Category Archives: Inspiration

Artistic Endeavors – What Art Collectors Choose for Their Homes

Right now the Cleveland Museum of Art is showing the Keithley collection, a promised gift to the museum of over 100 pieces of art. This eclectic collection concentrates on Impressionist and early modern artists. I found it interesting that the Keithleys collected many prints and Asian ceramic pieces in addition to paintings. The exhibit has photographs of some of the works on display in the Keithley’s traditional looking home. I enjoyed seeing the pieces in such a context.

You can see what’s in the exhibit here, but let me say that size matters when judging the impact of a piece, so you can’t gauge the variety of the collection through the thumbnail photos. For instance, Some More by Joan Mitchell is about 51 by 114 inches, and between its size and that yellow, it takes up all the air around it in the gallery. I wonder where the Keithleys displayed it in their home.

Some More Joan Mitchell

At the other extreme, Pierre Bonnard’s charming lithograph, The Little Laundress, is a mere 8 by 11 inches. A large mat and ornate frame give it more presence. Luckily, the show curators had the good sense not to hang both pieces in the same room.

The Little Laundress, 1896, Pierre Bonnard

Let me run through some of the work that caught my eye. First, to return to Joan Mitchell, I loved the sunflower series of lithographs she made in 1992 at the end of her life. The lines are so free.

Second, I enjoyed the Maine watercolors by John Marin, as they straddle the line between representational and abstract art.

On Morse Mountain, Number 6, 1928

His earlier watercolors are far more representational. Even this one from 1922 is less abstract.

The White Moon, Sailboat, 1922, John Marin

Third, my other favorites were an eclectic bunch. Frankly, many of the Impressionist paintings didn’t wow me, but I’ve been spoiled by trips to other museums with extensive holdings of those artists. The best private collections I’ve seen are those of the Barnes Foundation and Paul and Bunny Mellon, shown at the Frick Museum in Pittsburgh a few years ago.

Strandgade, Sunshine, c. 1906, Vilhelm Hammershoi. This Danish painting would be wonderful for contemplation to clear my mind.
Drying the Linens, 1894, Maurice Denis. I was taken with the composition that takes your eye around the entire piece.
Farm Yard, 1948, Milton Avery. Again, the composition verges on the cusp of abstraction (pink and blue chickens!), and the texture behind the birds of what might be chicken wire makes the piece so much more interesting.
Head of a Boy, 1905-6, Pablo Picasso. He really did know how to draw and the delicate gray and rose palette makes for a contemplative piece.
Interior with a Hanging Lamp lithograph by Edouard Vuillard, 1899. I love the composition that combines straight and curved lines and leads the eye back into another room.
Listening to the Waves, Sakiyama Takayuki, 2007. Unlike the traditional glazed ceramics in the exhibit, the rough finish of Takayuki’s work reminds me of corregated cardboard or the small, irregular pleating used by Fortuny for silk fabric.

Just to show how different a 3D piece looks from different angles, here’s a photo of the above piece from the museum’s website.

The Keithley collection was a reminder to me that what people see in a museum gallery isn’t necessarily what they want to display in their homes. Of course the smaller, more domestic pieces tend to get lost on a gallery wall, but they may enhance without overwhelming one’s living quarters.

Linking to Off The Wall Fridays.

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Marching To My Own Drummer

I would love to find discussions that address my current artistic quandary: at what point do you want to/should you defer to the opinions of others when they have a very different take on your work than your own? I refer specifically to work you feel much more positively about than others do. And you respect the opinions of these others.

Case in point, my current piece that I’ve named “The Left Coast.” It is based on my memories of Big Sur in California, though it’s meant to be evocative rather than representative. I chose to focus on the cliffs rather than the ocean.

“The Left Coast”

I began with a drawing that I turned into templates after enlarging it with the old fashioned grid method. Then I went through my stock of hand dyed fabric.

You can see my high level math as I worked out the grid.

I had a subtle set of gray/purples from Vicki Welsh (she calls it thistle) that I thought would work well. Other gradients dyed by her and batiks completed my choices for the cliffs. The sky/water was more vexing. I tried three different blue and purple gradients, all of which overpowered the cliffs. I resorted to a pastel batik (no idea where I got it, maybe Lunn Fabrics?) that I spent a lot of time recoloring with Neocolor II pastel crayons. At one point I decided the piece was turning into a painting.

