Monday, March 29, 2010

The Artist's Way

The author of The Artist's Way recommends two techniques to aid artists in their creative process: writing three longhand journal pages first thing every morning and going on "artist's dates." Well, I'll admit right now, I am not a morning person and never have been. As a therapist, I can attest to the power of journaling, but let's get real. First thing in the morning? I believe poking my eye with a sharpened stick might be less painful! I have my routine, which includes turning on the snooze alarm every ten minutes for exactly one half hour, drinking a cup of coffee and watching the news before I can even contemplate getting a shower and dressing for work. I used to watch Alex Anderson on Simply Quilts, but since HGTV, in their wisdom, took it off the air, I settle for the latest violence and sex scandals, anything, as long as I don't have to function until my coffee kicks in. But artist's dates? Now there is a concept I can go for.

SAQA Artist - Terry Ann Hartzell

This past Saturday I had the great pleasure to have an artist date with talented textile artist and SAQA member, Terry Ann Hartzell and her charming husband Brian, who serves up the world's best quiche. Terry Ann and Brian are native Ohians who recently returned to the state, building their dream home in the woods near canoer's paradise, Loudenville, Ohio. Terry Ann is a very talented artist. She shared a tour of her new studio, currently under construction, as well as giving this writer a peek at her many quilts, including her latest work pictured above. I think you will agree it is stunning! Terry uses acrylic paint mixed with textile medium, as well as fabric dyes to paint her subject matter on fabric. She is also passionate about rusting fabric. She has a piece traveling with the Rust-Tex Show and two works featured in the SAQA, A Sense of Humor show. In addition to her many artistic endeavors, Terry Ann is landscaping her yard, planting a garden and going to school full time to get a degree in graphic design!

Mohican State Park - Loudenville, Ohio

After lunch Terry Ann lead me on a hike along the river in beautiful Mohican State Park. With a dusting of snow on the ground, it was a very peaceful. We took a few photos and hiked back to Lyon Falls. After our hike, Terry Ann gave me some pointers on how to make better hanging sleeves, demonstrated her textile dye technique and shared a tip: only use Viva paper towells. She says they are the best and perform just like fabric. So, I encourage every artist to get out of the studio once in a while. Visit another artist, a gallery or a museum and your creativity is certain to flow like a river. Or you could just get up really early... and just write...three pages...longhand.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Italian Inspiration Part 3

Toscana II - Siena - Church of San Domenico

Piazza del Duomo - Siena

As luck would have it, we arrive in Siena (yes, the paint color, Burnt Siena originated in the earth surrounding the city) just before the latest James Bond movie was due to be filmed in the city. There was scaffolding everywhere to film the action, but not a movie star in sight. We were lucky to have a local tour guide for an hour and we learned a few things about this part of Italy from an insider's perspective. First of all, Siena and Florence were arch rivals in the Renaissance and the time of city states, apparently giving even the OSU - Michigan competition a run for the money. Secondly, renaissance art is revered and modern art is found to be an abomination by the locals.

Although the guide book described this church as "architecturally uninspiring," I found it to be charming for several reasons. Very modern wrought iron sculpture encircled the entrance, and there was a fabulous modern art glass window that was so stunning it commanded your immediate attention. The guide stated that the residents were up in arms about the travesty of these installations and had repeatedly complained to the church to have them removed. Secondly, St. Catherine, patron saint of Italy, grew up right around the corner. One of a gaggle of children born to a family of weavers, I already appreciated the textile connection. Then I learned why she was beatified. As a teen she went to Avignon and brought the Pope back to Italy. Now my wicked imagination takes hold and I am wondering why a teen aged girl had to bring a grown man back to town? Was he unable to read a map? Was he frightened of horses? Did he take courage from hiding behind a young girls skirts? Who knows? But I say, "You go girl!" She was so revered that after her death everyone wanted a piece of her, literally. Her bones were divided among the churches of Christendom, supposedly via a lottery system. I think it was rigged because the Church of Dan Domenico got both her skull and a finger, which were prominently displayed for all to see. Eeyeew!!!

