Wonderful art cloth exhibit in Miami

Photo: Daniel Portnoy

Photo: Daniel Portnoy

This has been a confounding year so far. After a couple of surgeries (3 in 9 months), I feel like I've addressed some deferred maintenance issues, which is good. But, it seems that every time I've sort of gotten my feet back under me I've fallen over again--metaphorically speaking. As a consequence, the studio as been a disjointed, unproductive, unfulfilling confusing, mess--but things are turning around a looking up. I have 5 art quilts nearing completion, and I feel like I'll be strong enough in a few weeks to safely lift dye buckets.

Meanwhile, wonderful things have been happening for the Art Cloth Network. Our exhibit team has landed some outstanding venues this year, the most recent of which is the terminal gallery at Miami International Airport. The gallery is part of Miami-Dade County Division of Arts & Cultural Affairs, and they've been fantastic to work with. They even produced a stunning color brochure to accompany the show. The show is in a gallery that's inside the security perimeter, but if your travels happen to take you through MIA, check out the "Material View" exhibit.

That's my piece hanging at the entrance to the show--BIG SMILE. (Photo: Daniel Portnoy)

That's my piece hanging at the entrance to the show--BIG SMILE. (Photo: Daniel Portnoy)

Photo: Daniel Portnoy

Photo: Daniel Portnoy

Recent sales!

Emerge FULL.jpg

I'm delighted to say that my ongoing relationship with Peg Leg Vintage in College Park is proving to be both pleasant and rewarding. Their super-cool midcentury vibe fits perfectly with my own aesthetic, and their enthusiasm and support for my work is just great. The piece above, "Emerge" is an older work from 2009 that just sold last month! They've also carrying smaller framed works. Now, if could just stop buying furniture perhaps I could make a genuine profit!

You can read more about "Emerge" in the portfolio section.

Yearend perspective

"Nuclear Family," exhibited at the Schweinfurth Art Center in the summer of 2016.

"Nuclear Family," exhibited at the Schweinfurth Art Center in the summer of 2016.

Forget the super moon. The big thing now looming large on the horizon is the end of 2016, a year that will, for a host of reasons, be remembered, analyzed, and discussed ad nauseam for years to come. 

From a more personal perspective, this year has been one of significant change: leaving a job I loved (not entirely by choice), working independently in a new field, and learning a bit more about the kind of work that I like doing.

Here are a few things I've learned with year:

  • At the very top of the list: Be careful what you wish for. I've long said that I'd love to try working as a full-time artist. This year I've had the great good fortune to have been given just that opportunity, but it's sort of like the universe called my bluff.
  • Working alone, even for an introvert, can get lonely. It's really important to build social and professional connections and to interact with people. I miss the daily collegial conversations that naturally come as part of a corporate job. I know that this is something that I need to attend to in the coming year. 
  • I miss the leading, teaching, and helping aspects of my former career. I expect that most any artist would say that there's a delicate balance between working studio time, quiet thinking time,  and other pursuits. I'm looking for ways to scratch the itch for teaching and leading, but still guard that precious studio time. 
  • I'm still trying to figure it out what it means to be a “working artist.” In western culture in particular, work equates to a JOB (i.e., nothing that could ever be misconstrued as a hobby), progressive responsibility, earned income, financial independence, etc. Very few artists produce artwork that fits this description. Fame and fortune are not the objectives, and if they come at all, it's only after years of hard work—or after you're dead. This year I've been fortunate to have had my income supplemented by severance pay from my last job. That being said, I also sold enough work to be in the black for the year, but you can hardly call my net earning a living wage. I have artist friends who make money by teaching, publishing books, and doing TV appearances. Although I'm interested in teaching, I don't see myself becoming a traveling teacher or doing super-sized craft shows all over the country. Now I've got to figure out where that leaves me. I also know that, lofty as it might sound, one of my top priorities has to be growing as an artist and producing the best work of which I'm capable. Again, I have the great good fortune that Dan and I have arranged our finances in a way that allows me to continue on this journey next year. 
  • Finally, although it should be obvious, I've had to remind myself more times than I can count that changing careers is starting over—going back to the bottom and working your way up again. You don't get to step out of a mid-career, peak earning job into a similar situation in a completely different field with a different pay structure and expect all things to remain the same. Again, obvious. Knew it before I started. Still need to remind myself not to compare apples and oranges. 

