Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Filling the Well

Last Friday I drove to Buffalo for an Artist Day. Don’t you just love the days when you treat your artist self to new experiences and perspectives?

First I visited a fellow artist and friend, Barbara Murak, who has has been exploring working with a new embellisher as well as with encaustics. We discussed how she is working with these tools and how they’re helping actualize some of her  ideas for new work.

Barb is an amazingly creative and giving artist who is currently an artist-in-residence at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, where she uses art play to provide a respite from cares and concerns for patients and families in chemo waiting rooms and ICU units.

We both have busy lives, so our visits are few and far between, but whenever we do get together it seems we could talk on and on about art and making and life for days!  Around lunch time, we headed off to a terrific little cafe in the Buffalo neighborhood where I used to live 40 years ago. It has become a flourishing creative community with the vitality and energy that I’m seeking to find on a smaller scale.

After lunch we drove to the new Burchfield-Penney Art Center, a huge space where Barbara currently has two pieces in their Craft Art Western New York 2009 Exhibition. Ah-hah! A venue to put on my list to enter next year if I can use my studio address to apply (it’s a county specific opportunity).  It offers the diversity of mediums that I find so stimulating together.


Image #297 Drawing (Tracings from Buffalo, NY), by Ingrid Calame, 2008, colored pencil on trace Mylar, 18” x 26”.

Next, we  walked across the street to the Albright Knox Art Gallery, one of the finest contemporary art museums in the country,  to see a new exhibition of work by Ingrid Calame. Read about her work and process in this New York Times article link. You’ll understand my fascination when you read about her inspirations and ideas for drawings and paintings through this link.

Ingrid spent three weeks in Buffalo in 2008 as the first artist-in-residence at Albright-Knox. During that time she visited Buffalo buildings and chose three sites to use for her work.

Ingrid traces cracks, spots, stains and other markings in public spaces. Once Ingrid identifies a space she wants to record, she and her team of assistants roll out large rolls of clear Mylar and painstakingly trace the exact lines of the marks below.

Back in her studio the artist uses these tracings to compose layered Mylar colored pencil drawings like the one above, as well as oil paintings on aluminum from details.

Because I am so process-oriented, the consideration of how Ingrid is drawn to certain sites and and the histories these marks suggest all help inform my own work.  It also validates my fixation with old walls, decaying surfaces and the cracks in my cement studio floor and hallways throughout  my building!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Desires List

I’m taking back the steering wheel! While Mercury and the movements of other planets may influence a general trend of feeling and experience in our lives from time to time, I have to jump back up on that rock of my belief system that we are co-creators of our existence. It’s up to me to employ all that I know about the law of attraction to manifest the life that I desire through all the influences that are happening around me.

In short, when I respond, I feel dis-empowered. When I take positive action, I feel that I am actively creating the life experiences that I desire. So I am taking charge again, with or without Mercury’s assistance!

Sometimes the hardest part of “revisioning” is getting the clarity to figure out the right questions to ask that will shift my awareness. Rather than allow my focus to linger on all the sorrows and frustrations of life, the challenge for me is getting my mind to channel energy into identifying what I truly desire. That direction of thought helps me be forward looking, expansive and open to new possibilities and connections. Which is a state of awareness that is so fertile that what I seed as intentions attracts results amazingly fast.

So you may be asking yourself, where is she heading with this?

I am developing a list of desires that I can take immediate, positive action to actualize. How exciting!

Desire #1. Find an artistic community where I can live and thrive and enjoy lasting friendships. I am envisioning loading up my own Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria and setting sail for a “new world”,  finding a wonderful and reasonably priced culturally-rich and diverse community that welcomes artists -- and relocating there. My husband retired this year and we are completely free to live wherever we choose (although our children want us to live someplace desirable to visit!)

As soon as I identified this desire, a google search presented me with an article from Art Calendar magazine titled “10 Great Towns for Working Artists” by Kim Hall. A definite starting point.

Do you have suggestions? A place for us to put on our list of possibilities for a visit? I don’t want the stress and congestion of a major urban area, so the biggie cities are out. No Chicago, Metro NYC or LA. Forget golf courses and outlet centers and fast food restaurants – we want open, clear skies and the pleasures of the natural world nearby, not suburban sprawl. A walking town -- where a car is optional, not mandatory.

