Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Win some, lose some

I recently submitted an application to a group exhibition at a local art gallery. As you can tell from the title, I was not successful in my attempt to enter the exhibition, but that is the name of the game.  Although there is some feeling of disappointment, my more pragmatic side said "yes, but you only answer calls for submissions when it is a win-win for you, don't you?".

What, then, constitutes "win-win", when my entry was not accepted? Learning and growth, trying something new, refining a technique... all of those are pluses in my book, and all took place while I worked on this piece.

Here is the story of the creation of the work submitted to the call for entries.

My husband and I took a walk in a different town during our summer holidays and came upon this scene:

It took us a minute to realize what we were seeing, and then we did a quick double-take. What a mixed message! As we continued on our walk, I wondered how this could be made into an artwork -- would I quilt it? Would I paint it? Would I somehow create a 3D work and incorporate fabric figures?

The idea was added to my list of prospective projects (which is very long, let me tell you!), and I continued with other priorities and obligations, like making a birch bark basket for a fundraiser. Not even a  month later, however, a call for submissions came out and the them was... Fences!

The photo was retrieved and discussions were lively around the dinner table and at other times. My husband had as much to add to the concept as I did and we finally agreed to create a joint piece. He would do the carpentry and I would do the quilting.

He set to work right away, and we consulted back and forth on the wooden fence -- how should it look? What were the mechanics for storage and set-up? How could we make it look old, but well-cared for? The sawdust flew, the hammer rang, and before I knew it, the fence was assembled.

It was at that point that I realized what I'd let myself in for. My art quilts thus far had been rather modest in size, with the largest being my Geschichten quilt from a few years ago. When we discussed the Fences project, I had expressed the desire to finally create a large-scale quilt, something that would stand taller than me and perhaps spread out onto the floor. With the birch bark basket out of the way and the wooden fence made, I was ready to spread out.

And spread out I did! I had to actually purchase large expanses of fabric on which to build my scene, as my stash did not hold large enough pieces in the correct colours. The quilt-in-progress filled up my entire studio.

The first real challenge was the fence, don't ask me why. I drew and re-drew that silly thing until it finally came together. I wanted it to continue on fabric where the wooden fence left off.

Then it was time to start cutting fabric and piecing things together.  My new friend is a product called "Wonder Under" which allowed me to fuse the separate pieces to hold them in place without pins -- handy when you have a quilt that is over 8 feet long!  Things got a bit messy as I cut, placed, discarded and cut again.

I decided to keep the format simple, due to time constraints and so that the focus could be on the fence.

At long last, things finally came together and I could start to quilt. That's when the pins came in handy, to baste the layers so they would not slide as I rolled, bunched, smoothed and manipulated the quilt sandwich in the sewing machine. As you can see, I used a few extra tables to help support the weight of the fabric as I sewed.

Some hand stitching was applied, too, for the flowers in the grass and under the porch, and then it was time to assemble the piece and make it picture-worthy for the submission (the deadline was quickly approaching).

Luckily, my studio ceiling was just tall enough to accommodate the quilted part!

I think we achieved the concept of the mixed message, and spun our yarn wrote our artist statement to examine the metaphorical fences or barriers we build around ourselves, to keep ourselves safe from others and, perhaps more importantly, to keep other safe from that which lies within ourselves.  The bottom of the "Beware of" sign has fallen off. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to flip over the fallen piece to see what it says?

Now that we know the result of our submission, I am looking at the quilted part and rubbing my hands in glee, as there is more that I would like to do there, playing and experimenting with other techniques I did not have time to try while racing to beat the clock.  For myself, the rejection is secondary to the learning I gained in creating this piece, so perhaps  the title for this blog is somewhat inaccurate.  Perhaps it should be "Win some, Learn some".

Sunday, October 8, 2017

A matter of perspective -- seeing is believing

On Tuesday evenings, this fall, I'm facilitating a drawing course. The participants draw better than they think they do, but, as we all do, they have questions and concerns about how they transform a three-dimensional object onto a two dimensional plane.  Last week, we dove into the topic of perspective and played with vanishing points, horizon lines, cubes and cylinders.  When translating theory into practice, however, more questions arose.

