Beware the fickle Daz shopping cart

November 12th, 2016

I have a minor annoyance to gripe about. Minor. It isn’t on the scale of people having homes wiped out by a hurricane and scrabbling to find clean water or shelter. It isn’t on par with the overt racism, mysogyny, homophobia, etc. which are evidently part of this country’s core values, or the fact that people feel they have targets painted on their backs.

No, it’s a minor whine. I was shopping. I’m not a clothing or shoes or handbag kind of gal. I’m more like a books or software or 3D model person. I could care less what I wear, in general, as long as I can whomp up a plate of Mexican food and have some cool books and art and computer stuff.

Lately I’ve been buying stuff from Daz. One of their products, Daz Studio, excels in “allowing users to manipulate ready to use (3D) models and figures”, as Wikipedia puts it. Once upon a time, that wouldn’t have been interesting to me. If I wanted to create a piece of artwork that involved 3D, it was going to be highly specialized, not something that involved models one could purchase in a store. The idea puzzled me, actually; why would I want to use somebody else’s models? No, it was Blender for me all the way; I’d just go hack together whatever I wanted myself.

Then I started making book covers as opposed to pure art. Dear lord, so many book covers and so many people on those book covers, people making out or turning into dragons or being chased by UFOs. Yeah, you can do paintings a la James Gurney, pay human models to pose for you, or you can troll through the offerings of stock photo agencies. However, that stuff gets expensive and time-consuming.

You know what’s cheap and easy? You go to Daz, download their free software and core set of free models, and you start posing the figures. Then, after you get the figures the way you want ‘em, you poke the render button and use the result as a reference for a painting, or throw it into Photoshop with some lens flares and vague fuzzy blobs that might be Bigfoot.

So that’s what I did.

“I can do this,” I thought. “I can get by with just their base models and work everything else out in Photoshop. It’ll be cheap and easy. I don’t have to spend a bunch of money. I’ll keep things simple.”

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One of the free stock characters, who is deeply unhappy because I chopped off his legs at the knees and he lacks the equipment to urinate.

Then I found out about the Platinum Club. “Discounts galore! Girls, girls, girls!” their ad read, or something like that. Okay, fine. They were running a deal on memberships. I paid a pittance, something like ten bucks, for a three month membership. The risk seemed minimal for that price, and I figured I’d see if the membership paid for itself.

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Lillith 7. Hobbies: crouching in virtual water while I experiment with bump maps. Likes midnight taco runs, strolls along the beach, and fast render times.

Holy cow. It was like getting hooked on crack. So many 3D models I couldn’t live without, discounted oh-so-cheaply. They started their “Platinum Club” sale somewhere in there, and my buying resistance eroded even further. Sure, I could get by without more stuff, but wouldn’t making covers go even faster if I had a few more figures and clothes for them?

So I bought. I became one of those people who lurched over to the computer at the crack of dawn to see what had been added to the “Eight for $2.99” category. One model became another and another, and this morning I went hog-wild. “Platinum Club Final Catch-Up!” bellowed their website. I could barely even tear myself away from the computer to go use the toilet, the offerings were so succulent. Pretty much every darned thing on my wish list was discounted by mammoth amounts!

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Terradome 3 was going for $12.95, massively on sale from its $59.95 list price. I flopped it in the cart and got another nice discount, down to $10.36. Woohoo! I found a bunch of stuff on my wish list on sale, and soon had piled in about $50 worth of stuff. For example, a base model of Ivan 7, which lists at $44.95, was on sale for $9.71 – then, when I added it to my cart, I received an additional discount to $7.77.

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My thuggish heartthrob, Ivan 7. A steal at $7.77!

Wow. So much wonderfulness. At those prices, I wanted to see what else they had. But meanwhile, my kid was joggling my arm and whining about how he was hungry, so very weak he couldn’t even make it to the kitchen to whip up a piece of toast by himself, and he desperately needed some pancakes and an orange and a couple of pieces of bacon. So I muttered under my breath, heaved myself up off the couch, and lurched into the kitchen.

An hour later, I came back to my computer and updated the cart. Suddenly, its contents shot up in excess of $80. What the heck? We’re talking a difference in time of ONE HOUR on the SAME DAY yet the prices shifted upward. For example, Terradome skyrocketed from $10.36 to $17.26 – still on sale, but now $7 more. That was true across the board.

Or, to summarize my experience, “Big sale! Things I want massively discounted! I throw things and things and things in shopping cart! I go cook breakfast and look for even more things! Shopping FUN!” Then: “Prices go up … what do I do now? NOT fun.”

