Summer’s swan song

Tomorrow the new school semester begins, so for this past week I have been rushing to cross things off my summer list. I’m feeling really ambivalent about teaching this year, so I think it is time to plan my leap. More on that thought to come, but for today, here’s the last update from my summer in the studio. To warm up this week I made this little guy, heavy flax covers from a deckle box several years ago, suede spine, twin needle cross stitch over two signatures, and it has pockets!

Feeling happy and confident I turned my attention to a piece that I wanted to finish for my exhibition at wnybac in September. When I first started making the blackout inspired bindings I really wanted to make an Elizabethan style collar, but I couldn’t quite make it work.

Then during PBI earlier this year I had a bit of an epiphany in Beatrice Coron’s class. I made myself a cut tyvek collar, and I experimented with this accordion folded Lacey cut.

So this week I was determined to get back to that first idea and see what I could make of it now. First up was a period inspiration, taken from a Holbein painting of Jane Seymour. In the painting you can see her blackworked cuffs, and so using that pattern I embarked on a new binding design.

I wanted to try binding this on the bench, so I drew a graph and started the binding. By the time I reached this stage it was pretty late at night. After many false starts where I lost my place and had to unpick my sewing, I went to bed feeling a bit defeated. (Following the graph is like sewing counted cross stitch, if you lose your place it’s really frustrating!) This was the end of day 1

The next day I decided to leave the final mistake in the pattern, as this was just a test and pushed on to the end of the pattern repeat. Here’s that binding

I am just going to have to pay really close attention when I do the real thing. So I put this aside and turned my focus to a paper lace page.

I love how this looks, but the book will need 46 more signatures folded and cut like this, so stay tuned patiently! Especially as now I will have to squeeze them in around teaching.

Ah well, back to the grind.

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Cat’s out of the bag, finally!

So in addition to getting new work ready for my new solo exhibition, opening tonight at the Crary Gallery in Warren, PA, I have also been working on a top secret project.

I live near Chautauqua Institution, and each year they commission a local artist to make a unique art object in response to a book which has been awarded the Chautauqua Prize. This year I was chosen to create something in response to the winning book, The Fact of a Body. If you haven’t read it I think it’s a must read.

I don’t want to give away the whole book, but it involves two stories, a murder and a memoir, which overlap and diverge. Along the way the reader has time to consider their own opinions about some very deep difficult issues, among them, the death penalty. For me though the overwhelming theme is the individual humanity and the unique narrative of each person touched by the story(s).
The structure of the narrative in the book immediately suggested a flag book. The overlapping elements of the narrative in the book seemed ideally suited to the interleaved flags of this book structure. As regular readers of the blog know much of my work involves redacting and altering existing texts, and as a core idea of the narrative is the elusiveness of a single truth, I really hoped the author wasn’t going to e distressed by my hacking her fine book apart and constructing yet another version.

When selecting the passages to include I was drawn to those which left a vivid picture in my mind, passages that evoked in me a lasting retinal impression or a strong emotional connection. My selections were personal and perhaps not indicative of the arc of the authors narrative. The use of translucent vellum to create the flags allows for the text to be experienced in layers and for the various elements of the story to literally overlap visually.

I used sewing as a form of mark making, to emphasize elements of the text, primarily names, and the various physical bodies contained in the original work. I also edited out some elements of text using Boro type stitching, the words are still partially visible beneath the sewing. Boro is a tradition Japanese mending technique. The word itself means rags or scraps of cloth. I chose boro because it seemed that all the characters in the work are patching themselves together, layering new versions of themselves over the old, and also, because the make- do and mend aesthetic seemed appropriate to the tenacity of many people in the narrative.

I hope the finished book reflects the fragility of the stories and bodies in the original text, and that the author forgives me for rummaging about in her ideas this way.

It really was a singular honor to be a part of celebrating this amazing book. I’m glad to say that Alexandria was pleased with the book. Here we are together at the awards dinner.

Congratulations Alexandria on the well deserved honor. And if you are still reading, for yourself a favor and read her book!

