Archive for 2011

Quilt National and Sightseeing (35 gratuitous images)

Sunday, May 29th, 2011

I’m back from Athens, OH, having attended part of the Quilt National opening. I thought this sign was charming. It reminds me of similar signs from my childhood: “Welcome, National Association of Floor Cleaning Apparatus!” or “Welcome, DAR/AFLCIO Local 238!” Be sure and eat at Cutler’s, now!

It was quite an honor to be included in Quilt National, of course, but a greater pleasure to get to go there and meet the others and see their incredible work. If you’re someone like me, sort of introverted and with the social skills of a rock, you don’t get out much. In fact, you may avoid social occasions altogether.

However, I had no problems at QN. The artists at QN were a bunch of really intelligent, thoughtful people. That comes through in their work. Their artwork is enlivened by their life experiences as (among other things) domestic violence researchers, retired attorneys, occupational therapists at psychiatric facilities. I think that makes a real difference.

Posters, Crater by Bonnie Buckham, Entre Nous by Alice Beasley

The exhibit was organized by the director, Kathleen Dawson, and the staff at the Dairy Barn. They did a marvelous job and thought of everything. Not only did we each receive hard-cover catalogs of the exhibit, but they’d printed up posters with our work. The name tags also had a small picture of our work, which served as a nice ice-breaker when approaching another person. They also made sure there were tons of lovely crudites and such on hand: when things get awkward, stuff a cheese puff in your mouth! Organizing an event like that has to be a sisyphean task, but they all truly did a wonderful job.

Here’s a copy of the catalog of the exhibit, “Quilt National 2011”. It’s available through the Dairy Barn’s website, Amazon, and “other places where fine books are sold.” It is conveniently open to my work, Farmer Brown, shown on the lefthand page. On the righthand page, we have Full Measure by Joan Sowada – a delightful piece by a delightful person.

I suspect that the artists and the folks at the Dairy Barn would prefer that people see the artworks either in person or in the catalog, so I’m not going to post shots of individual works. However, to give you an idea of the space and the exhibit, here are a few photos of that.

Here my work, Farmer Brown, is peering over people’s shoulders and preparing to club them with his straw hat.

Here’s looking at you.

A lousy shot of the Dairy Barn in Athens, where the exhibit is held. The Dairy Barn website delicately refers to its originally being part of the Athens State Hospital complex. The State Hospital has also variously been known as the Athens Lunatic Asylum, Asylum for the Insane, Southeastern Ohio Mental Health Center, etc.

Some would regard this as a checkered past, something to be swept under the doormat; I find it fascinating. There was a time when one didn’t have to do too much to end up in an asylum. Being a “difficult” or rebellious child, getting pregnant out of wedlock, being special needs/mentally handicapped, or an elderly person whose kids didn’t have the means to take care of you would be sufficient. Once you were in, depending on the era, you might be treated with kindness – or you might be the recipient of shock treatments and lobotomy and subjected to random cruelties.

With those thoughts much on my mind, I ascended the hill near the Dairy Barn to view the facilities, whose buildings are now part of Ohio University.

This is a side view of what would have been the hospital administration building. It now houses Lin Hall and the Kennedy Museum. I was unfortunately not as pleased with the museum as I could have been. To whit, it would have been nice to know that the museum was tiny and half the exhibits were closed before I donated money.

A shot taken inside the Kennedy Museum. At least I got a fun photo out of my visit.

This is an art installation named “Buttress” by DeWitt Godfrey. It was worth driving up the hill just to see this, the lovely contrast between old architecture and modern art, and the similarity of both structures decaying.

A shot of the exterior of one of the wings of the former hospital. The doors which go nowhere were presumably for fire escapes. They’ve probably long since rattled themselves to death or were yanked down and melted into razor blades.

As you can see, the old girl is showing her age. The entire facility needs some TLC.

The roads in the facility are old-school brick roads. Downtown Athens has a number of these as well.

I think this may be the old tuberculosis ward, where asylum patients with TB were sequestered. Evidently one of the approaches to dealing with tuberculosis was isolation.

I’m sure Jesus would be glad to hear this.

Heaven knows what this building was or is now. I’m fascinated by the fact that it’s so pristine-looking, at a distance at least. I suppose I shouldn’t dwell on my loathing for brick coupled with Greco-Roman revival architecture.

Being a cheerful soul, I dropped in on one of the cemeteries.

I started thinking of this as “the valley of the forgotten souls.” I’m glad these folks at least got buried. I recently read a dismal article about psychiatric patients being cremated and having their remains stuffed in cans, which proceeded to sit in an abandoned room and quietly rust.

