Saturday, June 11, 2022

Getting ready -- a lot of work...

My new show opens four weeks from yesterday and I'm now in the stage that is probably the least fun.  All the art is made, but it has to be made ready to hang.  I've made about 20 hand-stitched pieces in varying shapes and sizes, most of them pretty small, and to make a cohesive body of work they're all going to be mounted on stretched canvases, covered with black fabric.  

Unfortunately, the black fabric is not tightly woven (I bought the cheapest cotton in the store) so the white canvas shows through when it's tightly stretched.  So I had to paint the outer border of the canvas black first. 

Then to the stretching.  The parts in the middle are easy to do, but the corners are tricky if you want them to be as flat as possible.  (The purchased canvas already has a triangle of three layers at each corner, so perfectly flat isn't going to happen, but by pulling tight you can get them to fold neatly, without bulges.)  

I do this by pulling and pinning and inspecting and pulling some more and repinning everything before putting in the final staples in the corners.  

I sew the embroideries to the canvas,  sometimes with the stitches invisible (time-consuming, but it's almost like magic when you're done) and sometimes visible.  Fortunately it's easy to stitch through the canvas and sometimes I got into a groove, carrying many of the stitching lines off the original fabric and well onto the background.  

I am deliberately avoiding calculating how much time it takes me to get a "finished" embroidery onto a canvas.  If I did, I'd probably realize that I'm paying myself a minimum wage of about 95 cents an hour.  But there are compensations, such as seeing a big stack of canvases, all looking the same, ready to go.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Let them drink beer

This post has nothing to do with fiber art but I'm feeling seriously crabby.

I'm crabby about the crisis in baby formula.  As a mother who failed at breastfeeding my first time around (as did my mother and my sister) and went straight to the bottle the second time around, I can't imagine what mothers are doing today when they can't find formula in the stores.  And it seems that the only response from the public health establishment is to harangue them: DON'T, DON'T, DON'T make homemade formula.

I was particularly annoyed this afternoon to read my regular email newsletter from Dr. Leana Wen, who writes for the Washington Post.  A reader complained to her: "Why aren't pediatricians sharing these recipes?  Public health authorities keep treating mothers like they are too incompetent to follow simple directions to feed their babies."

Dr. Wen sanctimoniously explained the two reasons why mothers shouldn't make their own formula.  "First, commercial formula is carefully researched through clinical trials to provide the specific nutrients babies need.  Homemade recipes will likely lack these nutrients or contain them in improper amounts."

So how about sharing recipes that contain the right nutrients in the right amounts?  Wouldn't that be better than leaving desperate parents to their own devices?

Dr. Wen continues:  "Second, homemade recipes are rife with bacterial contamination.  There are Internet recipes that call for using unpasteurized raw milk, which is really dangerous for babies."

Again, how about sharing a recipe that doesn't call for unpasteurized raw milk?  Or sharing tips for making sure that homemade formula is protected as much as possible from bacteria?  People are capable of canning tomatoes in sterile jars, and in an emergency -- which we have right now -- they should be able to carefully do the best possible job with baby formula.

Dr. Wen and WaPo are not alone in telling people what not to do but offering no help on what they should do instead.  Here's the New York Times' list of don'ts:  

"If you're running low on formula, don't dilute it or try to stretch it by adding water."  

"Don't buy formula from an online marketplace like Facebook or Craigslist... Always go to a trusted store, pharmacy or directly to the manufacturer."  (in other words, all those places that don't have any formula on the shelves...)

"Don't feed toddler formula to your infant.  (Toddler formula may be OK for an older baby for a few days; check with your doctor.)" 

"Buying imported European formulas, which aren't FDA-approved, has potential risks.  For example, in Europe, a hypoallergenic formula may contain intact proteins, which can cause reactions in babies with allergies."  (apparently the White House missed this memo, because they're already starting to airlift formula from Europe...)

