If you've been reading our blog you know that I've just completed three weekends of art fairs--the last two were both 2-day affairs. It's been exhilarating and exhausting. You never know what to expect in a day at one of these shows, but I always have memorable events. One of those memorable moments from Occasion for the Arts came Sunday morning just after the show opened when the Colonial Williamsburg Fife & Drum Corps stopped right outside my tent to play several tunes. It was a rousing start to the day.
I always enjoy seeing them perform. They are "just" teens, but they are so professional in their demeanor and so into their characters. Their seriousness and precision never ceases to impress and move me.
One of the things I will remember most from the Port Warwick Art & Sculpture Show was really a series of moments, not a single event. It's really a small thing, but I just loved watching the shadows on my tent created by the tree right next to me. They constantly changed, but I thought they were a very apropos background for my "Seek Truth" artwork.
Of course it's also exhilarating when your work finds a new home. That brand new jacket that I highlighted in my last blog post has a new owner already, while an older one was just the thing for an upcoming wedding. It really does make you feel good when your work brings joy to others. And you never know what connections you will make. At the Contemporary Artisans show a friend from my water fitness class came by with a friend visiting from Rhode Island. Turns out her friend's daughter had just moved to Lowell, Mass. Sonja and I were tickled to be able to share tips on things to do in Lowell, like Western Avenue Studios and Mill No. 5 and recommend our favorite hairdresser. We hope her daughter loves that place as much as we do.
Of course, there's always more work to be done even when the show is over. After the car's been unloaded, there's still accounting to be done, inventory to be sorted and stored, and a myriad of details to take care of. It's Friday and I'm just beginning to get back to my normal routine again.
Though I took time this week to make sure that Dahlia's and A Touch of Earth had new scarves for the upcoming holiday season, I also made sure that I made time for creative work as well. (Side note - if you click on the links for these wonderful shops, be sure to look carefully at the pictures to see if you can find my scarves!! I was pretty excited to see them.) I spent time at the sewing machine--doing the piecing that I do when I'm not ready to commit to a major project. Starting with a pile of blues, my favorite color, I just kept piecing the scraps together trying to use as many as I could. It was "mindless" time well spent. I think I'm going to have pieces big enough for another jacket.
Evenings I continued to work on my latest "therapy" quilt. I think it's nearing completion. I wasn't too sure, but yesterday I tacked it up to my design board and added some skeleton leaves. I'm continuing to study it, but I think with the addition of the leaves, it will be ready for the basting stitches to go and for binding.
This one doesn't have a definite name yet, for now I'm calling Nature's Bounty. To help me cope with and renew my feelings of optimism, this quilt riffs on all the joys we gain from our time in the out-of-doors. I hope it evokes calm and motivates us to do all we can to sustain our environment for our children and grandchildren.
I just finished loading the car. I have to be downtown right after lunch to set up for Williamsburg's Occasion for the Arts. The show opens tomorrow morning. It runs from 10 am to 5 pm both Saturday and Sunday. I'm in space G 54. I hope if you're in the area, you'll stop by to see me.
I finished one more jacket this week so I'll have VERY new inventory. I mentioned this one in my last post, sharing the crazy mix of fabrics I'd picked out. My fabric selections often look kind of crazy to me when I first start, but the stack of colors always connect somehow. Then getting the design to work together usually just involves getting the right arrangement and the individual pieces the right size. This time it didn't work. The fabrics looked good together in a stack, but I just couldn't find an arrangement that looked pleasing to me. I didn't end up starting all over, but only about half of my original fabrics ended up in the final design.
Just to remind you, here's the set I started with.
Here's the completed jacket.
I decided to make the half-yard cut of Indonesian batik I'd purchased last spring the focus fabric. This one really needs to be seen in person to really appreciate the intricate patterning in the batik. (Side note - I bought this fabric from Usha of Handloom Batik. She sells at many quilt shows and has wonderful fabrics and wooden stamps and such. Look for her. You'll be glad you did.)
I am going to have to discipline myself to post updates more often. I've let too much build up again--even though it's been only 3 weeks since my last post.
This week I am heading into my second busy show time for the year with events each of the next three weekends. This Saturday, September 28 I'll be at "Williamsburg Celebrates Contemporary Artisans" from 8 am to 3 pm on Duke of Gloucester Street right on the edge of the historic area. This show is particularly fun because all the participating artisans are required to demonstrate their processes, not only sell their wares. I'll be working on fabric collage and meditative stitching. If Sonja's schedule permits she will join me too. That will make it extra special.
The next weekend, October 5-6, I'll be back at nearly the same spot for Williamsburg's Occasion for the Arts. This is the area's biggest event of the year and it's my first time to participate. I'll have my jackets and scarves for this one.
The weekend of October 12-13, I'll be in Newport News for the Port Warwick Art & Sculpture Festival. It is my second time to participate in this one.
