Saturday, December 29

New Space!!

 I'm so very happy to finally have a studio! I have enough moved in now to start some work. After hauling boxes up the 4 flights of stairs this morning I sat in my new chair and started an ori-nui shibori piece inspired by the landscape panorama in my previous post. I didn't spend a lot of time on it, but just the fact that I sat and made something there felt wonderful!
 One reason I couldn't resist renting the space was because of the great light through the 2 windows, and the view that looked out over Port Richmond to New Jersey. I can see the el and the trains passing, the church near my house, and the Betsy Ross Bridge from my 4th floor studio. It's worth the stairs.
Sometimes the city landscape is too much, though, and I long for trees. After my studio time this morning we headed down to Wyeth country and visited the Brandywine River Museum. The river at sunset was gorgeous. I love driving down Route 1 through the hills. It seems I always come down here at Wintertime when the landscape around Chadds Ford most matches Andrew Wyeth's stark watercolors. I'm filled up with the beauty of his contrast and restrained palette. I think I'm still going to stick with my love for the panoramic.

Thursday, December 27


We walked through a crisp and quiet landscape on Christmas Eve. The lake had a thin layer of ice feathered over it, and we skipped stones across the surface, making a hollow echoing ping, ping, ping.

I'm looking for inspiration. Teaching sucks up a lot of creative energy, and I haven't made much besides project exemplars in the last few weeks. (Oh yeah, and Christmas cards) So, the other day in a spontaneous whirlwind, I stumbled upon an opportunity to rent a studio, and so I did. I've been in just to start setting things up, but hopefully some art will be made soon too. Hopefully having a space (something I've desired for over a decade) will help me focus.

In the meantime, Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 9

Stitch and Surface Wrap-up, Fall 2012 edition

It's been a few weeks now since it ended, but this past semester of Stitch and Surface at Fleisher was truly remarkable. I had some returning students, some trained artists, several art teachers, and some stitch enthusiasts, and they all were bursting with creativity. Plus, once again we were an all female crew, making it a relaxing and sometimes raucous stitch-and-bitch. Heads would pop in from the class across the hall wondering what was going on with all our laughter!
 Everyone made a reverse applique needle book cover in felt as a stitch sampler introduction project. Shapes were cut out of one felt piece, then the "holey" piece was layered over another color, and stitched were done through both layers. When complete, the edges were blanket-stitched, and a blank piece of felt was seamed down the center to make the book. Some chose to add a closure loop or tie.
 Our major project was a stitched self-portrait. We tried out painting with walnut ink as a surface technique. One artist used the walnut ink for a portrait, which was transformed into a portrait of her mother. The piece above incorporated couched dreadlocks, feathers, and cowrie shells, and has intensely colored hazel eyes that are riveting. The artist, Robin Turnage, is a fellow faculty member at Fleisher and a former Leeway Grant recipient.
 Alia's larger-than life-size portrait was very ambitious, and has a more linear approach.
 Best friends for more than 20 years, Nan and Pat decided to each do their own version of a photograph of themselves from college with their mouths stuffed with grapes. It's fun to see how color, pattern, and texture can make an image so different.
 Our final project was a paper stitchery. I demonstrated how to stitch on paper with the picture at the bottom right. I found a painting of a schoolteacher by Winslow Homer in an art magazine, cut it out and glued it onto watercolor paper in order to have a stiffer surface to stitch upon. By pre-piercing the holes it's easy to add embroidery to any image on paper. In the center below, one student found a reproduction of a photo of John Brown and added a red halo or horns depending on how you look at it. And to the left, another student printed out a picture of "The Dude", and added text and completely embellished sunglasses. I really like this doubling of the appropriation tradition of embroidery. It's not just copying a pattern, it's borrowing and adding to another image to make it one's own.
I love my new "embroidery schoolteacher" stitched paper picture ala Homer.
Next semester I hope to do a letter sampler, a whitework valentine, a dye painted landscape, and maybe even some fiber ATC's. If you'd like to join me for an adventure in Fiber Arts visit Fleisher to register now for Winter classes starting January 10. Stitch and Surface runs for 10 weeks on Thursday nights from 6:30-9:30. Hope you'll join me!

