Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Tying Up Loose Ends

(Above: View through nine epitaph banners hanging in my residency studio. Click on image to enlarge ... especially to see just how incredibly sheer these banners are!)

Although I truly thought about starting a new "In Box" or faux-stained glass fiber piece, I had to come to the realization that my time in Hot Springs National Park is quickly coming to an end (plus my adorable husband Steve is flying in tomorrow for two days of fun before driving me home!) So, yesterday was time to turn my attention to finishing projects which were already in production ... like my epitaph banners on the sheerest material I've ever used.

On an earlier blog post, I wrote: " ... each one takes about three hours from start to finish ... I can get one done before lunch." Something was wrong though. It was taking much, much longer! For a while, it just didn't make sense.

(Above: Decision banners hanging in last year's "Personal Grounds" exhibition in Charleston, South Carolina. To read more about this show, click HERE.)

Then I realized that I "timed myself" last year when creating the 43 "Decision Banners" for my show at City Gallery at Waterfront Park. "Decisions" could be written in a line or two. I free motion "wrote" hundreds of lines like: Should I wear the red shirt or the blue one? Should I tell him I'm pregnant? Do you want fries with that?

(Above: Nine epitaph banners hanging in my residency studio. Click on image to enlarge.)

Some epitaphs are short ... but most of the really, really good ones are at least three to six lines of my stitching! How can I resist ten lines about a girl who died saving her child after their clothing caught fire or a Barbican fisherman described as "Big, brave, bold, bald and some times bloody difficult" or a man killed by Apache Indians while "battling for the right"? It takes a lot more time for an epitaph banner just because there's lots more words to stitch! I finished all nine banners that I brought ... but each one took a minimum of four and a half hours ... some took almost six. I stitched the last one today instead of starting something new!

I did, however, whip up ten sympathy cards using the extra paper from my art books and some of the photos of my cemetery angels. Now, I'm working on Anonymous ... though, I admit it, I did lay out a new Grave Rubbing Art Quilt ... one using a rubbing from one Hot Springs' cemeteries. It will be called The Mistral. How could I resist these words, "I've told my last joke".

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Breaking the Mold

(Above: Spring Experimental Vessel. I've always tried so hard to keep each coil firmly zigzagged to the one preceding it in the spiral. It occurred to me NOT to do this. I'm not wildly "in love" with this work ... but the possibilities are now endless. Click on image to enlarge.)

During the first few days here in Hot Springs National Park, I was sorting out my focus for the monteachh … setting up a work area … exploring the unique, natural environment … and coming to term with what materials and supplies I brought vs. what I thought I might actually need … plus I was feeling the pressure to create art inspired by the park but also worthy of a permanent, national collection.

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(Above: Spring Experimental Vessel, interior. As long as I was "experimenting", I poured a glossy, acrylic glazing medium into the vessel along with an assortment of bead. It took several days, thin layer at a time, to build up a wet looking "spring" in this Hot Springs National Park inspired work. There must be a better way/material to pour into one of these vessels ... an idea worth future exploration. Click on image to enlarge.)

On August 10th I wrote: My mentor, oil painter Stephen Chesley, advised me to create at least one “break the mold” piece … something “out of the box” … something truly unique, experimental, cutting edge, adventuresome, and honestly “me”. I continued with an acknowledgment that this was “good advice” but it was also not what I was supposed to be doing. My plan, at the time, was to stick to tried-and-true approaches to fiber, comfortable techniques, and time-tested talents. I went further and said I’d create a few “special ‘In Box’ series and faux-stained glass series pieces” that would reflect the ornamentation, patterns, and decorations of the bathhouses. I was, after all, drawing these details in my sketchbook. I scrapped the “break the mold” advice.

(Above: Spring Experimental Vessel on door step to my "ranger house". Click on image to enlarge.)

Well, so far I have not stuck to the plan. I haven’t created a single “In Box” or faux-stained glass piece (though I still might do this … just for the fun of it). I have, however, broken the mold! I really don’t know how this happened. To what was I responding? At what point did the departure begin? When did the hair-brained ideas formulate? Why did I actually have on hand exactly what I needed? I don’t know!

