Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Almost Wordless Wednesday

Larger than life fiber sculpture, artist name forgotten...

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!

However you celebrate this time of year, I hope you are surrounded by loved ones, safe and warm.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Finding Balance

I'd like to share with you a selection from the book, Gift from the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh.  For those of you who don't know, Anne Morrow Lindbergh was the wife of Charles Lindbergh and a pioneering aviator in her own right.  She was also an author and environmentalist.  She wrote Gift from the Sea while on a beach vacation. It was first published in 1955.  What she wrote more than fifty years ago somehow still rings true:

Distraction is, always has been, and probably always will be, inherent in woman's life.

For to be a woman is to have interests and duties, raying out in all directions from the central mother-core, like spokes from the hub of a wheel.  The pattern of our lives is essentially circular.  We must be open to all points of the compass; husband, children, friends, home, community; stretched out, exposed, sensitive like a spider's web to each breeze that blows, to each call that comes.  How difficult for us, then, to achieve a balance in the midst of these contradictory tensions, and yet how necessary for the proper functioning of our lives.  How much we need, and how arduous the attainment is that steadiness preached in all rules for holy living.  How desirable and how distant is the ideal of the contemplative, artist or saint -- the inner inviolable core, the single eye.

With a new awareness, both painful and humorous, I begin to understand why the saints were rarely married women.  I am convinced it has nothing inherently to do, as I once supposed, with chastity or children.  It has to do primarily with distractions.  The bearing, rearing, feeding and educating of children; the running of a house with its thousand details; human relationship with their myriad pulls -- woman's normal occupations in general run counter to creative life, or contemplative life, or saintly life.  The problem is not merely one of Woman and Career, Woman and the Home, Woman and Independence.  It is more basically: how to remain whole in the midst of the distractions of life; how to remain balanced, no matter what centrifugal forces tend to pull one off center; how to remain strong, no matter what shocks come in at the periphery and tend to crack the hub of the wheel. 

As the new year approaches, I'm reflecting on the past twelve months and looking forward to the next twelve.  Finding time for all that has to be done and what I'd like to do is a delicate balancing act.   How do you do it?  How do you find balance in your life?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Chinese Art in NYC -- Exhibition Review (Subtitle: How Curatorial Decisions Affect an Exhibition)

Yesterday, Natalya and I took a few hours out of our respective holiday bustle to go see Bound Unbound: Lin Tianmiao at the Asia Society in New York City.  The exhibition marketing pictures were intriguing and we were very excited to go see works that had never been displayed outside of China.

This isn't a very expansive exhibition -- only fourteen pieces are on display -- but some of the artwork, such as Here? Or There?, are installations that take up a gallery room.   Throughout the entire exhibition, Lin Tianmiao's care with her art is apparent. She is meticulous with her thread wrapping technique (photography wasn't allowed, but go to her website here and select All Same (All the Same,  2011 for an example of one of the pieces we saw).  And, Tian Miao is a master seamstress and sculptor too.  Some of her human forms, particularly those that showed the aging body and all its flaws were breath-taking and perfectly covered in stitched and (somehow) adhered white silk.  Scroll here to see an example in Chatting, 2004.  Almost all her works are done in white which, if I've done my research correctly, is the color of mourning in China.  In interesting contrast, the most recent work in the exhibition was done in gold, with bits of blue.  

But despite all the accolades I've just offered, I have to say the exhibition was a disappointment.  To be clear, it had nothing to do with the artist or the works on display.  Instead, I fault the Asia Society and the exhibition curator. To begin with, the sound quality of the free cell phone audio tour was terrible.  Natalya and I have different phones using different carriers and both of us experienced terrible static on the line.  In addition, the voice on the tour started off speaking in such low tones, it was almost impossible to hear.  Finally, when we could hear the voice, she didn't have particularly helpful things to say.

Second, the signage by the artwork left a great deal to be desired, in my opinion, and the bookstore catalogs were only photo books, without text.  I wanted to know why, for example, the walls and floors of the exhibition room for Mother's! were irregular.  I had to look to the artist's website to discover the answer and guess what, it helped me understand the artwork better.  The artwork within the room has to do with struggles and nightmares within the artist's psyche and it turns out, the room is designed to reference the shape of the body's visceral cavity. Heck, if the artist feels a need to share that tidbit on her website, it's probably important and should be shared in an exhibition. On the other hand why, when all the other artwork in the room is so carefully and cleanly executed, were the panels of silk on the walls so chaotically applied? Regrettably, that question went unanswered.

This was the case throughout the exhibition: lots of questions, no answers.  In addition, some of the signage on the walls just didn't seem relevant to the artwork I was looking at.  For example, the recent piece I reference above that's gold and blue was about buried bones.  The color yellow represents the earth in Chinese culture and blue references immortality (based on research I did at home after the exhibition).  I think that's significant to understanding the piece, but the signage didn't say anything about color at all, comment on the selection of this one of two pieces made with vibrant color, or noted it in relationship to all the white work on display.  Is this a new direction?  Does the artist feel more hopeful?   Pity I'll never know.

