Saturday, January 29, 2011

Hobby Artist - Discuss

Recently I was involved in a screening process that led to a good discussion of the group's intentions in respect to the artists it supports. Yes, a certain level of expertise is important to maintain the standards of the organization and thus its cache as a quality group to exhibit with. Yes, one of its goals is to nurture new artists, ones that may be on the cusp of launching a career, or ones that need a place to learn whether or not making art their vocation is really what they want to do. Yes, it also needs the professional artist, but that is not the only kind of artist that makes this organization work as well as it does. And then someone described those we were screening as, "let's face it, hobby artists."

I'm not sure I've ever heard those two terms used in conjunction with each other. I do know that I instantly bristled taking offence, was very uncomfortable as the conversation continued, wondered if any of them had referred to me as a hobby artist. You see, I'm very sensitive to this term "hobby" because it has always had negative connotations as applied to my quilting career, makes light of what I take rather seriously. (And in the context of this conversation, it indeed was being used negatively.) In two syllables it can turn something I approach professionally into something not worth another's time to consider. Am I wrong? Isn't there another term we can come up with to differentiate someone who can make a living making art and one who does not but perhaps approaches it in the same way?

Definitions of hobby generally reference this idea of doing something for enjoyment, not profit (as if the two are mutually exclusive) and indeed, this is the basis for Internal Revenue Service tax code when income does not turn a profit; you list it under "hobby." Yes, I railed at this when I started earning money for teaching classes. In no way was I making enough to turn a profit, but I didn't consider it a hobby either. I finally made my peace with the IRS terminology and continued on comporting myself in a professional way. (One of my signature classes was teaching Judy Mathieson's Mariner Compass block method.)

But here it is - on is an article on the definition of hobby that begins: "A hobby is a spare-time recreational pursuit." It makes me feel somewhat better when it admits "Engaging in a hobby can lead to acquiring substantial skill, knowledge, and experience. However, personal fulfillment is the aim." Yes, personal fulfillment was my initial drive when I got into quilting, and part of that fulfillment comes from acquiring that skill, knowledge and experience. And it is always nice when that leads to some monetary rewards, but then, that apparently puts you into the category of professional. I'm getting confused.

So what does say about professionals?
"A professional does something as a profession, or receives payment for some activity. The adjective "professional" can indicate that someone has great skill in a craft or activity, or that something demonstrates such skill. To conduct oneself as a professional (exhibiting "professional behavior") would indicate that the person's actions remain in accordance with specific rules, written or unwritten, pertaining to the standards of a profession. The opposite of "professional" is "amateur" (disparagingly: "rank amateur"). In many cases someone can perform the exact same craft or task, and the only difference between a professional and an amateur consists in the payment of the one but not the other." This all strikes me as a slippery slope. I want a different word to describe what I think I am! Cause I'm sure not receiving much payment for my skills, not enough to make me anything but a hobbyist in most eyes.

The definition of an artist, on the other hand is pretty straight forward: "An artist is someone who employs creative talent to produce works of art." Hey - that's me. And I want the respect that should garner. I don't want it classified into "hobby" or "serious" or "professional" even. Maybe tell me if I'm a good artist or a bad artist - that's about it.

But seriously, how do you respond to this term of hobby artist? Is there a better, less denigrating term we could be using?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

It's a thought...

I've been deconstructing silk ties with the idea that they can become background for a bunch of 5" squares leaf -printed nearly 4 years ago. Yes, I do let my ideas and materials age. These two ties are from the ones that came at Christmas; I hadn't taken a close look at them until yesterday and I was surprised and pleased to find that several of them (including these) are Jerry Garcia designs. Ooo, just love them!

Last year I think I wrote about my collection of silks and silk ties, being drawn to work with them and then stopping short because they weren't ready to use. Ties must be taken apart, washed and/or ironed, stabilized with fusible interfacing (at least, that's the way I prefer to work with them). All this takes time, and when you're working on deadline, or anxious to get going on a project, you might not have the patience to wait for this prep to be done. I always say, someday when I don't have anything else pressing, I'll get them ready. But of course, someday never comes. I nearly turned away from them again this week, feeling slightly under time constraints and thinking I don't have the time to fool with them. Bah! If not now, then when? The other idea I thought I might work on for the exhibit coming up in March is still not gelling in my head. But the idea for the leaf prints has been fully formed for a long time and I'm motivated to take them up. There is time, I just had to convince myself.

