Monday, April 29, 2013

Sunday, April 28, 2013


I am working on another piece using the shirting fabrics and buildings. This one is big for me and I am struggling with it. I decided to work with a cooler color scheme and this blue building is quite prominent toward the center of the piece.

Dead. The darned thing was dead. I kept thinking those warmer colors surrounding it would liven it up, but it was not happening. This is an area that I wanted to keep somewhat low-key, so it seemed like the gray parts were going to help achieve that, but I finally decided the gray was killing the blue. And those dark gray windows?—too much contrast and really dead. I tried a lot of different fabrics. I cut them and pinned them and stood back to look and nothing worked. Argh. So frustrating. I left it and came back to it later. Still no inspiration.

This is where it stands now.

I think this is so much better, but I need to let it alone for awhile before I'm sure. Less contrast, for sure. And, yes, I see that the windowsill on the left window is wonky. I need to fix that too.

Sometimes things fall rather nicely into place. Sometimes the simplest things can drive you nuts and nothing seems to work. Tomorrow is another day.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Drawing and all that...

Me, far right, back toward the camera, painting studio critique, c. 1968

I read something today that said so many of the things I try to say and can never quite articulate. It is about drawing and about being an art student and about finding art and finding yourself and being in the moment and it was written so beautifully I wanted to cry. Read it here. Read it now if you want. It will take awhile, but it will be worth it. At least it was to me. 

It took me back to being a student and remembering the feelings, the smells, the intensity of the studios. It made me remember the feel of charcoal on paper and seeing in a new way. It made me remember how you might cry when your work was critiqued—not because the critic had been cutting or unkind, but because it mattered. So. Much. 

"I was unaccustomed to putting myself in this exposed position on a weekly basis, but it was through these sessions that I learned the practice of looking at work openly, on its own terms. I learned how to articulate with kindness and specificity what I saw in a drawing, whether it was successful or confusing, technically adept or sloppy, moving or clich├ęd. Most of all, I began to understand the importance of vulnerability, which I’ve come to believe is anybody’s best offering..."

 It made me miss those days of such concentration and commitment and having a teacher. Wouldn't it be lovely to have a wonderful teacher just drop in now and then and gently guide what you are doing, and tell you the truths that you need to hear, even if it makes you cry, and tell you how far you have come? Wouldn't it?

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Something alive

I'm not sure I ever showed this little quilt here, except in the "current work" tab above. It is only 14" x 18" and really is more of a study than a real piece, but I liked how it was going and finished it up. It comes from a photo of a whole hillside with houses climbing up the hill.

Maybe someday I will make a larger piece based on the whole photo. I took this photo in Ecuador, especially for the blue house.

I have had this pinned up on my design wall for about a month and the other day I looked at it and it seemed unfinished and kind of forlorn. My first thought was that it needed a person in it, but the more I looked, the more I thought what it really needed was just something alive—a chicken.

I don't know about you, but I think that silly chicken makes a difference.  And she was fun to make.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Building a roof

I am starting a new piece in my architectural series and the first component is a portion of red tile roof that will appear in a lower corner. This is going to be a big piece, so the scale of this roof is bigger than what I have made in the past. I noticed that the roof tiles that I have top stitched with black thread have a more dimensional, rounded appearance than the unstitched ones. Can you see that in the photo? Do you agree? I can't begin to explain what artistic principle this demonstrates—just a lucky discovery, which got me thinking about lucky discoveries, and in general, how we figure things out.

I have never done any actual roofing, but I have created tile roofing in several fabric pieces. Ray has done some roofing projects over the years and it is a simple, yet fascinating process. It is all about overlapping materials in a way that keeps rain from finding its way under the roofing material. Same principle whether it is barrel tiles, palm fronds, wood shakes or man-made stuff. The first time I made a tile roof was for this piece:

I was having a hard time getting it to look right, so I did some research on tile roofs and learned that the early tiles were made by hand and the rounded form was achieved by laying a slab of clay across the maker's thigh to form the shape of the tile. Of course one's thigh tapers slightly, getting wider closer to the body. This slight taper is what allows one tile to overlap the one just below it. It is a small, subtle taper, but it not only makes the tiles overlap, it makes the difference in fabric in making them appear to overlap. I may have made the ones in the photo at the top taper less than they should.

