Saturday, December 31

Ending on a good note

In this last week of 2011 I spent most of my daytime with my Winter Camp kids  at NLArts and most of my night time stitching away. The project I was most pleased with at Winter camp was our winter bird sculptures. The kids made a paper and tape armature and wrapped it in plaster gauze. They painted their sculptures (which would have turned out better if the sculptures had been dried overnight instead of  just for 2 hours or so), and arranged them in a flower pot/stick/rocks setting.
A cardinal in a nest of plastic leaf vines

a duck and pigeon

a graceful chickadee

Our city kids were most familiar with sparrows and pigeons, which are ever-present, but we also had an owl and even a squirrel on a branch (not a winter bird, but anyway).
 Today I brought the final addition to my organza piece over to Wendy Osterweil's studio. This is part of a collaborative wall of tree/skin textures she wanted as part of her Painted Bride exhibit in January and February. I spent a couple of hours on the final assembly and a few extra details, but here it is:

 If time and organza supply had allowed this could have kept on growing indefinitely. It reminds me of driftwood. It reminded Wendy of a bird with swooping tailfeathers. I loved how substantial in scale yet delicate in presence it became. Working on this piece was very freeing- I let it happen and "listened" to the organza. I didn't worry so much about any raw edges or "mistakes". I let it grow as big as it had to be and didn't feel weighed down by the scale and pressure to make something large. The final dimensions are about 10 feet wide by about 4 feet high. I felt unconstrained by the rectangle or grid, and allowed it to take on organic perimeters as a somewhat sculptural piece. I can't wait to see the entire exhibit installed with my contribution included.
the beginnings
 The major work of this week was this little piece. It started with the square of pieced scraps from my gran. On Monday I finished up all the reverse applique windows of various dimensions.They are loosely based on a map of my neighborhood. Last night and tonight I worked till the wee hours filling the entire space with concentric rings of running stitch. Red lines spring from the top circle and fill to the edges and 2 smaller black rings expand from the left and right center. I think I might call it "repercussions". On Wednesday night there was a huge fight with a heavy police response on the corner of my block. I think it might have played a factor in the direction of this piece...
the endings- "Repercussions' (still needs binding)
It has been a tough but rewarding year. I survived student teaching and now am certified to be an art teacher. I completed my thesis and will soon receive my Master's degree diploma. My daughter now attends a middle school where she is flourishing and more herself than I remember her being at her old school. I exhibited work in a museum. I've had numerous opportunities to teach and work with children. Many, many prayers have been answered (with a YES for once!). In this last week of the year I can give great thanks for all the opportunities I've had, for friendships and family, for creativity and inspiration, for the generosity and kindness of others. Thanks for reading this year.

Sunday, December 25

Merry Christmas!

 We save decorations for Christmas Eve- It makes it more special I think when it's not up for a whole month. I have a tiny tabletop tree and I let my daughter pick out the ornaments this year- many of them are handmade from years past.
 The windows are covered in snowflakes (my mother cut and laminated- the images in them tell the Jesse tree story) and some bright Waldorf stars made of origami paper. I got the pattern here.
 We made some origami garlands too. My daughter folded 24 paper cranes and I made a string of stars. The black and grey star is not a waldorf one, but the end-product looks similar. I like garlands- they really make things look festive.
 One of the presents I received this morning was a Frido Kahlo finger puppet my daughter thought I should have. It was made by Abbey Christine and can be found on Etsy if you need your own. She wasn't sure if I'd like it, but I think things like this are great gifts for art teachers! I can't wait till I have an opportunity to use it with some kids.
My creative forces are being directed towards the kitchen now- I'm the official dessert baker for family dinners. I think this is my 99th post of the year. I'll make one more sometime this week to make an even 100 for 2011.
I hope everyone is enjoying the holiday, making things and spending time with friends and family.

Thursday, December 22

letting things happen

I have so much I could be doing. I thought finishing grad school would mean lots of time opening up, but lots of other things have filled in the negative space already! Looking forward to the next few months brings a solo exhibit, 3 shows I need a piece ready for, and a new opportunity to curate an exhibit. Making enough work is now filling my mind. Unfortunately, my mental energy has been so much on thesis and residency work that there hasn't been much room for thought on artwork.

