Thursday, November 16, 2017

Validation

"The whole culture is telling you to hurry, while the art tells you to take your time. Always listen to the art."

I love it when I run across a quotation that validates my view or way of operating that doesn't seem to be "trending" in popular circles. I was about to embark on adding the last of the parallel line quilting on the latest Leaf Clusters piece, those very short runs between leaf and stem in the last of the gaps that you can see in the picture below. I'd first done all the lines that ran edge to edge, then went back in and quilted from edge until I ran into the edge of a leaf or the stem. When I'd done the first round of quilting, spacing the lines the width of the presser foot, I didn't pull the thread tails to the back and tie them off until all the stitching was done. That left me with quite a mess on the back, sorting out threads that had tangled and in some cases been run over as I quilted along. This time I quilted up to the leaves on one side, then paused to pull tails to back and tie them off before doing the same on the other half. Much better. 

Note those very small areas between upper leaves and stem yet to be stitched

But those short runs - I remember accidentally pulling a thread all the way out, undoing the 4 or 6 stitches altogether and having to restitch. They also demand precise placement of the needle at beginning and end so no gaps show between the end of the line and the leaf or stem it is headed for, and in the case of the stems, lining up with stitching on the other side of the stem. So with the addition of these lines, I stopped after each pass to tend to the thread ends.

Slow going. And I knew it would be. But I didn't care because I did not want to be backtracking over previously stitched lines to move from one area to the next, and I didn't want to do the "tacking" stitch at starts and stops, preferring instead the clean look of the even stitches. It's my personal aesthetic and I don't care if it takes me longer. And it was nice to run across Junot Dias's quotation (from a The Daily Beast interview) that validated my decision to work this way. In this "hurry up" society, and part of the quilting world that is always flashing "quick and easy" methods at us, it's nice to be reminded that speed is not always necessary, and how much you produce is not always relevant. It's ok to take your time. And for me, taking my time is part of enjoying the process.

Through the magic of Paint Shop Pro, one positioning option

So here's a question for you. When I stamped this leaf cluster on that test print scrap, I specifically placed it down in the corner. I even made notes along the edges of the fabric about placement and which way was up. I decided it would look good in this frame, bought with several other frames when I wasn't sure which would work the best on the first Leaf Cluster I finished. It was a 10 x 10 frame, the same size I've been working with for the ones that went over stretched canvas before going in the floater frame. The piece of fabric itself is about 11 x 12 which is not big enough to wrap around the canvas, thus the decision to use a regular frame. But when I got the frame unwrapped to audition how it would look, there wasn't a lot of my little quilt showing through the window, certainly not ten inches. I got a ruler out to discover that the outside of the frame is 10 x 10 with the opening for the art being only 8-1/2 x 8-1/2. That's way more cropping than I thought I'd be doing. I decided that wasn't an altogether bad thing, so I'm proceeding with that frame, positioning it with the leaf cluster down in the corner.

Second position option - subtle shift to center

But of course, in the midst of moving things around, I suddenly had the frame positioned with the leaf cluster centered in the opening. And now I am torn, unable to decide which looks best. If this was your piece, or if you were a viewer at an exhibit, which would you think is the better positioning for this particular textile? I really want to know what you think.

As I've gone back and forth over the various decisions I've had to make on just this piece, I once again found a reassuring quotation to make me feel better about the time I've spent mulling my options. And I am taking it to heart:

"Nothing is a waste of time if you use the experience wisely."
Rodin

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Stitchvember

This is the view I woke up to a week ago (November 3). It was forecasted, but still a bit of a shock as to just how much snow we got, how cold it got and how long it hung around with a few lesser repeats of flurries.

Not unheard of to get snow this early around here. This is a picture of me and fellow students on the college's intramural staff taken on November 4, 1973. There was to be an intramural football game that morning and we were totally surprised to wake up to a foot of snow. After some discussion, the games went on!


Because of the direction of the wind, snow blew in under my covered deck and blanketed my little container garden. I was amused at the way the snow formed balls around the daisy-like blooms of one of the plants.


Seeing this from every window instantly changed my mood and drew me into the studio. Suddenly there was no struggle to convince myself to be in there like I experience when the weather is nicer, warmer, inviting you to spend time out in it. Which is a good thing now that Inktober is over and I need to get back to my art quilts in preparation for a December exhibit. I remember hoping during last year's Inktober that the habit formed with the daily drawing would cross over to my textile work. I can't remember all that was going on then, but do remember that I did NOT get back to daily sessions in the studio. Then again, I don't think I had any exhibit to prepare for, although I did end up working on one small piece for a Christmas present.