For many reasons, this isn't turning out to be a great year for parents and children.  Perhaps the FDA will eventually get around to approving a covid vaccine for little ones, or perhaps they'll just hope the little ones can survive to age 5.  Perhaps the airlifted formula will be sufficient that the babies can survive long enough to be able to finally drink toddler formula.  

And with any luck, the little ones will survive to adulthood without being shot up in their classrooms.  Our grandson graduated from elementary school today, uneventfully.  Other grandparents sadly are not as fortunate as we in that respect.

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Feeling trapped

I've been painting fish for several weeks in my daily art project.  Since fish live in water, and since I am intrigued by the washy effects of wet-into-wet painting, I've been doing a lot of experimenting with making the fish blurry, as though seen through the water.

I've enjoyed this series, although I think it's about to end, because I have other ideas to explore.  But a strange thing happened with the fish this week.

We have been tied up in organizing a family transition, as my sister-in-law is going to move across the country from a single-family home on a multi-acre lot in the exurbs to a senior living center here in Kentucky.  We are her closest family, and it's time for her to come to where we can support and help her.

We visited four, count 'em, four places yesterday, which is at least one too many, if you're planning a similar emdeavor.  But fortunately, we found one that looked pretty good, and this morning we went back for a second look and more gory details.  I think this is going to happen -- as soon as the minor tasks of selling a house and moving across the US can be worked out.  Things will be better for everybody once it's done; just the doing will be hell on wheels.

So back to my fish.

I was going to be the get-it-done, voice of reason on yesterday's expedition.  I was familiar with three of the places we visited, because two dear friends, now dead, had lived there.  I had set foot in these three establishments dozens or scores of times.  I knew that my husband and his sister were emotionally fraught by this task, so I was going to be the one who would guide and evaluate with a slightly more objective and detached view.

But as the day wore on, I found myself un-detached, and unexpectedly feeling trapped and claustrophobic.

The fish told the story -- when I did my painting last night the fish ended up in a box.

And this morning, before we headed out for the second visit to the best place, the fish ended up in a trap.

I'm a decade younger than my husband and his sister, so I have known forever that it's likely I'll be the last one standing, the one who does the caregiving and the support at the end of life.  But something about visiting these places made me painfully aware that we're all getting older.

I have sworn that I will never enter an institution when I get old; instead I will die in my own home if it kills me (thus cleverly avoiding the issue of what to do with my studio and my stash and my collections of stuff that I intend to turn into art.  Let my kids deal with that after I'm gone.  And sure enough, just walking into these places -- even the best, most pleasant of them -- reminded me of why I have sworn this oath.

I think the place we have found will be the best solution for my SIL.  It will allow her to easily make friends in a city where she has never lived, thousands of miles away from her present home.  It will give her support and infrastructure so she won't have to lean on us for everything.  It will provide access to dozens of activities and lots of companionship that she could never get in a regular old apartment.  I'm not sure why I'm feeling trapped instead of happy.  (Actually, I guess I'm happy too, but the fish certainly aren't...)

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Sanford Biggers at the Speed, part 3

I've written about the Sanford Biggers show in two previous posts.  Time for a wrap-up.

The piece I liked best in the show was a Tumbling Blocks quilt, with a minimum of paint, overlaid with a dramatic horizontal flame of orange-and-black chevron print.  A little bit of black paint made a curvy outline over the old blocks, a sort of half-silhouette of a key shape.

Sanford Biggers, Quilt 17 ( Sugar, Pork, Bourbon) 

My second favorite was a collage of old quilts, plus a section of curvy stripes made from sequins on a black painted background.

Sanford Biggers, Transition

I liked these quilts because they thoughtfully used large patterned shapes to contrast with and complement the smaller patterns of the vintage pieced quilts.  In both cases there was artistry in the composition and care in the construction.

Sadly, I did not see those features in most of the quilts in the exhibit.  The artspeak at the entrance to the gallery tells us "the quilts signal their original creator's intent as well as the new layers of meaning given to them through Biggers's artistic intervention."  I searched in vain for the new layers of meaning in most of the pieces in the show.

