Don’t keep it in a safe place.

May 1st, 2016

My husband gave me an Apple Pencil for Christmas, to go with the lovely iPad Pro I gave myself for non-Christmas. It’s been a delight. I use it with the Procreate app and sketch away during TV time.

One day I looked at my work surface and realized that I’d just haphazardly tossed the pencil on there. It was sitting in the midst of the clutter of soiled rubber bands, an industrial-grade dust mask, Athlete’s Foot cream, and random scraps of paper. It struck me as disrespectful. I was being unappreciative of my husband’s thoughtfulness and the fact that he’d had to work for the money to buy me the thing. Plus, what if something happened to the pencil? What if I put a hot iron down on it or spilled wood glue on it? (Because, frankly, that’s the kind of household I run. Everything happens everywhere.)

I decided to put it in a safe place.

I’ll bet you know where this is going, don’t you? Oh yes. I had another project crank up and I didn’t need the pencil for awhile. When I did, it was nowhere to be found. It wasn’t in one of the tech drawers in my work area, where I keep things like chargers and keyboards. It wasn’t in the little tech basket atop my work surface, where I keep things like wireless headphones and graphics tablets. It wasn’t in any of the thousand little receptacles for holding drawing pencils or pens or paintbrushes. Oh no. I’d kept it really safe. So safe I couldn’t find it.

I freaked out. Losing the nice hundred dollar stylus my husband had given me was even worse than leaving it out on my work surface. He isn’t the sort to get mad or hold grudges; one of his frequent statements is “It’s just stuff. Stuff can be replaced.” I felt awful about it, though. Plus I wanted to use the pencil. I began to systematically rip my work room apart.

ApplePencil

Here’s where I found it. Yes. This was my idea of a “safe place”. In one of the thread drawers. Do you see it? It’s that white pencil-like object, cunningly placed on top of a row of white spools of thread so that it will be very difficult to find. Because that’s where everyone puts their Apple Pencil, in a drawer full of totally unrelated objects.

Don’t do this. Don’t put things in a safe place. That’s the surest way to lose them. I know all about this: this isn’t the first time I’ve pulled this stunt.

I’ve found this philosophy applies to other things as well: making safe art. Having safe experiences. When we focus on keeping parts of our lives in a safe place, we can lose them. We can also lose our sense of self or even our sense of ethics.

In terms of art, this might apply to making art which we think will appeal to others or avoid offending them. We avoid putting too much of ourselves in the work.

Ahearn

Here’s the work of someone who, I suspect, isn’t keeping his work in a safe place. The artist’s name is Bren Ahearn, and this is possibly the worst photograph ever taken of one of his samplers. I urge people to go over to his website and take a look at his other work.   He has nice photos there, photos that don’t make his work look blurry and rumpled.

I ran across this work at the SDA exhibit in San Jose a couple of months back. We both had work in the show; his was pretty special. This piece is huge, about five feet wide and seven feet high, worked in needlepoint style on a substrate that’s satisfyingly like a scaled up version of needlepoint canvas. It reads like a standard needlepoint sampler, something proper young ladies would have been stitching away at in the 18th century, right down to the alphabet, proverb, and creator’s name. However, he’s subverted and taken ownership of the medium in this and his other works, many of which contain touching autobiographical details both real and imaginary.

His work is real. Personal. Genuine. His own.

I brood now and then. I do. I’ve been brooding about a certain matter since last October. I’ve debated writing about it and changed my mind back and forth several times. Maybe I’ll just tap dance around it. Evidently not writing about it at all is throttling back my ability to blog.

Odalisque22

Now and then, people will say that one of their works was “inspired by” someone else’s work. Here’s my eternal piece-in-progress Odalisque, for example. I didn’t invent the form of the odalisque in art; other painters did. Other people came up with the nude reclining on a couch and looking out at us coquettishly, and the throw and draperies and so forth. I claim that in this situation, my saying that my Odalisque was “inspired by” the ones which came before it is a fair use of the term. I’ve leveraged off all those other odalisque paintings by including similar elements. There’s a couch, a throw, drapes, and a reclining nude. True, the nude is a dog rather than a woman, but that’s the joke of the picture. The fact that we have a rich history of more standard nudes helps make it funny.

That’s the sort of thing I expect to see when someone says their work is “inspired by” someone else’s. A work which is their own. It may be similar thematically or in terms of the colors used or in terms of the composition. It may even contain visual elements which are very similar, although hopefully not to the point of being derivative.

MondayMona

Similarly, we can reference famous works such as the Mona Lisa and Grant Wood’s American Gothic. We’ve made a joke or a statement then, leveraging off the power or message of the original work.

HokusaiGreatWave

Hokusai’s Great Wave

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Ivan Bilibin, Illustration from Pushkin’s “The Tale of Tsar Saltan” 

Many have leveraged off of Hokusai’s Great Wave, for example, including the illustrator Ivan Bilibin. The Wall Street Journal even ran a nice article on such pieces. Well-known works become cultural touchstones.

However, when no one knows the source of your “inspiration” and you don’t openly acknowledge it, you run the risk of simply plagiarizing or copying. What I don’t expect to see when someone uses the phrase “inspired by” is something along the lines of a work I saw last year. A photo had been downloaded from a free stock photo site, cropped, tinted, then rendered on fabric so precisely that when I overlaid the original photo with the resulting “inspired by” piece in Photoshop, even the details matched up.

I probably need to stop at that. I need to not describe how offended I was when I learned about this and a similar incident, and how I suspect that the person has done similar things many times. I need to not dwell on the fact that my respect for her plummeted when I saw that she hadn’t acknowledged the original photographer at all, and only wrote “inspired by thus-and-such photo” on her website after being prompted repeatedly. I probably shouldn’t mention the fact that I feel the urge to vomit each time I see a picture of her standing beside the piece, a broad smile on her face, and think about the fact that someone probably paid thousands of dollars for what’s essentially a copy of a free stock photo.

But I guess I really should thank this person. You see, I am so offended by her behavior and by the impressively low standards I see throughout the art quilting industrial complex that it’s made me rethink things. It’s taken the pressure off. Because really, what’s the point? Mediocrity and poor ethics win the day. Quite literally.

One of my art friends occasionally says things like “I’m making the next piece for myself”, meaning that she’ll be making something which fulfills her desires rather than fitting into the requirements of some mythical show. No, I want to tell her, you should always make the work for yourself. That’s perhaps the best reason to make it. Because that fire is burning inside you and the only way it can be quenched is by getting the art out.

Make that original work because you need to make it, and be ethical. Don’t fall into the trap of the “artist” whose work was “inspired by” the stock photo, of trying to churn out piece after piece which lives up to the crazy-eyed marketing fairy tale you’ve told over the years. That’s one form of trying to keep things in a safe place. That path can lead to making a deal with the devil. You lose your soul that way.

