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:

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. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Serpent Within, Unresolved Chord: The Creation Continues

My goodness, another snowy afternoon, and another chance to work on a few creative projects.  I'm thinking that if I segue between projects over the course of an afternoon, the projects will cross-fertilize one another.

One of the projects involves this image of a tree trunk with a belligerent sprite crouched at its base:

and so I'm doing that, using my favorite materials:  Pimatex cotton, Pebeo Setacolor paints, Shiva paintsticks, and yarn.  Last time I wrote about this project, I noted the difficulty of shaping a face to look like the unforgettable one in the crotch of the tree.  More about the face later later--meanwhile I'm going to work on the background of tree bark.

A couple of days ago I created a base for the image of the tree bark by sponging Setacolor paints in grayish-greens onto a piece of Pimatex cotton and added a light sprinkling of salt to the paint.

Today, that painted fabric having dried and been heat-set, it was ready for embellishment that would make it resemble bark.  I used Shiva paintsticks and a piece of bark acquired for the purpose:

First I wanted to check out my paintsticks and choose colors that, when applied onto the background I painted the other day, would make it look most like tree bark.

It's hard to tell from this photo, but ice blue and beige, the two colors on the right, look like the best bets to me.

So I tried these colors out, first on a piece of gray fabric with the piece of bark placed beneath it,

 then directly onto my painted piece.

I like this plain beige the best, without the ice blue.  So far, the background looks pretty convincingly like the tree trunk torso that inspired it.  After the paintsticks have cured and been heat-set (3 days), I'll start to work on the swelling contours of the thighs, probably by layering the piece from the back with a piece of muslin, machine-stitching the outline of the thighs, then cutting a slit in the material on the back and inserting judiciously and strategically placed bits of fiberfill between the two layers. 

As I wait for the paintstick to cure, I'm also trying to figure out how to reproduce that bunched-up face with its baseball nose, and I just had an idea:  enlist the aid of my friend, creative felter Robin McCahill.

Robin once made a felted figure of a giant phoenix, then devised a harness-like contraption that enabled her to operate its wings as she walked along underneath.

 Robin also made a contraption that enables the arduous process of wet felting to become a bit easier, as the wet item to be felted is mounted on a roller and that roller in turn on a frame like a lawn mower handle.   Robin calls her invention WTF, which, she explains, stands for Walk To Felt.

If anybody can help me come up with a face like the one in my original photo, it's Robin, and I'll see her tomorrow at her felting class at the New Britain Museum of American Art.

Meanwhile, I'll go on to Unresolved Chord, a very, very different piece.

For this one, I've constructed an optical illusion out of silks that are themselves optical illusions, taking on one color when held in one direction and a second color tilted the opposite way.  This piece is called Unresolved Chord because it 's intended to hang in a show dedicated to jazz ;  an optical illusion is like an unresolved chord because both are ambiguous about which way they're going.  Today, my Unresolved Chord is ready to be layered with a backing and be quilted.  .

For the backing, I'm going to piece a couple of batiks from my stash, the colors of which just happen to coordinate with those on the quilt top:

Once I pieced those two batiks together, the quilt back looked like this:

Now. I've just begun to quilt it, following the lines created by the blocks:

So this is where I stand at 7 p.m. this snowy Saturday, having done significant work on two pieces simultaneously.

Did they cross-fertilize one another?  I can't say that they did.  They're too different:  the tree-crotch image with its moody naturalism and the optical illusion with its enigmatic shape-shifting.  But I can say this:  that the act of working on them both in the course of an afternoon, going back and forth between them, was itself an energizer:  stimulation from two very different directions, and enjoyment of two wholly different kinds.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Knitting a Scarf for a Snake: Work in Progress on a Snow Day

This is a view of my back yard this morning.

As snow falls  fast and fine  (and don't we New Englanders know how to gauge the severity of a snowstorm by the speed and quality of the snow as it falls?), the day presents an opportunity to charge ahead on a bunch of artistic projects.  I don't usually work on two or three art projects at a time, but conventional wisdom says that when you do that, each piece cross-fertilizes and cross-inspires the others.

One of my projects today is to knit a scarf for a snake.

This is the fantasy creature I'm calling a snake for purposes of the image I'm creating.  It dwells in the base of a tree growing on the banks of Trout Brook.

Check out that face.  Look at that bunched-up enigmaticTolkienian visage.

 Aggressive nose, pugnacious chin, legs knarled and knobby as it crouches in its hole...what is it?

And check out the backdrop!  A tree with a hole in the bottom, yes.  But do not the round swellings on either side of the hole suggest thighs?  Does not the dark cavity in the center suggest that most feminine of orifices?  I think so.  Take another look.

I named it this creature The Serpent Within and decided to reproduce it using the materials with which I'm most comfortable:  yarn and fabric.  Today I'm knitting a scarf for it.

I created the two-legged, knobby kneed figure by knitting.  I left a wide, funnel-like opening at the top which I intended to transform into this mysterious figure.  I stuffed the legs and the body with cording of various sizes and left a wide, funnel-shaped opening at the top, which I intended to stuff with fiberfill, and a bead for the knobby nose.

It didn't work.  I couldn't get the materials to mimic the face in the photo.  So I went to Plan B:  I knew I'd seen a pattern for a snake head in Nicki Epstein's Knitted Embellishments.

So I made a snake head instead.  But when I inserted the snake head into the funnel-like opening of the neck, I could still see the stuffing (cording) down in the funnel.  It didn't look good.

I'm not the world's best photographer, and I took this photo with one hand.  Trust me, this is a photo of a wide, funnel-shaped knitted neck of a creature, with its snake-shaped head protruding from its body in such a way that its fibrous insides are showing along the top of its...well, back.

