Sunday, January 13, 2019

The Keys to My Success

I’m continuing on my new year’s plan to finish pieces.  This week I put the final touches on my piece called ‘The Key’.  I have been collecting brass keys for several years, not knowing what I wanted to do with them.  I’m fascinated by their shape and the powers they possess.  The vintage stylized keys that opened jail cells in old movies are a study in contrast, with the curving head or bow of the key and the stark angles of the shank and bit.  
The visual image of each key is so powerful it can evoke memories as easily as opening a door.  As I was cleaning and sorting keys I picked one up labeled ‘Datsun’, which immediately made me think of driving around with my friend Evelyn in her well well-traveled little car.  I don’t know how it held together, but her husband Karel kept it on the road.  Another key was exactly the same shape as the one that opened my father’s veterinary hospital.  Every third weekend I was responsible for feeding the animals at the clinic and cleaning their cages.  I know that each key in my collection has had a rich history on its journey through time to me, from function to collection.   

Keys are also powerful metaphors for opening new directions in our lives.  I remembered the time when I was at what proved to be a major decision point.  I was coloring with crayons on the kitchen floor with Tommie while I nursed Jacob, wondering if I could transition out of science and back into my roots as an artist.  I had invested years in earning my Ph.D. and I was developing a research project as a post-doc, but at that moment art seemed much more immediate and powerful to me.  While there wasn’t a physical key involved, the support I got from Jim was the emotional key I needed to begin a new direction.  In my piece ‘The Key’, the summer tanager is perched tentatively at the open door of the cage looking out.  I can almost sense that the bird is trying to decide which direction to travel and why.  It’s not aggressively flying away, it’s weighing its choices for the future.  I see the piece as a story of possibilities, the freedom to fly in any direction, rather than signaling escape.   

From a technical standpoint, the cage itself is constructed from reclaimed florist’s wire that I wrapped in black yarn.  I worked from a sketch I made to scale in two dimension where I could predict how much I needed of each component in three dimensions.  I wrapped each individual piece and glued them together to make the cage.   

I kept my other projects moving forward this week, completing the fern pinnae (the leaflets of the fern) I need for one of my felted tiles.  I assembled the fronds and attached them to the black background.  I really like my design that has the pinnae projecting forward to emphasize the dimensional nature of the structure rather than laying flat against the background.  I still need to make the wee frog that will cling to the main vein of one of the fronds, but for now I’m going to enjoy the completed sculpture.    

In Bloomington, the first real snow of the season arrived on Saturday.  I got to test out my new snow boots, and boy are they terrific!  Nancy Riggert and I, my partner in scrounging for costume parts, often score fabulous finds for ourselves.  She spied these barely used boots and knew I was looking for some—thanks Nancy!  The snow shovels came out Saturday morning, and Jacob was off to a shoveling gig, with Tommie as his right-hand shoveler.  
Jim stayed home and cleared the laneway and walk to the door.  I just enjoyed a quiet day in the house.  But the best news about waking up to snow was the smell of espresso and a freshly baked blueberry pie!  Thanks sweetie pie! 

Until next week,

Martina Celerin

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Koi being koi

My goal for this week was to finish at least one of my pieces in progress.  That piece turned out to be my underwater pond scene.  If you’re a Facebook follower, you know I’ve been working on creating two colorful koi.  I first sculpted the fish, and then the fish faces, including the distinctive whisker-like barbels that koi use to taste their surroundings.  When I layered on the patches of skin color I tried to make them appear somewhat random, which turns out to be a challenge.  
Our brains are geared to seeing regular patterns, and the whole idea of random colors violates our sense of comfort in symmetry. 

I next needed to position the koi in between the rocks on the bottom of the weaving and the lily pad layer that defines the water’s surface.  I wrapped some used baling wire with yarns that matched the color of the rocks and then inserted those into the fish on one end and the weaving on the other.  I used two wires per fish to prevent them from swimming in circles.  What I really love about this piece is that it’s my first piece that requires the viewer to move considerably if they want to take in all the details in the piece.  
I decided that this perspective on the art speaks to my experiences making costumes for the theater.  Like the costumes I created, you can’t get the full story face on.  The movement of the actors reveals the full story of the costume, giving the viewer the ability to see all the colors and how together they create the full effect of the outfit.

When one composition comes together I typically have to launch on a new piece, which is in this case was a fun commissioned piece.  It involves six felted tiles that are each 8 by 8 inches.  The first will have lily pads with a small turtle resting on a pad.  
I had a little extra fun with these because I used two blended green fleeces as the base and layered the greens to create the veined patterns that one often observes radiating from the center of the pad.  I also began creating a second tile that will feature two fern fronds and a wee frog.  
I calculated that I need forty-five of the individual pinnae (leaflets), so I’ll make fifty just to be sure.  My little pile is growing and soon I’ll have a frond.

