Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Adventurous Life of an Art Quilter???

Unless you are a quilter, you may be asking yourself how a person can actually use the words "quilt" and "adventure" in the same sentence? Yes, quilters bear the burden of being stereotyped as little old ladies who sit home alone with their sewing and their cats. But things have changed in the last century or so. OK, so I do have a cat, well three actually, but I don't sit home alone. I like adventure. Perhaps that's an odd admission from a person who is too afraid to ride a roller coaster, bungee jump, water ski, snow ski... well you get the picture. But I do like a challenge, so in the winter of 2006 I signed up to go on a quilting cruise to the Caribbean. I had never been on a cruise, and never been to the Caribbean.. On top of that, I went by myself...alone! My friends and family were aghast.I flew down to Florida and spent a few days in Daytona with my son who drove me to Miami in his little sports car. I had a stylish ride. What a great start to my adventure. I checked into my room on board the ship and met the roommate that the cruise company had arranged for me. She turned out to be a very nice woman from California. So far, so good. Then we had to go on deck for a life boat drill, complete with life vests, life boats and whistles we could use should the ship go down in the dark. Gulp!! I'm starting to wish I hadn't seen that movie, The Titanic. However, a few drinks and a trip through the 40 foot buffet line took the edge off my anxiety. The cruise was sponsored by Quilting Arts Magazine so I was looking forward to meeting Pokey Bolton, (who I later learned is a descendant of Pocahontas, hence the nickname Pokey), as well as the instructors hired to provide us with quilting seminars during the voyage: Leslie Riley, Laura Cater-Woods and Arlene Blackburn.

Lesley Riley

I am not a person that is easily impressed by fame. I think I could sit next to a celebrity on an airplane and hardly give them a second glance, unless perhaps there was smoke emanating from their shoe or lap. After all, they are just people like the rest of us and they look a whole lot smaller in real life. But I was going to get to meet Lesley Riley and Laura Cater-Woods for cripes sake! One of Laura's art quilts was on the cover of the very first Quilting Arts magazine I ever saw, and I was totally in awe of her work. I can say that I was not ashamed to ask her for an autograph, and I was thrilled to bits when she commented on the quality of my first free motion quilting. After all, if Laura saw some potential in me, then maybe I could master this difficult technique. I was so celebrity struck that I forgot to take her picture.

Arlene Blackburn

I loved how the trip was organized. The two days at sea, were spent in the classroom with the other quilters taking seminars from world class instructors. The other days were filled with the adventure of five different ports of call. I should mention that one of the items on my personal bucket list was to climb on Mayan Ruins somewhere in the world, and low and behold, this was one of the options available on the cruise. But let me back up for a moment. The day before visiting the ruins in Mexico, we were scheduled to drop anchor in The Cayman Islands, so I signed up to go on a snorkeling "adventure." Now, although I had a roommate, we were not really interested in the same things, so I went on all the day trips by myself. I had plenty of experience with snorkeling as a kid. Our neighbors had a swimming pool and we snorkeled practically every day of the summer. So this was going to be a piece of cake, right? Well, I have to say, as I am sitting on the deck of the boat, listening to the safety sermon about how to wear your gear, and not to worry about sharks because there aren't any around here (right? don't they watch those National Geographic specials?), I started to have a tiny bit of anxiety. After all, no one in the whole world knew I was sitting on this boat, except perhaps the folks that took my reservation back on the ship, and I figured they were pretty busy people who might not notice I hadn't make it back until it was way too late. And then there was that movie I watched, about those two snorkelers who were left behind and died in Australia... never seen again. Well a true adventurer wouldn't give it a second thought, and besides I paid a ton of money for this cruise, so by god I was jumping in.

Yipes! Although I had great memories of snorkeling as a kid, I had completely forgotten about nearly drowning in the neighbor's pool. That little memory came flooding back about the time I hit the water. I was having difficulty breathing and kept swallowing copious amounts of sea water. I should mention that I had purchased a disposable underwater camera for the trip in order to capture a few Jacques Cousteau moments for posterity, and was determined to take some photos. Too afraid to stick my head in the water for more that two seconds at a time, I just held the camera below me and clicked the shutter. Upon development of the film, I was pleased to note that in addition to my feet, I did get several shots of fish and other sea life.

Now fast forward to the next day. I am sitting on the bus with nine other people on the way to the Mayan ruins, and now have a terrible sore throat and a fever, obviously the result of ingesting polluted salt water. But there is no way I am missing out on climbing those ruins. Our guide pulls out box lunches that contain tuna fish sandwiches and tells us to hold on to them until we reach the ruins, about an hour away. Now I used to be a microbiology technician, and I am already questioning the advisability of serving tuna fish in the tropics, but sit, as directed, with the sandwhich on my lap for an hour. As we exit the bus, we are told that there will be a lovely place to picnic at the end of the tour, again about another hour from now. I begin to calculate the time it takes for bacteria to reproduce and figure in another hour I could be vomiting, too. I decide to eat and walk at the same time. I am proud that I read the guide books and have liberally coated myself with heavy duty bug spray. No one else seems concerned about the mosquitoes. After I inform them that this is malaria country, I make several friends who want to share my heavy duty Deet. I am truly in awe of the ruins and am photographing them from every possible angle to get the best shot. Then I remember another Nat Geo episode about the crafty Fer de Lance snake that inhabits this area. I did not notice a first aid kit on the van. I begin to walk gingerly, but made it safely to the picnic grounds, which was on the bank of a breathtaking lagoon. I notice that no one is eating their picnic, apparently I am not alone in my opinion of the tuna fish. I am very glad to see a restroom, altough it is merely a hole in the ground with no doors. The roof is covered with palm fronds. The women take turns making sure the coast is clear from the males in our party. When it's my turn, I start thinking about how those Fer de Lance snakes are reputed to hide in palm frond ceilings, then drop down onto their unsuspecting victims. Death come rapidly. In my hast, I manage to drop my brand new, and expensive sun glasses down the hole. I decide to view this loss as a sacrifice to the gods that keep me safe from snake bite. Despite what you may think, I had the trip of a lifetime. And you thought quilting was for little old ladies!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Coffee with Kathy