I’m not rushing this process. I want to drive into a small city or town and feel a surge of excitement, an “I love this place and can see myself living here” reaction. So there will be some travels ahead.

In the interim, I will make more time to absorb and appreciate the cultural offerings right where I live. Maybe the community I’m seeking is right in my own backyard and we just don’t know each other yet. I’m open to any and all avenues for this desire to begin to attract options into my life!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Have Mercy, Mercury

Now, granted, I don't follow or practice astrology but that doesn't mean I don't acknowledge that the interactions of the stars and planets have an impact on me. So when I received a newsletter from Carolyn Myss this morning written by astrologist Richard Ohotto explaining that Mercury is in retrograde and what that actually means, I found it quite interesting in view of all the flukey mishaps my studio work has been plagued with for the past four to six weeks.

I've felt a bit like a penguin trying to fly. Or a squawky chicken trying to soar like an eagle. Misreading directions, frequent lapses in memory, focus and concentration and very drawn into myself. A serious case of the "RE's":


Obviously these are exceptionally valuable practices and normally I would welcome them. But my fantasy was that I'd be a high-kicking, leaping artistic NINJA these past two months. Surprise, instead of feeling sharp and focused and productive and high energy, I've felt very inward and contemplative and almost deer-in-the-headlights dazed.

Yesterday, when two more pieces of steamed, dyed cloth didn't work out AGAIN, I just gave into the RE's. Restoring order. I've cleaned the studio and moved my computer to a quiet, cooler area away from the glaring morning sun. I've washed out containers and mixed new dyes, washed all the dye rags and steaming sheets and folded and put them away.

I'm also Revisiting processes and Revising my efforts. I put another layer on the small lutrador composition and now will add some stitched details before framing it that will vary the weight of the lines. While it's a lovely piece, it drew my attention to expanding my vocabulary for painting cracks and fissures. On this piece as well as my previous one, the cracks have been somewhat uniform in weight. The real cracks that I adore on the cement floors all over my building are definitely more irregular, with wide and narrow areas.

In my now wonderfully clean and uncluttered space, I've quietly been using this silk sample to explore painting cracks by working with opaque paints on a dark surface. There are three thicknesses of pigment on this surface. I'm slowly, quietly testing out laying down lines with thick paints and thinned ones. It's small, quiet work that doesn't require me to compose surfaces or contemplate layers of meaning and the relationship of design elements.

I'm noticing that laying on a thick line right from the beginning feels much denser and less appealing than building up successive layers using thinned paint. The small rectangular shape on the sample above is thinned opaque paint. Thinning with water makes it semi-transparent. The shape below it, the larger triangle shape, is a bit less diluted.

A simple endeavor. It's what I feel I can handle at present!

So, if you too have felt a bit "off" this past month or so, and are open to the idea that your life could be influenced by the movements of the planets, then take heart. According to Mr. Ohotto, this inward, slightly unbalancing (my word for it, not his!) period of time when Mercury appears to be traversing backwards instead of forward will end on September 29.

And then, perhaps, my inner Ninja Artist may surface!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Another Day, Another Layer

There are some good things happening on the surface of this piece that I showed you last week. I have more work to still do before it is complete, but it's getting more interesting than it was earlier. It's drying for the day and tomorrow I'll come back and decide what happens next. I do know there will be areas that will get darker. That hopefully will increase the value contrast and create more dimension. The cracks and surfaces around them are still looking two-dimensional.

The mini-vacation from the studio I took over the weekend seems to have refreshed and revitalized me. I'm just stopping for lunch at 2:30 -- it seemed from the moment I walked into my studio this morning I was filled with purpose and energy and ideas, so much so that I had to force myself to stop, sit, eat and write this.

