Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Slowness of January

I've been doing the slow putter of straightening, not just in the studio where it takes on the characteristics of an archeological dig, but in other rooms of the house, and I suppose, in my life in general. To some extent, I enjoy this process, this sorting through and filing/putting away or tossing, the rediscovery of things I'd forgotten about, the reminder of loose ends that I now have time to tie up. It does mean, though, that there is little creative progress or productivity to share for now, save my "coloring book" pocket calendar.

It too has been a kind of slow putter, taking a break now and then to study the design and settle on the next color to add. It's been an interesting endeavor, pointing up something I have known for some time is a weakness of mine, the attitude at times that a thing has to be done all at once, and if I don't have that big of a chunk of time, not starting it at all. All or nothing, which in some cases is necessary, but in  most is not. This no pressure coloring has been more enjoyable than I anticipated, and although I likely could finish a page in one long sitting, it has helped me see the value of not doing that, of taking instead a slow, thoughtful and extended approach. Those few minutes I'd steal before setting off on the next task of the day were little treasures. And I must admit, when I've pulled out the calendar when out and about, and it falls open to this first page, even in its incomplete state, it gave me a surge of joy - so colorful! And any thought of wasted effort, I decided, has not come into play because this is an item that I actually use, unlike a coloring book that would only sit on a shelf.

So January is done and I'm fairly pleased with my color choices and particularly like this swirling design. What do you think? And here is February, waiting for me to make that first color choice. I'll admit, it's overwhelming me a bit!

Thursday, January 05, 2017

The Christmas Gift

Master pattern for Silhouette Trees

Remember the silhouette trees I was working on for a Christmas gift? Well, it didn't get done in time to be received by Christmas. Heck, it didn't get DONE by Christmas. In fact, I just barely got it to my friend before the year ended, the package arriving around 6 p.m. on New Year's Eve - that's cutting it close. But he loves it (and the candle) as I knew he would, and I am very pleased with how it turned out, very glad I opted for the photo view looking up through the branches at the sky. That's my master in the photo above, the areas of the photo to be used all blacked in with a Sharpie pen.

Traced Steam-a-Seam on fabric ready to cut out

I also did some blackening on the reverse so I could see better to trace the shapes onto Steam-a-Seam, my fusible of choice for this sort of thing. It has a tackiness to it that holds applique pieces onto the background as you arrange them but not so much that you can't reposition pieces. It also does not require stitching along the edges once fused in place. I knew I would not be stitching on these pieces, many of which would be very small and narrow, so this was a must.

Karen Kay Buckley's "Perfect Scissors"

I remembered how tedious and somewhat difficult cutting the zig zagging reflection pieces for my Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea quilts was and had taken someone's suggestion to try a pair of applique scissors with serrated edges. I tracked a pair down, Karen Kay Buckley's "Perfect Scissors", in a small applique size that also had Teflon coating, but I had not yet had the opportunity to try them. Oh, what a difference! I could definitely tell that the serrated edges were making the cuts with more ease and precision, and I found the large openings in the handles so much more comfortable - no rubbing after extended sessions of cutting.

Just goes to show that the right tool can make all the difference. I could easily get into all those tight spots and small curves. And these "Perfect Scissors" were not very expensive as good quality scissors go.

My master pattern slipped under the piece of hand-dye for the background, and I could just make out the shapes to help guide me with placement of the applique pieces. Did not have to be exact but boy, did that help move things along.

When I'd traced the very small openings in the parts of the trees that would be in opposite corners, I wasn't sure I'd be able to get in there and cut them out, and I was willing to live with that if that was the case. But the very sharp points and thin blades of these scissors allowed me to get in there and remove even the tiniest of them, even through the fusible and its paper backing. Very different from the Teflon Fiskars applique scissors I've been using.

Once all pieces were in place and permanently fused, I penciled in the rest of the branches that were too small for applique and would be stitched. I used basting spray to hold it to the felt taking the place of batting, and the stitching began. I stitched alongside but not through each branch and out onto the background to make the spindly branches. This quilting of the little branches reminded me of a journal quilt I made many years ago, an abstraction of sorts of a winter scene looking into a thick wooded area that was all bare branches. I found it very enjoyable stitching.

