Monday, March 31, 2008

Pressing the "Pause" Button

Yes, it will be quiet again for the next week in my studios. I'll be heading off tomorrow for San Diego and Los Angeles until April 8th. More about that in a minute! I wanted to leave on a positive note rather than feeling frustrated, so I worked as much as I could yesterday and today to address what I didn't like about the two current Parables pieces -- and I am greatly encouraged. Even though neither piece is finished, I think I know exactly what to do to resolve them once I'm home again.

In the previous Parables piece, I layered sheer red letter forms over the surface. I started that process again with this piece, only with large black sheer letters. I've cut out, added, subtracted, arranged and rearranged large and small sheer black letters most all day today and yesterday. I've done my usual extremes-- too many elements, too few elements -- and it's going to take some additional work to resolve the piece to my satisfaction, but with the added shadowy black shapes, I feel like the work has much more depth and visual interest. This is an "in process" image below of just one of the many variations I've tried, and it isn't the final version, but it does let you see where I'm going with the additional layer. Definitely an improvement.
Feeling like I had a winning streak going, I shifted my attention to reclaiming some of the white space I had lost on the other Parables piece when I got too heavy-handed with the silk screening of the dark red and brown accents on the white letters. I decided to test out the idea of layering sheer white fabric shapes over some of the letters. Below is another rough, in-process sample of what the idea looks like, but I feel VERY positive about tracing the exact shapes and layering white sheers over the letters when I return. It's quite interesting to lighten the shapes again but also see the toned down patterns behind them. Returns the value contrast to the surface that I had lost.

Am I happy? You bet! I also know how to resolve the third Pages piece. I tried several ideas on my list and the one that works best is to fuse new letter forms over the previous ones. There are pins and patterns and bits of sheers spread out wall to wall in my sewing room as a testament to my hard work and persistence! Here's a shot of the piece with three of the larger letters covered with white sheers in approximately the same shapes. Yep, it definitely looks much better.
I'm looking forward to a wonderful time in LA. My daughter's film festival is in its second year and I've signed on to help with everything from collecting tickets to serving as a bartender. I'm delighted to be going -- I love independent films -- and this lineup looks like an interesting one.

Check out and you'll be able to see trailers of many of the films. If I don't get a chance to blog, it's because we're too busy with the festival, but I'll try and get pictures up of some of the highlights. Meanwhile, I'm leaving with a feeling that all is well and moving forward with my work and I can come home and complete these pieces and get moving on the next ones!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Row, Row, Row Your Boat

Gently down the stream...While I've been researching and taking notes and contemplating Jasper Johns' grey prints and paintings and Japanese calligraphy and researching artists' books, I've also continued working on these two current Parables pieces.
The top piece is done; I'll add stitching and complete it. The lower piece is not finished--it will get another layer to create a dominant foreground. Some areas of this piece work better than others. I may decide to cut this one into small segments for the 12" x12" framed pieces.

Perhaps because I'm both an avid reader and writer I find I work the way a person reads a book -- developing the characters (the imagery) and following the story chapter by chapter (in my work, layer by layer, choice by choice). In both cases, I may have clues but am never quite sure what the ending or outcome will be. Today wasn't one of my more inspired days; I kept doggedly plugging away despite not feeling tuned in to what was happening and that usually leads me off the trail and into the brambles.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily...The two pieces that I'm working on are evolving into very different works from what I originally planned for them. I am not thrilled with every aspect of them but I always love the work, even when I am muttering under my breath at my choices! I always tend to reach a point in making a new work where I think I am in control and know exactly where the story is going and then SURPRISE -- a new twist, a new challenge to respond to, a new direction the piece starts moving in that I didn't expect (and honestly, didn't WANT). I used to fight back and try to drag the work back in the direction I wanted to go, now I just grin (OK sometimes I groan!) but then I relax and move along downstream instead of reenacting a salmon trying to spawn. If the point of creating art is to grow, how can I grow unless I "see what happens if..."

Life is but a dream. However I may feel about the work I've done at a particular moment, I always wake up the next morning after a long, tiring and sometimes frustrating day eager to dive into my current work again. I may even wake up with one of those inspired ideas for what I need to do next with the second piece. The jury is still out on it, but I can't help but remain an optimist. I've been in this spot before and ended up delighted once I added another layer. It might just happen with this one too!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

It Winds and Forks, But It's a Trail

What a hike my creative self has been taking over the past 24 hours! Pick up your walking stick -- here are a few highlights.

