Saturday, January 30

Working Day

Since I had to stay home yesterday to wait around for a contractor (new front windows soon insallah!), and most of my homework was finished, I had plenty of stitch time! Here's the before:And here's what it looks at right now:All of the applique is done, so now I'm on to more detail work. I really like the rust- dyed fabric for the brick building. I'm having fun with this raw-edge/Kantha style applique. I'm making lots of new dyed fabric samples in my fiber studio class and am saving all the scraps.

Friday, January 29

Scott Andresen

If you've been reading my blog for a while, you might be able to understand what I like about Andresen's work. See more here.
They're made of found street "fabrics"- plastic bags, hardware cloth, broken umbrella nylon, etc. With the pieces cut and woven together and then stitched. I like the patterning that occurs at the meeting of the various surfaces. It reminds me that here in America we have very few indigenous textile traditions. (I mean from colonists not first nations) Everything "American" is just a mishmash of other cultural traditions. Somehow this feels American to me. I think it's the use of waste materials, leftover from our consumer society. Yeah, that's it.

Thursday, January 28

Fabric, Pattern & Image

Thought I'd give you a peek into my sketchbook for the Fabric, Pattern, & Image course I'm taking. It's mostly a dye experiment course with lots of exploration of resist techniques. Our sketchbook is a resource we develop and can return to for future projects.
We started off trying to match a paint chip (hmmm, this is just like the paces I put my color theory students through!)Tested the same dyes on both cotton and silk to see the differences. Tested the difference between dye mixture and overdyeing. Threw in a simple rubber band resist on the overdye below.
Our assignment this week is to put together color harmonies pulled from magazine pictures. Some people were just cutting out swatches of color and pasting them in rows, but I can't resist a little compositional play.
It's another assignment I also make my color theory students do. It's fun to be the one playing instead of the one telling other people what to do for a change.
This screengrab below is the image I'm basing my first digital print on fabric off of for my other studio class. We've been manipulating our sketches in photoshop and paperbacked our fabrics today. Tuesday will be the day to print! It's fun being in studio classes learning new techniques. I don't even feel like I'm in a class- I'm having too much fun playing.

Wednesday, January 27

Inspirations and Influences #6 & #7

I've been just a tad bit busy with school the last 2 days, so here's another inspiration and influence.

These 2 are more literary in nature, and both sort of cross the childhood/adulthood divide in some way.

First of all is the Griffin and Sabine series by writer Nick Bantock. He's an artist and has made picture books for adults, and this particular series consists of postcards and letters between the 2 characters in a mysterious narrative. There are actual envelopes with removable, folded up letters inside the books! That's where he crosses the child/adult divide. Usually books for adults don't have pictures and don't have anything tactile to engage the imagination, but he acknowledges adults' sense of curiosity and wonder which can too often be stifled by... adulthood.

I always admire artists who are able to imbue their artworks with a sense of narrative. It is something I'd like to do, but don't have enough to say yet, perhaps? But it's not just his narrative, but his beautiful textures and color and composition and mystery that take my breath away.
The other literary influence, and this is a HUGE influence in my life, is Madeline L'Engle. I grew up reading her Wrinkle in Time series as well as the Austin books, but she also wrote memoirs and books on faith for adults, so I've been able to hear her voice over the course of my life. I'm reading "And It Was Good" right now as my bedtime reading, which explores the book of Genesis. Her influence has been both creative (check out her bibliography- that's one prolific writer!), imaginative, and spiritual. She died in 2007 and I felt like I'd lost a grandmother. (Is it strange to mourn someone you've never met? Maybe that's how people felt when Michael Jackson died.)

Things you read can touch you so deeply. Madeline L'Engle always wrote frankly about life, relationships, and faith, so when I read her I feel like she's talking right to me.

I always wish I could read minds. Not to be sneaky, but to communicate in a more essential way than speaking creates. Reading is like mind-reading, because you're able to envision the author's point of view and see how another person thinks.