Now, I have to say that writing those five bullet points has put me in a bit of funk. What am I doing? Is this all a mistake? But I know that this just another aspect of being your own boss. I don't have a boss to give me a good yearend review, and no teammates to offer positive feedback. Depending on your personality, when you work alone, it can be easy to lose sight of your accomplishments when you're focused on big questions and the future. So, for the record, I am proud of what I've accomplished this year--more sales, more commissions, more inventory, and more artwork being exhibited out in the world. I aimed high and applied for some very selective art competitions and craft shows, but didn't get accepted to most. Hey, aim high, fall far, get up and try again. To be honest, not getting into a huge, 4-day, very expensive craft show is not the worst thing that could happen!

So, here's my closing thought: 2016 has been a real adventure, full of learning and growth, and I can't recall ever uttering the words, “I'm bored.” I'm looking forward to more of the same in 2017.  And to all of you who congratulated me on my “early retirement,” please know that I appreciate the good wishes, but I'll be continuing in my not-so-secret identity as the Owner and Principal Artist at russlittlefiberartist, LLC for the foreseeable future. I'll figure out the retirement thing when I get there.

Art Cloth Network's "Anything Goes" opens at the San Jose Museum of Quilts & Textiles

"Focal Point" on display at the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles through Jan 15, 2017

"Focal Point" on display at the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles through Jan 15, 2017

Hey folks, if you find yourself in the Bay Area between now and Jan 15, 2017 consider a trip to the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles to see the Art Cloth Network show titled, "Anything Goes." 

This is our second exhibit at the museum, and we're delighted to have an opportunity to show our work in such a distinguished venue for fiber. I'm delighted to have my piece "Focal Point" included.

http://www.sjquiltmuseum.org/current-exhibitions-sjmqt-museum-art-downtown-sanjose

Greenbelt festival was a big success

The russlittlefiberartist booth at the Greenbelt Festival of Lights, 2016 (Photo: D Ryan)

The russlittlefiberartist booth at the Greenbelt Festival of Lights, 2016 (Photo: D Ryan)

I'm happy to say that we had another great year at the Greenbelt Festival of Lights Juried Art & Craft Fair. I got to reconnect with many of my longstanding local customers and supporters, meet many new folks, and enjoy the company of some outstanding fellow craftspeople. This is a really wonderful event. It always happens the first weekend in December. Pencil it in on your 2017 calendar now.

If you couldn't make it this year, but still need that unique gift for a special someone, please check out the growing list of new items in my online store. The last day for shipping pre-Christmas orders is December 20.

Visit my booth at the Greenbelt Festival of Lights Art+Craft Fair this weekend

I'll have a booth this weekend at the Greenbelt Festival of Lights Art and Craft Fair at the Greenbelt Community Center. Stop by Saturday (12/3) 10 AM - 5 PM or Sunday (12/4) 10 AM - 4 PM. I'll be offering a whole new selection of original art scarves as well as framed art. Look for preview images later this week. 

This is a wonderful show. I'm been fortunate to participate for several years, and I've always been impressed by the turnout and by the work of my fellow art/craft vendors.

Hope to see you there. Spread the word to your friends.

Recent work added to my portfolio

I've completed several pieces in the last couple of months, including three art quilts. It's always a bit of a delicate dance with new work. Do I love it? Do I hate it? Can I calm down long enough to see and fairly judges it's merits and faults? For what it's worth, the two "Shadow" pieces were rejected for 2 prestigious art shows. Win some, lose some. Lately it's been a lot of losing. Ah well... 

