Monday, December 4, 2017

Reaching Deep, Reaching Out, and Betty Reid Soskin

Betty Reid Soskin is a 96-year-old, African-American woman who became a park ranger in her older years and still gives many talks a week at the Rosie the Riveter Visitor Center today. She is calm, down to earth, and quietly amazing. I heard her last summer; she draws her listeners into her world as she speaks thoughtfully and matter of factly about her life. Since the talk I attended I've followed her blog, which touches me with every post. Her talk also inspired me to read To Place Our Deeds: The African American Community in Richmond, California, 1910-1963 (which I recommend). I was particularly interested in the WWII era because the history that is taught initially makes it seem as though all races worked together in harmony toward the building of the ships and participating in the war effort. If you read more carefully you see that black workers didn't get as good health care, there were separate black unions who had to pay dues but who had no votes, housing was built primarily for white workers, and the discriminatory list goes on.

All of this is important background and deserves volumes on its own. But one recent post that I feel I can comment on shone light on Betty Reid Soskin's creative spirit, a deepening that perhaps allowed/and allows her to continue moving forward. Her creativity is manifested in her talks, which are neither written nor rehearsed, but come from deep within herself. In her post, she shows how she needs time to situate herself, to respond to the people around her, and to gather her thoughts. A great teacher's work. 

I would say artist as well.

I've seen her only once. But I felt close to her as I read about her process: understanding the need for space, for quiet, for an opportunity to dive down into oneself in order to provide. Be it a talk, a book, a visual work, an experience. Each person has the potential to reach many others, even in daily acts; a calm tone and kindness in life and art can in ripple outward.

*

More about Betty Reid Soskin
Betty's blog

If you are nearby, I recommend that you go hear Betty Reid Soskin yourself. Check the calendar for dates and times.



From birds to Betty to the wider world. Here is a bit of process info: watching the osprey web camera and visiting the osprey nest, which is next to the Red Oak Victory ship, got me interested in WWII shipyards, which is what brought me to Betty and a better understanding of history.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Tool for a Line

While I like the look of freehand embroidered text, I found that keeping the lines somewhat straight, particularly with a large block of text, can become stressful. How do other people mark their fabric? In The Ultimate Sashiko Sourcebook (which auto correct insists is "sashimi"), Susan Briscoe, the author, lists a whole page of fabric marking tools. I've tried white pencils, white marking pens, even regular pencils and regular chalkboard chalk, but found they either don't show up or don't come out. She mentions a "Chaco liner," a tool that has a little wheel that picks up powdered chalk and lays it down on the fabric. I found the tool, the Clover Pen Style Chaco Liner Yellow, at my nearby Jo-Ann's, but it's also available through Amazon.

The chalk brushes out easily, which means I must reapply the line, but that's just fine. When I'm done I can quickly wipe it off. No need to wash!



It has a little duck-billed tip.

Clover Chaco Pen Refills, are also available. They come in white, blue, pink, yellow.
I found the yellow worked well on both dark and light colors.

Tiny dotted rotating wheel at the tip.

I'm happy with it.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

New Art Quilt/Open Book: Sweet Osprey Dreams

After spending the summer closely attending to the sfbayospreys.org web camera and finding myself a little obsessed, I found I needed an outlet. All this daily input of watching the chicks grow up, watching the parents feed and teach the babies, the loss of one of the chicks, the eventual seeming disappearance of the other—all of this input had to get stored somewhere, and my head was too full to contain it.

There's an upcoming call for art quilt entries on the theme of "Dusk to Dawn," an aspect of night. Since I had screenshots from the web camera of the birds sleeping, it seemed like a good way to sew my obsession into the theme. The web camera goes to infrared light at night, and I luckily had some black and white images to work with. I started two quilts: "When Birds Sleep" and "Sweet Osprey Dreams." I still have much embroidered text to do on the first, but I've finished "Sweet Osprey Dreams." Abbreviated as SOD, it is what the Live Chat folk (also known as WWOC) wish each other at the end of the day.

The large image is from a photograph I took of the whirley crane, the structure that holds the nest (see this post for details). Embroidered words point out the nest, the nest camera, and the "around the nest" camera. Pandion Heliaetus means osprey. My text says, strangers meet as friends / watching the birds sleep by the bay / sweet osprey dreams.



Sometimes all the things you've learned and all your interests align and combine into one project. Here, I've incorporated: photography, embroidery, drawing, letterpress printing from wood type and photopolymer plates, solar printing with colored dyes, and sashiko stitching for waves (seigaiha) and fish scales (urokozashi). More about sashiko here.






