28 July 2008

And That Was the Week That Was

And so began my second week as a member of the Early Morning Club. Let's get straight to the pieces.

Monday, July 21st

Throughout the first week, I worked from scraps leftover from a series of related projects. They are all colors and fabrics I love using. As I began working on Monday, I decided to alter my palette a little and I grabbed scraps from an unrelated project. These are purples and periwinkles and blues--pretty colors in their own right--but not colors that I tend to use.

Even though the composition reflects the themes of the previous week (overlapping shapes of contrasting colors arranged on a background) I found it much more difficult because I was working with colors I am not as familiar or comfortable with.

The composition is alright. I liked using two different shape combinations, but they do lack connection. I added the small green rectangles connecting the triangle units to help unify the design, but think it's too literal a solution.

After this experiment, I decided to stick to variations of my preferred palette for the time being.

Tuesday, July 22nd

I mostly like this piece and think it offers many possibilities for the future. Again, I created more complex shape (and color) combinations. Copper squares show up again to help make connections between the four units.

I like the little touch of red. I don't generally use much red in my work, but here it's unexpected enough to create a little visual interest.

Wednesday, July 23rd

I love this piece: it has a washed-out look that is calming and balanced. I loved using the restrained palette of near neutrals, of having to balance just a few colors, and of using value as much as color. In a larger piece, I would play more with interlocking the shapes like puzzles.

Thursday, July 24th

I recently read a book on pre-historic mark making. I was fascinated by pictures of ancient carvings and paintings. Did they originally mean something--directions, a record of trade, a warning? Or were they just created for expressive, aesthetic reasons? This piece reminds me of such marks.

Friday, July 25th

The process for creating this piece was different from the previous mornings. Usually, I play with my composition--adding and substituting and rearranging the shapes until I find a design I am happy with. Once I am happy then I fuse and glue everything down. But this one began differently.

I had an image of a red dot interrupting gray stripes. So I began there. I quickly realized that the gray stripes weren't going to stay put, so I fused them into place. This set a constraint that guided the rest of the design. For the rest of the piece I fused and glued as I went.

My husband think that it looks like math (he's an engineer/physicist). I think that's due to the symmetry of the piece. I think it looks like the movement of planets and rivers. Perhaps I've recreated an ancient alchemical formula for stopping time in its tracks.

I think it looks more interesting in a horizontal layout.

Saturday, July 26th

I've started keeping a journal to go along with each day's work. Here's an excerpt from Saturday:

Today I awoke with a busy day staring me in the face. I wanted to keep my commitment and so went downstairs and began as I always do--placing little scraps on my background until inspiration strikes. I half-heartedly arranged colors and shapes but a vision kept appearing of browns and reds--of barn doors weathered and shining in the sun. I wanted serenity and balance from this piece because I knew my day wouldn't be that calm again.

I stripped the background of the chaotic jumble of greens, grays, teals, and golds in triangles and rectangles and other assorted polygons. Then I selected three browns and cut a rectangle from each. I centered a red square and added little yellow accent squares. The part of me that wanted serenity was satisfied.

I like this piece, but want to take the idea further by playing with value--both in the foreground and background. I'd love a hand-dyed/painted background to go from light to dark and place rectangles on it going from dark to light.

(I seriously need to add painting/dying/surface design to my toolbox. I feel constrained by the limited fabrics I own. I want to be able to create exactly the type of fabric that I need.)

Sunday, July 27th

This piece went astray on me. I wanted to play with Thursday's idea, but got lost along the way. I like the top third, but the bottom leaves a lot to be desired. Ah well, more crap for the quota!

General Thoughts

This week was busier than last, which made getting up each morning more challenging. But each morning I awoke and said "Yes" to creation makes it harder to say "No" in the future.

This week's work is more scattered and less cohesive than last week's. But I think that's OK. I was starting to feel overly comfortable with working with one or two shapes only. It's much more challenging to work with multiple shapes and find a cohesive design. I think that's why Thursday, Friday, and Sunday's pieces are so formal in layout and why there is so much symmetry in their design.

That gives me a direction for the coming weeks: to play with using different shapes in informal and asymmetric layouts.

