May 31, 2008

Big Root Geranium, part 4

Here's the finished quilt top. I'm very pleased with the way the design came together; it has a lot of energy and movement, and it's a very happy piece. This is just a quick snapshot, and the colors are not quite true, but I think the idea still comes across.

Next I will layer it with batting and a backing, and start stitching. The quilting stitches will add a lot of texture and dimension. They will also serve to unify all the small pieces of fabric and let them visually flow together. I am also planning to do bead work on this one, which will add more texture and some flashes of reflection and light.

So you need to use your imagination--this is not the how the finished work will look, but the basic structure is set. An interesting exercise at this point is to take the image to grayscale and see what happens:

Without the colors to distract, the forms become more apparent. There's good sharp contrast in the cyanotype panels. The center of the piece reads lighter, and radiates out to the darker edges. There's enough contrast in the piecing to add interest, but not so much that it's jarring.

I like my work to be interesting and stimulating, but simultaneously be calming and peaceful. It's a fine balance, but I think I'm headed in the right direction with my Big Root Geranium.

Further updates as events warrant......

May 30, 2008

Big Root Geranium, part 3

I've picked out the color palette for the Big Root Geranium. I try to go into this part of the process with an open mind. My ideas and selections are based partly on how the plant looks in nature, but I don't want to limit myself to absolute realism. It's run through the filter of how I think about the plant in relationship to the other plants around it, how it grows throughout the seasons, and how I've interacted with it over the years. The process is hard to describe, but it could best be called "intuitive". If I don't over think it, I get real thrill when I hit on the right combinations for a particular new project.

Here's a bit more of the colors and fabrics I'm working with. It's a combination of silks, commercial cottons, and cottons that I've hand painted and patterned:

May 29, 2008

Big Root Geranium, part 2

I started this new work by making some cyanotype prints. When I want a very fine and crisp level of detail, I sometimes expose them under a sheet of glass. Above is a very artsy shot of the plant and the fabric, with the glass reflecting the sky and the artist.

Exposing the cyanotype fabric to get the desired results is part skill, part serendipity, which is why it holds my interest. From experience I know about how long to time the exposures, but a lot depends variables like the type of fabric, glass/no glass, the thickness of the plant material, the angle and strength of the sun, and even passing clouds. It's an enormous amount of fun to see what develops each time I make a print.

Here's another shot of a print developing:

The treated fabric changes in color as it develops, but the difference between "developed" and "overdeveloped" is sometimes subtle. I'm never quite sure until I rinse out the print how it turned out.

This time, they turned out great! Below is the print from the artsy shot, rinsed out, layered, and stitched. I love the way the flowers are translucent:

More to follow....

May 28, 2008

Big Root Geranium

I've started a new piece based on the big root geranium, Geranium macrorrhizum, a perennial cranesbill (not to be confused with the pelargonium commonly used in planters). This unassuming perennial has grown to be a favorite of mine. It is reliable and undemanding, spreading to form a ground cover that looks good almost year round. The leaves are nicely aromatic when touched, and the flowers and resultant seedpods are attractive and interesting.

A few years ago I did a small quilt based on the related Geranium "Wargrave Pink". It has a more upright growth pattern, the leaves are more deeply cut, and the flowers are simpler in form:

Here's the resultant quilt; the center image is a cyanotype (see more on my website):

And a detail:
The new geranium quilt is shaping up to be larger, and with a very different color palette. Stay tuned.....

May 26, 2008

Sycamore and Shelf Mushroom

The weather has been perfect in every way, and I had a lovely walk down to Grubb Lake. There was a huge shelf mushroom growing on a dying sycamore tree. The fungus was situated directly over a few sprouts the tree was pushing forth, probably to no avail. Here's the full view of the tree:

May 23, 2008

Preparing for Binding

I'm coming down the home stretch with the stitching on the sycamore piece, and it's time to think about finishing the edges. Although there are a lot of alternatives, and a lot of opinions, floating around, I am a big fan of binding my work. I like the opportunity to introduce a narrow band of color, I like the way it stops the eye and directs it back into the work, and I like how crisply it finishes things off. I don't particularly like applying it--it's the one task in my processes that I find picky and annoying, and I would gladly farm it out to an eager intern, if I had one, but I persevere with as perky an attitude as I can muster. Into each life a little rain must fall....

The rain has finally stopped falling in the physical world; it's a bright sunny day and a good opportunity to paint some fabric I will use for the binding. I started with a nice piece of pfd (prepared for dyeing) cotton and drizzled it with fuchsia paint (above).

