Friday, May 22, 2009

Attempting a Reclamation

Is there a single one of us who hasn't made a piece that just never worked out well? What do you do with yours? While I read often of painters burning failed works, I'm more frugal -- also more optimistic about recycling my materials.

An old, failed project revisited the design wall this week. The original idea, attempted last October and November was to build a surface where letter forms appear to be falling down like rain. One of the other reasons it failed, I decided, was that I just didn't like the letter shapes themselves. I twisted and turned and painted and overworked the surface to death. I completed it and then realized that I basically could never show it in public.

But this week it occurred to me that I could re-vision this "finished" piece strictly as an under-painting, pushing back the original composition to a mere suggestion by layering painted, manipulated cheesecloth over it.

I planned to develop cracks and fissures with elongated Etruscan letters applied along with hand stitching onto the cheesecloth layer -- again referencing age and accumulated layers over time.

But then I went to the hairdressers and saw a picture in a decorating magazine of a painting with an abstracted bowl shape in it. I have been drawing bowl shapes and musing on how to integrate them into my language pieces for two years. When I came home, I drew some variations inspired by the shape I saw and decided to consider the idea of adding abstracted bowl shapes to the surface rather than more letter shapes.

Here's the first effort. I question whether the bowl shapes really integrate with the language forms still faintly visible through the manipulated cheesecloth.

My dear friend and fellow artist Rebecca Howdeshell saw this and suggested the shapes might integrate better if I age their surfaces, which is an excellent idea to try next. What if they have cracks and fissures and maybe even fragments of letters on them?!

So that will be tomorrow's studio agenda, creating ancient, cracked fabrics to cut into bowl shapes and try in place of the ones shown above. If either of the new ideas work, then I will add hand-stitched cracks as line work for definition and emphasis and reclaim this. If they don't, the piece goes deeper back into the storage closet or off to the local Goodwill thrift shop!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Australia Update for "Art Cloth: Engaging New Visions"

It's exciting to finally see the full list of invited artists in the upcoming Australian exhibition! My piece, "Etruscan Relic" will get shipped off to Australia after it gets professionally photographed on Friday.

Here are the first ads that just appeared in the May 2009 issue (# 94) of Australia Fibre Forum, an Australian textile magazine, for the upcoming Art Cloth: Engaging New Visions exhibition that will open in Australia August 29 - October 11, 2009 at the Fairfield City Museum and Gallery, in Smithfield, NSW, AU. An exhibition preview article will appear in the same publication in the August issue.

Curated by Marie-Therese Wisniowski, a full time studio artist, researcher, author and casual lecturer at the University of Newcastle, the exhibition draws together an amazing selection of artists from all over the globe:

Laura Beehler, USA
Claire Benn, England
Regina Benson, USA
Jane Dunnewold, USA
Susan Fell-McLean, Australia
Claudia Hellmer, Germany
Cas Holmes, England
Ken Kagajo, Japan
Helen Lancaster, Australia
Jurate Petruskericiene, Lithuania
Jeanne Raffer Beck, USA
Julie Ryder, Australia
Joan Schulze, USA
Norma Starszalkowna, England
Annie Trevillian, Australia
Joan Truckenbrod, USA
Jurate Urbiene, Lithuania
Els van Baarle, The Netherlands
Marie-Therese Wisniowski, Australia
Ernabella Arts Australia will be represented by Tjariya (Nungalka) Stanley and Tjumkaya Tapaya

Marie-Therese says excitement is building about the exhibition. I am certainly starting to feel it! She has promised to send all of us images of the installation, which I'll share with you.

Friday, May 15, 2009

2009 Setting Intentions Progress Report

Being an artist is marvelous -- it just doesn't always lend itself to a lot of personal interaction. I get so absorbed in my work that I begin to suffer from Human Interaction Deficit Disorder (I'm sure this will appear as a drug company commercial on television soon!). In other words, sometimes I manage to make my rather solitary life rival a Jesuit monastery!

Because I recognized the need for greater connection and community with other artists, I included images and word associations to address this in 2009 when I created a Vision Board. Have you ever tried this? Making a Vision Board is a powerful tool to attract what you desire into your life; I learned it decades ago but let it slide away from being a practice.

So for 2009, among the many intentions I am setting in motion, I included images and words on my board to represent attracting new associations with other artists.

How is my intention-setting working out so far? Amazingly well. The Law of Attraction is definitely at work. Here are a few examples:

One of the new artists I've met in my building is Connie Mauro, who has a monoprinting studio and gallery on the second floor. She is putting up our cut and paste ideas at this recent meeting where we were brainstorming possible names for our artists' collective.

1. I've had a studio in the Hungerford Building, an old factory in the city for at least seven, maybe eight years, and once or twice a few of us have held small exhibits here, but nothing building-wide. Shortly after I set my intention to increase my connections with other artists, I received an invitation from the amazing potters at Crocus Clay to a building-wide meeting to discuss and plan a proposed joint open house.

As a result, we coordinated a first -- and very successful -- Hidden Hungerford Artists open studio night in March in conjunction with the already popular First Fridays in Rochester.