Here it is all done and from the back so you can see just how much stitching I put in it. The color of the felt, by the way, ended up to be important as the hand-dye was transparent enough to be altered by what color was underneath it. I tried several and like this brown the best.

Now for the mount and attaching the quilted section to it. After all those batiks I had strewn about the table as possibilities, I soon realized I just needed to go with black, either the same hand-dyed black of the trees or... I looked through my commercial black stash and found this wood grain print which read just the slightest bit lighter than the tree black. No need for fussing with the thread either. I used the same Aurofil 40 wt cotton thread as in the quilting to satin stitch the edges before centering on the mount and attaching it with a straight stitch right next to the edge of satin stitching.

Here's another view of some of the stitching. While I was working away, wouldn't you know I kept running across other people's photos of bare trees in silhouette against sunset skies - on blogs, on Facebook, in books. In fact, if you are a tree nut like me, you might like to track down my latest find at the library, taunting me from the "new books" display: Ancient Skies, Ancient Trees by Beth Moon.

"Silhouette Trees" by Sheila Mahanke Barnes ©2016

Once mounted the quilt measured 13-1/2 x 15-1/2 inches, and in my mind is the perfect compliment to the candle, just as I had envisioned. Whether or not they will be displayed near each other is in question, but I'm so happy that candle inspired me to work up this design, and that I chose a photo that did not duplicate the candle itself. (Click on photo for a larger view.)

I ended up not working with the second piece of hand-dye concurrently as I thought I might so can make another of these right away if I choose. But I'm thinking I won't want to make an exact copy after all, but choose another photo and view to work from. I'm quite pulled to a photo with a vertical orientation but also like one of the landscape oriented ones too. We'll have to see what strikes my fancy when I get organized and back to serious studio work. 

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Another Year Begins

It occurred to me, as I thought back on 2016, that it had been a year of enduring for me. My resolution word for the year had been "light" and I did try to remember to bring light into not just my immediate world but the broader world as well. But for much of the year, light abandoned me as circumstances arose leaving me unable to do much more than endure these unexpected things. Endure symptoms from unresolved and new medical issues. Endure the side effects of drugs meant to make things better, waiting for them to kick in. Endure the frustration of my limitations that kept me out of the studio so much, from traveling, from the trails I love to hike. Even the sudden popularity of padfolios, which surprised and pleased me, became a matter of enduring because health issues and drugs made it so difficult to ramp up the energy and focus to make them. Then beyond myself, endure the empathetic sadness for others' losses, my heart breaking for the people I love, a weighty sorrow for strangers all over the world. And let's not forget, endure the toxic and crazy political campaigns and the aftermath of the election. Days and days when sending light into the world was the last thing on my mind, and all I could do was endure until the light came back to me. And it would come back, but it was difficult to hold onto. Many would agree, even with its bright spots, 2016 was a tough year.

And I'm not so sure that 2017 won't be more of the same for me as well as the rest of the world, a raft of things that can't be predicted or changed but only endured. And while that may sound pessimistic if you only consider the first definition of endure (suffer something painful or difficult patiently), I knew at once it was the perfect resolution word for me as I saw a certain optimism in it and a means to survive. I believe optimism is the way we are going to get through the coming year in the face of so much negativity, refusing to succumb to the doom and gloom we are constantly barraged with, not giving up when confronted with personal trials and challenges, but enduring through it all as in the second definition (remain in existence; last). I find this idea of enduring inspirational because really, is that not what life is about, understanding that, good or bad, if we endure in terms of this other meaning of to last, we have won at least one battle? And while much that bothers us on a daily basis comes and goes, the important thing is that we remain, steady and calm and enduring.

