Sunday, May 30, 2010

Beach Week 2010

What an awesome adventure! I just got back from a week with my family in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. The highlights were fresh fish, good wine, exploring the area and splashing around in the surf. I even got some work done in quiet moments, although that qualifies as fun for me. With such a full week it’s hard to know where to begin!

I guess I’ll start with the art and fill in the rest. I made the conscious decision not to take my needle felting along. That spared me the suspicious looks I get at security checkpoints at the airport. I took pencil crayons and charcoal pencils, and I picked up rice paper at a local art supply shop. The felt tiles I’ve been working on were calling to me, so I took the chance to do some small studies in composition and color to decide which elements I want to commit to art pieces.
I practiced positioning colors in different sectors of the pieces to try to draw my eye in different ways. I was very much influenced by the nature scenes around me, so you’ll see a lot of sandy, grassy or wavy motifs. There are also a lot of seashell shapes, and even a wine bottle or two. Hmm, I wonder how that got in there? I’ll sift through what I have for use as templates for future tiles.

The weather this year was a little cooler and cloudier than past trips we’ve made. That sent us off to new adventures, such as a drive to Jockey’s Ridge State Park. This is the largest sand dune on the outer banks and a great place to climb. Actually, it’s a great place to climb up once, and an even better place for the kids to roll or run down the dunes. Everyone sleeps better at night when that happens! We also did a couple of trips to mini-golf courses. This year I came out with the lowest scores on both trips! The bad news is that the winner has to buy ice cream for the family, so I’m on notice until I pay off one more debt. Later in the week we had a couple of sunny, warm days where we drove to the beach by the Currituck lighthouse. There’s a great beach beyond the dunes for kid-friendly swimming. The boys spent most of their time body surfing or riding a boogie board we found at our rental house, while I guarded the blanket and kept the ghost crabs at bay. They’re fun to watch emerge when things quiet down around you to clear the sand out of their hole. That’s a heroic task on a windy, sandy beach, but they seem up to it. I managed to do some shell collecting too. Mostly I collected small, polished fragments that might well become fish skeletons. And to cap off each long day of exploring, a trip to the hot tub on the back deck was a great way to unwind.

When vacationing on the outer banks, eating fresh seafood is part of the equation for us. This year we discovered Carawan’s seafood market and got fresh tuna, redfish and flounder. Each ended up as a delightful meal, culminating with a pan-seared tuna with toasty garlic, onion and lime in the mix. We ate it with fresh bread and a nice Ganache, based on the advice of our new best friend Chip at Chip’s Wine and Beer Market in Kill Devil Hills. Chip taught us about matching different kinds of food with wine based on which part of the palate you taste the wine, and he taught us to value growing climate over grape varietal when making a selection. We learned a lot and had a lot of fun chatting with Chip. He has a tremendous selection and his shop is a must-stop site for wine drinkers on the outer banks.

Well, all good things must come to an end, and our week on the sand and in the surf is no exception. On our drive back to Norfolk we did stop in at the Botanical Gardens next to the airport. It’s well worth the trip, with hundreds of rose varieties in bloom, a native garden, flowering trees, a kids garden, a butterfly enclosure, a coniferous garden, a half-hour tram ride—it’s just a great place to spend the day. But now that I’m back I have to shift my artist persona into high gear. I’ll be hanging a show Wednesday in the Phi Gallery at the Hotel Indigo in Columbus, Indiana (the reception is June 10 from 5:30-7:00 pm.). Then later this week I head for Ohio to participate in the Columbus Arts Festival this weekend. It’s my first time in the show so I’m excited to see how it plays out. If you’re in the area, stop by and say hello!

Until next week…

Martina Celerin

Friday, May 21, 2010

My week started off well, but...

