shibori and new techniques

I've gotten to the point where I don't take many workshops. I've got too many ideas in my head already, and I've enough of a voice as an artist to know that I don't want to corrupt my style. But workshops in techniques are different; they add to my skill set and provide other options for construction of my ideas.

So yesterday I took such a class, in the basics of shibori. The class was held at the Fine Line Creative Arts Center in St. Charles, Illinois; about 10 miles from my new house. Yay. They sponsor a lot of great classes, including many in fiber.

The teacher was Dagmar Klos, a leading expert in natural dyes and well versed in shibori. We worked on a silk scarf, and after sewing the resist lines dyed the scarves in acid dyes. Today after the piece was dry, I was able to take out the threads and see the results:

I did this by drawing a circle on the silk, then stitching across about every 1/4". When the stitching was done, I pulled up the threads and knotted them--it looked kind of like smocking does, but much tighter. The stitching lines run roughly from 2 o'clock to 8 o'clock. If you don't iron the resulting piece, it stays all puckery and cool. I ironed this one, though. The hardest part turns out to be not cutting the fabric when you're taking the threads out. I know, I was warned. But I'm far sighted, that's my excuse.

Here's another circle I did:

The lines on the sides were supposed to go all the way across; only one of them made it. But this circle was made by stitching around the perimeter, gathering that up tightly, then winding thread around the pouf made in the middle. I purposely left some openings in this wrap so there would be some variation in the circle. Anywhere the thread is tight, the dye can't get into the space--more or less. If you look closely you will see a faint blueness to some of the areas, probably because I didn't wrap it tight enough. But I like the imprecise look.

To see some really nice shibori, and what can be done with it, check out Chicago area artist Frank Connet. He makes quite large pieces with some nice shibori included in them.

And expect to see some in my future work. I have lots of ideas percolating up in my brain...Meanwhile, Happy Christmas and Merry New Year.

That is all.


decisions, decisions

I hate getting stuck on a piece. Somehow it becomes so wonderful in my head that I'm afraid of messing it up...most of my pieces I liked better during the making than after they are done. Not that they are all messed up, just that when in the moment it can go in any direction, when I can take it anywhere I want to take it, I'm more enamored of it. Of course, the side effect of this is that I have no problem with selling my work--most of it anyway. There's a couple of pieces that would have to sell for an unreasonable amount of money for me to part with them.

But how to quilt this piece...lately I've been doing a lot of close quilting, geometric shapes alternating with organic shapes, filling in the space. I'm kind of tired of that. So I just dove into this piece, and started with where I knew I wanted stabilization lines. The rest just grew from that, and once I started, I didn't have problems continuing with it.

Also lately, I've been quilting as a kind of middle step rather than a final step in the process. I've been adding hand work that seems to look better if the thing is already quilted. This particular piece is going to have some raw edge applique on it, too.

I splurged a little lately, too. When I noticed that I had written 100 posts, I wanted to save them and decided to get a book made from them. Blog2Print will go and find your blog posts and put them together for you. The result is either an ebook you can download for $2.99, or a slickly printed paperback book--mine was around $35; it varies with the number of pages. One thing to watch out for is that there are some missing jpg's in mine, I didn't edit it carefully enough.

For a while my go-to guru for jpg questions has been Gloria Hansen. She has been very generous with her help. And now she's put together a great book that answers all the questions--Digital Essentials. Right now it's on sale for 10% off, but it's well worth the investment if you need help preparing pictures of your art for the web, for juried shows, for whatever. She also designs great websites if you're looking for a designer.


Making Do

When I first unpacked my studio, I quickly realized that I could either take a couple of days to do it, or a couple of months if I fiddled with every little detail. I went with the quick and dirty method of just getting stuff out of the boxes and into some kind of order.

Now as I work, I'm fine tuning the space, making a few minor adjustments, and maybe actually getting rid of some of the stuff.

But as I thought about how to make the space work for me, I bought the current issue of Studios, from the Cloth, Paper Scissors people. There are some really fine spaces in there. But they're full of "perfect" things like just the right antique, or thousands of dollars worth of cabinetry. I'm not in that place, either financially or mentally. I want to make do.

So I'm working with what I have as much as I can. I have spent probably $150 all together, on some new plastic storage boxes and on two sturdy shelving units. And I did have some good bones--a sewing table my husband built for me, as well as a cutting table.

But here are some cobbled together things that cost me nothing and it works:

This started life as a stereo cabinet. Since we didn't need it for that anymore, we put in some extra shelves and now I have a place to store paint and lots of little stuff.

