Thursday, July 25, 2013

Studio day with the kid

Sofia and I decided that for the rest of the summer she could spend Thursday afternoons with me and it would be our "studio day." Today was the first and I decided to teach her some embroidery stitches, explaining that embroidery was part sewing and part drawing with a needle and thread.

In preparation I purchased two embroidery hoops; an assortment of colored perle cotton; tapestry needles, which have large eyes and fairly blunt points, but still small enough to easily sew through cotton fabrics and  a blue marker that disappears with a spritz of water. I used the marker to draw a simple smiling sun face on two pieces of white cotton fabric. I thought it would be good for each of us to have our own practice piece. I could demo  the stitches on mine and she could copy them on hers. I wound the perle cotton onto plastic bobbins—skeins get too tangled in my opinion.

I started the lesson with an explanation of all the tools and materials and a quick bit of tool management and safety—keep scissors closed, pass them handles first; when not in use keep the needle pinned through the fabric; how to put the fabric in the hoop. Then we were ready to stitch.

We started with a running stitch for the rays of the sun, then moved on to the more difficult backstitch to outline the sun. Note that Sofia rejected the expected sun colors for her own favorites. I like that personal touch! She caught on quickly.

Small goofs along the way are par for the course and easily dealt with. She did not sew it to any of her clothing!

Popsickle break! Mango popsickles are delicious.

Back to the studio to learn the lazy-daisy stitch, proclaimed "easy and fast!" I thought she might find that stitch a bit more difficult, but I was wrong. I told Sofia she could stop for the day at any time. The first rule of Studio Day is that when it isn't fun anyomore that's the time to quit. But she was into it and wanted to finish it. And she did.

We took it out of the hoop, spritzed out the blue lines and pressed it.

She did a great job. I'm sure my first embroidery effort did not look this good. Now she is interested in embroidering her name on a pillowcase.

 I bought perle cotton instead of floss because I thought it would be easier to handle for a first project and it was a good choice.

Threading the needle was a challenge and I ended up threading needles for her. I need to find a needle threader that will work with the perle cotton. My threader with the fine little wire loop wasn't up to the task.

White Kona cotton fabric was perfect for stitching with the blunt tapestry needle. Not too tightly woven.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

I'm making this up as I go along...

That is what I should have named this blog. "Making it up as I go along." That could be my personal life theme, actually. But today it is about quilting motifs. I have been quilting the big quilt and I decided it needed some interest in the quilting. My friends convinced me that the full-out black all-over quilting I have used on other pieces would be too much, but it did seem like I could create a different pattern and texture for each section of this quilt.

I didn't figure any of it out ahead of time, except to decide that the patterns would NOT try to look like roof tiles or bricks or anything literal and I wasn' going to mark it ahead or be too fussy about perfection. I can't tell you how much fun this was.

I finished the quilting today. I blocked it on my design wall today and need to square it up, trim it and face it. Then I will show you how all these parts fit together.

Deep into summertime

How is it that summer comes flying out of nowhere and then suddenly it is half over? Does the rest of the world get more of a lead up and gradual glide into summer, or is it all like it is here in Oregon—long, cold rainy winter, long cold rainy spring and then you wake up one morning and the sprinklers are going and the concrete smells hot and the cat is sleeping in the shade under the hammock? And before you can even get used to it, back-to-school flyers start sifting out of the Sunday paper. Slow down, summer! I want to enjoy this.

and red nasturtiums

And perfect, precious, pretty pink roses and lovely lavender

We have fruit, fruiting! Remember when the guy at the garden center scoffed at Ray's request for an apricot tree and said they would not grow here? What do you say now, garden center guy?

Last year our little fig tree produced 3 figs. This year there are—well, I didn't actually count them—but a lot.

Raspberries, winding down.

Makes me want to burst into song.

Saturday, July 20, 2013


Ray has been working so much this month that I feel like I barely see him. This morning he suggested we get out and do something for a couple hours. We like estate sales. I found three on Craig's list that looked interesting and put us in the vicinity of the Helvetia Tavern, which is out in the middle of farm country and a great place to get a good burger.

The first sale turned out to be a bust. Not an estate sale at all. Hundreds of little toy cars still in their packages and a lot of cheap, junky jewelry. Where do people get this stuff? The second was pretty amazing. It was the home of an artist and apparently mostly a weaver. She also collected art and Native American artifacts and apparently never threw anything away. It was a little like a museum. The attic studio was the most interesting area with a lot of art supplies and books and piles of yarn and fibers, several looms, spinning wheels and weaving tools. My assessment was that everything was pretty overpriced, but it will all be half price tomorrow. We spent well over an hour looking at all the stuff and in the end I bought these for $2.