Toscana IV - Siena - After Lorenzetti (detail)

Not far from the Duomo is the remains of a medieval hospital called Santa Maria della Scala. After all the religious iconography, I was interested to see some secular work and this is the place to go. It featured some absolutely intrigueing frescoes of medieval hospital life, but that's not all. Visitors virtually have the run of the place. We travelled into the bowels of the hospital, originally used for storage. We made our way in the near dark, on faintly lighted board walks. Every once in a while there would be an Etruscan funerary urn to remind you of your own mortality, and wouldn't you know it, there was another human skull in a glass case on the wall. This place was seriously creepy! We only saw a few other people, and I was beginnig to wonder if we were about to star in one of those slasher movies. But not to worry, another glass of wine and little sunshine and we were ready for the next adventure.

Toscana IV - Siena- After Lorenzetti

I promised I would reveal how I used the fabric purchased in Florence. Take a look at Toscana IV. The red and blue in the women's gowns, and the tobacco colored fabric in the outer border are my treasures from Florence. The black gown is a man's sports jacket I purchased at Goodwill, and the batik fleur de lys fabric came from Michael and Debra Lunn's annual fabric sale.

Sunday, March 21, 2010


Artists find inspiration in the darndest places! Last week in my inbox was a call to enter a new SAQA show entitled No PLace to Call Home. Enties must focus on some aspect of homelessness. In real life I am a clinical social worker and this is something I deal with every day. In order to maintain a healthy balance, I make an effort to leave work at work, but after a few days of thought, I came up with an idea. I checked my calendar and I just might have time to make the deadline if I get cracking. I am not quite ready to unveil my idea, but I decided I needed a few more photos to make it work.

We had a lovely spring day last Thursday and, lucky me, no clients booked for the last hour of the day so I took off early to enjoy the Spring sunshine. With digital camera in hand, I visited my secret location to capture some photos. As I was shooting, I thought back to my first quarter at Ohio Dominican University where I majored in social work 15 years ago. We discussed the concept of entropy, or what happens when things are left alone and allowed to fall into disrepair and eventual decay. That is what happened to these railroad cars and I think you might agree with me that even decay can be beautiful. We forget that decline is a natural part of the life cycle. I try hard to keep this in mind when I catch a glimpse in the mirror of my middle aged body. Oh dear.

On the way home there was just enough time to stop off at one of my favorite quilt shops and purchase some fabrics that resemble a rusted patina. Stay tuned to find out what happens with these photos in future posts.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Italian Inspiration - Part 2

Toscana III San Gimignano

Pisa, the Leaning Tower and The Field of Miracles

Following an absolutely stunning two days in Florence, our English tour guide, Elaine dutifully herded us onto our tour bus and we left for Pisa with dire warnings about gypsies, tramps and thieves. I had on my money belt (which caused me to perspire, and I handed out damp Euros for the rest of the trip), so I wasn't worried. My friend Anne, however, was pick pocketed within one minute of departing the bus. A pall fell over us that lasted the rest of the morning, we moped around the Field of Miracles, not feeling quite so miraculous while Anne's son in Britain sorted out her finances, cancelling credit cards, etc. Once this was settled, we settled down too and were off on the second leg of the journey, a lovely little hill town called Lucca, home of Puccini. Again we exited the bus, this time with dire warnings not to be even one minute late on return, as the driver would not wait. We had a lovely lunch of the best pizza on earth, did some requisite shopping (I am now in possession of a lovely Italian leather handbag, thank you very much), and a had charming stroll on the Roman wall amid poppies and other spring wild flowers. As we walked we engaged in a discussion about the time we were meant to return to the bus. We each had our own opinions so we split the difference and walked faster. To our utter amazement and shame, the entire bus was loaded and our fellow travelers were looking out the window at us as we approached. As we boarded, the entire bus of Brits gave us a resounding round of applause. Is it actually possible to melt into one's seat like the wicked witch on the wizard of Oz?

Volterra - Chiesa di Allessandro

The next day we travelled to the town of Volterra, an ancient Etruscan city and our home for the next three days. Our hotel was at the foot of the hill and we walked about a mile up a winding path to the city several times a day to eat or shop. I now know how the Italians can eat so much pasta and not have the obesity problems so common in the States. We passed this picturesque church along the way.

