.  One day I did a lot of her piled-up mending while she cleaned up the sewing room; much more talking this time.  And when I worked on my daily calligraphy she brought out her sketchbook and tried out the same techniques.

mended: pirate costume, two pairs of shorts, yoga pants, blouse, hanging clothes hamper, nylon tote bag
Speaking of calligraphy, Gail left a comment that maybe I could resurrect my broken crow-quill pen by putting a new grip on the old handle.  I wish -- but I think I'm better off buying a new pen and, as Susan suggested in her comment: "maybe some broken type, some frayed fabric, a broken quill pen, a new piece of art!"  If I have to futz around and make stuff with old broken things, I'd much rather end up with art than with a repair that I'd probably screw up anyway.

Gail commented earlier in the week, "I wonder if there isn't some obscure law that requires substitutes for the full spelling of some words on book covers?  You know, like the 7 forbidden words on TV that George Carlin had a whole routine about."  Short answer to that: no there isn't.  Government "shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press...."

Yes, it's possible that a book could be considered obscene by the local police, under the famous definition articulated by Justice Potter Stewart in 1964: "I know it when I see it."  Language on broadcast TV is still regulated by the FCC, but standards are looser than they used to be, and cable and satellite TV have even fewer rules.  (If this topic interests you, here's a long but readable and up-to-date article from TV Guide -- click here for the link.  I recommend despite the hackneyed asterisked title.) 

Anyhow, here's my favorite miniature of the week:

Thursday, September 26, 2019

My precious crow-quill pen, RIP

I had a tragedy the other day.  As so many tragedies do, this one started with good intentions.  I decided to properly clean my calligraphy pens.  My usual practice is to scrub them with a wire brush after I finish writing for the day, but that method still leaves ink spots inside the curve and down where the nib fits into the pen holder.  So this time I was going to remove all the nibs from the pens and soak them in my fancy pen cleaner solution of caustic chemicals.

I had been doing quite a bit of writing with a crow-quill pen, and my favorite of the two I inherited from my father was cleverly set in a hexagonal cork finger grip, attached to a very skinny handle.

It was so comfortable to hold, and I love the delicate thick-and-thin lines you get when you alternately bear down on the springy pen and press lightly.  But the nib was encrusted with ink and since I was soaking all the other nibs, why not take this one out and give it a nice wash too.

Couldn't get the nib out of the holder by just grabbing it.  (Well, you can hardly ever get a nib out of its holder by grabbing it, so I keep a needle-nose pliers at hand.)  Gripped it with my pliers and tugged -- and the nib crumbled and broke.

Boy, that nib was cemented in there -- probably because it was never thoroughly cleaned, and the ink had built up a permanent bond with the cork.  Remember, this pen belonged to my dad and I bet hadn't been used in 70 years.

Have to keep going now; no turning back.  Got a better grip with the pliers and managed to pull out the nib in three or four pieces.  And oops, the last chunk of nib was cemented in so tightly that it came out with a big chunk of cork.  That pen is never going to hold a nib again.

So here's my wonderful antique crow-quill pen, ruined.  But I'll be damned if I throw it out.  I have learned that when you break something precious, you can always take the pieces and incorporate them into art.  I'll let you know when that happens.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Art from the ruins

My art pal Keith Auerbach, a photographer, had a disaster fifteen years ago when a tornado took the roof off his studio and trashed it.  Rain and terrible heat accompanied the storm.  By the time Keith dealt with the more immediate crisis and got to the studio, he found all his negatives soaked, cooked and pasted together in a goo of melted emulsions.  He peeled some of them apart and let them dry, pitched the rest.  He was not happy.  Time passed.

A year or so ago he unpacked the negatives he had saved and scanned them into digital files.  When he opened them in photoshop, they were surprisingly mysterious and beautiful.  Sometimes, where two negatives had fused together, two different images appeared in the scan.  Sometimes the pigments oozed together into abstraction, with no hint of what had been in the original picture.