Our committee continues to meet and work to help plan future open houses and build a group identity. Yes, it feels as though our building and artists are putting ourselves "on the art map" in Rochester, but even better, we're getting to know and enjoy each other.

2. Fiber Art Alliance

Shortly after I set my intentions for 2009, I received an invitation to become a member of a new online exhibition group of 11 fiber artists. Our founders are Karen-Stiehl Osborn, Rosemary Claus-Gray and Jacque Davis. This year the artists in the group are making three small works each that relate to the theme "Natural Lines", and will have a collection of 33 pieces available for exhibition and sale by the end of the year. I will get to meet three of the members in the group at the Surface Design Association Conference in just a few weeks!

3. Rochester Area Fiber Artists (RAFA). I agreed to serve on a steering committee to help this loose knit and rapidly growing group develop an organizational structure. It's been wonderful to be part of this committee and get to know some of the newer members of RAFA better.

4. Responding to blog comments. Because it takes so long to write a blog post, I have always held back on responding to any posts from readers. But -- light bulb! -- that's part of connecting with the people who read and care enough to respond to what I'm doing. Writing this blog has already brought some great new e-mail art friends into my life and I'm now responding to those of you who take time to post comments on my blog.

A variety of other fortuitous connections and encounters are strengthening the ties that already exist with some artist friends and helping to build some new ones with others. I am appreciative both that I've recognized my need for more time with other artists and that the new artists I am getting to know better are such interesting, talented people.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Hot Tamales! The Muse Visits

Order of the day yesterday, more experimentation. Another cheapie synthetic scarf got sacrificed to the heat gun to create a strong finishing layer for this 12" x 12" piece, "Notations 9." A few touches of red and golden yellow accents completed it.

Then the day took a surprising turn. I decided to apply gold leaf to a canvas wrapped stretcher frame. You'll find this and other great finishing techniques in Jane Dunnewold's DVD, "Finish It" which you can buy from Art Cloth Studios. Just click the link.

Since finishing a frame this way was an "experiment," I grabbed an old 10" square frame that I had painted with black on the side and then for some unknown reason, an eye popping golden yellow on top.

I applied the gold leaf as per Jane's instructions. While it was drying, I decided to glue some rice paper down to the yellow area to keep it from showing through any textile I might apply over it. While working with the rice paper, I tried to lift it off the surface and reposition it and it began to rip in interesting ways. Intrigued by the ripped edges, I created some more. Rationale? They would disappear when I applied a textile over the surface, anyway, so I felt free to try anything.

Once the gold leaf and ripped rice papers dried, I brushed off the excess leaf and began working brown Setacolor paint in over the sides. As usual, my brush started to wander with a life of its own and reached the rice paper. Almost magically, the surface appeared to age. The golden yellow could be muted or allowed to glow through from beneath the rice paper.

Depth, dimension, visual interest, the appearance of age and deterioration -- lovely. I added a few more colors and some marbled foils for the blue green areas.

With the addition of a few distinct letterforms, this small work will be complete. The question that remains is, how do I want to add them? Painting, printing, collaging? More play and experimentation lie ahead.

It is my first piece totally outside the realm of textiles. Yes, I've seen mixed media works with rice paper, read books about these techniques and seen them in other people's work. I've wanted to try them (obviously, since I have three kinds of rice paper at my studio) but somehow couldn't give myself permission to take that step into another medium. Why? Who knows? When the time is right to take a new creative step, it seems to just happen. I back into discoveries -- or rear end them. Seldom do I hurtle forward in a vintage Corvette convertible at high speeds.

All I do know is that with five boxes of 12" x 12" frames sitting in my studio (5 x 6 = 30!), I'll be able to continue to experiment for quite a while!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Resetting My Compass

What happens to you once you complete a very intense, creative project? For me, there's a period when that creative place inside feels almost too eerily quiet. Almost want to call "Code Blue, Code Blue" and get the cardiac arrest team here. After a period of such focused work, NOT being engaged to that degree feels almost like flatlining.

SOME people relax willingly. Me, I do it because my entire self goes on strike until I listen to it. So I spent the entire weekend -- amazingly -- away from both my sewing and surface design studios. Read the entire Sunday New York Times AND most of Art in America. Enjoyed a family picnic and played with my grandchildren.

When I walked back into my studio yesterday, I still wasn't ready to enter into that intensity of composing a new surface. Since "show up and do something, anything" is my motto, I played!

There are always painted samples lying about, so I grabbed a few small ones and treated them like sketchbook pages. I painted and silkscreened some details over whatever was already on the surfaces. When that dried, I added some foiling and then fused a sheer synthetic fabric to both pieces, leaving folds and ripples. A heat gun disintegrated the black sheer synthetic in interesting patterns.

To play without direction helps rekindle my passion for creating without worrying about success or failure. These are small, lively and fun. The top one will travel to the other side of the country as a "trade" with a fellow artist and the other one will go into my sketchbook for reference.

After I played, I could deal with cleaning up from the past few weeks. I washed all the containers and brushes and silkscreens and assorted squeeze bottles that had piled up. I'm turning to a fresh page, will mix new dyes for the next project and not try to recycle any of these.