Of course, other things can happen when we keep things in a safe place. For example, we may never quite get around to taking risks or trying new things.

I used to visit family. One my family members was extremely toxic, the sort one might suspect had narcissistic personality disorder, but she deserved compassion. I can’t be around her because she’s cruel and awful, but you know, I keep hoping things will work out for her. We don’t have to like people in order to want good things for them.

She’d had some hard knocks, some rough times. Not everybody can rise above that sort of thing. Not everybody is able to look themselves in the mirror and say “Wow. Why, exactly is it that I enjoy it when people are miserable and I’m unhappy when they succeed?” I’ve done that kind of thing. “Wow. What do all of my failed relationships have in common? Oh. Me.” It isn’t fun. It’s damned painful. Once you’ve done that, you have to figure out what you’re going to do about it. Sometimes the answers aren’t easy. Sometimes it isn’t clear what to do.

Anyhow, this particular person had aspirations. Peering in from the outside, it appeared that many of them would get wrecked by her husband. He’d hear about one of her aspirations, rush in with some notion of how it should be done, and take over. Poof. End of aspiration.

Some of them just fell apart for the usual reasons, I guess. I don’t know if it was her experience, but I’ve found that the more I talk about doing something, the less energy and motivation I have to actually do it.

It was sad to witness. When I hear about somebody having aspirations, I generally want to applaud, even if I don’t like the person or relate to what they’re trying to do. I don’t enjoy seeing people’s dreams get wrecked. Reaching for dreams or goals is life-affirming.

One of her goals was writing. I’d visit; she’d describe some story that was in her head. “I’m writing a book. It’s about a young Indian girl living in West Texas. She sells crackers in a general store.” Or whatever the plot was. The ideas always sounded insanely dull to me, but that’s the beauty of ideas and aspirations – the rest of us don’t have to approve of them. Maybe she had some spark which was going to bring that plot to life. Maybe we were going to find out that the Indian girl had a side business making sanitary napkins out of dried cactus pads. Maybe she was the long-lost descendent of space aliens. Maybe she got on a train, went to Paris, and became a can-can dancer.

We will probably never know. I always eagerly awaited the news that she’d finished her book. Maybe she’d even have a publisher. Then I could lie and say that it sounded wonderful rather than like a steaming pile of horse feces, and I could sincerely applaud the fact that she’d achieved one of her aspirations.

It never happened. I never got to applaud. It made me sad. Seriously. I can’t stand her, and she’s caused me unbelievable amounts of pain and harm, but I always wanted to see her fly.

People can find all sorts of ways to not do the things they say they want to do. Maybe they don’t actually want to do them. Maybe, in the words of my husband, “I would like to write a book” really means “I would like to have written a book.” What they really want is the identity, not the process of doing the work. They don’t like the identity of teacher or grocery store clerk or insurance salesman, so they fantasize about being someone else. An artist, maybe. Or a writer. Those sound nice. Those sound less mundane. They want that doing thing out of the way so they can claim the identity.

I’m at a point where I’m not so worried about identities. I’m more worried about doing. Not doing frightens me. Maybe this is part of the “I’m not old … yet” syndrome. The unspoken half of that sentence is “but I will be.” Do you really want to try riding a motorcycle, visiting Paris or writing that novel? Get on it. The Reaper is coming. Maybe not today or tomorrow or in twenty years, but sometime. Figure out what the obstacle is. Sweep it aside.

At the end of last year, I decided to finally move past the “I would like to write a book someday” stage myself. It’s something I wanted to do for quite a long time, but I kept making excuses. I was afraid. I was keeping things in a safe place, sticking to the things I know how to do. The prospect of trying something new and finding out that I was downright lousy at it was scary.

Now I have two books and two short stories drafted. Probably they’re awful. “Ninety percent of everything is crap,” my husband often tells me. That sounds about right. I decided that I can live with that. I didn’t want to go my whole life without writing about my personal equivalent of the Indian maiden selling crackers at the general store.

I’ll edit the stories some more and then publish them on Amazon under a pen name, so that their stench hopefully won’t reach back to me. I’m glad I did it. It’s been quite an adventure.

I’m glad I quit keeping things in a safe place.

Beyond the Surface

January 9th, 2016

 

 

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This exhibit is currently happening, a show of cool, innovative artwork by members of the Northern California branch of the Surface Design Association. It can be seen at the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles.

The opening reception is tomorrow, January 10, from 1-4 P.M. Deborah Corsini, the juror, will be speaking. There will also be an artist walk-through. I have work in the show, so I’ll be around. Maybe I’ll even mumble a few words about my piece, which involves 3D/CGI and concerns polar bears drowning.

If you’re in the Bay Area and would like to see some cool, innovative artwork, be sure and stop by the museum sometime between now and February 28. SAQA’s Earth Stories exhibit is also currently at the museum, which makes for a nice “twofer”.

An article, a story, and a quilt.

December 7th, 2015

TFF

This arrived in the mail today. Isn’t that portrait on the cover wonderful? It’s by an artist named Benjamin Shine; he created it from layers of tulle. The magazine has a nice profile of him; his website is worth a look as well.

Textile Fibre Forum, an Australian art magazine, has also run an article about one of my quilts, a piece inspired by the story of a heroic and homeless Guatamalan immigrant, Hugo Alfredo Tale-Yax. It seems on point at the moment. Perhaps it has something to do with winter approaching, here in the northern hemisphere, and having my thoughts turn to people shivering and starving in the cold. There’s also hideous news coming out of Syria, with streams of people fleeing a never-ending nightmare only to encounter hardship, hatred, and perhaps death as they become refugees and try to find new homes. Newly minted immigrants to new lands.

I highly recommend checking out Textile Fibre Forum. It’s just gorgeous, maybe 15-20 articles per issue with a fairly discrete amount of advertising. It costs a pittance, about the same as an over-sugared drink at Starbucks, if one downloads it via their iOS app.

More importantly, it’s an opportunity to get acquainted with Australian textile art outside the occasional exhibits which may visit the U.S. or other countries. This, I believe, is vitally important, an opportunity for cross-pollination.

Years ago, I attended a talk by Martha Sielman. She was discussing the creation of one of her book series – either the Art Quilt Portfolio series or the Masters: Art Quilts books. One of the publisher’s requirements, she stated, was that a certain number of the artists had to be from outside of the United States. Intrigued by this statement, I thumbed through her books and looked up all the non-U.S. artists. There was a freshness about their work. Perhaps they’d been influenced by different cultural and historical traditions, or perhaps they just weren’t part of the incestuous little copycat treadmill we have here in the United States. The publishers must have known that including them was important for the sake of diversity – or perhaps they were just trying to keep the books from being entirely U.S.-centric!

 

Odalisque1

Remember this thing? Yes. I’m still working on it.

