Friday, June 26, 2020

1900 Posts and a New Look!

Blogger has been bugging me for years to ditch  the layout I've always had for something newer and snazzier, and I've declined. Once I have something set up the way I like it, I don't care to fiddle with it. But apparently, my very old format will only be available as a "legacy" one, and will be riddled with problems holding it back. I've already started having problems adding photos, and spell check totally went away. So on the eve of my 1900th post I decided to quit fighting it and spend a few hours setting up a new look. What do you think? Of course, very little looks familiar on the page where I create each post, so there will be some stumbling around while I get used to the new symbols and where to find features like "preview". And there may be some things readers can't find as well, as where to post a comment (Just click on "comment" in the bar at the end of the post, whether it says "no comments" or "x number of comments" if you are viewing multiple posts on the home page. If clicking through to an individual post, it's pretty clear what to click.)

So, my 1900th post! I started blogging nearly 15 years ago, and while the number of posts each month have dwindled lately, I still feel compelled to keep at it. I've always done this more for me than any audience I might garner, but the audience was what I hoped would keep me honest and on track. It has proven to be a wonderful record of what is stated in my header, the creative journey I set out on, as well as of my life journey as well. I've always known that what happens outside of the studio will influence what goes on inside it so it is a valid part of the journey to record side by side with the projects worked on.

But periodically, the debate surfaces about the value of blogs in a world of social media catering to those with shorter attention spans and a definite leaning toward the visual rather than the written word. It saddens me that it is so but it hasn't changed my feelings about the value of blogs. And so I was heartened to come across this recently in an Austin Kleon post:

"None of us still blogging do it for clicks.  We do it to leave our traces, because it feels good to us, and because complete statements are better than tweets or facebook updates…."  Warren Ellis

Yes, exactly.

He goes on to talk about "zuihitsu", something I'd never heard of, but I would agree that it fits describing blogging:
Zuihitsu is a genre of Japanese literature consisting of loosely connected personal essays and fragmented ideas that typically respond to the author’s surroundings. The name is derived from two Kanji meaning “at will” and “pen.” The provenance of the term is ultimately Chinese… the native reading of which is fude ni shitagau (“follow the brush”). Thus works of the genre should be considered not as traditionally planned literary pieces but rather as casual or randomly recorded thoughts by the authors.

Specifically, he makes this observation:

"I have long had the notion that zuihitsu is, in fact, the sort of writing that weblog software best enables. That these are not diaries but fragments. Zuihitsu and fragment writing has fascinated me for a long time. I created the jotter category (on LTD) to try and give myself permission for “casual or randomly recorded thoughts.”"

That, I think, is what I've been doing all these years, recording casual and often random thoughts while also imparting what I hope is helpful information. And like Ellis, one other thing, as my actual contact with people outside of the virtual world shrinks:

". . . I still need to be able to send signals out into the world, and it gives me pleasure to be able to draw your attention, reader, to the things in the world that I like."

Always hoping that my readers will like them too.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

The Daily Practice

Vortex in my glass
Here I am, still not sewing, and actually not getting a whole lot else arty done, and feeling a tiny bit guilty about what that means for my readers, who I think are mostly textile people doing quilty and arty things. So it made me feel a bit better to read a post by Amanda over at View From Our Hill the other morning, as she shares similar things to how I myself have been feeling. Particularly catching my eye, this:

"I’m struggling to get back to my arty self . . .  I do feel guilty when I create something and there’s not a sewing stitch involved somewhere . . . And now I seem to have stopped exhibiting I’m more a player and dabbler than an artist!

Maybe it’s just a sign of the current times that things aren’t flowing, but somewhere, deep down, there’s a little itch. I just have to find it to scratch it. I’m not sure if it will be textile based or mixed media yet but there is an itch. I will just have to wait and be patient and really give myself permission to just please myself in what I make. Stop aiming for a specific audience."