Here's a detail from a new piece of silk that just got a first layer of dye screen printed and painted onto it. I tried experimenting with brush work marks that may not prove successful, but I will keep on working with the ideas until I get them to work. It's still too wet to move so I can't hang and photograph the whole piece to show you. On this piece, I'm starting the first layer with two new neutrals that are warmer toned. I'll get a feel for how they work once the piece is steamed and washed out tomorrow.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Welcome Return of the What-Ifs

After two sluggish days recovering from a flu shot, which I KNEW I didn't want to get (but yielded to the persuasiveness of my well-intentioned physician), I feel healthy and energetic again. It's great to be back working in my studio; that internal burner is heating up again as one what-if after another starts playing through my mind.

For my reentry warm up, I painted the 24" x 48" canvas frame above and laminated my silk composition to canvas to hold it flat. I'll add some machine stitched details to it, and if all goes well, can mount and complete the piece by Saturday.

I also just painted some silk screens, shown above on my work table along with the drying frame, to try out several what-ifs for layering new surfaces with language imagery. One screen has a light gray patterning on it for monoprinting, the other has dark gray marks and drizzles and lines that have a more painterly quality to them. I'm hoping the results will be helpful in developing some new ideas I have for building layers ; I'll print them when I return on Saturday.

Here's another what-if in process that may or may not prove successful -- painting and printing on lutrador. I want to see what happens as I layer and collage a variety of materials, from silk gauze to rice paper and gel medium transfers, to various surfaces. I have felt inspired to experiment more with mixed media collages recently. I had learned a number of collaging techniques from a wonderful area artist, Alice Gold, at the Memorial Art Gallery many years ago. It was rekindled when I taught next to Fran Skiles class at Fabrications last year-- I loved the results and realized how much more I can do with layers on fabric.

One last experiment is underway today that is a variation of the process that I learned from my first screen printing class with Jane Dunnewold.

Here's a fast print on cotton with aquarelle crayons and acrylic medium that Jane demonstrated in that screen printing class long ago. I'm also trying another screen using conte crayon and will trying overprinting this. I'll share the applications of these experiments with you soon, hopefully.

Of course the ideal outcome will be for each of these techniques to be successful as one layer on multi-layered surfaces and expand the types of marks I am able to make on fabric.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Endless Persistence

This morning I received a thank-you email from a fellow New Yorker. She wrote, “Best of luck ( the kind that comes from high intentions, hard work and endless persistence!) for all your endeavors.”

Luck has always fascinated me. I believe in it, the random happy accidents and good fortune that come our way and delight us.

I also believe in focused, daily work to achieve goals. Suzanne’s note suggests that the BEST luck may just come from setting our sites on the target we desire most and taking good aim before we start pulling triggers. And if we miss the first time, to try again.

Is it any accident that this little note found its way into my inbox to cheer me up after I have spent a number of days working on details, details, details until I wanted to throw my hands up and holler “uncle”?

It reminds me that all the work I do, no matter how small or inconsequential or tedious it may seem, all revolves around my VERY high intentions about my art and creativity.

DSCN4697 As I worked last week on idea after idea after idea to try and knock back the shiny gold lettering on the long vertical piece I’m working on, I knew I would eventually find an answer. Using what had originally been the other half of this piece, I tried overpainting the letters in numerous ways, spraying black on the lettered areas – even tested layering a dark sheer over that area --- but in the end, an application of raw sienna and deep berry metallic Shiva paintsticks provided just enough of a matte overlay to dull the sheen of the gold a bit. This gives it a bit more of an antique feel and helps integrate the letters better into the colorations of the aged surface.

Today I’m adding some machine stitching to the silk – those all important cracks and fissures to punctuate the surface - which I’ve backed with canvas. I’m debating some additional hand embroidery. In addition, I’ve purchased a larger canvas wrapped frame (thanks to a good sale at Michael’s on the gallery wrapped frames) to paint and possibly age and will try to complete and mount this piece on it by the end of the week.

Completing it and liking the results would feel extremely satisfying. Completing it and SELLING it would be extraordinary.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Adventure Fridays

I met Betsy Hoefen at our first building-wide open house in March. After retiring from teaching art, Betsy rented a two-room studio on the other end of my floor. We've been talking about getting together for a while and today we launched our first "Explorations Friday," sharing our respective techniques with each other. What fun it is to work with another artist! I shared some foiling and gold leafing techniques with her in my studio and then we shifted to hers, where she introduced me to watercolor. Painting with watercolors is something I have NEVER studied or felt at all comfortable doing -- my own efforts have been horrible. However, once she showed me how to do it correctly, I truly relaxed and enjoyed it. It has a soothing, quieting effect on me.