Whoever set the sale up and priced things probably didn't know these went together or what they even are. What it is is a nice little wood/linoleum block cutter. I found the cutter in a drawer marked "household misc." and the blades were in a plastic film canister several yards away from the cutter. Great selection of blades of all sizes and types. Several of her carved linoleum blocks were for sale. I think she would be happy that I rescued the tool. I will use it. And there are blades there the likes of which I have never seen before. And all still nice and sharp.

There is something a little haunting about an Estate sale like that one. I always feel a little uncomfortable going into someone's home and into their private spaces and belongings, and yet I like the continuity of treasured objects outliving their owners and moving on to new homes. That is where I find most of my old scissors and the idea of tools, especially, passing from hand to hand seems right. And so it is with the cutter.

The third estate sale, it turns out, ended yesterday and we arrived as they were packing up the leftovers to take to Goodwill. But it was all good. The artist's sale was enough. A good find. On to the Helvetia Tavern for lunch on the deck and the view of rolling fields and green hills.

I got in some studio time this afternoon and then checked email to learn that my piece, "Red Domes" was juried into the "Simply Red" show that High Fiber Diet is putting together. Good news. Good day.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Gallery morning

Our SAQA Portland group met at the Waterstone Gallery in Portland's Pearl District yesterday morning to see Trisha Hassler's show. Now if you have never seen Trisha's work and I start out telling you how she has been combining rusted steel, that she cuts with a torch, and stitched fabric you just aren't going to understand that it is not a gimmick and it is for real and she is serious about this stuff. So, if you haven't seen her work, you probably ought to go on over to her web site right now and take a look before you go any further...

There. Did you look at it? Just wonderful, wonderful stuff.

Trisha talked about her work and the show. She talked about transitioning out of using the steel because she now has Parkinson's disease and does not always have the strength to work with the metal. She talked about her family and how the work relates to her history and what she wants her children to know about their history. It was a lovely talk. She is a lovely person.

While she was talking she passed around a piece of fabric that she has been inviting people to stitch on. We each added a few stitches. It will be used in a piece of art.

We wandered through the small gallery and examined each perfect piece carefully. It was a collaborative show with a painter named Kathy Haydon and their work complemented each other beautifully. It was the kind of show that filled me with the pleasure of sharing work that felt very personal and intimate. Each piece was a contemplation and a satisfyingly delicious little bit of texture, meaning and stunning detail.

If you live in or near Portland, I really hope you don't miss seeing this. Details here.

When we left the gallery I met several of the others at a Lebanese restaurant and we had a good lunch and a lively discussion about the art and about the upcoming exhibits for our High Fiber Diet group. I forget how much good energy there is in downtown Portland. I walked about 10 blocks from the gallery to the restaurant and arrived ahead of the group who drove and had to look for parking. Walking was a good choice. It was a beautiful morning and I enjoyed the shop windows and the street scene and smells of roasting coffee and garlic cooking and banks of flowers along the street. I love Portland, and marvel that we ended up living here, almost by accident. My morning in the city seemed to energize me and I came home to my little studio in the woods and put in a productive afternoon.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Guiding Principles

I am cutting it off. The only logical solution, really.

Thanks for all the input and comments. Some of you got what I was after, some did not. The more I looked at it, the more I realized the basic flaw in the blue house part of the composition was that the blue house was just too dominant, too big and too much of a distraction from what were my favorite parts of the piece.  Suggestions for adding things like vines and paint and layers of stuff were well-intentioned, but those things would not solve the underlying problem, and would probably only make it worse. I appreciate those of you who said to cut it off. I knew that was the best route to take and it was nice to hear support for that. The suggestion to put it aside and deal with it later was sound. I had already done that. This was the "later."

Less is more. Really it is. I keep forgetting, I guess. So I am making myself a list of rules—no, I won't call them rules. They are "guiding principles." You can ignore them in your own work, or argue with them if you like, but I think defining my own principles is a good way to remember what I already really knew.

Composition is the first and most important element. Once you are well into a piece it is hard to change the composition. Spend the time at the beginning to work it out and save yourself some grief later. Composition, composition, composition.

Color is important, value is even more important. Exciting art has deep darks and sparkling lights. Too often we are bogged down in the middle tones and that is the way to boring work.

Be true to your materials. Fabric art should look like fabric. Paint should look like paint. Paper should look like paper, etc. etc.  Fabric cannot do all that paint can do. Paint cannot do what fabric does. Let the materials speak and listen.

Doing more is usually not the answer. Less is more. Simple is good. No amount of paint, glitz, buttons, beads, embroidery will fix a bad design. Embellishment should be part of a plan, not a band-aid.

