Tuesday, March 26, 2019

A Taxi and Some Thoughts

Working with watercolors in a 5 x 8 Pentalic Aqua Journal
There are still some piles of snow yet to melt, but it did warm up enough towards the end of last week to entice me into some urban sketching. I noted this Yellow Cab tucked in the back of a tire shop along my walking route last fall. It definitely has seen better days, but I was surprised that those days were in Idaho. I've never seen a Yellow Cab on the streets around here, although it is true that is an Idaho area code painted on its side. So I definitely wanted to capture it in a sketchbook and hoped it wouldn't disappear while I recovered from my nerve issues and winter weather precluded outdoor sketching. I spent one session outlining the shapes with a Pigma Micron Pen (which didn't work well on the watercolor paper) and went back the next day to add some color. I'm very much a novice with watercolor so every time I get out the little travel set, it is an adventure and a learning experience. And really kind of fun!

I've been reading through Sue Bleiweiss's The Sketchbook Challenge, a collection of various textile and multi-media artists' approaches to working with sketchbooks, highlighting some of their favorite techniques. This is especially of interest to me since I started my water series sketchbook, comparing how I am using mine to their's, nodding when my experience is similar to someone else's, and picking up a tip or idea here and there. Sue herself is included, and I appreciated the comment she made at the end of her sharing of her process:

"Serendipity is great and will always have a place in my studio, but you can't rely on it to get you where you want to go."

Gosh, this struck me as such a bold statement to make when so many art quilters really do say everything is serendipity with their creating. I've never bought it 100%, and think a lot of very poor art is being made "serendipitously". I don't discount its value, but like Sue, I don't feel it can be relied on totally.

Austin Kleon threw a few gems at me this week worth sharing. You might file these under the heading "Points of View", adding to my recent post of the same name. This first one is a Saul Steinberg quote from Steal Like An Artist and resurrected in this post which is worth reading too.

"What we respond to in any work of art is the artist’s struggle against his or her own limitations.”

Since I KNOW I have limitations and do struggle with them, it's nice to know I'm not the only one and that it is ok for that struggle to be a part of a finished work.

On the occasion of singer Scott Walker's death, Austin shares, among other things, an Albert Camus quotation, the part below in bold which showed up on the back of one of Walker's album covers. (Lots of links and a video in his post It's Raining Today.)

"A time always comes in an artist’s life when he must take his bearings, draw closer to his own center, and then try to stay there…. A man’s work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened. This is why, perhaps, after working and producing for twenty years, I still live with the idea that my work has not even begun."

I hardly know what to say to that but I can't stop re-reading it and thinking about it. And feeling it prodding me back to my art.


March 29, 2019

Rather than put this in a separate post, I'm amending this one to include a quotation from John Berger's Ways of Seeing that was included in a thoughtful excerpt from the book What If This Were Enough? by Heather Havrilesky. Copyright 2018  as posted on Longreads.com (The Miracle of the Mundane). While the excerpt only peripherally references art, its thoughts about our current consumer-driven world and what that does to how we end up viewing ourselves is pretty interesting and possible worth your time to peruse. On to Berger, who I add here because his thoughts somehow complement and expand upon those of Saul Steinberg quoted above:

"It is necessary to make an imaginative effort which runs contrary to the whole contemporary trend of the art world: it is necessary to see works of art freed from all the mystique which is attached to them as property objects. It then becomes possible to see them as testimony to the process of their own making instead of as products; to see them in terms of action instead of finished achievement. The question: what went into the making of this? supersedes the collector’s question of: what is this?" 

