Sunday, November 30, 2014

Try Collage for Design Ideas

Last week I had the opportunity to participate in a workshop run by collage artist Christine Echtner.

Her artwork combines acrylic paint and collage techniques to tell stories about her characters. Character development is something I've been thinking a lot about this year so I was interested to learn more about her process.

Collage is a great vehicle to create ideas. Printed text, discarded books, ads from magazines all provide material with which to play. Ideas can be generated quickly, some discarded, others layered or painted over. For someone who works in the deliberate and time intensive field of tapestry weaving, this is a freeing experience.

The process is simple to do at home, but the advantage of the workshop is the ideas multiply as you see the work others are doing. Possibilities for future weavings abound.

Find some friends and give it a try.

P.S. The portrait in my Pensamientos series continues to grow. Next, the face.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Ladies in the Garden

Haven't seen anyone out in the garden lately, but then again I had thought the official Yard Season was over.

Yet coming back from a walk with Porkchop, on a rather mild and sunny Sunday, I turned the corner and there she was.

I suppose it was the balmy 50 degrees that prompted this lady to head out to the garden. She holds the fall season to the calendar and not this week's forecast in WI. The north winds will be blowing.

Even the plein air painter seems to have given up, although he left his easel behind. I'm never sure what to do with things like this. Should I try to return it? Will he be back for it?

Her sweater looks comfy, but she'll be wanting more by Wednesday. At any rate she should move, the creeping charley is gaining ground. Nothing seems to stop that stuff.

Hunker down. I'm going to go look for mittens.

P.S. My last blog talked about a piece I was trying to design for my Pensamientos series. I've been working and so far, so good.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Developing an Idea

Pansies and Pensamientos...

I recently enjoyed a blog written by my tapestry friend Rebecca Mezoff about the artist's struggle to bring an idea to fruition. Take time to read it here. She writes about author Ann Patchett's thoughts on a brilliant idea appearing, glowing in your mind, and the effort it takes to bring it to life on the printed page. It caused me to think of an idea I've had simmering for a couple years.

I've been working on a series that came to me in one flash while having a conversation with my daughter. Since that time I've been pushing my way through this idea. The working title of the series is Pensamientos, the spanish word for both "thoughts" and "pansies". That fact has many layers of meaning for me. When I dig into one area it's easy to get lost and confused.

Like Patchett, I initially have no clear vision in my head to lead me through the weaving of this idea, just the strong belief that it needs to be developed.

I remember showing a piece to artist and tapestry designer Yael Lurie in a workshop 25 years ago. I had been thinking about the relativity of time and what makes something take "too long" and produced a piece on the subject that I'm still fond of. I told her, "I don't know what to do next." I'll bet she was amused at that comment. She replied, "But you've only just started."

I'm guessing Pensamientos will be another one of those things. The initial glow will simmer, shift, and change many times before it runs its course.

watercolor study for "Pensar"
border design for "Pensar"
"Pensar", 9" wide warp, 10 ends per inch

Thursday, September 18, 2014

2014 WI Sheep & Wool

This week I returned to the Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival held the first week of September in the town of Jefferson, a 40' drive from Madison. This event is always a pleasure to attend, with all the trappings for people with fiber obsessions. A user friendly facility, nice variety of vendors, good organization, and newborn lambs. How can you resist?

But is it really possible to teach tapestry in an afternoon?

This year I decided to offer "Tapestry Trees" and 11 enthusiastic students signed up, none of who had ever woven tapestry. I supplied all materials but encouraged students to bring their handspun. Wisconsin has a very vibrant hand spinning community.

We wound a 3" warp with seine twine onto a simple board loom, skipped foundation knots or twining and dove right into the weaving. I asked them to consider what sort of land their tree was growing on and with some simple "over/under" demonstrating, they took off.

I wonder about rushing people so much, pushing them to move on, telling them there are 20 minutes left until cutoff. On the other hand, if this is a taste of tapestry, perhaps this sampling will encourage some to study further.

