Saturday, October 24, 2009

Slow Art

My enjoyment in working light over dark continues as this new work above ( full view) slowly develops. It is a contemplative process that doesn't lend itself to exciting blog posts. I may post less frequently but all this slowness -- including posting less often -- is a calming tonic and becoming more contemplative may well be the "next step" for me as an artist.

Although I am working into this surface one small area and very light layer at a time, I decided today to add some language details to a few areas using black paint. The next text may be screened on in light gray.

Yesterday I worked into the piece with some washes of yellows, golds, and light browns over some of the lighter gray areas. I have not yet decided whether I will add more or stop here. They do seem to be adding some interesting highlights.

You can also see where I am fleshing out some details by painting on black lines to heighten the contrast and accentuate some of the smallest shapes. Working this way continues to be thoroughly enjoyable and unhurried. I am surprised to find I feel totally open to allowing this to develop as it chooses.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Rapt Attention

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary says the definition for "rapt" is "wholly absorbed." That describes these past two studio days. I have been wholly and totally absorbed in working. Now that I'm ready to stop for the day, it's time to sit quietly for a bit while some paint dries enough to pack up these pieces and take them home for the next stage -- stitching.

This fabric ground has been up on my design wall for a while as I questioned what direction to take it. When clearing up at home, I found letters that had been abandoned on an earlier project and started to experiment. After weighing the results for a week, I've decided the composition is complete and I can start the process of stitching it.

I thought the above piece was finished. It's the third piece in the "Seeds" series, titled "Seeds of Awakening." But the original piece, with just one value of bright yellow/gold centers, seemed flat and lacked movement. So up it went on the design wall for contemplation.

When my friend Betsy visited, I asked her for feedback. She suggested that I add some seeds in varying values on the surface. She was totally right -- and I spent today cutting and applying painted papers that will be permanently stitched to the cloth surface. Don't you agree there's a lot more depth and movement on this piece now? -- I'm enjoying the idea of combining paper and fabric, something I haven't done before.

So Seeds of Awakening will rest quietly at the studio over the weekend and then get one more critical review on Monday. If the composition still seems resolved, then it can get stitched and completed -- again! I've also worked on several other pieces today, and hope to get them far enough along by next week to share them with you soon.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Romancing the Mark

Perhaps this is an unintended pun, since it could refer both to my studio mark-making explorations yesterday and to my current interest in painter Mark Tobey’s works.

Yesterday I returned to the soft, quiet work of exploring new ideas inspired by Mark Tobey’s “white writing.”


White Writing, 1951, by Mark Tobey, gouache and watercolor on paper.

Tobey, 1890-1976, an American painter who spent many years in the Pacific Northwest, loved to experiment and his abstract, calligraphic work now is considered to have influenced subsequent art trends, especially Abstract Expressionism. It reassured me to discover that he was more interested in experimentation and exploration than self-promotion of his work.

Tobey studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and worked for a time as a fashion illustrator and portraitist in New York City. He converted to the Bahāʾī faith in 1918 and from that point on explored non-Western spirituality. (Must mention here that I consider my own artmaking a spiritual practice, one that deepens and connects me more and more to a universal force and presence of creative energy)

Tobey’s mature painting style evolved after a visit to East Asia in 1934, during which he spent one month in a Zen monastery in Kyōto and studied Chinese calligraphy in Shanghai. (Another note here, I love the calligraphic, painted mark and it is a dream of mine to go to Kyoto as an artist-in-residence some day.)

The influence of calligraphy first became apparent in the tangled brushwork of his cityscapes of the 1930s, and Tobey went on to develop a unique style consisting of a web or network of calligraphic marks painted in white against a gray or coloured ground. This “white writing” soon displaced all realistic representation in his work.  (excerpted from the Encyclopedia Brittanica).

While my own efforts are not imitative of Tobey’s signature all-over, abstract linear network of calligraphic marks, I am learning from them.


When I began applying opaque paints, particularly white, to the surface of this darkly dyed, subtly patterned silk, I felt as though I was absorbing and responding to Tobey’s experimentation with my own.


Building lighter layers over dark is proving to be an interesting study. I spent yesterday working on the above sample – it’s about 11” x 24”. I worked slowly, growing more comfortable with size 00 to size 2 round and liner brushes and focusing on how much opacity and what kinds of marks I want in the areas where I apply the opaque colors. Yesterday on this sample I used varying dilutions of opaque white textile paint, comparable to Tobey’s gouache.

It is hard to maintain the softer hand and keep the white paint from becoming too thick and heavy. You can see above that where the white is applied more thinly and has softer edges it feels more integrated than the areas where the white is fully opaque. Still, some fully opaque spots over the larger surface might be interesting.

Varying the pure white to tints of ochre and tan and gray is next on a new practice piece and then I will begin working on the full size one again, which is about 44” x 50” right now.


Here’s the sample piece pinned to the larger piece. It seems to me at this point that there’s already a shape on the surface of the larger piece that I can work into and define with the opaque washes around printed or hand painted text. There are also some subtle hints of browns, golds, and lavender grays already on the surface that can be accentuated. I want to be careful not to cover them with the white and lose the interest they add to the surface, so the white may need to be more confined in specific areas than it is on the sample.

