For years, when my kids were around, I thought that the way to really make summers creatively productive would be to aim for a drawing a day. It was always hard to actually get to more substantive studio work during that time. Intentions then, and later for other regular drawing “devotions” always gave less than satisfying results. Only an occasional drawing, but when I did them, how revealing.

dog sitting, Sam: my own dog Tuck moves around too much

Two Surface Design Association (SDA) Conferences ago, and looking at the course offerings of Penland School of Crafts, I realized that although the array of techniques and workshops was stunning, what I really want most is to draw. To expand my visual vocabulary. For my hand to be more in touch with what I see and what I want to express. A drawing a day would do it.

Still, it’s hard to fit that in, hard to be the observer instead of the doer.

This year, I learned about The Sketchbook Project, where you sign up to participate by receiving and filling a blank “moleskine” type of sketchbook, which then goes to sketchbook library in Brooklyn, and potentially on display. Yes, it costs a bit to join and needs to be done by a certain date. Hey, we pay tuition for classes. Since this seemed like a good way to force myself into a habit, I gladly signed up.

Receiving the sketchbook was  a bit of a disappointment. Such thin cardboard covers. There’s no reason why participants can’t deconstruct the book, and insert new pages, as long as the size conforms to the guidelines.

I spent time being intimidated by the empty pages. How to start with a bang, not a wimper. Most of us who draw at all know that only 1 of 10 drawings is any good though all have something to teach or can jog our memories as to place and locations. Starting a new sketchbook meant for others was definitely intimidating. My solution? start in the middle. Add pages randomly, numbered as Page 1, Page 2, etc. That seems to be working. Other solution? Use three sketchbooks- my regular journal one, my larger pad, and the Sketchbook Project one. Start my day in one, and migrate to the others. Copy and collage when needed. It’s starting to happen.

I’m also adopting some techniques about holding a brush and using washes that I learned in a Chinese Painting class, with a teacher from China who spoke no English and his interpreter, who was hard to understand. We sat in a basement and drew symbolic landscape on a beautiful spring day. Ironic, but the techniques have truly been useful.

Along the way, I’ve also found some interesting web communities of sketchers, like Urban Sketchers. Like Life Sketcher, Stan Fellows, and others.

I haven’t done enough yet to really have an effect on my paintings and prints on fabrics, but that should come. For now, it’s a rich time of year to draw outside, to see potential in any view. For really, anything can be made into a drawing, and the most mundane subject matter can be the most interesting.  My sketchbook will not be glamorous, but it will be a step in the right direction, for me, made fun by sitting outside – and – simply – drawing.

what happens with modular repeats: dried Roma tomato

Iowa SDA-SAQA-IA Artquilters Meeting

Iowa is a big state with a small population, smaller than the Twin Cities in Minnesota. Our Surface Design Association (SDA) and Studio Art Quilt Associates (SAQA) are small enough that it makes sense to pool our resources and meet together in different locations in central and eastern Iowa. I held an earlier meeting last February at my home, and this time Carol Coohey shared her home and inspiring studio with us. Nineteen women attended from the Des Moines area, Elkader, Grinnell, Guernsey, Oskaloosa, Fairfield, Cedar Rapids and Iowa City/Coralville.

Karin Gundlach explored the issue of what kind of finishing presentation is most appropriate to art quilts and fiber art in general, especially smaller pieces. She posed several questions in an online SAQA forum and received a wealth of technical responses, from mounting on a protruding cloth-covered or painted “frame,” to shadow box framing, to armatures. In general the consensus was that framing or mounting of some kind helps to set these pieces off and relate them to their environment. Some participants shared pieces in which presentation was discussed.

