Today is our anniversary. Jim and I have been married 48 years. I can't quite believe it. Somehow getting so close to the 50-year milestone hit me harder than my 70th birthday a couple of weeks ago. I think I'm still influenced by my impressions from growing up that people who had been married 50 years were really old. But it's hard to figure out where that really comes from. My parents hit 50 years and I don't remember thinking of them as really old at that time.
Reality is though, that once the initial shock wore off I was right back to my usual up-beat, still-feeling-young self. Truly, my life is good. Sometimes I think where did all that time go??? Then I think, it went by one day at a time, putting one foot in front of the other. So I'll keep doing that and not stewing over what's past - or coming.
In my last post I was doing a bit of stewing over the future of my art specifically. That post apparently hit a chord with quite a few of my readers and I received several thoughtful, encouraging emails in response. They gave me more to think about for which I am very grateful. Thank you.
My dilemma was where to focus my artistic efforts between decorative and wearable art. Based on two recent shows, I'd worried that I was putting more effort into my wearable art than I should. Then at the next show, one of my jackets sold. That allayed some of my fears, but they were still lingering at the back of my mind - until an epiphany a couple of days ago.
I realized I was drawing conclusions from too few data-points. To really understand my light-bulb moment, you have to know that I am a data person. I spent nearly all my career analyzing data as a market researcher. That experience finally woke me to the fact that results from two shows or even three don't make a trend. I also realized that I have detailed records of what I've sold in all my venues over the last couple of years. So once I got over feeling stupid that I hadn't thought of this earlier, I pulled the data together and actually looked at it. Net result is I'll continue doing what I've been doing, spreading my efforts between decorative and wearable art as the spirit moves me.
So here are some pictures of how that spirit is working.
I've continued to work with my latest batch of gelatin prints. I finished "Floral Fantasy" a couple of weeks ago. I layered two of my gelatin prints over a commercial batik. added leaf motifs cut from "clean" parts of the fabrics I'd printed on, and then went to town with embroidery. I had fun musing about flowers as I worked and thinking of comments and flower types to put into the background. Needless to say, it's available on Etsy.
Here are two artworks currently in progress. Both use more of my gelatin prints, this time layered over pieced Maria Testa scraps. I've begun stitching on the one on the left. The one on the right still needs basting in preparation for embroidery.
Many of Maria's fabrics are sheer so I had to think hard about the underneath fabric. Usually I like flannel as the "batting' in these art quilts, but I didn't want that to show through the sheer parts. My solution was to put flannel only under the circles and using a batik as backing. I chose a batik that color-coordinated and had a pattern that would subtly show through the sheer sections adding another dimension to the design. That's probably what I will do with the one on the right as well.
Finally, I also have a new jacket in the works. I spent a couple of days auditioning fabric combinations. Here's what I've decided to work with - a beautiful set of hand-woven cottons and a hand print. They are all wonderfully soft for a nice lightweight jacket.
And so I keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Today's post was prompted by an unexpected email I received this morning. A comment on one of my blog posts needed approval. That alone wasn't too surprising, but it seemed a little weird because I didn't recognize the title of the post. Well no wonder. It was a comment on a nearly 5-year-old post on my old blog--Still Dreaming - in Fabric. I was heartened that at least one person could still find that post and had found something of value in it. But I was also grateful for the comment because it made me look back at the post myself. To my surprise it was very appropriate for my current situation and gave me the little pep talk that I needed.
Here's the link to it if you want to read it yourself. dog-days-of-summer.html The post was about keeping going...putting one foot in front of the other, even if you are not sure you are on the right path. At least that's how I read it today.
As I mentioned in my last post, lately I have been equivocating about where to put my creative energies. How much effort should I be putting into jackets? scarves? pillows? decorative art? In my last two shows, only one scarf sold and not a single jacket or vest sold, but several artworks did. The artworks were in the same price range as the wearable art, so the sales difference wasn't just a function of price. Women rave about the jackets and scarves--the looks and the workmanship--but there is always some reason why they "can't" buy one. So what do I do? I have at least one more juried show and possibly two, where I am committed to having jackets and scarves. Do I make new work for those shows or just bring what I have now? Which is the bigger risk, accumulating more unsold inventory or taking a chance that my work will seem stale?
When I apply to new shows should I apply with just artwork instead of wearable art? Should I try applying with both? Some shows allow you to submit entries in two categories, but that means two entry fees. If I put jackets, scarves and artwork into one submission, would that be perceived as too disparate? Most shows only ask for three examples of your work, so if I put them all into one submission, they'd only have one photo of each category to go on. That seems risky too. So you see my dilemmas. I have a lot to figure out over the coming months. I'm open to advice if you have any.