Keith is a photoshop wizard, so he couldn't leave well enough alone.  For some of the images he played with the color; others looked great straight from the scanner.  The  film came out as negatives; the slides read as positives.

He showed some of these images to our art book club months ago and we encouraged him to keep at it.  And last week, he unveiled dozens of them in a solo show at PYRO Gallery.

These photos are wonderful!  If you're anywhere within driving distance of Louisville, drop in and see Keith's show, through October 19.  We're at 1006 E. Washington Street; check our website for the opening hours.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Last week on Art With a Needle

If feeling sorry for yourself qualifies as performance art, I had a very arty week.  Trying to not walk around any more than necessary on the broken ankle, I read books, did computer work and made all my daily miniatures from the same small pile of beads, wire and clay.

Vivien asked whether it's my sewing-machine foot that's immobilized -- the answer is no, I could do the foot pedal (if I took off my artificially-heightened shoe, currently wearing a clever soleplate to make me as tall on the good side as the boot makes me on the bad side).  But the intricate piecing that I'm doing on my crossroads quilts requires a lot of up-and-down, walking from the sewing machine to the worktable every few minutes for more cutting and pressing, just the kind of activity I'm trying to avoid.   And thinking up a new project that would require plain old sitting-at-the-machine time seems daunting.

Several readers left comments echoing my disgust with the "clever" book titles featuring dirty words, or rather, the same dirty non-word.  Shasta said she thinks she read the one about cleaning up, "or maybe it was one with a similar title with a different curse word about cleaning."  That rang a bell with me, and two seconds online came up with these two oh-so-clever-and-daring books:

What I find amusing are the genteel asterisks.  Why bother, since your objective is obviously to prove that you know a four-letter word and are eager to say it in public?  Not very original, ladies.  (and did you notice the clever nom-de-plume on the second one?  Messie Condo?  give me a break)

Here's my favorite miniature of the week:

As always, you can check out all my daily art -- both miniatures and calligraphy -- at my daily art blog.  Thanks for reading; thanks for commenting!

Thursday, September 19, 2019

We are not amused

Every week the public library sends out a list of the ebooks and audiobooks that have just been purchased, and I like to look at the titles to see if anything looks good -- maybe I can grab a loan right away, or at least get early on the waiting list for the popular books.  Last week I was unhappy to find not one but two oh-so-clever titles that really grossed me out.

Oh, aren't we edgy and daring?  We know a four-letter word!  (But aren't we so tasteful, obscuring it behind a banana peel?)  (And did you notice in the very small print, the author of the pink one has already written one book with the same clever title gimmick -- so original.)  (And since one is an audiobook, don't you wonder how they're going to pronounce this clever word, since they're so tasteful and all?)

OK, you're edgy and daring.  But why not choose a real four-letter word and use it in its correct grammatical context?  News flash: unf-ck, even without the banana peel, is not a verb used by native English speakers, much as some rueful past participants might wish it were possible to do it.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Does nothing last???

I've been using fabric paints for decades and have accumulated 25 or 30 bottles of Setacolor, my favorite brand.  They never seemed to go bad, and have been my go-to stuff for printing my wood and metal type, either onto fabric or onto paper.  I haven't used any in years, but they're still there at the ready.  Last week I wanted to use some type in my daily calligraphy, and grabbed the first couple of bottles from my stash.

And much to my surprise, two out of the three bottles had broken apart in exactly the same way!

I can't imagine why this would happen.  If I had just screwed the tops on too tight, surely I would have noticed them breaking in my hands.  Maybe it was a gremlin.

I peeked inside and the paint still seems to be viscous; I will experiment to see if it's still usable.  Meanwhile the third bottle seemed a bit thicker in consistency than the paints were to begin with, but it worked just fine.

The two busted bottles didn't have dates, but the third one did -- 2003.  Here's a shout-out to the folks at Pebeo -- you make one long-lasting product!!! 

