Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Talking About Art

I understand the reasoning, but I'm still curious why and when people have trouble using the word "art" and "artist." The subject came up again recently when I read this statement by Danish artist Bodil Gardner in the latest SAQA Journal, "Whether it's art or not—that doesn't worry me." But why should it? She continues, "I make them for my own sake, hoping of course that you will like them and that they may give you courage to exploit your own creativity" (2017, No. 4, p. 6). Ultimately, that is what art is all about. As I wrote in a previous post, to paraphrase Patti Smith, art is a call to action. It doesn't necessarily work for everyone, but it might spark something in at least one other person. And that is what I think Bodil Gardner is really saying. I interpret the two statements to mean that she has hopes that her work will do this, but she is not worried if it doesn't. Fair enough.

In a film about him, Amos Paul Kennedy, Jr. says he is not an artist, that he is a printer. But I have also heard him use the term artist when referring to himself. Rik Olson also doesn't like the term "artist;" he infers that he finds it pretentious. I know other people who feel this way as well. They don't want to be called artists for fear they are putting on airs. (Does anyone use that phrase anymore?)

A baker bakes. A writer writes. A dancer dances. And so forth. Okay, so an artist doesn't art. But a jeweler doesn't jewel, either. In another previous post I wrote about calling ourselves makers. Or there is another way. A young woman I know solved the problem by making the word art just another noun; "Look, I made an art."


Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Every Little Bit Helps!

As the editor of an art and literary magazine now for five years, I am always wondering what is my job here: how can I help? I can publish writers and artists, helping them add to their resumes. I can give encouragement whenever possible, to bolster the creative process. I can also nominate the authors I publish for awards. Periodically I find a new award I can nominate to. The obvious ones are the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net

Last year, for the first time, I nominated a story for the 2016 Vestal Review Award, known as The VERA. I'm pleased to say that Gen Del Ray's story, "Tough" from Star 82 Review, issue 4.1 is on the short list. This is how it goes: editors nominate one story from all the stories they've published in a given year, then the editors at Vestal Review choose five, and now it is up to you, the public, to vote. If Gen, or one of the others wins, he is awarded $100 and another publication. The runner-up gets publication at Vestal Review's "usual terms." As an added bonus, this would also shine light on *82 Review and help other authors in turn.

Showing that you care by reading the work of everyday writers and online magazines is a way you can help creative artists. The stories are all under 500 words. You can read all five and vote on them here: http://www.vestalreview.org/vestal-review-flash-fiction-2014-award/


Copies of Star 82 Review, 4.1 are available here.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Bluebird of Happiness Print

This is the first year I've ever seen Western Bluebirds in my neighborhood. They've been hanging around the Hawthorne street trees, snatching up all remaining berries and resting on telephone lines. A kind of flycatcher, they swoop out periodically to catch a bug, swoop down to check out a worm. They are delightful to watch, and they made me happy, so I created a new year's print in their honor.



The birds are shy and move so fast I had to draw them from pictures online. The males are brilliant blue; the females are a subtler gray-blue. I started with some sketches, shading with watercolor pencils. I grouped them to fit the block and pencilled them onto tracing paper. After tracing the images onto the block with ballpoint pen, I went over the lines on the block with the pen.



After locking the block securely onto the press, I printed color after color, all in one long day. Here is the block after I carved away everything except the final dark blue-black.



I've added the Bluebird of Happiness Print to my Etsy store to share the happiness with you, if you like.



There she is again, the only one I've managed to photograph.

Friday, January 5, 2018

New Art Quilt: Nightlights on the Bay

Here is the third and final (for this season, anyway) Osprey quilt: Nightlights on the Bay. I had scraps left over from When Birds Sleep and Sweet Osprey Dreams and still had more to say, so this is the result. 

I tune into the nest cam periodically to see any birds taking advantage of the air bnb there (house finches, crows, ravens, gulls), but also to watch the sunsets, and the city lights, channel marker beacons, and reflected light. Someone on the SFBayOspreys Live Chat had mentioned "fairy lights," and I kept that idea in mind as I worked on this quilt, hoping for magic.

It came together quickly, waves in strips, alternating diagonals. Photo from December 3. Laying it out on a big piece of cardboard in the studio.


But I felt it needed some calm spots.

I did a greyscale solar print from the nest cam screen shot at night. It was a bit murky. Did a second one and spliced them together. I accept that it isn't entirely clear. I had some trimmed edges left. They looked like waves to me. I sewed them between the strips and frayed the edges even further.

December 5.


I felt it also needed a border to frame it and keep the focus in the center.

December 6, safety-pinned to batting and backing.


I just needed the poem.
Had to simmer that one for a bit.

I knew I wanted to refer to the nest again as well as the lights and connections. I read poetry that month: William Carlos Williams; and two from Black Lawrence Press: Kamden Hilliard, and Jürgen Becker translated by Okla Elliott.

In the meantime, I had some triangles left, so I also pieced a new quilt with flying geese, thinking about migration and the underground railroad and Harriet Tubman. (More about that in the future.)

One December Saturday during walks to two libraries, I roughed out the poem in my little purple Moleskine notebook. Two starts. The second one was closer. I knew it needed one more line, though.