For the time being, until I sort out my plans for my wearable art, I am concentrating on purely decorative art. Here are some of my current projects.
I am pretty sure this one is finished in terms of the stitching on it. Just needs to be mounted over the canvas stretcher and I have to give it a name.
I've been working with my gelatin prints and skeleton leaves. I figured out relatively recently that Misty Fuse works quite well for attaching the leaves. In the last couple, I added embroidery over the leaves, but this time I decided to just rely on the fusing. I'm thinking that having the piece mounted instead of leaving it soft will give enough stability to make sure the leaves don't become unattached.
Below is the first "draft" version of the piece I am currently stitching on. Another gelatin print, but no skeleton leaves. (At least not yet. I never know exactly where a piece is going until it's done.) The final draft turned into a somewhat larger version with more space around the central motif.
Here are very early "drafts" of a couple of other pieces. This general idea came to me sometime in the night. I have a bunch of these pieced squares of Maria Testa scraps that I created during another of my "I just need to keep going" spells. Then early this morning it occurred to me that maybe they would make a good background for some of my gelatin prints. These are the beginnings of testing that idea. I'm not too sure what I think yet. I think I need to let things percolate for a while.
As I mentioned in my last post, art festival season has begun here in Virginia and it's really heating up for me. I am participating in shows for the next three Sundays. I think that once I've got my gridwalls, tent and weights loaded in the car, they'll just stay there for a while.
This Sunday, April 28, is Art on the Square here in Williamsburg. It is one of two really big juried shows held each year and my first time as a participant for this one. (Still waiting to hear about Occasion for the Arts in the fall. Last year I got wait-listed.) Doing such a big show is very exciting and very scary at the same time. The exciting part is meeting all the nice people who stop by to chat and enjoy your work. That part is always heartening. The scary part is whether there will be enough people who love your work enough to want to take it home. Will there be enough of them to recoup money you've sunk into the show? Do you dare to hope that you have something left over for your effort and motivation to do it again?
There are so many things to be done to get ready for these shows. Some of the things are obvious and easy to think of ahead of time--can I make enough work? what equipment do I need and how do I transport it? But beyond the obvious big things, there end up being so many small details that crop up and take time. For this upcoming show, I'd been concentrating on replenishing my stock of Free Lace scarves. Then I remembered that I needed to allow time to photograph them and update my listings on Square/Etsy so that I can easily process sales at the shows. So I spent my morning photographing my newest scarves and editing the photos to get them ready to post. When I'm finished here I'll work on those listings. Here are a few coming soon to Etsy. You can see them "in the flesh" this Sunday in Williamsburg, or next Sunday in Yorktown.
It's not easy to see from these pictures, but I have been experimenting with using Angelina fibers in my scarves lately. These are very fine polyester fibers that add a bit of sparkle and shine. I've tried to use just enough to catch the light and glimmer a bit without being gaudy. We'll see what people think. Trying something like this is all part of putting yourself out there in these shows.
Sunday May 5, I'll be at Art at the River at the Riverwalk Landing in Historic Yorktown. It will be my second time participating in this juried show. Last year I was fortunate to win 2nd prize in the 3D art category. That was a big motivating factor in returning this year. I have followed through on a suggestion from those judges and this year have added unlined jackets and vests to my wearable art offerings. I am hoping they are more attractive for the warmer weather here (compared to New England)-- and their lower price point. I'll also be adding some of my wall art to my offerings this year.
Here are a few of those new jackets.
I am still working to figure out the market here and what to concentrate on when I am making things. When I came down here I had been concentrating on wearable art - jackets and scarves - reflecting my participation in the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen. Here it is seeming like I may have more opportunities for my art quilts and embroideries, but I'm not too sure. I'm kind of testing the waters by bringing just artwork for 2nd Sundays - coming up again on Mothers Day - and I'm thinking about applying to more juried festivals with my artwork in the future. Big decisions to make! Always something new to consider, keeping me on my toes. In the end, though, the decision will be made by others--customers and show jurors will "tell" me what to make...
That was our March - so much going on that neither of us quite managed a blog post. April looks a bit less chaotic, but though I have a slight lull in the early part of the month, festival season is starting so there's no time to just sit in the hammock. Here's the update on what's been going on.
One big event for me was having my "Word Power" quilt shown a the d'Art Center in Norfolk as part of their exhibit Persistence. It was quite an honor to participate in this show celebrating women's empowerment. I attended the opening and was just blown away by what I saw and what I read in the accompanying statements displayed with each piece. There are pictures from the reception on their Facebook page which give you a peek at the exhibit. Even from the photos you can get a sense of how well put together this exhibit was. Each item was beautifully displayed and lit. (You can get a glimpse of my work in the fifth picture - under the flag.)
