Archive for 2013

But is it art?

Saturday, December 21st, 2013

Before I forget, happy holidays to everyone:


This is from this year’s Christmas cards. I should have aligned the text differently for the screen. It looks rather uncomfortable sitting there, left aligned but relating to nothing else on the page. But, you know, lazy. Hand me some spiked eggnog and watch me get even lazier.

I never thought I’d view cold weather as a luxury, but my perspective has changed this year. I spent the fall clambering up and down ladders, repairing and repainting the house. I was out there so long that I became notorious among the neighbors, with the lady across the street repeatedly asking “aren’t you done yet?” and a few women making pointed comments about having “a man” do something. (Because, I don’t know, maybe the dangly bits act as ballast so men aren’t as likely to fall off ladders? Surely there’s some logical reason for specifically suggesting “a man” beyond sexism?)

For their part, men would stop by on their walks and chat companionably about ladders and air compressors. “Yep, that’s a GOOD ladder you have there,” one elderly man wheezed, “My son-in-law, his ladder wasn’t good. He fell off, got hurt really bad.” They would often bring dogs along, so I got sniffed and licked by many neighborhood hounds. That was nice.

In addition to painting, I sprayed foam insulation in every crack I could find. We had rats in the attic last year. I don’t hate rats, but I don’t want them up in my attic having turf wars and extramarital sex, growing fat on Cheetohs stolen from hapless schoolchildren. I don’t enjoy the whole live trap and peanut butter toast thing, loading bewildered rats in the car and deporting them to distant fields. (Where, no doubt, they’re simply killed by hawks instead of me.) The problem is, rats are smarter than me. Darned if I could tell where they were getting in and out of the house. Although spray foam won’t stop them from getting in – in fact, they’ll snicker at me while they chew through it – maybe the evidence of chewing will tell me where they’re getting in. That would be something. I really don’t want to call an exterminator and have them killed.

There’s more to do out there but – oh dear – cold weather is here! Gosh, I just don’t feel up to shoveling or shredding when it’s thirty or forty degrees out. Nope, I’ll just have to hole up inside until the afternoon, when it warms up a bit. I’ll just have to do inside things.


Things like this, for example. Get yourself some squashed toilet paper tubes, some spray paint, a few red beads from the junk jar in the laundry room, and you’ve got a low rent wreath. Is there anything toilet paper tubes can’t do?

I glued eyelet to the individual panes of the window, too. The yellowed, 1970s-era door curtain finally got to me. It spoke of stained shag carpet, dim rooms, and people chain smoking around a 13″ TV set. It turns out that the eyelet provides a pretty good degree of privacy and lets in a gentle glow as well. If we grow to despise the eyelet, it’ll scrape right off with a razor blade.



Perler beads. Why did I think that we needed TWO LARGE CONTAINERS of fusible beads? We have an energetic male child. I’ve engaged him in craft projects. He prefers to bash things with foam swords and swing from chandeliers. In fact, one of his fantasies is that I’ll build him a zip line with a chandelier hanging off it, so he can simultaneously go down a zip line and swing from a chandelier.

Anyhow, it turns out that if you smear vegetable oil on the inside of a glass bowl, put Perler beads inside, and put the whole mess in the oven awhile, you can make yourself a flimsy, ugly bowl. It’s a far less tedious process than making anything else with these beads. It also is reminiscent of Dominic Wilcox’s War Bowls, which I covet greatly.



Perler bead Minecraft gear. I have no idea why anyone would want this stuff, but my kid was delighted with it. He spent one entire dinner whacking at a roll with the little axe, which I guess says nothing good about the level of etiquette we adhere to in this household.



iPhone microscope. This conversion stand, which includes a lens filched from a laser pointer, allows one to use a smartphone as a digital microscope. I found the instructions over on the Instructables site, courtesy of Yoshinok.

Aside from the phone, the project is incredibly cheap. All it requires is some acrylic, a few nuts and bolts, the lens from a cheap laser pointer, and a chunk of wood. Here we can see the microscope lined up to magnify a dime.



Another view of the iPhone microscope, with FDR’s metal visage onscreen. I should really find a teensy LED flashlight in case we want backlighting. You know – for that theoretical day when I manage to tear my kid away from Minecraft and bashing things with foam swords and force him to inspect the world around us.



Here are a couple of recent print appearances of my work. This one is from the latest issue of International Quilt Festival: Quilt Scene, which had a gallery of some of the work at IQF Houston. My portrait, Under the Ginkgo Tree, is on the left. Karen Eckmeier’s Random Rose Garden is on the facing page.

I appreciate being featured in the magazine. That has to be a job and a half, combing through several hundred works to decide which to show, not to mention the layout and design. It looks as though they tried to feature a wide variety of styles and techniques. I hope that’s inspiring for those who couldn’t make it to the show.



This is from Mary Kerr’s Cutting-Edge Art Quilts, which was published earlier this year. I was happy to see that she and the publisher did a wonderful job. Tasteful layout, interesting information, nice variety in terms of style and technique.

Yeah, that conservative-looking woman in the little postage stamp-sized photo is me. If I had known that photos of the artists would be required, I wouldn’t have submitted work. However, I would have missed out on being in a nice book. I won’t be offended if people who own a copy draw a mustache on my face.



Another spread, this time featuring Creepy Boy, Siesta, and Suspicion. One of my friends squinted at this photo and asked “What’s that pink hairy nipple thing in the lower righthand corner?” Well, thanks. From now on, when I see Suspicion, I’m going to think “pink hairy nipple thing” rather than “napping flamingo”.

It’s good to see Creepy Boy in print. I never submitted him to any shows because I didn’t think he’d be well received. People who see him in person usually shudder and go “ewwww!” However, it’s actually one of the pieces I’ve found most effective.



Whee! I can use a plugin to create a tree skeleton!

Meanwhile, I’m off studying Objective C and Blender 3D.  There are things I want to do.

I’ve missed doing 3D CGI. Aside from some product-related 3D work for advertising, I mostly had to put it aside during the goldrush era, when I was frolicking at one of those infamous Silicon Valley startups. Then there was the whole having-a-baby thing. That period doesn’t last forever, it’s an investment in the future, and I kind of feel one should be present to whatever degree one can. However, it sure can bring other pursuits to a screeching halt, particularly if there isn’t outside childcare.

