Wednesday, June 22, 2011

More will be revealed

I am traveling for the next week or so. We are exploring the Southwestern US and having a wonderful time. I am taking tons of pictures. A couple days ago I posted the rainbow pictures from Moab, but it was a struggle! I am using Ray's little laptop and getting my photos from there to here is cumbersome and time-consuming and I am without Photoshop, which I rely on for tweaking my photos and getting the horizons level and the colors true, so I decided I would wait until I get home to post only the best of my photos.

We are in Santa Fe for a couple of days and staying in a beautiful B&B. Walked down to the plaza last night and had a wonderful dinner. Going to check out some art museums and galleries today! It is gorgeous here. Hope you are having a beautiful day wherever you are today.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Rainy road trip

We have been driving for two days. We drove, west to east, across the state of Oregon, west to east, stopping to spend a night with my brother and family, across the state of Idaho, and today, north to south nearly across the state of Utah. And it has rained the whole way. The. Whole. Way.

That is what most of Oregon and Idaho looked like--very green and very wet. Today it rained so hard in Utah it was scary to drive in. You couldn't  see anything but rain beating at the windows faster than the wipers could wipe. Nerve-wracking.

Tonight we are in Moab, Utah. The scenery is spectacular and it is raining, but not as hard here. After dinner we decided to take a scenic drive, doubtful we would see much because of the rain, but as we came to the top of the mesa we saw a rainbow behind us and pulled into a view area.

A double rainbow.

It ended among these rock formations. Magical. One of the most beautiful things I've ever seen.

The moral of today's story: if you like rainbows, you have to put up with some rain.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Oregon Trail

I am continuing to work on my "Oregon Trail" quilt. It will be about the women of the Oregon Trail. I have finished 4 of the 5 I have planned. Today I finished the older woman.

On the left is my drawing, made in Illustrator, that I am working from. On the right you can see how I start one of these faces. The fabric is cut and fused to a dark background. The background fabric creates lines in the spaces left between the fabric pieces.

Here are the faces I have finished.

The last will be an African American woman. The history of African Americans on the Oregon Trail is complicated and rather sad. Despite slavery being illegal in Oregon after 1844, many families who came west on the trail brought slaves with them and the practice, while illegal, was apparently tolerated. Some slaves were freed after they arrived in the Oregon territory, some weren't. After the Civil War many former slaves hoped to come west, but exclusion laws were common and they were not generally welcomed. Nevertheless, some established themselves as landowners and put down roots and earned the acceptance of their neighbors.

Coincidentally, yesterday my friend, Frank Lundburg, who lived near where I grew up in Pocatello, Idaho, posted this marvelous photo on Facebook.

Photographer unknown c. 1880 - 90. From Frank Lundburg's historical collection.

This is the land where Frank's family home was much later. Our family lived just outside the righthand side of the photo. This is the Portneuf valley on the western side of the Portneuf Gap where the Oregon Trail came through the mountains.I love seeing what this area looked like a hundred years before I lived there.

The western migration on the Oregon Trail began in 1854 and lasted for about 25 years. At some point my great grandmother came through here in a wagon on her way to Oregon. Years later I followed the trail to Oregon.  I feel a real connection to this piece I am making and I really want it to be "right."

Sunday, June 12, 2011

More about Illustrator

My post about using Adobe Illustrator generated a lot of comments and emails and quite a few questions. That was exciting for me so I thought I would expand a little and try to answer some of the questions.

First, another little demo and maybe a bit more about how this program really works and how it differs from raster programs like Photoshop.

The basis of drawing in Illustrator is the use of the pen tool and bezier curves. Instead of drawing, like you would with a pencil, dragging a point across the surface, you draw by creating points and pulling curves that span the distance between two points. Above you can see the Illustrator toolbar and the pen tool is highlighted. The line to the right was created by clicking a point (that little white box at the beginning of the line) then creating a curve that ends at the next point, where the next curve changes direction and ends at the last point, which is black because it is the selected point, where the pen stopped last. Those straight lines with the little dots on the end are handles that you can use to change the curve, depending on the direction that you pull the handle. The points and handles are only visible when the line is selected. This concept and the practice of how to make it work is the hardest part of learning to use a vector drawing program. Once you master it, you can draw anything and your lines will be smooth and your curves beautiful and graceful!

Another tool for creating shapes (lines) is the circle tool, which can also become a square, rectangle, triangle, star, etc. You choose the shape, click on the page and pull the shape to the size you want. You can see that this circle also has points, like the line did. When you click on one of these points handles will appear and you can manipulate the shape using the handles. For example, you can easily take a basic circle and nudge it into the shape of an apple.