(Above: Muses, In the Blind of an Eye. Mid 17th century book page with gessoed reverse mounted on upholstery fabric; ink and coffee stains; hand and machine stitching; collage, including distressed antique photo and vintage clipped letters. The title word "Muses" comes from the title of the original book. Click on image to enlarge.)

Figuring out “inspiration” is largely a mystery but this much I can relate: The gift of time and space are magical. I don’t listen to music and haven’t turned on the television for days. I’ve been thinking. I’ve heard quite a lot of talk about “art” too … mostly from people who haven’t a clue that craftsmanship isn’t content. Art, true art, must be a dialogue between maker and material, maker and viewer, viewer and the work, the work and the world ... Art must touch the mind, the eye, the soul. Art SAYS something that words fail to capture (even if every piece doesn't say the same thing to the same people or to all people!).

(Above: Muses, Can You Hear Me Now. Mid 17th century book page with gessoed reverse mounted on upholstery fabric; ink and coffee stains; hand and machine stitching; collage, including distressed antique photo, vintage clipped letters, and snippets of original 1950s era handwritten letters and stamps from Italy. Click on image to enlarge.)

“Breaking the Mold” isn’t generally a planned activity; it is the result of inspiration. Inspiration is both elusive and constant, a rare combination indeed! I’m not necessarily saying that the pieces included with this blog post are my “break the mold” work … but the mental conversations I’ve been having with myself, my materials, and about my future have certainly shifted, changed directions, and have made the time here in Hot Springs more worthwhile than any of the art made during the month. I’m not quitting anything I’ve been doing; I’m adding the chance to try new, totally different work in the future. Hence, the mold was shattered.

(Above: Muses, The Check is in the Mail. Click on image to enlarge.)

This also happened when I was on Westport Island, Maine during the autumn of 2008 while in residency. While there, a seed was planted and art quilts resulted. Here, a seed has been planted. I’m not totally sure what will grow but it will be new. It will be art, not just another pretty picture and not a twist on an old trick. I wanted such an experience; I got it. What I needed to bring was simply me.

(Above: Muses, Secrets from the Past. Click on image to enlarge.)

(Above: Muses, Over the Line. Click on image to enlarge.)

(Above: Muses, Touched. Click on image to enlarge. My husband Steve will get me the exact date and full title for the Muses book. We still have the title page. Please note, the book was NOT in tact when we got it!)

Friday, August 26, 2011

More books!

(Above: Four more new artist's book responding to Hot Springs National Park. Click on image to enlarge.)

I’ve finished making artist’s book for some of the photos taken here in Hot Springs National Park. The exercise has been important. I’m signed up for a bookmaking class this fall and want to go into it ready to learn more than the basics. It seemed wise to “brush up” on my limited skills. There are “mistakes” here, which isn’t a “bad thing”; I’ve learned so much!

(Above: Along the Trail. Click on image to enlarge.)

For instances, I should have double hinged Along the Trail. I did fold back the edge of the paper to create a “spacers” so that the photos wouldn’t bulge the thickens … but I didn’t realize so many pages really needed the back cover to have more flexibility … plus … the antique paper I used for the cover really isn’t strong enough!

(Above: Man and Nature. Click on image to enlarge.)

In Man and Nature I should have created an album with “spacers” … it bulges a little due to the added thickness of the photos … but not too badly! For the front of the book, I used one of the pieces I made last week.

(Above: Photo of Hot Springs National Park water fountain. Click on image to enlarge.)

I also learned that I love faux-suede for the covers. I experimented with different binding ideas … one’s I totally made up! It was fun. Also, I’m very thrilled with another exercise that I might not have done back in Columbia. I experimented with my camera, changing the shutter speed, the lighting, and using manual focus.

(Above: In and Around the Bathhouses. This is the book on which I also used one of the "volunteer patches" on the brown, faux-suede cover. Click on image to enlarge. The photo on this page is the gorgeous stained glass ceiling in the Fordyce Bathhouse.)