I rather like that part that encourages us to see art as action rather than finished achievement. It goes so well with my own experience of often being more interested in process than the finished product. The journey is a major reason I create, and perhaps that is why when looking at a finished work, we somehow can't resist wondering about the how, imagining indeed just what went into the making of it.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Odds and Ends Snowdyeing

Looking back at my blog posts, I see that I did indeed do a session of snowdyeing last year, and somewhat similar to what I ended up doing on Monday - a bit of overdyeing of previous snowdyes that could be improved and a bit of folding and manipulating of undyed pfd fabric. You've already seen my snow-stacked and dye sprinkled setup in the previous post. Here it is 24 hours later, still with snow left to melt. But I can see around the edges that things looks promising. I always fear I'll get nothing but ugly results as I look at how the dye powder appears dissolving into the snow. But this time I used only two dye colors - the bright green which was so fabulous on the parfait piece, and the ultraviolet for contrast. I think I also sprinkled a little blue around the edges to use it up, or maybe some lavender. Not sure - I was winging it. It was so warm in the afternoon that I left the garage door open when I got home from my afternoon yoga class in the hopes that the sun and air would heat things up and get that snow melted!

I always have fabric in the bottom of the tub to use up perfectly good dye in the melted snow water. This time, inspired by Wisconsin friend Michele's experiments with dyeing wool yarn, I also tossed in some cotton yarn down there. You can just spy it through the plastic grating.

Finally, the snow all melted away and I was able to start rinsing and unfolding this batch and boy, did some of them surprise me! There was only one that I feel iffy about and even it has potential. (I have to warn you that my camera struggles with some colors so I've had to tweak these photos, sometimes with better results than at other times.) I'll show before and after photos together starting with some I rolled and scrunched. That method has you roll fabric around a cord of some kind and then push the fabric along the cord in a gathering motion before tying the cord to hold it in place. I remembered that I'd purchased some reusable zip ties from Dharma and decided this might be a good time to test them out.

First I tried them with the yellow fat quarter from the parfait dyeing session (seen under the zip tie package). This one I rolled on the diagonal and the zip tie was a little short to reach all the way across but I made it work and managed to just get the end of the zip tie in place. I used an ordinary twist tie from the grocery store to hold the point of fabric in place there at the middle.

And this is the result. While the yellow fabric was not a fail, I think this a grand improvement.

This photo shows the manipulations on two more from the parfait snowdyeing plus some undyed fabric. In the  upper left is another roll and scrunch, this time done end to end instead of on the diagonal with the mostly blue fat eighth. It was so handy to be able to cinch it tight with that zip tie.

And I am SO pleased with this result. I see water here. ;-)

In the upper right, I tried something I hadn't before, a way of twisting the fabric until it twists back on itself, using the mostly blue with ugly yellow/green from the parfaits (seen under the yellow scrunched in a previous photo). It didn't seem to pick up much new dye but it is altered just enough to make me like it better.

In the lower left you see a wide accordion fold which was then accordion-folded to create rectangles and then clamped to hold in place. I did NOT see this coming, although I did expect it to give me something of a windowpane effect Wowsa!

Nor did I expect THIS wowsa! Its folded before is shown in the lower right, starting with an actual square of fabric with a diagonal fold and then adding folds in the hopes of getting some kind of kaleidoscope pattern. Somewhere in my mess is instructions I'd found on how to properly fold for a kaleidoscope but I could not find it. So this is what happens when you wing it! Not sure what happened there in the middle, perhaps a fluke of the folding or how the random dye powder worked its way down, but it is challenging me to make it work anyway.

There were so many surprises in this piece, including the way there is an absolute glow of green around those outer motifs - only there in this piece.

Here's the last folded piece and the cotton yarn. I should note that I took the advice of another prolific kaleidoscope maker to do all the folding with a good press before soaking in soda ash solution. I've always done the folding when the fabric was wet and so always got less precise results. On this last piece of undyed fabric, I wanted to see if I could get lines going off in all different directions so folded randomly. The yarn (Lily Sugar & Cream cotton yarn) spools from the center so I carefully removed bunches starting from the outside and used twist ties to keep it all from ending up a tangled mess.

