Archive for 2012

IQA Silent Auction: Balancing Act

Monday, October 29th, 2012

Balancing Act
13 1/2″ wide x 20″ tall, rendered in ink on cotton, with mid-century modern inspired stitching.

This is my donation to the IQA Mini Quilt Silent Auction, which takes place at IQF Houston later this week.

Given that the east coast of the United States is about to be thoroughly pounded by Hurricane Sandy, I’m feeling rather serious and a bit less focussed on touting my own work than I might otherwise be. However, IQF Houston starts this Thursday, so it’s high time I posted it in case bidders are interested in its back story.

Balancing Act is the first of 5-6 pieces in my new Domestic Mayhem series. Some may recognize the protagonist figure as my multi-armed Domestic Goddess, whose design was inspired by the Hindu goddess Kali.

Even though she has six arms, she’s still struggling to keep all of the aspects of her life in balance, much like a plate spinner in a circus: relationships, motherhood, career, housework. Meanwhile, things around her are thoroughly descending into chaos, thwarting her efforts to keep that balance. Phones are jangling, dogs are barking, toilets are erupting. The baby is wailing piteously and a coffee cup has fallen, spewing its contents across the floor.

The Domestic Goddess is doing a valiant job of trying to keep everything in balance, and we know that she’ll continue to try to do so. However, sometimes even six arms aren’t enough!

Not done with a longarm

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012

Today I’d like to interrupt my ongoing, insanely dull series of posts about shows, new work, and publications to make an announcement: I haven’t been using a longarm machine.

When I encounter people at shows, they will often ask me this question: “Have you been using a longarm?” No. I have not. From time to time, I’ll see a comment on a blog or a discussion list which will state that thus-and-such piece of work was created using a longarm. No. It was not. I’ve been using a fairly standard domestic machine, a Bernina 440QE. It’s a very nice machine, the nicest I’ve had in my life. However – not a longarm. It has about an 8 1/2″ throat, I think.

To continue in this vein:

Flooded – not stitched with a longarm.

A Gift from Earth – not stitched with a longarm.

Siesta – Also not stitched with a longarm.

Anything else I’ve ever created? Also not stitched with a longarm. It has just been me and my flagon of espresso, shoving the danged work back and forth under the Bernina, trying to not make my thoracic outlet syndrome flare up.

I’m not sure why people want to believe that I’ve been using a longarm. One possibility is that they suspect a sane person wouldn’t try to densely stitch largish pieces on a standard domestic machine. (They are correct.) Another possibility – and I base this on the panicked expressions on people’s faces when I say “actually, you can thread paint with whatever machine you have” – is that they lack confidence. Maybe there’s something they’d like to do or try, but they’re afraid of “failure”. If something was done with a high end machine, it means it’s out of their reach and they don’t have to risk that “failure”.

My experience is, there’s no substitute for sitting down with a cup of coffee and giving something a try. I’ve made many a cleaning rag when painting fabric, and had to start over – a set of teeth which resembled Chicklets come to mind. “Failure” just isn’t a big deal. The only people who don’t “fail” are the ones who don’t try to do anything.

That said, I will make a confession – I’m tired of flirting with the thoracic outlet syndrome and setting a timer for a break every 15 minutes. I do have a crib-sized machine quilting frame and a Bailey 13″ on order. I’m going to give them a try to see if they’ll make certain tasks easier. However, I don’t NEED this stuff. I can create without it – and so can you.

PIQF 2012

Thursday, October 18th, 2012

I’ve been meaning to post for several days, but haven’t gotten around to it. Life has been … interesting.

Each year at PIQF time, I vow that I won’t go flitting off to the show every day, shades of a former co-worker who’d evaporate when the Grateful Dead came to town. However, this year I did it again:

Thursday: “Boy oh boy! It’s the first day of the show! I want to see the exhibits and cruise through the vendor area!” I bumped into Sheila Frampton Cooper, so it was actually good I went. She’s cool, in case you were wondering.

Friday: “Hey, I have a friend who hates sewing and has very little interest in the fiber arts. Why don’t I make her go?” We’ll see if she answers my phone calls next year at this time.

Saturday: “Say, Kathy Nida’s making a quick run through town to see her exhibit, “I’m Not Crazy.” Why don’t I go plague her?” And indeed, she did come down with the plague.