As usual my students surprise and amaze me. When the tree trunk was started they were setting up three opposing wefts. They sorted through value choices and considered how to weave the shape to suggest an evergreen, maple or birch. One student chose the desert as her landscape.

There are many Sheep and Wool events across the country. Check one out if you can. I imagine you'll return home satisfied, possibly with a new skein of yarn.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Summer Sketchbook

I continue my Summer Reset, those last few precious days. One of the delights has been my obsession with my little sketchbook and I feel the need to share.

I may owe the initial push from my tapestry friend Janette Meetze who has inspired many of us on Facebook with the sketches of her travels. I often do the same but not as a daily practice. I decided to take on the challenge.

Watercolor artist Cathy Johnson reminded me of the simplicity of the "meander book" made from one page of paper - instructions found here. I folded up a piece of paper and realized it was a perfect opportunity to use one of the tiny tapestries from my handspun landscape course for the cover.

This book has two covers so you can work from either end of the accordion. Sometimes you get to a two page spread which feels rather special. For this one I documented my dyeing session on the deck.

My sketchbook starts July 27, the day before my daughter arrived from Spain and continues through 24 days of family visits. It shows the importance of everyday life - a strawberry eaten, coffee made, a trip to the laundromat. Each day is dated with just enough words to evoke the memory. I used ink, watercolor, pencil, whatever it took to tell the story.

I enjoyed the break from the loom, I need that time to recharge. Next weekend is Labor Day, but there are still a few more slow days of summer. Sketchbook and coffee will be in my future till then.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Color in the Dye Pot

Ah, summer.

I find myself sitting on the deck an inordinate amount. Perhaps we could call it meditation and the goal of this summer's meditation is color.

It's been awhile since I've dyed yarn, but I seem to be recreating my past a bit this summer. I purchased Sabraset dyes from ProChem, reviewed the process, which is far less daunting than you might imagine, and began recreating the swatchbook of dye samples I used to have. Color memories returned. The delight I felt dyeing gradations in canning jars 7 colors at a time, seeing the shift from magenta to turquoise and the purples in between, is pretty indescribable.

I promise myself I'll not begrudge a child's urge to see things in rainbow order. Those little skeins in a satisfying.

There was a time when each tapestry I wove used dyed yarns based on a pair of complements. I'm contemplating blue and orange or red and green, whichever way it plays out, the middle tones will be exquisite, something you just can't buy.

Stay tuned for designs that once again grow from the dye pot. In the meantime, I'm heading back out to the deck.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Handspun Landscape at The Porkies

     If you want to get close to nature and be hypnotized by Lake Superior, take a trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I guarantee you will have a completely unique experience.

     The Porcupine Mountains are located in the western part of the Peninsula east of Duluth, Minnesota. My daughter remarked I was getting into "Fargo Territory". Trees and water are plentiful in this landscape and the area also boasts several waterfalls, hiking and camping.

     I had the opportunity to teach 12 eager participants at the Porcupine Mountain Folk School located in a cozy log cabin in the Park and run by Friends of the Porkies. We came together to spend a day creating a tapestry of a landscape of their choice. Although a few participants had specific designs in mind, I encouraged students to create and adjust their landscape as we wove.

     I offered yarns with a variety of textures along with handspun roving and locks of wool.

     This style of free form, design-as-you-go tapestry weaving is full of serendipity. Students wrapped warps to create flowers, inserted locks of fleece and bits of yarn to show waves. Many of the places evoked our Lake Superior surroundings and there were discussions of the sunset the night before and the color of the water that morning.

     All in one day! When asked, "When is my landscape done?", I replied, "At four o'clock". Pieces were cut off the loom and celebrated, participants left wanting more.

     Could it be a few more tapestry weavers have begun to grow?

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Watercolor Sketches

If you want to know what something looks like, draw it.