Time marches on. Kids’ needs for intense, constant attention taper off as they continue down the long path toward independence and adulthood. There’s school, peers, outside interests. I’m now at the point of having to schedule regular outings with my kid, to ensure that the time doesn’t simply ooze by unmarked and that he has memories other than my badgering him about penmanship and multiplication tables. For the parent, it can be like a miniature version of a midlife crisis: “Wow. I have more time. Who am I? What was I doing when this all began? What do I want to do now?”

Well, I miss working in 3D. I miss making my own strange little worlds. I have no idea how or whether my 3D work will tie in with my fiber work or portraits. I’m simply tired of telling myself no. Sometimes we have to embark on a hike into the wilderness and see if it leads anywhere.

On that note, here are some things I’ve been taking on that hike, things I really appreciate:

The Blender 3D Noob to Pro Wikibook
Blender is a marvelously full-featured 3D CGI package, a free one at that. Alas, it has a notoriously quirky interface and can have a steep learning curve.

The people who put together the Noob to Pro book have made the process less hideous, though, by stepping through each feature and obscure set of key commands and providing tutorials. They don’t get paid for their work and have done this out of the goodness of their hearts. Bless them.

Matthijs Hollemans’ iOS apprentice series.
I’ve coded in a wide variety of languages. However, there’s quite a bit of distance between fixing a problem in an emergency, hacking together an ill-conceived application which may break if one sneezes at the wrong time, and writing clean, elegantly conceived code.

Amateurish tutorials and books abound, their covers festooned with claims that they’ll teach you a language “In 24 Hours!” or have you publishing your own gee-whiz apps in no time at all. Many of them contain slapdash code, bizarre variable and function names, and lousy explanations.

Hollemans’ series is far superior to these in terms of clarity of writing, helpful screenshots, and decent coding practices. It’s also saving me the annoyance of having to shower, put on clean clothes, and sit in a classroom to learn a new language.

I’m not a fan of video-based classes. That’s particularly the case if the speaker is a novice in terms of teaching, is disorganized, or is a mumbler. Give me written material and I’m far, far happier. However, CartoonSmart consistently offers a wide variety of inexpensive tutorials and kits on hot or fun topics. Want to get up to speed making giant robots in Flash or get a quick introduction to Maya? They’re a good place to start. Whenever I’m in the mood to try something new or quirky, I scan the classes at CartoonSmart.

Here’s to adventure in 2014!

IQA Silent Auction

Monday, October 28th, 2013

This piece, Paisleyfish II, is my contribution to the International Quilt Association’s silent auction, held at the International Quilt Festival this week in Houston.


It has about the same dimensions as the side of a ten gallon aquarium. My original thought was to create a piece which would give a feeling similar to having a somewhat strange aquarium at hand, without having to remember to feed the residents, clean filters, or deal with aggressive splashing from the fish.


The fish are extravagant paisley-shaped creatures, thus the name of the piece. As a child I wore some really grotesque hand-me-downs which dated from the 1960s. Some of them featured paisley; I became convinced, perhaps irrationally, that they were fish in disguise.

The contours of these paisleys are based on the Paisley and Paisley II fonts created by the House of Lime.


Here is a “No Fishing” sign, a ubiquitous kitschy touch in real life aquaria.

Although this donation piece may appear deceptively simple, between design time, painting, and stitching, it used up three months of discretionary time. While I would like to continue to use my work to help support organizations which I believe in, I probably won’t be creating quite as many donation pieces in the future. For those who’ve wanted to acquire a piece of my work and would like to support a worthwhile organization as well, this is a good opportunity.

Tell a good story.

Tuesday, October 15th, 2013

Oh, goodness. It’s hard to write anything these days. I got out of the habit of documenting my work when a couple of venues got touchy about one’s work being published before a show. Now it feels very similar to when one goes without speaking for a long time and one’s voice is raspy. I don’t even know what to say, much less how to say it.

These will be at PIQF this week. They’re in the Domestic Mayhem series.


Shot From a Cannon

To be “shot from a cannon” is to be rapidly propelled into a new or overwhelming situation. This is about the feeling many of us have when we become parents, that we don’t know what the heck we’re doing and that the odds are against us, yet we have to keep trying. Sometimes we even feel like our lives have become a circus act.


Here’s a closeup. Dear lord, the squalling. The stench is probably overwhelming as well; there’s a good chance at least half of those babies are crying because they need a diaper change.



The Juggler

The Juggler is about the struggle we endure to keep all aspects of our personal and professional lives aloft. Alas, sometimes even six arms aren’t enough to avoid catastrophe.

I hope these will give people pleasure at the exhibit, although perhaps there’ll be the sort of “I wouldn’t give two cents for that!” reaction I once heard about a friend’s rather wonderful work. (Before – yes, I admit it – I loudly proclaimed that I knew the artist and I thought her work was very clever.)


Projectwise, I’m emulating Martha Ginn a bit at present. She’s a good person, a fine person to emulate; lately she’s been making a series of free-form quilts based on scraps and strips. Most of us have a bag or box of these squirreled away, and it’s nice to convert them to art, a bit of joy, even a utility quilt.


Mine are batik scraps which I bought for heaven knows what reason. I’m sure I thought the reason was good at the time, but the fact is that the bag has been languishing along with the many drawers of new, unused fabric I also had to have for “good” reasons. Once upon a time I would have looked at that fabric and regarded it as precious, that no project I could do could possibly live up to it. Now my relationship with “stuff” is changing as I peer down the years, hopefully decades, to my eventual demise. It is just stuff: it should either be enjoyed and used or given to someone else who will use it. I don’t want my legacy to be drawers of dusty, rotting fabric which went to waste and have to be thrown out when I die.



Although I’d like to get back to the point of creating some art, there isn’t much of me to do it at present. I’m wrung out. I sketch and I process ideas, but I’m not up to committing to a single idea, to a project which will probably take months to execute. A casual, strip-based utility quilt is a good project for right now, though. Fall is in the air, then there’ll be winter. It’ll be good to make something saturated and cheerful for the hound and the boy to snuggle under. A strip quilt doesn’t take much mental or emotional energy. I lay out the strips, find pleasing combinations, sew, trim. May the result give someone joy and use up some of those blasted batik scraps.

It has been a summer and a fall of mental processing. I do most of my processing in my journal, writing down incidents or thoughts as they come to me.