I tried really hard to capture the water here at Hot Springs National Park. It’s what makes this place special. Yet, it is elusive and difficult to photograph … hot, pure, shimmering, odorless, fluid, colorless, fluid, reflective, and subject to change with the passing wind or unseen pressure sources. One of my favorite images came from a public fountain. It occurred to me that man-made structures showcased the water best … the fountains, the display springs, the fancy gadgets and knobs in the bathhouses, from the bridges over nearby creeks.

(Above: Rusted Relic in nature. Click on image to enlarge. This photo is in Man and Nature.)

Man and nature co-exist here. Unfortunately, man doesn’t always appreciate nature. My artist book has no words except its title, location, and my name. It is filled with photos showing how man has interacted with this natural park … both the preservation of the water and the discarded trash left in areas generally out of sight.

(Above: Broken Gate. Click on image to enlarge. This photo is in Man and Nature.)

Hot Springs National Park is a special place. It deserves all the respect it can get and I’m glad the government is here doing its job! I wish everyone did ... I wish everyone recycled and no one ever discarded some piece of junk to rust in the woods!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Book Art in Hot Springs

(Above: The first four artist books created using photos from Hot Springs National Park. The one with the twig along the spine includes pictures of trees. The one using formerly rusted, vintage damask is called Rust and includes photos of rusty water valves. The two-tones green striped one includes photos of the animals I've seen ... turtle, snake, doves, butterfly, and two skinks ... but not the chipmunks and squirrels; they're too fast! The one on the top is called Slate and includes those photos. Click on image to enlarge.)

(Above and below: Rust and Wildlife, open. All the books also include my clipped letters. Click on images to enlarge.

I’ve taken truckloads of photos since arriving in Arkansas and it occurred to me that I could have some of them printed at the nearby pharmacy for use in handmade albums. This seemed like such a great idea because I brought a nice stack of fawn colored printing paper with me for all the pages. The rest of the plan has been an exercise in improvisation.

(Above: Trees and Slate, open. Click on image to enlarge.)

This is a good thing, of course. In fact, my artistic mentor, oil painter Stephen Chesley, told me I was bringing too many things out of my studio. He suggested that I “simply go and be myself … making art from whatever is on hand”. While this is an interesting and likely worthwhile idea (especially for a gifted painter whose draftsmanship skills are unparalleled), I brought lots of stuff … but not necessarily the things I’d end up needing.

(Above: Slate. I made this one a horizontal opening book!)

I’m used to having plenty of scrap mat board and a professional cutter; clamps, weights, a hammer and an endless supply of nails; Yes paste; two-way tape; and photo corners. I had to purchase the last two items … but

… I talked my way into getting a free straight-edged razor from the framing department at Hobby Lobby and then cut apart my pizza box and other “trash” for the boards …

… used clothes pins to hold my album pages in place …

… and to continue as makeshift clamps while lining up the covered boards …

… and the stack of provided dinner plates as drying weights.

This worked for the books with fewer pages, but I wanted one larger album too. I used the spare tip from my fine-tipped soldering iron as a nail and a charcoal grill utensil as a hammer. It worked and I’ll post this book when it is finished! (The clothes pins fail me ... so I tied up the pages and covers with extra thread! That kept all my binding holes in alignment.)

Plus, I’ve started two multi-signature books … trying to use what’s on hand … improvising! So, what I brought wasn’t what I really needed … but it was close enough. It’s been an interesting experience. Also, I plan to post all my photos on Flickr! once I’ve returned home to Columbia! More photos of the newer, larger books coming!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

New quilt and LINKS!

