Sunday, December 28, 2008

Christmas at our House

I've been enjoying reading blogs and seeing how people celebrate Christmas in their different ways.   Here are a few pages from my sketchbooks to show a bit of Christmas at our house.  It's a little after the fact, but I didn't have a chance to sit and sketch before it was all over.  

I've been gathering silvered glass ornaments for about 25 years now, so that's now all I use on my tree.  My favorites are ones that aren't very Christmasy, the odder the better.  One of my goals in sketching this year is too get looser with watercolor.  I love how African Tapestry and Laurelines both use it.  When I try, it just ends up messy:

Here's a much tighter page, and what I want to move away from, but I don't know how to do that with highly detailed bits:

This was a page from last year's journal at this time of year.  Some things don't change much from year to year:

Friday, December 26, 2008

Stuffed Guy

Still snowed in, and still enjoying it, except I'm getting a huge craving for Thai food.  The thaw is starting, so we may be getting out in the next couple days.   It's been a wonderful, relaxing break from the normal routine.  The urge to clean out my studio hit earlier than my usual Jan. 1 clean-up time, so I've been taking advantage of being locked in and getting a start on it.    I decided to haul all my unfinished, wrong direction, just not inspiring, projects out to the garage.  Maybe I'll look at them in a year and see if they have any hope or need to be tossed.

I did get one little guy done for Xmas.  I wanted to make my 8 yo niece an ugly doll this year. She loves our bulldog Jack, so he seemed perfect for a model.  I really enjoyed doing the stitching on fleece--the stitches just melt right in.  Might want to play with more fleece in the future.

And the handsome model himself:

Saturday, December 20, 2008


We are having the strangest week of ice and snow, very unusual for Portland.  We haven't been able to drive for a week, unless we put on chains, so I'd rather walk.  It has been quite wonderful to have focused days at home not having to drive my boys around.   Most of my time this week was spent on Christmas preparations, decorating and baking cookies, instead of much art.  

I did, though, have a little scribbling fun.  On Scribbler, you do a simple line drawing and then the computer program takes over and attaches the lines, providing the shading and web-like lines.  I have no idea how it works, but it really transforms a simple line drawing into something much more interesting.   You can adjust line thickness and colors for different effects.

I think it would be really great to use as a pattern for free-motion stitching.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Party time

Every year my art group celebrates with a wonderful holiday party.    We have 25 members in our group and always have close to a full turn out for this event.  This year one of our members, Maggie, and her partner, Susan, bought a grand, historic mansion that they are renovating, and they welcomed us into their home.   It's becoming a spectacular place right before our eyes.  They are managing to keep the historic quality of the building, while adding their own artistic flair, as seen in the new kitchen with red cork floors, creamy yellow cabinetry, and a huge red chandelier in the middle of the room.

Our party always includes a very tasty potluck lunch with lots of desserts.  It culminates in our gift exchange.  A month before the party we draw names and then make or give each other an art-related gift.  I was thrilled to draw Lenall's name this year because she shares my taste for funky fiber art and adores the color red.   I think of Lenall as having a very big heart, so this is what I came up with for her:

The heart is stuffed and about 12" long.   I used the crazy graffiti techniques I've been playing with in my "What-If's".  A close-up:

Lorraine drew my name and gave me this wonderful assortment of art materials, custom designed to my palette and interests!  It's the sort of gift that immediately gets the wheels turning as I think about what I'd like to do with them:

It's really fun to see what everyone comes up with and how well-suited they are to the recipient's interests, from delicate jewelry, to dreamy handmade books, to boxes of rusty metal things.  Art friends give the very best gifts!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Great weekend and glad it's over

I'm finally getting back to daily life after the craziness of our show this weekend.  It was a grand success, shockingly so in this economy.  I think we were all holding our breath going into it this year.  This is the second year we've done such a big show at the Multnomah Art Center.   We take over the gym and, in a few hours, turn it from a white box into a winter wonderland.   Last year we collected, hauled and painted 60 doors to use as backdrops for our displays.  Each artist decorates her space in silver, cream and white to tie the show together.  I made fabric garlands out of mixed cream and white fabrics for mine:

My freeform crochet baskets sold out again this year.   I've enjoyed making them, but think I'm done, at least for a while: 

One of my favorite things was my silver tree with my raggedy birds,  but I couldn't get a good photo of it.  Here's a glimpse:

It's really thrilling to be a part of such a great art group.  We've been meeting for almost 5 years now and have become a sort of sisterhood.   The show has become the crowning glory  of our year and a big celebration for us.   I was finishing my set-up minutes before the doors opened and was only able to get pictures of my own booth, but there are some great photos on our group blog if you'd like to see more.

