Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Miracle of Dogs

We were told it would take two years to get a release dog from the Seeing Eye in Morristown, NJ.  But  six weeks after submitting the paperwork we got a call.  They had noticed on our application that we would be willing to take a dog with a handicap.  Would we be interested in a dog with a torn up knee?  The answer was yes, and thus began our 20 year journey with family dogs.

Since Boo came into our lives, we have been transformed.  We unwittingly carry dog hair everywhere we go.  We're apt to talk to complete strangers if they have an adorable dog.  We miss these creatures when we're away from home; I feel an emotional hole when I'm not greeted by a wet nose when I walk through the door. Our children will avoid texts asking personal questions but will unfailingly respond quickly to texts that include dog videos or pictures.

I was thinking about pet ownership as I cleaned up an overnight accident the other day.  I wasn't really upset.  The offending dog -- neither dog would acknowledge the vomit -- had thoughtfully avoided my husband's gym shoes.   Impressive.  Yes, the clean up was stinky.  Yes, it was taking minutes out of my morning routine that I didn't really have.  But it made me marvel, for what must be the umpteenth time, that dog ownership has taught me patience, joy, exuberance, pleasure in the little things, and love.

It was fate then, I think, that later that day I was reading Ann Patchett's book, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage.  The book is a collection of essays from different points in Patchett's career.  Here is an excerpt from "This Dog's Life" that was originally published in Vogue, March 1997.  It said everything I was feeling.

I watch the other dog owners in the park, married people and single people and people with children. The relationship each one has with his or her dog is very personal and distinct.  But what I see again and again is that people are proud of their pets, proud of the way that they run, proud of how they nose around with the other dogs,  proud that they are brave enough to go into the water or smart enough to stay out of it.  People seem able to love their dogs with an unabashed acceptance that they rarely demonstrate with family or friends.  The dogs do not disappoint them, or if they do, the owners manage to forget about it quickly.  I want to learn to love people like this, the way I love my dog, with pride and enthusiasm and a complete amnesia for faults.  In short, to love others the way my dogs loves me.   
What is it about dog ownership  -- or pet ownership in general --  that's so magical?  I can only say that I think it's a gift from God because I know all my dogs have been angels on Earth.  I've been blessed by the lessons these creatures have taught me.  Hopefully I learn their lessons well.

Boo and her beloved Frisbee
Goblin, my gentle giant, amid the flowers
Bella, sitting in her very funny and unique way
Handsome Harvey, one of the goofiest German Shepherds around

Monday, November 17, 2014

My Newsletter is Ready!

I'm pleased to announce that my first newsletter is ready!   Each issue will have original content, different from what you'll read here on my blog.   If you'd like to sign up, please click here and complete the sign up form.  I'll be sending out the inaugural edition at the end of the week.  I hope you'll sign up!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Sue Reno and Surface Design Essentials

I met Sue Reno through the internet many years ago and had the good fortune to share a meal with her a few years back. She is exactly the same as her blog persona: passionate about nature and conservation: articulate, thoughtful, and intelligent; and above all else, very kind.  Her art has captured my attention, and that of the mixed media art world, with its graphic designs and lovely mix of colors for quite a while. So it should be no surprise that I'm honored and thrilled to be part of Sue Reno's blog tour for her new Quilting Arts Workshop DVD,  Surface Design Essentials for the Printed Quilt.

I love to add to paint to the surfaces of my quilts, but have only a few techniques in my arsenal.  Sue's DVD is a perfect antidote to that problem.  Following an introduction describing the appeal of adding images to fabric, Sue introduces four printing styles -- cyanotype, heliograph, Thermofax®, and collagraph -- as a separate chapter.  It's easy to watch the DVD in one sitting or to select the method that most suits your interest at the time.

Sue begins each chapter with a list of the supplies necessary for the technique, and then demonstrates each step of the process.  Sue is so comfortable with each one that she never falters.  The only interruption to her very clear instructions are when she shares interesting tidbits about the techniques, their history, or the plants she's using to make her prints.   Sue has a nice balance between assuming what knowledge we already have and explaining things we might not know, making the DVD  helpful for beginning and advanced artists alike.  At the end of each segment, Sue shares a few of her works that incorporate that particular technique. It's great to see the variety of ways Sue has used these printing methods while still staying true to her signature style.