San Gimignano

If you have seen the movie Tea with Mussolini, you might recognize this photo. The city is famous for it's towers, which are actually fortified homes. The rooms are stacked one on top of the other like layers in a cake. When attacked, the residents merely pulled up the ladder and battened down the hatches. We used Rick Steve's guide for restaurant selections and his choices were superb. In this tiny town we ate lunch in a garage attached to the restaurateur's home. It was just large enough to hold three tables. As we arrived, the baker delivered a huge brown paper bag filled with loaves of bread that were still steaming. Then the owner came out of her home and sliced fresh Italian meats with a meat slicer that sat on the counter and made incredible sandwiches served with homemade Tuscan white bean soup and the local wine. That was a meal I will never forget!

As I contemplated this trip I was prepared for fantastic scenery and savory Italian food. What I was totally unprepared for was the extreme difficulty I had sleeping. I would hear Anne peacefully breathing across the room while I tossed and turned all night long. Why? Because of the extreme creative process that was being generated by total immersion in this art-filled environment. I was actually designing quilts in my head when I was supposed to be asleep. Then I started having what I will call, "historical dreams." Being a big history buff, I found my dreams inhabited by the ancient world. All in all a very strange experience that lasted for the entire two weeks. In the end, I decided to write down my ideas for quilts in a journal, and photos were taken with an eye for translation into fabric. When I arrived home my sewing machine hardly had time to cool off between quilts, and the Toscana series was born.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Italian Inspiration


Where do artists find the inspiration for their work? For me, the answer is often in my travels. Journey is one of the recurring themes of my art. Almost two years ago I had the extreme good fortune to spend two weeks in Tuscany and Rome. My best friend Anne and I travel together and we decided that what with the sunshine, art, food, wine and Italian men, we couldn't go wrong with Tuscany. We usually prefer do it yourself travel, but couldn't decide on the best way to approach this trip. We considered driving, but since she is British and we were contemplating driving in a country that drives on the right side of the road, the driving would fall to me. Normally this is no problem, I love driving, but frankly I had heard some horror stories about the high rate of speed that is preferred by Italian drivers. Let's face it, I chickened out so we booked a coach trip that took care of the transportation and hotels.

Giambologna's Rape of the Sabine Women, Piazza della Signoria, Florence

We arrived in Pisa and took our places on the tour bus. Very quickly we were in the luscious Tuscan countryside and listening to Puccini and Andrea Bocelli as the vineyards and olive orchards whizzed past. Soon we were transported to the birthplace of Renaissance art, Florence. We quickly dumped our gear in the hotel and walked a short way to be greeted by views of the Duomo. We gorged on gelato which is really homemade ice cream with the most spectacular flavors like tangerine ( I always thought it was sherbet); the presentation of this confection is a work of art in itself. Then we imbibed in what we later calculated to be a ten dollar cup of coffee in the Piazza della Signoria. It was worth every dime to sit in this spectacular place and soak up the art, culture and architecture.

Boboli Gardens - Pitti Palace, Florence

Florence is the kind of place where you can collect views of world famous art like charms on a bracelet. The next day we were blessed with a coveted ticket to the Uffizi Gallery. A fantastic opportunity to view so the famous works studied in Art History 101. Botticelli.. check..DaVinci.. check.. Donatello ..check. Well, you get the idea. One needs a break to get perspective and truly appreciate the experience. Always willing to indulge my quirky interests of the moment, Anne was easily persuaded to visit Boboli Gardens. We strolled and smelled the abundantly blooming wisteria and the first pale yellow roses of the season as we caught a view of the Duomo from afar.