This week marked my favorite meeting of the year with the Spinners and Weaver’s Guild. Monday was the auction night, when everybody brings their remnants and out-of-favor materials. Everything is sold in a fun and fast-paced auction. People there know that I’m into greens, and some assume that I’ll take anything green. I’m pretty selective, though. I only want the earthy, natural greens for my pieces, not the hideous synthetic greens that often pop up. This year I ended up buying an eclectic mixture of things, including two books that I’m really enjoying. One is a pictorial history of embroidery, and the other book is from the mid-eighties called ‘Fiber r/evolution’, and it shows a lot of interesting, cutting-edge pieces. I especially enjoy the description of each artist’s history and appreciate having a context for their art. I’m always impressed by the diversity of the materials that are incorporated into art pieces, including a description of a weaving project based on embedding sticks in the earth and weaving around them. That sounds like a great community art project to me. I also bought a whole bunch of fleece at the auction. I found some beautiful blended wool and alpaca roving that will work well in my current pieces, and I even bought some stinky still-to-be-skirted fleece, with untrimmed burrs and poopie remnants still stuck on. That’ll be a fun project for this summer.

Another book that I picked up this week was “Seven Days in the Art World’ by Sarah Thornton. It has a quote from Leslie Dick that resonated with me: “[as artists we] are materializing—taking something from the inside and putting it out into the world so we can be relieved of it.” I can really relate to that, especially with my current body of work. In my own world of art, I had a highly productive week making more abstract tiles. The basic layout and color palette is still the same, with defined zones delineated in black wool and filled with earthy colors. When I looked back at my first piece of the week I decided that I must have been channeling trips to the beach in North Carolina, because I could see a lighthouse, grasses and the beach. It’s fun showing them to my family, since each family member has a different idea about the ‘right’ orientation for the square pieces. Never mind how I laid them out and what I was thinking! The funny thing is, sometimes the pieces do look better, or certainly different, when viewed a different way. A lot of life is like that.

Just when I thought everything was going great this week, WHAM! A nasty stomach flu got through to me. I had stomach cramps and fever that kept me in bed a lot of the time and totally lacking any energy. I ended up having to cancel a workshop scheduled for Thursday, but I’ll make it up sometime in June. I had everything organized, packed and ready to go, and I felt terrible about not being able to do it, but I was still running a fever and having cramps. The good news is that I’m now done with yogurt, toast and chamomile tea as my sole diet. I think I’ll even be ready for coffee by Sunday! I think the hardest part of the whole process has been opening the refrigerator and seeing the last piece of a tasty rhubarb pie sitting there. It was one of Jim’s best efforts, and the rhubarb was grown in the neighborhood by our friend Mary-the-neonate nurse. Don’t worry, and don’t bother coming over--I’m sure it won’t last another day! Take care and enjoy your health!

Until next week…

Martina Celerin

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The empirical artist

This was an exciting week of experimentation. I stepped out of my comfort zone of weaving and representational art to focus on some new abstract pieces. I generally don’t do abstract pieces, and not all my early abstract weavings came out as well as I’d hoped. It was too much to develop both the weaving style I wanted and the piece composition. Because I’ve done so much lately with ornaments and scarves over the past two years I’ve had a chance to develop both needle and wet felting techniques, and I’ve had a chance to play with some basic designs and patterns. I’ve been eager to take those ideas and really focus on composition of pieces. My plan was to use the soft-frame technique I developed for the ‘Shhhh, the Trees are Sleeping’ series on a wet felted canvas. That would be my blank slate to start developing some pieces. I started out by looking at lot of images on the web to decide on the kinds of things I liked and what I might be able to create. I settled on a color palate that was warm and earthy, which dovetailed nicely with my latest attempts at dyeing with natural materials. In the newest pieces I’ve been playing with repeating colors in different parts of the piece. It’s one of my strategies to tie the zones and design elements of the pieces together. I found that I can get really nice harmonies by layering a second dyed fleece on top of the repeated color so the repeats aren’t exact. I also like creating gradients with a color to extend and blend zones. I think that strategy really helps unify the pieces, and I’m quite proud of my first attempts!