23 July 2008

On Mark Making and Time

While stitching down this morning's piece, I started thinking about symbols and mark making. And I realized that what I wrote last night about one of my pieces doesn't accurately reflect my thoughts.
I don't know what to think about this piece. I like it. I mean, I look at it and it is pleasing to me. But I'm not sure that it speaks for me--at least the images and visions that I have in my mind now. I used to use flower/flame/teardrop shapes in my work a lot. This reminds me of then. Now my visions are of geology and stones, of geometry and angles, of hard edges and permanence. This looks organic and transitory. It doesn't feel like the stories I want to tell.
Those two words--permanence and transitory--aren't exactly what I mean. But I only realized it this morning.

I'm fascinated by human mark making of all kinds: language symbols, monument building, art, architecture, stone carvings, graphic design, graffiti, and the artifacts and remnants of human industry. We are compelled to make changes in the landscape and environment around us, whether we are building a skyscraper, making circles of stones at the beach, or spray-painting our tags on subway trains.

It's the mark making that compels me, not whether the marks themselves are permanent or transitory. The idea that any mark we make is permanent is an illusion. Even prehistoric stone monuments like Stonehenge have survived only due to preservation efforts. Time erases everything.

So, my problem with that piece is not that it looks transitory, but that it is organic. It looks plant-like, as if it has grown out of the landscape, rather than intentionally created by human hands.

Don't get me wrong, nature is undoubtedly beautiful and awe-inspiring and a worthy subject for a lifetime of artistic exploration. But at this point I'm interested in exploring the many and varied ways that we humans leave our temporary marks on our world.

22 July 2008

Early Morning Club, Part 2

Just a little over a week ago, I became a member of the Early Morning Club. The meetings take place in my studio first thing each morning. I am the only attendee, although I have occasional feline guests. The plan is to stumble downstairs immediately upon waking and tap into remnants of the dream state. (In the interest of full honesty, I must admit that I do hop online first to check Liverpool transfer news.)

My goals are to develop a creative habit, to learn to finish what I start, to use and appreciate time better, and to create a fair bit of crap so that I can find my voice. With that in mind, here's how the week went.

Monday, July 14th

I began a week ago Monday. Callie nosed me awake at 6:00 a.m. and I immediately stumbled downstairs and began working. Here is Monday's piece.

It's a very simple composition: four river rocks balanced by a vertical line. The palette is more muted than the colors I normally use. Perhaps that is attributable to early morning grogginess.

Tuesday, July 15th.

This piece is truly deserving of the label "crap." And I mean that with all the kindness in the world! I have been developing on a personal symbology for future work and I had considered using these pieces as an outlet for further exploration. But, I think this looks like a bastardized Olympic logo.

I've since decided that surface design and printing is a better medium for exploring my symbol language. To me, these symbols are about mark making, and as such, I think that the hand of the artist needs to show more than it does with flat fabric cutouts

Wednesday, July 16th.

This piece started similarly to Monday's, with various squares lined up in a row. I started playing and found that overlapping the squares made the composition more interesting. The little copper squares help unify the design. This design idea has lots of potential. I could play with transparency, value gradations, and color shifts.

Thursday, July 17th.

This is a variation of Monday's composition. I like it better because there's a bit more interest with the value changes in the rocks and in the trellis added in the corner. But I think that the basic idea needs to be taken further before it's truly a successful composition.

Friday, July 18th.

This piece was inspired by the standing stones we saw on our trip to England last year. I like the idea of this piece, but it needs a fair bit of work. The standing stones seem to be floating--disconnected from the landscape background. Threadwork could help ground the stones into the landscape.

Saturday, July 19th.

This is my favorite piece from the week. I concentrated on the composition of the negative space as much as I did the foreground. I think the eye moves well around the quilt.

Sunday, July 2oth

I don't know what to think about this piece. I like it. I mean, I look at it and it is pleasing to me. But I'm not sure that it speaks for me--at least the images and visions that I have in my mind now. I used to use flower/flame/teardrop shapes in my work a lot. This reminds me of then. Now my visions are of geology and stones, of geometry and angles, of hard edges and permanence. This looks organic and transitory. It doesn't feel like the stories I want to tell.

General Thoughts

I'm really happy with what I have accomplished so far. Just the act of honoring my commitment each morning is an accomplishment. But then I also get to see a little stack of quilts rise on the table as I add each morning's piece to the previous work.

