Thursday, February 28, 2008

U.R. Residency Chronicles

Although it snowed steadily all day Tuesday and through the night, by the time I left for the University of Rochester late Wednesday morning the roads were clear and the drive went smoothly. Whew, great relief.
For the first day agenda, Stephanie, the wonderful studio coordinator, helped hang some of my work in the open gallery space at the entry to the Sage Art Center. Then I spent the afternoon working with sheers and incense sticks right inside the main entrance to the building so students could observe a bit of my process. Janet Berlo, the art history professor who arranged this wonderful opportunity, kept me company. She has developed a new interest in experimental embroidery and practiced making French knots.

Although I look a bit dazed in this picture, I had a great time. I came into the experience with the mindset that I would use this time to do some experimentation that would further my own work. I had been wanting to explore burning different language marks on a variety of fabric surfaces. I knew I had only a small table to work on and that burning surfaces was intriguing enough to make people passing by curious.

So I stretched various fabrics over an embroidery hoop and used a lit incense stick to burn different marks and patterns in each one. If you know good sources for incense sticks in varying widths, please let me know -- variety would have been useful for comparisons in using them as "writing" tools. Then I cut those surfaces into organic shapes and burned the edges with a lit candle while students and faculty members stopped by on their way to and from classes and studios. Loved talking to both students and faculty --the environment is so dynamic that I felt totally at ease and at home.

At 4:30 I gave a presentation to students and faculty, answered some questions and then enjoyed a wine and cheese reception in my honor afterwards. Today and tomorrow I'll teach -- students will paint and layer fabrics today, compose small samples tomorrow morning and then hand stitch into the surfaces tomorrow afternoon. I can't wait to see what they create with these materials and processes. They are wonderfully open to exploring new materials, so there will be lots more images to show you by tomorrow.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Ma Vie En Gris

The Academy Awards ceremonies last night inspired this title, although I was too absorbed in reading "Three Cups of Tea" (moving story of Greg Mortenson's work assisting communities in remote villages of northern Pakistan--do read it, it is inspirational) and unwinding from four intense studio days to pay much attention. I was determined to get new Pages and Parables pieces well fleshed out before I switched gears to do my residency and teach at U of R this week and I am proud to say I pulled it off. But I was so tired by last evening that I went to bed at 9PM!
The first ground I dyed and silk screened at my studio on Thursday for new Parables pieces is still in process, but I started a second one on Friday that I'm delighted with and is ready to continue layering. I am moving the series forward from Parables 2 by varying the scale of the letter forms and utilizing the value range of bright and dark reds that I experimented with on my previous piece for the magazine before it became "Letters to Broadway." The other ground will get finished next weekend and this one will hang on my design wall all this week, so once I can get back to my own work I'll have two new Parables pieces well underway.

So then I moved back to working on the third Pages piece that has been in progress. Friday night and Saturday I completed stitching all the rows on the water soluble fabric. I had already decided to try applying sheer letter forms to this new piece. I did a sample, washed it out and the letter forms held their shape, so the idea appears to work. On Sunday I drew some new shapes, refined some of the older ones I still like, pinned and cut them all out and started composing. Once I determine that I have placed the individual elements all exactly as I want them, I will stitch these down to the existing surface, add a hanging sleeve at the top and then wash away the water soluble so they will all "float" on the pages beneath. The idea behind the choices for "Page 3" is for the black letter forms to appear to be flying off the white "pages" into the grey areas surrounding them. I edited out the idea of putting some letter forms behind the pages -- maybe on a future piece, but not on this one.

There's a storm heading our way and so I'm driving up to my studio today to pack all the supplies in my car I need to take to U of R before tomorrow's predicted six inches of blowing, drifting snow. Better to do the drive and packing today when it's clear and sunny and mild! Given the accuracy of weather forecasting, the heavy snow may miss us (hope hope), but I'll feel more relaxed having it done today, just in case we get more rather than less messy weather tomorrow.