For me a big component of what I love about making art is the "figuring out" part. There are a wealth of books out there with helpful information and patterns for how to do things and achieve particular effects, but for me, figuring it out for oneself is much more satisfying, and I dare say, more creative. That, of course is how art becomes your own. You figure out your way and I figure out my way.

I remember how Ray learned to do roofing. My parents were having an addition put on their house. The roofers never showed up and my Dad could not find anyone else to do the work, so he enlisted my brother and Ray to help him. They did some research, then they climbed up on the roof with their hammers and figured it out.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Selling my work

I sold a piece of my work yesterday. An old friend contacted me last week and said he would like to buy a piece of my work. He looked at the pieces posted in the tabbed pages at the top of this blog and chose one he liked and arranged to come out to the studio to pick it up. He brought his friend, an artist, to see the studio and it was a lovely interchange. At one point he asked, "When you sell a piece, do you miss it, or are you just happy to have the money?" I laughed a little at the question and answered that I am happy to have the money.  Which is true, but not really the entire answer to his question.

I actually love selling my work. The saddest thing in my studio is the stack of unsold work upstairs in the storage space. Selling a piece of artwork is the most affirming thing I know. Better than having it published, better than getting into a big show. It means someone else has connected to it in a way that means they will pay for it and make it part of their life and surroundings. That is hugely, HUGELY gratifying. And selling something that is a personal favorite of mine, is the best. I don't have as much anxiety about whether the new owner will really like it or whether I have sold him something with serious flaws that he will recognize down the road.

And the other part—will I miss the piece of artwork? Oddly, not really. For one thing, I photograph everything I do and make sure I have good photos. I can always go back to them if I need an image or want to show a sampling of what I have done to someone. But more than that, by the time I finish something it has given me all that I needed from it. Sometimes what I needed was a big, tangled messy challenge. Sometimes it is discovery. Sometimes it is finding out what does not work. It always provides the problem-solving part of the design, the pleasure and sensual joy of choosing the fabrics and seeing how they play together, the solitary, contemplative parts of pinning up pieces and choosing the best combinations and beginning to see the piece coming together. There is a wonderful smell of hot fabric, being ironed. There is the hypnotic hum of the sewing machine. There is a process of talking to oneself. "Damn, I should have used a fabric with more contrast here. No, this is probably OK.... No it isn't OK. Damn." Then resignation and the task of picking out stitches and replacing the bad with better. And you know you made the right decision, even if you did have to pick out those tight little stitches. That's a good feeling. And then it is finished and I sit and look—for a long time. Sometimes what I thought was finished really isn't and back it goes to the table for something more—or less. Then I am happy, and the work is ready for someone else to enjoy in a different way.

And the money, the other other part. That's a sticky part for a lot of artists. I know some people who just can't bring themselves to ask for money for their work. And some, who maybe are too focused on  the money, making "sale-able" a priority that overrides their other aspirations for their work. For me it is a largely unemotional issue. Making art, while it is good and satisfying work, is still work and I have a belief that most work should be paid. That is not to say I would never give a gift of my work or donate it to something I believe in. But giving art as a gift is a different experience than selling it. When it is sold you know the person receiving it sees value in the work and has chosen, for themselves, something they truly desire. And that money is something I always translate, in my mind, into more materials, more freedom to work at art instead of something else, and a greater ability to continue to do what I so love doing. Or, when things are really good, I can use that money to buy a piece of art from another artist. I would much rather have someone else's artwork on my walls than my own. Really, that is the best.


Having my friend come out to the studio was a good excuse to clean it up, after some weeks of heavy-duty art-making. It looked good enough that I took some new photos and replaced some of the ones in the "my studio" tab above. Now that I have been working there for a couple of years it looks more like a real working studio than my earlier photos of pristine tables and storage bins. I hope you will enjoy seeing where I work.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

How does this happen?