Of course, my trip wasn’t all art exhibits and fun visits to former psychiatric facilities. No, there was the lovely hour-and-a-half drive back to Columbus to catch my plane, during which I tried to drive safely and not fall asleep. I dimly remember trees, church steeples, and barns.

Do you know that no one in Ohio speeds? It’s true. Here in California I’m a slow driver, constantly having to veer into the rightmost lane to stay out of people’s way. In Ohio, when I’d move to get out of people’s way, they’d screech in right behind me, as if to take advantage of my going two miles over the limit. When I discussed this with my husband over the phone, he gave an evil cackle and said that EVERYBODY in that area and the neighboring states knows that you don’t speed in Ohio. Then he began tossing out terms like “fascist” and implied that horrible things happen to those who speed. I do wish he had discussed this with me before I made the trip.

Anyhow, I did make it back to Columbus safely and without a speeding ticket. With a couple of hours to kill before my flight, I visited the Franklin Park Conservatory. It’s a botanical oasis on the outskirts of Columbus, with a nice collection of Chihuly’s art glass.

I was so enchanted with the juxtaposition of plants and Chihuly’s work that I started wondering about unexpected ways to display fiber-based pieces. Typically I just slap mine on the wall and I’m done with it. Perhaps I could push the boundaries a bit?

One of the exhibits of the conservatory featured the release of newly hatched butterflies. On some level I just don’t “get” it – why import 900 cocoons per week just so you can hatch the butterflies out, have them die, then do the whole thing over again the next week? Why not try to breed or conserve them? But maybe I don’t know the whole story. Maybe butterflies are as plentiful as rats, wherever these came from, veritable nuisances that you call out a pest controller to eliminate. Anyhow, they’re pretty.

While I was there, another woman was stumbling around with a small digital camera held at arm’s length. Staring at the LCD display with a distinctly slack-jawed expression, she staggered up and down steps and paths, careening into fellow visitors as she pursued a fluttering butterfly. She was such a sight that I thought about photographing her, but that would have been mean. (Yes, writing about her is probably mean as well, but at least this way she can remain anonymous.) I wanted to tell her to relax and turn off the camera. You’re in this big, lovely greenhouse surrounded by the sounds of trickling water, lush plants, the splashing of koi, the scents of exotic flowers, fluttering butterflies. Why not use the camera in your brain?

That said, I did take a few photos of my own. Yes, I know; I’m a hypocrite. Here are a couple more butterflies:

This is a neat little structure:

There must be a hobbit around here somewhere.

A banana plant with bloom. I was really glad to see this. One of the pieces at Quilt National, Banana Bloom by Barbara Watler, depicted, well, a banana bloom. (When you get this year’s Quilt National catalog, flip to page 18. It’s an incredible piece, worked entirely in saturated colors on a dark background.)

I love the juxtaposition of Chihuly’s work with water. Again, what sorts of juxtapositions would work with fiber? I’m not interested in relegating a fiber painting to the supporting status of, say, a tablecloth, but what sorts of environmental things could we do? Room dividers? Hangings from banisters? Or is that really too utilitarian?

Hanging in the palm house.

A closeup of the chandelier. This is what alien lifeforms should look like.

Part of one of the greenhouses. After all, this was a conservatory. I shouldn’t have Chihuly glass in every image.

This is a ceiling comprised of art glass. It’s as though one is swimming in an ocean of exotic lifeforms. Once again – is this a treatment which would work with fiber?

I want to leave people with the following thought: I read or hear a lot of people saying that they’d like to apply to Quilt National, but their work just isn’t good enough. I felt the same way. I always try to bring my A game to every exhibit I apply to, but the nature of that A game changes over time. That is, my A game from five years ago might be this year’s C or D game, and certainly not as good as the best work others are making.

However, if you consistently do your very best work and put your heart and brain into it, you might just be pleasantly surprised. Give it a try. Go for it, whatever your heart’s desire is. At the very worst, you’ll be out a few bucks for the application and you’ll have a nice piece which some other show will probably be happy to exhibit.

The Flood(ed) Recedes

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

I hereby declare Flooded done. Whew. I should make an animation/little movie showing its development. However, at the moment, having spent a few months obsessing over it, I’m more in the mood to get away from it.

Raincoat, hand, water. I’m not sure why I’m captioning this. You know what it is.

The texture of the wood on the sawhorse is primarily due to stitching, not painting.

Shoe and water: another of my self-evident captions.

A closeup of the shoe. I like to have a closeup which shows the stitching.

I always feel sheepish when it’s time to stop – couldn’t I improve the picture somehow? Would a flying saucer in the upper righthand corner add interest? How about a border of hot pink ball fringe?

