Thursday, December 8, 2016

Today in Art: Violating the KISS Rule

Ever heard of the KISS Rule?  That's Keep it Simple, Stupid.  I first heard it from one of my co-leaders when I led a Brownie troop.  In the 25-plus years since it was first stated to me, the rule has served me well...sometimes as much in the breach as in the observance.

In fact, if rules were made to be broken, then the KISS rule is my go-to rule.  It's on my mind all the time.  When I violate it, I'm acutely conscious of the transgression and try meticulously to pinpoint its genesis.  I squirm and kick myself.  I vow to learn from it.

Take my recent efforts to reproduce, on fabric, this image of my grandparents, taken in the early 50s.

This image holds tremendous emotional weight for me: it shows three beloveds, now long gone, in a beloved place: the back room of my grandparents' third-floor home at 102 Concord St., Hamden, Connecticut.  Reproducing this image is a way to honor them, and to honor my father, the photographer.  In fact, the act of reproducing this image has taken on an air of the sacred for me, and has become a means of sanctifying my grandparents' memory.

Emotional weight.  Check.  So here's one place NOT to violate the KISS rule.

But I did.

I felt happy enough about my first effort to post it on Facebook:

In fact, I'd just about declared it done, and I heat-set the pigments (Derwent Inktense pencils).

And then I decided it wasn't dark enough.

So look what I did:

My grandparents and ut the childhood home is still there, on Concord St.  The back room of my grandparents' third floor apartment looked out toward the houses on the block behind. 
Here I am in front of the house in May 2009.  Our sugar maple is gone and so is our landscaping, modest as it was.

Maybe you can understand why I feel so tender and nostalgic about that image.  And that's why I wanted to honor it by reproducing it.

I felt happy enough about my first effort to post it on Facebook:

In fact, I'd just about declared it done, and heat-set the pigments (Derwent Inktense pencils). And then I decided it wasn't dark enough.  So look what I did:

After I darkened it, my grandfather, Puppa, looked like he'd been rolling in charcoal. I think that black eyebrow was the coup de grace.

So I prepared a second piece of fabric and started Take No. 2:

And again, the darks are too dark. My efforts to lighten up Puppa's face, with Jacquaed Lumiere in pearlescent white, have given him a ghostly, tete de morte look.  Meanwhile,my grandmother, Honey, looks like a chimney sweep.

So I prepared yet a third sheet of fabric and produced this:

Puppa looks like he's been hitting the tanning booth.  Honey looks like the actor Ernest Borgnine, who, by the way, was also from my home town, Hamden, Connecticut.   Check it out:

But back to the KISS rule:  the violation is always apparent in the aftermath, never in the approach.

This time, I told myself that if I wasn't satisfied with the third effort, then that would be enough, and I might as well close up shop on this effort.

At this point, I'm not sure whether to continue on to try to fix numbers one or two, or give it up.

It's somewhat painful to share this, but I'm hoping that it will be instructive, at least to me.

And on a more positive note:  my childhood home on Concord St. in Hamden is still standing.  Here I am in front of the house in 2009.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Fabulous Sandi Schrader

Sandi was already a capable and prolific art quilter when she tried a new method of making art quilt portraits.  Now it's been a few months, maybe a year, and holy cow, she's already made almost twenty.

Look at that work, and look at Sandi!  If that were my work, I'd be smiling too.

Sandi, who is a member of one of my quilting groups, Women Against the Grain, showed us what she does.  She started with a book and a computer program called Sew Art, both by a woman named Tammi Bowser.  

The other day, at the November meeting of Women Against the Grain, Sandi mounted a show of the portraits that she's created since she discovered the Sew-Art.  Then she demonstrated her technique to members of the group.  I can tell you it involves a skazillion pieces of fabric.

Here's a group member admiring her work.

 The Sew-Art computer program starts with a photo portrait image and reduces it, dividing it by color value, to something like this:

Sandi chooses to work in seven values of fabric, darkest to lightest.  It's funny how, even though she may be working in colors like purple or green, the photos still "read" as if they were black and white.

 Like the two young women in the top center row, below.

I'm especially fascinated by the image below.  Up close, it's kind of disorganized,

...but from a distance it makes much more sense.

Also, check out the bottom left portrait.  You can see the man's glasses clearly from this distance, but up close you can't see them.  It's a trick of the optics of this technique.

I had to share this with the blogosphere because I'm so taken with Sandi's work and this technique in geeral.  Besides, the guy on the lower left in the photo above looks exactly like my father.

I also have to tell you that Sandi works full-time.