Sunday: “Oops! Last day of the show! I’ll need to boogie over and pick up my work afterward and, say, why don’t I go early and take one last cruise through in case I missed anything?” The place was so dead you could practically hear crickets. It turns out that the last hour-and-a-half of a show is a GREAT time to go through, snap photos, and shop.

This was a nice surprise, given for Flooded:

I’m glad to have it, but I thought it was an interesting choice given the huge quantities of meticulous, intricate stitching on display throughout the show. While I admire such stitching, it simply isn’t my style. My own work has a more organic (*cough* messy *cough*) quality. I’m not particularly concerned with meditative stitching exercises on par with creating Buddhist sand paintings, such as rendering lovely feathers and precise spirals. I regard the stitching more as a tool to create marks and texture, much as I would when sketching with pencil or pen and ink. Anyhow, it’s appreciated, and it sure beats the heck out of a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

I was also delighted at the lack of comments about “nice, full binding” this year, which I’m sure are a bore for both the judges and me. (Not intended as a poke at the judges … I’m aware that they have hundreds of pieces to view and about one minute to assess each.) I do wonder, though, if I’ll ever receive another comment sheet which says “loved the rivets”.

It was a good show, all in all. Despite my previous mutterings about creases and people feeling obliged to pet my work, everything escaped crease-free and there were plenty of white glove volunteers on hand. People still ran their hands across my work, but at least it wasn’t as bad as last year. I lucked out and A Gift From Earth, which is primarily white, was hung next to someone’s extremely long piece. That work had to have a chain strung in front of it to keep people from stepping on it, so I got to freeload off the chain.

I took a number of photos but unfortunately, I shouldn’t share them. People have been posting images from this site on Pinterest without asking me or crediting the artists. That may seem innocent, but some artists just plain don’t want their work distributed on Pinterest for copyright and other reasons. There was a bunch of stuff I hope people will go see elsewhere, though:

Charlotte Kruk’s dress – Holy cow. Charlotte Kruk has struck again. I’ve been infatuated with her work for about six years, ever since I first saw a matador’s cape and a suit of lights she created from M&M wrappers. This year she exhibited a fantastic gown, Let Me Make Cake, created from the likes of sugar and flour packaging. You can see the lady in action here, waltzing down the runway in her creation.

I’m Not Crazy – This is a SAQA-affiliated exhibit which is traveling the country, curated by Kathy Nida and juried by Sue Reno. It contains some interesting meditations on the nature and effects of mental illness, and I’m happy to report that only one of them depicts a brain, an innovative rendering at that. (When the show was announced, several people reported that they had the PERFECT idea for a piece. Almost always, that idea was a giant rendering of a human brain. I began to fear that the exhibit would be targeted by brain-craving zombies.)

Allyson Allen’s exhibit on black history. Some of these pieces constitute a visceral introduction to the poison of slavery and the race-related issues which continue to plague the United States. I was particularly struck by an ad for “ninety-four prime, healthy negroes” juxtaposed with a cross section of a ship showing the people chained down, flat on their backs. Think about what that means: chained down. Once in awhile maybe the people got unchained, brought up on deck, had the feces and vomit hosed off, had anybody dead or too sick tossed overboard. Sometimes halfway healthy people decided to jump overboard as well, so miserable they sought death. That and other atrocities are part of our nation’s fine legacy.

World Quilt Show – this is a traveling exhibit of (I think) the New England World Quilt Show winners. This is well worth a visit if you can see it at another Mancuso show. I’m always struck by how different some of the work from other places, such as Japan and South Africa, is. There are also some personal favorites from the U.S., such as Betty Busby and Marilyn Belford.

On a related topic, IQF Houston is coming up in a couple of weeks. Although I have work in that show and in the show magazine, I’m not attending this year.

A new piece in my Domestic Mayhem series, Balancing Act, will be offered in IQA’s Silent Auction. I’ll be posting a photo and some details about the piece in another week. Stay tuned.

PIQF or bust!

Monday, October 8th, 2012

The Pacific International Quilt Festival will be in Santa Clara, CA this Thursday through Sunday. A couple of my pieces will be on display. Be sure and visit my work for a grand prize of absolutely nothing! (Oh, if you really want something, I can send you a postcard or two. Drop me a note in the comments.)