In addition, the layout/display of the artwork wasn't ideal and I'm surprised the artist didn't balk at the placement of some of her pieces.  For example, Chatting, 2004 includes a soundtrack as interplay between the bodies of the piece.  Unfortunately, this artwork was set up close to Sewing, 1997.  Sewing, 1997 is a thread-wrapped treadle sewing machine with a video installation that mimics fabric being guided through the machine, replete with the rat-a-tat-tat of the needle mechanism.  The sewing "sound" was so loud as to completely obliterate any hope of hearing the soundtrack of Chatting, 2004. In my opinion, Sewing, 1997 should have been swapped with the artwork hanging from the ceiling in the gallery foyer because it included two of the three elements of many of the artist's techniques: thread-wrapping and video installation. The artwork that was hanging in the lobby was a better partner to the self-portrait pieces that were in the room and the ceiling height there would have made it easier to get underneath the piece to appreciate it better.  I have to add too, that the lighting was so dark in some spaces as to almost obscure the artwork.

And how come the exhibition lists the artist's name as Lin Tianmiao, when on the artist's own website she shows her last name split in two, as in Lin Tian Miao?  How did that pass the copy editor's and curator's notice?  If this isn't a significant change or if it's customary to combine multiple Chinese last names to coincide with Western "ways", I would have appreciated a footnote to that effect.  Right now, it seems sloppy.

All in all, I wish I could have found more information, somewhere, to help me better understand the artist's intent.  I know that art's supposed to stand on its own two feet and this was fabulous work ... but it's hard to ignore that some of her work was in direct response to her life experiences in China, and I'm ignorant of that since I don't live there.  I'm sad that display decisions so negatively affected my appreciation of the art.  (I'm going to keep that lesson in mind if I ever curate an exhibition).  I have to wonder if the curator presumed more familiarity and/or knowledge with Chinese culture and that's why information was lacking. At any rate, I am glad to have gone; I still learned a lot and discovered an artist whose work I find interesting.  Besides, we ended our outing with a trip to a virtual Candy Land -- how could I not leave the city happy?

Friday, December 7, 2012

A Bit of Fun

As I sit down to write, I realize how long it's been since I've posted here.  All is well, there's just been a lot of fun happening here, including a Thanksgiving visit from our daughter.  On the art front, there's been a fabulous new development: I've joined an international group of textile artists, called Latitude Quilts, that will be functioning similar to the Twelve by Twelve group. There are sixteen members; two are from the United States and the other members hail from all over the globe.  It's so exciting to see the work from the other members, most of whom have finished at least one City & Guilds course and some have taken class from the Kemshalls.  I'm finding it wonderful to see the members' work.  Their design aesthetic is different than that in the United States; the best word I can use to describe it is to say it is very elegant.  I know I'm going to learn a great deal and have a great time within this new community.  Be one the look out for more in the coming months.  For now, I leave you with our first challenge theme:  CARNIVAL.

In between family time and getting to know my fellow Latitude members, I managed to make a piece for the Quilting Arts "Coffee or Tea?" reader challenge.  I always have a lot of fun with the ideas presented in the challenges, but don't have enough time to respond to each of them.   The "Coffee or Tea?" challenge asked readers to share how they enjoyed their cup of Joe or tea in an 8" x 10" piece.  Well, I drink neither coffee nor tea, but I still wanted to participate in the challenge.  Here's what I made as a result:

I hope the editorial staff gets a good chuckle when they see it, though it's unlikely to be selected for publication since it's not about coffee or tea.  Still, this little piece served its purpose.  I probably should have been more careful with the letter placement and overall spacing but  I had fun, it was a good way to get back into the studio after a little break, I solved some "problems" along the way, and I managed to work with tulle (something I'd like to work with on another piece I have in mind).  Time well spent, I'd say.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Sunday, November 18, 2012

An Accidental Project

Several years ago, a friend was cleaning out an elderly relative's attic and came across a pile of quilt blocks.  No one else wanted them so she gave them to me.

Since then, they've been sitting on my fabric shelves because I wasn't quite sure what to do with them.  They're made from a great hodgepodge of fabrics, from the 1930s I believe.  Though many are stained or have cloth too delicate to repair, but I didn't have the heart to toss them.

Happily, today I had a thought about how I might use a few of the blocks, but I'm not quite ready yet to jump right in.   I picked four blocks that looked related, managed to iron them fairly flat, squared them up, and sewed them together.  Then I cut a freezer paper chair stencil -- but only after accidentally cutting a waxed paper stencil first.  Oops.  Having painted a chair and some parts on the surface, I'm now done for the evening.