Sometimes my husband and I discuss the notion of personal “narratives”, or stories. We humans are great storytellers. I’ll go out on a limb and say that, barring the discovery that some other creature has language and an oral storytelling tradition, it’s one of the characteristics which differentiates us from other animals. We classify, we wonder, we tell stories. We tell stories about great human themes, as we try to understand our place in the universe, and we tell stories about ourselves.

We humans have lives comprised of many series of random incidents: we were driving to the store for a gallon of milk and saw a red sports car at the corner. We needed a job, and happened to run into an old friend who knew someone who knew someone. Tuesday we went in for dental cleaning. That kind of thing. There are millions upon millions of random incidents in even one person’s life.

We pick out salient bits and construct a story around them. A narrative. “I met my future husband when we were kids; he sat behind me in Trigonometry class. He was the most handsome fellow I’d ever seen. I was besotted. Over time, we became friends and started dating. We’ve been married ten years now, and they’ve been the best years of my life.”

Narratives can be really useful. We can’t and arguably shouldn’t analyze every tiny thing that goes on in our lives, every instance of a lizard scuttling across our paths or a piece of garbage ending up in our flower bed. It’s useful to be able to say “Oh, a kid must have tossed that there” and move on.

Unfortunately, sometimes we discover that our narratives don’t match reality, that they must be adjusted. I discovered that with my family. One of my personal stories involved a family which was quirky, but generally loving and supportive. It turned out to be inaccurate. I was in denial about that fact for a long time because, I guess, I can be rather dense where people are concerned, particularly when I’m really invested in an idea.

My husband has compared narratives to scientific hypotheses. In science, one does an experiment, collects data, then sees if a theory explains the data. Sometimes there are outlying data points which one tosses out. These particular data points don’t fit the theory and there aren’t many of them; maybe they were due to errors in collecting the data, or due to some other phenomenon.

Similarly, when we’re looking at our relationships or our personal stories, there can be outlying points. A loved one is sick or is having a lousy day and says some uncharacteristically harsh things. We don’t dwell on those incidents too much; bad days happen. We toss that “data” out. When we start to see more of those types of incidents, though, or we become aware that many were there all along, we start to question our theory. That is what happened to me, becoming conscious of those outlying data points and realizing that they were the norm, not the exception.

One typical example, not to get too personal: I was visiting my “home” town with husband in tow. I didn’t go there often, maybe once every year or so. I phoned my folks to ask them to lunch. My treat. There was a place in town which had the type of food they enjoyed, a place they hadn’t visited. I hoped it would be a nice outing for them. A lunch date was set. My husband and I drove to their place outside of town to pick them up at the appointed time.

When we arrived, no one was ready to go. There weren’t any signs of life, other than the usual ragtag group of dogs sprawled in a fenced area which was perpetually caked in mud and dog feces.

Inside the house, my stepmother plotzed on the couch in polyester stretch pants, watching reruns in the perpetual dark. I’m not sure she even looked up at me when I came in. “Where’s Dad?” I asked. “Upstairs taking a nap,” she mumbled.

Things went downhill from there. Nobody was ready to go. No one was interested in going. No one was glad to see me or to have me visit, despite the fact that I’d traveled 1700 miles and hadn’t been around in ages. No one had had the politeness to say “Oh, thanks for the invitation, but we’ll pass,” when I’d called. We’d driven way the heck and gone out to the house for nothing. There wasn’t even edible food in the house, meaning we’d been deprived of lunch ourselves.

I made one last attempt, describing the restaurant and its menu. “Where is that?” my stepmother asked absently, not taking her eyes off the TV screen. I described it. “Oh, that’s that place that was shut down by the health department.” Zing. Bank shot.

This was typical of interactions with my family. This was mild, actually. Perhaps the saddest thing is that I was so dense that I truly didn’t understand what was going on, that I was being treated in a manner that went beyond casual rudeness. They could and did do and say whatever they wished and I wouldn’t protest, because I didn’t comprehend what was happening. I couldn’t understand why visits with them left me sick, feeling awful, stressed out to the point that I ground my teeth and cracked them. It wasn’t until I had a kid myself and realized that I’d never treat him in this manner that I began to understand.

My narrative was all wrong. I’d invested a lot of myself in something that was only a fantasy.

This isn’t a particularly original story, of course. This type of thing has been going on for millenia. Maybe someone else could have handled the situation with my family better. “Yeah, they’re rude as hell and basically hate my guts, but they’re my family and I want to make sure they’re okay.” I didn’t have the emotional tools. I couldn’t swat away the nastiness like an annoying malaria-carrying mosquito. Now I get to try to mentally untangle it all. Maybe it will come untangled in my artwork; maybe it won’t.

Our stories aren’t always about family issues. Some of us get invested in, say, the story of the marriage which has a few problems but is basically sound, nothing serious that can’t be worked out. We push aside signs of serious trouble because they’re frightening and we don’t want that stuff in our story. We want to believe that everything is basically fine and is going to work out. Then one day our husband sits us down on the bed and tells us about a pass he made at a woman at work, and how the situation was serious enough that he had to have his work schedule changed. “She was there and had on this little skirt. She turned around in it and asked me how she looked.” The desire for this woman is in his eyes. Everything shatters, including us, and we realize we can’t ignore the cracks. Or maybe there’s a drinking problem or an abuse problem, and we pretend to buy into the person’s story and we hide the issue from everyone – including ourselves.

It pays to be clear-eyed about the stories we tell ourselves, to check them from time to time. We tend to look for facts or circumstances which support our narratives and discard things which don’t fit. Sometimes that’s harmless or okay. Simplifying things can help us make decisions, cut to the chase. However, sometimes we throw away information that was actually important. If we get too invested in a narrative which isn’t true, as I did with my family, it’s a bad way to live. The situation can be toxic, even dangerous.

Sometimes our stories have the power to alter reality, to come true. There’s that kid, for example, that rotten teenager who can’t do anything right. He starts trying to live down to our expectations. He flunks out of school, starts climbing out the window at night and doing heaven knows what. Sex, drugs, maybe turning over Port-O-Potties. Why not? He knows he’s a bad kid. Even his stepfather has told him that he’s a troublemaker and is going to wind up in jail. Sure enough, by the time the kid turns twenty, he’s been in jail a couple of times.

