Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Bluebird Whisperings

I have been telling my next-door neighbor about the bluebirds, but he hadn't seen them. On my way to the corner market I heard their songs and stopped to look around. This little guy, an aspiring star, modeled for me on the fence. I've been hoping to catch a picture for weeks. The afternoon light was just right. A miraculously warm day today.

He seemed as curious about me as I of him.

He let me pull out my camera. Usually, they don't let me get so close (these images are cropped as tightly as possible).

Would he let me get closer? Nope. Off he flew.

"You're a bluebird whisperer!" 

I turned to find that my neighbor had been watching me and the bird from his car. I'm definitely not a bluebird whisperer. But I was glad my neighbor got to see the Western Bluebird up close. And that I can finally share these pictures of the bird that inspired my print.

Addendum 2.1.18

Gustav Klimt and Everyday Life

We crossed a couple bridges last Friday to catch the third-to-last day of the Rodin and Klimt exhibition at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco. It was a sudden decision, based in part on my husband's newfound interest in Wiener Werkstätte: the Vienna Workshop that bridged art nouveau and art deco. A group of artists "seceded" from the established Vienna art scene to create a new art, one that encompassed all aspects of daily life and design, from architecture to wallpaper to fashion to books, including applied arts. Art and craft went together and were equally important. Gustav Klimt played a vital role in this group. The book Wiener Werkstatte: Design in Vienna 1903-1932 by Christian Brandstätter is an excellent history and background to the group with enough photographs to enlighten. Typography, patterning, and design of all sorts were all revised and remade. Look for the photo of Klimt in his long blue smock with white designs on the shoulders.

Klimt designed the 1898 poster for the first exhibition of the Secessionists. We have the goddess Athena; we have Theseus fighting the Minotaur. According to the wall text, this was the "uncensored" version. Klimt had to go back and add a slender seedling to cover Theseus's genitalia. What is still striking about the poster is that all the information and activity takes place at the edges, and the center of the poster is an open square. The viewer fills it with his or her own imagination or accepts it as a calm place to meditate (and note the artist's name in the corner of it). The colors are simply light tan, red, pale green, black, and white, mostly used as color fields, very spare. The lettering is a wonderful mix of letters that might have been carved in ancient times and what might now look to us as a 1920s or 1930s style of lettering. 

The following painting created a bit of a scandal, it seems.  A nude gazing at the viewer. Not an allegory. Klimt painted her hair strategically over her breasts. A visitor strategically placed herself elsewhere.

I had seen a few Klimt paintings at LACMA in 2006, but they didn't resonate with me at the time as paintings, only as an important historical moment: they had been stolen by Nazis and returned to a family living in Los Angeles by the Austrian government.

Now that I know that the designs were supposed to infuse and elevate everyday life, I think I understand and like Klimt's paintings better. I'm a fan of curlicues, usually in the form of labyrinths, but spirals are nice, too. We're used to seeing his paintings with gold, but not all of them feature that form of sparkle. This next portrait includes a woman wearing a garment made from fabric that another artist designed. Page 341 lists it: "Portrait of Johanna Staude (in Wiener Werkstätte dress made from 'Blätter' [leaves] fabric by Martha Albert), 1917-18 (not completed). Oil on canvas." And a woman visitor, whose outfit is also to be noted.

The painting below is unfinished also, I believe. Here is a woman in a penciled-in patterned dress, her surroundings already heavily patterned and painted. Another painting in the book, on page 337, is very similar in that it has the patterned dress against a patterned background as well.

Apparently, in his later years, Klimt became very interested in landscape painting. He used to cut out a little window, a viewfinder, to find his subject. This is the first painting from that era I've ever seen painted as a square. Reminds me of all the websites and little digital photos of today.

A small sampling of Klimt's work. The wall text explained more of the politics and revolutionary aspect of it. It's interesting to have an idea about something for a long time and then have it change just through reading.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

New Art Quilt: Becoming

From raw materials to a finished piece, that's a transformation, a metamorphosis. Always a mysterious process, it can also be confounding. I've often said that I and you and anyone who will listen should see "what the book wants" rather than plowing through and insisting on whatever it was that was in your head to start.