Homeplace II: Cattle Barn, Lancaster, Ohio 2010

This has been a very productive year for me. I have clocked in a record number of studio hours, and after finishing my Quilt National 2011 entry in August, I was just plain pooped. Time for drastic measures. I instituted a self-proclaimed sabbatical from quilting for the entire month of September and did a number of things to rejuvenate myself and keep my artistic mojo working. I went to the zoo, got addicted to The Clothes Mentor resale shop and bought a whole new fall wardrobe, visited some galleries and went bicycling and hiking. I also decided to visit one of my old friends from the days when I lived in a log cabin in Circleville,Ohio ... Kathy. We practically raised each other's kids. I used to knock on her door and she would put on a pot of coffee and we would spend the afternoon chatting.

Slate Run Historical Farm , Canal Winchester, Ohio

It was a beautiful day last Sunday, and I hadn't seen Kath for years, so on a whim, I stopped by and sure enough she put on the coffee and we got caught up. It got me to thinking about the time in my life when we were neighbors, and how I got started quilting. Well, I missed out on the hippie movement, except as a spectator, my mom would have had a fit. But, the back to the land movement in the 70's was just my style. I lived in a log cabin, gardened, canned, made homemade bread and noodles, even made sauerkraut, although I can't stand the stuff. Just before the birth of my first child I taught myself to quilt with the help of one of the few quilting books that was around then, The Perfect Patchwork Primer by Beth Gutcheon. I still have the well loved and well worn, black and white book.

Alphabet Sampler Comforter, 1979
Not long after that I decided to join a quilt guild and worked up all my courage to attend a meeting without knowing a soul. The mean age of the group was probably somewhere around sixty, so I immediately gravitated to the two other twenty-something members and we became fast friends. About the same time I started volunteering at Slate Run Historical Farm and talked my two friends in joining too. The farm is a working farm frozen in the 1880's time period, with volunteers wearing appropriate historical attire and interpreting history in first person. I was in seventh heaven. I got to wear long dresses and quilt all day long, using the treadle sewing machine to piece the tops.

Slate Run Historical Farm
Pretty soon we had a quilting revolution in full swing. We were making and hand quilting tops, including several friendship quilts, sewing a pretend wedding quilt and putting on a quilt show. We started having quilting bees, often after work, with both guys and girls in attendance. It was probably the first time in history that beer has ever been served at a quilting bee.

Little Red School House Baby Quilt 1979
There is one bee that is forever etched in my mind. My two friends and I were attempting to quilt on a frame in my dining room, but our kids were driving us crazy. Every few minutes some child was crying or whining or having a runny nose. Then, after a while we noticed that we were just getting a ton of work done with no interruptions. UH OH! When six kids under the age of five are quiet for any length of time, something is wrong. I walked around the corner to the living room and stopped breathing for a moment. My son and his cohorts had taken the fireplace shovel and scooped about an inch of ashes from the fireplace, that contained a live fire I might add, onto my coffee table and were running their matchbox cars on the roads they had made in the ashes. As a good mother, (really? you didn't even notice they were playing with a live fire) I felt the need to provide a terse reprimand without laughing. However, as I looked at the children, it was hard to tell who was who, and I burst out laughing. Their faces were completely covered with ashes, except for white circles around their eyes. They looked like six little raccoons! I laughed until the tears streamed down my face, so I'm not sure if they ever knew they were in trouble. We were extremely lucky that no child was harmed in the making of that quilt, and that I still had a house to call home. What one does in the name of art!

Slate Run Historical Farm
It's been a long time since those days. My baby is now 31 years old. I still have my children's baby quilts, and although I have given up traditional quilting, I still remember my quilting roots and try to honor them. If you have a moment, pull out some of your first work and see just how far you have come. And, don't forget to visit one of your friend's this week, she might just fix you a cup of coffee and you can reminisce about the good ol' days.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

C'mon Baby, Let's Do the Mashed Potato

Poatato Dextrin Sample #1 - White cotton - purple liquid Rit dye

Anyone remember the dear departed George Carlin and his great humor? I love his shtick about Americans' need to accumulate stuff, or as George would say, sh*t. No doubt about it. I'm a material girl that loves her sh*t. The only thing better than getting new sh*t is getting sh*t cheap. I love the hunt of finding really good sh*t cheap. Finding a great bargain gives me a shot of adrenalin that keeps me going for days

Potato Dextrin Sample #2 - Mulberry colored cotton with bleach

My stash of quilt fabrics is a sub-category of good sh*t, and keeping it up to date is one of my satisfying occupations, so when I can get good textile sh*t, cheap, I'm in seventh heaven. I love to buy specialty fabrics, but sometimes making your own is even better. I've been wanting to try some potato dextrin dying, and when my friend Kris showed me some of hers I was sold on the idea. Well, potato dextrin is a specialty item that has to be purchased on the Internet, but I read somewhere that you could do it with instant mashed potatoes. Hey, cheap sh*t! I had to try it.