Ponte Vecchio, Florence

Like any textile artist worth their sewing machine, about now I was desperately in need of a fabric fix. Luckily, I had done my homework and we trundled over to Casa Dei Tessvti on the Via de'Pecori, in search of some silk. After all, Florentines had made it rich on the silk trade back in the day, and this must be the place to get a great deal. We walked in the front door and I knew I wasn't in Kansas anymore, Dorothy. I had been transported back a hundred years. The fabric rolls were neatly stacked clear up to the ceiling, requiring the use of a rolling library ladder to reach them, and all the cutting tables and casework were deeply grained and patina'd wood. We were greeted by a dapper septa or octogenarian dressed in a cream linen suit and bow tie. Within a few seconds, and without me even asking, he unrolled a stunning, embroidered, cinnamon colored silk, stating, "It matches madame's hair," and you betcha it did. I was drooling. I had learned some basic Italian for this trip like, where is the ladies bathroom and how much does this cost? I was nearly knocked to the floor when he said 250 Euros a meter. Still hopeful that I could own a small piece of this textile work of art, and thinking of American fabric shops, I asked if I could purchase a quarter meter. Now it was his turn to be knocked out of breath, "No, madam, a full meter is the minimum amount that can be purchased."

Brunelleschi's Dome - The Duomo, Florence

He then inquired how he might be of service. I told him that I was a quilter from America. Ahhhh.. yes he knew of quilting and thought perhaps some cottons would be useful. Ah, yes, cottons. Slightly disappointed, at least I wouldn't go home empty-handed. With a flourish, he pulled out some cotton shirtings , a mere 45 Euros for some striped material of no particular interest. "Could I just look around?" After a thorough search of the store I ferreted out five bolts of fabric that looked like silk. Amazing colors, and at last, only 18 Euros a meter, this I could afford. Now I knew this could not be silk at the labeled price and I was darned if I was going to pay that amount for polyester, so I asked. I thought the poor man was going to stroke out before my eyes, and I never could remember all those steps in CPR. He assured me that his shop would never carry polyester and that these were Viscous. I checked my internal catalog for the composition of Viscose, but could not remember what it was made of and I did not want to actually kill this dapper Florentine with another stupid question, so magnanimously I said, "I'll take all of them." The first smile appeared of the morning and he carefully cut and wrapped each piece in tissue and placed them all in a lovely cloth bag with their logo. He toted up the bill by hand, licking his pencil, and was somewhat stunned when I presented a credit card and he had to use the machine. He did tell me that the shop services clothing designers and is teaching a brand new group of young students how to sew couture clothing. I was impressed and I will never forget this textile adventure. Check out future blogs to see how I used this treasured fabric.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Artist As Art

As artists we are always scanning the environment, analyzing what we see for compostion, perspective, hue, value, texture. We use our critical eye to help us translate our world into art. But what happens when that critical eye is turned on us?

Last year I decided to focus on taking my self seriously as an artist. All reliable sources strongly indicate a need for using professional photography as a prerequisite when preparing images for publication, websites, show entrys, etc. So I booked an appointment with a professional photographer my son recommended, Rob Colgan in Columbus, Ohio. He specializes in photographing other artist's work and has a beautiful studio with great lighting, surround sound and a stocked refrigerator of cold libations. What an ego boost to watch your work getting such attention. When we were almost done he suggested taking my portrait. Well, I knew that having a professional portrait done was also on my professional "to do"
list, but whoaaa there. I stammered something like, "great idea, but I don't think today would be a great day." I was certain this was going to take a lot of preparation on my part, and let's face it, I was already sweating profusely.

A few months later, I gathered up my courage and freshly returned from the hair salon and in the possesion of a new jacket I made the appointment. I should mention that Rob is an artist in his own right and the black and white portraits on his studio walls are something to behold, so I was certain I was in good hands. After all isn't this every girl's dream to be treated like a fashion model? Well, he set up all his equipment, lighting and backdrops to match the color of my hair and we're ready to go, then... Holy Crap!! I froze solid, like an old rusty engine, like a cigar store indian, like a deer in the headlights. Flashbacks to childhood Christmases and my uncle taking home movies with a bank of high beam lights in my eyes with orders to look natural while tears run down my face. Flashbacks to that third grade school photo with the pixie haircut, cowlick and ugly plaid dress. Rob was the consumate professional but even he had to resort to telling naughty jokes to get me to crack even a hint of a smile (new insight into the relationship between Mona Lisa and DaVinci). Then a little miracle...

