Thursday, June 30, 2005

Pictorial Quilting

Gee, posting that teapot and my comments about how people use Photoshop seem to have engendered some interesting discussion! I got this email from Melody (which, she warned, resulted in part from general crankiness about not getting time to work in her studio) and I excerpt it here with her permission:

I agree that you could do this without Photoshop but that Photoshop offers other options that the artist can use or not.... Here’s my rant:
What is it with all the pictorial quilting! Geesh! Must we make everything into a quilt? Why can’t just stop at the drawing/painting/photograph?
If we must make a picture, can we please remove it a few more steps from the photographic level? Can we bring something original and new into the imagery. Something of ourselves? Something one step above representational? Or two steps?
It all seems to be an exercise in making fabric into pictures that end up just being recognizable. SO???
That to me is like adding 2+2 and getting 4. Formulaic, certain, predictable, finite.

Good questions, yes? How would you respond?

Here is my reaction. Why NOT pictorial quilting? Isn't that like asking "why still life painting?" Isn't there art in creating something in one medium that fools the eye into thinking it's something else? Isn't there artfulness -- beyond the skillful technique -- in using fabric or paint to create an image of an object that looks so faithful it could be mistaken for a photograph? I've seen "pictures" that I thought were photographs, until I stepped closer and realized that it was a painting. And that surprise, along with appreciation of the skill it took to create that illusion, always delights me.

Maybe the point of Melody's comment is that whatever medium you work in, you need to make it say something original, and not just have the result be a copy (however faithful) of the original thing. I agree with that. But to my mind, it's valid to have the statement be "here's an image that reflects stillness and peacefulness through ordinary objects" or "a peach sitting on a table is beautiful." I'm not a trained or educated artist, and I suspect that those of you who are have thought about this stuff far more than I have. But that's my reaction.

And as for translating this sort of thing into fabric, I also think that this sort of work plays an important role in moving public perception about quilt-making into recognition of art quilts. We've all encountered people who think of "quilt" as something their grandmother made to throw on the bed, and who can't grasp the concept of "art quilt" or imagine how fabric can be used to make art. Maybe a still life or pictorial quilt rendered in fabric presents those folks with a recognizable "artistic" image, while expanding their concept of how fabric can be used.

For me, personally, I love seeing realistic images rendered in fabric. It delights me and causes me to marvel over how versatile fabric is as a medium, and now there is such diverse talent out there doing such amazing things. Actually, my favorite images are the ones that do in fabric what Melody was suggesting: they depict something real, but they say something more, too. (Ruth McDowell's quilts come to mind.) But hey, I'm just learning. This teapot was an exercise in trying something new, and seeing how to make a real thing look fairly realistic with fabric. As an exercise, it's fun, and I'm happy. I'm not saying this is big art.

In the workshop, Daniele looked at my fabric choices (mostly stuff I've dyed myself, which I chose thinking it would add a glow of light to what might otherwise end up being sort of flat looking) and said "I'd like to see you go home and try this with printed commercial fabrics." I couldn't help but let out a snort, as I'd love to have the time to do that sort of thing too. Life these days isn't permitting much art time. But I think her suggestion was to encourage me to step away from fabric that created a more realistic look, and try using fabrics that would force the picture to become something else. And while it struck me as virtually comical in light of all the unfinished things I have in my studio, not to mention all the other things in my mind that I want to start, I did recognize the suggestion as an appropriate effort to move me beyond being satisfied with something that just looked real.

I have to add here (as long as I'm rambling away) that I don't have a style. Melody, Gabrielle, Pam, Liz, and all sorts of amazing quilt artists have an identifiable style that shines through their bodies of work. I feel like I'm just doing all sorts of things and trying all sorts of techniques on the way to figuring out what I like to do, what works for my working style, and what helps me express what I want to say. For the moment, "Hey, look! I made a shiny blue teapot!" is enough for me to say.

What do you think about this subject? Does using photo software seem like cheating? Are realistic images art?

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Blue Teapot

Over the weekend, I took a still life class offered by a woman in my guild, Daniele Todaro. (You can see her work here.) The class was to do a teapot... and here's mine, so far. There's nothing sewn in this picture...So far, it's all just tacked down with glue.

