Monday, February 01, 2010

January Challenge

12 x 16 Art Quilt
Sheila Mahanke Barnes copyright 2010

June and I have resumed our monthly challenge - creating an original work in our respective mediums one month to serve as inspiration to the other for the next month. This is my January challenge to June which I've been working on the past week or so. (And you thought I'd been slacking off on the art quilt stuff, didn't you?) As per our parameters, it is 12 x 16 inches and is mounted in a black gallery frame. There's a lot going on here, believe it or not.

The inspiration for this came back when I was working on "Emily Carr Skies." While working out the sky pattern, I had to be very careful of value because of the different tree fabrics I'd used. In one of those "duh" moments, it occurred to me how much easier it would have been if the trunks had all been white. So I made a mental note that next time I worked with tree trunks, I would try the white trunks set against a blue sky. The idea appealed as a subject for our challenge. I had a big enough piece of sun-printed fabric leftover from "Jockeying in the Queue" for a background (albeit not a solid blue one) and set it aside for this project. The trunks could come from my string drawer.

Sometimes I am able to cut my trees on the bias and not worry about fraying or shaping with scissors, but since I was using up strip scraps, I decided I'd better fuse them on. I'm still not crazy about Misty Fuse, but have it around and keep hoping it will behave in the way that makes everyone else love it. I applied it to three of the "strings" but to my surprise, I was able to get all of my trunks out of the larger wedge shaped piece. I've never been comfortable cutting shapes free-hand, but decided to just go for it here since I had so little to lose. I visualized hard, placed a pin where I thought I should quit cutting and went for it. That cutout piece had nice curves to follow for the next cuts, and I trimmed a little off the outside of the first forked tree shape too. As I said, it provided all the trunks I needed and I must admit I did enjoy just cutting as I went along rather than drawing everything out beforehand. The only guide I allowed was a chalked line around the outside to indicate the approximate dimensions of the piece. If you click on the picture for the larger view, you can just make it out.

Here I've overlaid my paper "window" to get a better idea of how my placement is going. The fabric is resting on my June Tailor cut and press so that I don't have to disturb anything when it's time to fuse the trunks down. It also allows me to place a straight pin in each trunk to prevent undue shifting during the design process. This is looking pretty good, but a transformation is about to happen.

I had made another connection while working on "Emily Carr Skies." Standing on the bike trail looking up at a stand of trees and noting the great contrast of the white against the blue skies, I noticed something else. There was quite a shadow running along one side of all the trunks and branches. I seriously don't remember noticing this before and wondered how I had missed it. Maybe I see it now because of some of the exercises from my drawing class. Maybe I was just primed to notice it because of what I'd been working on. No matter, now I saw it and knew it was just the thing that could improve my naturalistic designs. I even considered adding shadow to the Carr trees, but thought better of it. Save it for the January challenge.

The shadow is applied with a satin stitch. This would not be the only way to do this, but since Misty Fuse doesn't keep the edges of applique from fraying, I was going to have to stitch along those edges anyway. I considered several close rows of straight stitch along the length, or that with back and forth lines of straight stitch over it like cross hatching, but both of those options struck me as timid and not able to give the coverage I knew this look demanded. I also considered using a Sulky grey & black rayon twist, but again, after stitching up a sample, I knew that was my careful conservative nature wanting to be safe. I thought about what Felicity had recently said about her own timid use of color and the decision to be brave to bring more vivid color to her work like an artist she admired. You're right, Felicity, I thought. I too make timid decisions all the time and then wonder why I am disappointed in the results. This time I will be bold and do that stitching in black. I was not disappointed this time. I also ran satin stitching along the other edge but in white so it is more functional than decorative. This was all done before layering for quilting (the background fabric being stabilized with Decor Bond before stitching). The fine black line you see in the picture is the quilting, and mimics what else I observed from those trees along the bike trail. In real life, there was a dark outline on the sun side of the trees.

I would have liked to have stopped right there with the quilting, but even with a thin batting of Thermore, that sky needed some stitching to make it look right. I don't know what you see in that background fabric, but I could see the swooping boughs of pine trees, so basically stitched along the places where green and blue meet.

Could I have added more to this art quilt? I'm sure I could have, but there was plenty going on anyway (in terms of trying ideas out if nothing else) and sometimes keeping it simple is best. Besides, any additional ideas can be played out in the next quilt. I'd really like to pull off the sensation of looking up into the trees rather than straight at them, and I don't think I managed that here.


quiltcrazygal said...

Very lovely:) What a great work of art! Jenna Louise

Chris said...

The first thing I thought when I laid eyes on this piece was, "How did she make the shadows on thos tree?" It's very striking. I really like it.

Fran├žoise said...


The WestCountryBuddha said...

I love your've done the shadows really well!!

The Idaho Beauty said...

I really appreciate these comments. I know it doesn't seem like much of a step adding those shadows but it was for me. It's particularly gratifying to know that Chris recognized what I was going for before reading the post. You've not succeeded if you have to point it out and explain it, I think.