Sunday, 28 August 2011

The power of a new notebook

Dear Diane,

Well here I am back at Cedar Farm with a pot of spicy chai. I am wondering if you have been taking any action on your theme in the last day or two? In the (ammended)words of your favourite West Wing quote "I fear that you may be putting too much faith in the power of a new notebook [shirt].
Or not. Remember this notebook I bought when you were here?

It is totally unsuitable as a sketchbook. It is too beautiful to want to mess up. Too small for any expansive work. The paper will not withstand any kind of wet media. And yet.... I just decided it was asking to be filled with work about African Ladies. So I started working on the Finding Your Own Visual Language exercices and...... I can't stop! I really feel that I am making a breakthrough. I believe the difference from when I have tried some of these exercses in other classes before is the use of a theme. I really struggle just making random samples and collections of marks. What are they FOR?? I get irate at the waste of my time. But this time, the focus and intent, combined of course with the power of a new notebook seems to be working. Here are some of the pages.

First I played with exploding shapes.

Then I looked at the lines between the exploded shapes and made positive and negative stamps.

I am quite excited about the posibilties here for a contemporary block quilt. You know how I really like the African Kuba cloths and how the patterns morph - I can see that influence here. So I would encourage you to just get a beautiful book and start. But whilst a new notebook seems to have considerable power after a while I need to get into fabric. So I decided to make maquettes. Not samples. I hate unfinished useless samples. These will be small quilts Finished. Saleable even, but basically fabric sketches on which I will try out ideas and try to push things onwards.
This is yesterdays, finished this am in my PJ's before the houehold woke up. It is a bad ipad photo of it blocking on the carpet and it has washed out the colours but you get the idea. I like it as it is but I like it better for the ideas it gives me to alter it!

I have been giving some thought to your question about what it is about African Ladies that entices me. A difficult question. I think is not about the simplistic shapes I have evolved as a resut of not being able to draw a more complicated portrait, but about the lives of the women. They are a way of accesing the stories of their lives and their cultures which to me seem so much more communal, vibrant and colourful that British Urban life. After I visited South Africa in the year Mandela was released I became very interested in all books relating to apartheid and the abolition of it. In the UK politics seems to be about money and the Westminster Village. In African politcs is about life and death. My challenge I think is to find a visual language which allows me to portray what I want to say about issues in a visual not verbal way. Pretty quilts, amusing quilts like Leaving the Accra Quilt Show are all well and good but they are a bit White Bread I fear.

Into The Light: Mothers of the Orphans was a bit mre serious but technically not good enought yet. I cannot post my last African Ladies yet as it is the next 12 x 12 reveal... You will have to wait a day or two :)

When I asked Dennis what he saw in the fabric sketch above he said, nothing really. " So you dont see the scattered bone and heads of women in massacre mass graves in Rwanda then? " He laughed. "No that's they way YOUR mind works." But I do see them. And that was what the ladies were telling me about even as I chopped them up and laid them down to rest. And if you turn it sideways with the maroon on top I see the mothers with their children at their knees linked to their dead and buried ancestors women.

Hmm. I either need a new notebook everyweek or an appointment with a psychotherapist!

I too found making myself concentrate on one theme ratherscarily limiting so my secondary theme is a rather nebulous Crossings, Boundaries and Transitions. Unsuprisingly I was also thinking in terms of images of maps and fences, walls as you mentioned being inspired by but really I am thinking about issues such as immigration, imprisonment and dislocation. My SAQA auction piece Border Crossing was a start on this series.

So enough about me. Why tea? And envolopes seem to have tons of potential for 3D and flappy kind of work. Would you say that you are most inspired by the things themselves or by the ideas they invoke? What is it really that you think stops you starting? Is it really time or is is fear and if so fear of what? I found it was helpful to think of it as a time limited thing. In my case told myself I was giving this topic sketchbook a chance until my studio is ready and if it was not working my then it was for the bin. Figurativey if not literally. After all it has a beautiful leather cover. Which matches the colours of the studio to be. This is not a marriage after all. Its not like you have do tea for the rest of your life.

Oh another question for you: how important do you think ritual is in creative production? I was just thinking how coming here and having the same seat seems to allow creative juices to flow free.

Finally, I found a new artist this week whose work I found very inspiring - . Check her out! Under the Homage to the Seed link she has her 2010 journal which is worth looking at.
Also on her blog she shows sketchbooks by Jennifer Brooks

OK time to go and get another round of drinks in and look at some new books that arrived from Amazon this week. Wonder how that happened?


