It's only a little more than a week now until the big move. I think we are all just barely breathing. As announced in my past post, Sonja and her family took a great leap of faith recently in deciding to move to Virginia before either Sonja or her husband had a job. Today's good news is that as of yesterday, both have jobs--good ones. They have also found a house to rent. The house details are not finalized yet, but things are looking fairly certain. We will all breathe a little easier when that is definite too.
I am especially happy because the house they found is only a little more than 20 minutes from ours, but is still a reasonable commute to their jobs. It should mean that Sonja and I should be able to share our art work on a much more regular basis again. I know I'm jumping the gun a bit, but I've already begun sending her links to show opportunities down here. I'm so excited about this, I just can't help myself. I try to put my energy into my own artworks, but sometimes it just spills over.
One of the places I've been putting my euphoria is "My Heart Took Flight," the piece I showed you last month. It is nearing completion. It's at that stage where you stare at trying to decide what else, if anything, it needs besides edge finishing.
As I reflect on this piece, I realize that several aspects of our current situation have found their way into it. I took a leap of faith when I started stitching that central hot pink background piece. I layered sheer silks over a printed cotton and just began stitching - to see what kind of result I would get. I had no idea of a use for it, I just trusted that it would find a home eventually. Similarly when I bought that beautiful "paper" made from silk cocoons in Vancouver last summer. I had no idea how I would use it; it was just too cool to pass up. I knew it would inspire something. The butterfly motifs for me are a symbol of mother/daughter sharing and love. My mother loved butterflies and my father's gifts to her often had butterfly motifs. I didn't set out to include this symbolism in the work, but life definitely works its way into our art.
I've had some good news that I just have to share. ..news that has caused me to reflect back on some of the major changes in my life. Fair warning that this post is as much about life as art, but the two are inextricably linked for me at this point in my life.
The good news is that Sonja and her family have decided that they will move down to Virginia next month - come "hell or high water." Though nearly all the "details" (jobs, place to live, how to get here) remain to be finalized, they made the decision to come here when their lease runs out instead of trying to find temporary housing. It is a huge, brave thing they are doing. My husband and I are walking on air that we will soon have our whole family living in the same area again. (Our son Peter has lived here for over 10 years.)
That prospect got me thinking back over the years and the events that caused major changes in our lives. Needless to say, having children was probably the biggest of those life-changing events. How different things would be today if we had not changed our minds about having kids. When we married, our plans did not include children. It was the early 70s and married women, myself included, were just beginning to see themselves as potentially having a career, not just a fall-back job. I loved kids, I just didn't know how I would manage a family and a career. My master's thesis was about the effects of having children on a woman's career, so I knew my fears were not frivolous. Ironically, the thing that changed our minds was a TV program.
I believe it was an early Masterpiece Theater series. It was about a family involved in the women's suffrage movement. The element of the show that opened our eyes was the relationship between the parents and their grown children and how they shared their passion for something they truly cared about. We realized that that possibility of sharing a life's passion with your adult children was something we just didn't want to miss. We decided we'd just have to figure out the logistics of life with two careers and kids. It's been a wild ride sometimes, but boy was it worth it!
Art is one of the areas where we've shared our passion--especially Sonja and I. We've shared it in a serious way for more than 15 years now--keeping our Friends Fabric Art connection alive even when we moved down here. We are looking forward to having more opportunities to work together in person again in the coming months.
This joy is expressed in a piece I have just begun that I am calling "My Heart Took Flight." All the energy and feelings of anxiety and anticipation will find their way into additional layers of stitching to complete this.
In celebration of this next phase of our life/art journey, we have created a special 10% off coupon good for any purchase in our Etsy store. When you checkout, type FFAFRIEND in the "Apply coupon code" box to receive your discount.
Mom (Ann) mentioned a while ago that we are taking Jane Dunnewold's "Creative Strength Training" 10-month on-line program. One of the March exercises was drawing mandalas. I started with drawing mandalas in March and I haven't stopped yet. I'm drawing mandalas, coloring them in, painting them, and making beaded ones. I haven't done a big project with them like Mom, but I sure am enjoying making them. The circle gives me a starting place. If I need more structure, I divide the circle into pie slices with a ruler. If not, I just start doodling.
From drawing I got into playing with beads. One art project I did with toddler Tyler (now a 3 year old!) was to use circular memory wire. I twisted the end so there was something to stop the beads sliding off and then let Tyler play with some of my bigger beads. He surprised me by adding buttons that I had mixed in with the beads. It was funny to see my gut reaction was... "no, don't do that." Sadly, I had to hold myself back from stopping him. I'm glad I did.
