Thursday, March 22, 2018

An altered book 1, and happy birthday!

Quite a while ago a friend gave me a book and said "this looks like something that you might like to work with."  It's a strange book, beautifully printed on excellent paper.  Each two-page unit is not printed front-and-back on one piece of paper, but on the same side of a long piece of paper that is then folded on the outside edge.

Even stranger is the content.  Each eight-page section of the book has a single graphic theme, after which it switches abruptly to a totally different theme.  Many use collage, some use computer-drawn graphics, some human-drawn graphics in various themes.  Several of the sections include text that reminds me of my found poetry, pasted up in ransom-note style, some in French, some in English.

Sadly, many of the drawings and text are kind of sophomoric, the kind of drawings and remarks that I recall from seventh grade when there were 12 girls and 20 boys in our class, and the boys delighted in making rude noises and crude gestures behind the teacher's back.  My challenge to myself was to embrace the good parts of the book -- its gorgeous paper and printing, and many of the non-scatological illustrations -- but obscure the outrageous parts.

The book sat around for a while as I pasted a few things in, but it wasn't until my recent week on retreat that the project took wings.  Most of my work during that week consisted of sorting through piles and boxes of paper, deciding what I wanted to save and organizing it.  I realized that I was coming across a lot of bits and pieces that were too special to throw out, but didn't really go into any conceivable art project.  So I started to paste them into the book, and it started to take on a most engaging personality of its own.

I added some maps, of course, and photos that I had cut out for collage but seemed to want to play right now.  A wine label that I had peeled off and saved for many years, memorializing a great time with my brother in Australia (I don't remember that specific bottle or the specific occasion, so it's an archetype for so many good times and good wines -- and by the way, happy birthday!)

A newspaper clipping, decades old, that I had saved because it is so concisely meaningless, and deserves to be saved forever.  A certificate of weevil-free sweet potatoes.

Travel brochures from Prague, advertising the medieval torture museum and the Kalashnikov firing range (or you can buy the Bullets and Karts combo, going next door to drive go-carts after you shoot).

Handwritten labels pinned to doilies that appeared in the grab bag.

All kinds of miscellaneous that I didn't want to throw away but also didn't want to keep moving from pile to pile, looking at them every couple of years and saying "oh yes, that's nifty."

The book isn't going to be just a scrapbook of random stuff; I hope it has some mildly artistic moments.  I'll show you some of them in a later post.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Serendipity today

I'm a huge believer in serendipity, aka never cleaning up your studio too much.  So many times I have found a piece of fabric or a button or a paper or a piece of rusty metal lying around and a few minutes later realize that it's just what I need for a piece of art in progress. 

The latest recurrence came about as I was sitting at my worktable cleaning up, and what appeared from under a pile of stuff but an empty slide mount.  I do have a box full of slide mounts that it could have been filed into, but that would have required me to get up, find the box, open it up, put it back.  Seemed like an awful lot of work for just one little piece of plastic -- simpler to just use it!  And anyway, I needed a break from all that cleaning up.

So I took some thread that was also sitting on the worktable and warped up a little loom.  What to put on it -- beads? thread of a different weight or color?  Plenty of stuff was within reach. 

Including a leftover bit of map from a collage.  I cut it into narrow strips and used that as the weft.  The weaving was fiddly because of course I didn't have heddles or any other mechanism to make a shed, so each thread had to be pulled up with tweezers for each strip of map.  But it was a nice zen hour, lost in the process (which after all, is why we've all become sewists and textile artists, isn't it?).

I'm making this my daily map.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

On retreat 2

Those of us on retreat last week had a lot of fun watching Cindy Rollins made felt.  Her first project was to make a pair of slippers, and we made her call us over to watch each time she did a new step in the process.

First, she made lasts for the slippers.  She put on a pair of throwaway socks and proceeded to apply many layers of duct tape over her feet.  Then she cut through the whole contraption, removed each one from her foot, taped it back together and stuffed it with plastic bags.