Monday, November 24, 2008

A Little "What If" break

I needed a little stitching break, so I did another one of the "What If's" on my list.  This time I made new marked graffiti fabrics in shades of brown instead of the black and whites I was using earlier.  I wanted to see how the sheers worked on a background fabric with less contrast, although I didn't use the sheers much on this piece.    Besides changing the background, I asked, What If I use silks, velvets and chiffons for embellishments, but attach them all with heavy cotton crochet thread.  I like the texture of the thread and will use it again.  I especially like the french knots it made.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Mexican Inspiration, part 2

Just a few more bits before I leave Mexico behind.

We visited the Textile Museum in Oaxaca and saw wonderfully intricate embroideries and weavings from around the area.  The museum had a small, but enticing, library of books on world textiles that would make for a great week of browsing.

I was particularly drawn to the fanciful animal embroideries, mainly black and white with little splashes of red:

All around town were giant paper mache figures.  I'm always attracted to heads, faces and masks and often use them in my artwork, so these guys were right up my alley:

These heads were part of costumes used in a Day of the Dead pageant:

And this beauty was featured in the largest altar in town, covering maybe 100 ft. of church yard steps:
I've been fascinated by paper mache figures for a long time and keep thinking they would be fun to make.  When I teach children's art classes, paper mache is always one of the favorite subjects.  I keep meaning to join in the fun, but somehow after dealing with a roomful of soggy, sticky newspaper, my enthusiasm for the medium wanes.  It dawned on me that I might be able to make some nice little heads out of paper clay.  I've never used that before, but I think it might give the effect I want and still be lightweight, without all the mess.  Something to play with after the holidays.

If you'd like to see more of Day of the Dead, Belinda Schneider has wonderful photos on her blog.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Mexican Inspiration

I'm in the crazy stage of preparing for my art group's Dec. show, so my days are filled with labels, frames, and inventory sheets, with little time to work on new art.  Still, Mexico left a few impressions that are floating around in my head waiting to be developed in the future.  I want to get them recorded before they escape me.

After I did the fiber piece inspired by posters on a telephone pole, I knew I wanted to come back to that idea and work with walls as a subject, thinking of layers of color and texture.  I went to Mexico with the intention of photographing good walls to use in the future, and I was not disappointed:

One day a wonderful tour guide, Pablo, took us out to the village of weavers, Teotitlan del Valle.  We got to watch an entire family take wool from raw form to beautiful woven rugs.  My favorite part was learning about the natural dying process and seeing the gorgeous colors produced.    I haven't ventured into dying my own fabrics yet, but I keep toying with the idea, especially if I can get colors like this:

I could have spent all day in the Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City.  One thing that jumped out at me was a book of Mayan writing.  It was full of fabulous symbols just waiting to be used in something:

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Day of the Dead indulgence

I'm indulging myself with a few cemetary shots before I move back to art.  I had heard about the celebrations in the cemetaries for Day of the Dead, but I had no idea how extensive they were.   We visited three cemetaries at different stages of festivities, each with its own personality.  These shots are all from the day after the big fiesta at Xoxocatlan in Oaxaca.   My night shots aren't worth posting, but night adds a new magic to the place with candles, music, big pots of communal food and families packed in everywhere.

I loved the range of gravestones, from elaborate sculptural pieces to a wooden cross stuck in the ground propped up by a few rocks.  Each one decorated in its own way.

Coxcomb and marigolds are the traditional flowers for Day of the Dead, so red-violet, yellow and orange are everywhere.  This is one of the tapetes (tapestries) made of flowers:

And papale picado, the cut paper banners:

These sort were my favorites, lovingly made of whatever could be scavenged.  Some (in background) were caged in cyclone fence, not sure what they were caging in or out:

Halloween is creeping into some of the decorations:

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Enchanted by Mexico

It's taken me a while to get back to earth and to my blog after my wonderful trip to Mexico.  I have loved Mexican folk art, Mexican colors, and especially Mexican food for as long as I can remember, so it was high time I traveled there.  It was beyond anything I hoped for.   The colors were stunning!  I was especially captivated by the combination of beauty and the shabbiness of decay.   I have intended to keep this blog focused on artwork, but I have to slip in a few irresistible  images along the way.