I wonder how ancient man decided to create art. Was it something that was always in us? Or did someone invent it, like they did the wheel? My painting professor, in college, said he always imagined that two cave guys were sitting around the fire one day and one of them picked up a rock with three dark spots on it, and said, "look, Lou, this looks kind of like a face, except it needs a mouth." So Lou picks up a partially burned stick from the fire and scrawls a mouth on the rock, below the spots that already look like two eyes and a nose, then he adds a couple of eyebrows just for emphasis and the rock has become a face. Lo—art was born. It could have happened that way.

I can't remember when I didn't draw. I can't remember when my granddaughter, much more recently began to draw. She was pretty young. At six her drawing is pretty sophisticated and is most often  her formula for "princess" which includes eyelashes and elaborate hairdos and very detailed clothing, but sometimes I think she is tapping into something more primitive and elemental. This.

This face is astonishing to me. I looked at that and wished I had that kind of eye. I am in love with that face. And just to be more clear about it:

Sometimes I think most of us are trying too hard.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Art Quilt Portfolio: People & Portraits

I was sent a copy of this book to review, which I am happy to do! The publisher is Lark, who publish the most beautiful, elegantly designed art books around, in my opinion.

I have been looking forward to seeing this book. The previous book in this series Art Quilt Portfolio: The Natural World, also by Martha Sielman, was a beauty as well and continues to inspire me. I saw the call for submissions for the People and Portraits book and had intentions to submit some work myself, but it somehow got away from me and I didn't submit. The whole topic of faces in art quilts has long intrigued me and I have definite opinions about how well, or not, our medium is suited to portraying the human face. Over the years I have seen, for me, too many badly rendered faces in cloth—attempts at realism that fell short; computer generated "posterized" images; goofy Picasso-esque monstrosities. Sad to say there are a few of such works included in this book, but really very few. The book, to my delight, is filled with fresh, original takes on the human form and portraiture in cloth. Some were from favorite artists and some from artists entirely new to me. Hurrah!

Danish artist, Bodil Gardner is a favorite. I have been aware of her work for several years and then saw several pieces at the International Quilt Festival in Houston last year. I am a huge fan of her style and her clear, beautiful color sense. She is one of the featured artists in the book, so you get to see a nice selection of her work and read about her background, her thoughts and process.

Another featured artist, Margene Gloria May, is new to me, but her images engaged me at first sight! They are strong and confident and beautiful, and captivated me with their ingenious use of patterned fabrics. I went, immediately to the web to look for more images, in vain. Fortunately there are seven of her gorgeous pieces shown in the book and reading about how she approaches her work is inspiring.

Another discovery for me was the art of Yoshiko Kurihara, also featured in the book.  Her work has a very original, illustrative quality—charming and whimsical without being overly "cute."

These are but three of twenty one featured artists, including more of my favorites: Kathy Nida, Colette Berends, Lori Lupe Pelish, Mary Pal and more.  Each has found distinctive and creative ways to interpret the human face and form through fiber and fabric. In addition to the featured artist segments, there are galleries of individual works throughout the book. I know I will return to this book over and over.

They say the human face is the most compelling of all images and this collection will present you with unforgettable portraits and stories to inspire, whether from well-known, established quilt artists, or someone you've never encountered before.

Friday, April 05, 2013

What it's like to get old

When I was very young, I thought 40 was old. It is true that the older you get, the further out "old" seems to be. Right now I think I might be old when I get to be 80, but we will see. Just a few years ago I thought 60 was old. I am well past that, celebrating my 67th birthday today. My granddaughter, in her straightforward and totally non-judgmental way tells me I am old. For her it is simply a matter of numbers of years, not my attitude or my physical condition, though she does point to my white hair as evidence.

That photo, above, is a picture of the aging journey. Starting at the left is my great-grandmother, Cora Shelton, a paragon of virtue, pillar of the Swink, Colorado Methodist Church, signer of the prohibition abstinence pledge. She was the quilter, from whom, perhaps, my quilting genes descended. She and the Methodist ladies met weekly to make quilts to send to the missionaries and heathens in Africa. I have often wondered if there are stashes of depression era quilts secreted away in huts in darkest Africa to this day. Cora, who homesteaded in Colorado, lived late into her '90s and was a pioneer woman for sure.