Then there’s the cousin who’s a “slut” rather than a “troubled young woman who could use encouragement and guidance”. She gets pregnant again and again and again. An adult could take her aside and try to intervene, try to get her into counseling or at least send the message that she matters. An adult could ask her about her plans for the future, encourage her to finish her GED and enroll in college, volunteer to watch the baby while she’s in class.

However, nobody does much to help the girl climb out of her hole because the story is that she’s a “slut”. Nobody expects much else from her because that’s what sluts do, run around and get pregnant. It’s too much trouble to actually do anything concrete. It’s far easier to gossip about her and call her a slut.

We humans are natural storytellers. It’s a necessary, useful skill. However, we can also damage ourselves and others with our stories. We should strive to be clear-eyed about the stories we write for ourselves, and kind and compassionate about the stories we write about others.

Tell a good story.

Home again.

Saturday, September 14th, 2013


Here’s Farmer Brown, back after an “exclusive three year tour of Europe, Scandinavia and the subcontinent”. (Obligatory Blues Brothers reference.)

Actually, I don’t really know where it’s been, other than off touring with Quilt National ’11. It left two or three years ago. Yesterday evening it landed back on my doorstep, borne by an exhausted FedEx driver. I was amused to see that the folks at the Dairy Barn had preserved all of my original packaging, including the pool noodle (priceless extruded polyethylene!) and giant plastic leaf/garbage bag (more costly polymers!). They are meticulous people.

My husband has always had a sentimental connection to this piece. It’s something I usually don’t relate to, at least about my own work. I see it differently, I guess, as the culmination of a drive or a set of processes which I either executed successfully or I didn’t. For now, this particular “culmination” will hang in the dining room, providing a backdrop to the Lego bricks which festoon the table and the dirty socks which eternally litter the floor. Then I’ll roll it up and put it in the Closet of Banishment. I could have put it up for sale, but sentimentality triumphed over economics. In fifteen or twenty years I’ll ask my son whether he wants it.

One chapter closes and another begins.

I’m not a big fan of accumulating UFOs (UnFinished Objects), but I seem to have a pile of them right now. Several more ideas for the Domestic Mayhem series, sketches for a new series, a partially stitched portrait, and an experiment in distorted geometry. The latter is particularly annoying because the stitching quality isn’t as I’d like. Maybe I should send it out to the garage to become an oil changing rag, or transform it into a sort of grotesque shopping bag.

I spent a month over the summer designing and starting a new piece for this fall’s IQA auction, only to realize that I couldn’t complete it according to my standards in the time allotted. I then did a panicked survey of the UFO collection and found one that was mostly complete and might be suitable; I’ll post about it another time. I noodled away at it until last weekend then shipped it off, just short of deadline.

All told, I spent about three months on this process and none on the work I’d originally planned. Since I’d given my word, I couldn’t very well back out of it. I’m not sure how other artists manage the business of donations. I don’t know if they don’t have youngish children, don’t do their own home renovations, or are simply more efficient. However, I may, regretfully, have to step away in the future. We’ll see. It’s probably a bit premature to make sweeping statements.

I need to design a new piece, a more personal piece, and I’ll be interested in hearing others’ ideas. More on that in a minute. I’ve been on a sort of mad painting frenzy, redoing the master bedroom and the exterior of the house. The latter is a painstaking process, since the last paint job was of very poor quality. There are drips and runs, peeling areas, overspray, you name it. Oh, and wasps. There’s nothing quite like the thrill of reaching up to remove a rain gutter cover and discovering a wasp nest the size of one’s fist right at eye level, covered with annoyed little buzzers. That was the day that I discovered that I can levitate.

I think I gave one of the neighbors a bit of worry. One evening I went out on a date with my husband and, since I have very low alcohol tolerance, came home utterly lit after just one margarita. That was when I had the brilliant notion of removing the wasp nest. Why not? It was nightfall, cool out, and the wasps had probably all returned to their nest. I think my husband had gone in another room or something; otherwise he surely would have stopped me.

Up the ladder I went in my little black dress, drunkenly emoting to the wasps. “I’m very sorry,” I told them, “but I’m going to have to kill you. It’s nothing personal.” I sort of dimly heard a neighbor’s sliding screen door open, but it didn’t register. It was taking all of my concentration to balance on the ladder with the can of wasp spray. “I’m so sorry,” I repeated, “but I’m going to have to kill you. I hope this will be quick and it won’t hurt much. I just can’t paint with wasps buzzing me.” I let loose with a vast toxic stream of wasp spray that cascaded over the rain gutter, then I lurched down the ladder. The neighbor’s screen door opened and closed again. I can only imagine what the person was thinking.

As for the bedroom, this summer I suddenly realized that the business of being a Woman of a Certain Age is upon me. I know this is a first world sort of problem, the sort of issue people living in mud huts would love to have. However, I really don’t want to be a Woman of a Certain Age without ever having had a proper bedroom. A bedroom with matching furniture that my husband and I selected, as opposed to a motley pile of crumbling junk, some of which I’ve had since childhood and never liked to begin with. A bedroom with a real bed with a real headboard, not a mattress and box springs thrown on a metal frame with wheels, a frame which lurches around like a roller coaster when someone gets up to use the restroom. Did I mention the headboard? Yes. A headboard, not a disgusting grease spot on the wall behind the pillows.

I admit that I have a fairly wide tacky streak, that I enjoy things like flamingos made of old car tires and taking my dog outside at night so he can watch rats scurry across the power lines. However, even I have my limits. I don’t want to reach my fifties, sixties or seventies sleeping on a sagging mattress with a grease spot behind my head. I just don’t. And if I don’t take action, some of these things won’t change.

Accordingly, this summer I began muttering about headboards and beds. Should I design my own or look for plans? What of the dresser and nightstands? Should I go price maple? Practice making mortises on scrap wood?

Did I imagine a fleeting expression of alarm on my husband’s face? He stated, in his usual diplomatic fashion, that he had no doubt that I could design or build whatever I pleased, and that it would be wonderful. However, perhaps we should at least go out and look at beds in stores to see what was out there and get some ideas. His evil scheme worked: a day or two later we’d ordered new furniture, a sort of Mission Style meets Shinto affair, much nicer than anything I would have designed or built. Bless the man.


