Friday, June 30, 2017

Feelin' the Love

Margaret's glitzy bag
With the advent of the internet and social media, I have been blessed with opportunities to make friends literally around the world. In the early 2000s, I remember seeing somewhere about yahoo focus groups, many devoted to quilting. I scrolled through them, looking for a fit and stumbled upon The Alternative Quilt Group. I was just dipping my toe into what felt like art quilting, and this group was a big supporter of all things experimental and arty, but most of the active members were NOT from the US where I reside. Would they accept me into the fold? Why yes they would, giving me tons of support and valuable information, and I got to know some of them quite well. As blogging became a thing, many if not most of us started our own blogs, and activity on the yahoo group fell to nothing, which I regret. But I'd made close enough bonds to continue some of the friendships through the blogs. And occasionally that pays off when one of these blogger friends has a giveaway, as Margaret Cooter did earlier this year. She's been busy for some time now going through all the nooks and crannies of her living spaces sorting out what to keep, what to bin and what to give away. She came across 3 bags she'd put together out of scraps and was willing to give away if anyone wanted one. I quickly raised my hand if she didn't mind sending one "across the pond". She didn't mind at all.

Margaret Ball's Embeadery book and the other side of Margaret Cooter's bag

The bag's shape reminds me of the shoe bags I used in high school, our winters requiring snow boots until we arrived at our destination where we would slip into our good shoes. It is a collection of fancy brocades, lame, velvets and sheers, and for all it's variety and glitz, it seemed to want more added, but what? Not long after it arrived, another AQG member whose blog had gone silent suddenly started blogging again. Besides working in textiles, Margaret Ball from Texas is a writer of science fiction and fantasy (some titles here), and also published a book on her "embeadery" beading technique in 2005. I'd always meant to buy that book as I'd done a lot of embroidery in my younger days, was learning beading through Mary Stori and was intrigued by the thought of marrying the two. Now I was reminded of it again and thinking some embeadery was just what the fancy bag needed. Of course, by now the book is out of print, but in some back and forth with newly emerged Margaret, she generously offered to send me a "bruised" copy gathering dust on her shelf. I'm looking forward to using the bag as a no stress means to try out the embeadery stitches just for fun and end up with a sampler that may be functional as well.

Far afield family has been good to be lately too. My cousin in Western Washington does a lot of traveling and often sends me a little something she's picked up along the way. Not sure if this is from her Hawaii or Virginia trip, but a bit of batik is always welcomed in my stash and she knows it! And my New York niece included the Taproot magazine with her thank you note for a little something I sent for her birthday, mostly because of the eco-dyeing article because "it so seemed you." I don't think she knows of my less than stellar attempt at eco-dyeing but the article is making me want to try it again. And there's lots more of interest in it too, so glad she introduced me to this magazine.

So a big thanks for the thoughtfulness of far-flung friends and family who don't wait for special occasions to show me some love. Whenever I get a little down, I just have to remember these bits of kindness sent my way.  

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Art Group ArtWalking

From my perch on the 3rd tier - check-in station for artists at Columbia Bank
Early on, my art group realized our June meeting would be problematic from the standpoint of many members not having work to share or ask questions about. Most of us participate in the annual ArtWalk and would have just completed the big push to finish art which would now be hanging around town.

I can also see Meg's Moon in the corner on the main floor. She didn't get much traffic.

And because these ArtWalk participating members spend opening night tied to their location, they would not have had the opportunity yet to do the rounds of the many ArtWalk venues. So one enterprising member suggested we use our June meeting to go on a field trip so to speak, and do the ArtWalk together, including viewing our group's representation around town. Great idea and we've been doing that every year since.

Former art group member Cheryl and current member Robin

I didn't take many photos of other artists' work this year, either on the night of the reception or the following Tuesday with the art group. I'd noticed along the adjacent wall from where my work hung another fiber artist and went over to see who it was. It was Cheryl who used to participate in our group but now mostly concentrates on the art scene in the next town over which is closer to where she lives. She's found a gallery that loves her work and sells quite a bit of it for her. Lucky Cheryl!