This cheap trunk was one my husband took to college 35 years ago. It now holds rolled up old work of mine. One of the handles is missing, so I tend to set it on end like this. It was sitting right next to my ironing board, and I noticed that it was the perfect place to put my distilled water for my iron, spray bottle, sometimes a pair of scissors.

Last week I finally set up a stereo in the space--using stuff we already had. So now my MP3 player is hooked into a 30 year old amp, chugging away through equally old speakers. There's something kind of cool about all my music being on that itsy thing, and being played through old equipment.

And the table it is sitting on is made by adding a pair of fold up legs to a hollow core door we replaced in our former house--the paint streaks you see on it are because it's where I used to finish furniture. And the wire stand around the stereo? An extra one from previous cabinets.

So I'm making do as best I can. I'm trying not to buy much to make new art; it's working in general, although I am pining for a few things...

If you've read this far, I should mention that Blogger tells me this is my 100th post. Woohoo.


following the rules...or not

The principles of design include something about repetition with variation. This I take to mean it's good to repeat a shape or a line in a piece of art, but don't repeat it exactly--change the color or the size. And odd numbers are a good thing.

So I'm hand stitching these horizontal lines (in various sets of odd numbers--3, 5, 7, and 1), trying to space them a little randomly, varying the exact start and stop.

For some reason (ha), it's not hard to make the actual stitches different sizes. But every time I place the needle to start a new line, it automatically wants to be the exact same distance as between the last two lines. I have to specifically think every time: Vary this line. I can't do it without thinking.

Is that because the brain wants order and regularity? Then why do the art mavens want otherwise? Is repetitiveness more soothing? Why is irregularity interesting?

Such are the boring trains of thought brought about by hand stitching--mind you, I like the look of these stitches well enough to keep doing it, but the actual doing is kind of boring.


SAQA One Square Foot Auction

Monday, November 10, marks the beginning of the SAQA (Studio Art Quilt Associates) Reverse Auction of one square foot pieces of art. My donation, shown above, will be in the first set auctioned off.

The piece is called Bryce Canyon, and was inspired by the national park of the same name. The peachy background was hand dyed and stamped with hand carved stamps, the 'hoodoo' shapes are painted fusible webbing, the blue sky marks the vivid contrast between sky and land in the low humidity southwest. The y shaped dark piece is taken from a photograph we took of a pine tree with exposed roots that stands on the edge of the canyon--a striking enough sight that we later found postcards made of the same view.

I've belonged to SAQA for a few years, in fact have been juried into their PAM (Professional Artist Member) group. They do a lot to promote art quilts as art, as well as offering lots of exhibit opportunities. Please check them out.

This piece, now entitled Lake Cooper 2, has been juried into Form, Not Function. This show occurs at the Carnegie Center for Art and History in New Albany, IN, from January 9-March 7, 2009. Although I've never been in person, from what I have heard and seen it is a show well worth going to see if you're anywhere near southeastern Indiana.

That is all.


cut and amble

One of the downsides of the Doritos principle of fabric (use it, they'll make more) is that sometimes you flop. My usual problem is that I don't recognize this early enough, and I invest more time (which is not infinite) into something I should abandon. For once, I didn't do that. I just put the offending piece on the table, and whacked it into pieces.

It started out with a piece of silk that had potential, but wasn't quite getting there. I decided to try stamping on part of it--which was overall successful. But I wasn't careful enough, and one of the stampings looks like this:

That black blobbish bit stands out like a sore thumb. So I cut off the offending part, turned a square into a long horizontal and a piece for the boneyard, and moved on with my life.

But it's hard to be disappointed about that; especially when my back yard at this very moment looks like this:

To quote John Hodgman, "that is all."


back in the groove...

I'm back in the groove of working every day in the studio. That's a good thing. The bad thing is I still kind of goof around, jump from one thing to another without finishing everything. I have a bunch of pieces that mostly had been previously begun, that I'm trying to finish. While I'm striving to follow my favorite principle of just do it, you can make more (or buy more), I still haven't gotten all my nerve back. Apparently, that's the down side for me of taking a three month break.

But I have been finding ways to use all the bits and pieces that I have from failed attempts. Thanks to Terry Grant, I now call these piles my 'boneyard.' It's a great way to work--I find it leads to unexpected places. It's only slightly lazy--or maybe a better word would be impatience. I can see quickly how an idea might work, as opposed to working an hour to get to a point at which I can see the idea. So these days hardly anything gets thrown out in my studio.