I've already noticed a difference in how I approach the blank background each morning. Last Monday and Tuesday were hard--it took the full half-hour I allow myself for design just to come up with what I did. But as the week has progressed, I've felt more fluid and open to possibilities.

I am starting to see themes arise--preferred shapes and compositions, colors and palettes--that offer me lots of potential for experimentation.

At this stage, I'm not too worried about whether what I am creating is good or not. My main goal is to develop a creative habit and begin to discover my voice. To that end, I believe my first week has been successful.

Since the first week, I've created two more pieces (Monday and Tuesday). I intend to continue posting weekly updates.

If you are interested in starting your own Early Morning Club, I highly encourage you to do so. (And if you do, let me know.) The meetings can be whatever you want. The secret is in actually attending them.

20 July 2008

Early Morning Club, Part 1

It's funny how the minds works. We come across a piece of advice and store it away. Then we encounter another suggestion and remember it as well. Some time later, we put the two together and find exactly the advice we needed.


I used to be late-to-bed and late-to-rise--I'd stay up past midnight and sleep past eight. My mornings were full of chaos as I'd rush to get to work. But over the past eighteen months I have become a morning person. I rise with the sun and have a couple hours before starting my morning routine.

My use of those hours has been erratic. Sometimes I am productive--baking, cleaning, doing laundry, reading, or occasionally even sewing--but other times I just sit, read email, and surf the internet. But, I've recently encountered two pieces of advice that have changed my mornings.

The first was from Robert Genn, on The Early Morning Club. (Robert Genn writes a free, twice-weekly letter for artists that is interesting and inspirational. Sometimes, the letter is geared to painters, but often the advice generalizes across mediums.)

In this letter, Genn recommends heading to the studio immediately upon waking. No stopping for breakfast, or to check email, or a quick shower. The idea is to immediately move from the dream state to the act of creation.

I read this and was intrigued enough to save the email and remember it. But I wasn't inspired enough to try it out.

The second suggestion came from a discussion of this Ira Glass video on my Quilt Art mailing list. Here, Glass says that the problem for beginning artists is that our taste levels are higher than our ability to create work that matches those levels. In other words, we can't yet create pieces that match our vision. It's only by making lots of pieces that we can get through the mire and find the art we want.

Or, as one woman suggested, we have a crap quota we need to meet before we get to the good stuff.

And so I realized that I haven't created enough crap.

These two thoughts--the Early Morning Club and crap quota--coalesced in my mind. I can use those early morning hours as an opportunity to work through my crap quote. I decided that each morning for the forseeable future, I would wake, head to my studio, and create a little piece.

To make it easier for myself I set some guidelines. All pieces would finish 6" x 9" in a vertical orientation. I would fuse or glue the fabric down, stitch it in place, and use a modified pillowcase finish. To me, it is important to finish these pieces. I want to form a habit of finishing projects. So finishing something each day, regardless of how small it may be, reinforces the finishing habit.

Thirty minutes is the maximum amount of time I allow myself to work on a composition. After thirty, I stick it down and stitch, whether I'm happy with it or not.

The idea is to get pieces out of my head, onto fabric, and out into the world.

This process is still evolving. I can see changing what I'm doing over time. But the idea is twofold: to use the extra time I've discovered by becoming a morning person and to create lots of work so I meet my crap quota.

Tomorrow, I'll post the pieces I made in my first week.

13 July 2008

Habits of Thought

We fall into patterns, routines, and habits of thought without even realizing it. We reach again and again for our preferred problem-solving paradigms, favored short-cuts for thinking, and familiar perspectives. Even (perhaps especially) when we are in the midst of change, we may find our selves reaching for the tried-and-true rather than struggle through discovering something new.

I just experienced this while working on a piece. And while the piece doesn't work, I've learned something about my own creative habits in the process.

For a few months, I have been sensing a change in my personal aesthetic. Two weeks away from work in early July provided freedom for creative play to discover my voice. Over the two weeks, I started four new pieces that reflect the change in my style.

Note that I say I have started four pieces. Even though they are not particularly complex, I have yet to finish any. I am in a quandry because I don't know what done means in the context of my new work. I used to embellish and heavily machine-quilt my works. When I couldn't stitch anything else to the quilt, then I knew it was done. But, for a variety of reasons, that no longer appeals to me.