Auditioning fabric for Nancy Lee Chong's "Peace" pattern

Do check out her post. She's been up to a lot, much more productive overall than I have been and doing some interesting things, even if they don't technically fall under the heading of "art". As for me and my itch, I felt it and knew I was coming back when I looked in the bottom of my glass after drinking the last bit of juice, saw all those frothy bubbles, recognized them as a favorite Zentangle and wondered how I could take this image into my work. (See first photo). As for actually scratching my itch soon, I think it is to work from a pattern my cousin sent me because, like me, she could envision it in my hand-dyed fabrics. I have not had any inclination to keep a "pandemic diary", nor to memorialize the virus or the lockdown in a textile piece, or even in an art journal. But as I kept pulling out the pattern, it felt a better way to speak to these times where peace and the wishing it to the world is so needed and can mean so many different things.

I am keeping up a daily drawing practice and killing two birds with one stone. I have so many free videos and mini courses I've signed up for with teachers from Sketchbook Revival that I've decided to use them for my "prompts". For the most part, they are suggestions for warming up before you dive into your real work or activities meant to get your creative brain thinking in a different direction to unleash ideas you never knew you had. They are fun, quick and revealing. And going into the 4 x 6 book I made with the Kraft Tex cover. I started with Susan Yeates "5 Days of Creativity Boosting Exercises" which mostly comprises making marks. On the first day she's suggesting you use a brush pen to play with the different widths of lines you can get as you just make marks - repeating lines, circles, squiggles, whatever. The arrows show where I realized that the dots I had added became the eyes of fish in some cases. Then move on to a paint brush (which I did not) and then grab things lying around to get marks on the paper. I chose both ends of a wine cork and was surprised at how different each end printed (I used an ink pad rather than paint). Also stamped with a bit of bubble wrap.

The next day's warm-up was to "fill in 30 shapes in 5 minutes." I wanted to try all the shapes - circles, triangles and squares - so did one shape per day. And I KNOW this took longer than 5 minutes (as noted by several students in the comments). I did something similar to this during last year's Sketchbook Revival, but with a different teacher. It's one of those things that may not seem like anything is happening as you do it, but looking back over them later, a few might have possibilities as a jumping off point.

On the next day, how about just squiggling a random line, then doodling around it? Maybe you will see a shape or thing emerge, maybe you'll just end up with patterns around it. I surprised myself with my buxom nude.

Similar to the filling in 30 shapes exercise was one where you draw simple shapes like cups, vases, even leaves, and fill them with patterns. Do a single color pen version and repeat with a version with patterns in color. For some reason, I felt very constrained doing this and not very creative in thinking up patterns to add, unlike her examples that were filled with so much interest. There was also a day for blind drawing things lying near to you. No matter how many times I do blind drawing exercises, I cannot warm to them, and will keep my results to myself.

More fun was five days with Mica Scalin's "Creativity Sprint." She's the sister of Noah Scalin, the guy of the connect the 100 random dots exercise. Day one, rearrange the letters in your name to spell something different and then make something inspired by that. I've never been good at rearranging in my head so I wrote out my name, cut it up into individual letters and had a lot of fun moving them around to say something. I came up with several ("a bare nails sheen" was a favorite but didn't spur any creative images I could sketch out) and settled on Insane Rehab Lanes, thinking up improbable names for various rehab facilities. A chance to let my quirky humor out.

I really ended up liking day two which didn't seem like much on the surface but definitely unleashed something. Just pick something to trace around and fill the page with tracings, placed any way you want. I made it just random, no thought or planning as I traced around a foot locker key. It was nice for a change not to have to look at something and draw it.

And that apparently unleashed my brain because before I'd filled the page, my mind was swirling with non-random arrangements. I just had to fill two more pages with these ideas which shows how I naturally lean toward symmetry and kaleidoscope placements.