This method also provides some continuity to the work coming out of my studio. And I feel more inclined to dare to do something unexpected--it is, after all, just a scrap I'm committing to the cause.

And sometimes, just the right scrap turns the piece around. Like this detail, where the blue circle (which I think of as the Earth), changed the composition (which you can't see in the detail) and made the whole thing work.


obsession, distraction, experimentation, whatever

I have become enamored of playing with Jacquard Discharge Paste. It began with playing with some old, cast aside pieces. And the fact that I couldn't fin the anti-chlor to use bleach. But now I'm hooked.

The paste is just that--about Elmer's glue strength, can be thinned with water. I usually brush it on with a small flat brush, but I've also tried stamping it on, and I know people use it with silk screens. You paint it on, let it dry, then iron it with a hot steam iron and the color (mostly) goes away. And one of the best parts is you can use it on silk.

Here's what it looks like after stamping it onto a commercial cotton:

It is a challenge to figure out how much and where to put it on since the paste shows up as a wet mark on the fabric. But you wait until it's dry, and iron it, and get something like this (disregard the darkness of the background, that's a fault of the photographer not something to do with the discharge):

The stamp experiment (done with one of my small stamps) was not quite as successful as I wanted it to be--I think the relief on the stamp wasn't deep enough. But overall I got what I was expecting. Oh, and I had masked out a circle using a freezer paper stencil so I had a hard edge.

Discharge paste also does cool things to hand dyes. Here's one where I just drew in a tree with the edge of a flat brush:

This is out of my daily journal, so it's just a sketch. But I see great potential there.

I also just used it to highlight an area on a piece of silk--something I could not have done with bleach. And playing with this is getting me back in the swing of working regularly in the studio. Another good thing.


back in the saddle again

Finally, I'm back to making art on a semi-regular basis. So far no long sessions in the studio, but I'm getting there. It's a good thing.

This is a piece I painted a while back that I'm playing with now. The black is two of the stamps I carved a while back. Being of the impatient ilk, I used a pigment ink pad that was sitting in the same bin as my stamps--not really caring about permanance. So today when I got around to ironing it, I decided to see if the ink was permanent--it's not so much. But I got some cool effects by spritzing it with water and ironing. It's not like it's ever going to get washed...

But this is what I need to get back in the swing--the chance to play with stuff, not caring about the outcome, flexing my artistic muscles. I have been keeping an artistic journal most of this year (with major gaps during moving), where I do a small piece every day and fuse it into the book. I was looking back through it today (one of the main reasons that I continue to journal both this way and in writing--love to look back at what I was thinking), and there's some promising compositions in there...so maybe my next step should be to make art starting with those pages...


let the art begin....

Art has begun again in my studio. I finally have it set up--not that it won't be changing in the next few months as I figure out the space. I started making art there again today, in between other chores.

The space will work out ok. My only concern about it now is that it is below ground, and what if the sump pump fails? But where I was before, I worried about another tornado blowing the roof off, along with all my stuff on the top floor. Such is life, I guess, always a worry.

Which working on art helps to alleviate. That's why it's a comfort to be back in a space that's my own, with all my stuff about. Of course, now there are no excuses left...

Here's a peek at the new space:


celebrate the clutter

I hope that you can see from this photo that some progress has been made in unpacking my studio. I now know generally where things will be, but have come to the conclusion that what I need to do is just put everything away with the idea that I will move it around later as I figure out the space.

There is no 'hidden storage' in this space, unlike my last studio. I keep thinking about Norm Abram on his old PBS show about furniture making. He would always say 'celebrate the joint' as opposed to working away trying to hide the joint between two pieces of wood--when in all likelihood it would show anyway. So the fact that everything in my basement is hodge-podge and out in the open--that's intentional.

One driving force is money. But another, about as strong, is the desire to tread lightly on the earth--use what I have, repurpose it where necessary, make do.

One of my goals when I do start to make art again is to use what I have, to minimize any purchases. In this economy, with the price of gas high, that only seems like the right thing to do.


New Studio...a work in progress

I had no idea it had been over a month since my last post...what have I done with the time besides moving 250 miles and getting cataract surgery in both eyes? Not much.

But progress is being made. All of my studio stuff is under one roof, the rest of the house is coming together, and soon I will be able to make art again.

I have a large space available, but with less storage already in place. So I've been making some decisions about that. I thought about neat and orderly, all alike cabinetry. But it wasn't just the money that stopped me. I kind of like the mismash of things I have, the controlled chaos of it. I'm not sure how easy it would be to create in a neat (sterile, even) space. So I'm sticking with the hodge podge, the in your face boxes and tubs and such. It's a space for me, that I need to be comfortable in (note the beach chair already in place)...besides, it's more 'green' to make do with what I have.

