Sunday, January 30, 2011

Something besides snow!

It's hard to believe tomorrow is the last day of January! Where has the month gone? I have to admit, I started out like gangbusters on my goals for the year, except for the one I'm supposed to do weekly - the 8x10s I said I'd do like a sketchbook. Above is really the first new one I completed, and I just did that today! Actually, I did it in three parts over the last few weeks: first, painting the white canvas with acrylic paints and inks, then adding the free-motion stitching with metallic threads, then adding in the sand, seaweed, and seahorse. Maybe step one was a sketch all by itself... And, of course, I made several of the rejected snowflake pieces, if they count (I think I may actually have to do it one more time!). Anyway, I got tired of snowflakes (see the last post), both real and stitched, so this was a nice break from all that white and blue. One new technique I came up with: the seahorse is a separate quilted piece with a back and everything, sort of like a little flat stuffed animal. He's only stitched on in a few spots. I was hoping this might give him a more three-dimensional look, but I'm not sure if you can tell from the photo. It looks much better in person. I wish I could capture that dimension with the camera! Since I'm so drawn to the seahorse and have made so many of them, I thought I'd play around with the possibility of him being a little logo or mascot to put on business cards etc. I'm not sure if he's "the one," but he's the closest I've come so far. If nothing else, at least I'm seeing improvement!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Fortunately and Unfortunately

Unfortunately, a friend in my FANE group lost her adult daughter unexpectedly last week. I met her last June at the opening of our group show at the library and she seemed like such a terrific person - great sense of humor (like her mother), active, intelligent. She was a Special Education teacher, I think. What a loss! Fortunately I thought of making a card for my friend, above. I was trying to convey a feeling of peace and hope at this difficult time. I hope it will offer her a little comfort. Unfortunately, yesterday I also found out that an acquaintance lost her mother right before Christmas (she lost her father 11 years ago and her only sister 4 years ago.). Fortunately, both my parents and both my husband's parents are alive and well and I am counting my blessings!
Unfortunately, I have not been very successful redoing my December snow poem illustration from my sketchbook! I never like redoing something, and I knew I could never really reproduce that piece exactly, but I thought I might come close and at least make something that conveys the same childlike energy, spontaneity, and fun that the other one had. Above is my first attempt. I felt I added too much blue in the snow, and then tried to use various white fabric pens and acrylic paint to make it whiter again. I decided to abandon it at this point and start all over again. Below is my next attempt. The snow stayed whiter, but I don't like where the background resist snowflakes fall in relation to the stitched ones. They look too crowded and clumped together. So I'm scratching this one too!

Fortunately, I made another resist painting over the weekend, but have not painted it yet. I've been experimenting with inks and acrylic paints on fabric, even mixing the two, to see how they compare. I definitely prefer the sheer and transparent qualities of the ink as opposed to the acrylic paint, but I think I need to experiment a little more to get more experience with them both. I recently read an article by Mickey Lawler of Skydyes and she uses Pebeo Setacolor transparent acrylic paints. Unfortunately, I couldn't find those at the garden-variety neighborhood craft store.Fortunately, I found them priced at 30% off at an online store and they shipped so quickly, I've already got them! Unfortunately, they didn't have all the colors I wanted in stock, but I'm sure I can make do. Fortunately, they also carried this alternate resist product called Batik-EZ. The glue-gel method is cheap and convenient, but a little thick and gloppy to work with and I can't get as much detail as I'd like. This product says it can be used with stamps, so rather than trying to draw on the resist snowflakes with the fat glue spout, I can try stamping them on. It's worth a shot! (Fortunately again, I just received a check for $35 from the Putnam Arts Council for the items that sold at their Christmas craft sale - that just about covered the cost of the paint!).

Unfortunately, it's snowing again and my husband is out of town, which means I'll have to shovel, but fortunately, I'll have these cool new toys to play with, if we happen to get another snow day!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Too Much of a Good Thing?

