Tuesday, April 14, 2015

POAC Fiber and Quilt Exhibit

Eisenberg Fountain: The Healing Power of Water - Sheila Mahanke Barnes ©2015
As promised, I may have a slightly better photo of Eisenberg Fountain for you, although it is hung at the exhibit near a light sconce so the lighting is a bit uneven. But it is truer in color and does not make the center portion so very dark, which it is not.

Sailing the Wine Dark Sea I & II flank Eisenberg Fountain at POAC Exhibit

Artist Statement
During a 3 month stint supporting a friend getting treatments at the Mayo Clinic, I discovered many fountains throughout the campus where we could retreat from the intensity of her schedule for a brief respite. We searched out other waters around town to restore our souls. Moving water has always calmed me but now I understood the healing power of water in a deeper way. Once home, I began studying water with an eye towards interpreting it in fiber: how it moves, how while colorless itself, it takes on the colors of what it flows over or is reflected in or is seen through it, and ultimately how moving water has healing properties.

The exhibit runs through June 5, 2015. The opening reception is this Friday, April 17, from 5:30 - 7:00 p.m. at Columbia Bank, 414 Church Street in Sandpoint, ID. I'm also displaying the two Sailing the Wine Dark Sea quilts from last year's ArtWalk. They didn't get a lot of exposure and the curator agreed it would be ok to include them.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Back To Spirals

I ran across a gif showing a string of spirals like the one above. I thought of my Zentangling and decided to add this to my little reference notebook of Zentangles. It has other uses of spirals but not this one.

I've been longing to work on another page in my little button book and decided this morning to get it out. I still have a few stamped pages I haven't added tangles to. This one, which I struggled to get a good imprint of, has puzzled me but now I see little spirals in the leaves. Let's add my new spiral string.

I perused various Zentangles that work as background filler and noticed one that was also based on a spiral. When I was all through, it was pretty busy, and I didn't think just some shading in pencil would solve that issue. Time to add some color! And this is where the fun began. Rather than just use Prismacolor pencils, I got out the water soluble Derwent Inktense ones. I colored in the leaf with Apple Green and added Leaf Green along the veins and the shadow areas.

Now I'm working it with a wet brush, smoothing out the pencil lines and trying to blend/smudge the darker green. The leaf on the right has had water added, the one on the left is untouched.

I liked this so well that I added the leaf green along the stems and curled leaves and worked some lighter washes along the echoed space over the string  of spirals. The spiral background filler needed shading next, was thinking I could do that in pencil when I remembered my water soluble graphite ones. So I lightly added some of that and smoothed it around with the wet brush. I can't tell you how much fun this was and another step in learning how to use these two product.

Don't know that there is any particular significance to it but this is my 1515th post.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Diversions & Distractions

This is the front of the notecard that arrived in my mailbox last week. Isn't it the loveliest thing for my god daughter to send my way and cheer my day? No artist attribution on this Tender Hearts Greetings card but it reminds me of paper collage. But it could equally be rendered in fabric applique. I particularly like the angling spirals of steam.

I've been relaxing in my deadline-less days, playing catch-up on all those things one sets aside when focused on completing a major task in a limited amount of time. It's reset mode when I look around to remember what was happening before and where I thought I was going after. And a time when I can indulge in a few diversions and distractions, some worthy of sharing. How about some quotations from an The Artists Magazine July/August 2104 interview with illustrator David Macaulay?

"You piece this thing together and every point of focus is an opportunity for discovery, for trying something new, or actually rediscovering something you did years ago that worked well then and would work well here, so it's not as if you're inventing new stuff; you just want to approach the questions with freshness even if the answer you end up choosing is actually quite familiar and comfortable. If you approach the question with a kind of openness, you know it's still the right choice even if it's not new to you."

