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 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.


A week of color

Guess where I've spent the last week. Well, that's probably not a fair question. The sign will be both familiar and evocative to some, and won't register at all with others.

Mystery solved. Since last Sunday afternoon I've spent most of my waking hours at The Crow Timber Frame Barn in Baltimore, Ohio taking a special 6-day version of Carol Soderlund's "True Colors" workshop.

The workshop was great and, as usual, Carol and my fellow participants were inspiring. I'm on my way home tomorrow morning and ready to get back into the studio so I can apply some of what I've learned this week.

I haven't abandoned my independent study of MX dyes and their behavior, but this class has given me valuable direction that's going to save me lots of time and money. Thanks Carol! Another home run.

Wonderful show

I feel a little awkward saying this. Some little voice in my head is telling me that it's just not proper to be too proud, but... Dan and I just spent a wonderful 24 hours in Philadelphia roaming through the galleries that are part of Fiber Philadelphia. We saw so much wonderful work. I'm very proud to say that "Lines and Numbers", the show by the Art Cloth Network was among the best. I'm just thrilled with the way our show looks and I'm grateful to those who worked hard to organize, hang, and promote it. I feel like I'm riding on the coat tails of some talented and generous folks. Other highlights included the biennial show at the Snyderman-Works Gallery and the show at the Highwire Gallery (including new work by Rayna Gillman). Both are outstanding. I came away inspired.


Continuing workshop efforts

It's the end of Thursday and I'm pooped. I'm the last one in the studio, enjoying a little peace and the luxury of a working Internet connection. It's been a good week. Although I have nothing finished to show for it, I've got some new direction and about 5-6 pieces that, while they will require substantial work to finish, can be finished at some point in the future.

One piece in particular has been presenting an interesting challenge. I've been working from a practice watercolor in my sketchbook, trying to come close to the same look and feel on cloth.

Here's the sketchbook page. Love it.

The cloth. The image is too strong. It's not nearly this high-contrast or saturated in person

Here's the same cloth with an overlay of painted organza (the dark circle). I'm really happy with where this is going and I think I know what it needs next, but that's a project that requires more time, space, and concentration than I have right now. At least I know what comes next.

OK. Off to bed.

Getting intimate with MX colors

Over the last few weeks I've been doing some experiments and gathering supplies for a project that I've had kicking around in my head for the last 2 years: I'm going to dye every combination of MX primary colors. I should qualify that statement a bit and add a few "yes, I knows":
  • I fully acknowledge that this might be a little crazy (in the OCD category).
  • I'm only planning to dye the primaries, secondary, and tertiary colors, and I"m only dying a single value of each hue.
  • Yes, there will be duplication from one color group to the next. For example, the same yellow will be crossed with multiple reds and blues.
When all's said and done (and dyed) the goals are these:
  1. Produce a reference that shows how the primaries interact.
  2. Identify primary triads that speak to me and merit further exploration (Soderlund color cube?).
  3. Learn by doing.
  4. Develop color palettes different from the one that have become habitual to me. 
So why am I doing that? Well, in part it's because I can't seem to resist doing it. Yes it's lots of work, but the discovery will be fun. And, the end result will be useful.
The dyeing plan is a little convoluted. After a couple of sessions where I dyed one or two color families at a time in small containers I realized that, while this was the easiest approach to organize, it was also the most wasteful. I would be spending most of my time mixing dye. Instead, I've developed a whopping big spreadsheet that allows me to identify every combination of the 4 yellows, 4 reds, and 5 blues--that makes 80 distinct color wheels--and shows how many 5"x 5" squares of each distinct YR, YB, and RB pair that I need to dye to assemble the wheels.
Once all of the dyeing is done I'm also going to do discharge samples to accompany each color wheel.

I'm looking at this as a 1-year project. I really want to do this, but I can't shutdown every other studio activity for this one obsession. More to come...

Getting ready for Kerr

Sunday morning I'm off to Bay St. Louis, Mississippi for a 1-week workshop with Kerr Grabowski. It's a very small group, just 6 of us, and all former students of hers. It should be great. Friends ask me what these workshops are like. Well, there's just no one-size-fits-all answer. Some are incredibly hard work. Others are lot's of laughing (and really hard work). It depends on the mix of teacher, students, and the phase of the moon. In every case there is learning and growth.

Now, Kerr is a special person. She's given me some of the most helpful critique I've ever received. And we laugh. It's hard to put a value on that. This YouTube video might give you a little insight into what her workshops are like. It's lots of what-if and "Oh, now I like that." There's lots of discovery and a good bit of laughter.

I'm talking myself into a big smile and a real sense of anticipation.