I'm spending my first day at U of R working on my own work and I have an idea for another piece that features burned edges. I'll gather the materials and try out a sample tomorrow. The space at U of R is limited so I want to work with processes that don't require a lot of space or equipment. Burning and stitching are the perfect solutions. This falls into the category of another one of those creative challenges that always spark new insights-- the original ideas don't always work out as I hope, but they almost always lead me to a new idea that does.

Friday, February 22, 2008

My "True North"

The minute I walk into my studio I always feel energized. I love this space; it never fails to cheer me and support my wildest ideas. I need this space outside my home. This dance back and forth between painting/printing and composing/stitching keeps each process fresh and inviting. The last day I was here, I had mixed and stored dyes and print paste, pinned a piece of prepared cloth to the print table and silkscreened on a layer of resist, so I was able to jump right into trying new variations of ideas for paper and other resists for the next Parables pieces.

The key for jumpstarting my creative process is to make a first choice and act on it, so I mixed some light gray dye paste and randomly screened on some subtle marks. A more deliberate application of some red accents followed. Then I drew and cut out some paper resist letter forms, reducing some and composing them on the surface. Playing with variety in scale and in orientation makes a layered surface more interesting, particularly since I restricted the actual shapes themselves to two letter forms.

Once I felt satisfied with the placement of these elements, I pinned the pieces down and silkscreened over them with prepared screens that had been drying most of the day. I use the monoprinting screen printing method pioneered by Joy Stocksdale and Kerr Grabrowski.

After I applied the dyes, I unpinned and removed the paper resists so I could get a feel for whether I like the effect. So far, the piece feels promising.

I woke up at 5:30 all excited and expectant this morning, feeling like a kid on Christmas day. Today I wash this out, see how the first layer of resist impacts the overall composition and then decide what layers and techniques will complete the surface. I may print with dye, textile paint or just layer over the existing surface with sheers. I may remove some color. Not sure yet. I definitely have to see the work in progress to respond to and develop it further, so I am eager to get back to my studio today to evalute the results. While I do that, I'll also pin a new piece on the print table. I already have variations for the next piece planned now that I've worked on this one. After another day in the studio today, I'll switch back to stitching the Pages piece tomorrow and hopefully will complete it this weekend -- and that it will be successful once I do!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Hats Off to Spiders Everywhere

Did you ever watch a spider build a web? I am in the stitching phase of this new piece and I've completed the first set of anchoring lines across the 118" or so length of it, so the straight pins are history, thank goodness, and I'm now cruising through the second set of horizontal lines, this time between the little rectangles of fabric, just through the water soluble film. I keep getting these metaphors in my mind as I work -- a spider building a web, repeating similar motions over and over again almost hypnotically,or a fat caterpillar spinning thin threads around and around itself into a cocoon. Periodically I yearn for the appearance of the round, cheery fairy godmother in Cinderella and a wave of her magic wand. Just one bibbity, bobbity, boo and this pumpkin would be a coach!

But alas, it's the spider way for me, one thread at a time. I had to add two more layers of soluble fabric to this piece because the wonderfully wide topping I bought is just what it says it is -- topping. Non-negotiable. It's too thin to use as any kind of a base layer because it stretches and distorts on the bottom, although it's perfect as a top layer. I had to rip out my first 10 or so rows because the distortion grew with each row of stitching.

So here's what I ended up with -- a layer of the wide topping, a middle layer of 20" strips of Sulky Solvy with the little fabric pieces glued on, a layer of topping beneath those to position them as a whole, then strips of Solvy beneath that running in the opposite direction to provide a stable surface under that bottom layer of topping. Add to this the pinning and repinning that happens with each additional layer. Confusing? Absolutely.

I have to definitely work on streamlining this process with all this layering for the next one. I can barely see the little pages pieces at this stage, especially because the values are lighter and less contrasting on this piece than the last one -- back to the cocoon image. By the time I complete the stitching, add the letter forms and rinse away all the Solvy, this bundle of entombed silk pieces (aka caterpillar) will be transformed into an airy, fluid construction (aka beautiful butterfly) -- or so I hope!

