At the last minute I wanted a hand stitching project to take along on our recent vacation to Reno NV and Berkeley CA. I still had several of the small needlefelted pieces I started as step outs for the Quilting Arts video shoot last year. I took one of them and added some borders, pulled some likely embroidery thread colors, and packed it up and stuck it in my carry on.
I worked on it a bit on vacation, and spent a lot more time thinking about it. We began our trip on the summer solstice, which was also our wedding anniversary. A few days prior we had been to the Susquehanna River in Columbia to take pictures in the clear soft light of late afternoon. The mood of the piece was trending towards an early summer colorway, so I decided to embrace the theme.
I used a simple running stitch to add line and flow to the river portion. I’m calling it simple, because it’s just a running stitch, in and out of the fabric in a line. But as I worked on it I realized that it was reflective of years and years spent hand stitching and hand quilting. I’ve gone through countless spools of thread and hanks of embroidery floss. I’ve literally worn out many needles over time. My stitch at this point is definitely an expression of “the hand of the maker”, where I strive not only for technical excellence but also for a unique signature.
I used a variety of other simple stitches to add to the “fields” and “woods” surrounding it. I enjoyed the slow pace and improvisational spirit of stitching process very much. I then layered it and added some quilting. I am now contemplating adding beadwork.
As is it measures about 24” square. I am planning to use it as a center panel for a larger quilt, like some of my other recent river pieces. (See Ice Jam and In Dreams I Learned to Swim.) I’m still thinking about what that will look like.
I have a lot of works in progress right now.On the one hand I think I should focus and finish a few of them before proceeding. On the other hand, I am grateful that the inspiration and ideas are flowing freely, and feel like I need to go with that flow.
July 22, 2015
July 19, 2015
I went to Harrisburg, PA today to visit the State Museum of Pennsylvania and see the Art of the State exhibit, where my In Dreams I Learned to Swim is on display through September 13. I had missed the opening because I was traveling, so I didn’t have the thrill of the crowd, but it was nice to have the time and space to view the exhibit at my leisure.
This is a large art quilt, 60” x 80”, and it was such a pleasure to see it so well displayed and properly lit. It had room to breath.
I hadn’t had the chance to view it from a distance before, and I was gratified to see that it held up well and commanded attention from afar.
Even from the other side of the gallery it caught the eye.
As always it’s an excellent and interesting exhibit—do go if you are in the area. One nice feature is in addition to the complete paper catalog, there are kiosks where it is easy to bring up an artist and read their statement. The images are also available online here.
Afterwards we went to The Millworks for a late lunch. It’s a new restaurant, with an emphasis on local, sustainable food and craft beverages, combined with artist’s studios in a remodeled/repurposed industrial space. Both the food and the ambiance were very good, and I plan to return. On the way out I stopped in the communal gallery/gift shop, and bought a bag of roving to use in needlefelting.. I grew up near Halifax, and I was charmed by the mention by name of her angora bunny.
We then went over to Front St., parked, and took the pedestrian bridge to City Island. It was oppressively hot and humid, but I wanted to take photos for my new project, 52 Ways to Look at the River. (Read about its inception here.) The architecture of the bridge is wonderful through the fisheye lens:
And I liked the archways on the nearby bridges:
But for this week's inspiration photo I chose this shot, looking across from City Island to the city of Harrisburg:
I came home, cooled down, and used my new roving in the panel inspired by the photo. The panel is 6” x 12”, on a base of rayon/wool felt. I am trying to keep them simple, a sort of sketch in fiber, and not overwork them. Even so, each one so far has taken about 90 minutes to make. Fiber is a slow medium.
A good day!
July 5, 2015
I am interested in how creativity works. I am especially fascinated by creative practice, both my own and that of other artists, and have written and given lectures on the subject. For many artists, the state of being “in the flow” alternates with creative slumps and blocks. I find that these highs and lows can be better managed with a sustained creative routine.
That routine varies greatly, of course, in accordance with individual proclivities. For myself, part of my routine since 2012 has been taking daily photos, using either a macro or a fisheye lens on my iPhone, and posting them to social media. It gave focus to my day, helped train my eye, and gave me a glimpse into corners of the natural world I might otherwise miss. The habit has been exciting and fulfilling, and helped inform my primary artistic practice of textile based art. I’ve also enjoyed and greatly appreciated the many lovely and enthusiastic responses I’ve received when I posted photos.
It was all great, until all of a sudden it wasn’t. I had been struggling a bit in the spring to find subjects that engaged me, and one day I realized that it had turned from a delight into a chore. So I stopped. I put the project on hiatus and just stopped. If I had been struggling with my primary work in fiber I would have powered through it, but this is an adjunct practice, meant to be fun. While I may still take and post the occasional nature picture, the daily part will remain on hiatus until/if I feel like reviving it. I suspect it may have served its purpose, and it is time to move on.
Which raises the question of what moving on looks like. I feel like to some extent the photos were a dead end. I’m not a professional photographer, even thought I play one on TV. I’m going to move my repetitive creative practice into my true area of expertise, working with fiber.