On another note, Strata 3 (not yet on my website) was accepted into the SAQA IL/WI regional show, Prime, Primary, Primordial. The show debuted last weekend at the Pennsylvania National Quilt Extravaganza, and travels next to the World Quilt and Textile show in Manchester, NH (Sept. 18-21). My art gets out and about more than I do.


art is where you find it

Remember the blue cross on the tree from this post? Here is the same tree today:

Quite a change, huh?

If you look closely (at the tree, maybe not in the picture), you can still the vestige of the blue cross.

I wonder if the chain saw art world has the same struggles we in the art quilt world do? Wanting acceptance by the 'art world'. Finding like minded individuals. Fighting the chain art police rules? We get so wrapped up in our own struggles that we forget that others have similar struggles, and somewhere this weekend there's a big chain saw art convention....

For another object of art, here's a picture I took this morning near my house:

This is the fallen blossom of a mimosa tree--a very cool looking tree that was quite popular when I was young. I took pictures of this one because I don't know if they grow around my new home in Batavia, and my grandmother had one. They don't look real somehow, more like a Chinese painting come to life.

So while I continue to not make art, I continue to think about making art. That's worth something, right?


on the move...

Progress is being made. As long as nothing bad happens, our house is sold and we've bought a new one in Batavia, Illinois. We'll be moving the end of August. This space will be my new studio:

OK, you have to use some imagination. As far as I know, the drum kit isn't staying. And it will be the biggest space I've ever had, steps away from the laundry area. It should work out well.

In between now and then, I'm having my eyes fixed up--cataracts have been making it difficult for me to read. So posts on this blog may be a little slow, but I'll post when I can, and once I start making art again in September, I'll have things to say.


A Good Day to Dye

I've finally started getting ready for the Midsummer Arts Faire in Quincy, Illinois the last weekend in June( the 27-29)--after all, I have 10 whole days left. The big stuff is done, now I'm just getting the small stuff ready for the booth.

One of the things I'll be selling is hand dyed silk scarves. Lately I've been playing with pour dyeing--I hang the cloth on a clothesline (outside) and pour dye on it. I go up and down the line, adding bits of different colors. The fact that the silk sticks to itself helps produce great 'happy accidents.' These scarves, which no longer look just orange, are now batching in the laundry room.

I also played with some of the stamps I have carved, dabbing fabric paint on them and stamping them on various pieces that needed something more. (thanks to Kathy Sands for advice). I like the results and will probably do more of this:

So if you're in the area, stop by my booth. I'll be the one right next to my friend, Ann Titus--it'll be a high fiber area.


Art of the Mind

I'm still dealing with our upcoming move (including keeping an overly clean house--unlike my usual standards) and other family stuff. So I don't have a lot of time for art.

But I continue to be startled and gladdened by the family of orioles that deigns to come to my feeder. After numerous unsuccessful tries, I finally managed to get this picture of two of them this afternoon.

In their honor, and as a way to at least think about art, I've been, in spare moments, trying to figure out how to make hand felted pieces inspired by oriole nests, using the hand dyed felt I got at IQF. After a couple of attempts, I think I've figured out how to get the shape.

But then I realized I had not envisioned them beyond that point--other than felt with thick and thin spots and color variations, what was I thinking? Apparently nothing...so I'm still working out that part. I could go over the top and encrust them with threads and beads and such, but that seems so antithetical to the 'less is more' esthetic I've been cultivating lately. So I'll dither on that for a while.

And ponder this really cool tree stump/burl I found in the Hamilton City Park today:

Is that nifty or what? That texture....how to capture it in fiber....


The Big Move

I haven't been making much art lately. I have a really good excuse--my husband is being transferred to the Geneva, Illinois area. So I'm currently swamped with decluttering and cleaning and painting the house we have now, getting it ready to sell.

And there's also the whole sucking out of any artistic feeling thing--the idea of moving after 30 years in this area, 19 years in this house, fills up my head. But once in a while I see a glimmer of the creative force. It'll come back, I'm sure. Maybe next week while I'm sitting around waiting for a buyer, trying to keep the house spotless...I'm thinking that needle felting doesn't make such a mess, maybe I could work on that.

For marketing purposes, I have to disassemble a large part of my studio--the downside of having put it in what should be the master bedroom of this house. Goodbye design wall, boxes of fabric, ironing board. But it's all in a good cause, and things will get back to a new normal soon enough.