Last night I sprung out of bed at 1am, rifled through my scrap bin and found a hand-dyed handkerchief i didn't know was in there. I quickly ironed it and pinned it to the square of pieced vintage fabric from my Gran's stash that has been pinned to my design board for a year now. That was enough to let me go back to sleep. Sometimes having the "studio" at home is a good thing.
This morning I basted the two fabrics together and grabbed scissors, needle, and thread to bring along on a road trip. We took a little family day up to Ellis island and the Statue of Liberty. Two hours in the car allowed me to begin some reverse applique on my fabric sandwich. The problem with the pieced square was that it was too busy to accept decorative stitching on top. The soft pinkish/yellow cotton over top provides some resting points and structure over the randomness of pattern. I'm not planning this one out. I'm going to let it become what it wants to become.

 Maybe something organic will get superimposed on the double grid of piecing and reverse applique. Winter trees are calling out to me again.
 Here's Lady Liberty peeking through the trees.
The solstice light was too dim for the ride back home to stitch. But for the shortest "day" of the year I feel happy and productive.

Monday, December 12

Winterbird collage project

This week I'm getting ready for an ornament workshop with a crew of 4th graders to be hosted over at the Northern Liberties Community Center/NLArts. One of the ideas I came up with was a "Winter Birds" ornament. I've drawn 7 different birds that are commonly seen in Pennsylvania during the winter months, including blue jays, chickadees (both shown below), sparrows, red-breasted woodpeckers, cardinals, titmice, and the ever-present pigeon. We'll use the bird templates I've made and magazine collage paper to create colorful birds with a small clothespin to attach them to a tree.
Start with a piece of rectangular cardstock (I used cereal boxes) that is slightly larger than the template, find magazine images that fit the coloring of each bird (look for interesting textures), and glue magazine pieces to both sides of cardstock with a gluestick, trace template onto magazine/card sandwich and cut out. Extra collage elements can be added on to make birds more dimensional or detailed.Use white glue or hot glue to attach bird to small spring-clothespin.

To see all 7 birds and get the templates click here for a pdf. I've never offered a pdf before-I hope this works!
I'm intending this for 4th graders (they should have decent scissor skills), but even my 6th grader thought this was a fun project.

Sunday, December 11

Quaker Medallion

Last year I wrote a paper about Quaker schoolgirl needlework for my History of Art Education course. My professor mentioned recently how much she enjoyed that particular topic, (perhaps wondering why I didn't expand on it for my thesis) so I decided to make a little medallion for her as a parting gift. All my grades are in and I'll be officially granted my Master's degree in January! Goodbye Academia!

Anyway, back to the medallion.
Medallions like these show up in the samplers from the Ackworth Friends School in England. As 18th-19th century Friends were quite the travelers, these designs spread quickly among Quaker schools from England to America. The ornate medallions may seem to contradict the "plain-ness" expected of Quaker needlework, but their monochrome colors still make them acceptable. They are often seen as half-medallions around the border of a sampler, but the half-medallions are easily adapted into a full circle.
 I generally dislike doing cross-stitch, but it was kind of fun to follow this radial design. I really only used the pattern for the first quarter, and then just copied the quadrants. I used the pdf pattern available on Needleprint, a wonderful resource for Quaker schoolgirl designs. I left out some of the doodads in the pattern and used the remaining negative space for a monogram. With only the botom part filled in it has taken on a slightly heart-shape! I used a slightly variegated red/red-violet DMC thread for some subtle color shift that makes it look a bit older or more handmade, on a tan aida cloth for an antique look. I expect to turn it into a little stuffed ornament- now if only I had a bit of red and white toile for the back- it would be perfect.
This kind of monochrome stitching makes me want to get back into some blackwork....

