Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Confections and Confetti

I didn't set out to create an image of a rich, calorie-free chocolate confection.  Instead, I set out to do a riff on a  favorite painting by Paul Klee.  But if the project also turns out to imagine and create some guilt free deluxe confections, I'm not gonna fudge it.

Here's the painting by Klee. 
To Klee, this is an image of suspended fruit (Hangende Fruchte).  But to me, the shapes in the lower half, especially the lower left and right corners, look ike layered chocolate truffles.  This kind:

Klee's shapes don't look anything like fruit to me.  Still, I love the painting and its simple, offbeat shapes, its rich browns, and the velvety green of its border.

Brown brings nothing but good association:  Not only chocolate, but coffee, rich garden earth, and Franciscans.

I've been wanting to reproduce that painting, or a portion of it, or a version of it, for years.  Now I have the chance, because one of my quilt groups, Women Against the Grain, is running a challenge activity in which participants reproduce or play on a painting by one of five artists, including Klee, I now have the chance/excuse I've been waiting for:  the opportunity to re-imagine Klee's shapes as rich, layered chocolate truffles.  Without calories.

What I'm doing right now it experimenting with the components of the layers for the truffles.  Some are simple stuffed shapes, created from fabrics that  remind me of rich chocolate:

Others are knitted, based on a pattern in Nicky Epstein's Knitted Embellishments:

I've been having a lot of trouble getting the edges of these knitted shapes to get, and stay, crisp and crisply defined.  The ones above, despite my extensive efforts, still look shaggy and irregular to me.  These were stiffened by first being sewn down to gridded interfacing, then, when the interfacing turned out not to be stiff enough, bonded to a thicker, stiffer project called Pellon Craft-Fuse.  But the fusing process, which involved pressure and a hot iron, somewhat tamped down the knitted texture, while not doing enough to bring crisp uniformity to the edges:

The piece on the right shows the back side of the knitted shape, sewn and bonded to two different ineffective stiffeners.  The piece on the left shows the knitted texture somewhat diminished and the edges of the shape lacking in definition.

Today I discovered a better alternative:  get out a piece of thick foam, get out a piece of interfacing with a grid, pin the interfacing to the foam, trace a uniform shape onto the gridded interfacing, then pin each yarn shape along the traced lines, so each knitted diamond follows the same exact outline:

Once I had those shapes pinioned, I baptized them with a mixture of fabric stiffener and water, applied with a foam brush, and left to dry over night:

The result was a stiffened shape that still retained its knitted texture, especially around its slightly raised edge:

I like this approach much better.

People tell me they think I'm so talented, but my response is that what looks to them like talent is instead a result of my dogged determination to reify the images in my head.  I want so badly to bring my ideas into being that I'll try and try and try and keep trying until I reach as close as I can to a parity between my imagination and its tangible expression.  I haven't even told you how many of those stuffed fabric shapes I made before I found the process that made the best one.  I've been keeping on keeping on with this particular project, off and on, for weeks.

Now that I know how best to stiffen these knitted shapes, I'll be adding these little smooches to them:

These little circular numbers are known as yo-yos, and I've stuffed them to give the appearance of whorls of chocolate.  I think I'll top each whorl off with a yummy-looking bead of some kind.

As I work on these, I think about the name of the piece.  I'm not going to call it "Suspended Fruit" or "Hangende Fruchte".  I'm going to call it Chocolate Confections by Paul Klee, or, in Klee's native German, Schokoladenkonfekt von Paul Klee. Doesn't that sound important?

Once I get 10 or 12 of these  diamond shapes layered together, I'll put them on a rich green velvet background and call them a box of confections.

Confetti.  In addition to confections, I've also been working on confetti lately.  Specifically, I've been using a technique called entrapment to bond confetti-like scraps of fabric to a background.  First the fabric is cut up into confetti-like strips:

then the confetti is bonded to the background with a product called Misty-Fuse, topped with a piece of tulle to hold the confetti down. 

Here I am trying to cut some tulle, a process made difficult by its insubstantiality and near-invisibility .
When a hot iron is applied to the tulle, the Misty Fuse underneath it melts, trapping the confetti between the tulle and the background.