Found another interesting snippet about Jasper Johns, this one from a different exhibition. "However, MMoCA’s curator of collections Rick Axsom, who organized 'Jasper Johns: The Prints', says the significance of Johns’ art is found in his exploration of meaning itself and how meaning cannot be fixed." Does this imply that when an artist paints a flag, the meaning of the image of "flag" becomes a consideration for the viewer? That the viewer who associates flag as a literal symbol of a country now must look at this object/symbol "flag" in a new way?

Another surprise, a serendipitous e-mail. My friend Janet sent me a link to a site, and to a specific item for sale, an antique woodblock print book, because she knows I love calligraphic marks. Of course I immediately bought it!
David, one of her fellow professors at U. of R. who teaches Japanese, said these pix are from a genre called utaibon, the form in which dramatic plays and other recitation forms were published. They are composed of written text with a complex system of vocal and interpretive annotation included (and added in red) alongside the text. We're going to get together once the book arrives and David will translate some of the text for us. Honestly though, its appeal to me is not the meaning of the individual words but the beauty of the calligraphic marks and the way it's been bound into a book format. I don't need to understand the language to appreciate the form and movement of the strokes, and it's those I would like to consider incorporating into my own work somehow.

Stumbled onto another interesting idea when I happened onto some workshop descriptions at the Visual Studies Workshop in Rochester. I'm actually signing up for one this July taught by Judy Natal called "Mapping the Self" -- pretty evocative given all the map imagery I've been collecting for at least four years. I'm now seeing ways to connect mapping with language forms in my work.

Tate Shaw is offering a workshop this summer as well that I can't take because of the time frames it's being offered; "Writing for Artists' Books." The description mentions exploring four types of writing -- found writing, illegible writing, uncreative writing and diagrammatic writing (which I see as a form of mapping.) Fascinating. I have NEVER thought to categorize writing into types, so it was a discovery that immediately set off my mind into fertile new territory and new connections.

I also happened to notice that the Visual Studies Workshop has a collection of over 5,000 artist books -- Mama Mia, where have I been?!? Artist books explore combining language and images. So I have left a message to get an appointment. How do you suppose they categorize the works in this collection? That alone will be interesting to find out.

So I hope to continue my brisk pace along this creative trail today, where ideas and new sources of inspiration are bubbling up like shoots from the warming ground in spring.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Subject is GRAY

I woke up this morning and decided to do a bit of research on my current fascination with gray scale. Yesterday's heady dose of sunshine had been replaced today by the familiar gray; it's been windy and cold so all the way around a perfect day to warm myself by the glowing light of the computer monitor. I had some phone calls to make so I decided to do some early morning Internet searches to see if I could find other artists who are attracted to grayscale in their work. I know that most artists love color and I'm no exception but I have been enjoying working in grayscale so much that I wondered if there are others of a similar bent.

When I mentioned my research to a friend I was talking with on the phone later this morning, she suggested that I look into the new exhibition, "Jasper Johns: Gray" that just opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art ( The exhibition of 120 of Johns paintings, drawings and prints originated at the Art Institute of Chicago this past fall.

Could I help but be intrigued? I'm familiar with Johns paintings of flags, maps, targets and numbers. He is generally credited with laying the groundwork for the movement from abstract expression into Pop Art and Minimalism. But I couldn't really remember any works that were done in gray.
Among the pieces displayed at the Metropolitan Museum's web site, this one, titled Gray Alphabets (1960), definitely touched a chord.
So did this piece "Jubilee" 1959,with stencilled words being revealed and sometimes concealed on the surface. Johns did a similar piece the same year in saturated color called "False Start", but I found myself becoming more aware of each shape and detail in the gray piece, primarily because removing color allows the viewer to see things that the presence of color makes it more difficult to view. On the color scale, gray stimulates the vision the least -- and makes it easier for the viewer (and possibly the artist) to focus on ideas. According to reviewer Jerry Saltz in a March 05, 08 video on New York Entertainment (, Johns has used the color gray since the mid-1950's as a statement of "scepticism, quietude or anticipation."
Among the subjects that Johns has returned to painting again and again, are familiar, literal objects, ones that he describes as "things the mind already knows." Interviewers quote Johns as saying he has wanted to focus on "things that were seen and not looked at, not examined." Throughout his nearly 60 year art career, Johns has included factual marks and shapes in most of his works, including hand prints and footprints, casts of parts of the body, or stamps made from objects found in his studio, such as the rim of a tin can. His techniques stress conscious control rather than spontaneity.
It's interesting to me to consider Johns way of portraying literal objects in his paintings. Saltz points to Johns works as making us ask ourselves "what is a painting." In one painting in the "Gray" exhibition, Johns paints the act of biting into the painting. Another work on exhibit was created by the artist inking his face and rolling it across the surface of the canvas so the artist is literally "inside" the painting, trapped inside his own work.