I decided to try my hand at cyanotype printing partly because I think the resulting Prussian blue is so luscious, but also because it strikes close to my photographer's heart.  Cyanotype printing is essentially a photographic printing technique using a substrate (in this case, fabric) that's been chemically treated, and UV light (sunlight) to create an image using resists.  Though it's optimal to do cyanotype printing on warm sunny days, I only had the opportunity to experiment on a partly cloudy,  blustery, 54 degree day.

There weren't many plants with fresh leaves left in my garden so I improvised a bit.  I gathered a few leaves and stencils to create my images.  I pinned all the items to the treated cloth and set the board in the sun, securing it with rocks I've unearthed while gardening.

In the DVD, Sue shares a few of her samples that show how the density of the foliage or flowers results in different shades within the print; for example, a thick green leaf is going to let less light through than a delicate white flower petal.  With that in mind, I hoped to achieve similar results with the opaque circle stencil and the pin shadows.

In ideal conditions, the fabric should be exposed for 10 minutes.  I let my fabric sit for almost 20 minutes and I could tell something worked because the color had changed just like Sue had described.  See, it's much grayer now.

I brought my samples inside to stop the exposure process and removed the pins on one of the letters.  I felt it wise to do a progress check.  It looked like it worked despite the breeze and the cool temperatures.

I had set up my station on top of my washing machine, in easy reach of the sink.  Since I don't have basins to use for rinsing out the photographic chemicals, I was using warm running water to rinse my pieces.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that the circle stencil had actually left a bit of a mark.

After quick rinse (it really doesn't take long), a little bit of rubbing (the images weren't diminshed at all by my scrubbing), and a bit of giggling over the luscious Prussian blue, I set the bits to dry and then iron.  Viola, here are the finished samples.

The only one that didn't leave a crisp edge was the "E", but as you can see in one of the pictures above, the top of the "E" bent back in the wind so it didn't rest closely to the cloth.  Perhaps I should have pinned it down, but I now rather like how wonky it is.

I also really like the subtlety of the print left by the circle stencil and the pin shadows.  I can now imagine lots of ways to use this printing technique!  I'm looking forward to continuing to experiment with cyanotype printing, and trying my luck with the others Sue details as well.

I hope you'll give Sue's DVD a try.  It can be purchased from Interweave as a download or a disc.  To read what other artists thought about Sue's DVD, be sure to visit all the blogs on the tour:

11/5/14: Sue Reno
11/6/14: Susan Brubaker Knapp
11/10/14: Virginia Spiegel
11/11/14: Cynthia St. Charles
11/12/14: Natalya Aikens
11/13/14: Lyric Kinard

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A New Look ... and a Newsletter

It was time for a make-over and I'm so pleased to reveal my new banner, thanks to the fine work of  Deidre Adams.  (The banner includes elements from two of my favorite pieces: A Show of Hands and Behind the Barbed Wire.)  My new look is going to be appearing here, on my website (updating is still in progress), and in my upcoming quarterly NEWSLETTER!   I plan to share lessons from my life as a museum docent, exhibition reviews and/or tidbits about art in public spaces, my favorite photo from the preceding months, and news from my studio.  If you'd like to sign up for my newsletter, please let me know at or   I will keep your contact information confidential.  

Meanwhile, I'm going to be tossing my head about as if I've just left the salon.  Having an updated look for the web is a bit like getting a new, sleek hairstyle and feeling a bit sassy.....

Friday, October 31, 2014

Eco-Dyeing Update: Pokeberries

At the end of a recent walk in the nature preserve, I noticed a pile of cut weeds along the path.  It was mostly a mess of gnarly vines and shaggy tendrils, but there were pokeberries in the pile, too.  Not wanting to let them all go to waste, I grabbed a handful to take home for eco dyeing.

You may remember that I've been a little disappointed that the lovely pink color that appears after dyeing with rose petals never stays (though the remaining mottled browns are nice).  I've read that most eco-dyers have success creating pinks with staying power by using pokeberry.  I thought I would give it a try.

I chose two sections of Dye-licious naturally pre-mordanted fabric for my experiment.  The fabric directions indicate that the fabric should be washed and rinsed before starting, so one section was quickly washed, rinsed, and wrung out before beginning.

