Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Midnight Hour

When the clock strikes twelve tonight, it will be October 1st. It's almost time to set my own work aside and pack for my Fabrications teaching trip. What I'm wishing and hoping is that this new work, "Seeds of Compassion" will be finished by Thursday. It's 40" x 48" dyed silk with dense machine stitching and layered sheer accents of color.

I still need to stitch the little slashes of color onto the surface and then add some hand embroidery accents and put on the facings.

I've felt a powerful connection to this piece since the moment I started stitching it. This morning I played with these small slivers of color to see what placement might look best. When it was time to leave for my studio, I stopped and took these pictures. I intended to come home and add more color. However, I shared the images with a friend and she thinks it looks complete exactly as it is. I respect her opinions so I will sleep on this tonight and revisit the piece tomorrow with the intention to resolve and complete it. I trust that whenever I take a question like this to bed that I'll wake in the morning knowing exactly what choice to make.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

It's a Wrap! Ah, the Warm Glow of Completion

Pages 5 is done done DONE. What I thought would take just a few days took three weeks!

Sometimes creative projects start off in high gear and then feel like they slow down to a crawl by the end. Or it may just seem that way to me because my patience level and engagement with the work are high initially but begin to wear thin when a piece is difficult to resolve. What I realized in working through all the design options for this piece -- many! -- is that we can reach a point in the process where we sail way past our original concept and start generating a whole new work on top of the current one. I don't always realize this is happening immediately, since I already think in layers, but after I've worked five or six different composition variations on one surface and none of them feels right, there's a sudden jolt of recognition that I've left the current idea and am actually designing new work over the old. Instead of exploring one or two variables, I keep layering more on the surface until a whole new work starts to build over the old one.

While I love the larger letter forms, they need a less active ground, so these will return for Pages 6, where I will use the kind of subtle, shimmering fabrics that Pages 3 has.

Combining the sheer blacks with these sheer yellow-orange shapes will become Pages 7. Again, they will be more dramatic on a less patterned ground.

The secret of creative process -- no effort is EVER wasted. In essence, even though it felt like it took a lot of time and sweat to complete this piece, through the process I've worked out ideas for the next two pieces in this series as well. Let's trust that my positivity will hold water and I'll sail through those as a result of working through so much now!

Another huge project has also finally crossed the finish line! My website redesign is now live: http://www.jeannebeck.com/ The quieter setting puts the focus on the art images rather than the web page design. It looks better on Mozilla Firefox than Internet Explorer -- if you use that browser, you'll see it as Holly created it.

You may notice that I've removed the workshops and studio pages; the site is more concise and focused on the work. I'm going to honor the teaching commitments I've already made for 2009 but I'm not committing to any new teaching for the next several years. Being in the studio and writing fill all my time right now, although I love teaching and certainly hope to return to it in a few years.

And still another big item that has taken a lot of work has been checked off my to-do list. I've completed and submitted my first grant application and know exactly what to do with the money if they award it to me. If setting intentions can truly draw that grant to me, then I'm a shoe-in for it!

Another new piece is in the stitching stage and moving along at a good clip. Stitching will quite lavishly cover the surface of this piece. In addition, I have two new ground fabrics in process at my studio that hopefully will hopefully grow up to become new Parables pieces. The creative fires are blazing!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

New York State -- Fertile Soil for Fiber Art

Near the end of a three day "Experimental Textile Painting" class in July, a student asked me , "If you aren't interested in making quilts or garments, what else might you do with textiles?"

This question came to mind again two weeks ago when I took on the position of New York State representative for the Surface Design Association, http://www.surfacedesign.org/ SDA is an international membership organization of fiber artists.

I sent out an e-mail to NYS members asking for news, links and whatever else they wish to share that I am distributing as a weekly e-mail bulletin. In response, my in-box has been peppered with such inspiring and diverse introductions to New York SDA members' work and themes, that I want to share a few with you. I hope you will find them as interesting as I do.

This installation piece, Chandelier #1, is part of Anna Drastik's Preserving Preciousness series. http://www.annadrastik.com/ This work is currently on display at the Triple5Soul's flagship store in New York City. The artist created this piece using silicone, netting, poly organza, thread.

