Sunday, November 30, 2008

Celebration Season

Aren't we incredibly fortunate to be alive during a time when such a tremendous global shift is taking place? Old, destructive systems and ways of thinking are crumbling and healthier, kinder ways are beginning to emerge. We all get to participate, we all get to choose a part, whatever our particular gifts and interests may be. If you love to bake and decorate cakes, you're on board. If you salsa or tap dance, paint or mountain climb or teach disabled children to swim or help rebuild houses after floods, you're one of the builders of this new world.

Life has always been a grand adventure to me and I have always believed, even through our darkest times, that the outcome of our time on this planet will be to choose goodness and love and light over darkness, fear, hatred and misunderstanding. The vehicles for us to express this positivity are wide-ranging and diverse; the common denominator is the fruits that these choices generate.

Joy and compassion are the bottom lines on the ledger sheet of life and we each get to choose whether to live in grace and compassion or fear and alienation with every thought, every action. And the moment we choose to think and act differently, we change our personal world and contribute to the positive change on the entire earth. So if we choose fear or hatred one day, we can wake up the very next day and CHOOSE to change. There's no door that closes on personal awakening and nothing that holds us back from making new choices. A whole universe of support opens to us when we align ourselves with that energy.

When my brother and sister were tragically killed last year on the same day that my mother died, I felt stripped of all illusions. If physical life can end at any minute, then how did I wish to fill my remaining time, not knowing how short or how long that may be? I wanted to throw off all the extraneous activities and time fillers and find the heartbeat of what would create the deepest satisfaction and meaning. I wanted to choose to live consciously and creatively and, most important, be present.

As with all good intentions, there needs to be some action plan to help implement it. Here's what I've come up with this past year as my current practices for being present.

  • Wake up and acknowledge that you are surrounded by a loving universe.
  • Help your body be healthy and vibrant with fresh air, exercise, healthy foods, stretching and breathing.
  • Commit yourself to action -- to doing work that you are passionate about, to learning and absorbing new experiences, to exploring and experimenting and keeping that creative work exciting and challenging.
  • Make it a practice to share laughter and good times with partners, family and friends. Spread good cheer and positive energy wherever you go, from the check-out person at the supermarket to the friend who needs a few words of encouragement or the worthy causes that need your physical and financial support. When someone is rude or impatient, practice responding with a deep breath and a smile instead of snapping or snarling back.
  • Cultivate an attitude of appreciation. I now end my days by writing an appreciation list before I turn out the lights to fall asleep -- some days I am amazed at just how many happy, pleasant things I've attracted and enjoyed, from a smile and hello from a stranger to an unexpected check in the mail or an extra specially delicious bit of chocolate. It never fails to amaze me how easy it is to find moments to appreciate even on my most "out of sorts" days and how that practice actually lifts me out of a low mood to feeling more harmonious again.
As artists, most of us desire recognition and success on some level and some work extremely hard towards those ends. Others worry that they will never succeed --so what if all of us who are artists all just get big grins on our faces and affirm that we are already amazingly talented and successful RIGHT NOW?!?!

That way we can look forward to each new year expanding our successes and accomplishments - and enjoy all the minutes and days and weeks and years overflowing with joy, love, creative ideas, engaged practice, successful completion, expanded prosperity, friendships, good health, vitality and well-being!

Holiday blessings to you and your loved ones.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Another Hair Pin Turn

Lest you think the artistic life lacks cliff-hanging adventure, consider the Tale of the New Seed Pieces. One post ago I showed you three new black on white pieces that I had just printed. All I needed to do was steam and wash them; once that was done, I could continue developing the "seeds of compassion" theme. When I started rinsing out the fabrics, however, I noticed an unusual amount of black dye rinsing out of the fabric and settling into the white background. I washed and rinsed repeatedly, but soon had to accept that somehow some remaining black dye had managed to migrate and bond with the white areas of the silk. So now I had black cocoon shapes on a gray ground instead of a white one. I even consulted with my dye expert and friend Vicki Jensen at Pro Chem, reviewed every step of my process with the pieces and hoped she had a magic solution -- or at least an explanation. She did not. The white was gone, the gray there to stay.

