Thursday, December 27, 2012

Sky cloth: hits and misses

Sky fabric for my next Cityscape?

Making my most recent cityscape, Montmartre #1, I began with a beautifully mottled, pale grey hand-dye for the sky, shown at left. Because it wasn't the right shape, I cut it apart and re-stitched it so that it fit. I told myself I could live with two vertical seams in the sky.

I couldn't.

Mid-way through the project, I stopped to dye six different pale greys, finally settling on something called "nickel". It was okay, but it didn't have the beautiful mottling that suggests clouds in the sky.

I had tried ice dyeing this past summer (see my post of September 9) and was struck by the unusual patterning produced with this method. "What if," I wondered, "I used different grey dyes to produce a sky with subtle colours and an interesting, mottled texture?"

It was not a success. I was reminded that grey dyes are often created by mixing together dyes in complementary colours. What looks like a grey dye when dissolved in water is actually made of granules of different dyes: yellow, blue, red, orange, green, etc. If the powdered dye is applied directly to wet cloth, it splits into its various components. So, while the result was vibrant and interesting, even psychedelic, it wasn't the sky I had in mind.

Today I tried some low immersion dyeing, again using pale greys. This time I limited myself to charcoal, nickel, and safari grey, alone and in combination. This technique uses a small amount of liquid, and little agitation of the fabric. The result is more or less mottled, depending on the amount of agitation. Only 1/16 tsp of dye to a half-yard of cotton.

Of course I could paint cloth to look like sky, but I do like the serendipitous textures achieved with low immersion dyeing.

I'm excited about refining my dyeing skills in an on-line class in January with Elizabeth Barton, through Quilt Liz is a very skilled teacher, and promises to show us how to best use our hand-dyed fabrics, patterned and solid, light and dark, bright and dull, warm and cool. The class is titled Dyeing to Design, and is now fully registered, but will be offered again in April. And I have subscribed to the dyer's list, a forum for dyers, beginners and experts alike. I have a lot to learn.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Montmartre #1

Beginning with my photo taken in Montmartre this fall,

I made a line drawing, 18" x 24",

and then translated it into hand-dyed cotton and a black line of stitching.

I already have a second drawing done of another Montmartre roofline, and hope to realize it in the same neutral palette soon.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Colour games

Can you believe these were all painted with the same colours? It's (kinda) true!

Spent a couple of hours this week trying out an exercise in colour mixing from David Hornung's "Colour: A Workshop for Artists and Designers". This is an excellent book, and I have tried a few of the suggested activities, some with my text'art friends.
painted with raw colours from the tube
I began by painting a colour study in flat colours, using gouache paint straight from the tube: deep yellow, light green, sky blue, ultramarine, violet and scarlet. The effect is rather Fauvist. I personally love the Fauves, especially Matisse.
Using the original palette, but adding a bit of burnt sienna
Then I mixed each of these pigments with a small amount of an "admixture", an earth tone of burnt sienna, and reproduced the study using these modified colours. This is called an "altered palette", and it is supposed to produce more unity of colour.
Using the original palette, but adding a bit of yellow ochre 

For my next experiment, I started with the original pigments and added a small amount of another earth tone, yellow ochre. You can see the effect above. Of course, much depends on just how much of the "admixture" is added. Also, although earth tones are the usual choice for the admixture, anything could be used, including black and white. For the exercise, you want to have enough of the original colour that it retains its identity.
Original palette, with neutral grey #4 added

Finally, I added Neutral Grey #4 to each of the original paints, to produce the result above.

For those of us working in cloth, these ideas can be implemented by overdyeing fabric, or simply by choosing colours that are both muted and related. You could even mess around with some paint before choosing your fabrics, matching fabric to the study in paint.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

El Anatsui and the High Line

Last week we took advantage of some remarkably mild weather to walk the High Line in New York. This is a linear, elevated park built on an old rail line, a couple of storeys above the neighbourhoods of Chelsea and the Meatpacking District. It stretches from 14th to 30th Streets, and offers wonderful views of the bustling city below. It's an oasis of tranquility in the heart of all that urban energy.

