Visual Language

Artists create in a visual language.

An artist  may be like a poet, a journalist, a biographer or fiction writer. Some artists creating in the midst of global pandemic provide a record of the times like a journalist. Like a poet, artists often use their work as a healing process or a record of deeper feelings during stressful periods of life. There will be artists making work like a biographer or historian, celebrating the hero’s and the victims. 

Like a fiction writer, I considered myself a visual storyteller.

My project ideas are wrapped in a family story, a cherished place, a day dream, an interesting idea, a memory or a person I love.


My image files of future projects are large and although I try to separate them into categories (landscape, vintage portraits, camera phone, etc..) they are random. I don’t second guess the impulse to save an image or to take a photo. This happened as I cleaned out my closets recently. 

 

 

 

 

 

Cleaning Out Closets

 

 

 

 

 

Old Photograph

I found a pair of jeans that my husband's sister had hand embroidered. They were the jeans he wore to Woodstock. In the same closet I also found a family quilt top that had been left to me. It was probably made by a distant cousin on my father’s side somewhere in West Virginia or Ohio. I pinned the top to my design wall as a background and hung the jeans with pins. I took several photographs. 

The pictures were saved to my computer until I was ready for another project. As I looked through the files this image spoke to me. It was not just the Woodstock jeans, the memory of my sister in law and quilt top from the mystery relative. What sparked my imagination was cleaning out the closets during the first days of the shelter in place orders. Although this would not seem to fit the category of “art during the pandemic” it is a product of this period of time. I will connect this quilt with the pandemic.

My current project would be something that might be recognized as “pandemic art” but in fact it was an image I have had on file for a couple of years. The picture is of my mother in law in an open bathrobe showing her legs. The photograph was taken during WWII. On the back is a caption “like the view!”. I took this photograph and merged it with a picture of the Brooklyn bridge. I used a filter to make the figure look as if it were dissipating like a fading memory.

With the pandemic epicenter being in New York, this quilt takes on new meaning. A viewer might assume it’s a tribute to a life lost. It might look like the dissipating filter is the virus spreading around the city. It could be seen as a portrait of the city itself and it’s outer Boroughs as the victims of this deadly virus. This image's story began as a love story during a war. It has morphed into a homage.

 As I am working on this quilt, the story I am telling has changed.  I am thinking not only of my in-laws but of the family that still lives in Brooklyn. I am missing the trip we planned to take to NYC. Just before starting the quilt I sent out masks that are now required in public. The news is filled with death tolls and infection rates. Now I see this quilt with a new perspective.


My art, like most art changes with the extraordinary times we are living through. It is helpful to keep working and to find a healthy outlet until this is over. 

Stay safe and stay creative.
Until next time......
Margaret

Studio Time

Robert Henri

The quote and painting of "Snow in New York"  are from American artist and teacher Robert Henri.  Henri was the  leader of the “Ashcan” school of art.


Henri was born in 1865. As a young man he studied at the Pennsylvania Art Academy in Philadelphia. In 1888 he traveled to Paris to study. Like many young artists of his time he admired impressionist painters and was painting in this style. He returned to Philadelphia in 1891 and began teaching at the Women’s Art Academy.

By 1895 he shed off the impressionism for realism. He painted what he considered authentic American life. He was a member of like minded  group of artists called the ashcan school of art.  Although he may not have huge critical success, his works now hang in major museums. He died in 1929.


Many of us are at home with plenty of time and materials; why might we not be making more art?


I was struck by this quote from Robert Henri because he articulates the struggle I find myself in with studio time. Creative production is not always tied to  having the time, the place and the materials. Production increases when the artist is in the creative zone.

I have found myself struggling to get into that zone. Like the rest of the world I am thinking about the health and safety of my family. My life has changed from going to lunch with friends, attending quilt guild meetings and going to art retreats to making protective face masks to wear to the store. 

During the last week I have been focused on making an entry for the Long Beach Quilt Festival. It is a photograph from a backlot of a Hollywood studio in the 1920’s. The photograph is black and white printed on a large linen cotton canvas. There is a deadline to get this entered which is motivational.

After putting this project up on my design wall, I gave myself permission to not start it immediately. Instead I walked by  the project numerous times a day as I kept busy with other tasks. I began by pinning my color wheel to my design wall. I put out a few paints and have been making little squares of colors on excess fabric.

 Usually I have an immediate feeling about color.  I drive immediately into painting.  This time I used a more structured approach to color. From those little squares I created a color scheme.

