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I’m donating to HIAS and I want you to help

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The November midterm election results give me hope that the pushback against hatred is gaining ground. But, the undeniable truth is that we live in troubling times and there’s still much to be done. Consider the following.

On Saturday, Oct 27, 2018 an anti-Semitic terrorist stepped into the Tree of Life Congregation Synagogue in Pittsburgh armed with an automatic rifle and multiple handguns. He then murdered 11 people and wounded 6 others, all of whom were gathered for worship.

In a country where words like Pulse, 9-11, Oklahoma City, and Charleston Emanuel AME are etched into dark and tearful places in our minds, why does this latest atrocity stand out? It’s the antisemitism. It’s the hate-filled killing of innocent people, several old enough to have already witnessed and experienced more than enough suffering for a single lifetime. It’s the attack on people in a holy place in the very act of worship. It’s the terrorist’s bigotry that he twisted into a rage over the work of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) and their efforts to help people fleeing danger and persecution.

It’s not the first hate crime, and it won’t be the last. But, for me it was the last straw for that particular week—one already marked by other acts of violence and remembered violence. There are undoubtedly mental health considerations in all of these cases. I just can’t accept that humans are born to hate and kill one another. So, while I’ve been mulling that over, wondering how to forgive and how to have hope, I’ve been thinking about other things.

Since the attack I’ve taken the time to learn a bit more about HIAS, their history, and their work. You can read about the organization on their website at https://www.hias.org, or you can visit Charity Navigator (https://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=search.summary&orgid=3820). For now, I can think of no better response to these killings than to do good in the face of evil, and to do it in a way that’s diametrically opposed to the supposed object of the terrorist’s rage.

That’s why I’m donating to HIAS, and I want your help. Here’s how.

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I’m offering 8 wearable art scarves for sale and donating 100% of the sale price to HIAS.

Each of these lightweight cotton scarves features affirmative words appropriate for our present situation, and patterning reminiscent of…well let’s just say “past times of protest” and leave it at that. Let’s work together to push back against the darkness and send a positive message and good energy out into the world draped around your neck. Click the SHOP button in the menu above to visit my online store and select “HIAS Fundraiser” from the lefthand column.

The fine print:

  • When I say 100%, I mean 100%. I will absorb all of the credit card processing fees and material/labor costs. All I ask is that you pay the sales tax and shipping costs. So, purchasing a $60 item results in a $60 contribution from me to HIAS.

  • I’m not operating a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, so yes, you do need to pay sales tax on this purchase; and no, I cannot provide a gift letter for your income tax preparer.

  • In order to give everyone equal access and make this truly a first-come-first-served kind of thing, all purchases must be made by credit card through my online store.

  • If you live locally and would like to arrange to pick up your scarf at my studio, go ahead and complete the purchase online and use the code HIASFUNDRAISER during checkout. This will apply a $7 discount to your order, thereby reversing the shipping charge. You must then contact me to arrange a pickup time ASAP.

From paper to fabric: Surface design methods that embrace the intersection of manual and digital design

This article originally appeared on the Art Cloth Network blog in March 2018 (http://artclothnetwork.blogspot.com)


This is the second of two articles that deal with my ventures into digital fabric printing. The first article dealt with digital printing in the context of my larger journey and identity as a fiber artist. This time I want to discuss the different sorts of digitally printed cloth and the ways in which I’m using digital printing--ways that I believe are a bit different from what I’ve seen from other artists.

The type of designs and images digitally printed on cloth can be organized into several categories:

  • Utilitarian: Banners or other signage that were once screen printed and are now produced on a digital printer.
  • Yardage: Traditional repeat patterns of graphic elements, or an abstract, non-repeating pattern printed on cloth to produce yardage for garments, home dec items, etc. 
  • Faithfully rendered photographs: Think of a memory quilt that incorporates photos of your grandparents printed on fabric.
  • Manipulated photographs: Colorized, filtered, and altered images typically printed with the intention of making art.
  • Computational art: These are designs created entirely within a computer program specifically designed to create digital images. For example a program that creates fractal designs.
  • Whole cloth compositions: A length of digitally printed cloth that is a finished product or a step along the way to creating a finished artwork. Subsequent steps might include dyeing, painting, stitching, cutting, etc.