The High Line is tended by volunteers, and its gardens are filled with about two hundred plant species. In the garden soil you can see the steel tracks of the former railroad. The paving stones make the High Line easy to walk, and there are frequent and varied clusters of seating for those who wish to take a break. Visitors are intrigued by a number of art installations along the path.

One of the most recent works of art is Broken Bridge II, by my favourite Nigerian sculptor, El Anatsui. It measures 157 feet wide and 37 feet high. Made of pressed tin and mirrors, it forms a wall that reflects the sky and the buildings of the neighbourhood. The rusted metal is a patchwork of overlapping squares and rectangles.

To find out more about the public art on the High Line, click here.

Monday, December 10, 2012

NYC exhibitions

Art Basel Miami Beach coincided with my trip to New York, so the galleries were very quiet. But there was still lots to see.

Pierre Cardin
Pierre Cardin dress, 1968
There were the secondary shows like the exhibit at the Fashion Institute of Technology, exploring the relationship between technological advances and fashion. It spanned quite a range: from split skirts for women cyclists of the late 19th century all the way to LED fabrics for today's "connected" fashionistas.

125 Icons JPG

The Pratt Institute has staged an impressive showcase of 125 products of its faculty and alumni, produced over its 125-year history. Included are the Chrysler Building, the Cuisinart, and the logo of Life magazine.

Self-Portrait: Marion Greenwood, 1954
Self-portrait, Marion Greenwood, 1954

The National Academy Museum had a fascinating show titled "Her Own Style: An Artist's Eye with Judith Shea". Curator and sculptor Shea chose more than thirty portraits of women artists from the museum's collection, to illuminate the place of women in the world of art, and what it has meant over the years to be a female artist.

There was even a display of Lion King costumes in the Theatre District.

Picasso, Woman in White, 1923

But the heavy-hitters were also on display. 

At the Guggenheim, Picasso: Black and White runs until January 23. Though I wasn't able to take photos, the Guggenheim offers an on-line gallery with some 22 works from the show.

Earlier paintings include those from the Blue and Rose Periods, which have surprisingly little colour. Picasso is quoted in the show as saying that colour weakens a painting. Some of his most powerful works, including Guernica, are painted with no colour at all. 

This reminds me of the importance of value in art: even when one uses colour, the darks and lights are critical to how the work is seen. I found it interesting too that some of the paintings on display are in fact charcoal line drawings on a background of cream-coloured oil paint. I was reminded of how lyrical Picasso's drawn lines can be.

Matisse, Laurette Seated on a Pink Armchair, 1916-1917

At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Matisse: In Search of True Painting runs until March 17. The exhibit focuses on how Matisse would often return to a completed painting and redo it, in the exact same size, changing the composition or the style. He was frustrated that critics thought of his painting as spontaneous, without deliberation. To illuminate his process, he held a show at the Galerie Maeght in Paris, in December 1945, that featured six of his paintings. Accompanying each painting were a dozen or so black and white photos of the work in progress, showing how radical changes were made in the composition from day to day. The photos were as large as the paintings themselves. This show is especially interesting for those who work in series. Images from the show can be found here.

George Bellows, Cliff Dwellers, 1913

George Bellows was a member of the Ashcan School, an American Realist, and a contemporary of Edward Hopper. Seeing his exhibition at the Met was a revelation. "Featuring some one hundred works from Bellows's extensive oeuvre, this landmark loan exhibition is the first contemporary survey of the artist's career in nearly half a century." Bellows died at the age of 42 in 1925, and one can only wonder what he would have accomplished had he not died so young. I enjoyed his gritty cityscapes, depicting tenement life on the Lower East Side. 

Andy Warhol, Self-Portrait, 1967

Lastly, another exhibition at the Met, Regarding Warhol: Sixty Artists, Fifty Years explores the influence of Andy Warhol's work on his contemporaries and on artists of today, making a case for him as the Most Influential Artist of the 20th century. Yes, perhaps even more influential than Picasso. 

His themes of consumerist culture, of celebrity, of sexuality and gender, and of appropriation and his exploration of converging media all foreshadow today's art scene. 