I'm not a "still life" sort of person, and don't plan to make more. But I was interested in this artist's technique for translating photos into fabric art. She uses a very mechanical process, working with a photograph in Photoshop to separate colors and then translating those into color/fabric swatches as a printer would do. I was surprised at how mechanical it was, but it certainly makes working that way very do-able, if you're conversant with photo editing software.

As I said, I'm not a "still life" sort of person. And Daniele's are very still. She tends to use very muted, realistic colors...attractive in their way, but too static for my taste. I think she was taken aback by my bold blue, and she tried to steer me away from the orange background. But hey. I was there for the process, not the result...Even so, I'm rather pleased with this for one day's work.

I'll have to stitch it and then see how to crop the finished thing. I don't intend for it to just sit there floating on that big orange field, in case you were wondering.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Blender jars

Teri asked me to explain how you use canning jars to mix dye with a blender, so here is the illustrated explanation.

Here is my cheapo blender (purchased for using only with dye) and a typical canning jar. (Note: the wide mouth ones don't work--just the standard Bell/Kerr ones do.)

Here's the blender base assembly taken apart. There's usually a blade part, a rubber washer that fits on the blade (see the grey thing) and the blade base that screws onto the blender pitcher.

The blade sits in the screw-on base, like this:

Now, that whole part screws onto the jar, like this:

If you were mixing dye, you would have put the dye powder and water into the jar and then put the blade/screw on base on TOP of the jar, like you were screwing the jar's lid on. Be sure to check that the blade/base is screwed tightly onto the jar, that it's threaded correctly...because you're going to turn it upside down and you don't want any leaks.

Voila! Mix away... then, take the blade/base off of the jar, put the original jar's lid on the jar, and you can store the dye in the jar and mix more dye in other jars. I bought a case of 12 quart-sized jars at the hardware store for $8. They have smaller jars, too. And I'm told you can find these at yard sales for way cheap.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

A Day to Dye

I've been pretty quiet here lately, mainly because family activities and work have kept me away from doing much worth mentioning here. But I had a very fun day last Thursday with my buddies Pat, Janet, and Gerrie, when we experimented with pole dyeing a la Robbi Joy Ecklow.

We set up on my patio, which has a large expanse of concrete and a cover which makes being out there quite pleasant on a hot day. I bought 6-ft. lengths of PVC from the hardware store (they cut them for me right there) and I rigged them by duct-taping them to the tops of patio chairs. I put large plastic trays under the poles (to catch the drips)...and Pat came with the plastic tray thingies they sell for wall paper. I learned that next time, I'll spread plastic tarps under the whole area, as we were a pretty splashy, spattery bunch. You can see the photos in progress here, on Gerrie's blog.

My goal for the day was to try some different colors than what I usually do. I typically head straight for fuschia, turquoise, and bright yellow, and mix the gorgeous clear colors that I love to work with. But I wanted to stretch my palate and create some different I tried all different things, including chartreuse, avocado, bronze, royal blue, and more.

I've got a few pieces left to iron, but here are a few of the results:

The process was very fun. And, knowing we'd go through a lot of dye, I invested in a dye-mixing-only blender (from my local drugstore for $12.99) and a box of canning jars. Did you know that the basic canning jars will fit directly onto the blender, so that you can mix right in them? It definitely made the dye mixing process faster and easier.

I definitely need to make time to use some of this gorgeous fabric!

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Still LIfe with Puppy

There's no picture, because there's no such thing as a STILL life with a puppy around. (Get it? Harhar.)

I'm pooped. Walks twice a day, racing around on the lawn, playing fetch, not to mention following her around to make sure she goes potty in the designated potty area of the yard, and doesn't carry things like shoes that certain children and husbands left lying around.... I'm thinking that this could lead to a book called "The Puppy Diet." Who needs a gym?!

Saturday, June 18, 2005


Interesting thought for the day:

Don't worry about people stealing an idea. If it's original, you will have to ram it down their throats.
-- Howard Aiken

Friday, June 17, 2005

Distractions, and other distractions

I think I'm just going to have to accept that I don't get as much art done during the summer.

Caroline and Roger are both home from school, so it means that my day is spent playing with Caroline, arranging playdates for Caroline, taking her to and from stuff, and just doing nice family stuff with both Caroline and Roger. That's lovely, of course. But instead of grabbing a quick sandwich and eating while I read blogs on the AQ ring, now I'm making lunch for three and having a sit down family chat lunch.