Fortunately, laziness and common sense usually prevail. It’s time to move on. There’s always something one could have done differently or better, but other projects await.

Some statistics about this project:

  • After cropping, it measures 45″ wide x 56 1/2″ tall.
  • It used around 7000 yards of thread, which comes out to a little less than four miles. Next time I should seek sponsorship from a thread company.
  • Although I poked myself numerous times, I managed to not bleed on this one. That’s rare. Usually there are little DNA samples scattered throughout.

With Flooded off my mind, I’m starting to gear up for the trip to Quilt National at the end of next week. This will be an occasion of delight and discomfort. The reasons for delight are obvious, getting to see amazing work and people I admire. The discomfort comes with exposing myself to an unscripted social situation.

I have no trouble with online communications, giving speeches, or talking to the checkout person at the grocery store. However, unscripted social situations such as parties at which I meet strangers are something of a nightmare. What does one say, exactly? How long can one creep around the outskirts of a party, avoiding eye contact, before one is rude? How does one make small talk, get to know other people? It’s all a mystery.

Probably I should go check that classic Dale Carnegie book out of the library and make some notes before I go. Maybe I can memorize some all-purpose phrases like “Isn’t this a remarkable composition?” or “I’m so grateful the hotel room is free of bedbugs.” How about “I’ll bet this facility smelled much different when they kept livestock in it.”?

I’m also starting to wonder what else I should do while I’m in Athens. A visit to The Ridges, formerly the Athens Asylum for the Insane, is a possibility. It looks picturesque, if one is into tortured souls and trans-lobal lobotomy.

When I get back, I have four or five new works to post on the site and, depending on the rules, perhaps I’ll be able to post some snapshots from Quilt National as well. Despite my social ineptitude, I intend to enjoy myself.

Valley of Disgust -> Population Me.

Sunday, April 24th, 2011

I’m flipped out, so what better time to post a blog entry? I’m sure my mental state will lend a certain rabid Hunter Thompsonesque quality to my writing.

This photo has nothing to do with this blog entry or the current project.

I’m past the Valley of Despair with the current project, the point at which (in my husband’s words) “you’ve forgotten the beginning and you can’t see the end.” I’m now parading through the Valley of Disgust. I can see the end of the project, but I’m thoroughly disenchanted with it. It is no longer the beautiful, perfect thing I had in mind X months ago, but something which is fundamentally flawed. So flawed, in fact, that I imagine posting the equivalent of a traffic cop in front of it: “Nothing to see here. Move along.”

Like the other photo, this one also has nothing to do with this blog entry or the current project.

Of course, all of this will fade in a matter of months. At some point, I’m sure, I’ll feel downright benevolent. My mind will be on a new aggravating project rather than the current aggravating project. I’ll have forgotten all of the current irritations, including my neglecting to paint rivets on the sign so as to attach it to the sawhorse and my ridiculous delusion that I knew how to render water.

Here’s a bad photo of the current state of the project. From it, you can tell that there’s a rather wrinkled, warped surface of some kind with colors on it. Very inspiring, I’m sure.

Unfortunately, I don’t have that blissful sense of detachment right now. Maybe one isn’t meant to. Maybe passion is simply a part of creating art and sometimes that passion takes the form of disgust and annoyance.

A closeup of the sign. It shows the wood texture and reveals that there isn’t enough size/pattern contrast between the wood and the water. That is, they look too similar. I’ll have to rectify that.

Some bland facts about this project: so far, it has used around:

  • three miles of thread
  • one cup of soybeans
  • 1/4 cup kosher salt
  • seven yards of fabric
  • ink imported from pre-tsunami Japan
  • poly/wool batting derived from long-decayed dinosaurs and sheep who baaa with an Australian accent

The sign again. It’s getting closer! Watch out – it’s sneaking up on us!

One other thing on my mind today: I need a personal story, something to hang my hat on for marketing purposes. For example, Hollis Chatelain has her background as a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa, providing a wealth of experiences which she has drawn on in her artwork. Jenny Bowker has, among other things, traveled and lived in Arab and Islamic countries, thus getting acquainted with the fascinating people and places portrayed in her work.

Looking further back in time, Gauguin had his whole schtick about working as a stockbroker, seeking out a tropical paradise where he could shack up with underage females, and dying of syphilis. Poor old Van Gogh had his mental health issues and the infamous incident in which he sliced off his ear.

What do I have? Um. I dress badly and I can’t seem to work up enough interest to get a decent haircut. I’ve co-authored a number of obscure particle physics papers which didn’t have far to fall in order to reach obscurity. I can see myriad possibilities in a toilet paper tube. I have zero interest in moving to a tropical paradise and catching syphilis or slicing off my ear.

