July 27, 2015

Matisse, Le Coeur

Matisse, Le Coeur (The Heart), photo from The National Galleries of Scotland
Matisse is one of my favorite artists, and I have long been especially enthralled with his cut-outs, a body of work made late in life, when he was unable to paint or sculpt.  I went to New York last fall to see the big exhibit of his cut-outs at MoMA, which was superb.  So I've known this body of work for a long time, but still, I was stopped in my tracks at an exhibit in my college's library of the portfolio edition of Jazz.  I had seen individual pages before, but not so many laid out.  When I turned a corner and saw the image above, I started crying.  I usually find heart images overly sentimental, but this one calls out to me.  Something about the asymmetry of the heart, and its pairing with strong rectilinear shapes.  When I showed the image to David, he also started, and said it reminded him of Regret, my quilt that uses a somewhat similar shape.

A few years ago, I asked a rabbi, "Do you have a blessing for someone with a broken heart?"  He responded with a saying of the Kotzker Rebbe (d. 1859), "There is nothing more whole than a broken heart."  I've tried to create some kind of image to go with that saying, but have gotten nowhere. Now I can give up the quest, as I have the Matisse image instead.

I hadn't realized how much text there is in Jazz, and how piercing some of it is.
Here's an image of how the text is laid out (with each page about 16" high):

And one of the passages I particularly like:

"A new painting should be a unique thing, a birth bringing a new face into the representation of the world through the human spirit.  The artist should call forth all his energy, his sincerity, and the greatest possible modesty in order to push aside during his work the old clichés that come so readily to his hand and can suffocate the small flower which itself never turns out as one expected."

And look at the lettering for the title, a second version directly following the first.

Several years ago, I was on the Curriculum Committee of my college when a proposal came through for a new course in the Art Department on "Typography."  A member of the committee questioned whether typography was a field in art.  Indeed, yes.

June 28, 2015

Learning Photoshop Elements

I just finished a three-week class in Photoshop Elements with Kris Sazaki and Deb Cashatt.  There's a second three-weeks session in July, which I'm much looking forward to--the class has been great!  The course is specifically aimed at quilters, so of the many, many things that Photoshop can do, Kris and Deb focus on those aspects particularly of use for quilters.  They'll be doing this two-course series again in October and November of this year; if you're interested, follow the link to the contact form on their class website: http://www.pixeladiesclasses.com/  They'll also be offering a course on Fabric Design in January, which I plan to take as well.  Here are some examples of the kinds of things I've learned to do just in these first 3 weeks.

Screen printing:  The one thing I've used Photoshop for in the past is to change an image to black/white and to simplify it, in order to use it for screen printing with a Thermofax screen.  I've learned some additional ways to manipulate the image in this class.  Here's a photo of some sharp leaves from a desert plant in Arizona, and then two different images derived from it.  I think they would both be interesting for printing on fabric.

This particular lesson in the class was especially geared towards quilters who might want to simplify a photo in order to do an appliqué version of the image (usually with fused fabric).  I don't do that type of quilt myself, but I decided to do a photo of that sort also, in order to practice more.  In this photo of my mother-in-law Dorothy Amor--may her memory be a blessing--and my niece Alison Hardie, I think it's interesting how the warmth of their relationship is maintained in the b/w version. I was also happy to be able to take out the poster in the background.


Determining quilting patterns:  Deciding on how to quilt a piece is rarely an easy decision for me. Once I narrow the choices, I usually do actual quilting samples, but getting to that point is a challenge, as it's difficult to get a sense of how the whole piece will look quilted. Sometimes I've used a large piece of clear plastic, laying it over the quilt and drawing on it with crayon (though usually just for a section of a quilt).  Turns out I can do the same kind thing in Photoshop, but mush easier to make changes, I can test on an image of the whole quilt, and there's no plastic glare! 

Here's a photo of a quilt top I'm working on at the moment (Cobblestones Quilt pattern by Kevin Kosbab, from The Quilter's Appliqué Workshop).

Here's the photo with quilting marked:

You can see better what I've done when I segregate out the layer on which I did the drawing.  I tried out various kinds of squiggles in the "cobblestones."  I don't like the circles in the second row, but the others all are decent possibilities.
Another thing you can do is change the colors in a photo.  I've enjoyed working on this quilt and might like to do another one like it.  I played around with changing the colors and came up with something else that could be a starting point for looking for fabrics:

Straightening edges:  Even though my quilts have 90-degree corners, they don't usually look that way in photos, as in "Late March," below (see how the bottom edge looks pulled in).  This is because of camera distortion that you get unless the camera is very carefully positioned, not something I can do for the snaps I take.  Lo and behold, you can correct for this in Photoshop.  