This is the larger of Betsy's two rooms. She works in many mediums, from three dimensional sculptural pieces and watercolor to bookmaking and furniture painting. Evidence of all types of works in process can be seen here.

It's in this second, smaller space that Betsy displays and sells her completed works. She has also set up several tables here that are perfect for working together with watercolor.

Here's a closeup of the under-painting and several additional layers that Betsy has started applying to the surface. She is very detail oriented and is working on loosening up a bit.

I'm at the other end of the spectrum and am working to slow down and pay more attention to detail and planning, so we complement each other quite nicely. We also are both drawn to organic shapes, although she loves cool colors and I'm drawn to warmer ones.

You can tell by my grin that I'm enjoying myself and not at all as awkward as I thought that I might be. Betsy suggested I try a small piece of her 300 lb cold pressed Arches watercolor paper because my 140 lb hot pressed paper was buckling, and would need to be soaked and then taped to a a wooden board before starting. It made a huge difference.

Voila, my very first layers at beginning a watercolor painting. Excellent teacher that Betsy is, she made me feel good about what I did but also corrected my brush work initially because I wasn't getting the "water" part of water color and wasn't loading my brush enough. Once I understood what she was talking about, I enjoyed it greatly. I'm excited about getting together again. We hope to meet and do this again in two weeks and have even chosen our experiment for the day in addition to more watercolor painting-- collaging and painting with aluminum foil!!

Meanwhile, back in my studio, the first layer of dye and flour paste resist have been steamed and washed and yielded a piece that I believe I can develop further with additional layers of dye, paint and lettering. But for today, it's resting.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Studio Reentry

After a full week away, returning to the studio today was quiet but purposeful. I stretched a new piece of cloth on the print table and mixed some flour resist paste. I'm revisiting the idea for one of the last pieces I made (using ripped paper resists) that lost so much color once processed; I really liked the shape and wanted to give creating it another try. This time instead of using paper for a resist I brushed on the flour paste resist and carved some Etruscan letter forms into it, then filled a needle-tipped applicator bottle with more resist and drew some letters and cracks on the rest of the piece. A beginning. It needs to dry completely before I layer over it.

Another one of the three pieces became a testing ground for letterform ideas. I cropped the whole piece to a tall vertical, about 22" x 48", and decided to see what gold lettering would do to the surface. It has possibilities. The letterforms along the tops of some of the shapes almost appear to be marching. I wish I had stopped sooner, but it is a practice piece.

I am enjoying applying the letters by hand rather than screen printing them on the surface. It seems more direct and gestural to do it this way.

Either tomorrow or Thursday I'll return and print the first dye layer and start building a textural surface over the dried flour paste resist.

I'm moving back and forth between working on my lecture for SOFA and this type of studio experimentation. It's an interesting process to study other artists who have explored the visual potential of written language and then consider more deeply what I am trying to express in my own work. I have no idea where the research and experimentation will lead, which gives the whole process just enough of that hint of mystery to make the search all the more intriguing.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Chicago -- Painting and Layering Class

When we set up the room for the class in this spacious, comfortable facility, Shelley said to forget about the chairs at the tables, this group would be on their feet working all day anyway -- and indeed they were! In addition to exploring a variety of painting, printing and layering techniques, I asked each person to select a reference image of a painting that "spoke" to them from a pile of possibilities. This image became a reference that each person could use to structure their explorations in color, mark and pattern over the course of the two days. Or,they could set it aside to play and explore.

The class is basically about creating elements for collaging. Painting, printing and layering components, each person chooses the degree of texture on their completed surface.

It is important to me to create a classroom environment where people can work individually. Some people spent their class time observing and recreating many of the colors and textures on the reference painting they had chosen; others worked with varying dilutions of paint and layers to compose layered surfaces. Still others focused on painting and printing a variety of pieces of cloth.

