Join me....

I believe that art enriches and informs our lives everyday in many positive ways. Sharing those experiences, whether as an artist or as an appreciator, is part of the pleasure. I welcome your comments and hope you find something of value: a laugh, an insight, a new idea or just a happy moment. Enjoy art!

Friday, November 24, 2017

Eco-dyeing with Fall Leaves

 Nature's first green is gold, Her hardest hue to hold. 
Her early leaf's a flower; But only so an hour. 
Then leaf subsides to leaf. So Eden sank to grief, 
So dawn goes down to day. Nothing gold can stay. 

Robert Frost

Nothing gold can stay.....unless you capture the image!  Autumn gives us all a thrill and I knew I could preserve some of it when I was seduced by eco-printing.  My friend Barbara must take full blame for my obsession with this technique as she wore the first scarf I ever saw done this way and I pestered her until she revealed the secrets.

I have posted some note cards I made using a similar process but several readers have asked me to do a blog and explain more!  I will do so now. Keep in mind that I am far from an expert but that with an adventurers spirit anyone can give it a try.  If you take a notion to try please reference "eco-dying" or "steam printing leaves" on google or pinterest.  You will get lots of helpful info.

Gathering the leaves, foraging, is the fun part although it is trial and error as to what will print.  Wool and silk (proteins) are most easily printed after mordanting with an alum mix that is dependent on the amount of fabric you soak.  This was a fun way for me to learn my leaves and trees and the most dependable in western NC are sumac, sassafras, beech, alder, japanese maple, sugar maple (actually almost any maple), geranium, red cabbage leaves, marigold petals and rose leaves.  Oak was a bust for this experiment.  

After the mordanting process we stretched out the wet silk and arranged the leaves, "earth side down," on top.  Sometimes we just scattered, other times I tried to intentionally make a design.

two silk undershirts

Then the fabric and leaves get rolled tightly around (for us) a PVC pipe or a length of branch.  This is secured with a tightly wound string.  Now processes take a twist.  Barbara's instructor seals the bundle in shrink wrap which is really cool.  My notes never indicated that as necessary so I skipped it.

sorry no pics of using the shrink wrap

Now if you have an electric turkey roaster that you can dedicate ONLY to dyeing drag it out.  I, on the other hand, jerry-rigged a steamer with an old covered roaster, glass jars to lift the fabrics and a hot plate to heat it all up.  Again, methods differ: immersion dyers set the entire bundle in the water, steam dyers prop it up out of contact with the bath.  I have done both and see very little difference.  

my pseudo-electric roaster without lid

Heat it up to a good steaming and....again, methods differ: if wrapped in shrink plastic steam it good for one hour; I have done the 2 hour method.  Some artisans swear you should leave and open in the morning (which I do with my paper prints), others urge opening as soon as cool to the touch (which is really fun if you are impatient like me).  

unrolled shirt with leaves still on it

Everything I read however does agree on one thing: do not rinse or wash your fabric for at least 48 hours after unrolling.  I have never done otherwise so I cannot say with any certainty that the print will disappear if you wash sooner.  Why risk it?

silk scarf drying

Since I like to use silk products I noticed that they seem to lose the "hand" after this process (the soft, draped feel of silk) and I discovered a product called Milsoft NB.  Used as directions suggest in a final rinse restores the gorgeous fabric to its original texture.  I buy most of my scarves and shirts from Dharma on-line.

So what do you think my precious daughters-in-law will say when they get these for Christmas?

Probably "yuck!" It is an acquired taste....but hey, these are undershirts, right? no one ever has to really see them and yet those sweet gals will be all warm and comfy.  Or if they take up deer hunting they will have their camouflage ready to go.  

I'm thanking Barbara over and over again for opening this magic window for me.

However you celebrated Thanksgiving I know that you had much for which to be grateful. Wishing you creative weeks ahead.

