Tuesday, August 13

A view from the studio

Before I left for Montana I bought a new watercolor pad, but ended up so busy stitching I never really used it. So I thought I would do a series of small paintings just looking out my studio window. The first one was on a sunny day with lazy puffs of clouds drifting by.
 Yesterday was gray, and it even started pouring as I was trying to paint the view. I haven't painted in a long time, and it's nice to do something quick for a change.
I worked on making another fabric postcard as well. This one was on top of a photo transfer. The image got reversed in the process, making the graffiti truly indecipherable, so I stitched in my own word.It turned out looking more like "phija" instead of "Phila", but whatever. Stitching through the gel transfer felt waxy after a while, and satin stitch is not the best stitch to use as it cracks the film after a while. Also,as I fused the stitched transfer to a paper backing I ended up melting away some of the color, aging it a bit. It's all an experiment! I finished it off with a black twill tape binding. I do like the paper backing instead of a fabric backing, though as it's much sturdier, however, the fusible web didn't really want to stick to it for some reason. I think it would be fun to do a bunch more of these Philly postcards, but with non-traditional images. My Philly, not a touristy Philly.

Monday, August 12

A week of workshops

I arrived back home and then jumped right into teaching a week of Stitch and Surface summer intensive. I had a lovely group of ladies, including some familiar faces and some fellow elementary art teachers, so we had a great time learning and chatting. Sadly I didn't take a single picture!! However, I can share the samples I made instead. we started off with an easy symbolic stitch sampler, experimenting with new stitches on a personalized shape. We did a smattering of shibori experiments including pole wrapping and clamping. We tried gel medium photo transfer on fabric. And we created a 4x6 fabric postcard using a variety of the fabrics that had been created over the week.
I'm not a big fan of adhesives in fiber art. However, I knew a number of the students were collage and mixed media afficionados, so we tried gel transfers to create a photographic image on fabric. The trick is to paint a layer or 2 of acrylic medium onto a color photocopy and press and smooth it onto fabric just after painting out the last layer. We let them dry overnight, and then dampened and scrubbed off the paper to reveal the image adhered to the fabric. This technique does reverse images, so text is reversed, but I kind of like how that altered my graffiti transfer above. I think this technique would work better on a wood surface. However, it was interesting to have a different surface to work on in stitch. In fact, I may do more fabric postcards using the transfer technique..
 My fabric postcard was inspired by my Montana trip, of course. I used my arashi shibori sample as a background layer and then showed everyone how to use fusible web with fabric scraps to design a composition. Finally I embellished the surface with some straight stitches, feather stitch, buttonhole, and satin stitch. I was planning to put in "O Montana" in the sky, but the O looked so much like a moon, which made the sky look like aurora borealis, that I just left it. Finally I demonstrated how to bind the edges with some double folded bias tape, which framed it quite nicely.

Although this fabric postcard could probably be sent as is through the mail, I decided to protect it with a custom-made envelope cut from a brown paper bag. It's headed back to Montana as a thank you!