Many works from the show are available here.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The artquilt gallery - NYC

Today I visited the City Quilter, a 4000-square-foot emporium of cotton fabrics and quilting supplies, located in Chelsea. They stock an amazing array of cottons, including a special section of New York-themed prints. About a quarter of their space is devoted to the artquilt gallery, which displays the work of Colorado-based artist Judi Blaydon until December 15.
Sub Rosa: Aquifer, 52" x 52", commercial and hand-dyed fabrics, beads, machine-pieced, machine- and hand-quilted
Judy's work shows a masterful understanding of colour. Her lines of hand-quilting add another layer of complexity to her abstract compositions.

Sub Rosa: Plateau, 70" x 53", hand-dyed fabrics, beads, machine-pieced, machine- and hand-quilted
Her compositions are subtle and sophisticated, using a good variety of scale and a rhythmic repetition of shape.
Sub Rosa: Venice II, 54" x 54", custom-dyed and painted fabrics, beads, machine-pieced, hand-quilted, machine satin-stitched 
It is gratifying to see art quilts displayed well, in a brightly-lit gallery, in a neighbourhood known for  its creative energy. One hopes that galleries and exhibits like this will help to promote appreciation of fibre as an art medium.

Sub Rosa: Curtain, 63" x 52", commercial and hand-printed cotton, beads, machine-pieced, hand-quilted, 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Jerry at the Cottage

This week, my Twelve by the Dozen group unveiled our 12" x 12" fibre pieces on the theme of "Threads". Above is my contribution, a portrait of my father-in-law, based on a sketch made almost forty years ago. The sketch was one of a series done for an undergrad class, and is not unlike the drawings I am making now for my Cityscapes series. So in a sense, I am "picking up the thread" all these years later. Jerry passed away in 1980, but because of the "ties that bind", we can still recognize him and remember him in this portrait, made as he sat in his favourite spot, watching football on TV. Looking a lot like his son Ron, my husband. Another thread.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Fibre Arts at Concordia

Born too soon! When I studied for my BFA many years ago, I always tried to submit assignments in fibre whenever possible. This was not always welcomed or understood by some of the teachers. How things have changed!

Last week, four members of our text'art group toured the impressive studio facilities at my alma mater, Concordia, which offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees in "Fibres and Material Practices". We were privileged to be guided by Professor Barbara Layne, whose recent work is in clothing that incorporates wireless and LED technologies and bio-sensing devices.

The university calendar says, "Students are introduced to processes which include silkscreen printing, dyeing, weaving, digital imaging, papermaking, feltmaking, knitting, computer assisted weaving, embellishment, public interventions, sculptural and installation practices. Digital technologies are integrated into the program through digital imaging software and the use of computer assisted textile production systems." Prof. Layne said the courses are so popular that they could easily be filled twice over.

Our group has been lucky enough to visit two other textile schools in Montreal, both associated with the CEGEP de Vieux-Montréal: the CRDITM, which specializes in the design and printing of textiles, and the CTCM, which teaches weaving, knitting, embroidery and computer-assisted design. These programmes are more production-based than the university programs, which include courses in theory, history, and the place of fibre in the contemporary art scene, as well as elective courses in other studio arts (drawing, printmaking, painting, ceramics, etc.)

Do you know what's playing at your local university or college?

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Baby quilt

Suffering with left-brain fatigue from all those cityscapes, I have flung myself into making a baby quilt for my cousin's new grandchild.

It was a joy to work with bright colours, bold prints and wonky circles. I used a technique by Beryl Taylor, which is no doubt completely unsuitable for a baby quilt, as it features lots of raw edges. Perhaps as a wallhanging in the nursery? It has been several years since I have ventured to use a traditional binding, and I cringe to think just how much I have forgotten about making one. Another learning experience.

I have a shocking amount of these brightly-coloured cottons stashed away. No doubt there will be more baby quilts to make in the coming years.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

World of Threads: Art Quilts

Kit Vincent, "Lift"
Art quilts (two or three layers with stitching, say) formed a small part of the work on display at this year's World of Threads Festival.

Of the photos I took, Kit Vincent's works would perhaps qualify as the most obvious representations of this art form. Kit uses hand-dyed cloth and stitch to make abstract, complicated, visually-layered work.