My intent was just to see if I could get a reasonably flat surface out of the blocks and to see how well the fabric took paint, but the wonky piecing and eclectic fabrics have already started to grow on me.  Though not part of my original plan, I'm now going to add quilting and stitching.

Has this ever happened to you -- an accidental project?

Friday, November 16, 2012

Sold in Houston

I've crossed off enough critical items on my lengthy "to do" list that I can take a moment on my blog to announce -- with tremendous pride-- that my Whimsy piece sold at the SAQA Benefit Auction in Houston.  Woo hoo!  I'm so pleased!

This little piece is very special to me.  It was a joy to make and came at a time in my life when creating something fun and spirited was exactly what I needed.   It was the impetus for a new series of works based on the shape of the chair and the concept of welcome.  It marked the start of a more serious studio practice.  A detail of it became my blog header.  It's just one of those special pieces that I'm sure every artist has that marks a turning point in their artistic journey.  I love it and I hope it brings joy to its new owner.

As a bit of an aside, I'd like to go on record to say I'm happy SAQA chose to extend the Benefit Auction to the International Quilt Festival in Houston.  I'm honored that my piece was selected by Warren and Nancy Brakensiek, prominent contemporary fiber art collectors, to be part of the Houston sale collection.  I'm guessing they felt the pieces they selected were a fair representation of fiber art today that also would appeal to a broad audience.  I'm taking the implicit compliment in that.   I also believe that hosting a portion of the auction in Houston enables SAQA, as an organization, to expand its buyer pool and help educate visitors about art quilts.  There's no doubt that the quilts in the special SAQA exhibitions are tremendous works of art, but I suspect they might be intimidating to a new, potential member.  The 12" x 12" squares seem a much more attainable goal for a "newbie" and showcase the breadth of work SAQA members create.

Bottom line: I'm glad to have made a piece of art that touched someone enough that they were willing to lay down hard earned cash for it, supporting SAQA in the exchange.  I'd say that's a good deal all around.

Monday, November 12, 2012

I'm Back!

After many nights of doing dishes like this,

rearranging the kitchen furniture so we could sit in front of a toasty fire for warmth,

we finally have our power back and can return to business as usual.  Hooray!!

I have to say, there's really no place like home and I'm so thankful I have a home to return to.  Many of those affected by Super Storm Sandy weren't as lucky.  I believe I'll be thinking of those less fortunate than I for a long time -- how can I not?  My home is a constant reminder of how lucky we are.

I'm itching to get back into the studio as soon as I take care of all the other items that were postponed these last two weeks.  I did cross one thing off my "to do" list: I mailed off my pockets to Melanie Testa for her breast pocket project.  On the second day after the storm I finished the embroidery on a second pocket (I took out my first effort), but didn't get a chance to sew the two sides together until I could borrow time on Natalya's sewing machine as soon as she had power.  I suppose I could have hand stitched the two parts together, but my cold fingers didn't take too well to the idea so I waited.

That's all for now.  'Til soon, I hope!  It's good to be back!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

What will the coming week hold?

In the face of Hurricane Sandy (a.k.a "Frankenstorm"), we're battening down the hatches where we can and toting everything else indoors.  I'm taking the dogs for a long walk since it's unlikely we'll spend much time outdoors in the next few days.   I don't know what the week will bring, but I hope everyone stays safe, including those on the West Coast and in the Pacific, in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami.  For my part, I'm thankful my husband's in town.  Everything is easier when there's someone else to help shoulder the load.... especially if the power's out, the internet's down, and the kids are home from school.

Be safe!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


I've been fortunate throughout my life to experience kindness in many forms.  There have been life-saving moments:  strangers came to my aid when I was being attacked by a crazy NYC cab driver wielding a tire iron.  There have been moments of kindness that came when I needed emotional help: moms pulled their daughters out of school to decorate Morgan's room while she was in surgery, to give her a boost, and to let her know they were thinking of her.

And then there have been unexpected moments that simply came about because of someone's generosity:  I received such a surprise yesterday.

You may recall my post about how being lazy and undisciplined has affected my studio practice.  (You can read it here if you missed it.)  Marti Lew read the post and figured I might like to have a piece of art to hang in my studio that would make me smile.  She's recently been exploring hand stitching and had this piece already in the works when she read my blog.  She added the "L" and "U" (for Lazy and Undisciplined) in spots throughout the piece -- as symbols of her solidarity with my plight -- and then sent it my way.

Isn't that kind?

"L & U"
Detail of "L & U"
Detail of "L & U"

Moments like these reassure me that our world is filled with generosity and kindness.   I am reminded to think of others and to reach out, in any way that I can.  I am reminded to consciously do a good deed every day, simply for the joy it will bring someone else.

Monday, October 15, 2012

No More Caffeine

Yesterday, I decided to try my hand at making a pocket for Melanie Testa's pocket project in support of breast cancer survivors who choose not to have reconstructive surgery after a masectomy.  When I was in high school, I found out my mom was going in for breast cancer surgery when a nurse called the house and, thinking I was my mother, accidentally told me everything was set for surgery the next day.  Let me just tell you, that is NOT the way to find out about your mom's cancer.