Foraging for Color,

Friday, November 17, 2017

Lost in White Abstraction

“Women think of all colors except the absence of color. 
I have said that black has it all. 
White too. Their beauty is absolute. It is the perfect harmony.” 
― Coco ChanelChanel

Remember I left you at:

12 x 9 canvas

I liked messing around in the playground of white so I decided to return to this start of a collage.  In the abstract world of art there are certain recognized patterns of design that have proven to be basic to the balance of an abstract.  The cruciform is one of those and you can see it above in the off center cross made from crumpled tracing paper.

some patterns of abstract design

 I went on to finish it:

and before too much evaluation or judgement, I started another:

again, a 12 x 9 canvas

with some soft molding gel I added some texture
which is hard to see in this photo

and...calling it done.

I'm not sure how I feel about these...other than to say I am glad I dabbled.  I really prefer minimalist abstract art and there isn't much about me that is capable of producing "minimalist" anything.  

I don't really feel finished with this experiment and I'm not certain whether it is the lack of an identifiable subject, the absence of strong color or the idea that it doesn't have to "be" anything that appeals to me from an execution standpoint.  I don't think they represent Coco's "perfect harmony" but who knows?  I'm a little too close to really judge at the moment.  Guess I will run it up the flagpole, hold off on banishing them and see where it leads.  They are not secured in the frames so no commitment there.  Let me know what you think.  

Back to the Lab,

Friday, November 10, 2017

Is White the Absence of Color?

"...The rabbit-hole went straight on like a tunnel for
some way, and then dipped suddenly down,
so suddenly that Alice had not a moment to think
about stopping herself before she found herself
falling down a very deep well." 
                                                      from Alice in Wonderland,        
                                 Lewis Carroll

It is a very deep well indeed....with all kinds of underground systems leading to new and unusual places.  I was playing with natural dyes:

upper L to R: goldenrod, red cabbage with vinegar, red cabbage with
ammonia, walnut hulls and avocado pits and skins...

and I found the subtle colors soothing.  This was not my usual bursts of magenta or lime green and yet these were refreshing, calming.  Which got me to thinking about the absence of it white?

That question caught my eye as I was surfing through program offerings on PBS and I watched one that involved a challenge from an art professor in working with white.  He talked about white being relative.  One only has to go to the paint store and ask for "white" to learn that there is at least "50 shades of" white.  Which lead me to begin thinking about experiments using white.

(See where the rabbit hole tunnels can turn back now!)

Which led me to reclaim an old painting with the intention of playing around with....white? whiteS?

the green tape is to protect the frame as this painting was apparently glued to the frame...? So I covered over the old piece.

I began to play with different shades of white...using up some old paint on the palate and employing a few toys: credit card to scrape, a rubber nib, a roller and a small sponge.  I wasn't sure where this was going and I was trying hard not to let that major issue get in the way.

Oh dear, Joni Mitchell is now singing "...they paved paradise..." and that becomes a working title.  I'm afraid that now I feel bound to come up with something.  Shoot.  We will see.  Time to let it dry, it feels a bit busy to me. Perhaps move on to a "white" collage.

12 x 9 white canvas back to the oil.

More white and I'm not liking this at all.  I'm a bit scattered without some sort of a plan....

 from bad to badder or worse to worse-er?

Calling it quits.
Unless I have a wild inspiration soon this will be headed right for the dumpster.
HOWEVER...not all is lost.  I learned that I (that's me, not everyone) need some semblance of a plan before I begin.  No problem diverting from it but with no plan I just get tangled up in the weeds.
AND, I liked working with these various shades of no color.  It's a "try again."  With a plan.

Going to go dig out the beginnings of that white collage and see where it goes...I did start with a standard abstract format referred to as the cruciform.  Now watch me take off....

Dabbling WithOut Color,

Friday, November 3, 2017

Ch Ch Changes

"All children are artists.  The problem is how to
remain an artist once you grow up."
"The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls."

I thank you for the wonderful responses I got to my plea for patience as I try to find my way (again).  Encouragement, confidence, recommendations and understanding all flowed in from readers who "had been there" or simply understood.  Those words meant a lot, I'll be rereading them in the months to come as I wander and wonder what is ahead.  THX!

And as long as we are thinking about changes, and while I had the gumption that 
something radical had to happen quickly...I pulled down a piece I did in January 2016 that just never hit the mark.

I wrote about this piece in a "never say never" blog.  I love the colors, I liked the subject matter but why, oh why, do I have half a bovine walking off the upper left quadrant?  Had it been canvas I might have sliced and diced but I also knew that the remaining cow could stand a little more meat on his bones.