In my last blog post I mentioned the fabulous time with Denise Felton and Anne Weaver. Well ... the wonderfulness of it has simply continued to roll through great Internet pieces! Denise wrote an entry that still has my blushing. It is HERE. Anne also blogs for the statewide newspaper, the Democrat-Gazette. The on-line article ... with even more photos ... is HERE. Mere words cannot adequately express my thanks ... especially since both of them advertised the fact that I'll be back in the lobby of the Fordyce Bathhouse here in Hot Springs National Park next Saturday, August 27th, from 1 - 5, stitching for the public. If you're in this area, please come visit. I'm also participating in Hot Springs' "First Friday" art crawl, September 2 from 5 - 8. Both events are in the Fordyce Bathhouse.

(Above: National Landmark, 26 1/2" x 17". Fiber and paper collage, free motion machine and hand embroidery on a vintage guest towel with a crayon rubbing. Volunteer patch and metal badge. Click on image to enlarge.)

Since then, I've finished another small art quilt. This one is appropriately called National Landmark. The title words are actually a crayon-on-fabric rubbing from one of the signs outside the seven historic bathhouses. The center collage was created by ripping parts of all the brochures and paperwork I could find in the various buildings inside the park. Using previously painted WonderUnder (Bond-a-Web) and layers of chiffon scarves, I tried to give the impression of the stained glass dome and third floor ceiling in the Fordyce. I found the metal badge at the park's gift shop and I was given volunteer patches. Technically, I'm considered a "volunteer" for insurance and governmental reasons ... so I stitched my name on the larger of the two patches and stitched it onto the reverse.

I'm now working on a few "artist books" ... photos coming! Speaking of new photos ... please note the profile photo change. I needed a "high resolution" head shot for my upcoming March residency at The Studios of Key West. I didn't have one. This photo was taken using my tripod and a delayed shutter action while outside my little "ranger house" here in Hot Springs National Park. I even put on make-up!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

New Work from Hot Springs

(Above: Another Saturday stitching on Anonymous, a Grave Rubbing art quilt ... crazy quilting vintage household linens together ... in public at the Fordyce Bathhouse in Hot Springs National Park. Click on this or any image to enlarge.)

I've been keeping a sketchbook here in Hot Springs National Park. For me, this is HARD! I'm not really comfortable with drawing but every day seems to improve my weak skills. I know that the quality of the marks aren't the most important thing; the way attempting to draw forces one to LOOK, really observe the visual information, is the point! As a result, I've documented all sorts of ornamentation and details in the bathhouses as well as along nature's trails.

Some of the pattern and decorations informed these pieces. I actually didn't plan on making such work, but I need high resolution images for the next residency program! What does that mean? Well, I'm teaching a class called "HOT" on March 8th during my artist-in-residency at The Studios of Key West (TSKW). "Hot" is a class that teaches heat activated processes for creative embroidery ... using previously painted WonderUnder (Bond-a-Web), metallic foils, chiffon scarves, polyester stretch velvets backed with more WonderUnder, etc. TSKW needs images for their printed workshop literature ... and they need them NOW. Since I don't have such images, I made new work ... as if demonstrating for the class (and I always finish my demonstrations!). I simply used my Hot Springs National Park sketchbook for the designs!

Naturally, I didn't bring any "background material". I generally use scraps of upholstery material ... the kind from swatch books that interior designers have donated to me. So, I went to Material World here in Hot Springs and bought five swatches for $2.50. Here's what they became:

(Above: Hot Springs Relic I. Heat activated processes, free motion embroidery, hand stitching and beading. Click on image to enlarge.)

Hot Springs Relic I is loosely based on all the hexagonal shaped knobs .... like those in the Fordyce Bathhouse ... below!

(Above: Hot Springs Relic II. Click on image to enlarge.)

Hot Springs Relic II is based on some of the patterns on the DeSoto and the Indian Maiden sculpture in the Fordyce Bathhouse. Most of the original pattern from the upholstery material is obscured ... but it does have subtle impact, especially as a foundation color and texture.

(Hot Springs Relic II under the sewing machine. Click on image to enlarge.)

(Above: Hot Springs III. Click on image to enlarge.)

Hot Springs Relic III is based on the decorative hinges in the "Sweat Room" of the Fordyce Bathhouse. Below is a photo of these interesting "personal saunas". If you enlarge the image, you can clearly see the hinge! The little triangles and lines come from one of those large, schoolroom like clocks .... along the rim ... a line for each minute between the triangle marking every five.