It intrigues me to contemplate art through very different eyes and sensibilities and to consider the body of work this artist has created over a long, successful career. Johns, born in 1930, spends summers in Connecticut and winters in St. Marten, but he still continues to work and evolve as an artist. Quite an accomplishment.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

A Good Studio Day is Even Better than Chocolate Bunnies

I am amazed at how incredibly much this piece rallied yesterday with just one additional layer of silk screened color. I started by tracing, cutting and pinning on Kraft paper resists, editing out some letter forms and selecting the strongest ones to preserve as my lightest values. I chose transparent black Setacolor to reestablish the darkest areas of value next to the lightest ones and screened these pebbly shapes on in patterns that would add both definition and movement to the composition.You can see how the cut paper resists work in the image above. Once I took the paper resists off again, I mixed a spray bottle of diluted pewter DynaFlo and spritzed the whites to tone them down just a bit.
By the end of the afternoon, the surface rebounded from pale and pathetic to one that delivers a real punch. There are still a few areas I may alter slightly when I go back for another studio day on Tuesday -- may screen on a few highlights of white text -- but overall this is an amazing transformation. Even the small touches of orange are working now. I have to chuckle -- I like the composition, definition and value contrasts better on this piece now than the other one! Parables III and IV are moving forward!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Grains of Sand into Pearls -- Or Maybe Just Dead Oysters

I was commiserating with my friend Becky this morning in an e-mail -- we both seem to be wrestling with materials that just won't cooperate with our creative intentions. Since a good analogy always helps rekindle my positive attitude, I likened our struggles to grains of sand in oyster shells, no doubt a comparison born of all the wonderful raw oysters I just slurped my way through on the Florida coast. So now that I've grabbed onto this cheery analogy, I'll see if I can brainstorm some solutions to the Page 3 piece I washed out yesterday!

Some of the letter forms, like this grouping, look just fine, with the raw but firm edge that I was aiming for.

But here's where the problem solving process starts. Unfortunately, other letter forms didn't hold up as well to the rinsing process. The ones above actually started to pull apart (I had fused two layers together to make the sheer silk stronger).

Some letters look a little puckered and misshapen. All in all, more shifting and skewing than I intended. While I was a bit despondent about the results last night, with my pearls from sand attitude now firmly in place I can see some choices to consider for completing this piece. Another day of sunshine helps my attitude as well!

So here are some options I'll consider while I'm working at my studio today. I can:

1. Fuse another layer of fabric in the exact same shapes over these existing ones to make them look crisp and "floating" on the surface.

2. I can distort the troubled letter forms even more, exaggerate their coming apart and incorporate that idea intentionally into the overall composition.

3. I can stitch over the letter forms -- either machine or hand stitching- to define them and cover any imperfections in the fabrics.

4. I can rip them off and leave only the stitched thread outlines and bits of stuck threads there to indicate their presence.

I'm sure I could come up with more ideas, but these will be enough to chew on while I head for my studio today and work on another grain of sand that I left waiting there for me when I got back from vacation, the third piece of fabric I silk screened in the hope that it would become the next Parables piece.

This is the way it looked when I completed it late one afternoon and left it overnight in my studio to complete the dyeing process. Strong value contrasts and definition. What I didn't realize until I stayed late another night is that the building's boiler is now getting turned way down around by 5 PM so the room was probably 60 degrees or lower overnight, too cold to keep the dyes activated.