"They're ruined," I announced to Paloma and Dawn at my drawing class on Friday afternoon, "So I'll just use them for experimentation." They both thought otherwise, suggesting that I could find a way to address this unexpected alteration in the cloth and make it work.

Bless the presence of fellow artist friends and their supportive voices. My brain started chewing on the problem and by 3:30 AM I woke up with an enticing idea. I had to coax myself to relax and stay in bed until 5:30. Then I quickly dressed, drove up to my studio and leaped into action. Feeling almost possessed by the need to see how my idea would look on the surface, I masked off all the black cocoon shapes one by one and then silkscreened one of the invented texts around them in white. The idea worked out as well as I had hoped; the contrasts are exciting.

I had been concerned about the new pieces being so similar to the first one that they'd look like repetitions rather than a progression. It appears that the Muses stepped in with their own ideas about variations on my theme --and handed me a well-disguised gift. I had wanted to add white hand stitches to accent the cocoon shapes on the first "Seeds of Compassion" but they disappeared against so much white on the surface. Now the white text POPS against the gray behind it -- and so will the white machine and hand stitching that I'll add next. It will allow me to really develop those small seed shapes within the larger ovals before I add small touches of color. So this new piece, while still pursuing the same theme and ideas and maintaining a strong visual connection, will do so in an unique and different way from the first one!

Lest you think I made a simple dyeing or processing mistake, let me add that on Friday after the drawing class ended I monoprinted another piece of silk with the very same dye. On Saturday morning I steamed, rinsed and washed it exactly the way I did these and there was almost NO washout and NO bleeding or staining of the white areas. A forever unsolved mystery, but one that opens up new ideas and directions. My favorite part about engaging in making art -- it challenges me to think out of the box time after time.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

It's Not Dead After All!

Set 'er loose, let 'er go. That's what I did with the new language piece that seemed to be faltering and sinking no matter what idea I tried. Finally I had enough and felt willing to move on, turn the page, pull the plug. Done, finished, out the door. Once I did that, I released all the worry and anxiety connected with it, which allowed me to play and turn my gaze in a new direction.

I spent the day Tuesday at my studio relaxing, reading, and pulling some new prints to explore variations for possible new "Seeds of Compassion" pieces. One of the delights in monoprinting is how you can vary the textures and patterns on the surface before you print.

I actually can see seed shapes inside the small cocoons in these new pieces and those provide the progression that makes working in a series so fascinating. Each new work maintains the original idea but approaches it with a slight variation -- and that small step provides a contrast that is both interesting for a viewer to to look at and intriguing for the maker to develop.

Between the small painted studies and these prints, I've returned to thoroughly enjoying explorations on my language theme-- and of course you're guessing what comes next. New ideas began to creep in for the work I had given up on in frustration -- and it has not been all that long since I put the last shovelful of dirt on the grave. Happily an e-mail from my good friend Rosemary also gently suggested that the piece had merit and didn't deserve a burial yet.
Here are two earlier versions of this piece. The first insight I had once I came back to it with a fresh perspective was that in both versions, running the letterforms all in straight rows didn't create any movement on the surface. The piece was static. So I started skewing the letterforms. After doing this, I liked them better, so then I decided to try alternating large and small letterforms within the same units. I noticed that this choice gave the piece a lot of more depth and movement, not the type of scrolling illusion I was originally aiming for, but a lot more visual interest that moves the eye around the picture plane.

While I liked the contrast of the dark brown letterforms on the earlier pieces, they were very domineering, drew my eye and kept it stuck there. So I removed all but one softer brown on the lower left of this version. Then I started varying the scale of the letterforms within each of the little groupings; they really start to appear to be falling into the picture plane in some areas, creating a nice sense of dimension. Some of the groupings don't have three letterforms in them either, which also provides contrast and more interest.

The last thing I did before I called it a day was to remove the dark brown on the lower left and try a rust color in this area. This piece is coming alive, becoming more and more interesting as I play with subtle shifts and changes to emphasize letterforms in one area or make them almost blend into another. I imagine that stitching will add another layer of detail, texture and contrast.
I'll continue to fine tune this piece -- without pushing, without trying to force it to resolve on any particular time frame that I might impose on it. But don't you agree that it's certainly risen from the dead??? In the meantime, I'll head back up to my studio today to steam and wash out these three new pieces and do another small painting.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Playing Poker for Paper Clips

Have you ever noticed how much bolder you get when the stakes are way low? You still deal the cards, play poker and bet -- BIG bets! --because instead of real money you substitute paper clips or buttons or M&Ms and suddenly you're bluffing, raising and calling and having one heck of a good time!