It's good that the ospreys only have family time from March until September, or I wouldn't get anything done. (See last osprey post here.)

Bald eagles, however, breed roughly October through January. I noticed that at night on the North East Florida Eagle camera they wish each other SED (Sweet Eagle Dreams). That's the camera I'm not watching. Really.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Getting Your Art & Writing Out There

At a certain point you may find yourself with a pile of files, albums of photographs, or boxes of artwork that need somewhere to go. What to do? If you want to get your work out there you have to do your own marketing, and that means devoting time to the business section of your process. Someone once advised, "Take one day a month and send work to magazines and enter calls for exhibitions." Opportunities on the web are astonishing, really. There are thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of calls for submissions. Where to start? For now, let's talk about preparing to submit to magazines.

1. Make sure your writing is formatted properly (more in this post). Each magazine has its idiosyncrasies, but the default position is: a simple 12-point font such as Times Roman; single-line space for poetry; double-line space for prose. The web doesn't like tabs, but some magazines will be able to accommodate your formatting. Many magazines read blind, others want your name and contact info on each page. Check each magazine for guidelines.

2. Research! You may have a list of recommended magazines, but plan to spend time with the magazine itself. Some things to look for if you are sending out writing:
  • Find the editor's name so you can address your cover letter to a human (there may be more than one).
  • See if the editor has an interview online, such as in Jim Harrington's Six Questions For…blog. Would you be happy or comfortable in a room with this editor?
  • Read at least five samples of the work to get a feel for tone and style; is the work lofty or gritty? playful or serious? hard emotional subjects? nature-oriented? absurd? confessional? witty? (More about reading the magazine in this post.)
  • Check the guidelines.
2a. If you are sending out art, make sure your images are of professional quality. Magazines these days are hungry for high-quality art. Always check the guidelines. Recommended:
  • High resolution, 300 ppi, approximately 1M file (check if they want .jpg, .png or .tif)
  • Good, natural lighting and/or crisp contrasts, in focus, even lighting, color corrected
  • File with recognizable name and title, such as: name-title_of_work
2b. Some magazines are looking for audio files. Follow the guidelines.

3. Have several third-person bios ready. Some magazines have a word or character limit. Write a 50-word bio, a three-sentence bio, a 75-word, and a 100-word bio to keep handy. Update as needed. Artists may need to create a combination bio/artist statement. See more about writing a bio in this post. Third-person biographies generally begin with your name and include who you are, what you do, any publications or items of note, and where you are located.

4. Submitting. Each magazine has a Submissions page. Follow the guidelines. You may need to set up a Submittable account if you don't have one. It is free, easy, and they are a good company that does not share your name.

5. Keep track of your submissions. A sample spread sheet that you can create in a word processing doc is here. If you send again to the same magazine, make sure you do not send the same piece. You can also note how long it takes to get a response and if you got any further encouragement.

Many magazines accept different types of work. Rattle, for instance, accepts a poem a week that responds to the news, accepts one photograph a month for poets to respond to (Ekphrastic Challenge) as well as many other categories for poetry. Blink-Ink is an always themed print zine that accepts lively, (approximately) 50-word stories. Split Rock Review is looking for creative, nature-inspired art and writing. Up the Staircase Quarterly looks for poetry, reviews, and art. Nanoism, published every Wednesday, takes Twitter-sized fiction (140 characters, max). Eastern Iowa Review looks for lyrical and experimental essays and fiction. Concis accepts short works: 25 lines or under 250 words and art. Diagram looks for schematics, labelings, and things disguised as other things in words and images. Star 82 Review looks for short prose, poetry, art, erasure texts, and word/image combinations.

You can find more listings at Poets & Writers, through your Submittable account, and many other places online. Just sending out to magazines one day a month can get you started.

Learn Things! Good luck! And Keep Sending!



Monday, October 16, 2017

January Workshop: Friendly Writing for the Visual Thinker

Sunday, January 28 at the San Francisco Center for the Book, from 10am to 4pm, I will be teaching a six-hour workshop, "Friendly Writing for the Visual Thinker." I hope you will be in town to join us!

In 2012, I taught a six-week course, "Writing and the Creative Process," at JFK University. It featured a series of guided explorations linking writing to a hands-on, physical process and incorporated the use of art materials. In this workshop, we will sample many of those exercises and projects as well as new ones I've successfully taught in my bookmaking classes at CCA and during my guest semester at Cal State East Bay. We start by sewing a Zen or grunge notebook. (Instructions are here for those who cannot be at the workshop. Variations of some of the explorations may be found in the Creative Arts Process Cards.)