Playing with "fabric swatches" from the web:  Photoshop allows you to pull fabric samples from photos on the web, and play around with patchwork designs.   The black/white fabric below is Line Leaf in Black from the Bark and Branch collection by Fabric Bubb.  I added a "solid fabric" by using the paint bucket tool in Photoshop.  This was fun, but time consuming.  Reminds me that it's OK to cut into fabric I have on hand, even just for the sake of playing around!

The final assignment in the class was to take a photo and do at least five manipulations on it.  I started with a favorite photo of mine--a bouquet of flowers picked on vacation in Naramata, B.C. last summer.  I figured this would be an interesting challenge, because I like the photo so much just as it is.

But in fact, the changes I could make to it were fun to do, and I might work further with the image I ended up with.  I really love what happened to the rose in the lower left corner--might be nice to work with when I get to the fabric design class.  I don't like the big blobs of olive green; in the next session of the class I'll learn how to add texture there.  Note the copyright line in the bottom right--something else I learned how to do in this class.

There were more things in the class also--brightening, intensifying, and sharpening images.  I highly recommend the class!  The lessons are really clear (printable handouts and video demonstrations), and the feedback from the instructors on assignments and questions is prompt and very helpful.   Again, if you're interested, you can sign up to be contacted in advance about classes that will be offered.

June 13, 2015

Accident 2

Back in March, I reported briefly on work I've been doing that is centered on a short narrative of the night of Jeremy's death.  I'm going to repeat a bit of that here, as background for an update on the new work in progress.

I wrote the narrative shortly after the accident, in 2004.   Ten years later, in the winter of 2014, I started a quilt that incorporated the text of the narrative, which I stamped into a mud-colored cloth. 

The letters are 3/8" high, resulting in a piece that is 35 x 48."   This piece is all about reading the narrative.  The words are very legible, and decisions about layout and proportions were done with a page of text in mind.  I can see the impact when people have viewed it in my studio--one has to stand and read it.   (I haven't posted a photo of the whole quilt, as  I'm not yet satisfied with the presentation of the cloth.)  In the midst of a workshop with Claire Benn, in which I learned how to make a very large printing screen through paper lamination, I decided to work again with the narrative of the accident, but to a different purpose--this time with expressiveness more important than legibility.  For this next version of "Accident," I will work large.  I have prepared an oversize print table from the top of a ping-pong table.  Claire Benn has done very large work by climbing on top of her print table.  The ping-pong table was not secure enough for that, so I removed the legs and put it on the basement floor.  I covered it with a couple of layers of felt and two layers of a heavy-weight cotton, stapled around the edges to keep it taut.  The table is 60 x 108."

 I have been working for about a month on various trials for the piece.  In the photo below, starting in the top left and going down:

  • the small trial piece I did in the workshop with Claire Benn
  • a larger trial done in my basement set-up, measures about 40x30"
  • a quick watercolor sketch to get a sense of what this would look like in a horizontal orientation (lettering done with white crayon as a resist)
  • (on the right) another sketch using a vertical orientation

Then I did several smaller watercolor sketches of the vertical orientation, trying out different placement of the ochre color.  

I used the version on the far right in my next trial.  (Would you make a different choice?  I'd be happy to hear about it.)  The next trial (bel0w) is about 52" wide, which is close to the size I'm planning for the final piece; the length will be about 100".  In this trial, the lettering is the actual size that I will be using (about 2" high).

Things I was testing out in this trial:
  • two different styles of lettering:  the top half is in close to my normal handwriting (but with lines so close together that it is not conducive to reading); the bottom half is in a consciously distorted writing.  The goal in this piece is to have the text recognizable as a narrative, but not necessarily to be read, so I'm aiming for reduced legibility.  I haven't decided yet which lettering style I prefer.
  • the transition between the turquoise and blue:  I wanted more mixture of the two than in the first large trial (where they appeared as stripes), and I succeeded in that, but I'd still like more interplay.  I think I'll try some horizontal dye scraping as well as vertical.

  • texture in the black:  In the first trial, the large black area came out uniform in appearance, even though I used four distinctive black dyes.  In this trial I did a few things to get more texture in this area:  I applied some splotches of color (blue, red, ochre) and then immediately went over them in black.  I also applied large splotches of different blacks, and let them sit for an hour before I filled in the rest of the area with the main black that I was using.  I also intentionally left some areas not thoroughly scraped with the dye, so that there would be some interruptions of white.  The screen also wrinkled in one area--not intentional--but I decided not to worry about it, and I think that just added some to the texture.  Here are some details of areas that show the variations:

When I look up close (as in the details), it seems like too much color shows in places, but if I step back and look at the whole, (as in the picture of the whole piece above), it looks better.  I may try diluting the under-colors a bit the next time.