You could easily argue that the boundary between these last two categories is a little fuzzy, but for me the distinction is whether or not you start with one or more photographs.The work that I’m most interested in falls in this last category. I think we can break this group down still further and say that these whole cloth compositions can be:

  • Created entirely in the computer through drawing, manipulating images, or using a computer program to create an image.
  • Created in a hybrid manual/digital space that involves creating a design on paper, scanning or photographing that work to get it into the computer, then manipulating the image further to create a result that is ready to print on fabric.

With some trial and error I’ve settled into two work methods within the hybrid manual/digital approach, embracing some of the best of both paper and fabric. Specifically, I’ve found that the mark quality that I get from cutting paper with an X-ACTO knife is completely different from what I get when I cut fabric. The resulting compositions are different as well. It’s as if this way of working taps into a different part of my brain with its own distinct voice. These two methods both rely on digital fabric printing technology--wide carriage inkjet printing on fabric (I’ve been using spoonflower.com). I’m calling them “Digital design using hand cut elements” and “Paper compositions rendered on fabric”. There are pros and cons to each.

 A composition created using the "Digital design using hand cut elements" method "Nuclear Family", Russ Little, 2015 (digitally printed cloth, quilting)  

A composition created using the "Digital design using hand cut elements" method
"Nuclear Family", Russ Little, 2015 (digitally printed cloth, quilting)
 

Digital design using hand cut elements

The goal of this approach is to use cut paper to create marks, shapes, and motifs that can be scanned into the computer, and then used to create a composition on a background. Here’s how I do this.

  1. Paint black paper. Depending on your intended design you can create a very dense black or something with more visual texture and brush strokes. Alternatively you can use black construction paper, but I prefer the visual and physical texture of the paper I paint myself. I use a variety of papers including old newspaper, receipts, found bits of paper,  and Bienfang Graphics 360 marker pad.
  2. Cut shapes and linear elements. The goal is to build a vocabulary of curved and straight lines, both thin and thick, as well as a variety of shapes.
  3. Glue the shapes and lines to white card stock. Uhu glue stick is my preferred adhesive. You’re not trying to create a composition, just get them on the page without overlapping.
  4. Scan or photograph the resulting pages, then store the originals someplace flat, dry, and safe so that you can return to them in the future if necessary. I use sheet protectors in a loose leaf binder.
  5. Open the image file(s) in a graphic editing program (e.g., Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator). From here you can select and copy your individual shapes then scale, stretch, rotate, flip, and colorize them to meet your needs. The reason for creating these shapes in black is so that they can be easily selected, then black can be replaced with other colors. 
  6. Build your composition in a separate file by copying and pasting your shapes and lines onto a background of your choice.
  7. When the design is finished, upload it to an online printing service or take the file to an appropriate local print shop for output on fabric.
 Cut paper shapes ready for scanning

Cut paper shapes ready for scanning

Pros

Because all of the elements exist as separate objects in your digital design, you can easily move them around until the composition is to your liking. You can also create an unlimited number of variations.

Cons

The computer is a wonderful tool, but I find that sometimes the technology can be a little cold and detached, creating a separation between the artist and the work. I don’t get the same feeling from this process that I do when I’m working exclusively on paper.

 A composition created using the "Paper composition rendered on fabric" method "Collage #1", Russ Little, 2017, (cut paper collage digitally printed on cloth, quilted)

A composition created using the "Paper composition rendered on fabric" method
"Collage #1", Russ Little, 2017, (cut paper collage digitally printed on cloth, quilted)

Paper compositions rendered on fabric

The solution to the coldness of the computer is to leave it out of the process entirely until it’s absolutely necessary. This is currently my preferred way of working:

  1. Paint paper in a variety of colors (a full range of hues and values; don’t forget the neutrals).
  2. Prepare a painted background on card stock.
  3. Cut the shapes from your colored paper required to create a composition.
  4. Arrange the shapes, lines, etc. on the painted background.
  5. Add other drawn or printed elements to the composition if appropriate.
  6. Glue the shapes and lines in place on the background.
  7. Scan or photograph the resulting composition, then store the original someplace flat, dry, and safe. As noted above, I’ve been storing my work in sheet protectors in a binder.
  8. Open the image file in an image editing program (e.g., Adobe Photoshop) and do whatever retouching, adjustments, or color correction is necessary. Crop or scale the image as needed. 
  9. When the design is finished, upload it to an online printing service for output on fabric.
  10. For me, the final, optional step is often to layer the printed fabric with batting and backing, then add dense quilting that speaks to the printed design. I often incorporate hand stitch as well. 