Plus, a new puppy in the house is a huge distraction. I'm making sure she's tired and happy and we're doing regular walks and play sessions...Hugely entertaining, but not conducive to long hours in my studio.

June 30 is the end of my bar association's fiscal year, which means I need to finish my continuing legal education requirement by then. So, I've arranged to do two online seminars, which stream over my computer. Last night I was able to sew a bit while listening, but they do make you get up every 15 minutes or so and click a button to continue--thus ensuring, I suppose, that you don't just put the thing on and go to bed and get credit for material you never heard or saw.

Hmm, maybe this would be a good time to put the sewing machine on the dining room table...

On another note, I attended the lecture given by Phil Beaver at my local quilt guild. His website is interesting but his quilts in photos leave me cold. Seeing them in person was something else entirely--rich detail, gorgeous stitching, and accomplished technique. He was also a very entertaining speaker. So, I'm glad I went and came away inspired. He talks a lot about using what's around you to inspire you...He lives in Indiana and showed how he translates the things he loves about his home into art. While I do appreciate the beauty of where I live, hearing him made me see things in a new light. I'm going to have to start taking my camera with me when I take Gemma for a walk.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Reasonable doubt

It's been virtually impossible to avoid the news about the verdict in the Michael Jackson sexual molestation trial. I didn't follow the actual trial very closely -- Michael Jackson repulses me, even in his "normal" behavior -- but the ongoing trial news, too, was hard to avoid.

But seeing how I've been hearing a lot of news commentary about the "not guilty" verdict, I thought I'd throw out my thoughts on it.

Without my having followed the trial that closely, I think that the "not guilty" verdict was a sound one. That's because, reading what I've read about the evidence, I can understand how the jury could have had "reasonable doubt" about whether Jackson commited the acts alleged by this kid.

In a criminal trial, the crime must be proved "beyond a reasonable doubt." We hear that phrase all the time, but lawyers, judges, and jurors have to pay close attention to how that phrase is defined in the law. I'm sure that the Jackson jurors got a long, formal jury instruction about what "reasonable doubt" means, too. Here's the standard California jury instruction on "reasonable doubt":

"Reasonable doubt is defined as follows: It is not a mere possible doubt; because everything relating to human affairs is open to some possible or imaginary doubt. It is that state of the case which, after the entire comparison and consideration of all the evidence, leaves the minds of the jurors in that condition that they cannot say they feel an abiding conviction of the truth of the charge."

So, in light of the extent to which the boy and his mother appeared to have given contradictory statements and had such a history of making claims for monetary gain, I can see how those facts, right there, create some reasonable doubt that what they were alleging was true.

Now, do I think that it's LIKELY that Michael Jackson has molested some kid at some point? Yes, I think it's possible and maybe even probable. But probable isn't the legal standard here. Also, even if you believe some other boy when he said that Jackson did molest him (that youth minister guy) or did not molest him (McCauley Culkin), that may have some bearing on Jackson's propensity to molest, but it doesn't prove what he did or didn't do with the particular kid at issue. He wasn't on trial for those acts in this case.

Anyway, even before the jury came back, I suspected that it'd be a "not guilty" verdict, and not because of Jackson's race or celebrity status. It was because, in light of the legal definition of "reasonable doubt," I saw reasonable doubt when I heard how the evidence was unfolding.

I've watched a few interviews with jurors from the case, and I've been impressed at how calm and neutral they seemed. Yes, some said, Jackson seemed eccentric. Yes, he showed poor judgment. But, they noted, those things aren't crimes. Sleeping with boys -- alone -- is weird, but not criminal. With all the evidence together, did the prosecution prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he committed the acts alleged? No.

I do have a very different view about the O.J. Simpson trial, but that's a whole other story.

Monday, June 13, 2005

We did it!

Well, we did it. Gemma is now a new member of our family, and a very cute puppy she is, too. Very social, very friendly, very people oriented, surprisingly calm (or just exhausted from the exitement, it's hard to tell) and smart. She's already headed to the back door to ask for her own urgent haircut.