Saturday, December 10

Art and about

Normally I'm teaching on all the official opening nights around town, but since we have a bit of a break now, I was able to make it out this past Thursday night for "Second Thursdays" at the Crane building. It was a perfect night out with my family (they found quite a bit of amusement along the way while I checked out the art). It was also a great surprise to see art by some friends plus a huge exhibit of children's artwork!
 Printmaker Rebecca Gilbert was showing work in the Inliquid hall. I first fell in love with Rebecca's work when she was showing at Nexus a few years ago, and I own a small woodblock print of hers. These blew me away, though, because her woodblock technique has become so refined as to give them the appearance of soft watercolors. Most of these prints, she said had around 12 layers- her color gradations are therefore so subtle that the edges of the reductions are almost imperceptible! Another formal aspect  I enjoyed was the use of shadowboxes and cut layers of prints to create a relief image. It echoes her process of carving into the wood to make the prints, and then carving up the prints again to prove the layers. Her larger pieces were cut out and mounted on foamcore, which gives them a more demanding presence than if they had remained confined inside their paper boundaries.
 The panning image, below, was especially impressive.  I enjoyed her concepts, too. The imagery included panning for gold, coins, mud pies with buried treasure, and a child building an intricate worm house. To me it spoke of creativity, innocence, and wishful thinking, but also a kind of naivete about how money is made or life is sustained.
 In the University of Delaware Gallery there was a group show entitled "Decadence". I was pleasantly surprised to find the work of Pazia Mannella, a former fibers instructor of mine at Tyler. She had one of her zipper pieces upstairs, but downstairs was an installation in shocking fluorescent pink.
One first sees a curtain of crocheted plastic spilling onto the floor. The irregularity of the netting reminds me of camouflage, but the color screams for attention. The color and the inclusion of a few plastic hair barrettes in equally bright colors have a girliness to them. Behind the curtain there was a wall piece of crocheted plastic encrusted with the hair barrettes. I preferred the density of the barrettes on the wall pieces over the random addition of barrettes on the curtain, for when amassed they transform from object into texture. This kind of hair barrette are found in litter all over the city- they snap open quite easily. They remind me of certain students I've had with their hair plaited into hundreds of braids, each with one of these barrettes on the ends making music as they walk or turn their heads. 
 They create a fascinating texture together. I'm reminded of Sonya Clark's use of haircombs. I'm excited to see some new everyday materials in Pazia's work, and I wonder what she'll incorporate next.
 Also in the exhibit was a pedestal covered in cake plates and cloches. Upon each was a beautiful "cake" made of fire crackers by Timothy Belknap , another instance of the transformation of the ordinary into the extraordinary. I'm reminded of birthday candles that can't be blown out, as well as the "can't have your cake and eat it too" analogy. We can have the beautifully constructed cake or we could have a sizzling display.
 The Ice Box  and Gray space were taken over by the Mural Arts Program Artists-in-residence and their student work. It took a moment to understand that the work in the Ice Box was indeed children's artwork. Many children's art exhibitions try to jam as much of each student's artwork in at once so everyone is represented. This was installed more like a gallery installation of professional artists- very well-edited. The dynamic installations show the power of collaboration and creativity that can occur in a residency.
 The "ransom note" above was about 8 x10 feet big. I wonder if it was done on parachute cloth and we're seeing it before its final installation on site. I was excited by all the variety of color, pattern, and typography in it.
 These 2 pieces reminded me SO MUCH of the "weight of the world" project I did with my high school kids last spring- object drawings in charcoal and figures collaged together! They're amazing. I want to go back and look some more at the individual drawings.
 My favorite piece by one of the residency artists was this one by Marcus Balum. This was the piece I saw that made me want to go home and WORK. It's the scale I want to be working at. It's cityscape. It's exactly what I needed to see that night.

The opening reception for the Mural Arts exhibit will actually be next Thursday, December 15th. I highly recommend going to see it.

It's so great to be going out to see art again! Now that my thesis is finished and grad school is coming to a close I feel so free to work on my own stuff, see friends again, and get out and about. It's wonderful!

Friday, December 9

Looking for texture

I spent the morning with a friend in the conservatory at Longwood Gardens down in the Brandywine Valley (someday I wish I can live down there...). It's a hot and humid building to escape to on a cold day. It was bright and sunny out and the light throughout the greenhouse was gorgeous. Especially in the "silver garden" full of cacti and succulents. They have such interesting textures- it's always a favorite spot to photograph

 Lots of the ferns are in hanging baskets over the pathways around the conservatory. The root systems are as interesting as the foliage...

I've been thinking about pattern and texture a lot as I prep for the silkscreen on fabric class I'll be teaching in the winter. Maybe something here will inspire me...

Thursday, December 8

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...