So when I arrived the next day and washed the piece, I got pretty extreme washout. The piece above turned into the piece below.Oh yuck. Even I, who rarely give up on a piece of cloth, truly find this a sorry sight. But honestly, if what I layer on today doesn't save it, I can just start fresh on a new piece next week instead of trying to resuscitate a lost cause. On the up side, I get to experiment with layering ideas and that is always fascinating enough that the slight tension that always accompanies layering -- the not knowing whether the new layer will make it worse rather than better -- is a trade off I can handle. If nothing else, the resulting fabric can be cut apart and the good parts turned into small works.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Back in the Saddle

Today I returned to Page 3 -- when I headed south a week ago, I had completed stitching about half the sheer black letter shapes down to the water soluble sandwich -- so I stitched the rest down today. Here it is with all the black letters stitched on and the water soluble still covering the whole surface. After I took this photo it was time for the Moment of Truth. I immersed the fabrics in water and washed away all the water soluble.
I threw the whole piece in the kitchen sink, filled it up with water and also used the sprayer to melt some of the water soluble more quickly. After rinsing the fabric a number of times, I soaked it for a while to make sure I had gotten most of the glue washed away. Then I hung the piece to dry; when it was just still slightly damp, I started ironing. Ironing these takes a long time, since each little rectangle tends to want to fold over rather than lie flat.
This is where I'd love to be able to ooh and aah and show you closeups of the piece, but unfortunately, some of the sheer black silk I used for the letters started shredding after being washed. The black fabric, even though I prewashed it, still bled on some areas of the white pages, but I rather like the bluish tint it creates. My idea to stitch the sleeve to the piece BEFORE washing the water soluble away didn't work. The sleeve needs to come off and be redone, so the piece is still not finished. I'll work the bugs out of it and it will look lovely hanging with the other Pages pieces, but not tomorrow -- for the moment I don't want to deal with it anymore. My eyes need a break so I'll head up to my dye studio tomorrow and add more layers to the piece of cloth that is waiting there for me that had a dye washout problem. Thrills and spills, thrills and spills, folks -- that's the name of this surface design game.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Ocean Tides and Shore Treasures

We start and end each day with an hour or two walk along the beach. Bob hunts for sharks' teeth and I've shifted my search from shells to beach glass. Somehow the time drifts away while we're absorbed in walking and searching and the hours pass quickly. I find myself singing as I walk along; sometimes old hymns, other times tunes I invent myself, usually little love songs to the ocean. Bob seems to always be walking far ahead of me. Nobody hears me over the sounds of the winds and waves, although I don't know if I would stop even if they did. It's just me and the ocean together at these times.

It intrigues me how much the surface of the sand changes over the course of a day. About every six hours the tide changes; the waves advance and recede and leave surprising and unexpected patterns of sand and shells that I seem to see with greater appreciation each day. It feels endlessly entertaining and exciting, as though I am watching a master artist create a magnificent canvas, erase and then create anew with each new tide.
One of the other "finds" on the Amelia Island beaches have been these shell fragments. The marks evidently were carved on their surfaces by predators as they attempted to breach the shells and eat the juicy morsels inside. The marks suggest language symbols to me; I am looking forward to sketching some of them and combining the forms into new combinations. I find it most intriguing that some marks are fine lines and others are very wide and deep.

I'm not sketching or writing or doing anything artistic at all but taking photographs, walking. Looking, always looking. The clouds move and change, the sky brightens and darkens, the tide moves in and out, the shells wash up on the sand and then wash back into the water. I walk, eat, sleep and walk some more. I watch the clouds, the sky, the waves, the people, and scour the beached shells for little treasures. I wonder if I would take this all for granted if I lived by the ocean all the time.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Patterns and Process

This was my final view of St. Augustine as the sun rose this morning on another lovely Florida day. We packed the car and headed for Amelia Island, where we'll stay the next five days and then fly home on Wednesday. It's grey and rainy today with possible thunderstorms in the forecast for tonight, but after three days of sunshine and beach walking, we need a quiet day.
During these days walking along the shore, my artist eye has been zeroing in on the visual feast. It seems that each day I've been here I've become more aware of the patterns everywhere I look.
The action of the water on the sand leaves patterns of stones, shells and small sticks behind as the tides shift. While some are hypnotically beautiful and complete within themselves, others inspire me to translate them into my own medium. Sticks and stones washed up by high tide suddenly seem to form scriptlike patterns, as if the planet itself is leaving messages in the sand and it is up to me to find the key to translating the unfamiliar language. I begin considering how to translate these types of marks and patterns to textiles with paint, dye and threadwork.

We spent yesterday morning at Anastasia State Park and as I walked, watching the waves hitting the shore and then recede, I began to notice shapes in the foam when it broke apart. While the shapes initially reminded me of map formations, I also began to see them forming calligraphic symbols before washing apart. Secret messages?! I got a huge smile on my face and began to take pictures. Even my husband is starting to walk around and point out anything that has a calligraphic look to it!