This matter is going to take some thought.


Thursday, April 14th, 2011

Wired has a tradition I find interesting and occasionally amusing: each issue includes a colophon with factoids about what the contributors were listening to, reading, or experiencing while putting out the issue.

This seems like a fine tradition and, in my case, particularly apt. I find that the things I create really do get imbued with the memories of what I was doing or experiencing at the time of creation. Looking at a section of a particular work, I’ll remember the House reruns I was watching or events from my personal life. My work is full of ghosts which are invisible to everyone but me. This straw hat – didn’t I stitch it while feeling an overwhelming sense of betrayal and loss at the actions of a sibling? And oh, I remember watching House enter the mental hospital when I sewed down that purple batik. Perhaps this is something akin to what hoarders experience, with objects acquiring stories and meaning beyond the intrinsic.

Here, then, are a few of the things which have been trailing through my life while I create the current work. I’ve interspersed them with the usual banal status photos.

Yeah, I’m still working on this thing. Also – although one probably isn’t supposed to publicly admit this about one’s artwork – I’m about sick of it. You know, you get an idea and it seems great and full of potential, and you go at it full tilt and work … and work … and work. At some point, you’re down to coffee and sheer stubbornness. Criminy. I know thread and paint cost a pittance compared to, say, booze and alcohol. Still, how many spools is thing going to suck up?

Some of the things which have occurred while working on this piece:

  • Tragedy and horror as an earthquake, a tsunami, and a nuclear power plant disaster bedevil the people of Japan. The disasters have long since faded from the headlines. They’ve been replaced by Snooki, a mystery sax player on American Idol, and complaints about gas prices. The Japanese continue to suffer despite not being headline-worthy. I guess Americans have the collective attention spans of four-year-olds.
  • After a wet spring, my gardens were awash with bloom, including a swath of plum and peach tree blossoms. This was followed by the leaves of the peach tree crinkling from a fungus. Time to get out the fungicide. So much for my organic garden.
  • Doing household maintenance, I found a nest of some sort in the dryer vent. (Note to self: cover exterior opening of vent with mesh.) Not knowing whether the nest’s creator was avian or one of the neighborhood rattus rattus, I cleaned it out gingerly, preparing to be attacked by disease-bearing widlife at any instant. Inside the nest there were four tiny, perfect eggs with paper-thin shells. Fragile. They cracked instantly as I removed them. The insides were cooked. I felt (and feel) like a monster, both for cracking them and for the fact that I undoubtedly killed the unborn fledglings and drove away their parents when I turned on the dryer one wet day. (When it’s dry out, I use a clothesline.)

If you look at just this one little section of me, I’m not unattractive. Sadly, this is the only angle for which that’s true. Anyhow, this photo gives some sense of the size of the current work in progress.

Some things I’ve been ingesting:

This all raises the question: why is my work so bland? Why aren’t these influences taking root in my brain and counteracting the sweet little pictures of children and furry animals?

One of my notions is the Norman Rockwell Theory. He had a challenging, unpleasant life in some ways – dysfunctional parents, alcoholic wife – and is reputed to have depicted the world the way he wanted it to be, rather than the way he experienced it. Similarly, I’ve experienced some things which leave a person pretty messed up. However, instead of painting stuff from the deep well o’pain, I paint happy things. Happy happy happy. I’m not like Carol Larson, transforming her ghastly experiences into profound artwork. No, I bury mine. Don’t think about those other things. Think about the furry little raccoon taking a nap.

My other theory is that it’s because I never took drugs. I was always convinced there might be rat poison in the stuff or police would bust my door down the instant I took a puff. Also, I’m not sure where one actually buys drugs. Anyhow, I’m not 100% certain, but I suspect that the people who create some of the stuff I watch and read not only know where to purchase drugs, but actively sample them. Just a suspicion.

One of the rollaround thingamijiggers upon which I stack coffee and tools. I have a couple. They roll under the work table when not in use, which is never. I suppose I could have purchased proper studio equipment, like a tabouret, but these were from Ikea and pretty cheap.

I’ve been listening to a LOT of TED podcasts on my iPad. They keep me sane while I sew. They also introduce me to new ideas and, for some reason, drive away the dog. The latter is good because the dog wants me to throw squeaky toys for him constantly. Squeaky toys which are wet and rancid from his dog drool. No matter how many times I throw them, it isn’t enough. So, I say, bring on the TED.

Painting and salting the water.

