Saturday, April 29, 2017

Crackled Vessels and More Circles!

 (Above:  Newly crackled fiber vessels.  Click on any image in this blog post to enlarge.)

I love making fiber vessels from skeins of neglected yarn and unraveled knit afghans and sweaters.  They are a joy to make but also a joy to transform using acrylic crackle medium.  This week I selected nine vessels, applied several layers of Golden's GAC 400, a textile stiffener, and then applied a thin layer of crackle medium.

I generally do this in the evening before bed ... because it is best not to continue messing around with the wet acrylic crackle medium.  I doesn't need help or heat or me poking at it!  It simply needs to dry over night.  This is what I found in the morning!

This is how I left them the night before ... sitting on the top of my picture framing dry mount press ...

... covered over in wet crackle medium.

This is a detail of the crackling!  It reminds me of the dried high desert lake bed at PLAYA, the art residency I've been to twice ... in the remote "Oregon Outback".  The arid soil really was an amazing fissure of dried cracks in hues of off-white, grey, and the subtleties of soil.

I'm very happy with the results ... and please scroll down to see more images of the individual pieces.

 (Above:  Eight new circles.)

In the meantime, I've been working on the next, small batch of circles for my upcoming installation at Waterworks Visual Arts Center in Salisbury, North Carolina (Sept. 9, 2017 through Jan. 3, 2018).  I'm excited and my head is still spinning with new idea of "orbs" in various patterns, colors, and edging.

I realized that my earlier post didn't really do the first batch much justice in terms of "size".  Thus, this is the basic size of the smaller circles ...

 ... and this is the basic size of the larger ones.  I'm still looking for a temporary space on which to visualize these circles.  Hopefully, I'll have a place in public, a chance to show an "installation in progress" as I plan on having no fewer than eighty of these things!  I need a large wall on which to work, stand back and study, arrange, and determine how the collection will show best.


Above and further below are the individual images of the recently finished crackled, fiber vessels!  

Monday, April 24, 2017


(Above:  The first batch of circles.   These circles are the beginning of a new fiber installation for Waterworks Visual Arts Center in Salisbury, NC.  The show will be called In Stitches, opening on September 9, 2017 and running through February 2, 2018.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

At the beginning of the year I worked at a feverish pace trying to submit my solo show Anonymous Ancestors to any venue that might consider it.  I researched for museums in the southeast, locations known to exhibit textiles, and places where my work has already been on view in a juried show.  I waded into dozens of websites looking for any information on a venue's proper procedure for solo show submissions.  I followed the directions.  I applied to some through Cafe (Call for Entry) and paid a fee.  I also sent dozens and dozens of unsolicited proposals ... some via email and some via the USPS.  I am sure that most were never looked at.  I received a handful of messages saying (paraphrased), "Thanks but no thanks!"  I got the show into two upcoming locations ... one with a signed contract and the other on a promise with someone I actually know.  Yet, something else did happen.

(Above:  The first batch of circles on my living room floor.)

Waterworks Visual Arts Arts Center in Salisbury, NC offered me a solo show ... not with Anonymous Ancestors (the show I proposed) ... but with the work I regularly sell through gallery representation.  This is my "In Box Series" and my "Stained Glass Series".  Of course I said yes and I signed a contract.  This correspondence also included an interesting idea.

You see, I've had a solo show at Waterworks.  A curated selection of my Decision Portrait Series was exhibited there in 2011.  (Click here for a blog post of that show.)  Working with the Anne Scott Clement, the executive director, was a wonderful education.  She taught me that viewers bring to artwork their own experiences and don't really have to "get it" the way I intended.  I was under the impression that the labels for my portraits were as important and necessary for a personal engagement as the portraits themselves.

When I arrived at the opening (totally alone and without knowing anyone but Anne!), I was shocked by the lack of labels.  Trying not to panic, I asked Anne where they were.  Calmly she said that they weren't needed.  Somehow, I knew to trust her.  My mind said, "Susan!  She's the nice lady who gave you this opportunity, hung the work the way you wanted it, and just wrote an email telling you that benches had been installed in the two spaces with boxes of Kleenex because people were touched to the point of tears!  Trust her judgment!"

