Monday, February 28, 2011

Poetry, Art & Inspiration

I love the grim gaunt edges of the rocks,
the great bare backbone of the Earth,
rough brows and heaved up shoulders,
round ribs and knees of the world's skeleton
protruded in lonely places.

From "My Country" by Maynard Dixon

Well known painter, Maynard Dixon, was extolling the virtues of the American Southwest with these lines, but he could just as well have been talking about parts of the Pacific Northwest where I grew up. The photo here was taken along the Yaak River in western Montana, a place where impressive "heaved up shoulders" take the water for a crashing ride. Do I spot vertebrae there?

I ran across this excerpt in The Modern West: American Landscapes 1890-1950. Never knew Dixon was prone to writing poetry but I love this image. I was pretty sure there was a painting somewhere in the book that took this concept of the earth as human body to a somewhat literal level. Indeed, in the chapter on The Dust Bowl Era, I found Alexandre Hogue's Erosions No. 2, Mother Earth Laid Bare, 1938. Made me wonder if Hogue had ever run across that poem or if his inspiration came from somewhere else. I've seen quite a few interpretations of a reclining nude as mountain range, but this is quite something else. Below are three studies that preceded the final version in oil.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Life on the tundra...

Sherrie who loves color and is devoid of it at the moment, inexplicably wants to see pictures of my blizzard. I did try out the video function of my digital camera to capture some of the blowing snow. This was taken from my kitchen window, and the clanking that you hear is the flap over a vent. I am such a novice at this and am puzzled at the pixelation showing up here. But perhaps this will give an idea of what 30 - 40 mph winds look like.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Bluebird In My Mailbox

"Bluebird of Happiness"
Mail Art Project #21
Cynthia St. Charles

The winds have been howling for 24 hours, whipping the snow into drifts and plunging the temps well below freezing. It gives one pause about going out into it, requiring much bundling and a good reason. If nothing else, I needed to retrieve my mail and newspaper, and what waited in my mailbox was indeed worth braving the elements - this "Bluebird of Happiness" fabric postcard.

I follow Cynthia St. Charles' blog where I had an opportunity to sign up for her Mail Art project explained here. Every week I view her latest batch and hope I am the recipient of an extra, and now in week 21 of her project, my name has finally been picked. On the back is this quotation by Gretta Brooker Palmer: "Happiness is a by-product of an effort to make someone else happy." That is so true, and something I've been very aware of this year.

The bluebird theme also reminds me of a class my friend Judi and I took years ago where everyone in the class learned an applique technique using the same pattern of a bird on a tree limb. The class did not go well for us, and we each had our own take on expressing that with the name of our finished pieces, made into journal quilts. Mine was "The Bluebird of Unhappiness" and Judi's was "The Bluebird from Hell"! Thank goodness, I now have a bluebird with a more upbeat vibe. And I love how my collection of fabric art from other artists via their generosity is slowly growing.

It's not too late to sign up for the project. View more of Cynthia's Mail Art here.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Importance of Intellectual Curiosity

"Learn as much as you can from other established artists. Study their work. Use every medium you can to fill your head with ideas. Watch some TV. Watch music videos and great movies, and read - novels or poems are good. Visit museums. Observe and learn everything you can about both your chosen craft and the world today. Successful artists get paid not only for technique, but for great ideas."
Raul Colon, The Artists Magazine interview, September 2010

I love it when I'm given permission to expand my world, to drink it all in and not feel guilty because it appears to be time away from the actual making of art. Right now I am totally engrossed in that book - some might think it too light on pictures and too heavy on text, but I am fascinated with the stories of the artists represented. Some of my favorites are in there, and I am learning so much from those I'm not so familiar with. To the right of the book is a pastel painting by my friend Bonnie Griffith. I'm baby sitting it and two others until she can pick them up, and I am in no hurry. It has been a treat to live with them, study them unhurriedly. As for the plant, it is an amaryllis that bloomed a year ago, after which I was advised to throw it out. I just can't do that, so it sat on my porch until late last fall. Cut back with a paper bag over it, it hibernated for awhile before I decided it was time to unveil it and see if it would put out new shoots. Indeed it has, and it too has been interesting to study as changes can be spotted daily.

What fills your head with ideas?

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Audition Process

I have too much fabric. No, that's not right. I don't have the proper space such that it can be organized and stored all in one place and then enough room to spread it out when searching for just the right piece to complete a quilt. Yeah, that's it. Two days ago, I had every flat surface in my studio except the floor covered in stacks of fabrics as I continued to search for the right one(s) to complement my red charm square leaf print and its quilted shibori background. I remembered a tote where some yummy russet browns and other fabrics have been set aside for vests and possibly purses. I won't tell you for how long...and who knows if I'll ever make good on those good intentions? So if any of those would work on the current project, I decided I was ready to sacrifice it to the good of the present cause. What I really want to use is that one sitting by itself in the lower left corner, but it is a narrow cut and probably not wide enough for my needs...unless I can think of a clever way to splice some width into it.

