Blackout Meditations

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As regular readers know I have been doing these blackout pages as part of my studio practice for well over a decade now. I started doing them as an inexpensive way to center myself as I started work in the studio. Many artists have routines that help them reach their creative place – blackout meditation is one of mine. My studio is on the third floor of my home, and as a new art school graduate, I found I needed a transition between my “real” life and my artist life. Blackout meditations became that transition for me, a way to clear my head and begin. They help to trick my inner censor – “nothing to see here – just a doodle on an old book page – no “serious” art happening here!” Over time I can trace my thoughts and preoccupations in these pages. You can search here on the blog for more examples, use the word blackout in the search box, and see other examples over on my website here.

Right now the world is turned upside down, I find my brain is in constant fight or flight mode and it is exhausting. Making a simple page meditation gives me a few moments of calm when I am absolutely absorbed in what I am doing. And some days I am even calm enough to get to work in my studio.

I get a lot of questions about this part of my practice, and so this week’s art in the time of corona virus is a really quick little video tutorial. I outline my basic process, but since it is a “made up” process I hope you will make it your own. If you decide to make one (or a few – be warned it can be addictive!) I hope you will tag me on your @debeck01 on instagram or use the hashtag #blackoutmeditation so I can see your work too!

pop-up card – perfect for Mother’s Day!

Make a pop-up Mother’s Day card

Usually this week I’d be busy designing a pop-up card to make with my adult art group. They really enjoy making them and they usually get rave reviews – every Mum likes to get a homemade card no matter how old their “kids” are!

Since we are still on pause here in NY my group is not meeting right now, and kids are not in school, so they are not making cute gifts for Mum either, so this week I am sharing a couple of tutorials for cards, They might be a bit complicated for small children, but maybe Dad or an older sibling can help!

Today’s tutorial features 3 different versions of the same card, including one you can just print and color. The links below will let you download the files you see in the video tutorial. I drew these with a sharpie and scanned them in – so they will have a more “homemade look”

I hope you enjoy the tutorial – watch for another card later in the week! 

a tiny journal

In today’s installment of what to do when you are in social isolation I give you a fun notebook using an old greeting card or note card. I often use this project in intro to bookbinding classes, it’s a simple binding, and it is an easy way to get to grip with all the niceties of paper grain and using simple tools. To be honest you don’t really need any tools except a big tapestry sewing needle to make this project – and you can use any papers you have on hand.

I started making these little note books for myself many years ago – my Mum writes to me regularly from the UK, and it is a way to carry that letter around with me in my every day life. I write my to-do lists and grocery lists and lists of books I want to read in them, stuff like that, and so my daily life is wrapped up inside notes from my Mum, my husband, my kids, my friends – entwined with people who love me, many of them so far away from me.

Anyway – have fun making one for yourself and I’ll be back in a few days with another project from every day stuff.

communities coming together

its a strange time to be alive right now. As an artist and consultant/educator I mostly work from home, so my life doesn’t really feel very different, except when I do leave the house and its like a ghost town everywhere.

What is giving me hope is all the artists everywhere sharing what they know, all the authors reading kids books, all the musicians giving concerts from their living rooms, all the teachers of every stripe sharing resources and knowledge. It seems the carriers of culture are determined that humanity will be all right.

Here’s my humble contribution of a craft you can do if you are stuck at home, that doesn’t need any special materials. I want to give a huge shout out to an organization I work with – Infinity Visual and Performing Arts https://infinityperformingarts.org for sponsoring this video series and for sharing them on their platform to increase their outreach.

More videos on the way – until then stay well – hugs Deb

zines in a time of crisis

I’ve been struggling to figure out how to respond to the current crisis – and I have decided to share my experience as a teaching artist with parents everywhere who are searching for something to do with their children while we are all practicing social distancing. I’m going to make a short video everyday using materials you might already have at home. For today’s project you need a sheet of paper and a pair of scissors (no scissors? you can probably tear it instead!)

Zines can be about anything and can use drawing, writing, or collage, to create content. You can make one on your computer, but it’s fun to go analog and get sticky with some glue every now & then Maybe you could make a zine of some inspirational poems and pictures, and leave them on neighbors porches to cheer them up, or scan or photograph your zine and send it as a pdf/jpeg to friends and family with instructions on how to fold it up, they might enjoy it while they are waiting out the virus at home.

Want to learn more about zines? Try these resources

this is a really cool video – wish I was this good at videos!

here’s a quick look at zine history

and if you want to keep learning more – read Notes from the Underground: Zines and the politics of alternative culture by Stephen Duncombe

I made this zine from an old drawing that wasn’t really working, I’m going to add text to it next

If you make a zine, please leave me a comment and let me know how it came out. I’ll be back tomorrow with another project – until then be well!