As I mentioned in my first post about this show, I walked in the door as a Biggers skeptic, based on a bit of past knowledge of his work, but would have liked to like this show.  Instead I was surprised at the strength of visceral discomfort that hit me in only the first two rooms of the gallery; all those beautiful antique quilts deliberately messed up with paint and tar to no apparent purpose.  Perhaps it wasn't the defacing per se that bothered me -- I've been known to repurpose old quilt bits myself -- but the slapdash quality of the defacing.  

I went to the museum with two friends, one an artist, one not.  When we compared notes all three of us just wanted to get out of there fast.  I wasn't there long enough to discover exactly what made me so unhappy, and for that I apologize.  

The show will be up through June 26.  I'd love to hear what other people think of it, whether I'm alone in my unease.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Sanford Biggers at the Speed, part 2

More comments about the Sanford Biggers show.  Not everything in the show featured messy paint applications.  One of the quilts, stretched on a wood armature, had dramatic holes, bordered with black organza to give a striking shadow illusion.

Sanford Biggers, Ecclesiastes 1 (KJV)
A similar see-through illusion appeared in an assemblage of six framed quilt sections, with some two-layer areas where the semiopaque frosted plexiglass was cut away to reveal a quilt about a quarter-inch behind.  

Sanford Biggers, Nyabinghi, detail below

Two of the quilts, both Tumbling Blocks, were overlaid with sequins and lame, glittering under the gallery lights.  No paint drips on these, just fabric collage.  

Sanford Biggers, Ooo Oui, detail

Sanford Biggers, Ooo Oui

Several pieces were made by stretching quilt sections into wood-framed constructions.  The first one we saw as we came through the exhibit was intriguing, made in part from American flag-motif quilts. 

Sanford Biggers, Reconstruction, detail below

But the next four or five, the same concept with slightly different construction shapes, all kind of looked alike, and the fact that they were hung too high on the wall to see most of the surfaces made them easy to walk past without stopping to look. 

Maybe I would have liked them better if all the "construction" pieces had been hung together for comparison, but they weren't.

I'll give you the wrap-up report in my next post.  

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Sanford Biggers at the Speed, part 1

The current blockbuster show at the Speed Museum is by Sanford Biggers, an African American artist whose shtick is to paint on top of antique quilts.  I have been somewhat familiar with his work for several years; in 2017 one of his quilts was in another show at the Speed, and I wrote about it in a blog post.  

I found some things to like in that piece, but I had two big reservations.  First, Biggers made a big deal out of the false story that quilts were used as secret signposts along the Underground Railroad.  Second, it hurt to see a beautiful antique quilt in fine condition used as a canvas.  Surely he could have found a beat-up quilt to paint on!

So I approached the new show with some preconceptions, but resolved to keep an open mind.  I lingered over the artist statement at the entrance to the exhibit, interested to note that he has backed off from his fake-history Underground Railroad statements.  In 2017 the wall tag read "Some quilts were used as signposts for safe houses..."  Five years later, we read "he was intrigued by the heavily debated narrative that quilts in some way doubled as signposts..."  That's progress, I guess, and maybe in five more years he will acknowledge that this narrative is not heavily debated at all, just carelessly repeated by ignorant people.  

But enough nitpicking, let's look at the quilts.  I didn't keep a tally, but it seemed that most of them were in pretty good condition and were simply painted upon and hung on the wall without additional support.  Some were in poor condition, and augmented by patching in pieces from other quilts, or collaging swatches of unquilted fabric, including several kimono pieces, on top. 

Sanford Biggers, Hat & Beard, details

Sanford Biggers, Hat & Beard

Most of the quilts followed the same recipe: start with a quilt or quilt collage, paint loosely over the top, let the paint (or sometimes, tar) drip and blob.  Some of them had intricate and meticulous stenciled designs, but almost always some area of deliberate mess.

Sanford Biggers, Quilt 30 (Nimbus), detail below

I can't describe the whole show in just one blog post, and probably not even in just two.  So stay tuned and I'll have more pictures and thoughts soon.

