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.