On the work front, I’m noodling away on the reclining nude of my dog, Odalisque. Here’s the current progress:

tatting

Tatted throw: not stitched.

 

pillow

Couch and pillow: stitched.

 

RyanStitching

Ryan-dog: not stitched.

 

flooring

Marble floor: stitched.

 

screen

Screen in background: partially stitched. This thing is kicking my rump. Note that there are two types of small, precise textures which are overlapped. I hope I have more sense and avoid this sort of situation the next time I design an image.

 

curtains

Curtains in background: partially stitched. This is also eating my lunch. I had a hideous time getting any texture at all stitched, given the darkness of the cloth. Having it visually behind the palms has made it even more challenging. Why didn’t I just put in a plain wall or something which could have been stippled? It wouldn’t have made a big difference as far as the composition, and it would have been much quicker to render.

rug

Rug: not at all stitched and oh my lord, how am I even going to do it?

All this work, months of work, and I haven’t even gotten to the punchline of the picture, a dog reclining on a couch in place of the standard nekkid woman.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but I’m feeling discouraged. I was hoping to enter a show at the end of this month, but this thing isn’t even halfway done. I’ve lost four days of work during the past week, what with chaperoning my kid’s field trip, hosting a STEM activity for Cub Scouts, and being knocked on my rump by Dramamine that I probably didn’t even need to take. Not to gripe – first world problems! Lots of people would love to be able to drop what they were doing and head out on the San Francisco Bay for hours with their kid’s class! But you know, I’m not a piñata. If someone smacks me with a baseball bat, I won’t puke out artwork.

I have considered brewing up a pot of coffee and pulling a couple of all-nighters to see if I could knock out a bunch of work. Alas, I suspect it would end with a bunch of lousy stitching which had to be ripped out and my shaking like an autumn leaf falling from a tree. The workmanship has to be good; otherwise there’s no point.

Meanwhile, my kid has been getting over a cold and we’ve been dunned with day after day of grey skies. The dreary weather and his cold made me remember a cold of my own.

Fifteen years ago, I was off on a photography trip to Rome and Paris. One of my clients was writing a book; the trip was a way to help her attain a dream. That was really important to me then, helping people figure out what they really wanted and helping them reach for it. I also craved a bit of adventure, which the trip would provide.

Boy, did I get my wish! I could write a book of my own. Absolutely nothing about that trip went as planned. We weren’t even on the airplane before my client poked around in her purse, panicked a bit, then announced that she’d forgotten her traveler’s checks. My memories past that point include her cheerily announcing “the last time I was here, I got deported for drugs”, multiple episodes of driving child pickpockets away from her, and a wild rush hour drive around the outskirts of Rome when we went to the wrong airport for the flight to Paris.

One of my more pressing personal issues, though, was a killer head cold. It set in during the interminable flight across the Atlantic from the U.S., rendering sleep impossible. By the time I needed to be perky and shooting photos of multi-breasted statues spurting water out of their nipples, I was thoroughly exhausted and spouting my own secretions out my nose.

I did my job. I focussed. I planned. I walked all over Rome, Tivoli and Paris laden down with gear. I took hundreds of photos.

My cold thoroughly annoyed my client, though, and she wasn’t shy about expressing herself. “I never get sick,” she told me accusingly, as though my hosting a virus was meant as a personal affront. “There are viruses and bacteria all around us, but I don’t come down with them. I’ve never even vomited, not in my whole life.” An endless array of home remedies were proffered, including raw garlic and a strange, unknown blend of dried herbs.

Somewhat alarmed by her drug deportation story, I politely declined and turned to standard, pharmacy-variety remedies. She continued to press ristras of elves’ bane and Hungarian witch peppers on me. She grew sharp when I stated that I could ingest her garlic and herbs and the cold would last about a week, or I could continue with the pharmaceuticals and it would be gone in seven days.

The last straw, though, was my skin. I am not one of those people who cries cutely or looks adorable when I’m sick. I tend to head straight into the territory of skin like a boiled lobster and massive, noisy expulsions of ectoplasm from whatever orifice is exposed.

My client was understandably revolted. Repeated forays with Kleenex had left the skin on my nose and cheeks dry and, in some cases, hanging in tatters. “Put some of this vitamin E oil on your skin!” she commanded one evening. I declined. “It will be fine by morning,” I stated, barely hanging on to my temper, “I’ll just rub a little of my moisturizer on it and it’ll be as good as new.”

My client sniffed in disbelief. I headed off to bed.

The next morning, knowing that there would be an inspection once she woke up, I took a razor to my face. Wonderful things, razors. They do an incredible job of removing pilled-up fibers from sweaters and sheets, hair from one’s legs, or, as it happens, dead skin from one’s face. After ruthlessly scraping away all signs of skin damage, I slathered my face with moisturizer, then braced myself for the inevitable.

“Good morning,” we both said, then she peered at me minutely. I could tell that the words “Vitamin E” were on the tip of her tongue, and she was just dying to cram an entire unpeeled head of garlic down my throat. However, there wasn’t a speck of dead skin in sight.

“Huh,” she muttered, “I guess you were right.”

“Yep. A little moisturizer takes care of it every time,” I lied.

She is gone now. The dear lady who never had colds, who had never vomited in her life, who faithfully downed garlic and mystery herbs and swished hydrogen peroxide through her teeth, was felled by a slow, extremely painful illness.

I still miss her.

Scribble bots from dollar store electric toothbrushes

November 15th, 2015

Pattern1

It’s time for that ritual I think of as “repaying the internet”. To whit, if I get information off the internet and then find a twist, I need to give some information back. This time the topic is scribble bots, or more precisely, powering scribble bots with dollar store toothbrushes.

Pattern2

A scribble bot uses batteries and a motor to make markers vibrate across paper, thus leaving marks. They’re all the rage at science museums and STEM nights, letting one guilelessly sneak a few Physics lessons in on the kids.

There’s all kind of information about making scribble bots on the web, such as on Instructables and the Exploratorium website.

Pattern3

Most of them have a materials list that includes a 1.5-3 volt hobby motor. The instructions often suggest getting the motor from Radio Shack or cannibalizing one from a toy such as a dancing chicken. Radio Shack is now out of business and I don’t happen to have any dancing chickens, so to my mind, finding a motor is the hardest part of the project.

Unless you have an electronics supply store around, by the time you’ve ordered a motor and maybe a switch and battery housing to go with it, things can get pricy. I wondered if there was a cheaper way to get the necessary parts. Might there be something at the local dollar store?

Indeed, there was. Our local dollar store had an array of the world’s saddest-looking electric toothbrushes. Instead of rotating a group of bristles like one’s Braun or Oral-B, these battery-powered devices jostled a stationary brush head a tiny amount, pretending to give a jolt of dental cleaning power that couldn’t be obtained by simply moving one’s hand.  Disassembling a brush revealed that it had a motor with an offset weight. This was exactly what was needed for a scribblebot. Perfect!

