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.
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.
Mother & daughter, Ann Lee & Sonja Lee-Austin share their joys and struggles in their art and lives.