With these big shows coming up I've been working hard to add to my inventory of unlined jackets. I've three more for you to preview. The details are really hard to capture in photographs. I hope you'll be able to come by my booth at Occasion or Port Warwick to see them for yourself. (They'll also be available on Etsy soon.)
This morning before starting on this post I went through my stash to find fabric possibilities for another one. This is a pretty crazy set, but I think I can make them work. I love a challenge.
These jackets have been just about pure fun. There have been some technical challenges in the seaming (I use all French or flat-felled seams), but mainly it's the pure joy of working with all the colors and patterns. On the other hand, my mind has been fully engaged in my most recently completed artwork--"Seek Truth."
I have been so bothered by the full frontal assault on truth telling by the current administration that I had to create my own bit of protest art. It is filled with quotes and sayings about the importance of truth to not only personal integrity but also to democracy. We need to remind ourselves of this every day right now. We cannot take it for granted. Finding and sharing the truth takes hard work and diligence.
Well it has been a long time coming, but we have finally finished putting together a document describing workshops that Sonja and I could teach. For a quick look at the possibilities, click here. If you want all the details including pricing, supplies and room requirements use this link. Don't hesitate to contact us if you have other ideas or questions.
Apart from getting the word out there about our workshop offerings, I was also anxious to give an update on the jacket project I was working on the last time I posted. The jacket is now finished and I am quite pleased with it. I learned a great deal in the process of making it. Not only did I learn more about putting together patterned fabrics, but I also learned more about using French seams.
As I mentioned in my last post, this jacket started with pieced strips that I'd created when I couldn't decide what to do next for a big project. In trying to put the pieced strips together with other fabrics to make enough for a jacket, I discovered that a patterned fabric worked better than a solid to create a pleasing overall look. I'm still surprised when I look at it finished.
After finishing this, I am now hooked on using French seams in places I'd never expected to use them. I even tried out using them for attaching the collar and cuffs on this one. Attaching the collar that way was a little tricky, but worth the trouble. I love the additional bit of subtle pizazz added by the tucks down the front and on the sleeves. I'm definitely going to use them again on my next one.
Here are the fabrics I'm planning to use next. We'll see how it goes. This time I'll try pairing the pieced strips with hand-dyes. One is fabric from an old damask tablecloth that we dyed, the other I believe is a piece from Helene Davis.
If you've ever read my artist statement, you might recall that one of the things that I like to do is to put together very disparate fabrics to make them work together as a unified whole. You might also know that when I don't know what I want to do next, I create yardage to keep myself going. I color-sort pieces from my scrap bin and start piecing them together. Today's post is about how those two things have come together lately.
I didn't have a good idea for a new jacket so I've been making yardage. Usually when I do this, I have no end use in mind. I just try to put enough small scraps together to create something large enough to be the basis of a project or at least a major component. This time I wanted to make sure that the pieces I created could be used in an unlined jacket. I want to make sure that the insides of these jackets look as nice as the outsides. That means that I can't do just plain seams. Even if I pinked or zig-zagged the seam allowances, the insides of the pieced sections would look really messy. I need to do some type of special seam that hides the raw edges. For the main seams of these jackets I do flat-felled seams (like those on denim jeans). For a number of reasons I didn't want to do those for piecing small bits.
After much thought, I decided to try French seams. These are usually done on sheer fabrics. Each seam is stitched twice. First you make a narrow seam with wrong sides of the fabric together. Then you fold the sides back on themselves so the right sides are together and stitch another slightly wider seam that encloses the raw edges. The resulting tuck ends up inside the garment. For this project I decided to start with the fabrics right side together so the tuck would end up on the outside adding a textural dimension to the finished piece.
I had expected that I would need something nearly plain or with just a subtle pattern but nothing like that seemed to work. Then I decided to look at some bolder patterns just in case. It still surprises me that all these patterns go as well together as they do.
Then yesterday I got that same kind of surprise for another of these projects. I'd pieced together lots of black and white fabrics thinking I'd intersperse them with plain black for another jacket. Then when I dug out out my black fabrics, nothing was exactly the right color or weight. So I set aside those strips and went on to piecing another set of colors. When I finished with that color set, I went back to the black & white. Just for the heck of it I pulled out a really bold black and white batik to see if it could possibly work. To my great surprise (again) it seemed to pull the pieced strips together into a whole much better than the plain black. When I look at the piece on the right, I see stripes and individual patterns. When I look at the center picture I see a blending of colors and patterns with little standing out. I think that will happen even more when it is all put together.
So you'll have to wait a bit to see how this all works out in the end. I've got a lot of work to do on it yet, but I think I have a plan - even if it isn't the one I originally had in mind. If there's a lesson in all this, it is -- just be brave, just try it. You might be suprised.
So that's where I am with my jackets, but as I mentioned I've also been pushing ahead with my wall art. My evenings are usually spent watching TV and stitching. I'm not a good couch potato. My hands have to be busy.
