December 31, 2008

Chiques Rock Base Hike

I bundled up and ventured out for a hike recently on the Heritage Trail at the base of Chiques Rock. Back in March I featured some of the spectacular views from the top of the Rock--you can read about it here.

The views from the base are equally dramatic, and I took a lot of detail shots of the rocky outcroppings:

A bit further down the trail is the site of the former Henry Clay Furnace, built in 1845 and abandoned in 1889. It was a bustling industrial site in its day, burning anthracite coal to process locally mined iron ore. Transportation was provided by a canal running alongside the Susquehanna river, and there were buildings to house the workers as well as a tavern. The ruins are impressive:

Here's a detail shot of the interior of the wall:

Further still down the trail is the Point Rock Tunnel, which was carved through 180 feet of solid rock. You can read a fascinating article about abandoned railroad tunnels in Pennsylvania here.

I hiked back up to the Breezyview Overlook just in time to watch the sunset over the Susquehanna. You can see the modern Rt. 30 bridge that is just upriver from the The Old Bridge, as featured in View From The Old Bridge.

December 14, 2008

Order out of Chaos

I had another glorious day of uninterrupted time in the studio to work on the Watt & Shand project. (If you are new here, you can track it back by clicking on "Watt & Shand" under Labels in the right sidebar.) I spent quite a lot of time doing detailed stitching on some of the printed images.

There's a wealth of detail in these images, which is one of the things I love about them, but it makes it challenging when it's time to stitch. I can't possibly stitch everything, partly because I'd go slightly insane, but mostly because if everything is defined, nothing is emphasized. So it's a judgement call, made on the fly because its impossible to preplan except in a general way. I just pick a spot and start stitching. It's very anxiety-inducing at first--so many choices, and what if I mess up--but then, miraculously, I get into a zen zone and it all works out.

This is the first I've done this much architectural work, with all the straight lines and angles, so that took a bit of getting used to as well. I'm more experienced with the fluid shapes of nature, as in the water in The Old Bridge:

Or the trees and bushes in View from Pinnacle Point:

There's a little more latitude for invention there, so I'm glad to have done those first. But I'm pleased with the way the stitching went today, and am getting more and more excited about the possibilities of this emerging series.

I also worked on making strip sets that will be cut up and reassembled into these quilt(s). Here the opposite is required; instead of making order out of chaos, as I did when I picked which lines to stitch, I'm trying to NOT be orderly. It's human nature to want to arrange things into patterns, but that makes for boring strip sets. So the goal here is to arrange things so that they flow, but don't repeat. It's harder than you might think--I have to recognize when I'm falling into a pattern, then rearrange to make more chaos. Here's the results so far:

I'm pleased with this as well. I'm closing in on having all the elements, or building blocks, I need for this quilt(s) ready to go. The next challenge will be finding another block of uninterrupted time to design and assemble them.

December 13, 2008

Don't Try This at Home

I violated just about every guideline for making cyanotype prints this afternoon. This close to the winter solstice, the sun is very low in the sky, even at midday. The temperature was just above freezing. There was some light cloud cover, further diluting the weak sunlight. And the only treated fabric I had left after a season of making prints was bits and pieces, some of them "old", having been treated many moons ago.

Nonetheless, I was jonesing to make some prints of specific images for the Watt & Shand quilt(s), so I gave it my best shot. Judging exposure times under those conditions was tricky at best, but I have a lot of experience at printing in less-than-optimal conditions I( I get impatient, or have plant material that won't keep), and on the whole I was rather pleased with the outcome.

I spent most of the day in the studio, and I am on a bit of a roll. I've been collecting and ruminating over these images for so long, it's really exciting to be working with them and stitching on them.

There's still time --until Dec. 20th--to hop over to the Sue Reno Studio Sale and shop for affordably priced artwork. Why not treat yourself or a friend?

December 9, 2008

The Pequea Silver Mine

Despite the chilly weather, I got out for a hike at the site of the Pequea Silver Mine.  The site is  a township park, with easy walking trails through woods, open areas, and along the Pequea Creek. (You can see where the Pequea Creek meets the Susquehanna River in my previous post here.)