My theory is that they’re running an algorithm to see what kind of pricing gets people to buy or not buy – Amazon does that kind of thing – and if people were jumping on the sale in droves, maybe the algorithm hopped in and adjusted the prices upward. Or perhaps there’s a coding issue.

Here’s the thing, though. Once I’ve added something to the cart in good faith, at a particular price, I like it to stay at that price. An hour or two delay in checking out is not excessive. I should be able to hammer on the shopping cart and update it and add things all day long, until the clock ticks over to midnight, without seeing pricing changes.

This is not the first time I’ve seen this. It’s happened enough that I’ve started making screen captures of the shopping cart in between adding items, or making a text document with items and their prices itemized. The appropriate thing to do now would be to write the company, send them the screen captures, and ask “Say, folks, why did your prices bump up over the course of an hour?” Alas, I jotted prices down this time, which is equivalent to having no solid proof. (Much like the saying about oral contracts. “They’re worth the paper they’re written on.”)

It is what it is. Now I know, and now you do too. Double check that shopping cart one last time before you check out and enter your credit card information; otherwise, you may get a nasty surprise.

I didn’t actually need those models; I just wanted them. They were luxuries or items that would have made my work go a little faster. It’s not like I can complain about the company’s pricing in general, really; it takes time and hard work to make models, and I’ve benefited plenty from the Platinum Club sale. I know that running a company and all the trappings that go with it are expensive. However, once I’ve seen a price I find acceptable and put something in my cart, I really, really don’t like seeing the price increment upward. It’s one of those practices that lowers my trust for a company and makes me tend to avoid them.

I was planning on writing a review/comparison of Terradome 3 versus some other systems, but that isn’t going to happen now. On the positive side, I just saved myself $50-80 by abandoning the entire transaction.

I doubt Daz will notice the difference. They were doing fine before I came along. They’ll do fine after I’m gone. There are plenty of people who’ll see Terradome 3 listed at $21.58 and will swoop in and happily grab it up, not knowing that it was listed at $12.95 this morning, with an additional discount down to $10.36.

But I know.

Yep, I made some more stuff.

October 21st, 2016

Whee! Look what the letter carrier angrily hurled on my doorstep! It’s the 2016 edition of IQF Quilt Scene! That means one of my quilts must be inside. That means I must rapidly thumb through looking for it – with great care, though, so as to not wrinkle the magazine. I want the magazine to look nice and crisp so that I can leave it out on the table and nonchalantly lure people over to look at it.

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Here we go – page 75, deep in the bowels of the Special Exhibits section. The title of this piece is Leaving Home: Launch of the Apollo 8. It’s one of a collection of art quilts in the Fly Me to the Moon exhibit, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 spaceflight and humans’ first steps on the moon. That exhibit will be debuting at IQF Houston soon.

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My particular piece commemorates the moment when Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders first blasted away from the Earth and headed toward the moon. They orbited the moon ten times, then returned to the Earth. Although they didn’t get to land on the moon, they were the first to make this particular trip; their mission was important in terms of demonstrating its viability.

The piece was executed in watercolor on soy-sized cotton, then stitched. I wanted to evoke something of the spirit of the works of Ando Hiroshige.

This is only one of the pieces in the exhibit, of course. There are, I think, 176 pieces total in the collection, a portion of which will be at IQF. They have a diverse range of treatments ranging from the literal, to pop culture, to folk art.

One can see a few more in the friends@Festival eZine, a publication of Quilts, Inc. The article is also well worth reading for its interview with Susanne Miller Jones, the person who thought of the exhibit and has driven it.

Also debuting at IQF Houston: Odalisque with Squeak Toy, seen below. It’s supposed to be in the digital art category, so do say hello to it if you’re in the area.

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Alas, I suspect it’s another of my pieces that no one will really “get”, at least in terms of understanding how the surface design was executed. On some level, that’s okay. People don’t necessarily have to understand how something was created in order to interact with it, like it, or dislike it. On the other hand, people often are curious about that sort of thing.

As a reminder, Odalisque involved things such as creating a computer-based 3D scene:Odalisque6

 

It also involved simulating the fall of the cloth throw that’s at the end of the chaise, “dropping” it and having my computer figure out what that would look like.

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Game Over involved similar activities, such as modeling the polar bear and the water it’s floating in:

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When I recently received a judging sheet for Game Over, there were comments about thread tension and binding. This is standard for work I create, unless it wins an award, so I am sure that the sheet for Odalisque will have similar comments.

Here is how I feel after I’ve spent countless hours on a piece and I get back comments which totally disregard the surface design and whether the stitching compliments it, in favor of issues which are difficult to see except from the back:

Moving on … just finished this piece, Chaos Contained. It won’t be going to any shows, so get your fill of it here.