One of the sparks of art is kind of strange. There's a city park in Keokuk on the Mississippi River where I like to eat lunch. They have been marking dead trees in preparation of cutting them down with blue paint--the contrast of the bright sky blue paint with the peeling bark is pretty cool.

I'm thinking of manipulating the pictures and printing them on organdy. One of these days, in my new studio, whereever it is.


Two, count 'em, Two solo shows

The first of my two solo shows in the Month of May is hung, and it looks pretty good (if you ignore the shaft of sunlight moving across one wall--the windows look darkened, I'm only a little worried). This is in the Fairfield (Iowa) Arts and Convention Center (200 North Main). The opening reception is this Friday night (May 2), 6:30-9pm, as part of their monthly First Friday Art Walk--a great event, in which several local businesses and galleries within walking distance of each other hold openings. I think that this month there is a theme of Fiber Art.

My second show will be hung tomorrow, at the Quincy Medical Group, Quincy, Illinois. It can be viewed during normal business hours.

So I feel like my hard work of the last few months of making art has paid off--I am able to mount two, albeit small, solo shows at the same time. That's a good thing.

Check them out if you get the chance.



I wish I could say that I went to Chicago to the International Quilt Festival, and all I got was this lovely pile of hand dyed wool roving. I didn't go overboard, got a few other things, but this is my favorite.

It is from a shop called Wool & Needle in Fond du Lac, WI. (I would link to their website, www.woolandneedle.com, but it seems to be down right now.) There were several vendors there with roving, but this spoke to me--there's lots of variation in the coloring, which will be good for making natural looking landscapes. Even if the landscapes I make are abstract, I still want the play of light to figure in the composition.

These got me to remembering when I first started dyeing fabric. I was obsessed with getting the pieces evenly colored--you know, like commercial fabric. I don't remember what the lightning bolt was, but at some point I realized I should be looking for the happy accidents I find in watercolor painting--something they can't make 1000 yards of. Part of my plan for the summer is to go back to those fairly uniform pieces and overdye or paint them. Make them unique.

As for this wool, I'm thinking nuno felting to make some more landscapes. I have thought about buying an embellishing machine, but have decided for now to stick with hand felting with some hand needle felting thrown in. It's the process I'm after as much as the final product.


The Dull bits

Where has the time gone? What have I been up to? Well, aside from spending last week nursing a sick husband, I was getting ready for not one, but TWO solo shows in the month of May. I almost didn't accept the second one because of the timing, but I thought a minute and realized I finally have enough work to pull this off.

That's partly because I spent a lot of the last few months just making art. It doesn't feel like it today, but the pile speaks for itself. The problem is, I made art and stopped there. No framing, no matting, no sewing on of hanging devices.

So I spent the last couple of days figuring out what piece goes where, making prices lists to submit to the venues, figuring out what goes in what frame. Boring, but necessary.

Oh, and the two venues? One is the Quincy Medical Group in Quincy, Illinois. They have a large skywalk connecting their two main buildings, the work will hang there for the month of May.

The Fairfield (Iowa) Art Association will host the other show in the Fairfield Arts and Convention Center. There will be an opening reception (with me in attendance) on Friday, May 2, 6:30-9:30pm, in conjunction with the Fairfield First Friday Art Walk--a big local event held monthly.

In between the sick, the getting ready for this, a quick trip to the International Quilt Festival in Chicago next week, and a vacation with family to Lake Barkley, KY, this is shaping up to be a quite busy month. I'm anxious for May, when I can seriously make art again.

But I am feeding the muse--making a small piece every day, playing with some new techniques when I have an hour or two. There are a couple of bigger pieces on my design wall right now, but both are kind of stuck--not telling me how to continue with them--waiting for me to find my way back to them. I will. Just not this week.



Ann Miller Titus thinks I give her all my scraps. I used to do so. And I still give her some things I think I'll never use again. But now I keep the best ones for myself.

Because I never know when they'll come in handy. Like in this little piece I made last week:

It is quite small, like 3"x5". The background is one of the leftovers from the silk piece I cut up last fall, the part where I decided it would be a good idea to add some black paint. Not. Anyway, a small piece found its way into the jumbled bin I keep such little treasures in. I pulled it out the other day, found a piece of already fused hand dyed green silk. The shapes I cut of the green were inspired by some rubber stamp designs from my stamp carving month. Pretty simple.