Pros

The design work is completely analog. The computer is only used as a means of getting the resulting composition printed on cloth. Working this way keeps me slow and focused and avoids those times when I get lost in trying to figure out how to do something using Photoshop that I can easily do by hand.

Cons

To my way of thinking there aren’t many cons to this method, except for the one that’s inherent in all works of the hand. Unlike the digital design method described above, when you cut something it’s cut; when you make a mark it’s made. There aren’t too many easy undos, but isn’t that part of the fun?

Technical and design considerations

There are several technical considerations to bear in mind when using either of these hybrid manual/digital methods, particularly if you are using the second approach to prepare an entire composition on paper for later printing on cloth.

Resolution and scale

If you prepare your cut shapes or your entire composition at a size smaller than you intend to print it, then you will need to enlarge your image before printing. That means that you need to consider two things:

  • Understand the relationship between the image resolution from your camera or scanner and the final resolution required for printing on cloth. Some manipulation of the resolution will be required and you need to consider the resolution requirement of the printer. 
  • Regardless of image resolution, if your final printed cloth is larger than your original paper composition, then you are scaling up. That scale change means that you need to plan for your design elements to be enlarged or you need to work on larger paper. Those delicate marks on your paper design can become a lot less elegant at 400%.

Photographing and scanning

If possible and practical, use a flatbed scanner to create an image of your paper composition. You might still need to do some color adjustments, but your work will be held perfectly flat, lit evenly, and imaged at a high resolution.

If your work is too large to scan (e.g., larger than 8.5” x 11” or 8.5” x 14”), then you can either scan it in sections or photograph it. Scanning in sections requires planning up front. For example, will you build your design across several sheets of paper or will you work on one large sheet and cut it into smaller pieces for scanning? Ultimately, these individual images will need to be combined to form a single seamless image.

If you’re photographing your composition because you don’t have access to a scanner or don’t want to cut up a piece that’s too large to scan, then it’s important to photograph the piece as flat as possible, light it evenly, fill the camera’s viewfinder as completely as possible to maximize resolution, and make certain that your camera is square to the plane of the artwork (i.e., not tilted, twisted, or angled). Use a tripod and focus carefully to insure that the image is as sharp as possible.

Color correction and management

To get the color from your printer that you want on your final cloth you’re going to need to pay close attention to color throughout the process. That likely means color correcting what you’re getting out of your camera or scanner, working on a color corrected monitor, and accounting for the color profile of the printer that will be used to create your fabric. Alternatively, you can just not stress over color and accept what you get back from the printer.

Text

Finally, if you incorporate painted newsprint or any other paper with visible writing on it into your composition, realize that even if the text is upside down and backwards the viewer will try to read it and assign meaning to it. Be intentional in your use of text and pay close attention to the amount of text that is visible on your painted paper.

Products and services referenced in this article:

  • Adobe Photoshop (https://www.adobe.com/products/photoshop.html)
  • Adobe Illustrator (https://www.adobe.com/products/illustrator.html)
  • X-ACTO #1 Precision Knife (https://www.dickblick.com/products/x-acto-1-knife/)
  • Uhu Stic Glue stick (https://www.dickblick.com/products/uhu-stic-glue-sticks/)
  • Bienfang Graphics 360 marker pad (https://www.dickblick.com/products/bienfang-graphics-360-marker-paper/)
  • Spoonflower.com online digital fabric printing service
  • Staples medium weight sheet protectors (https://www.staples.com/Staples-Standard-Sheet-Protectors-100-Pack/product_40713)
     

Wrestling with surface design guilt

This article originally appeared on the Art Cloth Network blog in March 2018 (http://artclothnetwork.blogspot.com)


This is the first of two articles that deal with my sojourn into digital fabric printing--the why and how of it and what it means in the context of my larger journey as a fiber artist. We’ll start with the big issues in this article. I’ll dig into the methods in the next one.

