Sunday, January 3, 2016

Rothko counsels me on making red potatoes

My recipe for last week called for felted snap peas and potatoes—more about the details of creating them in a moment.  Before I started poking, I hunkered down in front of my computer.  Because my background is in science, not art or art history, I often feel as if I’m missing some key historical parts of my chosen field.  When I get into intensive handwork projects, as I have lately, I have been watching YouTube videos that give a historical perspective of art movements.  They’re from the OOAC (Open Online Academy of New York) hosted by John David Ebert, my new bff.  I felt as if I was presented with a temporal review of contemporary art, starting with the influences of impressionists and ending in 2013.  One of the earlier artists highlighted by Ebert was Mark Rothko.  What really struck me was the translucence of paint layers used to create the glowing rectangles for which he is so well known. 

Coming back to my potatoes, that concept of layering of colors turned out to be the answer for achieving realistic vegetable colors.  If one looks at a potato carefully, it isn’t solid brown or red.  The brown potatoes, for example, have an under layer of yellow glow with a brown over layer toning it down.  So first I created the potato shapes by felting, then I applied a layer of yellow fleece to the surface of the structure.  The yellow color came from a dyeing experiment using turmeric.  I then overlaid the yellow with a thin layer of tan fleece dyed with Osage orange.  
 The funny story about that fleece was that I received a large quantity of the orange tree wood chips from Tom Bertolacini.  I plowed ahead with a big dye pot using the material without doing any background reading on protocol or recipes.  I ended up treating it the way I did with maple bark from Gramma’s house, which essentially meant boiling it in a big pot and letting it steep outside for about a week.  Instead of a bright orange I ended up with a drab brown color.  That was about four years ago.  I’ve kept the fleece in storage since then, and when I was digging for a potato color decided it was exactly the color I needed.  It’s more evidence that there are no mistakes in dyeing, only happy unexpected outcomes. 

The red potatoes are a similar story, although the underlay was a brown fleece that arrived on my doorstep just a few days ago.  A fiber guild friend decided that she was not about to sort through a big bag of fleece that she was given.  Of course it turned out to be perfect for my latest project.  The over layer was a plum color from my stored collection.  I don’t remember its origin, but there’s probably a good story I’ve forgotten.  Each of my materials seems to have some story that makes it special. 

This week I also turned out some felted snap peas for my ‘Fall Stew.’  The peas were relatively easy—I just needed to create the right shape.  I began with some felted green balls and stitched them on to pieces of felt I cut out into pea shapes.  I needle felted pea green fleece over the top as a thin layer to maintain the bumpy surface.  The green balls are a slightly lighter shade of green than the overlay color, which I used to create an artificial reflection on the surface that emphasizes the bumpy shape.  My success was validated when Jim walked by and said:  Peas!  Nice!  When the simplicity of the final object translates without needing to understand the complexity of the process, I know I’m doing something right. 

Many more vegetable contributions to my fall stew came to ripeness and harvest this week.  On Facebook I posted images of the onions and eggplants that I completed.  Next on the agenda are sweet potatoes, which got me thinking that about how much like eating them.  I think I’ll make a sweet potato and black bean stew for dinner.  I’m only missing one key ingredient, but I’ll ask Jim to stop by the store to pick up some sweet potatoes. 

On a sad note, I lost a close friend this week.  Jerry Farnsworth was the treasurer for the Fourth Street Festival, a wonderful musician and a sweet supporter of mine.  He will be missed.  I think it was partially his passing that kept me hunkered down in front of the computer this week, working away at projects I could control. 

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