Western New York State artist Barbara Murak, http://www.barbaramurak.com/ captures the beauty of the everyday by stitching and sculpting silk to create a head of lettuce. Barbara's fiber work can be seen in a current exhibit entitled, "Feasting Eyes: Artists Take on Food" which runs until October 5th at the Kenan Center in Lockport, NY and features work by 23 artists.

Suzanne Punch http://www.suzannepunch.com/ created these abstract, hand-painted vertical silk banners, titled "Autumn Equinox", 44" wide by 84" long. They are shown displayed in a window installation at Liberty House, a boutique in NYC at Broadway and West 112th St.

Elaine Longtemps, http://www.elainelongtemps.com/ created this sculptural fiber piece, "We Are But One World", inspired by her research into global issues and concerns. Most of the factual information she uncovered in her research was very disturbing. She printed excerpts from numerous books and publications onto fabric, then cut them into strips and sewed them together randomly with a red cross-stitch. The artist chose the progression of colors to range from dark and ominous to brighter and more optimistic. She notes that in order to read both sides of “We Are But One World”, one must change one’s viewing position, i.e., change one’s point of view.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Sweat Equity

Here is where you get to sit back and relax in the comfort of your own home and observe this beaver of an artist gnaw on trees with total faith that they will all topple down and soon fit snugly into a fine, new dwelling!

This past week I've been practically obsessed with completing the current Pages piece. Full moons tend to increase my energy and drive, which is already pretty high. I finished stitching the entire surface and reinforcing the stitching, then took it outside and hosed off the water soluble -- my down and dirty new method for saving the bathtubs from degunking -- although the hose will have to come in soon when the temperatures start to dip to freezing. Once the piece got washed, ironed and hung, I realized that the letter forms I had cut out didn't contrast enough with the mottled surface and I hadn't varied the scale of the letter form patterns enough on it. Hmmm, what to do, what to do.

Beavers don't give up when a tree is a bit thicker than anticipated, they just keep chewing. I cut out and fused rectangles of lightly printed white silk on the silk broadcloth ground. I'm fairly pleased with the results, the random dark and light frames around these white rectangles.

At this point the piece is attractive but needs more of a focal point. I decide to test out some of the ideas that are rolling around in my head, so I start quietly experimenting, contrasting and comparing results.

My first idea is to cut tiny rectangles of black and place them in an irregular pattern on the surface. Doing this will add another scale to the pattern, provide elements that will move the eye around the surface in an interesting way and tone done some of the white printing. I can also fuse and apply some unprinted "frames" around the white silk centers to tone down some of the concentrated areas of printed white letters even more. The photography seems to making these stand out more than they do in person; I probably shouldn't be using a direct flash.
As long as I'm trying out variations, I decide to contrast an irregular placement of the little black rectangles with creating a regular pattern. I rule it out. Too static.

Then I go back to my original letter forms to see how they look on the surface now that the white rectangles are there. I rule this out.

And I also contemplate returning to the sheer letter forms from the previous piece and creating more spontaneous placement of these on the surface. This is a bit better than the previous piece, but I probably won't use these here. A quieter ground works so much better for the letter forms. I have been cutting smaller rectangles and will use the letter forms with those on the next two pieces.

I am also considering whether to add some bits of a goldish yellow to this piece -- yes, hold on to your hats, I'm actually considering adding some COLOR -- but after these past few days of such intense effort, it's time for a break. Even beavers stop gnawing once in a while to scratch a few fleas, groom themselves and have a snack. My breather will be to head up to my dye studio and work on some new letterform ideas. A few pieces in process wait for me on my print tables testing out some new processes and language imagery, so when I walk in I suspect my beaver-style gnawing will start up again, just on a new tree!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

And I Think to Myself, What a Wonderful World

This song never fails to generate a swell of emotion when I hear Louis Armstrong sing it.
The last refrain is the kicker --"Oh yeah..."-- thank you Louie!