Potato Dextrin Sample #3 - White cotton - blue Rit dye
I purchased a big box of really cheap instant mashed potatoes and mixed one half cup of the flakes to each one cup of boiling water, stirred well and let it sit until luke warm. Meanwhile I cut some squares of fabric and pinned them to a slab of composition board. Half of the fabric was white cotton and the other half was two different shades of purple, you could use any color you choose. I took my drywall spatula and smeared various thicknesses of potatoes on the fabric and left it outside to dry. I left it outside while I was at work, so I was not at home to check on the progress. When I came home I was downhearted. The pins had popped out and the fabric was all curled up, and big hunks of the potatoes had dropped off. I gently crinkled what remained to create the cracks needed for the dye or bleach to penetrate the fabric. I decided to go ahead anyway, despite the nasty appearance of my project. (Did I mention I'm cheap?)

Poato Dextrin Sample #4 - Deep purple fabric with bleach
I did all of my work outside to prevent having to clean up a mess in my house, and also to insure good ventilation. I decided to use the bleach first. Never to do anything by halves, I used it straight out of the bottle and quickly ran to get my respiration mask because the fumes were so strong (a trip to the ER is NOT cheap). The results however, were amazing. It took about one minute or perhaps even less to get the desired effect. I quickly dumped the samples in a bucket of water and scrubbed the fabric to remove the potato flakes. Next I tried the Rit dye on cotton. The directions called for thickened dye, no other explanation given. How does one thicken dye? Who knows, so I just used the concentrated liquid which flowed into the cracks well. Unfortunately, when I'm dying, painting, etc., I am more like a 6 year old than I would like to admit. I want immediate gratification. I could only stand to wait about 15 minutes for the dye to set, so the color is a bit washed out in my opinion. I think if I had left it on for about an hour I would have gotten better results. Of the two, I liked the bleach process the best because you have no idea what the result will be. I thought sample #2 came out looking like Florentine marbleized paper. I hope to do some more dying before the weather turns cold as this is not a process you will want to do in your home. Anyway, give it a try, you might get some good sh*t, and if you're really cheap, you can serve the leftover potatoes to your dog or hang a few strips of wallpaper, I never thought they were fit for human consumption.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Eating Crow

There have been quite a few times in my life when I have had to eat the words that have come out of my mouth. This started pretty early on. One evening, around the age of ten, I was standing at the sink and crying because I had to wash the dishes and touch all that icky food left in the bottom of the strainer. I distinctly remember telling my mother that when I grew up I would never have to do such a horrible thing because "I'm going to marry a rich man and have a maid." Like that ever happened! I didn't even own a dishwasher until 3 years ago. Other famous proclamations included never working with children or becoming a supervisor in my professional life. (I have been the supervisor of children's mental health services at our agency for eight years now), and telling a previous employer during an evaluation that "I don't really need any goals, I just want to enjoy living my life." Just a minute while I pick a few feathers out of my mouth.

As a result of that last statement, my boss sent me to a Franklin Planner seminar on, you guessed it, setting and achieving goals, which I had to pay for out of my own pocket by the way. The seminar tied goal setting into your personal value system. Now I had a reason to set a goal or two. Ever since that day I have set goals in spades and have accomplished a lot, including going back to college and getting two degrees. I only mention this as this past year I set some goals that have really moved my art quilt career along.

I am basically a type B minus personality. It takes a lot to get me riled up. I am also notorious for putting things off. I do things when I "get around to it." I had been talking about getting a website, learning Photoshop, and getting in some galleries for several years, but never got around to it. Then SAQA (Studio Art Quilt Associates) started their Visioning Project this time last year. You had to publicly declare your goals and keep an online journal on their website for the entire year. My goal was to develop some marketing tools, and I'm proud to say I just completed this goal and then some. I especially wanted to set up a website,, and a paper portfolio.

If you were a little mouse in the room on my first day back to college at the age of 45, you would have had the opportunity to see me have an anxiety attack when I was asked to turn on the computer sitting behind me. Honestly, I thought the campus was so overcrowded and we were forced to have our English Comp class in a computer lab! I had to ask a little twenty something where the "button" was that turned it on. A dear friend of mine helped me learn to do web searches and really saved my bacon on various research papers, so you know I'm a bit challenged when it comes to IT matters. But with many stops and starts, a battle with Walmart over the purchase of Photoshop Elements and guidance from both of my wonderful sons, I can say I was able to overcome the computer technology I needed to complete my goals. The results are the paper portfolio shown above, a website, this blog and new business cards. I am ready to get out there and market my work. It's gonna be a good year. I'm pretty sure I'm not finished saying dumb stuff, but I am very practiced at eating crow. It's an acquired taste.