Some of my favorite TED podcasts:

  • Bruce McCall: Yes! Retro futurism! Bring on the aircars!
  • Theo Jansen: creator of extraordinary “Strandbeests,” kinetic sculptures which roam the sands.
  • Amy Tan
  • Eric Whitacre: A virtual choir 2,000 voices strong. By the way, one of the things which struck me about this creation was the contributor whose husband dissed her singing. That’s some pretty crappy, unsupportive behavior. I’m glad she went ahead and submitted her work.
  • Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy: Inside a school for suicide bombers. Chilling. Seriously, what are poor, uneducated kids supposed to do when they’re brainwashed?
  • Sebastian Thrun: Google’s driverless car
  • Eythor Bender demos human exoskeletons. This hit me a bit like an ad for the company which produces the exoskeletons. Still, cool stuff.
  • Mark Bezos: A life lesson from a volunteer firefighter
  • Deb Roy: The birth of a word
  • Anthony Atala: Printing a human kidney. Amazing.
  • JR: Use art to turn the world inside out

Eh, enough lists. All of the talks are good, or most of ’em. I’ll admit that Sarah Kay’s talk, “If I should have a daughter …” kind of made my head spin. However, that was probably my problem, not hers. Let’s just say that I’ve always loathed poetry and evidently I hold spoken word poetry in even lower regard.

The messages I get from TED: have some convictions. Go do something which you believe in or which interests you. Have some passion. Maybe in the process, you’ll have interesting or extraordinary experiences. Maybe you’ll also achieve something extraordinary. Or not.

A closeup of the salting process, with some nice big grains of kosher salt thrown on the damp paint. I’m not happy unless I’ve gotten half the kitchen involved.

Websites which have influenced me lately:

The dog is whimpering and pressing damp squeaky toys onto my feet, so I’ll close with a couple more photos of the current work in progress, the one I’m growing to loathe.

A section of the grassy background before stitching.

The same section after stitching. This, to my mind, helps show how the painting and stitching complement each other. However, this swath is still pretty monotonous and the green is overly saturated. It’s going to need more work. How can I describe this grass? It’s like the obnoxious coworker who tells racist jokes. Annoying, boorish, difficult to ignore. That’s how I feel about the grass. A hate-hate sort of relationship right now.

A bowl of thread, a jug of wine, and thou.

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

Sunday – or was it Monday? – was thread selection day. That’s when I dig through my thread collection, pull out the spools I think I’ll need, and spitball which colors I may need to buy. I plop the main contenders in a bowl on my work surface.

My “dirty little secret” is that I stitch with embroidery thread. Since I keep the thread on hand for my embroidery machine and it comes in many different colors and is fairly economical, that works out well for me. I’ve been well served by Allstitch over the years, and purchase bulk quantities of thread, stabilizers, and sewing machine needles from them. I’m reluctant to say that I’ll never go back to purchasing needles at a local store – never say never and all that – but I’d sure like to avoid it. It’s a travesty to spend $4-5 on a handful of sewing machine needles when I can get a hundred for $10-11, and in more environmentally friendly packaging.

Here’s a shot of part of the fabric painting on my work table. The angle of the shot gives it a distorted R. Crumb “Keep on Trucking” appearance.

During the past couple of days, I’ve been sewing on the pant legs. This shot shows an area of pant leg which has been stitched and an area which hasn’t been stitched. I think this provides a nice illustration of the way the stitching melds with the piece and brings it to life. One could, of course, accomplish the same thing with paint or ink. I just happen to do it with stitching.

I sometimes wonder how others feel as they work. I find that there’s a joy about it all, but it also gets grueling and occasionally frustrating. Tonight I’m wondering about how to stitch the sky area, for example. I’ll sketch several things, audition them on a piece of scrap fabric, and hopefully get it right the first time. I spent last evening ripping out the stitching on one of these pant legs, because I hadn’t gotten the direction quite right. I was not happy with myself.

The “grueling” aspect is a result of thoracic outlet syndrome and carpal tunnel in both arms, a friendly reminder of my years in the main control room of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. Every fifteen minutes on the sewing machine, I have to get up and stretch – otherwise I can count on losing a day or two of work time. C’est la vie. Chuck Close has been a paraplegic for the past 25 years and paints with a brush strapped to his wrist, so maybe there’s a limit to how much I should complain.

Still Flooded

Saturday, March 12th, 2011

It occurs to me that it’s a bit ironic and grotesque to be working on a piece titled “Flooded” while the Japanese are reeling from the triple sucker punch of massive earthquake, tsunami, and reactors going haywire. People’s loved ones are missing or dead, ships are tumped over, and the tip of Tokyo Tower has gotten an unplanned rakish touch.

