Monday, November 24, 2014

Working from Photos

There has been a recent discussion on the Quiltart list about creating artwork from photos, both one's own and photos from other people. What started this discussion were some of the prizewinners from this year's Houston Quilt Show that were obviously copied from photos. This piece was taken very directly from Dorothea Lange's photo of the migrant mother, from the dustbowl era. The quilt artist did not violate any copyright since the photo is in the public domain, but nevertheless, many of us were surprised that it was awarded a prize in a category for original artwork. Similarly, this piece is a very faithful copy of a painting. The quilt artist obtained permission from the painter to copy the painting. Googling found the original painting and it is a detail for detail copy.  In our online discussion no one is questioning the artists' legal rights to use other artists' works as their source material, but many, including myself, are disappointed that these copies were first, accepted in categories that clearly called for original work and second, that they won awards.

Artists may, of course, do whatever the law allows them to do in regards to where they find their images, but one has to wonder why one artist chooses to copy the work of another. (and that includes someone else's photo) I find it hard to think I would get a lot of satisfaction out of that kind of work. Yes, copying of master works is a popular exercise for art students, but it is understood that this is an exercise and not your personal work.

So--what about photos? Working with photos is common in the art quilt world. Some quilt artists actually print a photo on fabric and then stitch right over it. Some painstakingly copy a beautiful photo, detail by detail. Some use a photo as a starting point and abstract and rethink the composition. For me, I use my own photos, never anyone else's, and sometimes I follow the composition fairly closely and sometimes I use only the parts I want to emphasize and that work as part of my own vision. Here are a couple of recent works, drawn from photos taken on our Spain trip.

This one is a fairly straightforward interpretation of the photo I took on the steps of the Prado.

The second is this small piece, depicting pomegranates, as they grow on a tree.

An abstracted image, using this photo of a pomegranate tree I took at the Alhambra as reference.

Would I try to render a photograph as realistically as possible in fabric? No. I don't see the point in that. That image already exists as a photograph and unless I can bring something new and personal to it I don't know why I would want to simply copy it. The bird, above, is close, I know, but I still feel I have brought something new, at least to me, to it.  Or maybe not.

As far as the discussion about the unoriginal/original quilt pieces in Houston, there was no agreement. Some folks think the fact that they were so skillfully copied is reason enough to give them a prize! Others of us are shaking our heads and thinking this represents a low point in any efforts to bring attention and respect to our art form. It is always, I guess, in any medium, the case that hobbyists and serious artists mingle and no one, not even the artists, knows which is which until these kinds of discussions come up.  I once saw an awfully cleverly reproduced painting of the Last Supper at the State Fair. It had a blue ribbon on it. Sigh....

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

I've been on the road...


Columbia Gorge
It was a road trip to connect with family—to laugh, and cry just a little, with people we love. To cook and eat and play the favorite family card game and see how much the kids have grown and meet the newest kid and marvel over how fast time flies and remember good times and bad, and travel the western roads through the land that claims our hearts, from the Columbia Gorge of Oregon to the Bitterroot Valley of Montana. We covered a lot of ground, both literal and figurative.


One of many small, western towns. They run together in my mind. This might have been Dixie...

Lolo Pass, on the Montana-Idaho border

Camas Prairie, Idaho
In Montana I got to enjoy an exhibit of art quilts made by my creative sister-in-law, Jamie, and her friends in the Montana Bricolage Artists group. If you're in the area, you can see it at the Higher Ground brewery in Hamilton, Montana. The beer is good too!

Jamie and her two daughters. I love these women. That's one of Jamie's pieces on the left behind them.

We got home tonight, coming back through the Gorge, just ahead of a predicted ice and snow storm. Winter is on its way and we feel it in our bones tonight. So glad we went—so glad to be home with good memories to keep us warm.




Tuesday, November 04, 2014


Trying my best to embrace the neutral. Here's a little before and after stitching.

Crazy, right? This is why I love my medium. Stitching can transform the design.

I am also trying out a different kind of edge finish.

Then I had this idea that I wanted to fiddle with, involving a pattern cut from white fabric and laid over a scrappy background.



Slightly inspired by Moorish design.

One of these days I need to get an idea for the real neutral piece.

We are off to Montana tomorrow to visit family. Looking forward to some beautiful fall scenery.


Thursday, October 30, 2014

Puzzle pieces


Here's today's progress on the Prado Bird. Fitting little puzzle pieces together. As I was working on this I was remembering all the broken tile mosaic work that we saw in Barcelona. From the tradition of exquisite Moorish tile in Spain, the Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi used broken tiles to decorate his buildings and sculptural work. Here is part of the facade of his Casa Batllo.

The most incredible mosaics, though, were at Guell Park, a large park, designed by Gaudi. This big lizard greets you at the entrance.


The long serpentine bench was gloriously encrusted.

So as I was piecing together all those little bits of fabric it made me think of the craftsmen who carried out Gaudi's vision with all those little bits of tile. There is something incredibly satisfying about taking disparate pieces and working them into a whole. I felt a little kinship with those Gaudi craftsmen. You might remember the mosaic I made from broken tile for the center of our little patio. It's not Park Guell, but it's a start.

Bits and pieces. Scraps of fabric and broken tiles become birds and lizards and explosions of color. Pretty great when you think about it.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Getting Started

Have I ever mentioned how hard it is to start a new piece? There is a lot of contemplation that happens first, but then the actual process has to begin and drawing and cutting fabric and all that. I don't know why those first steps from concept to something material are so hard— so much like a leap into a cold lake— but they are. And, to extend that cold lake metaphor—once you've made the leap it all begins to feel increasingly more comfortable and soon the hesitation is forgotten and you are happily immersed.