Monday, August 2, 2010


Well, if you are anything like me, you just love to purchase those glossy art mags at Joannes or Hobby Lobby, or Barnes and Nobles. Even though I've seen it all before, they are just too darn hard to pass up, after all, I carry one of those coupons for 40% off in my purse for just such an occasion. One of the magazines I like is Where Women Create. You know the ones with the stunning, to die for studios. The ones with cute little antique jars to hold all of your buttons and the antique sewing machines that are artistically placed in the room to give just the right touch of creative ambiance.

I also grew up loving fairy tales, and that is what those studios are ... fairy tales. Kinda reminds me of that line in Crocodile Dundee, where Dundee says Knife? That ain't no knife, eers a REAL knife. Well here's a photo of a real studio one month before entries to Quilt National are due.
Did I mention that I have battled an issue with procrastination all of my life?

I should probably just ignore one of the biggest quilting events in the country, but heck, it's only 40 miles from my house! How can you ignore that? Not to mention just to get in could be a career maker. Forget the part where the guy at Cord Camera told me last time that he couldn't figure out what QN wanted with their instructions for digital images, "Lady, National Geographic is not that picky." Or the part where they actually give an award to the person who has tried the most times to get in and finally made it. I was told the record was 7 attempts. With the event being held every two years, that's fourteen years of your life, hoping to hit the big one. Let's see, that means I have another 10 years to go if I don't get in this year. I'll be....uhhh...well... darn near 70 if I wait that long to get in. (I can't do math, thank god for art quilts, all those little pieces and yardage requirements to calculate with traditional quilts.) Anyway, hard as I try, I cannot let Quilt National go by without an attempt at fame and glory.

I have been pulling out all the stops this year to produce a quilt worthy enough to enter. When I say this year, I actually mean starting last week ( I did mention the procrastination issue). I am using those new silk screen techniques, have a groovy color scheme the judges are sure to love and keep chasing the cats off my entry every five minutes. But still things tend to go wrong. Now I have to admit I am a whiz at printing fabric in my printer, running paper bags and all kinds of fabrics through it (except maybe that one time when I had to go out and buy a new printer due to a severe jam.) But the last two days have been very trying, I have literally used up a 10 pack of ink jet fabric at $24.99, (all right so I did have a 40% off coupon, you do the math), and a whole brand new ink cartridge at $18.99, (I'm too cheap to buy the good stuff), and I was unable to print the big, enlarged photo I had my heart set on for the centerpiece of the quilt. Every print was completly unusable. Yikes!

Then I realized that God speaks to us in mysterious ways. If I had been able to print out that image, I would have screwed up the integretiy and compostion of the whole piece with my determination to do it a certain way. S0, I 'm out a few bucks and another trip to the store for more printer sheets and another ink cartidge, but I'm much happier with the version I was forced to make.

What am I making? There's a teaser in the corner of the photo, but I will say no more until I get my rejection letter in the mail, and last time I got a very nice one that I was proud to show all my friends. What's the saying? Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Got to get back to the studio. There's plenty of time to clean it up after QN.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

What I did on My Summer Vacation Part 2

Anniko Feher
Let's Face It Workshop
No, I have not been abducted by space aliens. I am alive and well and still living in Lancaster, Ohio. But it has been one hot and busy summer for me. I had a solo show last week and have spent the entire month of July getting ready for it. With my " just one more quilt" attitude, I have been logging in some serious studio time. I have also been working on my SAQA Visioning Project like nobodies business and am proud to say that I accomplished my goal this week! I now have a beautiful little book to use as a paper portfolio (guess the fall will be busy too as I start to market my art work to galleries). There's no rest for the wicked!

Anniko Explaining her Technique for Portrait quilts
Before the summer got so darn hot and crazy I did spend part of my vacation attending a fabulous quilt workshop on fabric portraits. I belong to the Common Threads Quilt Guild in Bexley, Ohio. What a fun bunch of quilters. God bless 'em. I am the only self-proclaimed art quilter in the group, but somehow they let me in. And for a group of pretty traditional quilters they bring in well-known art quilters to speak at our meetings and sometimes give classes.

A Face in the Making

I had not attended any of their workshops before and decided this one looked really interesting. I love figurative work, but cannot draw people to save my soul. They usually turn out looking rather deformed or perhaps just ape-like, so hey, if she could teach me how to do life-like portraits I was waiting to be amazed, and honestly I was.

She Takes Shape
Before she started with the technique, Anniko told her story of coming to the US from Hungary in the sixties. She had had hopes of becoming an artist as a teenager and going to art school in Hungary. However, due to the corruption of the communist government and the high cost of the bribes required to enter a specialized school, her parents enrolled her in a school for seamstresses. She hated every minute of her time there and soon came to realize that her sewing was the worst in the entire school. Many years later she learned about quilting in the US and has never looked back. She explained that many of her relatives were annihilated in the Holocaust. She was in possession of one tiny black and white photo of her grandmother and made the most amazing quilt of her that was just purchased by a museum for their permanent collection. What an honor for a girl who couldn't sew!