At the moment, she's in her crate happily chewing on a chew toy and listening to CNN in the family room. I'll head to bed and check on her in a few hours. So, she'll be fully updated on the Michael Jackson verdict and can answer all my questions.

We probably won't get a ton of sleep over the next few nights, but we're in love. The cats are wary, but staking out their turf.

Nola, the rescuer/foster mom, left the puppy's collar on her when she left. At one point, I took the collar off to let her neck breathe and see her without it...and she picked it up in her mouth and trotted (in that loose-limbed puppy way) around the yard with it, looking extremely proud. I'd forgotten how funny puppies are. And at one point, when I was reaching into the crate to spread out a towel and make things neat, Gemma chose that moment to try to get in too, under my arm, which of course squished us both in there ridiculously and made me laugh out loud.

Ah, for the fun of a warm puppy.

St. Dale

I wanted to say a few words about a very different and interesting book I finished recently: "St. Dale" by Sharon McCrumb.

I've never been into NASCAR racing. But, as my dad and my brother are huge racing fans, I've grown up around racing. That's another element of the soundtrack to my childhood and adolescence: the weekend whine/roar of cars racing on tv.

So..."St. Dale?" The premise of this novel is that to a lot of fans, Dale Earnhardt is or should be a saint. The novel tells the story of a bunch of folks on a Dale Ernhardt memorial bus tour, traveling from race track to race track in the south. A minister, escorting a very sick little boy on a "dream come true" trip; a newlywed couple, in which the wife is honoring her new husband's wish to get married on the infield of a race track; three girlfriends who are race-obessessed; a young Manhattan investment banker who never knew his father, but learned after his death that his father loved Dale Earnhardt...well, you get the idea. Each person on the bus has some personal connection to racing, and how they connect and what he meant to each one of them is diffferent and surprising and interesting.

I guess I picked this up because I've heard the racing names for so long, and still managed to absorb almost nothing about racing. And I didn't need to know about it, but still enjoyed this story. Definitely something different to read. This may end up in my brother's birthday goodies this September.

Quote for today:

"Reading is a basic tool in the living of a good life." Mortimer J. Adler

Sunday, June 12, 2005

How cute is this puppy?

How could anyone resist this puppy?

I couldn't. We're meeting her tomorrow, with the view of adopting her from a local puppy rescue organization.

We've been thinking, for some time, of getting a puppy. More specifically, I've been clearly eager to do this for some time, and I've finally persuaded Roger that it's time. After all, it's the beginning of the summer, we're all home to take care of it, and Caroline is here to enjoy playing with it.

So, I've been poking around the animal shelter and dog rescue sites on the internet for some weeks now. Roger and I both like the idea of a mixed breed, depending on the mix, and we definitely want to give some homeless dog a happy home.

This cute little girl is a 4 month old black lab mix living in a puppy-rescuer's foster home. She is, by all accounts, accustomed to cats (which will be good news to our two young-adult indoor cats) and loves children and is very mellow.

So, she's getting microchipped at our local shelter tomorrow and then we'll meet her. This could be the next member of our family! I'm very excited.

Dyeing on a hot day

Recently, Robin of the blog "Quilt Antics" showed how she dyed fabric on the floor of her garage. Well, what a lightbulb moment for me! Here we have this nice big expanse of concrete on the patio just waiting to be used that way!

So, this morning it was clear that the day was going to be very hot and sunny. I figured it was the perfect day to try out this method. I headed to the hardware store, where I found this huge roll of black plastic (6 ft. wide by about 200 feet on the roll) for $11.99. I took the dyes I mixed from the last session out of the fridge, and Caroline and I had a grand time squirting dye onto fabric.

Her results (you cam probably pick them out -- she did 3) look more like splotchy tie-dye...Me, I had fun brushing dye around. I haven't yet been able to resist smearing my gloved hands around in it. Anyway, it was very fun. Next, I want to try Robbi Joy Ecklow's method of draping long lengths of fabric over a length of pipe or broomstick, to pour it down for a beautiful streaky effect. What a fun way to spend sunday afternoon!

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Today's Quote

"I myself have never known what feminism is. I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat."

--- Rebecca West

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Koi Pond

I've got several projects in progress so I haven't anything new to show, but I realized that I haven't shown "Koi Pond" here before.

