Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween, Trees and Treats!

As anyone who lives in southern Indiana knows, this is a beautiful time of year. The reds, yellows, and oranges compete for our attention with the holdover greens of summer and the coming browns of winter. As every artist knows, no matter what the medium, you really have to become one with the part you’re playing to make it real. Since I’m working on an Autumn Aspens piece, among other fall projects, I decided that I had to become an autumn goddess, or perhaps a lesser wood nymph or sprite. You just don’t know until you get out your box of felt, which I did. I solicited the aid of my family to cut out leaves of every shape and color. They helped, but I ended up doing most of the cutting. Out came my old brown oversized mock turtleneck, two glue guns, and enthusiastic gluers. The felt leaves ranged from plums through reds and oranges to some yellows and even a few tasteful browns. I couldn’t have done a better job if I’d rolled in some Elmer’s glue and then rolled in the backyard carpet of leaves. For my crown I got out my straw sun hat and glued on the branches my son collected from the backyard. A few leaves went on the hat too, plus the acorns that Tommie decided should be on there too. I let the glue set, pulled on some old brown pants, and voila! I’m a formidable tree creature from the forest!

Tonight is Halloween, and I’m really looking forward to the festivities. My boys, at ages 7 and 9, are at the prime trick-or-treating ages. I have one red ninja and one fearsome phantom with a featureless face. Don’t be frightened if they come to your house! They’re polite, and they’re good at heart. I’m sending them out with the HoA (husband of artist) to keep them on the sidewalk and away from the curmudgeon’s house. Now he can be scary. I’ll be home in my leafy costume handing out the treeeets. Sorry! I couldn’t resist.

On other fronts, I’ve been diligently working in the art studio to finish my ‘Autumn Aspens’ commission. I had brought out all the grays, browns and purple yarns to create the background gradient. There are hints of green and yellow throughout to give the piece depth and continuity with the foreground trees, but the darker colors create the sense of the forest mystery under the bright yellow canopy. I then topped the weaving with some dense yellow foliage, mostly because I couldn’t resist getting out my bright yellows for some color at the top. I stretched out the piece in an oak frame that I stained to have a hint of yellow. I stitched the piece onto the frame using reeled silk, which I love to work with because it just kind of glides along your fingers when you work with it. It glides along your toes, too, if you don’t have enough hands for the job. The next step is to start embroidering the piece with all my different yellow yarns. My art studio will be glowing this week, and so will I. Plus, there should be enough leftover Halloween candy to keep everyone in the family buzzing all week long.

Until next week…

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Fall Fun with Fibers

I had some great treasure hunts this week that took me all over the county. I started out driving my son Jacob to his doctor in Bedford to get a flu shot, which took me through some beautiful fall foliage in southern Indiana. To be out in the warm fall weather early in the week after being cooped up last week was terrific. Closer to home, a little internet sleuthing turned up a clever artist with a proprietary process for creating felt balls without a lot of effort. This really appealed to me since I’ve been making small fiber balls by wrapping threads, which is pretty tedious. I spent the money to learn the secret—if you’re interested, check out her work here. Knowledge is power, and I set off to scour Bloomington for the secret ingredients I needed. After a little bit of experimenting I’ve learned to create wonderful felt balls in a range of sizes. The little ones are really cute, especially the red ones!

One of the joys of any treasure hunt is finding kindred spirits in secret places. They’re not always on the same quest, but the goal is the same. At Opportunity House I ran into Lisa, the owner of LolaRue and Company , a place to create crafts. She said she often stops in at Opp House to poke around a little before opening her shop in the morning. We both get inspiration there, and Lisa calls it her therapy before she starts work in the morning. I also had a nice stop at the Thrift Shop, a consignment shop run by the Zeta Chapter of Psi Iota Xi sorority. Part of the fun for me is interacting with the people who run the stores—I get to chitty chatty with them, and they always seem interested to know what I’m going to do with my basket of mismatched yarns and odd treasures. What I get isn’t always what I see, like the beige sweater I found that ended up converted to felt balls in a happy leaf green color. And of course once the dye pots came out, watch out yarns! I didn’t have much green boucle left, which I use to make crocheted leaf clumps. I had some textured turquoise, but the color was all done. When the fiber stopped flying I had 7 skeins of green yarn, plus the white wool I dyed to exhaust the dye pot. The exact final color isn’t too important to me, as long as it’s green.