This struck a chord because of my recent digging out of a group of journal quilts from 2007. There were two techniques used over and over that I haven't used for quite a while, long enough that I'd forgotten how much a part of my work they were at that time. One might say I'd moved on, outgrown them, headed in a different direction, but instead, I wondered why I'd strayed from them and why I couldn't pick them up again to use to great advantage. Macaulay's words told me I certainly could and possibly should.

Near the end of the interview, he made this startling observation about photography - at least startling to me, turning the usual comparison between drawing and photography on its head a bit:

"Drawing is the way to get behind things. A photograph is a crude representation; it might contain detail, but it won't help me or the reader understand the subject matter."

Since sketching is moving its way up my list of priorities as I find myself taking fewer photographs, this was an interesting thing to run across. Also makes me rethink my use of photo references which I have a tendency to stick too closely to if I'm not careful.

Enough "deep thought" - time to send you down a rabbit hole if you so desire and if you use Firefox as your browser. I ran across an add-on called Copyright Infringement Finder. It shows up as an option when you right-click a photo and sends Google image search into high gear, theoretically to track down websites using that image. It was an amusing way to spend some time, but it proved that there are severe limitations with search engines. I clicked on photos of my finished quilts as shown on my blog and many times Google did not list that link. Other times it might list someone else's blog link but I couldn't find my image there having been sent to the blog site and not a specific post. It did pick up two of my quilts being pinned in Pinterest. I already knew my Celtic Lone Star had multiple pins there - now I know the number of pins is well over a hundred. The other quilt, Brilliance of the Night Sky, had a single pin. Made me feel good that at least one of my art quilts caught someone's eye.

The search results also show "visually similar images" which is where the weakness really shows up. I gather it's mostly picking up the color palette more than image, many of the ones I tried showing me images looking a lot like oriental rugs.  In the example above, I'd say none of the "similar" images look similar at all except in color.

For one of my Wine Dark Sea quilts, there were a few that tried to match the squiggles in some way. Clicking through pulled up image after image, even a few patchwork quilt ones.

When I tried one of my Azalea Mosaic quilts, it sent me to a page full of actual mosaic tile options. For my fountain wall, it recognized it as a stone wall, as you can see in the above picture. I suppose that should please me as that's the effect I was going for!

This is the one that amused me the most. My Moon over Pend Oreille Lake brought up only images of blue jeans pockets.

To test it further, I had it search on a quilt I made from a book, following the pattern pretty closely and it didn't pull up any images even remotely close. No one else has made that quilt and posted it to the web, nor images of it from its book? I also tried my quilt inspired by a famous painting that I know is on the web, my version uncomfortably close to the original. Again, nothing close. Because I am obsessive about these things, I tried searching on the image of the actual painting as shown on my blog. Of the over 400 hits Google picked up, my blog post was not among them. Neither did my quilt show up in the "similar" images, though other riffs on the painting did. So I'm not sure how helpful this add-on truly would be in tracking down culprits infringing on your copyright. But I could see how looking through the "similar" images might give you inspiration and some new ideas - as long as you don't actually copy them. 

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

And it's done...

Completed units of the fountain wall
...but remind me never to do this again.

Let's recap. I was going for replicating a fountain wall, the smoothness of the marble and the sectioning that created narrow troughs for the water to flow through to the next level. A firm quilt with little stitching. I'd gotten away with this on smaller projects where I'd created a mount out of fabric fused to Decor Bond that extended beyond the actual quilt like a border. Could I create an entire quilt this way? I divided my fountain wall design into sections the same as the actual wall and completed each as a separate unit. Now it was time to join them together. I had an idea...

Using the "road map" to line up units

On my sample, I'd merely overlapped sections and stitched along the edge. But I didn't like the look of that line of stitching and didn't want to cover up those beautifully finished edges with stitching either. Moreover, I realized I wanted those edges free and open to help with my illusion of the multi-layered wall. I could hand stitch from the back, a daunting thought, or...I could glue or fuse instead. I'd allowed for an inch overlap which would give me half an inch for fusible, half an inch free. Better yet, what if I added a spacer of felt to lift the overlapped section up a bit, increasing the illusion of a gap? I'd thought to start from the top with the farthest back layer, but realized I needed to join those sections at the bottom first to be sure the rest of the units lined up properly along the sides.