Use the pen tool to create a stem and a leaf.

Now you probably want to add color. If you have drawn items in Photoshop or other "paint" programs, you know that you choose a color and a paintbrush and paint the color where you want it. Not so in Illustrator. Instead you select a shape and direct the program to "fill" it in one of several ways.

Starting at the top left, the elements are filled with straight, solid color you choose from a swatch menu. On the right the apple and leaf are filled with a gradient—two or more colors that blend in a continuous smooth transition. On the bottom left the parts of the apple are each filled with a pre-programed pattern fill. Patterns come with Illustrator or you can create your own pattern fills. The last apple and leaf are filled with radial gradients.

This is just a bit of an intro. There are many wonderful things you can create in Illustrator. Now to some of the questions:

  1. How long did it take you to create that iris design? About an hour, but remember I have used Illustrator professionally (I am a retired graphic designer) for more than 15 years.

  2. Do you use a Mac? No, I use a PC, but that is irrelevant. Illustrator is available for both platforms and is identical on either platform. I have used Illustrator on both and there is no difference. I just happen to be using a PC
  3. If I use Photoshop, why would I need Illustrator? They are two very different programs, designed to do different things. Although Photoshop has some drawing capabilities, it is primarily a photo manipulation program. You cannot manipulate photos in Illustrator. Illustrator is a much more powerful drawing tool than Photoshop and creates vector graphics which you can scale inifinitely—without loss of  quality and without creating a larger file. I often draw a pattern for a quilt in Illustrator on a regular sized page, then expand it to full size. I often print my pattern out on up to 40 sheets of paper that I tape together. The lines are clear and smooth no matter how big you make it. And the size of the file stays the same. You can't do that with Photoshop. The two programs work beautifully together and I can't imagine being without either one.

  4. Why do I need Illustrator? You don't, unless you want to design graphics on your computer. Not everyone wants or needs to. But if you like the idea of learning something new, it is a lot of fun to use!

  5. What is the best way to learn to use Illustrator? Do you know of any good books or tutorials? It isn't a program that you can just pick up and play with and learn easily. I took a good class at a university when I learned to use it. The program comes with a tutorial that is quite good and the manual that I have is excellent. I am using Illustrator 10, which is not the most current version, so I don't know if they have continued to include the excellent manual and tutorial, but I am guessing they have. When I took the class years ago, my teacher told us, once we learned the basics, to pick out a published graphic and try to reproduce it. When we came to something we couldn't figure out, look it up in the manual. I chose a colorful Starbucks Coffee label, with a parrot and tropical flowers and worked for hours reproducing it. I learned so much from that exercise that I always recommend it to anyone trying to learn Illustrator.

    I couldn't find the one I used, but this would be a good one to duplicate.

 I hope this has been helpful if you are considering learning to use Illustrator. I discovered some Illustrator 10 versions on eBay for pretty good prices. I am also interested in checking out the open source "Inkscape" program that Jennifer mentioned in yesterday's comments.

Saturday, June 11, 2011


I am a big fan of Adobe Illustrator, the vector-based illustration software. I have been using it a lot lately and am reminded of what an incredible program it is. It is expensive, but you can buy older versions, which are pretty great, on eBay. CorelDraw is very similar and slightly less expensive than Illustrator, but for the money I think Illustrator is superior. Want to see what you can do with it?

I took this photo out in my yard a couple days ago. It is an Oregon Iris, a wild variety that grows in the Northwest. I love these flowers and was so thrilled to find one in my yard. Coincidentally, it was that same day that I went to hear Jane Sassaman talk and see her marvelous quilts. She stylizes flowers  for many of her quilts and this iris seemed to lend itself beautifully to interpretation.

I started by opening a new page in Illustrator and then placed my photo on the page.

Using the pen tool in Illustrator, I started tracing the outline of the flower on a separate layer. Tracing with the pen tool is an acquired skill. You need to learn to understand how bezier curves work. Sometimes black lines are hard to see when tracing a photo, so I often use yellow or another color that will show up well against the photo.

When I had the simple outlines of the flower, I moved the photo to one side. (I still wanted to look at it for details) and changed the line color to black.

This would provide a nice, simple line pattern if I wanted to make a quilt duplicating my photo. I was more interested in a stylized, symmetrical pattern, so the initial line drawing was just a start.

I started by taking individual elements from the line drawing to begin to make symmetrical parts that can be assembled later. Illustrator will copy and mirror image anything you draw, so it is easy to create a totally symmetrical design. 