Restructured Circles #3

I finished this piece about a month ago and submitted it for a local show. No luck. It would have been nice to show it, but for some reason I'm not terribly disappointed that I don't have delivery, pickup, and reception on my to do list. Go figure. This is the 3rd completed piece in my "Restructured Circles" art quilt series. The marks are made entirely by discharge and I very happy with the results. The piecing is minimal, by which I mean it's 2 pieces. It doesn't get much more minimal.

When I finished the piece I stood back and said, "OMG it's a cairn." I've been taking pictures of rocks for years, and in the last few years have really become fascinated with stacked rocks. I think this might be the beginning of something. A new direction or a course refinement? To be determined.

All set for the Greenbelt Art+Craft fair

Sherill and I are all setup for the Greenbelt Festival of Lights Art + Craft Fair. For a first attempt booth I'm very pleased. As it worked out it's pretty much exactly a 50/50 mix of her work and mine. The framed work on the wall is Sherill's cut paper--just fantastic stuff. She's also got books and other paper work. She also make small purses and other things out of some my hand dyed and printed cloth from my scrap pile. I'll have to post some more detailed pictures of them. I wasn't sure what to expect, but they are terrific and absolutely cool. For my part is just miles of scarves--miles. I've very happy with the result of my recent work and I'm hoping for a good show.

Now I just need a drink, a little snack, and someplace to park my rear for a little while before bed. It'll be an early start tomorrow.

Finally finished: Part 4

OK. This is the last of the series of finally completed work, but I promise that there's more to come. These two pieces are called, "Sedona #1" and "Sedona #2". They're the first installments in a little mini-series inspired by a few days spent hiking in Sedona, Arizona earlier this summer. They each measure 30" w X 72" h. They're art cloth (cotton broadcloth) with a rod pocket at the top. They incorporate painting with thickened dye, low water immersion dyeing, soy wax resist, bound and stitched resist, and discharge with both chlorine and thiox.


Finally finished: Part 3

But wait, there's more. This one is called "Restructured Circles #2," which of course means it's another member of my "Restructured Circles" series. I have to say that I really love this piece. It's not heavily pieces, but it didn't need to be. It started out, as all of the pieces in this series will, as a whole cloth. It was then cut up and reassembled. In this case nothing happened to it after the reassembly other than quilting. The quilting is closely spaced echos following the general shape of the circular forms.

I'm pleased with the line quality and the feeling of the brush strokes, some of which I applied directly to the cloth and others indirectly through a silk screen. I also got where I wanted to be in terms of value and balance.


Finally finished: Part 2

This is the next installment in the series of recently finished work. It's called "Restructured Circles #1." I'm not sure that's the most evocative name, but it's part of a series by that name. I'm happy with both the concept and the result, and I'm looking forward to continuing this series for awhile.

The quilting is equally spaced parallel lines with a few lines intersecting at obtuse angles in the lower left. I used a mixture of variegated and light solid colored thread to create a visual variation in the quilting.

Finally finished: Part 1

This is the first of several posts showing newly finished work. This one is called "Line and Rhythm." I finished the quilt top probably two years ago, but have only recently completed the quilting. Like several recent pieces, the quilting here is very dense, about 1/4" spacing. I love the texture it creates.

I like this piece very much and have yet to make anything quite like it. I hope to get back to this sometime to use it as a starting point for a series. Actually, I can say that about several of pieces. Getting them photographed and getting some distance is allowing me to to see better what's working and what's not and to think about how individual pieces can inspire future work. Yes, of course, I know that I'm supposed to do that along the way--and I do take photos of work in progress. But, sometimes it seems that only at the very end--and sometimes only ofter considerable time has past--can I see the connection between one piece and something to follow.

UPDATED 9/21: In response to Judy's request, here's a detail shot of as well. Forgive the color balance and quality. It's an iPhone quickie.

By the time that I quilted this piece I'd switched to Aurifil 50 weight Mako cotton thread for quilting and I just love it. I was using Gutermann before. It's not bad thread per se, but the Aurifil is just so very superior. It's wonderfully fine. It feeds beautifully through the machine and there's virtually no lint (except of course from the batting). There's no local source around here that I know of so I've been mail ordering from Red Rock Threads in Nevada (

Dyeing to Discharge: Workshop samples

Here are some examples from the workshop. These are the cotton and rayon pieces. I've still got to wash and iron the silk pieces. I'll post photos of those another day.
Commercial black rayon discharged with bleach, overdyed, then discharged with thiox.
Commercial black rayon discharged with bleach, overdyed, then illumination printed with thiox and MX dye.
Another illumination print on commercial black rayon.
Commercial black cotton discharged with bleach and overdyed
Potato dextrin resist on commercial black rayon discharged with monagum thickened bleach.
Mixed cotton and 50/50 cotton/poly blend assembled, clamped, and dyed (LWI).