(Above: Hot Springs Relic IV. Click on image to enlarge.)

Hot Springs Relic IV is loosely based on the mosaic tiled floor in the Fordyce Bathhouse lobby ... where I got to meet Denise Felton of Needlework/Craft Gossip and Anne Weaver who drove down from Little Rock while I was stitching in public! I am so honored!

The final piece I just "altered" with heat activated process!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Hot Springs ... It's all about the WATER!

(Above: Water Vessels II and III. Click on this or any image in this blog post for enlargement.)

I’ve been thinking a lot about the water here in Hot Spring National Park. It is the very thing that makes this place special … for over 4,000 years. Yes, it’s hot … averaging 143 degrees when it hits the surface. The National Park collects 700,000 gallons a day for public fountain and the bathhouses. So … how to capture the essence of this water in fibers and stitch?

(Above: Hot Springs' Water, an art quilt. 26" x 25". Click on image to enlarge.)

Walking along the Promenade Ramp behind the bathhouses, I noticed lots of metal boxes … places used to collect/gauge/monitor the water? Man-made “covers” for the springs? I’m not really sure, but there are lots of water meters too … including one round metal lid with the single word “WATER”. At the base of the Hot Water Cascade, there’s a large manhole type cover with a center star. I used a gray crayon to make rubbings of these two metal covers. Why gray? Well, the water is pure … absolutely perfect … and colorless. Knowing that both “black” and “white” are “neutrals”, not really “colors” on the “color wheel”, I decided that the perfect “neutral” for the clear, perfect water was gray.

(Above: Hot Springs National Park water information sign.)

Free motion embroidery put all the information from a National Park sign about the water onto the art quilt. The little circles for the rest of the stitching represent “bubbles”, of course!

(Above: Reverse of Hot Springs' Water.)

I’ve made a sleeve for a hanging rod … just haven’t attached it to the back yet. All this water comes from 47 springs. Most of these are under protective covers. One spring is on view in the basement of the Fordyce Bathhouse, the National Park Historic Museum and Headquarters. So, I’ve been thinking about “springs” too. It’s funny that we tend to think of springs as being round objects … like wishing wells or bathroom sinks. Even the “display springs” here in Hot Springs are fairly round and are “circles” on the official literature’s map. Also, we tend to think of “water” from springs being collected in “vessels”. So, I made a large quantity of cording and then four vessels.

(Above: Water Vessel I. Click on image to enlarge.)

The first one is bluish green to represent all the lushness of nature that results from life-giving water. Of course, the coloring is mostly due to the zigzag stitching used to turn the cording into a three dimensional shape.

I start out with just a little spiral of cording which I hold together with a few hand stitches.

Then, I start zigzagging on using the machine … attaching the cord to the spiral … around and around. (Yes, this is my “back up” Bernina. How lucky can I get having two machines set up at the same time!)

When the circle gets larger than the flat area under the presser foot, I start “shaping” it, curving it.

Finally, the “bowl shape” starts to appear and I must carefully position the machine to accommodate the vessel. Often, the end of my machine is off the edge of my table. The vessel rotates almost like a clay pot on a potter's wheel ... just really, really slowly and not wet!

To end the cording, I remove the stitching that holds the individual strands of the yarn together and cut each one to a different length. This allows a smooth transition for the rim. The rim is heavily zigzagged, finishing it off. I took the photo of the first vessel, Water I, (further above) on the stone steps to my cute little “ranger house”.

Then I decided to take Water II and Water III to the nearby creek for a "photo shoot" with some of Hot Springs water. These were made using the same cord. They are totally different in coloration because I used metallic silver embroidery thread to create the vessels. This thread was selected to represent the shimmer of clear water in the sunshine … just like it appears all around this little snake that was also enjoying the creek.

I’m told that it is a baby water moccasin … and from what I learned using my “smart phone”, I think it is one!