Know your strengths and work with them. Just because other people love to make grand, immense work, doesn't mean I have to. Smaller and more focused is my place of greater strength. Large is not my best way of working.

Be authentic. Let your own style evolve by paying attention to what works best for you, what feels most honest and the feedback you get from trusted colleagues. Being inspired by the work of others helps you define yourself, but copying others just masks your own voice. Know the difference.

Filter what you hear from others. Advice is nice, but consider the source. Praise is lovely, but realize that most of your friends tell you what you want to hear. Questions are often more illuminating than answers.

Don't let the work become too precious. Always be willing to throw something away that isn't working. Or cut it up. Or give to the cat to sleep on. Some things are just practice. Not everything needs to see the light of day. But before you do any of these things analyze it and learn from it.
Base your analysis in sound practice. Go back to the elements and principles of design and ignore the theories of the proponents of "winging it."
Don't be lazy. "Good enough" is lazy if you can work a little harder and actually make it better. Do it right.

This is a start. I'm sure I will remember or discover others. Maybe I need to print them and post them in my studio. Do you have rules or guiding principles you try to incorporate into your work? I'd love to hear about them.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Working hard to make it simple

Simple ain't simple. I keep saying I want to simplify my work—make it more graphic, less fussy, less detailed, more abstract. But it isn't easy, as I keep discovering. Remember how I struggled over this blue house?  I continued to struggle and fuss and change and try again. I finished it a couple weeks ago, or so I thought.

There are parts of this piece that I am quite happy with, but that damnable blue house is still not working for me. It became overworked. It feels very labored and ugh— that blue color is just a dead, cold, flat color.

Here's the part I like.

I could cut it off and this could be the piece. What do you think?

Or I could take another stab at the blue house. Here is an idea I worked up in Photoshop.

Might be worth a try. I could still cut it off if I can't make it work.

Frustrated, I made a small piece, trying to really simplify the shapes.

The small size is so much easier to deal with.

I started over with a bigger piece. Keep it simple. Concentrate on composition. Color.

I changed colors twenty times. I liked the idea of a purple sky. Now that I see it I'm not so sure.

Back to Photoshop. Here are some other sky color ideas. Bad phone photo, but this may give you an idea.

I chose one. Can you guess which one? Nothing is working as I had hoped. Can I pull myself out of this slump? Geez, I hope so.

Monday, July 08, 2013

The fabric of our lives...

Today I dyed some shirting fabrics in a green bath. It is wonderful how differently the different fabrics take the dye. Much, of course, depends on what the underlying color is.

The top two fabrics are from the pile of fabrics that Del brought me from a shirt factory. These fabrics are both so finely woven and silky in feel that I wondered if  they were all cotton. I only use cotton fabrics and if they are synthetics they will not take the dye. The way to tell is to burn a corner. If the fabric is cotton it will burn, leaving a bit of soft, gray ash. If it is a synthetic it will melt, rather than fully burn, leaving a hard melted edge, and it smells like burning plastic. Silk smells a bit like burning hair. They are cotton. Really nice cotton.

I have a real bias. I love cotton and am not really interested in working with other fabrics. I know a lot of fiber artists who love working with silk. Their work is often quite beautiful and silk takes dyes in a really vibrant way, but still I am in love with cotton.

I think part of it is that cotton is really the same material as paper, that most basic art material. It is pure cellulose and both paper and cotton fabrics have the same feel and opacity and smell and a certain subtle texture—a tooth that begs for pigment to be applied. Earthy. Simple. The fiber grows from the earth, is spun and woven and dyed and/or printed. My favorite fiber for clothing is cotton as well. Cotton yields and caresses us, and conforms to our bodies from birth. Besides human hands, it is usually the first thing we touch on this earth. It is the oldest fabric, dating from before 5000 BCE.

I have no taste for shine and sparkle and glitter. My tastes are more simple and I find richness in the matte depth of a woven cotton surface.  A needle slides effortlessly through and the fabric sinks into the stitches and relaxes into the thread, gracefully accepting the stitcher's plan. Cotton never argues. Cotton knows its calling.

Please bring me...

The travelers have returned from Ecuador, pretty much in good shape, but both thoroughly exhausted. We were all so happy to see them, especially Emily's children, who missed their Mom desperately.

In our family, returning travelers and Ecuadorean visitors come bearing gifts and special orders. There are a few things we know we want when we can get them from Ecuador. I always want earrings. I love the silver jewelry they make down there. I asked for small earrings and Emily brought me two pair. One pair are very plain, very small silver hoops. They were so difficult to get into my ears that I fear I will never be able to remove them, but I do love them. The others have a red stone and I do hope the hoops are removable so I can wear them too.