Course Description
Have you always wanted to write but were unsure how to begin? Interested in including words in your visual work? This gentle workshop will shine light on how words can be used like other art media to describe an object, to capture a mood, to tell a story, and to transform how we see the world. We will first make a Zen or grunge notebook, then move through a series of guided writing explorations to loosen up. Through examples we will also look at short forms of writing that lend themselves well to book art. Students will emerge with their notebook full of visual approaches, ideas, tips, tricks, and several short pieces that have the potential to kickstart a writing practice, to inspire a book project, or to be just for fun. Beginners warmly welcome. $130 (materials included).







Friday, October 13, 2017

New Art Quilt/Open Book: Where Is My Passport?

I am not sure where these quilts are coming from, but I am really happy working larger. and being able to write, sew, embroider, use color, and make use of my photographs. I'm starting to see quilts everywhere. I went back to look at Kenneth Patchen's painted poems in What Shall We Do Without Us? (2011 blog post here), wondering how they might become quilts. I see paintings in the museums and think of them on a grid and how they might be interpreted in fabric. How long this way of thinking will last, I do not know, but I am finding a little corner of  joy despite the floods, fires, and wrong thinkers in charge create social and economic chaos and distress. It isn't easy.

In a recent dream, I am trying to explain that the concept originates from your head, but the content should spring from your heart. A question I ask myself (and which I asked myself here) after thinking, wouldn't this be (neat, cool, interesting, curious—insert adjective here), is what does this mean to me/what emotions does it conjure and what do I want to communicate to others?

This quilt began with thoughts about immigrants and immigration. I took out my expired passport and scanned the patterns inside with the visa stamps, using the photos for the background pattern, which I then created on cotton cloth with Solarfast dyes. I remembered taking a photo of some graffiti on a door in New York City that said "Where Is My Passport?"  so I dyed that image, too. I carved a fictitious visa stamp from a linoleum block. I letterpress printed "Where Is My Passport?" and "Arrival/Departure" in wood type. With the piecing I included some jeans pocket pieces I had leftover from other quilts; sometimes we hold passports in our pants pockets. For texture I quilted faces all over, all connected with one machine stitched threadline, as we are all connected somehow. But the text content had to come from something I knew. Immigration suggests choice or the lack of choice. Some of us have choices whether we wish to leave or stay, travel or flee. This also relates to the idea of family and whom you choose (partner, children) versus whom you don't choose to be in it. Those concepts became the basis for the poem I embroidered on the quilt. So many layers. It felt natural to me.



You can see a larger image on my website
Some details:





Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Centering with Textures and Words: Martin Wong's Paintings

In her book, Centering in Pottery, Poetry, and the Person, M.C. Richards writes "The experience of centering was one I  particularly sought because I thought of myself as dispersed, interested in too many things" (20-21). She writes how she wished to just focus on one thing like other people she knew. After becoming disillusioned with academia, she turned to pottery, but she never stopped writing. She learned to finally accept herself, that it was okay if she did more than one thing.

Centering is an interesting concept. Imagine the clay on the wheel as ourselves, spinning. We reach out toward the new, then bring it back in toward the familiar. Gather, then evaluate. Learn, then synthesize. Each willingness to reach out and learn brings new potential for the art and writing practices we already have. The new knowledge doesn't overwrite or erase; it enhances, enriches, deepens, and shapes. We grow.

Martin Wong's work at Berkeley Art Museum,  with a catalogue of the same name: Martin Wong: Human Instamatic is an exhibition that keeps centering itself. It reaches out to American finger spelling and graphics, urban textures and human isolation, his experience and interests as a gay man, as someone of Chinese heritage, and as an artist immersed in the world around him. Then it brings it all back together, synthesized. Not all of these interests are present in every work, but you can see both the outward looking and inward looking spirit in every piece. He began as someone who liked to draw, who drew people as "The Human Instamatic," and he studied ceramics in college. He designed sets and installations. But as the video of his life shows, he once wrote to Santa asking for an oil paint set "with no lines or numbers," so it is clear he always wanted to paint as well. The paintings in the exhibition are in both oils and acrylics. There is no hierarchy of oil over acrylic for him. Each medium fulfills its function.

The wall text history says that in 1978, he began his new life in New York City as a night porter and felt isolated as if he were deaf and mute. This overwhelming feeling led him to incorporate finger spelling into his work. The merging of words as signs of the hand in a visual work is something I hadn't seen before. It's quite distinctive.



