Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A Good Week for Fiber Art

It's been a good week for fiber art: field trips, classes, gallery visits, and more.

It started the other day when I took myself to Creative Fibers in Windsor, CT for help with a sock I'm making.  I'm taking a class in making socks.  Socks are practical, and besides, if  I want to have a knitting project or two going at all times, I might as well be making something useful.
Yarn stores give me the same kind of rush that hardware stores give some of the guys.  I mean, look at this carnival of textures and colors:

Here's what my sock looked like that day:

That yarn is very fine--like hair--and the needles are like toothpicks.  I guess it has to be that way with socks.  The bulkier you get with a sock, the harder it is to fit into your shoes, and the more likely the possibility of rubbing and blisters.  Thus:  fine yarn and fine needles.

Once I received my help from Julie of Creative Fibers (thanks, Julie!) my next stop was Thomaston, Connecticut, about 45 minutes to the south and west, where felting teacher Robin McCahill was available to give me some advice on a felted piece I'm working on.  Robin teaches at (among other places) the Phoenix Rising Center of Thomaston, which is housed in this vintage factory building where Seth Thomas clocks and watches were once made:

The former Seth Thomas clock factory.  Do you notice that snow is a recurring theme these days?
The Phoenix Rising Center, where Robin met me, bills itself as a resource to see, study, and experience the arts.  Here's a link to their site:


The day I was there, the center was host to a fiber art show,

Flight of Fancy - our new exhibit in the Seth Thomas Gallery
celebrating amazing local artisans who specialize in wearable art - a fine and expressive art, where you are your canvas!
Opening Reception scheduled for Friday February 8th from 6-8pm rescheduled to February 15th 6-8pm

I lent a couple of my jackets to that show, so I was glad that my trip to see Robin there featured a chance to see the display.  Look at these wild and crazy items:

This was my favorite, a free-form crocheted sweater created by Robin Mc Cahill

Or how about this impressive crazy patch vest by Judith Davis of Eclectic Oddities?
Or how about this piece by I-don't-remember?

My own two pieces in the show:

I was glad to have a chance to visit the Center and meet its founder, Doreen Breen, who, the day I was there, was very excited about a teacher named Joseph FireCrow, who teaches students at the Center to make their own flutes from wood.  Here's Doreen:

And here's Joseph Fire Crow, whom I've never met:

He shoulda put that outfit in the wearable art show!

I drove to Thomaston because I needed Robin's advice about a felted piece I was working on, which I call Shall We?  I created it for a juried show called Dare to Dance, which juror Mary Kerr describes as an artist's interpretation of joy.  Here's a link to information about that juried exhibition:  http://www.marywkerr.com/dare.html

To me, there's no purer expression of joy than that of animals at play, who have no self-consciousness or ulterior motives, and who are not prisoners of the tyranny of cool.

This one is the invitation to dance
And this one's the dance.
Robin helped me create three-dimensional felted ears for the dogs, came up with a better type of bead for their eyes, and gave me some ribbon to use as collars.  She also suggested that I eliminate the gap between the two images.  The two of them were mounted on Osnaburg, a coarsely-woven cotton which, because the two pieces were sewn onto it, formed a 2 inch border between and around them.  But the border made the two look isolated and choppy, in Robin's view, so she suggested that I fill the gaps by covering them with needle-felted wool roving.  I did what she suggested, and the result was this:

 After receiving Robin's help, and going to lunch at Pizza Pal across the street with her and Doreen, I next set out for East Windsor, Connecticut, where artist Nancy Masters was going to show her felting machines to me and my quilt art buddy Carol Vinick. 

It wasn't to be.  The highways were backed up because the ubiquitous snow removal crews were occupying travel lanes and forcing drivers into bottlenecks.  I-84 looked like a parking lot both eastbound and westbound.  So Carol and I had to reschedule our visit to Nancy.  But meanwhile, here's a link to Nancy's site:  http://www.nancymasters.net/

All that happened on one day, Tuesday, February 12, 2013.

Later in the week, on Saturday, February 16, one of my art quilt groups, the Connecticut Fiber Arts Collective, sponsored a felting class, taught by Robin McCahill and held at the Unitarian Society of Hartford, which is my religious congregation.

There, Robin introduced half a dozen new felters to the mysteries of wool roving.  Look at these balls of merino wool.  There can be worse ways of spending a snowy Saturday than working with this soft, colorful fiber:

Here, Robin explains how, in the process called nuno felting, a piece of silk chiffon serves as a base for wisps of wool roving, which are manipulated with soap, water, and elbow grease until the tiny barbs on the wool hook into each other and into the silk chiffon.

Rolling, rolling, rolling

Here's Toni Torres creating flowers:

After the rolling, there's hand manipulation.

Lots of work, but look at what you can create in just a few hours!

Nancy Mandly

Helen Michaels

Mary Lachman
That was Saturday.  I'm writing this on Tuesday, February 19.  Look how far my sock has progressed since then!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Still putting in those hours

As Malcolm Gladwell says in Outliers, it takes 10,000 hours of practice to get really good at something.  I'm many, many thousand hours short of proficiency at pastels, but I'm tryin' here.

Thank God for a rainy afternoon with snow piled high and fog in the air, because it gave me the leisure to put in some more time with my new box of pastels.

Here's a group of bottles from my kitchen, arranged on a green glass plate, and filled with cuttings of Plectranthus Nicolette, which are taking root and waiting for their day in the sun.