Yet the imagination is free to roam during hours and hours of The Stitching Process. I even plugged in my ipod and listened to two hours of Ira Glass and "This American Life" while I spun more strands in this web. What an amazingly talented group of people create that program.

Best of all, the repetitive activity spurred my creative side and I ended up with not one but TWO new ideas for future pieces in this series. I rough- sketched the bones of them with some notes in my sketchbook. That, along with my black and white composition notebook, go with me everywhere. New artist popped onto my radar while I was clearing away older art magazines this morning from the bedside stack that was nearing tower height -- Gail Resen, whose wonderful piece "The Unlearned Lesson" appeared on the back cover of the most recent Surface Design Association newsletter. There will be an article about her in the Winter 08 Surface Design Journal. I googled her of course and found a delightful window display of her work in a department store in Greenwich, CT. The piece I responded to is called "Lightplay";it is composed of 36 different 12" x 12" wrapped canvas units with wonderfully Louise Nevelson reminiscent cut-canvas constructions on each one. Exciting to me to respond so positively because as part of the Pages exhibit, I just ordered 25 wrapped 12" x 12" canvas frames a few days ago (yes expensive) to hang together. I wanted each piece to be different but relate to the whole and Gail's grouping hit my "YES" button. Check out the whole display at

Gail's theme in these works is light and shadow and my greyscale works are about depth and texture and text as shapes, but seeing her work along with Karen Jacobs "bokusho" pieces -- thank you Mary Ann for suggesting I look at her website -- --inspired more variations to incorporate into my already hefty stew of ideas. Love to keep stirring it up!

For those of you who actually read this blog, I had planned to spend yesterday at my studio, but some paperwork for my mother's estate intervened. I decided to use the time left in the day to get more stitching done on this construction, which I want to finish this week. I can then do back-to-back days in my studio making new cloth while I also plan and prep for my residency and class at the University of Rochester next Wednesday through Friday. I am getting very excited already about spending three days with art students and watching how they will respond to working with new materials. U of R doesn't have a fiber program or surface design classes.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Line by Line

After completing two magazine articles and now returning to complete this current "Pages" piece, this blog's title definitely describes my artist and writer lives recently.
After carefully pinning all the individual stratas of Sulky water soluble fabric together to connect them into a whole piece this past weekend, I'm now stitching along the centers of each row of pieces horizontally, one line at a time. Once that's done I can take out all the ouchy straight pins and fill in the rest of the horizontals and all the verticals. At this point I'm using only a heavy cream thread for all the joins. The softness of the greys and whites is increasingly appealing to me. Here is a shot of the printing (silver pearlescent) on the white fabric that I used when I decided not to fill those areas just with stitching.

I enjoyed making the screen for this last summer when I created the many greyscale, language-inspired fabrics that I've been working with since then. This one developed from partial letters I traced from newspaper headlines and ads -- their original meaning disappeared but the suggestion of language remains. I have since discovered that Canadian artist Sylvia Ptak did a whole series called "Disassembling Language" by tracing fragments of text from rare books. I would love to visit a rare book collection just to appreciate the fonts and how different sentence structures and word choices were in earlier times.

I've chosen to take a different track with adding the letter forms to this surface after some experimentation this weekend. It offers me more freedom to alter my course down the road (hey always a good choice --if General Custer could speak now, I'm sure he'd agree). I can compose these in front of and behind the little pages, just not weave them through this way. I'm willing to sacrifice that for the freedom to move these elements around and edit them after all the stitching is done on this piece. I may attach them by hand or by machine or a combination of both.
I'll continue to stitch these lines today, then take a break tomorrow to return to my dye studio and put more layers on the new cloth I'm working on there. As I write this, I realize with gratitude what a rich inner life I have -- and the outer one is pretty good too! -- and how appreciative I am for those of you who take an interest in my work. Many many thanks.