One of the things that makes my latest project especially rewarding is that I get to play with some new dyeing techniques. One of my big successes from last year was the soft yellow I got from dandelion heads I collected with my boys at Bryan Park. Somehow collecting things with my family is a big part of the success of the process. When we were in Michigan last weekend, Tommie and I collected a huge bag full of bright red sumac heads, so this week I got out the dye pots and got to work. I was about to launch into my standard approach to getting colors of out of natural materials, best summarized by my late father-in-law as: “cook ‘em like kidneys”. That translates into boiling them hard for an hour. However, I recently read a great book about dyeing with natural materials (Eco colour - Botanical dyes for beautiful textiles by India Flint) that says that the type of pot (aluminum vs. enamel) and the time of heating could make a big difference in the intensity and exact color. That’s about when I thought: heeyyyy, I love to do experiments! So I clipped the berries from the stems and divided them into small, equal samples, in equal volumes. I boiled some for 15 minutes and others for an hour, and I did it in either aluminum or enamel dye pots. It turns out that with red sumac it just doesn’t matter—you get the same color every time. What I did learn, though, was that including the stems has a big effect on the overall color. Boiling stems and berries leads to a much browner color, but boiling the stems and leaf parts together gave me a wonderful soft yellow green. The berries themselves didn’t give the intense red color I had originally hoped, but they did give a seductive earthy red. I just know both colors are going to find their way into my next piece! I guess the lesson of the story this week is that you can take the scientist out of the lab, but you can take the scientist out of the artist.

Until next week…

Martina Celerin

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mother's Weekend

My arts and personal experiences were unusually diverse this week. I did a workshop at Stone Belt this week, which was a very enjoyable experience. The clients were willing to try new things, and we had a lot of fun together. We tried wet felting ornaments on wool ball templates that I created, and we felted some small ones from scratch. I also assembled my pepper piece—that brought a big sense of relief and accomplishment. Late in the week we pulled our boys out of school to drive to Michigan to see Grandma for Mother’s day. They were just glowing. They got to walk out of school right after lunch, waving goodbye to their buds who had to stay in school. We had a delightful drive north, although the weather didn’t cooperate. It was rainy, windy and cold the whole weekend, but we didn’t notice. It did squash our planned fishing trip. I was ready to bring home the walleyes for dinner but it didn’t work out. That left me with a lot of free time, which let me get a lot of needle felting done on my latest projects. I have just started a new body of work on a smaller scale, and these pieces are intended to be compositions with earthy tones. Instead of weaving the backgrounds, I started wet-felting canvases using techniques I developed as I wet felted scarves. I’m creating the frames out of thick wool cheneille yarns and needle felting the surface. My goal is to explore some compositional ideas that are rattling around inside my head using needle felting to create the images. I have retired from making ornaments, which was something I needed to do, but I learned a lot about pattern and color in that process that I’m hoping I can transfer to my latest endeavor and do some in depth exploring of composition….more on that as the pieces appear!

Now I’m back from Michigan, trying to get everything unpacked and the boys off to bed, even as I get the blog up. Basically, Jim is in charge of dragging them away from the Cartoon Network and getting them reading in bed. We did have a great trip, with two big highlights. First was the Mother’s day rhubarb pie, a family tradition for decades. I must say, I had no problem marrying into this tradition! Did I say I like pie? It is my honest opinion that this was the best rhubarb pie he’s ever made. It’s been a long evolution, getting the crust just right and the filling consistency a smooth, tart treat. Being a scientist at heart, we’re just going to have to repeat the experiment to see if he can do it. On the way back he took me to a secret sumac stand, since I’ve been looking for sumac heads to do some dyeing. These will go into my newest “compositional” pieces if I can get it right. I’ve heard that the fresh red heads are best for dyeing, but I couldn’t wait and harvested a big bag of last year’s seed heads. Tommie and I picked the heads and took pictures while Jim and Jacob sat in the car and learned how all the buttons, levers and pedals worked. He’s going to be ready to drive early! I’ll just hand off the keys and close my eyes. On the drive back I did some more poking, finishing off the flower heads for my dandelion piece. My goal for this week is to finish that piece. I’m feeling a little pressure with the Columbus (Ohio) Art Festival coming up in a few weeks. It’ll all work out though… it always does!