Tuesday, November 13

Exhibition Reception!

Oh My! There will be another chance to see my artwork in person- this time without ceremony or a religious service to sit through. We're having a gallery-style reception for my exhibition at the Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral this Friday, November 16th from 5-7. Come see the work, meet me, and enjoy some wine and refreshments before heading out for Friday night fun. On display are my 100-foot-long Prayer Cloth (a feat of embroidery if ever there was one.- Well, it's only about half the length of the Bayeux tapestry) and a selection of work following the theme of Memory and mourning. Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, November 7

Prayer Cloth

 Sunday was the culmination of 6 month's of work (and a final week of sleepless nights trying to get it done in time), as we presented and used the 100 foot-long prayer cloth during the Great Litany in honor of All Soul's Day. I was given the opportunity to speak the homily about why this piece was made and why I work as a fiber artist.
It was very fulfilling to see everyone holding onto the cloth during the prayer. This piece belongs to the whole congregation, not just me as maker. Creating work with and for community is different from working just on things for me- it has greater purpose. It's bigger than me.
The cloth and and accompanying exhibition will be up for the month of November at the Philadelphia cathedral, 38th and Chestnut. Open daily for noon eucharist, and on Sundays at 10 for services. Next Sunday will be a special evensong performance/service at 4 pm.

Monday, October 29

A Coming Storm

We're quietly waiting for a hurricane/nor'easter to hit. I went out shopping this afternoon for my daughter's birthday presents and the stores were mobbed with people fearing the end of the world. I don't have to work for the next two days since my college and my elementary school have both preemptively closed for an emergency. I'm seeing these 2 days as a blessing- time just to sit at home and stitch (as long as our roof doesn't blow away!) I have a lot to get done in a very short time.
The storm looks scary and we visualize the worst case scenarios. We just have to trust that things will turn out ok. I feel very lucky right now that my family is all home together for once and we'll weather the storm.

Sunday, October 21

Home Stretch

 This beautiful bundle of fabric is 8 months of  work and has become 100 feet in length! It transitions in color from black to gray to white to pastel to bright colors thanks to all the donations of precious fabric given to me by members of the Philadelphia Cathedral. I debated about whether it was complete or not as I stitched the last piece of bright fabric on the end.
 I'm a sucker for hard work, so I decided to add embroidered text to it... After looking through the Book of Common Prayer, I settled on the 23rd Psalm. Since it's a piece representing grief and mourning, it seemed appropriate to include the words that have given so many people comfort in their loss. As I go though, certain phrases from hymns and psalms keep popping in my head, so I'm adding them in smaller text between stanzas, under the main text.
Yesterday I bought the binding tape I'll need for the edges. It's hard to believe this piece is almost finished! It seems massive! It will be revealed at the 10:00 Sunday service at the Philadelphia Cathedral on November 4th in honor of All Soul's Day. It will connect us as we name those we've lost. The Dean has suggested I speak about the work in lieu of a sermon that day too, so I hope you'll join us for the culmination of this project.