Of course, once there’s new furniture, one has to think about other aspects of the room. Light fixtures, for example. I found the perfect table lamp for the room! It’s a blue dragonfly lamp executed in stained glass, made by Tiffany. Unfortunately, it’s in the Chrysler Museum of Art. I’ve found a number of other fixtures I like almost as well; they’re in the $50,000 range. Perhaps the business of lamps will require more thought. It would be good to find lamps which can actually, you know, be purchased or made. Something a little nicer than suspending flashlights from the ceiling with a piece of yarn, but not soaring into the five figure range.

I also want new art for over the bed. Originally I was thinking in terms of a giant wood carving. Now I’m thinking of making a new piece of fiber art, to be mounted on a stretcher frame. Something lush, lyrical and romantic. A piece evocative of Pre-Raphaelite art, Art Nouveau, or the golden age of illustration. However, not the type of thing one would see painted on the side of a 70s panel van or in a children’s nursery. We are adults. We don’t need to be eyed by dragons or teddy bears or have Humpty Dumpty leering at us as we get dressed in the morning. Of course, other than that, I have no idea of the subject matter. This is completely the reverse of the way I usually work. Maybe I should just jam some glow-in-the-dark plastic stars over the bed and call it done. After all, I still have a third of a house exterior to paint. I should focus on that and get it done before the weather turns nasty.


Friday, August 9th, 2013

(With summer photos randomly inserted to make the text extra difficult to read)

In one week, the boy will be back to school. I will miss him, worry about him, and the regular routine of art, exercise, home repair, and after-school activity will resume. I hope it’s been a good summer for him. His presence was a blessing to me.


Shot at Legoland in glamorous Carlsbad, CA


Academy of Sciences, San Francisco

Each summer, I vow that things will be different. Perhaps everyone does. I’ll produce new, high quality works at breakneck speed. I’ll spend quality time with my kid, take him on a wide variety of day trips, and help him stay up to speed for the next school year. I absolutely will not let the joint descend into a state of squalor worthy of the city dump. I won’t lose my temper or say bad words. I won’t transform into a caricature of a Tennessee Williams character, the woman who swans around the house in a dowdy slip with support hose rolled down around her ankles while sucking down whiskey sours.


Zip line at the Adventure Playground, Berkeley, CA


A view of Alcatraz

Well, I achieved one of those goals. I spent time with the boy, although I’ve let up on the math and spelling practice during the past couple of weeks. Oh, and I didn’t drink any whiskey sours. I actually don’t care for whiskey, and I have a thing about drinking alcohol in front of kids.


Ants painted to look like people at the gawdawful Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum on Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco

It was the summer of listening to my son and building with Legos. It has come to me that one of the most important things we can do as parents is to facilitate our kids finding direction and developing into whoever they’re going to be. Maybe, probably, that won’t be the same as who we are. Maybe we could care less about fishing or magic or baseball, but it behooves us to try to make a smorgasbord available if we can. Try to listen up, act interested, invest in new experiences. Maybe somewhere out there is the experience that will spark an interest. Maybe it won’t be anything we personally care about, and that is fine. We can still be supportive. We can show interest and encourage.


My kid darned near getting killed at Belmont Park, San Diego

It was also the summer of pondering, as I became poignantly conscious of the death of other relationships, and thought about the causes. My theory has long been that I am the common factor in all of my failed relationships, most of which are with family members, so there must be something wrong with me or with something I’m doing. If I wish to be charitable to myself, it could be as simple as being someone who unconsciously seeks out or tolerates a certain type of relationship.


At the Exploratorium in San Francisco


Fort Point, San Francisco

So I sat with the boy, trying to comfort myself by nurturing him while I mourned the loss of something which had turned out to be a fantasy. I’m a big believer in gathering data, you see. Sometimes a person can grow up with a distorted notion of reality, say if there’s been profound mental illness or dysfunction in the family.


Golden Gate Bridge


Legoland Hotel, Carlsbad, CA

At some point, though, one realizes there’s a disconnect between what people are saying and what they’re doing. The two things don’t match. So one gathers data. One looks at the data over a period of years, even. One may realize that one’s model of reality was wrong and that one needs to create a new model. A healthy, more realistic model.


Meerkats at the San Francisco Zoo

I will state this minor yet not-so-minor thing in case it will help someone else: I recently went through six to eight months of artist’s block related to this issue. I still fight it now and then. I can thank Julia Cameron and her book, The Artist’s Way, for helping me to climb out of it. In it, she has a number of extremely helpful weekly exercises. I did them for about two weeks and found them very annoying, so I quit doing them. However, the journalling helped, so I thank her for that. It helped me get to the core of what was blocking me.


A model posing for her public at the San Diego Zoo

There are people out there who are broken in some fundamental fashion. Sleepwalking through life, angry, closed off, abusive, toxic, judging, unable to feel joy for others. Sometimes we’re related to them. Sometimes we’re even related to a whole batch of them. It’s hard to realize that and it’s hard to move away from it. There’s no joy in it. Even when the consequences are the same – I won’t be notified when my father becomes ill, or I won’t ever see photos of my early childhood – it feels different when consciously making a choice as opposed to simply having it happen.


Tiger, San Diego Zoo

There are people who control by withholding interest or approval, who will deny your very point of view. It’s the tip of the iceberg as far as what had been going on for decades, in terms of rude, untrustworthy, sometimes abusive behavior, but that was part of what was holding me back artistically. I’d gradually learned to quit saying anything at all, lest it be used as a weapon to hurt me. The participation in Quilt National, winning an award, a cherished book appearance, the very work I did. I started doubting the validity of my work, and had a harder and harder time working at all. Each time something good happened, I would make a mental note to say nothing about it. Double that if it was something bad, because people would rejoice in it.


The boy at Fort Point

These things happen. I will never understand why I wasn’t worthy of their love and respect, although I suspect that simply existing was sufficient. I’m not sure how one comes to terms with such fundamental rejection. However, based on what I’ve seen from friends who’ve experienced a great loss, there’s solace in turning outward. In nurturing one’s child, in quiet conversation with one’s husband, in taking interest in others and rejoicing in their successes. It seems like a good thing to practice.


An ancient Mayan lidded jaguar vessel at the de Young Museum, San Francisco

Bless the boy for his company this summer.

That’s crap.

Sunday, July 14th, 2013

When I’m visiting a show or a museum, I’ll sometimes hear disparaging comments about the work. “I wouldn’t give two cents for that,” one woman sneered at a piece I found rather clever. An artist in a prestigious show characterized another person’s work as a “gimmick”, even though she wasn’t quite sure her own piece had been hung right side up. (Seriously. She had to go stare at it for awhile before calling a staff member over to flip it.)