This work includes lettering and textures with urban surfaces: brick, wood, metal, and people. He created many paintings with brick-like surfaces.
Exile--This Night Without Seeing Her Passes Like an Eternity, 1987-88
acrylic on canvas

Text, lettering, books, and the writing in the sky: constellations.
Orion, 1984


Text, finger spelling, urban textures
Lower East Side Valentine, 1983
oil on canvas

Signage, portrait of his parents, urban textures
Chinese Laundry--Portrait of the Artist's Parents, 1984
acrylic on canvas

Books, lettering, bricks, urban textures
Voices, 1981
acrylic on canvas


Wong was not imprisoned, himself, but he had friends who had been.
He was interested in the experience, and was able to create emotionally moving paintings from the stories he gathered.
Cell Door Slot, 1986
acrylic on canvas

an early work, with finger spelling as the sole imagery
Silence, 1982
acrylic on canvas

it reads:
Silence
of a lost embrace
W(h)lispers
of another place
Dronings
of an afternoon
Sunlight
of an empty room

One of the earliest in the exhibition: lettering as texture
Left: Meeting of the Bored of Education, 1971
ink on vellum

R above and detail: Untitled (The Stone Steps Fall), 1967
ink on vellum

M.C. Richards also writes, "One does not decide between craft and art, pottery and sculpture, tradition and the individual talent. One is in a perpetual dialogue and performs the act one performs" (23). "Perpetual dialogue" is the perfect phrase for creative practice. Our curiosity keeps us constantly in motion, looking, sensing, trying on new approaches. We adjust to fit, alter to make useful to us.

Martin Wong's "perpetual dialogue" shines through in this exhibition as a wonderful example. Through the works you experience the repeated journeys of reaching out, gathering, and returning to weave the new threads back into the artist's nest, incorporating them, and making them his own.


The exhibition is on view at Berkeley Art Museum until December 10, 2017.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Autumn Sunset on the Ospreys

When we think of Fall, the word brings with it various associations: some obvious, some not so much. California urban dwellers, of which I am one, tend to see Fall marked more by stores and businesses and schools rather than by nature. But we do have trees that lose their leaves! My Japanese Maple, for one. The sycamores down the street, for another. But we don't have the skeletal silhouette skyline of, say, New York or Boston. We do have "pumpkin spice" flavored everything, which is almost always spice and not pumpkin. And weird cottony stuff people put on bushes to look like spiderwebs. We do have spiders that spin broad webs in Fall, too, though. Our hottest weather is in Fall. Every year I would make a Halloween costume for my daughter out of fleece, thinking it would be cold by the end of October, and every year I was wrong.

What has been less obvious to me are bird migration patterns. I've been aware of the Black Phoebes that are sometimes here, sometimes not. I've seen sparrows, hummingbirds, chickadees, house finches, American robbins in Winter. Our crows are year round these days. 

But I've started watching birds more carefully since I became intrigued and then addicted to watching the osprey nest camera, posted by the Golden Gate Audubon Society last March. I began my viewing in May, wanting to see the eggs hatch. Apparently there were three eggs, but I came late to the party, and there were only two. I wrote a post in June, "Stories that Fly and the Osprey Web Cam." Since that time, sadly, one of the chicks fledged, was injured, was rescued out of the bay, went to WildCare for treatment, but then did not make it. That story is here. There are some great videos of dramatic little stories of the family (Richmond, Rosie, Whirley, and Rivet) here. You can watch the chicks hatch as well as see Richmond bringing a hat to the nest.

And then, it was the Autumnal Equinox, and there was just one. We believe that Richmond hangs out at Brooks Island or the spit connected to it, the channel markers, and on the dolphin (a platform in the bay, not an animal) out there. Rivet was last seen mid-August, Rosie, mid-September. Juveniles and adult females migrate south. Why migrate? After watching the ospreys bring fish after fish to the nest it is clear that there are plenty of fish in the bay. The weather is pretty temperate. But that is how it is. If you ever see an osprey with a little blue anklet that says R/Z, it is Rivet.

Watching birds leave the nest, well, that's a bit melancholy, but exciting, too. New adventures ahead. And a few osprey-inspired projects in mind. Stay tuned.

The Live Chat will be turned off shortly. But the camera remains on for a look at some beautiful sunsets over San Francisco and Marin County, and occasional glimpses of an osprey far away. All images below are screenshots from GGAS webcam.

The ospreys don't use the nest other than for raising a family, and the nest has been in use since 2012 (I think), so we'll find out if Richmond and Rosie (or others?) are back for a reprise next March, 2018. The whole life cycle, in detail, Reality Show with Ospreys. It's a great one.

