Monday, January 28, 2008

Chutes and Ladders

Yes the game! I've played this with my fair share of three and four-year-olds, but I sure didn't intend to play it with my work. Here's how I almost got to the finish line. I hopped out of bed at 5:30 AM yesterday and started working on samples immediately. I had gone to bed with some stitching ideas and woke up with another one, so I whipped up some little fabric sandwiches to experiment. I knew I wanted to work with black, cream and grey threads.

Idea #1 (bottom right square) was to use free motion or decorative machine embroidery stitches to outline each square and then free motion stitch down each element within the squares, black on white and white on black. I also tried variegated thread through the black and black thread on the cream ground (top two squares). Idea #3 was a variation on this (above) where I considered stitching horizontally across all the cream colored squares and vertically through the black ones. Idea #4 would run horizontal rows of stitching all across the surface about a half inch apart. You can see this one on the bottom half of the second sample below. Idea #5 would stitch one-inch rows horizontally and then vertically to repeat the square shape with a small grid over the larger one formed by the pieced squares.

After considering my options, I chose stitching 1/2" parallel horizontal lines across the surface. Since it's a wide surface, I marked the edges with a ruler, put on the walking foot and started stitching 1" rows, turning the whole piece after each row to minimize distortion and pressing pressing PRESSING every few rows, checking to make sure there were no ripples or wrinkles. Yikes my aching shoulders by the end of the day but victory, I completed all the 1" lines. (This is the part where I think I'm about to win the game, and all I have left to do is stitch more lines between each 1" line so they're 1/2" apart. Piece of cake, right?)

I jump out of bed early again this morning, determined to finish the stitching and I DO. I go to iron the black cotton backing one last time and now the sun is shining through my window and in the beautiful sunshine I suddenly see that I have ironed down two rows with noticeable puckers that ironed down into folds on the backing about 20 rows in from one end. Bad chute, bad bad chute. I try to rationalize how I can leave it the way it is, that no one will ever notice. But alas, I will -- so I am pulling out rows of stitching until I can iron out the wrinkles and resew the lines so that I get a perfectly flat back. So be it.

In the silver lining department, I'm pleased with my stitching choice. These parallel lines are reminiscent of the lines on ruled paper and I find them very soothing and pleasing. Make me want to add some hand stitching.

Luckily, I have a DVD to watch while I rip out rows of stitching. I love Indy and foreign films. Since I'll have to resew these lines tonight, the letter forms and adding the darker value reds will have to wait until tomorrow, but then I'll be on the home stretch. Hopefully all ladders ahead and no more landing on the chutes for this big gamer!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Ah, Fourth Gear

Now I'm cruisin'! I'm starting to get the feel I want for this piece and it's highly motivating. I realized that somehow the piece just wasn't "my voice." I needed to follow my instincts, even if that meant leaping off a cliff, so I took the "tea dye plunge"-- sorry Idaho reader who urged me not to -- first with my silk fabric, which I liked so well that I took all the elements off the work in progress and tea dyed the original pieced ground. Alas, not successful -- the piece looked dirty rather than aged. But the beauty of the tea dyed silk encouraged me to continue with the idea of aging the overall look of the piece.

So I tea dyed some plain cotton broadcloth, just enough to knock back the white -- which produced a creamy ivory. Very nice. Then I cut and pieced a new -- and larger --ground. Yesterday I took everything to my studio and put the basic surface together. I cut larger tea dyed squares for inside the black squares and burned their edges and added some holes in a few of them, then centered all the elements and fuse-tacked them to the ground fabric. I totally love softening the white with the tea dyeing-- and increasing the size to 45 1/2" will allow the letter forms to feel less crowded.
Next on yesterday's agenda was dyeing a wider range of red values for the letter forms that will dance again across this piece (hopefully today, but more likely tomorrow) I knew I wanted some darker and duller shades of red against the brilliant scarlet, so I dyed a bunch of small pieces and will experiment. I also dyed a gold-ish brown piece that may work if I decide I need to add another color contrast somehow. I'm considering whether to add that or possibly black as a border. Another choice for the Not Sure Yet category.Today's agenda. Bob's heading off skiing and I'm hunkering down to sandwich the piece and stitch it before I tackle making new letter forms and composing those on the surface again. Several ideas for stitching on the surface but no definitive answer yet. I'll do a few trials before I commit to one of the choices. I have a deadline and this piece MUST get done over the next three I have to get to work!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Say Goodnight Gracie

By about 8 PM last night I had tried numerous variations of hues and combinations on this new piece, which as yet remains unnamed. Obviously, I had created a very strong grid as a ground with the black and white squares. I decided that while the red letter forms would break through the grid lines, it might also be interesting to include squares within squares as another layer of pattern. The first thing I did was to cut out 1-1/2" squares of silk dupioni in turquoise, violet, gold and orange with fusibles adhered to them and played with placement within the larger light and/or dark squares. The violet was the least intrusive. I also tried breaking up the groups of the red letters with letter forms in a black and white commercial print. This image is probably the fourth variation, by which time I decided that I didn't like the small dots of color on each square and started to take them off.

Late in the afternoon, I cut large and small squares of my own silk screened fabrics and placed them on the checkerboard ground. I like the way cutting the script into small pieces puts the focus that much more on the gestural marks and swoops of the handwriting. While I was absorbed in this, the phone rang and arts writer Stuart Low from Rochester's daily newspaper, the Democrat and Chronicle asked if I could talk to him about my language piece that is part of the MAGnificent Inspirations exhibition.
What amazes me about talking to someone about textile art who isn't familiar with the medium is how much most of them want to understand it better. Stuart didn't approach our conversation with a preconceived agenda or biases, he seemed to really be listening, trying to elicit my ideas rather than imposing his. His interest and good questions made for a very worthwhile conversation. Probably only one or two lines of our dialogue will make it into the final article, but I hope his interest in textiles as art will continue to grow because of the Wild by Design, Michael James and MAGnificent Art Quilts exhibitions.