Well, we’re all human here. I do the same thing, although I go to some effort to keep a filter between my mouth and my brain. Inside, though, my critic-mind is merrily commenting away. I see a lot of work and think “That’s crap” or “You’re boring me” or “Seriously? People used to paint that kind of thing on the sides of vans.”

The thing I try to remind myself of, though, is that we’re all on different paths. The people learning a new medium, who dip their toes in by trying someone else’s technique. The people whose experience of art is enhanced by translating a master work to a different medium. The veteran artists who attended RISD and have established themes and personal styles. The latecomers who are struggling to sing and express their souls after years of having their needs take a back seat to everyone else’s.

We often don’t know, really. We can simply react to what we’re seeing – perhaps appropriate in the case of illustration or graphic design – but if we don’t know about the creator, we may not see a piece with clear eyes. Perhaps it’s best to try to retain a sense of compassion, even when we think something is gawdawful. While we may not find a particular artwork compelling, on some level it’s wonderful that the person created. Maybe that was an immensely courageous act, and showing a series of badly rendered drawings which reek of cigarette smoke is a high point in this person’s life. Let’s applaud that, even if we aren’t moved by the work. Compassion.

With that notion in the back of my mind, I recently viewed a show, Menagerie, at the Mingei in San Diego. Menagerie was comprised of renderings of animals from the permanent collection. I wandered through, some things catching my eye and some not.



Sitting firmly in the “not” category was this collection of animals. I walked by them rather dismissively, thinking “meh, a bunch of animal blobs”, then forced myself to look again. Perhaps the museum had a good reason for adding them to the collection. Perhaps I’d learn something if I studied them.

There was a card with the collection:

Sonabai Rajawar
Animals, c 1985
Clay and Paint

Sonabai Rajawar lived in forced isolation for 15 years in a remote village in central India, unable to see or be seen by anyone other than her husband and child. Through the necessity of expressing her own vision in the face of this adversity, Sonabai created toys for her son and sculptures for her home, imagining a world full of color and light. Using available materials, she created whimsical animal sculptures exclusively from her own vivid imagination.

And there it was: I was hooked. I wanted to learn more about this woman, but I could already imagine her. Married to an abusive loon of some sort, I guessed, someone hideously controlling who kept her locked up until he saw the dollar signs emanating from her work. Or maybe he died first, then she gained freedom. I would have gone nuts in such circumstances, had my spirit totally crushed, but she came up with a coping mechanism, a means of expressing the beauty and goodness inside. Unbelievably admirable.

“She dug clay mud from around her well,” one of the museum staff told me, “she made the paints herself, from things she had on hand.” Imagine that, grubbing around in the dirt and grinding up spices and seeds for pigments, perhaps, in order to make toys for one’s child. Quite literally creating something out of nothing. Evidently she visited the U.S. near the end of her life, when the Mingei mounted an exhibit of her work. She was amazed and delighted to discover the existence of ready-made tempera paints in a rainbow of hues.

And I, in my hubris and with my access to the endless array of supplies we have in the west, was initially dismissive of her work.

I will close with a picture of something that is literally, but not metaphorically, a piece of crap:


That’s right. This charming little dog was made from dung. As with Sonabai Rajawar, that may have been the only material this artist could access, yet the creative spirit burned so brightly. It’s something I’ll try to bear in mind the next time I look at someone’s work and am tempted to dismiss it as crap.

Escaping my cell

Thursday, June 6th, 2013

I’ve been trying to write this blog entry for weeks, but various things keep popping up and getting in the way. You know the kind of thing: depression, artist’s block, fix the sheetrock in the dining room, write on blog, delete, take care of kid, termite inspection, artist’s block, write on blog, delete, drama with family, accounting, take care of kid, gardening and, oh, more depression. Will I succeed this time? Who knows. It’s a problem when I can’t finish an entry before it’s stale. Maybe I shouldn’t worry about it.

Work on The Weiner Thief is progressing, but slowly. Today I began to contemplate the end of the log the boy is sitting on, realized that it really needs to be stitched with fairly precise concentric circles, and what in the heck was I thinking when I designed such a thing? What was my plan for getting through the stitching part without losing the remnants of my sanity? No plan at all, evidently. Now it’s too late to take the cowardly way out and stick a bunch of weeds or a bush in front of the end of the log, thus eliminating the need for the concentric circle nonsense, which is what a sensible person would do. Please, somebody smack me upside the head if I ever come up with a design this ill-conceived again in my life. Dear lord. Maybe I’ll just brew up a giant flagon of espresso, stay up all night, and gut it out. Stay up all night, get it done, spend tomorrow whining to my family about how tired I am. That could work, particularly the whining part.

A few weeks ago, it dawned on me that of the brick-and-mortar friends I had ten years ago, the ones one would physically see for a cup of coffee, most have either died, moved, or just sort of evaporated when I had a kid. I’m not going to meet new coffee friends unless I go out in meatspace, the physical world. Although I count myself fortunate to have a number of internet friends, and occasionally I do get to meet them, there isn’t some an online service which drops new coffee friends off at one’s house, the way I order everything else.

Accordingly, I took in a talk at the San Jose Museum of Quilts & Textiles, with Yvonne Porcella discussing some of the influences on her work. Great stuff.

I’d like to note that if you go to a talk there, when they say 2 P.M., they really mean it. Not 1:59. Not 2:15. Two. I left the house thinking that I’d allowed ample time, remembering the acres of parking right in front of the museum and assuming that it would be readily available on a Sunday. Nope! Whatever it was that I remembered has been turned into sidewalk and planter boxes, or maybe it only ever existed in my mind. Every spot for blocks around was full. I circled around and around like a vulture, finally diving in to a pay parking lot. Miraculously, I had money. I’m one of those people who doesn’t handle cash very much, but that day I happened to have $7. I threw a wad of nasty-looking bills at the attendant, then hustled to the museum with my shoes making startlingly loud flap-flap-flap noises. I’m a one man band, I am.