So as I took a few days off to catch up on things I'd put aside to accommodate the daily drawing, I thought about why I can successfully commit to a daily challenge like Inktober but not commit to daily time in the studio. The excuse of not being able to find the time obviously does not hold. The sketches took anywhere from 45 minutes to almost 3 hours in one case. Think how much I could get done in the studio if I consistently got in there for even an hour each day. Why do I keep talking myself out of it? It really is a matter of mindset, I decided, and that is when I came up with the idea of creating my own month-long challenge that I am calling Stitchvember.


I started by reassessing the pieces in the leaf cluster series that are in various stages of completion and the frames I'd recently purchased for some of them. I settled on beginning my Stitchvember challenge with this one that I'd quilted back in July. I still had some thread tails to pull to the back and tie off and was unsure whether it needed more lines of stitching or not. I'd asked that question of the art group last month and they were as iffy as I about that, but agreed it probably needed something more. Now that I auditioned what it would look like in the intended frame, with more cropping than I remembered it would get, it looked like maybe it wouldn't need more stitching after all.


But when looking at a friend's blog and how she was using Photoshop to audition motifs and paint colors she might stamp or stencil over a pieced quilt, it dawned on me that I could use my own Paint Shop Pro to add stitching to that photo I'd taken with the frame, and get a better idea than I was getting by laying down lengths of thread. It convinced me that adding more stitching is the way to go.


One suggestion from the art group that really appealed to me was that if I could somehow add some loft to the leaves, it would help them to stand out from the busy background. Since I used felt and not batting under the top, I got no real dimension under those leaves and in fact, the fabric looked a bit loose in those areas. I'd considered maybe stitching in veins, but I liked the idea of padding them better, and knew just the method. It's a faux trapunto technique where you add acrylic yarn under the backing if you have sandwiched your top with batting and backing. In this case, I am using the needle to thread the yarn in between the felt and the top. When the area is filled in, the yarn tails are clipped close to the backing to slip fully inside.


Because acrylic yarn has spring, it will fluff up and add the desired dimension, which you can sort of see here. The first yarn I tried in this example though did not have the desired springiness, and I've replaced it and completed the other leaves' padding with a different yarn. Now all I need to do is stitch in those additional lines, trim to size, attach to poster board and pop into the frame.

I've not been as faithful to the Stitchvember as I was to Inktober, but I'm certainly doing better than I think I would otherwise without the catchy name of a challenge to spur me on. While threading the yarn under the leaves, I've had ample time to contemplate why I've been able to do daily sketching challenges but not daily studio time. One thought prevails: with the sketching, there is a subject and a definitive end. Pick a shoe, or a cup, or whatever, draw it and you are done. But with the textile work, it is not that straightforward and doesn't always result in an end product or quantifiable progress each session. So much of what I do is long-term and to get to the end is a succession of steps that can't always be completed in a single session. I think this plays on my mind when I think, do I have time to work in the studio today? I seldom think the opposite direction, as in, I have an hour, let's see how far I can get on something. Now that I am fresh out of the mindset of "I have to make time to complete a drawing" and know that I indeed have time to devote to something arty, I am suppressing that all or nothing part of my personality that often finds me turning myself away at the studio door because the "something" always seems to require a bigger chunk of time.

And sometimes, the "something" isn't even something that results in visible progress. My first Stitchvember day was just that, the reassessing of the leaf cluster pieces to determine which ones I should tackle for the exhibit, and the consideration of framing and seeing what I had on hand. Needed activity but difficult to quantify and one that initially left me thinking, I've done nothing today, even though I did. Another day it was that time on the computer adding the additional lines of stitching. No actual stitching but I almost didn't do it because of that, my mind saying I must be working with piece in hand for it to count, not time for visuals on the computer. It was quite exciting when I ditched that thought and realized I could indeed include this kind of valuable activity towards my Stitchvember challenge. Yes, my mind is and always has been my biggest enemy. But maybe by the end of my Stitchvember, I will have gently molded it into a new way of looking at studio time and into a new habit. 

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

November!

I've been so fixated on my daily #INKtober challenge drawing that I nearly forgot all about my pocket calendar spread for November. So it has been a rather quick coloring in over the last 10 days or so, not a lot of thought going into it. But I think I like what I ended up doing, again limiting the colors this time to those in the yellow/orange/brown range to give off a nice autumn feel. If only I had big beautiful blooms like this on my back deck... 

