Archive for the ‘New Work’ Category

Where is the story?

Tuesday, September 19th, 2017

Succulent, 38 x 32″

Here’s my latest, Succulent. It’ll be at PIQF next month. I managed to finish it just before the submission deadline, battling my sewing machine the whole way. (And have I taken my machine in for repair yet? No, I haven’t. However, I’m still whining about the fact that it’s broken despite the fact I’m now past deadline and could do something about it. It’s a good thing I’ve never claimed to be wholly logical.)

It was interesting. By interesting, I mean that I really hate doing work at the last minute and I’ll do almost anything to avoid ending up in that situation. However, I had a firm commitment for another piece that HAD to be done by a certain date – for a top-secret exhibit, natch – so this one had to be postponed for awhile.

Most of my recent work has been 3D-based. Succulent is a little different, although it’s still based on the output of a computer.

Back in 2009, I saw a plant about the size of my hand and absentmindedly took a photo of it. I think I was at Balboa Park in San Diego at the time; the place is covered with plants.

That photo had a nice abstract quality that has fascinated me over the years. I finally sat down with it and ran it through some custom Photoshop filters to increase saturation and simulate a watercolor effect. I had the resulting image printed onto fabric at Spoonflower, then did the usual batting and stitching and muttering that transforms such things into art quilts.

This piece used thirty-three colors of thread. I have no idea how that compares to my usual work; it isn’t something I normally focus on. My philosophy is that you use however much thread and however many colors you need to, and it usually isn’t worth dwelling on. I always use a lot of thread, but I don’t deserve a freaking medal for using up an entire manufacturing plant’s worth of polyester. When people look at a piece, it either speaks to them or it doesn’t.

However, occasionally – very occasionally – it is interesting. In this case, it’s a reminder of the complexity that can dwell beneath apparent simplicity. When I look at  the quilt, I’m surprised at the fact that the design was able to bear up under so many different hues. Perhaps it’s because the shapes are so simple and bold.

Now I’m dwelling in the land of “what’s next”? My usual work mode is telling stories, either visually or with words. Succulent was a bit of a departure from that. It’s a pretty piece, with its play of light and color, but there isn’t much of a story there other than “look closer and pay attention to the world around you”.

I don’t know which story I want to tell next. This happens after every project, and I hate it every time. It doesn’t help that I can hear that Chuck Close quote in my ears, “Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work.”

In the meantime, I’ve been taking an online course on fantasy artwork and making things like this:

A winged naked guy is hanging out on a cloud bank. He’s naked because … let me think about this … there’s no laundromat nearby. He tried hauling a washer up there, but it kept falling through the clouds, plus there was no real water supply to plumb it up to. Try not to dwell on the other sanitary implications of that situation.

When he wants to go on a date, he flies down to Target and buys a nine-pack of tighty whities. Not that he needs to, because there’s nothing up front to hide. No geometry, if you get my drift. Which, I guess, really makes dating pointless … having 2.4 flying kids and a flying dog isn’t in this guy’s future unless he adopts. Never mind. Forget I mentioned it.

How many times have you seen images similar to this, with a naked dude or a scantily clad woman hanging out by a cloud bank? Yep. A lot. That’s why I won’t be taking this image any further and making a quilt out of it. That is, unless I get desperate and can’t think of anything better or more original. Then I’ll make up a nonsense story about how the idea came to me in a dream.

This image wasn’t too hard to put together, but the filthy little non-secret about 3D/CGI is that if you work in that medium, you’re going to be fiddling around. Always. Always. Always. I have never had a project that didn’t have at least some minor issue. I’ll want a different texture on one of the models, or the lighting isn’t quite right, or something will outright go to pot and I’ll have to figure it out. I’m a perverse creature and I enjoy that process, but I know some folks don’t.

 

Here, for example, we have one of the early surface designs for Game Over. I thought my little plastic polar bear should have a little plastic scarf. However, it looked awful. Delete.

 

In this snippet of a scene, a bare-chested hottie was groping away at a willing female. Later I discovered that the hottie was so enthusiastic his fingers were jammed right through the woman’s belly. I wish I’d inspected the scene more closely before poking the render button.