The process of auditioning fabric can be an art in itself and often drives me to distraction. Other times, things just naturally fall into place. This time it's the former. I've gone off in a totally different direction than I originally planned (not a bad thing) after deciding that, while my original leanings did a great job of pulling out the dull yellow paint of the leaf print, they did not tie in the red of the square. However, the one that was my favorite will be the perfect foil for these two green charms that I'd decided would make a nice pairing instead of being worked up as solos. That orange one might get stitched up and added to the mix as well - it doesn't actually read that bright in real life.

I'd forgotten all about this bright commercial print, and thought that if my little quilt square was edged in one of the reddish orange fabrics or the yarn you see peaking out by the sewing machine, it could fill the bill. It has squares on point in its design, and some reds that work with the charm red. Oh, but it is so bright - I could see the end product in a kitchen, though. Yet, I really wanted to use that one from the first photo. It has not only the orange/red of the charm, but the pink/red of the shibori plus green and those great wavy lines of color.

Well, one must move ahead on something, and that something was how to attach the charm and finish its raw edges. I opted for twisting two strands of the thick and thin rayon yarn together and stitching it down with a zigzag stitch in near-matching thread. But not before thinking stitching with green thread with a meandering stitch would be better. The tearaway stabilizer I'd ironed to the back of the quilted shibori made it a little easier to remove those stitches.

Such a ridiculous number of decisions to be made on such a simple piece! Yesterday I spent all my studio time switching out various fabrics, going back to some I'd already eliminated, but eventually staying with my fave fabric (yes, I am stubborn), and hitting upon a possible solution to deal with its narrowness. I'm going to accept the amount that shows top and bottom and make the side portion wider.What a lot of staring and pondering that took. The breakthrough came, though, when I decided to up the total size of the piece with the addition of yet another layer to create a second border. That bright one was still an option at the time, but I think this is what I'll be going with. I'm still pondering the execution though, just how I will lay down the layers and deal with the edges, how wide should that final "border" be. And finally, will it get a pillow-turn finish or a binding?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Art Books/Book Art

Traditional wood board binding on five raised cords. Leather, glass, brass, hand made paper serpent, pigments, resins, wax.
Timothy C. Ely 1995

I really enjoyed the spirited comments on my previous post about collage. Now I'm ready to talk about another art form that is a bit of a mystery to me, but which I'm gaining some understanding of: bookmaking, bookbinding and altered books. Like collage, when I first started reading about and seeing art in the form of books, I really didn't get it. Altered books in particular remain mostly a mystery to me - who in their right mind would deface a book, I wondered. Yet I am really intrigued with what Margaret Cooter is doing with her old Morning Pages Journals (see this post). I have a bunch of these that I am close to tossing, but she is giving me pause...

Margaret is also thoroughly exploring bookmaking and binding through some classes she is taking - Her blog is full of her experimentation as well as examples from fellow students and established artists (see this example for instance). Reading along with her progress as well as my own exploration into bookbinding via library books is helping me to understand this method of expression and find it charming at times, fascinating in its intricacy and yes, sometimes I still don't totally get it. Yet, I find myself on the verge of putting together a small art book...

When I read about an exhibit of Timothy C. Ely's books, "Line of Sight," at the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture in Spokane, I was strangely drawn to see it. Later, I read a more in-depth article about Ely and his art in The Pacific Northwest Inlander, and realized I was starting to "get" it. It's a fascinating article that you can read here. There's even a connection between collage and bookmaking. I'm pretty excited about viewing this exhibit which runs through April 16 (see details here), especially the section where viewers can actually pick up and page through one of his books. Here's a teaser quotation from the article:

"...our collective experience with books, a history that stretches back nearly 2,000 years, tells us that books are meant to be read and understood. In choosing the book as art form, Ely has added an unintentional dash of sadism for the viewer: They’re pleasurable to view, but painful for some to figure out."

So my question to you, my readers is, do you "get" this art form? Do you yourself make art or altered books and why? What can you tell me to help me understand this form of expression?

Saturday, February 12, 2011


"Study of a Bowl"
Fabric Collage 16 x 21
Laura Breitman

I have to admit I've never really understood collage. It's probably like jazz: I never liked it, never understood it, until I actually played it. Then I was converted! If I actually tried collage, perhaps under the tutelage of someone who did understand it, then perhaps I would finally get it and start to appreciate it more. In the meantime, I'm making inroads to understanding and appreciating it, thanks to a couple of internet friends who's blogs I follow. By watching their progress, their insights into process, this art form is becoming less of a mystery to me. And so when I ran across an article in the July/August 2010 issue of The Artists Magazine on collage, I was ready to read it with interest, not skip over it.