I made this about 9 months ago, and recently had it out to exhibit at my local guild's quilt show this past weekend. I was inspired by some gorgeous fabric I found with koi swimming through rippling water. It was one of those fabric purchases I made when I didn't know what I was going to do with it, but I just loved it. The fabric sat in my closet for a few months, when I stumbled on the same rippling water fabric (obviously a fabric coordinate) but without the fish. I bought another hunk, and figured I'd use them together, somehow.

After some mulling, I decided to fuse rings of the fish fabric in alternating circles to the plain water fabric. I loved the effect, but then had to let the result sit on my design wall while I contemplated border possibilities. My friend Janet spent a long morning with me, one day, trying almost every fabric in a local store to see what would work! Even then, I ended up using something totally different so that even Janet was surprised when she saw the finished piece.

This picture isn't the greatest and doesn't show the quilting detail well, but I quilted it by stitching in the ditch around the rings in the center of the quilt. In the border I continued quilting concentric circles out from the pond circles, overlapping as they would in a pond.

Hello again, old friend

Do you recognize this album cover? It's "Rocky Mountain High" by John Denver, released in August, 1972. I started high school in 1972. And I vividly remember the day I went over to my friend Heidi's house, and she put this album on. We sat on the floor in her bedroom and listened to it...and played it again...and again. In a way, I think this album was the soundtrack to my freshman year in high school.

I hadn't really thought about John Denver or his music in years. I used to own quite a few of his albums, and I'd played them a lot through high school and college. But I moved on in my musical taste, and haven't listened to any of his music (other than a favorite Christmas album that I bring out ever year) for years....decades, even.

So, while cruising around ITunes for music to download to my beloved Ipod, I stumbled onto something by him...which made me think, "Hmmm, maybe I'll download a song or two." And that got me started on a musical trip down memory lane. As I clicked on songs and listened to excerpts, I realized what a big part of my adolesence his music was. I guess his optimistic, idealistic style really touched something in me back then. So hearing bits of songs brought it all flooding back. I ended up dashing over to to buy some cheap, used CDs of my favorites, and two arrived in the mail yesterday.

I'm surprised at how familiar they are. Without thinking, I know what song will come next, all the lyrics... The album covers, the inner liner notes, all the photos--they're all so familiar. And I'm struck, again, at how beautiful some of this music is. I love a pure voice singing along with an acoustic guitar.

Anyway, I've been listening to this music and feeling like I'm spending time with an old friend I'd forgotten about.

Whether that's John Denver, or myself as a high schooler, it's hard to tell.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Important Parenting Moment, #1

I had an IMPORTANT PARENTING MOMENT (hereafter to be known as IPM) this past weekend. You parents know what I mean: it's one of those flashes of insight or sudden realizations that hits you, and you recognize that you've learned something important about your child, and probably about yourself, too. I'm not sure if the fact that I have these from time to time means that I'm especially insightful, or that I'm typically oblivious and I should have realized whatever it is that is hitting me, long before. In any event, one occurred this weekend.

Here's the history. My 9 year old daugher Caroline takes a horse-back riding lesson every Saturday. She started riding when she was about 6 1/2...not because Roger or I wanted her to, but because she just wanted to and talked about horses and asked for lessons until we decided to give it a try. We signed her up for 3 lessons, and to be honest, I figured that she'd get up close to a horse and realize how a) big; b) smelly; and c) dirty it was, and that'd be that.

Boy, was I wrong. She was extraordinally intent during that first lesson, and has been ever since. She loves fact, her lesson is routinely the highlight of her week. So, recognizing that it was an activity that sprang from her own deep-seeded passion, Roger and I decided to pursue it. Since then, she's had a weekly lesson, and pony day-camp weeks on various vacations. Her interest hasn't waned; if anything, it's grown exponentially.

So, there I am, at the stable for Caroline' s lesson almost every Saturday. We arrive at 9:30, so she has 30 minutes for grooming and tacking up, her lesson is from 10 to 11 AM, and then she untacks and grooms the pony again, and we leave. Most of the other kids untack, brush their ponies, and are out of the stable by 11:15 or 11:20. Not Caroline. She'll groom that week's mount carefully and lovingly, feeding it carrot after carrot while she works. She especially loves to pick the hooves--go figure. Then she goes around and feeds carrots to the other ponies. She always asks the "big girl" counselors (high school girls who help out at the pony school to earn their lessons) for more chores, and usually ends up filling water buckets and sweeping.