A Gift From Earth

PIQF occupies a special place in my heart because it’s the first fiber arts show I ever visited and the first at which I exhibited, if not my first art show proper.

It does have a few annoying quirks, though, including viewers rubbing their hands all over my work (Thanks for the skin oils and smudges, folks!) and my work always, always getting returned with giant creases which must be steamed out. Sometimes my work has even inexplicably acquired the creases between being dropped off and being put on exhibit, resulting in a chiding comment or two from judges.

However, I’ve come to appreciate PIQF’s lack of hassle and drama. It’s close, maybe three miles away, which means no fussing with shipping. I just make a quick trip over to the convention center, drop my work off, then pick it up in a few days.

I similarly appreciate the low hassle of entering. I don’t have to submit photographic prints or a head shot of myself or have to wade through twenty pages of rules and regulations. I don’t have to hide my work away lest I be disqualified from the show or receiving awards. I don’t have to wait forever to get a response. I simply send in a form and a disk with some images and wait a couple of weeks. All very nice and simple, life goes on, and my work is exhibited.

I love the fact that the show is close. It was lovely visiting Athens for Quilt National and Houston the times I’ve gone there. However, I usually can’t go where my work goes, and sometimes it’s just plain nice to see it hanging.

PIQF is a nice show. People go, look at the work, seem to enjoy themselves. I hope people will enjoy seeing my work this year.

P.S. If someone reading this has work at PIQF this year and would like a snapshot of it, let me know. I’m thinking that I may skip the big posts I used to do of my favorite works. There have been too many cases of people grabbing photos off this site and sticking them on Pinterest without crediting the artists.

Paths for the Auction

Sunday, September 9th, 2012

SAQA’s benefit auction begins Monday, September 10. This is my contribution, Paths.

Paths is a metaphor for life, in particular my life. There are many paths we can travel through life. Some are straight and clear, with well defined beginnings and destinations:

Others meander pleasantly, or take off in odd directions:

When I was young, there was a boyfriend. I loved him. I was pressured to not date him. Harsh, cruel things were said about both me and his character. Nasty accusations were hurled.

In the end, I dumped him in a rather cruel fashion. I spent years regretting it and following dysfunctional, unhealthy paths. Nineteen years later, I finally got up the guts to contact him and apologize.

It was as though our friendship had never ended. This hibiscus was in front of the place we met after all of those years. We’ve been back together over ten years now. Some paths lead to good places, if we have the guts and wits to follow them.

I wish I’d had the guts to follow my own path from the very beginning.

Paths and pieces from many other artists can be perused immediately and bid on at SAQA’s website, starting Monday September 10.

Quilting Arts Magazine

Monday, August 20th, 2012

Here’s the cover of the August/September issue of Quilting Arts Magazine, featuring Monica Curry’s exquisite Mother Ship.

Inside, there was a nice surprise:

That’s my Siesta circled in red, accompanying an article on Martha Sielman’s book Art Quilt Portfolio: The Natural World. Given how much high quality material Sielman had available for both the book and the article, I was delighted and honored to be included.

Back to work. As the state of my workspace reveals, I’m at the tail end of a project. Criminy, there’s junk everywhere. Stacks of magazines, hole-filled jeans, Tsukineko inks, boxes of marbles. I can barely think.

Why not?

Saturday, July 7th, 2012

I’ve just gotten back from the Big Island. It’s a horrible place … waterfalls, volcanos, exquisite beaches and pastures. While I was gone, a good article on the No Place to Call Home! exhibit appeared in the Loveland Reporter-Herald.

The Loveland Museum/Gallery is possibly/probably the last appearance of this thoughtful show which highlights the condition of homelessness. The article provides a nice coda to the exhibit and the efforts of Curator Kathleen McCabe and the various artists, including me.

The show will be at the Foote Gallery of the Loveland Museum through September 16. If you’re in the area, please check it out.

I almost always get a thrill out of participating in group shows, and this one is no exception. While a solo show may provide insights into the work of a particular artist, a group show is an opportunity for a group of people to create something which is, potentially, greater than any one of them could alone. There are different perspectives, styles, messages.

Case in point: here are some shots from the Artist as Quiltmaker exhibit, which is running now through July 29 in Oberlin, OH.

This gallery is a lovely, crisp space for exhibiting and browsing through artwork. The Museum’s Curator, Ruta Marino, and the exhibit staff have used it to advantage.