The other big event was our participation in the Textile Extravaganza at the Williamsburg Contemporary Art Center. Sonja and I had several works in the exhibition, taught some workshops, and did a trunk show this past Sunday afternoon. It has been years since we'd done a trunk show or any teaching, so the prep work took more time than if we had been doing this routinely, but we made it through. Plus, we met many very nice people and learned some new tips in the process. That's the best part of it. Many people asked if we'd be doing more teaching, so we're giving some thought to what we can manage. Stay tuned for that. For now, here a couple of pictures from the exhibit.
These are the mandala pieces Sonja created as part of the challenge she set for us late last year. It was an amazing experience to pick up our local paper one morning and see that purple "triptych" in the banner at the top of the front page. Then on the inside it was there again in a bigger format as part of a great article about the Textile Extravaganza.
These are my mandalas. I hope you can tell that I had a great time with this challenge. It's wonderful to have an art partner who pushes you to try new things. We had just two rules for the challenge - a finished piece measuring 6" x 8" and a mandala (circle design) of a specified size in a specific place in the piece. I let myself try out a bunch of ideas. Though our official challenge period is over, I might do more. I learned so much in the process and it's such a satisfying form.
So that's the summary of the art part of our busy month. In the midst of all that Sonja was also dealing with big doings in her personal life. In March she also started the process of buying a house. So far things are proceeding well and it looks like come mid-June they will live even closer--only 5 minutes away, not 25 minutes. I think I'm the luckiest woman in the world!
Sonja and I are very pleased to announce that we are offering several workshops at the Williamsburg Contemporary Art Center next month. These workshops are part of the center's Textile Extravaganza planned for March 16 - 31, 2019. We'll be doing a trunk show there on Sunday March 31, 1:00 - 3:00 pm. We'll be showing examples of our work and talking about what inspired them and the techniques were used in creating them. We'd love to see you there. (Admission is free and light refreshments will be provided.)
It has been so long since we've done workshops and trunk shows that it's a little scary, but the satisfaction we've felt in the planning process is also energizing. We're happy to be working together again..We're a good team, each able to support the other in getting things done. So here's what we have planned:
Ann is teaching -
Before I sign off for today, I thought I should share a photo of the completed version of one that I'd only shown progress shots of before. I call this one "Leaves." The real thing will be on display at the Art Center during the Textile Extravaganza.
Mom and I started a new challenge for ourselves recently. Each week we would make a small art quilt featuring a circle. The challenge was inspired by an exercise from Jane Dunnewold's "Creative Strength Training" course to draw mandalas. I am still drawn to the circle and I keep using the circle as a starting place for drawings. I don't always keep to the symmetry of a formal mandala.
A few months ago I thought it might be fun to take this obsession with circles further. There is so much symbolism associated with the circle and so many patterns can be created inside a circle. It presents seemingly endless opportunity for exploration. The circle on its own can represent completeness, unity, and creativity. Common symbols like the peace sign and the yin-yang symbol are based on the circle. Also the Sanskrit meaning for the word "mandala" is a circle.*
I wanted to get back into making art on a regular basis and doing something that was a manageable size and commitment level. I tried the stitch meditations format as presented by Liz Kettle where you create one tiny stitched piece each day. I couldn't keep up with committing to do one piece a day and I wanted to do something a little bigger and spend some more time on it. I had enjoyed doing small journal quilts quite some time ago now. The letter page size of those art quilts was manageable for experimenting.
As I was deciding to do this, I thought it would be fun if Mom was interested in joining me in this new challenge. It's fun to be able to talk about our creative plans and see what we come up with. Who knows, the art could make a good art exhibit someday. Thankfully, Mom was interested so we hashed out the details. We are making a 6x8" piece every week for about 12 weeks with some leeway for the holidays and other life interruptions. Mom made us each a template so the circle would always be the same size and placed in the same spot. This would ensure that if we lined up a bunch of the pieces, there could be some continuity in the layout.
I'm working on mini art quilt number 6 now. Last I checked, Mom was ahead of me by one or two pieces at least. We're having a great time. I've used some gelatin prints created recently and some fabric that's been sitting around for quite a while that I printed on during a workshop with Jane Dunnewold at the Quilt/Surface Design Symposium . I still have lots of ideas of what to do next so I might have to make more than 12 pieces.
*Tresidder, Jack. "Symbols and Their Meanings." Barnes and Noble Books, 2006 (pages 148 & 155).
One of the things I have most enjoyed about making art with my daughter, Sonja, is that she often pushes me out of my comfort zone. It happened again yesterday. This time it wasn't getting me to do something new in my own art, but getting me to help her on one of her projects.