Meanwhile, I’m rendering a schoolboy splashing through water, a miniature tsunami at his feet. All so very pleasant and innocent unless you’re Japanese, in which case you’d probably prefer to never see a wave of any size again.

During the past couple of days, I’ve worked on the face and the water. Dry brushing ink onto the face was a fiddly business, although a meditative state takes hold pretty quickly when I’m working. If I don’t set an alarm, I can work for hours without realizing it.

You may notice that the hair and the background are just barely roughed in. I tend to iterate and then reiterate. I’ll make my way back around to these areas at some point. The face too, probably.

Here’s a view of the water-in-progress, laid out on my work table. It occurred to me that it should be grey rather than blue, since the source of the water is a flooded parking lot. Isn’t that a rather naive thing to do, automatically painting water blue? Then it further occurred to me that I don’t care. It’s my water. If I want blue-green water, I’ll make blue-green water. It contrasts nicely with the yellow sign and orange raincoat.

I splashed some kosher salt on the damp ink to give the water a looser, more organic touch. Probably this was a mistake. I’ll know when the piece is complete, if not sooner.

I’m actually trying to not worry about mistakes so much this time. Some areas have bled into other areas, or I’ve gotten dashes of paint in the wrong area. Ordinarily I’d go nuts over this sort of thing, maybe even start over. This time I’m reminding myself that this whole thing is going to change a LOT by the time I’ve stitched all over it. The “mistakes” may very well become hidden or I may even decide that I like them.

For me, the whole process is about the feeling of being alive, of creating, of really seeing. A few mistakes are a minuscule price to pay.

Lately I’ve been reading this book, Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera. It juxtaposes some of Rockwell’s reference photos with his finished paintings. It is intriguing, illuminating material for those of us who use reference photos.

So often there’s a tendency to try to exactly duplicate a photo, a single serendipitous snapshot, in paint or fiber. Rockwell, by contrast, would start with fairly detailed sketches of his desired concept THEN art direct reference photos. Rather than slavishly duplicating any one photo in his paintings, he’d project bits from many photos onto a canvas and adjust them to fit his sketch. He did this manually with a projector; one can imagine that he would have greatly enjoyed using Photoshop. The decisions and adjustments he makes when mining reference photos are illuminating.

This was the direction I’d been headed in before reading the book. Flooded is, in fact, the result of my deliberately taking a young model out after a rain so that I could shoot reference photos. I then edited and composited these in Photoshop to make what I thought was a generally pleasing composition, then created a cartoon for transferring to fabric in Illustrator. Whether or not the end result will be worthy remains to be seen, but it’s nice to know that this is a method with some legitimacy.

One could, of course, just print a composited photo on fabric and stitch over it, rather than making a painting. Although I’ve considered doing this, it doesn’t appeal to me. I find that when I’m drawing and painting, there’s a point when the image gets a life and a personality of its own. At that point, I quit looking at reference photos and let the image take over. Despite using reference photos or a composite image, I’m not really after slavish duplication.

It’s also the case that I haven’t seen a photo-based quilt, one in which a photo was printed on fabric and stitched over, that impressed or moved me. Or, to put it more bluntly, one which I liked, one where I felt the stitching enhanced the message, texture, or other qualities of the photo.

A typical example: someone magnifies and posterizes a photo of a flower, then stitches along the edges and veins of the petals. The juxtaposition of photo and stitching is jarring, quite obviously a photo someone sewed on. “Interesting flower photo,” I’ll think, “too bad they messed it up by sewing all over it.”

That is not to say that it can’t or doesn’t exist. I just haven’t seen it. Maybe I should try this method after all, see if I can please myself by deliberately using stitching to deface a photo or make it jarring.

It Came From the Studio

Sunday, February 27th, 2011

There was a bit of flap this week regarding one of the works in SAQA’s No Place to Call Home exhibit, a traveling exhibit highlighting the experience of homelessness around the world. I thought about writing about that, and how it’s a shame when a person chooses to deliberately, purposefully ignore the message of a work, make a scene, and gleefully call up a TV station so she can talk about how very shocked she is on camera. I also considered writing about how bizarre it is when (apparently) the same person goes on message boards and describes the area she finds offensive in great detail, including a few details she has imagined.

However, I won’t do that. Instead, I will emulate another of the artists in that particular show and urge you to have a look at a slideshow of the exhibit.

The show is intended to highlight the plight of the homeless, a situation with global and local implications. We are likely to see this problem accelerate in coming years. That should be the focus of our attention, not the actions of a goofball intent on censorship.


