Monday, March 16, 2015

Seeking a Path

I'm having a solo show at the Clare Gallery at the Church of St. Patrick and St. Anthony in Hartford, at the end of 2015, tentatively titled "Seeking a Path."

With an eye toward that show, I've been creating pathway images these days, and I'm just about to finish my latest one.

This piece started out as a photo of my daughter Leah on the trail leading from Great Head, a stunning promontory in Acadia National Park, Maine.
I printed the photo out as an 8 x 10, then traced it.  I brought the traced version to Staples to have it enlarged.  Enlarged, it became a full-size pattern for this piece.  I used a lightbox to trace it onto a piece of pima cotton which I had first brushed with GAC 900.  GAC 900 is a fabric conditioner which made the fabric more hospitable to the painting treatment which was to follow.

Once the traced version was on the fabric, I then went ahead and put the color down with  Derwent Inktense pencils.  Many thanks to the ladies of Women Against the Grain, who introduced me to those pencils.
Here's what this piece looked like during that part of the process.

Once I got all the color down, I layered the painted fabric with batting and backing and stitched through all the layers to accentuate each area of color.  I guess you could say it's a technique that combines quilting and thread painting in one swell foop.

My big question for myself was how I was going to show the leafy foliage.  I wanted to lay down little bits of fabric, sometimes called confetti.

Want to know how you make these?  My quilting friends know this but possibly not everyone does. You cut a piece of fabric into tiny strips and then cut the strips crosswise into tiny squares:

They're fabulous for creating a pointillistic effect, but the question is how to fasten them down.  Until now, my go-to approach has involved holding them down with an invisible, heat-activated bonding agent (such as Misty Fuse) and a piece of tulle.

That technique is kind of labor-intensive, so I decided to see whether there could be an easier way to get those teensy weensy pieces to stay down.  I discovered that my felting machine could work for that purpose.

This is a Baby Lock Embellisher, aka felter.  I own one of these, and have now discovered that its tiny barbs are effective in sticking these tiny confetti down to a quilt surface.

 Once they're scattered on the fabric, the confetti have to be arranged and spread around, because they tend to clump.  That can be kind of labor intensive in itself:

Nevertheless, eliminating the bonding agent and the iron is a major step forward, and I like the effect I get:

I did put down a layer of tulle over the confetti.  I've never used this embellishment technique on a quilt before, and even though that confetti was stuck down pretty convincingly, I didn't want it falling off at any point.  Thus, I put down a layer of tulle over the foliage parts of the quilt.

For the final step, I laid down strips of fabric printed in the black and white of birchbark:

Here's the final result of all those processes:

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The grackles sing avant the spring

Have you noticed that the birds are starting to activate these days?  I hear them cackling and whistling and calling just about every time I go outside.  Their sounds--a reaction, I'm sure, to the increased sunlight of March--are on some days the only thing capable of reminding me that spring is coming.  When I hear them, I think of the Wallace Stevens line, "The grackles sing avant the spring."

Common Grackle

Stevens, America's most distinguished poet of the twentieth century, lived on Westerly Terrace in Hartford's West End, within walking distance of my home in West Hartford. 

From Westerly Terrace, he regularly walked down Asylum Avenue to his job as an attorney for the Hartford Fire Insurance Company, now the Hartford Insurance Group. He composed poems as he walked, and neighbors used to say that they would see him walk by at a  measured pace, stop, rock in his footsteps, and proceed.  When he arrived at work, he would dictate his poems for typing.

I figured if Stevens heard grackles avant (before) the spring, then grackle voices must be among those I'm hearing these past couple of weeks.  You can go to this site and listen and tell me whether you've heard anything like that outside these days.

I know I hear blue jays and cardinals.

This time of year, those crackly bird voices are to me a fragile crackly bridge across to greater sunlight and warmer weather.  If the birds are getting ready, then spring must be approaching.

Today I decided to look up the Stevens poem of which that line is a part.  I found this:

Snow and Stars
by Wallace Stevens

The grackles sing avant the spring
Most spiss-oh! Yes, most spissantly.
They sing right puissantly.

This robe of snow and winter stars,
The devil take it, wear it too.
It might become his hole of blue.

Let him remove it to his regions
White and star-furred for his legions, 
And make much bing, high bing.

It would be ransom for the willow
And fill the hill and fill it full
Of ding, ding, dong.

How do you like his expression of the sound the grackles make?  Spissantly--it's brilliant.  The man had a way with onomotopaeia.  And to rhyme "spissantly" with "puissantly"?  He's a combination of snooty and cuckoo, like Katharine Hepburn on LSD. 

And what the heck is "high bing"?  Is it the opposite of high dudgeon? Never mind--I know exactly what Stevens means when he tells the devil to take this robe of snow and winter stars because it might look good in his domain, and because his legions might like it. 

And yes--what a concept--let that robe of snow and stars be ransom for the willow.   Are you looking forward to seeing a few greening willows?  I am.

 Wallace Stevens' poetry is often obscure and his image enigmatic at best.  But he got it right about this late-winter Connecticut wish that the never-ending snow will stop and the willow will green.

P.S. Did you know that Stevens' wife Elsie was the model for the liberty head dime?

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Color of Water

This question goes out to every one who reads this blog entry, but especially to my art friends:

How do you depict the transparency and luminosity of water?

