Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Soon January Endeth

One of the new monoprinted silk pieces that dyed black instead of soft gray.

I took a running leap into January 2009 armed with strong theme words to set my intentions -- "confidence" and "flourish." So of course immediately I plunged into a week or two of total lack of confidence and self-doubt. As Christine Kane says, when you're planting seeds of intention, the first thing you do is dig up some dirt!

Happily, my energetic, inspired self has returned, stronger for the bit of cultivating. If there are more big clumps and stones under the surface as the sowing and planting continue, I can deal with them confidently!

Right now I'm diving into new work in the studio that builds on the previous Parables pieces. The first variable for investigation is refining the ground fabrics on each piece to increase the sense of depth.

I monoprinted two new lengths of natural silk broadcloth this week. On the first I mixed a medium dye concentration to print light and medium grays and used resist to preserve large areas of white space. Alas, the dyes penetrated all the resist work and came out dark, almost black. Totally my fault for not testing the dye concentration or making sure the resist penetrated the fabric well enough. So, what to do?

I'm discharging the surfaces; this is the first one in progress and the ground fabric is beginning to have the softer, smoke-drawing feel to it that I'm envisioning as a first layer. Hints of color will come next.

While I'd rather not admit I ever make mistakes -- so you'll think beautiful art flows from me like water from a faucet whenever I turn the handle -- I made a commitment long ago to be honest about my artistic process. Some ideas don't work out the first time. Or ever.

Other times they work out almost effortlessly -- and beautifully -- but to me those pieces are gifts that result from working through challenges on the others.

Taking risks and pushing past comfort zones put excitement in the creative process. You'll be amazed at how the slightest variation in your routine can immediately put you on the "edge." A new tool, a new material or technique can throw you into that unsettling territory where mistakes happen.

But it's those very mistakes that can generate amazing new directions and insights.

So back to my vision for muted gray and cream surfaces that look like smoke drawings. There are options, like removing color, that can alter these current surfaces in interesting ways. Maybe removing the color from these pieces will work out better than the original idea. Maybe they both will end up relegated to sample status eventually as stronger ones emerge.

Tomorrow after I finish discharging these I'll start hand painting shades of grays and hints of color on two new pieces with acrylic paints rather than dyes. It's another idea I want to test to create the muted first layer that I'm envisioning for new work in this series.

Uncertain results, new risks and possible pitfalls lie ahead. Makes me feel like an Indiana Jones of artistic practice; but it's the exploration and adventure that ARE the treasure!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Informing the Work

Linen wrapping with Etruscan writing from the Mummy of Zagreb

When you read about an artist's work that "X's work is informed by thus-and-such" or "references such-and-such", have you ever wondered WHY artists do research and how it contributes to the development of their work?

When I took a master class with Michael James in 2007 and told him I wanted to begin to explore language imagery, he advised strongly that I research and study more about art and language to "inform" my work. I took his words to heart and have been researching and learning ever since.

What do research and exploring references do for our art work?

When I selected one language, Etruscan, two weeks ago, to explore for six months, I was a bit worried. There are few surviving samples of this written language other than funerary inscriptions of names. Because of this, experts can decipher individual names and words and phrases but don't completely understand the meanings.

One of the largest surviving Etruscan texts I've discovered is a great stimulation to my imagination. Five linen wrappings on the mummified remains of what scientists have identified as an approximately 30 year old woman from between 150 and 100 BC are covered with 1200 legible words written in ink that appear to be a sacred, religious text. They call her the Mummy of Zagreb.

The images of these mummified remains and the fragments of sacred texts and names of gods and goddesses written on the wrappings are new images in my thoughts as I practice writing Etruscan language fragments daily with a variety of tools, paints and inks. While there is no full translation of the writing on these burial cloths, my imagination creates its own stories and explanations.

Each day as my writing practice with the Etruscan alphabet evolves through the assignments in my correspondence class with Laurie Doctor, I feel the act of writing more. I am becoming more attentive to the movement of my whole body in the act of writing, how similar it is to drawing and how the marks I make reveal much about my state of mind each day, whether I am present and relaxed, tense or distracted.

Slowing down and feeling the instrument in my hand, relaxing the grip and giving my full attention to the process are helping me connect more deeply with the gestural act of writing. Even while I don't know what impact this practice will have on my new work, I can sense a shift in my approach to working.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Exciting New Venue for My Work

Photo from SOFA Chicago exhibition in 2006; this is a shot of the Jane Sauer Gallery booth

Works from my Parables series will be on display at SOFA Chicago (Sculptural Objects and Functional Art) beginning November 6-8,2009, represented by Maria Elena Kravetz Gallery. Maria contacted me in November; we've finalized arrangements and it's official.

