Tuesday, August 25, 2015

What is Tapestry Anyway?

Rebecca Mezoff's recent blog couldn't have come at a better time, she must have been reading my mind. The focus of her writing (and you can find the blog here) was a question her grandmother posed in 1979: What is tapestry these days anyhow?

This past Saturday I spent a wonderful day with four eager students at Shake Rag Alley. This is an amazing location, part historical village, part arts center. When I walked back the path to the Potter's House I felt completely transported. If you come anywhere near Mineral Point, WI in your travels, you need to stop.

One of the first questions I was asked was "what is tapestry anyway?" This is a common question for someone teaching a 1 day 'Weave a Landscape' class. My classes usually have at least one person who has never woven before, perhaps never done much of anything with fibers. More than one of you are thinking... tapestry in a day, are you nuts?

Obviously some basics are explained, but much of the day is spent taking a lot of risks. Land gets personal and all my students have personal ideas they are compelled to create: three kayaks in the water, the view at the cabin, the family farm complete with sheep, a landscape abstraction. Try it, see what happens!

I am grateful for my adventure I had as an elementary art teacher in the middle of my tapestry career. It opened my eyes to the value of these explorations, helped me let go of rigidness.

I have no idea where tapestry will be going in the future or how anyone could possibly devote the time needed to develop a high level skill set. Perhaps the students I had will never try tapestry again. But that one day in the Potter's Barn 5 people worked together, broke a few tapestry rules and created art that was personal to them.

Sounds like a good day to me.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Ladies in the Garden

People in WI were complaining about the heat last week, if 86 degrees is what you consider hot. Small wonder I found this lady napping in the shade of the backyard....a worthy pursuit no matter what the temperature.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Summer Fun

I said I was going to do more sketching this summer but I hadn't really planned to have the produce aisle of the local supermarket be my locale.

It all started with this new online course I was taking with my friend Deb, Sketching Foundations with Liz Steel. If you ever want a good grounding in drawing presented in a user friendly way go check this out. Liz and Sketchbook Skool have figured out how to "do" the online thing and many of us are hooked.

Week 1 had us heading out in public to draw with confidence 2 or 3 objects and do it twice, sort of a get to know your materials exercise. My daughter thought I needed to raise the bar and challenged me to head to the produce department of Hyvee Supermarket here in Madison.

Naturally I packed my bag and took off. I settled on the squash and cheese display, an interesting pairing. Maybe I wouldn't get in the way of too many shoppers.

I set up the scene with a micro pen. Notice I do have a jar of marmalade and muffin mix to purchase just in case the management begins to wonder.

I might have scared that lady away though.

I even got the paints out and still nobody questioned my actions, most likely they thought I was "someone famous". Liz wanted us to paint using only one color to keep it simple.

I headed off to pay for my items, placing the wet painting by the scanner in the express lane. Still no comments.

So if you are hesitant to draw in public, go ahead - apparently no one even notices you.

Most of all, have fun.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Landscape Feelings

How do you feel about the place you live?

I have begun to think more about this question as I look forward to the workshop I'm teaching at Sievers School this September. Washington Island, located on Lake Michigan, is a unique setting and I'm hoping we can spend time exploring what that location means to us individually.

Which is why I started thinking about Madison, Wisconsin. My roots are not deep, I've just completed year 4, so what could I explore to give my students an idea of what I'm asking?

I decided to focus on the isthmus. Madison is uniquely positioned on an isthmus between two lakes and there are many ways to access views. One of my favorite is Olin Park at Turville Point, so I headed out early one morning in a light rain with sketchbook and camera. Rain has been our constant companion in WI this spring.

Quiet and solitude is an important part of this place, knowing you are still a part of the city. Although I don't like to work from photos, I will take a few as reference for later. They could help remind me of the mood or a shape I had forgotten.

I sketched an outline of the horizon from one side to the other, broken into three parts. The motor boats were pretty cool too.

Then I completed a quick sketch of the elements I liked the most in this space. You'll notice the dome building on the horizon, the Wisconsin Capitol is a big deal here, as it should be, an amazing piece of architecture inside and out.

It was a restful morning. Aside from the fishermen, there were a few joggers and a couple having their pictures taken. I spent most of my time just looking and trying to remember.

I've begun the tapestry which, I'm happy to say, will not be an accurate rendering of the area.

It's more how I feel about it.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Summer Freedom

I realize summer solstice hasn't occurred, but when you substitute teach tonight is the equivalent of Friday night. The last day is done and possibilities abound, take it slow.

Yes indeed, the school year has ended and I have the freedom to make some choices. Most of my focus is on developing ideas for future tapestries, after all WI winters are so well suited for wood stoves and weaving. Not that I won't start my day with the usual ritual of an hour of weaving, it's just a change of focus.

So here we are, the three freedoms of summer 2015.

1. More Sketching, whenever I can. Look, observe, draw....the foundation of everything.
Noah's Ark Water Park, Middle School Field Trip

2. Women with Fruit. I have decided to do a theme-based collection of my woven lady friends based on fruit.

Step 1, buy fruit and draw it.
Step 2, eat the fruit.
Step 3, weave when the cold weather arrives.

3. Dye Yarn. Now that I have all the tools once again, yarn dyeing makes its debut shortly and colors will be hanging on the clothesline. I have some wonderful marled handspun waiting in the wings.

And yes, I need more yarn.

What is your summer freedom, what passion have you been putting off for another day?

You may not share my release from substitute duty, but let summer get hold of you and take some time. Make a sketch, read a book, stare into space.

It's fleeting, take advantage.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Into the Woods

Into the Woods  10 x 10 inches

That's the name of a piece I recently had accepted into Contemporary Portraits at the Water Street Gallery in Batavia, Illinois. Roughly a two hour drive from Madison, I decided I would go to the opening. I'm glad I did.

Main Street, Batavia, Illinois

It was a lengthy enough day trip I could declare it a sketchbook day, the best way for me to see a new area. Batavia is on the Fox River, west of Chicago and has some history with windmills and Conestoga wagons, so how could it not be a good day?

The Gallery, along the Fox River

I was so proud to be in this show, the only tapestry piece among 54 superb and diverse portraits. I enjoyed looking at each piece for the hour I was there, each artist's approach gave me much food for thought.

The gallery staff did a wonderful job of hanging the show in a nifty limestone wall venue. Snacks were plentiful.

I've been in several shows that I've never seen....it's so much better to see your baby in person. Not to mention I had ice cream for dinner...caramel no less.

Ice Cream for Dinner

Sunday, May 3, 2015


This portrait I'm finishing reminds me how distinctive the language of tapestry weaving can be. Working at this large scale, 6 ends in an inch rather than 10, truly makes every pass of the weft yarns count. A weaver's "highs and lows" become critical and this time I'm not talking about our mood. Although that might enter into it after all.

If you have followed the design development of this piece you know it all started with a cookie platter in a Martha Stewart Christmas issue and moved on from there to what you see today. The core idea is still in place but changes happen many times along the way. I spent several days working on the eyes, weaving and unweaving many times over the course of a week. The eyebrows are done and I've moved on to finish the hair piece.

I hope she's not too sad, she's not meant to be, but expressions are tricky and subtle. We'll see what her attitude is when the warps are cut.