It took me a bit longer to make my own beaded mandala. Below is the first one that I have finished. I may take apart the other two that I started since they aren't as precise as I wanted. Maybe I need to work on not censoring myself either and just finish them. I haven't quite got the beading techniques and proportions of working in 3-D down as well as drawing. Maybe I should practice more...
My most recent mandala fun was making watercolor cards. Who knew the compass from a college architectural drawing course would find a new purpose.
Since my last post, I have continued to work on my Choices project. I completed about a dozen stitched mandalas of various sorts. I've basted them to a background fabric and begun stitching them down and trying to capture some of my thoughts as I go. This is what I have so far.
You can sort of see around the edges that this will technically be a quilt - as I have three stitched together layers. I have silk noil as the face, flannel for batting, and a cotton backing fabric. But as I very often do, I am stitching the layers together with words and embroidery.
Creating a piece like this is a very meditative process for me. I keep journal handy to write down thoughts that come to me as I stitch and I gradually add them to the work in progress. For this one I started jotting down either-or choices that occurred to me - often prompted by the news of the day--trust/fear, include/exclude, flexible/rigid, compassion/ condemnation, speak up/remain silent. I am still doing that, but as I go I have also been noting realizations about choice that occur to me, and questions that come to my mind.
I've been thinking about such things as
Working on a project like this gives me a place to put all these swirling ideas and feelings. It helps me sort things out even if I can't come to any grand resolutions. It's all about the process for me, less than the results. So I just keep thinking and stitching....
As I mentioned in my last post, I am taking part in Jane Dunnewold's Creative Strength Training series this year. One of the suggested exercises for this month is making mandalas. This exercise has really caught my fancy. Once I had made one, I was hooked. So now I have added drawing a mandala, along with a stitch meditation, to my daily morning routine.
We were given a 6" circle template with the center marked. Having that template made it really easy to start. Then I found the little ruler advertising my grandfather's construction business that I'd been saving just because...and away I went.
So what does all this mandala-making have to do with the theme of my post - The Choices We Make? There is a connection - at least in my mind, but it's rather circuitous.
I have found that mandala-making, like my daily stitching, is a very meditative process. As I was making my mandalas, the process brought home to me how each seemingly small choice that I made in the drawing had a significant impact on the final design. Dividing the radius up into even 1/2" segments gave a very different result than using uneven divisions. As my mind wandered, I realized that this was a very apt metaphor for life. Every choice we make, however small it seems, effects what comes after--sometimes in very important ways.
As I kept working, I kept thinking about choices we make each day. Small ones and large ones. I couldn't help thinking about this in the context of the current political climate and the often difficult choices we are faced with. As often happens for me, such ruminations lead to ideas for artwork. Art and stitching are often a means for me to work through current issues. I have decided create a quilt from my mandalas and the questions swirling in my head. I have begun creating a series of stitched mandalas and keeping a mini-diary related to choices. The diary includes a list of the types of choices that come mind and the questions that occur to me as I work. Eventually these will merge into something larger, not sure exactly what yet. That will come as I work.
At this point I can just share the stitched mandalas I've completed so far. There will be more to come on this.
I have been thinking about this post for a couple of weeks now without finding the time to write it. Until I logged in again, I didn't realize how long it had been since I posted. I've let myself become distracted by other things.
This month I started taking Jane Dunnewold's Creative Strength Training--a 10-month on-line series. The introductory activities have had me in a ruminating mood for the last couple of weeks. She strongly encourages us to write on a regular basis. One of her suggestions for getting us started was to write about what we like about our lives right now. That's what got me going - thinking first about retirement giving me plenty of time to do the things I really enjoy. Then I got thinking about how I am doing so many things that I NEVER thought I would be doing, things I had forsworn in the past or that were totally unexpected opportunities. It's made me realize that just because I can't imagine myself doing something or in a certain situation, doesn't mean it can't happen...unless I bind myself to my vows of "I'll NEVER..."
So, If you'd asked me even 18 months ago if I would move south in retirement, I'd have said NEVER. I couldn't imagine myself moving from Massachusetts. It was years after our move from the Midwest before I felt settled and happy there, and not until we moved to Lowell that felt really connected to the area. I thought I couldn't leave that. Thankfully, I allowed myself to imagine the possibility and come to the realization that it could be good for us, because it has been a real shot in the arm in many ways.