Friday, 26 August 2011

Looking for my visual language

I should not be surprised that when you posted your entry, that VERY same morning I had pulled down "Finding Your Visual Language" and was looking at it, thinking it would be a good guide for my exploration.  We are scarily alike in some ways -- but I, sadly, do not have Cedar Farm nearby and you will have to just imagine me in the comfy chair each time you go.  I have yet to find my "Cedar Farm" setting here but it is a new mission for me.

In any event, upon reading your entry, I thought, "I'll do those exercises too!" and then promptly got stuck on what shape to pick for the first exercises.  I can procrastinate quite nicely with this sort of dithering ... it just takes the RIGHT shape, and the RIGHT pencil, and the RIGHT notebook and THEN I will be a creative genius.

But reality has intervened to interrupt that unproductive cycle.  I have to do certain things first before I can move forward with other things.  The "orange" 12x12 piece is in the works.  Another small quilt on the nature theme.  A City and Guilds exercise that requires repurposing a garment and demonstrating a patchwork technique to highlight the garment's features.  (Huh?)  And then, although doing the exercises in the Dunnewald book might be a good option, I think I'm going to start ONE notebook for a series theme, and start working on that to see how expansively I can move with a theme.

But what theme?  (oops, here I go in the decision loop.) I have quite a list going of themes that intrigue me so I'm not sure what I'll do.  Some of the possibilities are:  Tea, Fences and Walls, The Shakers, Envelopes, maps, typography... I'm thinking I'll get my "must do" things out of the way and then see how I'm feeling then.  Tea is the strongest in my mind right now because of my England experience and the resonance with that.  And many of the ideas I'm drawn to fall under the heading of "ordinary things" and that is really the root of what intrigues me -- working with some very ordinary object and exploring it, both visually and with research and making connections.  So really, a series could be "ordinary things" but I sense that that is too broad and lets me wander too much.

And maybe it's not a bad idea to be working with two themes at a time -- to sort of switch back and forth, let one inform the other, etc. I've always got map imagery popping up in what I do so I may keep that going. 

So I am curious: what is it that draws you to the African ladies, do you think?  Do you know?  Is it a purely visual thing? Knowing you, I think it is not -- it is much deeper.  So I would be interested to know the associations you have that make them so compelling for you.  By the way, if you think about it, would you post here the African lady quilts you've made so far?  Because I know you've done several. 

It occurs to me that "indecision" could be an intriguing theme to work on in an abstract way.

AND it's not like I tackled you and thrust pencils into your hands, you know.  In fact I seem to remember you lunging rather eagerly toward the shelf when the woman told you that you got a bunch free with the ones you were purchasing...  But aren't you glad you got them???


Saturday, 20 August 2011

Stepping Out

Hi Diane,

I am writing from "our" seats at Cedar Farm coffee shop and it seems odd that you are not here!

It does not suprise me that we took similar things fron Festival. One if the most inspirational things for me was combining the lectures by Linda and Laura Kemshall, Fiona Wilson and looking at the printed cloth from the virtual studio. I love to look at the sketcbooks by the Kemshalls but at the same time they almost put me off actually using a sketchbook as a repository for exploratory art work because I never feel that I can master the art materials well enough to produce anything that is not dispiritingly childish. Because I have limited time I choose to work straight to fabric whilst at the same time hankering after being 'able' to do the sketchbook approach because see benefit in it. i think if I thought more about my art before I leapt into making it I'd produce more mature stuff.

But Fiona Wilson's books seemed much more accessible to me and that combined with Laura's statement that it is not so much about producing an image as about working out your feelings for the subject matter encouraged me to have a go. I liked that Fiona didn't try to replicate the item that inspired her but the emotions it engendered in her. Plus when you look at the cloth from Committed to Cloth I realise that its beauty often comes from the layering and repetition of very simple symbols and rough marks not precisely painted images. I think I can do that!!

Well, sometimes I think I can, then other times I wonder....!!!
I am so happily working with words but I find it very hard to express concepts and emotions visually.

So what I take from Festival is that I am going to give myself a chance to learn and suprise myself. I am going to push myself and I am going to rigorously test this way of working and what it can bring to me. Since it is clear that my main studio is going to take some weeks to be ready it is an ideal opportunity for me to focus on design ideas so that I have something to work with when I get the studio to sew in. I also have two weeks holiday in October in the flat in Bath when it is easier to take art supplies out with me to our favourite cafes than to take textile work.