Here Kathy is working with painted fusible, a sewing product. Once painted, this product makes an excellent underpainting on which to layer other fabrics. Once it has been fused to a ground fabric, you can work back into it with additional layers of printing or painting or even more layers of painted fusible.

Stacy produced a wonderful textural pattern on dyed organza by adhering the painted fusible to the back of it; the pattern, although slightly muted, comes through the sheer fabric beautifully. Because the fusible retains its tack when painted, she can layer this on a fabric ground.

Here's a closer view of the fusible attached to the organza. I am eager to see how this idea will evolve as Stacy works with it at home.

Val really "stretched" by working with an image painted in a wide range of NEUTRAL tans and grays with hints of lavender and pale blue -- a definite challenge for a lover of more saturated colors. She painted a variety of components that truly captured the tone and feeling of the original painting. Hopefully, next she will translate what ended up to be a beautiful color palette into an original composition.

Everyone did such wonderful work in the class and I so enjoyed the creativity and laughter and willingness of everyone in the group to work with new and unfamiliar materials.

I had to leave a bit early to catch my plane, so we didn't get to really do a walkabout and have the type of closure that I normally get to do in my classes. I do hope those of you who attended and are reading this will e-mail jpg images of some of your favorite samples from the class to me. If you do, I promise that I will post them along with your comments about how you developed the surface!

Important P.S. -- I have scheduled no classes for 2010 so I have the year to prepare new works for solo exhibitions. I've agreed to teach three classes in 2011 and will be creating a new design-based painting class that will allow students more time to work with developing ideas and content in their work, so look for an announcement early next year.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Chicago - Day Two

After giving a morning lecture at the North Suburban NeedleArts Guild -- no, there wasn't a single tomato hurled and they even fed me afterwards! - I enjoyed visiting with guild members. Then I got to rest for a few hours at my hotel before guild member Rhonda Newman picked me up and took me to visit the Chicago Botanical Gardens. I expected it would be lovely, but had no idea just how large and incredibly beautiful and extensive the gardens would be. We walked from one gorgeous formal garden to another for several hours. We left just as a band began playing outside overlooking the lake and scores of people were bringing in blankets and lawn chairs to sit and spend the evening listening to them play. Such a relaxing, peaceful environment. Here a few pictures of the many that I took.

A huge man made waterfall led us up and up from one cascading level to the next. What I wouldn't give to listen to this every day.

This entire garden was in shades of purples and lavenders with some white accents. It was stunning against the greenery.

This sculpture overlooks a calm lake with a large fountain right at its center.

Next we headed to Susan Etcoff Fraerman's, who invited a small group to her home for dinner. What a gorgeous artist/art lover/collector space her home is, architecturally striking and filled with wonderful art, both Susan's and other artists.

It was a lovely day from start to finish. Next blog will show you some images from the two-day class on painting and composing textural, layered surfaces.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

First Day in Chicago

I've always appreciated both the beautiful surface design work that Barbara Schneider does and her innovative quilt making. She's currently working on a series of sculptural, stitched leaf shapes. Yesterday afternoon my hostess extraordinaire Shelley Brucar picked me up at O'Hare airport and we drove out to Crystal Lake to visit Barbara while she was installing her current solo exhibition at The Dole Gallery.

Barbara's stunning series of reflections on water have been included in major art quilt venues in the United States.

The Dole Gallery is in Lakeside Legacy Arts Park, in Crystal Lake. The gallery is charming, with tall ceilings, a wonderful hanging system and excellent lighting.

These two views give you a preview of Barbara's exhibition, which opens today! There will be a reception Sunday, September 20, 3-5 PM, so if you live in the area, make sure you visit. The show runs September 1-29.

Barbara is also offering classes out of her studio -- a great opportunity to learn more about how to take photographs, manipulate them in Photoshop and make and use Thermofax screens for printing on fabric. If I lived in the area, I know I'd enjoy taking a class from her.

Today I'll give a lecture for the North Suburban NeedleArts Guild, then teach a two-day class Wednesday and Thursday on building textural surfaces with layering and hand-stitching.