I think I filled up one memory disk with walls, windows and doors.  The beauty of them was everywhere:

I have to admit I didn't get nearly as much sketching in as I had hoped.  I was in absorption mode and just had to pause and take everything in.  But here are a few finished pages.  We stayed in a beautiful hotel, Hotel Sotano.  Like so much of Oaxaca, little could be seen from the walled entrance on the street, but once inside the doors, there were delightful bits for the eye everywhere.  We all agreed that we could have spent a week sketching the vignettes in the courtyard, balcony and rooms.   I loved that I was given the Santa Lucia room.  She is the patron saint for needleworkers and guards their eyesight as they age.  Coincidence?

It's hard for me to know what Oaxaca is like in normal times since it was fully decked out for Day of the Dead.   There were surprises around every corner from a street dance of monsters in full costume, to tapetes (large tapestries) made of sand filling the streets, to parades, to giant skeleton puppets, and of course altars everywhere:

Before I left on my trip, Leigh  gave me a grid for small sketches.  (thanks Leigh!)  That ended up being one of my favorite ways to sketch on the trip.  There was so much going on that I seldom had time to sit for long.  Using the grid, I could quickly capture snippets along the way.  I think small grids will now be a regular part of my sketchbooks:

And for sheer visual overload, we made several trips to the markets.  They are probably incredible throughout the year, but during Day of the Dead they are loaded with sugar skulls and coffins and crosses,  special festival foods and decorations.  These beauties were made out of flour paste and are used to decorate the tops of pan de muerte, the special Day of the Dead breads:

I'll be posting more about Mexico and some of the inspiration I found soon.   Paula, one of my traveling buddies, has wonderful posts about the trip on her blog.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Fabric Pellets

It's been a crazy week trying to get ready for Mexico, finishing up PR for our show, and catching one day of my art group's art retreat.  Some of my fabric birds went into a shop this week, so I have been making more to replace them for our show.  I did squeeze in one "What If."  This time I asked, what if I add color to the background to make some of the graffiti pop?  I wanted to add one color per patch to keep the patches evident.  I made little fabric pellets and sewed them on.  I don't think they make the graffiti pop at all, but I like it anyway.  I think they would be fun to combine with other techniques.

I am leaving first thing in the morning for a couple weeks in Oaxaca and Mexico City, so I won't be posting until I get back.  I'm leaving my family behind and traveling with two of my sketching friends for a couple of art-filled weeks.  Adios for now.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Working on Show

I'm not very happy.  I have so many "What If's" filling my head, but I'm not able to work on them right now.  I've been spending the weekend doing some of the nuts and bolts to get ready for my art group's annual Dec. show.  I'm leaving for Mexico in one week, and I want to feel like I'm on top of my show stuff before I leave.   I'm finding that the "What If's" are taking me in a new direction, one that I would love to focus on for a while, but I need to step back to my earlier work and get a few pieces finished.

Last year the show was a huge success, so we are all hoping for a repeat performance this year. We know the interest is there, it's the economy that's scary.  I've decided to think of ways of scaling down my pieces, making them less elaborate and labor intensive, and more affordable for this year's show.

Here are a few of my pieces from last year:

I went back to my original inspiration for this piece, chains of fabric birds made in Thailand, and decided to incorporate some of my birds into simpler chains:

I've also been finishing off some pieces of the funky couching I was doing:

All the little details of inventory, labels, hangers take so much time, but I'm happy to have gotten a jump on it this weekend.  I may have to take a break though and get a few of those burning "What If's" out of my head this week.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

In Lieu of Sketching

We decided to take the week off from our sketching, so I took advantage of the extra time to try a few more "What If's."  My list of possibilities is growing a lot faster than I can make them.  It seems that one little change opens the door to many new ideas.