The yarn turned out wonderful. After rinsing, I put it in a net for the final wash in the machine. I had to replace my 18 year old washer a few months ago and this was my first chance to try it out with dye processing. I knew that if I didn't corral that yarn in some kind of bag I'd be very sorry. But even this bag was no match for the super duper spin cycle of the new machine. I had to laugh at the way multiple loops of yarn worked their way through the holes in the net. I pulled it all back in before tossing in the dryer, where it all stayed within the net.

And here it is before removing the twist ties and rolling into a ball. I love this combination of colors.

You're going to say butterfly or dragonfly, aren't you?

As for that randomly folded piece, it was the only one that I felt iffy about. It did not do what I thought it would at all. But it still may be usable - parts of it are interesting.

The ultraviolet reads more red here than in real life

Oh, there is one last folded piece, the one that was in the bottom of the bin. I didn't get a before pic of it but I just made random wide accordion folds both directions until it fit flat in the bottom. It soaked up all the dyes and amazingly, has specific areas of green as well as the ultraviolet and some colors in between. It's moody and reminds me of water too. And as I looked through this batch, I see the advantage of this kind of dyeing of multiple pieces with the same dye combination. I have pieces that I can use together rather than a bunch of interesting but unrelated ones. I've already got an idea peculating for two of them . . .

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Parfait Snowdyeing

It's been 2 years since my first go at parfait snowdyeing, and I was not thrilled with my results. I came away with things I should and would do differently for better results should I do it again. But really, I wasn't sure I ever would. It was almost a whim to try it over the weekend, those piles of snow you saw in my moose pictures destined to be greatly reduced if not totally gone within the week with forecasts of temps getting near 60 degrees. I already had some pfd fabric cut into half yards for gradations I never got to and I knew that if I took the time to scour them beforehand with synthropal, I'd not get to the dyeing part. I know most people don't bother to wash their pfd fabric but I always have. This time I just gathered my precuts, cut them into fat quarters and fat eighths before soaking them in soda ash solution (left over from my last dye session), quickly reviewed the process and, per my resolution word(s) for the year, winged it! I pulled some recently acquired vases and a variety of dye powders out and started layering.

The original directions suggested placing some small thing in the bottom for the fabric to rest on out of the melted dye-laden snow, but instead, I stuffed a fat eighth into the bottom of each rectangular vase before topping with snow and my first fat quarter. More snow and some dye powder, more snow and another fat quarter, more snow and more dye. That's all that would fit. A similar process for the tall cylinder vase. Sitting in my garage with nights still getting below freezing, it took about 24 hours for the parfaits to melt. The idea of this method is that dyes from upper levels will seep down into the fabrics below creating interesting mixes. It didn't look to me like there was much seeping as I emptied the vases out and started rinsing. However, as I unfolded and soaked, things looked promising.

These are the fat eights in the bottom of the rectangular vases. Yes, not a lot of dye made it down to them. The one on the left became a candidate for overdyeing in the next session.

These two are from the shorter rectangular vase. Golden yellow and I believe mixing blue were the dyes, me thinking that when the two seeped together, I'd get a lovely green. Not so much. Both of these would get overdyed, even though the yellow one had some nice texturing in it.

These from the tall rectangular vase are much more interesting. I rather loosely gathered these side to side and then folded the ends under to fit the width of the vase. I used more than one dye color on each layer, spreading them side by side more or less, and there may have been a bit of seepage onto the one on the right, the rose red coming through. I think the other colors I used were more of the mixing blue and some seafoam green. The one on the right has bright green, ultraviolet and maybe some lavender thrown in. I wasn't really keeping track, and making last minute decisions as I went. (Winging it!)

There's some very nice texturing in there.

The big winners came out of the cylinder vase. Again, struggling a bit to remember what I put in there, but definitely the ultraviolet and lavender on the top and more of that golden yellow underneath. But there was also a surprise.