So here I am with these new pieces. Are they done? I'm not sure. A couple of them feel done to me, even though the only quilting on them is in-the-ditch. One needs a little more quilting, but I'm afraid of overdoing it. And one still needs to be assembled. (It's a collection of fifteen miniature 9-patches that will be attached to a base quilt).

So on this Sunday afternoon, I headed to my studio to finish one of those pieces. I was still feeling a little uncertain about my work, so I decided to make a quick-and-dirty mini-quilt. I grabbed scraps and began arranging them to find an appealing composition. I didn't want to over think it. I just wanted to start and finish something within thirty minutes or so.

I began with a composition that reflects the type of work I am doing now. Geometric, graphic, and minimal. I liked what I had, but didn't trust that it was done.

As I began stitching down the pieces, I again fell into habit. I started zigzagging the edges of the elements in the green form using matching thread. I decided not to zigzag the circle and curves, but to instead free-motion quilt them. My stitching and thread choices emphasized the notion of a sun, rather than just shape. (The sun is a recurrent motif from my earlier work.)

Once that shape became a sun, then the composition felt unbalanced and I added more stitching using metallic thread to the shapes inside the green form and quilted the lower background. I was becoming unhappy with the piece so I quickly finished it and pronounced it done.

After a lunch break, I looked at it and immediately realized what made me unhappy. The piece is an uncomfortable and awkward melange of my early style and my changing aesthetic. The underlying composition (minus the extra embellishments) reflects the direction I want to move toward, but the added metallic-thread stitching is a habitual return to my quilting past.

If I look back on the process, I remember feeling like I was going through the motions, not feeling very interested or involved in what I was doing as I was adding the extra stitching. And that is reflected in the uninspired quilting. I just wanted it to be done, but I wasn't able to discern what done meant. I didn't trust myself enough to create a spare piece with minimal stitching. The lack of trust meant I reached for things I was comfortable with--turning the shapes into a sun and using metallic threads for free-motion stitching.

My lesson here is that I reach for the familiar when I am feeling uncomfortable. Instead, I need to stay with the uncomfortable, rather than mindlessly reaching for habitual solutions. Discomfort is part of change and growth. And I need to allow myself the space to discover new methods and preferences, without continually referring to the past.

Perhaps I'll need to err on the side of underdone, rather than overdone, for a while. I can always take something off the wall and add more later. It's a lot easier than ripping.

10 July 2008

Cat Blogging

I'm not entirely sure that I can call myself a blogger. I mean, I just realized that I haven't posted any pictures of my cats. What self-respecting blogger neglects that?

So without further adieu, I present to you my delightful fuzz monsters, Max and Callie.

Now that I've fulfilled that requirement, will I get my Official Blogging License in the mail or do they email it out?

08 July 2008

Adventure in the 'Burgh

Yesterday, Kevin and I traveled to Pittsburgh for a little adventure. Our first stop, as it always is, was the Strip District, an old industrial neighborhood still home to produce wholesalers, as well as lots of specialty food markets, bars, and restaurants. To me, the Strip is Pittsburgh. A little gritty, reflecting the industrial past, but vibrant, as new ideas take root. It's always busy--everyone shops there, whether rich or poor, young or old. And where else can you find so much down-to-earth Pittsburgh charm?

Here we split a mung bean pancake from a streetcart vendor, stocked up on spices and herbs from Penzey's, bought rustic Italian bread from Jimmy and Nino Sunseri's, and filled two bags with salami, cheese, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, Italian tuna in oil, and other delectable provisions from the Pennsylvania Macaroni Company.

As we were returning to our car, laden down with provisions, a sudden rainstorm hit and stopped everyone in their tracks. We sought shelter under an awning and waited for 15 minutes until the storm let up. While we waited, I snapped this shot of the Penn Mac building.

During the height of the storm, a few women decided to make a dash for it anyway. (I had set a long exposure time to capture the rain. I like how it blurs the women.)

Once the rain slowed, we ran to our car, but not before stopping at Mon Ami Chocolates to pick up some imported Cadbury Fruit and Nut Bars.

On the way back to the car, I took this picture, which shows the gritty, urban feel of the Strip.

From here, we headed to the South Side and drove down Carson Street. We stopped at Utrecht Art Supply, where I bought a pad of tissue paper, then wandered to South Side Works.