Kris Grover shares her ideas for studio design (above), with Amanda Murphy discussing lighting (below)

Kris Grover, former University of Iowa space planner and mixed media artist then shared her Studio Design Challenge, where she converts a small 10 x 10′ bedroom-type space into a functional studio. She shared drafts of this presentation, done on her laptop with many images included. This was a very interesting presentation that we could have spent more time on; Kris had many ideas for finding simple storage units at janitor supply shops and places like Cabellas. One idea was installing a simple overhead bike rack to hang three dimensional works from while they’re in progress. Then
Amanda Murphy, a lighting consultant for Light Expressions and a mixed media artist working three dimensionally with concrete and felt, shared ideas and answered questions for adequate lighting.

Lastly, we had a tour of Carol Coohey‘s impressive studio space. Not grungy like mine, but airy and clean. She does deconstructed screen printing in the way that Kerr Grabowski does, but adds her own spin and has recently started doing regular screen printing. One look at her extensive wall of fabrics, all hanging from a cork strip rail, and one can’t help but admire her grasp of this process.

Carol Coohey with her wall of deconstructed screen printed fabrics

After the meeting, participants split up, some attending Dianne Day’s show at Arbor Gallery, some going to central Iowa City to visit Home Ec Workshop, Prairie Lights Books and Iowa Artisans Gallery, and some home. An interesting, enlightening time.

Out and about: meetings & presentations

Last Thursday evening I had the pleasure of speaking to the Jewel Box Quilt Guild in Grinnell, Iowa, so named because of one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous Jewel Box Bank Building in that community. This year I’ve given my powerpoint presentation four times: at the IQS Quilt Show in Chicago (April); a morning and evening session at Northeast Iowa Quilt Guild, and the most recent one in Grinnell. Previous presentations included guilds in Iowa City (130 attendees) and Waverly, Iowa.

My presentations usually start with an introduction and a few questions to gauge my audience. How many have tried dyeing? printing? I show some actual art quilts, explaining that I use only my own fabrics and that all my pieces start out as white fabrics. After explaining a few technical things about dyes, silk screens and monoprint vinyl, I launch into my power point, which is a visual tour of the part of my art career devoted to art quilts. I start with a few recent pieces, move to images of techniques, then launch into a chronology of how I came to make these and what has been influential over the years. When the chronology is done, I show some studio shots. Then I have a series of “mark making” photographs gleaned from travels and changes in landscape. I finish with a series of teaching images taken during workshops. Usually I bring books, magazines, Surface Design Association materials (yes, I am on the Board), tools and a big basket of sample fabrics which I circulate among the audience early on. Always there are questions, which I encourage and answer as needed. It’s really a lot of fun. And yes, I do charge for these presentations. There is this thing, needing to earn a living.

I also teach workshops and find that most participants enjoy starting with basics. I pack in a lot of information, hopefully not too much, but my aim is to give participants a rich immersion into the wonders of painting and printing with dyes and fabric paints. What do I enjoy the most? Watching participants slide into the pure joy of process, of expression, color and creation. I always tell them, don’t focus on the end product- you will need to practice! But enjoy the ride…

Necessities Vests!

My friend Connie Roberts is a professional artist who makes carved wooden whistle sculptures. She and I have collaborated for some time on thematic vests containing appropriate whistles. Our most popular has always been the Necessities Vest, made to order for male or female wearers, a piece that occupies a display stand during times not worn as a conversational art theater piece. Connie usually makes dozens of whistles that are visible and hidden on these vests.

 My contribution is to dye and print the cotton fabrics for vest and lining, plus pockets and trim. I designed the pockets and patterns and construct and sew the vests. When they’re sewn, Connie and I get together to trouble-shoot placement, drill a few holes etc. Her whistles are by far the most entertaining part of these Vests, but what follows are photos of how the vests themselves come into being.

hand-dyed, monoprinted & screenprinted cotton fabrics using procion fiber reactive dyes
flaps, and lots of notes

the old workhorse Janome sewing machine
It helps that it’s still porch weather
Connie’s buttons are a hoot. They do not whistle.
OK, so my part is finished…
Connie and her drill. Trying to keep the sawdust off of the fabric. Placing whistles.
Whistles similar to what we have in our vests.