I'm using this confetti to embellish a photo of an iconic fence in the Litchfield County town of Norfolk.  This is for a show at the Norfolk Public Library, presented by the Connecticut Fiber Arts Collective and called The Northwest Corner, after the section of the state that includes Litchfield County and Norfolk.  The librarians in that lovely town tell us that many library patrons, who may also patronize our show, have weekend and vacation homes there, and love images of their bucolic town.  Thus, this image of an iconic fence in the town, which the librarians named in their list of notable Norfolk scenes.

Here's a look at that piece, which is now completed, along with its entrapped confetti:

So, confetti and confections.  Those two words are related.  Did you know that?  They both come from the Latin root conficere, to make.  Every once in a great while, my five years of Latin come in handy.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Exhibitionist Diaries

You know how aspiring artists need exposure?


My art quilt friends and I are budding exhibitionists these days.  Look what we've been up to:

My own solo show, Natural Inspirations, was still on the wall at Hartford's Town and County Club when it was time to hang another show, Spring Thaw, at Bloomfield's Duncaster Retirement Center.  Spring Thaw is an undertaking by the Connecticut Fiber Arts Collective http://www.ctfac.blogspot.com/ . It went up on Saturday, March 1.

We had a lovely hanging crew, left to right (please supply name), Paul Sessa, and Judy Wawro.

And we CtFAC quilters had a stunning display of the best of our art:

Roz Spann created this lovely appliqued fish

I had three pieces left aside from the Town and County show with the intent of putting them into Spring Thaw:

Frost and Flame, a convergence quilt inspired by Ricky Tims' Convergence Quilts
Sand Ripples, inspired by low tide on Cape Cod Bay, Eastham, Massachusetts

Entrance, inspired by the Metacomet Trail, Penwood State Park, Bloomfield, Connecticut

We had a lovely reception on Sunday March 2, and if you follow this link, you can see some highlights of that day: http://www.ctfac.blogspot.com/

Two days after my Connecticut Fiber Arts Collective buddies and I hung Spring Thaw, it was time to take down my solo show at Town and County.  The reception for that show, on Friday February 7, had a noisy, upbeat vibe and resulted in the sale of six of my pieces. 


This is a video taken by my daughter Leah that night, but I'm not sure it's going to play for you.

With that show down, I was in the process of re-integrating my work into my home,  deciding which pieces to hang and which to put away, when I got a call from Sara, the woman who arranges the art exhibits for my religious congregation, the Unitarian Society of Hartford.  http://ushartford.com/  Sara said that though she'd arranged for an artist or two to exhibit work in our building during March and April, those arrangements had fallen through.  She asked whether I would be willing to show my work there:

And of course, most of my work was still waiting to be sorted through and either hung on the wall or rolled up and put away, so with it all out and available, I figured it would be easy for me--once again--to load the Honda Odyssey van,

 take my work over to the Unitarian Meeting House, with its stunning sanctuary,

...and hang it in the ambulatory, which is what we call the circular passageway around the indoor perimeter of the building:

L-R The Blue Hour, Salute to Grandpa Ott II, Trout Brook II

L-R Sweet Potato and Supertunia, Two Ways of Looking at Seaside Goldenrod

Lunch Among the Cabbages

Jack O'Lantern Mushrooms, Fall Field II

Cape Cod in the Footsteps of Thoreau, Fall Field I, Hanging Grapes II

Seeking a Path
Many thanks to Roy, Marion, and Jenn Cook for coming to the Meeting House and helping to get this show on the wall.  Thanks, folks!

Meanwhile, once again, the walls in my house are looking bare and pathetic.

Bare.  What else would you expect from the home of an exhibitionist?

Monday, March 10, 2014

Cosmic Beading, Painted Batting, and Knitted Truffles

I'm working on three or four projects in tandem these days.  I'm doing this because I wanted to see what it would be like to work in parallel.  

Now I can report:  tandem projects don't necessarily cross-pollinate one another.  These three or four don't, anyway:  they're too different.  But working on parallel projects does bring one benefit:  the leeway to avoid getting tired of any one of them.  When one project gets tedious, I can switch to another one, opening my brain to something fresh and bracing.