I printed a photo of the piece and with colored pencils begin to cover up the left cow just to get an idea of how much space I might have after "erasing" it.  There was room for something else so I went ahead and painted out the offending rear end.

And it sat just like this for days and days waiting for an inspiration.  A barn? a fence? so I went hiking and wouldn't you know, another up-close and personal confrontation with a field of cows.  They were docile so I tested my luck and being alone, took many more photos of the one subject I swore I'd never paint.

As I began sketching in the young friend here on the left I also made adjustments to the original cow.  This was one of those "nothing to lose" experiences since the first attempt was a dust gatherer as it was.  "Just go for it, learn something," I said.
So I did.

I'm liking it so much better.  It may hang around while I decide whether or not I am finished.  The younger cow on the left might need to become stronger but I also think its nice to make one of them more dominant in emphasis.  At least I got rid of the cow who was trying to leave the scene.  I relearned a very elementary composition rule that it always helps to be reminded of.  AND I proved that I could radically change a piece with very little harm done.  Whew.  Not as bad as I had dreaded.
Good lesson.

Wonder what else is gathering dust and could use a make-over?

Empowered by Color,
p.s. I have no idea why there are several fonts and alignment changes in this piece.  The computer got ahead of me and would not conform.  Sorry!

Friday, October 27, 2017

Dyeing for Natural Color

“Instructions for living a life. 
Pay attention. 
Be astonished. 
Tell about it.” 
― Mary Oliver

Nature will never cease to amaze me, amuse me, confound me and impress me.  So when a friend mentioned she was learning how to eco-dye (to be written blog!) I followed the research threads to learn more and came upon information about artists extracting dye from natural materials.  Of course!  Before today's world of chemicals how else would clothing be colored? (Did you know that the modern dye industry is one of the largest corporate polluters all over the world?)

Anyway, one experiment led to another and in addition to spending some quality time at a friend's farm foraging and printing, I decided to make some dye the natural way and see what emerged.
Again, I won't bother you with too many details or instructions, they are all over the internet and after a while they start to contradict each other with formulas.  Some of the best in my opinion are India Flint, Cassandra Tondo, and Wendy Fe.

That said, lets see what I brewed up (the image of a witch and her cauldron is not lost on me!)

Being the optimist, I got ahold of 5 generous skeins of undyed wool.  Several pairs had similar spins so I had about 3 different weights and (sheep) types to work with.  I was already drooling.

Wool (and most anything to be dyed) has to be gently washed to remove oils and impurities and then soaked in a "mordant" (in this case alum) to prepare the fibers to receive color.  With wool you have to be very careful of the water temperatures as a drastic change (hot to cold or vice versa) promotes "felting" (a bonding together of the fibers) which is wonderful if you are making a solid mat but not helpful in keeping the thread textures.


one prepares the dye liquor.  For my first attempt I had gathered walnut hulls (a delightful day in the woods) and let them sit, covered, for a couple of weeks (some book suggested that!).  Then I brought them inside to the dye pot and boiled the entire mess for a couple of hours.  My husband hated the smell!  One book described it as "earthy."  I let the pot sit overnight and then strained off the liquid and dumped it back into the cleaned pot. (a pot used only for dyeing mind you)

I added the mordanted, wet skein and turned on the heat.  Have you ever tried to maintain 180 degrees on an electric stove?  near impossible.  It simmered for two hours and again, I left it overnight hoping the little fibers were turning color (a previous experiment saw the color all wash down the drain when rinsed).

Let me tease you by saying: I was not disappointed!  Spurred on by success I started boiling red cabbage.  I had read that by altering the pH of the liquor one could affect the color.  Well, pH values were a bit over my pay grade but I researched and did my best to understand that vinegar is acidic and ammonia is alkaline and that the gradations in between were critical but not to me.  I decided to punt.

Separating the red cabbage dye into two pots I added ammonia (some precise amount) to this pot and the whole mess began to turn a greenish shade.  Magic!

My litmus paper said the cabbage was already a little acidic but I added a dash of vinegar to be certain (made me feel like a chemist) and look what is happening?!