Click the links below each photo to see more images.

CMY

"Material View" on exhibit in Illinois

I've currently got a piece of art cloth hanging in an Art Cloth Network show at the Historic Dole Mansion in the Lakeside Art Park in Crystal Lake, Illinois (NW of Chicago). The show runs through Aug 25th. Stop by and have a look if your summer travels take you to Chicagoland.

Here's a photo of my work in the gallery. I confess that it's always a little bit of a thrill to see a piece hanging in a show. 

My piece is the one at far right, "Circular Recursion #1"  (credit: Barbara Schneider)

My piece is the one at far right, "Circular Recursion #1"  (credit: Barbara Schneider)

Here are images from the postcard for the First Friday opening reception. The face of the card features the work of Priscilla Smith. Special thanks to ACN member Barbara Schneider who got us this venue, installed the show, and gave the gallery talk at the opening.

Human Marks : Day 5 (final thoughts)

[Edited 5/28, 10:00 PM to correct typos] 

I took this photo on a walk after lunch Thursday for both inspiration and memory. It might sound a little precious, but I keep thinking "Rows of corn; rows of stitching." In some way that I don't yet fully understand, that seems to encapsulate this week.  One of the things that's really staying with me is the stitching--on fabric, on paper, alone, and in small circles of new friends. Stitch is transformative. It joins fabric into garments to cover and protect out bodies; it decorates functional items; it's a tool for artists. And yet stitch, like weaving, has become mechanized to the point that we hardly give a thought to its presence in our lives. 

I have sewing machines that can make 1,500 stitches per minute, and others that sew with 3 or 4 needles at a time. I treasure and rely on these tools to do my work, and I'd hate to be without them. Gosh, I wonder if I even managed to sew 1,500 stitches by hand this week! Not too many generations ago (and still today in some places) hand stitch and hand weaving were more the norm than the exception. Textile, thread, and needles were treasured. Garments were cared for and mended. As a consequence of industrial sewing and weaving, garments have become disposable. We replace rather than mend, and more often than not, we replace out of a desire for the new and chic.

More troubling than our cultural perception of garment and textile as disposable, is our expectation of an unending supply of product at an affordable price. Machine or no machine, someone is making the clothes you wear, even those purchased at a discount store for less than you might spend for lunch. Add to this thought the notion that hand stitched embellishments are time consuming and done entirely by people, not machines. 

I feel as though I'm rambling and grasping to draw these thoughts together. It's basically this: Somebody made my clothes, linens, etc. Even if I made some of the clothing, I didn't weave the fabric. Think of all the people involved in the production of a single garment and all of the folks taking their share of the profit. How much money makes it back to the person with his or her hands in the soil or on the sewing machine, or stitching away by hand?

I don't know what to do with that question except to be with it in the hope that greater mindfulness and better stewardship will follow. 

It's been wonderful to spend another week at the Barn, to reconnect with a few old friends, and make new connections. Stated simply, Dorothy Caldwell is not only a gifted artist, but a generous teacher. She has a talent for gently moving around the room, connecting with each of her students, and offering suggestions and words of encouragement that seem to keep each person on track--whatever that individual's track might be. Along the way she also interjects thought-provoking ideas, like our discussion and practice of hand stitching, which led to the thoughts above. If you're a visual artist of any sort then I say you can't go wrong with one of Dorothy's classes. 

Human Marks : Day 4

Today was all about bookbinding. Well, sort of. The task of binding our books superficially involved the mechanics of a simple stitched binding. On a deeper level it was an exercise in recognizing and solving a whole series of design problems. The pages that we've created this week all have a fold down the middle like a greeting card. Folded in half they form 4 pages. Assembling a book with some sort of flow involves sorting, selecting--and in come cases modifying--these groups of pages so that they work together, even though we didn't really plan how this was going to work from the outset. It was a great exercise. The photo above shows the end-of-day status for all of my projects for the week. Some things are not totally finished, but finished enough for the group review tomorrow morning.