Clamped resist on white fabric dyed black.

Commercial black T shirt pole wrapped and bound with string, discharged in a bleach bath, then overdyed.

Dyeing to Discharge: Day 5

Well, actually this post is more like post-day 5. I'm home in College Park and exhausted. I can't figure out what I did to be so pooped except that I must have worked harder this week than I thought.

Yesterday was mostly finishing up any work in progress, washing out, cleaning up, and doing the end of class discussion. I'm still doing wash at home and will press, photograph, and share some samples over the next day or so. I'm pleased with several of the things I brought home.
My takeaways from this week include the following:
  • First and foremost: I've been ignoring a really valuable design tool--discharge--because I was squeamish about the safety, mess, etc. After a week of working with this stuff and never feeling any ill effects I feel well prepared to do more discharge work, and to do it in a way that's safe.
  • Tied for first: This stuff is great, but anyone using any form of bleach or reducing agent needs to wear a respirator when using it and work outside. [That goes for using Tilex in the bathroom too. Close the door, open the window, turn on the fan, wear an acid/gas respirator, leave the room when you're done, and don't come back until the smell is gone. Don't laugh. I'm totally serious. I've made myself sick in the past from chlorine and I will never do it again.]
  • I'm going to try a few more experiments with MX primary combinations and work on developing a vocabulary of discharge colors, effects, and marks that speaks to me. In a lot of ways workshops like this one are like going to a wine tasting. You taste some things you like and some you don't, and after a while your palette needs a rest to recover from the over-stimulation.
  • MX acid process for silk! I've got to do more of this. I've got all of the supplies; I just need to fine tune my technique. [Of course Carol teaches a 5-day action packed class just on silk, but I can't think about that now. Too tired.]
  • I want to work on black and white textures through discharge. Is it really possible that there's a pleasing combination of MX primaries out there that discharges to white? It doesn't seem that way, but...
  • I'm going to experiment with potato dextrin as a resist and see if I can use it in a way that works for me. I'm not really interested in slathering yardage and waiting for it to crackle, but the stuff washes out so much easier than some other resists that it's worth playing with.
  • Finally, I bought some monagum [the giant PRO Chem order should arrive on Wed] and I'm going to make my own thickened bleach discharge paste from now on. No more dishwasher gel.

Bottom line: I learned some new things and a lot of good safety tips. I definitely recommend this workshop for anyone interested in working with discharge techniques. Yes, you can figure this stuff out on your own, but this is a great way to jumpstart the process and get a good and SAFE start.

Dyeing to Discharge: Day 4

Yesterday was the 4th day of class. Time is flying by--faster than usual. The sample books are all done and it will be a valuable reference. As I was replaying the day in my head last night I started thinking about the work hanging on my design wall at home. One of the things that I wanted to accomplish this week was to work on new ideas for how I would add complexity to that composition through discharge. I've got some ideas, so mission accomplished.

Yesterday we did more immersion discharge with both bleach and thiox. I also did some dye painting and printing so that I would have pieces to discharge today. One piece is a 22" x 80" piece of silk habotai that I stretched over the ground in the parking lot and rolled with thickened black dye. It's fantastic. I'm going to need to find a cracking asphalt surface at home to work on--discretely of course.
Well, I promised photos, so here's a shot of two severely bound pieces of silk before going into a thiox discharge bath.
And, this one shows two shibori poles wrapped with T shirts in a bleach bath. The brown one is mine. It has since been overdyed while still on the pole. Speaking of which, I've got to run to the studio now for the last day of class. There's lots of washing out to do this morning. Should be an exciting day with so many pieces coming to completion.

Dyeing to Discharge: Day 2

Another good day, but that's not really a surprise. I think I could actually take this class at a faster pace, but the group is a mixture of folks who have previously studied with Carol and some who haven't. Everyone has had some MX experience, so that's helping move things along.

Today we focused entirely on bleach discharge on cellulosic fiber using clamped and bound resist. All of my samples were Pimatex and Rayon. Here they are clamped and ready to be discharged.
...and then after the discharge bath and neutralizing.

The rectangular bundles are both cotton, which discharged to a rust color. The others are rayon: some from Dharma and some from Testfabrics. They discharge to totally different colors. I love that pretty much everything will discharge somewhat in bleach, but I'm really looking forward to working with thiox tomorrow because my commercial black samples discharge closer to white, leaving many more options for overdyeing. After taking the photo above all of these pieces were overdyed while still in their clamps/bundles. I'm looking forward to seeing them tomorrow morning.
And finally, no discharge workshop is complete without the view of the class hard at work with respirators on. Here we are on the loading dock at PRO Chem, which is being affectionately referred this week as the "lanai.".