In any event, my mom chose to have a lumpectomy at that time and did so twice again.  Fortunately, her surgeries were successful and she's one of the most active and healthy women of 76 you could ever meet.  I am thankful.

Given my mom's choice, I had asked Melanie if I could still participate in her project (she's hoping to gather 1,000 pockets to symbolize the myriad of women who make the "flattie" choice) and she said "Absolutely".

I didn't have a clue what I wanted to make -- Melanie's pockets are lovely and Deborah Boschert's are so conceptually thoughtful. Ultimately, I just grabbed a piece of my gelatin plate printed fabric, cut it out using the pattern Melanie provides, and started stitching.

I wasn't too pleased with how the pocket looked after it was sewn together; I also didn't immediately have any good ideas to perk it up.  I picked the pocket up again today after realizing that one of the most emotionally difficult things my mom had to contend with after her surgery was her doctor's advice to cut caffeine out of her diet.  This was an enormous change.  As I was growing up, my mom forever had a cup of coffee in her hand or just within reach.  She'd been drinking coffee since she was ten.  Stopping by at a friend's house for an afternoon of coffee and cake was part of her European tradition.  Coffee represented so many things for her including home, fellowship, and a nice relaxing afternoon.

To commemorate this change in her lifestyle, I went back to my pocket and added some hand stitched Xs (as in "crossing out the coffee option") and machine sketched a coffee cup.  The latter's not as crisp as my pencil drawing but hey, this one might have more personality .... and my message is personal.

If I have time, I'd like to make more pockets to honor each of my mom's surgeries, but I'll plan those out a bit more than I did this one.  For one thing, decorate the front of the pocket BEFORE you stitch the thing together.  I didn't, and that was a challenge.  I also won't try to machine sketch on a wee bit of fabric again -- that's not a good idea, either.

 If you or a loved one has been affected by breast cancer, you may want to participate in Melanie's project.  You can read about it on her blog or on her Facebook page.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Creative Block -- A New (found) Perspective

The absence from my blog mirrors my absence from my studio.  I have lots of things I'd like to do, but I'm having a hard time getting upstairs to actually do them.  Yes, there are a myriad of tasks and obligations that are tugging at my time (and I detailed them all for a friend yesterday), but if I'm really honest I can't blame them entirely for keeping me from being productive.

So, what's holding me back?

Ever the student (and lover of research), I went on-line today to try to analyze my dilemma.  I know that the internet is typically maligned for being the wrong place to self-diagnose but today, I think I discovered something rather compelling -- a quote from Mary Garden, an opera singer in the early 1900s:

My block was due to two overlapping factors: laziness and a lack of discipline.

I think there's an element of truth here that relates directly to my studio practice.  I'm lazy and undisciplined.

Ouch ...

I have to admit to myself (and publicly, I guess, if I'm sharing it here) that I'll often pick up a book as opposed to going to my studio when I only have an extra fifteen minutes.  I don't jot down notes of ideas or impressions of color in my journal, even though it sits on my desk about ten paces from the kitchen.  I could go on and on, revealing all my bad habits, but let's not drag all my dirty laundry out in public just yet.

So what am I going to do about this?

Well, I hope it's true that self-awareness is a big step towards changed behavior.  However, that probably won't be enough to get me up the two flights of stairs to the attic where I have my studio. I think I'm going to try the following (and I only say think because I'll have to evaluate this on a regular basis to see if I'm getting the results I want):

- I love to read everyone's blogs.  So, I'm going to take my laptop and read the blogs I follow in my studio. I'll already be in my creative space and hopefully, that will mean I'll turn from my computer to my sewing machine more readily.

- I don't have an iPhone, iCalendar, or any other such electronic device to keep track of my day; I use an old-fashioned calendar.  It works for me because it seems I remember what I write down.  So I'm going to try to actually write a creative appointment with myself whenever I have a block of time.  Hopefully, that will mean I'll remember to make time for my art any time I look at my calendar to see what's next on my agenda.

- I like to have lists of tasks to be done at some point during the week.  Guess what?  I hardly ever write down "Make art".  I think I'll have to change that.  Maybe I should write it down as two separate "to do" items so I go to my studio twice.  And, I think I might want to check each week how many times I actually can cross that off my list.  I probably have a skewed sense of how much time I spend in my studio,  sort of like how I have a skewed sense of how much I eat.  I always eat more than I think I do.  Maybe I can flip-flop those two activities?  That would be really cool -- eat less, create more.  Hmmmm, maybe I'm on to something else here, too.....