Many years ago she took a couple of mask-making classes from Eric Bornstein at the Cambridge Adult Education Center. For a while now she has been wanting to get back to that again, but needed to make a plaster cast of her face. This wasn't something she could do by herself, so she asked me to do it. She had the day off yesterday so I went over in the afternoon so we could try this.
I don't know just why, but the idea really freaked me out. It was somehow terrifying to think about covering all but her nostrils with plaster of Paris. After a few minutes of panic, I screwed up my courage and we moved forward.
Everything was all set, so I just had to take a deep breath and move forward. Sonja had the scary part, but I was the one who was afraid.
The baseball cap didn't stay on, but the underneath layer of plastic wrap still protected her hair. She put Vaseline over the main part of her face, but I had to do her eyes. She needed quite a thick layer over her eyebrows and eyelashes. Putting that glop on her eyes was scary, but I didn't have much choice at that point.
Though it feels backwards to me, I am going to share my work in progress before telling you about what I completed. Writing about them in this order isn't totally backwards as the new one grew from the gelatin printing session I talked about in my last post. So it's sort of like finishing one story before starting the next.
Those who know me well, know that I always like to have a handwork project going. It's what I do in the evenings when we are watching TV. I need to keep my hands busy. If I'm not stitching, I'm playing solitaire on my tablet - but stitching makes me feel better. So I like to start something new as soon as I can after finishing a work. Since I'd just done a bunch of prints in my session with Sonja and Tyler, I looked at those first to see if one called my name. Thankfully an idea came together fairly quickly. I decided I liked one of my gelatin prints with a commercial print I've had for a long time.
The picture on the left shows the very beginning and the one on the right, my progress so far. (I got a lot of stitching done last Friday - while waiting at Sonja's for a plumber who never showed up.)
The "leaves" I've layered in so far are pieces of some dyed silk cocoons I bought in Vancouver last year. My current plan includes adding a few skeleton leaves as well, but those need to go on near the end so they don't get mangled from the stitching process. I also need to figure out just how I am going to attach them. ...more to come on this one. Looking at it here on the screen is giving me some additional ideas.
And FYI - my photography skills are not the greatest - the coloring of the picture on the right is more true to the work.
And the finished work
The piece I had just finished was a bit of craziness that I am calling "Let Your Light Shine." This one is a bit out-of-the-box for me, but good follow-on to the one I called "Fighting the Blues." (See my October post.) It started with a gift bag.
And I just kept going, adding stitching, and sequins, and the word "shine" over it all; having a ball with it. Then one day a song playing during my morning water fitness class gave me the title. Everything was coming together fine. I finished all my embellishing and was going to just press it and mount it when a bit of a disaster happened that almost sent it to the scrap heap.
I let the iron get too hot before giving it a final press and when I touched the iron to that papery backing, I melted a good chunk of the edge. It was really a stupid mistake.
Luckily the front fabric was fine, but still the gouge was readily apparent. I had so much invested in it at that point I sure didn't want to just scrap it without trying to fix it somehow. So I decided to try to a technique I hadn't used in a very long time--to use my heat gun to distress the edges of the backing material all the way around. It was a bit dicey to do because I needed a Teflon sheet underneath it to protect my ironing board and another between the sheer layer and the backing fabric. I didn't want to melt the sheer fabric. In the end it turned out to be one of those happy accidents. I think the distressed edges work very well, especially the patterning in the Helene Davis hand-dyed cotton that I'd decided on for the background.
The finished piece is wild and crazy, but it makes me happy to look at it.
I've mentioned several times now how happy Sonja and I have been with our weekly Art Nights. We meet at the library to stitch and share. Since Sonja had the day off yesterday we met at her house instead of the library. That meant we could do something more involved than stitching, but it also meant involving 3-year-old Tyler. So yesterday we introduced him to one of our favorite messy projects--gelatin printing. He loved it and we had a blast.
In my last post I shared a picture of the piece I'd recently started using the leftover fabric trimmings from the flat-felled seams in one of my jackets. I have just completed that piece. It took a path I never would have expected when I started it. Not that I ever have any set expectations for what any piece will look like in the end, but I don't think I ever imagined anything like my final result.
As I mentioned, the theme of this work changed a bit as well. When I started, it was simply a joyful piece. I was feeling a lot of joy due to having Sonja and her family living near again. But despite all my happiness on the home front, the current political climate and the venom from the Trump administration was getting me down. (And still is.) Again my artwork was functioning as a pep talk to myself--hence the title "Fighting the Blues." I am reminding myself not to lose hope.
Mother & daughter, Ann Lee & Sonja Lee-Austin share their joys and struggles in their art and lives.