Stitching caused some shrinkage on some units

Oh, such a good thing I did. Joining those 3 sections in the lower right with satin stitching had drawn them up a bit, as laying this out on my master pattern showed. Not much but enough that it would have created real problems had I left it for last.

Building up the wall by fusing it together from the backside

I soon realized that the sections would become more and more unwieldy as I joined them, making it impossible to fuse the felt strips on. I also quickly found that if I did not press on a hard surface, I would get iron imprints in the interfacing. I missed my big ping pong table that was my work space in my previous studio for perhaps the first time since moving. I wondered how much heat my new resin tables could take. I also realized I needed to be working from the back side, not the front, so turned my master pattern over, happy that I could just see the lines without having to retrace.

Strips of felt set 1/2" back from edges

It was a plausible idea, this fusing together with the felt spacers, but what a nightmare. I was slipping a short board wrapped in foil under the overlapped section, using painter's tape to keep the sections from shifting, having a difficult time getting enough heat through the layers to activate the fusible. A second look at the directions indicated I needed to use steam, so I employed a damp press cloth which pretty much did the trick. But the felt, which was not as thick to begin with as I'd been thinking to create a visible gap, compressed nearly flat - even sections I had doubled up. Argh!!! Any places that fusible wasn't totally secured got a quick application of Gem Tac glue.

All units fused to each other at overlaps

Working my way up, carefully lining up the overlaps, I finally had all sections together.

Flipping it over, I held my breath that the fuses would hold, knowing they would be reinforced somewhat by the backing yet to come.

Here you can see the free edge, but if you follow the edge to the right, you can also see how it lays fairly flat against the unit under it. Not what I had in mind.

This section shows a little more shadowing, partly because of the direction of the light source.

I'd already fused Misty Fuse to an over-sized piece of synthetic felt for the backing. Now it was time to lay the quilt on it and mark around the edges with a chalk-o-liner. Then I trimmed off the excess felt 1/4" in from the chalk line so that the backing would not go all the way to the edge of the quilt. Wanting to preserve that realism of the wall, even when viewed from the side.

When I flipped the quilt over and arranged the backing over it for fusing, everything was perfect ... except for this. Another arghhh as I discovered something that had not occurred to me when I folded back the fabric at the two points where there were inside corners. Here raw edges and interfacing lie exposed by virtue of the backing not coming to the edge. Quick fix, though, with a small piece of the same fabric slipped under the backing and angled to run across the diagonal, neatly fused into place. Then it was a matter of working my way from top to bottom with an iron, fusing the backing, snugging it up against overlaps that made for an uneven surface. I did consider ways I might even out the different levels on the back before adding the backing, but it would have meant more measuring, cutting and fusing of whatever I might find to work, and frankly, I was running out of time and patience with this quilt! I was pretty tired of fighting with the Misty Fuse, which held well to the felt most of the time but kept failing on the bond with the back of the quilt. So I just went with what I had, ironing and ironing until it seemed it had fused in place. I was also tired of fighting with the Stiff Stuff which did not exactly live up to its advertising either. In an attempt to steam out places in it where shadowing creases and bumps and iron impressions had developed (this had worked on the small sample but failed on the larger piece), I inadvertently caused the Misty Fuse to release from the back. Arghhh combined with grrrr! More pressing from the back and I was just going to have to live with whatever was going on in the front. By the way, the table with a large beach towel between it and the quilt held up fine under the heat of the iron, although there may not have been that much heat getting through the layers.

I'd had plenty of time to think about what to do about the hanging apparatus. The last thing I wanted to do was hand stitch a long sleeve across the top, and I also felt I needed to add something along the bottom for stability. I'd thought about tabs, but then remembered about triangle corners. I made them from the leftovers of the fused felt, doubling them up so that the ends of the slat would be raised to the overlapped level of the center piece. I initially glued them down with the Gem Tac and weighted them until dry, then secured the top and side edges with hand stitching. To keep the quilt from bowing out away from the slat, I added the tabs similarly to the corners - a little glue, a little stitching.