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Last week on Art With a Needle

It was not a good week for Art With a Needle's proprietor.  I fell on a busted-up patch of sidewalk and broke my ankle in two places, fortunately not enough to require surgery but unfortunately with enough collateral tendon and ligament damage to make for a long recovery.  Here's my moon boot, complete with an air pump that inflates bladders around my heel and ankle to hold everything rigid inside.  I can walk on it and there's no pain, just aches after a long day.  (Liquor helps.)

Last week I showed you my cascading-letters calligraphy and asked whether it's a good idea to just keep doing something that you love to do and looks good, or whether you should move on to something else if you can't think of a new twist.

My readers came to my rescue.  Artquilter left a comment: "You have lots of letters from  your dad's collection and your own, maybe it's time to "draw" some of those."  And that got me to thinking...

What if I used some of my metal type to print onto the page, then added the cascade of hand-drawn letters?  (After all, it is a daily calligraphy project.)  (And yes, to the readers who couldn't believe the letters are drawn by hand -- after all, it is a daily calligraphy project.)

Here's my favorite miniature of the week:

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Calligraphy update -- sea songs

I wrote earlier in the year about a project I did with calligraphy for the "home" show at PYRO Gallery.  I found a bunch of songs that had the word "home" somewhere in their lyrics, and wrote them into a book that was illustrated by photos of front steps.  I thought I might try to do another book along the same lines, except this time using the word "sea."  Now I need to go through my bazillion photos from our various ocean voyages and find the best ones for the book.

As with "home," it wasn't too hard to find lots of songs with the magic word.  What surprised me was how much overlap there is with songs containing both "home" and "sea."

Maybe I need to make a book about "home" and "sea."  Will have to keep on the lookout for houseboats to take pictures of.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Calligraphy update -- lotsa letters

I don't remember how I got this idea, to make individual letters that would start as dense collections and then fall apart as they tumbled downward on the page.  The first few I made were with a bunch of new polymer-tip pens in bright, cheery colors.

I loved the effect, and the bright colors, except that these pens were relatively thin-line, and I found it hard to get a uniform wash of color on the larger letters with so much drawing back-and-forth.   Also it took quite a while to draw these letters.

So I started making these compositions with a dip pen.  I used my springiest nib, one that effortlessly gives you swoopy lines that go from thin to thick with just a bit of extra pressure.  For most of the letters, I could draw thick lines with just one pass, and the curved letters like S and B looked beautiful as they swelled and ebbed.

It was faster to make these letters, but it also took a while for the ink to dry, so I had to do the day's page in several different sittings.  Particularly nice when I started in the morning, did one color for a bit, went away and came back later for a bit more writing.

My ink supply is all dark colors, so these compositions aren't as light and bright as the first ones, but I think they're more sophisticated.  Now I'm at the same point that I was a couple of years ago when I was making tangles in my daily drawing.  Namely, is it a good plan to keep making the same drawing over and over again, day after day, even if you think it's beautiful and it's fun to do?  Are you losing the opportunity to try something new if you just repeat your favorite theme?

Certainly when you're perfecting a new approach, and certainly when you have ideas for a new frisson in your new approach, it's good to keep going day after day.  But when you have no new idea and just want to make another one like the ones you did before, maybe it's better to move on.

What do you think?

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Last week on Art With a Needle

I discovered -- and bought -- a new product at the fabric store this week, a thin non-woven polypropylene.  I asked the clerk what people were doing with this and she said the bottoms of upholstered furniture, or as background for fancy bulletin board displays.  I used it to cover stretcher bars and mount a small quilt.

I sewed the quilt to the poly fabric all along the top edge and a ways down each side.  I have not tested the tearing properties of the poly and hope I haven't overloaded its capacity; I did make a point of using large stitches.  The quilt is only 26 inches square, so it isn't terribly heavy.  I will hope for the best.

can you see the needle at right, stitching the quilt to the covered canvas?
I wrote last week about my so-far unsatisfying attempts to use Arabic script in my daily calligraphy.  Irene commented that I should try flipping the letters and writing left-to-right (among other things, it would keep my hand out of the wet ink).  Good idea, and I will try it.  Thanks! 