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Almost Wordless Wednesday

Did you know there was such a thing as a "swiveler"?  I think it sounds more like a toy than an attachment for a large piece of construction equipment.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

My Idea of a Good Gallery Director

"Emerald Waters", Pt. Lobos Reserve, California

I am learning so much from my experience with the gallery in California. First, I learned that it's very important to reach out if you have concerns.  Second, I discovered that some galleries set a minimum price for pieces in their exhibitions.  I like that and wish more galleries exhibiting fiber art would consider a similar policy.

I learned that some gallery directors will go above and beyond to make their exhibitions come together.  In my case, I had asked a California photographer to print out my image and deliver it to the gallery on my behalf.  Unfortunately, there was a miscommunication and the print arrived..... in the wrong size.  The gallery director called me, realized that this wasn't my error, and suggested another local professional lab I could work with.  Then, he picked up my print himself.  "I really want this to be seen", he told me.

I've also learned that some gallery directors take marketing seriously.  When I spoke with him, the gallery director shared that they'd done a marketing push to area interior designers, hoping they'd come to see the exhibition.  He told me, "I hope a decorator calls you up and asks for five more prints."

There's nothing like having a cheerleader in your corner who also happens to be working very hard on your behalf to help you be successful.  It's clear to me that a good gallery director views the artist as an integral part of the artistic team.  This is a professional relationship I'd like to cultivate and which will be the benchmark against which I judge all others.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Gallery Pricing Philosophy

As I noted in my previous post, one of my images has been accepted into a gallery exhibition in Carmel, California.  All images submitted to the exhibition had to be for sale and arrive at the gallery framed and ready for hanging.   The gallery also set a minimum price for any photo in this particular exhibition.

I like that.

I've been in a few gallery shows for my textile art,  but I don't recall ever being asked to adhere to a minimum pricing philosophy.  I wonder why that's the case?

In this particular instance, I think the gallery is being very smart and supportive of the artists. First, they want to establish an implied value to all the artworks selected.  The gallery doesn't want anything to appear "cheap".  The exhibition has consistency among the works.   Second, the gallery knows what the market will bear in the area it serves and that's very good intel.  And third, they are setting themselves up as a seller of highly valued art -- they look more prestigious to buyers -- and that will look very good on my resume.

For what it's worth, I hope galleries that host fiber art exhibitions will consider doing the same.  It's clear that other parts of the art community are doing it and I believe there's merit in it.

What do you think?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Happiness with a Price Tag

Back in August, I submitted some images for a photo exhibition in California.  The deadline was set and the notification date was to be one week later.

Then.... an announcement came out that the submission deadline was extended by two weeks and the notification date was pushed back another week beyond that.

Now the difference between the notification date and the receipt date of framed artwork went from four weeks to nine days.  That's not a lot of time to get something professionally printed, framed, and shipped.  It meant, for me at least, that I was going to have to pay for some expedited services to get something cross country if one of my images was accepted.  


I didn't know the proper etiquette for the situation. Announcements hadn't been made yet, but should I call the gallery and let them know of my concerns?  Can I withdraw at this point because the expenses would be more than I had intended to spend?   What to do?

On the sage advice of Jane Davila, I called the gallery and spoke to one of the folks in charge.  I didn't come away with a promised solution -- mostly because the gallery hadn't yet received the list from the jurors -- but I did propose an extension of the receipt date, given my distance from the gallery and the shortened time table.  The idea wasn't approved, but it wasn't nixed either.

As it turned out, one of my images was accepted.  WOO HOO!  This is a very prestigious gallery and most of the accepted photographers are professionals.  I'm pretty psyched that one of my images was selected out of a pool of more than 500.  Very cool.

But now how to deal with the expense?

It turned out that the gallery was willing to make an exception on the receipt date, but only because I had reached out to them ahead of time.  Whew!  That means my happy dance doesn't come at too great a price tag.

Lessons learned:
1) If you have an issue that arises from new terms/constraints set by the gallery during the jurying process, be sure to call.  Voice your concerns, but try also to present a solution.  I think that's what worked for me in this case.

2) I know this isn't new, but send as many entries as possible.  The image that was selected was not one of my favorites, but it's the one that fit the jurors' needs for the exhibition. 

"Seagull before the Storm" -- an image NOT selected for the exhibition

Friday, September 7, 2012

Ring around the Renga

You may remember that I told you about our fiber art group's Renga exercise with surface design here.  This week I added the fourth, and final, layer to another member's fabric.  It started off as a hand dye with lime green and acid yellow (not really evident with the icky lighting here).  The second layer was made of randomly strewn blue lines created by a rubbing; the third layer comprised of more randomly strewn lines made from Lumiere metallic paints painted over shibori stitched lines (the stitches were removed after painting).

I thought the lines evoked a feeling of the ocean and seaweed flowing in the currents; however, they were also pretty spread out across the fabric.  I felt the fabric needed some sort of overall element, so I cut a random design from wax paper and ironed it to the surface,

then sponge painted over the stencil with lavender (the irony of using a sponge on a sea-like fabric wasn't lost on me),

and, viola! here's the fabric after four different surface design processes.