Completed Face
Well, as we all sat down and prepared to work, I looked at the pattern we were going to be using that was generated from a photo of one of Anniko's friends. I started to feel the slightest niggling of anxiety beginning to stir in my gut. This pattern looked like a very intricate paint by number canvas. Each color of fabric was denoted by a number. Number? I hate numbers! We were to write the numbers on the backs of the various shades of fabric and keep them in order as we worked. Well, I'm sort of a laid back, do it if it feel right sort of girl, and I was very quickly becoming disoriented. I kept having to ask Anniko to come back to my seat, asking "what did you say to do?, Is this right? What area are we supposed to be working on?" I felt like an idiot. Meanwhile, all the traditional quilters are merrily progressing and are way ahead of me. OMG! I was going to be the one person who couldn't do it. The art quilter who couldn't make an art quilt. The laughing stock of the guild! However, an amazing thing happened, after a half an hour the technique just clicked and I got it. I wasn't stupid after all. I could do this. In another hour, not only was I not behind, I was leading the pack, and ooops, not following directions. All those little numbers fell off my fabric and I was using them in an intuitive way. Hey, this is my style after all. I am proud to say that I was one of the few to finish the face before class ended. Anniko told me that my face was "different from all the rest, and I mean that in a good way." It was very interesting to observe that while we were all using the same pattern, each face turned out completly different, and even more odd was the fact that the faces actually looked like the person making them. It was a lot of fun and I can't wait to get started on a quilt using my own photograph, but I've got just one more quilt to finish first.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

What I Did on My Summer Vacation - Part One

Japanese Friendship Garden, Balboa Park, San Diego
It has been a mad house around here lately. A lot of commitments at work, preparation for a solo show, trying to keep up with the yard, etc., so I really needed a break. This year it was California here I come. If you are a woman of a certain age, perhaps you had a big crush on the Beach Boys as a teen, I sure did.
Torrey Pines State Park, La Jolla
Living in the middle of Ohio, about the closest we came to an ocean was Lake Erie, so California had a certain cache for all the kids in my neighborhood. We wore beach attire, listened to songs about woodies and little deuce coops and rode our skate boards on our flat as a pancake geography and imagined we knew what it was to ride the big one with Gidget and the Big Kahuna. I dreamed of being a "California Girl." When I actually met a real person from California, I was in the ninth grade. She was frankly pretty square (as if I wasn't?) but it didn't matter, she was from that magical state and must have achieved Nirvana at the age of 14.

San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art, La Jolla
Anyway, my son and his girlfriend moved to San Diego last fall so she could enter a doctorate program, and he hasn't been able to wipe the smile off his face since. When I ask him on the phone how the weather is, he just giggles and tells me it's 70 degrees and's always 70 degrees and sunny. I stayed for four days and was able to see a lot of interesting things. La Jolla was beautiful, I loved Torrey Pines State Park. We went hiking and the views of the Pacific Ocean were stunning, as well as the pines themselves, which are extremely rare and very photogenic. The hills were covered with succulents and apparently also sprinkled with two varieties of rattle snakes, which we luckily did not see... or hear.

Harbor Seals in La Jolla Cove
We also visited the San Diego Museum of Modern Art. They had one of Andy Goldworthy's cairns on the lawn. If you don't know who Andy is, you've got to check him out on google. He is the most amazing sculptor who uses only natural material like vines and rocks in the most spectacular ways. When I got home I reserved as many of his books as I could find, as well as a video documentary about him from the public library. Unfortunately, I did not get a photo of his work in La Jolla.

San Diego Museum of Modern Art in La Jolla.
We also drove to a wine growing area called Temecula, about on hour north of San Diego and tasted wine all day. I had my fair share, but at least half of what I tasted was dumped in a jar designed for just such a purpose. We also visited the San Diego Zoo and Balboa Park. I had been dying to visit the Japanese Garden there and it was very peaceful and calming.
No trip would be complete without including textiles somehow. This time I visited the Quilt Visions Gallery not far from Dan Diego Bay, and was really impressed. The gallery is dedicated to art quilts only, and three artists were exhibiting, including Valerie Goodwin. I have seen photos of her work in SAQA bulletins and Quilting Arts magazine, but let me tell you, photos just do not show the amazing layering and detail of her work. The women that run the gallery are volunteers and like all the quilters I've met, were very friendly and informative. They let me know that anyone can join Quilt Visions and have the opportunity to apply to their shows. They also had a nice gift shop with hand dyes, books etc. I bought an art quilt pendant that I can't wait to wear. I also got a hot tip on a fabric store called Rosie's, but ran out of steam and money before I could get there. Next trip it will be at the top of my list. Anyway, I did a little California dreaming and came home rejuvenated and ready to get back in the studio and back to work.

Monday, June 14, 2010

I'm in Love (It's not what you think)

Original Photo
Don't get too excited, I'm talking about a new art technique that I absolutely screening. My art friends and I tried silk screening at last summer's art retreat, with only minimal results. It sure seemed a whole lot more trouble than it was worth. We used directions featured in Quilting Arts magazine and after doing some of my own research on the topic, I found out that the directions were, shall I say, variations on a theme. Not recommended for the beginner and frankly, I'm not sure I would recommend the technique at all. The article suggested using gel medium to drag through the screen, and if you have used this medium, you know how thick and goopy it is. Physics alone would indicate there is going to be a problem trying to force it through the tiny holes in the screen.