 

I was trying to come up with a new hottie. (I don’t remember whether this one is a stock character or something I modified.)

That thing on his head was supposed to be hair. Unfortunately, the hair texture didn’t get applied to it, so it looks more like a shower cap. Perhaps that’s why he appears so unhappy.

 

I thought that creating a realistic velvet texture for one of my scenes would be AWESOME. Too bad it looked like a green porcupine. There was another one that looked like mottled decay. Wish I’d saved a picture of it. On second thought, perhaps it’s best that I didn’t.

 

An early version of the surface design for Gusher. Gosh, wouldn’t it be swell if oil really spewed out of that oil well? It should be straightforward to simulate with particle effects, right?

Whoopsy. That took a few iterations to fix.

 

Lately I’ve been toying with idea of a series inspired by the paintings of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema. You know the ones … the paintings where he has chicks hanging out on uncomfortable marble furniture by the water, waiting for dudes to come home on fancy-looking boats.

That should be straightforward to whip up, right?

Oh dear. Her legs are poking straight through her dress. Gee whiz, I can’t fix that in the software I was using. That means I’ll have to take the woman and her dress into a different piece of software.

Or … hold on! Change of plan! Instead of her wearing a Hellenistic dress, what if she has on a vaguely apocalyptic outfit? Think “Mad Max Visits the Mediterranean”. And, um, she’ll be waving a gun around. She hasn’t had her coffee yet and she’s annoyed about the guys on that ship in the background cruising around in her bay. When they clamber up to her marble gazebo, she’ll shoot them all.

Or not.

None of this is working for me. Guess I’ll go make some more naked guys with wings. Maybe that’ll be my new series. Naked Guys with Wings. It’ll be a gender swapped version of Victoria’s Secret angels.

Above

Monday, May 29th, 2017

Above

Above. 24.5 x 45

 

Here’s my newest work, Above. It’s so named because it reminded my husband of a view of a landscape as seen while floating in the sky. This is shades of the video for “And She Was” by the Talking Heads.

My internet friend Quinn McDonald has written eloquently about how recent events have affected people’s creativity. Amusingly enough, I’m having the opposite experience. I’m turning out tons of work. Unfortunately, much of it has a depressed, apocalyptic tone or, like this piece, is executed on the fly while listening to Terry Gross’s calming tones on NPR.

Closeup2

I don’t know what inspired me to create Above. Maybe there wasn’t any inspiration, save using some excess materials that were cluttering up the corners of my workroom. It truly is a Frankensteinian creation, comprised of chunks of old bed sheet, fabric scraps too small and irregular to piece together, and a bag of exotic yarn ends. Happily, although it’s quite a bit different than my usual work, it’s already been claimed.

Closeup1

When I do a piece of work like this that’s crazy, with bits of this and that salvaged and thrown in in no particular manner, I think of my maternal grandmother. Perhaps the work is something of a tribute to her.

My mother and I lived with her parents for a time after she divorced my father. In my memories, they were humorless people and not particularly warm. Both of them were poisoned by a particular strain of southern Christianity that embraced hatred and stupidity. It’s a strain that believes that questions come from Satan, one should regard reading materials other than the Bible with deep suspicion, and that “n—— aren’t human and should go back to Africa”. The philosophy is far more focussed on relishing the punishment of unbelievers and their eternal roasting in hell than it is following the teachings of Jesus.

Given all that, perhaps it wasn’t surprising that we weren’t close. Perhaps it’s difficult to be warm or affectionate when the core of one’s life is a philosophy that’s focussed on hatred and judgement. Or perhaps having a daughter and her child land in their household put them under a strain and they resented it. Still, they took in my mother and me, and I do appreciate it. They were never cruel to me. There was a roof over my head and food on the table at every meal. This, despite the fact that I must have gotten on their nerves.