It took until December 30 to finish embroidering the poem and binding the quilt. Used the sashiko style of hand quilting suggesting the waves and the fish scales, again. The binding is purple. I didn't square it off. Larger image on my website here.


down the road
where the nest is
quiet, nightlights
on the bay glowing
in memory, rippling
to all shores.



*
P.S. Richmond has been sighted for several mornings (PDT) now, checking up on the nest! Web cam link here. Photos posted on the Live Chat.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Eco-Artists & Coloring Cloth with Plants

I've been interested in the creative processes and aesthetics of artists who work with natural dyes. Velma Bolyard's blog led me to India Flint's eco-dyeing and Jude Hill's spirit cloths/quilts. I look to their work for inspiration: that spark to making things. Patti Smith writes in her book, Devotion (Why I Write), "That is the decisive power of a singular work: a call to action" (92). While I do not make work that looks like theirs (and each of them works quite differently from one another) Velma, India, and Jude make art that calls me to action. 

All three eco-artists have aesthetics grounded in the natural world and natural colors and seem to live in rural areas, a world away from me. As I've spent the last two years more intensively working with textiles, the impulse derived from the artists to color the cloth led me to some experimenting with natural dyes. 

Eyeing a beetroot, I tried boiling it with cloth and linen thread. After a few hours, I didn't notice much color, so I added a fistful of teabags, and let it steep a few more hours. I removed the beet slices. But after I fished out the cloth, I looked at the pot of tea and decided to put another cloth in. I left it overnight.

Top: first batch (beetroot, teabags; muslin cloth and linen thread)
Middle: second batch is slightly paler and less pinkish (leftover mixture from above with beet slices removed, more teabags added; muslin cloth, linen thread)
Bottom: undyed muslin for contrast




They look a little like Eva Hesse colors, references to skin and the body. I'll probably layer some letterpress printing on them; printmaking is another impulse. I put the cloth aside, thinking I'd better get India Flint's book, Eco Colour: Botanical Dyes for Beautiful Textiles. If you want to dive deep into the world of natural dyeing, this is the book! It's encyclopedic and rich in information, but she encourages testing and experimentation as part of the learning and enjoyment. Tea, as I found out, is a good mordant, or substance that helps the color bond with the cloth. 

I liked the idea of "cold-bundled eco-prints:" rolling up plants or metals in wet cloth and tying them in bundles. India writes, "When your curiosity can no longer be restrained, open the bundle" (157). I'm so curious, that as a child I planted carrots and started pulling them up the minute I saw green to see what the carrots looked like, so I suspect slow-dyeing is not something I will be able to do longterm. But I decided I would give myself a week.

On December 24th, I cut strips of muslin and dampened them. I rolled up:


silver dollar gum leaves (eucalyptus)

live oak leaves and leaf litter

Japanese maple leaves

and rusty screws 
(from disassembling a garden table several years ago) 

I tied them with raffia, wondering if that might add to the ultimate effect. Raffia is made from palm fibers.



I let the bundles sit overnight. My fingers were itchy; I really wanted to see what was going on. The next day, I realized the cloth might need a mordant, and then I read that eucalyptus leaves work better in hot water, so I brewed four cups of Irish breakfast tea and poured the tea over the bundles. 



December 29, 2017. Five days. Okay, I would wait until New Year's to open them. Er, maybe New Year's Eve Day. Maybe sooner? Like a chrysalis, each started becoming more translucent as it developed.



December 30, 2017. Six and a half days. The rust bundle was nearly air-dried. I just had to peek. And unroll.







Ironed dry.


I like the contrasts. Lightest: plain cloth that didn't absorb either tea or rust; Slightly darker: the tea; Darker: the spread of the rust; Darkest: dark rust spots. I might do this again. I can reuse the rusty screws. Now I'm curious about tin can circles.

Hmm. The eucalyptus bundle also looked promising.



Removed the raffia.


Turns out the leaves functioned as masks, preventing the tea from bonding with the cloth.
No color from the fresh leaves at all.
India's book goes into detail about the needs of eucalyptus.
I was impatient.
And I liked the experimenting part.



I really like the stripes where the raffia was bound tightly. I may try that again.
Tie-dye/Tea-dye.


Still wet.

Rinsed and ironed dry. Ghostly.

Unlike my previous tea dying, these cloths didn't really need rinsing as no color was released. Two more bundles to go. I can see if you do this all the time you'd have bundles in different stages, and you'd get to open them regularly, too.

December 31, 2017. The live oak leaves and leaf litter and the Japanese maple bundles sat one week. Here comes the Japanese maple.





 Ironed dry. 

Patterned end where the raffia was.


Fairly pale. Can kind of see the leaf patterns.


How about the oak?





Some dirt and mushy leaves to wash out.


Little leaf patterns! With my (lazy) method, the oak has great potential.

Smaller cloths and/or possibly pressing flat instead of bundling might make this particular process yield clearer prints. But I'm fine with these as textures. 


I know I'll find a quilt for all of them together.


eucalyptus and oak, mine and neighbor's


India's prints are much brighter and clearer.
More to learn. Hooray!