Red is not a color I typically wear or decorate with, but it is making a big splash in my stitched art. The first pieces where red started was the vintage linen tiles with vintage silk scraps and perle cotton thread keeping it all in place.
The red feels like a crisp contrast to the creamy linen with its slightly coarse texture. Slow stitching gives me a place to meditate, hands working gently to snip and stitch, it is soothing and methodical. Mudita is my 2018 meditation. Sharing the joy of others, mudita, is so vital for us as a collective. We build strength together by shouting in resounding joy–even if its silent in our meditations–like the Grinch our hearts grow and grow.
It can easily come to us to feel left out, neglected, slighted, emotionally bereft and ignored with so much clamoring for attention in the world of unease and war. How do we find a path of peace and the gift of kindness? 2017 was my year for Metta meditation–sending loving kindness to all the sentient beings of the world. Sending love isn’t too difficult until one thinks of sending it to someone who deeply hurt us. Then Metta takes on new meanings. Mudita, sharing in others joy is similar. We might be happy for those we already like or feel good about. But what about when we are confronted with the good news of competitors or those who harmed us?
To open one’s heart for others good news is not so simple when we feel badly. But changing our meditation to open ourselves to hear others good news and feel genuinely happy for them is critical for personal growth and to further peacefulness. Sharing in others Joy is my goal for this year–to stitch, paint and meditate on joy for all sentient beings.
Each of the red works are about 7 or 8 inches and will be appliquéd onto a larger cloth and then machine quilted. I am a fan of combining several techniques and am open to what might happen yet. As this piece progresses or is completed I will share it. The name filtered to me as I was deep in stitching and with mind open, it seems it wanted to be called Roundhouse Blues.
I’ve often likened myself to a border collie, perhaps you might be one too. You are likely familiar with the legendary dogs, relentlessly working a herd or driving themselves in sporting competition until they have to flop into cool water because of the stress. I also think its possible to have a border collie mind–one darting to and around–herding thoughts and driving oneself to work. This work helps my border collieness by giving me an activity of both mind and hand.
Saturn Series red section
Couching – Saturn series
Maybe 100 stitches fit into a square inch..although I don’t sew every square inch of the quilt there will be thousands of stitches in a piece that so far is about 48″. No surprise then that my thumb and fingers are a bit sore. A clean sharp needle makes the work much easier, but sharp needles cause more injuries. The accidental and infrequent stabbing of my own hands mostly happens with slight notice. Five or six hours of hand sewing leave my hands tired and fingertips delicately bruised. I have tried different types of thimbles and hand protectors. Not one style has really worked for me yet. Right now I am trying the Thimble-It which is a small plastic oval with adhesive that sticks to the fingertips. So far, the thread has caught on the sticky edge almost every time through and that has slowed me down considerably which makes me cringe more than being injured!
I know what draws me to this work, the repetitiveness I think is the most desirable part of the process for me. Analytical thinking while maintaining awareness of my surroundings are paramount to the final product–until I get to that part of the process–which then becomes an apparent necessity of design. Being able to listen to books and podcasts is vital to the operation–and the focus is intensified and I can retain so much more information when my hands are delicately engaged in repetitive work. I have favorite audio books that I have ‘read’ over a dozen times while sewing. I am convinced that my retention level increases while stitching and time slows while it also leaves me with the perception that there is no time. That trickster reveal, that there is no time, but simply a construct that we choose to abide by much like other constructs of our civilization.
Casually I tossed this latest quilt sandwich on the ironing table last night. The table is also used for laying out fabrics, auditioning items that may want to play together, winding hanks into yarn cakes…well you get the picture.
This morning, when I saw the red folds of the quilt sandwich, I saw books…they may need to become a quilt book. I had planned to add them to the neon quilt that is underway and set in an all dirty whites and vintage fabric block background…but now it wants to be a book. Not yet decided on who will win this gentle discussion.
In the meantime, see that neon variegated thread spool? It has no name and I am hoping more can be located. Although it isn’t vital in the entire scheme of the work, something else will come along that will fit into place if this thread is gone. More important to complete the work of art than to quibble over the exact materials.
The blue yarn is part of a ten pack gradient dyed lace weight that is being rewound into cakes, it is waiting to be couched…its good to have plans.
When queried about the yellow box in a recent piece I am stitching, I hesitated to respond. I know why yellow is vital to the piece. I like enigma in art and am not always prepared to explain.