All change

I’ve been missing in action for a while here on the blog.

While I’ve been gone, my whole life has changed. I’ve had some health problems, so I’ve started taking better care of myself. And as part of that, I made the decision to finally walk away from the adjunct life.

So right now I am recovering from surgery, and mostly unemployed.

I am still teaching here and there, workshops, and one regular adult class.

I am going to hang a couple more shows at the gallery, but at the end of the year I am also walking away from that part time gig.

I’m grateful for my husband, his grown up, real job allows me the luxury to take a deep breath, and figure out what’s next.

Some things are coming into view on the horizon.

Orkney magic – part 3

I’m going to end this little set of posts with some images from the sights. We took a little bus tour to visit a few of the many historic monuments on the island. I could bore you silly with lots of information, but I’m mostly just going to show you how stunningly beautiful it is and encourage you to go see it for yourself.

The Broch of Gurness

The Earl’s Palace – we ate lunch here – it was just like being on a school trip, with our brown bag lunches.

The Brough of Birsay – a magical stroll across the tidal causeway

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and we ended the day at The Ring of Brodgar just as the sun was going down. Just thinking about it still gives me chills

brodgar 2

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Our very last stop as we headed home for dinner was at the studio of the Harray Potter where it is possible I bought many souvenirs!

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I’m planning to return someday soon – one week was not enough to soak up so much history.

I’m sure I’ll go back to this place during the year as I work on things I started here, but I’m going to end these posts for now. I want to offer another sincere and enormous thank you to the Allegany-Cattaraugus-Chautauqua Fund for Women and The United Arts Appeal for supporting my trip and workshop experience.

the dye pot – adventure part 2

In the last post I mentioned my dissatisfaction with my own inability to loosen up and really experiment when doing the drawing/book making exercise on the first afternoon. That feeling  surfaced again on the second day and really would linger for the rest of my time.

On the second morning we were all given a beautiful piece of recycled wool to prepare for dyeing. We were instructed to add to it some of the fabrics we had brought along to experiment with how they would take the different dye materials. I was still thinking about the seaweed on the beach and I decided to add some vintage fabric from my stash that had a polka dot sewn onto it. I cut it into “seaweed-y” shapes and sewed it to my wool strip. But I stuck with the one fabric choice and I was very controlled about how I placed it. I looked around the room, other people were adding random bits of random fabrics with wild abandon. They were sewing fabulous marks with many kinds of thread. It was too late to change my own work and embrace the process so at that point I had to let it ride and hope the dye pot would add some magic. I was disappointed with myself for not leaning in to the process and trying to control the final result.

undyed

my prepared wool

After lunch we headed out to gather local materials and the bundles went into their bath. I decided to just stick with my plan at this point and dyed mine with a bunch of different kinds of seaweed collected from the beach.

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wool bundles relaxing – ready to dye

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All the bundles ready to go back in the pot, mine is third from the right in the center

When it was time for the first reveal I loved the colours and I really loved the way the seaweed had embossed my wool, but my added fabric didn’t take the dye well and many of my threads didn’t dye either. My stitches were too petite and didn’t read well against the dyed wool. I wasn’t disappointed with the workshop – but I was sad about my own failure to try and LEARN something instead of trying to control the outcome.

Eventually we would sew those wool strips into a tsunobukuro style bag. I was delighted to find that the finished bag was the perfect size to carry my new sketchbook! Here’s the finished bag a few weeks later after being used as a much loved container for my sketchbook. Its growing on me, and I think I will keep working into it slowly, letting it evolve. I’m hoping by keeping my sketchbook in there it will remind me to let myself let go a bit more!

Last step to finish by bag will be to add the great button I brought on the island (shown in the last image). Hopefully I get around to that over break!

In the next post I’ll show you the results of me trying oh so hard to relinquish control. Until then Happy New Year!

An unbelievable journey -part 1

In November I had the great fortune to travel to the magical Orkneys to take a workshop led by India Flint and Alison Mountain. This was largely due to the generosity of my amazing and long suffering hubby (who gave me the trip as a birthday present), but also because two local organizations had faith in my work, and helped defray part of the costs with some grant funding, so a huge thank you to the United Arts Appeal and the Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua Fund for Women for their support. It’s really hard to find the words for my experience there on the island, but I’m going to give it a try.

woodwick house web

We stayed in the charming Woodwick House, that’s the sea right at the end of the garden!