I woke up this morning and decided to be productive. Shouldn't every day start off that way? Well, I intend to every day, but things don't always work out like that. TODAY, they did. I finally got some signs edited, printed, and laminated for the silkscreen studio at Fleisher, and then headed over for a day of printing. When I'm working in the silkscreen studio I always marvel at how much I can get done. It's the accomplishment that comes with the mentality of "going to work", which I lack when I'm working on art at home. Ah if only I could afford a real studio- imagine what I could get done!
 After finally finishing up the Y and K layers of a print I've been working on a 4-color process image I decided to make my Christmas cards as well! I cut down a sheet of 30x22 Rives BFK to get 20 pieces of 5x6. The final card dimension is 3x5 to fit into envelopes I already had. I made a simple flat stencil from contact paper to print a snowy hill on the inside of the card. I drew the 3 trees for the outside and wrote out the lyrics of "In the Bleak Midwinter" (my favorite Christmas hymn) for the inside on 2 pieces of duralar to use as photo stencils. I was a bit impatient on my emulsion, but it turned out okay with some masking tape fudging. (that's why they call it "masking" tape!)
The printed cards were folded in half, and the silhouette of the tree was cut away to reveal the inside hill. A final touch up of glitter glue for the snow and they're done! Of course, after writing out a list of recipients I'm wishing I'd made more than 20.... c'est la vie.
In other craftiness, I've started my annual snowflake ornaments. This year it's white cross-stitch and rice stitch (a big x with crossed legs that ends up looking like 5 crosses) on black aida cloth. There's no pattern- I'm just improvising as I go, and want every one to be different. I might look up a Quaker pattern later to make one for my grad advisor (remember my Quaker needlework paper last year? she loved it.) Freehand embroidery patterns kind of bother me- I see lots of embroidery patterns for sale on-line, but I don't see the appeal. Find any picture you want and trace it onto fabric with some carbon paper- Voila. Cross-stitch when it's linear is kind of easy to figure out. It's only the multi-colored ones you've got to get a pattern for and I would say get the software to turn your own images into patterns for cross-stitch. If you can figure out the pattern from my pictures you're welcome to it- better yet pick up some aida and some thread and play with vertical, horizontal, and diagonal lines until you get a snowflake-looking thingy. Sorry about my horrible photography lately- I'm stuck with the flipcam photo option. If Santa wants to get me a digital camera I will be most appreciative! You can still get the idea though:

Sunday, December 4

random moments

I don't really know why things hit me as beautiful or interesting. Does it happen to everyone? Or is it just that I have a trained artist eye? Usually it's something about formal compositional qualities or because I see something abstract. So once in a while I have to stop in my tracks and take a photo- it drives my kid crazy and she tells me I'm weird. Having an artist for a mother is a great burden you know...

Anyone else see the tree? Maybe you had to be there...
One day the cloud banks made it look like we were headed into the mountains. Felt like up in New York

a walk down a different street brings different perspectives

and peeking through a fence reveals hidden views

don't forget to look down at your feet to find pattern on pattern

Saturday, December 3

Art of Student Teaching Exhibit

Student teaching was one of the hardest things I ever did, and so I have great appreciation for the emerging artist-teachers who put up this show. There's a reception tomorrow, Sunday December 4th from 2-4 to celebrate the accomplishments of the newest round of student art teachers at Tyler School of Art, Temple University. I got a sneak peak this past week after my thesis meeting. There's a lot of things that are familiar, but these projects stood out (forgive me- I totally forgot to write down names and schools, but if I make it over there tomorrow I'll try to catch them).
 There's an awesome elementary (1st grade?) collaborative project themed "The Lion Hunt". It reminds me of a Rousseau painting with wild animals peeking out of the dense jungle. The students each drew their own lion as well as a leaf with bugs and flowers. I even like the non-rectilinear format of the final assemblage, as it looks like an exploding flower off the wall/
 I think the rest of these are from high school level Art I classes, so they deal with a lot of elements and principles and could be done with lower age groups as well. I've seen a lot of mandala/radial symmetry projects out there, but this one wowed me. It combines a sort of Andy Goldsworthy approach to using elements from Nature for art, a Victorian found object collage style, and of course, radial symmetry. I imagine this is an easier project for those who have more access to natural materials than here in the city...
 This project was from the same school I believe- They are organic shaped slabs of clay with various sneaker prints smushed into them for texture with color to emphasize the texture. The best thing- this was by a special needs class. I think it might be my favorite project in the whole show.
 Finally, I was impressed by these large abstract pastel drawings, which apparently started with scattered torn paper across a background, which was then then looked at through a viewfinder for interesting compositions to sketch. The best sketch was then enlarged using grid method and then colored with emphasis on contrast or color and value. They're really dynamic.
I really enjoy kid art shows- especially when I see evidence of teachers encouraging creativity, process, and critical thinking. I also think it's really important for kids, families, and communities to see the artwork of children. It gives us clues into how they experience the world and what different things they are capable of. Extra bonus for us art educators out there- we get some cool ideas for what to do with our own students.