Thermofax Screen
After reading about the subject, it seemed as though we did not give this technique a fair shake. Other problems encountered were not using the proper screen size, correct mesh size and not degreasing the screen before use, all important facts that were left out of the article. For this summer's retreat, I really wanted to try silkscreening again using the thermofax method. I still remember the smell of freshly mimeographed work sheets and tests from back in the day, sort of an elementary school high that was almost as good as eating paste (yes, there's one in every class, but I'm not sayin' it was me). The thermofax uses the old fashioned mimeograph machines to cut an image into a plastic film. I did an Internet search and found that Lyric Kincaid,, had the best prices and has what has to be the fastest delivery anywhere, except perhaps McDonald's. You email her your image and she must burn them the minute they plop into her inbox. I had the returned thermofax in two days.

Thermofax quilt top on the design board.
I purchased Photoshop Elements 8 last winter and used it to alter the original tree photo above. You could just xerox it, but if I'm going to lay out some cash for a new program, I'm going to use it. Besides it was really fun. Keep in mind that high contrast makes the best images for thermofax, and you can snail mail your image to Lyric with a check instead of doing the online route. An advantage to the thermofax technique is that you don't need to use a screen, just put some duck tape around the edge and you are ready to go. You will need to purchase a squeegee. I got mine at Dick Blick.

Regular Silk Screen of Trees with Fabric
Since we couldn't get the regular silk screening to work last year because of the gel medium problem, (my friend Peggy said it took so much strength she thought she would throw her back out), I was determined to give it a try too. I had equally good results this time and just used a tree stencil on the back side of the screen to make a long horizontal row of trees. It was windy the day we were working, so there are some black marks in between the trees, but when quilted, these will become undergrowth.

On the design wall

I got the idea to make the trees reflect the changing of the seasons by dropping various colors of snippets on the screened trees.

On the Design Wall

I screened the original tree on to some different background fabrics, again with the idea of representing the seasons. I haven't had time to do much else but look at these beauties on the design wall, but I hope to get at least two of them quilted for my solos show in July. It would be fun to screen some trees in different colors and perhaps on different fabrics like silk. I see pillows here, and I'm thinking Christmas gifts. So if you are attempting something new, the old adage, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again., " may just be the answer to your problem.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Entropy Revisited

32W x 27H
Many of you expressed an interest in seeing what became of the rusty train photos I shot a few months ago. Well, they morphed into my first SAQA Show entry. I had already taken these photos when SAQA posted a call for entries for No Place to Call Home, a show with the theme of homelessness. I may have shared that in real life I am a clinical social worker, and as such, I deal with this issue and many others in an all too real way. So, about the last thing I had any intention of doing was entering this show. I do make an attempt to keep my professional and personal life as separate as possible and this felt like it was pushing the boundary. Then I got the bright idea to base my quilt on all the homeless men, women and over 250,000 children that "rode the rails" during the Great Depression. I had heard much about this period from my parents, who both lived through it as children. They had it tough, but were never homeless. I remembered hearing a piece on NPR (my favorite) about the boxcar kids and an author who was researching their plight all these years later. It was a very touching piece, and all of a sudden I was on a roll with this quilt. I tossed all my other work aside in order to get it done in plenty of time to enter.

Detail 1933
I was already in possession of some old quilt blocks I bought at a yard sale 20 years ago that looked like they contained depression era shirting material. So, I used some of them whole and others I cut up and mixed with new batiks. I went down to the Goodwill and bought some old jeans, cords and wool tweed pants and threw them in the mix (my friend Jessica would not let me use the zipper, she said it was too distracting, if you know what I mean). Then I printed out the rust photos on cotton fabric. I bought Photoshop Elements 8 last Christmas, battling for weeks with Walmart and my computer to get the darn thing to work. All in all, it was a great move, but I've gotta tell ya, I had to quilt just to calm myself down from the frustration of being so technologically challenged. Thank the lord I've got a calling plan that allows me to call my two boys every five minutes asking for help, and two sons who know that their Mom is dunce in this area, and don't care. Anyway, I'm starting to get the gist of it and it is amazingly fun to play with. So, I altered some of my train photos and printed them out too. While I was doing research for the quilt, I learned that hoboes actually had a whole set of symbols they used to communicate with each other to warn of barking dogs, police and Railroad Bulls or to give each other the low down on a handout. These symbols were hidden in the quilting. I decided on a deconstructed look that would mimic a torn blanket, perhaps carried in a bedroll for warmth on the boxcars. I topped the whole thing off with an old spoon I found smashed in the road this winter. It reminded me that many people found their meals in hobo jungles. Well, technology was used to digitally enter the show today and will keep my fingers crossed, but frankly I'm just too darn busy to worry about it. I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Live an Artful Life, Attend a Lecture

Debra Lunn and Michael Mrowka of Artisan Batiks, a division of Robert Kaufman Fabrics

Some of my friends think I need to have my head examined, and frankly sometimes I agree with them. One of the more impulsive, (and interesting) things I have done in the past few months is to volunteer to be the Ohio representative for SAQA. Those of you in the know recognize this as the moniker for Studio Art Quilt Associates. In my quest to pursue life as a real, honest to goodness artist I joined this organization because its goal is to promote quilts as art and to promote textile artists, too.