Until next week…

Martina Celerin

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Holey Nylons!

OK! I’ve had enough with the peppers! With a lot of my pieces, I start off really excited about an idea. It doesn’t always sink in how much work it’s really going to be, even if I’ve done a version of the piece before. It’s a lot like childbirth. When you’re right in the middle of the pushing and the cursing, you swear that’s something you’ll never do again. Then, when you see your little angel sleeping with an expression of the utmost inner peace and security, you think it wasn’t so bad. This week was the childbirth phase of my pepper piece. I was bearing down, pushing them through, doing my best to finish! I put the tops and stems on the last batch last night as the family watched a movie. DVDs haven’t been big in our house lately, which is good, but we needed a quiet evening. Home Alone 3 was the perfect medicine—a little more mature than the first two, but still really funny if you’re a kid. Monday afternoon I plan to attach them to the weaving I created a while ago. Did I say I was delighted to be finished?!

My current project is getting ready for a workshop on Monday. I’m heading over to Stonebelt, where we’ll be wet felting ornaments. I’ve been making the centers this week that my group will be embellishing as their part of the project. The ornaments are all wool, although the centers are wool melting pots. It’s like soup—the kind you make depends on what you happen to have. Some of it is wool fiber that’s been sheared and washed, but has fibers that are too short for spinning. My latest batch of ornament cores is made of chunks of old wool sweaters. Some are scraps that my friend Ruth Rives collected for me, and some are old sweaters that my dear husband unwittingly sent into the dryer. He’s trainable but forgetful, unfortunately. Anyway, I chop them into one-inch squares and pack them into my mother-in-law’s old holey nylons that she saves for me. One trip through the hot cycle in the washer and high heat in the dyer and voila! Felted ball stock. They look good and they’re ready to go into ornaments. Or tomatoes—maybe I could make another tomato piece!

My social calendar has been full this weekend too, which has slowed writing of this week’s essay. We started off at the Edible Lotus fundraiser Friday evening where my jeweled tree on dryer sheets was elegantly twisting above a dinner table. I really love the moment of recognition and disbelief when people realize what they’re looking at. Many thanks to Lee of the Lotus World Music and Art Festival for saving dryer sheets for me! It’s hard to collect enough for a big piece, even if you have a family of four with two (really three) rather messy eaters who inspire lots of laundry. The food was really excellent, and the ability to try all the donated foods was exciting. I loved the spinach paneer from Shanti. The dish can taste like bad seaweed when it isn’t prepared well, but this was great. I came as close as I’ve been to restaurant Tallent when I got to try their feta and red pepper (arrrggghhh, peppers!) creampuffs. They were smooth and delectable. I’ve got to get Jim to open up the wallet and take me there. Oh, and the mousse from Le Petit CafĂ© was wonderful, too. We’ll need to stop in for a bit more of that soon!

Saturday started out with the boys at their clay class while Jim and I headed to the Farmer’s Market. Then the boys organized a big Pokemon sale in the front yard that turned into a block party. We had eleven kids ‘running’ the sale at one time or another. That translated into a lot of running around, screaming, lemonade-drinking and fresh-baked cookie consumption. The rascals ate around six dozen cookies. By last night we were ready for the movie, since they had a sleepover at a neighbor’s house the night before and stayed up until eleven talking and poking each other. Today we all dressed up and went to see ‘Little Shop of Horrors’, the Cardinal Stage production at the John Waldron Arts Center. Audrey was ferocious, the dentist was appropriately self-centered and evil, and the performance was excellent. Dinner is about to come out of the oven, so it’s time to reclaim the boys from the neighbor’s yard and sit down to dinner!

Until next week…

Martina Celerin