The photos below show the binding for one of the books coming together. This was seriously fun and I think I might be doing more on my own.

Book signatures (groups of folded pages) assembled and ready for binding.

All of the signatures individually stitched with waxed linen thread and held together temporarily with a rubber band.

The final bound book. The signatures are all connected together by weaving embroidery floss through the waxed linen threads along the spine edge of each signature. That crazy nest of waxed thread hanging off the spine of the book is staying as a design element (it's art).

Human Marks : Day 2 + 3

Indian Kantha sample from Dorothy's collection.

Indian Kantha sample from Dorothy's collection.

Sorry for not posting yesterday. It was a LONG day. I got back to the hotel around 9 and continued stitching until about 1030. Yesterday started with a fantastic slide talk about kantha stitching in India (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kantha) and the work that Dorothy and some of her colleagues have done to document and support the work of local women. As I said in the Day 1 post, we're collecting our work into a hand bound volume. Yesterday we spent the better part of the day stitching a kantha-style cover for the book. How hard or time consuming could that possibly be? The answer is rather. Most of us aren't hand stitchers, so there's a bit of re-learning and slow going, but we're all making great progress between yesterday and today. The underlying lesson is that the oh-so-affordable hand stitched souvenir from your vacation or that catalog item from India or elsewhere was made by someone who labored for days to create it. Think about that and then look again at the price. It's sobering.   

This is were I started: blank cloth and simple tools.

By about mid-day today I was here.

Betwixt and between bouts of stitching there've been more slide talks, more mark-making exercises (including taking a hammer and nail to paper!), great food, and wonderful conversation and camaraderie. We've got a really great group of super-talented folks in class and there's great energy flowing.  

Human Marks : Day 1

I'm here in Ohio at the Crow Timber Frame Barn (nancycrow.com) for a one week workshop with Dorothy Caldwell (dorothycaldwell.com) titled, "Human Marks". I've admired the mark quality in Dorothy's work for many years, and countless friends and colleagues have recommended her workshops. I'm thrilled to finally have an opportunity to study with her.

As the name says, this workshop is all about human marks made in a variety of ways--fingerprints, pen, paint, burning, stitching, etc. The tangible end product will be several small hand bound books containing the results of our mark-making exercises. The intangible "product" is that there really isn't a product per se. We're making these marks without purpose, and the books will be a collection with no purpose other than to be an artifact of the time. The marks aren't intended to be representational or patternistic. They just are. 

It's a rare thing for me to spend five days doing something that isn't driving toward a goal. I'm enjoying it. Here are a few samples of today's work.

Marks make with a pen (mine's the one in the center).

Marks make with a brush and india ink. The tall piece to the right make with fingerprints. The small bits on the far right are marks burned into cloth with incense. 

Beginning the new adventure

Updated 1/27/2016 to correct an intolerable number of typos.

I took off the last 2 weeks of December in anticipation that the last day of the year would mark my last day at National Geographic after almost 26 years--that's 9,448 days, but who counts. It was an amazing experience--many jobs, at least 2 careers, and tremendous people, all under a single roof. The decision to leave was not taken lightly or made with ease. The recent reorganization (just Google "Washington Post National Geographic") presented me with both a job opportunity and a chance to take a voluntary separation package. I chose the latter. I hope that years from now I can have a Frost-like moment when I can rightly compare this inflection point in the arc of my life story to those roads in a yellow wood. I confess that having just reread "The Road Not Taken," I'm struck by just how very appropriate it is to the moment.