I was a genius at conjuring up mischief. My grandmother had fragrant white roses planted out in front of the house. I would rip the roses off the bushes and shake them around, purely for the pleasure of seeing the petals fall down like snow. I would also pull unripe peaches off their trees and scrape away the fuzz with a fingernail, because the fact there was fuzz on a fruit fascinated me. These actions weren’t well received. Still, my grandparents weren’t cruel to me. There were sharp words but they didn’t yell or paddle me, despite my returning to that rose bush over and over again.

My grandmother was a quilter. Both of my grandmothers were, actually. That was simply what one did in their era, particularly if one was of a particular social class. They gardened and canned, they sewed clothes for their families, and they hoarded the leftover fabric scraps to piece together quilts to keep their families warm. In my memories, my paternal grandmother’s works were pieced quilts that followed a pattern. I don’t remember much about my maternal grandmother’s work, other than the crazy quilt.

That crazy quilt was a glorious thing, patched together out of salvaged scraps of cotton, jersey, and velveteen. It didn’t contain any fancy stitching or other embellishment, but it didn’t need it. The assortment of fabric types and colors and textures was sufficient to elevate it to the status of art.

I doubt that my grandmother intended it to be a work of art, because art wasn’t part of her universe. In her world, a picture of praying hands or of a long-haired, suspiciously Caucasian Jesus was sufficient art for a household. I’m sure she simply viewed the quilt as a frugal means of staying warm. It was art though, and quite marvelous. I loved every inch of it.

I spent hours with that quilt. It was my solace. My parents couldn’t simply agree that they didn’t get along and seek a divorce, you see. There were religious considerations plus my father was determined to stay in the marriage because, I think, of me. I understand and appreciate that, but it really was quite awful. My mother was paranoid schizophrenic and my father just plain hates women, so there had to be beatings and kidnappings and all manner of other nightmarish bullshit before they split up. So many things happened. So many. Life was out of control. But after the divorce, the quilt was there.

I used to take that quilt, wad it up, and explore its topology. I’d do that by the hour, when I wasn’t intent on destroying my grandmother’s roses. I’d use marbles for the activity, pretending they were tiny human spelunkers. They’d run through the caves and canyons in the quilt. I’d try to understand how the manner in which I’d wadded up the quilt led to certain formations, then I’d wad it up a different way and try to understand that.

Eventually the living circumstances changed. My mother and I moved out, urged on by my grandfather’s bellows of “Pack your duds and get out!”, a subtle hint that we’d worn out our welcome. Much of that period is a haze. There was a multitude of different schools, a rotating cast of boyfriends for my mother, and worn, cracked apartments that smelled odd. I’d let myself in after school and sit up into the night watching Mannix or Hawaii Five-O or Ironsides while my mother slept for whatever menial job she was attempting to hold down. Her life was hell. She had few job skills and the mental illness made life frightening. Each time she got a new job, there’d be a honeymoon period, then her co-workers would be “out to get her” or (in her mind) even kill her.

She’d have “spells” of depression or paranoia. I’d try to reason her out of them, not realizing that there was something organically wrong that kept her mind from functioning properly. Something as simple as a word scratched out on a piece of paper could become a plot in which people were trying to deceive her. Sometimes she’d turn on me with a sly, chilling smile on her face, and tell me that I was trying to hide things from her but she could see through it. She was going to leave me an inheritance when she died someday. I wouldn’t try to hurt her, would I? I wouldn’t try to get that money sooner?

I was only in the third or fourth grade. I couldn’t keep up with how quickly her mind could warp facts to fit a delusion. We’d spend hours talking. I’d about have her convinced that her coworkers really weren’t carrying razor blades in their shoes so they could kill her, then I’d make a mistake, she’d seize on it, and we’d be right back where we started. It was exhausting and about as fruitful as chatting with the Mississippi River and asking it to not form oxbow lakes after an earthquake. Still, she tried. Life was terrifying for her, but she kept trying.

The summer before fifth grade, I moved in with my father and his second wife. That proved to be its own story. I never really saw my mother’s side of the family after that. I barely saw my mother.

My grandmother passed away at the age of 93. I know only a few bare facts about her life, but I still have the memory of that crazy quilt. She raised a bunch of kids, she housed me for awhile, and she made a marvelous quilt. She did the best she could with what she had. I respect her for those things. When I look at my own work, I think of her.

