Sunday, August 29, 2010

Anybody need a hand?

It’s time for my annual big push in preparation the Fourth Street Festival here in Bloomington. Thankfully, this year I’m not trying to deal with the children’s booth project. That ate up a huge amount of my time the past few years, and I still have the unfinished project from last year sitting in my living room. This year’s challenge was filling my booth with fresh art for my discriminating local clientele. That became even more of an issue than usual when the fine folks at the Madison Art Fair just about cleaned out my booth. Rain or shine, the set up is this Friday for the weekend show, so I only have a few days to bring things together. That includes helping stomp out all the little fires associated with the show’s production that pop up every year.

On the bright side, I just finished a big piece called ‘The Harvest’. It has a hand that’s pulling a carrot out of the earth, which means I’ve been needle felting a hand and a forearm for the last few weeks. I’m really pleased with how it turned out, but the disembodied arm has freaked out more than a few people. I’m sure it looks a little creepy to watch someone poke needles at high speed into a realistic looking arm. I took it to the farmer’s market yesterday, and while we picked up some corn, peaches and tomatoes, we hung the hand-in-progress from the steering wheel. As we walked away we all marveled at how realistic it looked. In hindsight, in today’s world it might not have been so smart to have a realistic arm hanging free of a body in your car. At least it wasn’t dripping blood. On the bright side, now the arm is securely fastened in its permanent location, pulling a carrot out of the earth. I’ll be in trouble though, if the police come for the arm —it will tell them it was framed!

I did do a little dyeing this week too. I pulled my frozen harvest of yellow goldenrod flowers out of the freezer and threw them into my dye pot. I first tried my stock protocol, which is to boil the flowers for an hour in water and let them steep overnight. Then I filter the brew and throw in my washed wool. I boil it again for an hour and let it steep overnight again. My first effort wasn’t too spectacular—the wool came out a pretty but rather drab yellow. There was still quite a bit of yellow in the dye pot, so I threw in some alum and some fresh wool to see what would happen. Out came a brilliant yellow that I thought was amazing. Next time I’ll start with alum see how it turns out. I may be an artist now, but still love doing experiments!

On other fronts, I finished my whimsical yellow bird and perched her in the framed tree I created for her. I've named it "Out on a Limb" and I’m very pleased with how that one turned out too, so I’m looking forward to debuting my newest pieces for my peeps here in town. That reminds me of waking up in the hotel room during the Columbus Ohio art fair next to my then seven-year-old son. He woke up with a smile, looked up at me, and said: “if your friends are your ‘peeps’, I think your best friend must be your ‘perp’!” Why that was the first waking thought in his head is beyond my understanding—weird stuff like that comes from Jim’s side of the family. That was the good old days, though. Now Jacob is eight, and Tommie just turned ten. We’ve been feasting on an excellent chocolate birthday cake this week. The intrepid boys, along with their friend Lara, chased butterflies in an open field until they collected 51 today, including a bunch of new species that were photographed, identified and released. I sat and sketched with my new wood-less coloured pencils while they ran around, so all was well in my world!

Until next week…

Martina Celerin

Sunday, August 22, 2010

French Onion Soup and Blackberry Pie

I had a big landmark in my art career this week: my boys went back to school! First there was the mad rush to get all the school supplies together. Then I thought I was going to have big blocks of time to get things done, but somehow a lot of time was consumed doing paperwork. Somewhere in the middle Tommie’s cast came off, his broken arm mended. This week I’m going to park my bottom in my cool art studio and get weaving! Yippee!

I guess I did get a lot of art done this week too. Mostly I worked on my whimsical bird piece. I had been struggling with how to translate my tree sketch into a wire and felt object. The big issue was creating tapered tree branches that were thin at the ends of the curly branches and thick at the base near the trunk. I started with a thin wire core that I bent and wrapped for the curly ends. As I moved from the curly ends to the stout base, I increased the thickness by incorporating some really nice felt wool fabric that I got from Kathey Gibson on a trip to Michigan. I cut it into triangles, pointy ends facing the thin tips, and kept wrapping the branches with these filler pieces to bulk them up. I then used thick strips of the felt to wrap the tree trunk and create the general tree shape I wanted. Finally, I just needle felted on top of the crude trunk to smooth it into the shape and color I wanted. I’m delighted with how it turned out! I’ve propped it together to see how it looks, and next week I’ll “nail” it all down on the woven background.