We went outside and he took some photos in his peaceful Asian-inspired garden and at last I was able to breathe. Next to art, gardening is something I truly love. I am now in possession of some lovely photographs that I am proud to give to friends and family and to publish. Rob, you are a wizard! My artist friend Peggy gave me the highest compliment, she wants to use my photo on her Facebook page. I wouldn't mind, but a few people, like perhaps her husband might notice.

Sunday, March 7, 2010


Just a quick post to facilitate Technorati. Y8YZTCH3SWTH

Cats in the Studio

I admit it, I'm a cat person. Dogs are nice. I've had big outdoor farm dogs that were just lovely, but cats just fit my personality. They don't jump all over you and slobber. You don't have to take them for walks and you can go on vacation once in a while and they don't mind too much. Cats have been a part of my life since childhood. I grew up on a small farm in Central Ohio and cats were plentiful. I wrapped them in blankets, dressed them in doll clothes, pushed them around in my baby buggy and secreted them in my room at night. They were baptized in the cattle trough (not the full immersion, just a few sprinkles in between the ears) and given names like Uncle Cinder. My Dad professed to hate cats. They were always sitting on the back step and he tripped over them every day. He would make statements like, " I'm going to toss that thing over the barn the next time I trip over it." He never did, and despite his threats and protestations, he was witnessed on several occasions petting a cat in his lap while he read the evening paper. When observed, he would shove it off his lap and complain, "How'd that thing get in the house?"

So naturally cats occupy my studio. Many artists seem to have some type of animal companion in their studio space. I have Clara and Emmy. Clara, a black and white tuxedo came first. She commandeered a basket of yarns and fibers as her very first bed in her new home. She is quiet and well behaved. She quietly watches birds out the studio window or sleeps in the warmth of the sun in the same place. Emmy is the newest feline addition. She is a grey and white tuxedo. Now 7 months old, she concurrently captures my heart and is the bane of my studio life. She is so sweet. She sleeps in my lap every night, loves petting and is very social. She talks to me in her little kitten voice. She also feels the studio is her own personal Disneyland. She gets into everything. She knocked a box of 100 pins on the floor three days in a row, bats my thimbles into the living room, takes pull pins off the bulletin board, hides my glue sticks and pens and climbs up and down in the bins holding my fabrics, not to mention knocking down the blinds every once in a while. Both cats will sleep on a 4" square of fabric should it fall to the floor, not to mention attempts to utilize my art quilts as their own personal beds (sometimes while I am still sewing on them). I keep sheets over works in progress and spend the last few minutes before a show removing cat hair. So why do I put up with it? Most of the time they are just companionably sharing my space, littles muses that approve of all my work, and never complain about all the time I spend in the studio. They can't tattle about the mistakes I make or the cursing they hear when I'm frustrated. Someone told me recently that cats are big hearts with furry little ears. So my cats will be staying in the studio, I just bought a bigger lint roller.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Winter in Ohio...Brrrr......

A drive in the wintry countryside in Fairfield County, Ohio
A walk in the snow... Mt. Pleasant in Lancaster, Ohio

At last, time to settle in to an afternoon in the studio.
Here in Ohio it his has been one of the coldest, snowiest winters in memory (mine anyway). The weatherman finally verified that February was a record breaker for snowfall; over thirty inches. I have to admit that winter has always been the bane of my existence. I usually shiver from the end of November until spring gets a good grip sometime in April. This year was different. Two years ago I purchased a new home. My old one was a little doll house, but three people couldn't turn around in my living room without aomeone getting injured, and it did not have a dedicated space for a studio. I was getting really tired of having to clear off the dining room table whenever anyone came to visit, or worse yet, not inviting friends or family over because I didn't want to clean up the mess. (My realtor remarked that my dining room "looked liked Santa's workshop"). Anyway, the upshot of the matter is that I moved because I realized that I needed a studio in order to continue to grow as an artist, and my new home has a lovely one. Back to winter... This year I have spent much of my time in the studio, designing a new series of quilts called Homeplace (more on that in another posting), setting up a website, listening to great music on my CD player and watching it snow. Too snowy to go to work? Like the Aussies say, no problems. I stay home and sew in my PJ's. This has been a very productive winter and other than consuming way too much hot chocolate I have hardly noticed.