Day three was a variation of an exercise I've done before, with the idea of letting go of perfection: spill something and create something from the mess. I had a piece of paper that I'd spilled a few drops of coffee with cream on lying on the desk so used that, as little as there was to work with. But as I considered the drops, I saw eyes and it was fairly easy to draw a face around them. A third drop way off to the right became a flower tucked behind this pale girl's ear.

Day four we were to embrace limitations, the prompt being to create something inside of a box. Very little explanation goes with these prompts, I'm sure as to not influence or stifle ideas that might otherwise spring into your mind, but I had the feeling she meant to actually take a box and create something inside that. I wasn't going to spend time with that so I thought about how I could sketch the same idea. I decided on a glass box with characters trying to get out. Surprised again that I could draw a jack in the box and his friends. I just don't do this kind of drawing, but I found it very fun and a bit of a challenge.

I really felt I didn't understand what we were to do on the fifth day under the heading of Inspiration is Everywhere where we were instructed to create a rainbow from the objects available in your immediate surroundings. I just looked around for items that matched each color in a rainbow and drew multiples along arc lines. Did not feel creative at all.

The final day was supposed to be a collaboration to make the point that you can't do it alone. I suppose I could have figured out a way to get someone else involved but since I'm doing these as a quick exercise, I was not motivated, so skipped this one. The final part of this sprint was reflection, looking back over how you responded to each prompt. Which was your favorite (the key tracing one which I think did the most to free up my mind to come up with other things), what was the most challenging (the rainbow one mostly because I didn't feel I understood what I was supposed to do and it made me uneasy as I kept feeling I was doing it wrong which says something about my personality too), what's the one thing you learned from the experience (that I can push some of the fantasy stuff farther than I thought, and oh yes, that symmetry thing), and finally, what is the one area in your life/work where you would like to bring more creativity? Not surprisingly, I want to bring more creativity back into my art quilting. I really hit a wall a few years back, really felt stuck and then had to move away from it for awhile. I'm certain this long break is slowly unsticking me. A bonus prompt was to make yourself a trophy for "an awesome job". I will also spare you a look at what I drew, a tongue in cheek participation award shaped like a snow globe with a star in the middle and spikes like the crown on Liberty along the top. Now to move on to new daily drawing ideas.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

A Masks Saga

It's been a few weeks since I reported my first frustrating effort at making a pandemic face mask. I didn't show you the end result of that one, only told you that the ties weren't working as well as I thought they would and that I wasn't happy with the results overall, not to mention the directions. I'd chosen a very tight weave hand-dye for outside and inside (this pattern didn't suggest adding a third layer of any kind), and yes, I spent quite a bit of time picking just the right fabrics. It was difficult to sew through, especially over the extra layers of the pleats and the binding.

You can see in this picture that there are pleats along the bottom and a dart at the top to aid in a nice tight fit. But the instructions were often confusing or lacking in detail, the binding too wide in my opinion and thus the ties didn't tie very well. I chose this because it is a "pattern made by a nurse for a nurse" and is suppose to fit over a regular dust mask type mask to give it a higher filtration rate and re-usability. It didn't say in the directions how to add a metal nose piece although it was in the materials list, and in a cute gif at the end, the nurse pattern maker herself reaches up with finger and thumb to close down the metal for a tight fit. My mind has been churning ever since about how I could improve upon the basic pattern, and also how to salvage this one. Things that have come to mind are: 1) cutting the ties shorter and attaching velcro at the ends, 2) cutting the ties even shorter and sewing a piece of elastic between the ends, and 3) cutting the ties off at the mask and inserting elastic for over the ears style. 