Explaining my art can leave me feeling vapid, exposed and finally, curious: what does it mean to others to ask what it means to me. Then I reflect on that for some time and have to pull back. What do I want to share. How much of me do I share. I am not a selfish being. Helping people and volunteer work is a vital part of my life.
The desire to not share my feelings about my work comes from a place of being solitary. I like solitude. There is comfort in aloneness, making art and having a sense of peace. Spending years out in the country, alone and surrounded by nature, open fields and woods, that setting is a place of deep comfort. I don’t like a life thoughtlessly lived with abandon, but instead prefer focus and measured thinking, analytical and rational thoughts, philosophy and reflection.
Back to the yellow box. It is related to wisdom. And more.
The center. The viscera. Gut instinct. The fire in the belly. Desire. Power. Personal power. Energy . Vitality. Self control. Inner strength. Personal authority. Efficiency. Purpose. Perfection. Will power. Control. Anger.
Focusing on that space allows me to find a balance between inaction and overreaction. It says I have the power to choose. I travel into the yellow box, deep in the maze, amid the noise, the traffic, following the patterns that civilization has already prepared. Finding strength there and relating it to the purpose of my own life…the exploration of my power center. Being contained in the yellow space allows me to radiate this information through my own body space. How do i find my way there…? how do you…?
Deadheading annuals and perennials is no longer such a chore, now I look forward to gleaning the spent blooms to eco-dye fabrics that I can use to create intentionally embroidered objects.
Sunday I bundled a dozen silk fabrics with zinnias, hibiscus, maple leaves and some native Pennsylvania wildflower heads, with various tea leaves and spices, rolled them up tightly, wound into spirals and wrapped rightly with copper wire. Placing them into zipper bags with vinegar and then into a small washtub to wait…2 – 3 weeks before removing them and drying the fabrics which will then be ironed.
Its a hedgewitchy-alchemical process, the gathering, crushing the flowers, making these brews and the waiting. Its a slow process. And much slower than opening a tube of paint and squirting it out, blending and brushing it onto a canvas. It is spontaneous though and allows for much experimentation which I appreciate.
Wrapped Rose Petals
Red Cabbage Rose Hips
Locust Tree Nut Shells and Spices
Turmeric and Zinnias
A Dozen Working
This is part of an evolution that I am in—-slowing down—-making the art slowly, mentally absorbing the process documenting it. The waiting, wondering which blends will be favored and successful. When I woke this morning, I checked them first, as they reside in my bathtub, packed into a small red washtub, the aroma of flowers and spices hit me full in the face. What a pleasant way to make art.
Spirals are making their way into my work again, aboriginal and abstract, the essence of life, they are an image that seems to be often found in my art.
People often ask how I create my watercolors. Next time I perform this process I will make a video but here is a description in the meantime.
I cover the floor with as many pieces of high quality watercolor paper that I have room for. I thoroughly wet the paper(s) with water by either using a spray bottle or large 4″ brush. This wetting is a throwback to a time when I soaked paper for printmaking. Next, I mix the colors I that feel or look good to me at the time. No planning, but I do select color based on how I am feeling at the time. I use the tools at hand, literally my own hands work the large washes along with huge mop brushes, but there are fingerprints, and a sleeve dragged (possibly) through the work during the original throwdown of paint onto paper. The brush does a loose dance and my fingertips direct the magic. I allow the wind, sand, bark or other fragments of the life from Gaia come into the work. Mother Earth has her hand in the painting as she allows a leaf to settle or insect to walk across the paper. Often I find objects or materials to use as resists. Some resists are added supplies from the kitchen–often an experiment and sometimes products that I have used before. Salt is a common additive, but oats might be chosen instead.
I allow the paint to pool in deep rich colors or pale watery shades. Then I leave. I rest and let my creations solidify. Usually, I sleep and dream about what is brewing on the paper, my dreams are strongly connected to the work at hand. I have contemplated how much my dreams direct the paint but it is speculation. My imagination though is given wings to soar from the dreams which in turn helps the creation move further along. Sometimes, at a point of partial drying I check back and add more pigments, squeezing the drops out of the brush and allowing them to fall, gravity does the work. Although I often work in series, every piece has its own method, its own manner of coming into being even though they are pointed simultaneously. They are living creatures that continue to thrive under my guidance. It is an intuitive process. I feel connected to the work and allow the paintings to emerge–letting the melange of images come forward and speak out. But its only the beginning. They need time, to flower, to open: to be interpreted further. After all the paintings are dry they are stacked and weighed to keep them flat until I am ready to proceed with adding ink. In Part 2 I will discuss the next layer – Inkwork.
