Saturday, February 28, 2015

Three Things To Stop Doing and One To Do

While you're waiting for me to make some showable progress, do take the time to watch this short video from a gal who has quickly become a favorite of mine - how Angela Walters has such sage advice at this young age and in such a warm inviting way is beyond me! I particularly like her story about her quilting grandfather which reminded me a bit of my good friend LeAnn and her father back in Wisconsin. Enjoy! 

One of the reasons I don't have anything new to show is because I've spent the last few days pulling together what I needed to enter a couple of quilts in this year's Sacred Threads show. That included setting up properly to retake photos that were initially shot quickly in not the best lighting resulting in less than true colors.

I've wanted to have a quilt in this exhibit since its inception, but never quite coordinated a suitable quilt with the call for entries timeline. But with the making of Bubble Prayers - Release and Life's End, I've been waiting patiently for the next call, feeling strongly that I wanted to share these quilts in this venue.

I haven't felt the need to enter any kind of exhibit, juried or not, requiring hefty entry fees, really good photographs and shipping to faraway places since moving to Sandpoint, where I've found ample exhibiting opportunities through my local arts council. But this is different, this is a very special exhibit, and these are special quilts about a very special person. Crossing fingers one or both will make the cut.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Best Laid Plans

Still auditioning fabrics
Just when I think I have it figured out, I go second guessing my decisions. With all my interfacing pieces cut and ready for fabric to be fused, I began to waffle over which of those two dark fabrics should go in the middle, which on top. The batik was always the one fabric I was so sure of and now I wondered if it should be on top. I finally stopped myself, just go with what you originally felt strongly about. It never occurred to me that I didn't have enough fabric to cover that spot! Well - that made things a bit easier. As I studied the other Stonehenge fabric, I noticed that in some places the mottling definitely moves at an angle, much like the quilting I plan to do over it, so fate must be on my side here. I chose a spot where that showed up the most.

I'd wanted to make all the rest of the fabric choices now so I could do all the fusing at once, then do all the quilting at once, then do all the satin stitching at once. But I was still struggling to find the right piece to go in the lower right and bottom sections. I did end up purchasing more fabric but it occurred to me that I'd know better which was right once the quilting was on that center section. I could feel myself resisting working "out of order" but because of my out of the ordinary construction method, I can actually do this quite easily. I started marking the quilting lines, trying out a new product as my usual marking tools weren't showing. This chalk pencil by Roxanne seems to work well. I don't know what the binder is, but it does not brush off like other chalk-marking products I've used. I was a little concerned that the lines might disappear as I maneuvered the piece through the machine so perhaps this is good. Just so I can remove any visible marks after stitching, which I should be able to since it says it's water soluble. Yes, I should have tested first but I have a certain trust in Roxanne products. Fingers crossed that this does not become an issue somewhere down the line. By the way, these come in a 4 pack - 2 white, 2 grey. Does anyone have experience with these?

As I studied my sample as I worked, I suddenly remembered that this stitching I was marking would be emulating water flowing down over the stonework and I needed to satin stitch the grout lines first. After trying several settings, I settled on a 6 width and .8 length - it looks great!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Fun at the Art Group

Still seeking feedback on Adrift
My art group met earlier this week, minus Donna unfortunately (check out her Facebook page to see what she's been up to creatively). The day job has Mondays tied up for a bit so we were tasked with taking lots of pictures for her. I hauled out Adrift again along with some tree limb patterns from previous quilts I'd dug out of storage. Nothing is exactly right, and it's about time I bite the bullet and start sketching something specific for that space in the upper left. I did get one good observational suggestion from Meg's daughter (quite an artist in her own right and joining us because of the school holiday) about where to start the branch (lower along the side than I'd been thinking). The consensus though was I'll know better what to put in that corner once I work up the grasses and reeds along the lower right edge.

My 2007 Journal Quilts

Meg had mentioned an interest in pairing inspirational quotations with some of her art quilts which reminded me of the year's worth of journal quilts I did using quotations from a calendar as a prompt. This was back in 2007 and each month also was a challenge to try a new technique. I'd forgotten that I'd done so much thread sketching and thread painting that year, and had to think hard on some of them as to how I'd proceeded. Because of my penchant for record keeping, each quilt has info about technique and process printed on the backing like a huge label. So I could read off the quotation from the back as the girls viewed the front and scan for answers to their questions rather than try to dredge it up from my faulty memory.

Meg's latest birds and some feathers

Meg continues to work on her "quirkies" - essentially stand alone appliques that go directly on the wall rather than on a background fabric. Currently she is playing with feathers for a commission and continuing to develop bird images, having figured out a single body shape that can become different poses depending on where the wings, tail, beak and eyes are placed. Some of these may end up in the branches of a large quirkie tree she's working on. See this blog post for a peak at her process.

Most of the birds have wire legs/feet. I'm particularly partial to this one with beads strung on the wire legs.

Robin wowed us with her collections of metal tins, canisters, and other odds and ends found at garage sales and building supply resale stores. 