The article entitled "Piecing It Together" starts right off by saying that "The technique...speaks to the hectic pace and fragmented vision of our time" and notes that it can be found everywhere "from actual materials affixed to canvases in museums to digital collages that promote products on billboards or online." Ah, digital collages - now that I understand (at least, I think I do). And then it goes on to praise its "ease of entry" i.e. you don't need to know how to draw, that bugaboo that sends so many people into the mindset that they have no artistic abilities. With collage, you find your materials anywhere and everywhere, and it can become "the ideal medium for exploring compositional possibilities...experimenting until you find a pleasing arrangement..."

Surprisingly (at least to me), one of the artist's featured in this article is Laura Breitman who uses fabric instead of paper. A former quilter, Laura now glues instead of sewing on her collage elements to create extremely realistic works based on photographs. Her "glue" is Golden Acrylic Medium. This sounds all too familiar. - if nothing else than from the pages of Quilting Arts Magazine,and the experimentation of many art quilters I'm aware of. If not for the use of acrylic medium followed by a finishing coat of varnish, I'd easily categorize what she does as applique, not collage. Her process is not unlike art quilters who carefully cut shapes from pre-fused fabrics to create pictorial works. I sense another blurring of the lines in art, only in this case, it's quilters moving into an established art medium rather than an established art medium, such as painters, moving into the quilt world.

I'm not saying that what Breitman is doing is not collage - I can definitely see that it is. What I think I am saying is that by recognizing the similarities with a technique in quilting that I am familiar with, I am understanding collage, as well as my own approach to quilt art, a bit better. And wondering if the distinction in classification/terminology - collage vs fused applique perhaps - is justified. Look through her gallery and tell me what you think.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Slow but Steady

This has been the progress in the studio today, and it is a relief to find I'm enjoying the process and the challenges of choosing the right thread combos. Sometimes we resist needlessly...well, at least I resist when I could be having a little more fun. So what if the first line of stitching doesn't make the leaves pop like you thought? Try adding another...which is what I did with the above. I'm really having trouble getting decent pictures - either the colors are off or the shine from the rayon thread blurs the stitching. Anyway, the first outlining is in the lighter thread, then I went back with a darker or brighter one stitching next to the first line of stitching. I really like the effect.

Here's my red charm all stitched - again, the colors are a bit off but I was really pleased at how the light yellow thread really brought out the detail on the somewhat drab paint of the stamped leaf.

All the charms are now stitched - at least to the point where any additional stitching will be as quilting. - and the ideas for what and how to attach them to continue to come. I dug around in my batting stash (yes, I have a batting stash too) and found some that is a dense polyester fleece. After some hemming and hawing, I decided the charms need something between them and the seams in the background. I will quilt just through the charm and batting, with the dark green thread, and probably finish the edges with satin stitch too before I sewing it to the background.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011


Auditioning fabric is a wonderful way to procrastinate. I'm doing my usual hesitation as I ponder the stitching I want to add to the leaf-printed charm squares. The other day I happened upon a different way to use this red leaf-stamped charm (yes, it really is red - my camera was getting horribly confused by all this bright color) - on point and not necessarily on a silk background. The piece it now rests on is from an experiment with shirring fabric and applying paint to get a shibori effect. It's been pinned to the same design wall as the charms for awhile now, but some shuffling back and forth on a different background suddenly had the two together, and I decided I liked it. Now to find another fabric to border it. You can see I've narrowed it down to two rather bright options, and the rest more somber in the brown family. I have a feeling the browns are going to win out, but I won't decide until I've quilted the shibori, and added the charm after stitching.

Here are some possibilities for that stitching - I'm thinking the brightest yellow will do the trick and one of the darker ones will provide some undulating and overlapping lines of quilting on the shibori.

All this as a prelude to choosing thread for the charm squares I'm supposed to be stitching up. We all have our little rituals before we can dive into the actual work. This post shows how I did these leaf prints

These two were my first trials as I haven't made backgrounds for them yet. Don't want to mess up on the "good" ones. The one on the left is stitched with a variegated Oliver Twist hand-dyed cotton thread. The one on the right was initially stitched with a Sulky Ultra Twist, but the paint color is so dull it needed something more. I stitched next to the original stitching with a yellow rayon thread and it made all the difference in the world. All the charms are backed with Decor Bond (of course) to stabilize them.

These two I think will get a bit more stitching - a round of dark green to accentuate them a bit more. The one on the left is stitched with two rayon threads run through the eye of the needle - a yellow and a red one. The one on the right has a home on one of the 4-patch silk backgrounds and I realized that the thread color choice was as much about that background as it was the charm color itself.

