Sunday, August 3, 2014

Moody California

I decided to meet up with a friend who was at the Blogher conference in San Jose while everyone in my family was busy doing other things.  We took a trip to Pt. Lobos on an uncharacteristically cloudy summer day.  The weather was downright moody, with stiff breezes followed by humidity, crashing thunderclaps followed by moments of sun.  It was an odd day and made for atmospheric pictures.

Unknown flowering ground cover that captured my eye with its color and shapes.

A grove of cypress trees bent by the wind

Plant life clinging to the sides of rugged cliffs, adding spots of color and interesting shapes

The sculptural quality of a dead tree

The sun debating as to whether or not to poke through the fog and clouds
I continue to be fascinated by the way the seasons and the weather affect the views I've seen many, many times.  I never tire of it.  Do you have a place that you love to visit over and over again?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Charles James at the Met

There's a spectacular exhibition about the designer Charles James at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  I went to see it with my mother-in-law, daughter and niece and we all loved it.  The exhibition is divided between two galleries on two separate floors -- not ideal and a bit hard to find -- but that's a small detraction from an otherwise superbly executed exhibition.

James began his career as a milliner in Chicago and hats from his earlier days were on display.  It was said that he would mold the hats on his more courageous clients heads to ensure a personalized fit, with a brim that perfectly suited their face.

In the late 1940s and 50s, James made seemingly innumerable gowns, cocktail dresses, and elegant coats.  He was a master at sculpting and draping cloth in fascinating and compelling ways.  His patterning and construction technique was so unique that he kept muslin forms so others could learn from his designs.

As lovely as the muslins are, see how the patterns translated when used with finer materials:

(The lighting in most of the exhibition is very low; I altered the exposure so you might see more, but these colors aren't true.  The red is much deeper and richer.)

Part of the focus of the exhibition was to help viewers understand, to the extent a layperson can, the way the pattern pieces were sewn together.  All of the gowns in one of the galleries had a small camera-like light before it which highlighted sections of the dress.  Next to it, these sections simultaneously appeared on a flat screen.  The pieces were then animated so we could watch a virtual construction of the dress, from skirt to bodice.  It was fascinating.

Many of James' gowns have names, such as the Butterfly Dress and the Tree Dress.  I couldn't take notes in the darkness of the rooms so sadly, I can't share them with you accurately.  But suffice to say they added an element of delightful whimsy to the elegance.

Here is a storyboard of sketches and articles, gathered together for a planned autobiography (1958-64).  I'm in awe of the fluid lines of James' sketches and I found it fascinating to read who wore these works of art.

Though made more than a half century ago, the style of the dresses have withstood the test of time.  I can imagine this dress appearing in today's fashion magazines or on the red carpet.

Fashion students were sketching, staring, and taking notes in abundance in the smaller, brighter gallery. Though not a student nor someone who sews clothes, I too was looking closely and examining the garments as much as I could.  I was amazed at how James took predominantly geometrically shape pattern pieces and, with well placed seams, fashioned soft drapes and gorgeous lines. If time allows, I would like to go see this again so I can absorb a bit more.  I hope you'll find the opportunity to go see this fabulous exhibition, too.

Thursday, July 17, 2014


My "lazy days of summer" have been jammed packed with activities: a week at my youngest's national dance competition, hosting my in-laws for a weeklong visit from the Midwest, and docent-ing. Yes, I know that docent-ing isn't technically a word, but I believe it should be.  In my experience, the act of being a docent is a verb.

Let me explain....

STEP 1: When I began my inquiries into being a docent for the Katonah Museum of Art, the head of the Education Department made it clear that being a docent was akin to taking a new art-related college course every few months in preparation for each new exhibition.  Practically, what does that mean?  It means that three to four weeks before an opening, all the docents attend several hours of lectures/presentations to familiarize us with the artwork in the upcoming exhibition, along with all the interesting factoids, personal stories, and tidbits that are all fodder for interesting and accurate tours.  For the current exhibition at the Museum, Iceland: Artists Respond to Place, we also had group lessons on the correct pronunciation of the Icelandic artists' names.

Detail of "Untitled" by Eggert Petursson, included in the current exhibition

STEP 2:  I have to learn this material, inside and out.  There is typically at least one single-spaced page of information on each artist and their artwork.  Some artwork is more familiar: Jasper Johns prints didn't require a huge learning curve because I was already knew bits about his career and recognized his work.  Nothing was familiar about the Icelandic artists.  (I did learn that one of the artists in the KMA exhibition, Olafur Eliasson was also responsible for the 2008 installations called "New York City Waterfalls", a Public Arts Fund project.)   Other than this reference, all the material was new to me.