Thus the need for something to stick in that space and cover up the cording in there.  A scarf for a snake. What else?

But when I inserted it inside the opening and spread it down along the snake's...uh, dorsal side, it looked like a sort of dweeby thing for a snake.

So I'm gonna try again, make something in stockinette that's maybe the same width but three times the diameter of the neck, then gather it?  Or maybe make a ruffle the way those ruffly scarves are constructed--by continuing to add increases until you get a ruffle?  That's how I made the lettuce in Lunch Among the Cabbages:

But should a snake wear a ruffle?  Would a ruffle sap away some of its venom?  Or would a ruffle, on the other hand, give it some of the arrogant majesty of, say, the ice queen in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe?

Should the ruffle be an earth tone like the rest of the snake?  Or something with a little sparkle or glitz?

Here I digress to talk about the yarn I'm using for the snake's body, head, and neck.  I bought it from a vendor of vintage fabrics at the Brimfield Antique Show, which takes place three times a year in the otherwise quiet hamlet of Brimfield, Massachusetts.

Its oatmeal color and knobby texture put me in mind of whole-wheat bread, so I bought it for making knitted sandwiches.

The label on the one on the left says,

The great name from the Scottish Highlands
Spun and dyed by the 
Highland craftsmen of 
the Pringle mills for
The one on the right lacks a label.

Here's an example of one use for that vintage yarn:  Glad Sandwiches, currently hanging in my solo show at Hartford's Town and County Club. 

While I'm mulling over the neck treatment for the snake, meanwhile I'm preparing a piece of fabric to eventually become the torso and thighs of the tree trunk.  I started with a piece of Pimatex cotton from Dharma Trading

Then I sponged it with a combination of hand-mixed colors:  first, shimmer pearl blended with dark spruce green, then emerald blended with black, and finally black and shimmer jet black mixed with water.  Then I sprinkled it with salt and set it out to dry.  Now it looks like this:

...and here it is with the serpent posed on it:

In the final version, the serpent will be held upright, as it is in the original image, because I'm going to sew it right into that capacious crotch.  There, I said it.

Once this piece is perfectly dry, I plan to place a piece of tree bark underneath it and use the tree bark as a rubbing plate for/with Shiva paintsticks.

The leaves at the base of the tree torso will be leaf-colored fabric confetti entrapped with tulle.  Heck, I'm even making knitted leaves to crunch and toss at its base.  I have four made so far.

Meanwhile, as I wait for that piece to be dry enough to undergo the paintstick/rubbing plate treatment, I'm also working on an optical illusion quilt.  This one is for a jazz-themed quilt show, Jazz Tones, which will hang at Hartford's 100 Pearl Street Gallery from June to August.  Check it out:

What's the jazz equivalent of an optical illusion?  An unresolved chord:

a piece of music that gives the impression that it hasn’t ended properly...leaves a conflict unresolved...lacks a sense of closure.

Here's my unresolved chord, constructed with silks that shimmer with different colors as they are viewed from different directions.  Today, I hope to layer it with batting and begin quilting it:

Another piece in the works is A Love Supreme II, but that one's not ready to show you yet.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Warmest thanks

Warmest thanks to everyone who came to the opening reception for my show, Natural Inspirations, at Hartford's Town and County Club!  So many people from so many parts of my life:  a high school flame, a law school classmate, former co-workers, people from the Unitarian Society of Hartford, book group friends, old friends, new friends, and each of you such a gift!

My daughter Leah took this video.  For those of you who were unable to come, it gives a little of the prevailing ambience. 

Thanks to all of you, the reception was not only a smashing good time, but also a stunning success: not only in turnout, but in the numbers of folks who liked my work enough to acquire some for themselves.

What a surprise to see law school classmate Mary Anne Hoopes, whom I last saw in the early 80's, just after daughter Julia's birth.  She's here from Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.

Here's Michael Scanlon and his wife Eha.  Michael and I were one another's prom dates, back in the day.  Now Michael has gone on to a career in the Peace Corps, followed by one with the foreign service, and a marriage to Eha.  He's going back to  Adana, Turkey in a couple of weeks.

My sister Jerol, on the left, traveled here to Hartford from New York State last weekend to help hang the show last Monday, then stayed the week, during which she and I constructed the jacket she's wearing.  That's Jerol's husband Larry in the middle and our neighbor Margie on the right.
I'm guessing that somewhere between 60 and 100 people were in the room at any one time.  A lovely evening.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Hitting the Wall

Today was the day my fiber art show, Natural Inspirations, hit the wall at the Town and County Club, 22 Woodland St., Hartford.  We--a team of club art committee volunteers, my sister Jerol, and I--started at 9:30 and finished up at noon. 
Here I am helping Vickie, a member of the club's Art Committee, get the names of my pieces coordinated with the numbers they're assigned in the show.  I'm grateful and gratified that my sister Jerol was willing to travel to Hartford from her home in New York State, about two and a half hours away, to help. I trust her eye and her  judgment, and I was glad to have her input.  She's not in these shots because she took them.  

After two and a half hours, our art team had hung all but 3 of the 42 pieces I brought to the club this morning.  That means there are 39 in the show.

The Club is a pretty elegant place, I have to say.

How about this grand staircase, for example?  And that massive grandfather clock on the right?  It strikes a deep, authoritative chime, I can tell you that.  I can also tell you that I was originally going to say that it struck an authoritative bong, but that would be inappropriate.

The club occupies the 1895 Theodore Lyman house, designed by the architectural firm of Hapgood & Hapgood and fitted out with no fewer than 17 fireplaces. 
If you want to see this gracious old building, or the 39 pieces in my show, come to a reception, Friday February 7, from 5:30 to 7:30 at the Town and County Club, 22 Woodland St., Hartford.