I'd been thinking about what kind of background would look good behind my crazy-pieced rectangle of silk leftovers. While searching my stashes for something for the red charm, I ran across one of my early hand-dyed cottons that I think will be perfect. Killing two birds with one stone is what it felt like! The fabric down in the corner is actually a shimmery sheer that I am considering for whatever I add to the rectangle. I may do something with leaves cut from it, floated across the top. Or not. I'm still researching Celtic designs.

Monday, February 07, 2011

The Ongoing Dance

I've got a stack of things sitting on the printer (which really should be printing fabric) that I've been meaning to share so here goes with the first one. This is from an interview with painter Richard McKinley in the July/August 2010 issue of The Artist's Magazine, and is reminiscent of how Jeanette Gilks described working in her fiber medium in this post.

He mentions that "if you paint seriously [every day] really figure out if you're a control freak or if you like lots of serendipity. Do you work better in a box - being told what to do - or do you need complete rein to do what you want?" I think I lean towards being a box person, although I like some freedom too. This statement was a prelude noting that because, by choice he has spent a lot of time alone training himself, "that isolation can also create sterility in the work: It becomes almost too controlled and predictable." Oops - I think I've been there too, um, might be there right now in fact.

While trying a new technique where he had to give up a certain amount of control, he discovered "I love being in the moment and responding to whatever can happen...That process has made all the difference for me as a painter." And I have to admit, that when I sense I am working that way - in the moment and responding as the work evolves, I enjoy the process much more and I think the results are better too.

And now to the part that reminded me of Jeanette Gilks: The interviewer says, "You must welcome the challenge and enjoy the unpredictability." To which he responds, "I think you've really summed it up. It's the intellectual and the emotional stimulation that I need. The art of painting has often been described as a dance; I describe my painting as a dance partner. Sometimes I step on its feet; sometimes it steps on mine; sometimes we stumble our way all over, and we barely make it to the end; sometimes we quit midway through because it's just not working. But other times I just think, Holy Moly! What was that?! That was great! Painting really is a partnership for me. I don't feel as if I'm the complete boss anymore, and I like that - it keeps me coming back to the easel."

Have you had this experience? I know I have. I've run across this "dance" metaphor before, and I like it. And when it all comes together in the studio, I literally dance!

Follow this link to more from this interview.

Thursday, February 03, 2011


Lois wanted to know what I'm working on with the ties. This post shows one of at least six leaf prints stamped on 5" squares of hand-died fabric with potential tie fabric which would serve as a background. To the right are 2 backgrounds ready to go. I know this doesn't look like much, but the leaf-print square will be centered on the background, then the whole thing wrapped around stretched canvas. So what you are seeing here is a 13" square of which only the center 10" will show. I hope that makes sense.

I was able to get two squares out of only several of the ties. The others would only yield one of the 6-3/4" squares I needed. It was a bit of a trick to find fabrics that would work together, and then, do you have any idea how many ways you can turn & arrange just 4 pieces of fabric? I probably spent much more time than I should have on that part, but in the end, it seemed important for proper balance.

And then I had these narrow shards and triangles left over. I was having a hard time pushing myself to the next step on the leaf prints, so I sat down and randomly sewed the shards together. I'd had this thought about making squares crazy quilt style with the leftovers that could then be additional backgrounds, but it took no time at all to go off-track and think this was going nowhere but ugly and unusable. In a last ditch effort, I added the bigger triangles to complete a rectangle instead of a square and magically, it started to work for me. I'm not sure what I'm putting on it yet (it's about 6 x 10 inches) but I'm thinking something swirling like a fiddlehead fern or a Celtic spiral in a gold sheer. Or maybe floating some individual leaves on it. We shall see.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Goodwill Shopping

This is what $24 will get you at the local Goodwill thrift shop.

I had a bag to drop off at Goodwill today, and checked to see what they had in the way of silk ties. I told you I needed to go on a hunt, and right off the bat I found two Jerry Garcia ties (one with the original hangtag still attached so never worn) and this Beatles Yellow Submarine tie (copyright 1991 Apple Corps Unlimited).

Tie fabrics are notorious for leaning toward the dark side, so I was delighted to find several that were quite bright. Love the patterns on the darker ones surrounding them.

Such variety, in pattern and color.

Geometrics and then those ovals. I didn't wipe out their entire tie stock, but I did take most of the silk ties - 20 in all.

And then there were these hanging next to the ties - two long rectangles of silk - lady's scarves - and 2 of what I suppose are pocket squares - about 9 inches square. There were two other scarves that I put back - I wasn't 100% sure the one was silk and decided I wasn't that crazy about the pattern of the other. We must be somewhat discriminating!

Whether or not any of these will work with my current project is yet to be seen. I meant to shop with that in mind, but then I got carried away by the 99 cent price tags...