Archive for January, 2006

I’ve been working through a variety of Abstract-Challenge challenges that I’ve neglected or omitted over the past year. This one is for the “Landscape” theme of November, 2005. I focussed on the colours of the landscapes around me and the elements of the landscape that speak to me. I also restricted myself to using only pieces of other landscapes; chunks cropped or cut from larger landscape hangings. I’m pretty happy with it. Just need to finish the edge – ran out of thread.

But back to Abstract-Challenge.

The basic premise of the group is that the list owner releases a theme or word at the beginning of each month.

The summary of the group as found on its Yahoo page is:

The challenge is to express a concept in an 8″ by 8″ square quilt using abstract representations. Discussion is encouraged on how one would depict the chosen concept (a different one each month), including pictures, etc. of the conceptualizations.

It’s a pretty lively group, with a wide array of talent and visions. I’m not always the most abstract of people, but I’ve lately been feeling like there’s an abstract entity inside of me waiting to be released on to the unsuspecting world, and so I’ve been exploring techniques and ideas that might be more conducive to the abstract than to the literal. Hopefully I’ll have some results to post in the next little while…


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Aka my computer system.

I am running (wait for it) a Pentium 266 with 64MB of RAM, Windows 98SE, a CD burner that the system can’t really handle, a floppy drive that doesn’t work, a DSL modem that works faster than my computer and USB ports that don’t work at all. Then there’s the dead Lexmark printer and the scanner purchased…. five or six years ago (it was old then).

So my nifty camera won’t speak to my computer (we have to use John’s laptop to get the pictures off), I can write, but not print, I can’t print onto fabric, I can upload photos, but loading a simple webpage or flickr pages takes as long as 63 seconds (I timed it) against John’s machine, which will do it in 6 seconds.

The whole works frequently goes gronk because I type and work faster than it thinks. I’ve lost how many(?) posts and emails because the works just freezes. My frustration has been such that I save up stuff to do on John’s machine when he gets home, which means that sometimes I don’t get to do whatever it is because he often uses his pooter for work in the evenings.

We need a new machine.  And a new printer. Just a board, CPU and oodles of memory would do it.


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You know those jokes end with the line, “I told you that story so I could tell you this one…”? Right. That was the last post. Sunday I spent meandering through ideas that hadn’t quite solidified, going through the motions, as it were, of working.

Okay, I’m not quite being fair to myself here. I did actually lay out a lighthouse piece that will be pretty good and quite dramatic when completed. (That said, I must get out and visit some new lighthouses soon – I’m getting tired of doing Ferryland….). I also picked through my sketchbook, reviewed some projects, and basically did the mundane stuff that needs doing from time to time. But nothing really felt wow.

It is an incredibly rotten feeling to have time available in which to work, sans interruption, and have no work that desperately wants you to do it.

So by the time Katherine and John got back from their outing, I was more or less ready to run out of the house screaming.

We decided that, since the light wasn’t bad and the wind was low, we’d head out to Cape Spear and wander around. When we got there, the light became stunning and the wind was still low (yay!). I had a blast with the camera…. Here are the results:

Looking back towards St. John’s. The entrance to the narrows is on the left, with Cabot Tower sitting atop Signal Hill in the Centre.

The old lighthouse at Cape Spear. Closed for the winter, it’s now a museum.

Looking up… the flagpole just outside of the old lighthouse.
Looking along the coast towards Maddox Cove. The East Coast Trail will take you right down to the tip of the Avalon from here, if you have the time and fortitude to follow it….
The new lighthouse…
The remains of anti-aircraft defenses from WWII, near the new lighthouse.
The light was beautiful; one minute the day was grey and cold-feeling and in another, the landscape was illuminated. I liked the contrasts….
How to lose a tourist… Sounds flippant, but it’s true. The waves are spectacular and tourists succumb to the temptation good photo regularly. One good swell and they’re gone…. This is possibly my favourite photo of the day.

The fabulous results of this were a generally feeling of familial happiness, a tired kid, great photos, fresh air, and most, unexpectedly, the inspiration to work through the beginnings of a piece portraying seastacks at sunrise. Miracles do happen….

All-in-all, a good weekend.

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We seem to have developed a routine to Saturdays that allows me some highly desirable time in which I am the only biped in the house. (Actually, that’s not strictly true, as sometimes Moss is around and he can get around almost as well on his two hind legs as he can on four.) 

So this Saturday I chugged through finishing off trees and mentally planned the next couple of projects as I went, knowing full well that when the trees were done, I’d be in that awful no man’s land of Between Projects. Perhaps I should explain this, as I always have something on the drawing board and rarely have only one project on the go at a time….

Between Projects is a mental state as opposed to a technical location. It means that your mind hasn’t worked itself around exactly how you’re going to tackle or use that next idea. It’s kind of like boredom, in a strange sense, in that there’s no technical need for it as you have an abundance of ideas/things to do, but sometimes none of them click with how you’re feeling or thinking at the time. So you drift around with a sense of malaise, hoping that some idea will gel and quickly.

When you throw yourself into developing an idea, it’s usually because there’s a certain emotional or psychological (I swore I’d never use that word in a blog, but there it is) interest vested in it. You wrap yourself in its meanings, the variations and they ways in which the idea can be expressed or executed. It’s a tricky thing to get that involved with a new idea while still coming off an old one. Frustrating, because you want to have it all worked out, but what you’re stuck with at first is only the glimmer of an idea. You want a marriage, but you get a first date.