Once in the museum, I was handed a name tag by the President of the Board of Directors, Marie Strait. “Tanya?” she queried briefly. “How nice!” I thought, “Printed name tags! And they know who I am!” An instant later, as I walked into the already crowded room, I realized “Yes, Tanya, you dolt. They know who you are. They know who you are because you’re almost the last person in, and they’ve been holding up the talk for the stragglers.”

So, yes. That’s something to avoid. Not quite as bad as the time a lady on the bus dropped a mysterious object and I called out “Excuse me, miss. I believe you’ve dropped your pork chop,” but sort of up there in terms of awkwardness.

Porcella is amazing, but we all knew that. When I think of her work, I think of whimsy, saturated colors, deceptive simplicity. It’s joyous work, highly informed by her fascination with textiles and ethnic garments. The talk included a wide selection of the latter. One could mentally compare the garments with her quilts and see the connection. Her work sings, and I hope it will continue to do so for many decades, even centuries, to come.


She now has a plaque at the museum. When it was unveiled, her facial expression was radiant and at the same time a bit teary. Bless her. Such a pleasure to have seen and heard her in person. I hate to say that she’s been an inspiration to us all – I think she’d prefer to be an artist to an inspiration – but there we have it.

I don’t have any photos of Porcella’s work, alas. You’d probably be better off seeing it on her site or in a book anyhow, where it would doubtless be better photographed. However, I do have a few photos from the Museum’s current exhibit, Milestones: Textiles of Transition. If you’re in the area, this is a must-see. It will be exhibited through July 21.

Bridezilla, by Noel Palomo-Lovinski. Oops. I lied. I don’t have a shot of this one. However, here’s a photo from Debra Tomson Williams, from when the work was exhibited at the Fiberart International show. As you can see, it’s a rather flirty-looking wedding gown. From a distance its fabric appears pinkish and textural. When one gets up close, one sees that the artist has custom-printed the fabric with all manner of astonishing, snotty quotes from a wedding message board, thus the “Bridezilla” title. It’s an apt, thought-provoking juxtaposition, one that made me wonder whether the Bridezillas’ marriages lasted longer than the debt for their weddings. These are, after all, people obsessed with superficiality (“My gawd! My bridesmaid is pregnant! I don’t want a whale in my wedding!!!”), apparently incapable of having frank discussions about wedding budgets or the affordability of a given ring.

While I was viewing Bridezilla, I met a very nice lady, Chris Crawford, an occasional blog correspondent. (Hi Chris!) Of course, as soon as I realized who she was, I lapsed into incoherence. I really need to carry a card around which says something like “Please, you talk. I want to hear what you have to say.” That wasn’t the only time the speech problem hit, unfortunately. Another lady, Christine Jeffers I believe, attempted to make polite conversation with me. I think I actually managed to sputter something about being incoherent this time, and she carried on the conversation by herself with no trace of awkwardness. Bless her. It’s the Valley. Maybe she meets lots of quirky people, so she’s used to smoothing things over.

It’s actually exhausting for me to have unscripted conversations with people I don’t know. If I’ve exchanged a couple of emails with the person or I know what we’re going to discuss, it’s mostly okay. Emails aren’t painful. Jobs have been okay, although I was a bit of a jerk as a manager. Office politics were always beyond my comprehension. (Can we not do this? Can we just freaking do the job?) I think executives tended to trust me because I was blunt and wouldn’t lie. The part where my kid comes home from school, though, and says that he’s had thus-and-such problem interacting with other kids? Ha ha ha. Yeah. Sorry, son. Mommy doesn’t have a freaking clue. Tell you what; let’s either ask your father or see if we can find a book on the subject and try out some of its recommendations. Let’s run some experiments and keep trying. Hopefully you’ll turn out better than me.

Making meatspace friends is hell. Going to new groups is hell. I’d like to just go and listen to other people talk for awhile until I knew them. That would be okay.



Accretion, by Beverly Rayner

Hundred and hundreds of greeting cards, bills, and receipts overtaking a hapless polyester housecoat. The ephemera accumulated by three generations of women. From the artist’s statement:

“Accretion illustrates the burden of psychological entanglements with THINGS. After decades of amassing possessions, our accumulations can take on a life of their own, merging into an occupying force. Sticky, sentimental ties to meaning-drenched material objects can manifest as both a physical and a psychological burden. All of our “possessions” can become a congested mass that weighs on us like the proverbial albatross, chocking our living environment and even lingering on to haunt others when we die.”

Goodness, yes. I have a bizarre, dysfunctional family background and I have very minimal contact with blood relatives. Even so, I have some accretion. It’s probably less than most folks’, but still substantial. The stories have long since been blown to the winds, and I wonder what my son will make of it all in twenty or thirty years when I hand these “precious” objects over to him. They’ll be curiosities, perhaps. Random piles of molecules.


Death Gets Married, Mary Mazziotti

There were twelve embroidered panels in which “Death goes through the standard stages of love and marriage from finding a mate online to rocking out the Chicken Dance at his Star-Wars-themed wedding.”

I don’t know Mazziotti, but I can tell that she has a good sense of humor and a commitment to story. I recommend seeing the full set of panels on her website.



Susan Else, Forever Yours

Skeleton armature covered with fabric collage. “My favorite themes combine contradictory ideas: life/death, eternity/mortality, tenderness/creepiness, and so on. Gesture and color are all important to me. Forever Yours is part of a series of skeletons engaged in benign activities.”

I’ve thought that Else’s work is awesome since, oh, approximately forever. Since I first encountered it at a show and thought “That person has interesting things to say and she’s saying them in a compelling way.” If I know her work is to be in a show, I go out of my way to seek it out.

Unfortunately, there were a number of other works which I either didn’t shoot or didn’t document well, so I can’t show them here. (I’m a bit annoyed with myself.) A stretcher stitched with blood vessels comes to mind, with thread/blood emerging from IV containers staged beside the stretcher. A metaphor for the terrible toll of war, I believe. Unfortunately, my photo is lousy and doesn’t do the work justice, and I can’t find the artist’s name so as to link to her (probably a her) site. Blast.

If you’re in the area, go to the show.

Under the Ginkgo Tree

Monday, May 6th, 2013

Here’s my most recently completed work, Under the Ginkgo Tree.


I was trying for a contemplative feeling with this one, as though we’ve interrupted someone deep in the midst of thought.

There can be a tendency to regard childhood as an innocent, happy time, particularly in light of the sometimes-messy events which come later in life. It can be an emotionally complex period, though, with a great deal going on in young people’s minds as they try to figure life out and find a place in the world.