I generally sit and watch her lesson, and I used to follow her from the ring back to the stable to watch the untacking/grooming. (One thing I like about this place: they actually send memos home saying "Please do not carry saddles, tack, or with other grooming chores. Horse care is part of the lesson and is your child's responsibility, not yours.") But standing around watching Caroline untack and groom and sweep and such is extremely boring. Now, I to back to the car and read or listen to NPR. And the whole time, I'm hoping she'll hurry up so we can get out of there. Yep, I've even been known to nudge her along impatiently ("C'mon, it's time to go...")

So, this past Sunday, there was a "schooling show" at the pony school. That's basically a tiny, learning horse show for kids. Caroline was eager to ride in it, not because she's competive about the riding, but because it's one more opportunity to spend some time on horseback. She was signed up for 2 basic equitation classes, where she'd just walk, trot, and canter. We arrived and were setting up our camp chairs in a shady patch when Caroline's teacher Nora, the owner of the pony school, approached Caroline and asked Caroline to follow her. (Caroline threw me this look, sort of wide-eyed and nervous, like "Is this OKAY?") I nodded my approval, and off they went. At the end of the class, Nora took Caroline into the center of the ring, and announced that Caroline had won the pony school's Grooming Award, for being the most dedicated and careful groomer of all students who ride at the pony school. She raved about Caroline's dedication and presented her with her OWN grooming kit. Caroline was clearly dumbfounded, but very pleased. She spent pretty much every minute she wasn't on horseback examining her kit, stroking the brushes, and looking proud.

So, here's my IPM: Sometimes others see great things in your child that you forget to notice or appreciate. All that time while Caroline was grooming and hoof-picking and brushing and filling water buckets, while I was wishing she'd hurry up and come to the car so we could leave, her riding teacher was seeing Caroline's extraordinary commitment to riding and her love for the ponies and her responsibility in caring for them. I'm so proud of Caroline for earning that award, and I'm sheepishly ashamed of myself for not seeing and appreciating her effort.

By the way, she did great in her classes: an 8th and a 5th place. Most importantly, she had fun.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Vanishing Acts

I just finished reading an amazing book: Vanishing Acts, by Jodi Picoult. It's going onto my life-time list of favorite books.

I don’t want to give away the plot, but here’s how Publisher’s Weekly described this book:

"Delia Hopkins was six years old when her father allowed her to be his assistant in the amateur magic act he performed at the local senior center's annual Christmas pageant. "I learned a lot that night," recalls Delia, who is now 32, at the start of Picoult's absorbing new novel (her 12th, after My Sister's Keeper). "That people don't vanish into thin air...." She has come to know this even better as an adult: she makes her living finding missing people with her own search-and-rescue bloodhound. As she prepares for her wedding, however, Delia has a flash of memory that is so vivid yet so wildly out-of-place among the other memories from her idyllic New Hampshire upbringing that she describes it to a childhood friend, who happens to be a reporter. Soon, her whole world and the world of the widowed father she adores is turned upside down. Her marriage to her toddler's father, a loving but still struggling recovering alcoholic, is put on hold as she is forced to conduct a search-and-rescue mission on her own past and identity."

The novel explores so many rich and resonant ideas: Are the memories of childhood that you carry with you real, or have they been constructed out of what you want to have happened? What makes you feel safe? What would you do to protect your child? When you find out something new about your own past, does that change who you are?

I found myself struggling to read this book more slowly, because I felt so immersed in these characters’ lives. Also, Picoult’s writing is so gorgeous, effortless seeming, but with amazing echoes as metaphors and concepts loop back and connect up with other ideas.

When I finished this yesterday afternoon, there were tears running down my face. I’m reluctantly returning this novel to the library tomorrow, but I’ll be at the bookstore buying my own copy. This is a book I’ll want to read again, and again.