There are foods from Ecuador that we have never been able to find anywhere else. Guava paste. Emily brought me two cans. The cans are quite beautiful in themselves. The stuff inside is delicious. It is a firm fruit paste that can be sliced and eaten like candy; paired with cheese as an appetizer; or an ingredient in desserts. I like it sliced right out of the can.

Aji (ah-hee) is the Ecuadorean hot sauce found in every home and restaurant. Unlike Mexican or American hot sauces it is fruity, sweet and moderately spicy hot. Delicious on meat, potatoes, french fries and more.

The fruit in this one is tomate de arbol—tree tomato, or tamarillo. Ray keeps trying to grow tree tomatoes from seeds brought from Ecuador. So far, no luck, but with the greenhouse, he is going to give it another try. Besides being an ingredient for homemade aji, tree tomato juice is divine. And it tastes nothing like tomato. The fruit justs looks similar to a tomato.

I also asked Emily to bring me some little zippered coin purses made from the beautiful handwoven fabrics of Ecuador. They are very inexpensive and I have found them very handy for business cards and such. Here is the one I have been using to hold credit cards and bi-Mart card and Costco card and library card and blood donor card, etc. etc. It is just the right size, but it has gotten quite worn. There is a little hole in the bottom.

She brought me several, which I will share with friends.

They are a "new and improved" version, with a little key fob attached and the word "Ecuador" screened on them.

Andy and Emily know how I love the distinctive roof crosses of Cuenca and brought me another very beautiful one. Here it is with a beautiful scarf from Emily's sister-in-law.

Since our first trip to Ecuador we have had an Ecuadorean hammock in our yard. We have gone through several over the years. The kids brought Ray a new one, which he promptly installed near the creek. This is the prettiest one yet.

Emily's in-laws and Ecuadorean friends always want her to bring them goods from the United States, while we love the wonderful things from Ecuador. Mailing things back and forth is both expensive and more importantly, extremely unreliable. So, when we travel we all become couriers. The airlines' more recent weight restrictions on checked luggage make the transfers more difficult, but, thankfully, not impossible!

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

The Colonial past

Some new photos from Andy. Looks like they have been hanging out in Quito's Old City. Here is the Iglesia de San Francisco (The church of St. Francis), Ecuador's oldest church.

It has a wonderful museum and is a glorious church. There is a quaint legend about how the building of its atrium involved a pact with the devil and how, in the end, the devil was foiled. Rather than repeat the story here, I will send you to this site to read the story of Cantuña.

From most parts of Quito you can see the Virgin of Quito, located in the Old City on a small hill called the Panecilla (little bread loaf).

 She is, supposedly, the only statue of the Virgin Mary depicted with wings, and is a replica of a small, famous carving that is inside the Iglesia de San Francisco. She is also called "the dancing virgin," because her pose is one in motion, rather than the usual static poses of statues of the virgin. This statue has become very emblematic of Quito.

The Old City has a wonderful bustling atmosphere, with crowds of people at all times of day. The first time we visited Quito in 1999 we were warned away from the Old City. It was dark and rife with muggers and pickpockets. Since then it has been cleaned up, lighted up and there is a very noticeable Police patrol that is on duty at all hours. I have felt quite safe, although one always needs to be aware of potential pickpockets in crowded areas.

Andy is doing really well. We talked on FaceTime yesterday and I saw his new temporary teeth for the first time. He looks so good. Younger, happier, more confident. I am so happy for him.

I thought I was coming to the end of my Latin American themed series of artwork, but seeing all of Andy's photos has sent me to my sketchbook once again...

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

More Ecuador inspiration

More of Andy's photos from Ecuador. The previous bunch focused on cities, but some of the best places in Ecuador are not in the city. I have been to Emily's in-laws' house in the country, or in "el campo" as they call it.

My son-in-law designed this house as a weekend retreat for his parents. It is quite charming and has a lawn and garden, things you don't see in the cities. More of el campo:

One of the houses above may be that of Emily's friend, Nubia. I know they visited her on the day these photos were taken. The last is quite unusual for Ecuador, where very few houses are built from wood. Most of the construction is masonry, of one kind or another, or concrete. The fact that the last house is made from wood and actually has rain gutters makes me suspicious that it is the home of one of the many American expats who have settled around Cuenca. It has become very popular for Gringos looking for an inexpensive change of pace in retirement.

Andy's notation on this photo was "market" and though I don't know what kind of market, or where, it exhibits the kind of quirkiness that you see so often, and one of the things I really love about Ecuador.

These views from Ecuador are among my favorites and are burned into my memory. Emily, at one time, had a tiny apartment perched on a hillside in Quito with this amazing view of an area called Guapalo.

And the rooftops of Cuenca.

I made a small quilted piece this week. A memory.