SOFA is a "field of dreams" for fine craft lovers and collectors; patrons come to purchase new works to add to their private, corporate or museum collections. On view are some of the most beautiful contemporary craft pieces in every medium that I've ever seen.

And my work will be there among them.

Artists never know how or when an opportunity will arise or what it will ultimately mean for their work. Whatever outcome there may be in exhibiting my work in this venue, the opportunity provides a strong focus for my intentions for this year.

Because of this commitment, I took teaching off my website. Although I'm honoring my existing workshops for this year, I'm not taking on any new ones. I'm also not taking on any new writing projects. This allows me to focus on the vision and new work for this series.

Since I made this decision, I've experienced a gamut of emotions -- from panic and fear of totally failing to an incredible confidence that I'm ready and equal to the opportunity.

None of us can do more than greet any new life opportunity by giving it our absolute best. That's what I intend to do for exhibiting my work at SOFA.

This New Year is unfolding filled with hope and concerns for us as a nation. My anxieties may spike, I may have times of doubt and elation, but I also trust that the universe has brought this to me because I'm ready. I have a strong inner compass; it says this is right for me.

I've always been willing to try and fail in any artistic endeavor. Now it's time to be equally gracious about accepting visibility and the potential for collectors investing in my work. Whatever this may lead to for my career, I already possess a love of creating and joy in being a maker. That is my touchstone.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Finding Calm

Pages 3, 20" x 21", silkscreened, dyed silks. Reverse applique, raw edge applique, stitching.

Armed with focus, determination and an impressive plan for my artwork this year, I envisioned producing the next group of pieces in the Parables series in high gear.

Normally, when I start creating a new piece,I go to sleep with a question and wake up with an inner image in my mind of where to begin. That idea either works or leads me to one that does.

This time, however, the Mt. Everest of ideas surrounding language imagery felt like a tangled mess. My mind kept racing, ideas kept piling up and competing -- no clarity, no focus, no "seeing" a clear idea to begin the new work. Just more and more ideas competing for attention.

Clearly,a curious and troubling situation, but only in that one direction.

Work with the Seeds pieces bubbles with excitement, focus and productivity. The small work above, completed this weekend, investigated a number of new options.

Here were the "what ifs" it explored: What would colored threadwork look like on the black and white printed surface? What if I layered two fabrics on top of one another and cut through some of the seed shapes to reveal the fabric underneath? What will a strong golden yellow look like as a contrasting color? How would it work to add a single french knot at the center of each seed shape?

This small work excites me with even more new options. So it isn't my creativity that's suffering, it's something else that's going on with the language imagery.

Eventually I recognized yesterday I needed to take all that unpleasant and distracting burble of ideas in my head and spill it out on paper.

As I wrote, my inner churning and chattering began to quiet.I began returning to that inner balance point that is so crucial for me. I need calm.

I think I revved up my inner engines to take on 2009 and create new language pieces like a racer in the Indy 500. But all I started doing was spinning my wheels and overheating in the pit.

I'm throwing out the whole idea of speed and action. Instead, I'll visualize a quietly flowing stream and me moving along with it. If new Parables pieces aren't ready to emerge, I'll give them the time they need.

We all talk about trusting our process. Right now I have to live it.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Group Show or Solo Installation? Your Choice!

RAFA, Rochester Area Fiber Artist's opening reception this past Friday evening set a new record for the the Arts and Cultural Council Gallery. Over 211 guests attended despite chilling single digit temperatures from the Arctic cold front that gripped the Northeast. The standard bearers for classical fine art may still debate whether fibers are art or craft but the public finds the work fascinating and is eager to learn more about "how it's done".

This attraction to fiber art, the general public's sincere interest and desire to understand the processes all reinforce my sense that widespread appreciation of textiles as an art form is growing. Collectors are taking note of the sophisticated bodies of work of many practicing artists in the field; the tide seems to be rising for the respect of textiles as an artistic medium. That does coincide, I admit, with the growing professionalism of the practitioners and the increasing maturity of the work that textile artists are producing. It's quality that is driving this increased attention and recognition.

Another delight of the opening was the centerpiece on the reception table that added a whimsical touch to the occasion. RAFA member Janet Root displayed her wonderful collection of vintage toy sewing machines, a feast for the imagination in their own right.

After the lively evening, I returned the next day as a volunteer to help man special Saturday hours. Once my shift ended and I was leaving, I happened to catch this "solo installation" of street art on the building next to the parking lot.
The contrasts between the two struck me and I had to grab my camera and record one budding artist's contribution to art on this planet.