Tabs all the way across might have been better, because the corners have no extra space in them to keep the 1/4" thick slat from causing a slight bulge from the front at each end - like what happens when you sew a sleeve flat against the quilt, causing the quilt top to roll rather than lie flat. But one thing is for sure; I don't have to worry about those slats going any!

Finally, I printed out a label onto one of the fabrics used in the quilt and fused that to the back with Steam a Seam - something I know will not lift off once properly fused.

Eisenberg Fountain: The Healing Power of Water

The other thing that has taxed my patience with this quilt is the inability of my cameras to get an accurate capture of its colors. I took this photo somewhat in haste and tried a little correction in Paint Shop Pro. I think it is close, although my sense is I'm still losing some of the warm overtones in the light fabrics. If those get right, then the color of the dark fabrics is totally off. I'm hoping to get a better photo of it while it hangs at the exhibition. At its widest point it is 49 inches and 32 inches high - kinda big for me these days.

Eisenberg Fountain - Detail of water stitching

From the start, I said this was a "concept" quilt, meaning I had a concept for a radically different means technically of constructing it. It was an experiment all the way, parts turning out just as I had hoped, other parts not quite as closely, and still others that didn't work at all. Plenty of coulda's, shoulda's and wish I woulda's, enough that I am a bit motivated to give it another go. You know how it is when you first finish a quilt. Now you can see what might have worked better, or just that with this experience to draw on, you think you might be able to make a stronger quilt. Or perhaps just a slightly different version to try out the ideas that came to you while working through this one. Lord knows, I've got a lot of fabric left over! But for this version, the important thing is that I finished it by the deadline and when I turned it in to the curator yesterday, she said it was beautiful. Really? Oh, yeah, this is the curator who doesn't just tell you nice things to make you feel good. If she says it's beautiful, it's beautiful!

Friday, April 03, 2015

A Gentle Passing

A favorite picture of me and my brother Max in 1995
A week ago, my brother Max died. No no, don't feel badly for either of us. It was not unexpected; in fact, he kept plugging along through various treatments far longer than his doctors anticipated ("resilient" is how they described him after multiple hospitalizations). He was quite philosophical about it, knew his chances of survival and what lay ahead from the outset back in 2012, would not rule out a miracle but didn't expect one either. Frankly, I expected him to rail against whatever higher being had dealt him this hand, but he did not. 

Last time together in 2005
We've lived on opposite sides of the country most of our adult lives so didn't get together often, but the last phone conversation we had was sweet, openly talking about his condition and treatment, comparing frustrations of our bodies letting us down when we have so much art we wanted to make, how it would have been nice if so many miles had not separated us all these years. I know he died peacefully with his son and close friends with him. I know one of his concerns when he came out of surgery was that I knew what had happened so I wouldn't worry when I didn't hear from him. We had our rocky moments, but I do know that he loved me, and some of the personality traits that had kept me at arms length for years had tempered - a silver lining to his illness. So, yes it is sad to have him gone, but no, I would not have wanted his suffering extended. It ended well.

The young Max who broadened my world  
I have other brothers, each different and playing their own roles in my life. Is it odd that these are the things I remember about Max from my youth? He introduced me to Aaron Copeland (probably concerned I was only listening to bad pop music). He shared books about religions of the world (probably concerned I'd become a blind follower of Christianity) While in the Navy, he wrote letters to me in addition to the ones he wrote our parents which made me feel pretty special (mom saved them and I retrieved them after she died - no doubt treasure there when I read them now).