Toothbrush1

Here’s a typical dollar store electric toothbrush with its guts squeezed out.

Toothbrush2

Here we’ve cut the handle away from the rest of the toothbrush. The handle can then be used to hold the motor, battery housing, and switch.

(Hang on to the toothbrush end. I have no idea what you should do with it, but it’s bound to come in handy sometime. If you make enough of these scribble bots, for example, you can spray paint the leftover brushes red or gold, glue them to a grapevine wreath, and make a hideous Christmas decoration. Or not.)

ToothbrushParts

Click image to enlarge

Here are the parts we’re sticking back inside the handle. Notice that we’ve cut the handle just short enough to reveal the offset weight, so that it can have attachments and twirl around freely.

Also note the electrical connections circled in red. These are necessary for forming a complete circuit between the battery and the motor. The connections at the motor end aren’t going to be accessible once the parts are put back in the toothbrush handle, and they may be flimsily assembled. Make sure they’re making contact when you reinstall the parts.

batteries

Toothbrush battery at left; standard AA at right

Here’s one other fun tidbit. I noticed that the supposedly AA battery which came with the toothbrush wasn’t the same size as a standard AA. It was shorter and narrower. I could force a fresh, standard AA battery into the brush handle, but the motor would no longer work. The circuit wasn’t making up. Sometimes there isn’t enough profanity in the world!

No doubt this is by design. Probably the owners of People’s Electric Toothbrush Factory Number Five don’t want shoppers to use their cheap dollar store toothbrushes indefinitely, so they’ve intentionally made it difficult to replace the batteries. We aren’t using the toothbrushes for hygiene purposes, though, so we do want to be able to replace the batteries.

standoff

If you run into this issue, remove the end of the battery holder and peer inside. I found that there was a vertical plastic standoff inside, precisely calibrated to the dimensions of the supplied battery. After removing the standoff with a Dremel tool, a standard AA battery fit and my circuit made up.

Standoff2

Lousy photo of a battery holder after removing standoff. Pretend that you can see where I’ve made the modification. Also, pretend that I have a decent manicure.

Alright. We’ve sawn and fiddled around and modified a cheap toothbrush. What next? How about making some additional weights?

weights

These weights, which are made from wide tongue depressors, can help make the motion of the scribble bot more erratic.

Weights2

Here we’ve installed a weight on the protruding end of a motor. Note that we have the weight aligned with the mass of the off-axis weight already on the motor.

Some different scribble bot designs …

Bot1

A portion of a pool noodle with motor mechanism tucked inside and auxiliary weight on top.

 

Bot2

Another pool noodle design, this time with the motor at the bottom. It’s interesting to see how positioning of the center of mass affects the motion.

Bot3

A highly elegant Greek yogurt cup model with outboard motor.

Bot4

Strawberry basket, outboard motor. Classic. Add some razor blades or a scalpel blade to the tongue depressor weight and you’ll have a fighting scribblebot, as well as occasion to visit the emergency room.

In a few weeks I’ll try all of this out with children – well, except for the part with sharp blades. We’ll see how it goes. I anticipate that there will be chaos.

Sometimes it takes awhile

November 7th, 2015

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Work. I’m gearing up for the next thing. Tentative titles: Big Fish or maybe Fish Story. I had a green screen session with the boy recently, getting him to model various poses, and took a bunch of shots. (Around eighty, to be precise.) Sometimes it takes awhile to loosen up and get in the mood, and sometimes something special and spontaneous happens during the modeling session and you want to stick with it. These days we don’t have to pay for film or developing, so why not? The boy has a rubber face, so he can generate about a thousand different expressions. I pay him, so he’s a good sport about it. Probably he’d be a good sport even if I didn’t pay him, though. He’s a good kid. (No, I totally don’t dote on him or anything like that.)

I was working from sketches when I posed him. Fortunately, I don’t have the sketches at hand, so nobody will have to see them.

One of the things I consider when having a modeling session is how to dress him and what sorts of props to employ. Stuff can be edited in Photoshop later, but it’s nice to get relatively close to the desired scene, and nice to have props for him to interact with. In this case I wanted the boy in a plain red shirt, but we don’t have one. I ended up turning one of his T-shirts inside out to hide the logo and giving him a bamboo pole with clothesline tied on to stand in for a fishing pole. Later I’ll replace the bamboo pole with a digital model of a real pole.

Awhile back, I posted about some of the equipment I use, including the green screen and background support system.  These are some of the best money I ever spent; they make removal of a person from a background about a thousand times faster, cleaner, and simpler.

Terrain

There’s going to be a UFO plus some terrain, trees and water in the scene, so I’m starting to develop models of those. It’ll probably take months. It doesn’t necessarily have to take months, but I tend to work on several things at once. I’ve come to like the clarity I get from walking away from a project and coming back to it.

spacecraft

Here I’m starting to rough out the scene with polygons, before getting too deep into the modeling. It looks like a dog’s breakfast and that’s okay. Stuff evolves.

There are a couple of books I love which might be interesting to others who like to compose their own images. It turns out that years ago, Norman Rockwell was doing exactly the same sort of thing, posing models in costumes with props and taking reference photos for his paintings. He didn’t have the digital tools we have today, but he was very clever with the non-digital tools of the time.

Rockwell

The book about his methods is Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera. It’s by Ron Schick and is available for around $25 on Amazon; less if one gets it used.

Gurney

Another book is James Gurney’s Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn’t Exist. In it, he discusses his use of maquettes, models, props, and sketches to create art which looks “real and believable”.  His blog, Gurney Journey, also a great read.

I prefer to use digital tools, or a mix of real-life objects, human or animal models, and digital tools. There’s no reason one has to do that, though. One should use whatever tools one likes. Rockwell and Gurney are proof that one can achieve marvelous results with a pencil and a paintbrush. One can sketch a spaceship from one’s imagination or craft a rudimentary model out of Play-Doh rather than modeling it on a computer.

 

Odalisque1

On the production end, I’m stitching on Odalisque. (Odalisque is another of my computer-assisted, composited images. See parts one and two from about a year ago.)

It feels like there’s several million miles of stitching. That’s why I have to put projects aside now and then. They can start to feel overwhelming when I’ve been working for weeks or months, or I can get terrified of an area and fear messing it up. What if I do the wrong thing on that tatted throw? An utter disaster!

OdalisqueDetail

See the screen behind the chaise? This is some of the stitching. I’m having to use magnifiers. It’s making me crazy.

There’s a quality I’m striving for where the stitching and the base image marry. I’m not there yet. It’s going to take some time and experimentation to master.

FloodedShoe

The shoe and leg in my work Flooded come close to what I have in mind.

