December 1, 2016

James Webb Space Telescope - Artwork in Progress

JWST, Sue Reno, Work in Progress, pieced silk mirror
I've started on the art quilt I am constructing in response to my amazing visit last month to the James Webb Space Telescope at the NASA Goddard Space Center.  If you missed it earlier, you can read all about it in Part 1 and Part 2.

I finished hand stitching the silk hexagons that comprise my "mirror".  It was very satisfying work.

I chose one of the photos I took at the Artist Event, edited it, and switched it to a greyscale, negative image.  I printed it out on an acetate sheet in preparation for printmaking on fabric.
JWST, Sue Reno, Work in Progress, negative image

I often work with the cyanotype process.  It was developed in the mid 1800's as one of the first photographic processes.  Anna Atkins used it for scientific illustration of botanical specimens, a technological marvel of its time.  I liked the idea of using this older technology in my work about  cutting-edge technology, as a way of expressing the continuity of scientific progress.  

Here I began by coating cotton fabric with the cyanotype chemical solution and letting it dry in darkroom conditions.  I masked the fabric with the acetate transparency sheet, then exposed it to sunlight (UV light) for a timed exposure.  After exposure, I rinsed the fabric to develop the Prussian blue color on the print. 
JWST, Sue Reno, Work in Progress, cyanotype printing
 I also used the same image to make prints with a UV developed dye in several different colors.
JWST, Sue Reno, Work in Progress, Solarfast printing
This was a "don't try this at home, kids" type of situation.  Ideally I do my printmaking in the summer months, when the sunshine is reliable and the temperatures are warm.  Working in November with the sun low in the sky and cooler temperatures was challenging, but this was not my first time at this particular rodeo, and I lucked out on some decent weather.  I caught a few sunny hours mid-day to enjoy a frenzy of printmaking:
JWST, Sue Reno, Work in Progress, outdoor printmaking
 And I was happy with the results.  These prints will be individually layered and stitched as a step towards assembling the larger work.
JWST, Sue Reno, Work in Progress, variety of prints

Stay tuned!  And as always, thanks for reading and commenting.

November 6, 2016

Artist Event at James Webb Space Telescope - Part 2

JWSTArt Event, James Webb Space Telescope mirrors
In Part 1, I posted about the experience of attending the James Webb Space Telescope Artist Event and shared my pictures of the event and my tour of the facility. Here I will share how I approached the event artistically and the beginnings of the work I intend to make in response.
JWSTArt Event, James Webb Space Telescope in clean room
The main feature of the telescope I wanted to focus on is the most obvious one, the beautiful gold plated mirrors. The hexagon is a universal shape in nature and in antiquity, with countless examples ranging from the structure of beehives to mosaic tile patterns. It's a structurally strong shape, hence its use in the telescope. Relevant to my vocation as a fiber artist, hexagons are a perennial theme in quilt designs, and are currently very trendy, turning up in everything from traditional Grandmother's Flower Garden quilts to more innovative and cutting edge work.

Working in fiber for a plein air or live paint event is a bit different for a fiber artist than for a painter. My work is time consuming, and partially dependent on the machinery in my studio. So I can't show up for an event with a blank canvas, or blank fabric, and hope to accomplish anything significant in a few hours. I've prepped for plein air events by preparing a foundation for needlefelting with wool roving, and that's worked out well, but it produces softly edged designs. Here I wanted a more hard edged, manufactured look.
JWSTArt Event, Sue Reno, Fiber art kit
I prepped by cutting a bunch of 2 inch hexagons out of pellon, a slightly stiff synthetic non-woven material. I covered them with gold silk and basted it down on the back side. The silk is from Mysore, India, brought back from adventures abroad. In my opinion it is the finest silk in the world, handwoven on human operated looms. The warp is black silk, and the woof is gold threads, producing "shot" silk that shimmers in different ways when viewed from different angles.

I also flirted with the idea of crocheting galaxy forms from cotton and wool threads, and prepped for that as well. I didn't end up using that idea on site, but I may return to it.
JWSTArt Event, Sue Reno, silk hexagons, image 1
At the event, I found myself a spot on the floor next to the viewing window, and looked at the telescope while listening to the speakers explain the mission and technology involved. I began hand stitching the hexagons together to mimic the forms of the mirrors on the telescope.
JWSTArt Event, Sue Reno, silk hexagons, image 2
It was a very chaotic--in the best possible way--scene. Lot of new people, new information, a crowded room, and a stunning and almost visually overwhelming technological marvel to look at in close proximity. I kept myself grounded, literally and figuratively, by doing what I often do, centering in the meditative aspects of doing repetitive work with my hands.