Since then, I've re-watched a few videos plus found a few different ones, re-read some instructions, and took notes on the two I wanted to try. I also studied the pollen mask that is relatively simple in design and fits me well. I gathered some supplies, including two kinds of elastic bought for use as closures for journals and books, plastic covered twist ties and collar stays. Yes, collar stays, from the days when I made shirts for my late husband with the extra long arms. With renewed confidence but feeling more intimidated than I'd like to admit, I gave it another go.

basic 3-fold pleated mask

As I suffered through the first mask, I kept wondering why we weren't sewing around the outside and doing a pillow turn to encase raw edges rather than messing with that binding. I was relieved to find a very basic and well-instructed video that had me doing just that. It was almost identical to the specifications laid out by my local hospital. The only difference was the hospital did not want a third layer of any kind and preferred tube elastic to flat elastic. I used the same fabric front and inside, cutting the "no sew" mask fabric with the interfacing fused to it for the layer that these directions had you sew a rectangle of flannel to and cutting another piece of it for the outside (I had plenty). Pretty easy peasy, but not without drama. I literally got hung up at those corners where the elastic is inserted, my machine balking at feeding the fabric through after turning the corner.

But I persisted, choosing to leave out any metal nose piece, and am pleased with the fit. How much of the virus it's actually filtering out I would not hazard a guess. But it is comfortable, pretty, and makes me feel a little safer. I had to spend 3 hours at the dealership last week while my car got serviced, new tires and an airbag recall dealt with, and while the lounge area is open to the showroom with high ceilings, and "my" high table in the corner away from the cushy chairs was available, I definitely felt better about my time there peering out from behind my mask.

Pleated mask with filter pocket
Another pattern that intrigued me was made from a single piece of fabric, raw edges at the long sides folded about 3/8 of an inch to the inside once, and folded over that much twice at the short ends to form a casing of sorts. Top stitch the casing edges, inserting the metal piece in one end's casing, bring the short ends together right side out, pin in your pleats and stitch up each side, remembering to insert the elastic at top and bottom. No turning inside out, and the top of the mask can be separated to insert your filter of choice. I worked a piece of flannel in mine. I've been wearing this one when I do my weekly grocery run and I find that flannel insert does make it both heavier and warmer than the the other pleated one with just interfacing. Also, this one is not quite as wide across the face, and I think if I were to make it again, I'd change the dimensions to more closely match either of the other masks. Bonus if you recognize the fabric!

So now I had two working masks, but couldn't get the idea of creating one like my pollen mask off my mind. I traced off a pattern, again after close examination to figure out just how the original was constructed, chose this great aboriginal print picked up for me by my cousin on one of her adventures, and got to cutting. Top, left and bottom-left seams are done pillow-turn style while the opposite seams are sewn conventionally after turning.

This mask is two layers with the inside layer being flannel. The nose piece is under that piece of bias binding and the collar stay is in the "casing" of the seam that runs down the front, both being the last steps. I was relieved that my sewing machine glided perfectly over the elastic at the corners, perhaps because it was able to get a good grip on the flannel which was next to the feed dogs.

Not a bad clone, fitting pretty much just like the pollen mask it is based on. And a bit of a fashion statement perhaps? The stay in the front seam is to keep it from collapsing, which is perhaps more of an issue with the lighter silk pollen mask.

But just like the pollen mask, it sticks straight out from the face, giving you lots of breathing space in there, and looking a bit weird in my estimation. Not as weird as the duckbill masks, but not sleek like most none pleated styles. It would be easy to adjust that should I decide I'd like a closer fit.

I imagine I will make more, trying different variations of these particular masks, tweaking the patterns where I found them lacking and having fun choosing fabric from my stash so that, like Nancy Pelosi, I have a mask to match what I'm wearing. This is just me and my gerbil mind that can't quit going over and over how to do this better (Oooo - there's one with two pleats folded in opposite directions!) and thinking about using up fabric. But I'm not in the least enamored with this kind of project generally speaking, and I have no desire to go into production, either charitable or for profit. And while I, a seasoned sewer with garments and home dec and quilting experience to my name, struggled to figure out instructions and fought with my machine, I could only feel pity for those overworked and stressed nurses who were told to go home after a long emotional shift (or more likely string of those shifts) and make their own masks, when I'm sure all they wanted to do and could muster was to fall into bed. I'm glad so many have answered the call to do the sewing for them.