After a lot of thought and false starts, I’ve devised a project involving the Susquehanna River, a never ending source of inspiration for me. My plan is to get out and observe the river somewhere on its course on a weekly basis for the next year, and then make a small fiber piece in response to what I’ve just seen. Further details and parameters will be worked out as I go along, as part of the appeal is that the project be open-ended and exploratory. I’m calling it “52 Ways to Look at the River”.
Today I cut 52 pieces of rayon/wool felt into 6” x 12” blanks, and will be using them as the foundation for each weekly piece. I anticipate it will be primarily needlefelting work but I’m not locked into that. The idea is that each piece will be the fiber equivalent of a quick sketch, and in the end the sum will be greater than the parts.
Above is my first panel, and below is the picture I took of the river, in Columbia, PA, under the Veterans Memorial Bridge. There’s been a lot of rain lately, and the river is very high and muddy.
I’ll be posting the weekly pieces to my Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/suerenostudio
My Twitter feed: http://twitter.com/suereno
My Tumblr: http://suerenostudio.tumblr.com
and Instagram: sue_reno_studio
So pick a platform and join me as I work my way through some imagery!
As always, thanks for reading and commenting.
June 18, 2015
At last, the reveal of my latest work, In Dreams I Learned to Swim.
It’s a large quilt, at 60” high x 80” wide, so it has a lot of presence when seen in person. For anyone living or traveling near Harrisburg, PA this summer, you can see it in a marvelous setting at the State Museum of Pennsylvania. It’s part of the prestigious Art of the State exhibit, opening on June 28th and running through September 13th. It’s an all-media show, and I’m very pleased to be a part of it again this year.
This work incorporates needlefelting with silk and wool on a separate, attached panel.
I made collagraph plates and printed them in a variety of colorways for the surrounding quilt.
The borders are also handpainted, and the entire work is heavily stitched to add texture and movement.
I hope you have enjoyed following along as I detailed this work in progress—you can review it by clicking “In Dreams I Learned to Swim” on the right sidebar, or by clicking here.
As always, thank you for reading and commenting.
June 17, 2015
After putting together the quilt top, I had some fun making the backing. I buy white cotton sateen by the bolt, as I like heft and the feel of it.
I seamed a big piece of it, then laid it down on a tarp outside. I flung paint around in a whirlpool design, then hit it with the hose.
As it dried in the sun, the paint migrated and blended in marvelous patterns. It’s a small indulgence, as the back will not generally been seen in an art quilt, but it made me happy while I was layering, basting, and quilting it. It’s a huge quilt, so there was a lot of quilting and it took a considerable amount of time. I break it down into sections and and work from the inside out to the borders, doing it all on a home sewing machine (as opposed to a larger, longarm machine). I enjoy the process and find it transformative.
Up next – the big reveal!
June 16, 2015
I used my collagraph plates and the large Gelli plate to make prints onto cotton sateen in a variety of colorways. I hadn’t particularly planned for it to be this vibrant, but that’s how it worked out as I went along.
As I spent time arranging and rearranging the prints on the design wall, I spent a lot of time working out the compositional aspects of it all. I spent even more time working out my motivation for making this work, as that’s the truly important part. It’s vital for me to know what it is I’m expressing; it’s not just a design exercise.
The story goes like this: when I was a girl, I never learned to swim. It was a not a particularly valued skill in my family, and was not a part of the cultural expectations and narrative I was being raised to fulfill. I learned as a young adult, but I am a bit awkward at it, and have to limit myself to swimming in very safe situations. It’s a minor thing, really, in the grand scheme of life’s rich tapestry, but I suppose on some level I feel the sting of a missed opportunity, for swimming began to enter my dreams about the River.
Swimming in the Susquehanna can be dangerous for the strongest and most experienced of athletes. Despite its often calm surface appearance, it is riddled with tricky undercurrents. But in my dreams I a glide powerfully along, riding out the currents and admiring the landscape, the master of all I survey.
It’s a large concept, and needed a large canvas to fully express it. After settling on the arrangement of the prints, I hand painted and printed more fabrics, including silk noil, to extend the narrative.
June 15, 2015
While I was working on the needlefelted center panel, I was also devising the prints that would make up the supporting quilt. I gathered a lot of bits and pieces and glued them onto mat board to make collagraph plates.
My main focus for the plates was to capture the movement of the Susquehanna River through the surrounding landscape of wooded hills and farmland.
June 14, 2015
I’ve got a new addition to my River Series. It began, once again, as an adventure in needlefelting. The center portion of the panel is comprised of lots of wool roving, along with slivers and scraps of wool and silk.
Surrounding the river are segments of silk and wool fabrics, some of which I’ve had for a long time. I was stalled and had this hanging on the design wall for weeks, until I hacked out the pink silk print from an old skirt, and then the whole design came alive. The bits of purple print were cut from a silk scarf I brought back from India in the 70’s. It felt good to have found just the right moment and project to finally use it. After the fabrics were laid down and felted to the base, I added more roving and couched threads to add definition.
Above is the view of the back of the panel at this stage, which is always interesting.
More to come. And as always, thanks for reading and commenting.