I'd be happy for comments on any of this, and am especially eager for any suggestions on how to handle the turquoise/blue transition and the texture in the black area.  And if you have a preference for one of the two writing styles, I'd love to hear it.  Here are the two lettering styles, separated:

top rows

bottom rows

May 19, 2015

An interview with me in Why Quilts Matter

A few months ago, I wrote a post about the reception of my quilt "Self-Portrait, Year 2: Beneath the Surface" at QuiltCon.  I also received two requests for interviews, which are now being published.  The first out is an interview by Bill Volckening in Why Quilts Matter.  The interview is long, so it has been divided in two parts.  You can read Part 1 here.  Part 2 will be published in June: now available here.

I am honored and humbled that Bill found my quilt and its story worthy of an interview.  Bill is a distinguished collector of quilts and writes extensively about quilts on his blog and on Facebook--do check out his website: http://www.billvolckening.com/

Thank you Bill!

May 18, 2015

A small dyeing interlude

In the midst of a long, slow process of doing trials on a large work in progress, I took some time out to dye a couple of T-shirts, one for myself, and one for a young friend.  First I dyed both shirts turquoise, then in a second step added pattern with black.  The patterning on the first shirt was done by loosely folding the dyed shirt diagonally, and then dripping black dye over the folds.

 And here's the shirt I made for myself, in a different process that I was trying out for the first time.  I like how it came out!

 Here's the set up (photo below):  I tipped a print board (foam insulation board, covered with fabric, and then a sheet of plastic) by resting it against a box of books, with the bottom edge draining into the blue lid of a large storage box.  I pinned the bottom edge of the turquoise shirt to the top edge of the board, scrunching the shirt into vertical folds.  (The shirt is wet at this point, so the folds hold.)  Then with a bottle of black dye, I squeezed on some dye, working from the top of the board (the bottom edge of the shirt), aiming to have the bottom edge mostly black, but leaving the neckline turquoise.  The photo shows the shirt about 12 hours after the application of dye (time needed for the dye to batch).  If I had taken a photo immediately after the application of the dye, you would see that the dye travelled quite a way down the shirt after the application, something I hadn't taken into account--I was thinking more turquoise would be left at the top.  But I do like how it came out, so no problem.

Improv Log Cabin workshop

I'll be teaching an improv workshop at my local quilt guild, Piecemakers (Galesburg, IL), on August 22.  The workshop is designed for quilters who are new to improvisational quilting, but those with experience are most welcome also; we'll focus on versions of the Log Cabin block.  Most of the time will be taken up with experimenting with different making a variety of blocks, but I thought people might like to have directions for a small project they could make with as few as four 6" blocks.  So I made several tablerunners, illustrating different fabric, setting, and quilting choices.  In the chartreuse one (below left), I used all solids, with a background of one color related to (but not in) the blocks, quilted with a 1" grid, and bound with a contrasting fabric.  In the blue one, I used print fabrics, a narrower blue/orange color scheme, I framed each block to set them off from the background, quilted in an overall free-motion design, and bound with fabric close in color to the background.  (Double-click on photo for a closer view.)

Then I made a third runner with larger blocks and no background.  I love this color scheme of green and gray, (a combination I saw in a quilt by Erin Wilson in a show in NYC last fall--can't find a photo on the web).  This one I quilted with straight lines, and did a faced binding (so no binding shows on the front):

Then I thought I'd try one more using a combination of patterned and solid fabric, blocks sewn together, but with a frame and border.  This one I don't like very much, so I didn't bother to continue with quilting it.  Maybe I'll do a giveaway of it at the workshop, if a few people are interested.

I look forward to the workshop, and seeing what everyone comes up with--should be a lot of fun!  For more inspiration from photos of improvised log cabin quilts, try a google image search. If you're interested in signing up for the workshop, you'll find more information here.

May 11, 2015

Wild Geese: Improvisational quilting with Sherri Lynn Woods (and book giveaway)

I'm delighted to be a stop on the blog tour for Sherri Lynn Wood's new book, The Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters.  I was one of the quilters who volunteered to follow an improv "score" assigned by Sherri, so that she could illustrate the range of quilts that could result from the same underlying guidelines.  165 quilts were submitted and 22 accepted; I'm delighted that mine made it in!  In this post, I'll describe the process through which I came to the final composition, talk about what I learned through the process, review Sherri's book, and, last but not least, offer a giveaway of the book to a lucky reader.

The score that I was assigned is called "Modern Block Improv."  The basic idea of this score is to take a traditional block--here Flying Geese--and to work with it improvisationally.   My finished quilt: 
"Wild Geese" (38 x 40")

I had taken a class from Sherri at QuiltCon in 2013, and the class had focused on the same idea of starting from a traditional block.  In that case, we had been asked to come to the class having chosen a block that we wanted to work with.  I had chosen "Rail Fence," and really enjoyed the process of discovering totally new directions from the focused improvisation.  You can see posts on the workshop and later work based on that here, here, and here.