More notes to come. It's a bit hard to stay focused on writing when all my little antennae are waving around gathering so many ideas and images. I've spent enough time this afternoon tapping away on this keyboard. We're all settled into our room on Amelia Island so it's time to take a walk down and check out a new beach!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Off to the Sunny South

We fly out this morning for eight days in Florida. My studios are like Sleeping Beauty's castle -- I've stopped midstream in whatever I was doing so that when I return I can pick right back up again exactly where I left off. There's a length of printed cloth stretched and pinned on my print table and a Post-it list of what I want to do to it next. The current Pages piece is still laying under the feed dogs of my sewing machine waiting for me to finish stitching down the letter forms with invisible thread (so they appear to float on the surface of the pages). The printed cloth for a new Parables piece is hanging on my design wall, ready to add the next layer of letter forms. All will be still and waiting expectantly for my return. In my mind, this is truly a joyful combination, heading off on an adventure to a new place and then returning to dive back into the work that I love.

First we'll visit Bob's sister and brother-in-law in St. Augustine -- they drove down and are spending a month there - then Friday we'll drive up and settle in on Amelia Island, where we'll kayak and hike and take long walks along the beach (I love the ocean). I found out that Cumberland Island is an easy boat ride away and have wanted to visit it for years (it's a national preserve, completely uninhabited except for herds of wild horses), so I'm really looking forward to some relaxation and fun after all my hard work over the past few months.

But of course I am also packing my lap top, sketch book and journal and will take advantage of plane time to start some writing projects. There are some seeds of ideas that I want to develop and being trapped in an uncomfortable seat is a great catalyst for getting absorbed in anything that will take my mind off that. No way to wander off and get distracted!

I want to try and gather the ideas behind my current work into some cohesive written form that can eventually evolve into a strong artist statement. I've been developing this body of work with a lot of faith and trust in where the creative process and my ideas will lead me, but now that I'll be away from engaging directly in it I'll have a good opportunity to begin to synthesize the ideas. I expect that a new environment will give me fresh perspectives, not to mention a much needed dose of sunshine and Omega-3 oils from eating all that delicious fresh seafood.

Since I'm taking my lap top and digital camera, if I encounter artistic inspirations that cry out to be shared, I'll upload them so you can enjoy them, too.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Wintry Artist's Retreat

The snow and sleet over the past several days have helped me slow down the pace a bit. This morning the ice on the tree branches is sparkling in the sunlight and all is calm again. It's been a perfect two days for enjoying the work of other artists and contemplating ideas for my language imagery series. I happened onto an inspiring PBS documentary about Montana photographer Evelyn Cameron, that I wholeheartedly recommend: She kept diaries for decades in which she chronicled daily life on the prairie and I know I would love to get my hands on some copies of the actual handwritten pages.
Another interesting addition to my growing collection of reference materials is the work of Joy Christiansen. Christiansen is a photographer and installation artist who teaches photography in the School of Art at Louisiana Tech. I got the opportunity to visit her current installation at the University of Rochester's Hartnett Gallery called "Family Gathering: A Look into the World of Eating Disorders", during my recent residency. Christiansen's website is installation in the university gallery creates a living room setting with altered furnishings. Photographic transfers of family members have been fused to upholstered chairs which have various texts machine-embroidered on their surfaces. As you move around the room, these everyday pieces of furniture reveal fragments of personal stories about a painful struggle with bulimia and anorexia.

The desk drawers in "Hidden Secrets", 2002, open to reveal silver gelatin photographic images and autobiographical writing that obsessively line every surface of the interior space. Because the viewer is encouraged to inspect it, when the interiors of the furniture pieces are revealed so are the secrets that they hold about self image. Nothing is as calm or ordinary in this domestic setting as a first glance might convey.

"Eating Rituals", 2003, examines the relationship between food and rituals of anorexia and bulimia. Working with imagery and text fused to dinnerware, secrets about eating rituals typically kept private are revealed.

On every surface and interior of the pieces in the exhibition the artist addresses "issues of body image, personal experience, and memory by combining photographs and autobiographic writing on the appropriated furniture."

One of the most troubling and touching parts of the exhibition at U.of a large bulletin board where visitors are invited to post anonymous comments about their own struggles with body image. Reading the young women's comments expanded the installation's powerful scope.