She was looking for ideas of how to arrange them somewhat collage style within that copper square. So many of the same principles one applies to fiberart, we decided, to be applied here, even though we don't have the slightest notion of the mechanics of doing it! But Robin has a good eye and loves working with unconventional materials in a trial and error way.

She's got a great eye for working with fabric as well. We'd seen this small wall quilt at the last meeting and answered some of her questions about the netting she wanted to put over the top to trap some tiny snippets here and there. 

Now it is all stitched and a really stunning little art quilt.

So proud and grateful to have these ladies as friends and artist support.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Creating a Road Map

I've decided to set Adrift aside for the moment (more mulling and perhaps a burst of inspiration needed to "cowabunga" into the next stage) and get back to the fountain wall. After all, I've worked out most of the technical issues on the sample and have the full-size pattern drawn out. The big pattern plus all the fabric laid out in the auditioning process are taking up a full 3/4 of my work space. Time to start cutting and fusing.

But I can't just start cutting the interfacing following lines on my pattern. Some of those pieces overlap others. And some of the lines are actually stitching lines. Time to start measuring and making notes. Right away, I realized it would be helpful to color each unit to more easily see where the divisions are. On a whim, I'd bought a set of crayons and never used them; now they seemed the perfect thing to quickly shade in the sections. Next I numbered each section, noted whether or not I had to add overlap to the measurements, then measured away. Horizontal and vertical measurements are written in each section plus transferred to the number list on the left for quicker reference.

Then I drew the outline of each section with pencil onto the Stiff Stuff interfacing that will be the bones of this quilt. Overly cautious, you ask? I thought so, but if nothing else, I wanted to be able to change the layout should I find my first go didn't fit the amount of interfacing I'd bought. What actually happened was I'd made mistakes in transferring measurements to the list, and in one measurement itself. Yes, after drawing all the sections, I went back and double checked all measurements finding one huge one (2 inches short) and several small ones. After re-drawing some lines and triple checking, I'm fairly confident all is correct and I can proceed to cutting. I am SO glad I created a road map to work from.

The next step will be fusing fabric to these pieces of interfacing. I had planned to use Misty Fuse, even though I am not a big fan, and don't find it easy to use. But I have quite a bit of it and the wide widths may come in handy. It worked fine on the sample but now I am worried about the large sections which will have no stitching on them. One of the things I had problems with on other projects was the Misty Fuse lifting in spots, regardless of how well I'd ironed it down. Now I'm wondering if it might pop loose from unstitched areas as big as 21 x 9. If you're a big user of Misty Fuse, I'd appreciate your input on this.

Since the fountain wall idea is part of what got me thinking about doing a water series, I thought it appropriate to use this post to send you over to Annabel Rainbow's blog post about working in a series. She says pretty much everything I would say about it, and perhaps better. I particularly liked her mentioning that working in a series is not doing the same thing over and over, and it certainly is not boring. Go check it out:

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Degrees of Wonderfulness

Under consideration for rendering grass & reeds
I stopped by an artist friend's house the other day, Adrift in tow. I'd offered to let her try out some fabric markers I had on hand and she'd offered to let me raid her stash of decorative threads and yarns. She'd seen my last blog post on Adrift so knew where I was at in the questioning department. But nothing takes the place of seeing something in person, especially when in need of an opinion and perhaps an idea or two. I had questions about my perspective reference elements beyond "do you have better yarns than I do to represent grass" and could best talk about them with the quilt in front of us. I left still not sure exactly how I will treat these areas, but as I had hoped, my mind got a little unstuck and I got some good feedback. As my friend said, sometimes it just helps to talk these things through out loud, regardless of whether you come to specific conclusions.

In the course of this discussion about my quilt, we talked a bit about difference in designing styles. In this case, the design inspiration started with that shibori fabric; it's often a piece of fabric that sparks ideas for me. I remembered those unused leaves in a bin and thought aha! Perfect for making this idea of the water shibori complete. But of course, it was not complete and I didn't know what to add. Much later, I came across the hand-dye and thought aha! Add that to the top and the design is complete. But once I started quilting, I realized it was not complete, it needed more. And that is where I'm at right now. I realize that if I finished it up with no more additions or fiddling, many people would say how wonderful and beautiful it is. But I would know it needs more.

And so in this talking it through, I discovered a bit more about myself and my way of designing and looking at other quilts. I realized that I very often go through three stages:
  1. Most people think it's wonderful just the way it is. Perhaps it IS wonderful on some level, but I know it is not truly wonderful.
  2. I think and think and mull and study and suddenly, aha! I'm onto something and I start moving forward on the work. Again, I find many people would find it wonderful at this stage too, but I'm still bugged by something. I know it is not as wonderful as it could be.
  3. I finally have that breakthrough moment, where the "I'm on to something" becomes "I know what that something is" and I can/do make it happen. Now the quilt is truly wonderful, something special, and I am happy.
Believe me, every quilt I finish does not achieve the third stage status, try as I might. Some concepts start out well but are beyond what I can figure out, or I'm under time constraints that don't allow me to continue pursuing the "onto something" until I fully realize it. That's part of the learning curve, like it or not (and often I do not!).  Adrift is at that I'm on to something stage and I'm having a difficult time grabbing on to what that something is! But I sense I am close.