The whole process is an absorbing experiment and although I keep trying to move away from this to start working on new fabric grounds and other experimental ideas, the light over dark painting keeps pulling me back.

If I can manage to calm my impulsive nature and move forward mindfully, I believe this could be a very interesting piece when complete. It certainly is fascinating to consider and work on.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

What A Week!


Have you missed me? Wondered where I’ve been and why my blog has been so quiet?

First, the deadline for my Powerpoint presentation and written lecture – titled, “Written: Word as Image” --had to be electronically submitted to SOFA by 5 PM on Monday, October 5. I have around 3,500 images in my files, so reviewing, selecting and organizing 90 or so was dizzying.

Writing the accompanying text was also. I have never focused so intently on trying to distill down and express ideas about my inspirations.

Happily, I made the deadline -- at exactly 5 PM on Monday evening. Somehow writing that presentation triggered hard, soul-searching work that churned up a lot of emotions, memories and personal questioning. In part because that intense self-reflection coincided with another milestone event in my life.

I turned 60 on October 6th. How did I get here so quickly?!?!?

Delving into the evolution, meaning and directions in my creative life, summing it up and putting it down in writing at this particular milestone in my physical life felt significant. A rite of passage. But to what?

When I woke up on the morning of The Day, instead of the gloom and doom I had been feeling about getting older, I felt energetic and excited with possibilities. Surprise. Gone was anxiety and back was the optimistic me.

A new decade ahead. Ten bright, new years to explore, experience and express – for me to envision and create as I choose. In short, exactly the same as before.


Front of my new business card – it’s been almost eight years since my last one! Isn’t this lovely?

As I prepared and shipped the pieces that will be exhibited by Maria Elena Kravetz Gallery, finalized my new business card and portfolio page designs with my (absolutely wonderful) graphic designer Ian Caspersson, there was one more important activity I needed to include to launch this new decade.

Yepper, this birthday girl went shopping! My studio wardrobe doubles as my exercise wardrobe, if that gives you any idea of its level of sophistication. Kind of like my own line of Garanimals – all the tops and bottoms interchangeable, loose and stretchy!

Definitely NOT what I want to wear in Chicago (OK I do want to, but I won’t).

In between all my SOFA preparations, I spent this whole week living my own personal episode of What Not to Wear, trying on – and buying - clothing and accessories way outside my comfort zone.

So if you come to SOFA Chicago and see a more stylish version of me, don’t walk by – it really IS me.

What a week and what an exciting launch for a new decade.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Another Experimental Friday

For a while now I've had the idea to cut some stencils as a tool for creating language marks. So I purchased some lovely 18" x 24" oiled stencil board at my local Hyatt's along with a #4 stencil cutter. Rather than use those for my first effort, I grabbed a piece of watercolor paper and began a practice session in cutting with the X-Acto.

My skills in this area are nonexistent, so I started by basically drawing a shape, cutting it and then drawing another shape and cutting that, paying close attention to the negative spaces which become the more dominant linear patterns. Focusing on those became almost hypnotic and very enjoyable.

Once I got the hang of cutting and started to relax, it turned from work to fun. The cutting creates interesting, but very strong, defined lines. But what would it look like printed?

Of course, I had to find out! I couldn't resist trying it out on the piece of fabric stretched on my print table that was SUPPOSED to be for a whole different type of composition.

I printed the stencil using three variations. First, I placed the stencil under a blank silkscreen and screened a colored acid dye paste called "paprika" on it and let it dry. Once the dye dried, I removed the stencil and screened clear paste through the screen. This created different patterns as the dye on the screen broke down.

Second, I took the stencil, laid it under the screen and printed through it with more paprika dye.

Third, I took the wet stencil, turned it over and direct printed the dye from it onto the fabric surface. Each print varied this way and yet formed a repeating pattern.

Then I dappled or brushed other colors onto the surface into the wet dyes before I left it to dry. The piece of cloth above is about 44" X 70," to give you an idea of the scale.

THIS piece of cloth was soaked in a citric acid solution and dried before it went on my print table to increase its acidity and help the dyes fix to it when processed. In addition, the dyes have the auxiliary ammonium sulfate also mixed in. According to my Pro Chem technical experts, Nancy and Vicki, the two will not interact unfavorably, since one has been soaked into the fabric and dried before applying the dye and print paste with the other auxiliary.

If this all sounds way too technical for you, take heart, it's really fairly simple. Acid dyes need additives that increase their acidity and heat for these particular dyes to bond permanently with the silk.

Now all we need to have happen is for the dyes to remain true to what they look like on the dry piece above once they are steamed and washed.

Whether they do remain as saturated as they are now or not, the possibilities of the stencil as a tool for adding partial or repeating elements to my compositions is definitely appealing.

So at the moment the fabric is steaming. I'll rinse it, wash it and dry it and cross my fingers that it will look good once it's done!