I saw a moth resting on a window outside Z Gallerie. I like how there are three layers to this photo: the moth, the reflected building and cars from across the street, and the accessorie window display.

Continuing with the reflections theme, I captured this bit of mural reflected in a mirrored window.

We drove through Squirrel Hill to Swissvale, where we picked up a case of our favorite beer: Fuller's London Pride. The brick streets of this historic neighborhood still survive.

We finished our day with a Middle Eastern feast at Ali Baba in Oakland. Hummus, fatoosh, sleek, mujaddara, and spinach pie filled us up and capped off a great Pittsburgh adventure.

06 July 2008

Rainy Days and Sundays

The rain showers and gray skies of the past week have encouraged a crop of mushrooms to sprout in my vegetable garden.

But with a little change of perspective, I can still find the sun.

05 July 2008

Don't Leave Home Without It

I have not fully adapted to the freedom that digital cameras offer. I've had a digital camera for a year now, but I still forget to use it or to bring it with me.

Having come of age when we actually put film--rather than brilliant little digital disks--in our cameras, I still feel that the act of pressing the shutter button is a moment of commitment. That's because I'm used to being parsimonious with my snapshots to save on film and developing costs. My mindset has not adapted to the digital age, where we can take pictures without remorse as long as we have room on our memory card.

But today I learned my lesson. My camera needs to travel with me always, whether I am going on an adventure or to the grocery store.

This afternoon, Kevin and I decided to travel to Lewisburg (a small college-town in Central Pennsylvania). We had no great plans: stop at the Bernina dealer, walk down Lewisburg's main street, and enjoy the drive.

We took Route 192 home and this is where we had our little adventure. First, we encountered R.B. Winter State Park. We had never been there before, despite having traveled 192 previously. But the view of the lake and dam caught our attention and we pulled over. We crossed a rock bridge into the park and found ourselves in a beautiful pine forest with exposed sandstone formations. The little section of park we explored was full of natural wonders and rife with potential quilt ideas.

If I had only brought my camera, I could show you what I saw.

Magisterial pine trees reaching skyward. Sandstone fragments covered with sea-green moss. Giant rhododendrons beginning to shed their blossoms. Soft beds of pine needles cradling fallen branches. A maze of delicate spiderwebs barely captured in the gentle forest light. Small slivers of silver minnows dashing to and fro in the shallows.

But alas, my camera was at home, so my words can only be a poor substitute.

We returned to the car and continued on our way.

As we passed a small farm, I caught a glimpse of a tiny calf being licked by momma. I told Kevin to turn around because it seemed like something was worth seeing again. And was it ever.

If I had my camera with me, I could share with you some precious pictures.

We sat in amazement as we watched mother and baby instinctively bond together. The little black-and-white calf was no more than a couple hours old. It was so new that some afterbirth still hung from the mother. Momma kept licking it rapturously. The little calf struggled to kneel on wobbly limbs, then tried to stand, only to fall back down as the new muscles struggled to work together. I've never been privileged to see an animal that was so new.

But again, my camera sat at home. So I can only share with you my words.

I've learned my lesson. Along with my purse, car keys, and cell phone, my digital camera (with charged batteries) is now an essential item for leaving the house.

I don't want to miss out on inspirational images for new art quilts. But more importantly, I never want to miss the chance to capture rare portraits of a new life coming into being.

Voice vs. Vision

I'm in the process of writing a blog entry about what I've been working on over the past week while I've been off work. One thing I've noted is that I keep wanting to use the word voice rather than vision when describing my art.

I find that interesting. Here I am, creating visual pieces while trying to discover my inner artist. But when I describe what I am doing, voice is the default, even though I am thinking about what I am seeing.

For years, I have been a writer. I worked as a writer. I kept journals. I read and I wrote. Words were my currency for self-expression. I was a writer. (To a large extent, I still am.)

As I am starting to find different parts of myself in my quilt art, I am trying to think of myself as an artist. I try to see without words. I try to let my visions dance free from the confines of my vocabulary.

But it still seems that words are my default. I wonder if that will ever change.

It's OK if it doesn't. I feel comfortable with the words that have been with me for so long.

Perhaps it's the same with my art. Once I become comfortable with my visual voice, then maybe I'll find that it's been my vision all along.