But these leftovers find themselves in my larger pieces, too. I'm in the process of getting Strata 4 up on my website; part of its focal point is some leftover strips trimmed off of a previous work.

I guess the point of this is that I'm starting to see how these little bits and pieces tie everything together--because my palette evolves over time rather than jumping from color to color, I can see the evolution by looking at these pieces side by side. I've been working on putting together a professional looking portfolio, and after I printed out some pictures of works and laid them in a row to determine their order, I finally saw the connection between the pieces that I hadn't noticed before. I am starting to see the 'style' that others have seen in my body of work.

All that being said, the main purpose of saving these bits and pieces is a practical one--I can try out an idea quickly, with little investment of time or supplies, and can tell whether to pursue the idea or not because I already have something that meets the idea's criteria in that bin of bits. Sometimes I end up making a bigger or slightly different bit from scratch, but the saved bit led the way.

And it's kind of a treasure hunt--just today I found a piece leftover froma couple of silk pieces that I had completely forgotten about--the leftover piece, I mean. It's big enough to do something with. So I'm off down another tangent, thanks to my scrap bin.

Sorry, Ann. But not too sorry.


watercolor techniques on cloth

My other art medium is watercolor. I have taken several workshops from an outstanding watercolorist, Wendell Mohr, of nearby Keosauqua, Iowa. He does a lot of 'wet on wet' work, and one of the exercises he teaches involves this process to get a varied, glowing background:
1. thoroughly wet the paper and attach it to a board
2. starting on one edge, with the board upright, brush on a pigment heavy, juicy swath of a color
3. let it run down the page
4. turn the board 90 degrees, and repeat with another color--all while the first wash is still wet
5. let this run down, blending with the first color
6. turn again another 90 degrees, and repeat with a third color.

This can result in a beautiful, glowing, varied background. Any three colors can work, and done wet on wet you don't get any mud.

So I decided to try this on fabric. My first attempt was outside with a large linen tablecloth hung on a clothesline, using Procion Mx dyes. Although very messy, it worked great. Do I have a picture of it? No. Did I mention it was a LARGE tablecloth?

The other day I decided to try the same process with Setacolor fabric paints. This time I chose a linen napkin and pinned it to a piece of gator board. I got the fabric wet, and used a yellow, ultramarine blue, and oriental red. Here is the result:

It is close to what I intended. I found that at least with Setacolor, i have the ability to muddy it up some, whether I want to or not. This paint doesn't flow on this substrate as well as watercolor does on paper, so I had to help it along by continuing to add water and 'pushing' it along. I like the piece, and will do more like it--and make something of this one. I put paper towels beneath the edge of the board to protect my tabletop, and got some interesting paper towels that I've been using in mixed media work.

So it was a successful experiment. And I continue to like the implied texture provided by the pattern of the damask weave on linens--I like that a close study of my work would show this reference to the past.


etsy and me

I've had an Etsy store for about 9 months now. In that time, I've sold one piece and traded two. This week, about half of my listings expire. In another month, the rest expire.

At least for now, I'm not going to renew the listings. It just hasn't worked like I wanted it to. Someone suggested that my prices were too high, but I see plenty of other stuff on there that's priced similarly. And I'm not going to lower my prices for a particular venue, that's not fair to the other places I have my work, or to me.

It seems to me like Etsy is a great idea that has run amok. There are stores with genuine original pieces of art, but there are many more selling crafty stuff made in an almost mass produced style and priced dirt cheap. I cringe at the thought of using 'bargain' in the same context at 'buying art'.

Pricing art is one of the hardest parts of the business side of art for me. I have increased my prices over time, as I got into more national shows, and as I progressed in my art. But I never undervalued my time--and like it or not, art takes time. Some of that time is spent thinking, problem solving. Some in spent in the mundane, like finishing edges and attaching hanging devices. And materials aren't cheap.

So what's the answer? Fewer sales, I guess. But that's ok. The purchase of art that you live with should involve thought and consideration, and recognition of its value by the price you pay. I'm not saying here that art must be expensive--but it must be valued, both by the artist and by the new owner.

Soon I will be adding the ability to purchase pieces directly from my website. I'm not convinced that will make any difference in sales, but it's worth a try. Just like etsy was.

So if there's something you've been eying on my store, act quickly.


visual language

Lately I've been working through the exercises in Jane Dunnewold (and Claire Benn and Leslie Morgan)'s new book, Finding Your Own Visual Language. One of these exercises involves carving 30 stamps in 30 days.

I used this to explore some shapes that consistently show up in my work, mainly a pointy oval that I see as a kayak shape, but which sometimes morphs into a leaf.