Rosie with Whirley and Rivet
6.5.17

Rosie feeding Whirley morsels of striped bass
6.8.17

Whirley and Rivet
6.18.17

Rosie in mid-air

Whirley's first flight
7.3.17

Rivet flying with partial fish that parents brought her
8.8.17

Rivet on the nest
8.13.17?

Rivet on the nest, mantling
8.16.17

Richmond with flapping fish

Rosie and Richmond on the Red Oak Victory ship rigging.
One of their last evenings together (we think)
9.16.17

sunset over the bay looking toward Marin county
9.24.17

Autumn migration
New birds will be arriving
I must go find them


Monday, September 25, 2017

Instructions: Using SolarFast Dyes

Having painted paper since 1995 or so and enjoyed cutting it up and making books out of it, dying cloth to use in a larger work feels familiar. In college, I used to go to the seconds store and get cotton clothing in odd colors, then dye it to something wearable, so working with dye is also familiar. For fear of sounding like an ad, the Jacquard SolarFast dyes are non-toxic, really fun and quite simple to use. They took some trial and error, but not too much. I'm always looking for ways to streamline a process, so happy to share it with you. 

You'll need to print out some high contrast, black and white negatives, or you can place objects on the fabric for a solar print. Doubling the transparencies increases the contrast. When I used a single transparency, I got a two-tone print, which is nice if you want texture, but not clarity.


I first create a temporary shelter inside so I can work in shadow and not expose the light-sensitive dye too soon. It's fine to do this indoors in the daytime. Paper plate, old brush, cotton cloth, gloves, vinyl tablecloth. This is the brown dye.

Pour out about a Tablespoon or two of dye for a 9" x 12" piece of cloth. You can always add more, but don't pour out more than you can use in the next few minutes. Start painting it onto the fabric. You can tape a border to mask it if you want a clean edge.

Cover the entire cloth. It's still pretty light. (Yours won't be so blurry.)

Place your doubled transparency on top of the wet cloth (I did it toner up/smooth side down so I could clean the back later). I printed out both negatives and positives onto transparencies. To get a crisp print, print out two of the same, align them, and tape them together to make a rich black to block out the sunlight. This is one case where a double negative isn't not acceptable. ;

Pin the transparencies and cloth to a piece of cardboard.
Place in direct sunlight.

This is after 15 minutes in upper 70s F weather. Do these on a bright, sunny day if you can. I like to make sure the cloth dries before removing it from the board. In August, between 11:30am and 4pm left me enough light. Exposure time is 10 to 20 minutes. I like to let it go 20 minutes unless it is a very hot day.

Peel off the negatives. What you see is pretty close to what you'll get.

The dye leaves some residue on the transparencies, which can be cleaned off right away by spraying it with water and wiping with a paper towel. If you've left it there awhile, try soap and water. If you want to reuse the transparencies multiple times, make sure you remove as much residue as possible because it will eventually interfere and degrade the printed image (unless this is the effect you want).

Prepare a little bath. I found a large food storage container was perfect for the basin. Fill it with hot water. For this amount, you need about 1/2 teaspoon of the SolarFast Wash or Synthropol (these are heavy duty detergents to lift off excess dye). For good measure I added about 1/2 teaspoon of soda ash (a fix agent).

Place the cloth in the hot water and agitate it for ten minutes by moving it around, squeezing gently, etc. I found that even with two different colors, they did not bleed onto each other.


Rinse the cloth thoroughly, wring it out, and lay it flat to dry. Easy to iron later, but does not require ironing to set.


Regarding the colors described by the manufacturer: they don't really match their descriptions, as other reviewers have noted, so here's the rundown of colors I've tried and how they revealed themselves to me. Brown, blue, and purple are the only colors I found to be true to their names.

Brown: chocolate or dark wood color with slight oatmeal tint to the white parts.
Sepia (not brown): tawny lion tan with yellow tint to the white parts
Avocado (not dark olive!): bight greenish yellow with yellow tint to white parts
Black (not black): midnight blue with grayish tint to white parts
Teal: green blue with greenish tint to white parts
Red (not fire engine red): pink with light pinkish tint to the white parts
Burnt Orange (not pumpkin orange): dark salmon with light salmon tint to the white parts
Blue: pure dark blue, close to what you would expect from a cyanotype, slight lighter blue tint to the white parts
Purple: deep grape purple, slight lighter blue to tint to the white parts

I found that mixing the red and the supposed black make a more convincing black. So mixing may be the way to get the colors you want. All supplies are available through the wonderful Dharma Trading Company in San Rafael, CA.