Saturday, February 18, 2012

Trying Times at the Try Again Ranch

I'm a big admirer of fiction writer Annie Proulx, whose descriptions of harsh lives in the stunning beauty of Wyoming I find very compelling.  I love her names for the hardscrabble ranches out there too.  Bird Cloud.  The Rocking Box.

Maybe that's why I've decided to rename my work area the Try Again Ranch.  I've been living here for about a week and a half. 

The Try Again is where beautiful visions go to die.

Here's one of the deep, litter-strewn valleys of the Try Again, facing westward, looking toward Disappointment Bluffs

At Try Again, defying the heart-stopping loveliness of the images that inspired them, pieces of work turn out bold, messy, hard-to-read.  Colors turn out wimpy or blotchy--who's ever seen blotches in the sky?  Needles become unthreaded.  Bobbins run out of thread.  Bobbin and needle refuse to work nicely with one another, instead creating wasteful tangles on the wrong side of the work.  Everything has to be redone.  My record for one day:  four projects begun, four in need of redoing.

Making matters worse, the artist, temporarily diverting her attention from the making of art to the making of dinner--slices her thumb on a mandoline while trying to make Bluefish and Potatoes Genoese Style.

The point of all this effort--except for the bluefish--is my upcoming solo quilt show at the University of Connecticut Health Center, which will start in mid-May 2012.  I'm psyched for it:  an opportunity to spend a couple of months creating a body of work?  Sign up this artist!

But be careful what you wish for.  What if you pine for an opportunity to create a body of work, and you start the body of work, and every piece of fiber art you create for a week and a half is terribly, terribly far from the loveliness of the image that inspired it?

Take, for example, this sublime view facing westward on a fall afternoon in Penwood State Park.  The strong shadows, the strong westward sunlight, the friendly but mysterious path leading who knows where--this image resonates with me.

So it was the first image I decided to make for my UConn Health Center show.  In fact, if all went well, this image would be the first of a series I would call Penwood Long Blue Shadows.  I won't show you the other photos right now.  But my fiber image of this one, the first one I chose to make?  I can show you that:

See that rolled-up pink towel laid across the tops of those boxes? That's my fiber rendition of the view looking westward from Penwood State Park, with its long blue shadows.

That's all I'm going to show you of this one.  That's how bad it is.  And it was a week's worth of work.

So, I rolled it up and put it away for another day when I had more courage.  And I moved on to the next project.  How about this solitudinous view of Joe and the dogs on Nauset Light Beach in Cape Cod National Seashore?  Its working title is Guy on Beach:

But, what's this in the sky fabric I so carefully painted, using my tried-and-true sky formula for pebeo setacolor water colors? 

Since when are there blotches in the sky?  Maybe it's UFO activity.

More blotches in the sky.  Should I try to make it into a flock of birds?
No, instead of trying to make do with that flawed sky fabric, I decided to start all over again, and I did.  More on that later.  Maybe.

Meanwhile, many thanks to Mickey Lawler, the Queen of Pebeo Setacolor Watercolors, whose books and teaching have enriched my own knowledge and experience as an art quilter.

Meanwhile, I also had to start all over again on the fabric I was going to use to depict some cabbage leaves.
This exquisite image deserves the most skillful treatment.  Look at those purples and silvers.

The second version of the fabric for these leaves is much stronger than the pale first version. I'm not gonna show you either one, but trust me, first I made one silver-pink fabric, and it was too pale, so I cut another piece of fabric and sponged a second version in stronger pink and silver colors.  I did it, dammit, in the spirit of Try Again Ranch.  I'll use the pale failed first color as a liner for the undersides of the leaves.

Now I'm working on rubbing plates to create the magenta tracery of the ribs of the cabbage leaves.  Take a look:  I've glued cording to a piece of foam core board to create raised places where the cabbage ribs appear.

Will this work as a rubbing plate to recreate the cabbage leaf holding the raindrops? In the spirit of Try Again, nah, probably not.

In other born-again news, how about this image of a bird bath filled with autumn leaves?  I'm calling it Offering.  For the birdbath, at first I intended to use a piece of pale blue velveteen that came my way, and it's a lovely piece of fabric, but meanwhile, what about this green and copper fabric I created to use for another image, a closeup of oak leaves?

Here you can see a pattern I created for the birdbath shape, and in the center, some mottled green and copper fabric I created to make oak leaves.  How would this fabric represent the birdbath in the image above?
I feel hopeful about that.

Hopeful or not, at some point I had to break from my work to make dinner.  And I cut my left thumb on a mandoline in the process of making slices of potato just slightly thicker than a potato chip.
After I sliced my thumb, in the spirit of Try Again Ranch, Joe Rubin swung into action as a sous chef and helped me complete the Bluefish and Potatoes Genoese Style, from one of the Marcella Hazan Classic Italian Cooking cookbooks.  We served it with a version of Caesar salad, complete with juicy sauteed croutons and anchovy dressing.

They were deelish.


  1. Mom, you're amazing. It seems like patience is as much a part of the process as creation... and you have a superhuman store. I bet there's lots to admire even in the rolled-up quilt you won't show us. (P.S. Remind me to show you some stuff I made!)

    1. You got that right! Patience and determination. What stuff did you make? Show me!