The variation of colour achieved by hand-dyeing adds depth to the imagery. Kit skillfully constructs ghost-like layers of machine stitch, offset from the solid cloth shapes, to create a sense of movement. As the coloured thread moves from a matching background to a contrasting background, transparencies are revealed.

Kit Vincent, "Bel Canto"

Remarkably, Kit's work appears to be pieced in a traditional way, with no raw edges or evidence of fusing.

Four of Kit's beautiful, highly-coloured works were on display at the Queen Elizabeth Park Community and Cultural Centre, as part of the "Variegated Threads" show.

Micaela Fitzsimmons, "The Road Home"

In the same venue, Micaela Fitzsimmons uses traditional piecing techniques, but introduces paint or ink with printed imagery to add a new element.

Judy Martin, "Light of the Moon"

Judy Martin had several works in different shows. This piece on the right has some elements of the traditional quilt, including a grid-like visual structure. Additionally, paint, couching, hand-stitching and buttons are used to add layers of visual interest.

Judy's work often features a large circle motif.

Jennie Wood, "Silent Past, Future Fear"

Jennie Wood introduces raw-edge appliqué in her take on the art quilt. Also, paint, paper, lutradur and image transfer add to the complexity of the piece at left.

Susan Strachan Johnson, "Journey"

Finally, one of my favourite pieces in the whole Festival, the painterly "Journey" by Susan Strachan Johnson, shows an art quilt that has moved well into the realm of mixed media. Saved from being overly-sweet by some darker overtones, this work employs subtle layering, stitch and found objects to make a poignant statement. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

World of Threads: Groupings of Small Pieces

Do you have many small pieces, perhaps made as samples? I saw several works at the World of Threads which may have begun in just this way. I think the way they were grouped for display was very effective.
"Postcards from the Scrap Heap",  Joanne Young

Above is Joanne Young's "Postcards from the Scrap Heap", on view at the Joshua Creek Heritage Art Centre. Each piece in the coherent group was stitched to a strip of burlap, as shown in the detail shot below.

"Postcards from the Scrap Heap", Joanne Young, detail

Dianne Gibson's "Strata" was shown in the wonderful "Pentimento" show, at the O'Connor McLeod Hanna building in Oakville. Each of these cloth squares was wrapped around what appeared to be foam core, then affixed to a square, black ceramic tile. The tiles were mounted on strips in groups of three, and were available for sale as a unit of three, or as a grouping of twelve. Very appealing.

"Strata", Dianne Gibson

Also in the "Pentimento" show, this work by Maggie Vanderweit is composed of nine smaller squares, stitched together to form a cohesive whole. It is made of cotton and foil, and is both hand- and machine-stitched.

"Totem Graffiti", Maggie Vanderweit
Quoting from the show's posted statement:

"Pentimento is a term used to describe how painters change their ideas during the process of making art, often switching the subject matter and painting over the original idea. The layers of underpainting remain but are hidden beneath the surface.

"Connections artists have taken this theme and built up layers of fibres, thread, stitching, paint, dyes and other materials.Then the surfaces have been altered or peeled away to create a visual erosion. The image behind the colors and textures reveals its own story."

The owners of this building are to be applauded for the way they have opened up the hallways of their office building for the exhibition of local art. They have invested in hanging hardware and lighting to allow for a very professional display, with all the work shown to its best advantage. I think this is a fine way to "humanize" a commercial enterprise, and integrate it into the community.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

World of Threads: Sculpture and Assemblage

I may never make a piece of sculpture or assemblage, but I was fascinated to see what others can do in this medium when I visited the World of Threads Festival this week in Oakville and Toronto.

Montrealer Emily Jan constructed "Dürer's Rhinoceros", using resin for the head and repurposed textiles of all kinds for the body. The form was not stuffed, but was made fully dimensional by suspending it at various points from the ceiling. It was shown at the Joshua Creek Heritage Art Centre.

Megan Q. Bostic of Raleigh, North Carolina, had two pieces in the Festival. The piece on the left is titled "The First Year of Grief: Every day never feels like the yesterday I need it to." It took Megan a year to make this, and it is composed of 365 pieces of silk organza, as well as wax, waxed linen thread, powdered drink mix, and tea. Megan made this piece in response to her mother's death. It was part of the Memento Mori exhibit at Sheridan College.

