Archive for 2017

Above

Monday, May 29th, 2017

Above

Above. 24.5 x 45

 

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

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

Closeup2

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

Closeup1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Tidbits

Sunday, May 14th, 2017

MothersDay

 

Thought this was fun. I made this with some pretty minor variants to a Photoshop filter I found in the Filter Forge library, “Little Swimmers”. The filter was made by a user known as geekatplay. Nice filter; good of the person to make it available on the library.

 

TORlogowhite500

I’ve mentioned the Threads of Resistance exhibit a couple of times. It’s an exhibit created “to protest the Trump administration’s actions and policies”. The exhibit is in the jurying process, but they’ve posted the submitted works and artist’s statements, which is a classy touch.

The group received over 500 submissions to the exhibit, which is a massive, impressive outpouring of work and concern. I have no idea what percentage of those will be in the exhibit, but posting them online lets all of the artists’ voices be heard.

 

I’m working. I guess that’s an understatement. I’ll probably wait to post about most of it until it’s done, but this is fun:

 

Scar0

 

That’s a portion of a texture map that’s getting applied to a 3D model of a guy’s body:

Scar

 

It’s been fun, or at least interesting, learning how to make scars. I won’t go on a rant about diffuse maps versus displacement maps versus blah blah blah. Let’s just say that my little scheme to find a free photo of a scar and use that to build a skin texture didn’t pan out. Yes, there are stock photos of scars. I am also too cheap to use them.

The “good” news is that there are plenty of scars on my own body and, if I can keep from gagging when I glimpse my pot belly, I can even use them as references. So this hunk is going to get covered with an assortment of scars from my C-section, appendectomy, and gall bladder surgeries. He may end up with a “dashing” C-section scar across his face, masquerading as a dueling or battle wound.  Shhh. Don’t tell.

Do Dragons Like Cookies?

Tuesday, April 4th, 2017

DoDragons1000

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

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

 

The stitching

GirlAlone1000

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

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

 

DragonAlone1000

Whee. More stitching.

 

SnowflakeAlone1000

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

 

GirlReverse

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

 

DragonReverse

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

 

About the surface design

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

GirlDragon10Wireframe

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

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

Here are the models I started with:

Girl

This little girl is Skyler, offered by Daz.

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

 

dragon

This is the Millennium Dragon LE, also by DAZ.

 

GirlDragonV1

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

 

GirlMFD

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

 

GirlDragon1_5

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

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

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

 

GirlDragonV2

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

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

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

 

GirlDragonV3

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

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

 

DressTexture

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

 

GirlDragonV4

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

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

 

GirlDragon1000

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

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

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

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

This and That

Thursday, March 2nd, 2017

GirlDragon1000

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

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

 

GusherDetail

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

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

 

GirlDragon10Wireframe

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

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

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

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

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

 

LaceDress

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

Stay tuned.

 

blueHair

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

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

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

 

HerStory

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

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

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

 

MQU

MQU_2

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

 

OurStory

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

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

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

 

TORlogowhite500

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

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

http://threadsofresistance.blogspot.com

 

GusherTrim

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

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

I’ll leave you with a few gratuitous shots.

desk

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

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

 

Shoes

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

 

Endcap

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

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

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

I have clearly outlived my usefulness on this Earth.

SDA Journal

Tuesday, February 7th, 2017

Let’s see, what are the standard things I write when my work is published?

“This came in the mail today …”

“Oh, what a nice surprise! I totally forgot that I spent a week writing this article/sucked up to the editor and got my thing in the reader gallery/etc.!”

“Tee hee. Look at the little thing I whipped up. And now it’s on a pulverized slice of dead tree!”

Lord, I’m even boring myself. It’s time to revamp my schtick.

 

SDAcover

Anyway … the Winter 2016/2017 Surface Design Journal arrived. It’s very cool. This edition is their “Inaugural International Exhibition in Print”. It celebrates the SDA’s 40th anniversary with a selection of work from forty artists. I’m one of them.

It looks like the competition to be included was pretty stiff, so I’m quite gratified. The magazine’s intro article mentions that “40 artists were chosen from over 400” and that jurors had to sift through more than 1200 images.

Based on looking through the published works, I think they tried to select the most diverse range of work they could in terms of media, technique, and theme.

SDAJournal

My piece, Game Over, is in there representing the art quilt end of things. Hopefully it will depress thousands of people. Edit: Here’s a PDF, courtesy of the kind folks at the SDA Journal.

What else is in there? A reliquary containing samples taken from a two mile deep ice core in Antarctica. A pair of needlefelted hairless cats who are hugging each other. Sculptural baskets woven from watercolor paper. A truly disturbing set of beaded hoods. Enough other artwork to make an MFA advisor gleefully rub his hands and start muttering phrases like “vegetarian fetishism” and “synthesis of zeitgeist”.

It’s art, baby!

Go here to see about getting your own copy: http://www.surfacedesign.org/journal/about-the-journal/

Thirty Infamous Views of a Gusher

Wednesday, January 18th, 2017

Yes, I totally stole the title of this post from Hiroshige’s One Hundred Famous Views of Edo. When I steal, I like to steal from the best.

While I was cleaning my hard drive, I ran across these images from the development of one of my pieces, Gusher. It’s fun looking back at the design process and some of the disasters.

See that first image, with the bold, graphic marks depicting the oil shooting out of the derrick? Yeah. Those bold marks looked okay on paper when I was sketching, but they didn’t translate well when I built the scene. Neither did the huge backdrop of garbage bags one can see in the third image. Using moody blue and gray clouds in the background didn’t, either. After looking at some photos of pollution in China, I decided a yellow would be more forboding and would provide better color contrast.

Then there was the oil. I’ll just put the words “particle system” and “simulation” out there and spare everybody details. It got ugly, comically so at times.

I did all that work just so I could print the thing out on fabric and turn it into an art quilt.

I’m still stitching the thing, using the stitching to create motion lines for the oil droplets and so forth. I don’t know that it’ll look significantly different after I’m done with the sewing, but I guess that’s part of the fun. We try things, see if they’re going in the direction we want or a direction we think is interesting, and we make adjustments.

Now … I just need to find some shows that want a quilt showing a guy gulping down oil and defecating out plastic cups.

gusher01 gusher02 gusher03 gusher04 gusher05 gusher06 gusher07 gusher08 gusher09 gusher10 gusher11 gusher12 gusher13 gusher14 gusher15 gusher16 gusher17 gusher18 gusher19 gusher20 gusher21 gusher22 gusher23 gusher26 gusher27 gusher28 gusher29 gusher30 gusher31 gusher32