 

Do Dragons Like Cookies?

Tuesday, April 4th, 2017

DoDragons1000

Here’s my latest quilt, Do Dragons Like Cookies? 

It measures, um, 39 3/4″ wide by 32 1/2″ tall. Thought I’d throw that in. Some folks like to know about sizes.

 

The stitching

GirlAlone1000

A closeup of some of the stitching. Don’t look too closely at the craters on the moon. They aren’t scientifically accurate. They’re more along the lines of “stitched in a desperate, manic fashion after drinking far too much coffee”.

I’ve been thinking of coming up with an obnoxious label for my style of stitching. We have McTavishing and thread painting and I don’t know what else. I’ve been toying with names like StitchGanic (a bad combination of Stitching and Organic), DesperationStitch, and my favorite, ResentStitch. What do you think? Could I market a book on ResentStitch®? I’m envisioning chapters with themes like “What to do when the coffee runs out,” “Is there a problem? Just sew over it,” and “Yes, I totally intended it to be that way.”

 

DragonAlone1000

Whee. More stitching.

 

SnowflakeAlone1000

And … even more stitching. I have nothing nice to say about the process of sewing the snowflakes. Let’s just say that the closer the wings got to the little girl’s body, the harder it was to make out what was printed on the fabric. And I designed the @#$% thing. In several places I ended up making my peace with the Devil’s Thread, aka clear polyester monofilament.

 

GirlReverse

What the heck. I’ll throw in a couple of views of the reverse. Some folks like to see that sort of thing. Just pretend that I went over the surface with a lint brush before taking the photo, okay? Pretend you don’t see stray threads here and there.

 

DragonReverse

This piece is notable for being the first I can remember where I avoided the Valley of Despair. (The Valley of Despair occurs when one has been working on a project for so long that one can’t remember the beginning and one can’t see the end.) That may be because I broke the project down into half hour increments this time. Each time my timer went off, I made a hash mark on paper, then got up and stretched. It made a world of difference as far as time tracking, taking care of my body, and having a tangible measure of progress.

 

About the surface design

The surface design is a 3D rendering printed on cotton. If you’ve looked at my work recently, you know the drill: you create or acquire geometry on the computer, apply textures to it, light it, and have a computer calculate what the scene would look like.

GirlDragon10Wireframe

Here’s the scene layout in wireframe mode. Hopefully that makes it clearer what I mean by “geometry”.

I originally intended this piece to be a lighting study. I thought it would be fun to do a scene inspired by paintings such as The Lanterns, by Charles Courtney Curran, and Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose, by John Singer Sargent. However, instead of a bunch of little girls with lanterns, I used a dragon and a fairy holding a firefly. I can’t remember why. Probably it was late at night and I was getting a little loopy.

Here are the models I started with:

Girl

This little girl is Skyler, offered by Daz.

This is what she looks like when she’s loaded into a scene initially. Boom. No clothes, no hair, just the computer equivalent of a rag doll for you to pose and dress and so forth.

 

dragon

This is the Millennium Dragon LE, also by DAZ.

 

GirlDragonV1

The scene took shape pretty quickly. I threw some wings on the little girl and had her kneel on a rock, offering the firefly to the dragon. Mind you, I’m not sure why one would offer a firefly to a dragon. The dragon in this initial version is large and definitely on the menacing side, so perhaps the young lady decided it would be smart to offer whatever she had on hand.

 

GirlMFD

Paddling around in one’s skin can get chilly, so I put some clothes on her. I chose the Morphing Fantasy Dress (MFD)  from Daz because of its versatility. It’s a very basic dress, and one can do a great deal with it by modifying textures. The MFD has been around for years, so there are tons and tons of textures available, things people have created and offered for free out of the goodness of their hearts.

 

GirlDragon1_5

This test render shows the scene lit by the firefly she’s holding in her hand. I was experimenting with some different camera angles to see if there was something more striking than the first view I’d come up with. I like this angle quite a bit, but decided the one from the side was more striking.