Making this quilt was like trying to calm a wild animal (as if I knew what that was really like). It had a strong will and relentlessly tussled with me. Not my preferred way of working, but I had to take a deep breath and settle in, get to know it. It's the first of a series around the theme of "metamorphosis." I knew I wanted to do a reduction print on cloth with several colors, and I knew it would be a merging of organic and mechanical shapes to take on the idea of technology and how we are absorbing it and it is absorbing us, for both the good and the bad.

Several years ago I was making drawings that featured watch parts and the anatomy of the inner ear: gears and ears, so I called them. That seemed a good place to start. I made some new drawings and set out to carve and print a block.

The colors began with a light yellow rather than a cream color, and that was the first sidestep. I printed, carved, printed, carved, adding darker ink at each pass. I printed on both paper and cloth.

So there are some "Becoming" prints on paper available in my Etsy store as "Gears" print

In order to get perfect registration, I would need the block to land in the exact same place on the cloth each time. To achieve this, I sewed each piece of cloth to a piece of paper. It worked.


Carve. Print.

Carve. Print.
Seven layers, total.

Cloth still sewn to paper.

Ink mixing, first run, key drawing.

Linoleum block, key drawing, carving tools on the press bed.
I leave the block locked up the whole time.
A mini shop vac takes care of the bits before I print.
On the drawing you can see the colors I thought I was going to use.

I knew I wanted to document the steps within the quilt: a retelling of its own making, but just stacking them didn't excite me. I cut them up and pieced them at angles, giving them some dynamic life. I pinned it all to a long strip of canvas to work with it at first.

When it was pieced I thought it would be a secondary element, 

and I kept trying to will it to the side,

I planned a second linoleum block, but it seemed to fight the other one.
So I tried to embrace the remaining prints to keep it unified.

But it turned out the original strip wanted to be the centerpiece.

I kept wrestling with colors as they inserted themselves into the process, and finally gave in.

The central panel is quilted with French knots in multicolored metallic thread. The side panels are quilted with running stitches in threads that match their host cloths and in select circular areas on the prints. The top print, which was just a solid block of light yellow, wanted a circle quilted into it: an echo of the gears or a sun, perhaps.

In progress: quilted, not bound.

The remaining prints decided they wanted to be the binding strip. So they are.


Onward to the next quilt. We'll see what it wants!

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Nature and Tolerance

In December, we took a Sunday drive, up over the East Bay hills, through Tilden Park, down into an area bounded by freeways, yet have no freeways slicing through the vast landscape. On our way through Tilden, South Park Drive was closed, as it is annually through the end of March for the newts who cross the road to mate. I wondered how many people get there and curse at the newts for blocking their way. This led me to think about all the little things in nature, like endangered snails and such that are held up as reasons not to build dams or housing developments, and the people who are impatient, caring about their own convenience. Could it be that if we taught our children to care for the newts and the snails, the water and the land, they would become more tolerant of people as well?

I've read that children who torture or experiment with animals often grow up to be criminals with disregard to others' feelings. 

I had previously thought that conservation of animals, plants, and wildlife, although important and interesting, was not as important as taking care of people. But I'm now seeing the connection, not only for cleansing our spirits, but training us to be more compassionate and empathetic people. If there is a species, endangered or not, that seems irrelevant to us, it still has a right to live. Acknowledging this, we open ourselves.

The ospreys first led me to these thoughts. We saw fishing line, landscape netting, bags, even a stuffed snake brought to the nest. We watched the babies get tangled in the line and netting, then get freed. Humans created this problem. Humans can undo it. Packing out litter, using compostable netting and bags can help. Through creative work we can also encourage awareness of the issues. 

Okay, I'll get down off my tree stump. 

Here is Jewel Lake in Tilden Park, January 2018, finally full again.

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.

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!