This sabbatical was much longer than expected, some due to Covid and some due to relocating to the United Kingdom. I am finally back to the real world with more art tucked under my arm and a new medium: collage! Painting has been ongoing all the while too. Here are a few tidbits to look at while I setup the New Studio at 19a Bell Street in Reigate.
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.
Painting the last swipe on the canvas I’m exhausted. overtired. Eyes are dry from staring for so long, resisting blinking, absorbing the colors in front of me beyond the feeling of almost madness.
The large square canvas must cure overnight. I shirk off my robe and wash up. Looking down at my hands every finger tip on my right hand is a pale turquoise mixed with white. Brushes clean up easily, reshaped, they are left to dry.
Outside my eyes adjust and my mind enters the parking lot, I begin to see reality again. Looking at my hand holding the key….a splotch of bright red has dried on the back of the palm. A little paint is evident.
The paint colors and shapes in my brain is still there. Lingering. Stroking the nerves barely sheathed with the silence of the drive home. Walking in my home I’m greeted by dogs and my mom. Adjusting to normalcy is what I need. I hit my bed to let the flow of shapes run out of my ears. I rise and make dinner.
When machine stitching I end up with a lot of extra threads on the front surface of the fabric. Its commonplace and happens to everyone. I’m often asked how to resolve this problem. You could choose to snip them closely but the ends fuzz up and look mussed. Instead of snipping I choose to pull them through to the back. When presented with thread ends too short to pass through a needle eye the solution is an easy to thread needle.
Once I started to use the calyx eye needle it became my preferred choice for all thread pulling.
This needle is commonly known as an easy threading needle. It is made with a small slit above the eye so you can pull the thread through the top. By inserting the needle in the fabric first you can pull the thread through to the back with ease. See the step-by-step tutorial below.
Choose a thread that needs to be pulled to the back:
Insert the calyx eye needle as close as possible to where the thread comes out of the fabric.
Pull thread firmly down into the eye.
Push the needle through to the back: pulling the thread through with it.
Repeat until all the excess threads are pulled through to the wrong side of fabric.
Once finished the right side looks smooth without clipped threads.
Lately I’ve been admiring reverse appliqué and thought it might work for a piece of fiber art I am planning.
You see this piece of fiber art exists loosely in my mind, it sort of has a little film attached to it that I play often. The colors change. The fabrics change. But the foundation of the work is essentially the same. It consists of many modular pieces that are similar in size and hue. The black square below is an example.
I’m eager to get the work started and get the film in my head into real world action. This Saturday past I started playing with reverse appliqué sewing. After several pieces were finished the results were different than expected.
About midnight – my creative witching moment happened. Cleaning up the perle cottons and re-organizing threads, dropping scissors into their cases, needles neatly arranged in the drawer…I passed by the stack of recently completed art quilt studies.
The studies are of my beloved Pennsylvania farmlands which are rapidly disappearing.
New housing and commercial structures are chowing down the land for 3 solid meals daily.
I know this land. Its of my people, my youth, my later adulthood. I’ve come back to the gentle hills that my grandfather held in reverence.
No reference photos are needed. I’ve walked the dusty dirt roads by the farms with my dogs, rode my horses through the brown-green-gold fields, tilled the ground with my hands to plant native species and cut flower gardens. Moonlit nights resplendent with fireflies, moths and bats while seated behind the farmhouse in the deep of night are treasured moments for me.
As I passed by the studies I saw the round shape I have been slow stitching for weeks.
The familiar round moons or suns are exactly what I’ve been planning but I couldn’t know that. Instead of the reverse appliqué, this embroidered style that has been my meditative practice for weeks is it!
The search over, the technique was in my hands all along.
Finally the unveiling. I wrapped up yards of silk with flowers from the garden and wildflowers and tree nuts found on the ground. The colors are marvelous, rich, subtle and enchanting! They need to be ironed after they dry and then we will see what we can make with the fabrics.
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.
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.