Pretty impressive, huh?

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Today in Art: Nostalgia and Grief

Today, I'm working on an interpretation of a photograph of my grandparents, and its creation fills me with nostalgia and grief. My father took this photo over sixty years ago in the back room of my grandparents' third-floor apartment at 104 Concord Street in Hamden, Connecticut.  We called that back room the Little Room.

I'm feeling nostalgic about this photo because the Little Room was a home away from home for me after my mother, Ruth, started working in a school cafeteria when I was about four.  My grandmother, whom we called Honey but whose real name was Lillian Tanguay Cadrain, started taking care of me in the daytime until my mother got home from her cafeteria job.  My family and I, my parents and my three sisters, lived on the ground floor of the same house.  For the trip upstairs to my granparents' third floor under the eaves, my mother dressed me in a little blue corduroy jacket and a babushka, which I called my gacket and booka.

In the Little Room, Honey kept a cardboard box of my toys behind the studio couch, and I could look out the window to the houses on the street behind ours.  In that room, Honey rocked me to sleep for my naps.  She had been named Lillian after Lillian Russell--Diamond Lill--a vaudeville star in 1887 at the time Honey was born, in New Hartford, Connecticut. Like my grandfather, who was born in St. Raphael, Quebec, Canada, Honey grew up speaking French.

In this image, Honey is sitting in a Morris chair, which offers insight on my love of  the sturdy straightforward Craftsman style. Out of the comfort associated with this memory, I own a Morris chair myself.  The Morris chair takes its name from the firm of the quintessential  Craftsman-era designer, William Morris, and was the precursor to the recliner.

This image also explains my lifelong love of dogs.  This is Mitzi, our beloved brindle boxer, who made her way freely between my family's home on the first floor of our house and my grandparents' under the eaves on the third.

My grandfather, whom we called Puppa (PUP-puh), was William Cadrain, born in 1885, the seventh generation descended from the first Cadrain--then Cadrin--to leave France for the New World.  That was Nicolas Cadrin, who was born in 1700 in St. Pierre de Cordiere, diocese of Beauvais, Picardie, France.  The ship's roster listed him as a chirurgien, or surgeon.  I imagine that, rather than being the medical school graduate we associate with that word today, Nicolas Cadrin was more likely the old-fashioned barbershop kind who would count bloodletting among his skills.

Today I'm grieving because not only are Honey and Puppa gone, but so are my parents, and all three of my sisters.  There's nobody in my immediate family left and nobody who remembers Honey and Puppa and knew them the way we did.

I would like my memory of them to serve as a sort of immortality.

Many thanks to the Cadrain cousin who performed and generously shared the genealogy search, without which I would have known very little about the family history.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Open Studio Hartford: the Aftermath.

Two weeks later, and finally the last of the detritus--I mean, art--has been put away.

But for a while, starting a few weeks before Open Studio Hartford, which occurred this year on November 13 and 14, everything was everywhere.

The dining room became a temporary staging area.

Mount Laundry continued to grow.

My work table was a mess.

The kitchen table had a small area reserved for eating; otherwise it was another work space.

I made a lot of felted beads.  They turned out to be the big seller.  I'm so new at making beads that I came up with a response to an emergency customer scenario:  If the beads broke and fell all over the floor as the customer tried them on, I would offer a discount.  Such a deal!

Blessing in disguise:  the making of felted beads offered some satisfaction in the days after the election.  Numb with shock but mostly fear, I found relief in being able to stab the beads with a sharp barbed needle.

On the day appointed for setup of my corner of Open Studio Hartford, at the Connecticut Historical Society, 1 Elizabeth St., on the leafy western edge of the city (

I was unable to set it up because, at the same time, I was teaching felting at the New Britain Museum of American Art in New Britain, CT.

Can you believe the Museum made me Artist in Residence for the month of November for their Studio @ 4 youth classes?

So there I was teaching...

...while Joe was setting up my booth at the Historical Society.  What a guy!  He was as good at putting together my panels as he was at setting up a Square device for payment.  I love him for all he does for me.

My table turned out to be strategically located directly across from a rather impressive array of refreshments.

On one end of the table, I invited visitors to try the feel of felting.
Can you see my sign?  It says to try felting because you get to stick something with a sharp barbed needle.

In fact, so many people were interested in the process of felting that 17 of them signed a list stating that they would be interested if I were ever to teach The Felted Landscape again at West Hartford Art League.  I've since spoken with folks at the Art League, and that class will be offered as a one-day workshop on Sunday, February 5, from 10 am to 4 pm.  Check it out!