I won't go on about all the other examples of going back on my proclamations of I'll never--going back to the violin after a 30-year hiatus, learning to play by ear, signing up for outdoor craft fairs, for example. I'll just say that I'm learning that I need to say "I'll try" or at least "let me think about that."
So in the spirit of "i'll try and we'll see where it goes" I am trying out something artist Liz Kettle calls Stitch Meditations. Each day I am making a tiny (3"x 4") pieced and embroidered artworks. The idea is to do a quick little something without getting too bogged down in making a thing of perfection. It needs to be fun and relaxing, not work. So far I have been working almost exclusively with the little leftover bits from all the pillow covers I've been making for my first outdoor show down here. I've kept going for eight days so far and it's still fun. Who knows where it will take me.
Here are a few examples:
So I am grateful that Sonja suggested participating in Jane's Creative Strength Training. We're having fun sharing the experience with my sister Sue and it's already taking me in directions I never expected. I recommend it.
My last post covered my "Just Keep Going" project--making fabric yardage from scraps. Honestly, I had so much fun making yardage from my Maria Testa hand-dyed silk scraps that I had a hard time to break away from to actually do something with the resulting fabrics. I still had a couple more piles of color-coordinated scraps left, but I decided early this month that I'd better use some of the fabric in some projects. How I used the ones I finished might make me rethink how I put them together - especially the size of the pieces I made.
My primary intent for using the yardage was to make jackets. I have done that and will share those in an upcoming post. But first I really needed a hand-work project, so I started there. I cut off and squared up about a 12" length of one of the pieces of fabrics I'd created. My intent was to embroider a pattern over the top.
(Digression - One of Clara Nartey's blog posts about the importance of practicing your drawing skills had gotten me into doing that. I didn't keep at it the way I should, but I did end up with some motifs that I liked. I wanted to use the one shown below on this piece.)
The primary difficulty I had to solve with this piece was how to best transfer my embroidery design to the fabric. Ordinarily, I would just use fabric marking transfer paper, putting it between the fabric and the drawing and tracing over the drawing. For this project that just didn't work. Not only was it difficult to find a color that would show up, but the markings tended to rub off the shiny silk. Not only were they hard to see, but they didn't last long enough - even if I did only a small section at a time.
The method I ended up using was still not very satisfactory but it got the piece done. I used a leftover piece of my clear water-soluble stabilizer. I traced the design onto it and then basted it over the silk. I still had problems getting the design clearly visible and lasting well. Of the things I tried, pencil was best, but not great. If I'd used a white stabilizer, it would have been easier to see the embroidery design, but I wouldn't have been able to see the colors of the underlying fabric. Even so, I might try that next time. If anyone has other ideas for me, I'd like to hear them.
Other than the visibility problems, the stabilizer worked great. I had no trouble stitching through it. It also dissolved away with no problem. As you can see in the pictures above, I'd layered some flattened silk cocoons onto the fabric base. I'd wondered if they would give me any trouble with dissolving the stabilizer. I was pretty confident I'd be okay since they were just another form of silk, but until you actually try you just don't know. Luckily my theory was confirmed. Not only did the stabilizer rinse out fine, my cocoons held their shape just fine through the soaking.
So here's the final result. I added borders of raw silk, flannel "batting" and some quilt stitching with embroidery thread. The finished piece is 14" x 17." Now it just needs a name and a casing for hanging.
Mom's (Ann's) November blog post about her connections to other artists and their influence on her artwork got me thinking about the artists who have influenced me. It took me a while to get around to writing about it here. Lately I've been squeezing in whatever tiny art projects I can into my life. Tiny watercolor paintings mostly on art cards have been a good way to do that. I even got a cute itty bitty Winsor & Newton travel watercolor set to try to make it easy to pull out some painting supplies. The supplies are also small enough to fit up high on the bookcase out of reach of toddler Tyler (who is almost three)!
I dabbled in watercolor painting throughout grade school, but I didn't really get a solid grounding in it until college. My professor for Watercolor Painting and Color Design courses was Wendell Arneson at Saint Olaf College. I didn't realize until taking his watercolor course what a difference a good paint brush can make. Try painting a thin straight line with one of those cheap paint brushes most kids use and then switch to a professional watercolor brush. Frustration be gone!
I really enjoyed both courses. We learned some really cool things about color design such as how to make one color look like it is too different colors. One of my favorite things that I learned from Wendell was that if you add a little bit of an "ugly" color to your painting, it can really make your painting "zing!" (I'm still working on that one.)