The dress has a fern surface applied. One of the things I like about the MFD is the availability of free textures. One can download anything from a belly dancer’s outfit to a meat dress to a princess dress and swiftly try out different looks for one’s scene. Even if one doesn’t use a particular texture, one can get a better sense of what may work.

In this case, since I was working with a fairy, I downloaded a fern fairy texture. This one was offered by a user I know only as Chohole, who has shared many, many textures with the community.

 

GirlDragonV2

Back to the original camera angle. The firefly has been replaced with a cookie, and now the scene has the moon as a backdrop. (Courtesy of the Iray Worlds SkyDome Super PAK)

Our story is beginning to come together. In the way of children since time immemorial, our fairy is offering a treat to a wild creature she wishes to befriend. Hopefully the dragon will like gingerbread!

That dress isn’t quite right, though. It was nice for previewing the fairy look. However, we’re no longer in a woodland setting. She has snowflake wings, icy white hair, and the whole scene seems quite cold. Perhaps a snowflake dress would be better?

 

GirlDragonV3

This dress texture was courtesy of a lady named Trixie, whose ShareCG profile says “I’m just a ranch lady, raising cattle … this is my hobby 3D textures”. And very nice they are, too. Thank you, Trixie!

I’ve curled the dragon’s tail around so that it curves toward the fairy. That felt more balanced, plus I didn’t like having the creature’s tail lopped off by the side of the picture.

 

DressTexture

At this point I decided I wanted to make my own texture for the dress, one which would mimic the snowflakes on the girl’s wings. Here I’ve overlaid the lace on top of a template offered by SnowSultan. If one builds the graphic in layers in Photoshop, it’s straightforward to use the template as a guide, then turn it off, flatten the file, and save the result out as a jpeg for one’s texture.

 

GirlDragonV4

Fairy with custom snowflake lace texture. I had to make several custom textures, actually. It turns out that when you’re rendering out a scene at 6300 x 5400 pixels for printing on fabric, many textures are too low resolution to look decent.

At this point I was also trying some different camera and moon positions. I do like the way we see reflected moonlight on the water in this test render.

 

GirlDragon1000

However … surprise! When I placed the moon behind the girl’s head, the composition became much stronger.

That’s one of the advantages of working on a computer and being able to save a thousand different versions. You can do some experimentation apart from whatever you may have sketched out or planned.

I have no idea how this scene ends. Will the dragon accept the cookie and become her friend or will it chomp her hand? Not all fairytales have happy endings, after all.

Speaking as the mother of a twelve year old boy, I do hope the fairy’s vaccinations are current.

This and That

Thursday, March 2nd, 2017

GirlDragon1000

Tentative title: Do Dragons Like Cookies? (click image to embiggen)

This is the surface design for the newest quilt-in-progress, AKA the latest thing I’m griping about. And gripe I shall. When I stitch, those snowflake wings and the lace dress on the girl are going to give me fits unless I use what I call The Devil’s Thread: clear polyester monofilament.

 

GusherDetail

Yeah, I finally tried that stuff. I used some on Gusher, in the area with balls and cups and such. I feel like it was a devil’s bargain. Yes, I preserved the fine shading of the cups and styrofoam containers and I didn’t have to do fifty thousand thread changes. On the other hand, the texture of the thread itself is yuck, like something I’d cut out of a vacuum cleaner roller with a utility knife. It glistens. It doesn’t have the same soul as the thread I normally use. I know it’s irrational, but I’m terrified that it’s going to spring loose from the quilt and attack someone.

If I’m going to spend weeks or months hunched over a sewing machine, I want the end result to have some poetry to it, even if the quilt depicts a drowning polar bear or an automaton crapping out plastic cups. There needs to be a good reason I chose to make a quilt rather than printing the same design out on flags to sell at a roadside stand. The stitch needs to contribute to the design. Ideally it would be essential. I’m not so sure I’m accomplishing that with The Devil’s Thread.

 

GirlDragon10Wireframe

Anyhow … on to the surface design of the fabric. This is a 3D rendering. If you’ve followed my work in the past, you may be familiar with the process. Create geometry on a computer, barf some textures on it, set up fake light sources, and let the computer figure out what that might look like in real life. If you look at the wireframe, you can see that the scene is extremely simple.