Then I proceeded to watch people looking at my artwork.  Two portraits worried me. 

I wandered up to very well dressed man and asked him what he thought about the portrait on the left.  He smiled and with a knowing twinkle in his eye said, "Ah honey, I've known a few drama queens in my life."  We laughed together.  He "got it" ... in his own, wonderful unique way.  He didn't need to know that the actual title is Drag Queen.

The portrait that was bring so many people to tears, however, was the one on the right.  I don't know how many times people touched my shoulder during the reception and said, "We've all made mistakes.  We all need forgiveness."  They were right!  In fact, that was the point of the series ... to not judge others.  It was totally unnecessary for the success of this piece to have people know that the title was DUI: Driving Under the Influence.  Anne Scott Clement knew her community and my work.  She knew better than I did how to show it best.  She taught me that viewers don't have to understand every little symbol, every nuance, or even my own conceptual intent in order to appreciate the work.  It is a valuable lesson.

(Above:  The first batch of circles on the living room floor.)

Thus, when Anne Scott Clement suggested that some of my upcoming work ought to be left UNFRAMED, I was scared.  I knew to trust her even though I couldn't see "not framing" my usual work.  After some thought ... which I might never have done ... a new idea emerged.  I'm now very, very excited about CIRCLES.  Anne agrees.

I have a foggy vision of the gallery's large back wall hung with fiber circles suggestive of celestial orbs ... made using the same materials and processes as my regular work.  The "Stained Glass" and "In Box" series work would hang (framed) on the two side walls.  Ideas are surfacing ... like perhaps one big comet shape in the middle ... or backing some with highly reflective metallic 2-ply mat board like the brooches I've made ... or pouring epoxy over some ... and hanging some with t-pins and others flat against the wall and others away from the wall by perhaps an inch-and-a-half.  My vision taps into my excitement about the coming solar eclipse as well as the magical evenings at PLAYA art residency in Oregon watching the Milky Way over head.  Of course, viewers don't have to relate to the work as if a celestial depiction.  They can bring to it whatever their life experiences with round objects happen to be!

Yet, I immediately have a problem.  Although my foggy vision will turn into a reality, I'd like a better way to work through the design possibilities than using my living room floor.  I have no design wall ... and certainly not a space as large as the gallery wall.  I am mulling over a few ideas ... some really, really good ones using a public space and adding to it every week until "show time".  I'll keep this blog posted.  I have cut substrata for twenty-five larger circles and thirty-four smaller ones.  From my experience in installation work, I'll need more.  I have eighteen weeks to create all this.  I'm nervous ... as usual ... and excited.

(Above:  The season prospectus from the Mesa Contemporary Art Museum in Arizona ... with my Threads: Gathering My Thoughts installation on the cover!)

Lastly, look what came in the mail!  So proud.  Installation work is scary and very well worth the effort!

I am linking this post to Nina-Marie's "Off the Wall Fridays", a site for sharing fiber artwork. 

Friday, April 21, 2017

Triptych Commission

 (Triptych Commission.  Framed:  30" x 54".  Click on any image in this blog post to enlarge.)

It all started a couple months ago when a nice man bought a gift certificate for his wife.  She wanted one of my pieces.  She had a particular space in mind.  One thing led to another ... in terms of figuring out the perfect size.  The measurements worked out to 30" x 54" framed.  Quick calculations arrived at a triptych with a center panel measuring 22" x 22" and two side panels each measuring 22" x 10.  I mapped out a diagram on graph paper.

The photo above shows the original design on the pale green graph paper and the two patterns created from it.
I decided to create the two side panels first.  The image above shows the foundation pieces, aka "the lowest layer of polyester stretch velvet.  The black fabric is synthetic felt.  It used to be the packaging material that protected a kayak being shipped from a manufacturer to my local outdoor shop.  The owner of the shop has donated this felt to me for years.  Although the floral motif at the top appears to be two different colors, they are actually the same bright pink.  The direction of the fabric's nap and the lighting angle make then appear differently to the camera.

Next ... I added turquoise and copper heat-activated metallic foils.

I worked layer to layer and from one to the next until the construction was complete.