By the way, I also highly recommend Picoult’s other novels, all of which I’ve read. She seems to specialize in finding an ethical dilemma and unravelling all sides of it through the eyes and voices of compelling characters. "Keeping Faith" has been my favorite, but I think it’s a close second to "Vanishing Acts." I highly recommend this novel.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Where inspiration comes, and goes

Gabrielle raised the subject of inspiration, and how to find it, in her blog the other day. She's said some provocative things, and I thought I'd add my two cents to the subject.

First, I want to respond to the concept that you have to put yourself into the studio every day, inspired or not. I can see the value of that, truly. But here's the thing: I think that "working" artistically isn't always an outward, active process. It doesn't alway need to mean manipulating fabric with one's hands. I think that time contemplating, thinking about ideas, relaxing and really looking at things around us to find images or shapes or colors that speak to us, are all part of the process of working on art. It's a level of awareness, perhaps, that allows you to see things in any setting and any circumstance as fodder for creativity.

Simply put, if you're in the studio slogging away day after day (pushing yourself to do the "outer" art), how do you have time to feed the "inner" artist?

I'm just thinking out loud here (well, in print, anyway) so maybe I'll disagree with these thoughts tomorrow. But I know that, for me, some of my most fertile and inspired times come after I've not been able to do (or I've not beein the the mood to do) in-studio work. Being away from the studio makes me think and feel differently, or approach things in a new, fresh way when I do return. And maybe this is my own contrary personality: if I feel that I *have* to do something, that feeling can often seriously dampen the happy creative energy I feel when I'm doing something simply because I *want* to do it.

I'm reminded that I've done some of my best work under pressure, when I've committed to produce something for some (usually self-imposed) deadline. So, I know all too well that there is something valuable about pushing forward that can release unexpected, unseen wells of creativity.

But you know that feeling of trying to remember something that is on the tip of your tongue, and how the harder you try to actively remember it, the more distant it feels? When I let the conscious effort go and let myself relax, the concept often floats right to mind. There's something about creativity and inspiration that is like that for me. Trying too hard to be creative can be frustrating and unproductive, sometimes. And sometimes, for me anyway, giving myself permission to let the effort go can be the most helpful thing I can do to find new creative energy.

So, I've learned that it's important for me to listen to myself, and give myself the time and space to rest, re-energize, and find new, quiet places for creative inspiration to grow. Here's a quote that expresses what I mean: "So you see, imagination needs moodling - long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling and puttering. " -- Brenda Ueland.

I don't mean to sound like I think that inspiration just strikes out of nowhere. I don't think it does, and I do think that the old saying about inspiration being 90% perspiration is a valid one.

Bear in mind that I don't come at this from the perspective of someone who is trying to make a living as an artist. I consider myself an artist (and in the novice category, at that), but it's not the way I earn income. So, I'm not coping with the pressure to produce a constant stream of new, different work. That probably makes quite a difference in one's approach to this subject.

Because my professional work is in a different area, I don't have the feeling that Gabrielle expressed, that "In this time of production is are only as good as your last quilt...and we have to make x number of quilts a year to be viable..." But I did want to note my disagreement. I don't think that an artist is only as good as his or her last work. Do you think most people really think so? I think that an artist is viewed by his or her body of work over time, and some pieces are better or more successful than others. I guess I take the long view on this creative process, but maybe I have the luxury to do so because it's not my living.

I'm glad Gabrielle raised the topic, and I'm enjoying reading what others are posting about it.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

How to weigh yourself...

...and get the most accurate result:

I can't believe I was doing it wrong all these years.

We must get the word out.

(A friend sent this to me in an email and I just had to share it here....Just doing my part to spread the vital news!)

I love my Ipod!

I love my Ipod. It is an amazing device. It's small, sleek, friendly, and -- when dressed in an Ipod cover (mine is a happy turquoise) it's colorful.

But best of all (and you don't need an Ipod for this part) I love Itunes. It's Apple's downloadable software that allows you to purchase and download songs and/or albums on line for 99 cents a song. I don't even have a MAC, and all this works perfectly on my PC.

I came pretty late to the MP3 revolution. But I'm a convert, albeit a technologically-impaired one. And despite that, I've managed to get it all working fine.

On Itunes, you can cruise around searching your favorite artists, listening to excerpts of songs for free, and poking around "IMixes" which are collections of songs other Itunes users have created to make playlists of their favorite songs. It's a fun way to remember songs you used to love, and to discover new songs and artists.