Sunday, January 24

Wedding Present

Best wishes to my sister as she starts her new life today. I hope this gift will grace her table and bring those around it together in love.


My 12 7 13 year-olds worked on process drawings this afternoon. First they worked on a mark-making exercise to explore the qualities of charcoal, then watched the William Kentridge and Blu videos (see previous post), then created 9 drawings under the theme of "change".I was pleased with the level of concentration and engagement the kids had. I think the videos really helped- it certainly captured some of the boys' imaginations. It also helped that I allowed it to be a more free drawing/imaginative project rather than a look/draw project. I've been trying to apply some of the ideas I've been learning in my art ed program, seeing what works..I've got an incredible bunch of kids right now. Not that they're art stars- they're just good listeners, receptive to ideas, and willing to try things. Some of them I've known for a few months now, but most are new.Here are their progressions so far. They'll have a chance to refine them next week and then we'll bind them accordion-style into a book. If I can manage it I'm going to try to scan all their images and load them into a video program stop-animation-style. It'll be a challenge for me- I've never done it before but have really been wanting to try. I wonder if there's a good slide transition I could use since there are only 9 frames to work with.
I'm feeling very good about this class. Experience builds confidence. In the students and in me!

Saturday, January 23

Video inspiration for my teens

Having my students do some process drawings today.

William Kentridge's Automatic Writing

Blu's grafitti animation

Friday, January 22

Unexpected Portraits

Here is one more formal gallery visit critical response for my digital printing on fabric class. I'm trying to knock these out early on before I get swamped with reading and writing in my academics.

Gallery Visit #2: Perelman Building PMA, "Common Ground: Eight Philadelphia Photographers in the 1960's and 1970's"

I'd originally been planning to visit and write about the Kantha exhibit (see previous post), and normally I would have walked right by a photography exhibit. However, I'm glad I entered, as hidden behind the room barriers, unseen from the entranceway were 2 photographic fiber pieces by artist Catherine Jansen. A quick internet search revealed her website, where she claims to be one of the first artists to use digital imaging in fine art. Both of the works in this exhibit span her early career as an emerging artist, and I was intrigued to note that she received her MFA from Tyler (where I'm currently a graduate student). At the right side of the exhibit, her piece "Self-Portrait" from 1971, is a cyanotype-printed image combining a photogram body print, photogrammed feathers, grid texture, grasses, and ferns, as well as 2 negative-printed self-portraits and 2 negative-printed stereogram views of Niagara Falls. Randomly placed indigo patches may cover up images or areas that didn't print well, and 2 patches that abut the main figure may even erase parts of her body, like bulges under the arm and along the back. Embroidery stitches define the frames of the stereograms, and french knots are scattered like seeds in one boxy area. However, this stitching and quilting is minimal and the work suffers for the uneven stitching as there are unintentional wrinkles and uneven surface tension.
The beauty of the piece is more in her exploration of self-portraiture rather than her craftsmanship. It is not a mere photographic representation of her features, but is a combination of elements that clue the viewer in to Jansen's emotions and personal history. The bed-like scale and laying figure coupled with the 2 negative-printed portraits showing her hands in alternate poses of choking and submission make this piece tread an uneasy balance between dreamscape and nightmare. After looking her through her website, it appears that this cyanotype bed-like imagery led her into creating an entire room reproduction in cyanotype, which fed into an entire 5-room installation from which the following piece is taken.
This diorama at the left of the gallery reveals Jansen's sculptural background. Entitled "Tabletop Arrangement" from the "Soft House Project (Domestic Landscape)" created in 1979-1980, Jansen has photographed to scale multiple household objects, printed them on fabric via color photocopying, and reconstructed the objects in 3-dimensional stuffed forms. A floor mat, Burpee seed catalog, and Chinese slippers lay in front of a tablecloth-draped demi-table upon which are set a vase of flowers, a pair of secateurs, framed girlhood photos, an air-mail letter, a polaroid camera, and a stack of polaroid prints. Beside the table is a wastebasket filled to the brim with the packaging detritus of the polaroid picture-taking (all still printed, sewn, and stuffed objects!). Behind these is a backdrop recreating the floral wallpaper, baseboards, framed and hung photographs, and a large 6-pane window revealing a view of a fantastically fecund landscape.
While the self-portrait in cyanotype was more literal, this installation (just a small part of a 5-room installation) is showing more of the day-today life of the artist, her family, and her imagination. The things we own speak volumes about us. The intense florals, the explosive gardenscape, and the seed catalog, seed packets, secateurs, and "fresh-cut" flowers reveal her green thumb, or her desire to have one. The polaroids share her passion for photography, but also allow us a peek into her family life. The multiple views through the windows and photographs give the viewer various entry points into myriad worlds. It's an Alberti's window with pictures within pictures within pictures. Although this piece, too, lacks needlework finesse, it's easier to overlook in the installation than in the cyanotype as Jansen gives us so much more to look at. I feel as if I could look for hours and still be lost in patterns and windows and memories.
There were a lot more photographs in this exhibit, but I only had eyes for fiber.