This is our fourth snow day in the last 3 weeks! There are pros and cons to snow days. Is this too much of a good thing? I am on the fence about it. Now that we've used up the four snow days built into the school district's calendar, I fear we will pay for this in the spring when we'd really enjoy a day off to spend outside. But I am enjoying some of the good things about snow days: more sleeping in and reading, less rushing around and hurrying,

interesting things to look at, even in your own backyard,

and time to cook a hot breakfast!
Cassie definitely loves a good snow day. Her family is home, and often outside playing with her in the fluffy powder!
But the poor cats sit by the window waiting for spring!

Aside from the aching back from shoveling, and the feeling that we're going to pay for all this leisure time somewhere down the road, I am enjoying another day off. Perhaps it's because I started the day by reading Jon Scieszka's book Knucklehead. I brought it home for my 5th grade daughter, not sure she would really like it since it's about the author's memories of growing up in a family with six boys. Jon Scieszka is a very successful children's author and promoter of reading for all kids, especially boys. I figured the humor would be pretty juvenile, but I can honestly say I haven't laughed that hard in a long time. I would recommend this book to anyone - I think I'm even going to pass a copy on to my father! The author has some very funny stories about summer vacations, long rides in the family station wagon, the teacher nuns at his Catholic school, and generally hilarious boyhood antics. If you have a boy of any age in your family, do him a favor and hand him this book!

Now I think I'll head down to the studio to stitch a few more snowflakes (I'm redoing the "December" sketch from my sketchbook - see it here). Maybe I am getting a bit tired of snow already, and we still have 2 more months of winter!

Monday, January 17, 2011

SAQA Trunk Show entry?

Since I am now a SAQA member, I've been checking their website often to read the Calls for Entry. They always have a long list, but each show has certain particulars, and sometimes my work doesn't fit them; for instance, some shows are only accepting work from people in a certain state, or quilts of a certain size, or that fit a certain theme. But they usually have one non-juried show that all SAQA members can participate in. I thought I'd find out what the deadline is for their member show this year, since now that I'm a member, all I have to do is send it - no judging, no additional fee. I found out last week the deadline is January 21st. I thought that was a postmark date - I was wrong - it's a Received by date! Yesterday I looked through my pile of completed pieces to see if there was something that might be appropriate, but no such luck. I even thought about getting up very early this morning to try to throw something together, something similar to the "Rhythm of the Earth" piece I finished last week, only scaled down, only 10"x 10". But I ended up going back to sleep.

All morning, the idea of passing on this opportunity really nagged at me, so when I got home from work in the early afternoon, I decided to play around and see what I could come up with. I actually started it and finished it all in the same day! I don't think I've ever done that before. It's very similar to "Rhythm of the Earth" with some of the same fabrics and embellishments, but it's more symmetrical and balanced. The prospectus stated that all the pieces would be mounted behind a matte with only an 8"x 8" square showing, so I designed the piece to be viewed that way. All the embellishments fit into that 8x8 square. Now all I have to do is pare down the statement I made when I presented the larger piece to the FANE group in the fall, e-mail that off, and get this piece to California by Friday!!!!!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Mid-month Thaw

I was feeling pretty good about getting two goals done by the middle of January, so I took a bit of a breather this weekend, while the icicles dripped outside. Rather than spend every free moment being goal-oriented, I laid back a little, tried to sleep in, went out for dinner and a movie date night, took an afternoon nap, and started reading a new juvenile fiction novel (Keeper by Kathi Appelt). It was nice to just relax a bit.

I did take on a quick project that desperately needed to be done. Below is a picture of my daughter's baby blankie. It's actually the replacement blankie I made for her seven years ago; my mother-in-law made the original tied crib quilt for her soon after she was born. That one had a whole flannel top cloth which was printed with little rosebuds all over for her middle name, Rose, and my mother-in-law stitched on little ribbon roses. I tried to replicate it as closely as I could and it's held up pretty well for seven years. She takes it everywhere, including vacations and sleepovers, so it has gotten extremely threadbare. It's so fragile now it can no longer be washed, and the backing fabric has almost completely torn away.I was planning on trying to refurbish it somehow, with a new backing, batting and binding, maybe even make a completely new quilt, but I couldn't find a similar flannel with little rosebuds printed on it, not even on the web, and I looked. I ended up buying plain white flannel and stamping little rosebuds and leaves on it and making a completely new quilt. I machine stitched a little quilting, rather than do the tying, because I think it will hold together better. But of course, even though she's got this replacement blankie to take with her everywhere, she can't give up the old one and it still needs to be repaired somehow! So now I've got to pick up some more white flannel and see if I can't stitch it up a little, at least well enough that it can be washed and kept under her pillow. At a glance, it really looks remarkable like her original one. I'll have to pick up some ribbon roses too...