Lowering the stakes is a technique that can come in handy for artists too. Obviously I'm working very commitedly to build a body of work. Can one be too committed, too goal directed, set one's expectations too high? When the stars align and every creative choice falls into place, commitment and direction add more fuel to the already glowing bonfire. But after a period of intense work and productivity, it may be more self-destructive than constructive to force or try to keep one's creative burner cranked up to "High" when the energy just isn't connecting with the work.

It seems to me that my wisest choice between now and the end of the year is to let go of the goal to add three or four more finished pieces to this series and stick with playful exploration and experimentation. On Thursday I painted the piece above using a combination of monoprinting and direct application. It has wonderful movement and feels relaxed and natural. The letter forms have more spontaneity and looser edges than the sheer ones I've cut out previously. I envision combining the two eventually rather than choosing one or the other.

For the next five or six weeks I can create these small works and use them to experiment with different ideas for stitching -- and making this choice releases a lot of tension. The work feels fun again, my sense of adventure is back and my paper clip pile is almost immediately responding by growing and growing. Pretty soon it will be downright HUGE.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

It's Been A Hard Day's Night

It's been one of those months where I've worked and worked and nothing seems to do anything but create more work. Perhaps it's because I had such a specific vision in my head when I started working on this piece. I wanted to create a feeling of these letterforms scrolling down, almost as though falling through space.

I got this far with the scrolling letterforms idea and threw up my hands. Originally I had my eye on completing THREE pieces, but by the time I had worked and reworked this over and over and got more and more frustrated with it, I decided to sacrifice it to that temptress, Experimentation. It's not that this piece has anything horribly wrong with it, it's just basically static and unexciting. None of these letterforms were fused to the surface, so I thought perhaps if I created a new ground for it that had more color and contrast, I'd start to love it.

First I painted the other fabric I had rusted and silkscreened and let it dry. That's hanging on the left. When I started putting the letterforms on it, detail below, I didn't like the way the colors interacted. Too much yellow and green.

So I tried again. I painted two lengths of silk, which turned out pretty but very light, see the detail below -- this particular piece I liked so much that I left it as is and will reserve it for another project.

I overpainted another piece of silk (shown hanging above in my studio on the right) to bring in deeper rusts and rich blues. This will need to be edited down to a smaller size, but I like it. So then I took the Big Plunge, removed the letterforms from my original ground and overpainted it.
Although the blue is a little bit dark, the colors enhance the letterforms better than the lighter versions and I must confess that after numerous hours of just cutting out letters in different scales and colors, I have no desire to cut more of these shapes.

That's when it dawned on me. It isn't just the COLORS that are bothering me, it's the LETTERFORMS. They feel mechanical, uniform, regimented. I want them to be like the ground fabric, more spontaneous and organic and full of movement. So this is where I am at the moment. Three to four weeks of intense, continuous work later and I discover that I am back at the beginning.

When I went to my studio today, I knew I had to break away from the emotional intensity of working so hard with so little to show for the effort. This, by the way, is not the only endeavor that has been on rocky ground; I've been trying to print new cloth for another seed piece and that has not worked out yet either. So I sat quietly in my studio today and asked myself what I would rather be doing than cutting out letterforms or working to resolve any of my current works in progress. The answer was, "Play!"

So I ripped a 18"x 18" or so piece of cloth and started mixing paints. I paired a warm golden tone with cool greys to create an interesting ground and then I practiced my gestural calligraphy with the black, painted marks. Finally, I echoed the drawn black lines with white ones and voila! - I feel pleased and moving in a direction that excites me again. It's subtle but has a lot of energy and vitality. I can't wait to do more.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Developing a Drawing Practice

"Untitled", John Wood,1983, solvent and lacquer on paper.

I've become increasingly interested in drawing. Actually I've felt almost compelled to do more drawing.