This is what she had on display, a real variety of styles and techniques. The fiber portrait is of her parents who had mixed emotions about it. I look too wrinkly, said mom. I look like I have measles, said dad. Oh well, who DOES like pictures of themselves? But we all agreed Cheryl did a good job with a difficult kind of quilt art.

Photos on canvas by Christina Taylor

Just down from Cheryl's art were two large canvases that one couldn't help but notice. The poppies looked untouched but the barn had interesting photo manipulation. I liked both.

I'll let the artist, Christina Taylor, explain herself. Click on the photo for a readable size.

Vickie Edward's art quilts at ArtWorks Gallery

On field trip day, we started at the bank, viewing all floors. Meg and I were the only ones from our group exhibiting there, so we moved on to the locations of the other members. Vickie was at two locations, including Art Works Gallery where her work hangs year round. I was very impressed with her grouping there. Some of these we had seen in progress while others we hadn't seen at all. There was a counter between me and her art, otherwise I would have taken more individual and closer shots.

Off Centered by Vickie Edwards

I used my telephoto feature to zoom in on this piece. The simple geometric design and colors really appeal to me. I also took note of the quilting done in a way my regimented mind might not think of. I stay within and without shapes; Vickie quilted as if they weren't there.

Member Terrie had many quilts hanging in the hallways of the Music Conservatory - their first year participating in ArtWalk. Because Terrie teaches and designs patterns, she works in a wide range of styles from traditional to contemporary to art, and this space gave her room to show off her many sides. I can't believe I failed to get a single photo though, even though I spent much time studying one of her oval shaped art quilts, "Spring Bouquet", trying to suss out just how she did it.

We hit quite a few other locations - no photos forthcoming - noting how some styles fit perfectly with their location more so than others, and running across a few artists working in usual techniques, like the oil painter adding three-dimensional elements. But what we didn't see were red dots. Little art selling this year during the opening receptions.

Near the end of our ArtWalking tour, I made a small purchase at one of the ArtWalk venue businesses. I noticed the clerk slipping a small piece of paper into my bag. Once outside, I looked to see what it was. Why, it was a quotation, and a perfect one to end this day of viewing art, and also reminded me of my mother who had this gift:

Vision is the art of seeing the invisible.
Jonathan Swift  

I've always felt one has to have a vision in order to be successful at most things, and the best artists have the knack of seeing the invisible and making it more visible to the rest of us. Thank goodness for artists and their vision!

Friday, June 23, 2017

Invaluable Feedback

ArtWalk 2017 - Columbia Bank Venue - not the order I had in mind but it works
It has taken me all week to decompress from and process my interactions with everyone who came out for the ArtWalk opening reception - really quite well attended and fun (but also draining) for me. It's always scary when you go in a new direction with your art, at least it is for me. No matter how excited one may be about it, the unfamiliar makes one question, "Is it any good? Am I on the right track? And will people like what I'm doing, want me to continue in this vein or return to my tried and true that they are used to and love?"

Some of the viewing public - as you can see, a casual affair.

These were my thoughts going into ArtWalk with the new series. It turned out my worries were unwarranted. These Leaf Cluster variations were enthusiastically embraced, and nearly everyone who passed by wanted to ask me questions and/or tell me which was their favorite and why (which is often not the case at these receptions). Much of what was noted confirmed what I already knew or felt, some were good ideas I had not considered, and in one case I received a fairly thorough critique that finally gave me some concrete reasons why I was so unhappy with one of them. I got excited again about the series, ready to continue as many said they hoped I would, armed with feedback that should help the next pieces be stronger. Here's how the feedback broke down.