Here's more proof that to get better you have to do the work: as I pulled out stitches and worried that I didn't have big enough pieces or the right combination of fabrics, another way to put together the background popped into my head. Without the ties in hand, the leaf prints before me, the subconscious brain working away, it would not have occurred to me.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Next Step

Here's the next step on my Strawberry Moon postcard-size "quilts." In the last post I mentioned that the Decor Bond used as stabilizer under the batting is turned fusible side exposed, or face down. Normally, I would add a fabric backing (fused to Decor Bond), and so that quilted-through Decor Bond provides the fusing. In this case, I did not add that extra fabric and somewhat regretted it. Because I used a thin polyester batting (Hobbs Thermore), I really needed a little more stabilization for that satin stitching - there was some distortion around the edges I do not get with the postcards. However, there is that exposed fusible that then holds the quiltlet to the "mount" so that it doesn't need pinning for the final step.

Which is - running a line of stitching next to the satin stitching to permanently attach the quiltlet to the mount. In this case, I used the same thread as was used to quilt around the moon. You may need to click on the picture for a larger view to see it - it is Sulky rayon ultra twist thread, and it is trying to hide from the camera.

The mount is fused to Decor Bond before this stitching. When first experimenting with this process, I tried finishing the edge of the quiltlet right through the mount, but the satin stitching caused some drawing up. The single line of stitching works better for me. I've penned my information directly onto the Decor Bond with a Pigma Micron permanent pen and treated the fronts with a UV protectant.

That's as far as I can go on these three for the moment, as the next step is trying a new method of wrapping them over stretched canvas, then mounting in a floater frame - and the supplies are on order.

However, I did have the mat and frame for Strawberry Moon 5 - the 5 x 7 inch version with no batting. Oh, I really like the way this looks (although the mottling of the cream mat doesn't show well in the photo), and it will go in a local art quilt exhibit slated to open in March. Or maybe it will end up in ArtWalk. Either way, one done for the looming exhibit deadlines! Tomorrow, I think I'm heading off in a new direction.

"Strawberry Moon 5"
5" x 7" textile framed
Sheila Mahanke Barnes 2011

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Variations on a Theme

"June, June! Strawberry Moon!"
11" x 13" Art Quilt/Private Collection
Sheila Mahanke Barnes 2006

I'm feeling guilty about not posting for so long. Some progress is being made, so I really should give you a peek at how the moons are coming along. In order to see my progression in using the strawberry moon theme, I'm starting with the the first one above, made way back in 2006 before I moved back to Idaho. The tree trunks are discharged using a freezer paper stencil and the moon is hand-dyed fabric also discharged and then reverse appliqued into place. I did some hand quilting along the trunks and moon, then mounted it to the commercial print - a method newly experimented with here but which has become a mainstay finishing technique for me.

"Strawberry Moon"
4" x 6" framed Textile Art
Sheila Mahanke Barnes 2010

Fast forward to last fall and the resurrection of the strawberry moon in miniature form.

I'm often sketching trees, either curvy trunks or ones with branches overlapping. This one had no particular place I planned to use it, but resized, it became the basis for the grouping of trees I used on the landscape-oriented miniature. When I discovered that I couldn't get mats locally with the proper size opening for my postcard size minis, I realized that this sketch was the perfect size for a slightly larger 5 x 7 inch miniature version. How would a moon look behind the trees? Just fine!