And as I get ready to straighten up from this foray into mask making, I find myself asking, can I get back to my regular sewing and some bookmaking now? ;-) 

Sunday, June 07, 2020

Plants and Mushrooms

Several weeks ago, I took advantage of a wee sale to gather some plants for my deck garden. Inertia and the mosquitoes that instantly gathered round me whenever I stepped out on the deck have kept me from getting them into the various pots and planters awaiting. It was enough to finally have some color out there that I could enjoy as I passed by the slider.

The blooms of one plant in particular - I can't think of the name off the top of my head, but I think it's some sort of daisy - surprised me with an underside so much darker than the pale lavender of the petals as seen opened. It also has a very blue center. And it apparently does not like cold weather - I just stepped outside on this much cooler day than we've been having, and all the blooms have closed up!

A friend chided me when she heard I'd bought plants but not transplanted them yet, saying that they would get root bound and not do as well as they would if I quit putting this off. I knew she was right, because I'd noticed several of the plants were already sending roots out the bottom of their containers when I bought them. It's getting late for planting seeds as well, packets of which lay waiting on the table. So in a burst of motivation last Thursday, the plants got distributed along with some seeds. I'm looking forward to seeing how well the seeds do - some basil, a packet of assorted bee-friendly plants, multi colors of dahlias, perennial violas. All will be welcome in my little corner of color.

Also last week, I came across this grouping of mushrooms at the far end of the park along my walking route. I don't remember seeing mushrooms in this particular spot before, and as I got closer, I couldn't believe what was going on along the tops of them.

A nature artist that I follow sends out weekly prompts, ideas for sketching while you're out in nature. Last week it was to look for pattern, like stripes in rocks, texture in tree bark, that kind of thing. I had to think this qualified!

I didn't have a sketchbook with me but I did have my phone with camera so got several shots.

I kept thinking, what a treasure trove of pattern ideas for my textile work.

So the photos are for reference of something so fleeting that it was gone in a few days, and I must get to sketching these and playing with the lines and shapes.

Where have YOU spotted patterns lately that might inspire your work?

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

A Month of Blooms

A few posts back I mentioned the new thing I was trying for my daily short drawing practice, abandoning the use of prompts and my imagination for copying AQS's 30 days of blooms series. Still working in that Molekine sketchbook I didn't like (and finally using it up!), using pencil and a Micron Pigma pen, coloring in with cheap colored pencils. My challenge to myself was to analyze each flower (which I find it hard to believe is designed for use as applique) to figure out where to start, the best sequence for drawing each part that would make up the whole, and to match as closely as possible the color of each as printed out from the website (see example of one page above left). Some were relatively simple shapes, others so complicated that I wasn't sure I could draw them. There were a few days throughout the month that I did not draw, but would catch up with two drawings on another day. Some of these flowers I had never heard of and all in all it was interesting to study the details of each and attempt to draw them.

I started out just penciling in the shapes and coloring with colored pencil.

At some point I decided the pencil lines weren't showing up enough, so I'd go over them with pen.

Soon I discarded the pencil altogether and sketched bravely with the pen, which at times gave me a somewhat wonky bloom. But how would anyone know if not comparing it to my model?

The top one on this page was the one that scared me off the most. I spent several days telling myself I could not draw it, would not try to draw it, being totally intimidated by it. After about the 3rd day, I relented and realized I just needed to pick it apart more or less, drawing a few petals at a time starting in the center and working my way out. The shading of the petals was nearly as challenging as drawing them. But I completed it (again, who will know how close to the original I got?).

With new confidence, I charged through the rest of the month.

And drew the last three flowers on the last page of the sketchbook which felt like a bit of a flourish what with those colors.

I'm trying something totally different for June's daily exercise, using one of the handmade books from my club. Not sure if I made a good choice as the paper in it is resume paper. But it takes pen well and we'll see what else I can make it play nicely with.