Friday, February 15, 2008

We Interrupt This Winter Greyness For A Brief Glimpse

of sunshine!! I was driving to an appointment and pulled over impulsively to shoot the wonderful pattern of shadows on the falling down frame of this outbuilding. Imagine that, put me in a wonderful frame of mind, even if it didn't last all day. Partial sun is way better than none!
I did get back into my studio yesterday, unloaded and put away all of the materials I had packed for last Friday's class. I drew some new letter forms and contemplated variations for the next new pieces, cleaned off my tables, threw some cotton into soda ash and hung it to dry so I can go back, mix some dyes and get to work! Lovely day, very relaxing and so wonderful to be back in my studio and ready to work on new fabric. I've been working with adaptations based on ancient texts and calligraphic letter forms, so also did some sketches to create patterns for resists and positive shapes, but when I walked out at the end of the day to my car, I had to get my camera out and take this picture of the icy snow melting on the pavement. I suddenly saw that I could combine my interest in mapping and texture with language -- I can definitely see calligraphic language forms in some of these melting, irregular shapes.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Sorting the Wheat from the Chaff

I am always intrigued by my own responses to beginning a new creative endeavor. First there's the anticipation and excitement in starting a new project. I almost always dive in like it's New Year's Eve and the crowd is shouting the countdown on Times Square as the ball slowly drops down -- lots of cheering and kissing for sure. Then it's 12:03 AM, the hoopla quiets down and I settle into This Is Sure A Lot of Tedious Work stage. Can a person cut out a gazillion tiny rectangles and glue them down in precise configurations without scratching their heads once in a while?? The first layer of glueing the small rectangles on the water soluble is done and I can easily edit it at this point before I proceed. This is supposed to hang on a high ceiling and my board only goes up six feet, so use your imagination to see this hanging properly!

Now that the first layer is on, I can move on to the R & D phase -- finding out which of my original ideas for this piece work and which ones don't, then either ruling them out or tinkering with them until they do. I've tried and vetoed about five or six variations for this piece already. I wanted to explore the idea of leaving open sections of this new piece with threads sewn in just one direction so I could weave scraps of contrasting sheers in and through the spaces, then stitch over them again in the other direction. Here's the first sample.

This much open space will distort how the piece hangs. You can see the distortion already here. To show you where I'm heading with this, imagine the red shapes on the piece below aren't just scraps, but elegant language forms. I want to incorporate those on the surface, both behind and in front of the rectangles, and weave them in and through the threads in the open space at the center. I may try laying down the shapes in the open center first and then stitch over them both vertically and horizontally rather than weave them in. I can place red sheers in front of and behind the grey rectangles in other areas.I honestly enjoy this sampling process so much that I don't mind it when some ideas don't work out. It is so fascinating to work through the ideas, address the problems and come up with innovative solutions that I do think this is my favorite part of working with a new idea. Once I hammer out the bumps and wrinkles, I'll know if the idea -- and my execution -- succeeds in capturing the original inspiration. I really am an explorer -- I like the journey way more than the destination and there is always another new port on the horizon.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Objects of Attention

It felt calming and absorbing to quietly start working on a new Pages piece yesterday. Doesn't this picture just LOOK meditative? With two previous Pages constructions and two Parables pieces under my belt, I altered my original ideas for this piece and yesterday started laying out the base structure on the water soluble Solvy. I'm planning a horizontal orientation and open spaces on this one. Just the beginning -- more to come as this evolves!

As I arrange and glue each piece, numerous ideas for the composition emerge-- make the openings larger, smaller, orient them vertically rather than horizontally, vary the fabrics to create another pattern, silkscreen over them, etc etc. As ideas pop in, I keep my sketchbook nearby to record them. I am learning to not leap to follow new ideas impulsively without allowing some time for consideration. What doesn't make it to this surface will have its chance on another one.