Also currently trending in the fiberart/textile world is the idea of slow stitching. It's akin to the slow food movement; the idea that in a world that requires a quick response time in most of our activities, we benefit from slowing down and focusing on meaningful activity. I've instinctively done this from a very young age, so muscle memory largely controls my movements and my stitching proceeds almost on its own accord.
JWSTArt Event, Sue Reno, silk hexagons, image 3
I got nine hexagons connected before stopping to go on the tour of the facility. It's significant to me that the work was actually begun on site. I am still working through my photos and impressions of the event, and considering how to proceed.

JWSTArt Event, Sue Reno, silk hexagons, image 4
I will document and share the process here and on social media as it unfolds.
Facebook page:
Twitter feed:

JWSTArt Event, Sue Reno, end of day
Here's the group of happy artists, at the end of the day, posing for the best ever Jazz Hands picture:
JWSTArt Event, group photo with jazz hands
You can follow the group activity  @NASAWebb on Twitter and Instagram, and use the hashtag #JWSTArt to see updates as they happen from the artists.  Follow on Facebook at
 There's an unofficial storify at

I will leave you for now with this gorgeous fisheye view of the telescope:

Artist Event at James Webb Space Telescope - Part 1

JWSTArt Event, Visitor Center, Sue Reno
I had the unique experience of being selected, along with a diverse group of 22 other artists from across the US, to attend the James Webb Space Telescope Artist Event at the Goddard Space Center in Greenbelt, MD, on 11/2/2106.  You can read about the call for artists and the event here.

I was a bit early for the meetup, and had time to look around the Visitor Center (above).  Once the group was assembled and cleared security, we were shuttled through the vast Goddard campus to the building complex housing the telescope.
JWSTArt Event, Artists entering
I had of course reviewed a lot of material about the telescope online, but it didn't come close to preparing me for how astonishing it was to see it in on site.
JWSTArt Event, First look at James Webb Space Telescope

The telescope was built in a large clean room facility.  For most of the process, the literally-gold-plated mirrors were tilted away from the viewing room.  This was a brief opportunity to see it from the ideal vantage point. Obviously, I am thrilled!
JWSTArt Event, First look at James Webb Space Telescope, Sue Reno
The telescope had just passed a critical juncture in production and testing, and the morning had been dedicated to a media event.  At 2:00, the room was transformed into a space for artists to create. The diversity of artists and artistic media represented was unparalleled in my experience. While the artists got busy recording images and impressions, and starting on artwork, we were treated to a variety of knowledgeable speakers who explained the telescope's mission and construction, and took questions.
JWSTArt Event, Expert talks
By an astonishing coincidence, two of the other attendees accepted for the event are friends of mine and also members of the PA Arts Experience.  We had applied independently, and saw notices of our acceptances as we posted them on Facebook. Here's Ophelia Chambliss with her paintings in progress.  Ophelia and I were both plein air artists at the PA Governor's Mansion in September.
JWSTArt Event, Ophelia Chambliss
Here's Jessica Lee, working on her experimental poured paint canvases:
JWSTArt Event, Jessica Lee
After the speakers, artists continued working and socializing while small groups were taken out for facility tours. I soaked in as much information as possible and took a lot of pictures. I hope they can give you some sense of the scale and complexity of operations.
JWSTArt Event, Facility Tour, Image 1

JWSTArt Event, Facility Tour, Image 2
Below is the view through a small window of the reverse of the telescope in the clean room:
JWSTArt Event, Facility Tour, Image 3

JWSTArt Event, Facility Tour, Image 4
This is an area for audio testing:
JWSTArt Event, Facility Tour, Image 5
A picture to prove I was there!
JWSTArt Event, Facility Tour, Image 6, Sue Reno

JWSTArt Event, Facility Tour, Image 7
A view from a cat walk:
JWSTArt Event, Facility Tour, Image 8

JWSTArt Event, Facility Tour, Image 9

JWSTArt Event, Facility Tour, Image 10

JWSTArt Event, Facility Tour, Image 11

JWSTArt Event, Facility Tour, Image 12
A temporary clean room space:
JWSTArt Event, Facility Tour, Image 13