Mardal1a

So do this hand and couch done by Mardal and Hougs.

There’s a quietness about these examples. The stitching and the base imagery support each other, rather than the stitching being an afterthought stuck on top of something which was already complete. That is, alas, the look of many works where someone has printed out a photo and stitched on top of it.

I don’t mean to criticize those who have that aesthetic and enjoy that type of work, by the way. It just isn’t to my taste. One’s aesthetic is a personal preference, not a matter of right or wrong.

I’ll get there. In the meantime, I should finish Odalisque and see what I can learn from it.

 

CrapCloth

There’s also this thing, a side project I stitch on when my brain is fried. Sometimes one needs to keep one’s hands busy but the light is bad or it’s just too much effort to do precise work.  I call it “Crap Cloth”. Yes, that’s vulgar. Probably I need a politer name. However, “Crap Cloth” does at least communicate that it’s made of odds and ends.

It began life with a section of fitted sheet that had blown a giant hole. Yes, I know one shouldn’t waste time on cloth whose integrity may be questionable. I do it anyway, though. I tie knots in the worst parts and let the dogs play tug-of-war with them, and I make shopping bags out of the best sections. After all the thread I put down, I could probably make bags out of paper towels and it wouldn’t matter. Nothing short of a bomb or maybe a rat on cocaine can dislodge my piles of stitching. Machine jams and makes a thread nest? Cool. Let’s stitch that sucker in. In fact, let’s start saving up floor sweepings and stale Cheerios and stitch those in, too.

This was going to be a shopping bag, then it turned into something else. I don’t know what it is. A loud wall hanging? A grotesque table runner? A dog house cover? Who knows. If you know what it is, leave me a comment.

While others were at IQF Houston …

November 3rd, 2015

Random photos spliced in throughout post …

WhyKnot

The big quilt show in Houston, IQF, is over. I learned that my piece, Why Knot? received third place in the digital category.

Immediately, of course, I began to see frank, dampening comments on blogs and mailing lists:

“Photo-realism wins the day in Houston. Frankly, I have never entered that show because, yes, I am a snob who considers it the same as a pipe and drape show, only larger. Art? Uh – no. Unoriginal work – yep. That eliminates all the artists I know.”

“… when I look at most of the other works my first reaction is ho hum… Yawn..boring.. same old, same old. I do not know what the others entries were but the winners are sadly without much interest.”

Sorry to hear that.

It’s true that IQF isn’t an art show per se. Although it does show some genuine artwork that happens to be made of fiber and is quilted, the show isn’t on the radar of the larger Art World, as far as I know. If it was, the “Husbands’ Lounge” (I assume that was still there this year?) or events like the costume contest or tiara parade would knock it clean away.

It is, however, enormously popular and many people love to go there, or dream of doing so. It provides an enjoyable escape where people can browse, admire others’ workmanship or artistry, do a spot of shopping, and bask in the font of natural beauty that is downtown Houston. Many people make a week or weekend of it, staying in hotels, eating out, and socializing.

IQF Houston is the world’s largest quilt show. I aspire to create work that is original and interesting (see comments above), and I like having my work in bonafide art shows. However, I also just plain like to have my work seen. It’s nice to have my work on display at the world’s largest quilt show, where fifty or sixty thousand people attend, and I appreciate receiving an award. As my husband frequently tells me, “Not everything is curing cancer.”

Itt

This is Serious Art. Give me money now.

Art – sculpture, painting, fiber, you name it – is not a meritocracy. There is no governing body looking to see whether, say, an entrant is re-rendering borrowed or stock photography without acknowledging the original sources. There are no absolute rules about what does or does not constitute art, and whether or not something is decent. There are no overseers looking over the entire universe of work and saying “Well, yours is the best. Here; have some publicity, some accolades, and a bag of money.”

What there does seem to be is a great deal of posturing. People joining organizations with the word “art” in the name and jockeying for position. “Hooray! These people, who coincidentally need membership fees in order to keep their organization afloat, have designated me a Professional Studio Artist and juried me into their organization!” People writing reviews of shows on their blogs, including only their cronies, and sort of not mentioning the fact that their own quilt was hung upside down and they didn’t notice for an hour. People writing pompous opinions of what does or does not constitute Real Art. People having vicious arguments on mailing lists, or hosting exhibits in which they’ve glued fabric on ancient AOL disks and have strung the disks together with fishing line. “It’s a synthesis of technology and tradition!” “Check out my latest piece! I coated teddy bears with house paint, laid them on fabric, then ran over them with the steam roller I keep handy!”

pumpkin

More Serious Art.

Here is what I’ve learned: with few exceptions, nobody cares. Nobody is watching. There are many, many people creating artwork, and most of them are busy doing their own thing. We have to take care of ourselves. If we’re lucky, we get to connect with a few other people and we get to appreciate others’ work.

Do whatever it is you like. In a hundred years, it won’t matter one way or another. Exhibiting in Houston or not exhibiting in Houston probably isn’t going to affect one’s art career. If one is born female and one’s medium is fiber, chances are there isn’t going to be worldwide recognition from the Real Art World anyhow.

One of the things I like is having my work seen. One of my series is comprised of portraits of my son in various situations, both real and imaginary. It isn’t on par with Wyeth’s Helga series, but the boy and I enjoy collaborating and we both get a kick out of seeing his portraits published or exhibited. That’s the majority of my work now, while he’s young and enjoys it. If my work is shown at Houston, I can figure on 50,000-60,000 people attending. Of those, I can estimate maybe 25,000 will walk down the aisle with my work and maybe half of those will take a good look, and hopefully enjoy it or get a giggle. That’s 10,000-15,000 people I got to share some joy or a joke with. That’s probably far more than saw my work when it toured with Quilt National, much as I treasured that experience.

Alas, I wasn’t able to go to Houston this year. Actually, I could have gone but didn’t. My husband would have bent over backwards to watch our kid for a few days. Unfortunately, barring one of those statistically unlikely “Drop everything; you’ve won a top prize!” situations, going just isn’t practical when one has a kid.

cookies

These will no doubt get me barred from providing class cookies in the future.

IQF Houston often occurs around Halloween, you see. I’m going to go out on a limb and state that their target market is largely comprised of people with empty nests – women, middle-aged to elderly. They’re mostly white, mostly conservative. Not entirely, mind you; I always see a few men and some younger people when I’m at a show, and I don’t mean to imply that quilt shows are trying to exclude non-whites. The demographics may also skew depending on the region of the country. But mostly, when I go to a quilt show, that’s who I see: middle-aged to elderly women who probably don’t have kids at home. People who don’t need to worry about staying home for Halloween.

Cupcakes

These cupcakes went to a party.

Cupcakes2

These cupcakes stayed home.

The Festival is wildly popular and, I assume, wildly profitable. The people who run it have quite a bit of practice and know what works for them and most of their attendees. It doesn’t work for me, though, and probably won’t for the foreseeable future.