I also played around with some of my canvas "sketches," the ones I'm supposed to do weekly. I should have two completely finished by now, and I have painted backgrounds and played around a bit, but no stitching has been done... maybe by next post.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Celebrating small steps

Well, I did it! I managed to get these two pieces finished and photographed in time to put them on a disc and get them in the mail.
These are the four shots I included in my submission: above, the complete shot of "Rhythm of the Earth" with a detail shot, right.
And below, a complete shot of "Portrait of the Viewer in Mixed Media with Found Objects," with a detail shot, below and right.

It actually took longer than I thought to get the digital images to the specs they wanted. We tend to keep our camera set on a very high resolution which makes for large files. They wanted the files no larger than 3MB and I was able to do that with a combination of cropping and reshooting at a lower resolution. I also redid the discs a few times to get everything exactly the way I wanted it. I'm not sure what my chances will be of actually getting juried into the show (last year they took about one in three submissions), but at least I gave it my best shot (I think it was Wayne Gretsky who said "You always miss 100% of the shots you don't take")! After mailing the entry form and disc, I felt like celebrating, but without spending a lot or taking in a lot of calories! I settled for photographing the icicles hanging off the post office:

And then I went home and baked double chocolate cookies! Happy weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A Few Tiny Things

In The Creativity Book (goal #7), the author suggests you do one tiny creative thing each day in pursuit of your goal. I managed to do several tiny things each day over the last few days. I do think it really helps to break things down into very small steps and do them one by one. On Monday afternoon, I bought a 16x20" canvas and painted it with neutral gray gesso. When it was dry, I stitched my piece, "Portrait of the Viewer," to the canvas with a metallic gray thread, to resemble staples. This is one of the pieces I'm considering entering in the "Made in NY" show (goal #3 ). I photographed it under the best circumstances I could devise with my current lighting situation, and it's okay, but still not as good as I'd like it (goal #5). You can probably see how the left side of the photo is darker than the right. I'm still trying to remedy that.

Here are some detail shots. I like this piece, although I still think it is kind of out of character for me, with the monotone gray, distressed metal, and raw edges. My husband asked me what I'm trying to say. I think I'm trying to say that it's possible to make interesting art out of discarded objects, and that by inserting yourself into the art (the reflections of the viewer), you make it more colorful and more personal. How's that for a statement?

A few more of the tiny things I accomplished:

Here are three more detail shots of embellishing and stitching I've done on the "conceptual art" piece I did for the FANE challenge back in the fall. I think I'm going to call it "Rhythm of the Earth" because it has a lot of natural rhythmic symbols in it, like waves, seasons, and rain. I'm working on how it will be hung, and then I hope to get the entire thing photographed well by the end of the week.

I'd love to enter the two pieces in that show, since you can enter up to two for the fee (and I love to get my money's worth!). These pieces are similar, both being abstract and mostly composed of squares and rectangles with embellishments. But one is so monotone and the other so colorful and varied. I wonder what the juror's first impressions of me will be, after looking only at these two pieces.

I also joined SAQA online (goal #1 completed!) and mailed out the sketchbook (insert audible gasp here). I tried to do it quickly, like removing a bandaid, without thinking too much about the possibility of never seeing it again - just shoved it in the envelope and sealed it up. So it's going out into the world, a little ambassador for me and my art!

If you're wondering if I really did post this at 4:30 am, yes I did! Sometimes the only uninterrupted time I have is in the wee hours of the morning. It is snowing heavily right now and we already know there will be no school today, so when I woke up for no particular reason around 2, I decided to get up and do a few more tiny things. Now I think I'll go back to bed and enjoy sleeping in, and the excitement and leisure a snow day brings (as long as we don't lose power!). But first I'm going to have a slice of banana bread with cream cheese and maybe some hot chocolate...