She marked the forms with the height she wanted the finished slippers to taken.

Then she started to lay small patches of wool roving onto the forms, gradually building up several layers of felt.  She massaged soapy water onto the slippers as they developed, wrapping them in nylon net so she could work them vigorously without the wool coming off into her hands.

Eventually she encased the slippers, still on the lasts, in bubble wrap, tied them tightly in a pair of old knee-high stockings, and put them in the dryer for one last round of heat and agitation.

Everybody there gathered around to see each step of the process.  We were impressed by how neat Cindy had managed to be while doing wet felting, with all the mess contained in a big plastic tub and a lot of old bath towels pressed into service to keep things dry.  And of course we all wanted a pair of slippers!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

On retreat 1

Twice a year, a handful of people from my local fiber and textile art group go on retreat to a quilters' getaway venue about a half-hour up the road from us.  It isn't all that far away -- if you have to go back into town for a meeting or a funeral or a dentist appointment, you can -- but it's a world away from home.  Recent retreats haven't been all that wonderful for me; on the last one, I got sick and had to come home early, and a year previously, I fell on the first night and broke a toe and spent the whole time in pain.  But this time was great for me.

You can read about some of my other retreat experiences here and here and here and here.

The ladies who typically come to this venue are traditional quilters.  Occasionally some of them who are working at the next-door facility will drop by for a visit, and we can always detect their slightly uneasy smiles covering up the thought "what the hell is going on here anyway???"  Because we rarely have more than one or two people making quilts, and those quilts aren't usually traditional in any way, shape or form.

So this year, we had people doing felting, hand-stitching, machine-stitching, assemblage, sketching, and yes, quilting.  One of my fellow retreatees, Beth Schnellenberger, wrote about the week and said that the mediums being practiced included "organization."  I had to laugh, because that meant me.  And if organization is indeed an art form, I'm a pretty lame practitioner.

For years now, I haven't taken my sewing machine to the retreat, nor have I produced much that could be described as art.  I usually take several boxes of miscellaneous clippings and junk, plus a bunch of unread newspapers and magazines.  I have the bad habit, when left to my own devices at home, of clipping things from the newspaper, or saving entire sections that I haven't read yet, and putting them in a pile.  This occurs at the dining room table.  When somebody shows up for dinner and we need to clear the table, my pile often gets picked up and deposited into a box.  Where it may stay for weeks, or months, or years.

So I take those boxes with me on retreat, and I go through them.  I clip what needs to be clipped, I paste up what needs to go into books or daily art, I file things to be kept in folders, and throw out the rest.  This takes a long time, because much of the stuff has to be read first.  In 3 1/2 days I came up with one huge grocery bag full of discarded papers to be recycled, plus a whole lot of bits and pieces to be filed or processed.

clippings to go into an artist book

I also came across things to give to others in the room.  Beth was working on a quilt that happened to be the same colors as a little scrap of batik fabric that I found in my pile.  Who knows why that scrap got into a pile of clippings, but it ended up in Beth's quilt.

Somebody else asked if anybody had a bit of MistyFuse, because she needed to add some new fabric to her hand-stitching project.  What had I come across only a half-hour before in my boxes but a sample pack of MistyFuse!  I don't remember where I got it, but it leaped into action when it was needed.

I gave a piece of tatted lace that happened to be in the trunk of my car to somebody else, and some clippings to yet another person.

Best of all, I got several weeks ahead on my weekly "found poetry" project.  Every Sunday I post a "found poem" on the blog, composed of clippings from newspapers and magazines.  In the ten weeks so far this year, I have most often been composing and pasting up my poems after dark on Saturday night.  This makes for stress.  And I have been looking forward with a bit of trepidation to our longish vacation planned for late spring, because the kindle I carry on trips doesn't allow me to do much blog posting.  So it was good to crank out a bunch of poems and put them in the queue in advance.

I'll tell you more about the retreat later this week.