This time I used some purchased assets (3D models) and posed them rather than making everything myself. The little girl is the Skyler model from Daz and the dragon is the Millennium SubDragon LE. I posed them in the Iray Worlds SkyDome.

Much like using The Devil’s Thread, using purchased models is something I wouldn’t have done once upon a time. Instead I would have laboriously spent days creating every blasted model myself, and I would have made sure that everyone around me was miserable while I did it. I also would have bragged about it afterward, and when the thing hung in a gallery, no one would have understood or cared.

Using the Daz assets was nice. I hate to admit that, because I think some of their marketing verges on pedophilia, and there are a couple of things on their site that I find obscenely racist. (Note the afro-wearing gorilla shown in one of the shots for this product. Seriously. Do we really need to go there?)

That said, sometimes it’s nice to grab a pre-made model and get on with it. Daz has a lot of models. Often they’re pretty darned cheap, especially if you consider the labor that goes into them. (Afro-wearing gorillas notwithstanding.)

 

LaceDress

Look at the lace on that dress. I thought I was being real clever when I created that texture. “Oh, it’ll match the snowflakes her wings are made out of,” I told myself, “It’ll be pretty! Visual poetry!” Yeah, it matches. It’s pretty. It’s also going to be horrible to stitch. Either I use The Devil’s Thread on it to hide mistakes or I spend the next two months hunched over it while I stitch with a magnifying glass.

Stay tuned.

 

blueHair

In other non-news, I dyed my hair blue.

Sometimes I hear people complain, and justifiably so, about becoming “invisible” after one turns a certain age. Let me tell you, when you go around with a head full of long blue (or purple or hot pink) hair, you are no longer invisible. People smile and chat with me when my hair’s blue. I get great customer service. My kid likes it. Sure, I get the occasional stinkeye and backing away reaction too, but that’s also fine. It lets me cull out the people who are superficial.

The main reason to do something like hair dying, though, is because you enjoy it. I do. I could care less about growing fingernails and half the time I don’t remember to put on makeup, but seeing blue hair when I look in the mirror cheers me up.

 

HerStory

Here are a couple of new works, celebrating the lives and hard work of Maria Goeppert-Mayer and Mary Blair. They’re slated for Susanne Miller Jones’ HerStory traveling exhibit, along with scads of works from other artists. It should be a good exhibit; the subject matter is juicy, and the other works I’ve seen have been creative and heartfelt.

I admire people who, to use a hackneyed phrase, “do things to make the world better”. It’s easy to plotz on one’s La-Z-Boy and complain, but quite another thing to conceive an idea and bring it to fruition.

Susanne’s doing just that. She’s conceived and spearheaded several exhibits on thought-provoking topics. That gives artists like me a venue to speak our minds, and it makes for provocative, interesting viewing. One of those exhibits, Fly Me to the Moon, is currently traveling the country.

 

MQU

MQU_2

The latest Machine Quilting Unlimited has a few of the works from Fly Me to the Moon. Yep, that’s my rocket in the second shot. Also, check out the articles about Betty Hahn’s work and on pictographic quilting, which are pretty darned cool.

 

OurStory

Susanne is currently accepting entries for a new exhibit, OURstory: Civil Rights Stories in Fabric. Its goal is to “tell the stories of disenfranchised people and their fights for equal rights”. This is another great topic, and very timely.

The deadline is March 8, so it’s coming up pretty quickly. Fortunately, all one has to do by that date is submit an idea, not the actual quilt, so there’s plenty of time to register.

http://www.susannemjones.com/ourstory-call-for-entries/

 

TORlogowhite500

On a related note, The Artist Circle, a group of well-known quilt artists, is accepting entries for an exhibit to “protest the Trump administration’s actions and policies”.