Here’s a shot which includes my Siesta (the raccoon) juxtaposed with works which are very stylistically different. I think I actually appreciate my work and all of the others more because of this contrast.

Alas, I don’t get to participate in SAQA (Studio Art Quilt Associates) sponsored group exhibits such as No Place to Call Home! as often as I’d like. They just don’t mesh well with the way I work. At present it takes me several months to create one piece. In practice, that means that I make a schedule of the pieces I’m going to create and the shows to which I’ll submit a year in advance. That requires far more advance notice than SAQA-affiliated exhibits can provide. Once in awhile I manage to slip in a piece such as Leaving, which is smaller, more designerly and required less intense painting and threadwork than most of my work. However, that’s the exception rather than the rule.


For example, I really wanted to submit a piece to SAQA’s I’m Not Crazy exhibit. I had in mind an illustration based on the old rhyme:

Ding, dong, bell,
Pussy’s in the well.
Who put her in?
Little Johnny Green.
Who pulled her out?
Little Tommy Stout.
What a naughty boy was that,
To try to drown poor pussy cat,
Who ne’er did him any harm,
But killed all the mice in the farmer’s barn.

Ah, yes. That budding young sociopath Johnny Green. Even when I was a kid, something didn’t hit me quite right about that rhyme.

This idea came to me at about the time the news articles on child sociopaths were prominent. I made all sorts of sketches of the young man tossing a hapless kitty down a well. The most promising was looking up from the bottom of the deep dark well so one could see the cat twisting desperately in midair and the expression of detached curiosity on the boy’s face.

In the end, though, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. The subject matter was gruesome and I didn’t want to demonize children who lack empathy. Not all of them become practicing sociopaths or societal scourges, after all; a fairly large percentage internalize rules of behavior. What do I know of being the parent of one of these kids? Would my work increase our understanding of the condition or merely take advantage of the horror of severe cases so as to shock people? Could I execute the work with any degree of quality in the short amount of time I had?

The answer to all of those questions was no. Unfortunately, that’s how most SAQA exhibit opportunities end up for me – toying with some ideas, a series of abortive sketches, then concluding that I can’t do the topic justice in the time allotted, not without giving up some other project which is dear to my heart. Instead, I usually create and submit work to exhibits whose deadlines are known about a year in advance.

One such show is Quilt National, whose deadline is coming up in a month or so. Recently Kathy Nida has written several meditations on the nature of rejection and strategies for applying to that particular show, this being the time of year one thinks about such things.

I’m in a different place from her, so naturally my approach is different. One school of thought says that one should maximize one’s chances of getting in a high profile show such as Quilt National by submitting the maximum number of pieces. That just isn’t happening for me right now, not with each piece taking several months to create. My personal philosophy is simply to always, always do my best work (“best” being a moving target), submit it, have a backup plan in case it’s rejected, and to immediately move on to creating the next piece.

Another school of thought says that one should submit several pieces so as to “give (the jurors) a good idea of your work.” I’m not sure that’s a factor in the case of Quilt National. The jurors have a massive number of works to get through multiple times during the course of a couple of days. During the first round, the jurors are simply sifting through 1000-1400 works as quickly as they can with no discussion. Yes. No. Maybe. Yes. Bam. Bam. Bam. I’m picturing a scene much like the one in Clockwork Orange in which Malcolm McDowell’s character has his eyelids propped open. Initially jurors have ten seconds per image in which to decide whether a work grabs them and they want to see it during the next round. It’s grueling gut-level work and, in the words of Quilt National Director Kathleen Dawson, “That does not allow them time to wonder about what they are seeing.” Maybe under other circumstances the jurors could contemplate the scope of one’s work, but that probably isn’t the case here.

We can also try to get inside the heads of the jurors by reading about them and their backgrounds. Personally, I’ve found that technique a waste of time. Based on researching the jurors for Quilt National ’11 and reviewing the content of previous shows, I thought my work had a snowball’s chance of getting in. I submitted it anyhow, using the deadline as a spur to get work done, and struck it lucky. Bottom line: we just don’t know. We can create work which we think jurors might like or make ourselves work abstract rather than figurative because “figurative work doesn’t get in that show”. We can take our work out in the driveway, throw on a bucket of paint, and drive across it a few times in a desperate attempt to be high concept and innovative. Maybe that works for some, but not me. I simply have to do the work I’m driven to do, do it the best I can, and take some chances.