I sometimes wonder what it feels like to spray graffiti on a building and not "get caught"- is it just the excitement of defying authority and conventional society that spurs the act? Does the maker hope we will see his or her work as a form of art -- or is it just one of those daring "nothing better to do on a boring Friday night" teenage impulses?

It occurs to me that if I ever get frustrated and feel that I'm not getting enough opportunities to exhibit my language pieces, all I need are some spray cans and a dark outfit and I can start creating one-woman installations all over the city!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Anchors and Sails

The idea of anchors and sails popped into my head this morning in relation to my artistic process. What makes these images a good metaphor for artists?

Anchors are those artistic practices we engage in daily. Whether we journal, draw, stitch, carve or throw pots on a wheel, practice builds an instinctual connection with our tools and subject. Draw a tree over and over; with each enounter the eye will see more clearly and the hand will respond more intuitively.

Our awareness grows through attention and repetition.

This year I'm making a commitment to a six-month correspondence course with Laurie Doctor to help refine my own work with language imagery. One of the anchors for this study is choosing one language to work with over the next six months. I chose Etruscan and learning about this language is an added bonus (more about that another time):

Each day I prop up a sample of Etruscan writing in front of me, open a sketchbook and take a pencil in hand. Then, without looking at the page, I draw the letters onto it.

Although I've only been doing this exercise for three days, I am noticing that every day the practice evolves and I engage in it more mindfully. The act of drawing blind opens me to feel my movements, see each individual shape and consider the relationships in spacing and lines.

Shutting off one sense intensifies others amazingly quickly. In this case it particularly increases my awareness of my movements (flowing or constricted,spontaneous or deliberate,calm or impatient). Even after engaging in this practice for only three days, my senses and concentration on the forms and shapes are heightening, much as I grow more aware of an object in a blind contour drawing exercise.

An intuitive urging led me to contact Laurie about working with her; some part of me sensed a need for a structure to my investigations that I hadn't been able to create for myself. Laurie's immediate response with a very limited set of variables and daily practices is informing me in new ways. It fills me with excitement and anticipation for how this study is going to translate to my body of work.

Even as I anchor myself to repeating this practice each day, I feel sails unfurling and billowing.

What holds us steady in one place is intricately connected to what propels us forward.

"Seeds of Change",42"w x 44"h, silk habotai, monoprinted, layered, stitched.

This piece, almost complete, relates well to my growing understanding of the merits of repetition. The elements repeat -- and yet they are also unique and individual.

What used to repel me about repetition -- the idea of sameness -- now engages me, because the smallest variations stand out and draw the eye.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Everything Connects

These are BillDings, one of my favorite toys when I was a child. And yay, they're back again in the toy market.

Note the amazing feature of this simple stacking toy -- the slots allow them to connect in multiple, unexpected ways.

Oddly enough, even just looking at this image of them again makes the child inside me hugely happy. These clown like figures have huge smiles on their faces as they hang upside down and balance on each other's shoulders, arms and legs. These little guys inspire creativity!

And they have real life counterparts!

This weekend my husband and I attended the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra's Pop Series performance, "Cirque de la Symphonie".

Fortune smiled on us with tickets in the second row while former Cirque performers joined the orchestra onstage and performed stunning acts to each musical selection. Being so close allowed us to see and appreciate their tremendous focus, concentration and physical prowess.

Alexander Streltsov's stunning, aerial moves on silk were one of the many excellent performances of the evening. Watching him soar as silken fabric rippled and billowed around him and the orchestra played a "Star Wars" piece felt magical.

Each act and performer drove home the same message to me. Every art form takes discipline, patience and practice. The artist repeats moves and gestures over and over and over until the sheer force of repetition burns them into memory.

Watching the tremendous concentration and focus in the performers' eyes and faces even as their diaphragms heaved and muscles trembled from exertion, I can appreciate the practice that goes on daily behind-the-scenes to create that seemingly (unless you ARE in the second row!) effortless defiance of gravity.

What do Cirque acrobats performing with our area symphony offer me as inspiration for my daily artistic practice? First, stimulation. Our artistic selves thrive by watching, listening to and appreciating other artists.

Second,the recognition that the ingredients to accomplishment are the same. Desire and practice build our expertise in our chosen field, whether that is playing the tuba, juggling or oil painting.

Third, putting something out into the world from our creative centers is not a matter of how large or how small the rewards are. The concert program, by Cirque de Soleil standards, was tiny, with just one or two performers on stage at a time. Yet I was entertained and satisfied and delighted with this "bite size piece" of Cirque's dazzling choreography and physical artistry.

This means that practicing our art form, whatever it may be, from a place of passion and attention can have as much worth and impact on a small stage as in a large, lavish production.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Simmer and Stir Often

January's creative soup is simmering nicely on the front burner, a tasty blend of exhibiting, creating new work and chopping up MARKETING into small, bite-sized pieces.