Back for more

I spent part of the morning stitching on the York St piece. Just a little bit of seeding on the one building seen below. In the photo above the colored fabrics are pinned back while I work on the one piece of muslin. I started the piece yesterday in between classes, but found 'd forgotten to include a backing fabric. I debated about whether I should trek back to the studio or not to get a piece of cloth, but laziness and serendipity won out. The piece is now backed by a layer of tyvek which I'd been carrying around in my bag forever. Once it's all stitched the texture is very supple, and I used the softer side of the Tyvek on the outside. After stitching awhile, I had to decide how to spend the rest of the day. So I headed back to the Perelman building/PMA for a second look at the Kantha exhibit sans famille. Excuse the blurry photos- it's dark in there to protect the textiles.
I loved the border patterning in this one, and the texturing that occurs with rows of running stitch.
I also loved all the narrative elements that most of them included.
I have to think about it, but what would you put into a modern kantha quilt, narrative wise?

Thursday, January 21

Wedding Stitching

Ok, once again- Holly if you're reading this go away! You can see these on Sunday!

Luckily I don't have that many school assignments yet and I've had time to work on these. The napkins are all complete and now I just have to do the tablecloth. Here are the 8 finished napkins:
And here's a close-up of the motif, a sort of Pennsylvania Dutch inspired Heart and Tulips design with the couple's initials springing out of the design. It's mostly double running stitch with some tiny lazy daisies and french knots.

The whole time I was making them I kept thinking- "Why don't I do things like this for myself? I'd like hand-embroidered monogrammed dinner napkins and a nice tablecloth!" But I don't think that's happening any time soon. It's easier to make crafty things for other people than for myself.

I'm thinking this will be the last crafty post for a while. School started this week and I'm plunging headfirst into 2 fiber studios, human development, and contemporary issues in art education. fun stuff. I do hope to post some images of my fiber students' sampler books next week though!

Wednesday, January 20

Ninja Warrior Face-off

As part of my digital printing class at Tyler I'm required to do a few gallery visits and write critical response to them, so if the following post seems a little dry or overly critical, please forgive me- it was written for a slightly different audience than I usually write. That said...

Gallery Visit #1: Fleisher Wind Challenge artist Heather Ujiie and "Ninja Warrior Face-off"I could not have asked for a more appropriate exhibition to put me in the frame of mind for a digital printing on fabric class. Heather Ujiie is a fiber artist who works in installations of digitally printed fabric hangings. This is the second exhibition of hers I've seen, the first being "Cry Wolf" at Moore College of Art and Design where Ujiie is a faculty member. In both exhibitions her work has had a narrative quality: "Cry Wolf" a more storybook quality and "Ninja Warrior Face-off" a more comic book quality.