Next come some areas of green:

These are blended just a bit with a paintbrush:

It's all left to dry in the sun--as it dries, the paint will wick and move around a bit, producing cool effects. It looks really random and fun, and while it is a lot of fun, it's not really random. I am keeping in mind how it will look when it is cut into strips for the binding, and I want a certain ratio and patterning of the colors. From experience I have a pretty good idea how this will all play out, and that's guiding the dribbling and the swooshing.

May 21, 2008

When it's Time to Relax

This is shaping up to be the wettest, and the greenest, spring in recent memory. I am not complaining--rain is far preferable to drought--but it has been a bit cold and dreary. This morning we had a break in the clouds and a bit of warm sunshine, and it was most welcome.

I glanced out the window at one point and was startled to see a squirrel spread out flat on the deck railing. Its legs were hanging down, and its eyes were half closed, and I thought at first it was ill. When I opened the door to get a closer look, it yawned and stretched and nonchalantly trotted off. It had just been enjoying a sunbath! I've been watching squirrels for many years, and this is the first time I've ever seen one chillaxing. Presumably they do rest at times in the trees, but when they venture to the deck they are usually scampering and scurrying. My dear departed dog is no doubt rolling over in her grave at this bit of rodent insolence.

The squirrel's attitude put me in mind of a vintage embroidered dresser scarf I have, seen below:

May 19, 2008

More Sycamore

I spent most of the weekend hunkered down in the studio, watching the rain pour down outside, and adding stitched texture to the sycamore piece. Here's some quick snapshots showing the results so far.

May 17, 2008

The Goddess Kali, or 3rd Time's the Charm

I work very hard at providing a safe haven for wildlife in my small slice of suburbia. I've provided food plants, cover, and water for a spectrum of birds, small animals, and insect life, and I'm scrupulously organic in my maintenance. It's a selfish practice, really, because I get so much pleasure out of discovering and observing all the creatures that visit or live in my micro-environment.

I can't always get it right. A month ago I was doing some renewal pruning on some seriously overgrown arborvitae when I inadvertently toppled a robin's nest. No chicks, thankfully, just eggs, and I turned it into a learning experience for the little girl next door. I knew it was early enough in the season that the robins would try again.

I found their next attempt a few weeks later when I was pruning on the other side of the yard. This time I spotted the nest before it toppled, and relocated it in the same tree, but they abandoned the eggs. I was beginning to feel like the Goddess Kali of my small universe.

Today I found that the robins have relocated again, this time to a safe and time-tested spot under my second-story deck. We've had many robin's nests here; they are sheltered from the weather, safe from cats, and near the steady food source of the veggie garden. This site was the launching pad for the robin featured in my work The Fledgling, and I feel confident this clutch of eggs will also be safely fledged.

In other exciting garden news. I uncovered a eastern spadefoot toad in the veggie garden this morning. I am inordinately fond of toads. I like their attitude. They will hop away if you really pester them, but on the whole they are not prone to panic. They will gaze back at you in an inscrutable way, then go about their business of eating lots and lots of insects. It's instructive to watch an young dog or cat encounter a toad for the first time. It only takes one experience of mouthing it to learn to leave toads strictly alone--they excrete an extremely unpleasant toxin from their skin.

I think they are beautiful and am always thrilled to come across one. Isn't it brilliantly camouflaged?

May 16, 2008

Watt and Shand May update

I continue to chart the progress of the conversion of the former Watt and Shand department store building in Lancaster to a new convention center. I've added the Watt and Shand label on the right so you can look back over the changes if you are so inclined.

This month, the new structure is rising rapidly above the old facade, changing the aesthetic dramatically. The lovely old building is diminishing in visual importance, and it's starting to look like any modern construction project. I'm hoping that the skin of the new section will work as planned to integrate the two sections.

I'm getting itchy to start making cyanotypes of some of these photographs; I have a lot planned for them. Surely there are some warm sunny days ahead when I can do some prints....
I like the vertical elements in the picture below--the lamppost on the left, the crane in the middle,and the Soldiers and Sailors monument on the right.

May 12, 2008

Sycamore update

We've had lots of lovely rain for the past few days. As a gardener, I never complain about the rain. Even when there's an excess, it is still far preferable to drought conditions. And the timing is good, with all the trees coming into leaf. My world is astonishingly green right now.