Again,I brought both batches to a simmer/boil for two hours and again, I set them aside and left soaking overnight.  

Whoo-hoo!  Color!!

Most dyes dry slightly fainter than the pot water shows and these are no exception.  They emerged a gentle soft color that will look cool knitted together.

And the brown?  ready?  

Luscious, no?  It reminds me of my Brownie uniform back in the day.

Two more colors on the stove as we speak (solidago which is goldenrod and turning yellow, and avocado pits and skins which are looking brownish gold altho professed to make salmon).

I know my husband is ready to have real food coming out of the kitchen as opposed to these cauldrons full of recycled compost.  Lately I have thought about our foremothers having to do this exercise over and over again (after having raised and sheared the sheep and then spun the wool) all the while tending babies and food cooking.  I feel silly getting a thrill out of what was drudgery for them.  But it does make me feel a connection...not only to the earth and the hidden colors of nature but to the men and women who first experimented to see if they could add some color to their lives.  Amen.


p.s.  I suppose this means I will need to learn to knit? @%#!*&

Friday, October 20, 2017

Positive, Purposeful Play

Isn't it confounding how you can read the same
message over and over again but until you are "ready"
for it, you don't really hear it?
I think I just heard this message: time for
some serious play and deep introspection.

Do PLAY and INTROSPECTION go together?  I think so.  Watching my grand babies play I can see the little wheels turning for lessons they don't even know they are learning.  My own brain works best when my hands are preoccupied with something that requires little thought.  And isn't it by play that we usually stumble upon golden nuggets of info that we can apply more seriously elsewhere?

Yes, this is a confessional sort of blog.  Reading Luann Udell's blog on "what do you really want?"  got me to thinking.  I'm not sure I can say what I really want from my art.  All of my earlier "wants" have been met (certain shows, certain sales, specific projects...) What do I want NOW?  If I cannot verbalize it how can I achieve it?  I have started journaling these thoughts and feelings and hopefully by month's end I can re-read and begin to see some specific goals emerge.

Alyson Stanfield is another great read for artists who have any business doing business.  Her recent "How to expedite your breakthrough"  also spoke to me.  So I will copy her suggestions (especially "talk about ideas," "challenge yourself" and "be open...") and intentionally see what bubbles up to the top.  

Play has never been hard for me but I've never intentionally set out to play with no expectations of the results, play for plays sake is quite different.  Google "play and art" and you will find no end of defense for play's role in creativity.

early morning fun turned into work when I felt
self-pressure to "make" these prints into something "useful or sale-able"

almost by accident I discovered I enjoy teaching beginners or non-artists
how to make a painting without the worry of outcome...

and may I say, out loud and for the record, that I do not
enjoy the process of plein air painting regardless of
how much I (or anyone else) think I should?

So indulge me for a bit.  You may feel I have abandoned my pursuit of "serious" art but I have not.  Nor have I forgotten that the reason I began blogging was not self promotion or sale of my work, but to expose friends and readers to the many, many ways art enriches and informs our everyday lives; I wanted to demonstrate how the intentional addition of more art into our personal world can soothe and comfort even the most unlikely appreciator.  I think those motives are still worthy but I need a new why for my 2D work.

I want to explore collaborative work, community work, and find out if threads will work into my paintings.  I'm gonna go all abstract and then really, really tighten up.  I will draw from life and not worry about how many canvases I toss out.  I need to talk to other artists who may have hit this point and see what they did to resurrect their mojo.  I need to finger paint, take chances and not worry about translating sales into approval.  I'm going to build a map by getting lost.  I am going to intentionally play.

This may not be your cup of tea and I will take no offense if you de-subscribe from this blog while I go down the rabbit hole.  But if you are curious as to what may evolve then I invite you along for the journey. Share your ideas, add your suggestions, send me off on a tangent or refer me to a book.  (I regret that my blog platform doesn't let these comments be seen by all of us).  I'll share.  

Meanwhile be ready for some fun and some angst, some vulnerability and some soul searching.  Hopefully when the calendar turns over a new year I'll have some fresh ideas and a path towards a new direction.  Maybe something I play with will inspire you to try a new sandbox.  Who knows?Here we go...