Michael Mrowka Explaining the Design and Production of His Line of Artist Batiks
A few months ago, the position of Ohio representative became vacant and a call went out by the powers that be to fill it. Well, I waited around for a couple of weeks, but darn it, no one volunteered. So, I sent off a little email and just like that, I was the new rep (wish other things were that easy). This is when my friends questioned my sanity, and frankly so did I at the time, but it has already been interesting and I have had the opportunity meet some fantastic SAQA members. It is in my capacity as SAQA Ohio rep that I had the privilege to attend a lecture and interview Debra Lunn and Michael Mrowka, also SAQA Ohio members. The way I natter away on this blog, some of you may have the idea that I am an outgoing person. Well, I've learned to fake it when necessary, and interviewing Michael and Debra following their lecture was a real treat.

Michael Displaying the Use of his New Batik Stripes (I bet you thought you had to do a lot of strip piecing. Nope, just cut big triangles.)
This artistic couple started manufacturing their line of batiks in Java, an island in Indonesia, several years ago. It takes 200 weaving machines to provide them with enough cotton fabric to produce between one and two million yards of batiks a year. This represents about 600 new designs every 365 days. The fabric is handmade in the hot and humid weather of Java, which lies close to the equator. Oddly enough, this extreme environment helps to set the dyes. The company employs about 250 workers, and Michael and Debra have dedicated themselves to giving back to the people who provide the quilt world with such wonderful fabric. They have a free lunch for employees each day, and live, eat and attend ceremonial events with their staff, many of whom they consider family. They adopted a Javanese daughter a few years ago and figured prominently in her wedding last year. In addition, they built a water treatment facility in the plant, returning only purified water to the river.

Larger View of Quilt Featuring Striped Line of Batiks

Debra and Michael met in a bookstore, so it is no surprise that their love of reading has inspired them to open a lending library called Ganesa in the community, which has just achieved non-profit status. The pair explained that reading and libraries are not an inherent part of Javanese culture, so they have had to encourage patrons to read and actually make reading suggestions to individuals reluctant to borrow books. They indicated that many of the books are non-fiction titles that teach skills such as crafts, fish keeping or fashion. In order to raise money for Ganesa, the couple had many half yard samples of their cherished designs for sale at the event, and 100% of the proceeds went to benefit the library. I admit I came home with several pieces to add to my stash, it was for a good cause (justification number 127). After attending this lecture, I will no longer complain about the high price of batiks. Considering the intensive labor, extreme working conditions and handmade nature of the end product, they are a bargain at half the price!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Art Floozies (or How to Host an Art Reteat)

Peggy and Jessica Eating a Hearty Breakfast

Some people will do just about anything to pursue their art. As an artist, you know you're running with the right crowd when they support you in your choice of buying art supplies over mundane items such as say, food. They utter comments like "you really need those paints," or "you've worked hard all your life, I really think you should buy that batik fabric." or, "your husband will get over it, what's he gonna do, divorce you because you bought some gesso? What about that new motorcycle he just got?"

Jessica with her Favorite Piece - She prefers working with stencils and her designs are usually intricate

My friend Peggy has been known to remark on various occasions, "I could be sitting in a bar right now, instead, I spend my money on some art supplies. so sue me!" That's why I belong to Southern Ohio Women Art Group. We support each other when it counts. Our group has been together somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 0r 6 years. Being artists, and over fifty, we tend to forget some of the details, but we all agree that it has been a wonderful arrangement.

Peggy Holding her Favorite Piece - She favors the slop and drip method

We meet once a month and learn a new technique, show and critique our work and report on the latest and greatest in the art world. We also visit galleries and openings, attend workshops together and hold an annual Christmas party in November (all right, so we're a little eccentric.) For the last several years (two? three?) we have held semi-annual art retreats. Sometimes we invite guests, but last weekend it was just the three of us at my house. On previous occasions we have learned how to do cyanotype and heliographic printing and encaustics. This year it was artist's choice surface design. Each person brought several yards of white muslim to use in anyway they wished.

Jessica Helping Me with My First Thermofax Screen Print

Because it is so difficult to work around every one's schedule, we decide on a date for the retreats at least 6 months in advance. Death or catastrophic illness are the only acceptable excuses for cancellation ( really, we even did sun printing on a rainy day). Besides making art, we all love to eat, so each person is assigned a meal or part of the meal well in advance. I'm not exaggerating when I say we eat like queens for the weekend. Our retreats always start on Saturday morning with a hearty breakfast and gourmet coffee. We discuss art and life and then get around to setting up the supplies that fill every one's car to the gills.

Jessica's Thermofax Screen Print - Jessica is a whiz at cutting linoleum prints, right now she is into chairs and she selected a series of ink prints to be made into a thermofax screen.

We work all day and laugh, perhaps guffaw is a better term, for much of the day. This time Jessica fell over backwards and went head over tail in the grass, causing much hilarity to all involved, at least the two of us left standing. We worked hard until lunch, which did not take place until 2:00 because we were so enthralled with the silk screening that we forgot to eat. Then back to work until dinner time. After dinner we imbibed in a decadent dessert and a glass of wine. Peggy and I went for a walk and returned to find Jessica attired in her night gown and sprawled on the couch reading art magazines. For a guilty pleasure, we watched the first series of Project Runway, pompously commenting about the questionable taste and rude behavior of the contestants.