I’ve been dyeing and printing fabric for close to 20 years, and I still find it exciting. I love the process of getting color onto and off of cloth. I love the details--the measuring, weighing, and calculation--that allow me to create predictable, repeatable color. I love the toolmaking--carving relief printing blocks, designing and burning silk screens, and gathering found objects that become mark making implements. I love painting and printing big pieces of cloth. And then, of course, there are all of the things that happen to that printed cloth. It becomes art cloth for the wall, it gets quilted or stitched, or it becomes art to wear--one of a kind scarves or jackets. Lately though, I’ve been wrestling with a guilty feeling that I’ve been disloyal to my craft, or at the very least veering off on a tangent.

 "Illumination: Counting" Hand dyed art cloth  Russ Little, 2013  

"Illumination: Counting"
Hand dyed art cloth
Russ Little, 2013
 

In all of my time as a dyer, I’ve been a quilt surface designer. I’ve made pieced quilts as well as quilted whole cloth paintings. But, for the last year or so, the thing that’s excited me the most is cut paper collage. I paint paper--drawing paper, found bits of paper, old newspapers--with gouache in an array of colors, then cut it into shapes and arrange them to form a composition. This method is anything but new. Many artists have worked in collage, Matisse being not the least among them (try Googling “Matisse collage”). To give credit where it’s due, I started getting excited about collage through workshops on color theory, collage, and design that I’ve taken with David Hornung.

Collage takes many forms: combinations of found images and/or text, combinations of solid color shapes, figurative, abstract, the whole gamut. You might say that the term “collage” is a big umbrella term that covers lots of forms of “sticking stuff to paper”.

For me, there’s something totally different that happens in my brain when I’m cutting, arranging, and layering paper compared to cutting and piecing fabric, or even painting directly on fabric. Designs and motifs emerge when I cut into paper with an X-ACTO knife that are completely different from what happens on my design wall with fabric. But I still want to work in fabric, and I want to incorporate the textural layer of quilting into the final composition.

 "Collage #3" Cut paper collage digitally printed on cloth, quilted Russ Little, 2017

"Collage #3"
Cut paper collage digitally printed on cloth, quilted
Russ Little, 2017

With some trial and error I’ve found my way to two work methods that embrace some of the best of both paper and fabric. They both rely on digital fabric printing technology--wide carriage inkjet printing on fabric. I create shapes or full designs on paper, scan or photograph them, then send them to a service provider for printing on cloth. When I receive the printed cloth I can them treat it as finished art cloth or add more layers to it through paint, stitch, quilting, etc. Detailed discussion of these methods will be the subject of the next article in this series. For now it’s enough to know that I’m allowing a computer to put dye/pigment on cloth, rather than doing it with my own two hands.

So, what’s all this hand wringing about “surface design guilt”? Well, it comes down to the simple facts of change and that newest of buzzwords, disruption. I’ve spent years building knowledge, skill, and experience in the manual work of hand dyeing and printing cloth. Now I find that I’m able to create a finished work of  fiber art without ever touching dye or fabric paint, and it makes me a little uneasy. It sometimes feels inauthentic. Heretofore, part of the challenge--the foundational craft in this particular art form--has been the skillful manipulation of dye, paint, and cloth to produce the desired result. The computer and printer certainly bring their own set of challenges, but those aren’t generally surmounted using the skills I’ve worked so hard to learn.

In the end, the peace that I’ve made with all of this is perhaps the same peace that others have made. As artists we must embrace new opportunities, tools, and ways of thinking, while remaining grounded in those traditional and foundational skills. Perhaps a fitting comparison might be that a artists using a knitting machine is probably better able to make effective use of that tool if they first learn to knit by hand.

I also wonder about the future. I hope that young artists will continue to learn about traditional, manual ways of working before making the leap of digital tools. I have no desire or intention to stop working with dye, because that particular set of tools and techniques produces different results for me than digital tools. However, it’s also interesting to consider that at some point in the future I might live someplace different and might not find it practical or even desirable to have a full fledged dye studio. The new processes I’ve been exploring lend themselves to a way of making art that requires not much more than a computer, internet connection, cutting table, and sewing machine. 

So, I suppose the “guilt” I’m feeling is mostly rooted in the idea that I simultaneously want to try new thing and be part of the change, and yet I don’t want to see things change too much. And, since we can’t have it both ways, I’m going to forge ahead with one foot on each side of the line between tradition and technology.

In the next article in this series I’ll examine how that blended approach is influencing the way that I work.