Friday, April 1, 2022

Voice from the past

If you were reading my blog (or if you were reading the New York Times) during the summer of 2020, you may remember the silly series called Designer DIY that ran off and on in the Times, in which famous fashion designers came up with adorable sewing and craft ideas for readers to do at home.  Mending and embroidering garments were popular repeat subjects, but making flimsy "jewelry" and handbags also showed up, as well as making a dress out of a pillowcase.

One of my favorites was the feature in which you were instructed on how to embroider your name on your sock.  You were told to use an embroidery hoop, and here's a helpful drawing of work in progress:

from NYTimes Style section

You (unlike the artist or the editor) will notice, of course, that it will be impossible to put the sock on your foot, since the sides of the sock are now sewed together.

I came to love these features, because it enabled me to write snarky comments about how lame the ideas were, and more egregious, how awful the directions were.  If you have 15 minutes to fritter away on the internet today, you might want to read or reread these blog posts, guaranteed to give you lots of laughs.

The posts led to a bunch of comments from my readers, many of whom urged me to write the Times and tell them how awful the series was.  So I did.  Sometime in the summer of 2020 I wrote a long letter that spelled out all the things that they were doing poorly, and urging them to clean up their act.  

I wrote, in part: "If your purpose in this series is to win brownie points in the fashion community and give some designers a bit of free ink, then you have probably succeeded, especially among readers who don’t actually try to do the projects. But if your purpose is to give your readers projects they can succeed at and feel proud of, you are failing miserably. I suspect that the great majority of readers who do the projects are also failing miserably, which I can’t imagine is building warm feelings toward the Times.

"Perhaps things would work better if you let the designers come up with the ideas and let somebody who does actual handwork write the instructions. Better yet, let somebody who does actual handwork come up with the ideas too, so you could present projects that are doable and attractive." 

I received no response, until this morning!

When I found an email, saying "Thank you for contacting the newsroom of The New York Times.  We appreciate readers who share their feedback and help us report thoroughly and accurately.  Someone will read your note shortly, but because of the volume of notes we receive, we cannot respond individually to each one."

I am so gratified that someone will read my note shortly.

Meanwhile, if you want to embroider your sock, please use a darning egg, not an embroidery hoop.

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Another painting motif

I wrote in my last post about the lake motif that I've been using in my daily painting.  Another motif that I've used several times is a hand.  Simplest execution you can imagine: trace around the hand, fill in with color.  

I've been using this motif to experiment with color: not so much which two colors will go well together but how to lay down the color within the hand and in the  background.  I don't want a flat, uniform coat of paint; instead I'm looking for ways to vary the tones and achieve an interesting texture.

Because I don't wash out my paint palette dish at night, I always have five or six dried-up blobs of paint in different colors ready to be reconstituted.  I tend to mix up a supply of my main color, then vary the strokes by occasionally dipping into one of the side colors.  Sometimes the colors blend smoothly, if they aren't too different in value and if the first color has stayed pretty wet before the second one comes on.  Other times there are distinct lines between one color and the next.

I find that I like both approaches.  I also like varying the shape of the hand, either by moving the fingers or cropping the shape on the page. 

When my granddaughter was visiting one day I showed her my hand paintings and she let me trace her hand a couple of times.

I am also using these motifs as a way to practice carefully laying down the paint.  I don't paint a background first and then put the hand over the top; instead I paint the hand first and then paint the background color exactly up to the edge, trying to leave no bit of white between the two colors.  It's improving my hand control!

When I showed these paintings to a friend, she suggested that I try to make my depiction more realistic by shading to show dimension.  I thought about that for a while, but then decided that I like the flat look, at least for now.  Maybe after I've gotten more comfortable with the paint I can circle back and focus more on the "drawing." 

(I even thought about extending this flat approach to other mediums, cutting hand shapes out of patterned paper or fabric and collaging them.  Might hold that thought for another day!)