But it is too wet to work outdoors, so I'm taking a break from the gardening and working in the studio on my Sycamore piece. I'm at the point were I am planning out what I want to do with the quilting. I'm using the fabulous textures and patterns of sycamore bark as my inspiration. I don't want to replicate it exactly, even if that were possible, but to interpret and reference it with the lines of stitching. It's fun to look closely at the bark patterns and get a feel for their shapes, spacing, and repetition.

I'm starting by defining the larger shapes with perle cotton thread. I lay it on the piece, manipulate it, pin it in place, and then couch it down. It's a bit picky, but very satisfying as the shapes begin to take form.

May 7, 2008

Am Fluss/By the River

Back in early 2006, which seems like a very long time ago, there was a request circulating around various fiber and art forums for submissions to a mail art exhibit to be held in Bremen, Germany. The theme was "Am Fluss/By the River"; it looked like a good cause, and I love sending thing off to foreign countries. I had some postcards around at the time, and sent two of them to the organizer. A lot of other artists who I know online did the same.

The cards were all duly noted as they arrived on a blog, which was fun and interesting, but then communications fizzled out, and the promised exhibition book never materialized. I don't waste a lot of time fretting about things out of my control, and I fully understand how creative people can get sidetracked/run out of time/run out of energy, so I let it go.

Lo and behold, the exhibition booklet turned up in the mail last week, with nice documentation and pictures of all the mail art. Better late than never, and I fully appreciate it. Here are my contributions:

May 6, 2008

Hacking away at the Hackberries

When we first acquired this property, many moons ago, it sported one dogwood, a handful of "builder shrubs" (ugly, ill-placed junipers we promptly removed), and a vast empty expanse of grass. I've since spent many a happy hour double-digging beds, planting trees, shrubs, and so on, and it's a shady green oasis now. But those first few years I was very grateful for the wild hackberry trees that edged the yard, where it met the woods. To paraphrase the old blues song, if it wasn't for hackberries, I wouldn't have had no trees at all.

And I'm still happy for them. Although it's widely considered a "trash" tree, a derogatory term used for species without a lot of commercial value, it's an attractive and adaptable tree, and its berries provide food for wildlife. That same wildlife also distributes the seeds very effectively, and I spend a lot of time pulling hackberry seedlings in the garden beds.

They do not give up the fight easily. Even the smallest seedling establishes a long and tenacious taproot that a gentle tug will not dislodge. This is a job that involves digging, sometimes a lot of it, and bad language. And even though I have a sharp eye for this kind of thing, they have the ability to blend in with other foliage and grow heartily before they are noticed. They also tend to grow smack dab in the middle of a shrub, were I can't dig them out, and have to resort to repeated pruning to try and starve them out. Below is shot of one growing in an emerging patch of monarda, where it stands out a bit, but removing it will still be an endeavor.

I'm not really grousing. Digging up hackberry seedlings gives me healthful outdoor exercise, and keeps me off the streets. I admire the hackberries for their energy and enthusiasm, and a few years ago made a postcard-sized piece to pay tribute:

Collages Found a Home

I'm pleased to say that my two collages were acquired, on the first day of the event, by the same generous patron. Thanks, Rose Mary! I know you will be happy with them.

This event raised over $8000 for the American Cancer Society yesterday. There is a lot of beautiful artwork still available today at Fiberart for a Cause. Go treat yourself!

May 2, 2008

Collage Mania!

I am a huge fan of Virginia Spiegel's work, and of her amazing organizational and fundraising skill. I have donated artwork in the past for Fiberart for a Cause, and I am happy to be participating in this year's Collage Mania event. I will quote Virginia to give you some of the details:

"Collage Mania opens this coming Monday, May 5 and continues Tuesday, May 6. You can see the 235 collages donated by more than 100 talented fiber artists from around the world here:

Of course, 100% of the proceeds are donated directly to the American Cancer Society through Fiberart For A Cause. This isn't an auction. Rather all collages will be available, firstcome-first serve, for a minimum donation of $80 on Monday and for a minimum donation of $40 on Tuesday.If you are able to donate a little more, great! As a small incentive, I will be sending one of my collages to the patron who contributes the most to this fundraiser, either for a single collage or in aggregate. Of course, fundraising is the purpose of Collage Mania. But, almost as much, I hope you will look through the collages and perhaps discover an artist new to you and be inspired to add to your art collection."

My "The Last Hurrah #1", above, and "The Last Hurrah #2", below, are on page 10 of the site.