A closeup of the eye area, which reveals some of the stitching. I had to struggle a bit to get the eyelashes and eyebrows well defined without being effete.


A detail shot of the mouth and nose area. Have we seen enough detail shots for one day? Yes. I think we have.


A project like this one begins with awful sketches, such as this one. I struggle to answer compositional questions such as whether it’s a good idea to have a tree trunk slashing diagonally through the picture. (Does it slice the picture up too much? Is the tree likely to fall over from the kid leaning on it?)

I puzzle over what kind of tree it might be, whether I can find such a tree to look at in person. For this project I chose a Ginkgo tree, because I like the shape of their leaves and there happens to be an entire street full of them near my house.


I’ve skipped a few steps here – I don’t think you really want to see photos of me sitting around in a bathrobe, swilling coffee and jabbing grumpily at my Wacom tablet.

This is my final design, printed out on 8 1/2 x 11″ sheets of paper and taped together into a large, ramshackle printout. I could send files out to a service bureau for printing, but that would require that I do things like shower, brush my teeth, don clean clothing, and talk to the people at the service bureau.


The same drawing, traced onto a length of plain white cotton. Gosh, I’m boring. I have drawers and drawers of gorgeous prints in every hue in the rainbow. Do I use them? No, it’s plain white cotton for me, day in and day out.


I like to start painting by rendering the eyes. Once the eyes are roughed in, I start to feel a sense of emotional connection. From then on, it’s just a matter of painting whoever is behind those eyes.


The figure is fairly well roughed in. In retrospect, I wish I hadn’t gone too much beyond this. I wish I’d left the background mostly white, with just the bare outlines of leaves and so forth ghosted in. I think the composition would have been stronger and there wouldn’t be so much of a battle for dominance between the figure, the leaves and the background. C’est la vie. Do something, see if you like it, then move on and do something else.


The painting is more or less done.


Time to think about how to stitch the thing. I like to develop a plan by sketching on my printouts. That lets me identify contour lines and test stitching motifs.


Stitching done. Even though it took weeks, I can’t remember much about it. That’s the way I am about everything. I stay anesthetized on coffee and TED talks, and once a project is done, it’s no longer interesting to me. I fulfilled whatever need I had to do it and I’m on to the next thing.


Binding on, more ink work to develop shadows and contours.

I’m done with this thing. Go on, quilt-painting, go make your place in the world. Get a job and a haircut. Write when you’ve found work.

Cutting Edge Art Quilts

Monday, April 29th, 2013


The word on the street is that Cutting Edge Art Quilts is about to ship. I’m one of the 51 artists featured in the book; I can’t wait to see it.

There have been many, many books published on the topic of art quilts. Galleries of photos, how-to books, the occasional monograph on one particular person’s work. This book is going to be a tad different in that it will include photos, but it will be more about the story and process behind some of the works than a flip-through gallery.

My own story arc – at least, as I submitted the information – is about my first, tentative explorations of portraiture, culminating in the wild good luck of having my first color portrait curated into Quilt National, the first time I ever submitted work to that exhibition. I hope people will find it interesting and be inspired to follow their passion.

Cutting Edge Art Quilts can be purchased either via Amazon or through the website of its author, Mary Kerr.

Mayhem and Art Quilt Portfolio

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

I have a child. He is currently yodeling while simultaneously bouncing a tennis ball, swinging a dog’s squeak toy, slurping, and bouncing on one foot through my work area. Actually, the yodel isn’t so much of a melodic sound as the noise a sore-throated donkey might make while being goosed with a Saguaro. Still, it’s like having a one-man circus come to town. I’ve paid good money for less entertainment.

I was going to do some quiet, contemplative work, but then again, maybe not. There’s the small matter of being unable to think and, well, one shouldn’t miss out on life’s small circuses.

In addition to the child, I have a list. A very long list. Many or most people do, I expect. There’s something optimistic about a list, about laying everything out in written form. It says “I vow to be organized!” and “I haven’t yet given up on getting it all done”.

I never do, though. Each Sunday, I sit down and review The List Which Shall Not Be Conquered, think about priorities, then pull out four or five things that seem the most important. Some of them get done. Some don’t. For example, for three weeks now, I’ve had “repair dining room sheetrock,” “sign up for CPR refresher course” and “post about Martha Sielman’s book” on the list. Not done. I have, however, worked on the current portrait, given myself hives from pulling weeds out of the garden, and sewn up a hideous little rag doll for my kid, so he can cut up old cereal boxes to make props and reenact his own version of Survivor. I’ve also spent a few minutes per day talking to the neighbor’s dog, who gets incredibly lonely when his humans are at work and mashes his eye up against a knothole in the fence to watch me.

This is what passes for high class entertainment at my house.

Well, let’s go ahead and take care of one of the items, Sielman’s book. I don’t think I’m up to the full New York Times-style review it deserves, but I can probably knock out a couple disjoint paragraphs.

I’ve never met Martha Sielman and I don’t know her. I did get to see her speak a couple of years ago at IQF Houston. She struck me as an impressive person, intelligent and energetic and with a very clear vision. She’s one of those people who gets things done – no being bested by lists for her! – and has done an incredible job of chronicling the current state of art quilting in her various books.

You have a sudden, inexplicable desire to purchase this book. Don’t resist.

Her current volume is Art Quilt Portfolio: People & Portraits. It’s exactly as the title implies, a book chock full of fiber-based renderings of people. There are profiles of twenty one artists and galleries of their work, interspersed with around a hundred images from other artists. (I’m one of the “others” and have some work included in the book.)

The works are stylistically diverse, ranging from the frankly realistic to downright surrealistic, with some mid-century inspired and cubist or highly abstract works thrown in for good measure. The subject matter, as well, spans the gamut. As one might expect, the book makes for good eye candy and is an enjoyable browse for art quilters. I’d think it would make a good reference or tickler for portrait artists in any medium, as well.

As of this writing, Amazon has inexplicably priced it at $10.00, which is 60% off list. That’s about the price of one movie ticket, sans popcorn, or perhaps a couple of coffees and a stale scone at Starbucks. Although the price has inched up a bit over the past few weeks, Amazon is still practically giving it away. I suggest that if you’re all interested in the book or portraiture period, you leap on it. Buy copies for everyone in your family, even. I did.