Such as this:

I'm calling this image Heaven on Earth for its otherworldly reflection of the sky in shallow water on the sand.  For me, it's a transcendent scene, and it will be the first in a series by that name.  I'll show you some of the other potential scenes later.

Meanwhile, this is the first Heaven on Earth, at this point, the challenge is getting the water right.

The transparency and the luminosity:  tough to depict.  My first effort, with Shiva paintsticks, was ruined by injudicious thread painting.  The threads were removed, but a pox of needlemarks remained in the painted fabric.

I now realize that, once the fabric has been treated with Shiva paintsticks, the weave of the cloth is covered up, and needleholes show.  What a mess. 

 Anyway, I'm going with Plan B:  covering up the pockmarked fabric with something else.

But what?

I pulled out some tulles and iridescents...

also some silks in the right ballpark of colors, some of them from the late great Japanalia of Hartford, Connecticut...
also some home decorator fabric, some of it in the form of samples from my interior design buddy Kathie Ferguson...

Also some Angelina fibers, for glitz.

I also got out some Jacquard pearlex pigments and some colorless extender to act as a vehicle for the pigments.

 Once I had those materials assembled, I painted and bonded, bonded and painted.

I used Misty Fuse and Bo-Nash to bond glittery Angelina fibers to a variety of tulles and sheers

I also applied paint to silk and sheers:

 And you know I made patterns for some of the pieces.  Because that's the kind of gal I am.  The kind who makes patterns:
I spent several hours swapping around the options.  It's a challenge to use the Angelina fibers for glitz without overdoing it.

This piece of painted silk became the silvery puddle on the path:

And this piece of Angelina bonded with something or other became the shiny brownish puddle in the left foreground:

You know what else?  I learned that my Baby Lock Ebellisher, aka a felting machine, is good for adding texture, especially to silk:

Above, a piece of silk on the left and a home decorating sample, a synthetic, on the right.  Both gave me a nice texture to use for the sandy mud in the left and right foreground:

Mind you, these pieces are all going to be trimmed and appropriately fastened to the background, and they're going to be embellished with hand and machine embroidery and whatnot for details.  The little foamy bubbles in the water above, for example, will be French knots.

But I'm not there yet.  I'm still trying to get the water right.

This is what I have so far:

Try to picture it with appropriate details added, such as hand and machine embroidery.

Smoothing over the jagged edges of grief

Folks who know me know that my sister Jerol, who fell on November 15, 2014, sustaining traumatic brain injuries, died on February 1, 2015.  Except for me, she was the last survivor of the four Cadrain girls of 104 Concord St., Hamden, Connecticut.

Here we are in  about 1959.  Jerol is on the left; our sister Linda, who was born in 1939 and died in 2011, is in the middle; our sister Jeanne, who was born in 1945 and died in 2002, is on the right.  That's me in the front.
Here we are in...uh, the year my nephew Andy got married, because this was taken at his wedding.  There's Linda, now no longer a nun, front left, and Jerol, front right.  I'm on the back in the left, and Jeanne, the mother of the groom, is on the right.
 Now I'm the last of us, and the only one with the memories of our childhood bedroom, with its two bunkbeds and its portrait of Jesus, framed in filigreed gold metal, decorated with red plastic roses, and lit from above by its own lamp.  That item, wondrous in its drama, had been a gift from Jerol's boyfriend Twap.

Jerol was so many things to me: when we were kids, a playmate in the bathtub, comfort in thunderstorms, and a moral sounding board; later, the model for my own efforts at experimental gardening and adventurous cooking.

After her marriage she moved to the mountainous country of Sussex County, New Jersey, where migrants work the onion fields, dairy farms are losing ground to ski slopes, and everything is 45 minutes from home.  In those years, when she and her husband Larry were raising their two children, necessity forced her to put on heavy gloves and take a job making pallets from rough slabs of wood.  Somewhere along the line there, she developed the grit of a hard-luck country heroine.

I'll never fully understand the sources of that grit, but I do know that, gritty or not, Jerol never lost the generosity that had once motivated her, as she left high school, to seek work at the New York Foundling Hospital in New York City.  Instead, she ended up taking a training course to become, and being certified as, a dental assistant, but her soft heart for foundlings remained:  over their years in the country, she and Larry took in many a foundling, friends of her children and later her grandchildren, kids who had run out of love and places to stay.   Pregnant, unemployed, illiterate, even thieving,  no one who ever crossed her path with a sad story and a lack of options was turned away. As I write this, her grandson and a friend of his are living with a space heater in the garage of the house that Jerol shared with her husband Larry and her daughter Lynn.  Lynn's boyfriend, Concepcion, who is Mexican, now lives there too.
I didn't set out to eulogize Jerol, though I guess I've ended up doing so, in a very shorthand way.

What I set out to say is that

1.  Jerol's boots will never be filled.
2. The depth and breadth of my grief are going to bear in on me, a little at a time, time after time.

In the mean time, I put one foot in front of the other, and I solace myself by creating art, which takes me away from consciousness of my loss.

I love sand ripples because they're ephemeral but eternal at the same time.  Today I'm working on two sand ripple images from First Encounter Beach on Cape Cod.

Jerol loved the beach.  Any beach. Especially Long Beach Island, New Jersey, where her ashes--or should I say cremains--will probably be scattered this spring or summer.  But when she visited Cape Cod, First Encounter was her favorite beach because it didn't involve stairs and was more compatible with her limited and achy mobility.

This is how I smooth over the jagged edges of my grief.