You know how sometimes you've gone and bought an album (er, a CD...I'm dating myself, here) because you love one song, and find that it's the only song on the thing you like and the rest are pretty bad? (The Blues Traveler song "Run Around" comes to mind...from 1994, as I now know from Itunes...Great song, on the radio all the time, I went and bought the cd "Four" only to discover that the other songs were all horrid.) Well, with Itunes, you can simply go get that ONE SONG. For 99 cents! You can download the song to your computer, and play directly from your computer, and/or load it to an MP3 device, and/or burn it to a CD!

I've been having a grand time with this. I've especially enjoyed it because music is so evocative of memories. A song can bring me right back to a place, or time, or event.... Here are some of the individual songs I've downloaded and have been listening to lately:

Ripple, by the Grateful Dead (flashes me right back to the law school dorm hallway, and standing around yacking after contracts class...)
Picture Book, by the Y0ung Fresh Fellows (this is that very catchy song on the HP commercial where the boppin' guy is printing out photos on his HP printer and putting them over his head with VERY cool graphics...)
Landslide, by the Dixie Chicks (a refreshing take on the Fleetwood Mac hit)
Somewhere over the Rainbow, by Israel Kamakawiwo'ole (You've heard this on numerous commercials...It's so happy and will keep you humming it all day long)
She, by Elvis Costello (the swooningly romantic song used in the movie Nottinghill)
How to Dream, by Sam Phillips
As I Lay Me Down, by Sophie B. Hawkins (the rest of the album really did stink, IMHO)
One of Us, Joan Osborne (a very thought provoking song)
My Perogative, by Bobby Brown (an oldie but one of those beats that gets you moving)
Goodnight and Go, Imogen Heap
That's What Friends are For, by Dionne Warwick and Stevie Wonder and others (it's hokey, I know)
Garden Song, by John Denver (it makes me happy when I'm planting in the garden, what can I say... John Denver music is another guilty pleasure and brings me right back to high school and early college days.)
Walk like an Egyptian, by the Bangles (it just makes me smile.)
Daughters, by John Mayer
New Slang, by the Shins
Kiss Me, by Sixpence None the Richer
My Little Corner of the World, by Yo La Tengo

The Itunes/Ipod software lets you create "playlists," groups of songs that you can play together, sort of like creating your own, cd. (There I go again.) I have an exercise music playlist, of songs with a driving beat to keep me going on the treadmill and such, and I even created a "dentist" playlist of loud, happy songs to drown out the sound of annoying drilling when I'm in the dentist chair. Weird, probably, but it works for me.

Don't even get me started about how great this is with downloading spoken word books, radio programs and other stuff from That's worthy of another whole entry, it's so great.
Here's wishing you happy music to listen to today...What songs make you smile when you hear them?

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Photo transfers

I have a friend, Mary Lou, who is trying to transfer photos to fabric...and she's having trouble getting a result that doesn't fade dramatically when washed or rinsed. (She wants to make sure that her project is washable.)

I've only used the printing-on-fabric process for labels, so I'm not at all expert at this. But here's how I do it:

1. Soak the fabric in bubble jet set (I use a cookie tray with a lip--a jelly roll pan, I guess -- to soak the fabric flat, then after I wring out the fabric back into the pan, I use a funnel to pour it back into the bottle.

2. Hang the fabric outside to dry.

3. After it's dry, press it to get rid of wrinkles. Then, iron it to a piece of freezer paper cut about 9 x 12". Make sure the freezer paper is adhered well to the fabric.

4. Trim the freezer paper/fabric to 8 1/2 by 11. (The trimming after the ironing on makes sure that the edges of the freezer paper are well-connected to the fabric and it won't come apart in your printer.)

5. Run the sheet through your printer to print what ever you want on the fabric.

6. Let that sit somewhere for 24 -48 hours to cure. After that, peel off the freezer paper, then iron the fabric with a hot, dry iron.

7. Rinse the fabric in Bubble Jet Rinse, then iron again.

If you've used the computer transfer process successfully to make fabric that doesn't lose its image with a wash or two, is this the process you've used? How would you do it differently to make sure it works?

I (and Mary Lou!) appreciate any help here! Me, I'm printing labels to go onto 4 quilts before they go off to the local guild show this weekend...