Show curators and jurors have a vision for each show. It may be to maximize the number of works on display so visitors have lots to look at while they visit what is a glorified fiber flea market. It may be to create a thoughtful show on a particular theme, or to showcase innovative work. One’s work may or many not fit in. The jurors, who are human beings rather than automatons, may have an unconscious loathing for saturated colors or depictions of kids in broad-brimmed hats. It is what it is.

I’ve had a fairly good run for the past few years, and from a purely selfish standpoint I hope it continues. However, the externals won’t change the reasons I create art, why I struggled for years to find a way to make it a viable life option: because I’m driven to do so. The process of creation pushes back the grey. For awhile I feel alive and happy and outside myself. If the resulting work is exhibited or touches someone, that’s a bonus.

Current exhibits

Thursday, June 28th, 2012

Here comes another blog burst. I started this one … let’s see … June 16. That means it’s only taken me two weeks to collect my thoughts and hit “publish”.

I remember June 16. That was the day that I thought it would be a swell idea to kick a bunch of stray shoes into a somewhat tidier pile beside the front door. That’s how I tidy up, you see; I kick things around. I go into the different rooms, kick whatever cloth items are on the floor into the hallway, then I kick the gigantic resulting pile down the hallway and into the laundry room. I kick other items into other piles. Sometimes I catch the dog going into the piles, pulling out a likely-looking thing to gnaw or sniff. “Live it up, buddy,” I’ll tell him. Far be it from me to begrudge him a satisfying snort of dirty sock.

Too bad that I’d forgotten about some repairs-in-progress. Things happen in older houses, you see. Sometimes there are bad smells coming out of walls, which require opening up the wall to see if some small hapless creature has met its demise. That in turn means removing the baseboard, which this time required removing the hall threshold as well. Too bad I forgot about that in all my enthusiastic kicking. I caught a toe in the area where the threshold belongs, a toe I’d broken a few years ago. After that, I did an impromptu, profane, one-legged dance. I’m sure it was something to see. I noticed my son silently repeating the words I said, committing them to memory. Wonderful. Out of all the time I’ve invested in him, the stories read and cakes made and board games played, that will no doubt be one of his most vivid memories.

Life goes on. The toe is healing. I still haven’t fixed the wall. I’m deep into my next fiber portrait and planning the project which will come after it. Meanwhile, some of my other work is making the rounds of the country:

Siesta is part of the Artist as Quiltmaker exhibit, taking place now through the end of July in Oberlin, Ohio.

That exhibit has a long and storied history. It was established so that there’ll be an “outstanding exhibition of art-quilts” in Ohio each year, with Quilt National showing in odd numbered years and AQM in even numbered years.

Leaving, part of SAQA’s No Place to Call Home exhibit, will be at the Loveland, CO museum June 30 through September 16. The exhibit’s purpose is to “explore the impact of homelessness on society, individuals and families.”

Flooded is touring with the “Quilts: A World of Beauty 2011” exhibit. It will be at the International Quilt Festival in Long Beach, CA July 27-29.

Farmer Brown continues to tour with Quilt National. Its next stop will be in Fredericksburg, VA from October 1 – December 31.

Farmer Brown has also made an appearance in the summer edition of Quilt Trends Magazine. It accompanies Suzanne Smith Arney’s excellent article on the 35th anniversary of the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles.

The article is well worth a read. In it, Arney places the genesis of the art quilting movement firmly in the context of art history and the times. It’s clear that establishing the Museum must have been not only prescient, as Arney puts it, but gutsy.

I wanted to post images with this entry, images from the exhibits and catalogs and so forth. Alas, I am flying from one deadline to the next, and if I take time to dig out images, the exhibits will be long over by the time I post this. Apologies. I think I need to hire a second me.

A public service announcement

Thursday, May 31st, 2012

I’ve always been kind of a dull person in terms of my appearance, no tattoos and only one set of piercings, eternally a decade or two behind current fashions. A few months ago, I thought I’d jazz it up. Live a little, you know. I dyed my hair bubblegum pink.