While trying to separate the damp fat quarters I'd layered in the soda ash, my rubber gloved fingers struggled to find edges. I was coming up short on fabric and I had this feeling I had two fat quarters glued together and already stuffed into a vase. Sure enough, it was in this vase that they ended up, creating duplicate pieces that also create a mirror image! I'm very excited about that and the possibilities they present.

So I guess you could say, my faith in parfait dyeing has been restored, and I will probably do it again. Not prewashing the pfd fabric didn't affect how it took the dyes - good to know. And these results got my brain ticking away, knowing exactly what I wanted to do next. I quickly gathered more snow and fabric for a regular snowdye session. They say you must make hay while the sun shines. Well, here it is dye fabric before the snow melts! I'm ironing up the results this afternoon . . . 

Sunday, March 17, 2019

On St. Patrick's Day

National Quilting Day was yesterday and I've been busying myself with some snow dyeing (which I will report on in a separate post). Appropriately for today, I listened to Ireland's John O'Donohue (my niece gave me the Complete John O'Donohue Audio Collection for Christmas) while I ironed the results of my labors, and just happened to be listening to the cd about your work and creativity (geared towards the traditional workplace but applicable to those of us working at home at our craft). At the end of the segment, he recited this lovely blessing that I appreciated hearing (along with much of what preceded it), a kind of affirmation of a personal insight and redirection of the path I'm on this year. May you find comfort and inspiration in it, too.

May The Light Of Your Soul Guide You, by John O’Donohue

May the light of your soul guide you.
May the light of your soul bless the work
You do with the secret love and warmth of your heart.
May you see in what you do the beauty of your own soul.
May the sacredness of your work bring healing, light and renewal to those
Who work with you and to those who see and receive your work.
May your work never weary you.
May it release within you wellsprings of refreshment, inspiration and excitement.
May you be present in what you do.
May you never become lost in the bland absences.
May the day never burden you.
May dawn find you awake and alert, approaching your new day with dreams,
Possibilities and promises.
May evening find you gracious and fulfilled.
May you go into the night blessed, sheltered and protected.
May your soul calm, console and renew you.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Breaking News!

After several outings at local shows, and to rave reviews, the Cobban Bridge slice quilt that I collaborated on with friends in Wisconsin has recently sold at an Empty Bowls silent auction back in Wisconsin. This time we had two bidders and are thrilled to have raised this much money for the Feed My People organization. Viewers of the quilt have encouraged us to keep at this, and to keep our themes local to the Northwest part of Wisconsin. Our fearless leader, Mary, already has her eye on several potential locations for us to interpret in this seldom seen format.

I wasn't feeling well yesterday so I ditched any thoughts of working in the studio for sitting in front of the tv, reviewing the magic loop method and starting sock two of a pair I started knitting an embarrassingly long time ago. I was soon rewarded for being downstairs at a time of day I'm usually upstairs by the arrival of this beautiful moose!

It's difficult to tell from the photos just how big this moose is, but perhaps it would help to know it is standing in probably 12 to 15 inches of snow. It seemed in no hurry, almost like it was posing, so I hustled upstairs for my camera.

I was surprised by how very healthy this moose looks, nice and plump with beautiful fur. Some years when the moose come down out of the mountains, especially if it has been a hard winter, they can look a bit skinny and ragged. It was browsing on the bushes in the buffer between my development and a 2-lane highway.

Moose can get surly. Well, as big as they are, it's no wonder they are not the type to spook and scamper off, would just as soon charge you. So I usually give them a wide berth. I started my picture taking through the deck door. But as it decided posing time was over and moved on down, I ventured as quietly as I could out onto the deck. But moose have sharp ears and it definitely knew I was there, turning its head with every click, as if to say, "What are YOU lookin' at?"

All this in the midst of what we are hoping is the last snow storm of the season. A lovely gift that made me feel better. It's the first moose I've seen this year and I was beginning to think I wasn't going to get the chance.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Some Surprises

I did a little multi-tasking this weekend. The older I get, the less my desire to do this; my mind only wants to focus on one thing at a time and I don't blame it. However, there was motorcycle racing to watch, and the hours of qualifying don't require total concentration. I decided this was a good time to take apart a couple of silk ties.