Pat Pauly, a gifted artist whose work has been juried into the prestigious Quilt National exhibition, led the installation of RAFA's (Rochester Area Fiber Artists) newest exhibit at the Arts and Cultural Council on Monday. Forty-three artists' works are on display from January 6-30, 2009 in "New Year, New Directions," at the Council Gallery.

The space is wonderful. If you live in the area, please come to the opening reception on Friday, January 16, 5 - 8 PM. The gallery will also be open all day on Saturday, January 17, 10-4.

On the creating front, I'm completing the second "Seeds" piece, now titled "Seeds of Change." As this detail shot of it in process shows,I'm adding more color as well as choosing more saturated colors to accent the grayscale ground. Most of these seed shapes are just pinned on; next I will stitch them down and complete the piece.

I'm also beginning a concentrated expansion of language imagery and techniques for incorporating letterforms in my work; more to come about that soon.

Another ingredient that I'm stirring into the soup pot is marketing. Webmaster Holly Knott just completed adding current and upcoming exhibitions and several new pieces to my website. Next task will be creating a database for mailing lists to mail out postcards for future exhibitions.

The soup pot is also getting lots of spice from the inspiring coaches and motivational books that I've been gathering. Numerous coaches and websites offer newsletters and tidbits of valuable information; all of them help me stay positive, focused and action-oriented. Step by step, action by action, I am actively engaged in moving my artistic life forward.

Yesterday's mail brought three books to read: Ellen Langer's On Becoming An Artist, Visioning by Lucia Capacchione, Ph.D and Coaching the Artist Within by Eric Maisel. I'll let you know how they stack up once I read them. For some years I was very critical of self-help books, but now I see them as tools to help me stay upbeat and charged with positivity. That positivity imbues the seeds of confidence that are growing inside me; I now truly appreciate those individuals who choose to dedicate their lives and their energy to helping others actualize their dreams and desires.

All these various activities and actions all go into the pot -- the ideas, the e-mailed tips and newsletter updates, the affirmations, the appreciation lists, the visualizations -- and the day to day showing up in the studio to do the work. What an aroma to inhale, and what pleasure to be cooking up something wonderful through these wintry January days.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Choosing a Word for 2009

Statue in Siena, Tuscany of Romulus and Remus being fed by a she-wolf

We can thank Christine Kane for spurring thousands of us who read her wonderful blog posts to set aside making New Year's Resolutions and instead choose a theme word for attracting desired outcomes in the New Year.

In 2008, I chose the word "fruition" and the images it generated were excellent tools to help me focus and identify specific desires. As the year ended, I listed my accomplishments and am proud of them.

With new opportunities already presenting themselves for 2009, I wanted to choose a theme word that encompasses my clearest intentions.

Confidence is one choice, the desire to feel at my very core that I am worthy and wonderful. Feeling confident about the quality and merit of my work will shine through my applications for new exhibition opportunities. Being confident and self-assured will assist me in meeting new people and networking professionally.

Being confident will increase my commitment to taking care of myself with exercise and healthy, nourishing foods. Possessing confidence will erase the fears that surface when a new work isn't going well that my work isn't "good enough."

In the past I've been able to move forward with bravado and tons of hard work, but now I desire genuine self-esteem to help attract wonderful outcomes. So "confidence" is indeed an important quality, one I wish to make an integral part of my being in 2009.

However, confidence alone doesn't seem quite encompassing enough for what I desire for 2009. Being confident is an attitude, an emotional preparation and mindset but not an outcome. Alone, it doesn't generate images of my desired results.

So I am also choosing a second word to pair with it -- "flourish". The dictionary descriptions of this word are heady and exactly what I desire to actualize in the coming year --"a luxuriant growth or profusion" ..."to reach a height of development or influence"..."to achieve success." The two words bridge my inner and outer worlds; they're a perfect fit, like a pair of comfortable new walking shoes.

So I am entering 2009 holding "confidence" and "flourish" in my heart; like Romulus and Remus,the legendary twins who founded Rome, I envision these two words growing up to build a shining new city for my artistic life in 2009 (minus all the slewing and slaying that go along with Roman myths, of course!).

Interestingly, one of the definitions of "flourish" also is "an ornamental stroke in writing or printing", so the word even relates to my body of work that is evolving through my fascination with letterforms and language imagery.

I love the layers of meaning and intention in choosing these two words, in linking them visually with the twins Romulus and Remus being suckled by a she-wolf (my wild woman self?!)and how strong and powerful the images are that these two words generate together inside me. The New Year is underway; may the power of "confidence" and "flourish" manifest in wonderful ways as 2009 unfolds!