After that pleasant interruption, I returned to my work. I decided to remove the busy commercial print letter forms. I cut and placed larger squares in the dark blocks and smaller ones in the light ones. I may play with altering the sizes of these more randomly. I may tea dye all the black and white fabrics to give the appearance of age. But even with these small changes I get the sense that I'm coming home again to what I'm trying to say, that using my own fabrics is putting my voice back into the work. Another concept to deliberate as I create these pieces. So while the forms are becoming simpler in this piece, the connections and ideas behind the choices are deepening.

By 7:30 PM, my feet were aching from standing in new shoes all day so I worked for another half an hour and suddenly remembered George Burns saying, "Say goodnight Gracie!" at the end of each television show-- and knew it was time to call it a day before I made punchy choices that would just have to get undone. Definitely time for pjs and the couch!

Today I'm going to have another interesting experience, thanks again to the Memorial Art Gallery quilt exhibition. I'm taking three groups of area teachers through the MAGnificent Inspirations exhibit of small art quilts this afternoon to talk about "seeing and responding". We'll consider what these quilt artists may have seen and responded to when they looked at other artist's works. I have no idea how it will go but I can't imagine it could be anything but interesting to hear educator's thoughts and questions about the pieces. In the meantime, off to work on this piece.

Monday, January 21, 2008

First Inning, New Game

When I get a design idea, it seems to form almost piecemeal in my imagination. I try to do some rough sketching and a few samples to flesh out into some basic structure of an idea, but the only way I can really work through an idea is just to work with it, starting with a seed and letting that evolve and grow.

After finishing Parables 2, I decided to try creating a grid, playing with it a bit by adding on some small squares (possibly of varying sizes and hues and values) within the larger squares and then breaking through the grid with the dancing letter forms in both advancing and receding colors. Believe it or not, I, the whole cloth layering fanatic, actually cut out 5 1/2" squares and SEWED them together to start this piece!! (In my defense, my philosophy has always been to choose the technique to match the concept, and in this case, piecing seemed the way to go.)I now have a 35 1/2" square checkerboard of white squares with thin stripes (yes I am also actually using commercial fabrics, which I haven't used in years but I have a little selection left of black and white prints that I like a lot) offset by plain black ones. I tend to prefer grids that are looser than this one, but I do think as I apply the elements on this surface, the grid will begin to vibrate more.

Now that the ground is pieced and ready, I am currently pinning letter form patterns, same ones I used on Parables 2, onto a variety of fused fabric surfaces and cutting them out. My goal, eventually, will be to have a nice pile with a variety of hues and values, so some of the letter forms will pop when you look at them (like this wonderful red dupioni silk) and some will recede into the ground (a variety of greyscale prints). In the photo above, I am playing with the first cut pieces on the surface because seeing them on the ground will help me determine what other fabrics to fuse and cut to add to these. I know I'll cut a lot more fabrics than I'll actually use, but need to have them ready when I get to the composing stage. Here they are just stuck on wherever and I've moved them around a few times to see how they interact with each other.

I am tempted to tea dye this piece, but am holding myself back at the moment. There is a crispness to these contrasts that I will lose if I do, although the tea dyeing will give me that aged, weathered look that I love.
What I've learned after all these years is to respect these pushes and pulls inside but to let the conversation continue for a bit before I leap into action. At the beginning stages of playing with an idea, it's better to move a bit more slowly than to sit in a glum heap of regret for blindly acting on an impulse. I may not like this idea further down the road at all, the work on this may just end up getting pitched for a totally different composition, but engaging in the deliberation and decision making is the hook that keeps me so passionate about being a maker. I love beginnings, there is always an edge of excitement about not quite knowing where a new adventure will take me but knowing that I'm up at bat and ready to swing.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Parables and Parables II, Finished at Last!

I feel like a huge celebration is in order, I went back and added more details to Parables since I first pronounced it finished. Hopefully the additions improve its overall composition. This piece is 42" x 49". I also am celebrating the completion of Parables II, 41" x 46" and am delighted with the new ideas that popped out for this one.

You can see from the detail below that I outlined some of the letter forms so they retained their transparency, and stitched rows of straight stitch "fill" in others to create an interplay of some pieces being more dense and advancing, some more subtle.

While the second work seems more alive and spontaneous than the first one, I am pleased with them both. Feels like a great start to a New Year in which I am affirming great enjoyment and pleasure in making new work. I also was thrilled that the Memorial Art Gallery gift shop accepted all eight of my "Small Works" to sell. I'm pricing them at $250 each, framed.

I'm so delighted at meeting so many commitments (and admittedly worn out by the pace!) that I'm giving myself today to lounge on the couch, read and snooze. I'm finishing a biography of Georges Braque called George Braque: A Life, by Alex Danchev, which offers an amazing insight into the artist's artistic processes and life in France during WW I and WW II. I'm also reading the final chapter of Interpreting Art by Terry Barrett, which I'll write a post summarizing by tomorrow evening for the Ragged Cloth blog. It's another grey, cloudy day in upstate New York, but I am quite in tune with quietness today. I think being a Libra -- the balance sign of the Zodiac!- requires me to slow down for a day or two to replenish after a period of intense work.