The rest of my week was less of a treasure hunt, but I did some prospecting for treasure. I worked on the demographic analysis, show summaries and the final report for the Fourth Street Festival. I used some of that information to write a grant proposal to expand the advertising reach for the festival next year—I guess that’s treasure hunting too. I’m gearing up for the Déjà Vu art show coming up in Columbus, Indiana on Saturday, November 7. Keep your eyes open for the posters around town sporting my sunflowers and Cappi Phillip’s heavy metal chicken, which I think is a very cool piece. Then you can drive to Columbus for a great day of classic Indiana Architecture and modern Indiana art!

Until next week…

Saturday, October 17, 2009

How artists recover from illnesses.

I’ve had a miserable week fighting pneumonia. My allies were friends, antibiotics and breathing treatments, and slowly I’m winning the battle. My friend Cappi Phillips brought me homemade macaroni and cheese, made with whole-wheat noodles with flax in them—what terrific comfort food! Thanks Cappi! Today I left the house for the first time in a week and I even had a salad with my family at Buccetto’s. Look out world, I’m on the mend.

To re-engage myself in the art world, and use weaving as part of my recovery, I decided to break out my yellow yarns. Yellow is such a happy color, and I decided to start a commission piece to make a variation on my ‘Autumn Aspens’ theme. I first pulled out my big box of cord, strings and shoelaces to form the core of the tree trunks. Then I got out my variegated taupe yarns. You probably know that ‘taupe’ started out to mean the average color of a French mole—until the artists got their hands on the word. I started with my beige and brown taupes (take that, you linguists!) and started wrapping the aspen tree trunks. My strategy was to create the foreground variegations with light to medium color yarns first. Then I moved on to medium to dark yarns and finally the darkest yarns. The goal was to create a sense of depth based partly on the color of the tree trunks, with the darkest shades in the back.

Then came the big moment in my recovery—I pulled out my big box of yellow yarns, which was like opening up a box of sunshine! If you live in central Indiana you know it’s been an awful week weather-wise, with cold, overcast rainy skies dominating the weather (and lots of people have been sick). But my yellows brought a smile to my face—how can you not be happy looking into a sea of yellow! Right about then was when I had my flashback to the genesis of the first ‘Autumn Aspens piece—a trip with my father one October many years ago. I had just defended my Ph.D. thesis at the University of Western Ontario, and to celebrate we traveled to Utah and Colorado for a vacation. I was stunned by the endless yellows of fall in the American West, with all the subtle differences in color. Yellow is just too flat a word to use to describe the tints and shades of yellows, with hints of oranges and greens, all spread out over miles of open landscapes. It was just amazing!

Then I landed back in Bloomington Indiana, thinking how I have to get my family out there some autumn. With kids in school and everyone fighting to stay healthy that’s going to be a tall order, but someday we’ll make it. I hope that where ever you are in the world when you read this that you’re healthy and happy. But if you’re struggling with something, my advice is to bring out the yellows. It worked for me!

Until next week…

Sunday, October 11, 2009

My schedule catches up with me.

The weeks leading up to the Fourth Street Festival were unusually hectic for me. I was trying to pull all the pieces together for the Children’s booth project , finish some weavings and helping make sure the show runs smoothly. Last week when my elder son came down with the flu and a respiratory infection I didn’t worry about me beyond, ‘gee, I sure wish he’d be a little better about coughing into his sleeve’. Like the way the picture from the Centers for Disease Control shows at the pharmacy. I know because I was there picking up his antibiotics. Last week the flu visited me, which slowed me down for a day or so. The pneumonia that followed brought me to a full stop, and so my sweet husband got to see the CDC picture at the pharmacy too!