In her artist statement she says she was inspired by kung fu flicks, Japanese anime, and 18th century samurai woodblock prints. These influences are evident in the imagery- a samurai warrior at left with a death figure at his back looks as if he has just dealt a deathblow sending a flame-haired demon figure spinning off. In an attempt to recreate the sequential stills of animation she repeats the demon figure both across the main colored panels as well as in 3 transparent panels hung in front of it.To connect the panels in space and to amplify the impression of movement and eruption, circles of flower/mandala motifs taken from the main panels are suspended at varying heights throughout the space. To delineate details in the main panels, Ujiie has plied the needle, unifying the figures through color and embroidery. Decorative buttons echoing the mandala motifs are scattered across the surface.I brought my embroidery students down to see the installation to identify the stitches used, critique the work, and spark their ideas for a future figurative project they'll be doing. They were all wowed by the work, impressed by Ujiie's ambitious scale and use of embroidery, and they were all curious about the digital printing process. I, too, was impressed at first, but then my critical graduate student voice crept in and made me question many of the artist's decisions.
First of all, for an installation it seems surprisingly 2-dimensional. While there is an attempt to engage the environment through the floating disks, it somewhat prevents the "don't-touch-anything-in-an-art-gallery" trained visitors from entering the space, and the entire installation is only truly appreciated from one vantage point. That one vantage point is not even the traditional point at which most visitors to this gallery would usually enter the space, making for a somewhat awkward navigation of the space. (as you can see from the view below, one can't really "read" the image from this direction) As an embroidery artist, stitching in others' artwork is always alluring, however, I'm not a fan of large sloppy stitches. Within the digital imagery, Ujiie included some stitch-like marks, but they don't translate well in this scale to embroidery stitches. (I have the same issues when looking at Orly Cogan's work). I think the piece may have been just as good even without the embroidery and so I question its use.
While I veer between a positive and negative critique, I must say that this exhibition has made me think differently about digital printing on fabric. For some reason I came into my digital printing on fabric course thinking that my imagery must be photographic. However, seeing this exhibition has reminded me that original, imaginative, hand-drawn or painted imagery can also be used in digital printing.

If you are interested in seeing this show it is at Fleisher Art Memorial, 709 Catharine St, Philadelphia, PA and will be up through March 6th.

Monday, January 18

Stitching away

Besides crafty stitching I've also been working on some art (finally!!!!). You've seen some pics before but I'm putting these together to show progression. I haven't decided whether the piece is finished yet, but it's at a good place right now. I just need to live with it for a bit.
Here it is next to its inspiration. It's a view of Palmer park from Frankford Ave. I'm trying to go for a looser interpretation than my usual. I'm deciding whether or not to put in the trees and all the rowhouse windows or not. Yeah, actually looking back over this as I edit, it's definitely not finished yet.While I live with that one I've started the next one. Nothing is stitched yet, just laid out the scraps and composition.Here's its inspiration- a rowhome remnant on York St. I spent my morning printing out all the articles I'm supposed to read for Human Development this semester. Also ordered the text book. So much to read, so much time I'd rather spend stitching. On the other hand tomorrow starts Digital printing on Fabric YES!!!!!

Wedding dress

Holly- this is your spoiler alert! Go back to wedding planning and stop reading this right now! Eh- I don't think my sister reads my blog anyway.It's like pulling teeth to get my kid to dress up in anything other than jeans and t-shirts, but I somehow convinced her that this dress was awesome and would be even better if I added some embroidery. So plain black wrap dress, although snappy, is tween-ified with the addition of a vine and owl motif. She'll be wearing it next weekend at my little sister's wedding.I had her look through some copyright free image books to find a motif she liked. I was all for a flowers, but she wanted a bird. So we planned the design together, she chose the colors and colored in my tracing so I'd know what to put where, and here it is. Whipped running stitch for the vine, detached chain anchored with a bullion for the leaves, encroaching satin for the body of the owl, buttonhole for wings, crowsfoot ears, eyelet and buttonhole wheel with a whipped ring for the eyes.GIFT SPOILER! While dress shopping I also picked up some plain napkins and a tablecloth to give as a gift. They said no gifts, but come on! She's my sister! So I found a sweet Pennsylvania Dutch-Style hearts and tulips motif, played around with it a little and added the couple's initials. This motif is for the napkins and they're all transferred and awaiting my needle and thread. There's a larger motif for the tablecloth. Chances I get this all done by Sunday, on top of the 3 classes I'm teaching and the 4 I'm taking that start this week? This will be a feat worthy of medals.