A layer of heat-activated adhesive (Pellon's 805 Wonder Under) was ironed over both surfaces.  This "glue" is necessary to add strips of chiffon scarves around the work.  I use several colors but made sure to add each one in the same basic arrangement on both side panels.

Then, I tackled the center panel.  This is the foundation.

I added lots more shapes and layers.  In this photo, the work is shown twice.  The image on the left shows the center panel before the chiffon strips are added.  The image on the right shows the same center panel after the chiffon strips were applied.  There's a subtle but fabulous difference.

Here are all three panels.  The construction is complete.  Next is the stitching!

I stitch with only 100% black cotton thread.  The thread is the only natural material in the entire process.  This is important!  I know that the final steps involve melting techniques.  I must carefully link the foundation shapes together using the stitched lines of thread.  I stitch little "bridges" to link these pieces.  This can be seen on the left side of the photo ... where little black lines of thread link the two, big polyester shapes together.  The "black" area is between the two, big polyester shapes is simply the recycled synthetic felt.  It will eventually melt away ... but the cotton thread will not melt.  The cotton thread will stay in place and hold the shapes together.

In order to perform my melting techniques, I staple and/or lace the works to stretcher bars.

I do the melting in our framing garage while wearing a carbon filtered respirator.  First, I poke holes through the layers of polyester velvet and then I zap the entire work using an industrial heat gun.  My husband Steve wasn't around for the heat gun ... but he once took THIS VIDEO of the process.

The next thing is to mount the work.  I stitch all my pieces to acid-free mat boards.  For larger works like this, I staple the mat board into a linen liner.  The liner serves two functions.  First, it protects the edges of the mat while I'm mounting the work.  Second, it holds the glass away from the artwork.  Basically, I put a frame around the linen liner ... and the glass goes between the two ... creating a mini shadow box!

I photographed the piece before it went behind glass.  Here it is leaning against the back door!

I took several detail shots too.

Finally, Steve installed the work in its new frame with it's over-sized glass.

I am thrilled that the piece was picked up earlier today!  Here it is with the owner!  I'm elated!

I am linking this post to Nina-Marie's "Off the Wall Fridays", a site for sharing fiber artwork.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Good Vibrations and Happy Easter

(Above:  Girl Scouts at Mouse House ... working on their textile arts merit badge.  Click on any image in this post for an enlargement.)

One good deed deserves another!  Serendipity is in the air!  Maybe good vibes are simply blossoming with spring and in celebration of Easter.  I'd like to think so!

It all started last week with a visit from a local Girl Scout troop.  One of the members, Emily Oliver, wrote a poem that was included in Marked By the Water, a book published in conjunction with a Jasper Arts Project commemorating the first anniversary of the historic flooding in our town. For the visual arts exhibition, I created The Clothesline (which was later accepted into the Studio Art Quilt Associates' national juried H2Oh! show opening in June at the National Quilt Museum in Paducah, KY before traveling all over the country through 2019).  I also selected three poems to stitch on layers of plastic, ribbon, snippets of chiffon and miles of metallic thread.  One of the poems I selected was called Self Portrait with Twelve Mile Creek.  I did not know that the poet was a teenager or a Girl Scout.  (I blogged about my Flood Poems HERE ... including various images of Emily's poem in stitches.)  Emily did not know me either ... or that I had been a Girl Scout all through high school.

One thing led to another ... and Emily's troop came to interview me for their textile arts badge. It was a great way to spend time sharing inspiration, a way to "give back".  The next morning, I was "giving back" in another way ... donating platelets at the American Red Cross.  I've been donating for years.  My blood type is O positive.  More importantly, my blood is CMV negative which means I've never had the flu and my blood can go to premature babies and others with immune deficiencies.  

(Above:  The Key to the Acadia Flower Shop.  10 1/2" x 8 1/2" framed.  Tagged key from the actual flower shop on a ground made from donated materials:  pink acrylic felt and an old pansy crocheted doily.  The embellished leather flowers were once a bracelet ... and also a donation to my unique stash.)