Mission-style Plant Stand by Max Mahanke
Our real connection, though, was the fact that we were the artists in the family, both dabbling - I with my textiles and he with his woodworking - until opportunity later in life allowed us time to get a bit serious about it. We had lengthy talks about following our muses, how neither one of us wanted to create for a market because what we really wanted to produce wasn't very mainstream. We compared working styles and discovered more similarities in technique and process than either of us would have thought. And yes, we groused about how we could never recoup our time, pricing always a conundrum. 

The Dragon Coffee Table by Max Mahanke

I'm hearing now that he was very proud of me pursuing my art. I knew there were pieces that he really liked, just like I liked so many of his, but that he was proud of me? Well, that reminds me a bit of our dad who found it very hard to compliment me to my face but told everyone else about what I was doing that made him proud. Go figure - a guy thing I guess. But now that I think about it, he may have done the big brother thing of ridiculing me over a lot of things, but he never disparaged my art efforts. He was nothing but supportive when it came to that.

2007 Journal Quilt - Sheila Mahanke Barnes

You may remember him from my thread sketch journal portrait. I chose a photo from many I took of him during our last visit in 2005 (had ideas of how to incorporate him in quilts as his visage had started to remind me of Tennyson And Walt Whitman). I had this idea inspired by a poem he shared by T. S. Eliot, using one of these images altered to swirl his long hair and surround him with the mermaids at the end of the poem. No, I have not attempted more than a quick sketch of the idea. 

Blending Mission style with Japanese influence

One thing that does sadden me is that no more of his quirky but beautiful furniture will go out into the world, and that we will never have the opportunity to have the joint exhibit I dreamed of. But I can continue on creating my own art, in my own quirky way, to honor his life, his memory. I can make that mermaid quilt and more.

Past, Present, Future Clock by Max Mahanke

I'm thankful that I badgered him into making one of his Mission-style plant stands for me, and that we talked enough about where some of my inspiration came from that he surprised me with a pen he made from birch wood. I have a few other small pieces like the turned corkscrews, and to my absolute delight, he sent me his ultimate quirky piece - the Past, Present, Future Clock - for my birthday last year. Every piece he made for me has wood chosen for its meaning for me. I am also thankful that I made him a quilt for his bed full of quilting designs that would have special meaning to him (back in 1999), a prayer shawl to stand in for me wrapping my arms around him while he tried to heal (2012), and more recently sent him one of my art quilts he'd mentioned he really liked. As this sentiment from the 1800's so aptly puts it, "Life is short, And we do not have much time to gladden the hearts of those who make the journey with us. So...be swift to love, and make haste to be kind." We could have been kinder and done more to gladden each other's hearts but I am so thankful we did what we did.

Possibly Max's last & best completed table
In this week since I learned of his passing, I've been flipping through my collection of poems and quotations, finding a few like the blessing above, that seem to speak to my feelings, or perhaps reminding me of hard truths, something I might end this post with. But instead, the perfect thing showed up in my feed reader, words from "Pyramid Song" by Radiohead. Not a group I follow, nor do I think my brother followed them, but I sure can place him in these lyrics. 

The song's melody is quite haunting and with these lyrics, I think it is a perfect send-off. Swift journey, brother. There is nothing to fear and nothing to doubt anymore.

Dapper Max in 2011

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Back to the Road Map

Master pattern road map guiding proper placement of overlapping units
My art group met early last week, giving me the thumbs up on my fabric choices for the fountain wall - not that there was much I could have done at that point if they hadn't. I'd fused fabric to the rest of the pieces of Stiff Stuff and done the satin stitching before the meeting. But it was a relief to have their approval along with substantiating reasonings. We also discussed the "water" stitching and how I'm thinking of joining it all together. So with much more confidence than I'd felt before their input, I've been forging ahead. As I completed more units, I realized I could use my "road map" (master pattern) once again, this time to arrange them in their proper spacing and overlap, a little like when building up applique pieces on a Teflon sheet over a master pattern before fusing into a single unit.