We shared all the fabrics at last night's meeting and it was fun to see all the creative ways people met the challenge.  If you're looking for something fun to do with friends that's relatively easy, but more challenging than you'd think, this might be a good idea.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Lessons from the Design Wall

I live in an old (250+ year old) house.  Storage space is at a premium; the colonials weren't big on closets.  As a result, my design wall doubles as a holding zone for completed works.  Pieces I've finished sometimes hang there, pinned to the wall because I don't know where to put them now that they're done.

This weekend, in a fit of "getting ready for school" clean-up, I decided that this wasn't going to be the case any longer.  I took down my completed pieces and lay them over a cabinet top.   I put away a piece-in-progress that's been pinned up for months; another is going to get a bit of TLC today... and then get put away.

I also decided to sort through some of my inspiration images.  At the start of my passion for quilting, I tore out pages from magazines and stored them in giant folders.  I was hoping to be inspired by the great things I saw.  It was a good idea except I only opened the folders to put new pictures in; I never revisited what I gathered.

On Sunday, I decided I could use the shelf space for things other than folders with fading old pictures.  I went through hundreds of pages of images and set aside only those that immediately struck me.  I started to pin the pictures in a small section of the cleared out space of my design wall.  Now there are pictures of all sorts of works of art from saris to paintings and, from pottery to antique quilts on my design wall .

Small section of my new inspiration wall

Aside from making my space look much cooler, I also learned something about myself in the process.  I  am very drawn to works of art that are graphic in nature and exuberant.  Many of the pieces I selected had a circular motive in them somewhere.  I didn't select any artworks that immediately express a solemn or gloomy topic.  I love color and it seems that reds, oranges, and yellows are striking my fancy most these days.  This last point is particularly compelling since I hardly ever use orange or yellow in my own work; I think I'm going to have to try to.

This was an unexpectedly fun exercise in knowing where my creative head is these days.  What does your inspiration wall tell you about yourself?

Monday, August 27, 2012


A few months ago, the director of my daughter's dance company asked the girls to participate in a photo shoot with Ayodele Casel at the studio.  I'm so excited with these pictures that I hope you'll indulge me and let me share them with you. Here's my daughter in a couple of my favorite shots:

It's such a blessing to see her (literally) leaping with joy.   It's also thrilling to see her healthy, especially after her difficulties earlier in the year.  She's back in the studio after a seven week break since boot camp (pre-season training) starts today.   I'm thankful she has a passion that's also such a good activity to keep her strong.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Waiting Game

Over the last month or so, there's been chatter on the on-line quilting groups about the rules of some exhibitions against posting images of completed artwork.  Since compliance is taken very seriously most everyone agrees that posting images, even to your own website, can jeopardize your chances with Quilt National, given how easy it is for folks to poach pictures from websites and/or blogs.  Recently, Karey Bresenhan asked that folks refrain from posting images of their quilts along with an "I Got In!" announcement.  Karey's intent was to help IQF-Houston judges from being biased from an accidental encounter with an image on the internet.

I've not submitted to Quilt National, so I haven't had to wait potentially two years to post a picture of my work -- though from the sounds in the blog-o-sphere, a vast number of artists start working on their submissions in the few months preceding the deadline, so they're not waiting that long either.  But in any event, you know those are the rules when you consider entering a piece to QN, so I haven't had much sympathy for the situation.... until now.

I recently completed a piece I think is one of the strongest I've ever made.  I made it for the on-line group, Crossing the Line: Artists at Work (CLAW) which Karen Musgrave is spearheading. For our first group exhibition, we each made an artwork inspired by a woman (someone without a lot of name recognition) we felt had made a mark in history.  I chose Margaret Bourke-White, a pioneer in photography and the first US female war correspondent in WWII, the first female staff photographer for Life Magazine,  and a champion for the poor and underprivileged through her images.   I want to share what I've created, get feedback, see if it strikes a chord with anone else as it has for me.....  but I can't.  Karen has asked that we not post full images of our artwork until the first exhibition has been booked.


I respect and agree with her point of view.  But for what I believe may be the first time in my experience, I'm disappointed I have to wait.  I have something to say and I want to start a dialogue using my art... but I can't right now.

This is much harder than I thought it would be.

So I have to change my perspective on the Quilt National rule and Karey and Karen's requests: I respect the rules, will honor the rules, but have to admit that I wish it could be different.

Detail of "Behind the Barbed Wire"
Inspired by Margaret Bourke-White's 1945 images from the liberation of Buchenwald concentration camp

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Signing Artwork

Do you sign the front of your artwork?  I've always thought that placing a label on the back of a quilt is a slightly clunky way to sign a piece.  I'd like to sign the front of my artwork, but I don't really like the look of my signature.  So, what to do?