I’ve learned a couple of tricks to get me from one project to another. I don’t use them all every time, but have used each of them fairly regularly. Here they are:

  • before you finish one project, start contemplating the next. Sometimes the creative energy of the one will rub off on the other and make beginning easier. Be careful of this, though, as there’s always the danger of being more interested in starting the new project than in finishing the old!
  • sketch ideas and make notes. Sketch books are incredibly valuable tools…
  • research the field of your idea, as well as any features you may need to illustrate to convey the idea.
  • filter through your materials and be open to new ways of using them with the new idea
  • After you’ve played with the new idea for a bit, put it down and do something creative, but different. Paint, work with clay, photograph, or use your creativity in some other fashion. This can be like a koan in that while you focus your attention on one creative idea, the seeds of another may gel.
  • Take a break. Really. Give yourself a couple of days off. Sleep. Do housework. If housework doesn’t inspire you to get back at it and do something creative, nothing will….
  • Tidy your studio. Some people do this between all projects. Not guilty.

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Because I’ve had a couple of emails about the techniques and process involved in creating these pieces, here’s a brief run-down on how they went together.
  • They all started plain white fabric which was either left white or tea-dyed to give it a beige tinge. The fabric was torn to rough size and then ironed to freezer paper for stability. The freezer paper makes it possible to draw on fabric without having the material shift under the pen and seems to minimise the bleeding of paint and ink.
  • I sketched out a variety of designs to determine how I was going to lay out each piece and to decide on which contortions would be the most effective for the tone I hoped to set.
  • The paints used were Pebeo Setacolour transparent paints, tinged with the Pebeo Setacolour opaque shimmer. The shimmer colours used were pearl, black, gold and silver. A variety of colours were used from among the transparent paints.
  • I mixed the colours for background, trees and rocks from assorted combinations of these paints. The transparent paints tend to sink into the fabric and so create the colour of the background and the shimmer paints sit on the surface and create the sparkle of background and rocks.
  • I redraw the lines of tree and rocks onto the fabric, using the preliminary sketch as a rough guideline. The pens used are Zig, black, 0.5mm tipped, acid-free and waterproof. I heat-set the drawing before applying paint.
  • Using a fine-tipper watercolour brush or a drawing pen with a fountain nib, I apply the greys and blacks to the tree. This is a tricky part, because if you add too much paint to the fabric or water the paint down too much, it will bleed like billy-o and look rotten.
  • Immediately after painting the tree, I paint the rocks in much the same way.
  • After the tree and rocks have been painted, I use a sea sponge to dab the background paint on, being particularly careful around the branches.
  • Then I wait until the whole thing is thoroughly dry and iron it to heat set the paint.
  • Using Jones Tones plexi glue, I outline the bits of branches and rocks that require foiling. I wait until the glue has completely dried clear. Too little or too much time and the foil won’t stick.

  • The sheets of foil are laid on, pressed onto the glued areas and carefully peeled back to leave foil on the glued areas.

Lots of steps… still more to be done as regards the finishing process!

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On the drawing board

It’s been a busy few days…. 

Working through the idea of women as trees (or trees as women, depending on your sympathies) a bit further yielded a plethora of results, some of which are worth sharing.

The first is “Windswept” (18×10, wholecloth pen and ink on cotton with fabric paints). I haven’t embellished this at all in any way, as I’m still mulling it over.


A few sketches resulted in the following, which I’m temporarily calling “Supplication” (18×10, wholecloth pen and ink on cotton with fabric paints. Embellished with copper foil.), although the feeling of it to me is more along the lines of a being firmly rooted and being yanked unwillingly in a particular direction.  


This next one is slightly smaller than the others at 12×7 inches and is the most “feminine” of the lot. It was intended to represent flexibility while remaining rooted and firm. “Persistence” is its title thus far (of course, all these are subject to change with the final results).

This is one of my favourite pieces of this series. I started with a sketch of a recumbant woman’s basic figure and the translation onto fabric took on a life of its own, writhing and twisting its branches all over the place. So it’s called “Writhing”, for obvious reasons. (18×10 wholecloth pen and ink on cotton with fabric paints. Embellished with silver foil.)

These last two are actually only 6×4 inches each and are just little studies I did to work out a couple of angles. They turned out so nicely, that I finished them, too. The first is foiled, the second isn’t, according to their individual needs. They’re not intentionally representative of women.

Not a bad bit of work for a couple of days, eh?

Now to let the glue thoroughly harden and dry and then to mount them on cotton and stretch, matte and frame them…  

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I’ve been working on a couple of fabric books, trying to hammer out the content both in terms of text and images. Not much point in making a book if you have no content! Having completed that planning stage for three books, I’m now started in on actually constructing and creating them. Today’s exercise included working a bit on some of the pages of the hiking-themed book, as well as practicing and doing the foiling on the covers. Here’s a glimpse of the cover with nothing but the silver foiling:


Whether to do the foiling first or last is a subject of debate amongst fibre artists, but largely it depends on what else you intend to do to the cover. Excessive handling can wear the foil off, as can running it under and iron or sewing machine. Since I know what else is going to be done to this piece, I can do the foil early and leave it to dry completely while I do another section fo the book.

I used Jones Tones plexi glue as the foil base and I have to say that I love working with that stuff! The bottles it comes in are great, too – wonderful fine tip for applying glue carefully.

While doing some of the foiling on the book cover, I took the opportunity to apply some to a small (8×8 inch) piece I’ve been working on for Abstract-Challenge. The theme was “winter”, so I started with a pen and ink drawing on fabric of a denuded tree, twisting it a bit and stretching it to look somewhat like a woman. I then painted it with various fabric paints, applied painted fusible to the branches in spots to give the appearance of withered leaves and foiled in streaks of silver. Still have some work left to do on it, but it’s shaping up nicely.

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