Inspirations and Influences 5

I've been stitching away all weekend, but found the camera batteries were dead this evening. So instead of my work, thought I'd post another inspiration and influence. Living in Philadelphia and working near South Street makes the art of Isaiah Zagar inescapable. In fact, he calls Philadelphia the Center of the Art World. It's the center of my art world too, so I must count him in as an influence. His work is like background noise in the city (South St/Bella vista, Queen's Village)- so EVERYWHERE, that you sometimes forget it's there- it just seems normal. But when you stop and look at the details and take into account the sheer scale of what one man (and a cadre of apprentices) has done in one neighborhood, it's astonishing.

Last summer I got to take 10 tweens on a field trip to his Magic Garden (seen above)- definitely worth a visit. The kids played hide and seek and thoroughly enjoyed themselves, cause it's like a dream castle. (of course they ended up pressing the patience of the staff- good thing we were almost ready to leave!!!)

Why is he an influence? He is absolutely committed to his artistic practice and vision. He pours his energy and imagination and joy and pain into his work. And he makes the most amazing encrusted surfaces. In his world, everything is fodder for art- emotion and objects. I think many emerging artists hold a bit of fear of their art- what it means, what it could be, what happens when you send it out into the world. We can learn from Zagar and just put it out there- no fear.

Thursday, January 14

Locks and Bambi

I finally got out and about and visited some art this morning, after hanging out and stitching over coffee at my favorite cafe. First stop was Locks Gallery to see the Microfibers show, and more specifically to see Caroline Latham-Stiefel's installation. I wasn't allowed to take photos, unfortunately. The image below is from the website and shows her wall piece, Sinew. Caroline generally works with pipecleaners, fabric scraps, and pins, constructing curtains and complex systems of geometric forms. I believe she uses the pins to attach the scrap patches into their pipecleaner windows because it's important that the work be recyclable/reconfigurable. However, I was far more interested in the areas within the piece Sinew where she incorporates stitching/binding of the scraps to the structure and the various 3-dimensional sewn constructions sans pipe cleaner armature. The pins distract me whereas the sewing enchants me and makes me see the form, the structure, and the materials in a more fused manner. I'm glad I caught this show before it closes (tomorrow I think), and it was great to see more of Caroline's work. We both exhibited with Landmarks Contemporary Projects back in 2008 doing installations in historic houses.After Locks, I did some retail therapy and bought myself a new winter coat so I can brave my cold bike rides to school this semester. I then made my way back to Northern Liberties and stopped in at Bambi at the Piazza. I had been told that I HAD to see this show of cut-paper work by Sarah Steinwachs. This has got to be the best work I have ever seen at Bambi!! Most of the pieces are small, multilayer compositions of cut paper and mylar, often using graph paper as a foundation, and mostly encased in plexiglass box frames. Photos do not do these pieces justice, as the photos flatten the images. The one above has about 6 layers- a frosted mylar window, shiny glassine folded and cut with 1 inch circles, threaded paperpunched sequins shifting angles, a densely but finely punched layer with the divets pushed forward and back, and then other color layers in the background. It's a labyrinth of shape and surface and color that captures your eyes and doesn't let go! The one below is larger and appears even more dense due to the contrasting patterns.

In her artist statement, Sarah wrote about being inspired by the various cities she's lived in around the world. There was also a line about beauty and starting with the perfection of the grid, and holding the memory of the perfect within the imperfect. I'm paraphrasing here, but it was lovely. The show closes January 31st, so there's still a little time to go visit it.