My favorite watercolor technique was creating a puddle of water and then dropping in the colors. I have been using this technique with my mini watercolors a lot. It's just fun to watch the colors swirl together. It can be hard to be patient for one section to dry to be able to continue with the painting. I can work on multiple little paintings at once to keep myself entertained. I've been pondering the idea of doing a really huge painting this way. I'm not exactly sure I can figure out the logistics of doing that before I can get a regular studio space again.
The painting below was from painting over some old watercolor exercises. I've chopped up all my random bits of watercolor paper and old exercises. Tyler and I have been painting on them. Since most of Tyler's paintings are mostly random washes of color, I'm planning to add more to those one of these days, too.
Do you have a fall-back project that you turn to when you can't decide what to do next? Mine is making yardage--piecing together scraps to make a piece of fabric big enough for a project. When I am in this mode I have no specific project in mind, I just piece together what I have and decide later how to use it based on the size of the pieces I end up with.
This is the mode I have been - basically since Thanksgiving. I finished up my "Tyler-Art" pillows and I'd sent scarves to all the shops that needed them. I wasn't ready to commit to starting a major project - like a jacket - even though I know I need to make some new ones to meet my goal of submitting for new juried shows. I wanted to allow time for holiday things like cookie baking and the kids coming to visit, but wanted to make sure I still spent time in my studio doing something useful. So I decided it was piecing time.
I have to admit that this time I have a little more focus to my piecing, in that I know I'll want to use my yardage in a jacket. I don't know how yet, so I've structured my project a bit to give myself options.
First part of the process is sorting the scraps into color-coordinated piles. Right now I am working with only the scraps given to me by Maria Testa--all hand-dyed silks. They are so luxurious to work with.
After trying several piecing methods for using these, I've settled on foundation piecing. I stitch them down to silk organza. The organza gives the soft silks a bit more body--needed for jackets, but not scarves--without making them too stiff. The process is much slower than fusing, but I like the resulting hand much better. Even using a very lightweight fuseable gave results that I found too rigid for garments.
I tear off a strip of organza and begin stitching down pieces of the silk; one at a time, pressing the seam after each piece. I chose the next piece based on color and size. How does the color work with the previous piece? How can I maximize my fabric usage while making an interesting design? I want to throw out the least amount of leftovers that I can. If a cut off piece has even a small amount left after seam allowances, I save it to be fit in somewhere later.
I started stitching with a pile of rusts and greens and a strip of organza about 10" wide. I still had more fabrics in those colors so I made another narrower strip. From the smallest pieces I made a bunch of squares. I coordinated the sizing of the strips and squares to make it easier to put them together later into still larger pieces - if I decide to do that.
And I just kept going. By the time I finished with that pile of rusts and greens I had two wide strips, one narrower strip and 14 squares. Seems like enough that I'll have plenty of flexibility in how I use them.
Now I've gone on to my pile of turquoise and blues. It's just so satisfying to clean up these piles and create something new and fresh and beautiful. Thanks again to my friend Maria.
As I mentioned in my last post, my daughter Sonja has had a huge influence on my development as an artist. Sometimes that influence comes in unexpected ways. A few of my latest projects have come about because of gifts she has given me of her son Tyler's artworks.
For my birthday this past June, she gave me four 8" x 10" rectangles of fabric that Tyler had painted on.
I set them aside in order to work on more pressing things. Though I was working on other projects, the fabrics were not forgotten. I was mentally trying out various ideas for how to use them for something special. As you can see, Tyler is very exuberant in his art and Sonja continues to encourage him. From time to time she sends us some of his drawings. Lately he has been working hard on circles.
Perhaps about a month ago I finally had one of those "Aha" moments when I realized what I wanted to do with my Tyler fabric. The first thing I decided was that I could combine his fabric paintings and his drawings. I printed copies of his art on 8-1/2" x 11" paper so the designs would fit on my fabric. Then I used my marking transfer paper from my sewing projects and traced the designs onto my fabric pieces.
I love to have hand-stitching projects to work on evenings when I am watching TV. So my next step was to chain stitch over the lines of the designs. I chose colors to match what Tyler had used. I used some of my Stef Francis hand-dyed perle cotton which has such lovely gradations in the colors.
It was so much fun. Sometime into this process I finally decided that I would make these embroideries into pillow covers so that they could be enjoyed day-in and day-out. I am working on my third right now. Here are the first two I have finished.
It makes me so happy to feel that Sonja, Tyler and I have collaborated on these even though we are miles apart.
Mother & daughter, Ann Lee & Sonja Lee-Austin share their joys and struggles in their art and lives.