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I made it from a variety of bits and scraps, such as fabric and yarn tidbits. The stitching is eccentric and messy, and would utterly horrify the people who congregate at quilt shows and run their ungloved hands over the backs of display pieces.

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(Click image to embiggen.)

I like it, though. Good enough.

The Annual PIQF Post

October 14th, 2016

I saw this when I went to PIQF this morning:

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I’ve been telling people it’s an award for not bleeding all over my work, but I think it’s actually for machine workmanship.

Awards aren’t everything. They’re a polite gesture on the part of the show, and I’m guessing the judges have just a few minutes to make a snap decision about what grabs them by the gut. Get a different judge or have the same people look at things on a different day, and somebody else would have gotten that ribbon. Maybe most of the works in the show deserve some kind of ribbon, because they have good heart and it took the creators some guts to put their work out there.

Nevertheless, this week I got lucky. I really appreciate it. I’ve been in the dumps this week, heaven only knows why. Maybe there isn’t a good reason, other than spending too much time staring into the open running sewer that’s the current presidential election campaign.

I could have gone to the show yesterday. The convention center is six miles from my house, so it’s not as though it’s an arduous drive. Instead, I stayed home and repaired the floor in one of the bathrooms, because nothing says glamour quite like crawling around by a toilet prying up wobbly floor tiles.

Anyhow, went today. Glad I did. Couldn’t stay long, because I’m nursing a mild sprain, but I managed to hobble around the show for an hour. (Bo-Nash lady, I’ll have to come back Sunday to hit you up for fusible powder. You were being nice telling the lady ahead of me all about Angelina fiber, but my ankle just hurt too damned badly to stand much longer.)

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One thing I enjoy about shows is seeing how people interact with the work.

I have a couple of pieces in PIQF this year. One is the depressing, semi-apocalyptic piece on the righthand side of this photo, showing a plastic polar bear clinging to a plastic block of ice. The other is Why Knot.

Almost without exception, people tend to walk by the polar bear piece, Game Over, in favor of looking at Why Knot. That isn’t a knock on the viewers, by the way, but simply a statement of fact. Maybe the composition is just better, or maybe people relate better to children than they do to distressed polar bears who are about to drown.

Among those who look at Why Knot, there’s a group who look at it, smile, maybe study the workmanship, then move on. Then there’s the group who stop and actually read the knot names in the background. Once they do that, they’re usually stuck there for awhile. Let’s just say that I didn’t use standard knot names.

I’m not going to itemize all the work I saw at PIQF – there are plenty of other blogs that’ll do walkthroughs – but I did want to point out a few things that caught my eye.

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The first is this work, whose name and creator I unfortunately didn’t record. Sunday. I’ll go find out Sunday, just before the show closes and I pick up my work, and I’ll post an update. Anyhow – lovely abstract of cheerful colors. Sucked me right in.

If memory serves, the artist is from the U.K.. That’s one of the things I appreciate about the Mancuso shows, the fact that they have a sampling of works created by people from outside the U.S.. The work is often stylistically a little different or depicts subject matter we don’t see over here, such as poppies for Anzac Day or swagmen hanging out with their faithful Blue Heelers. You see, I’m of the opinion that we don’t need walls built around the United States, either physically or metaphorically. We need to instead look outside our boundaries and wonder and learn. Most years, when I go through the entries from the World Quilt Show, I learn something that’s a little new to me, then I come home and learn a little more. Alright. End of that lecture.

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This piece caught my eye, Le Chat de Mondrian by Connie Kincius Griner. It’s a nice crisp, bold piece with a good heart. I like her background stitching. There’s just enough of it, and it’s large enough to make an interesting, discernible texture without competing with the foreground imagery.

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This quilt is The Three Watchers, by Kathryn Harmer Fox of South Africa. It’s a huge, monumental piece, 72 x 56”, and is all the more impressive when one takes a closer look at her stitching.

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Look at that. I’m going to guess that she’s free-motion stitching on a zig-zag setting, but maybe not. However it is that she’s achieved this effect, it’s given the work a wonderful organic, painterly quality.

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Here’s one of Kathy Nida’s works, Part Time Oasis. Always nice to see Kathy’s work in person. I’m going to note that it includes nudity yet, astonishingly, I didn’t see any viewers clutching at their pearls and calling news stations, or any horses getting startled and bolting. Perhaps it’s because we’re in Northern California. The place is probably lousy with aging hippies, and no doubt a few of them quilt. I think I even smelled musk or patchouli when I paid for my admission.