So here I am, nearly a month later. I've had a couple weeks of holiday slacking, followed by a couple weeks of a lingering, gurgling, post-holiday virus, which I can always count on before Epiphany. I've cleaned the closets, remembered how to cook, cleared the backlog of ironing, and tidied my desk. And of course we've had a blizzard, affectionately dubbed "Snowzilla". Now what? I suppose it's time to embrace this whole idea of being a self-employed artist. You see, that's what this leap of faith is supposed to be about--moving from my day-to-day corporate job to being a full time working artist. The universe has seen fit to send me several bits of reassurance that I've made the right decision: a supportive husband, a host of friends cheering me on, a small show at the New Deal Cafe, and a commission that I'm hoping to finalize within a week. I'm grateful. 

What's missing at this point is a routine, my great boss, and my work friends.

A regular rhythm to my day is only just starting to come together. I like a certain amount of routine and a certain amount of flexibility, but I'm little surprised to find just how aimless one can become when all structure is taken away. 

I've had good bosses and bad bosses--and I mean seriously bad. I was fortunate to leave NGS on a high note, having spent most of the last 2 years working for a great boss. I miss having a leader I can follow with confidence and someone who I knew was thinking faster and farther than I was. Now that falls to me. I get to be both the leader and the follower. It's great to lead; sometimes it's also nice to follow--just saying.

I love days spent in near silence, or perhaps with an audiobook or NPR. Having said that, I can also say that a week spent that way will definitely make you appreciate the folks with whom you used to spend your days. This is my opportunity to make new connections, but I miss my colleagues.  

That's the news. Whatever I write next (could that possibly be as early as tomorrow?) will be about what comes next. 

New show booth in the making

This post could also be titled, "What I did over my Thanksgiving break." My craft show booth has evolved over the years, but has always been variations on a basic pipe-and-drape design--essentially a curtain backdrop. I'm about to do my 5th show (admittedly my 5th in 5 years, but still...) so I decided to up my game a bit. I've looked at several options for purchasing a booth, but (a) they aren't cheep and (b) they can be bulky. My solution needs to fit in a 4-door car with the rear seat folded down. That means it needs to break down to a small package. 

My solution was a 7' tall folding screen with options to add or remove panels to accommodate different spaces. The pictures above show various stages of production as well as the fully disassembled state. I designed it to have an intentionally raw wood, knocked together look. So far I'm pleased with the result. This morning it'll get the last coat of shellac to protect the wood, then I just need to make the fabric panels that will be stretched in the frame. 

I'll post photos of the finished creation in action next weekend when it's all set up at the Festival of Lights

Check out the new items in my online store

Black Friday? Really? Isn't there still a pile of Thanksgiving dishes in the sink?

Whether you're a conservative shopper or an an all out shopping maniac, it is indeed the time of year when we all begin to contemplate gifts for friends and loved ones, and perhaps for ourselves. It's also an incredibly busy time of year for everyone involved in creating, marketing, and selling. I know I've certainly been busy. 

Click on over to my online store and see some of the newest creations. Buying from local merchants and small businesses is a great way to support the community. These folks--people just like me--are wonderful source for original, one-of-a-kind gifts.

And, if you find yourself in the Washington, DC area next weekend (Dec 5-6), stop by my booth at the Greenbelt Festival of Lights craft fair to see more of my work.

Visit my booth at the Greenbelt Festival of Lights craft show Dec 5-6

Stop by my booth at the Greenbelt Festival of Lights craft fair next weekend, Dec 5 (10am - 5pm) & Dec 6 (10am - 4 pm) at the Greenbelt Community Center located at 15 Crescent Rd in Greenbelt, MD (map).  

It's exciting to be participating in this wonderful gathering of talented artists and craftspeople for my 5th year in a row. I'm looking forward to reconnecting with longtime supporters, meeting new folks, and showing my most recent wearable creations.  

An acceptance in the middle of a sea of rejections

I'm happy to report that "Focal Point" has been accepted into the Art Cloth Network show "Anything Goes". Elin Noble was the juror. She's a delightful, talented artist and teacher. It's an honor to have had her review my work. The first venue for the show hasn't yet been determined, so that's something else to look forward to. 

"Focal Point"

"Focal Point"