New York City Waterfalls, Olafur Eliasson; photo credit, New York Times
NOT part of the current KMA exhibition

I have to prepare a tour.  It's one thing to be able to spew facts about artwork.  It's a completely different thing to be able to present the information in conjunction with the artwork, not sound like a robot AND do it all in 40 minutes. This preparation starts with a lot of thinking and then requires walking through the exhibition (nothing beats seeing it in person) and really contemplating the work, anticipating what is unique about each piece, and finding ways to present the work in an interesting and engaging way.  To facilitate this, the Museum always has a seasoned docent give a "first look" tour to the rest of the group.  Attending an advance tour has multiple benefits: anticipating questions, understanding pace -- it's harder to do than you'd think -- and establishing a flow between the artwork.  More thinking follows.

Once I feel ready, I have to give a one-on-one practice tour to the head of the education department.  This is the time I am evaluated so the Museum can determine if I'm ready to be in front of the public on their behalf.  I'm evaluated on a slew of criteria ranging from eye contact to my transitions between artwork and my overall thesis.  This evaluation is necessary to ensure that we are ready to be engaging experts and very public faces of the museum.

I give tours.  I'm pleased to report that I've passed my evaluation and have been approved to guide tours for the Iceland exhibition.  This exhibition is open through the end of September, at which point I'll have already started the process again in preparation for the next exhibition.

So what do you think?  Should docenting should be a word?

Sunday, July 6, 2014

From "notes for an oration at Braintree"

This 4th of July weekend, it seems apropos to quote from one of our founding fathers, John Adams.  These thoughts on government are taken from pages of his journal, notes he made for an oration which he never gave.

Government is nothing more than the combined force of society, or the united power of the multitude, for the peace, order, safety, good and happiness of the people.... There is no king or queen bee distinguished from all others, by size or figure or beauty and variety of colors, in the human hive.  no man has yet produced any revelation form heaven in his favor, any divine communication to govern his fellow men.  Nature throws us all into the world equal and alike...

The preservation of liberty depends upon the intellectual and moral character of the people.  As long as knowledge and virtue are diffused generally among the body of a nation, it is impossible they should be enslaved....

Ambition is on of the more ungovernable passions of the human heart.  The love of power is insatiable and uncontrollable....

There is danger from all men.  The only maxim of free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty.

John Adams, David McCullough, Simon & Schuster, 2001, pp. 69-70

Monday, June 30, 2014

An Art Tour

Colors and textures in Nature
A while back in the blog-o-sphere, a writer decided it would be interesting to do a virtual tour of how writers and artists create.  Each participant of the tour answers a few standard questions, giving readers a little insight into the varied way in which we each create.  I'm honored to have been asked to participate by Natalya Aikens.  Here's a glimpse into my world:

I have several projects in the works at the moment.  I'm exploring a new way of working with my textiles: thread sketched watercolors using my eco-dyed cloth. My current project isn't ready to share since I'm in the process of adding hand stitching for texture and emphasis.  Concurrently I'm working on a quilt that's just to satisfy my itch to piece.  I've taken vintage 1930s blocks, cut them up (not to fear, they were clearly someone's practice blocks!), and am in the process of re-piecing them in a new arrangement.  I'm enjoying the mishmash of colors and patterns, along with the old seams that are all askew.

As a photographer, I'm constantly looking for the splash of color or pattern that catches my eye.  I'm hoping to spend more time finding venues to display my images.  I'm excited that I have two photographs that will be part of the OSilas Gallery Summer ARTiculated exhibition starting on July 10th.

Emerald Waters, juried in the Carmel Art Institute's Scenes from Pt. Lobos exhibition, 2012

Lately, I've been using my writing behind the scenes at the Katonah Museum of Art.  I am a docent at the Museum, and I've written a few docent training materials that provide background information on an exhibition.  I'm learning so much through the process and am thrilled to have this opportunity.  And, in a similar vein to my photography, I'm always on the lookout for art -- on the street or in a gallery/museum -- and I regularly share thoughts and reviews of what I've seen.

All creative work is influenced by the unique voice of its creator.  Artistically speaking, I tend to make focused and/or uncluttered compositions, whether with textiles or my camera. Though I love monochromatic works and abstracts that are created with a focus on form, my muse doesn't direct me that way.  As for my writing, well it tends to lean towards scholarly because I'm a geek at heart.

I'm often prompted by a thought or word in my textile art process.  Exhibition themes or on-line challenges can lead me in interesting ways.  I may not choose to create something specifically for an exhibition, but the theme may spark an idea.   In addition, I create what makes it through my brain.  I'm not a journaler; I don't make copious notes or keep a sketchbook.  Instead, I tend to focus on the ideas that continue to stay in my mind, that my subconcious can't let go of.  These are the ideas that have captured my imagination, that nag me until they're made.  Sometimes, a photograph I've taken -- even one from years ago -- will spark a new work and/or make its way into a piece of art.