I am now done with the 30 days. I strayed afield on some days, developed some background stamps using similar lines to the other stamps, and discovered that the birds I've been drawing (with pen and with thread) are really the same shape with legs stuck on.

The yellow one in the corner is a rubbing on one of the stamps to see how they work.

To save money and to get something locally, I chose to use Pentel's Hi-Polymer erasers. I got them in a three pack for around $1.50 at WalMart. They measure 1" x 2.5", which was close to the aspect ratio I use on the kayak shape. They carve like butter; I used wood carving tools because that's what I had at hand, but they cut with an XActo knife quite well. I used both sides of the eraser.

So what have I accomplished in this 30 days? I saw the intersection of different icons that appeal to me. I got some cool stamps, some so-so. I reinforced the value of repeating designs with small variations, because sometimes small changes make all the differences.
I see this shape everywhere. I experimented in the visual journal I kept of the process with combining different stamps going in different directions.

And where do I go from here? I have more erasers, I'm thinking of doing a series that could be used together in a tray of some sort to make a larger surface to do rubbings on. I'm thinking of doing bigger stamps. And there are more exercises in the book.

Even when I think I've made a stride or two forward in the process of being an artist, it's good to go back to basics once in a while. You never know where they'll take you.


circling around

I've been struggling with a big piece I'm working on. I wanted a large circle on it, and this is the fourth attempt at getting it right.

The first try was with dark blue tulle, machine stitched on. It looked sloppy, and so I removed it, which took more time than the original sewing did.

So I tried fusing it on. The result was stiff, shiny, and still not right. I managed to get most of it back off, although there is a small amount of fusing left on the surface--which meant that I couldn't move subsequent circles much.

The next attempt very nearly worked. I took a piece of polyester sheer and used transfer dye on it to give it some character. Then I cut (freehand) a large circle out of it, carefully pinned it in place, and hand sewed (yep, with an actual needle and thread) it on. I then added some embroidery on the surface. Finally, I hung it up on my design wall to check out what I assumed to be perfection.

The circle was badly flat on one site--looked like the moon a couple of days past full. It was distracting and I couldn't get past it. I even tried waiting overnight and looking at it with fresh eyes. No dice.

So I took it back off--at least hand stitching comes out fast. I managed to cut a better looking circle out of the piece, and it was only slightly smaller. This time I pinned it in place and hung it up before sewing--novel concept, huh? I moved it slightly, and started resewing it. I think this time is going to work. I took advantage of the redo and changed the thread and stitch I used, which I think will make it a better piece in the end.

The thing is, not that long ago I would have tossed this piece aside after the first or second failure. Why the change? Not sure, except that my vision for my work has become clearer in my mind--I know what I want a piece to be, and I'm willing to do what I have to do to get it to that place. The maturation of the artist? Maybe. Growing older and wiser? Well, yes to the first part. Now I'm willing to put the time into a piece to get it. Even if it means fewer pieces produced. The art comes first.


unintended consequences

I don't do figurative work. I just don't. Maybe it's tied up in why I studied botany in college and had no interest in zoology--I would just rather look at plants than animals. Or find more artistic inspiration in them. Or maybe it's more shallow than that, and based on the simple truth that plants hold still while you examine them.

A few days ago I got seven more linen napkins for 25c apiece. I decided to try some shibori techniques on them (without taking the trouble of actually looking up how to do shibori). I pleated and stitched and threw them in a midnight blue dye bath.

The results were ok, but not quite what I thought I would get--which is part of the fun of dyeing. I ironed them, and started playing with them (after all, I had less than $2 invested in the whole bunch, so no down side to messing one up).

One had not very much white space left. It kind of reminded me of trees in a dense woodland, so I took out my tsukineko inks and added some yellows to hint at foliage, a bit of rusty brown for the ground. When it was dry, I hung it on my design wall.

Do you see the men standing there, all in a row? The second vertical line from the left indicates the most prominent one. Men in the woods? They're kind of scary looking. And now that I've seen them, there's no turning back. It's like the spot in the wood paneling of my childhood home, where a face could plainly be seen staring out at me. I couldn't turn away no matter how spooked I got. That problem was solved when my father built a bookcase that happened to cover it.

But what to do with this? Go with the flow and accentuate the figures? Ignore them and let them be a surprise to the viewer? Pass the piece on to someone who likes spooky things? (Ann, it reminds me of your piece that spooks me)...I can't decide.