A color scheme is a plan for color. You might have a complimentary scheme using colors opposite each other on the color wheel or a triad of colors equal distance from each other on the color wheel. I ended up with a split complement of colors. Next I mixed those colors in various combinations. 

By the time I started on the project itself I had that feeling of being in the zone or as Henri would say “that wonderful state that makes art inevitable. 

My advice is simple. These are tense times and if you are wondering why your art productivity hasn’t increased give yourself extra time, let go of any pressure and go back to the basics.


Stay safe friends. This too will pass.
Until next time......
Margaret

Leap Year

Leap Day 29 February

Leap Year is....

A common year has 365 days and a leap year 366 days, with the extra--or intercalary--day designated as February 29. A leap year occurs every four years to help synchronize the calendar year with the solar year, or the length of time it takes the earth to complete its orbit around the sun, which is about 365 and 1/4 days

Since it’s a leap year, I thought I would look at some artistic leaps of faith I’ve made in the art quilt world since the last leap year in 2016. Some have worked out and some have fallen flat.  In the end I learn as much from failure and I do success.

 

Here is my list of artistic "leaps" since 2016

  • Attending yearly  intensive art quilt workshops with National Teachers
  • Submitting to National and International Art Quilt Exhibitions
  • Hiring a professional to manage my website
  • Moving my studio (and my home)  to larger dedicated space
  • Buying a HQ Sweet Sixteen
  • Entering exhibitions at traditional quilt shows 
  • Dedicated time and training to improve my quilting 
  • Created introductory workshops to art quilters
  • Participated in a critique group
  • Used Social Media platforms as a business tool
  • Started a YouTube Channel
  • Submitted articles for magazines
  • Established a local art quilt group within my traditional guild
  •  Had an solo exhibition
  • Booked a speaking engagement and workshop outside of my local community

Not everything on this list has worked out.

For example I found that teaching introductory workshops and local venues is not interesting to me. As a trained art teacher I love to share my knowledge but getting paid to do so is not a motivation. Time away from my studio is a burden. I needed to find teaching environments were I can feel enriched by the experience.

I have tried a few times to form a critique group without much success over time. As my confidence has grown, I have developed a system for testing ideas outside a group process.  Entering shows and social media tracking has helped me get feedback I used to find in critique.


What will be on my next list of artistic leaps?
Expand the number of speaking engagements
Photo to Fabric Workshop Series
Having another solo show
Validate my technical skill with an award at a juried quilt show
Continue to submit articles for publication
Subscription YouTube Channel

 On the business side of my leaps:
Increase social media following.
Total Website Refresh
Promotional Materials
Gallery sales through my website.
Try to publish a book.


Who knows what leaps I’ll take!

Until next time.....
Margaret

Opportunities

The new year brings with it a list of new juried exhibitions. Some I have been thinking about for a couple of months, but most are simple opportunities to share my work with a larger community.

Blog February

I think about exhibitions from different perspectives. This helps me create work that encourages me to improve technical skills,create work which challenges me to respond to a specific idea and to create a series of quilts that hold together visually and thematically. 

Quilt shows offer opportunities for me to improve my technical skills.

I am becoming a skilled quilter. After taking a Handi Quilter workshop I have increased my understanding of how my mid arm machine works. My approach to common issues like thread tension has become systematic. I try to regularly play with quilt motifs that I pick up from books, minute motifs on the Handi Quilter YouTube Channel and from my own doodles. This focus on technical prowess is designed for quilt shows like Houston, Paducah and Road to California.

Exhibition calls for entry from organizations like the Studio Art Quilt Associates  have a specific visual prompt.

My quilt “Sky Lanterns” was created as a response to a SAQA call for entry. When I thought about the theme, initially I looked through my photographs that I keep in a file called Future Projects. Nothing seemed to fit. So I turned to the definition of the word “Aloft” which is up into the air or overhead. Then I wrote a mental list of words I associated with things I see as I look up to the sky.

Clouds float in the sky.  Astronauts explore space.  Balloons fly up until they disappear from view. After several days of tossing ideas around in my head, I decided to use sky lanterns floating through banks of clouds as my vision of being aloft.

This quilt tested me digital skills because it required me to create a digital collage. Creating this quilt has added new possibilities for me to add to my portfolio. I have since made a few other quilts using digital collage.

Having a exhibition of my work is a dream that came true this year.

In the fall of 2019, I was asked by Handi Quilter to display my quilts at their corporate headquarters. Luckily for me I have a stash of quilts. As I sorted through these quilts  I gathered 12 quilts that fit into different thematic groups. 