But between the miniature of 2010 and the 5 x 7 of this month, there were these variations in my original design. Discounting the clone harvest moons at lower right (the only difference between them is the sky fabric and they have batting which the original harvest moon did not), each time I worked with the extra moons I'd cut, I altered the trees a bit - not really what I'd set out to do but which I happily succumbed to. First I changed the orientation from landscape to portrait as well as changing background and moon color and number/arrangement of trees (upper left). Then I moved on to a different fabric for the trees which looked good with the peachy moon on the navy background
(upper middle). Because I wanted the same color combination for the larger version and my fabric was limited, the moon is smaller than in the others. The addition of another tree with or without branches didn't work - too cluttered. I like the simplicity of the single tree. The moon is also offset more, but in the larger version to the right, more room allowed for all trees and the moon looked best centered. I had the full set of trees cut for the last variation (middle left), birch-like fabric set against navy background, was arranging them when for some reason, I wondered if it would look better with just trunks like in my original strawberry moon. I let it sit overnight, then decided, yes indeed, I wanted this one to be plain old trunks. At the stage in this picture, all have been stay-stitched, trimmed and fray-checked. All have batting, except for the 5 x 7 which is only backed with Decor Bond for stability (it will be taped to a mat and framed). The other strawberry moons have Decor Bond with the fusible side exposed so that they can be fused to a mount after the edges have been satin stitched - will show that later. The harvest moon on the left has been finished out as a postcard, edges now satin stitched, and the other one will be taped to a mat for framing.

As I worked late this afternoon, I noticed a bit of a sunset in progress. Moving to my bedroom with the western exposure I saw how wonderfully these trees were silhouetted against the coral clouds. It answered a question I'd been posing all day, wondering if I should be doing anything to those plain navy backgrounds behind my trees. I'd decided not to complicate things with this set of variations, but to keep in mind the possibility of adding clouds if I continue working with these images. It's obvious why trees keep showing up in my work, isn't it?

Friday, January 14, 2011

Work that matches your ambitions

Work is progressing, just not anything interesting to show. Once I got going on my leftovers, I realized I had 6 small pieces in various stages of completion and several different ways in which I plan to deal with edge finish/framing. So I've been doing a sort of assembly line process: cutting multiples of different sizes of Decor Bond for stabilizing, doing as much free motion quilting as I can before switching back to regular stitching, ditto with the black thread that will soon give way to something more colorful. It will be awhile before I have finished products to share. I'm trying out a new kind of needle per the recommendation of Ann Fahl - see her review of them here. Not the first time I've heard of these titanium coated needles, but since I started stitching through Peltex when making padfolios, I've noticed my regular needles gumming up. Even with the Decor Bond, I think I've had problems with skipped stitches due to the fusible. And of course, we all have trouble from time to time with shredding specialty threads. So far so good.

As I work away on these small pieces, thinking I am just repeating myself except for the fabric employed (and sometimes not even that), my memory has been jogged and I find myself adding variations I hadn't planned. Or seeing something new to do strictly by chance. I'm reminded of so many mentors who essentially insist, "just do the work" in order to raise your art from the mundane and ordinary and even derivative to something special. You don't get there by sitting around and thinking about it. These six little pieces, so very similar in design and not "great" art, are giving me first hand reinforcement of this idea of how important it is to keep making art, no matter the quality of what's before you or whether you think you have a good idea.

I was intrigued by a series of short videos by NPR's Ira Glass, recommended to me by my niece. The 4-part series is on storytelling, but as my niece assured me, merely substitute whatever your particular craft is and the message is as pertinent. She particularly thought I'd appreciate the part about the importance of abandoning crap! Oh yes, I thought. We all think our work is so very precious - well, maybe not all of us, but you have to admit there's plenty out there being touted as better than it really is. The clip below also references the importance of doing the work and lots of it:

Here's what really resonated with me in part 3 below: Ira thinks we have good taste, but it takes years of practice for our abilities to start matching our taste level. And that in the meantime, we know darn well, if we are honest with ourselves, when our work isn't good. This, I think, is what I butted up against most of last year. I've come far enough in my creative journey to recognize the weakness in my work when it crops up, and much of what I worked on really was riddled with problems I couldn't manage to correct to my "taste level." I felt like giving up but Ira says don't! Paraphrasing, you have to do a volume of work to close the gap, to create work as good as your ambition. This year may be my year to try to close that gap.