That's what happened with this one, for example.  See those little tiny horizontal fence rails in this photo?  I'm making a quilt based on this photo, and today I got sick of quilting all those little lines back there.  So I set this project aside.

This quilt is aimed at a particular group:  patrons of the public library of Norfolk, CT.

It's a stunning little building if ever there was one.

I'm going to be displaying there with one of my fiber art groups, the Connecticut Fiber Arts Collective, this coming May (2014).

In fact, we're stunning, too.  Don't you think?

The Norfolk librarians tell us that many of their patrons have weekend and vacation homes there, and that those homeowners love images of their town.  The librarians mentioned several spots as examples, and this rail fence was one of them. I drove up there in leaf season and took a few photos.

So I got this image printed on fabric, courtesy of an outfit called Spoonflower
http://www.spoonflower.com/welcome.  I layered the image with quilt batting, but I extended the batting out a couple of inches past the image.  (In traditional quilts, the batting is hidden between the quilt top and the quilt backing.)

But in this quilt, the batting will protrude from under the quilt top.  I used Pebeo Setacolor watercolors to paint the batting, with the intention that it would serve as a sort of frame for the printed photo.

 Before I applied the paint to the batting, I experimented with choices, sponging color onto sample pieces of batting:

Once I got the batting painted, I placed a backing under the entire thing.  That batting will be quilted as part of the piece, but ultimately I'll trim it so that it only covers the back side of the photo, not the entire piece.  After quilting, the piece will be mounted on a piece of canvas which will be stretched around stretcher bars.

I'm going to have fun quilting the tree trunk--I'm going to slip some cording and fiberfill in strategic places between the photo and the batting to give the trunk some dimension:
In this photo, you can barely locate the boundary between the tree trunk printed on fabric and the painted quilt batting that extends a couple inches beyond it.  That's the effect I wanted.

So, when I get tired of using stitches to outline all the little tiny lines in the fence, I can turn to A Love Supreme.

If you read my previous blog post you may remember that this one is for Jazz Tones,  an exhibit to take place at Greater Hartford Arts Council's Pearl Street Gallery this coming summer.  Last time I blogged, I was sewing beads on this piece.  Today I'm STILL sewing beads on the piece, but getting close to enough.  When I work with beads, the big fear is violating the KISS rule (keep it simple, stupid) because it's all too easy for the beads to cross the line between stunning and tacky. 
When I get sick of sewing on those tiny beads, I can always turn to this next  project:

I really admire the work of the Swiss artist Paul Klee, and the painting above is an example.  To me those geometric pieces just beg to be re-imagined in applique.  You know what Klee named this painting?  Suspended Fruit (Hangende Fruchte).  No fruit I ever saw looked like that, except maybe the image near the upper right looks like a pear.  Nevertheless, I love this painting, especially the warm cinnamon and chocolate colors against the rich green.  I also love it that these pieces remind me of chocolate truffles.  Especially the ones on the lower right and lower left.

So I'm reproducing those shapes in yarn.  Specifically, I'm knitting them.  I got a piece of deep green velvet to place them on.  I'm trying to make it look like a luxurious candy box.  I may put yo-yos, in yummy shades of chocolate, on top of each truffle.  I'm going to edge the whole thing with ruched velvet welting.  Ooooooh!

With this piece, I'm not crazy about the uneven edges on the knitted diamonds, so maybe I'll go on and layer something else in there to attract some attention.  Like diamonds of brown silk layered with quilt batting and finished like tiny quilts.

But before I can get discouraged because there are too many fence rails, or because the beads are too tiny, or the edges on the truffles aren't straight and crisp, I can just drop one piece and pick up the next.  They don't really cross fertilize one another because they're too different (quilting, knitting, beading). The hope is that none of them ends up abandoned forever, but that transitioning between them will enable me to approach each one with new enthusiasm and interest after putting it aside for a bit.  .

So far, I like the way it's working.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Work in Progress: Diving Into Mysteries

I'm working on three pieces simultaneously these days, part of an experiment to see whether projects worked in tandem can cross-fertilize one another.

I have a preliminary hypothesis on that.  I'll get to it in a minute.