While my interest in language is quite different from Joy's, I can appreciate the interplay of text and images in her work. Observing and responding to her ideas and ways of expressing them fuel ideas for my own work. It causes me to ask the question that I am always asking in various forms as I flesh out ideas -- what is my work really about? What am I trying to say and what are the tools,methods, materials that can best communicate the meaning behind each one? How much do I wish to reveal in each piece and how much do I want to remain ambiguous?

These aren't questions that can be answered lightly or quickly; they evolve and become more apparent as I enter into my creative process. I do have something to say, that reassuring thought seems to motivate me. I have lost any desire I may have had to make items that are pretty or decorative or marketable and it mades me feel odd and out of step with the world. I do think about how rapidly time keeps passing and how increasingly important it is for me to actualize the ideas inside.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Positive Results

Another non-stop day of layering and printing, layering and printing. We stretched several vertical strips of silk on one print table and Christine experimented with different pattern and color variations.

We returned to the eight foot length of silk, Christine's first attempt at a dye-printed water-theme. Here she is using a household sponge and water-based resist to preserve some of the white space before the next layer. The patterns suggest water sprays and bubbles on moving water.

Here she is hand painting into some of the white areas to refine some of the lines and shapes before we put down another layer of yarns and print another layer of color on it.

Once she finished painting and dye dried, I steamed and washed the cloth and we evaluated whether to add additional layers. Although the lines and value shifts are subtle, we both loved the subtlety of this silk just as it is and decided not to try and add any more detail to the surface.

Here is a shot of the piece, which Christine will trim to make narrower, then hem and make a hanging sleeve for it.

In this closeup you can appreciate the fine lines and subtle color shifts in more detail. The grayish dye has a tinge of lavender to it that really compliments the blues. Christine loves working with blues and greens. As a warm pallette person, I find this a refreshing change from my own artistic practices. Christine focuses on "line", while I am more fascinated by mark making and texture. The contrasts between our styles and practices have been interesting for me to observe.
Both Christine and I end each day totally exhausted -- but it's fun to "talk shop" and exchange ideas and opinions about color and patterning choices. Tomorrow is our last day of experimentation and then she'll head back to her studio and I'll get back to working on my greyscale Pages and Parables pieces. I have to confess it has been wonderful to dive into color mixing again this week and I will have ample mixed dyes left over to do a lot more experimentation of my own.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Merging Mediums

The first and second days of my time with Christine have flown by. Here is an example of the water imagery she is currently working with. These 27.5" x 9.75" pieces are from her "Falling" series; they are monotypes, waxed and mounted on cradled panels. Christine creates her monotypes in her own New Hampshire studio by layering a variety of thicknesses of yarns, wires and strings on her printing plate. When she runs the paper and inked plate through her press, the yarns create resist patterns on the paper. With each layer she alters the arrangement of the yarns, building patterns and texture. But since the oil-based inks she uses are fairly opaque, each layer covers the color beneath it except for where the resists are.

Not true with dyes. They are transparent; each layer interacts with the colors beneath it. And without a press or plate, there is nothing to hold the yarns and string in place while applying the dyes. We talked through a variety of options and tried numerous ideas for applying color and texture to the fabric while preserving the yarn resists.
Here is Christine laying down a variety of threads before applying a second layer of dye to one of her first sample pieces. We tried many methods of creating textural patterns on the surfaces with brayers and foam rollers and brushes. We wrapped thread around foam rollers and rolled those on to the cloth to create fine lines. We monoprinted clean fabric onto printed fabric before removing the yarns for interesting reverse prints -- that was hugely promising! We experimented with applying lines with chemical resists through a fine tipped squeeze bottle.

The idea Christine felt most drawn to was to sandwich the composed yarn and string designs between two layers of silk. First we attached a layer of silk to the print table and composed the threads on their surface. Then we stretched another piece of habotai silk tautly on top and taped it down. Once the two layers were secure, we rolled dyes over the top layer. Victory! -- the threads stayed exactly where we had placed them. Each side prints differently, a reverse of the other.
Here is Christine lifting off the top layer and revealing the fabric underneath. On the bottom layer, the yarn creates white resist lines. The colored yarns shown here sticking to the surface of the top fabric will be peeled away. On the top layer the yarn lines appear as a positive image; they are darker blue with lighter blue areas around them (similar to doing a rubbing).Christine was delighted with the results. Before we left the studio today she arranged new yarns over this light blue and white surface, placed the other piece of silk back on top and rolled another layer of blue, this time a pale grey-lavender tone. We'll find out tomorrow morning how successful that layer is but what we did see when we peeked under the top layer looked promising.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Studio: Day 1 with Christine

Misconception #1, waxed collage of original prints, 10" x18", by Christine Destrempes.