For example, going to the Winners’ Circle celebration on a Tuesday involves a day of flying, hurrying to the convention center, then having the next day wasted because exhibits don’t open until Thursday. The last time I tried it, my intestines were coiling up and threatening to spring out of my body during the award ceremony.

WiiMote

WiiMote costume

It would have been nice to have seen the show this year, but on balance I’m glad I didn’t go. I would have missed my son’s Halloween party, school party and costume parade, zombie dance number with his Cub Scout troop, and of course, Halloween. Kids grow up. There are a limited number of years when one can bake cookies for parties or make Wii controller costumes.

Thriller

My kid is the one with the cone on his head. Of course.

The Festival will simply have to wait a few years.

goody

Making goody bags for Halloween, part of my master plan for clearing excess junk and craft supplies out of the house.

goody2

1000 Quilt Inspirations

October 26th, 2015

Sider1

The boy and I were at the library the other day. I saw this in the new books section and stared at it, confused. “Huh. That looks familiar.” Then it dawned on me: “Hey. I think I may have some work in that.”

Indeed, I do.

Sider’s book came out about six months ago, but I’d never seen a copy. The publisher didn’t send courtesy copies to contributors (although they did offer a discount if we wished to purchase one) and for reasons I won’t go into right now, I don’t buy books if I’ve provided content for them. (I could write an essay on the topic. Be thankful I’m not doing so right now.)

Not to knock the publisher, Quarry. I have to figure that publishers in the art quilting world operate on narrow margins, and the cost of sending out courtesy copies to several hundred artists might be prohibitive. Frankly, the artists in the book may comprise a core set of the people who’d be purchasing it anyhow. Still, I have my rules.

It’s really a good book, though. Everyone should buy a copy. Put it on your Christmas list, if you exchange presents at that time of the year.

 

Sider2

I was tickled to see that one of my Paisleyfish received a full page spread. I think that piece has been sold off, so it’s nice to see it recorded for posterity.

 

Sider3

My flamingo, Suspicion, was also included. (Upper right hand corner.)

 

Sider4

So was Waiting for Spring, in the upper left hand corner of this spread. I should put Suspicion and Waiting for Spring up for sale, but the whole business of dealing with business licenses and sales tax gets me down. It’s a commitment unto itself. What I would like would be to hand over my work to someone else, say “Here. You take a 40-50% commission and deal with the taxes and shipping,” and get on with the part I enjoy.

 

Sider5

Sandra Sider really did a bang-up job selecting work for this book. Its title says it all – there are 1000 juicy, succulent images. If you need to jostle your brain for stitching or design ideas, this is a great resource. The styles span a really wide gamut.

 

Sider6

Some pictorial works, showing renderings of humans.

One thing this book has reminded me of is how fun it can be to work small. The commitment of time and energy aren’t huge, so one feels the freedom to experiment.

 

Sider7

Some modern designs. There are also renderings inspired by plants, animals, buildings, and purely abstract arrangements of color and form.

Should I type what I’m thinking now? Sure. Why not. Here’s a confession: I have a very hard time taking pleasure in anything I accomplish, beyond the act of doing it and perhaps helping others or giving them a moment of joy. I’m not sure where that comes from, the constant drive to break my back working and then denigrate any good fortune that comes my way, but I can make some guesses. During the last few months I was in contact with my father, I got in the habit of telling him absolutely nothing about what I was doing. I realized that he was incapable of expressing interest, even the bare minimum of interest you’d extend to someone standing in line beside you at a supermarket. It had been going on for years. I noticed that it was a pattern with my family, the withholding of interest or approval. There was a constant drive to impress others, though, along with a constant stream of insults once the parties were gone.

And, I don’t know what I’m driving at, other than it’s going to be okay. I’m away from that. Maybe I’ll never be able to feel that I deserve whatever good fortune comes my way, but I’m at least learning to take pleasure in others’ good fortune. Other people’s good work or accomplishments aren’t a threat. They’re something to appreciate and applaud or learn from.

I’m lucky to have my work in Sider’s book alongside so many wonderful works.

PIQF 2015

October 15th, 2015

PIQF1

I went to PIQF today. It’s a decent-sized show which takes place in a convention center about five miles from my house, so I look forward to it each year.

Unfortunately, it didn’t hit me right today. I don’t know whether I was in an odd frame of mind, so I wasn’t as receptive to the exhibits as usual, or whether the general level of work just wasn’t as good as in years past. After an hour or so, I had a decided feeling of “meh” and left. I’ll take another look at the exhibits on Sunday and see whether I feel differently. Maybe I’m being harsh. I hate to be overly judgmental about work people have poured their hearts and souls into.

That said, there were several artists whose work I greatly admired.

Else1

Susan Else was one of them. I’ve been internet-stalking her for years, hoping to get a chance to attend a lecture or class held by her. PIQF had a special exhibit of her work, including the skeletal family above. Despite my statement of “meh” above, simply seeing a display of Susan’s work is worth the price of admission, and I’m so grateful to the Mancusos for slotting her in.

I’d show more photos of her work, but it’s really better to visit her website or buy some of her postcards. Come to think of it, I should have bought some of her postcards today! If she’s around on Sunday, I’ll do that.

 

Loughman1

Gloria Loughman‘s work is another treat.

Loughman2

Aren’t the bold, crisp lines of Loughman’s work lovely and designerly, as is her contrast of warm and cool colors?

 

Watson1

One of the aspects of PIQF I look forward to each year is the traveling World Quilt Show exhibit, which includes entries from around the planet. As I once told a border control agent, who was asking me why I was visiting his country, “I want to see and learn about things that aren’t American.” I find that the style of the works from overseas can be quite different, and I find that refreshing.

The triptych above, Cathedrals, Castles & Ruins, is from Camilla Watson of New Zealand.

Watson2

In her artist’s statement, she tells us that each panel is created from photos taken during her travels. That’s a neat way to display one’s travel photos, isn’t it?

 

Grassroots

This wall hanging, Energy of Fire, was made by the Grassroots Guild of South Africa. It was inspired by the works of the glass artist Dale Chihuly.

Grassroots2

Here’s a closeup of one of the panels. It isn’t unusual for artists to be inspired by another artist and explore that person’s work by, say, copying it or by stitching over a photo printed onto fabric. I have to compliment this group for instead taking it to another level, interpreting the works of Chihuly in a fresh, energetic way and creating something new and unique.

 

Henderson1

Coco, by Neroli Henderson of Australia. This is a very tactile work which captures the personality of the artist’s sweet-faced Bichon Frise.

Henderson2

Around the portrait, we can read a bit of Coco’s biography. This bit about her having had twenty puppies grabbed my eye. Anyone who’s had even one child gets a pang of sympathy at that thought!

