Thursday, February 19, 2015

Absorbing Disappointment

Two more rejection letters from the SAQA exhibition 'Wild Fabrications' leaves me to internally question, "What do I need to fix in order to get a more favorable outcome?" Knowing that sometimes a piece just doesn't work with other chosen pieces, I still am questioning what it might have been this time. I entered both 'Caught' and a new piece, 'Crazy Eights' and neither were accepted.

My composition on 'Caught' is a bit bottom heavy but there is good color movement to offset it. 'Crazy Eights' has a wonderful flow, great color contrast and movement, interesting fabric choices and a solid composition. So, other than the pieces not fitting into the show, I am left with two possible culprits. Either my stitching is not as consistently professional as it should be, or my photographs did not read well.

I am still working to get the hang of free motion quilting. Thankfully my Sweet 16 allows me to choose a percentage of the speed it does at full throttle. I have mine still set low at 35%. But I still have issues with my brain working slower than my foot. I wonder if I will ever really get the hang of it. Here are two shots of the background quilting for Crazy of the swirly moon and the still dark sky. 

If you look closely you will see how even though some areas are working well with even lines and stitching, there are wonky lines every so often and occasional uneven stitches. Judges look closely. This is a dilemma for me because the artist in me can envision the work but my skill is not keeping up. Practice, practice, practice, you might say. Well, I have taken years to do just that and it hasn't really paid off in increased skill. 

My strong skill lies in other areas. 

Contrast is a tool I often use.

I've been saving this silk specialty fabric for a long time and with it's likeness to fire was the perfect choice for a border for this fire breathing dragon.

Imagination, draftsmanship, color theory, composition, construction, fabric knowledge. These are my strong suits. I very seldom get stuck in choosing my fabrics. In the dragon I have chosen lots of complementary colors for drama, lime greens and raspberry reds, fiery oranges against the deep blue of the sky, pale yellows and light lilacs in the moon.

Fabrics can also add interest in how they play with light. The wings not only reflect light but are two layers of organza which create moire patterns when cut across the grain and are transparent giving depth to the design. One of the wings is sewn to the quilt only at one edge, free floating over the body, tethered with one stitch and wired along the top.

The wing's transparency is allowing the moon and sky to show through. 

In this shot above, the relief work is more evident and the left wing is showing the curl of it's wired edge. All of these effects took some brain-power to figure out. The quilt stitching was done on the front body pieces with interfacing behind before stitching a tube (below) and filling with fiber fill. The flanges on the head were completely made with a lining and stitched before both fusing and stitching to the background. 


I was really worried about whether the background would be strong enough to hold the weight and twisted contortion of the relief work in the front. I used thermal curtain batting as my choice of batting and the end result is that it helped to make the background stiff and sturdy. It crinkles a bit when moved around.

I am thankful for my strong workhorse Bernina, which with a leather needle, sewed through several layers with it's perfect satin stitch to adhere the body pieces. Some of those body pieces, like the tail are hand stitched in key areas and free floating in others.

I did have a photographer take my entry shots. He is a seasoned, but amateur photographer. I may have this one reshot by professional, Joe Ofria, from Arlington, MA at SAQA MA/RI's workshop in April and see if he gets a better result with the relief imaging. My details and full shot follow:

First detail shot

Side detail shot

36" x 46"
Completed January 2015

I am working on my next piece for a deadline again. It will be my third SAQA deadline in a row since 2014's 'Food For Thought' exhibit. It is a piece about how my grandmother raised chickens and sold her eggs door to door to have extra money in the household. The deadline for 'Balancing Act' is February 28, but I hope to have it completed by early next week. 

As I continue working on this piece I am ever mindful now of the need to keep my stitching as perfect as I can. I wonder if my photographer will render me a great shot. And I wonder if with three strikes you are out or if my luck will come back. Ultimately, an artist can't be thin skinned. I need to just keep making my art and hope for the best. Absorb the blow. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

NEW Year, NEW Work

Busy as a beaver; busier than a one armed paper hanger; busy bee. However you wish to say it, that has been my experience since the holidays ended. My studio is so cold in the winter with glass all around to transfer the cold. Long icicles are hanging off the eaves. The studio is heated on it's own zone but if I turn it up, we go through oil like water. So I am working with cold hands. On what you ask? 