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Reality Check

Of course, it did snow on Friday, and the schools were closed, so I had less free time than I thought. But I was able to add one more thing to the sketchbook, a statement I wrote up about fiber art and why I choose that medium. I had to keep it very short, so it took a while to whittle it down word by word, but I did it, and now it's really ready to mail. I thought I might have time to visit the SAQA website and sign up(goal #1), or to start one of my weekly fabric sketches (goal #2) but all I did was prewash and iron the yardage of canvas I plan to cut up and have ready. Here are some other things I did this weekend:
  • Played in the snow! Haven't done that in a long time, but really enjoyed sledding down the hill in the backyard with the girls, the dog, and my hubby
  • Shopped for new snow pants and other snow supplies for myself and my older daughter
  • Packed up all the Christmas things with a lot of help from the fam
  • Baked banana bread
  • Went grocery shopping
  • Did several loads of laundry
AND spent some time revisiting, hand stitching, and embellishing the "conceptual art" quilt I constructed back in September. I always thought it wasn't quite finished but needed a push to make the final decisions about how to finish it. The possibility of entering it in the "made in NY" show at the Schweinfurth gave me the nudge I needed. Below are some detail shots of some areas where I've added hand stitching and embellishments. I think it's even more interesting to look at now, and I think there are more clues to help the viewer understand why I like fabric and how expressive it can be. I'll post another shot of the entire thing when it's all completed. I hope to have it done by Wednesday so I can photograph it and get it on a disc and in the mail by Friday!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

It's Finished!

This is the last page I did, for the month of February. It's probably the simplest piece in the book (I think I was getting tired!) and uses only 2 pieces of fabric and black thread. I just wrote the words on by hand with a fabric marker. The haiku reads "In bleak midwinter, dreams of spring make hearts flutter; wafting breeze beckons."

Below are the two rings I created out of brass wire to keep it all together. Each one goes through all 12 pages with their grommets and the cover. I tried various other rings, like 10 mm jewelry jump rings and loose leaf binder rings, but there were problems with them. Creating my own out of wire seemed like the best solution.

This is how it looks from the back:

We were directed to leave the bar code on the back visible, so I didn't wrap the fabric all the way around the cover. They also suggested to avoid using any kind of closure, even if your book seemed very thick. I felt the fabric pages made my book an exception to that rule, so I stitched a piece of 1/2 inch elastic to the top and bottom edges of the front cover. It stretches all the way around the back of the book to keep it together neatly when it's closed. You can see the elastic from the top in the previous photo.

It looks neat and secure, and lays pretty flat when open to the center. I'm happy with the finished book and glad it's done in time!
I shared it with my FANE group tonight and got many positive comments. One person said it will be hard to part with - yes, it will! It was kind of a risk on my part investing so much into the book, but I'm hoping I will reap some kind of benefits down the line from people viewing it, maybe a few more readers for my blog, at the least! So that's something! I've updated my profile on the Sketchbook Project website and you can read it and see the entire portfolio by clicking here.