After many years of making sure my camera was packed for a trip, now I often leave it behind. Places I loved seemed so disappointing when I looked back to remember them. That's when I bought my tiny watercolor box and now sketching is my favorite way to create these artifacts.

I drove east from Wisconsin last month and spent the afternoon by a creek that runs past a little town called Oxford on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. It's a scene whose beauty can overwhelm you.
I edited, rearranged, and colored to suit my mood and to show what I felt was important at the time. I like the roughly torn edges of the paper and the documentation inked at the bottom.

Will these pieces lead somewhere else?
They may just be memories put in an accordion book and tied with a ribbon to be discovered another day.

My next adventure is north to the Porcupine Mountain Folk School to teach tapestry landscape with handspun. I might bring my camera, but I know I'll pack my sketchbook.


Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Value of Friendship

Do you value your friendships?

And what better way to show the meaning of those connections than to exchange artwork. The question was, what should I weave?

There were plenty of options. Dogs (I've already painted them), Loons (she has enough), the Adirondacks....and then I remembered the wild daffodils.

This winter stretched out longer than necessary, spring struggled to break through. I remembered a conversation when she announced the blooming of the wild daffodils in the field outside her window.. My idea was planted.
It didn't take long to design. I was constrained by a 3.5 inch warp so I knew the flower would grow on the horizontal.

I used quite a bit of handspun, no doubt some of the fleece she has sent me over the years.

And of course I took pictures as I wove, she'd feel incomplete not seeing the process.

It appears to be a successful Wisconsin spring after all.....

....and thanks for your friendship Deb.

Have you made something for your friend lately?

Sunday, May 11, 2014

What is Love?

If that is the start of your design idea I empathize with you. How complicated could you possible get? This winter I received an email inviting  me to contribute to a local exhibit based on this idea. My first reaction was no.

But I like a challenge. This is a big one for me.

Artists were given a list of questions from which to choose. It was a broad template and the options were many. I wanted to weave a small face portrait, after all time is of the essence when you are talking tapestry.

I chose: What are the different expressions of love?
Expressions of love are difficult. There are those who never know what exactly they are supposed to do on any given occasion., i.e., I thought that's what she wanted and she cried...not for joy. It's a tangled web. Weavers know that.

I'm still confused, but here is the result. I even wrote a poem.

It's More Than Flowers

What do you really want?
It's so difficult to know.
Was there more you should have said?
You told me you didn't want much
I thought the flowers would be enough...
It's More Than Flowers, 6 x 12 inches

For those in Wisconsin the show is at Absolutely Art, with an opening on June 6.

Certainly a good time will be had by all - after's love.

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Pansy Lady

     You may know I've woven quite a few tiny faces. One circular warp may equal 6 or 7 new friends. That's plenty of pleasure to be had, but my designs can get stale. Who wants to meet up with the same type of person over and over again?

     New ideas can some from a new skein of yarn. One Saturday afternoon in March I walked into the booth of Bleating Heart Haven, a vendor at the Madison Knitters Guild Knit-In. I have discovered that sheep and handspun are much loved in Wisconsin. Bleating Heart raises sheep, dyes and handpaints their yarn. Each skein has a color name. I picked up a soft skein of spun cottswald and it's name was "pansy".

     There was no stopping me, I had to have that yarn.

     That evening I cut some of the yarn into yard lengths, two groups of light and dark values. The two-ply worsted was a bit thicker than I like to use for my 10 epi sett, but I also don't mind funky edges on these pieces.

     I did a quick drawing, after all it was still March so there was no question she would be wearing a winter coat. I followed the cartoon loosely and tried to make sure the weaving, not the drawing, was guiding my decisions.
The Pansy Lady, 3.5 x 4 inches

     She ended up more glamorous than I planned, but then again when it's spring in Wisconsin you need to up your game a bit...warm weather could be quite a bit away.