I spent Wednesday and Thursday afternoons visiting an exhibition that is one of three regional venues featuring a 50 year retrospective of the work of photographer and printmaker John Wood, 86, who spent 35 years as an art professor at Alfred University. What I most admire, appreciate and find reassuring in his work is that he combines a variety of mediums together on his surfaces such as drawing, photography and printmaking.

A quote by Wood next to one work in the exhibition made a strong impression on me: "I'm continually in a state of drawing and no day goes by that I don't draw something. Mark making, calligraphy, the kinetic movement of the hand are very important to me, probably more important than anything else."

I feel a personal connection to this idea of the movement of the hand and almost at times feel a desire to draw in the air. Large, gestural movements tracing the lines that I see in my mind.
Although I feel a pull towards drawing, I seem to have been unable to sustain a drawing practice. To help me begin to draw regularly, I've been meeting with a group of five other beginning drawers once a week at my studio. My friend Paloma has been guiding us through the basics.

Each Friday when we meet, the class members bring in an assortment of whimsical and strange items that Paloma arranges into different still lifes. We do quick warm ups with 60 second, 30 second and even 10 second sketches, then each week learn different drawing techniques and spend longer periods of time attempting to see the relationships of the shapes and sizes and translate three dimension objects to two-dimensional images.

Paloma usually arrives several hours before each class to work on her own drawings. They're quite large and my studio has enough space to accommodate them. The sketch of the elderly man above is the beginning of a new series that Paloma is starting.

This Friday morning Paloma painted over the drawing with white gesso. She is experimenting with joining sheets of rice paper for this work. I particularly like seeing the lines where the papers have been glued together. Eventually she will adhere this finer paper to a stronger, more durable ground, but for now she will work on it in sections. She currently envisions creating a great deal of space around the figure.

While Paloma worked on her painting, I worked on my latest efforts, still attempting to flesh out and resolve the ideas I have for several new pieces. My sampling processes take time, the results are sometimes mixed, but at least one piece is moving forward and may hopefully soon reach a point where it feels resolved and strong.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Can't Even Pin it on the Full Moon

I've been in Wonder Woman mode. More of an apple-shaped, fully-covered, yoga pants Wonder Woman than a scantily-clad, caped, curvaceous Lynda Carter , but a marvel of energy and drive none the less. I thought it must be full moon time, but checked a calendar and nope, the moon is totally hidden, this surge of wild energy is from INSIDE!!

The source of my super powers??? To-do lists! I love 'em, as I believe I've stated repeatedly. They give my days and weeks a structure with specific intentions and tasks to complete to reach them. Sometimes everything seems to fly in all directions day to day but underpinning each one is an overall direction and purpose. It takes a while to go through all the steps and bring items to fruition -- and once in a while it feels like NOTHING will ever get done -- but then I get a period where all the projects that I've started begin to reach the finish line and clang! The cymbal clashes and I feel a swell of excitement that I've accomplished more good things for my physical and emotional well-being and artistic expression.

Almost two years ago, an author from England, Drusilla Cole, invited me to submit images for a new book she was writing. Last week I received a contributor's copy of Dru's excellent compilation titled Textiles Now, in which she has collected and published works by some 120 U.K., European and American textile artists ( and delightedly, I'm one of them, two of my pieces are included)

Textiles Now divides the work into three categories: "Constructed"; "Dyed, Painted and Printed"; and "Mixed Media and Stitched". Each page displays one or two pieces and a description of the artist's process or inspiration. The book is actually available in the States from It is 277 pages with color plates throughout and sells for around $23.00. I think it would make a wonderful holiday gift for a fiber loving friend (even without my work in it, I'm impressed and inspired by the breadth of styles and artistic voices). Dru has literally "curated" an exciting contemporary fiber exhibition in print. A quality job on printing by the publisher as well.

Here are a few excerpt pages to whet your appetite further:
This is a wonderful work by Christine White, "Cocoon", arashi shibori dyeing done with felt, which she manipulated to sculpt this interesting shape.

This work is by one of my favorite U.S. artists, Bean Gilsdorf. "Ghost", 420" x 62" (yes, not a typo, Bean worked on 13 continuous yards of fabric to create this piece!) is dyed, painted and bleached. It is a portrait of Bean's 1966 Plymouth Valiant.