As if to confirm this insight and make me feel better about my plight, the very next day I ran across a similar thought voiced by painter Nicholas Raynold in an interview with The Artist's Magazine. Among the fundamental principles that he feels will help students when they run into trouble while developing their pictures, he includes letting the painting evolve.
"The construction of a painting evolves, in the same way our understanding of seeing deepens as we become more familiar with a subject; the picture advances from crude to refined, from dull to brilliant, from simple to complex."

A part of that evolution I would say is another of his principles: thinking through problems.

"If you feel that something isn't right, don't just hack away at it. Stand back, think it through and try to resolve whatever it is."

Also pertinent to my discussion with my friend, where I admitted that I felt the need to look at pictures of grasses to be reminded how they bend and entwine, the principle of trusting eyes over memory.

"Don't trust that you'll remember the intricacies of a line or brushstroke."

And you should not be surprised that I like that he stresses the benefits of slowing down in the last section titled "Slow is Good", favoring accuracy over speed and the importance of solid observational skills. 

"Always be attentive to what you're doing..."

Some of the advice in this article (May 2014 issue) is geared to students participating in a workshop situation as is this next quotation. Still, I think it a good one to take home to the studio.

"Everyone is at a different place in his or her painting career. Each has a different set of problems to resolve. Workshops last a limited time, so if you grasp just one sliver of illumination that moves the struggle forward - then you've achieved success."

Thursday, February 05, 2015


View of quilting taken from an angle
I finished the quilting on the shibori piece, mostly pleased but not at all sure I sent my lines the right direction in that section on the left butting up against the red in the upper center. The fabric will not respond kindly to picking out and restitching so I am stuck with it. However, I've been considering adding some branches along the top as a perspective reference and most recently have thought to put them on the left. That's what that little sprig of threadwork over tulle is all about. Certainly not the right size, but it's got me thinking about stitching up a larger spray to emulate perhaps a cedar branch. It would be fortuitous if its placement helped distract from a distracting piece of quilting.

Struggling for a decent leaf arrangement

I've been calling this "the shibori piece" for so long that I nearly forgot my original inspiration and name. After fully quilted, I meant to add these 3-dimensional leaves as if floating on the water, which spawned the name "Adrift". Guess I've gotten a little adrift myself over the months since starting it. I just pinned these on to get them on the quilt so I could further consider additional references. You can see a bit of yarn in the lower right corner - I'm wondering if I can use them to make grass or reeds in the foreground. I like the balance I think I would get from those two reference elements being in opposite corners with the water obviously flowing from the other direction between them. But I'm not at all happy with the current placement of the leaves. Suggestions welcome.

Painting swaths of analogous colors with the help of scalloped cardstock

So what has this to do with "Analogous"? With this quilting done, I've returned to the art journaling. My next lesson in Creating Art At the Speed of Life is one on analogous colors; pick a favorite color and the colors on either side on the color wheel and watercolor paint those across the page. I was tempted to work with my often default teal (blue-green) but I've been using that combination a lot lately in the journaling. Let's pick something else I'm drawn to and work with all the time. Oh yeah - orange in all its autumn rusty golden glory. Like that "guava" dye run and the one-off piece with the same dye colors from my last dye session. And like the fabrics in "Adrift" that I'd just been working with. Funny how I've never consciously thought in terms of their position on the color wheel when choosing to work with this grouping of yellow-orange/orange/red-orange. I just knew they felt so right together, very natural.

There's more to add to this page, of course, but while it was drying, I switched to the other journal, searching through my newly started stash of art journaling materials for pictures to arrange on that purplish spread before adding my responses to the prompt. I'd forgotten I'd pulled the scene below from a magazine and stashed it there, but it confirmed my draw to this analogous grouping and how well it works. Analogous on the brain and not even aware of it!

I'm remembering now one of the reasons I decided to buy Pam's book and work through it. You see it in the picture above - a little self-critique form. "Rah Rah" and "Everything you do is wonderful" support only gets you so far. At some point, if you want to improve, you have to be honest and put a critical eye to what you have done. Pam doesn't want you to just play and explore and create a beautiful little art journal. No, she wants you to play and explore and then assess what you have done - the good, the bad and the ugly. And also think about how you could apply what you have just done to your regular work, something I'm often unclear about, although the doing might have been fun. And I so appreciate that. Yes, I'm often hard on myself, and in time can admit something might not be as bad as I initially thought. But dang it, don't whitewash it to spare my delicate feelings. (Yes, that was a bit of a rant.)

I'm slightly disappointed that there is not more specific instruction in how to use some of the supplies, like the watercolor paints. Total novice here and was unsure what was meant in the mixing directions. I've since done the inevitable google search and see where I went wrong. I guess for art journalers, they already know these basics, like I know how to use a sewing machine? And now that I've tried this analogous exercise, I can see I need a lot more experiment and play with them (practice), and perhaps some better quality paints. On the other hand, I'm just doing exercises in a workbook, not thinking of become a watercolor artist. Gotta keep this in perspective!