One of the groups was of vintage photographs with elaborate or decorative backgrounds. They are quirky and were the first quilts that got me attention on a national scale. It is a group that seem to be my most successful work.

The next group was of landscape quilts. I have quilts depicting the beautiful landscape near my home in Southern Utah including Zion National Park. I also have some quilts from a trip to San Antonio Texas. I am expanding this series with a quilt of the Denver Botanic Gardens and some wonderful scenes from a recent trip to the Baltic and trips to Italy.

In the last couple of years I have extended by portraits to contemporary images of  taken on cell phones. One potential series is of my daughter’s selfies. The signature element is of a face and shoulders that take up almost the entire composition. They are larger than life and I am taking some cues from Chuck Close and from advertising.


It was while putting together a show of my own work, I was able to see the possibilities of creating a series of work that could potentially become something to market as an exhibition in a gallery or to a small museum.


2020 is proving to be filled with opportunities!

Until next time.....
Margaret

 

 

 

Investing in Progress

Many people write New Year’s resolutions.

Most people don’t follow through with their big plans and by the following year they are resolving to she those same ten pounds

Creative people are not different.

New Years

Artists vow to spend 3 hours a day in the studio this year  and enter so many exhibitions, have a gallery show, etc.... I know myself better than to make that kind of promise. In years past I have made a list of specific things I wanted to do. Take a workshop. Redesign my studio, etc.....


What I find helpful is taking time to review what I have accomplished.

It’s my end of year “Ta Dah!” list instead of a “To Do List”


 This year I made 12 quilts.  The previous year I made 8 quilts. I had 11 exhibitions in 2019 and have been accepted into 4 additional exhibitions scheduled for 2020. The previous year I was included in 8 exhibitions. This is the first time I have had a solo exhibition .  I will be featured in two Magazines in 2020 and I have booked both a workshop and lecture. It’s been a productive year. 

These opportunities came about because of the investments I made over the last five years as a studio artist. 

Investment #1: The studio

I have a space where I can work consistently. The machines I use (A Bernina and a HQ Sweet Sixteen) are well maintained. I have  taken advantage of training provided by my local dealer and have put in enough practice hours to troubleshoot most issues.

I collect images in a computer file for digital manipulation. My computer is in my studio so I can work on getting my digital images  ready for printing on fabric. Printed fabric can take 2 - 4 weeks to arrive. My goal is to have four digitally printed yards on hand.   

My process involves painting each digital image. I keep my paints stocked and organized. When I quilt the painted top, I have a least 10 bobbins (I use pre wounds) and a selection of multiple colors, values and weights.

I always bind the quilt, add a sleeve and label immediately after I am done quilting. There are no half finished projects in my studio.

Investment #2: Record Keeping

As a former public school teacher, I am a “natural” record keeper. When I finish a making a quilt use a consistent process of record keeping.  First I photograph the  quilts . I save the file in TIFF, JPEG and Web ready formats. By doing this work I can enter any exhibition easily. Next I add the title and dimensions to my inventory spreadsheet for the year. Finally  I write an artist statement .  I keep my images on my computer and on an external hard drive. The spreadsheets and documents are stored on google drive. I can access those files from any device. 

My system for keeping track of exhibits is simple. I print out calls for entry, write the deadline at the top of the page, place them in date order in a pile that pinned to a wall in the studio. When I enter I write name of quilt and the date of notification at the top of the page. I move this to an entry pile in date order. If  my entry is accepted, I move the print it to a pile for shipping. If it's reject I throw it out. 

Investment #3: Community

When I complete a quilt, get into an exhibition or have an article in a magazine; I share this on social media. This work is made easier because I already have a “web ready” image on my computer. I have multiple social media accounts;  Facebook , Instagram, Linkedin and  Pinterest.   I also share my Facebook posts to a variety of art quilt groups. Recently I have even spent a little money to boost the impact of posts. I reached 10,000 + people in a single recent Facebook post. Social media is the prime delivery system for sharing what I make and leads to many other opportunities. 

I belong to my wonderful local quilt guild and to the Studio Art Quilt Associates. These are my two primary networking  groups. Participation provide me the opportunity to share what I do and learn from others.

Investing in workshops like Art Quilt Tahoe or Empty Spools Seminars has allowed me to learn from artists who are at the top of the profession and to connect with fellow art quilters from around the world. 

Going to exhibition openings at venues like the  Visions Art Museum in San Diego connects me with museums and collectors. I always carry business cards to any event and use my cell phone to share images


I want to end my wishing everyone who reads this post “A Happy, Healthy and Joyous New Year!”

until next time....
Margaret