If you'd like a bit of positive news to brighten your day, you'll want to read yesterday's Wall Street Weekend Journal article, "The New Pranksters" about "acts of random silliness." Ellen Gamerman writes, "Cities are being swept up in a wave of inane pranks. On a recent weekend, 'zombies' smeared with fake blood idly roamed the streets in downtown San Francisco. That same weekend, a crowd of people in New York's Union Square danced to music that no one else could hear; and in Berkeley, Calif., jokesters in white, flowing robes handed out pamphlets at a farmer's market, touting the benefits of joining a cult (Reason #5: 'A great excuse not to talk to your birth family anymore.')" You can read the full article and watch some of the pranks at www.WSJ.com/Lifestyle. Oh America, you are a land of amazing contrasts!

Speaking of contrasts, feast your eyes on this lovely, uncluttered space.

I have gone through every storage cabinet, drawer and shelf and surface to root out the chaff from the wheat to create a studio space that works easily and well. I've gifted trims and fabrics and silk paper and felting materials to friends, sent old yardage experiments to the thrift store and weeded out all the miscellaneous "stuff" that I have collected, experimented with and pretty much ruled out for my work. There is still some cleaning to do, a wax area to set up and a storage system I need to establish for all my language elements and ideas, but overall, the studio revamp is almost complete. One more day dedicated to it will finish up the loose ends and I can stamp this "DONE." We're talking three trunkloads of packed trash bags already carried out!

New shelving seemed to be a way to improve paint storage, so here's the best $40 I've spent in a while, a 4-tier Rubbermaid shelving unit where every brand of paint that I own is now visible and easy to locate. When I started teaching, I tried almost every brand of paint (and type of dye) on the market so I could be knowledgeable about how they compare, but I find that I return to several brands over and over and those are the only ones on these shelves that I will continue to reorder as the others get used up.

There's a psychological counterpart to all this cleaning activity that goes hand in hand with developing my new website and setting new goals. These actions contribute to making tangible the intense shift in energy and focus that I feel inside. As I sweep away the old items that have accumulated, I am generating intentions for what comes next, for the new focus that I see happening both in my approach to my work and in the work itself. I've "graduated" from my self-generated art school education and now am working on creating what I envision will become a rich, intriguing body of work.

The fabric "pages" are almost all stitched together on Pages 5. Hopefully tomorrow will be washout day and if the idea for this structure works, it will be ready for composing the final layer of letterform shapes on the surface. While I was working yesterday, I plugged into my ipod and enjoyed four episodes of one of my favorite NPR shows,"This American Life".

Then I started listening to David Allen's audio book called "Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress Free Productivity." Amen, I'll sing in that choir! While I'm already an organized person, I am learning a lot by listening to this book to refine my methods and increase my productivity. Get ready to hear more about organizing as I implement some of his ideas!

Other projects are getting resolved as well in this intense atmosphere of sorting and letting go and redefining. After over-dyeing the Parables 5 piece with gray, which made it dull, I decided to stop trying anything else on it. To disconnect from it mentally, I threw it into a pot of thiox discharge where it turned a gruesome white and orange. It felt like murder -- a surprisingly satisfying one! I've always sworn that I could save any piece -- and I probably could have made this one serviceable for SOMETHING -- but suddenly it makes more sense to start over than pull out defibrillator paddles and try to get a heartbeat again when the "patient" has flat-lined. Turns out that "discarding" Parables 5 is one way to take action that completes a project, according to my new organizational expert -- and hey, I hadn't even read his book yet!

It's amazingly freeing to throw out something that isn't working and break the mental connection with it. Some works can be resurrected, but others just need a kind hand to pull the plug and let them go. Some pieces just end up as studies and samples; hopefully the experience gained on one will impact the next.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

List Making

The day is beginning with a peaceful, gentle rain and daylight emerges slowly and softly.

As I sit down at my desk to write, outside my window a dead leaf swirls and dips and floats downward on the currents of the morning breeze. The trees are still full and green, but on their upper branches the change from green to yellow is beginning and when I follow the leaf to the ground I notice that others are lying there as well. Summer is indeed fading.