One only has to skim over the news to see matters of concern – climate change, fake news, education, racism, and on and on. This exhibit is an opportunity to speak out about those issues. The deadline for that is May 1.

http://threadsofresistance.blogspot.com

 

GusherTrim

This thing, Gusher, is finally stitched and faced. I need to do a little inkwork on it, but I think I can call it all but done. Not a moment too soon, either. I don’t know how many years I’ve been working on it. I could look it up, but hey, why don’t I not do that? The number is probably depressing.

The fact is, I’m not one of those gracious people who writes only sweet things or gushes about how many spools of thread they’ve used or how they were inspired by a butterfly tenderly sucking the nectar from a flower. I start projects because I believe in them. Sometimes I get tired of working on them and I finish only because of sheer cussedness. This is one of those projects.

I’ll leave you with a few gratuitous shots.

desk

My desk, or a portion of it. I also call this Still Life with Key Pad, Dust Mask, and Brain Pin.

Sometimes it’s fun to see others’ work spaces. I hadn’t realized how cluttered mine had gotten. It’s taking on a “Where’s Waldo” appearance.

 

Shoes

My twelve year old’s shoe on the left. My shoe on the right. Having your kid outgrow you is one of those rites of passage, I guess. Bittersweet. We want our kids to grow and thrive, and it’s horrid when they don’t, but it would be nice to hold the baby he once was just a few more times.

 

Endcap

Alright. This. (Another “click to embiggen” picture.)

I try to be a decent person. Hopefully I’m a better person than I was ten or twenty years ago, and that usually includes just walking by and not commenting if I see something that I think is nonsense.

I’m going to make an exception this time, though. This was an end cap at one of the local Michaels. It’s for “customizing” slime. Not making slime – there’s school glue, which is an ingredient for making slime, but no borax and no instructions, so I guess we aren’t actually MAKING anything, are we? We’re just taking glitter and plastic crap and mooching it inside a viscous polymer blob so we can, I don’t know, have it fall on the floor, get dirty, and throw it away?

I have clearly outlived my usefulness on this Earth.

Yep, I made some more stuff.

Friday, 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.

showscene1_490

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.

showscene2_490

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.

odalisque490

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.

Odalisque15 Odalisque16 Odalisque17

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

box9

 

water

GameOverComp

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.

chaos1

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.

chaos2

(Click image to embiggen.)

I like it, though. Good enough.

Don’t keep it in a safe place.

Sunday, 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

bilibin-saltan-czar-08

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.

An article, a story, and a quilt.

Monday, 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.

Sometimes it takes awhile

Saturday, 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.

Adventures in Fabric Printing

Wednesday, August 26th, 2015

You know that excited feeling you have when you open a much-anticipated shipment and look at your goodies? The “Oh boy, oh boy, this is great and I can’t wait to tear into it” feeling?

Yeah. I’m not there. The custom fabric for my next quilts arrived. Things aren’t so great.

This piece with the bear is okay. I can work with it. Some areas of saturated color have washed out a bit, but that’s to be expected when taking an RGB image and printing it with a limited number of ink colors. Some RGB colors can’t be reproduced in CMYK. There’s also some loss of sharpness, particularly in areas of low contrast; see the sides of the ice cubes and the bear’s face. However, I can touch these areas up with Tsukineko ink. Things will also change considerably when I begin quilting.

GameOverComp

Image file

 

GameOverFabric

Fabric printed from the image file

 

Alas, the other piece of fabric is a total loss.

Here’s the rendered file, the one submitted for printing onto fabric:

Gusher

Here’s the resulting printed fabric:

GusherFabric

Notice that much of the detail is lost, particularly in darker areas. If the fabric is not outside in bright sunlight, the conveyor belt and background blend together and the cups, balls, and even styrofoam containers aren’t particularly noticeable. The whole image disintegrates into a muddy mess. The photo above doesn’t capture how truly horrid the situation is.

Alright. I’m not pointing fingers of accusation at Spoonflower, by the way. I appreciate their service. Really, they just print whatever files one sends them. This situation is just stuff, the sort of stuff which occasionally occurs when one is taking RGB images and having them printed in CMYK. If one’s monitor isn’t well adjusted, if colors are too saturated, if one doesn’t take into account the quirks of printing onto fabric or the quirks of the printer itself, the end result can be less than desirable.