I had bought a big bag of assorted candies in preparation for trick or treaters last night. Generally I don't get too many kids coming by but I always enjoy the costumes as well as watching the parents who come with them. But last night I only had two little ones show up at my door, one dressed in a bear costume, the other totally encased in a Star Wars storm trooper costume. If I could have given him a prize for best costume, I would have. Instead, I told him to take more than one piece of candy. Very impressive how many pieces he managed to grab with his storm trooper-gloved hands!

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The End of #INKtober Shoe Sketches

Whew! I actually did it. A drawing each day of October without fail. Here are the last three, one more boot, an everyday shoe, and a vintage heirloom passed on to me from my mother.




Full disclosure, there are two more shoes I could sketch - an old pair of white tennis shoes that I only use for my daily walks (a bit of broken stitching but still serviceable as long as I keep replacing the insoles) and a pair of white water shoes that are like tennis shoes only with mesh so the water runs right out (great for our gravelly shorelines that would hurt bare feet when wading and for washing the car). I'm glad I didn't have to sketch them.

And now, regular service must return. I need to finish up some art quilts for a December exhibit...

Sunday, October 29, 2017

#INKtober Shoe Cavalcade End In Sight!

Here is week four's shoes from my #INKtober sketching challenge. It found me sketching styles from dress shoes to winter boots.







And so I've diligently sketched each day for four weeks, a whole month, right? Not quite. Seven days in a week times four weeks is only 28 days and there are 31 days in October. Just three more days with three more shoes to go!

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

An Autumn Overachiever

That's a 12 inch ruler at the top
It's been windy the last few days so I've stayed away from the park on my walks. There's a big stand of cottonwoods at the end of it, all golden and beautiful and for the most part, holding on to their leaves. But not all of them, I discovered yesterday when I ventured back into the park as I enjoyed the crisp but sunny day. Holy Cow!!! I had no idea cottonwood trees could produce such huge leaves.


Now you all know I've sworn off bringing home colorful leaves, but really, do you blame me? If nothing else, I needed a picture and I didn't have a camera with me. The leaf picking is addictive though, and as you see, some smaller versions also came home along with a few really small (by comparison) aspen leaves and one leaf that is still pretty green. All these strewn together on the path skirting that stand of trees.

And I have a mind to do something with them, although my first guilty thoughts were to just take pics and toss them. I like that fan arrangement of the big ones. I'm wondering about using them for sun printing or some other kind of printing. I've layered the smallest ones between sheets of that paper I made not long ago, wondering if any of the pigment with bleed into it as they dry under weights. The big ones have been flattened as best I could (they were quite ruffly around the tops) and also are under weights. No harm in that, right? Let the imagination percolate a bit, right? Fall IS my favorite season, no doubt about it. So much so that the poem below sent me on my own flights of fancy.

"Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns."
from The Writings of George Eliot, vol. 23 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1908)
 

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Third Week and Still #INKtobering

The third week of a month long challenge can be the make it or break it week for me. I had  an unusually busy week of meetings and appointments, and even if I hadn't, it would have been very easy to say I didn't have time for the sketching, should be using my time another way. It's that mid-race slump where your mind is apt to try to talk you out of finishing. But I soldiered on, with only one misstep (no pun intended). There was one pair in which my over-confidence was put in its place! Can you guess which one?







One week and a few days to go. I've done a count of what's left to sketch and it looks like I'll have just enough shoes to finish out the challenge. Others are telling me that they can see my sketching improving, and with these last two pairs, I think I now can see it too. Plus I've gained a new appreciation for what I have available to put on my feet, and see that some of them have been collecting dust for no good reason. It's been fascinating to observe each shoe's construction as well, just how the detailing was done, the variety of ways one can crisscross straps to create different patterns, how many shoes I own that have the overlapping straps and not just sandals. This week has been full of that kind of discovery.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Peaks and Valleys

So here's my sad tale. At least, I think it's sad. Life is full of peaks and valleys, highs and lows, and quilting is no different. No sooner do you have a success and are riding on a confident high than the tides turn and you are sunk down frustrated and wondering what happened. I'd finished quilting the fat quarter quilt top inside of the borders, an accomplishment in itself. I'd been pleased that I got faster and better the more of it I quilted. Now "all" I had left were the borders, and once I picked out the thread, it would be easy and go quickly because I'd be quilting around the paisley shapes in the fabric print. I was days away from being able to add the binding and toss it on my bed.