Sunday, August 11

Creativity in the woods

I've been home for a week (somehow this week flew by in comparison with the week before). I thought I'd look back on the artwork made by myself and the other participants at the residency in Montana. It seems far away now, but I'm still feeling the restfulness that grew while I was there.
Tobacco Road Studios was a great location with 2 studio spaces in the garage, and a wrap-around porch where I made my workspace. Our hostess was working on an elemental series and cut a huge spiral in the lawn for "earth". The elements and trees around the property were inspiration for many of us.
 I noticed how most of the trees grew in clusters,like families. their root systems are shallow because the bedrock is so close to the surface, and the interlocking of the roots help the trees support each other. A great deal of underbrush has been cleared out of the surrounding woods over the past few years. I noted numerous stumps dotting the landscape and thought it would be interesting to take prints from them.
Woodblock printing with ink and a brayer was a total failure as it picked up only the sawmarks instead of the beautiful rings. So I switched to oil pastel rubbings to capture the texture and age of about 8 stumps. After heat setting the pastel I experimented with walnut ink on a few, but didn't like the loss of contrast.
 The 2 small stumps with walnut ink were appliqued to some red sunprinted cloth I'd made in grad school. I stitched a few rings and used feather stitch for roots reaching out and entangling. It needed a little something extra, so I added  a ring of red seeded "fire". Wildfire is a major concern in the Rockies in midsummer. The firetruck came out at one point because someone noted smoke from our (well-tended) campfire! But fire is needed at times to control undergrowth and bring new life to the forest floor as well. I finished this 12-inch piece up in a day and then moved on to a larger piece.
 I waited for a full sunny day and painted out a yard and a half of cotton with blue, ochre, and emerald setacolor. I laid plant material I'd found on the forest floor on top and let the fabric dry in the sun for a lovely organic sunprint. Five more stump prints were appliqued onto this 4x5 foot background, and then I spent 3 straight days doing concentric circles in running stitch until my fingertips ached.
 On our last night we had an open house despite rainy weather. All our artwork was hung and displayed around the porch. The event was publicized in the local paper and we had a number of adventurous souls venture out in the rain to visit. Here are some of the other artists' work:
 Michelle Menard of San Francisco delighted us with a puppet show she developed over the week. She created all the characters and scenery from painted cardboard and papier mache. Above is wise Ladybird in a cage and below is the blue bird of happiness nesting.
 In the evenings we gathered on the porch for some basketweaving lessons from our host's mother, and they were displayed along with the rest of our art:
 I'm quite proud of my tight little reed basket. I've always enjoyed weaving....
 One of the major events of the week was a pit firing for the ceramic pieces that had been made. It was a little scary to do after all the fire warnings, but I helped out by keeping the surrounding area quite damp with a hose. A 4 foot deep pit was dug out, the ceramic vessels were loaded in the bottom and the fire was fed over the course of 3 hours. Finally we let it burn down, and by morning it was cool enough to unload.
 The woodfire makes an amazing and unpredictable smoky effect on the clay body. Our hostess, Christina Barbachano's pieces are above.
 One of the local artists who joined us in the evenings was Nikki Meyer (also a reporter for the town paper!). She worked on a series of somewhat surreal photos of animal life, playing with real and unreal, pumping up the contrast and color to distort perception. I loved the image of the turkeys and buffalo below. Not all of the animals in this image are actually alive though....
 We had a few of Christina's high school art students up as well. A pair of them collaborated on the "Dr.Seuss Tree" below, transforming a former porch post into a fantastical tree with a strange creature in the branches. It was wonderful to watch the perseverance of the pair, as they struggled with weather and materials to get it complete.
It was wonderful to have so much time to just make art and be surrounded by other creative folk. As artists and mothers and working people, so much of our time and mental power gets distracted by everyday life and responsibilities. It was a joy to let all those distractions fall away.
 I've returned to my fair share of worries (perhaps to balance out that free time!) but  I'm trying to hold on to that rest and rejuvenation that soaked into my spirit while I was in that other world.

Sunday, August 4

Oh beautiful, for spacious skies

 For amber waves of grain
 For purple mountain majesties above the fruited plain
 America, America, God shed his grace on thee
 And crown thy good with brotherhood
 From sea to shining sea!
That song must have been written by someone who actually crossed the country. I traveled for 3 days on a train and was captivated by the landscape unfolding before me. West Virginia was rolling and green and you could see the poverty, Indiana was all corn fields, Wisconsin seemed surprisingly suburban, North Dakota surprisingly watery, most of Montana flat and arid until all of a sudden the Rockies rose up. We took a drive one day through Glacier National Park. The power of the glaciers, the thrust of the earth shifting, and the devastation of wildfire was stunning... let alone the heights and danger of twisting roads and rockslides.

There's too much to see and take in.

I flew back this weekend. a 2 hour jaunt from Montana to Minneapolis, a short layover, and another 2 hours back to Philadelphia. How could such an expanse that took 3 days to cross by train zip by so swiftly under my feet?

I hope I can hold on to the sense of relaxation and beauty that has filled me  up over the last week.