Other, more philosophical thoughts travel through my mind as well. These contemplations have been a part of me for as long as I can remember and for many years I faithfully journaled every day (starting at the age of 12, isn't that amazing??). My writings often explored deeper questions about our purposes and meaning on this earth -- I've always been drawn to the big picture. Lately, I seem to be returning to these subjects with a stronger sense of personal involvement. I feel as though there is a shift taking place in the world and I sense it and want to be a conscious participant in helping this positive energy renew our planet. I joined Caroline Myss's Online Salon (, receive her monthly newsletter and have signed up to receive the Abraham-Hicks daily messages ( Today's excerpt is:

The reason for desires, goals...for finding those decisions or points of focus, is because they are the life-giving things of the Universe. Without objects of attention, or objects of desire, Life Force does not come through any of us. --- Abraham

I like these terms, "points of focus "and "objects of attention"-- they describe how my own creative process works. Focusing my energies on small and larger goals helps me sort out what rings true from what doesn't; it truly is life-giving and affirming to collect my energy and focus my attention on positive and desirable outcomes. I start by exploring a number of possible ideas until my intention becomes very clear and specific in my mind. I gather and sort choices and then -- most important -- make a commitment to action.

In my previous creative life as a fiction writer, I loved Natalie Goldberg's advice in "Writing Down the Bones," advising a daily freewriting practice she called "showing up at the page." It means basically, don't just talk or think about creating, do it. A writer has to write words, an artist has to create images. Artistic growth and the realization of our abilities is in the act of doing. My commitment is to action, no matter how small a time I have to engage in doing -- even ten minutes a day can produce a novel or a painting after enough ten-minute sessions. My intentions are to express my creativity as fully and as fearlessly as I can. This intention and commitment to action does connect me with that wellspring of energy, that "Life Force." I treasure the moments when I feel that energy move through me.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

MAGnificent Class at MAG!

Great day on Friday at the Memorial Art Gallery's Creative Workshop, where I taught a one-day surface design intensive on fabrics. Here's a picture of most of the wonderful people who signed up for the class, above. Mary and Judy and Lyn are on the left, Marylee and Joan are on the right and Trish is in the middle.

We worked first with undiluted textile paints on dry fabric most of the morning, utilizing a variety of printing and mark making techniques. After a quick lunch, we dove into wet processes, exploring washes and resists, spraying and spattering and adding layers to the fabrics we had printed earlier. Everyone worked so hard that we were all pretty dazed by the end of the day, me included! It always works out that way; learning so many new techniques is an intense process but also so satisfying. I really look forward to seeing some wonderful work from all of them in the future.
Can't leave out the other member of the class, Paloma. She was an art teacher in Mexico, now lives in Rochester and works with children in MAG's Saturday morning workshops. She brought in some gorgeous pieces of abstract nudes that she's developing. They are created by painting/drawing with India ink, which migrates and blooms when applied to the unprimed, unstretched canvas. She paints around the forms with red acrylics and then layers areas with dense machine stitched hatch marks. Lovely, lovely work that is reminiscent of Gustav Klimt sketches but more abstracted.
If you have never taken a class at MAG, check out their on-line catalogue at: I've taken numerous classes there over the years. MAG offers a variety of art and fine craft classes including ceramics, jewelry making, painting and drawing and textiles. Great way to jumpstart your creativity.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

"Remains": Dutch Fort Exhibition

What a busy week! After I got the AQ article out, I started working on another one that's due this month for Surface Design Journal. Els van Baarle --- -- an amazing Dutch artist who teaches batik in the U.S., e-mailed me an image well over a year and a half ago from a 2005 exhibition she had with several other artists in Fort Rammekens, a Dutch fort on the western coast of the Netherlands that was built almost 500 years ago. I felt an immediate emotional connection with the space. When I found out Els and three other wonderful Dutch artists -- Cora de Kok, Jose van de Valk and Cherilyn Martin -- were planning to mount a second exhibition there in September 2007 titled"Remains," I contacted SDJ and proposed writing about the exhibition; the site and work there intrigued me so much that I felt other artists would respond to it as well.