Okay back to the studio, I need to find my bench, it’s a mess in there, well the whole house really!

Experiments with mordants

So I’ve been boiling things up for a while now, and reading a lot, hi and trying out different things, but I’m not terribly methodical. Recently I read a blog post about using soy milk as a mordant on cotton fabric, so I figured I would give it a go. I mostly just dye fabrics as a by product, using them as a carrier for delicate papers like kozo, sometimes I get a good print on the fabric, other times not so much.

I decided to do a little experiment and I mordanted one batch of paper and fabrics in soy milk and one in alum. Then I bundled each with leaves from the same plants gathered at the same time, and steamed them in the same pot. I had a head of red cabbage going soft in the fridge, so I threw that in too. I didn’t use any iron or vinegar in with the bundles, as I wanted to see if I could get prints without them. I know I can get prints with them!!

So a pretty small and not terribly controlled experiment. I layered cotton, then sheets of kozo, then a sheet of watercolor paper, followed by a layer of cotton, leaves in between each layer of course. I used sumac, Japanese maple, and some random bush trimmings as I had just done some hedges in the garden. I steamed everything for a few hours.

The kozo printed pretty much the same in both bundles. The colors were a little more intense in the alum bundle and the edges of the leaves we’re more defined. On the water color paper the difference was striking. The milk mordant produced beautiful soft pastels, although I had a really hard time getting the leaves off the paper.

The alum mordant produced vivid greens and blues and much brighter pinks.

These are not great pictures but I think you can see the difference.

Results on the fabric were interesting too. On the alum fabric you can clearly see where the paper was, and it resulted in more intense prints.

But the milk mordant produced all over pastel colors, I can’t get a good picture but I can clearly see the leaf structure in pale greens against a soft pink and purple from the cabbage.

So a mixed bag, but worth repeating I think.

Okay back to the studio.

Confluence

So. I’ve been trying to write a new artist’s statement. I am finding it very tricky. I hope this is because I am sort of between things right now and not because my brain has evaporated. I have been thinking about the idea of geometry and the tether of history/the past. These ideas are flowing out of a response by a math student to my piece women hold up half the sky. I’m also drawn to the metaphors of stitch as a way of giving flat materials a shape. It always comes back around to a needle and thread.

I mention this about the writing because it seems relevant to my current studio project. The kozo group is working on a new exhibition of sculptural paper. I decided to try shaping paper with only stitch. Taking flat sheets of kozo as a starting point I have been trying to coax some interesting form from them.

Of course I started by sewing in circles. Here’s a sample of that exploration.

I tried multiple circles, but it is really chaotic, I need to think about it some more

So last night I started thinking, just as I was falling asleep, (which stopped me from getting to sleep for ages) about straight lines and smocking. So tonight I decided to try a little trial

This is easier to control, but is that a good thing? Pushing on. Stay tuned to see if I arrive anywhere at all.

Unexpected inspiration

I have been working with a group of adult students for a couple of months. We have just been trying all kinds of arts and crafts together, playing really, exploring. Anyway a few weeks ago they wanted to make masks, so we started making papier-mâché. As I was looking at those layers of paper a crazy idea came into my head, what if I used book text and then did a blackout meditation on top. I wasn’t really sure it would work, but that’s the joy of it right? Here’s the end result. I like it! I like it so much I decided to try doing a dress using the same techniques, stay tuned!

1K giveaway

Last week I passed a milestone on my Instagram account, I reached 1000 followers. I know that there are many people out there who have many many more followers, but it is still amazing to me that there are 1000 people out there in the world who take the time to look at my work. The world is a busy place, there are plenty of things in it to draw our attention, really it seems like a small miracle that even one person would see what I do and make time for it.

To celebrate I gave away a book to one follower, but I know not everyone who follows the blog, or my other social media follow me there. And I really want to thank all my tribe, so I am posting some freebies here too. These are a few of my most recent blackout meditations. Feel free to print for yourself, or share with your friends.

Or if you would like to order a nice print, or a book or card, you can find these and more on my redbubble site.