With all my successes on the stove last week, starting with fresh yummy bruschetta and ending with sumac dyeing, I decided to continue the trend. This week I had tomatoes, tomatillos and cilantro, so of course it was time to make salsa. I also decided it was time to bring out my collection of frozen onion skins. I collect the brown outer layers every time I break into an onion for cooking and store them in a bag in the freezer. This week I got frustrated with the disordered state of the freezer and decided to organize it a bit. I came across the onion skins and decided there were enough for the dye pot, so out they came to make a little space. I cooked them for an hour, steeped them over night, strained the skins the next day, then warmed it back up so it would be cozy for my fleece. Every project is an experiment for me, so I threw in three different kinds of fleece, all white, to see what would happen. I left the fleece in the pot overnight and was surprised and pleased when I saw the three very different caramel colors. I also saw that there was enough color in the pot to try again, so I threw in some more fleece. The materials that spent two nights in the pot were darker still—what a surprise! Next time I need to work with ‘time in the dye pot’ as a variable. This is obvious in hindsight but it never occurred to me until I saw the results of the experiment.

I have a lot on my plate these days, such as the Fourth Street Art Fair coming up on Labor Day weekend. I’m also doing a workshop for teachers in Danville, Indiana, in early October. Last time we made ornaments, but not everyone who wanted to come could make it so we scheduled a second session in October. I proposed that we could make felted hearts or turtles, and we’re likely going with the turtles. I’ve been making demonstration turtles parts so that I can show the pieces in stages—kind of like a cooking show where they have the beautiful torte already baked to pull out at the end. This turtle is more whimsical than my previous ones, when I was trying for accuracy. I like how my prototype came together, and I like his tilted head and the quizzical look that gives him. It’s kind of like the look I get from Jim when I ask him when he’s going to clean the bathroom.

And speaking of my sweet husband, this week’s pie was made from the last of the season blackberries. Mmmmmm…

Until next week…

Martina Celerin

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Always dye with a white shirt on...

This week was brutally hot in southern Indiana, but in the cool morning I pulled out my big dye pot, fired up the stove and tossed in my fresh Michigan sumac for a good boil. The brew had an impressive deep red color. After I filtered the fine particles I threw in some fleece, and to my great delight, out came a beautiful earthy red color. Of course, as I was pulling the fleece out of the pot, I managed to splash some on the white shirt I was wearing. Curses! I quickly grabbed my planet-saving eco-friendly dish soap and went after the stain. To my surprise, the stain turned a pretty blue-green. Thanks to my valuable but little-used scientific background, I recognized that the red color was probably pH dependent. My artist side thought: hey, what a cool color! My scientist came back out and dumped a bunch of baking soda into my scarlet dye pot. I made a glorious volcano (art can be fun!) that barely stayed in the pot, and when it settled down I added more to neutralize all the acid. I read that sumac is rich in vitamin C, which is an organic acid, and that’s what I think I was neutralizing with the baking soda. The native Indians used to make a lemonade-like sumac drink in the winter to get the vitamin C. The red dye itself has to be a pH indicator, so raising the pH brought me to a different color in the dye pot. In went more fleece, and this time I got a pretty sea foam color. And happily, once both are affixed to wool they are colourfast. Love science; love art!

I also started a new piece this week based on one of the sketches I did in Michigan. It’s a very happy piece centered around a whimsical bird in a tree that I felt I needed to start. I needle felted the bird and wove the background, two enterprises I really enjoy. I pulled out some wire I got from the Restore here in Bloomington that supports Habitat for Humanity. I bent the wire into shapes and wrapped each with yarn to meet my color requirements. As I was doing it I realized how much the branches looked like the tree I created for the Lotus festival. Then I realized the shapes of the branches really came from the ornaments I used to make. After I thought about that, I was reminded that they really came from the swirly patterns I used to put on ceramics I painted at the Latest Glaze. My boys and I used to go there to feed our artistic side when they were younger, and I made serving bowls for the family that we still use. It’s fascinating to me to trace progressions in my work to see how artistic ideas came together, tracking back through my mental forest to find the breadcrumbs I left along the way. Luckily there are no crumb-eating-critters allowed in my brain or it wouldn’t be so much fun.