This link should get you to Part 1 of the series, and then it will automatically take you through the rest. Or search Ira Glass on YouTube and look for "on storytelling." I found all 4 parts really helpful. Enjoy!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Update on New Zealand Heart Quilts

My blogger friend, Shirley Goodwin, and her quilting helpers are getting much deserved press over the heart quilt project prompted by the recent New Zealand mine disaster (see this post). Check out this short video starring Shirley, the quilts and her poodles!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

And now it begins

I've been out of town, off to spend some time with old friends, recharge my batteries much in need of recharging, see up close the art of others, assess perhaps, how to give my creative journey a kick-start. It's one thing to look back on a year to see where I've been, as I did here, quite another to see what direction to head in the new year. I've spent the last few days catching up from the trip and thinking about that first step into the studio in 2011. As I ventured a peek into the room, I was encouraged that I didn't feel overwhelmed; the trip had worked some magic. As much of a mess as it is at the moment, I didn't feel the accustomed dread as I looked around. Instead, these leftovers from my miniatures foray beckoned, calling to me even after I'd left the room. Oh yeah!

So on this first free day to indulge myself in the studio, I decided the best course of action to begin the new year is to take up where I left off. I'm still noting the need to push myself to stay at it more than an hour or two, but that's just the out of practice thing (I hope). I'm enjoying these simple designs and working through small variations in finishing them out. I'm thinking of them as a warm up to tackling more challenging work soon.

Monday, January 03, 2011

The Nature of Green

Oh, that was a bit of a play on words there. Because so much of my work is inspired by nature, I naturally end up using green in my art. But I gravitate towards green anyway, teal green being one of my absolute favorites (see my quilt block logo, my blog background color). So I was very interested in this observation about the color green, compliments of Daily OM:

Green is a combination of the colors yellow and blue, each of which brings its own unique energy to the overall feeling of the color green. Blue exudes calm and peace, while yellow radiates liveliness and high levels of energy. As a marriage between these two very different colors, green is a unifier of opposites, offering both the excitement of yellow and the tranquility of blue. It energizes blue's passivity and soothes yellow's intensity, inspiring us to be both active and peaceful at the same time. It is a mainstay of the seasons of spring and summer, thus symbolizing birth and growth.

Perhaps my leaning toward blue greens rather than yellow greens is indicative of my less energetic nature. But it's nice to know that the yellow in green, no matter how small, is there to energize me.

Saturday, January 01, 2011


I admit to being more of a glass half empty than glass half full personality. It must be why I think back on 2010 and mostly see what didn't go as planned, why I only think of the diversions and not what actually got done. I started off with a resolution word of "focus" in the hopes of being "more efficient overall so that I'll have time for more of my interests, and the luxury to focus on handwork." I was optimistic about 2010 and where it would lead me (see this post). Focus was going to get me there, and I did pretty well the first two months. Then I started dealing with one medical issue after another. It wasn't until the year was 3/4 over that I even remembered about resolution words, and thought, wow - I really did lose focus - and I never really got it back, except for a few brief stints as deadlines loomed. As December rolled along, I declared 2010 a hash and demanded a do-over in 2011! Rather than continue with the same resolution word, I've adjusted it slightly. I think my goals are pretty much the same as last year, and I think I can achieve them, if I just refocus. So there it is, my resolution word for 2011.

But wait, was 2010 as worthless in terms of creativity as I'm working so hard to convince myself? Last year I didn't do an accomplishments tally, but this year I decided I needed to. As a friend gently reminded me, a comparison of where I was at the start with where I was at the end might leave me pleasantly surprised. And it has. For someone who remembers nearly every venture into the studio an effort, full of struggles and less than satisfying results, for someone who truly lost her creative vision for awhile, I did actually accomplish some amazing things.

There was the wrapping up of the row robin challenge with my WI/MN friends - completing rows for the last two exchanges (here & here). June and I were continuing our own creative challenge which pushed me to complete 4 new 12 x 16 art quilts (here, here, here & here). Without these monthly deadlines through the first part of the year, I would have been hard-pressed to have any new work for exhibits that came later. Mid-year I turned to the scraps and trimmings from finished project that littered the work table and started working small, finishing 7 fabric postcards before the year was out (here, here, here) . As a progression, I made several other "miniatures" without actually finishing them out as postcards, the light bulb moment coming as I pondered how to frame these little pieces for an exhibit (see here). Then there were the two art quilts born out of my imagination, no help from challenges, although upcoming exhibit themes helped them along (Dance & Willow). Willow, actually, was conceived during the worst of my vision loss and represents a turning point where I started seeing again in the old way. That was pretty scary, committing to an exhibit with no inspiration, no clue what I would make. I'd been finding nothing but fault with most of what I'd done for months, but this piece made me believe in myself again.