I started adding color to the pieces and moved them into place. Each petal, as a separate graphic can be moved, rotated and placed in front of, or behind, any other piece.

Now it was time to add leaves. These, too, were copied, reflected, sized to fit and moved into place. Here is my stylized graphic of an Oregon Iris, created in Illustrator. Here's another cool tip—I drew one leaf, then copied, flipped, rotated and resized to create all the others.

You can do a lot with this graphic. It can be turned into a line drawing to use for a pattern.
 The very nifty thing about vector graphics (as opposed to raster images like Photoshop images) is that they are infinitely scaleable, which means you can make them as large as you wish, with no loss of resolution or image quality. You can easily use them to create repeating patterns.

Neat, huh?
Disclaimer: I have no financial interest in Adobe Illustrator, just a devoted fan.

Friday, June 10, 2011


Ah. I see I need to expand on what I think of as "moosh". I fear that my use of that word sounded judgmental. I understand. It is my own word and does sound a little negative. But that is not how I mean it.

It is not about representational vs. non-representational. It is not about "neat and tidy."  It is not about good and bad. I think it is about resolution as much as anything. About crisp edges or blurred edges and depth or flatness. Transparency and opacity. Definitely about contrast. Apples and oranges, not better or best. And just to be clear, again, I like it all,and what intrigues me the most when solving my own problems, is more toward the crisp and clear and graphic as opposed to the mooshy and complex. But what I make is not entirely without a bit of moosh.

To demonstrate I did some little samples in Photoshop. Simple stuff, not for real. Here is extreme crisp and graphic, sans moosh:

For those who crave a bit more texture, less structure, more moosh:

And even more:

See? The first design has gotten mooshed around, hopefully in a good way, and becomes something altogether different.

I hope that clears that up. Probably it doesn't.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Kindred spirit

Tonight the program at our Columbia FiberArts Guild meeting was a presentation by Jane Sassaman. I have been a fan for a long time of her wonderfully crisp and graphic designs. Besides making beautiful quilts, she designs fabric, using the same kind of lush imagery as her quilts. A number of years ago I made this quilt, using a variety of her fabrics to create the floral background.

Tonight she talked about being in high school and college in the '60s and Op Art and the Arts and Crafts Movement and William Morris and the Pattern and Decoration movement. My era. All the things I love. All things that seem not to be so popular among the art quilters I associate with.

I'm not comparing myself to Jane Sassaman, mind you. I only wish I had her style, but I recognized a similar intent and mindset in what she does and what I try to do and like to do.

There is so much dyeing and painting and layering and subtlety (I call it "moosh" when it crosses into that totally unfocused area) going on in the art quilt world and my brain doesn't work that way so much. It is not that I don't like what I see. I like all kinds of art, done well. It is just that it is not what I can, or want to do myself. I love clear, flat color and crisp edges and symmetry and stylization of representational images, and I am pretty much alone in that among my immediate circle of quilt artists.It was just pretty great to make the connection tonight that I am coming from some of the same places as Jane. Here is one of her quilts:

And another:

Here is William Morris, the Master.

No moosh here.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

We have plans

When we bought this house we had a plan—not a plan on paper, just an idea sort of plan. The plan was to buy this property that we liked, with the trees and the deep lot and the little creek running through it and to make the rather odd and ordinary house something more to our liking, and then out between the road and the creek, we would build a studio for me, attached to a greenhouse for Ray. It was a dreamy sort of plan, dependent on the money we would realize from the sale of our old house.

As you probably know, the old house didn't sell and was rented out for two years, so only part of the plan was possible. The house is getting there, with some further remodeling to come, but now the sale of the old house has revived the dream of the studio and greenhouse.

We actually started the process more than a year ago by asking our talented son-in-law to design the building for us. Carlos was an architect in Ecuador, though he is not working as one here. Learning about American construction methods and standards was a learning curve for him, but he persisted and came up with a very functional and beautiful design. Our next step was to consult with the county agency that regulates building near streams and waterways. We learned where the protected zone on each side of the creek extends and made sure our plans would conform to their regulations. With some modifications they did. Carlos drew and redrew the plans, making each modification as needed.

Finally, this winter it was time to run this all past the county bureaucrats who grant building permits. It was a bit like starting over, since they seemed doubtful that we were truly outside the protected conservation zone. Ray went back to the water people and got the two agencies communicating with each other about our property. Snarls of red tape. The county needed us to have the conservation zone re-surveyed. We did. We were fine, though poorer for the experience. Then they laid on us the news that the building, as designed, was too tall by a couple of feet. So it was back to the drawing board. Literally. Above are the (hopefully) final plans that will go back to the county for approval.