 

Tang

Mega Postage Stamp, made by Betty Tang of San Francisco. “A seven year journey and over 10,000 pieces”, the artist’s statement tells us. This strikes me as the fiber equivalent of making a Buddhist sand painting, the sort of thing which drives one to strong drink.

Tang2

A close up of a section of Tang’s work. She is made of sterner stuff than me.

 

Jones

Some of the best design work was in the Wicked exhibit, an array of squares in black and lime green. Jacamar Eye, above, was made by Elaine Jones.

 

Dinelli

She: A Self-Portrait by Lynn Dinelli. Boy, do I relate. That’s the face I see pretty much every morning when I get up.

 

Brown

Here’s my thing, The Thief. The lights in the convention center killed it, utterly sucked the life out, plus it looks like crap with the bend at the top from hanging. You’d think I’d remember that and increase the contrast in my work to compensate, but I never do.

Some of the bad from PIQF:

No work from Charlotte Kruk, or if there was some, I didn’t see it. I’ll look again on Sunday. Charlotte makes the most amazing examples of wearable art I’ve ever seen, painstakingly pieced together from the packaging left from consumables. I first fell in love with her work when she displayed a matador’s suit of lights some years ago; it was made from M&M wrappers which she’d beaded and sewn together. Since then, I’ve looked for her work each year. It’s one of the key reasons I go to PIQF.

No work from Kathy Nida, either. One of her figures is in SAQA’s Oasis exhibit, which was to be at PIQF. It wasn’t, though. Heaven only knows where it is … maybe on a truck or a loading dock somewhere. I was bummed.

However, there was work from someone from my past.

Years ago, I took a paper-piecing class. I was young, dewy, and still had a waistline then, working in a menial capacity at a job which didn’t pay beans.

One of the unstated requirements of the job was enduring repeated sexual harassment. I didn’t know how to handle it at that time. After all, hadn’t my father drilled it into my skull that “those gals” who complained about that kind of stuff were usually exaggerating? Therefore, I really didn’t know what to do when I landed in a work environment where one of the men I worked for liked to undress and hang out in his office with the door open. (That was in addition to the poster on his office door, which showed a nude female torso done up as a face, and the gynecologically detailed posters in the tool crib where I went to inventory parts.) Later there would be verbal invitations and harassment of a physical nature. It was not just from one person, either.

I sought others’ advice. I sought advice at home, where I was told that I “must be doing something to cause it”. I sought advice from a friend, who told me “You just tell them that we don’t do that kind of thing back in Texas!” Finally, feeling utterly alone and running out of places to turn, I asked the quilting instructor what she would do. Please keep in mind that this was a person who was very proud of a quilt/traveling exhibit she’d spearheaded about the struggles of women around the world.

She bridled, informed me that her husband worked at the same place, that the people there were very nice and professional, and that no such thing could be happening to me. It was incredibly painful, one more insult piled on top of the nightmare in which I dwelled at that time.

Now, of course, I wouldn’t take my problems to random people, but at the time I was quite alone and quite desperate. Although my problems really weren’t hers to solve, she could have avoided accusing me of lying. It would be an understatement to say that I formed a lasting, negative opinion of her. And, although I generally try to be open-minded or accepting of others’ work, I’m afraid that I get great pleasure from looking at hers and thinking “My work is quite a bit better than yours.” Also, I inwardly hiss like a movie vampire exposed to sunlight.

Oh – and in case there’s some young, dewy creature out there who isn’t quite sure how to handle harassment, here are some of my personal take-aways:

  • Don’t be surprised if the company/organization doesn’t address the issue, particularly if there’s a power imbalance between you and the harasser.
  • Thoroughly document the situation.
  • Be direct and matter-of-fact, even if it feels uncomfortable.
  • When harassers proceed to touching or, say, laying on top of one while one is working, smashing them in the face with a flashlight does wonders. So does a knee in the crotch. Profanity and very loud yelling are also good.
  • If someone implies that the harassment is your fault, unless they reverse their attitude pretty quickly, they don’t need to be in your life. That includes boyfriends, spouses, and relatives.
  • There are environments in which even a broom dressed in a skirt would experience harassment. This doesn’t make it right or mean one should accept it, though.

Your mileage may vary, of course.

Tools of the trade

October 12th, 2015

In my last post, I shared the joy of hacking and slashing away at bits of foam core board to make dividers for my otherwise ghastly, disorganized drawers. In this post I’d like to share some of my other work area aids.

Many tools are specific to whatever art form one pursues: easels, paint brushes, kilns. Others, though, are more general purpose, applicable to a wide range of media. Those are some of the tools I find most interesting.

20Drawer

Here are the drawers, by the way. Decent storage is a thing of joy.

 

screwdriver

A screwdriver. I’m not going to share the story behind this right now, except that it involves blood, my stumbling out to the garage to look for a screwdriver while holding a sewing machine, and then a nurse shrieking when I phoned for advice and described my injury.

If you use a machine upon which you can get impaled or caught, keep whatever kind of tool you need to free yourself right beside the machine. Also, a telephone. Those are good. If you can’t get free with a screwdriver, you can at least call 9-1-1 and tell the dispatcher that no, you aren’t dying so there isn’t a huge hurry, but if they could come by and give you a hand when they have a minute, that would be much appreciated. And, um, until then you’ll just hang out with your machine. You’ll be one with your machine, so to speak.

And no, I don’t use power tools such as saws unless I’m stone cold sober and feel alert. Ironically enough, I think it’s easier to injure oneself on sewing machines and the like because one tends to work with one’s fingers in closer proximity to the needle.

 

BG1

Why does this boring-looking piece of ABS plastic have wood yardsticks glued to either end? Of what possible use could it be?

 

BG2

When one cinches up the shoe laces which are threaded through the corners, the sheet of plastic makes a seamless backdrop for photographing small objects. (Pretend that the Buddha head in the example is actually lit well.) The ABS can be wiped clean before use and stows away in a very small amount of space. This is my invention, although I’m sure similar things are commercially available.

This backdrop is handy for getting product shots for magazine articles, one’s website, Etsy, and so forth.

 

headphones

Wireless headphones. So wonderful. Having music or a podcast playing in one’s work area is good, but I can’t hear the music if I’m running a machine or the dogs are fighting right beside me.

 

earplugs

Ear plugs. Good for levels of noise the headphones can’t disguise. Leaf blowers or chain saws, for example, or the people who used to hold impromptu church services in their house next door and would “speak in tongues”. (That, or they were practicing howling like coyotes with the accompaniment of organ music.)

 

OilPen

Oiling pen. Don’t know how I lived without this; it applies a microscopic dot of machine oil just exactly where I need it. And boy, I use it frequently – every four or five times I swap out the bobbin, I’m in there brushing out the bobbin area and giving it a light lube.