So I am going to take a step beyond my comfort zone and I hope you are going to be behind me pushing me to keep walking when I start to whinge that the track is too steep, or the view too boring or the cliff edge I might fall over too scary! As you know I like to set myself goals and projects so that I can procrastinate by organsing them all in my ipad productivity apps. So I have decided to work with two themes : the african ladies that seem to insinuate themselves into much of my work and a vaguer ' crossings and boundaries'. I am going to do the exercises in the Committed to Cloth Finding Your Own Visual Language book which I have read twice and never actually used as a tool. And, because the art that is in my head requires the ability to draw figures ( which is why it remains in my head) I am going to try to learn to draw. And I am going to try and find my own style. All of which I am simultaneously excited about and scared and sceptical about!

At the very least it wil be a justfication for all those pencils you made me buy at the Pencil Museum shop! The photo above is my first attempt using the Aquatone sticks I bought. The picture itself is pretty rubbish but I will say that the doing of it did spark all kinds of ideas for stitch.

Oh and by the way I found today that you can get digital copies of American Artist Magazine via Interweave including a basic guide to drawing techniques. AND digital editions of American Artist Studios magazine. More Cupboard porn!

So, did you think more about the themes you were talking about when we were together?


Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Festival Reflections


I'm sitting here on the plane to San Francisco (more than halfway there, 6 hours to go) and while most people around me are snoozing or reading or staring at seat-back movie screens, I'm sitting here with my IPad. It's what you'd be doing too, I bet. I'm thinking about our 4 days at Festival of Quilts, and here is my question for you: how did the Festival experience affect you? What will you take away from it? How did it inspire you?

Here is what I keep thinking about. The talks we heard from Fiona Wilson and from Linda and Laura Kemshall really crystallized for me how a sketchbook can be useful in developing ideas. This is such a simple idea And of course we get the obvious concept but seeing those lectures really SHOWED how thoughts and basic images developed into final designs in a way that has hit me differently. It was the progression of developing ideas, I guess. So I feel like I've come away with a new understanding of the importance of getting really familiar with the core idea or image one is exploring, and the value of visually exploring imagery in different ways and from different angles.

I'm also thinking about stitch somewhat differently, I think. You know how I love machine quilting and I always enjoy exploring how different quilting can dramatically change a piece. At Festival I felt like I was seeing hand stitching and embroidery used in a different way than I've seen ... Not just random seed stitches or French knots scattered around for texture, if you get what I mean, (which can be a wonderful accent -- I'm not denigrating that) but in ways that were absolutely integral to the content of the piece.

And then there is the question I told you I kept thinking: What the heck am I doing and why am I doing it? Seeing artist galleries with such strong and carefully considered work makes me feel even fuzzier than I usually do. So I am asking myself lots of questions and still turning in circles a bit. My conclusion for now is that I am not aiming to be a famous fiber artist; I am aiming to enjoy the processes I try and make pieces that satisfy me. I am hoping some sort of coherence will emerge eventually.

I am going home determined to keep pushing forward on City & Guilds and to do so bearing on mind that it is precisely the design expansion opportunity I need.

So, how about you?

The Beginning of a Blog, the Middle of a Conversation

This blog has come about as the result of an ongoing conversation between me ( Diane) and Helen. We started our conversation years ago now (4 years for sure, maybe 5?) when we discovered each other's blogs in which we each talked about our obsession with fiber art, our careers as lawyers, our love of reading, and a host of other surprisingly similar views on things. One of the results of that connection was our involvement, with 10 other fiber art friends, in the Twelve by Twelve International Art Quilt Challenge. That has led to tons more emails and Skype conversations and even vacations together involving our respective families. Through all of those interactions, we have continued the ongoing dialogue about who we are as artists, what we want to be, approaches we are trying, explorations we want to pursue, and more.

So recently, when I was with Helen in England for the exhibition of the Twelve by Twelve quilts at the Festival of Quilts, we sat over tea and cake and wished we could share our ideas over tea every afternoon. And then we had a brilliant idea: we'd start a joint blog to carry on our conversation. Hence "Tea and Talk for Two."

Our goal is to use this space, about once a week, to share what we are thinking and doing in our fiber art. We 're hoping that we'll spur each other on and inspire each other and maybe even make ourselves more accountable for doing something beyond just talking about fiber art. And we're doing it in blogland with the thought that others might find their way here and listen in and be inspired too -- and might even contribute comments from time to time. I warn you now: we don't have topical restrictions on our conversation and it's likely to range far and wide (although we don't intend to talk about what we had for dinner last night or what our families are doing or what is growing in the garden or in the back of the vegetable bin).

So here we go. Pull up a chair and have a cup of tea.