Original fabric.

The piece is now sandwiched for quilting. I am using a pieced top I could never get to work right for the backing. It’s part of my use it up campaign.

I have made at least three attempts to redeem it, but lack the energy to try again.

I suspect time will be the ultimate arbiter of whether “The Left Coast” is good art or variations on a bruise. It may be my opinion is like loving a man that all your friends say is bad news. When hindsight shows he was a jerk and it’s a good thing you didn’t marry him, your friends were right. Luckily, the quilt is just fabric and the consequences of misjudging its worth are minimal.

I’m linking to Off The Wall Friday.

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A New Color Palette and Flowers, Sort Of

I have long maintained that flowers have little to no place in my work. I love flowers in a garden or a vase, but haven’t been drawn to them as subjects for my work. So, I was surprised that I based a piece now under construction on flowers, rhododendrons specifically. Each May I see the bold magenta floral clusters of those plants in the yards of the older houses in my neighborhood. I don’t know if they’ve gone out of fashion, but I don’t see them in newer developments. Of course, that color would give one pause and they like shade.

A mature rhodedendron

But I didn’t start my floral project with the shrub in mind. Instead, I began with a surfeit of high flow quinacridone magenta acrylic paint that I decided to splash on scraps of tablecloths, muslin, PFD cotton, and fabric already printed with bell pepper. Then after I noticed all the rhodies in my neighborhood I came up with a scheme to make a piece with a floral theme out of all that painted fabric cut into squares.

Not exactly a detailed sketch, but it was enough for me.

To the magenta fabric I added squares (including an old sheet) painted with green, yellow-green, and yellow; plus fabric monoprinted with Inktense colors. Once I had the squares arranged to my liking I added thin bias strips of fused fabric. I know that my inspiration shrub doesn’t have skinny leaves, but let’s pretend bindweed has clambered up on it.

The next step I plan is a few tendrils made of even skinnier strips. It’s easy to curve the bias strips as you iron them in place.

The new color palette I became enamoured of is that used by Zoe Zenghelis, a painter who pioneered an appreciation of the role of color in architectural design. The Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh has mounted an exhibit of her paintings, which introduced me to her work. You can read a review of the exhibit below.

Now, I don’t grasp all the architectural aspects of her work, but I do love the shapes and clear, melting colors she uses. I was transported to an alternative universe through her paintings.

Dali, 2019
untitled
Tatiana’s House, 1994
A few of the works on display at the Carnegie Museum of Art

I hope to experiment with my paints to achieve similar effects. Maybe I can learn some subtlety.

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Transforming Old Clothes to Art

Today’s topic came to me as I wandered the aisles of my local Village Discount thrift store looking for bargains. Once I got over my surprise that used bras were on offer, I checked out the men’s extra large shirts. There’s lots of material in a $2 cotton dress shirt.

I didn’t go home with any shirts, but I did remember Sue Benner’s piece made with shirt cuffs which I saw at Quilt National 2017.

Another view of Sue’s Body Parts 3: Cuffed that shows how see-through it is. It cast intriguing shadows.

Sue shops in thrift stores, and even finds uses for garment parts like shoulder pads. If you were around in the 1980s you may recall that most women’s clothing had big foam pads sewn into the shoulders.

Sue Benner, Body Parts 2: Padded

It was a short step from that memory to a trawl for other fiber artists who work with cast off clothing. SAQA Journal helped me along with an article (2022, Vol. 32, No. 1) about Susan Avishai, who transforms shirt collars, cuffs, and other parts to often ethereal work.

Cuff’d, Susan Avishai
Detail from Susan Avishai’s One Place to Hide a Dark Heart

Denim is a favorite clothing material to recycle. I’ve written earlier about Ian Berry, and have always loved the Gee’s Bend quilts made from old jeans.

Lutisha Pettway, “Bars“ Quilt, c. 1950

A new to me artist, Jim Arendt, said that he simply asks people for their old jeans, and hasn’t bought materials in some time.

Jim Arendt
Arendt’s work area in his garage.

You can enjoy his talk on rules for creating art on YouTube.

While the artists above cut up clothing, their work doesn’t feature paint on surfaces. Los Angeles based Aiko Hachisuka prints and paints on second hand clothing she bundles together in large foam stuffed lumps which the art world calls soft sculptures. I’m not a big fan of her work, but I’m intrigued with her way to use discarded clothing.