I also wrote last week about my new haul of air-drying clay and showed you the first little guy made from it.  Monica left a comment:  "I really like your miniature.  It brings a smile to my face, so I have saved it in my photos (I hope that is fine with you.)"  It certainly is, Monica.  In general I'm happy to let any of my readers use stuff from my blog, as long as you mention my name! 

I made all my miniatures for this week from the clay, experimenting with inserting stuff into the clay and adding paint to the dry figures.  I guess my favorite is Monday, the little guy in the hooded cloak with the shepherd's staff.   Already I'm learning how the material works and how to get a better finish, without cracks or burrs.  This is a lot of fun! 

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Calligraphy update -- Arabic experiments

I've been faithfully doing my daily calligraphy, on two different tracks these days.  I'm still copying a passage from each book I read, either the day I finish reading it or the next day.  But on the other track I'm trying to find a style or styles of calligraphy that are less about writing and more about art.

I wrote about this a couple of months ago and some readers suggested that I try writing Arabic script, because it's beautiful and because I couldn't get distracted by meaning, focusing solely on the visual appeal.  So I did dutifully try Arabic for a while.  I found that writing from right to left was interesting and seemed to fire different neurons than when I write in European languages.  But I also found that right to left doesn't work very well with a dip pen and ink that takes a while to dry.  (New sympathy for lefties.)

More important, I had a hard time finding exemplars to work from.  The Arabic alphabet sites that I found online showed individual letters but little help in how to combine them into longer "words" -- using that term loosely, because of course I had no idea of what I was putting together.  I realized only after more research that all these letters, when written into words, emanate from a baseline, and the letter charts don't tell you whether a given letter goes up or down. 

I had better luck with sites in which Arabic writers posted samples of their own handwriting.  A great deal of variation, as you might imagine, and I enjoyed copying from them.  But I never did develop any comfort level that would let me "write" several characters in a row -- even if I permitted myself to write Arabic-like squiggles that weren't exactly correct letters.  In other words, I never could get myself into a rhythm that approximated the writing I saw on screen.  I felt like an impostor and I think the writing looked awkward as a result.

I abandoned this approach, even though there were aspects of it that appealed to me.  In particular, I liked the down-and-left stroke that resembles a fat J, but have found it difficult to incorporate into my left-to-right writing.  So, an experiment that did not pay off.  Maybe I quit too soon; maybe I should go back and try again.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Fiberart International 4 -- knitting and crochet

There were several intriguing knitted and crocheted pieces at Fiberart International, which was on display all summer in Pittsburgh.

Adrienne Sloane, Marking Time (details below)

This piece is knitted over wire, which is bent to make the script.  I liked the strong graphic quality of the "lines".  (Wished they had put the gallery tag somewhere other than smack in the middle of the pencil-drawn hash marks on the wall!)

Nicole Benner, Comfort/Confine II

Crocheted with metallic yarn and displayed over a mannequin, although in the past it has been worn by a person as performance art.  Can't you just imagine what it would be like to wear a garment like this?  Would you feel slinky and flashy as all get-out, or imprisoned, or both?

Marianne Moore, Financial Ruin (detail below)

A real knockout, knitted out of shredded US currency.  I had to wonder -- did she first have to glue a bazillion six-inch shreds into long yarns?  Sounds like a labor of love.

Rachel Hefferan, Woven/Crochet Transition (details below)

Here's a piece that starts off as weaving and ends up as crochet.  A clever idea, but since the transition between the two techniques seems to be the subject of the work -- see the title -- I wished that she had started crocheting on some of those long warp threads to more seamlessly join the two parts instead of just draping them on top.

Carol Milne, You Can Leave Your Hat On, Doll

And this one gets the originality award: "lead crystal knitted glass hat on mold-blown glass head."  I wish I knew more about glass to understand how this got made -- probably not with asbestos gloves holding knitting needles in the furnace.