I decided to rummage through my many thousands of photos to see if I could find strong examples of one and two point perspective.  It was an interesting exercise for me, and fun, as well, as I got to play with my camera and on the computer at one point to create a composite image that would illustrate a concept.

Here is what I came up with and will show the class next Tuesday.  For those of you who know all about perspective, this may be very familiar to you.  For those of you who don't, there are many websites out there that explain perspective in detail. I'm providing you with solid examples of how the theory fits into "real-life" situations.

An endless corridor -- note the vanishing point at the very end!

So many lines in this image lead to the vanishing point.

Can you find the vanishing point in this image?

Sometimes the vanishing point is off the picture plane.

Two-point perspective; vanishing points are off the picture plane.

Vanishing points can be vertically located, as well (look up three-point perspective).

Here's where I got to play with the camera.  What happens to circles (viewed from the edge) when they are at, above and below the horizon line?  With a construction paper disk, a paint stick, a tripod, a camera and some merging of photos, I came up with this image.  Note:  the camera was stationary for the entire photo shoot.

Drawing in the ellipses helps to see the circle shapes better. Note that you are seeing the bottom of the top two circles and the top  of the bottom two circles.  If I do this again I'll mark the top with a big bright X or make it an entirely different colour!

One question arising in class was why I had drawn the curves differently at the top and bottom of the cylinder on my handout sheet.  This photo and the next three images illustrate the concept better than my words could explain.  Depending on where your glass/can/mug/cylinder sits in relation to the horizon line, you will get different curves depicting the top and bottom "circles" of your object.

Here the cylinder spans the horizon line (I could have drawn that in, but didn't) with almost equal parts above and below.  Note how the top and bottom curves of the cylinder are very similar in shape.

Here the top of the cylinder sits almost on the horizon line and the bottom sits well below.  Note how the top curve is almost a line, while the bottom curve is much more pronounced than in the previous image.

Here you can compare them side-by-side. 

Friday, September 1, 2017

A mandolin case

Finished another project -- whee!  When my collarbone had issues last year and I had to give up fiddle playing (for an undetermined length of time), I went out and bought a mandolin, as it puts less strain on the muscles attached to the affected bone.  The case that came with it was a soft-shell case, so not the best for intensive transportation in the car, where it could get knocked and bumped by other items.

Having just finished making a case for his banjo, my husband offered to make a case for my mandolin.  The initial photos of the wood construction are in my previous post. Since then, I've been covering the wood with fabric and varathane, and lining the inside with soft fleece to hold the instrument. 

Here is the story, in pictures:

Lining the inside with foam and fleece

 Clamping and weighing down the fabric, so the glue can dry

The finished case... interior

Room for a tuner and some picks
It fits!!!

 The finished case... exterior

 Now I just need to get better at the mandolin playing!

Monday, August 14, 2017

One project finished and another one started

Things were a bit busy toward the end of July, but I managed to finish the quilt the night before we left on the three-week road trip, skirting around the BC fires as we traveled north and south, east and west in the province to visit offspring, siblings and in-laws, do some camping and relax.  The quilt helped keep the sun off the food and other items in the back of the car.  We never did use it as a picnic blanket, but that could yet happen!

Now I'm working on finishing a mandolin case that my husband made for me. He did the woodworking part and I get the pleasure of putting on all the finishing touches, like padding on the  inside (still a work in progress)...

... and covering the outside.  Although the photo below does not show it, I have made some progress on the outside -- just haven't had the time to take and process photos yet. 

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

New project

What does one do with a 2-week staycation?  Work on projects, of course!

Since the significant other and I will be on the road at points this summer and are in need of a new picnic blanket, I decided to set the other project aside for a while.  This new project has the added benefit of opening up some storage space in my fabric totes, as I'm using jeans... lots of worn-out jeans that I've collected over the years (and which take up quite a bit of space).  My goal is to buy nothing new for the project, so old jeans are a good place to start.

After looking at various jeans quilts online, I decided I'd keep it simple and start by cutting squares.  It took a bit of time and juggling of jeans, but I finally cut (and/or pieced together) 64 squares, 9.5" per side. When they were laid out on the carpet, they were looking good, but also a bit plain in spots.