For comparison, I took the other section straight from the packaging and placed the pokeberry onto it directly, using vinegar to dampen the cloth -- though the fabric directions explicitly state that vinegar is not necessary.

I secured the bundles with rubber bands.  These went directly over the dye pot to be steamed for an hour.  I poked two skewers through the rubber bands so the bundles would be suspended over the steam like a rotisserie.

After steaming on the stove, I set the pot outside to let the bundles batch in the warm sun,

and then let the process continue in the garage.  (I didn't want the pot accidentally knocked over by a curious dog or raccoon in the dark.)  My goal was to let the color soak in for at least 24 hours.

A day later I unwrapped the bundles and found this glorious fuchsia color. I don't have any screens to set cloth on so my two pieces relaxed on the grass, held fast by rocks I've unearthed in the garden.

The color deserves a close-up.  The color hasn't been enhanced in any way; isn't it gorgeous?

As much as I didn't want to, I knew I had to rinse the fabrics.  I prepared myself to say goodbye to the saturated color, but discovered this lovely delicate mauve-ish color stayed in its place after rinsing. I think the color is a little richer than you see here, but hopefully you get a sense of the results.

I'm pleased to have successfully dyed a colorfast pink.  The section of fabric that I washed and rinsed first did slightly better than the one on which I only used vinegar.  I'm curious if the color would change significantly with a modifier, but that will have to wait until next year.  I don't have pokeberry in my garden and most of it has died in the fields.  Something to look forward to...

Monday, October 27, 2014

All the World's an Expert

Last Thursday, The Wall Street Journal published an article about a new trend in museums: allowing the public to curate exhibitions.  In a nutshell, a few museums have given visitors the opportunity to decide upon an exhibition theme and/or choose the art (from a pre-selected pool) for an exhibition.  In some cases, the museums have seen an increase in membership and donations; in other cases, museum staff members have resigned over the public's involvement.  The big question is, is it appropriate to let the public be so involved and if so, what does this mean for museums?

I find this turf war fascinating, and a bit sad.

I think one of a museum's overarching goals is to get the public, its visitors, to appreciate art.  Appreciation comes from interacting with the art.  Sometimes that involves learning about its origins, the time it was made, the social structure of the artist's community, or the particular challenges the artist might have faced.  In the case of the public curating, the viewers have a vested interest in the art because they are choosing what might be seen.  They get to make choices.  Viewers spend more time looking at all the art options in order to make a choice, as opposed to simply looking at what they might select themselves.  They are involved.

I'm disappointed that a curator might resign over this type of scenario.  A good curator could still be the gentle guiding hand in the creation of the exhibition during the pre-selection process.  I don't see how the museum's leadership role in the appreciation of art is diminished by letting the public sometimes have a say. I don't think the museum relinquishes its role as an expert by exhibiting artwork selected by public opinion.  These exhibitions would become a collection of favorites and I can imagine there would still be many educational opportunities.  I think there would be  sociological things to glean from public curating that would dovetail nicely into the "facts" of the art.  We'd likely gain a lot of insight into trends, social conscience, and probably get a few surprises as well.

I think this would get people thinking and talking, and Isn't Art Supposed To Be a Dialogue?

I think enabling the public to participate in the development of an exhibition is a great idea.  I don't think it should be done all the time -- there's a lot learn from experts curators.  But I do think it's an excellent way to engage the public and to let them be part of the artistic process.  I think it's a very resourceful way to get visitors to come back (and pay again and/or become members).  I think it could be very exciting for a curator to understand their "market" and community via this process.  I say Bravo.  I hope museums will, whenever possible, let visitors have a say.

If you're interested in reading the full article, here's the link:

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Fall Break

While my husband stays home with our youngest, I'm in CA with our older two children who have a fall break from school.  I never have difficulty finding things to take pictures of; here are some favorites from just the last few days.

The lonely pier at dusk

Sometimes you just have to take the Hallmark card-style picture when you see it.

A redwood tree trunk after the morning fog -- I just love the texture and color

A windy day means lots of wave pictures.  This is one of many.

A bluebird watching wild turkeys

Magical light on a hike

I love vacations with my camera.  My children have become very tolerant of, and somewhat amused by, all my stops and starts for "just one more picture".   It's hardly ever just one more....