Working on the three pieces has had me diving into some mysteries, like the eeriness of an unresolved chord, the majesty of a nebula, and the enigma of a gnarled figure crouching in the crotch of a tree.  Here's where I am on these three challenging images.

Unresolved Chord.  One of the three projects is Unresolved Chord, which I've just finished quilting:

The quilting lines just follow the lines in the appliqued optical illusion, which is very much like the traditional tumbling blocks pattern.  Mine are made of shimmering silks which, themselves, are illusions:  shimmering one color when held in one light, and another in another.  Then there is another illusion, one created by the appliqued blocks themselves:

There are four basic blocks here, but if you look carefully, a ghostly fifth block emerges and hovers just below the middle of the piece.  See it?

This is a visual image of an unresolved chord, the term used to describe a piece of music that gives the impression that it hasn’t ended properly, that leaves a conflict unresolved. or lacks a sense of closure.

Are there four blocks here or five?

What key are we in?

Unresolved Chord is for Jazz Tones, the Connecticut Fiber Arts Collective's upcoming show, which will hang in Hartford's Pearl Street Gallery this summer from June 15 to August 23.  Check it out:  https://letsgoarts.org/gallery

Wild Thing.  The second of the three projects I'm working on involves this image, a woody thing growing in the crotch of a tree by a watercourse called Trout Brook, a few blocks from my home:

In my last blog entry I described the process of making a tree bark-like background for this piece on pima cotton:
Now I'm working on the figure crouching in the crotch of the tree.  I've renamed it Wild Thing:

I knitted a two-legged creature, stuffed and wired it, and got ready to work on the head.  I've now made one with the help of felting teacher Robin McCahill:
How about this?  I think it's a good start:

Next, I'll needle felt more features for the face.

The mystery here surrounds the nature of this creature:  is it friendly?  Wise?  Strange?  Aggressive?  Malevolent?  I'm going to show it as an enigma.

A Love Supreme.
The third of my three projects asks: If the concept of A Love Supreme were to take on visual form, what would it be?

That paradox is flowing like snowmelt through my mind these days.  If I can find a visual way to convey this idea, I'll not only have created a piece for Jazz Tones, but I'll also be honoring jazz saxophonist John Coltrane.

Coltrane composed A Love Supreme on the heels of a religious experience in 1957, during which he acknowledged his dependency on drugs and alcohol and their effect on his creativity and creative output.  So, as the story goes, he quit both cold turkey...solo.  A Love Supreme issued from that abyss, and some folks think that it is a nod to the concept of a higher power, so important to the workings of Alcoholics Anonymous and other twelve-step groups. Word has it that Coltrane quit on his own, but whether or not he went to AA, he was a very spiritual man.

In his own liner notes to A Love Supreme, Coltrane says,
"During the year 1957, I experienced, through the grace of God, a spiritual awakening which was to lead me to a richer, fuller, more productive life.  At that time, in gratitude, I humbly asked to be given the means and privilege to make others happy through music.  I feel this has been granted through His grace.  ALL PRAISE TO GOD. [...]

That's pretty powerful stuff, and I want to find a way to reify it for Jazz Tones.  I now have at least three ideas in my mind, one of which is also in production.  This one:

I made this tie-dye piece with my daughter Lucia one day a couple of summers ago.  The spiral on this piece of tie-dyed pima cotton puts me in mind of a whirling nebula in all its cosmic majesty and mystery.

Why not?

I quilted it with silver metallic thread and thought about what to do next.  Then I remembered some beads I bought at a tag sale.
 How about those colors?  So I decided that the next step after the light quilting would be to apply some of these tiny beads.

At the moment, I'm applying them in routes that follow the spirals of the tie-dye.  The beads are tiny and the needle is very fine.

What's it like to work with these materials?

Zen, baby.

When three projects are worked on simultaneously, do they cross-fertilize one another?  No. These three projects are  too different from one another.  I don't see any cross-fertilization going on.  Of course, I can't say what happens when I leave the room.

But...working on three simultaneously does keep the chi flowing because I don't have a chance to get sick of any one of them.  I move back and forth between and among them and they all stay vital.