This may also sound pessimistic, but I am keeping my expectations low this year. I know that goes against all the inspirational hype about setting goals and shooting high, but it was quite discouraging to set out into 2016 with such high hopes for my health and modest goals that never panned out. It almost made enduring more difficult, thinking of the things I'd hoped to be able to do and couldn't. This year I will still hope for the best but not set the bar very high. That way whatever does get done, whatever progress gets made, whatever improvements come along will feel like a gift, and that which stays the same will not feel like such a defeat. I think I can be more at peace with how the year plays out if I approach it this way. And I intend to remain in existence, to last, to endure to the end.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *
Previous resolution words:
2008 - Freedom
2009 - Calm
2010 - Focus
2011 - Refocus
2013 - Perseverance
2014 - Explore
2015 - Fearless
2016 - Light

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Fads and Crazes

As a general rule, I have never been one to jump on the latest bandwagon, go gaga over the latest fad. So my reaction to the adult coloring book craze has been lukewarm. Oh pulleeze, I remember thinking. And yet the enthusiasm for this craze has not waned. My initial feelings about it have not changed either, as I see others hoping to get in on the monetary gains to be made by offering coloring opportunities beyond the basic coloring book. Just...not...interested... mostly because I don't need someone else's designs to color in, have plenty of creative outlets to keep me busy. And yet, I have recently purchased a pocket planner with blank designs to meditatively color in. My excuse is that I only had three designs to choose from - one with horses, one of Italy and this one. Nothing against horses or Italy but they were not compelling. The flowers, even left black and white, at least appealed.

I still can't figure out why this craze suddenly took off like it did as similar coloring books have always been available, just not marketed to adults. I remember back to 2012 when I accompanied my friend Judi to the Mayo Clinic. We had both brought along some things to fill the time with something a bit creative - yarn for knitting, sketchbooks for drawing, things like that. We were both ripped from our studios with this trip and could not create like we would at home. One of Judi's friends understood this and gave her a coloring book, pages of flowers as I recall, thinking it would fill that need to be working on something. Judi tried a page or two and then threw it down in disgust. I sensed it felt like busywork to her and she stated that it was boring just coloring in someone else's designs. I could see her point. One of my gal's in the art group told a similar story about her daughter who as a child would take a page she was supposed to be coloring in, flip it to the back, draw her own version and then color that in. 

I've been trying to remember my own feelings as a child working with coloring books. I mostly remember designs with children in them, perhaps flying a kite or playing with a dog or picking flowers or standing near a house. I remember carefully choosing the right color for the knowns like blue for the sky, green for the grass, flesh color for the skin. I don't remember how my mind worked for the parts where there were options. I do remember keeping the colors within the lines. See? These are the same traits I exhibit to this day, an aesthetic possibly in my genes, and I'm sure I argued with or at least looked with disapproval at classmates' work that broke the rules I was adhering to. At any rate, perhaps the adult craze is so popular because people have good memories about their coloring days and have not allowed themselves to pursue anything very creative for awhile. Or don't feel they are talented enough to work without guides. Or recognize the therapeutic value of working with a drawing and coloring it in and this is a quick way to access that.

Whatever the reason, I guess I need to ease up a bit on my eye-rolling whenever I see yet another product geared toward adult coloring. I told myself I didn't have to color in those pages (one design for each month). Then again . . . I had this set of cheap colored pencils bought years ago with the idea they could be used to try out different color schemes when drafting out designs on paper. Only twelve colors rather frustrated me and they've been sitting unused ever since I started investing in good quality Prismacolor pencils in many colors. I wouldn't "waste" those good pencils on something like this, but perhaps the limited selection of the Crayolas would be a challenge and they'd finally get some use. And in my usual meticulous way, I am working through the motifs that will be green, which in this case are in repeats of four, in odd moments here and there, before choosing the next motif and color to attack. Yes, there is something oddly meditative in the movement of the pencil laying down the color. There's also something a little guilty about it too. I really should be working on something else. But I am rather enjoying working with these shapes. And I have lots of time to finish this prelude to January.  

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Hatching A Plan

Once I have a design in mind, all sorts of questions arise, usually starting with what size will the piece be, what shape (square, rectangular, odd) and in what orientation (landscape or portrait). When starting from a photo, my brain gets stuck on the dimensions of the photo, unless I've played around with cropping it. And often I can't see beyond the image on the screen to envision the quilt finished any way but borderless. So while I studied my photos and chose a few to work with, I sensed panic about deciding the proper size to make this so that it proportionally worked nicely with that candle and then whether to face or bind it. I also mulled what technique to use, generally the second question that arises. And what about batting? How much texture might I want as I quilted around trees and extended branch lines? Would outlined branches puff up while the narrow ones represented by a single line of stitching sink into the surface? These are the kinds of questions that can immobilize me.