It makes the bottles of oil one buys at the fabric store seem as delicate as a sledge hammer. Pens like this are dirt cheap, all of $3 or so at Allstitch.

 

clamps

Clamps. Cheap and handy. Attach lengths of fabric or paper to work surfaces, hold things together for gluing, pinch annoying people. Harbor Freight carries a set of six for a minimal price. They can also be purchased at Sears and hardware stores.

 

inspiration

Inspiration board for project ideas or things I find appealing. Stuff goes up, furnishes my mind for awhile, then gets swapped out.

 

books1

Reference materials. Each new project gets a new batch.

 

books2

I can also step into the other room for more, or if I need a hound dog. Never can tell when I’ll need a dog.

 

lights

Guess what’s in here. Give up yet?

With this stuff, I can suspend and light my finished artwork, or set up a backdrop for portraiture work or staging a scene. The whole thing was dirt cheap, maybe $250 – 300 total, stows away in a small space, and has saved me a world of inconvenience.

felt

 

Yards and yards of green felt. I have similar lengths of white and grey. These come in handy when I want to photograph my work or a person on a solid background, which I’ll then remove (“knock out”) on the computer. The squeeze clamps (see above) let me attach the felt to my background support stand with minimal fuss.

 

What kinds of aids do you like to use in your work area?

 

Drawer dividers for Ikea Alex

October 1st, 2015

I’m smack dab in the middle of four separate deadlines/commitments, so it seemed like a great time to destroy my work area. I’m logical like that.

1Disaster

The thread came, so I’m a step closer to divorcing the Chain Fabric Store from Hell. However, I needed a place to put the thread.

I don’t use wall racks. Some folks like them, but my house gets incredibly dusty what with two dogs and a bird, plus Apple building a spaceship half a mile from my house. Anything that sits out for a couple of days disappears under a half inch thick layer of filth.

2Case

I’ve been using spool storage cases from Allstitch. They hold 48 spools, keep the dust out, and at $12.75, aren’t too expensive. Unfortunately, I’ve run into some issues finding room for the cases, plus pawing through a bunch of them is getting tedious. Getting even more didn’t seem like a good idea.

3alex

Alex series – about $120 at Ikea

My next thought was to stick dividers in some drawers. I had some wide, shallow Ikea Alex drawers that seemed about the right size for storing thread. Perhaps, since they’re a standard item at Ikea, they or somebody else might sell drawer inserts? Barring that, maybe I could head out to the garage, scrounge up some wood, and make my own?

I poked around on the web. I didn’t find pre-made dividers, but I did learn that the Alex series is incredibly popular with crafters and artists, as this pinterest page demonstrates. From there I also learned that many people make drawer dividers from foam core board.

Foam core! Why didn’t I think of that myself? It’s cheap, easy to cut, and in some sense is more forgiving of mistakes than if I started fiddling around with wood. I headed down to Michael’s with a 40% off coupon and grabbed a 20 x 30 x 3/16” piece of foam core for around $2. That piece of foam was big enough to furnish dividers for three of my drawers. If I’d bothered to plan ahead, I could have optimized my cutting scheme and made even more.

The top three drawers of the Alex are about 2” deep. There’s an added complication in that the back 4 1/2” of the drawers is obstructed, so it isn’t terribly useful to run dividers all the way back there. Thus, I opted to make my dividers 1 1/2” tall and leave about 6 1/2” clearance behind, so one can wiggle other items in and out.

Other specifications were driven by the fact that I was storing spools of Madeira Polyneon, which are about 3″ long, and the pieces of foam core were 3/16″ thick.

 

4Cutting

To make dividers like mine, begin by cutting four 1 1/2” thick strips across the 30” length of the foam core. An X-acto knife (Or, bleh, a “craft knife”) and long metal ruler or T-square work well for this task.

6Strips

Put waste cardboard or a cutting mat beneath the foam core to avoid cutting in to your work surface. Or, you know, you could just do what I do, which is pretend the scratches and cut marks aren’t there and throw a cloth on the table when you have company.

7Strips

Measure the width of the drawer and cut three of the 30” strips to that length. Or, if you aren’t fond of measuring, take the strips over to the drawer and mark them there.

11Notches

Mark lines 6” and 6 3/16” in from each end of the long strips. Next, mark horizontal lines about 3/4” down from one edge, as seen above.

The goal with these lines is to outline the area which will be carved out to make notches. I like to draw an X over the area to be cut out, as a reminder.

Set the long pieces aside.

8Strips

Cut two 10” pieces from the remaining 30″ strip.

9Notches

On each 10” strip, measure and make the following marks:

  • 3/16” from one end (3/16″ being the thickness of the foam core board)
  • 3 5/16” from the end  (The above measurement + 3 1/8”, which is the length of one spool of Madeira thread plus 1/8″ wiggle room)
  • 3 1/2”  from the end (The above measurement + 3/16”, which is the thickness of the foam core board)
  • 6 5/8”  from the end  (The above measurement + 3 1/8”)
  • 6 13/16”  from the end (The above measurement + 3/16”)

You should end up with a series of marks which alternate the thickness of a piece of foam core and the length of a spool of thread.

Next, make horizontal marks about 3/4” down from one edge. These will determine how tall your notches are.

The finished marks should look something like those shown in the photo above.

12Notches

With the X-Acto knife, cut out the notches in all of the pieces.

13Notches

You should end up with three long notched pieces and two short notched pieces for each set of dividers.

14Glueing

Test fit the pieces before gluing. I like to use hot melt glue; it sets up quickly, and this application isn’t going to require much strength.

15Drawer

Oops. The drawer is full of junk. Also, I’ve managed to photograph it so that it looks like a trapezium rather than a rectangle, which is kind of a neat trick.

16Drawer

Junk removed, with a test fit of the drawer divider. There’s just enough room behind the divider to wiggle stuff in and out for storage.

18Drawer

Thread in place, with some assorted rulers stuck behind the divider. Hmph. My drawer has reverted to looking like a trapezium again. Maybe we’re in a universe without ninety degree angles or something.

17Drawer

There’s a way to cut out the foam core more efficiently, so as to get more dividers out of it, but I didn’t really plan before cutting. So, um, just throw the waste pieces in a random drawer and hoard them for twenty years. That’s what I’d do. They’re bound to come in handy sometime. Bound to.

19Drawer

20Drawer

Some of the other thread drawers.

Okay. That was fun. Now I guess I’d better deal with the wreck I made when pulling junk out of the thread storage drawers, then get back to work … hope this helps somebody and sparks some ideas, anyhow. It turns out foam core is incredibly easy to work with, and is a natural for making drawer dividers. If I was somebody who enjoyed folding underwear rather than wadding it all up and mounding it in the dresser, it might be worthwhile to make foam core dividers for the bedroom, too. (Spoiler: not happening.)