This is the tie that's been on the water wall forever, the one I want to use in the next quilt in the series. Its pattern just naturally looks like water flowing to me and its colors look to work with the background batik I wanted to use. As one would expect, there is a "right" and a "wrong" side. Oh! The paler side might be the answer to portraying the foamy nature of fountain water. Hadn't considered that option before.

But the real surprise was what lurked inside the second tie, the one that might do something interesting in inserts as breaking ripples in a lake scene. I still can't figure out how that very different shaded square pattern is part of the weave of the squares on the front side. Holding it up as it shows on the bias, it too gives an abstracted sense of movement and flow.

Yet another surprise awaited me with this tie. If you've ever taken a tie apart, you know that a heavy woven interfacing like the one on the right in the above photo is used to give the tie body and keep it from stretching and twisting out of shape since tie fabric is always cut on the bias. When I first started taking ties apart, I was tempted to keep this part, but quickly decided that was taking my keep and recycle tendencies too far. Into the trash it goes. But the interfacing in this tie, seen on the left, is very different from any I've seen used in ties. It is soft with no visible weave, very much like some thin cotton battings I've used. The tag said this tie was totally hand sewn (I can attest to that, using a heavy silk thread) and indicated it was made in China. I'm so curious about this and am keeping it.

The wheels have been turning, making me eager to keep working in my water series sketchbook, and it was time to add some reference photos of the quilt I want to work out next. I added three views of the "Boy with a Dolphin" Fountain, the sculpture being by David Wynne, which is tucked in the Children's Garden on the Mayo Clinic campus. (There's a lovely story behind his inspiration if you follow the link.) Actually, I couldn't have cared less about that sculpture; I was focused on those steps and the way the water tumbled down them.

So after the ties were taken apart, I turned to the sketchbook to work a bit on my fuzzy initial ideas for the quilt. Turns out, multi-tasking by listening to the commentators while drawing lines actually helped move ideas along, a way of distracting the left brain that had kept balking at how to get going on this. The final sketch was a small eureka moment which I may not have gotten to without fiddling with the previous ideas. And boy, do I like that dotted line paper! Now if I can get the tie fabric to do what my inner vision is seeing it doing. Yes, eventually one has to put aside pencil and paper and start working with the real thing.

One last surprise that day: while I was checking the background batik hanging on the water wall to see just how much was there (that's it on the left), I noticed these pieces of paper pinned next to it. Are you familiar with the expression "nose blind" as in for whatever reason, you get so used to an odor in a room that you stop smelling it, even if it is unpleasant? Well, this is the equivalent, only I guess you would call it "eye blind". I know I put these up there long ago because I had no place else for them at the time, and I didn't want to forget about them. And yet I had, with them right in plain sight. I was surprised when I spotted them, more surprised when I leaned in to read them. The first refers to working in a series:

"Working in a series is really about what stays the same - and what changes."

The other has some phrases I ran across that so beautifully and interestingly describe water images (the underlines are mine):

"the lovely inattentive water"

"...stare at water which is already elsewhere
in a scrapwork of flashes and glittery flutters
And regular waves of apparently motionless motion."

Easy for YOU to say, Alice, harder for me to work out visually in fabric and thread!

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Points of View

Here are a few things I've run across lately that I thought worth sharing with you in this rare photo-less post.

“Art is not Magic, i.e., a means by which the artist communicates or arouses his feelings in others, but a mirror in which they may become conscious of what their own feelings really are: its proper effect, in fact, is disenchanting.”

This struck me as a slightly different way to think about the art we make, puts the emphasis away from the artist and onto the viewer. I decided I really like that and indeed have seen it in action. Yes, I may want the viewer to get what I'm trying to relay about my own thoughts and reactions regarding the subject or fabric or patterns I'm working with. But it takes some of the pressure off to accept the fact that my work may tap into something totally unexpected in another. That strikes me as exciting.