And so it hangs on my wall, all of them staring at me, waiting for me to decide. The unfinished project, one of the spookiest things of all.


more corn work

In between trying to figure out what big piece to work on next (I have several pieces of fabric in various stages of design hanging on my wall being stared at), I have done a couple more small pieces with the corn stamp.

This one is, sorry for the pun, kind of corny. And too cutesy I think:

Maybe I just had to get it out of my system.

Here's another one, that came out better:

It's a little stark, the difference between the white Shiva Paintstick highlights and the black thread stitching (ala pen and ink), but I'm happy with the piece. It looks like a quick sketch, which is what I was going for.

So in spite of my dithering about the 'big picture', I am making art. Maybe not for the masses, but for myself. The advantage of small pieces is I get them done quickly--and I don't care if one comes out less than I wanted (like the top one), because I have little invested in it--either in time or materials. And if I have been paying attention, I learned something from it. That's enough to make me do more.


More rubbings...

In response to the comment about using Shiva paintsticks to do rubbings over hand carved stamps, I first discussed this technique several months ago. I don't know for sure what led me to do it originally, probably I read something about there being rubbing plates for Shivas and I thought of my stamps.

Here are some other ones I've done, mostly with this stamp:

and the pieces using fabrics treated this way:

As you can see, I especially like using the metallic/iridescent one to add more visual texture to hand dyed fabric (in these cases, silks). I varied the color from place to place, and was pretty casual about where the stamp was placed.

I put the stamp textured side up on my work surface, lay the fabric on top (for the small pieces in the previous post, I actually wrapped the fabric around the stamp to hold it steady), then rubbed. Sometimes I used light pressure, others I pushed harder. Sometimes I switch colors in the middle of the piece.

Usually when I dye fabric, I use low water immersion techniques to maximize the texture, and I almost always put the fabric through more than one dye bath. But it can still come out too plain for me. Using Shivas to rub on an extra texture is a great option to have.


corn fiber (art)

One of my goals for this year is to make 2-3 small works per week (while simultaneously working on larger pieces). I'm a week late in getting started, but here goes with the first idea to explore.

I am ambivalent about corn. For one thing, the monoculture of farmland has all but destroyed the prairies I love. And a case can be made that corn has become too much a part of our diet (check out Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma). On the other hand, since my husband works in the corn processing industry, I am dependent on corn for my support. So it seems like a natural subject for an artist to explore.

First thing I did was to carve this stamp out of Blick's E-Z Cut printing blocks. The block has been inked so the pattern shows up. This material is very easy to carve, although it does crumble a bit around the edges. And don't lay it on fine furniture, the plasticizers in one messed up the finish on my dining room table.

For the first prints, I poured some Setacolor transparent paint on a plate and used a roller to ink the block--a traditional printmaking method. I printed it on several scraps with this result:

All of these pictures are keystoned because I shot them on the fly as I was working. In real life, the prints do have straight edges.

I also wanted to try using the block as a rubbing plate with Shiva paintsticks. I have successfully done this in the past, I think it worked here, too.

This method allows more color variations than using a roller. I also tried painting different colors onto the block, but you have to work really fast to prevent it from drying.

So now I have a pile of pieces with this stamp on them. The first one I played with resulted in this:

It has thread stitching, and measures around 5"x7". I like it, but I'm not sure that it really makes any statement about how I feel about corn. Is that because of my wishy-washiness? Or do I just get caught up in the elements of design, the process of making art, that any intended message gets sublimated so much that it no longer exist? Do I care? I think at this point I want to make good art more than I want to make a political statement. So read into the pieces what you will...


how I spent my winter vacation

This picture of Tarpon Bay, Sanibel Island, Florida, was taken on the last evening of my winter vacation (if you don't count the two days spent getting home after that). It was a nice quiet vacation in which once we got on Sanibel, the only time we left it for a week was to go to the neighboring island of Captiva.

I did keep a journal of the trip in a Moleskine Japanese Album, an concertina style small book. I did some small watercolor sketches in it, so I did do art. And I had a lot of time to think about my art, be inspired, and just goof off looking for sand dollars.

And I came to this conclusion: I need to spend the winter MAKING ART. As I've been learning about marketing and the business side of art, I've slowed down in the studio. It's time to get back in there and do the work. So off I go. I'll keep you posted.

Oh, and if you happen to be in the Keokuk, Iowa area (maybe to check out Eagle Days), check out my two person exhibit (with Ann Miller Titus) at the Keokuk Art Center/Keokuk Public Library during the month of January.

Or my piece, Strata 2, at Form, Not Function in New Albany, Indiana.