I was pretty pleased with the dye job. The effect was fun, but subtle. A little pinker than strawberry blonde, and a good introduction to dyeing. Alas, the dye wore off too soon, so I started looking for a more permanent dye. I thought I’d found it with something called “Splat Rebellious Colors Luscious Raspberry.” The color on the box looked a little deep, but what the heck? I’d thought the same thing about the Manic Panic dye and that had turned out okay. What could possibly go wrong?

Nothing, as it turns out, if you like purple. If you don’t like purple hair, well, that’s another story. Also, if you’re turned off by a scalp dotted with bright pink/purple spots like the coat of a psychedelic Dalmatian dog, that could be a problem.

Well, I thought, “at least it covers the gray.” This morning I duly walked the kid to school and took the dog for a walk. As usual, the dog did his balking thing where he lies down and glues himself to the sidewalk when he doesn’t want to walk in a particular direction. I did my usual thing where I pick him up and drape him over my shoulder for a couple of blocks until he’s had a chance to rethink his strategy.

He isn’t a huge dog, maybe 40 pounds, but he’s long, a basset-dachshund mix. And me, well, I don’t think about it much, but I guess I’m short. The dog’s body covers me from waist to shoulder, leaving stubby little legs and a hound head propped up above me.

As I walked down the street, which was bumper-to-bumper with rush hour traffic, I noticed something. Motorists pointing at me and laughing. Motorists jostling each other and trying to get their kids’ attention.

Here’s what I learned: if you’re short and have purple hair, don’t walk down the street with a basset mix slung over your shoulder. Otherwise, people will laugh at you.

A Gift From Earth

Saturday, May 12th, 2012

I’ve finished a new piece, A Gift From Earth.

This is a whole cloth quilt measuring 51.5 x 63″. It was rendered in ink on cotton, then batted and stitched.

A closeup of the head. The young man is Kip Russell, the recipient of the shipping container of goodies in the lower righthand corner of the quilt. The label on the shipping container reads:

Curt & Janice Reisfeld
Princeton, New Jersey

Kip Russell
℅ Clifford & Patricia Russell
Tycho City

Some may recognize this as an homage to Heinlein’s Have Spacesuit – Will Travel. I hope Heinlein would have been pleased, but since he’s dead, I can’t ask him.

There are a number of other homages and bits of silliness as well. I’d thought of running a contest to see if people could count them all. “First prize – one box of junk from my studio! Second prize – TWO boxes of junk from my studio!” However, I think I’ll do the world a favor and pass on the contest for now. I’m eager to move on to my next project.

Some of the toys from the care package.

A fictitious book conjured up for the purposes of this picture, Trees of North America. The book cover is an homage to a Golden Age illustrator, just as the round window the boy is sitting in is an homage to Rockwell.

Imagine growing up on the moon, with all barren and desolate, the largest lifeforms coming out of a hydroponics tank. Then imagine trying to wrap your mind around the notion of immensely tall trees and wild animals such as tigers and snakes. It would strain credulity a bit.

Here are the neighboring domes, which bear a mysterious resemblance to golf balls. Considering the amount of activity required to construct the domes, there’s a striking absence of tire tracks, boot tread marks, or rubble around them. I’ve wondered why this is, and concluded that aliens must have come and straightened things up. That, or Tycho city must have imported a small army of the gardeners who smooth the gravel in Japanese gardens. Really, there are any number of logical explanations for the tidiness other than the artist (me) being too lazy to render tire tracks.

Creating this thing was a bit of a slog. I began concept sketches in early October, 2011. At the time, I was a bit concerned by the fact that all of my recent work had been portraiture, either of people or creatures. Perhaps I should render something else for a change? Say, something like a city? And what better kind of city than my favorite type, the domed ones from science fiction potboilers? I used to devour science fiction by the box load when I was a girl, tales of young men venturing out to Dyson spheres or alien planets to battle bug eyed monsters. (Presumably young women hadn’t been invented when the authors were born, so they could only write about young men.)

As a matter of fact, here’s a little domed volcano and lagoon I made when I was about twelve. The whole thing is about the size of a quarter, carefully scraped together from modeling clay, Elmer’s glue, paint, and a gum machine capsule. I used to imagine that a miniature Tarzan lived inside. From this you may safely conclude that:

1. I was an insanely dull person.
2. I lived in an insanely dull place where there wasn’t much to do.
3. I had access to very few art supplies.
4. I didn’t have much of a social life, perhaps because of the miniature Tarzan thing.