I've dabbled with ways to present my initials, but it wasn't until I saw Cate Prato's Cloth, Paper, Scissors Daily post on August 8th about Creating a Stamped Signature did things finally click.  I included my middle initial and came up with this "signature".  I think it's graphic and it shouldn't be too hard to replicate either by pen or machine.  Here's a practice doodle with lots of "VJZ"s:

I think I'm going to play with this a while.  I may even create a stamp of my new signature and put that on my labels to personalize them a bit.

Do you sign your work?  If so, how?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Almost Wordless Wednesday

Anyone know what kind of bug this is?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Jillian Tamaki - Illustrator and Cartoonist

This summer I've been indulging my love of reading, more easily done these last weeks as I've also spent lots of time waiting around at golf courses for my son to complete tournaments.  I recently finished one of the best books I've read in a very long time: The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro.   Excellent, excellent, excellent, on so many levels; I urge you to read it.

And, because I'm a holdout for printed text, I stopped by my favorite bookstore to pick up a few more things to read.  I'm in the mood to read more thoughtful texts, as opposed to the typical light summer read.  While perusing the shelves, I discovered the work of Jillian Tamaki, whose exquisite embroideries are used as the cover art for a number of classic novels.  And, as a bit of good fun from the publisher, the front of the cover shows the image of the front of the embroidery while the back of the cover shows the reverse of Tamaki's work.  Wonderfully clever and unexpected!  I almost bought Emma just to have the cover art, but I already have two copies.  Bummer.  Here's a photo from Tamaki's website (used with permission) showing three of her embroidered covers:

Jill Tamaki's cover art for Penguin Threads
Tamaki has also illustrated for numerous publications, including The New York Times.     Her Sketchblog offers a look into the breadth of projects she's involved with.  Be sure to read her FAQ about making a living as an artist.  She's a very engaging writer and I especially love her guide to idea generation.   Admittedly, her thoughts are directed more specifically to an illustrator's creative process, but I think the nuts and bolts of her guide are applicable to most visual artists.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Sucked In

I can't believe it's been weeks since my last blog post.  I can only confess to having been sucked in by the Olympics.  Every day I tell myself to get to bed on time, but inevitably it seems, I find myself still watching until midnight.  I'm fascinated and in awe of the sacrifice, dedication, and determination of these remarkable athletes.  I get a bit teary-eyed whenever a US olympian gets a medal and whenever the commentators share the stories of struggle that someone -- anyone, from any nation -- has endured and overcome.  Amazing....

We're also staying up late, spending time with our oldest since she's off to college this coming week.  Boxes have been packed and sent off since comforters and dishes aren't so easy to take on the airplane. Sydney's off to Notre Dame, so I'm anticipating taking lots of pictures over the next four years of what's supposed to be a beautiful campus. I know she's looking forward to all the fun football weekends.

Sign on dorm on football weekend
Photo by Matt Cashore/ University of Notre Dame
We've also been spending time with our youngest, gathering stories about her three week trip in the British Virgin Islands as she earned her advanced scuba diving, night diving, and amateur sailing certifications.  She and eleven other young teens lived aboard a boat, taking turns skipper-ing, cleaning the head, and doing all the various chores of living aboard in close quarters.  She's discovered a love of sailing (though knot tying is not one of her favorites) and she's trying to convince me to let her do a trans-Atlantic or a pan-Pacific (Tahiti to New Zealand) sail next year.  Yeah, we'll see.

One of Morgan's pictures of an island dock 
I've finished a new whimsical piece for my chair series.  This quilt will be hanging at the Pennsylvania National Quilt Extravaganza in September as part of the Stretching Art quilt exhibition.  This year's challenge was "Foundations of.....".  I decided to represent foundations of welcome: ways in which we let a visitor know we're happy they're our guest.  Tangibly, we welcome them into our home and ask them to pull up a chair.  In colonial times, pineapples were symbols of welcome, so they make an appearance here, as do wisteria and starwort.  Through my research I discovered that the latter were used in bouquets during Victorian times to symbolize welcome.  Who knew?  (I didn't even know there was a starwort flower.)  I realize I should have abstracted the house a bit more and had better color balance (meaning, I think there may be too many medium value colors), but I like the light-hearted feel of the quilt.

So, there you have it.  I hope you're enjoying your summer, too.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Blind Photographers

My street bathed in early morning light

This morning, I saw something rather breathtaking: an HBO documentary called Dark Light on the work of three American photographers who are blind.  Yes, blind.  The artists are Henry ButlerPete Eckert, and Bruce Hall.

The work these three artists create is worthy of any sighted artist's portfolio, as one fellow photographer notes when interviewed. (Butler is also a renowned jazz pianist and provided some of the soundtrack.)  The whole notion that an art form that is fundamentally dependent on how light interacts with objects can be made -- brilliantly -- by those who cannot actually see the light is astounding.  However, each of these artists has vision.  They have artistic vision and the photographs they make help them experience our "sighted" world better and, hopefully, help us understand their world more clearly.