I had a few revelations from creating this book:
  • I thought I didn't like starting with plain white fabric and painting, stamping, stitching - whatever. But after working on the plain white canvas for most of these, I found my work was more individual and unique.
  • Because the pages were not layered and quilted, I was able to complete them more quickly and easily. I don't think the lack of layering and quilting detracted from the surface design very much.
  • I had an unofficial goal last year of creating a page a month with poetry and art for a potential book proposal. Although I won't use this as a proposal as is, I did create a piece of art for each calendar month, and seven of them contain poems. I can see two of these pieces being good enough to send to publishers for consideration (January and December). I may have to recreate them to send out.
  • Doing something like this on a regular basis, quickly without over-thinking it, has many benefits. Because there is no pressure about the outcome and you are just doing this for yourself, you are more willing to experiment with new techniques or just explore a color, shape, combination of materials or whatever.
Which brings me to my next revelation: I think I have actually formulated a list of more concrete and measurable goals for 2011! Here they are.
  1. Join SAQA. I've been avoiding this because it's on the pricey side and I'm not sure if the benefits will outweigh the cost. But I'll give it a try.
  2. Create a weekly 8x10 as I did with the sketch book. Count 'em - 52! Possibly limit the time spent on each one to under 2 hours.
  3. Submit one or more pieces to be considered for at least one show.
  4. Keep a calendar with submission dates posted so I know what my time line is and can plan accordingly.
  5. Invest in lights or other equipment to upgrade my photograph quality, to improve my chance of getting work accepted into a show.
  6. Create a large piece for a good friend who is a doctor in a busy new office with lots of empty walls!
  7. Work through The Creativity Book with many of the exercises.
  8. Hone in on my "style" and "brand." Begin to select colors, fonts, representational pieces, maybe a mascot.
  9. Get business cards printed using new style and brand decisions.
  10. Complete at least 5 additional pieces besides the weekly sketches and large office piece.
  11. Update website (and blog?) to reflect new style and brand decisions.
  12. Open an ETSY shop!
It's ambitious, I know. The last two will definitely be stretches for me, but I think the other ones are doable. And tomorrow I am not working at the library, and weather permitting, the girls will be off at school. I'll have the whole day to get started!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Stepping Forward my new boots! How do you like them? Aren't they great? They're quite colorful for me (I usually opt for practical brown) and were a bit of a Christmas splurge, but they're warm and sturdy, pull on easily, and keep my feet dry in wet weather (all the snow we had last week has been melting into slushy puddles and mud). They're perfect for outdoor time with the dog.

But I also have to take an artistic step forward and formulate a goal or theme for the year. My 2009 theme was "Balance" and last year I tried "Play." I still intend to keep those in mind this year. I have so many things I want to accomplish and directions I could go in, but they all really hinge on one thing: creating more art. I want to open an ETSY shop, but I need more inventory. I want to gather a portfolio to present to some galleries, but I need more samples. I want to submit to some shows, but... well, I think you get the idea. What I really need is to buckle down and create! I feel I squeeze as much into each day as I possibly can. I've examined my schedule and streamlined household chores and errands, delegated as much as possible, and made efficiency my mantra. I'll continue to do the best I can with the time and resources I have, keeping in mind the balance I need to strike between my family, my job, and creating art.

But two things I would like to keep in mind as I create and balance and play are courage and confidence. Rather than immediately dismissing the idea of entering a show because I don't think I have anything appropriate to submit, I will try to summon the confidence and courage I need to look over my portfolio and consider the possibilities. If I do find something that might qualify for a show, I'll again summon the confidence and courage to maybe submit it. I don't want to promise that I'll commit to entering two or three shows this year, but I'll begin to think of it more seriously, with more confidence and courage. On that note, I'm going to end this post to go check out the details for a show titled "Made in NY" (at the Schweinfurth Art Center in Auburn NY) that someone forwarded to the FANE group. Maybe I do have something I can submit, and since the deadline is the 15th (same as the Sketchbook Project!) I'd better get a move on!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Looking back...

Before I start making all kinds of grandiose plans and goals for the new year, I should probably take a few minutes to look back over 2010 and take stock. My general goal for the year was just to play more, loosen up, relax both in life and in art. I tend to get bogged down in the tedium of daily tasks and put off the fun stuff until after my chores are done. I even have a hard time taking myself on "artist dates" once a week as recommended by Julia Cameron in The Artist's Way. But this year I tried to be more conscious of how I define play and the various ways I could add it into my daily life. I did have a fun year, beginning in January and February when I took a couple of workshops with Jane Davila, and learned a few new surface design tricks as well. I played with jewelry again, and my little aquarium pendant was included in Cloth Paper Scissors July/August issue, a first for me and a nice pat on the back. I also participated in several challenges through the FANE group I belong to, including the Conceptual art challenge, which was a departure for me, but also stimulating and fun. I read many books, both fiction and non-fiction, and learned a bit about myself as an artist. Part of my goal was to spend more time playing with my family, and we were able to take some great vacations this year, which gave me inspiration for a lot of art. I joined the Sketchbook Project, which has been another fun learning experience. And I managed to get my art sold at the Putnam Arts Council Holiday Craft Sale, something I've wanted to do for a long time. So all in all, this goal was successful. By bringing more playful fun into my life, I enjoyed some quality time with my family and also grew as an artist.
Initially, adding more playtime to my life seemed like an easy sort of goal. But in examining what I define as fun, I realized that I find challenges fun. I like being stretched and stimulated. As long as I don't put too much pressure on myself, learning new techniques and taking on new projects are things I enjoy. And as much as I like spending quiet time by myself making art, I was fortunate enough to have that balanced by family vacations and activities and a busy, people-oriented job. My goal for 2009 was balance, and although I'm still not quite there, I get better at it every year. Moving into 2011, I'll keep play and balance in mind as I challenge myself with some new goals.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope you looked back over 2010 with some satisfaction and are beginning to think of goals and aspirations for the 2011. I know I am! And hence the new book in my home library: The Creativity Book: A years worth of inspiration and guidance by Eric Maisel, PhD. I started buying myself books on creativity about 5 years ago when I got The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron and put myself through her whole program. This book is divided into twelve sections, with 8 or so activities per section, so about 2 per week. They are not all your typical artist type of activities; some of them are "forgive yourself for all your failures," "forgive yourself, period," and "forgive others too." Should be interesting. I hope I can sustain it for the whole year.