For the flying geese project, I began by trying out a number of variations on the block.  I found doing improv with triangles quite a bit more challenging than the rectangles I'd used before (in working with Rail Fence, and also Log Cabin)--but that also meant some interesting surprises.  The photo below shows the earliest versions at the top (two normal flying geese blocks, but cut by eye rather than by measuring), and the later versions below that.  I was glad I tried out a variation with curved "triangles," but they didn't end up in the quilt.  One side effect of improv piecing--quite a few experimental blocks end up in the scrap bin.

After I had a stock of blocks, I played around with juxtaposing them.  Really interesting shapes can develop.

I find making the array of blocks, trying out one thing after another, to be a very playful activity; the really hard work comes when trying to put the blocks together into a composition.  Without a set pattern to follow, there are so many possibilities.  I found it important to continually and consciously keep design principles in mind as I moved the blocks around the design wall--e.g., line, shape, color, balance, asymmetry.  (Value and texture didn't come into play  here, because of my decision early on to use only red and white.)

The traditional flying geese block lends itself to be organized in rows, either in a border or in the whole quilt; you can see an array of such uses in this Google image search.  I wanted to reference that traditional layout in my quilt, but not to make it the central design feature.  In this first pass at making a composition, I put a row of traditional blocks in a column on the left side of the quilt, and some version of that stayed through to the end.

It bothered me that I could see a cat's face in the composition:  two white ears and a chin.  Improved by taking out the "chin" and simplifying the center of the quilt:

Better yet--I like the addition of more red, including reversing the colors of the flying geese blocks in the bottom left:

The version above was sandwiched, and I was about to start the quilting the finished top.  But the two large vertical triangles that had previously bothered me as "ears," now bothered me as "mountains."  The human mind sometimes fights against abstraction!  Rather than undo a lot of the piecing and trying to insert new sections, I decided to use applique to change that area of the design by sewing other pieces of fabric over the composition.  It worked--once the quilt was quilted, even I can't find the spots that were appliqued unless I compare the photos.  The final composition:

Deciding on the quilting was another challenge.  I wanted to quilt white on white and red on red, which meant a lot of starting and stopping as I sewed.  I also wanted to change quilting designs in the various areas of the quilt.  I tried out a number of designs with pencil and paper, many of which were included in the quilt:

I love how the back of the quilt has it's own design, as a result of the red quilting showing through on the white back:

I definitely recommend Sherri Lynn Wood's book to anyone who is interested in improvisational quilting, either trying it out for the first time, or looking to extend the ways in which you already use improvisation.  Take a "look inside" on the Amazon listing to see the table of contents and sample pages.  One of the main sections of the book are the ten quilt Scores, which will guide you through a variety of strategies for improvisation, and another main section is on "Patchwork Techniques" that are used in one or more of the scores, techniques that are helpful no matter how you incorporate improvisation into your quilting.  I'm looking forward to trying out more of the scores, starting with Patchwork Doodle, Layered Curve, and Showing Up.

I'm happy to be able to offer a copy of the book to one of my readers--just leave a comment by Friday, May 15, and I'll choose one person at random to receive the book--U.S. residents only.  Please be sure to include your e-mail address so I can contact you if you win.

I'd encourage you to check out other stops on the blog tour.  A number of them show or give a link to all the quilts submitted for a particular score, so you'll see a wider range than the ones published in the book.  May 13 will show the quilts for the "Modern Block Improv" score that I did for my quilt.

May 2Sew Mama Sew – Score for Floating Squares Gallery
May 4 STC Craft – Score for Rhythmic Grid Gallery
May 4Plaid Portico – Score for Strings Gallery
May 6During Quiet Time – Test Quilter Amy Friend – GIVEAWAY through May 10
May 8Wise Craft Handmade – Score for Get Your Curve On Gallery
May 11Studio Notes – Test Quilter Penny Gold – GIVEAWAY through May 15
May 13Quiltville – Score for Modern Block Improv Gallery
May 15Peppermint Pinwheels – Test Quilter Stacey Sharman
May 18Quirky Quilts – Test Quilter Kim McPeake
May 20PoppyPrintCreates – Score for Patchwork Doodle Gallery
May 22The Last Piece – Test Quilter Sara Fielke
May 25Cauchy Complete – Score for Layered Curves Gallery
May 26Diary of a Quilter – Score for Bias Strip Petals Gallery
May 28Getting Stitched on the Farm –Score for Improv Round Robin Gallery
May 29Spoonflower – Score for Showing Up Gallery
May 30Fresh Modern Quilts – Test Quilter Rossie Hutchinson