As an introvert I always approach these kinds of workshops with equal parts excitement and dread. I don’t lack confidence in my work or my ability to learn new skills, and I am not shy, but I find interacting with people I don’t know exhausting and a tiny bit terrifying. I needn’t have worried. Talk about finding your tribe. It was one of the easiest group of “strangers” I have ever had the privilege of spending time with. From the first meal together it was clear that an unusual chemistry was at play, and I was able to relax into the work without trepidation. I really want to thank ALL the amazing artists for being so open and grounded, but I especially want to thank Jo, who took my awkward self under her wing and smoothed the way. She has a truly unique gift for seeing people and facilitating communication – so big hugs Jo!

I don’t want to bore you with a blow by blow description of everyday – so I am just going to share a few highlights. The first day we headed out after breakfast to “shake hands with a place” as Andy Goldsworthy has so eloquently put it. We spent a blustery few hours outside wandering, collecting impressions, sketching, I’m sure like me many people took some photos. Alison provided us with these adorable little vintage country dance books to use as a sketchbook, it had never occurred to me to draw in a printed book before, but it was an interesting challenge to marry an impression with an existing page!

In the afternoon Alison led us in a workshop to try and capture those impressions. We worked with a variety of materials including some incredible natural inks. We began by working on a large sheet of paper which was then folded to make a simple book form. Then we worked back into the pages the folding created. I was amazed to find myself working comfortably in a pretty crowded room without “walling myself in” with my stuff.

My final result looks to me like my work, but I can clearly see the influence of the place and the process. I was envious of the artists who could really work freely – I struggle to just make marks and be loose – and this was a feeling that came back to me again and again during this workshop and is something I am really hoping to carry into the new year. The first marks were pretty loose, but the end result seems a little tight and maybe overworked?

book 3book 2book 1

The first day was so rewarding, and the experience would only keep getting better! Stayed tuned for more!

 

embroidered at WNYBAC

Like many artists I am so fortunate in the people and places the muse throws into my path. Regular readers will already know that I love spending time at WNYBAC – the Western New York Book Arts Center, in Buffalo. Its a bit of a hike from my home (1.5-2hrs by car) but I finished the second half of my undergraduate degree in Buffalo at UB as a commuter, so I can find my way there and back in my sleep. Last year I was offered an opportunity to have an exhibition in their gallery and that show opened earlier in the month. If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram, you will already have seen some images from that show, but in case you don’t here’s a few images

As part of the exhibition “package” they ask you to design a workshop to tie in with the show, and today I taught a cheerful group of 13 students, many of whom had never made a book before, a pretty challenging two signature, two needle cross stitch binding. If you’d like to give it a try, or were in the workshop (thank you!) and want a refresher here is a brief tutorial. To begin you will need the following supplies:

  • This two signature cross stitch template printed on a sheet of letter sized (8.5×11) cardstock
  • 8 sheets of 9×12 paper (grained long)
  • some linen thread and needles
  • an awl, a bonefolder and an x-acto knife

Begin by cutting out the pieces from the template.

1 web

Next score the lines along the spine and fold to create the cover ( printed side inside)

Punch all the dots to create the sewing stations in the cover

Fold each sheet of 9×12 paper in half and tear down into 16 pieces that measure 6×9

Divide into two sets of 8 pages, and fold together in half to create two signatures

Using the stripy punching guide from the template, punch the sewing holes in both signatures

Cut a piece of thread 24-30 inches long, and thread with a needle at both ends. Do not tie any knots in the thread

To begin sewing enter the spine at the head of the book. Each needle should go into the first sewing station, through the signature to the inside of each.

Then take each needle out the second sewing station in each signature, back out to the outside of the spine.

I always sew left to right because I am right handed, but as long as you are consistent it doesn’t really matter. With the spine facing you, take the needle in the left hand row and take it down into the third sewing station in the right hand making a diagonal stitch across the spine.

15 web

Using the same needle, sew down into the 4th sewing station and back out to the spine

16 web

Take the right hand needle and sew into the left side, completing the cross stitch, again take the same needle out though the 4th hole to the outside again. This is now the left hand needle, sew across the spine to make the next diagonal, and repeat until you reach the end of the sewing stations, alternating needles so the crosses form on the stitches in the same direction

 

At the end, sew up to the previous sewing station, but only through the signature (NOT the cover) tie off the two ends in the gutter and trim.

You can increase the numbers of signatures in pairs and sew into a larger book, like this one. You could also sew between signatures 2 & 3 in the same manner if you wished.

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I chose this binding for the workshop because learning it gave me the idea to experiment with making samplers as bindings, which lead to making bindings using lots of other kinds of embroidery – especially blackwork embroidery.

Its been a pretty perfect day – now I am relaxing at home with tea and chocolate. Taking a few minutes to let all my good fortune wash over me, before I get back at it!