Meanwhile, I finally had some time to sit down and play with some design possibilities for my sketchbook cover, which has been haunting me (only 2 more weeks!). I really had no idea, no preconceived vision of what I wanted it to look like, so I just went through my stash and pulled out things I like. I started with the plain natural fabric in the foreground and thought I would use that as the base fabric. Then I decided I wanted something with more color and pizzazz. I played around with some prints and batiks and then found my old favorite burlap ( I know, you're probably thinking "why does she like burlap so much?" I don't know - I think it's the texture and it reminds me of very simple times when farming and gardening and homemade clothes were the norm). I made the title (Fabrications) by couching perl cotton onto another fabric with metallic ribbon for the first letter. I stamped some other words and did a little seahorse thread sketch which I colored in with the Inktense pencils. It looked ok, but it seemed too stiff and predictable.

After a lot of trial and error and playing around, here is the final design I came up with. I ended up keeping my favorite robin's egg blue burlap as the base fabric. I decided I wanted it to show, but that it needed something. I stamped a large design onto it using a foam stamp and turquoise metallic acrylic paint. Then I free-motion stitched around the design with copper metallic thread and touched it up with copper acrylic paint, so it almost resembles embossed copper tiles with a patina. I created another seahorse separately on a piece of silk mounted on a piece of printed cotton, using variegated metallic thread. It took me a long time to decide how to add the words: I finally scrapped the previous couched and stamped words and just hand-wrote them with metallic fabric markers on sheer ribbons, then stitched the ribbons into place. It didn't photograph well, but the words say "Fabrications: Fiber art and poetry thru the year by Cindy Green." I'm happy with it, I think it will hold up well to many hands touching it, and I think it is represents me and my style pretty well. Now I just have to finish by stitching it to the original sketchbook cover.

Another step I made towards getting the sketchbook bound and mailed out was putting all the grommets into the fabric pages. A while back I had picked up this grommet kit from the local craft store (I think it sells for about $20 - bring your 40% off coupon!). The most surprising thing about it to me is that IT WORKS! It's actually worth the money! It comes with the main handle component and those interchangeable tips for either punching a hole or flattening the grommet. I think it's intended for paper crafts and scrapbooking, but it did a fantastic job going through the fabrics, some of which were several layers thick. I also used it this fall to put grommets in the tops of the bookmarks I made, to hold the tassel.

To insert a grommet, first I measured and marked where I wanted it to go. Then, using the black tip, I positioned the punch over the spot and pressed down with the heel of my hand. The handle compresses and then kind of jumps, like it's spring loaded.

Here are two perfectly cut holes where the grommets will go.
Next, I changed to the other tip. I inserted the grommet into the hole from the front to the back, then turned the piece over. Press the end of the tip over the grommet and press down again with the heel of the hand. The spring-loaded action flattens out the back of the grommet, neat and clean!
Here are my two grommets, looking neat and professional! It's nice to have a tool that actually works and does what it claims to do! Now I just have to finish up the stitching on the cover, make one more sketch, and put it all together! Can't wait!