For someone who was going to cut down on exhibiting, and did forgo the major local art event of the year, ArtWalk, I couldn't resist the siren call as the year progressed. Most of what I finished ended up in 4 different exhibits. So much for a low profile.

And then there were the padfolios...17 in all! These gave me an outlet for all the photo manipulation play I was doing (and I did spend hours on the computer running photos through filters). I took the leap and bought a pigment ink printer with capacity to print up to 13 inches wide, and printed out my own designs on fabric for many of those padfolios (see samples here). Wow, that is something I'd wanted to do for a long time. I suppose if I'd done nothing else last year, it would have been a success. I also pieced 4 huge intricate stack-n-whack blocks, over 300 half-square triangle units for an antique reproduction top, made the annual block for the nephew (designing and printing it out on the aforementioned printer), 4 blocks for a charity project in the wake of the New Zealand mine disaster, 4 simple bookmarks and a tote bag for gifts. Oh, and machine quilted a small string quilt. Well, I guess that sounds like quite a bit.

What about my 2010 desire to find time for handwork and other interests outside of quilting? I guess I'm discounting the former because I don't have finished work to prove it. But a look at my engagement calendar where I record my sewing activities reminds me of the hours I put in completing the hand quilting on the queen-size Lone Star I've been slaving over for years, the weekend retreat in Minnesota where I added quilting to a Suzanne Marshall applique quilt, the afternoons sitting out on the porch in warmer weather appliqueing squares on the first Azalea Mosaic quilt, even some hand applique on sashing strips from my cousins quilt. I had hoped to finish at least one of these and more likely two, but they all remain UFO's at year's end. Still - I DID make some progress on them and I must give myself credit for that.

As for the other interests? I really did pursue them, although it ended up being at the expense of time in the studio, being so unfocused and visionless and all. But they were wonderful diversions and I can't believe I forgot they were part of my priorities for 2010. In January I fulfilled my desire to practice the drawing skills I'd begun to learn by doing a drawing a day. I coupled this with a sudden fascination with bookmaking - making little accordion booklets to sketch in (see here and here). I took up knitting again, and learned how to make a moebius scarf, knit or crocheted quite a few prayer shawls for friends, family, church. I guess I kept my hands pretty busy after all. And reading....I did lots of reading, titles from my own lists, titles suggested to me, from books lent to me, things I'd never have discovered on my own, stories and topics to tantalize and stretch the mind and simply delight. I am so lucky to have so much time to read.

Lest you think all these activities make me nothing but sedentary, well, you would be somewhat correct, and I did something about that. Some lingering effects of a virus earlier in the year left me with issues that only exercise could remedy. In August, I got off the flat bike trail and did some hiking that left me in awe of this area (even more than I already am), and puffing and panting. In September, I leerily tried yoga, and found it the rest of my answer to recovering my health.

I still find myself fighting the disappointment I feel at things not achieved, unfinished business still unfinished, ruing the time lost to illness & doctor appointments and the accompanying lack of drive. Although much that's been stacked on my worktable found its way into projects, I swear there is more there now than when the year began (fishes and loaves syndrome, I call it). The nephew's Lone Star quilt is still awaiting the finishing touches. Those stack-n-whack blocks did not get set into a top, the half-square triangle units sewn into a scrappy arrangement. No play with purses or totes (save the last minute Christmas gift) or those wonderful "It's a Wrap" fabric baskets took place. Even the reduced number of blog posts tells part of the tale (143 compared to 194 & 221 the previous years). But for Pete's sake, I really need to shut up about 2010 being a year when I got nothing done. The evidence right here on this blog certainly says otherwise. I'll refocus my efforts on what I hoped to accomplish but didn't, but keep reminding myself I had a great artistic year anyway. My friend was right, I am pleasantly surprised. Hand me that half full glass - and Happy New Year!