Tuesday, October 2

Morris Arboretum: opening the senses

I had the luxury of a mid-week day off last week. I suppose I could have cleaned the house or finished some grading, but instead I decided to spend the day with my mother exploring a place neither of us had ever visited before. (the heart opens... how seldom do I spend time with my extended family anymore?)
 Morris Arboretum is on the far Northwestern edges of Philadelphia, a long drive out Germantown Avenue and past Chestnut Hill. The arboretum is run by the University of Pennsylvania, and it lies along the Wissahickon upstream from Fairmount Park. Near the visitor center is a fairly new treehouse installation. It extends the hilltop level out into the trees so suddenly you have the perspective of a bird or squirrel. A rope net invites children to climb like a squirrel, and two megaphones on pulleys can be brought to ear level to hear the sounds of the forest like an animal. (The body and the ears open.... to experience the environment in a totally new perspective.)
 We strolled along the paved paths, and I marvel at how many plant names my mother knows. We delighted in flowers still blooming at the end of September, bees and butterflies gathering the last bits of pollen and nectar. We stopped to stroke and smell fresh herbs- mint and rosemary. (The nose opens... appreciating the differences between plant varieties and how different forest air is from city air)
 A lawn opens up, sloping down hill. An arrangement of large steel sculptures stand at the top. Its negative spaces frame new views. (the eyes open... seeing different perspectives, noting contrasting colors and surfaces)
 Along an oak-lined lane the path becomes criss-crossed with painted lines radiating from one of the trees. An artist has illustrated how expansive the hidden parts of the tree are underground. The roots reach out far, far beyond the trunk and even farther than the canopy. (the mind opens.... what else is hidden from view?)
We ended up in the fernery greenhouse, almost passed by. It's an escape into a primordial tropical rainforest. The air was warm and moist, the sound of water dripping and trickling, and everywhere incredibly GREEN.
I love living in the city, but I think it dulls the senses. I need to get out into nature to enliven them again.

Saturday, September 29


 I have a new crop of silkscreen students at Fleisher- this time in the 14-18 age group. With only 8 kids, it's really a pleasure working with a more mature group. We kicked off the semester learning about the roots of silkscreen in paper stenciling.
 Asked to combine a word and image that related to nature, the students designed a freezer paper stencil, being careful to include enough "bridges" between shapes. Then they came up with a second simpler shape and cut it out of contact paper for an adhesive stencil on the screens.
 Last week we printed the large simple background shapes using the adhesive stencils on the screen. This week we stenciled our key image on top with sponges, which allowed for more specific color placement than regular screenprint would have allowed in one layer.

 Once our paper prints were complete we headed out to the "free wall" in the parking lot and stenciled our key images in a random arrangement. The wall has been totally blank for a few months, so it was pretty cool to activate the space with our nature-themed prints.
Having put our art out in the urban environment, next week we'll go looking for image from the urban environment to put back into our art.

Friday, September 28

Kindred Spirit

 Last Friday was the opening reception for Jeff Dentz's solo show in the Works on Paper building at Fleisher, which he was granted as part of a faculty fellowship award. Walking in, I first noticed the woodblock above and was reminded again how much I love Jeff's work. Maybe it's because we have similar interests in urban imagery- remember my "Dawn Over Tacony" stitched watercolor from about a year ago? For comparison sake:

Of course, Jeff's large woodblock took a lot more time and planning than my little watercolor. That's one more reason why I admire his work. I have great appreciation for artists who put so much time and labor into their work. The process of woodblock printing was definitely honored in this exhibit. Series of prints hung in progressively complex layers.
Along with finished prints, Jeff included several original blocks in all their inky relief. I almost prefer the sculptural qualities and intricate surfaces of the carved and inked blocks over the prints. While his prints have an airy and delicate feeling due to the translucent paper and ghostly layers of color, his blocks are raw and tactile. They hold the history of the prints they released.
Printmaking is a doubled art of process and product.

Head over to Fleisher's Works on Paper building at 709 Christian St for a closer look. The gallery is open during class hours Mon-Thurs till about 9:00pm and Saturdays 9-3. It's definitely worth a visit.