Here’s another domed habitat, this time from an early quilt. The obsession persists, as does the stunted social life.

For research purposes, I got out Pyrex mixing bowls and my kid’s Legos. I was going to build a model of the domed city to end all domed cities!

Unfortunately, it was kind of lousy. The models tended to topple over at odd moments and didn’t make a convincing city. Also, the gravel in the photo stank to high heaven; it was some sort of synthetic scale gravel sold for use in model railroads, and probably full of carcinogens. But, no matter – the Pyrex-and-Lego test was a good proof of concept as far as building and lighting reference models. A nice starting place for sketches and thought, at least once the dizziness from inadvertently huffing synthetic gravel went away.

Only … I couldn’t just have a domed city in isolation, could I? Who lived there? What was the person’s story? Why did this city exist? I started doodling, and soon a person appeared in the picture. Just like that, I was right back to portraiture! Oh well – sometimes you just have to go with it.

I liked the idea of having a view of the other domes and maybe Earth. A window seat, too – I’ve always liked window seats. So who was sitting in the window seat? A kid? What was he doing? Reading? What was he reading?

I decided that he was reading about life on Earth. His grandparents, who lived on Earth, had sent him a care package of books and animal toys.

Armed with that thought and a basic positioning sketch, I began taking reference/lighting photos.

First I posed a kid in roughly same position as the kid in my sketch.

I found some toys which might be the sort of thing grandparents would send from Earth. After all, what is childhood without a rubber snake?

I even cut a strip of cardboard from a cereal box and taped it in a loop to simulate the window. Alas, that reference model has since been eaten by Dr. Trashcan, so it can’t appear here.

I consulted photos from the Apollo missions. That was enlightening. Many of the visual cues we take for granted on Earth don’t exist on the moon. Rocks appear sharp because they haven’t been weathered by water and wind. Shadows tend to be harsh, not diffuse. Since there’s no atmosphere, one doesn’t get graying and lightening with increasing distances. Finally, even though billions of stars were undoubtedly out in the sky, they weren’t visible in the photos.

I looked for images of the Earth as seen from space and from the moon. Surprise, surprise – North America isn’t necessarily front and center! It’s almost as though country divisions don’t matter in the grand scheme of the universe. Weird, huh?

With those visual references, I created a tighter cartoon of the whole scene:

At this point, I suppose I could have cheered “Oh, hooray! Only six more months to go and I’ll be done!” Happily, I didn’t know it would take that long. I thought it would take two or three months, tops, to trace this thing on to fabric, paint it, and stitch it. Ha ha ha! (Hollow, somewhat hysterical laugh.)

Here’s a quick color composite, executed on the computer. The radioactive orange skin combined with glow-in-the-dark-blue uniform are rather grotesque. However, this was a useful exercise for straightening out compositional issues. Specifically, I was curious about how dark to make the lunar background. I also wanted to see if the shape-similarity of Earth, lunar domes, head, and window would tie those elements together and lead one around the picture. I also wanted to try confining color to visual elements which were alive or came from Earth – the Earth itself, the boy, the toys which were emblematic of life.

Finally, after all of the sketching and research, fabric painting got under way.

Painting the head.

Stitching the head.

Poor kid. He has long thread-like strands sprouting out of his head. Maybe it’s a disease peculiar to the moon, a fungus of some type.

At exhibits, visitors frequently ask how I decide how to stitch these things. This is how. I make a printout of the relevant part of the cartoon and draw on it. In the case of a face or skin, I may be trying out contour lines. Sometimes it takes several attempts and quite a bit of erasing to develop an arrangement I’m comfortable with.

My personal goal with stitching is to emphasize or reveal an object’s inherent texture or contours, or to convey a hidden message or mood. Sometimes that’s straightforward, as with the cushions and the contour lines around the shipping container. Sometimes, though, designs give me fits.

What’s the texture of nothingness, of the featureless void of the vacuum-filled sky? What kind of stitching does one do inside a bland, sterile environment like the domes, where the walls and floors are devoid of interest or grime? Sometimes there aren’t easy, obvious answers. Sometimes if a design is at least innocuous and doesn’t fight with the other visual elements, that counts as success.

It’s done. I’m so glad. Onward.