Aiko Hachisuka, Untitled, 2017, Silkscreen on clothing, kapok, upholstery fabric, foam on wood support, 76 x 63 x 20 inches
Detail shows the printing and painting done on another piece. You can see part of her process at https://nyti.ms/3ip2C7c

I have done my small bit to repurpose clothing in work like Damask and Denim and Shirtsleeves.

Damask and Denim
Shirtsleeves

My husband tells me we have a coupon worth 50% off at Village Discount, so maybe a return visit is in the works once I figure out a project made with men’s shirts.

I’m linking to Off The Wall Fridays.

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Out Of The Woods

As the sands in the hourglass that is 2021 run through to the bottom I want to finish a few pieces that have been in the fabric closet. So of course I began a new piece and finished it, jumping the queue on those pieces waiting so patiently. I promise to quilt one of them by December 31.

This early morning view from my kitchen window spoke to me, so I used it to give focus to my pink piece as the birds I originally thought to use weren’t working. I talk about it in the linked post.

I don’t make these colors up, you know.

That got translated into the following:

“If You Go Into The Woods Today” 24 inches wide by 34.5 inches high

I quilted it with a walking foot and free motion. Here’s the back for you folks who like that sort of thing. My backs are not works of beauty. The best I’ll say about them is I bury the thread ends. I use whatever bobbin thread color helps the front.

I’ve been using up large fabric scraps for backs, so they have been getting weird.

I hope to have more finished (well, quilted) work by the end of the year. I’m linking to Off The Wall Fridays.

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Idiosyncratic Quilting

It’s been a while since I bought a quilting related book, but I decided to spring for Paula Kovarik’s “At Play in the Garden of Stitch: thoughts that come while eyeing the needle.” Like the capitalization in the title, Paula’s work goes counter to standard practice. There are no feathers or flowers, lines are usually spiky, and her motifs often display a subversive sense of humor. In other words, she’s not to everyone’s taste.

I first saw her work at Quilt National in 2015, and again in 2017. Both entries are done on old linens and are whole cloth.

Paula Kovarik, Quilt National 2015
Paula Kovarik, “His and Hers Insomnia” Quilt National 2017

But, back to the book. First, let me tell you what this book is not about – specific FMQ patterns, step by step instructions, or student work. Instead, it’s about how Paula works and specifics of some pieces she’s made.

She doesn’t use fancy equipment. I didn’t see a longarm in the photo of her studio. She uses basic fabrics and old linens, and sews mostly with black and white thread. Her approach is process oriented – lots of practice that begins with working out design ideas on paper and proceeds to building up a story in stitch on cloth.

Doodling practice for “Glyphs”
Paula Kovarik, “Glyphs”

The book includes exercises to do on fabric squares after first working up ideas on paper. Other exercises address how to create focal points in the quilting (Paula calls them heroes,) add a bump, and one line drawing with thread. From what I gather, the last is best done after lots of practice on paper. Here’s my go at the fenceposts exercise. It was kind of fun, not something I often say about FMQ.

My thread doodling

I think the piece below is an example of one line drawing.

Paula Kovarik, “Do The Doodle”

I was surprised that Paula quilts with her feed dogs up. I tried it and found I needed to set the stitch length to at least 3; otherwise the resistance was too much for me. Another surprise was that Paula cut up one of her Quilt National quilts and used the pieces to make other work, including decorative masks. I have cut up quilts that didn’t work or I didn’t like, but if one of my pieces was in Quilt National I’d construct a shrine for it in my living room. I guess I’m not evolved enough to have such a “kill your darlings” attitude.

To sum up, this book can encourage you to jump in and take risks, and see quilting as process rather than product. It actually has specific ideas I hope to use in future quilting. I don’t think it will appeal to everyone, but sometimes it’s stimulating to see how a quilter can jump the tracks and live to tell the tale.

I’m linking to Off The Wall Friday.

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Line Mastery

As part of my January lines challenge I viewed work I admired by artists ranging from the renowned Paul Klee to textile designer Lucienne Day. I’ll be showing the second part of my January lines challenge soon, but first I want to share work I looked at for inspiration.

I consider Paul Klee a master of line as he uses it so many different ways. The handbill below shows his thick line technique that echoes Arabic writing to me.