Visit my booth at the Greenbelt Festival of Lights, Dec 2-3

2017 Greenbelt Art and Craft Fair.png

All of a sudden the holidays are upon us. As you contemplate gifts for friends, family, and self, please consider supporting the local craftspeople and artists who will be at this year's Greenbelt Festival of Lights Juried Art & Craft Fair. It's a wonder show in a community that really supports the arts.

The event runs Saturday Dec 2 (10-5) - Sunday, Dec 3 (10-4) at the Greenbelt Community Center (directions). I'll have a booth again this year, selling wearable art. I hope to see you all there. 

 

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

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.

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. 

Greenbelt Festival of Lights just 2 weeks away

FOL web graphic
FOL web graphic

Visit my booth at the Greenbelt Festival of Lights Art & Craft Fair Dec 6-7th where I'll be selling original art cloth scarves. This is always a wonderful event and a great opportunity to shop locally, support makers and small businesses, and save money by purchasing directly from the source. It's hard to believe that this will be my 4th year participating.

Progress: drying out + rebuilding

We're making amazing progress on recovering from the flood. Damage to my Bernina 1090 was worse than I thought, but less than it could have been.  Two motors and a full overhaul later, I've been told by the repair guy that it's performing very well. I'm hoping to see that for myself this weekend. The insurance company has been great about getting us through the cleanup and inspection process and providing funds to start the repair. Just as amazing was the fact that our general contractor was able to fit us into his schedule earlier than he anticipated. So, we're very far along with the rebuilding.

The basement got a little worse before it got better. After the old tile floor was exposed and thoroughly dried we began noticing a few loose tiles. By "a few" I mean just about all of them. That meant removing all of the tiles and disinfecting the cement floor underneath.

tiles removed
tiles removed

Yesterday we came home to the scene below. The new vinyl blank flooring is installed and the painting looks like it's just about done. With luck we'll be completely finished by Friday afternoon and ready to begin moving back in over the weekend. It's been a complete whirlwind--the flood was 2 weeks ago yesterday--but that's way better than the long-and-slow process that it could have been.

IMG_2112
IMG_2112

Acqua Alta: The Destruction of my Studio

For hundreds of years the Venetians have lived with the waters of the lagoon--not next to or near, but with. The moon, tides, and storms combine periodically to inundate the city. I've been there to see it; it's impressive. The Venetians cope by donning their Wellies, assembling temporary elevated walkways, and, for the most part, living above the ground floor. The water goes away, they clean up, and move on. So why did I locate my studio in a basement space? Necessity, limited options--whatever--that's where it was. This past Tuesday we were hit with what will probably be called a "50-year flood event"--the second in about 5 years. You do the math. Here's a photo of Dan's weather station. Note that at 9:17AM we reached a maximum rainfall rate of 15.57 inches per hour. All told we got almost 7 inches of rain in less than an hour. And, that's where flash floods come from.

MaxRain Rate
MaxRain Rate

There were people in our neighborhood being rescued from cars trapped in 5 feet of water in an underpass where I've never see water. The storm drains were overwhelmed causing the drain at the bottom of our basement stairs to backup 2 feet of water outside the exterior door to the studio. We have a 2-pump system to deal with just this sort of emergency. It failed (long story; someone's fault; not the ours, the pump's or the pump contractor's). The net result was about 10 inches of water in the basement.

Here's the before. Pretty.

Studio 2013 1130
Studio 2013 1130

In the photo below you can see the water line along the exterior door. We're lucky that this was storm water and not sewage. Some neighbors and friends weren't so lucky.

Photo Jun 10, 3 33 59 PM
Photo Jun 10, 3 33 59 PM

I was able to save almost all of the dyed fabric. This is the beginning of a small mountain that formed in the driveway. I've got 4 garbage bags of ironing waiting for me, but it's better than a total loss.

Photo Jun 10, 3 41 25 PM
Photo Jun 10, 3 41 25 PM

Among the saddest losses was a stack of books I'd just started moving to the basement. Some were rare and out-of-print. It hurts to see any book ill-treated, and destroyed is that much worse. However, all of my workshop notes and dye sample books survived. When I say, "Thanks be to God" I mean every single word!

Photo-Jun-11-4-50-09-PM-e1402752747878-225x300.jpg

So we spent from midday Tuesday until midday Friday packing, cleaning, repairing damaged appliances, pumps, etc., and talking to adjustors, estimators, and other helpful folks.