I wanted to do more with the textural pieces.  Some of my "What If's" probably look repetitive, but I'm often experimenting with different constructions.  In this one, I asked, What if I started with crazy quilt piecing, then cut layers of fabric in the shape of each background patch?  What if I anchored everything with black machine embroidery in the middle of the patch?  What if I used more layers this time (sometimes 4 or 5)?

And what if I ran it through the washing machine:

I love the wild unravelling, but I need to soften the hard diagonal seam that showed up after the wash.

In this second piece, I asked, What If I tried to capture the look of telephone poles after the flyers are burnt off?  I don 't know if this is just a Portland thing, but the fire dept. burns off flyers from telephone poles once they have built up too thick.  It leaves this great bit of texture, mainly white with staples in the middle and hits of color coming through.

I started with a brown felt background to get the dark underlay of the telephone pole.  I layered 3 or 4 layers and machine embroidered them in the middle.  Pre-wash:
And post-wash:
I like the crispness of the pre-wash version , but I think I'm more partial to the ravelled one.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

More Crazy Graffiti

It looks like I'm going to be staying with these graffiti backgrounds for a while.  I really like the interplay of their busyness with whatever goes on top of them, especially with sheers so you can peek through the layers.  I keep getting new ideas for variations and am starting to think about how this might work in a large piece.

This first "What If?" was "What if I layer sheers on top of each other to get more gradations of color?"  I also asked, What if I include burned out velvets (I think that's what they are called) to have the contrast of their fuzzy and sheer parts.  

In this one I asked, "What if I layer and wash various fabrics, like I did in the white-on-white textural piece earlier, but this time use lots of color?"  I like the unpredictable quality of these. Some pieces almost disappear in the wash and others become more prominent.

I'm really bothered by the diagonal line across the bottom third and will go back and soften it a bit.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Sketching Giant Puppets

I'm so glad we went to the Michael Curry exhibit this week for sketching.  The Oregon Historical Museum had a great display of his work including a number of the giant puppets. Michael's studio is outside of Portland.  He worked with Julie Taymor to do the puppetry and masks for Lion King and has also done fabulous pieces for Cirque du Soleil, the Olympics, operas, etc.   Some of his sketches were on display, and it was quite interesting to see him step through the design process, combining art with engineering.  A film showed highlights of his work on stage where it really comes to life. 

A few bits from Lion King:

And I loved the giant moose head.  It was probably 6 ft. tall.  Some of the puppets had strings within reach, so you could make them move.  Even though they are huge, they are so well engineered, light, and easy to move.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Tryon Creek Sketching

For sketching this week we went to see the art installations at Tryon Creek.  Tryon is a huge, forested park and woven along one of the trails were five art installations, all connected to the environment.  They were lots of fun to see and very hard to capture in a sketch.   Here are a couple:

The figure stood about 12 feet tall, covered in ivy, like a giant topiary.   Only when we got up close did we see that it was plastic ivy.  I'm sure the park would not allow the intrusive real stuff to be used.  The piece on the right was done on a cluster of trees.  Each had fungus-like growths added with little villages on them.  Ladders connected the villages to each other, to knot holes in the trees, and to holes in the ground, leaving you to speculate what type of magical creatures inhabited them.  Fun stuff.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

What If? Layers of Texture

What if I layered each patch with multiple fabrics, tacked them down in the middle, then ran them through the wash to create texture?  They came out all nice and wrinkly.  Some shrunk and frayed, others didn't.  I embellished to emphasize the forms that came out of the wash, sometimes unfolding and stitching pieces down to the background, other times letting them stay curled up and adding detail to the curls.

To keep the emphasis on texture, I  limited color in this piece.  I used sheers, cottons, burlap, upholstery fabric, and silks to get a variety of textures.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Graffiti with Tufts

Another "What If."  This time I stayed with the same graffiti crazy piecing for the background, but asked, What if I make tufts of layered fabrics for the embellishments?  I layered different silks, cottons and sheers and freeform machine stitched them together to form separate units.   I then handstitched these to the background.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Painting with Sheers

I am having so much fun with these Crazy Quilt Revisted challenges.  This time I used the graffiti fabric I made for the background, but asked "What If all my embellishments were out of sheer fabrics?"  I'm excited about the results of putting sheers on top of the black and whites.  I love the interplay of the foreground and background, with the sheers disappearing in places and looking like washes of color in others.   This experiment has caused a few more "What If's" to pop in my mind.