The next High Fiber Diet theme requires that we use mostly neutral colors. Groooooooaan! I like my colors. I have some thoughts and plenty of inspiration from our trip, but I decided to make something small and neutral first just to get my eyes and brain into neutral gear.


The day we went to the Prado in Madrid I walked and walked that day. Coming out of the museum after nearly four hours of the most inspiring art, I sat myself down on the front steps of the museum and this little sparrow-ish bird lighted on the step below me and he looked like a painting. Or maybe everything looked like a painting just then. So today Prado Bird seemed like a good place to start exploring neutrals. I can see he is too fat, but I think my shirt plaids are sufficiently birdlike enough to work.


The stitching is helping to blend the fabrics.

So, I have begun. It's a good feeling.


The Prado


Friday, October 24, 2014

The "little old lady" syndrome


The worst part of aging is not what aging does to you, it is what younger people think it does to you. This is going to be kind of a rant. You have been warned.

A couple weeks ago I was volunteering, with a couple of other artists, at an art exhibit. I got talking to one of them, a woman probably ten or more years my junior, about her photography. She told me she was actually taking a lot of photos with her phone and editing them, using a photo app on her iPad. "Would you like me to show you how I do it?" she asked. Without waiting for an answer, she whipped out her iPad and proceeded to demonstrate photo editing, using an app called Snapseed. She showed me all this, as if I had never seen an iPad and wasn't aware that cameras no longer use film. She spoke slowly and precisely—so I could keep up, y'know. Irritating as this was, I kept quiet and followed along. " isn't that neat?!" she concluded. I agreed, and added that her app worked quite a lot like the Photogene app I use, but I was frustrated that I could not change the pixel size, with any precision, in Photogene and wondered if her app had a better resizing feature. I told her I need to resize my photos to use them most efficiently on my blog. "You have a blog?" she asked slowly. I could see something change in her face—perhaps she was actually seeing me for the first time. Perhaps she was no longer seeing a "little old lady" but a person with a reasonable grasp on technology and the modern world. We had a nice conversation then. (And no, as far as she knows, Snapseed isn't able to precisely resize photos either.)

I'm not a fool. Neither am I extraordinary. I am not telling you all this to brag about how smart and up-to-date I am—for an old lady. I am telling you that with a few exceptions ( which I'll get to—) my friends and I are pretty bright, capable and aware and know a hell of a lot more than even a lot of bright, capable and aware younger people might think. And, for what it's worth, I think we all get funnier and wiser as the years go by. I hate being treated like a little old lady. So generic. So boring. I started noticing it a long time ago. Somewhere around the age of fifty women become nearly invisible. It's not so much that we are treated badly as much as that we are ignored. And underestimated. And marginalized.

And it gets worse. We are being sabotaged from within.

I was at a meeting this week where we were told an absent member would join us via FaceTime. One of my contemporaries rolled her eyes and declared she had no idea what that meant, claiming she was "too old for all this new stuff!" Later in the meeting we were told about online resources and web site changes that were really useful to our group, to which this same woman gaily chuckled, "if you can find a young person to help you use it!" Tee hee. So I guess I can't blame people for thinking age makes it impossible to learn new things when people like this woman keep confirming it. But it isn't true. It is true that there are a few older people who haven't embraced technology, but it isn't because they are old and unable to learn. It is because they aren't interested, or haven't the need, or maybe just phobic about change, all of which are fine, but they use age as an excuse. And I wish they would stop it. They make us all look stupid.

(My all-time favorite New Yorker cartoon, BTW)

And if I had not posted my photo you probably wouldn't have known how old, or how young I am. And, to me it doesn't matter. How I look and how I communicate are unrelated. Isn't it ironic that technology and the internet may just be the best thing that has ever come along for leveling the field? Like the dog said, on the internet nobody knows you're a little old lady.

End of rant.



Friday, October 17, 2014

Back at it

The hard thing about taking a vacation is that it ends. Just. Like. That. Vacation is over and you are back to real life, which is all the more real, because things kind of piled up while you were gone.

I came back to two shows that needed my immediate attention. I had two pieces juried into the Beaverton Arts Mix, and had to deliver my work the day after we got home. It was a really good show, that lots of people came to see. My son-in-law, Carlos, had one of his paintings in the show too. Always great to have work in a Fine Arts show. Even though I didn't sell anything, I hope people are enjoying and learning about fiber art. People were interested and asked me a lot of questions. The show the next weekend was bad. Nice people, nice venue, no customers. I won't do that again.

Now I am getting ready for the Washington County Artists Open Studios this weekend. On Monday I got up at a really brutal hour and went to one of the other artist's studio for an early morning TV show feature about the tour. Here I am demonstrating and talking to "Joe on the go" from channel 12, about how I make my art.


We started at 5 am and went until about 8, with demos and interviews interspersed into the live morning news program. Who watches TV at that hour? Apparently quite a few people. Lots of people have told me they saw me.

Meanwhile, I have been writing a magazine article for a Dutch magazine, and cleaning and arranging my studio for the Open Studios.


I have hung as much work as I can and put small pieces out on tables.

I can demonstrate free-motion stitching on the same sample I used for the TV show, and show a small finished project, which is what I made for the magazine article. Nice to be able to make good use of these things! Can you tell by what I'm making that my head is still on vacation? And I still dream about Spain every night.