While the oppressive heat of summer is in full force, the season is winding down with school starting next week. Tommie’s current passion is practicing CPR on the butterflies that cross his path (catch, photograph and release). He has a powerpoint presentation with all the butterflies identified and short audio clips identifying them for a slideshow. His cast comes off Tuesday, which I think he’s ready for. It’s the countdown to the Fourth Street Art Festival over the Labor Day weekend, and preparations are in full swing. I made a last attempt to capture a little of summer with my husband Jim, who wanted to make a bruschetta sauce. He and Tommie went to the farmer’s market on Saturday and picked up a big batch of heirloom and grape tomatoes to complement the stack of romas we got from the CSA. A head of garlic came home too, as did a bunch of basil. Oregano came from the backyard garden and some ‘soft’ white wine came from Oliver Winery to make the whole thing a local affair. We had some on baguette slices (from the Bakehouse, of course!) last night with cream havarti or pepper jack cheese, complemented by corn on the cob and local new potatoes. Yum! Everything was great, including the ripe red August watermelon we had for dessert. I guess summer is OK after all. Enjoy the bounty local bounty while it lasts!

Until next week…

Martina Celerin

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Sometimes Michigan is Cooler than Indiana!

At least the weather can be. My family and I spent the past week visiting Grandma in Michigan. We had a delightful time, partly because the highs were in the mid eighties early in the week and the high seventies later. It was even 49 degrees the morning we left to come home! I heard lots of chatter from Bloomington about what a steam bath it was here, and I’m glad we missed it.

Vacations for me are a chance to break my rhythms and try something new. On the drive up I decided I needed a nice sketchpad to develop ideas for some new compositions. I don’t have all the distractions when I travel, and the boys had lots of people and toys for entertainment. I found some 140-pound watercolor paper in Bay City, which Grandma bought for me as a present—thanks Grandma! Usually if I have such fancy paper I reserve it for watercolors, but this time I decided to be decadent. I augmented my pencil crayons with Grandma’s substantial set that got her through geography class in college. Even my husband Jim fondly remembers the pencils from coloring maps alongside his mom when she was working on an assignment. I got to pick the colors I wanted and just relaxed and let the ideas flow through my brain and onto the paper.

The highlight of the trip for me was collecting materials for dyeing. Tommie, Jim and I crossed the railroad tracks (narrowly missing the train—really!) and found the mother lode of purple loosestrife in a farmer’s field. It’s a nasty weed that’s highly invasive, even if it is a pretty flower and a beautiful color. I just heard recently that it changes the local soil pH such that amphibian won’t undergo metamorphosis, so that’s another reason for me not to like it. I started cutting big purple racemes and stuffing them into a bag when I got a nasty bee sting. Wow, did that ever hurt! I also sent Jim off to pick staghorn sumac and Tommie went on a butterfly-chasing mission, so everybody had a task. We were all successful, although I wasn’t entirely happy with the sumac. It wasn’t the dark red that stains your hands that I was looking for. Luckily, I knew the location of a secret sumac grove with dark, velvety flower clumps. Jim and I slipped off on a romantic dye-material cutting trip and got our hands stained on a highly successful venture. I even left some gritty red materials behind on the bar of soap in the kitchen, which Grandma unfortunately also noticed. I made up a good story about how it was like Lava soap and how it would help scrub the dirt off her hands. When I got home the sumac went straight into the dye pot. Tomorrow I’ll get to see how it looks after boiling.

