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 . . .

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Spreading Light

The day before Thanksgiving was exceeding dark and gloomy, more so than the two previous days, and it was getting to me. I couldn't shake off a feeling of doom, a sinking into depression, no particular reason sending me down that road save perhaps the weather. Then the postperson showed up at my door, handing me this happy colorful envelop with this lovely shawl inside. My mood immediately perked up! The sender would not have known how much I needed a bit of brightness in my life that day.


It is a souvenir of my cousin's recent travels in South America, something she found while in Chile. She often looks for textiles for me on her travels outside the U.S. She confirmed what I've often heard, that much of the fabric she ran across was of poor quality, so she hoped I would like this instead. You might wonder how this black wool shawl could cheer me up, but it did because that bird and the flowers popped right off it (more so than I think the photo would suggest). The crocheted edging in rainbow yarn particularly made me smile. And don't you appreciate a piece that is handworked even more when you yourself have made things using that method yourself? That's how I felt as I studied the embroidery on the bird and that crocheted edging. As for the flowers, I'm not sure of the method - tatting perhaps - and they may actually be commercially made and added. But all in all, I found this so delightful and appreciated my cousin thinking about me as she traveled from country to country. Wrapping it over my shoulders is like a hug from her.

We need to spread light right now. It's not just that we are in the season where nights begin in late afternoon and the brief emergence of light from the sun may be shadowed by clouds and storms. The political climate in so many parts of the world looks dreary, the needs of so many seem insurmountable. How can we keep a positive outlook, not sink into despair and hide away hoping it will pass without terrible repercussions? Well, another thing that came into my awareness recently struck me as a good thing to keep in mind, still makes me smile as I read it. Perhaps it spreads a little light for you as well.

From "Reasons To Stay Alive" by Matt Haig
Spread light! It's good for you and everyone around you!!!

Saturday, December 03, 2016

December

I have some hard and fast rules about things Christmassy within my home. There will be no playing of Christmas music, no writing of Christmas cards, no setting out of decorations before the calendar flips to December. I did none of these on December 1st, although as I headed out on errands I realized I needed to switch out the cd's in the car for holiday ones. Instead, there's been a bit of straightening up going on this week, making way in the studio for work on a few Christmas gifts - another basket, a small art quilt, perhaps a fabric postcard. Also a bit of unearthing in the office, where I tend to stack things I've printed or articles I want to reference in a blog post on the futon couch which sits too close to my computer chair. Perhaps if it were a longer reach, I'd just tend to these things right away. Instead, here at the bottom of a pile is a The Artist's Magazine from April 2015 with an article earmarked that I know was on the couch because I wanted to share. (I don't think it has been sitting there that long - I got way behind in my reading of this magazine I subscribe to so likely it has been there just this year.) And that article coincidentally addresses the very thing I've been struggling with regarding this gift of an art quilt.

Just like the candle, or so I thought until I saw it again

It started with spotting a wickless candle (shown at the top) in a catalog. An LED light flickers inside, back lighting the design on the translucent cylinder. It is bare tree branches against a sunset. I am so about trees and immediately envisioned a companion piece made by me that could hang near this candle. The person receiving these would get the connection to one of my artistic signatures. I started looking through my vast archive of photos, knowing I'd taken a photo similar to the image on the candle. There it was, but I'd forgotten that the sky was not the vivid orange.

Playing with camera settings - saturation not true to life

But no matter; I also have ones with that orange sky, taken from my upstairs window, looking out over the houses in my development. Scraggly pine trees poke up above the roofs, I cannot shoot the sky without these other things intruding. While waiting for the candle to arrive, my mind started seeing it like this photo. I started thinking I could take the easy way out and just print one of my photos to fabric, then enhance with some stitching across the sky, up the trunks and out the branches, maybe add a few more trees. Call it "View over Lupine Street". Would leaving the dark corners of the rooftops add or detract? And then a whole lot of insecurities flooded in, mostly about the worry of ruining the printed photo with stitching that might not look right, black thread that would not blend, having to stop and start the sky stitching at the trees, on and on. I got very attached to the photos, did not want to alter them. But if I didn't add stitch, what would be the point of printing on fabric? Why not print on photo paper, frame and be done? Well, because I am a textile artist. Panic and freezing up set in.