When I was a kid I drew. And painted. Everywhere. I am born to make things. Kinetic. Creator.
I never thought about where the objects I made would hang. Never cared if they sold. Those concepts never entered my mind. All my life I made art to make it—no choice–more like a compulsion. Last Thursday, I went to the NYC gallery where my painting is on display. Friends and family were with me and that made it more real for me that my work is hanging in NYC. I’ve heard others describe it as a dream they always wanted even from childhood. Odd that it never crossed my mind as being that important although I exhibited a few times in the 80’s because I was invited to do a small show.
Until a few years ago. I turned 49 and was on the upswing to 50 when I made a decision that I would exhibit again. I called it Aurora The Third Act. Aurora is goddess of the dawn and what a dawn this has been these 4 years. I am so pleased to be accepted into NAWA and have work in the annual exhibit. And pleased that I create work that brings pleasure to so many people. Although it can seem like it is about me, the artist, its not. Its about the viewer. You. Its about what you see and how you feel and where it leads you when you view the art I make. Together we make art an experience.
This photo is a picture of my tools and work in front of me. I work at a constant pace on paper and reserve my longer bits of time for larger paintings. The small work gets me through rough patches when time constraints are pushing me to and fro, or space is limited and I am on the go. Much like a knitter takes their work along, I take small paper drawings and pens. This work probably won’t end up in a gallery setting but I make it anyway. I use all my skills to create the best possible work at any given time or using any medium.
Lately, string is pulling me into hours of reverie, inventing images in my mind about what I might make with a crochet hook. I have a painting on an easel at home and one in the studio. Yet I don’t feel inspired to go to work on them. Summer was a series of trips and events that took me from home interspersed with the death of 4 people I know. Their passing has left me feeling very bereft and I think of them several times a day. I can’t see them again and have conversation or ask questions, smile with them, hold their hand. Mortality is rearing its head and I am interested in how that plays out in life and art. Life goes forward. So will the art.
Recently, this question appeared on my social media wall “alison, i’d love to know the artists who resonate the most with you…your work really is so incredible. influences? i know you said you’re self taught but i keep thinking i see threads of various artists in your work and i’m wondering if i’m correct.”
Today, I am still not sure about which artists influenced me. I was so busy working at full time jobs and my spare moments were spent making art that only occasionally would I see art made by other people and it wasn’t my focus. It never occurred to me to study other peoples work. I have my own ideas–why would I need to look at someone else’s ideas? I wanted to explore and figure out why this color works here or there, how this shape bumped up against that shape creates a certain feeling. I was not dealt the career card as a patron of the arts. The career card I was dealt was to be a Creator. Anything else doesn’t satisfy me. Its all I can do to wait until every event is over so I can get back to paint, sketch, plan, draw, sew and tinker with artwork. Being a Creator is the most important task on earth. I can imagine what you’re thinking, artists don’t save lives or rescue people, which are of course very important tasks. But I see it differently. Whatever objects have lasted for centuries that human hands created are collected and cared for. Museums and private collections are filled with items that human beings made and left behind. Some are practical and some are fancies of imagination. But no matter, they are valued. What I make is what civilization craves. The visually delicious colors of my palette, the feel of the surface I paint on, the softness of the cloth are a few things that drive me to create. Perhaps I am self absorbed, but I am here to create!!
The concept of art came to me as though it was just a part of me–but writing and reading were much the same. The earliest memories I have are of sunlight coming through leaves and creating sparkling color. After that, I began making marks and using colored crayons and pencils but most importantly the way it made me feel–as though I could create anything and the simple joy of holding onto an object that made lines or scribbled and filled in areas held so much pleasure. I grew up in rural Bucks County, in an old house with a big lawn, garden and woods. I rambled along in our old house and drew and colored everything in my path—until my mother explained that the walls were not to be drawn upon. That left me with one choice, hide the work behind the sash of the doorways. That was not what the adults expected. I burned my fingers and the bridge of my nose trying to get sticks to burn in the fire so as to draw black marks on old stones. The scar is still evident on the bridge of my nose. Our family books were fair game as I drew and colored in the borders of pages with colored pencils. Compulsive Artist comes to mind as an adult, but as a child I just pressed forward until paper, felt markers, crayons and brushes came regularly into my hands. Then at age 4, I entered school, very unwillingly, and saw a portrait of George Washington which I promptly copied. It looks like it was completed by a teenage student rather than a kindergarten age girl.