Of course the trip wasn’t all about art and collecting. I got to go to the beach, too! Grandma, the boys and I headed off to Caseville for a little castle building. Tommie was banished from the sands because of his broken arm, so he and Jim went to the pier and caught all the gobies they cared to reel in. It was extra work for Jim because he had to do all the fish removal and hook baiting. After a couple of hours of jumping waves and beach combing, we all regrouped and headed to the local Dairy Queen. Before I could stop him, Jacob ordered the ginormous brownie earthquake. I guess he needed some replenishing after swimming in Lake Huron.

Back at Grandma’s, Jacob and Tommie did some driving around on Daisy Mae, which is the golf cart that ferried Grandpa around when it became too difficult for him to walk around the back yard. Jacob did most of the driving while Tommie waved his net around, directing Jacob to the butterflies and hopping off when he was in range for the capture. He got a few nice pictures of butterflies that he didn’t yet have in his collection, so all was well. They got as many passengers on the cart as possible, since they could extend their range if an adult was on board. Jacob wore his ‘driving glasses’ much of the time, which actually were the 3D glasses from the movie we saw in Kawkawlin (Cats and Dogs—the Revenge of Kitty Galore).

All good things must come to an end, and now we’re back in Indiana with a big new store of fond memories. To top it all off, I got a letter from the Columbus Art Fair folks saying that I ranked in the top 20% of exhibitors according to the day of show judges. That means I get an automatic invitation back to next year’s show! Yippee, I’ll see you next year, Ohio!

Until next week…

Martina Celerin

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

I Must be Finnish!

The news this week is all about finishing projects. I’ve been making the salamanders for ‘Six Salamander Salsa’ for several months now, and this week they put their feet on the bright green woven background. When I first set my colorful amphibian friends onto the minty surface, I was a little concerned that the contrast might be too stark. I was thinking up ways to help break up the background as I added the salamander legs and feet to connect the bodies to the weaving. As soon as the feet touched down, though, I realized that was just what I needed. The twenty four legs and twenty four feet really brought together foreground and background. I like how the salamanders are partying.

I was also into finishing frames this week. The oppressive humidity relented for a couple of days, so out came my unfinished frames. I broke open a jar of gel stain that I picked up from the Re-store to try. I’m all for trying to re-use and re-purpose materials when I can. The bad news is that it wasn’t very nice to work with. Either I don’t know how to use it, or the gel has lost some solvents along the way, but the stain turned into a sticky mess when I tried to wipe it off. I guess I know why it was at the re-store! I figured that the solvents in my usual stain would dissolve the sticky stuff on my frame, so I just gave it a second coat with my fruitwood stain. To my great delight, it turned out perfectly! I had been slightly unhappy with the fruitwood stain, because the color, a dull brown, wasn’t just what I was looking for. I ended up with a subtle brown with just a hint of a brighter yellow. Plus, the frame dried beautifully. The days are still quite humid, but I got into a routine of sealing frames outside at 11:30, zipping off to pick up my boys from their art camp at noon, then putting the mostly-dry frames into the basement with the dehumidifier to complete the process. Just three days and they were done!

I did have several other irons in the fire, or maybe shuttles in the weave this week. I started working on a three-dimensional forest scene. One of my early popular pieces was ‘A Walk in the Woods’, which had some dimensionality from the trees and canopy that surrounded a path into the woods. I now have a few new techniques, like projecting the ground forward and crocheting leaf clumps that increase the volume of the canopy. I’m going to try to bring these elements together in a more elaborate composition . I realize that isn’t really finishing a piece, which is this week’s theme, but I’ve finished deciding how I’m going to do it!

We did have a little extra drama in our lives this week. My son Tommie broke his wrist this week and will be in a cast for three weeks. The good news is that the bone stayed in alignment—it’s a fairly common torus fracture—and he should pop back into action without a lot of complications. He’s had the cast for a week now and it doesn’t seem to hold him back too much. But he is finished with the pool, water, the beach and fishing for the summer. The cast comes off the day before school starts. Snap! We thought he should keep it on for a few extra days to get the sympathy factor working for him at school but he refuses.

Here’s hoping that everyone stays cool and comfortable this week through the heat wave that’s settling over the Midwest. This is the one time of the year I’m really lucky to have a basement art studio that’s cool and filled with all the best toys!

Until next week,

Martina Celerin