June Underwood, October 2009
12" x 16" oil
12" x 16" oil
June has challenged me this month with the above painting, which itself is inspired by the work of Emily Carr. In this blog post, June shares that she has been studying the way Emily rendered skies. Skies can be problematic, "dreadfully banal unless somehow worked as part of the same problem as the rest of the ’scape." A sky can be a flat expanse of color with no variation in value or hue. Or it can be streaked or blotted with clouds that add interest. For the stitcher, they pose additional problems. Just what line of quilting makes sense over what is typically without texture or feature of any kind? Equally puzzling is what to do with the cotton ball nature of clouds that also rarely suggests texture that can be played up with stitch.
Images from the Vancouver Art Gallery website
This teaser was enough to send me off on another research expedition (thanks June! and you thought you couldn't come up with a subject as delightful as Anthony Trollope...) I'd looked at some of Emily's work before, when June was focusing on her trees, but didn't remember anything unusual in her skies. Now that I was looking for it, I found it. I saw the cubist-style rendering as in the painting "Vanquished" that June was working off of, and I also saw swirls which looked more like what June had actually painted. Click on the collage above for a larger view to study these two approaches.
In the e-mail that accompanied the photo of her painting, June commented on Emily's "swirls of forest." I remembered the "dancing" trees of Maryhill, and in studying her painting once again, I caught onto the idea of "dancing" trees and "dancing" skies. An idea for my June-inspired piece was forming.
I made this journal quilt in 2003, my feeble attempt to portray the perspective of looking up into the trees. I'd done several birch tree journal quilts that were pieced, but I wanted to try applique to get a more fluid and overlapped grouping.
A few years later, I started reworking the design in a more head-on perspective. I drew lines and erased and re-drew and erased some more. I was never happy with it, even though I kept tinkering with it off and on these past 3 or 4 years. I thought my last edit was as good as it would get, and now with the idea of dancing trees and skies, I pulled it out for the basis of my October challenge.
Maybe it was the hours spent manipulating June's painting earlier in the day, or looking at Carr's paintings & my Maryhill photos to decide which ones to print out as references. Whatever it was, instead of tracing the sketch for multiple transfers to drawing paper where I'd play with colored pencils (as was my plan), I found myself studying the lines and gaps. It needs a trunk here, I thought, or this one needs to curve a bit differently. The rest of the afternoon was spent in this methodical tweaking until I was quite pleased with the composition. The trees definitely danced more and I achieved the more complex interweaving which was my original intent. Amazing what a few years, a trip to Maryhill and a drawing class can do!
I used to piece the majority of my quilts, even ones with curved designs. It was a point of pride with me that I grew so proficient at curved designing and piecing. But I have flipped the other direction these last few years, more prone to appliqueing my ideas using various techniques. The last time I pieced a traditional block, I realized how rusty I'd become with such a basic procedure and how much I miss just sitting at the machine. So I had it in my head that this next challenge from June would be pieced not appliqued. I may have set myself more of a challenge than I intended, figuring out how this design can be pieced. But I think I'm up to it.
If not, this is my fall-back position. Of all the photo-manipulation effects I played with the other day, this mirror reflection is the only one that really stopped me dead in my tracks. Whoa...that is so dynamic, and so me. It too might be a little bit of a challenge to break down into pieceable units, but I think it would be worth the effort.
I can't wait to see what results. I love these kinds of "circling", which pull in various constructs from various times in my art journey and others' art journeys too. Nice stuff from Carr -- she just keeps talking to me.
And I'm painting my response to you, too, and feeling like I'm out of my depth. Shallow waters work much better, doncha-know?
Glad to see your work with one of my all time favorite artists, Emily Carr. I like where your play is leading you.
Thanks, you two. The more I look at June's and Emily's paintings, the more I see. These are great to work with.
And June, it's hard for me to believe you're out of your depth in your response to my piece. Just remember, challenge is the name of this game, so shallow we are not to be!
Thanks for the "heads up" about Emily Carr's skies - growing up in Vancouver, I'm familiar with her work, but haven't really noticed the skies before! On the west coast, those trees tend to get in the way of the skies...
I know what you mean, Margaret. You know how obsessed I am with trees, so you can imagine how difficult it was not to get sidetracked by Emily's powerful renderings of trees while trying to focus on her skies. But those skies are quite interesting and I am glad June pointed them out to me. It has opened up a whole knew way to think about them.
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