But I have to confess I don't feel ready yet to really immerse in painting and printing another large surface. My inner compass is still resetting, searching once again for true north. It seems that I need to turn around and around, like a silly old dog, before I finally plop myself down in one spot. So while I'm heading back up to my studio today, I can't say for sure what I'll do once I get there.

Even just puttering in my studio makes me happy, though. And that's what living a creative life is truly all about, don't you think?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Done Riding Herd for a Bit

Outside my studio window the skies are grey and cloudy and drizzly, but inside these walls my tension -- OK let's be honest, total anxiety- about how this silk composition would steam and wash out is over. My heart is light-- at last, this piece is DONE. It's been a long, hard, dusty ride and this cowpoke is ready for a hot bath and a stiff tonic at the local saloon! I do hope you can see enough detail in this full image. When a piece is this long, it's hard to photograph.

Etruscan Relic, 2009, silk broadcloth, 39" x 120"

Some of the colors on yesterday's additional layer worked beautifully, but the drawn and resist letter forms didn't stay as defined as they were before processing. But there are other tools and techniques to accomplish this and as my day winds down in the studio, I've etched in some darker lines with paint to restore the letters. Here are some details of the completed piece.

Etruscan Relic, detail of top

Detail, bottom

I'll return on Monday to see if any additional fine tuning will be necessary on this after I've had some time away from it. All that's left to do is apply a hanging mechanism to the back of the work, have it photographed professionally and ship it to Australia. More details about the exhibition and hopefully some images of the works from the invited artists will be available for you to see in the near future.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Slow Dancin' : More Notes from the Studio

When I left my studio after a full day on Saturday, I had two questions rumbling about in my thoughts; how to deal with adding more layers of color without losing what I love about the piece as it is now, and how to incorporate the ancient letterforms onto the surface.

Joanne sent an e-mail with her thoughts on the piece, Rosemary made a comment after my last post and Becky and I talked about it on the phone. Their concerns about the darks in the sample area at the bottom as having too much contrast with the rest of the piece reinforced my own thoughts. I don't want to lose what I have now, just enhance it. As soon as I came into my studio this morning, I ripped off the darkest area at the bottom and knew I would add both the green and the rust to other areas on the surface, but in soft, muted tones that will integrate with the rest of the piece.

That left me with choices to make about the letterforms. In my sketchbook yesterday as I was playing with these now familiar letter forms and shapes, it occurred to me that I was limiting my options by only trying to reproduce incised letters.

Since I am happy with the lines on this surface, why couldn't I play with adding the letters more ambiguously, elongating the drawn lines so they touch and interact with each other -- and the cracks -- in ways that are less obvious and more suggestive than literal? I I did!

I am happy with what I've added so far. Before I paint on the soft blushes of rust and green to portions of this surface, I'll layer on additional resist letters like I currently have at the bottom of the piece.
These will be smaller letters, like in the detail above, and more like actual Etruscan writing. I'm drawing on the resist letters today, will let them dry overnight and then when I return on Thursday will add these soft colorations that are now just on the bottom to the rest of the piece.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Live from the Front Lines

I honestly wish those of you who are reading this could have a studio right next door to mine. Then I could call you up and say, "Hey, come on over and talk with me about this." In lieu of that, I'd love for you to share your thoughts and comments as you watch the progression of this piece. I even promise to answer all comments if you do. If some of you disagree with me or each other, even better -- it could make for a good discussion!

First things first. I am wildly in love with the top third of this. I'm envisioning adding an accent or two of a rust/red tone along an edge, but that is all here. If you strongly disagree, here is your opportunity to tell me so.

So now we move down to the bottom. This is the newly steamed, washed and ironed fabric with the additions of rusty orange and a brownish green. I'm liking the colors. They can grow softer and lighter as they move up the surface of this piece. But now I have to decide how much and where to add the additional color and whether or not the letterforms add anything to the composition. Part of me likes the textures, lines and colors on the piece so much that the letters seem overkill.

The other part of me (I'm a Libra, these internal debates go on continually, what can I say) says that the whole IDEA of this piece is ancient letterforms, so I can't very well throw them overboard. Maybe the answer is to add them selectively and very sparingly to the surface rather than use as many as there are here in this sample area.

Since the test area for the orange and dark green is at the very bottom edge of this super long piece of cloth, I folded and pinned the bottom part up closer to the top on my design wall and took this picture. This gives me an idea of what these colors and textures will look like more towards the middle of the composition.

I'll sit here munching my apple, staring at the images on my computer screen and holding this debate in my head for a bit. Maybe I'll have an insight into what I want to do next.

I really am thinking I want to decrease both the amount and shape of the lightest areas in the lower half of the piece. I might sponge some resist on the surface and screen over those areas to soften the value shift and reduce the amount of that very lightest color. That could create a softer transition from the darkest areas at the bottom to the lightest areas on top. Or I can have hard edges in some places and softer transitions in others.

Or maybe a whole new idea will emerge. The day is young! If you have any thoughts about these options, yes I know it's the weekend and you're busy, but please know you are invited to comment!