I was a little surprised by how many noted the framing, though I've known for a long time how framing up smaller textile pieces can give them more presence in an exhibition. It leaves no doubt that they are art, and as the critiquing fellow artist pointed out, "It makes them look more like art than (very long pause) craft." I think she hesitated so long wondering if using that term "craft" would offend me. But I totally agree. I think having them all the same size framed identically also contributed to their impact.

That it was a series
Again, I was surprised at how many people remarked that they liked that I did more than one using the leaf cluster motif. Several also shared that they could easily see two or three of them hanging together. One twenty-something woman voiced that because they had such a modern look, they would look good hung vertically, one over the other - something I hadn't considered, but found exciting to consider. And best of all, one of our "elder statesman" icons of the Sandpoint arts community came up to me with a big smile, grabbed my hands and said, "I am SO GLAD you are working in a series!" Well, yes then, I guess I must continue on with it!

Leaf Cluster III - a crowd favorite due to all that quilting

Fabric and quilting choices matter
I was not surprised that Leaf Cluster III drew so much attention and was often stated as a favorite. I had an excellent location on the third floor tier with lots of natural light from the ceiling which is like one giant skylight. It accentuated the quilting on all of the pieces, but especially on this one. Everyone wanted to know how I did it, what kind of machine I used, and then after my explanations, was I crazy. Why yes, just a bit! I think I could use that garnet stitch exclusively and no one would tire of seeing it. Leaf Cluster II (below) was a close second, that wonderful batik drawing people in just as it had on Leaf Cluster I. Many couldn't decide between the two and I feel the same way. It was obvious from the many comments that people were being drawn almost as much if not more by my fabric and quilting choices than by the leaf motif, and that in the case of the two favorites, those choices went with and enhanced the image of leaves.

Leaf Cluster II - that batik made it a favorite

Imperfections are assets
As you probably remember, it took me some time to get comfortable with the way my leaf clusters had printed up. Initially all I could see was failed prints because the paint had not transferred evenly. My blog readers, my art group and some distance from those first looks at them finally brought me around as people pointed out how much they liked the unevenness in the printing, especially where it allowed the fabric to show through as in Leaf Cluster II above. And more than one non-artist looking at Leaf Cluster II remarked how much they liked the varying lines and texture in the paint across some of the leaves, and even those little carving marks outside of the leaves that I tried so hard to keep from happening because, and I quote "they add interest." Ok, ok, I've got it!

Leaf Cluster V - the camera caught more of the sparkly beads. Click to see.

Not everyone likes the same thing
Poor Leaf Cluster V. Even in this excellent light, it remained a very dark piece, but at least the beads were picking up the light. Very few people commented on it, except maybe to ask about the beading. And then one man steps in front of it and loudly announces that it is his favorite, that he likes the colors, the beads, he just likes everything about it, and seemed ready to argue its merits with anyone who disagrees (and a few standing nearby weakly said they liked different ones but he stood firm - hysterical!). So the lesson here is that variety is good, because not everyone's taste is the same. I did ask two women who had described what they thought was going on with the other leaves (those are floating in front of tree bark, that one is coming down a wall) what was going on with this one. The first women furrowed her brow and said she didn't know. The second one described my vision perfectly - a leaf that has landed on the water. We all see differently too.

Look! You can see the stitches! Wait - don't look at those stitches!

The value of a good critique
Leaf Cluster IV looked so much better hanging in this spot of natural light plus some additional light from the nearby sconce - the quilting actually showed up, and yikes! I also noticed that you could now see the thread too, which means my uneven stitches could easily be seen (I really did have some places where the stitch length got long in comparison to the rest of the line). It got more comments than Leaf Cluster V but I think only because it was easier to see. I still felt uncomfortable about it, felt it was the weakest of the four but thinking it was mostly because of the quilting. I had nearly 3 hours of reception to stare analytically at the group and consider the comments I was getting, and I still wasn't 100% sure why some were working better than the others. As the crowds thinned, another artist wandered over, another local icon who, with her partner, received POAC's 2017 Artist of the Year Award. She looked at my pieces for a bit and then began a critique that told me why some worked better than others and declared Leaf Cluster IV the weakest of the lot. She kept glancing over to see how I was taking what she was saying, but I assured her that her comments were very helpful and that I totally agreed that IV was the weakest but didn't understand why. Well, in her opinion it was the one leaf, the way it was turned, how the paint on the stem faded to nothing at the end and did not "attach" in any way to the outside edge. To her it looked lost and like it didn't know where it belonged. None of the other pieces had that problem to her eye.