Christine Destrempes is a professional painter and print maker living in New Hampshire. She works primarily with monoprinting techniques on handmade paper. She decided she wanted to translate her techniques onto silk and create long, fluid monoprinted silk constructions for a new series in which she is exploring water imagery. However, she doesn't know anything about working with dyes and fabrics.
She visited the Pro Chem website to check into taking dyeing classes and saw that I'll be teaching monoprinting at Pro Chem in October 08. She visited my website, saw the similarities in our printing and layering methods and decided to contact me about working with me privately. You can see more of Christine's work at

Today will be our first day together. I spent most of the day yesterday at my studio unloading from the U. of R. class, then mixed dyes and print pastes so everything is set up and ready for us to start this morning. We'll spend the next four days together translating her printing techniques on paper with acrylics and oil sticks to liquid reactive dyes on silk.

I am wonderfully excited about introducing an artist from a different medium to textiles. Her willingness to bridge mediums and take on a new learning curve when she is already established in her own field heartens me -- I love it when artists challenge themselves, even though we all know how frustrating it is to take on something that makes us feel like a beginner again.

So for the next four days or so you'll be hearing about our experimentation and seeing some of the results. I will meet Christine for the first time this morning -- can you tell I am really excited about working with her?!?

Saturday, March 1, 2008

U.R. Residency Highlights

Take a five day class and scale it down to fit a day and a half format and you'll get an idea of the pace in our textiles class at the University of Rochester on Thursday and Friday. The students were sharp, innovative and hard working -- many of them had no experience at all in textiles and just dove into the materials anyway. I confess, I loved watching how they experimented with marks and layers. We spent the first afternoon painting a slew of different materials -- cotton, cheesecloth, scrim, silk net, Tyvek and fusible web. The perimeters of the room and spaces under tables filled up with the results.

Katie, an undergrad who wants to work in film making, had a great time painting and printing with everything, including her hands. By the end of the class on Friday, she had added some wonderful handwritten text to some of her pieces, layering sheers over handwriting and then adding more writing on the surfaces. My language imagery loving self could definitely relate.

By Friday morning, the materials were dry, so we fired up the irons and started layering. The painted fusible not only provides patterns, it also provides an adhesive surface for layering. In this piece that Katie made she layered Tyvek and painted fusible web on a ground fabric painted with a salt resist.
Another member of our class, Joanna (in the grey shirt on the left), had to leave early Friday because she had a dress rehearsal for last night's on-campus production of The Vagina Chronicles. I was intrigued by these circle shapes she was creating by manipulating the threads of the cheesecloth and painted scrim.

I wish I could highlight each student and their work. Even though a few people found out by Friday afternoon that the last thing they wanted to ever do again was hand stitch a surface, others seemed to fall under the spell of the intimate, repetitive process of stitching.
Here are just a few of the other wonderful pieces that other students got underway during our time together: This minimalist piece shows how powerful the stitched line can be to a composition. The folded, unpainted scrim behind it, with the hint of painted layers beneath and just a little color on the top layer, was a very original use of these materials.

Repeating patterns with interesting variations (would you believe these gorgeous prints were done by inking and stamping with a stone ground wheat cracker?!?) helped add a lot of visual interest to this surface. Copper foiling added the reflective marks . The stitching on the right with that dark red embroidery thread adds a great contrast.

Many thanks to Professor Janet Berlo, on the right, who both arranged for me to spend this three days at the University and participated enthusiastically in the class. Genevieve, left, another student, has an MFA in photography and is working on her doctorate at the U. of R.

The faculty and students I met during this residency were all friendly and welcoming during my visit. I enjoyed talking with several seniors working in small private cubicles next to our class space about their senior projects and that helped me appreciate even more the high level of artistic development that is fostered in the U. of R.'s very small art program. My time at U of R was a good experience. I packed up and left with that usual mixed bag of regret and relief when a class ends and hope students felt they gained something positive from it. Who knows, maybe for one of them it was a wonderful beginning to a career as a textile artist!