Megan's second piece, "Stale Hope: Too Much Was Never Enough", was displayed at the Quiet Zone show at the Queen Elizabeth Park Community and Cultural Centre.
It is made of dental floss, plastic vinyl, bubble wrap, baby wipes, coffee grounds, twine and aluminum wire.

These haunting sculptures are by Camilla Geary-Martin, "Shroud #12", "Shroud #28", and "Shroud #8". They were shown at the Memento Mori show, and are made using a lost wax technique with woven metal.

Alice Vander Vennen had several beautiful assemblages in three shows. She uses copper, upholstery fabric and found objects in her work, assembled with machine stitching. The piece at left is "Totem 4". These pieces are framed and mounted under glass.

Finally, I was very taken with a work made of stiff white collars. Suspended from the ceiling, they looked like a flock of birds rising from a corn field. Their cast shadows on the white wall added another layer to the experience.

Sharon Moodie's "White Collar Boys" was showing at gallerywest in Toronto.

Many other fascinating sculptural pieces are on view at the show, but at some venues photos were not allowed.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

World of Threads Festival

Very excited to travel to Oakville and Toronto this coming week, to attend the World of Threads Festival. With 195 artists from 12 countries and shows in 21 venues, this event has been three years in the making. Featured media include sculpture, installation, earth works, quilting, paper work, felting, mixed media, conceptual work, performance and many others.

For almost two years I have enjoyed my subscription to the World of Threads series of weekly artist interviews. The archive of these 83 interviews is a wonderful resource. For those new to fibre art, it is an intriguing glimpse into the infinite possibilities of fibre as a medium. 

Looking forward to sharing some fabulous finds!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Christmas cards

It's that time of year again, when I sit down and try to come up with a fresh idea for my hand-made Christmas cards. These are little quilts,  measuring 4" x 6", backed with paper, and sent through the mail like post cards, without benefit of protective wrapper or envelope. I like to think of them traveling through the postal system, whether to Tucson or Oxfordshire, bringing a small delight to those handling the mail, and a smile to the recipient.

I use materials that I have on hand, and sometimes I continue with a theme that I'm working on at the time. Because I make two dozen or more, I don't want them to be too complicated.


This year, I began with hand-dyed cotton, and used a stencil with pearlescent acrylic paint for the tree. The cotton was backed with batting before being machine stitched with silver thread to emphasize the lines of the tree. Then I heat-fixed some crystals onto the surface.

I used a heavy watercolour paper for the third layer, and zigzag stitched the perimeter with the silver thread.


They are reasonably stiff, enough to weather their trip, and the paper will easily accept my scribbled greeting and address.

The Tuscan-themed edition of 2011 had no stitching other than the edge finish, but featured image transfer and multiple stamping on hand-painted cotton. I used a heavyweight interfacing for this one: because there was no quilting, there was no advantage to using batting.

The 2010 special was an extension of my Love, Love, Love theme. It had a Victorian feel, complete with antique buttons, pearls and lace and vintage-style photos. This version was a little too thick to pass the test for thinness at the post office, but once it was sheathed in a plastic wrapper, it was a go.

Of course it's too early for seasonal greetings, but it is satisfying to know I have a little stack all made and ready for their journey.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Show at Hudson Community Centre

I promise.... This is the last posting about showing my work for 2012. I have had six shows in five weeks, and frankly it's time for more making and less showing. Certainly less talk about showing. I have even turned down an opportunity for a group show later this month. Enough!

Michele Meredith and I will be exhibiting our fibre and mixed-media work at the Stephen F. Shaar Community Centre, 394 Main Road, Hudson, Quebec, November 2 - 29. The centre is open during regular office hours, and also sometimes evenings and weekends. Please phone 450-458-6699 to confirm if in doubt.

I will be showing recent work from my Tuscany and Cityscapes series. Thank you to all friends and family who have shown their support by coming to the various vernissages and to the Studio Tour. It has meant a lot to me.