Next is my grandmother, Clarice. She was a bit of a wild child, who didn't sign the pledge, hated the name Clarice and preferred to be called "Tresa." I was named for her—sort of. As you can see, she was a fashion plate. Having little money for most of her life, she sewed most of her own clothes and they were outstanding!  She was a divorced, working mother for most of her life and she worked hard, but I seldom saw the serious look above. Life was endlessly entertaining and she had a deep, cigarette raspy, hooty laugh that was truly hilarious. She taught me to sew doll clothes and made sure I finished the seams and made a hat to match each outfit. Hats were kind of a big deal with her. She never seemed old until the very end when she got very ill. Then she quickly faded away. Illness was never anything she had much patience with.

Next, Betty, my beautiful mother, only 20 years old in this photo. Whip smart, first person in her family to graduate from college, she never got old. She died at 72, but never seemed old to me. It still shocks me that she is gone. She was creative and busy and involved in everything and interested in everything. She was a force to be reckoned with, kind and compassionate and a hard act to follow, but my biggest fan and staunchest supporter.

And the baby, as you've guessed, is me, just a few days old. And now I am probably closest in age to great grandmother Cora, as she was in the photo. Now, that is sobering. I think about being old, but not much. I think that is the surprise. I guess some people my age are pretty obsessed with their age—either desperately seeking to escape the imagined stigma and image, or sadly accepting their roles as "old ladies" but really, for me and most of my friends, it isn't worth worrying or thinking about. Beth and I went to lunch to celebrate my birthday today. The order taker asked us if we wanted the "senior citizen plate."  We looked at each other in disbelief and shock. "Uh, NO!" was the horrified answer!

So, what is it about—this getting old? A few physical challenges, but I am still the same person I was at 20 and 40—maybe more relaxed, more amused and less stressed by life and ready for another day, every day. Those women, up there in the photo were good models for me. Each one different, but each one truly her authentic self to the end. I hope that is what it is like to get old. If so, bring it on!

—as if I had a choice.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

More pieces and parts

So, I did add some more stitching to this little piece and I think it works better. One commenter thought it should be turned upside down.

Nah. I don't think so. It is static enough as it is. Sitting it on a base makes it really  just squat there, in my opinion.

Here's another little village-y piece.

I went and bought some black matte board to mount these on. Holy moly, it has gotten expensive! I have been using scraps for ages now and finally ran out.

I got a lot of nitsy stuff done today—cutting matte board, finishing up those little pieces, and I finally got a decent photo of the Red Domes piece and another smaller piece in the series. They have been posted under "current work" in the tab above.

I need black thread to finish the edges of some of these small pieces and I am out. I like the Connecting Threads thread so well that I ordered more, including a gigantic 5000 yd cone of black. I hope it arrives tomorrow. The irony is that Connecting Threads is about 20 miles away from me, just across the river in Vancouver, Washington, and it takes 4-5 days for a package to get to me.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Pieces and parts

I find a good way to use up small scraps from bigger projects is to make small pieces. They are generally pretty spontaneous and rely on whatever is in my scrap box at the moment. Since I have some shows coming up where I can sell small, bin art, I decided to try some of my shirting scraps and made this little piece (it is about 8" square), using scraps from my recent projects and my outlining technique.

I stitched each of those little pieces onto the blue outline fabric, with thread that matched the main fabric and I decided that if I am going to make a number of these I was going to be switching thread a lot. Maybe, I thought, I should just make a whole bunch of varied shapes and colors and then figure out how to put them together. That way I could stitch a bunch of blue pieces at the same time, instead of one at a time. I may end up with a lot that just won't work together, which means my time-saving thriftiness may have been in vain. Oh well, worth a try, I think. Here is my"batch".

Hmmm. It is kind of stunning in itself! But I must not lose focus. I got them all fused, stitched and then cut them all out and started arranging them on background fabrics. I got two more done yesterday.

Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't, but it is great brain exercise. I think the second from the last might need some more stitching. The ones I like I will mount on black matte board and wrap in cellophane, then try to sell them cheap!

I am trying to post more regularly on my drawing blog. The latest post is about drawing trees.