My creative work makes me feel like a gardener of sorts and this summer I have tilled and hoed and fussed over freshly planted creative seeds. And not all have grown as I had hoped nor as quickly. In fact, this week I began to feel as though I have too many projects started and have made too little progress on any of them.

That's when I go back to making lists. It seems that seeing where I am and what I desire to complete in black and white has a rallying effect on my spirits. I get to do something that I adore, which is write down the large and small to-dos on sheets of paper, organize them into steps and then start checking off each step one at a time.

Last night I worked until 8:30 PM to send final edits to my patient web site designer, Holly Knott. I've gone through a long process to make choices about my work and directions that the website will reflect, but I am feeling a sense of closure with that process now and look forward to announcing the new website soon. Hopefully Holly will have time to complete the changes and it will go "live" soon. One huge task to check off the list when that happens!

I'm heading out to my studio to make one final effort with the length of fabric that I have been working on for a new Parables piece, which may revive it as a whole cloth piece or consign it to be cut into letterforms! Either way, that will soon be resolved and off my mind.

After a good studio day today, I'll work at home tomorrow and return to stitching the newest Pages piece, which is about one quarter complete. I need to see that finished as well.

Those are the top three items on my list, along with completing the wet studio overhaul to clean and organize the space and attending to some office work. All in all, close enough to finishing all these tasks to soon be able to move on to some exciting NEW ideas.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Contrasts and Mysteries

Have you ever experienced such total absorption in what you are creating that time seems to actually suspend itself and what feels like a few minutes passing is actually hours? A feeling of pure elation and engagement accompanies this state and no matter what comes forth from your brush, your pen, your creative tool, you know that the deepest part of your creative being is connecting with your work. Focused time working can induce that incredible state; for me, it's been this past three consecutive days working with various resists and printing new layers and working through problems on this current piece. This state, which approaches sheer bliss, is a mystery to me but the joy that it induces is something that leaves me in awe and appreciation for the opportunity to be able to create each day.

However, radiant joy in creating does not guarantee perfection in outcomes! The various techniques I'm employing for marks and textures are working beautifully together, but the dyes are not; the premixed gray dyes have washed out to pale blues after I process and wash the fabric. The distinctions between the layers, the wonderful textures and lines are disappearing after processing. The contrast between the intensity and absorption of my work and the disappointment in the outcome is quite amazing as well. It doesn't seem to upset me, surprisingly enough -- not getting what I expect has often proven to be a great gift and I'm open to change. I just want to understand what is happening with the dyes.

I've finally come to the conclusion that the mixed dyes I'm working with -- three pale shades of gray from Pro Chem mixed with print paste -- will only create grays at full strength. Dilute these down to medium or pale shades and apparently only enough blue particles remain in solution to bond. I'm actually going to ask the dye manufacturer for verification about this, but my test piece yesterday washed out without turning blue.

On the strength of the successful test, I overprinted this piece yesterday with full strength solutions, preserving some of the light blue so it glows out from behind the safari gray and smoke gray lettering. I'll wash this out today and see how the colors fare full strength. If they remain much as they look below before processing, then I will add one more layer to this piece, toning down these large whitish letter forms a bit and will start composing the final layers that will go over this ground fabric.

I am particularly fond of the monoprinted rusty orange printing on the whitish areas where the resists were and just want to tone the contrast the slightest bit more, but not until I see how the current piece looks when I finish processing it today.

As another example of contrasts, I took a look around my studio and realized that after six years of dragging items in, it's time to start weeding and carrying some out. My inner self is defining my processes and directions as an artist, but my outer space doesn't reflect it. Between teaching and experimenting and collecting items I might use someday, I've got a small landfill starting in my space. So each day I've been picking a spot to focus on -- a drawer, a shelf, a box -- and I'm ruthlessly decluttering. Yesterday I tackled the tangle of boxes underneath the table where I keep my copier, thermofax and heat press.

By the end of this week everything will be out of these boxes and either heading off to friends' studios, in the trash or stored where I can see them. No more cardboard boxes. New shelving units may be in my future too.