Well I thought it was about time to finish up a design I first drew in 1995 which was inspired by the story of Peter and the Wolf, music and story by Sergei Prokofiev. I had just seen an article in Smithsonian Magazine featuring the exhibit "A Deck of Cards" and I was so moved and excited by the work I viewed that I knew instantly I wanted to work with fabric. I had no supplies, as you can clearly see, not even decent paper to draw on. I taped 8 1/2" x 11" paper together to create a larger field to draw, put on some appropriate music, and began to draw. What I ended up with is a very complex drawing of the four characters involved in that scene and a sample of the music for each of them complete with their instruments.

I began working the center piece by creating the background of grass, sky and one very rigid tree. I didn't understand about 'take-up' and the grassy area shrunk by a whole inch, frustrating the dickens out of me. I pushed on to sew the wolf out of every scrap of wool I had and hand stitched him down with extra padding to the background. I moved on to create Peter and the bird and two of the musical panels. Again using every scrap of fabric I had, upholstery, velvet, lace, lame, knits, etc. You name it, it's in there! Needless to say it was an epic fail and I let it sit as a UFO for many years as I moved on, having learned some invaluable hard lessons about construction.

In 2010, after having just joined SAQA in September of 2009, I decided to give the wolf a second shot. I entered the Visions Program offered by SAQA which is a program created for artists to set goals and with the help of other artists to achieve them. One goal was to finish "Peter and the Wolf". I redrew (still limited in supplies, I pieced the paper again with tape) both the tree and the wolf. I wanted to make the tree more life-like and gave it some flex. I edited the wolf, keeping the same general shape but giving him a more graphic nature. The sky and grass became two large background pieces.

Peter was drawn separately and made to set into the tree. I Made my background out of two pieces of batik. I added fused branches in reds, russets and golds. 
Then I set to work on the wolf. This time I fused him onto muslin, a technique I now use often. My plan was to satin stitch the pieces onto the muslin and hand stitch the muslin to the background with extra batting under the wolf. I ran into problems. I forgot to add interfacing and many of the curvy lines puckered horribly. I had used a silk/wool blend for the inside of the ears. The iron singed it so that it's white fibers were now an uneven tan. And the hand stitching was impossible around the fine points of his ruff. Ugh, I gave up again not really knowing how to proceed.

In 2014 I became determined to get this piece finished and when I saw the call come out for a SAQA show called "Wild Fabrications" which was all about animals, my wolf, wild and imaginary, seemed to fit the bill. This gave me a deadline to shoot for, which seems to be my only successful incentive. I also had a drawing for a dragon which would be a possible for the same call. So after discussing goals with my mentor I added both quilts onto my list of works to accomplish in 2015 for that specific call for entry.

I remade the wolf from some of the same wools and added some new ones. (I dropped the silk/wool fabric out of the mix this time.) Fusing onto muslin again, this time I fused a thin cotton batting onto the back as interfacing before adding my satin stitches. The wolf's ruff has some extra padding placed with fusible under the wolf before I satin stitched him down to the background. This technique of creating separate segments of a quilt has become a signature of mine, making construction and composition easier for me. Both Peter and the bird were also done in this way and then placed onto the background of sky, grass and tree.

Then came the fun of leafing out the tree. I cut about a hundred leaves or more, fused them, quilted veins and then satin stitched them. The satin stitches have to be done with my Bernina (6" neck) and I couldn't use the Sweet 16. Boy do I wish the Sweet 16 could do simple satin stitching. It took hours more than I expected to complete. Can you say labor intensive!

With the deadline for "Wild Fabrications" quickly approaching and two quilts only partly done, I flew into a rage of sewing, night and day. I ended up pulling another all-nighter to get this one completed with the border and binding so it could be photographed in time. 

The blizzard last week near gave me a heart attack as I was uncertain if the photographer would be able to make it. But he was able to come up to the studio on Saturday morning on the last day of the call. So I was able to enter both pieces for that call and I am now waiting to hear if one of them will be chosen or not.

In my next post I will detail the progression of the dragon called "Crazy Eights"

32 1/2" x 48 1/2"
Completed January 2015
Commercial cottons, batiks, wool; fused, extra batting applied behind some pieces to create depth, machine stitched
Photography by Eric Zhang