Not long ago, I read a book about Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, part of my ongoing effort to catch up on the pop culture which was prominent during my “work until you keel over” years. Petty mentioned that they like to try playing and recording in different rooms of their houses, just to see how the sound quality is affected. That rang a bell! I frequently find myself working in different rooms of my house, chasing different qualities of light or just getting a change of scene. Part of that, though, has been because the studio has been chaotic and unpleasant to work in. What to do? Rip the place apart!

Here’s a shot of the studio during vivisection:

Here’s a shot afterward:

Thanks to the global housewares monolith that is Ikea, I’m now the proud owner of a table which will extend to 108″, making it more straightforward to attack some of my larger projects. I also threw a set of casters on the legs in case I’m in the mood to hold a table race.

It still looks as though an art supply and a hardware store threw a party and were sick all over the room. However, it’s better.

While I was working, I unearthed some sketches. Since there’s been a complete and utter lack of interest in my creative process so many have asked about my creative process, I thought I’d post a few of them.

This is a sketch for the spinning robot/housewife from Agitated. In the final rendering, I cropped off her pointy bottom. The illegible scrawl in the lower right says “I’m a little teapot.” It’s kind of sad that I can draw much better than I can write.

Sketches showing the evolution of the washing machine.

A fairly tight sketch of the whole piece. I later decided that the floor needed to be warped so that it would look unsettling.

Here’s the final after being painted on fabric, sandwiched with batting, and stitched. This is probably the fastest thing I’ve ever made, and as a result, I’m not terribly satisfied with it. I was trying to force myself to work quicker, just finish things immediately without leaving them sitting for weeks or months so I could look at them with fresh eyes. Now I know: to be satisfied with my own work, I need that internal review process.

This and the sketch below helped me work out the stitching on Ladies’ Man.

These days, instead of drawing the same thing over and over again, I use an overlay of tracing paper to test quilting schemes.

Here’s the final. I’m glad I put the reflection of the bikini girl in his sunglasses, but can’t say I’m fond of the areas with stippling. We live and we learn.

A concept sketch for what became All the King’s Horses. I knew I wanted to work with the character of Humpty Dumpty and use him as a metaphor for the Earth, but I wasn’t sure of the setting. So, hmmm. How about a castle in the background and some delphiniums?

On second thought, no.

Maybe if I lost the castle and used a stone wall?

How about an inner city setting, with Humpty becoming a homeless guy ignored by the hordes of people in business suits? That kind of worked for me.

Some more thumbnails toying with the idea of a city setting.

A sketch of the Humpty character. The note in the lower right hand corner asks “Magma or crude oil?”

The final. Humpty re-imagined as a metaphor for global climate change, with suits going about their business while he dies of a gut wound. I’m nothing if not subtle.

Tasteless ideas for decorating plastic Easter eggs. I see, hmmm, an airstream trailer, a Frankenbunny, a yard butt egg, and a creature sitting on a toilet. I have no idea why I was doing this, but Easter is coming. If you wish, you’re welcome to use these ideas to amaze and horrify your family.

A businesswoman in full 80’s regalia, crammed inside a box. As in, she’s thinking inside the box. A sketch for something which never was made and has long since faded from memory. I hope you enjoyed it.

Now, what shall I do with these sketches? They’re just paper and graphite. Maybe I’ll shred them and put them in the worm bin.

Work in progress

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

See if you can guess the title of my current work-in-progress! (Or, rather, one of the current works-in-progress. I have a number under way, including a series, but I do tend to jump around a bit. Unless I have a deadline for a particular work, I have no qualms about putting it aside for awhile so I can return to it with fresh eyes.)

Here’s the cartoon for the current work being reviewed by the studio dog. As the saying goes, “Everyone’s a critic!”

Oh, would you like another gratuitous picture of the dog? Here you go.

As you can probably tell, I like to do a fairly detailed cartoon before setting brush to fabric … at least, it seems detailed until I enlarge it 600% and find areas that aren’t very well thought out. Like, um, shouldn’t there be some screws or rivets holding that sign on to its support? And exactly how am I going to paint that water, short of waving a magic wand? C’est la vie. I guess a little thought in advance is better than no thought. Anyhow, I don’t know of any law that says that I can’t do the easiest stuff first and figure out the rest on watercolor paper.

I’m in the somewhat odd position of having several finished works which aren’t posted yet. One is for Quilt National, which requires that people keep their work under wraps until the exhibit occurs. Ah, well – that’s an awful sort of problem to have, isn’t it? That, and having to get on a plane and go to Ohio so I can see the exhibit in person and meet people whose work I admire. There’ll probably be some eating out, too. Dreadful, simply dreadful.