This quilt is made with an image transfer of a photograph taken seven years ago
I love the natural world and constantly want to capture the textures, colors, and patterns on display in nature.  I think it's all a wonder and get so excited when I am able to recreate some of that marvel in a photograph.

As for writing ... well, I guess one answer to that question is that I'm a talker.  I like to share what I've had the opportunity to see and learn.  I also am a geek at heart; I love to research topics and learn about something new.    Finally, I ask a lot of questions when I'm at museums and galleries and the answers to those questions often lead me to do some writing.

As I noted earlier, my textile art is guided by the ideas that I can't get out of my head.  For me, that's also the best culling process; at this stage I often eliminate extraneous details that can muddle a composition.  This is often helpful because I can be very deadline driven.

The biggest factor in my photography and writing is my curiosity about a subject.  It might be an interesting juxtaposition of textures or a sentence on a museum placard that makes me want to look closer. I do love to delve deeply, and that's why I have taken, for example, hundreds of pictures of poppies and spent hours researching topics just for my own satisfaction.

Behind the Barbed Wire, made in homage to Margaret Bourke-White
And there you have it; a glimpse into the why's and how's of me as an artist.  Feel free to go back through the blog trail to see what was written before, starting with Natalya.  And check back next week when the next artist in line will be sharing her thoughts.  

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Studio Update

A few days ago I dove into seed (scatter) stitching on my rose piece.  I'm using a variegated thread that transitions between olive, tan, light brown, and a mossy blue, along with a light pink thread.  The stitches are tiny - 1/4 inch or less - and made with only one strand of floss.

Up close the colors move about but from a distance, I feared it looked like my rose had been invaded by ants.

I asked some trusted friends for their critique and they all encouraged me to continue, believing that if I continue up to and beyond the bottom petals (and maybe all around the flower), the texture and colors will help my rose pop.  I'm encouraged enough by their sage and thoughtful advice to keep going.  I'll post another picture when I can.

I've also done a teeny bit of eco-dyeing with onion skins.  I love the colors!  The first pass was a bit splotchy so I placed fresh onions skins on the cloths and re-wrapped them in the opposite direction. Viola!  Look at the lovely cloth hanging out to dry.

The fabric on the left has yellow splotches I find quite appealing but that happened by accident.  I was washing my hands and wasn't quite careful enough; some of the liquid soap got onto the cloth.  The cloth turned to yellow wherever it came in contact with the liquid soap.  Not the suds, only the freshly pumped soap.  I'm going to keep this in mind to see if the same type of reaction will occur on other dyed cloths with other dye materials.

Friday, June 20, 2014

New Projects and a New Winner

Something new on the design wall, made from something old
There are a few new things going on in the studio.  Driven by the rekindling of my love for piecing, I took out the pile of vintage blocks I'd received a few years ago.  You may remember seeing them here. I decided that, instead of being the background for a new piece, they'd be the star.  Since all the blocks are musty and many were dirty, I tossed a pile of them into the washing machine.  I figured if they were strong enough to handle the machine agitation, they were fit for use.

Luckily, most were.  I've cut them up and am starting to re-piece them in a new configuration.  At the moment, I'm planning on a white background for this quilt.  Some of the blocks will have a white center, while others will have a pieced center.

I love the wonkiness of the little bits.  It seems to me that these were originally someone's practice blocks because there are uneven seam allowances, mismatched corners, and irregular sizes.  But I think that's what makes these blocks so much more interesting, don't you?  Well, that and the mishmash of colors and patterns.  I'm looking forward to continuing with project.

I also have a new watercolor on the walls.  I thought that one of my rose eco-dyed cloths might be the perfect backdrop to a quilt with a rose.... and so that's what I've done.  I stitched the rose with Aurifil Mako thread, my new favorite.  I think the delicate line is perfect for a rose.  I used fusible interfacing to keep the fabric from bunching up as I stitched.  The fusible interfacing might have been a bad choice because it has little bumps that showed through as I colored, giving the rose petals an unattractive dotty appearance.   I resolved this by coloring harder and then using lots of water to try to "wash away" the bumps.  It worked, but I lost a bit of the control of the color I'd had.  I'm not sure that's a failure, just something to keep in mind if I'm trying to have more delicate and/or lighter color.    

I think I want to mount this on canvas but there are two decision to make: 1) I feel like it needs more stitching, but where and 2) should I paint the canvas?  

What to do, what to do....?
And finally, I haven't heard back from the original blog hop drawing winner and so I've drawn another name from the bowl.  Margaret from Arkansas, You're the New Winner!  I'll get in touch with you as soon as I finish this post.  Congratulations and happy stitching!