Over the weekend, I worked on a large commission (which I hope to blog later in the week) but I also found an on-line article for ArtFields, a nine-day art competition in Lake City, South Carolina where my installation Threads: Gathering My Thoughts is on display.  (I blogged about installing it with assistance from Kiwi the Art Cat HERE.)  Adam Parker wrote the article for Charleston's Post and Courier.  There's a nice section on my work and a color image.  On-line articles come and go.  I wanted to get a print copy ... and asked on Facebook if anyone knew where to acquire one.  Lo and behold, a friend saw my request and simply brought me a copy!  Thank you, Gina! 

 (Above:  The Key to the Acadia Flower Shop, detail before framing.)

But the serendipitous moments continued!  Steve and I hadn't seen Jenny in years ... at least a decade.  Once upon a time, Jenny and a friend created a unique transition in our living room ... after I removed a wall that separated the hardwood floor of the hallway from the tiled floor of the living room.   Earlier this month, Jenny came to Open Studios ... walked right into the house as Steve and I were bragging about the living room transition!

  (Above:  The living room transition.)

The two floors are not level with one another.  The two different materials made a traditional transition problematic.  Creativity was needed to make it work, look right, and blend the colors.  The transition was made to look like flowing water ...

(Above:  The living room transition.)

... complete with a brass faucet from which strings of golden beads flow!  Lots of people think I dreamed this up.  I didn't.  Jenny did.  Well ... Jenny was quite impressed that we were still bragging about her work.  She returned with a large assortment of "treasures" and more chocolate than any house really ought to have at one time.  One of the treasures was a grouping of keys ... all the past keys to her family's Acacia Flower Shop, the oldest family owned shop in the USA.  Jenny gave me all these things as a "thank you" gift, but it was just too much ... unless I had a "thank you" gift in return.  The Key to the Acacia Flower Shop was my gift. 

 (Above:  The Key to the Acacia Flower Shop, detail in the frame ... to show the marbleized paper "walls" that hold the glass away from the artwork.)

I had everything I needed.  The background was made on my dry felting machine from a scrap of a pink felt and a snippet of a vintage crocheted doily.  The doily's center was green; the edges were yellow and purple pansies.  One of the dealers I know from Bill Mishoe's auction gave me a large bag of vintage textiles.  This doily was in it.  I added little leather flower buds that had once been a bracelet given to me from a friend's daughter.  Wouldn't you know it!  The lady who donated the doily came to Mouse House with another stash of fabric at the exact time that Jenny came to get the framed key!  Serendipity!

 (Above:  Florence ... the Duomo and Campanile ... as seen from the Palazzo Vecchio.)

A week or so ago I promised to sprinkle out some of my photos from a recent trip to Florence, Italy.  I'll not share many like the one above.  They are too typical, too much like every other tourist snapshot.  Instead, I'll share just a few of "off the beaten path" things I saw ...

(Above:  The mosaic ceiling in the Duomo's Baptistry.)

... like the incredible mosaic dome of the baptistry.  It was hard to know where to look first.  The tiled floor is just as fantastic.

 (Above: 17th century multi-barrel pistol.)

I generally don't spend too much time looking at weapons and armor ... but I couldn't help but think of a hilarious advertising line for this multi-barrel pistol.

When precise aim isn't important! LOL!

The pistol was very near these falcon blinds.  They sort of reminded me of contemporary fiber art I've seen!  Yet the antique embroidered banner in the Chapelle Medici took my breathe away!

(Above:  The Bandinella, a gift from Leo X to the basilica of San Lorenzo.  Made in either 1516 when the pope returned to Florence or in 1521 at the time of his death.  The fabric design is known as "griccia" and includes pomegranates.  The embroidery includes the papal tiara, coat-of-arms, and other Medici symbols.)

Lots of people ask me how many hours are spent on one of my large works.  I don't really know.  I don't count ... but I can bet that the hours I put in are but a fraction when compared to the time for this masterpiece!

The raised surfaces, tiny stitches, and combination of metallic threads is incredible.

To think that this banner is five hundred years old is incredible.

The temperature and LED lit case built for it was also incredible!

Finally, the Chapelle de Medici also has a vast collection of reliquaries ... including this really eerie one!  I have other photos from Italy to share ... including some amazing lace in the Palazzo Davanzati collection.  I'll save them for another day!