Had I known I'd be using the same fabric for the entire lower right and bottom section, I probably would have cut it in one piece. Instead, I had 3 pieces to join together, and that posed a slight technical issue to figure out. Because of the jog along the right side, I'd be butting two finished edges together, one shorter than the other, and satin stitching them together. What would I do when I reached the end of the shorter one so that the satin stitching would not just end, but wrap around to the back like on all the other units? After much thought, I decided that the corner on that short piece did not have to be mitered, but could be turned straight back. If I offset the satin stitching so that it just caught the edge of the longer piece, this would set me up to be able to continue stitching past the edge of the interfacing.

A bit tricky but with pins to guide where the interfacing ended, I could pull that extra turnover away from the other unit and only stitch on it.

Now that edge could be turned and fused to the back for a clean finish. Once that was done, I could butt the next unit to the left, matching the grout lines and satin stitching in the same way. What a relief to have that done.

Now it was time to return to those straight water lines that weren't showing up well enough. I can't thank Mary Stori enough for her advice about going lighter or darker to make a line show up. I might still be trying additions of light thread, essentially adding light value on top of light value had she not reminded me of that truth. I tried the same grey as used for the grout - you know, being consistent. It helped but still did not give the contrast needed over the lighter areas of the fabric. The variegated metallic thread did even less. I got to thinking I'd rather use a rayon or poly thread anyway (the white thread is rayon) so checked to see what I had in black. But wait! As I opened my thread cabinet, I remembered my favorite thread - Sulky Ultra Twist. And I had some in two different dark browns. The difference in value was very slight so I was very surprised that the lighter one did not do as much as the darker one. In the above picture, the first white line on the left has the lighter value brown stitched next to it, the next 4 have the darker one.

I like the idea of the brown rather than black - again that consistency thing since there is the same brown in the fabric - but really, it's more the value. I put my ever present conservative thinking aside and proceeded to stitch the darkest brown thread next to all the white lines before I could change my mind. Even so, I worried that it was too much once I was done. But I had decided to "go bold or go home" and seeing it the next morning next to the upper water unit and its stitching, I felt they were showing up pretty much the same. I turned the remaining edges of both sections to the back, fusing them in place and ending any more question of further diddling. All units are now finished and ready for assembly. I've been rethinking my original idea of how I'd do this, as I was not satisfied with what I did on the sample. This is the week I have to try them out and commit.  

Monday, March 30, 2015

Another Faded Shed

We're having a sweatshirt-warm day today, too nice not to include a pause in my walk to sketch another shed along my route. This is on the same property as the shed I sketched here, but closer to the house. Not a garage - there actually is a garage right behind the house and painted to match it - but some kind of outbuilding for what was once a working farm perhaps. I think getting a car through the big doors would be tight. To give you some perspective, one would have to stoop to go through the smaller door. Like the other shed, it too still has some of the original white paint on the upper portions, but most of the boards are weathered and in some cases, nearly black.

I had such success using just graphite pencil and white charcoal on my last urban sketch that I decided to use it again on this. Partway through, I wished I'd brought a water soluble graphite pencil as well so I could smudge in those greying boards like I did on the other shed, but then I would have wanted to add more color too. This time I wanted to go for a simple pared down effect with a little shading from the graphite and let those white highlights shine. I added the streak of white along some of the trees in the background as I have before - such a nice touch on this toned paper - and the bit of snow still clinging to the mountain where the ski resort is. Poor ski resort - it had to close for the season this weekend. We simply have not had much snow.

I still find it interesting how much detail our brains filter out when generally viewing. I was well into the sketch before I noticed that metal bar leaning across the smaller door. Once focused on it, I then saw its very dark shadow angling the other direction. I didn't get much other shadow worked well into the sketch, but I was pleased and proud of that one. And it wasn't until I was totally done drawing and filling in the white areas with the white charcoal that I spotted the hinges and hasp on the doors. The hinges were gleaming particularly white so how had I missed them? I'm going to blame it on the fact that when I started sketching the sun was partly obscured by clouds, but as I finished up, it had broken free of them. Yeah, that was it, right?