I also did more experimenting with dyeing.  I’ve been reading about dyeing with black beans for years, and now that it’s soup season the moment had arrived.  I was already planning to make a black bean soup and freezing away a few bags of cooked beans, so I soaked about three pounds of black beans.  I ladled off the the black supernatant for dyeing and threw away the last bit of liquid that contains the coagulated bean goo.  
That material is supposed to interfere with color transfer.  I added about eight ounces of freshly washed white fleece to the black supernatant let it sit overnight at room temperature.  That’s a little odd, because I’m used to heating the dye pot.  The experiment yielded a light, almost metallic purple.  I was hoping for a more intense color, so next time I want to try heating to coax out more dye and get a better transfer. I suppose that this week I’m … making fronds and influencing purple. 

On the home front it is wonderful to have Tommie home for a month.  He’s a doing his winter term from Oberlin here at IU working with Carl Bauer.  It warms my heart to know that he is wrangling Eppendorf tubes and popping tips.  It also means that we need to cook twice as much of everything and wash a mountain of laundry!  
Even more fun is going to basketball games with him.  This week we had tickets for the four of us for the Illinois game—we even made it on national television!  Finally, sometime long, long ago I finished my cherry birthday pie.  In fact, I don’t think I’ve had a single pie this year.  Jiiiim!

Until next week,

Martina Celerin

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Birthday blogging

The Christmas season is full of festivities, including family in the house, theater and the good food of the season.  Somewhere in there I squeeze in a little art making.  I bounce around between projects to keep all of my projects moving forward.  I pulled out my weaving-in-progress that features keys in the background and started imagining what the bird cage would look like.  I stretched and sketched--the background weaving was stretched into a frame and I sketched the bird cage that will emerge in the foreground.
  Then I could measure out the wire pieces that will make up the cage and the door.  I also started to make the swirly shapes that will adorn the structure.  But then when I have all of the components designed and cut, I can’t just leave it in a pile and so I started to put together.  Its not finished – but I really like the look of it so far.  The cage, with an open door, will also feature a summer tanager, suggested by Cinny Schrodt.  The orange red of the bird should really pop against the brassy key background and the black cage foreground. 

My down-time breaks over the holidays have also given me time to keep poking at my Mexican sunflower petals.  My pile is getting bigger, but I still have a lot to go.  I won’t count because I think I’m still on the uphill slope of the hundred petal target, but it’s good to see my bowl getting fuller. 

My ongoing dyeing projects took a turn to coffee browns this week.  I’m an avid coffee drinker, specifically morning espressos to balance out my breakfast pie slices.  About a year ago I discovered that my blood pressure was elevated, so I decided to deal with it through diet.  I cut out caffeine and took the salt shaker off the table.  
I’m happy to report that my blood pressure is back to normal, which means I can drink more coffee than I used to, albeit decaffeinated.  Jim now makes me two double espressos almost every day.  That’s a lot of ground beans that usually feed the compost pile.  I decided to redirect the flow into a bag that I keep in the freezer until I had enough grounds to try dyeing with them.  I put the month’s worth of grounds in the dye pot and boiled it for an hour, making the house smell wonderful.  After steeping overnight I then strained the brew through giant filters intended to be used to filter oil, which worked well.  I put in some freshly washed fleece, brought it to a boil, and left it to steep overnight in the glory of the second-hand coffee.  It turned out to be a lovely maple syrup brown color—it’s a good thing I love Midwestern browns! 

The Christmas season brought us first Tommie (although we had to go pick him up), who baked a huge batch of cookies with Shaunacee, his accomplice in baking.  She knew the secret length of baking time to make the diablo cookies perfect—this was the peak year for those delights.  Grandma and great aunt Lois came next, flying in from Michigan for Christmas.  They helped eat the cookies and put together a jigsaw puzzle.  Christmas gifts brought lots of surprises—Jacob got authentic lederhosen and the turntable he has been pining for.  
Lois got a beautiful bracelet and watch that she eagerly showed off when she got home to Michigan.  I got a beautiful bowl made by Marcy Neiditz that I think might be destined for display rather than use.  
But most important we had a lot of laughing and silliness in the house.  We all went to Cardinal’s Beauty and the Beast on boxing day, and the performance was delightful as usual.  The pie fairy really came through too, bringing a Raspberry pie for Christmas dinner and a tart cherry pie for my birthday yesterday!  
I even had slices from two different pies on one day!  Let’s just continue that trend into the new year, shall we?

Until next week,

Martina Celerin