My first session quickly showed I'd slid off that peak of confidence and was struggling to quilt even a small area. I'd chosen a dark thread for the bobbin to match the top thread, wary of it pulling to the top and showing if it was a lighter thread to match the lighter panels of the backing. I'd chosen the dark thread for on top because I didn't want it to pull the eye away from the metallic gold outlining the printed paisleys. The two threads were a great match for both the border fabric and the dark blue panels on the back. I thought I'd be able to see where I had stitched as I moved around the design, but I couldn't. And when I checked to see what was going on with the thread on the back, it not only glared at me on top of the tan fabric but showed tension problems I'd not had with the thread I'd quilted the rest of the quilt with. I quit in frustration and wouldn't face it all week as if I was punishing the quilt for misbehaving! So much for my increased machine quilting skills and confidence.

I did eventually sit down with it again, with an idea for a different approach and a possible solution for the tension issues (I'd changed to a slightly heavier thread without changing to a bigger needle so switching out the needle appeared to help a lot). I'm still not crazy about how the outlining of the fabric design looks on the back and is so blatant with that dark thread, but at least I'm moving over the border with a bit more ease. It's slow going even so and will take probably twice as long as I projected. I may have to take it out of the machine and set it aside after all because I now have a December deadline for the exhibit I knew was coming up sometime before the end of the year. I have several things mostly done but nothing ready to go. I'll give it another week and then I'll have to switch gears.

So that's my sad story. But I'm bouncing back!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Another Week of #INKtober Shoes

A friend who follows me on Facebook as well as here asked yesterday if my shoe collection ever ends. Eventually it will, but at the moment, it doesn't look like that will happen before the end of the month. I'm noticing trends, themes, and buying habits that are not confined to shoes alone.







And although I had hoped to get quicker with my sketching as time went on, I only appear to be taking more time. I can't stop adding in details - the more I look, the more I see. Actually, it's eating into the time I might otherwise spend at the machine. I'm not minding that too much (it's another story I'll share later), but it does influence which shoe I choose each day, trying to go for the simpler ones in hopes I'll finish sooner and have time for the studio. So far, not happening. And there's one shoe in particular I keep putting off drawing because of all its detail. My days get away from me somehow, but I still manage to get a shoe or pair of shoes sketched each of them.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

A week of #INKtober Shoes

Those last two hikes I shared took an unexpected toll on my body so there's been no work at the sewing machine. But I HAVE been keeping up with drawing a shoe or pair of shoes each day of the first week of the INKtober challenge. Just like I thought my choice of cups and mugs last year would be easy to whip out (and were not), I'm finding the shoes I thought would be quick and easy are demanding much more focused observation and addition of details. Some days I felt I was spending way too long adding everything in. A few days I felt short on time so I sketched just one shoe of the pair. I'm struggling to show value and changes in texture within the limitation of a few colors of ink and my poor hatching skills. Well, it IS a challenge after all. Click on any photo for a larger version if you are interested in the narrative and type of pen and ink.







I've been posting daily on Facebook as an accountability prod and realize they may be revealing more about me than it occurred to me they might. The shoes themselves don't embarrass me, as they are all ones that I wear around other people so what's there to be embarrassed about? It's more how long I've had some of them around and how many there are. Well, as the month wears on, perhaps you'll see what I mean. I suppose it's one thing to wear shoes as one goes about one's daily business with few people taking notice or commenting, but something else to put each out on display and say, "Here, look at my shoes!" No no, I'm putting them on display and saying, "Here, look at my sketching!" And indeed, people are looking and seem to like my choice of subject, even if they think it odd. Some are accusing me of being a serial shoe sketcher, in jest of course, and I fire back that I've been a serial mug sketcher too. Ahh, the fun of sharing!  

Monday, October 02, 2017

Another Day In Paradise

Well, at least MY idea of paradise. Friday was to be our last sunny day in the 70's before another cold front swept through bringing a week of cooler temps and rain. So it was off to the woods again to hike an unexplored trail that's been on my list for awhile. Gold Hill is directly across the lake from Sandpoint, so a hop, skip and a jump away. In fact, we sailed along it on my birthday cruise. There'd be no babbling brooks this time but the promise of a viewpoint, so I traded my sketchbook for a camera.