Here's another differing point of view:

"People say that I paint depressing and meaningless things," Mikael remarks. "When you are painting things," he replies in disagreement, "you are actually giving them meaning. Depicting is an act of meaning-making. Painting and sketching is a way to say that life is meaningful, even though it looks like . . . this." 

Turns out he had the same "moment of enlightenment" that I had when working with Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards:

"The brain is so much better at depicting reality when you don't understand what you are seeing, then you can hotwire your perception. You have to work in an abstract way, and then your drawings will turn out much better."

Finally, consider this way of preparing to create from the painter Calvin Chih Hao Teng:

"In Eastern philosophy one must first settle the physical body to settle the inner heart. To create, I bring my body and mind to total serenity. Only then can I harness the power of my brushstrokes to freely express my inner thoughts through my paintings."
Fluid Nature by Susan Byrnes, October 2018 issue of Artists Magazine

Do follow the link on him and read his artist statement. It is like none I've read before!  

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Thinking About Water

I'm guessing that if I were to pose the question, "What color is water," many would do as I did, and automatically answer "blue". After all, lakes are blue, one can sail the deep blue sea, tropical lagoons are a particularly distinct shade of blue. And that is why when sorting through fabric, so many blue ones ended up on my water wall. Not sure exactly when the epiphany struck, reminding me of something I instinctively know, water is in fact colorless and clear. This quality means that what we perceive as the color of water is the color of something else being reflected back or being seen under or behind or even floating between the water molecules themselves. Think the rocks of a river bed or the sand under lapping waves, dirt muddying a river or algae growing in a pond. Even the foam produced by a waterfall or wave can make us think the water is white.

So I soon found myself searching out photos of water that I'd taken over the years. I lived within a short walk of an ocean beach for 3 years and a few of the photos I took there quickly proved my point. (You've seen a glimpse of these pasted to my sketchbook.) On this particular stretch of beach, the ocean was often grey, mimicking our many cloudy grey days, or would read grey near the close of day.

Other times it had a rich green tint to it.

And if there was a beautiful sunset going on, parts of it could turn the color of the sunset as well.

So I did my best to throw out those preconceived notions of all water being blue and moved on to a more difficult task: thinking about how water moves, whether in constant motion of a creek, concentric circles rippling out from a disturbance or frothy sprays thrown up by a fountain. How does one capture the movement of water with fabric and thread in two dimensional space? That's what I've been exploring, trying to work out since my first attempt on the Eisenberg Fountain quilt - my initial trial on a small sample version shown above. The water cascading down the stone wall was obviously clear, but you could still see how the water moved over it, in this case in two very different patterns.

See the actual building here. It's quite impressive.

But there must be less literal ways to do it. In that sketchbook I'd taken with me to Rochester, I found a note wondering if the flow of the fountain could be done with silk that had been ripped into narrow strands - an idea I'd totally forgotten. Then there's the photo of a friend's textile dabblings I've kept on my laptop in the studio for years, waiting patiently for me to run with the idea it gave me - that scattered diamond shapes might work to abstract moving water. More recently I've considered burning out areas in a sheer fabric to show motion. And just the other day, I decided to look in some files I don't often peruse anymore, and found some minimalist library posters done by Andre Chiote that I had saved. The one above is the poster done for the Aberdeen University Library in Scotland. When I saved it, I'm sure it was because of its visual connection to quilt improv block technique I've dabbled in, but upon seeing it now, looking for water inspiration, I see water moving down the face of the building. Ahh, a new way to think of capturing water movement in fabric!

And this is the value to me of starting that topic specific sketchbook. It's jarring loose some ideas as I add to it and helping me to open my mind to different ways of seeing things, while giving me a place to keep them together while I'm thinking about the next design.