I've been working on two related pieces created from some of my gelatin prints layered over pieced, hand-dyed silks from Maria Testa. The titles for these two came from a book I read just recently, though I'm afraid I can't remember which one. The one on the left is finished. I've called that one Begin Where You Are. The one in progress will be called The Rest Will Follow.
Those titles pretty well capture how I work in general, but especially now as I try to just let my heart lead my work.
More will follow...
since my last post, so I've lots to share. I'd planned to focus on some of the ups and downs of applying to juried shows, but then realized that I should share all the progress I've made on artworks since my last post. In order not to make this post too long, I'll do two posts. Today I'll share my recent experiences with juried shows. I'll post an update on my work in a day or two.
I have been selling my artwork for many years now and generally I feel pretty happy with how things have gone. But if I were to try to measure my success in financial terms, I'd have to say I was pretty mediocre. Rarely do I have much leftover at the end of the year after all my expenses are accounted for. Some years I don't even cover my expenses. So I try to make sure my work given me and others pleasure and I sell enough to make some space in my studio for new work." Still, even if I don't measure my success in financial terms, I do have to be concerned with my expenses relative to the income from my art.
Now that I am not renting a studio outside my home, my biggest expense category is not fabric. (I don't buy much these days.) My primary expenses are entry and participation fees for art shows and festivals. I think this is a part of the business that many people do not think much about. It is easy to overlook how much the effort to sell your work costs. But because these costs are substantial for me, I do pay attention to them and I think carefully about what I apply for. For each show that I consider, I try to make an educated guess about my chances of getting accepted and if accepted, about the chances of my work selling or getting a prize. Before I'll apply, I do my best to make sure I've got a reasonable chance of acceptance, that my work won't be dismissed out-of-hand.
If you're familiar with a show and have had work accepted before, it's easy to have enough confidence to apply again. But if it's a totally new show, or a juror that you don't know, it's harder. In those cases, I first read the prospectus very carefully to see what I can figure out about what they are looking for. If it is a fine art show, will they even consider textile art? If it is a quilt or fiber art show, are there minimum size requirements? Are there other technical requirements such as the number of layers or how they are held together? Will they accept works that are framed or mounted? (My work is smaller than most quilts, and is often mounted.)
If I satisfy myself that I have work that "follows all the rules," I then try to find out more about their past shows and the juror(s) for the current show. If the show has a web site with a gallery of works from the prior year, I'll review that to get an idea of the number and types of work accepted. Did the previous show include any fiber art? If there was a theme to the show, how tightly did the accepted works adhere to the theme? Was the theme obvious in every work? If there is a theme for the new show, does my work clearly reflect that theme?
Next step is to google the juror(s) to learn what medium they work in and what their style is. Obviously, the more similar my work is to the juror's, the better my chances of acceptance. But it is a rare case where there is a close match between mine and a juror's. Mostly I am looking for a level of dissimilarity that suggests I have almost no chance of acceptance. For example, I most likely would not apply to a fine art show with jurors who are painters with a very realistic style. I just wouldn't have enough confidence of acceptance to make it worth the time and money to apply.
Even following such a rational process, though, there are no guarantees. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. Luckily for me, my wins make me happier than the losses make me sad. Here are my two most recent experiences.
Most of the time I enter shows that are local or familiar to me in some way. But every once in a while I try to push myself out of my comfort zone. I did that recently, submitting 3 works to the 37th Annual New Legacies: Contemporary Art Quilts show opening soon in Fort Collins, Colorado. It was a stretch they probably got hundreds of submissions, but I figured I had a shot. There was no specific theme, no minimum size requirement, no restriction against framed or mounted quilts, and I had some familiarity with the work of the judges. I figured my work wouldn't get dismissed out of hand and I should try for it. Sadly, all three of my submitted works were rejected. Thankfully I know that a no this time doesn't necessarily mean a no next time.
Then sometimes you hit an unexpected jackpot...as I did in the Members' Show at the Williamsburg Contemporary Art Center. Since I am a member, acceptance in this show was a given. But the application fee meant I still thought hard about whether to apply and what to submit. Was there was a reasonable chance that I could recoup the entry fee? Reality is few of my works have sold there. Also, most of my newest works were relatively small, priced low enough that even if they sold, the gallery commission and entry fee together would eat up almost the entire price.
Luckily, before I gave up on the idea, I remembered that my "Ode to Maria" piece hadn't been exhibited at WCAC. (It had recently been returned to me when the owner of Handworks gallery in Acton, MA retired.) If that sold, there'd be money left for me, so I decided to go ahead. I'm glad I did because to my great surprise it took third place. The prize check more than covered the entry fee. Woohoo!!
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...
Mother & daughter, Ann Lee & Sonja Lee-Austin share their joys and struggles in their art and lives.