Here's an old lime kiln on the property, where limestone was burned to make quicklime for mortar:

The stonework is gorgeous:

Here's the entrance to the actual mine, now bricked over and gated for safety reasons. There's a shot of it before it was gated, along with all a wealth of geological and historical information, here.

Even in winter, there's lots of interesting things to be seen if you keep a sharp eye out. I found this mullein rosette covered with tiny ice crystals, probably from dew freezing on the fine hairs covering the leaves:

Here's the distinctive seed pod of Jimson weed:

I came across something I'd never seen before. A huge tree burl was weeping sap, and the sap had formed a large icicle. I love this picture, with the burl, the sap-cicle, the blue lichen on the lower part of the tree trunk, and the creek in the background:

Here's a closer view:

And the extreme closeup, where it looks a bit like pulled taffy. It was slightly sticky to the touch.

December 3, 2008

Picking colors, Inate Ability, and Talent

I had a lovely time this morning picking fabrics and colors to use in the Watt & Shand work(s) in progress. (If you are new here, you can track back by clicking on Watt & Shand under "labels" in the right sidebar.) Not all of these will make it into the final work; there will be additions and subtractions as I go along, but I'm happy that I've established the basic color palette. It looks a bit muted, perhaps, laid out like this, but rest assured that it will evolve into something more energetic. That's the potential downside of showing work in progress--I know where it's headed, but it might not look like much to you. I'm willing to take that risk in the hope that it's still interesting watching the process unfold.

I work very hard at what I do, both in terms of time put in and effort expended; I take this job very seriously. But picking colors is so much fun because it's not hard at all. It's clear and obvious what's needed, and thrilling when I find it in the stash, or paint or print it to fit. I am lucky in that I was born with a good color sense, just like some people are born with perfect musical pitch. I can take no credit for developing it, it's just there.

I once walked into a fabric store and got all excited (yes, I'm easily amused) at finding an acid green and hot pink solid cotton in hues I hadn't seen in commercial fabrics for a long time. It reminded me of a print dress I had sewn for myself way back in the late sixties. When I dug the scraps out of my mother's attic it was a perfect match for the newly acquired solids, and I learned that my color memory accurately goes back for decades. Here's a bit of the print:

And a small quilt it inspired, called "Painted Daisy", with a cyanotype on cotton. I used the print scraps for the backing of the quilt, which is now residing in Scotland.

But I digress.....and I'll wander a bit further before bringing it back around. I know a man who is a natural with dogs; they admire him and want to please and obey him. When he is out and about, dogs show up from who-knows-where to keep him company and do his bidding. I, on the other hand, despite being a great admirer of the canine race, was not born with the ability to command their respect, and it was a source of discontent and inconvenience to me. With my last dog, I made a concerted effort to be the leader of the pack, working on changing my voice and cadence, my stance and the non-verbal cues so important to dogs, and even my expectations of obedience. It was a long process, but eventually I gained the skills I needed. I am probably prouder of getting a dog to take me seriously and "sit", than I am of being able to go fabric shopping without swatches.
So. Which is more valuable, an innate skill, or a laboriously acquired one? Which is more meaningful? Which type of skill is more likely to drive one to create and excel? Is it better to be the musician who practices every day and faces down stage fright each night, or the one who takes their talent so much for granted they squander it?
Ideally, of course, we balance the talents that come easily with the ones we had to work for to make a harmonious whole, but that's easier said than done. Personally, I have a tendency to work with such focus I forget to have fun. Picking out fabrics today was fun.

December 1, 2008

Sue Reno Studio Sale

I've started a companion blog at Sue Reno Studio Sale. I'm offering a wide assortment of affordably priced fiberart work at sale prices for a limited time. Everything is a one-of-a-kind original made here in my home studio, featuring some of my favorite botanical subjects. I hope you will take a look, and find something just right as a gift or a special treat for yourself.

And please pass the link along to anyone who might be interested. Thanks!