Photo Jun 11, 5 08 54 PM
Photo Jun 11, 5 08 54 PM

Friday afternoon the cleaning and mitigation team arrived to rip up the floor and cut out 24" of drywall and insulation all the way around the studio and utility room, apply disinfectant, and setup industrial dehumidifiers and fans (many fans). Our contractor comes today to talk about rebuilding.

Photo Jun 12, 5 43 25 PM
Photo Jun 12, 5 43 25 PM

In the end we lost some stuff, a few small appliances (e.g., dehumidifier, condensate pump, vacuum, etc.), but the furnace survived and the hot water heater was repaired. Three of the four sewing machines are OK, despite having their foot pedals submerged (or floating). The fourth machine (my faithful and much loved Bernina 1090) was on the floor. I dried it out and it appears to be running, but acting a little strange. It's going to the repair shop today. I lost a big stack of wool suiting remnants, an entire bolt of felt, blah, blah, blah. Basically everything in a plastic tub survived. After this my whole life is going into plastic tube, ziplocks, and sheet protectors.

Dan and I are both grateful that it wasn't worse. "Why?" is not really a productive question at this point. However, "Never again!" might be a good battle cry. WSSC (the sewer people) has some explaining to do.

David Hornung's "Collage" workshop

It's Wednesday, and a week ago today I was in David Hornung's "Collage" workshop at the Crow Timber Frame Barn in Ohio. It was the second workshop that I've taken with David (davidhornung.com), the other being "Color: A workshop for artists and designers" back in 2009. Where the color workshop was predominantly a carefully programmed and exercise-focused experience, the collage workshop was almost entirely unstructured studio time with a general rhythm of slide show, discussion, working, and critique. We started Monday morning with a sideshow and discussion of collage as a medium and looked at examples from previous students. It was only then that I realized that several of my fellow students were "repeat offenders", returning for a second year for another week with David. He's a good and gentle teacher, and I find that he's particularly adept at creating a peaceful and contemplative environment in the studio. I think that might come in part from his own habit of working in silence. It was a real treat to work in the beautiful sunny upstairs studio at the Barn with something like a dozen people, all of whom were able to work in relative silence for hours. I confess that I went into this workshop hoping for more structured design exercises. [As it turns out, I'll be getting that in a two week design principles class with David next spring.] As a result of the open ended collage composition assignments ("Try to make 3-6 compositions per day") I was free to follow whatever path I found myself on. And, the paths turned out to be interesting. The image below show most of the work that I completed in the week. They're all small studies, but they revealed some interesting things about my thinking and aesthetic sense.

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A few observations:

  • In spite of my obsession with circles, when you put an Xacto knife in my hand I seem more likely to cut a straight line. I should probably be more thoughtful about my choice of tools, and mix things up a bit.
  • I'm analytical about my design (e.g, straight lines, numbers, math, balance, and carefully planned imbalance).
  • I really enjoy neutral backgrounds.
  • The drawn line combined with the cut/pieced/collaged line is beautiful. Others do this far better than I, but I love it in almost all instances.
  • Linear does not have to mean tight.
  • Nerdy is OK.
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IMG_2046

Toward the end of the week, having completed so many analytical compositions, I intentionally created some very loosely brushed paper that I could cut up and rearrange. The images below show the result. I think they are pointing to possibilities--heck the whole week is pointing to possibilities.

In sum, it was definitely time well spent. Many thanks to David and my fellow collage warriors for creating such as supportive and productive environment.

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IMG_2054
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IMG_2052

Carol Soderlund's "Neutral Territory"--way more than 50 shades of grey

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I've just returned from two weeks at the Crow Timber Frame Barn in Ohio for two outstanding workshops, one with Carol Soderlund (carolsoderlund.com) and one with David Hornung (davidhornung.com). I'll write about David's workshop in a future post. This one is all about Carol's workshop, which was titled "Neutral Territory: 50 Shades of Gray + 50 Shades of Brown."

In her "Color Mixing for Dyers" workshop, Carol teaches the basics of full-immersion and low-water immersion dyeing with Procion MX dyes. The tangible products of the class are a head full of knowledge, Carol's stunningly detailed handouts, and THICK binder that her students affectionately refer to as, "The Bible". This reference volume contains thousands of dyed 1-inch square fabric samples (made in class) to document the cubic color model for several combinations of different yellow, red, and blue dye. It's amazing, and I use my notebook almost every time I'm in the dye studio.