Leaf Cluster IV in a different and better orientation

I decided to ask her if it would improve it if it were turned a different direction. Maybe, she said as she cocked her head to one side. Well, let's turn it then, which put it back in the original orientation I'd had in mind when I printed it, but changed when considering how the four pieces would look together. She sounded quite surprised at the change that turn made, said "yes it's better and here's why. Look at how that circle of quilting now seems to hold the leaf up. It knows where it is now." It's still the weakest of the lot, but better in the turning, which led us to talking about often you do have to turn your work this way and that, depending on where it hangs and what it hangs with. As for Leaf Cluster V, she sounded sorry for it because it needed better lighting, was not getting its due down there, didn't really go with the other pieces, all things I agree with. I so appreciated her taking the time and being so candid with me, pointing to specific things that I will know to avoid in the future, giving me tips about design that if I pay heed, will help me create stronger pieces as the series continues. Because, after all, that's kind of the point of working in a series.   

Thursday, June 15, 2017

ArtWalk Opening Receptions


42 Locations in downtown Sandpoint!

Over 125 Artists!

Receptions start Friday, June 16 at 5:30 p.m.

Pickup a brochure at participating locations and at the POAC Gallery, 302 N. First Avenue

After party at Evans Brothers Coffee starts at 8 p.m.

Pickup an ArtWork passport at any participating downtown venue, get it stamped at 10 locations before September 7 then bring it to the POAC Gallery to win prizes including tickets to the 2017 Performing Arts Series!

Click here for more info:

I'll be at Columbia Bank, 414 Church Street, on the third floor. Hope to see you there! But if you can't make the receptions, ArtWalk runs through September 7th.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Deadline Met!

Leaf Cluster variations in the order I hope they get hung
I just finished transferring my several pots of flowering plants into their planters on the deck because . . . drum roll please . . . I delivered my four pieces of art to my ArtWalk venue for hanging yesterday and am free to putter without guilt. Based on info on the application form, I was thinking I'd have Monday to fiddle with pictures and paperwork and anything little thing that might still need doing, but midweek I got the e-mail from my "handler" that it would be Monday, not Tuesday, that work must be dropped off. I know, just one day's difference, but I'd already proven that at each step of the way, each week I'd left my intended work to the last minute. Ok, time to move the game plan up a day and indeed, it was late Sunday before I could put my feet up because all was ready to go.

Here's how I got there. When last I wrote I was all excited about adding beads to the last quilt, but a little concerned about the extra time it would take. And it did take longer than I'd hoped, even though it looks like so little. But I found myself truly enjoying the process, scattering the red beads this way and that in a manner I realized was a lot like the chicken scratch quilting stitch that has become so popular. I have to give a shout-out to my teacher and now friend, Mary Stori, who taught me everything I know about adding beads to quilts and who I think is still the best source of information on that subject. Any of you who have tried taking photos of shiny things will understand how hard it is to get the camera to focus and to catch those glints of sparkle, but I hope you get the idea and trust me that in person it glints nicely. Couple that with the camera getting confused about the true color of the fabric (it says blue, the fabric says greenish blue) and the red that sits on it (either too dull and dark or too bright) and well, this is as close as I could get.