Where does my talent and drive come from? Agnes, my grandmother wove braided rugs and was renowned for her use of color and balance. Often I am compared to her, we share our countenance and acumen, and especially the same eye for color and natural sense of balance. My grandfather, Bryan would take us on explorative walks in the rural area where we lived, played music and talked to us of lofty ideals and philosophy. When I drew a portrait and painted the face green, my mother defended my choice to any naysayer and that was that. Riding my horse throughout the Bucks Country countryside is where many of my images come from today. I spent a multitude of hours inspecting ice formations, leaves, rocks, bark, mushrooms, field grasses, insects and more. Everything was fascinating to my eyes–I still fall in love with the earth and its plant and insect life every time I get to inspect the beauty of it all.
In high school I was tested and scored into the .01 percentile for spatial relations. The counselor suggested that I could play chess and be good at logic and math. Which is true. After high school, I worked in a greenhouse and attended local life drawing sessions at an old church down the street. These were wonderful sessions with live models, we paid a few dollars and could sit and draw and paint for 3 or 4 hours. My favorite technique was to use big loose watercolor washes to describe the figures before me. Visiting the art store and library were my main sources of information. Once being too broke to get supplies, in desperation I took some india ink from an art store without paying for it. That thievery has haunted my memory for most of my adult life.
Around the age of 20 I visited the Smithsonian and saw Japanese woodcuts and was curious enough to look up information at the library. I went to a lumberyard and bought a plank which I had them cut into 12″ sections and proceeded to cut with lino cut tools. The blocks were then printed with a bamboo baren and pulled by hand. My first woodcut is called “For Timothy” and was a gift to my dying cousin. Moving to Charlotte led me to find an artists co-operative that had a printing room with presses and every supply available to use, plus books on how to make etchings and lithographs. I spent several years there teaching myself several different printing techniques. The final works in that studio were experimental. When I was cleaning up color inks I printed monotypes from the leftovers. These prints were discovered by a local anchor person and they did a newscast on me. One artist whose work I admired at the time was Georgia O’Keefe because there was a calendar hanging up in the co-op. I took a class in 1989 in ceramics because I was tired of printing chemicals. The ceramic process did not suit my character.
I relocated to New Jersey in the mid-90’s and taught myself oil painting and then watercolor and pen and ink. I hung work in galleries and sold some of the paintings. As usual working a full time job left me only a few hours a week to make art. Not long afterward I got married and moved frequently due to my husbands job. During these years, I became an award winning pie baker, beekeeper, organic flower grower, embroiderer and worked in threads, learned to knit and spent any extra time time painting in watercolor and ink. The mobility of small watercolor pans and pen and ink really worked for my lifestyle. In 2004 we lived in the Lehigh Valley for about 8 months. I took 2 classes at the Baum School fully intending to work toward an art degree. I put a portfolio together and was accepted to Kutztown University. Life took a weird turn and I became very ill and was unable to attend college. We moved away and then a divorce in 2010 brought me back to the Lehigh Valley. At which time, I began to use textiles and quilting as a medium. I taught myself how to sew with a machine, cut fabric and quilt. Painting in watercolor was continued and the watercolors were exhibited as well as the works in fabric. In 2013 when I packed up my Allentown studio, I taught myself to use pastels because they were the only tools not packed away. Right after that, upon moving into the Banana Factory studio, I decided to paint more often. The small size of the new studio determined the next move, the decision had to be made: oils or acrylics. I had never used acrylics in a major way and decided that would be the method due to the ease of cleanup. I still work in many mediums. I still don’t know the names of many artists. Whenever I had the chance to see the paintings of Van Gogh in the Netherlands I did. When I was in St. Petersburg, Fl, I went to the Dali Museum. Whenever I was in an art store I purchased supplies that looked interesting and experimented and taught myself to use them. Before the world wide web and search engines I learned to work with the materials and tools that artists use because that was all I had.
I wanted to respond right away to my friend who asked the question, but life got in my way first. Tonight, I found in my response that my art has little to do with other visual artists. It is more about my early life, my family and just being alive on earth: a speck in the universe who wants to leave her mark.
“When there is brick wall in front you there are many other ways to get where you want to go.” One of the best pieces advice given to me over 30 years ago by a good person I worked for. Brick by brick…or not at all? Let others hold the brick wall up, leave the bricks behind, build a wall with a door, follow the other brick road…all the choices before me.