Paul Klee “The Comedians”

Lucienne Day was a British textile designer whose work epitomized mid century interior design. I believe these designs are still available. If they look familiar I suspect it’s because many current designers have done work that is curiously similar.

Selection of Lucienne Day’s textile designs
Closeup of Lucienne Day’s Dandelion design
Good study for effects of solid and dashed lines

While Matisse is often praised for his use of color, the sketches below show how well he used sinuous line.

Matisse
A Matisse collage

Charles Rennie Mackintosh was an architect and interior designer whose renowned stained glass and rose designs use line decoratively and functionally.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Willow Tearoom doors

Thick, thin; solid, dashed; curved, angular – the combinations seem endless, as do the ways to mark lines. Matisse even used the gaps between pieces of paper. That’s an approach I didn’t try, and I really need to add it to my lines toolbox.

I’m linking to Off The Wall Friday.

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Artistic Endeavors – Known and Unknown

Recently I spent time with an online exhibit called Known and Unknown Quilt Stories put together by the Quilt Alliance. To quote from the website:

Documentation, or the lack thereof, is at the heart of the over 30 quilts in Known and Unknown. And it’s also the heart of what the Quilt Alliance does. Without documentation, the stories behind countless quilts are lost to us. But with documentation, we can honor and remember the diverse voices and perspectives in quiltmaking.

The exhibit’s quilts range from art quilts to rescued quilts spattered with paint. For each quilt featured there’s a short interview with its maker or current owner, and links to additional resources related to the type of quilt featured. Some quilt makers put their names front and center on their work; other quilts can only be ascribed to anonymous. Still other makers can be known through the stories of their quilts’ current owners.

For example, quilter Nellie Mae Johnson put a Native American spin with braids and moccasins on the classic Sunbonnet Sue block in her quilt Little Women.

Little Women by Nellie Mae Johnson

The interview by Nellie’s granddaughter Gwen Westerman (who is a quilter) reveals the quilt was made for her high school graduation out of fabrics from her home made clothing. All Nellie’s quilts were meant to be used, and this one has the holes and lumpy batting to prove it.

There are many stories in Quilters Save Our Stories, but I gather you can add your quilt story to the project. The website has lots of tips for telling and filming your quilt’s story.

The Quilt Alliance also has a podcast called Running Stitch, now in its second season.

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Artistic Endeavors

It’s been a while since I posted links to stories/videos/sites I found interesting. It’s so inspiring to hear artists talk about their work and how they’ve dealt with technical hurdles. Besides, I have more time for such listening and viewing nowadays.

I’ll start off with a link to a recent regional SAQA show I had two pieces in. I like to view work done by artists who aren’t always featured in the big shows like Quilt National. Unfortunately, the pandemic restrictions really cut down the potential audience for this show, which was mounted at a performing arts center.

I was wowed by the featured work of three paper artists in a recent Textile Talk.

Work by Mary Hark

Another video I watched with interest was Nancy Crow discussing her monoprinting with Carolyn Ducey of the International Quilt Museum. It took me aback to hear Nancy say her first 100 monoprints were awful and essentially trashed.

International Quilt Museum Nancy Crow exhibit

Thanks to technology whole series of interviews with quilt artists have been recorded. I’ve enjoyed Lisa Walton’s Quilt Stories, and just watched her interview with Sue Benner about two self portraits. Sue has lots to say about creative problem solving.

Some artists release videos of their work processes. For some short, quirky, informal takes on how he makes his work, check out Joe Cunningham’s Quilt Report.

Please let me know if you’ve found other sites/videos, etc., that could help make us feel we’re still part of an artistic community.

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The Unkindest Cut

Sometimes you have mishaps despite being careful. Recently I was cutting silk fabrics into circles and ovals.

Then, this happened while I was putting the guard over the rotary circle cutter’s blade.

My left index finger and thumb are out of commission for a bit and I’m left handed. That means I need to keep the fingers dry, and not put any pressure on the cuts. So, no sewing, no painting, no gluing, no cutting.

Of course I panicked. Then I remembered a collection of photos I had set aside for digital manipulation in PhotoShop Elements. When I walk outside or sit around my house I take pictures of odd things that catch my eye. While I’m clumsy with my right hand I can still use a computer mouse.

Of course the upside to my self-inflicted wounds is I can’t cook or wash the dishes. Fortunately my husband is shouldering that work. Many thanks, dear.

I’m linking to Off The Wall Fridays.

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