I'll show you my next recurring motif in another post.  Meanwhile, you can see all my daily art on my daily art blog.

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Painting update

The last time I posted about my daily painting project, I had just purchased a whole array of gouache paints, plus some new brushes, and had started experimenting with this new-to-me paint.  The glory of gouache is that it's opaque enough to totally cover whatever was underneath (helpful for fixing mistakes) and able to lay down a beautiful matte surface if you want.  Or you can dilute it for washy watercolor effects.  I've been trying both approaches.

Frankly, I've been way more interested in learning how the paint behaves than in coming up with artistically rewarding compositions.  I have been fixating on a certain motif and doing it over and over, changing a little something each time I do it.  Today I'll talk about my first repeated motif, the lake.

Maybe it doesn't look like a lake to you, but it does to me.  Not that I have any particular lake connections that this brings to mind (my childhood lake, Huron, is so big that it more resembles the ocean) but it's a nice shape.

I know that other painters can make their gouache expanses look like paint chips -- perfectly smooth and without color variations or brushmarks -- but I can't.  I can get close, as with the pink lake, but that's not really a goal I want to work toward; I find the mottled surfaces of the sky and land far more interesting.

I've played around with the composition in several ways, with multiple lakes, upside-down lakes and portrait-format designs.  All of them have the narrow white outline between the different colors, sometimes rendered in white paint but other times achieved by very carefully leaving white paper between the painted areas.

One of my early lakes was a disaster -- why did I ever think it would be a good idea to give it a handle?

So several days later I decided to paint over the bad part.  It was an experiment in whether I could successfully match the color, and whether I could actually conceal the color underneath.  Success on both fronts, and I find the composition much more pleasing.  The original lives on digitally but at least when I page through my sketchbook I'm not faced with that ugly version.

After 18 days of lakes, I was ready to move on.  I'll show you my next motif in another post.  Meanwhile, you can see all my daily art on my daily art blog.

Monday, February 14, 2022

Asking for advice

I am of two minds when it comes to asking other people for advice, especially in large groups (whether in person or virtual).  There are people whose advice you respect, and there are those who just volunteer useless praise or counterproductive suggestions.  It's easy to ignore those in the second group, but what happens when those in the first group don't agree?

I have had a compositional fragment on my design wall for more than a year, a tulip on a branch cut out from a very old and distressed quilt, sitting on a torn piece from a linen napkin or tablecloth for background.  At some point a length of leafy vine joined it, but I couldn't figure out what else needed to be there.

Last week I found a piece of embroidered silk that seemed to want to join the party, so I stitched it to the bottom corner of the linen.  The original embroidered stems and leaves had begun to disintegrate, so it took a fair amount of stitching with almost-matching thread to secure the fabric and restore the design.

Next I extended the branch from which the quilt tulip was growing, and added another tulip.  Also another little yellow and red flower to match the one on the embroidered silk.

I also found a butterfly, cut from a vintage kimono scrap, but wasn't sure where or if it should go in the composition, so I just pinned it on.  I posted it on instagram as work in progress.  Two people whose opinions I respect suggested that it was finished (I think they meant without the butterfly).

Then I showed it to somebody else whose opinion I respect, and she was not happy.  She said, and I see her point, that the two halves of the composition don't really play well together.  The top half is big and bold, the bottom half is small, pale and delicate.  She thought each half would be better off on its own.

Hmmm.  I thought about it for a while and realized that it wouldn't be too hard to cut the piece in two, since the quilted tulip hasn't been sewed down yet.  I mentally tried out different ways to do this, but none of them seemed great.

Then I thought that maybe the trouble was the right hand tulip, which took on too much weight because of its dark value.  What if it were paler, to restore the focus to the original quilt tulip?  And I realized that the easiest way to consider the alternatives was via photoshop.

So here are four possibilities.  I put them out to you to share my thought process, not to put it up for a vote (I will happily read your comments but unfortunately the buck stops here and I'll be stuck with the final decision).  