Have I said lately that I love my job? Even when I have no energy and I’m huddled into a tiny corner of the sofa trying to stay warm, I can always work on ornaments! So it’s one more week of ornament blogging. My art studio floor is littered with fleeces of all colors, as if a flock of tie-dyed sheep ran afoul of a frustrated barber. All around my spot on the sofa by a big window are baskets of fleece, needles, scissors and a box of tissues. I’m up to 66 ornaments, with a goal of 100 before the holiday shows come around. Fortunately, ideas for new designs just keep flowing. I’ll finish one with a color or pattern that will remind me of something else, and off I’ll go on that next theme. Sometimes I see a neat design in a magazine or a store flyer and that will spark a new piece. My weavings are just too big a format to allow this kind of stream-of-consciousness piece creation and I really enjoying the process.

My other big art projects are slowly creeping forward. The project to urethane the artwork glued to the BEAD panels slowed down with the heavy rains and cool weather. Two panels are inching toward dryness and two more are waiting their turn for a urethane shower. I also worked on completing the demographic analysis of the fairgoers at this year’s Fourth Street Festival. It’s interesting to see the differences from last year, and I’m heartened again to see how far people came just for the show (one fourth came from more than 50 miles) and how positive the responses were on the surveys. When asked what part about the show they liked best, the participants gave overwhelmingly positive comments about the atmosphere of the fair, the setting in Bloomington, and the terrific artists and the diversity of art. It rained a little on Sunday morning, but we still had more than 42,000 visitors. Just another reason to appreciate the great town we have here in Bloomington.

Until next week…

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Raisins on the Stairs

This has been a week to poke ornaments. I’m now in full holiday show mode, with thoughts of sugar plums dancing in my head amid the red, green and white patterns of my latest ornaments. I’m closing in on sixty for the holiday show season, which is good, but now they need names. My family usually helps me with deciding on names, and they have come up with some great material. With that many ornaments though, on top of the hundred or so that I made last year, I need more naming help. I’ve learned that if you want creativity, my seven-year-old’s multiage classroom at Rogers elementary is hard to beat. Some I really like and will use, like “Green Bean Casserole at Night.” Wow! Others didn’t speak to me since we’re not into Sponge Bob or the Transformers, but I still appreciated the effort.

The rains and humidity also let up this past week, and that meant I could get on to my project of urethane treating the Community Art project from the Fourth Street Festival. The fairgoers glued thousands of plastic toys, beads and other treasures onto four panels representing the four panels of the Bloomington Entertainment and Arts District (BEAD) logo. To waterproof the project and help secure the pieces I planned to treat the panels with urethane, but I discovered a new problem. The water-based urethane I chose has a slight pink tinge. I decided it would work on the red panel but not the others, so I set to work pouring the two half-gallon coats of varnish on the red panel and letting them dry. I decided that I would go with the yellow-hued organic based urethane for the yellow panel and just wear my gas mask. I’m a little sensitive to organic solvents, so that wasn’t my first choice, but the art has to come first here. Yep, that’s quite a visual—an earthy artist wearing a gas mask pouring varnish over a bunch of plastic toys glued to plywood in the backyard.

But if you really want the image of the week you’ll have to hear the story of my handy-dandy hand-held sander. This is the time of year when I need to finish frames for the long winter, which means I have to take advantage of the last warm, dry days. I was out sanding frames with a passion last week when it became clear that I had no choice but to install a new piece of sand paper. I had worn the last piece down to the pad in some places. To have any success at all I had to work in specific zones on the surface where any sand was left. It’s kind of like harvesting the zest from a lemon—you get most of it in the first few shaves, then you really have to focus on the little slivers that remain. Anyway, when I took off the paper I unfortunately ripped off the soft underpad. Yikes! Luckily I remembered the HoA (husband of artist) and Grandpa using JB weld to fix the broken faucet. I got it out, carefully mixed it up and splatted it on, and voila! It held tight. I’m so excited to have a big, fresh surface of sandpaper where I don’t have to remember which parts are worn out! That reminded me of a card I got back when I was in graduate school studying fungi. The picture on the card showed a stairway with raisins laid up the center of the walkway. They were there to remind the person to walk up the sides and avoid wearing out the carpet in the middle. I still laugh when I think of that picture.

Until next week…