I’ve actually been very fortunate to encounter almost no problems of this nature during years of creating artwork for books and magazines. I’ve also had fabric printed a couple of other times with no difficulty.

Back to the drawing board. I’ll make some adjustments and get fabric printed for Gusher, the oil derrick piece, another time. Since I like to get two images at a time printed on a length of fabric, this unfortunately means waiting until I have another image ready to produce. Annoying, but not the end of the world. The ruined piece of fabric won’t go to waste, either; it’ll probably become base fabric for one of my shopping bags.

bag1

See? A shopping bag made from odds and ends.

Based on this experience, I have some takeaways. I hope my observations will be helpful to others, but of course, your mileage may vary.

  • The more forgiving the image file in terms of color saturation, contrast and detail, the more satisfactory the printed fabric is likely to be.
  • When dealing with any fabric printing service, thoroughly scour their help files. Also, find out what kind of printer they’re using, research its color space (CMYK, Hexachrome, etc.) and its quirks, and plan accordingly. Based on the images on this site I believe Spoonflower may use the HP DesignJet L26500 for some of its printing.
  • Get one of the company’s swatch printouts and compare to the colors in one’s file.
  • Don’t count on images or fine detail printing out as crisply on fabric as they would on paper.
  • Increase the contrast of one’s image. Visual elements with similar colors or similar intensity may simply muddy together. That’s particularly the case for darker colors.
  • Consider tweaking curves in Photoshop or some other program so as to lighten the mid and deep tones. These can always be deepened on the final piece of fabric with Tsukineko ink, but it is very difficult to lighten tones on a piece of muddy, dark fabric.

 

Midtones

Tweaking curves in Photoshop to lighten midtones. Click image to enlarge

Farewell to summer

Thursday, August 20th, 2015

butterfly

“Happy New Year … of SCHOOL!!!!” my husband bellowed at the boy this morning, thus jarring him out of a peaceful slumber.

Thus dawns the beginning of a new school year and my frantically trying to remember what I was doing back in early June when the boy’s school let out. There isn’t enough coffee in the world to make my brain work right now. I know this because I’ve drunk most of it and all I’ve accomplished is several trips to the bathroom.

Maybe I should start by shoveling out my work area, which is seriously trashed. That way it’ll be ready to go when the base fabric for my next two quilts arrives from Spoonflower. Spoonflower’s website assures me that the fabric is headed my way from Durham, NC via truck or plane or maybe muleback. The Donner Party sort of made it over the Sierras in their horse-drawn covered wagons, give or take a little starvation and cannibalism, so I’m sure the fabric will be here in no time.

I’m excited to start stitching on these new works. Their subject matter has been in the back of my mind for quite awhile, and I finally used 3D software (Blender) to help jell the imagery. As a side note, I’ve discovered that even though the quilts are barely started, they’re good for shutting down conversations.

A week or two ago, we headed out of town to a wedding. “Oh, what are you working on these days?” asked the lovely, glowing bride, hoping to start an innocuous discussion. I told her about one of the new quilts with its apocalyptic man/automaton figure wildly gobbling down oil and defecating out plastic goods. “Oh, um, that sounds dark,” she said diplomatically. Huh. I guess it is.

It was her wedding day and all, so I didn’t mention the second quilt. It features the red plastic polar bear figure from the children’s game “Don’t Break the Ice”. The ice has been broken and the hapless polar bear is clinging to a chunk in a large, featureless ocean, in danger of slipping away in exhaustion and drowning.

PolarBear

Here’s the latest incarnation of Mr. Bear now that he has eyes and skates and such.

I’m trying a new, smaller size with these quilts to see if I can get them done with good quality and out the door. It was pretty disheartening seeing submission dates blow by this summer. Good to spend time with the boy, though. In another couple of years I’ll have to handcuff him to me the moment he gets out of bed if I want to see him. Much as I hate blowing submission dates, there will be more.

In the meantime, farewell to the sights and sounds of summer.

Peacock

Rhino

water

Pagoda

lions

Flamingoes

Claude