So, why all of the description of a workshop that I took 6 years ago? Well, "Neutral Territory" builds on "Color Mixing." Every combination of three pure MX dye primary colors has the potential to create a neutral black, warm black, cool black, etc. The trick is finding the right proportions of yellow, red, and blue. What I'm telling you is that I paid good money to spend 5 days with Carol and 19 other students mixing untold numbers (way more than 50!) of very carefully formulated mixtures of dye searching for good black candidates, then creating 10-step gradations of the best candidates to see if what we thought was black was really neutral or had a hue leaning. And, we only scratched the surface of the 80 families (i.e., possible combinations) of yellows, reds, and blues. It was as much about the investigative method as it was about the end result. That said, I'm now the proud owner of another mighty sample book, which might come to be known as "The Apocrypha".

For me, the culmination of the workshop came late on the 4th day when I washed out some silk samples that I'd just discharged and realized that I'd managed to combine what I learned in this workshop with what I'd previously learned in Carol's "Dyeing to Discharge" and "True Colors" to select a dye combination, mix a black by eye, and create a predictable result that I've been wanting for some time now--a black that grades down to a silver-gray and discharges to near white. I love that feeling that comes when deep study in a subject area produces learning that all begins to overlap and intersect.

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photo 3

I count this workshop as another great week spent with an outstanding teacher and excellent mentor. If you have any serious interest in dyeing, I urge you to seek an opportunity to study with Carol. Rest assured, you'll be a better dyer for having done so.

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photo1

I'm launching a new online series

I'm feeling the need to make a commitment to something that will feed my inner artist on a day-to-day basis. I still have a corporate job that keeps me busy most days and leaves me tired most evenings. And yet, I'm also very committed to growing as an artist. Part of that growth is keeping the creative fires stoked on days when I'm not able to be in the studio. Several years ago my friend Sherill Gross (http://sagworks.wordpress.com) embarked on the ambitious project to created a completed work for art almost every day for an entire year. The result was a wonderful series of cut paper works and an accompanying book titled, "2007 one-a-(week)day." Sherill inspires me on many levels, high on the list being her dedication to her craft.

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I'm setting the same challenge for myself, but keeping it simple. I'm totally enthralled with TileDeck, an iOS app that let's you create color doodles that you can then arrange in various different tessellation patterns. It's really cool; perhaps even a little addictive. So here's what I'm going to do (at least what I'm planning to do): I will create and post one new pattern every day for the next year. That's all--just one image each day; no narrative. I just realized that I'm holding my breath and sitting on the edge of my seat as I type this. That means something. I think it's apprehension. This project won't be demanding work. On the contrary, it's going to be fun. The apprehension I'm feeling is about making a commitment to myself that I might fail to keep. But, that's casting myself a bit too far into the future. For now, let's just make a start...

You can see the daily posts here or by clicking the "365 patterns" link under "Portfolio" in the menu bar, above.

Fallow time

The last few months have been a bit of a dry time for me in the studio. A mixture of happy and not-so-happy life events have combined to create an emotional roller coaster that’s left me feeling rather overwhelmed and unproductive. On the positive side, Dan and I got legally married and escaped to the Caribbean for a week of warmth with friends. That happiness stood in sharp juxtaposition to other events, such as the death of a friend, work stress, and the seasonal malaise that seems to be epidemic this winter. Given my temperament, unproductive and overwhelmed live just around the corner from guilt, obsession, and worry. Not pretty, but I’m working on that. Like most everyone this year, I’m eagerly awaiting the permanent arrival of spring—not this 70’s-one-day-and-snow-the-next stuff. Spring is about renewal and rebirth, and yet I’m trying to look at this not-so-great studio time as fallow time. Good stewardship of the land requires that a field not be planted every season or always with the same crop. Periodically, cropland needs to be allowed to regenerate, often through planting with a fallow crop that promotes soil enrichment. We too need time to regenerate. I feel that I’ve harvested a lot of good things from the my field—my studio—over the past few years, and yet it's so easy to fall prey to the expectation of continuous growth and continuous harvest.

So for now, I’ve got a commission piece is process, and I’m experimenting with ideas for a new series—and, I’m trying to be patient with myself. That’s easier said than done, but I’m trying.