Friday, December 2

Awards and Rewards

Sometimes I've lamented that artists don't have the equivalent of the Emmy's or Tony's or Oscar's. Artmaking doesn't build up quite the cult of celebrity that the performing arts tend to do. It's a good thing in some ways- perhaps visual artists remain more authentic and less swayed by the public that way. And no paparazzi hassling you. But surrounded by media all our lives, doesn't everyone harbor a secret desire to be famous?
I'm nearly finished my master's thesis which is on the topic of blogging for reflective practice in arts education. One thing I wrote about was how opening up your teaching practice to the world on the internet builds community and creates an extrinsic motivator to continue writing and reflecting. Time is crunched when you're an art educator- how do you make time to be in the studio let alone do all this reflective writing on top of teaching and planning for teaching (hello- I was up till 3 in the morning caught up researching for a lesson for next week). While in school we have the guidelines and deadlines imposed by teachers to motivate persistence in studio and academic work, but out in the real world we have to set up our own assignments and purposes.
So what I'm saying is, blogging is something started off in isolation, but the longer you blog, the more people read it, the more you want to blog. It's a great way to feed a healthy habit of reflection as an art educator because it sets up a sense of responsibility to your readers. You gain self-confidence as an authority on your own expertise, and you don't want to disappoint your "followers". It gives you your 15 minutes of fame and fulfills the desire to somehow be "famous".

Today I get to thank Deborah Schlegel of Art Threads for selecting me and Colored Thread for a Liebster Blog award! Blogging is its own reward, but it's extra-special to know that people like the things I have to say and share. Here's how it works:

The Criteria: The Liebster is meant to showcase bloggers who have fewer than 200 followers. This is all done in the spirit of pay-it-forward.
The Rules: You must mention and link to the person who awarded you the Liebster, and mention 5 other blogs with fewer than 200 followers who you think are worthy of the Liebster!
'Liebster' means "favorite" or "dearest" in German. This award, which originated in Germany, recognizes up and coming bloggers. In accepting this award, I agree to:

-Thank the person who gave me the award, and link back to their blog.
-Copy and paste the award to my blog.
-Reveal the 5 blogs I have chosen to award and let them know in the hope they pay it forward by awarding it to bloggers they would like to honor.

And here are my picks:

I'm a big fan of Mrs. Knight's Smartest Artists. I love how she shows process and product and how innovative her art lessons are. I wish I could be a student in her class!
Experiments in Art Education is another one of my favorite art ed blogs. She shows projects that connect with themes and cultures that are inspirational and classroom organizational stuff that's really helpful. She makes me want to steal all her ideas to use with my own students someday.
Drucilla Pettibone- I love that she follows fiber traditions, uses vintage textiles, lives close to the land, and blends her love for animals and textiles so organically. I can't tell how many "followers" are on her blog, but hopefully she still falls within this category.

I always enjoy what Martha Knox at Words on Woodcuts has to share. She posts her own work as well as that of other woodcut artists. Her descriptive and critical writing is a great contribution to the world of printmaking (in my humble opinion), and I think it's a great example of how art educators should be looking at art and modeling how to discuss it critically. She hasn't written much lately, but she has a good excuse- she just brought a new member of the family into the world! I hope she'll have time soon to continue her great discourse on her blog.

And Finally, there's Cocoa Eyes the Stitcher, whose bold graphics and incorporation of printed fabrics into embroidery are amazing. I've just recently found her but I'm looking forward to more from this artist.
Here's to 15 minutes!