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.
Finally having a chance to send a progress update on the big move. It's been a hectic time, not quite so much for me but certainly for Sonja. Such a myriad of details to be worked out in settling in to a new home, a new job, putting your child in daycare for the first time, getting a second car...on and on it goes. She hasn't had much time for art, but she now at least has a designated space for it. (Though Tyler has designated it his playroom too.)
Sonja's begun to get her studio organized and I am happy to report that she and I are going to have our first "Just Us Art Night" tonight. We are going to meet at the library that's at about the halfway point between our houses. The library has a nice little "cafe" area with some comfy chairs and tables. We'll bring our tea and stitching for a bit of relaxation and sharing. We hope to do this on a regular basis now - it's been too long.
"My Heart Took Flight" is finished. Now I'm putting my energy and joyful feelings into this new work. I don't have a plan for it but I'm having fun and using up scraps. (I've been doing flat-felled seams in my new unlined jackets which generated all these colorful strings of fabric. They seemed too pretty to waste so I drizzled them over a plain black fabric, covered it all with a fine blue tulle, and began stitching.) This is what I'll be bringing to stitch on tonight.
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.
Mother & daughter, Ann Lee & Sonja Lee-Austin share their joys and struggles in their art and lives.