Fading colors and scraggly trees - boring now

Then the candle came. I put in batteries to try it out. The sky was not as rich in color as I remembered. It was more like the photo above. I was disappointed, thought the candle must be misrepresented in the catalog and online, and I took another look there. To my surprise, it was my brain that had started to misrepresent it. Worse yet, when I went back to dredge up the reference photos I'd found, they too didn't look like I remembered. By now I'd worked myself away from the idea of printing unaltered photo to fabric, instilling a bit of confidence that I could indeed find an appropriate piece of hand-dyed or batik fabric and do a bit of thread sketching of the trees. But still, I wanted to work from one of my "perfect" photos. And none of them were perfect anymore. I wanted to trace the tree branches onto the fabric so I would "get it right" but the images weren't what had settled in my head. Now I wondered why I ever thought the one with the scrawny pines was compelling as is. I've been set free a bit to pursue that image that has developed over time in my imagination. A scary bit of freedom for me, but one that may lead to something exciting, or at least, more gratifying. And perhaps a throwing away of crutches.

A wider shot of a previous photo - an urge to copy

Which brings me to the article in the magazine. It was about Alyssa Monks who teaches classes in how to "consult photos while creating paintings that have lives of their own." (A rather extensive description of this class can be found here and worth the read.) "The aim of this workshop is to help students create a painting that surpasses the intrigue of the photograph and does not rely heavily on it as an image simply to copy or as a barometer against which to judge the final painting. The painting is its own journey; the photograph is merely a tool in the process." I readily admit, this has been my issue with starting from a photograph, that attachment that leads to copying. I really needed to hear this right now.

Photo-manipulation of snow-covered branches - a step away from preciousness

I remember feeling most uncomfortable when I read this article detailing the process she puts her students through. I would not be starting with a photo if I did not wish to end up with something similar (at least, that's what I tell myself), but Monks is pushing her students to go farther, to almost abandon it or at least look past the obvious details for a more spontaneous rendering, capturing "the essence of the subject and ...the intimacy of the human touch beyond the smooth photo-realistic image." She ends up doing a lot of layering which obliterates in a way that "helps create atmosphere and lessens the preciousness of the drawing." Ah yes, the preciousness factor. My precious original photo.

A different orientation - which way should I go?

But this particular piece I want to make is inspired not just by my photos but by that candle, and in some way needs to be fairly similar if this will work as I intend, as side by side companion pieces. I can see now that I need not copy, but I do need to have something similar. And I can see the wisdom of Monks' final words in the article: "Once the medium and material are understood, the photograph holds you back as it influences too strongly toward a specific and limited finish. Too heavy a reliance on it disallows for much creativity or discovery, hindering the flow of experimentation beyond merely copying and honing a skill. For this workshop, my goal was to help you see the possibilities and to move beyond the photograph into invention and imagination and more discovery. That's what we enjoy about seeing and making art when the craft is inevitably no longer satisfying on its own." 

A different kind of tree shot from a different perspective - potential!

As I thought more about how to approach this little piece, I did experience that inevitable spark of variations I could pursue. Granted, it was partially in response to an attempt at a cavalier attitude should my initial attempt end up badly. My skills are fairly honed (but in some cases rusty) at this point, so it should be no surprise that my mind flits from technique to technique, format and finishing options, and perhaps to things I've not tried. I need to keep fear in its proper place and approach this with curiosity. As Monks says, "There are amazing discoveries that will only happen if you let go of your expectations. I like to paint something just because I'm curious enough about what it would look like made of paint." And isn't that what drives so many of us working with fiber, that thought of how we can capture something in our own medium of fabric and stitch? It's our curiosity that begins our journey, and our letting go of expectations that allows us to go fabulous places with it. I may not go far down this particular path of working with this tree image, but I am a bit more ready to give it a go.