Tuesday, May 31, 2011

And just like that...

One day a tight little bud, the next exploding to three times its size into full bloom. No wonder the petals are creased and wrinkled. An eye-catching splash of color the intensity of which I forget from year to year. And then there's that wonderful bit inside.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Friday, May 27, 2011

Apple Blossoms

You might want to click on that last one for a larger view - the veining visible in the petals is pretty amazing.

Thursday, May 26, 2011


I'm nearly done with the quilting on my stack n whack quilt; I think I need to add some quilting to the large diamonds and then it will be ready to bind. It took a long time doing all the straight-line quilting with a walking foot, and I found myself thinking about how different my aesthetic is from the majority of longarm quilters. My knee-jerk response to how should a quilt be quilted is with stitch in the ditch, lines and grids. That's partly because of my traditional background and my love of antique quilts, but also because it is easy to do either by machine or by hand and less intimidating to me than free motion quilting.. I didn't have to ponder long about how to fill the green corner triangles on the star blocks, for instance - channel quilting could be done without marking and makes sense with the other quilting. However, straight line quilting is much more difficult for a longarm quilter than swirling lines or feathers, so you can bet those triangles would have sported something like that had I sent this out to be quilted.

After many hours, all that straight stitching was finally done and today I was ready to lower the feeddogs and quilt like a longarm quilter. I even got brave and changed from the monofiliment thread to some teal Oliver Twist hand-dyed cotton thread to help accentuate the patterns of the kaleidoscope centers of the stars. I really enjoy this type of free motion quilting - no marking required, just work around the pattern in the fabric design - nothing too exposed so I don't have to worry so much about my less than perfect stitching.

As you may recall, I've been working on this project off and on for at least 6 years, and I've discovered a positive to pulling out an old project: It can show you just how much you have grown. The kaleidoscope centers were the first things I did, and I remember staring at them for months as they hung on the design wall, totally intimidated by the thought of free motion quilting them. I remember having no idea how to approach it, and little confidence in my ability to do it well once I did. I just knew I'd wreck those beautiful designs. Fast forward to now, and the answer to how to quilt them was obvious, my confidence in my ability to do so not an issue. The only thing I pondered at all was thread choice, and that not for long. I could see that the teal thread would help define the motifs, make them stand out in a way they could not unquilted. That was a really good feeling, to have this concrete evidence of progress in an area that I normally feel I'm weakest.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Nothing much new under the sun

I always have to remind myself that just because something is new to me, doesn't mean it hasn't been done before. (In spite of that saying, nothing new under the sun, there had to be a first time for everything so I can be gullible.) Here I was, all enthralled with the Newspaper Blackout thing which appeared so original to me (see previous post) only to stumble upon a variation of it dating back to the 1960's. I have been reading The Century of Artists' Books by Johanna Drucker, and yesterday arrived at the chapter on altered books. Above is a page from Tom Phillips A Humument, in which he transforms a Victorian novel by William H. Mallock through inking/painting out unwanted text. He soon saw that he could incorporate imagery as well and link the preserved text with the empty white spaces between type. (Click on the photo for a larger view.)

I was particularly interested in what the author had to say about this method of altering a book, because it mirrors what I was experiencing as I worked with those newspaper obituaries: "Let free of the responsibility of making a new invention the book artist is able to allow associative processes free reign, to let the work happen..." I've always had an easier time working with something other than a blank surface, so it should be no surprise that this has piqued my interest.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Newspaper Blackout

I admit I've been drawn to some odd things lately. The latest surprise fascination is with something called Newspaper Blackout as done by Austin Kleon. He uses the technique to write poetry, but I played with it a bit yesterday to reduce obituaries to an essence. Why obituaries? I spent some time with a friend Saturday who is over 80 and admitted that the first thing she reads in the newspaper is the obits. I told her she needed to find something else to read first, obits second.

So obituaries were on my mind when I perused the paper yesterday, and I've been thinking about trying this blackout thing. This seemed a good place to start, not to compose poetry, but to distill these already capsulized accounts of a person's life to an essence.

I carefully read the first one, taking in all the details (which were actually quite entertaining) before going back to search for my few chosen words. I just drew lines through the rest of the text, saving the total blacking out for later.