A couple of other new pieces have been sent to Art Quilting Studio, which may or may not find them suitable for its needs. Regardless, I’m delighted that the magazine is cranking up production again after its brief hiatus, and I look forward to the next issue. I also heard the happy news that some of my work will be in Lark’s upcoming Art Quilt Portfolio: The Natural World. (Probably. I hate to be too sanguine about things until they actually come to pass.)

Regardless of whether all of this comes to pass or just a little, 2011 is already shaping up to be an interesting year.

Back to work.

She’s so ugly. REALLY ugly.

Friday, January 7th, 2011

It finally happened: I stumbled across a website which is more mean-spirited than People of Walmart. (People of Walmart is a snarky chronicle of Walmart visitors whose mode of dress is a little or a lot to the side of the bell curve. Some appear to be mentally disturbed, some have non-middle class social mores, and some are just having fun with their appearance. All are subjected to cruel ridicule by anonymous commenters.)

This site was devoted to photos of “ugly” people. Did I look? Yes, I did. Maybe that doesn’t say anything good about me, but I did. I was curious. What was so “ugly” about these people? What drives our notions of attractiveness?

The content was, perhaps, unsurprising. There were photos of people who had congenital anomalies, had clearly never had access to dentistry, had medical issues, had been in accidents, had made poor life choices, or had simply been blessed with an uncongenial set of features. There were also a couple of indigenous people, blissfully naked save a penile sheath, and a few folks who’d been caught on a bad day or had been photographed at an odd angle.

As is so popular on the internet, all of the subjects were unmercifully ridiculed. In a couple of cases, attractive young women had photographed themselves with an “ugly” person, posing and laughing as though the person was a bit of scenery like the Eiffel tower. No doubt it’s inconceivable to the peanut gallery that they’ll ever get banged up in a car accident, use meth and lose their teeth, become obese, or lose medical or dental care.

Many of the photos would have stirred the sympathies of a doctor or a dentist. I could imagine them thinking “Sweetie, your eyes are about to bulge out of your head. Let’s test your thyroid and see if we can make your life a little more comfortable.” Or: “My goodness; that underbite is so severe that you can’t chew. Don’t worry; I’ll fix you up.”

The site did make for an interesting hour or so of contemplating what we find attractive/unattractive, though. As researchers have previously determined, we notice asymmetry or features which are overly large or small. We aren’t always consistent, either: while a schnoz which is a tad large can be considered interesting and a hallmark of beauty, if someone’s chin is a tad small it’s considered “weak”.

Now, we’ve all seen drawings which are either stylized or have been made by people who know nothing about proportion. For example, there’s the classic tendency to draw someone’s eyes up near the top of his head rather than in the center of the face. It struck me that some of the people simply looked as though they’d been badly drawn. (I apologize for saying that about, well, people. Human beings with lives and feelings, people who no doubt get tired of being stared at and ridiculed.)

This in turn led to another thought: wouldn’t it be interesting to assemble a group of stylized drawings of people and use them as templates for distorting real-life photos? For example, one could adjust the eyes in a photo so they were up near the hairline or the ears were the size of peas. One could also base the adjustments on popular cartoon characters. How would our perceptions of the person change? How much distortion would cause us to think the photo was unattractive versus eerie/disturbing or cartoonish?

Thus, I spent a few minutes using myself as a test subject. In some cases, I altered photos of myself with software filters. In other cases, I used one starting photo and altered it based on someone’s artwork.

Like most people, I’m rather average-looking; I’m neither a candidate for a beauty contest nor do I draw stares and muttering from neighborhood children. There are a couple of nasty-looking moles on my face and without makeup my skin is spotty, but otherwise my appearance is unremarkable. You can be the judge of whether it is still unremarkable after alteration!

This distortion was based on a child’s drawing. I hope you like my new hairstyle.

This one was based on a person in a Miro painting. I didn’t spend much time blending the edges around the eyes, so it isn’t too compelling.

This was based on one of Picasso’s self-portraits.

This was done with a fisheye filter centered on my schnoz. I would find it amusing except that I did see a photo of a lady whose nose had about these proportions.

I think I look rather personable in this one. Friendly and interested.

I should see about a proper haircut.

This filter, and the one used in the previous image, had the opposite effect of a fisheye.

I personally find the alterations based on existing artwork more compelling than the ones based on filters. However, it was startling to see how far I could distort my face with filters and still think “Yes, I’ve seen people who look a great deal like that.”

I’m tempted to do another distortion series using pictures of frogs, Dilbert, or Marge Simpson as guides.

Oh. Do you want to know the URL of the site with the “ugly” people? Yeah, I’m not going to post it. They’re a bunch of jerks who ridicule people who are different or have had limited options. They don’t deserve a link.