Sunday, September 9

I'll huff and I'll Puff

First Friday along the Frankford Arts Corridor is really hopping lately. It's in no small part to the new addition of the Philadelphia Sculpture Gym at Berks and Frankford Aves. This month they've invited Terri Aluise, a fresh graduate from PAFA to exhibit her fairy-tale-inspired mixed media sculptures. I'm a sucker for anything fiber arts, and I think Aluise creates quite successful juxtapositions between hard and soft sculptural materials.
 While I enjoyed the materiality of the objects in the exhibition, what really made me fall in love with it was Aluise's sense of humor and spin on familiar fairy tale stories. The big bad wolf  is skinned and laid out like a bear-skin rug. The 3 little pigs sit contentedly on her piles of building materials.
 The 3 bears sleep soundly on their just-right bed no longer disturbed by naughty girls (a mat of golden braids graces the floor at the foot of the bed).
 And the ugly duckling has blossomed into a rainbow of a swan, leaving the other ducklings puny and drab.
I enjoy the nostalgia of stories from childhood. It's remarkable how a single object can draw up a whole narrative in one's memory. I've always hated to finish a book, because I want to know what happens after "The End". Aluise gives a very satisfying extension to these favorite tales. For more on Terri Aluise visit an article about her show, and her website (with way better pictures than I snapped here).
I can't wait to see what shows up next at PSG!

Friday, September 7

Teen Lounge, Teen machine

After school today I attended a reception at the Philadelphia Foundation for an exhibition called Teen Machine of artwork created through Fleisher's various programs for teens. It was very exciting to see my Saturday silkscreen students' collaborative piece hanging on the wall right at the entrance greeting everyone:
 Then down the hall were a selection of photographs from the Community Partnership in the Arts mural project I did with Work Ready teens at the Houston Center this summer:
The rest of the show was filled with imagery made by the kids in  Fleisher's drop in Teen Lounge program. It was fun to see the potential of the Teen Lounge because my daughter is finally old enough to join the program, and is looking forward to starting with them this Fall.
Exhibition is an important part of the creative process. It means a lot to me that the kids I've worked with have had a chance to show off their work with a larger community. It's also nice to get this reminder of all the creativity I've facilitated this past year. It's really a privilege to get to work with youth and be a part of shaping their artistic development.
The show will be up in the Philadelphia Foundation's office, 1234 Market St Suite 1800.

Monday, September 3

70 feet

The wrapping cloth is coming along. It is currently around 70 feet in length, and I've been averaging 2-3 feet completed per working session. At this rate I'm not sure I'm going to get it as long as I'd hoped by November. Either way it will be an impressive length. I had quite a few fabric donations today: a tie from a spouse who passed away, a t-shirt from a priest's first parish, a "birthday shirt". As I near the end the colors are getting more vibrant. The piece is moving from death back into life.
I hope I can keep this going in the next few weeks. I start seeing students at my elementary school this coming week!

Thursday, August 30

My Blue Art Room

This sign is on my door greeting students to the Art room
I've started school this week! Last week I went in and set up my new art room. This week we had 2 days of professional development, then 2 days with students. However, students don't see Specials the first week of half days, so I had some extra time to really make myself at home in my new space.
I've worked at the school before as an intern with the last art teacher and as a substitute teacher, so some of the kids remember me from before. I've had lots of little faces pop by my door with an excited, "Hey! It's Mrs. Elcin!" often with their sign language "L" touching their chin ("make an L, touch your chin, that's how you remember Ms. Elcin). I also found a few pages at the bottom of a drawer, which turned out to be apology drawings and letters for naughty behavior addressed to me from when I subbed!! I feel very much at home already.
I've decided that my new role as a K-5 art teacher deserves its own blogspace. I will continue to post my activities in community arts and the studio here at Colored Thread, but if you wish to read more about K-5 art education, you may want to follow my new blog My Blue Art Room. I've just posted pictures of my classroom layout and environment, so please head over there. It'll take a while to fill out the blog with links and pictures, etc, but it will definitely evolve. Thanks for visiting!

Friday, August 24

The last week of summer

last week's cheesesteak giant greeted visitors to our "gallery"
  NLArts summer camp visual arts week was a lot of fun. We've worked for years to get a good plan of schedule/teachers/lessons, and this year just felt so EASY (to me anyway).One major change was that during visual arts week kids only chose one morning elective- 2D art, 3D art or public art, instead of 2 of them, and we gave them a longer period of time to work in. This allowed us to have much more time for generating ideas, working, and reflecting.