After the first few, I found I was skimming for words that would make sense together, not really reading the content as presented. My mind was engaged in a puzzle and becoming totally absorbed in the process. I soon realized how similar this was to some of the drawing on the right side of the brain exercises. Forget about what the thing is that you are looking at. Focus on bits and pieces that on their own are merely a line, a curve, a negative space, a disembodied word.

And then, when I returned to do more thorough blacking out, I realized how relaxing this process was; I really zoned out fully concentrated on the movement of the pen back and forth. I wasn't using a proper pen, I don't think, just an old felt-tip pen that was running out of ink on me, so the coverage wasn't very even. That's when I saw I could create a pattern in the blackout by making my shading lines in different directions.

There are other ways to vary the blacking out, I discovered. Yes, creativity abounds even in this lowly exercise. All in all, I could see that this could make a great warm-up exercise to any creative project. It disengages the left brain, it makes the brain work to see beyond the obvious, and it takes one out of time. And by using obituaries, I glimpsed into strangers' lives and what may or may not have been the most important about them. And it beats the reason my 80 year old friend spends time with the obits.

You may need to click on the pictures for the larger view to see the words I chose. Also, these were all done with the same pen. The variety in shading and color is due to the way I adjusted the scans.

Friday, May 20, 2011


Here is the opposite of the big backhoe featured in this post. This past week my water line was dug up by this diminutive backhoe.

Whereas the big one would move a lot of dirt with every scoop of the bucket, this one is more of a precision instrument. The operator was carefully following the old line, avoiding a gas line, but not so fortunate with a second water line running up to the landlord's house (it being pvc, it didn't show up on the finder). It almost looked like a toy, kind of comical in comparison to the big boy toy.. But it sure beats digging by hand.

Thursday, May 19, 2011


“…gradually you come under the right influences, picking and choosing, and being selective, and then maybe your voice is the combination of 6 or 8 other voices that you have managed to blend in such a way that nobody can recognize your sources. You can learn intimacy from Whitman, you can learn the dash from Emily Dickinson…you can pick a little bit from every writer and you combine them. This allows you to be authentic. That’s one of the paradoxes of the writing life: that the way to originality is through imitation.”

- Billy Collins, at the White House’s Poetry Workshop

I've heard this put so many ways, this thing about how you find your own style and voice, and have suffered through many a discussion about copying and stealing from other artists. Collins, however, puts it in such a gentle way, this reality of being human and how it forms you into the unique person that inquiry and thought leads you to be. We do not live in a bubble; we cannot help but take on the bits and pieces we encounter daily.

I've also read so many interviews with artists espousing who their greatest influences were. I wonder if there's something wrong with me because I can't narrow my own field of influence to a couple of famous artists Or perhaps it's just because I have no formal art training. Because I come out of a traditional quilting background, my influences, when I think about it, can be found there - the precision borne of an innovative technique learned from Judy Mathieson, classic and restrained (yet also exuberant at times) quilting designs from my machine quilting mentor Diane Gaudynski, the quiet sophistication of Erika Carter's timeless designs. The rest of what influences my voice comes straight from nature, I think. The colors I use, the designs I choose, the texture I try to emulate...I think I bypass artists and go directly to the source.

That is not to say I don't study the great artists (and even the not so great) - I do. And so there may be dozens of voices subconsciously whispering in my head and being synthesized into my own without my being aware. I've often said that I am a sponge, absorbing information, some quite esoteric, and moving on to the next. Occasionally I'll make a connection between two seemingly unrelated bits and find that the best. Often I'll have an aha moment when information gathered over a long period of time suddenly makes sense, comes together to do more than just rattle around in my hazy memory. That too is exciting.

Perhaps that's why I've been picking up things on my walks and bring them home rather than just observe, absorb and move on. Things like feathers. I wouldn't say that I collect feathers, but my studio might tell a different story. My bulletin board has half a dozen feathers adorning it, from the one found on vacation that exhibited iridescence I had just learned about, to the red-spined one resting on my windshield after a walk along the city beach, to this rather large and ruffly one I spotted near the barn the other day. I rarely ever know what I will do with these things that catch my eye, intrigue me and beg to be brought home, but I've learned to trust that eventually I will. A veritable chorus of voices and influences continually at my beck and call.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Nothing much to see here...