Pale tulip

Pale tulip + butterfly

Pale tulip, two new flowers

Pale tulip, three new flowers

I usually audition design decisions in person, pinning and repinning on the design wall; the advantage is that a possibility can stay on display for a long time and your opinion can change over time.  But doing it on photoshop certainly is quicker, and allows a side-by-side comparison with all the versions, or at least as many as you can tile onto your computer screen. 

Now I have a lot more to think about.  And I guess I should really photoshop some possibilities from cutting the piece in two...

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Disrespecting us again?

For months I've been getting my trash TV exclusively from Netflix and Hulu.  Now that I've switched over to watching the Olympics, I realize that my fast-forward skills have atrophied, and I find myself listening to commercials for a bit before I snap to and realize that I don't actually have to.  I had sort of forgotten how puerile and patronizing commercials can be, but today one really yanked my chain.

It's for USBank, and it begins with a perky customer service rep hooking up on her laptop with a guy who has an account.  "Cody!" she exclaims, "Hi!  How are you!" 

Cody is sitting on a lawn chair in his garage and apparently he has a laptop too.  He overexplains, "I'm good.  I'm crocheting!  It started off as a hobby, kind of snowballed from there, and Alex, I don't want to stop!"  As the camera pans back we see him surrounded by a whole lot of yarn (looking as though it just came home from the store, as none of the skeins appear to have been touched).  Many of his tools and the kids' toys have been cozied in crochet, a large afghan is spread out on a table, a granny-square pillow decorates a leather armchair.

We also see a whole bunch of his finished work, including covers for his car and a very large object -- a camper van with a boat on top? -- that is inexplicably parked in the middle of his neighbor's lawn.

Alex says, "Well, I don't see why you should have to.  Let's set you up with a sider gig savings goal on the US Bank mobile app.  This way you can turn it into your main hustle before you know it!"

Cody is thrilled.  "You're my hero, Alex!"  (Is this an acknowledgement that the mobile app is so hard to use that he couldn't set up his side gig savings goal by himself??)

Alex grins wildly and asks, "What are you working on now?"

He holds up a crocheted round about the size of a potholder.  "Pool cover."

Alex keeps grinning.  "That's fun!"

"Oh, I made my wife a bathing suit!"

"Did she like it?"

"She did not.  See what I made for Max.  Max!!  Look at him!  He loves it!"  Max, we see, is the dog, wearing a crocheted poncho and hat.

Now the voice-over intones, "The confidence to make your dream a reality.  USBank.  We'll get there together."

I don't know about you, but I found this commercial about as unappealing as Mrs. Cody apparently found her bathing suit.  

I can just see the ad guys lounging about in a conference room.  "Let's have somebody who wants to quit their job and go into business for themself and we can help them save money to do it."  They brainstorm somebody who wants to open a restaurant or a tattoo parlor, to become a wedding photographer, to start a landscaping service.  Nothing sounds really appealing, so one of them says, "Let's do something light-hearted and funny!!  Let's come up with a business that's really silly."  

Maybe a woman who wants to make jewelry or bake cupcakes.  "What's funny about that?" somebody asks and they all agree.  "That's something that women do all the time.  It's not funny.  If a guy did it, maybe that would be funny."   They think of all kinds of frivolous things that would be hilarious if a guy did it.  Now they're yukking it up.  After many sidesplitting suggestions, some of them even appropriate for family viewing, they finally come up with the most ridiculous career choice that a guy could possibly have -- crocheting!!

And of course, the way they portray crocheting, it IS ridiculous that anybody could ever turn dog ponchos and RV covers into a "main hustle."  Especially a guy.  

I could see how a woman (or a man) crocheting something beautiful could be a plausible example of an idea that could conceivably be turned into a business.  But the ad guys wanted the cheap laugh, and you can always get one by making fun of people who do handwork.  And what's funnier than silly women doing crocheting, but a DUDE doing it!!!    

This commercial is supposed to make people want to do business with USBank???  As a USBank customer for more than three decades, it made me want to take my money somewhere else.