Once the beads were on, it was time to measure, mark, cut and sew up the corners on the last 3 quilts so that they could fit over the stretched canvas with the excess pulled around to the back and stapled into place. (See this post for a bit of a tutorial of the method.) I'd already done that with Leaf Cluster II quite awhile ago so once I treated them with a UV protectant spray, all four pieces were ready to mount in the floater frames and hanging wires attached. Just that part took over 2 hours and I couldn't help thinking it was taking longer to get some of these pieces framed up than it took to make them! But when I flip them over and see the results, it is totally worth it. I ink label info on the back of the quilts before putting them over the canvas, then ink it again on the back of the canvas. A business card also gets taped to the back of each, meeting the exhibit requirements for labeling.

Now to take pictures and yes, the fight with the camera, lighting, accurate colors continued. The quality of the pics didn't have to be perfect for the paperwork (just an insurance requirement), but these are going to be gone til September (maybe one or two forever if they sell) so I tried to get some fairly decent shots before they were gone. Most have been tweaked to get the colors closer to right, but seriously, I can't figure out why each of these presented problems. Anyway, pictures taken, I printed out the contract and inventory sheet and a group photo, filled everything out and was done. I feel a bit like I have my life back!

Leaf Cluster II ©2017 Sheila Mahanke Barnes

Leaf Cluster II detail

This is the one I finished to submit with my application, cropping and adding a frame in Paintshop Pro. Does Leaf Cluster II not look like you remember? Could be that while I was working on the others, and its now wrapped onto canvas self leaned against the wall where I could see it, I kept turning it this way and that, wondering if a different orientation would look better. When I studied all four versions together to decide how to orient the last two, I decided this one needed flipping. Any of these, I think, would work in any orientation which is only slightly weird.

Leaf Cluster III ©2017 Sheila Mahanke Barnes

Leaf Cluster III detail

My not lazy art by virtue of that pebble quilting. I wanted Leaf Cluster III to look like a leaf resting on the ground, perhaps on a gravel trail or a cement sidewalk.

Leaf Cluster IV ©2017 Sheila Mahanke Barnes

Leaf Cluster IV detail

Still finding Leaf Cluster IV a disappointment. The quilting hardly shows, not even a shadow of it, and belatedly I'm remembering a different way I'd thought I might quilt it. I really want to redo it in a slightly darker thread and a different style because I do like how the leaves printed and how they are arranged. Ask me again after seeing it on display for 3 months; I may have a totally different take on it by the time it returns and decide it is just fine. By then I may have used that quilting idea on another variation. Lord knows, I still have unquilted squares and even unprinted squares to work on.

Leaf Cluster V ©2017 Sheila Mahanke Barnes

Leaf Cluster V detail

Alas, next to the others, even the addition of bright beads failed to lighten Leaf Cluster V as much as I would like. It's very much a night scene, really is still quite dark even in person. Think leaf floating on water in the moonlight. Again, I am anxious to see how it looks in the gallery. It may be just fine out of my studio. If nothing else, the beads and the sliver thread really do catch the light.

As always, you may click on any photo for a larger version if you would like to inspect details. Opening receptions are not until a week from Friday (June 16th). More on that as the date nears. 

Thursday, June 01, 2017


Another month begins, another spread in my pocket calendar colored in. I went over those swirls about 4 times with different colors of pencil before ending up with something that looked like it went with the rest of the design. These are the same swirls that showed up in the first spread, and they definitely wanted to be green in that one. I didn't want to use green here but just brown didn't look right either. I finally managed to get an orange tint to them that was different from the other brown combinations.

I bought some plants for my deck "garden" two weeks ago and they are still waiting for me to put them in their pots. I'm have a hard time getting motivated to gather what I need and dig around in those pots to make room for the larger than usual flowers - I rarely get the ones so far along that they come in gallon pots like these. In the back of my mind is the frustration of last year when the deer came and ate all the blooms off my carefully nurtured geraniums and some kind of yellow flower that had taken forever to get to that point. This time I bought blue bachelor buttons and pretty pink columbine (quite a different color combination from my calendar spread), hoping the deer won't be as tempted by them but knowing I should figure out some kind of barrier just in case. Even though it is June, I'm just not ready to deal with it. But the warming weather says I must.