Peggy working on a Heart Design - One of my tree silk screen prints drying on the fence.

Sunday morning we indulged in gourmet french toast prepared by Jessica and perused our work. Each person was in the possession of some pretty nifty surface design for use in upcoming projects. Peggy creates fabric books, Jessica fabric collage and me, more art quilts in the line up. All in all, it was a wonderful weekend with each person doing just exactly what they pleased. How we sacrifice for art!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Imitation is the Greatest Form of Flattery

IM Pei's Addition to the Louvre

I often get asked when/why I started making art quilts after focusing on traditional quilts for so many years, and the answer is somewhat complicated. The median age in my very first quilt guild was approximately 60 years old. My two friends and I were in our twenties with new babies at home, but many of the women were in their 70's. Keep in mind this is Central Ohio in the late 1970's. If you have a good memory, you will recall this was when Nancy Crow started making her wonderful abstract works, and I was lucky to see one of her first exhibitions at the Armory in downtown Columbus. This made a great impression, but I was heavily influenced by the women in my guild and the popular opinion was that Nancy's work was definitely made of pieces of fabric, but they weren't really quilts, why, rumor had it that she didn't even quilt them herself, and the stitches were so big and they weren't straight. Oh, my! So I continued making reproduction quilts for another 15 years, but I never forgot those quilts.

Artist Working in the Louvre

Then I started travelling and whenever possible, I visited art museums. First, just to see all those magnificent works I studied in Art History 101, preference was given to the Impressionists (still my favorites), those rablerousers that would not follow convention. Then I started to visit other museums like the Picasso Museum in Paris, Miro and Gaudi in Barcelona, Dali in Paris and Tampa, and Georgia O'Keefe in Santa Fe. I have also visited the Tate Modern in London several times as well as the modern wing of The Chicago Art Institute. I noticed that each one of these artists began their career copying conventional styles of the time and then developed their own distinctly recognizable style When I visited the Louvre, the place was littered with art students sketching and painting in many of the galleries (I wonder what kind of red tape one must endure to attain this privilege? I can see myself knocking over my easel, splashing paint on the irreplaceable treasures and being escorted either to jail or out of the country, not to mention the stress of being stared at by the throngs of visitors and being told that they preferred the original.)

In The Pink - 22x20 - 2007
My initial response to modern art was, "it's interesting, but I wouldn't want it hanging in my house." Over the years, however, it seems to have seeped into my psyche and slowly but surely into my quilts. One of my favorite artists is Matisse and I have made two quilts that replicate some of his famous paintings.

You Sew Girl - 18x22 -2007
I feel that he is one of my main influences. I love the bright colors and simple shapes in his work. The blue nude was created towards the end of his life. Confined to bed, he was still cutting figures from paper and painting murals on the walls of his room with aid of a long stick. I hope I will still be making art in some form or other when I'm eighty. So, I guess art quilts just kind of bubbled to the surface in an unexpected way, after a long period of exposure to modern art. I love the juxtaposition of old and modern, IM Pei and the Louvre. I am working hard to develop my own style, but learning from the masters is a time honored tradition. Thank you Henri, you're the bomb!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

There's No Place Like Home

Wild Blue Yonder
I have written several posts on the influence of travel on my work. I seem to require the contrast between the exotic and mundane to add meaning to my life and art. However, another event has also informed my most recent work. Just a couple of years ago, I considered a move to Southwestern Virginia, a seriously special place. I thought it was just me, but that is what the local visitors bureau had actually chosen as a tag line for their promotion of the area. The Blue Ridge Mountains and the Appalachian culture created a magical lure. After much contemplation and soul searching however, I decided I could not leave Ohio.

Homeplace III: Farm at Rockmill - Lancaster, Ohi0

Relatives on both sides of my family have called Ohio home for many years, and on my Dad's side of the family, as early as the 1800's. They were a family of German immigrants arriving in America in the 1790's and eventually migrating to Columbus, Ohio to set up their family business, shoe making. They lived in German Village and one of my female relatives was an elementary school prinicipal and another sang German opera in the Dammenchor. My maternal grandparents were both graduates of The Ohio State University in the 1920's, my own collegiate alma mater.

Homeplace II: Cattle Barn, Lancaster, Ohio
As I was attempting to make my decision, all of these things were running through my mind. I never realized the extent to which I was anchored to this particular place in the world, but I was having a very difficult time when it came to the reality of leaving and not just the romantic contemplation of moving to a "special place." Once the decision was made, a very odd thing happened. It was like the scales had fallen off of my eyes, and I truly saw the beauty and "specialness" of my chosen hometown, Lancaster and environs.

Homeplace: Winter - Carroll, Ohio
After completing my Toscana series, which explored the joy of a visit to Tuscany, I was searching for a subject for my next body of work. Then I thought, why not express the same joy I experience everyday in my "own backyard?" After all, this is the other half of me. As much as I love to travel, I always find my way back home. I decided this would be the focus of this year's work. So far, I have completed four quilts and am still working, with a self-imposed deadline of completion set for July. Yes, I'm dreaming of my next adventure, but most days I get out of bed, slip on my ruby slippers and repeat, "there's no place like home, there's no place like home".... "there's no place like home."