...that is, hard to see in that I have started quilting my stack n whack quilt, following the stripes and stitching in the ditch with invisible thread. Did I say I was going to baste this up and set it aside for higher priority projects? I believe I did, but I just can't - I love it too much and the quilting will be simple and relatively quick to finish. I may be resisting putting off finishing it partly because it has been in progress for so very long, plus I know where it will go once done (and if I hustle, I'll even present it on a special occasion - real incentive). It may be a reaction to last year's derailment of plans to attend to such "unfinished business" - I'm tired of having to put projects on hold. Whatever my motivation, I am happily putting in the time to complete it. That's a very good feeling after so much forced march work in the studio lately.

Oh, and did I say I was going to use that leaf fabric for the backing? Poor leaf fabric; every time it thinks it will have a larger role in the quilt, I replace it with another option. It really would have worked fine, but then I remembered a fabric which I think will delight the recipient much more. This is just too fun!

I opted for a Hobbs wool batt and had forgotten how wonderful it is for larger quilts. One of the downsides of machine quilting larger quilts on a domestic sewing machine is wrestling the usually heavy bundle - one tends to wear the quilt (usually thrown over one shoulder) while a tiny portion of it is under the needle Every progression to the next spot requires hefting and rearranging of a sometimes awkward package. I believe I used Hobbs 80 cotton/20 polyester batt on the last large quilt, and the difference in weight is striking - an almost airy light bundle is making this so much easier on my body. Plus the springiness of wool is especially good at masking baubles in quilting...

Dare I confess the rest of my sudden energetic dive into projects? I can't seem to suppress the urge to start a knitting project, even though the weather is getting on towards summery. It's not that I don't have several applique projects I could take out on the porch to justify staying out in the nice weather. I justify this because it will be a short sleeve cardigan, hopefully perfect for Idaho's wide ranging daily temperatures where even if most of the day is hot, mornings and evenings can be cool. This is a cotton/wool yarn (color is called milk chocolate mint) and the pattern is knit in one piece from the top down - something I don't think I've done before. It's a simple pattern that I'm finding a lot of fun.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Mindless doodling

I was having a nice long conversation on the phone yesterday, and since a pencil and bit of paper was close at hand, I found myself absentmindedly drawing curves in the black spaces of this postcard. Not unusual, the curved lines - it seems to be my usual doodle. What surprised me was the arrows I caught myself drawing on the ends. This kind of doodling can reveal subliminal messages, and I'm wondering what I was trying to tell myself here. Get going? Any way will do? Operating at cross purposes? Split between choices? This way or that? Looking for adventure?

Care to join in with theories? ;-)

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Book as Art

I just finished reading The Book as Art by Krystyna Wasserman, which showcases the exhibit by the same name put on by the National Museum of Women in the Arts. If you are at all interested in Artist's Books, this is a must read. As regular readers know, I've been working on understanding this particular art form for awhile, and feel I am finally getting a handle on it. This book certainly helped.

One artist's book in particular spoke to me on several levels. Connie Conner Blair's "She has vanished from the outside and gone within..." is fairly traditional in form, and uses things I understand like ink, oil paint sticks, collage and etching. Each spread is a different color family, the left side being mostly mottled, the right side striated. Beautiful symmetry to hold the story she unfolds.

It is the text, though, that first caught my attention and made me take a closer look. I find it most unnerving to see, coming from someone else's hand, words I could have written myself. I was haunted enough by the few lines displayed that I spent time tracking down the full text - not all of which applies to my own history but much that does. That bit about "...books she doesn't read and things she doesn't need. She owns dishes enough for eight yet no one ever comes to dinner." Yeah, that struck a nerve. You can view this artist's book and several more in their entirety here.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


Please indulge me; I've been waiting what seems like forever for my tulips to bloom and bring me some much needed color. I picked a few to bring inside, and they posed nicely for a photo shoot. Three different varieties, and for once, these photos are untouched by any photo manipulation program, not even cropping. Just the best of the lot straight from the camera to you.