This is where we plan to build. Sofia is standing next to a stake that represents the front corner of the studio. The Northwest Elevation, above, will face the creek and our house that you can see back behind Sofia. It will be surrounded by tall, beautiful trees and I think will be such a lovely place to work. I am so grateful to my son-in-law. He has worked so hard on this project and created something that is exactly what I hoped for.

Wish us luck with the next round of applications. With any luck construction can start this summer. I hope to be able to share each phase right here.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Another "Oregon" quilt

I started working on a new quilt for the next Oregon SAQA show. The theme is Oregon:State of Diversity II. Basically the same theme as the last show. I am really getting a little tired of all the Northwest and Oregon themed show themes. I have made quilts depicting Mt. Hood, the state tree of Oregon, the Douglas Fir and the Oregon Coast. Oh yes, then there was the rain quilt—for the "Northwest Vibes" theme. I have been trying to think of a different approach. Instead of scenery, I thought about history. The Oregon Trail. People.

My great grandmother came to Oregon as a child over the Oregon Trail and I have lived, in Idaho, with a view of where the trail came through the mountains. I feel an affinity for the Oregon Trail. I am especially interested in the women and the children. What a hard life that must have been. And, of course there were people who were already here, also affected by the Oregon Trail—the Native Americans. The idea I am working on is about the women of the Oregon Trail—probably five. I started today with the Native American woman.

I started by making a sketch in Illustrator, then printing it out to use as a pattern. I started fusing fabrics to a background piece.

This represents a woman of one of the Columbia River tribes—Umatilla or Grande Ronde perhaps. I love the distinctive woven basket hats they wore traditionally, so I wanted to include one of them. I think it is coming along.

On our way home from the coast the other day my friends and I were talking about the new issue of Quilting Arts magazine which is all about portrait quilts. One of my friends said she doesn't like "people on quilts". I have to agree I have seen a lot of pretty awful people on quilts. So, why do I keep making quilts with people on them? Contrariness, I guess. Or maybe I am just fascinated with faces.  This could be a big old failure.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Seasonal beauty

Though we are all thoroughly sick of rain here in western Oregon, I have to say the flowers are glorious this year. The rhododendrons and azaleas have been lush and exuberant. One of my favorites that blooms a little later than most are deciduous azaleas, which are notable for their brilliant color. This orange one in my yard is gorgeous!

There is a wetland area near my house that I drive past frequently. The last two springs I have noticed what look like yellow irises growing in the water. Today I stopped with my camera.
They are, indeed, irises and are amazing. I learned that in Oregon and many states they are classified as "noxious weeds." According the Oregon State University Extension service site "It is invasive and out-competes native riparian vegetation, including cattails, sedges and rushes, and it degrades native fish habitat, as well as bird nesting and rearing sites." How sad to think something this beautiful is actually destructive.

Yesterday several of the STASH members, including myself, drove over to Tillamook, Oregon to see an exhibit of Cynthia Corbin's work at the Latimer Quilt and Textile Center.   Cynthia's work is wonderful and the sun was shining in Tillamook and the company was great and we stopped for ice cream at the Tillamook Cheese factory. It was a nice break! If you are near enough to see the show at the Latimer I recommend it highly. If not, at least take a look at her web site. You are in for a treat.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Twelve by Twelve Day

Today was the reveal day for the latest Twelve by Twelve challenge. Helen's color challenge was "spice colors."  I continued my experiments in fusing and stitching this mosaic-y kind of abstract design, but this time used it as a background for a crow.  I really liked making this piece and even added some beads at the end. I don't often find beads add much to a quilt and sometimes even detract, but I like those little points of bone white these added.

We are getting near the end of our second round of challenges. Four years, nearly. What an amazing experience it has been. We are talking about what to do next. We have, perhaps, exhausted the challenge format as we have been doing it. We are pondering. What seems clear, at least to me, is that these people are part of my life now. We will not simply wander off into the cyberspace from whence we came. If you are wondering if there is another book on the horizon, I think not. Even as the book has been an amazing outcome of our internet project, it isn't what it was all about ever. Have I mentioned that we are all (except for one of us) going to the International Quilt Festival in Houston, where both of our challenge series will be seen in their entirety? It will be the first time we will be together as a group anywhere. Just thinking about that chokes me up a little.

If you haven't, go on over to the Twelve by Twelve blog to see all the spicy quilts. As always, we've had a lot of fun with the theme.