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Yuja, by Linda Anderson. She’s done a great deal with wonderful economy. Look at the marvelous, skilled base painting she’s did, and how expressive the waves of notes cascading around the piano are. I think she won Best Wall Quilt for this, and it was well deserved.

Also, not to change the subject, what is it with people wearing thigh-high stockings with short skirts or shorts? Is this a thing now? Am I just revealing that I’ve gotten past my sell-by date because I’m unfamiliar with this custom? I ran into another example of this yesterday; I’ll post it in a minute.

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Glimmer, one of Neroli Henderson’s lovely nudes. She’s done a number of photo-based nudes, printed on fabric and stitched.

Again – astonishingly – no one seemed particularly shocked or scandalized by the nudity.

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True Blue Mates, by Yvonne Chapman. She’s done a very nice job on this. She’s told a story of friendship with great economy.

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Look how she’s conveyed the water sort of bubbling over with the stitching she did around the rim of the billy can. That’s the kind of clever work she did throughout the piece. Oh, you say you can’t tell how nice it is because my photo kind of stinks? Alright. Come Sunday, I’ll see if I can hobble alllll the way to the back of the ballroom and get a better photo. Her workmanship deserves to be seen.

 

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So a minute ago – or, rather, a few paragraphs ago – I was grumping about the possible trend of people pairing thigh-high stockings with short skirts. This is where I first saw it, on a picture for a 3D model of a “trendy coffee shop barista outfit.” I’m guessing “trendy coffee shop” really means “Hooters with caffeine”, but perhaps that’s just the fuddy-duddy in me speaking.

I’ve been using more readymade 3D models lately, since I’ve been cranking out book covers that use a lot of human imagery. Oh, it’s not clear what I mean by a 3D model? Um, here. Maybe this’ll help:

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This is Michael 6, a Daz offering. Sadly, he has no privates. (Click the image to enlarge it, if you’d like to verify this for yourself.) He had a tragic encounter with a viewer at a quilt show in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and that put an end to his aspiration of being able to digitally urinate while standing up.

I’ve usually made my own 3D models, as with the bear for Game Over and whatnot, but sometimes it turns out to be incredibly convenient to be able to download a model of a guy and pose him like I would a real human model. This is how I crank out tawdry book covers, for example.

Alas, some of the models get a little pricey. I’ve had my eye on the Scott 6 Pro Bundle, for example, but I just can’t bring myself to puke up $135 for the guy. He’s really dishy, though.

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Just look at him, holding his helmet. Oh yeah, Scott 6. You can hold my helmet any time.

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Here he is patrolling a subway car for manspreaders. I feel safer knowing that Scott 6 is out there with his digital gun, ready to shoot anyone who dares to use more than his fair share of seat space.

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He also moonlights doing surveillance, I guess. Ah, Scott 6. Is there anything you can’t do?

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It’s sad. I think I have a crush on a 3D model. However, it could be worse. I could have a thing for Harpoon Girl, who stands around in a bikini and a pair of stylized spats, thinking wistfully about stabbing fish.

Pulling Out Too Soon

August 13th, 2016

One thing I’ve learned: if you create innovative, thought-provoking work, at some point somebody’s going to crap all over it. They’ll say things like “This is ugly; I want to see pretty” or “Somebody sure had a lot of time on their hands” or “You couldn’t pay me enough money to have that in my house.” It doesn’t matter how objectively good the work is. You can make a piece showing how people were transported on slave ships during the rum trade era, and somebody will whine about it because it made them think for a split second and their brains couldn’t handle it. I’ve seen it happen.

Works with nudity really get this treatment. If a piece includes nudity, real or imagined, somebody will have an apoplectic fit while they’re crapping on it. Sometimes, if the work is exhibited in a show, they’ll have their little fit all the way to the show’s organizers, then maybe hang out and wait for a TV news crew so they can be offended on camera. If they’re really good at being manipulative, they can scare the show’s organizers into taking the work down.

 

TFF

A few months back, I wrote an article on this type of thing. I interviewed Annabel Rainbow, Randall Cook, Kathy Nida, and a couple of other people who didn’t wish to be identified. Their stories of censorship are truly chilling.

The piece appears in Issue 122 of Textile Fibre Forum. I recommend checking it out, not only for their stories, but because TFF is a nice, crisp, high-quality publication. That issue also includes articles on the work of Grayson Perry, Charlotte Kruk, and others. Electronic back copies can be purchased on iTunes or via PocketMags.