Here's my latest felted piece, which will give you an idea of the size of the pieces that students in that class will make:

Back at Open Studio:  At 5 pm on Sunday, November 14, it was time to take it all down.

I sold some art, I sold some beads, I attracted interest in teaching another class at the West Hartford Art League, and I made some contacts that may turn out to be valuable.

Not too shabby, I suppose.

Friday, November 4, 2016

It Ain't Art if You Don't Bleed

It's true, felting needles are really sharp.  And it's also true that, while using one, you're going to prick yourself and draw blood sooner or later.  

"It ain't art if you don't bleed,"says my friend Kenny, who is one of the folks to whom I teach needle felting at Hartford's Chrysalis Center.

When I said that to my class of kids at the New Britain Museum of American Art, where I'm teaching felting this month, they took up the mantra.  One of them made this sign yesterday as our first class together drew to a close.

For our first class, I decided to start the kids with an image of a nebula because the spiral shape is so obvious and so easy to replicate.  Besides, there's no end of embellishment you can add to an image like this:

So I printed out a number of heavenly images and gave each child a piece of black felt.  They could chalk a pattern on the felt if they wanted to, or they could lay down the image free-hand.  For color, they would use the softest of materials:  wool roving.  And they would apply the roving with very sharp needles.
And so they did.

The colors showed up stunningly against the black felt.  For this delicate look, it was important that they learn to get their pieces of roving as thin and wispy as they could.

They got it.

I think they had fun. 

And some of them bled, so it must have been art.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Rising to the Occasion

Do you ever set yourself up for a challenge? I'm pretty challenge-averse, in fact, I'm somewhat of a coward.  But somehow, this fall, I've committed myself--sequentially--to four new activities, and taken together, they amount to a great big challenge.  So I'm carrying around a great big load of nervous.  

All shall be well, I keep telling myself, and I know it will.

Meanwhile, let me tell you what I'm up to.

For starters, I'm still teaching felting at Hartford's Chrysalis Center, and it's going great:  well-received, and therefore rewarding.

These students are working on copyright-free images taken from a design book CD  and printed on raw silk.

Please note that I'm only taking photos of peoples' hands.  And I'm not giving their names.  Though I know all their names.

In addition to teaching felting at the Chrysalis Center, this month I've taken on a new gig there with my friend Carol:  teaching sewing and quilting. Yes.  That class has just begun, and today I was flying solo because Carol had another commitment.

It was a little draining, because I was the only teacher, but the vibe was great, and people had fun.  They were really getting off on the technique in the book Crazy with Cotton by Diana Leone.  This is one of my favorites and an excellent start for a new quilter.

This student is showing the first quilt square she ever made...and all of it today!

We do have one guy in this class, and here he is, tattoos and all, working on a Halloween-themed piece.

Fortunately, some folks in the class already know how to use a sewing machine, so that's a good thing.

The sewing class at Chrysalis is the first of the new endeavors I've taken on this fall.  The second was teaching The Felted Landscape at the West Hartford Art League.  That happened on Sunday October 16, from 10 am to 4 pm, and I have to say, it was so compelling that all students worked straight through that entire time, skipping lunch. 

So I'm happy to say that went well, and I hope I can say the same of my next upcoming gig:  teaching kids at the New Britain Museum of American Art. 

I've certainly worked with kids informally, so it should be fine.  But still, it's new to me as a paid gig.  And the museum is so august.  I mean, the students are going to be drawing their inspiration from paintings in the museum's own collection, like this one:

This is a view of New Haven's West Rock by the American painter Frederick Edwin Church.  West Rock is a trap rock ridge, one of many in the state, collectively known as the Metacomet Range.  As a New Haven native, I appreciate its history, especially in its capacity as shelter for three judges who signed a death warrant against King Charles I in the mid-1600s.  There's a stunning view from the top, especially at night, especially on Saturday nights.  I'm still wrapping my head around my transformation from from someone who views West Rock historically and recreationally to someone who teaches in an institution that owns its image.
Teaching  at the New Britain Museum is challenge number three of the fall, and it hasn't happened yet.  Neither has challenge four, Open Studio Hartford, which will occur on November 12 and 13.

This event takes place in several different venues all over town, but I'll be showing in the Connecticut Historical Society. (By "showing," I mean showing my art quilts). The Historical Society is a pretty august venue.

Image result for ct historical society

That  means two august venues for me and my art this fall.  
I'm sure it will all be fine, but meanwhile, I'm keeping my fingers crossed. And I'm planning on rising to the occasion.