"Problemsolvers" created a geodesic dome
 In the afternoon we gave kids a choice among "ProblemSolvers" (math-based art), "Photoplay" (working with digital images), "Explorers" (short walking field trips around the community), and "Comics" (self-explanatory, right?). Kids chose their first 2 electives to keep all week, but then we gave them a daily choice of afternoon play elective- gym sports, park visit, or indoor board games/play. It's brilliant allowing kids to choose their activities- they're doing things they want, and end up hanging out with kids that share their interests. Gym and Explorers was popular among the more energetic ones. Painting and board games was a common choice for the quieter sorts of kids. I wish real school had this much opportunity for choice. You can still teach all sorts of concepts in these formats, even if at first glance they seem quite different.

3D artists made papier mache masks
On the last day of camp we set up a "Gallery" of kids art and have popsicles for everybody.Parents come and see everybody's work. This year instead of arranging art by project, each child had a spot to show off their collection of artwork.
my daughter created a circular hanging poem about the Frankford neighborhood
 Our junior counselors (middle schoolers) worked in the morning on projects related to various communities around the city, and made collage and digital artwork reflecting what they'd discovered.

cityscape with windmill
  I taught the 2D elective with a great group of 7-11 year olds. We focused on a project to show background/middleground/foreground. First we went to the park and traced the skyline around us with our fingers. In the studio we did a crayon city drawing, and then pulled india ink over it with a popsicle stick to create skyscraper silhouettes. Afterwards we painted the skies in various colors. It was fun to try to arrange them in order from morning to night based on the sky colors when our background step was done. On the next day we made our middlegrounds to start a community garden in our cities. First we did a soft watercolor painting in yellow and blue to make a mottled green wash. Then we made sketchbooks and went on a neighborhood walk to collect leaves and sketch. Finally we printed our leaves over the watercolors. On the third day we cut a curvy line across the leaf prints to make a nice tree line effect, and collaged them onto our city backgrounds. Some students chose to extend their picture longer, and others added layers of greenery in a 3D effect. Then we went on a walk to our local community garden. I pulled out some carpet sit-upons and we stopped to look at a book of Georgia O'Keefe flowers and then spent the morning sketching flowers from the garden.

I love Julia's tilting buildings in contrast with her straight flowers
  On the fourth day we painted our flowers with tempera, and then cut them out to collage into the gardens as foreground. And finally this morning we made "Bug Boxes". We received a fabulous donation of tins and boxes from a bead artist in the community. One of the box types was an aluminum cylinder with a window lid- perfect for a little specimen container. I asked the kids to imagine a bug they might have found in their community garden. We reviewed bug parts (head, thorax, abdomen, antennae, wings, stingers, legs, pincers, etc.) and then they drew, colored, and cut out their creatures. By folding the legs in a step-like manner, they were able to make their bugs pop up and look a little more realistic.

an ant hill started as a circle with a cut center and then overlapped
  Sorry the pictures are so fuzzy- I forgot that distance matters on my flipcam. For our exhibit I asked my kids to write about their pictures and bugs. I told them they could write about their process, a description of the work, or be imaginative. Most of them took the imaginative route! "Librdy lands" above is 2nd grader writing for "Liberty Lands", the park we go to for free play in the afternoons.

Patatoglasses bug had no legs to make it 3D, so we made a paper spring
Our photoplay class teacher came up with this awesome project:
 A silly face photo was printed out, and each kid had 3 color copies to cut and manipulate... collaging them onto a larger piece of colored cardstock gave them a bold and instant frame.
 It was a wonderful week of making art with some of my favorite kids. I love watching them grow. My daughter has been a part of the camp since it first started 6 years ago, and we've made good friends with people in the community by participating. It even led us to selecting Frankford Friends as her middle school, since many of our campers are also students at FFS.

AS one of our Jr Counselors says here- Northern Liberties is a diverse community!
Although it would have been nice to have more time to set up my school classroom this week, or have a bit more relaxing time before school starts, I'm so glad I was able to run this camp this summer. They're continuing with a week of field trips next week, but I'm starting school next week instead!