 

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I Was Not Wearing a Life Jacket, © Kathy Nida

Alas, censorship has reared its hysterical, pearl-clutching head again. One of my friends, Kathy Nida, just had work pulled from AQS Grand Rapids because a viewer THOUGHT she saw a penis in it. Here’s her blog entry. ***

I happen to know that the visitor didn’t see a penis. She didn’t see a penis, because there isn’t one. I’m posting a photo of the work for yourself, so you can verify that there is, in fact, no penis in it. That’s right. We’ve reached a new level of censorship – having work censored for something that isn’t there!

Based on this event, I think there’s some confusion about what a penis looks like. This worries me a little, because about half of all mammals have them. Chances are, no matter how sheltered you are, you’ve seen a penis. Dogs and horses don’t exactly walk around in tighty-whities, and most women have had husbands, boyfriends, or at least changed the occasional diaper.

However, I will concede that it’s possible this woman had never seen one, given the state of sex ed in Michigan’s school systems. Apparently it’s optional, and is given to things like pro-abstinence speakers.  Therefore, let’s have a little chat about what a penis looks like.

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Mr. Happy

Here is a representative penis. I call it “Mr. Happy”. It’s a nice, non-threatening toilet paper holder and Kleenex dispenser that I made it for an art show a few years ago. I thought it was apt because it’s rendered in fiber. Maybe the AQS visitor was confused about what a penis looked like because she was looking at fiber-based artwork.

Mr. Happy depicts some of the standard characteristics of a real penis, such as being longer than it is wide and getting shorter and longer. (One adds and removes rolls of toilet paper to achieve that effect.) It even has furry testicles. I will admit, though, that the eyes are not true to life. If I saw eyes on a real penis, I’d probably flee as fast as my legs would carry me.

I hope that helps clarify things a little.

 

Show organizers, your censoring of works has gotten old. Real old. Even if the woman had seen a penis in Kathy’s artwork, so what? There’s been nudity in artwork for the past 50,000 years or so.

You know what I do when I see a piece I don’t like? I move those funny pink blobs at the bottoms of my legs and I walk past it. Personally, I found the picaninny quilt that was exhibited at PIQF a few years ago deeply offensive. And it won a prize. (Evidently it was a kit quilt, too – what a marvelous world we live in, when you can buy your very own kit for making racist quilts!)

Show organizers, you need to get clear on a few things.

What type of show are you running? 

Are you holding what’s essentially a bigger version of a county fair exhibit, where people gather and look at patchwork and say things like “Look, Paw! That shore is some plum purty stitchin’!”? Or are you going to support the growth of the medium into an art form? *

What type of work do you allow in your show?

Do you allow in artwork? Can the artwork include nudity, or just stuff like kitty-cats popping their heads out of pumpkins? How about you get real clear on your policy, and be up front with exhibitors like SAQA and the rest? **

What is your policy on pulling work out of the show? 

If it’s met your openly stated standards for being exhibited, are you going to do that? Are you going to pull work if someone complains about something imaginary? Are you going to deprive the rest of the paying visitors the right to see a piece of artwork simply because somebody else didn’t like it and didn’t have the self-control to walk by?

Allowing in artwork, then getting scared and pulling it when someone blanches and clutches at her pearls, isn’t working out. It’s bad for all of us.

Also, the next time someone threatens not to come back to your shows because of some damned thing she imagined, maybe just say “I’m sorry to hear that,” politely wish her well, and consider yourself lucky to not see her again.

 

* Edit: I now see that this paragraph implies that patchwork can’t be art, which isn’t true. However, I’ll let it stand, since that’s the way the majority of people have seen the post.

One of commenters also made a good point about my using “country speak” in a ridiculing manner. She’s right. Probably I shouldn’t have done that. On the other hand, “country speak” comes natural when you’re a first generation descendent of hillbillies and rednecks, and have used an outhouse more than a few times when visiting grandparents.

** Another clarification: I don’t want to revile AQS or any other show if they really don’t want to get in the business of displaying art. If art-lovers aren’t a key part of their business, so be it. But clearer guidelines would be useful for everyone.

*** Kathy has written a second blog entry which shows some of her base drawings and analyzes a variety of things which could be construed as penises. I think that from now on, whenever she has an umbilical cord in her work, I’m going to squint at it and refer to it as a penis.

 

Update as of Monday, 8/17: Per Kathy, “So AQS made the decision to pull my quilt I Was Not Wearing a Life Jacket with the nonexistent penis from QuiltWeek in Chattanooga and Des Moines. They are now considering whether my other piece, Fully Medicated, which has zero complaints, should also be pulled (still no penis). Please let them know how you feel about either decision at the link below.

I am so disappointed and frustrated by their actions…please share this if you think it will help. I appreciate all your support…”

Here’s AQS’ contact form.

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

thumbnails

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