JWSTArt Event, Facility Tour, Image 14
The thermal vacuum chamber looks like something from every science fiction book I've ever read.  The "muffin top" slides to one side so the chamber can be loaded from the other side.
JWSTArt Event, Facility Tour, Image 15

JWSTArt Event, Facility Tour, Image 16
It was a peak life experience for me, but for these guys it was another Wednesday afternoon in the office. It was inspiring to be around so many smart and talented people.
JWSTArt Event, Facility Tour, Image 17
These next images are from the centrifuge testing room.
JWSTArt Event, Facility Tour, Image 18
Obviously I am not trained to identify and understand everything I was able to view.  But our tour guide made a comment that put it all in perspective for me.  She said that after a particular project or test, the engineers will disassemble the equipment and store the components.  They seldom discard anything, but instead pile it up off to the side for possible reuse.  There are people there who have a mental inventory of these components, so those messy looking stacks are actually a very controlled bit of chaos.  This is exactly analogous to every artist I have ever known and every fine craftsman's workspace.  Once I realized I was touring through a giant workroom of sorts, I felt right at home.
JWSTArt Event, Facility Tour, Image 19
Back at the viewing room, we had time for further work and networking before the event closed at 5:00. Crew began arriving to prepare the the telescope to be rotated.
JWSTArt Event, End of day
This brief opportunity to view the telescope in its golden glory also drew a lot of staff to the room.  Someone set up a bright light and a box to stand on that provided just the right angle to take a selfie with your face looming large in the surface of the telescope.  This is hands down the coolest selfie I have ever taken or will take:
JWSTArt Event, mirror selfie, Sue Reno
I had a lot of information and images to share, so I've broken this experience down into two parts.  Follow through to Part 2 to see how I handled the artist endeavor aspect of my visit.

This experience will stay with me and the other artists for a long time to come, and will affect and drive my artwork in ways I'm just beginning to imagine.  Plans at this point are for an online exhibit of the work we all produce, and hopefully a physical exhibit in the spring as well.  Many, many sincere thanks to Maggie Masetti for conceiving of the event, and to everyone who worked to make it happen on such short notice.

You can follow @NASAWebb on Twitter and Instagram, and use the hashtag #JWSTArt to see updates as they happen from the artists.  Follow on Facebook at
 There's an unofficial storify at

October 16, 2016

Late Summer Roses - update 5

Late Summer Roses by Sue Reno, WIP18

I finished the felting and the stitching on the center panel..I clean-finished the edges by adding a backing.  I could have called it done at the point, but I decided to add beadwork to the panel.  I like the way beads add texture and detail, and I enjoy the meditative quality of sewing on the beads one at a time.  It's slow work, but that's ok.  I've begun by stitching tiny glass seed beads to each rose.

I like my for my work to grab your attention from a distance, then reward you for coming in to take a closer look.

Late Summer Roses by Sue Reno, WIP19

I also made good progress on designing and piecing the background quilt that the panel will eventually be mounted onto, using the patchwork strips I put together earlier.
Late Summer Roses by Sue Reno, WIP20
I don't like measuring things.  I can do it well if required, if the finished work needs to be a certain size or there are other considerations.  But the act of measuring and turning the dimensions into numbers, and then working with those numbers instead of directly with the materials, feels unnecessary and intrusive.  I've been doing this a long time.  I started out as a semi-traditional quilter (I never had the patience to follow a pattern), so I have a good innate sense of what's needed and how it will all fit together.  I square up and measure it all at the end.

And I am approaching the end of the design work, I'm soon ready to layer it and begin quilting.  I'm having a lot of fun with this one.

You can track this work back by clicking on Late Summer Roses in the right sidebar, or go here.

October 9, 2016

Late Summer Roses - update 4

Late Summer Roses, by Sue Reno, WIP15

I'm making steady progress on Late Summer Roses.  I've just added the roses.  They are little balls of wool roving, felted into place.  I may add beadwork or more detailing to them, I'm still contemplating my next move, but for now I am very happy with how things look.

Late Summer Roses, by Sue Reno, WIP16
I've also pieced the strips of silk and cotton into long strip sets, that will be sliced up and pieced further for the background quilt.  

Late Summer Roses, by Sue Reno, WIP17
There's a lot of work that goes into the preparatory part of quilt assembly.  Soon it will all be all fun and games as I put these elements together.  Stay tuned!