The drive along Bottle Bay Road was a bit harrowing - a narrow winding road without shoulders or painted center line and few guardrails with speed limits between 25 and 35 mph. I really wanted to take glances of the lake but didn't dare take my eyes off the road. The locals who live along this stretch know the road like the back of their hands and one impatient truck roared by me without a pause. It occurred to me that when I was young, most main roads were just like this one. I was very relieved to pull into the trailhead parking lot after almost 5 miles of this. I gathered all my gear and headed up the mountain, the moderate-rated trail immediately showing me this was going to be a true hike.

The trail was a steady ascent zigzagging its way up through the quiet and shadowy woods, the southern exposure getting little direct sun. For the most part it was soft packed dirt but occasionally there'd be outcroppings of rocks and exposed tree roots. The trail is rated most difficult for Mountain Bikes and I'm thinking this sort of thing along with the incline are some of the reasons why. I was hoping there'd be none on the trail this day as I'd had a near collision with a couple of kids on bikes on a different trail.


The climb would be even steeper if not for the switchbacks allowing the trail to go back and forth across the face of the hill. I would not want to be on a bike heading down and through these sharp changes in direction. But that's just me. I did actually pass two bikers on the way up, let them know with a laugh that I thought they were crazy, but they were not kids seeing how fast they could go. They were taking it slow and steady and letting me know how many of them to expect as they were fairly spaced out.


Because of the relatively moderate incline, I could usually see where the trail would cross above me and where I had just been. At one point I heard voices and looked up to see two twenty-somethings running down the trail above me, water bottles in hand. Too much energy, I told them as they passed.


I didn't do much looking or any picture taking on the way up, focused on getting up to the first observation bench which I estimated would be a little more than a mile along the trail. I haven't done this strenuous of a hike in quite a while and this was a test of my strength and stamina. I kept checking now and then to see if I could spot the lake through the trees but they were fairly dense. I'd have to wait for that viewpoint if I could make it.


And I did, with this as my reward. Darn trees. I'm sure when this resting spot was put in on the trail, these trees were not blocking the view. I've seen this at other viewpoints too, where the forest has grown up to block the view. Still, it was a pretty nice spot.


Here's a zoomed-in shot. This is looking northeast of Sandpoint where the Pack River drains into the lake forming a delta rife with wildlife.


The bench has a dedication plaque to someone I don't know. But I took courage from it's message: 'He inspired us all to stay focused on our dreams." Well, that's what I was doing here, wasn't it, fulfilling one of my dreams of exploring in the surrounding woods? While I sat taking a break, taking in the view and snapping a few pics, a  young couple arrived on their way up. I asked if he'd been up the trail before to see if I could get an idea of how much farther it was to the next bench and he said, oh yes, he'd been up the trail many times but not for quite a few years. She was quick to add that this was her first time. Couldn't help but think, ahhh young love; the boy wanted to show his girlfriend or maybe wife where he'd spent his youth. They were full of energy and headed on up the trail. I didn't feel very worn out so I decided to go on up the trail too, at least for a little bit. I've always been lured by what might be around the next corner if I just went a little bit farther. But I knew I didn't have it in me to make the next viewpoint, and checking the time knew I needed to head back down.


Now that I didn't have to expend so much energy, I could look around me more and take a few pictures. There were lots of granite boulders, some quite large, which may or may not have been left by the ice-age floods.


And because of the shadiness, most of these were covered in moss and interesting lichens.


And I was reminded again of my fascination with rock layers turned on end, a sight I grew up with in these north Idaho mountains. This one is not as extreme as many in the area.


There were more birches and aspens mixed with the spruce, pine and cedar than I expected, one startling me with the silent drop of a single yellow leaf beside me. I was more startled that I'd missed this richly colored trunk on the way up.



And of course, if it is cool and damp there will be ferns. I didn't notice until I was reviewing my photos at home that these two are slightly different. They seemed to insist that I will sketch the simpler of the two once home and perhaps even thread sketch it. I've not really been a fern person in my textile work but for some reason, studying the symmetry in a single frond reminded me of a Zentangle design I'd liked and why not work with this?


I had dawdled quite a bit on the way down, taking much longer than I had anticipated, but finally the parking lot came into view.


And I'd be heading back down that narrow winding road, the one with the blind curve preceded with a warning sign of "road narrows" (even narrower than what I've been white knuckling???) and the bit of guardrail looking as if it's sliding down the embankment into the lake. I'm not sure I want to brave that road again just to see if I can make it farther up the hill next time. I can access the top of the trail by a different road which may not be as harrowing and will provide me with a spectacular view from the start.