We started working on the article a year ago. Writing back and forth was a challenge -- English is not the native language of three out of the four and I don't speak a word of Dutch, so I am sure it must have been very frustrating for them to try and explain their processes and inspirations and artistic histories in a foreign language. Then Els' husband Dirk fell ill unexpectedly and died a short time later. Of course we stopped working on the article. Els cancelled all her other obligations, but felt it was important to stay in the exhibition.

By the time Els was ready to work on the article again, I was devastated by the death of my mother in late August and the horrific accident that killed my sister and brother that same day. As the months went by, I cancelled other obligations, but somehow felt I couldn't cancel writing the article.

As January started winding down, I knew it was now or never, so I started working on it and shifted into high gear this week so I can have the completed article in the editor's hands by February 15th. It's been interesting to send e-mails back and forth with each of the four artists exhibiting together in the fort, to research the fort's history and to receive the images of the final works in the exhibition.

I'm not working on it today only because I'm teaching a textile painting class tomorrow at the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester and have to pack, load and haul supplies from my studio into the museum. Luckily I can unload everything there later this afternoon rather than do it tomorrow morning right while everyone is arriving for class. I'm looking forward to a wonderful group and class and will post about it over the weekend.

After the class is done, it'll be back to writing for me, fine tuning and editing the article so I can send it off. My reward -- which I'm very eager to get -- will be some time in my studio working on the cloth for the next new piece.

Friday, February 1, 2008

New Piece Complete

Whew, I made my deadline.The new piece I've been working on is finally finished, photographed and will head off on a CD to the AQS magazine editor in tomorrow or Monday's mail. I'm naming it "Letters to Baltimore"-- it plays with the traditional center medallion popularized by traditional Baltimore album quilts -- and will illustrate an article I just finished for the magazine about burning fabric edges. I had hoped to make this piece fit the body of work I'm creating for my solo exhibition in May as well -- and get two uses for the work of making one piece! -- but I ended up relating the design choices more to traditional quiltmaking.

I've been working pretty determinedly for the past few days with my "variations on a theme" approach to composing. Here's one of my first ideas for the piece to illustrate uses for burned edges-- the gem in this experiment was that I got to burn the edges of the backing fabrics while retaining the smooth lines of the letter forms. They didn't quite work on this surface, but the idea may fit well on a different piece.Several of my wonderful and helpful crit group friends really liked the possibilities in the approach below, although I definitely went overboard with putting so many elements on this surface -- I just fell in love with playing with the different values of red! So I went to the other extreme and took too many elements away. I started to feel like Goldilocks digging into the three bears' bowls of porridge. By this time it was bedtime and I fell into bed contentedly, planning to add a few more letter forms to this the next morning, then stitch them down and finish the piece.

Surprise! I woke up at 2:30 AM, headed up to peek at my design wall and ended up working intensely until 6:00 AM, by which time I had completely changed the piece to the version below.

I can really SEE this in the magazine; I think it fits. Just a side note -- when the magazine asked me last fall if I would like to write about burning fabric edges, I wasn't sure I would find enough to write about the technique. I was definitely surprised when I started developing and writing the article and think it's pretty cool! My dear friend Nancy Murty helped photograph all the pictures to illustrate the technique and I am sooo grateful for her help.

I actually like the way this piece turned out enough to hang it in the breakfast nook of my kitchen (and I only hang very few things I make in my home, believe it or not.). It's a perfect size for that area at 45" x 45" -- not too large that it overwhelms the space, not so small that it disappears on the wall. So "Letters to Baltimore" is for me, but as with every piece I work on, I learned so much by trying various design ideas. Like reading a good novel, it's way more fun to create new work when you don't know for sure what the ending will be!

I've had many discussions with myself as I've worked on this piece and have jotted down sketches and ideas about where to take these ideas next. I definitely was pleased with the additions of a value scale of reds and will continue to develop and refine both the scale and the shapes themselves; I think aging the fabric on this work by tea dyeing it complimented the burning of the edges. A great challenge, this one, and I'm happy to be wrapping it up...but a new one is already waiting in the wings to start next!