The sun broke through the smoke haze yesterday, so I took advantage of the shining rays and did a bit of sun printing on some jeans squares that were looking pretty grungy. I used some Pebeo Setacolor paints that were kicking around my studio, keeping to the blue theme of the jeans:

I also did some discharge dyeing with bleach on other plain and stained squares:

Although I rinsed the discharged fabrics with lots of water and soaked them with baking soda to neutralize the bleach, the squares were still pretty smelly this morning.  After a quick look online ( and a trip to the store (so much for not buying anything), they had another soak, this time in a diluted hydrogen peroxide solution, followed by crushed vitamin C tablets.  They're smelling a bit better now and I feel less like they will continue to disintegrate over time with leftover bleaching chemicals attached to the fabric.  If I do this again, I think I'll plan ahead and get some discharge paste/decolourant, as it is less damaging (to me, the environment and the fabric) than household bleach.

 I found and cut some fun fabric for the backing this morning and cut batting to size this afternoon, so am ready to start sewing everything together the next time I'm in the studio.

For now, though, it is time to stretch the limbs, weed the garden and enjoy a cup of tea in the sun.  Our house is nice and cool, so it is sometimes easy to forget that it is summer out there!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Piecing the sky

Back at it again, after a few detours with classes in the first few months of the year (both as learner and as teacher).  Having finished everything else on my "to-do" list, I was able to play with fabric on the weekend and started piecing the sky for those quilts I planned in January. 

Remembering what I planned to do.

Experimenting with colours and shapes.

Step one:  place and sew.

Step two:  press. 
Repeat steps one and two multiple times.

Just as with paints, I played with the colours of fabric, and am still not sure if I have the right ones.  However, this is really only the base layer and I can change fabric, add stitch and, if all else fails, cut the quilts up to make some really fancy potholders! 

Monday, April 24, 2017

Birch Bark Basket Interlude

Learning new techniques is always exciting and I take advantage of courses when I can.  When I am lucky, there is a way to incorporate those new techniques into my practice.  If I don't see a way to incorporate what I've learned, I still feel enriched by the learning and almost always come away with a new appreciation for the technique, craft or art method.

I recently participated in a 2-week workshop on making birch bark baskets, thanks to the William Teegee Memorial Art Bursary and the Carrier Sekani Family Services.  This course was taught by Noeleen McQuary, a master basket maker of the Carrier Nadleh Whut’en who learned the traditional techniques from her mother and grandmother. 

Over the course of the two weeks, we learned how to gather the supplies from the woods and make the baskets from those supplies.  Luckily the weather was cooperative -- April in mid-northern BC can be a bit unpredictable at times! 

Here is a visual diary of what we did:

Peeling the bark requires first finding and selecting the right tree, then carefully peeling back the outer layers, leaving the inner bark untouched.  Tradition tells us to only take as much as is needed, never to take bark from too many trees close together, and to leave an offering of tobacco or food as well as a spoken or mental thanks to the tree and the forest.

We also gathered spruce roots on two separate occasions.  The ground was rather frozen in the first week and we only managed to get a few, but we had better luck in second week.

In their "raw form", the roots don't look like they would be useful for sewing:

After many hours of cleaning and splitting, though, they look much better:

This little bundle represents 7 hours of work!

After the bark was brought back to the classroom, we cut it into rectangles, and then cut the rectangle into basket forms...

which were then folded...

... and sewn into basket shapes:

By the end of week one, we had sewn two baskets and basted willow branches around the rims.  the baskets then dried over the weekend.

In week two, after another round of spruce root gathering, cleaning and splitting, it was time to work on the basket rims. We learned different ways to stitch around the edge...

... and how to add some decorative touches:

I came away with one finished basket and need to find more spruce roots to finish my second.  The first one is a bit rough and uneven, but I learned looks pretty good, nevertheless.

I'm looking forward to creating more baskets.  Since birch bark can only be gathered in the spring before the leaves are on the trees or in the fall, I went out immediately after the course was over and gathered enough bark for a few more baskets.  The leaves are out now, so I'll need to wait until the fall to get more. Once the ground is better thawed, I will go and find more spruce roots, and then make baskets as my schedule permits. 

I also feel another doll or two coming on.  I gave the one below to Noeleen, as thanks for the class. 

A word to the wise:  Making baskets is hard on the hands.  I didn't realize how "exercised" my hands were until the two weeks were over. It took a few days for the muscles to recuperate!