I urge you to spend the time to watch this documentary; it's not even an hour long.  Click on this link for more information.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Photo du Jour

A little trip down memory lane:  my son and two of my nephews getting ready for their uncle's wedding...

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Freedom of Expression Exhibition

I'm proud to say my piece, A Show of Hands, is hanging at the Highwire Gallery in Philadelphia through the month of July. Their exhibition, called First Amendment, is all about the freedom of expression.  They sought pieces of a political nature and my totem about voting fit the bill.  I'm thrilled to be a part of this show. Here are pictures, courtesy of Karen Cooper.  (My piece is hanging on the wall facing the front of the gallery, just to the right of the gentleman.)

You can see a close-up of both sides of the piece on my website: .  It's listed under my "Hands" series.   I painted the yellow side of the quilt and stamped almost all the verbiage of the constitutional amendments that have to do with voting over the yellow.  I then stenciled the quote from President Eisenhower and thread sketched some hands.

The reverse red, white, and blue side is pieced from scraps from my collection in an homage to the patriotism of our founding fathers.  I stenciled three "calls to arms" for voting on the surface, as well as stamped a few of my favorite quotations about the importance of voting.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Goings On

I have yet to find the lazy days of summer.  School let out towards the end of June and I've been dashing about at warp speed.  My youngest spent most of the last week of the month in rehearsals for her national dance competition.  This year's competition was in Orlando, so it was off on an airplane for the two of us.   We were gone for nine days, with down time only at the very beginning and end of the trip. You'd think that in the land of Disney technology there'd be easy internet access, but no --- I paid $11 per day to have very erratic service.  Ah well, it wasn't so bad ... there really wasn't that much time to surf the net anyway.  But I did manage to see the super-sized bugs that grow down there. This was taken by the edge of the sidewalk; got the shot only because I had my ever-handy camera with me.

Then it was home again for a quick turn-around for my youngest.  We scrambled around and off she went, two days after returning home.  She's now living aboard a boat in the British Virgin Islands getting her advanced scuba diving and night diving certifications, along with beginning sailing certification.  I think that's just so cool and I'm very proud of her.  I've also been shopping with my oldest for things for her dorm (she starts Notre Dame in the fall -- woo hoo!) and dashing to doctors' appointments to prepare for her wisdom teeth removal this Friday (yech!).

In between it all, there's been a little bit of art.  My fiber art group is doing a surface design project, inspired by Renga poetry  (here's a link to the Wikipedia definition).  In essence, we each created a piece of fabric and are rotating it through randomly selected groups for additional surface design applications.  Embroidery, fusing, and the like are not allowed.  Another stipulation of the project is that we can't use the same technique twice.  The goal is to continue to add elements to create more visual depth and excitement to the fabric.  The trick is not to add so much that no one else has anything to do. I added some swirls and curves to the bottom of the first fabric I received, using paint sticks and a rubbing plate.  I think there's still plenty of opportunity to do more.

I've also done a bit of ripping out and practicing.  Have you ever thought a piece was complete, taken a picture of it, and uploaded it for submission to an exhibition, and then realized you'd made a humongous error?  Well, I recently did.  So, the bindings on the piece in question have come off and it now awaits improvement. (I waited until the skinny envelope arrived before I ripped it apart.)  But before I can do anything, I felt I needed to practice my "cordouroy quilting", as my friend Robin calls it -- you know, those closely spaced quilted lines that go back and forth across the surface.  Put bluntly, I STINK at this style of quilting, but it's what my quilt really needs.  So I decided to make a practice piece.  I went one direction and thought ... lame.  So I went back in the other direction and thought.... better.  It's still not perfect; heaven knows how folks like Robin and Lisa Call do this, but I did learn a lot in the process:

1)  The hand of the artist (fallible me) definitely shows if you have big spaces to cover;
2) This is not a technique that can be rushed; and,
3) Busy base fabrics are a no-no.  The stitching gets lost and you suffer tremendous eye fatigue.

After I stitched, I realized I couldn't really see the outline of the object I had "reverse outlined"-- see lesson #3 above.  So I dipped my finger into some black paint and smooshed it around the edges.  That was fun.  Here's my little practice piece that took a LONG time to do.  (I'm thinking I may use this for embroidery practice too, but another day.)

Another day because for now, I'll return to my nifty little hotel set-up.  Yes, I'm in a hotel again, but with my son this time.  He's in a multi-day golf tournament and I've got some piecing I'd like to do.  The room layout is surprisingly conducive to a sewing machine. By golly, I schlepped my sewing machine all the way here and  I'm going to get some work done..... after lunch.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Photo du Jour

Look at the gorgeous coloring on these leaves!

And look, the leaves are a muted red underneath ... and you can see the chartreuse stems.  Anyone know what kind of tree this is?  It's wonderful!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Photo du Jour

Happy Fourth of July!  I'm humbled by the sacrifice many have made for our freedom.