And then I realize the answer was right under my nose - or rather on the wall of the vary room where I sat studying photos on the computer. The photo above is of a pair of highly stitched images of The Palouse in southeastern Washington; instead of batting, I used an ECO-FI felt (which gives some but not a great deal of texture) and then attached the finished design to an interfaced fabric mount. Goodness - size, shape, "batting" and finishing questions all answered at once! I could move on.

I've decided to go with the photo looking up through the branches, although I printed out a second one for later use. I reduced both photos to 2 color (merely changing to black and white does not give you a black and white image, but one with too many values of grey for my needs). To save ink, I printed them as drafts - I just need some kind of road map. I quickly realized that the original photo had a major branch running nearly up the center which was very distracting (see first photo). I played around in my photo-manipulation program until I had it moved farther off-center, as you can see above.

Then I spent some time with the print-out, tracing around major branches and thinking about which of the smaller ones would just be lines of stitching. Getting familiar with the design with the idea that I will not necessarily use this as a pattern but as a guide. I'm considering free-cutting some of the shapes - I've done that before with success.

Inevitably, one must stop tweaking the design and start auditioning fabrics. The brown piece at the top is the felt and I'm still deciding about which orangish fabric to use. I thought using a solid black for the trees was a no brainer, but it seemed too stark and things started leaning a bit Halloweenish. As I pulled possibilities for the border mount, it became clear that I needed a black that wasn't so black and found a hand-dyed that I think will give me the subtle difference I was looking for. By the way, most of the border fabrics in this picture have now been rejected for half a dozen better options! The final decision will have to wait until the center is done and ready to attach. Oh, and I can't really decide between the two oranges so I have cut a piece of each and will work them up simultaneously. Hey - I always need new pieces for the local exhibits - it will be time well spent and give me options.   

Friday, December 09, 2016

A Small Bowl & A Not So Small Revelation

I finished up this small bowl yesterday, same basic design and fabrics as the previous Sea And Sand bowl, except this time I wanted to make a shorter version with just two fabrics. When all the rounds were sewn, I meant to finish in the simplest way, grading the end of the closeline before the final rapping with fabric strips so it would blend into the beginning of the round and not leave a noticeable raise or bump along the rim. This is a little tricky and I did not do the best job of it on the other basket, hiding the imperfection with that handle.

I actually left the bowl in the machine overnight while I thought about this, mostly because as I studied the basket, I wasn't sure that where I had planned to end would make a smooth transition. But I think it was more than that. I think it was a bit of boredom. I just wanted to do something different from a plain finish. And so I played with continuing to wrap and stitch the clothesline but not to the basket, then looping and spiraling that length of line into something decorative. It required hand-stitching, which I've been avoiding but no other way to do this, and it was as tedious and awkward as I'd anticipated. I like the results though, and was pleased to find a bead to attach at the center of the spiral.

Approximately 6-1/2" across & 2" high. Still love the look hand-dyed fabric gives.

I think a lot of what I've been doing in the last year or so can be traced back to boredom. I've always thought of my impulses to try new things as more curiosity, but lately these urges to do something different have not always risen out of that excitement of "oh - what would it be like to try this idea" - that "what if" part of creativity. Instead, the feeling is more one of truly not interested in doing the same thing over and over or working with the same medium over and over. I think this is the first time I've been aware that my restlessness may indeed have roots in boredom. And boredom may be a good thing if it pushes me along in my explorations. 

I'm delighted with the way this bowl turned out. I enjoyed the process, finding it relaxing and meditative as I always do. I'm sure I would have been a little disappointed had I not put in that effort to create a more interesting finish. But I do wonder a bit why boredom has been stalking me. And I can hear my English & Latin teacher mother now, as she stood in front of her class responding to students complaining they were bored. "Bored? I'm not here to entertain you - you're here to learn!" 

Right mom. And learning I am . . .