I sat down next to that group of bottles, opened my new box of pastels, and produced this:

That shiny glass is tricky, but I think I'm on my way to capturing the effect of the light on both the bottles and on the plate the bottles are on.

As Shakespeare said, a journey of 10,000 hours starts with one hour.  No, I don't think Shakespeare said that.  Or even Malcolm Gladwell.  It's been a cliche forever.

But true!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Gotta start someplace

I'm   taking a class called Confident Landscape Painting through the West Hartford Art League, taught by artist Shauna Shane.  The class takes place in this old brick schoolhouse:

Shauna would like the members of the class to shed their prejudices of what, say, a head should be shaped like, and instead, depict whatever shape we see, regardless of our knowledge that it may be a head.

To that end, she's having us work from a small copy of a painting by her favorite artist, Joaquin Soralla, a Spanish painter who lived from 1863 to 1923.  http://www.joaquin-sorolla-y-bastida.org/

First, she asked us all to copy the painting, as best we knew and as best we could, giving us one hour.  I knew that she wanted us to look at shapes and especially the size and location of negative shapes.  In one hour, using my brand-new pastels, I came up with this:

Then Shauna asked us to do an experiment. She had us draw a grid over the small copy of the Sorolla painting, and a grid of similar proportion on the paper we would be using.  Once the grids were drawn, she had us turn the Sorolla painting upside down, and use the gridlines to copy the shapes from the painting onto our paper, starting with the negative shapes.  By that I mean, we would look at the shape of a section of sand, and copy that shape, as opposed to the positive shapes of the figures and limbs viewed against the sand.

Copying the painting upside down, still using pastels, I came up with this:

Which one do you think is closer to the original?  I guess I have to say the second one.  Drawing it upside down was like putting together a puzzle, let me tell you.

As I was working on it, I was thinking of the 10,000 hour rule theory put forth by author Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers.  In the book, he describes the Beatles performing live in Hamburg, Germany, on over 1200 days from 1960 to 1964, thus reaching 10,000 hours of performance time. That's the level of practice, Gladwell says, to get really good at something.

Shauna, our teacher, says, "I'm better than you.  But I've been painting eight hours a day for years."

Sometimes people tell me I'm a talented art quilter, and I'm very happy to hear that, but really, to me, the products of my labors, which appear to some people to be the result of talent, are instead the result of dogged determination and persistence and continuous continuing effort, which includes the willingness to fall flat sometimes.   I'm working on my 10,000 hours as an art quilter.

As a pastels artist, I have a lot farther to go.  But I'm enjoying the experience and the experiment.  I hope Shauna will eventually lead us to working with images of landscapes.  I'm coming to realize that they're my favorite subject matter for art quilts.  I've made quite a few of them.  Here are some examples:

 God knows I'm tryin'.   I'm hoping that these lessons with shapes and pastels will translate into a vision I can use for my art quilts.  Or maybe pastels will become a new, separate medium for me.  If there's one thing I learned from the Artist's Way, it's just go ahead and do it, and be willing to be bad before you can get good.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Seeking a Path through January

Let's face it: in New England, the end of January is the pits.  The only good thing about January is getting it over with.  I don't know about you, but I find I have to go out of my way to find something to feel good about.

This January, I didn't have to scrounge as much.  The art world honored me with three bonuses.

The first was that I sold one of my quilts, Glowing Cabbage III.

The second was that two other pieces were juried into Out of the Loop, the West Hartford Art League's fiber art show.

The third was that I was asked to participate in EdJohnetta Miller's invitational quilt show at the Windsor Art Center.

One of the pieces juried into Out of the Loop was Seeking a Path, a felted image of a path in Connecticut's Penwood State Park in the early fall.  The piece takes its name from a benediction spoken by Jon Luopa, who in the 80s served as minister of my religious congregation, the Unitarian Society of Hartford.  As each Sunday service ended, he would say,

If you see God, may God be with you
If you embrace life, may life return your affection
If you seek a path, may a way be found, and the courage to take it, step by step.

The wooded path in the shimmering light of early fall, captured on an afternoon walk with my two dogs, suggested that prayer.

I've been doing a lot of felting lately, and I have to say, I knew I had become a felting nerd when I got excited about buying my first pair of hand carders.

 But I digress.

The second piece that made it into the West Hartford Art League show was Glad Sandwiches.  

I guess I realized I was a knitting nerd when, at the huge open air antiques market that transforms the small town of Brimfield, Massachusetts three times a year,  I was thrilled to find yarn that looks like whole wheat bread.

Several of my friends, including Carol Vinick, Mickey Lawler, Margaret Freedman, Elena Gibson, and Phyllis Small also had work accepted into that show.  Brava, ladies!

West Hartford Art League

My second piece of good news was the sale of Glowing Cabbage III, a mounted quilt that had been on view as part of Natural Inspirations, a solo show at the Farmington Public Library.  Glowing Cabbage III was part of a series I made in the summer of 2011.  All my quilted images were based on this photo of a cabbage growing in my yard:

Here's Glowing Cabbage III, based on the image above:

The purchaser was camera-shy, so I didn't take her photo.  But I wasn't too shy to pose with Glowing Cabbage III before taking it down from the Farmington show and handing it over to her:

Finally, my good friend EdJohnetta Miller, whose spirit and skills I admire, invited me to be part of Fiber and Friends, her show at the Windsor Art Center.  
I'm honored to be part of it!  For this show, I chose Honeysuckle Eve:

Windsor Art Center
I guess that's one way to get through January.