Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A Tale of Binding

Oh, I just have to laugh!  Today I took on my least favorite quilting task - that of binding.  I need to explain why I dislike doing something that others love because, for them, it represents the completion of a project.  For me, it represents a barrier between one project and the siren song of a new one.  Friends say they love the soothing nature of the hand-sewing that is part of this task, and they are surprised that I, who love hand sewing, dislike this.  My response is that I practice hand sewing as a part of the creative process not as a tedious, "required" non-creative part - like writing footnotes.  By the way, as another note of explanation, I like to have quilts finished; I just don't enjoy the finishing

Well, anyway, I was determined to make and attach a hanging sleeve and bind a very small wall hanging.  It's one I really like and would be happy to have it finished so it could be displayed.  The fabric for the binding was the same as the background material, and there wasn't much left.  In order to stretch the amount of fabric, I planned to include as part of the binding two strips of 13" each.  They are composed of small pieces of the various other fabrics that make up the focal elements in the wall hanging.  In order to use those two strips, they had to be sandwiched between two pieces of the background fabric. That was easy enough to do.

The difficulty arose when I realized that the colorful strips had to wind up on the right side of the quilt!  Sound easy?  It isn't!  Quilters will understand.  Binding consists of fabric that is two and a quarter inches wide which is then folded in half.  It is sewed on to the quilt by machine with right sides together.  In short, the colorful bit of the shouldn't show when the binding is attached to the wall hanging.  

Okay.  In order to do all that and do it correctly, I had to take my brain out, dust it off, turn it up-side down, and backwards before returning it to my empty head.  Clearly, I didn't do that correctly because not only did I not get it right the first time, I didn't get it right the second time I tried.  And if that weren't enough, I didn't get it right the third time either!  Finally, because of the way I sewed the binding, I had to sew it on the back of the quilt.  That's a no no.  

Too bad.  That's the only way it'll work on this wall hanging.  It also means that the hand sewing part of the binding will be on the front so I darn well better do a really, really good job of it!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Improvisation #1: Texture in White

Talking with colleagues (who also happen to be friends) can be enlightening to say the least.  A work that one thinks is within heartbeats of being finished becomes a "Well . . . . hmmm . . .  maybe  . . . if you? . . . perhaps . . . (cough, cough, eyes tearing, nose blowing)."  

Sound awful?  Well, if you're really lucky and these friends are experienced art quilters, kind, and good at giving constructive criticism, you wind up feeling liberated, full of ideas and enthusiasm, and fully charged to get back to work.

Here is the piece I thought was close to being complete:

Okay, it's a photograph taken on my phone with the flash on (how did that happen?  I know better!  Flash can make a decent photo awful, okay, maybe just not as good as it could be). The buttons and brown coiled tulle aren't sewn in place because they'd get in the way of the quilting.  All of the sewing has been done by hand so the quilting will be done by hand, too - which I'm looking forward to.  

After hearing a lot of silence (you know the phrase "the silence was palpable"?), my friends finally admitted that the brown tulle was a major hurdle. What I thought was the money maker, the element that raised this piece above the pedestrian, becomes the money drain, that which makes people wince.  Ha!  That was the biggy, but there were several other minor issues - problems of both commission and of omission.  

Here's the good part.  Those same people plunged right in, explained, and suggested until I could see my way through to some possible solutions.  By the end of our meeting, I was happily working on one easy fix after having decided how to salvage the tulle element in a way that will really pull the piece together.

How painful was all this?  Not one bit!  With a supportive group that is. This kind of group is a gift.  Spending time with such intelligent, kind, and knowledgeable women is such fun and so rewarding that criticism is truly constructive instead of painful. And now I have the joy of re-imagining this piece in the same way I approach a water color study.  I feel I have solid plans as well as at least some of  the skills to bring it closer to a successful finish. 

And I will show you when it gets to that point!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

New Table Runner

What a weekend!  Saturday I took a quilting class from Linda Fieldhouse offered by JQ, and it was fabulous.  First of all, this was the first time ME and I had met this teacher let alone taken a class from her so we had no idea what to expect, but we both really liked the table runner we would be making.  Second, it was a class that required the use of a new ruler, and oh, I do like rulers that are worth collecting!

Here is a photo of just a little bit of Linda's table runner:

I like these fabrics and the combination of colors so much that I chose the same for mine.  Of course, I did change the border and added some different fabrics within the pattern, but essentially it will be the same runner.  The ruler was a great help, but no where near as wonderful as Linda.  She walked us through the pattern and the use of the ruler like a pro.  Both made the construction a pleasure.  

Have I finished it?  No, but I will be able to of that I am confident!  My sewing time today was spent cutting more pieces so I can make my version larger, and in a day or two, I will be back to stitching.

Thanks to Linda!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

1913 Farm for the Last Time

Today I had lunch with a very good friend from our teaching days, but before that I was able to spend an hour working on the watercolor study.  Then off to lunch for memories and laughter.  Back to another hour on the 1913 Farm and then an hour on quilting.

Here's the 1913 Farm from Tuesday:

And here it is from today:

Now, what do I think? More than ever I am wondering if this scene is worth a full blown finished piece, and right now, my answer is no.  It is a scene I love and look forward to seeing every year on our vacation.  BUT . . .  having spent time painting it, I realize that my emotional attachment is one thing, and the artistic merit is something altogether different.

This is probably the first time I've really explored this dichotomy - something I love isn't worth painting.  Wow!  It's like looking at a photo  of a beloved grandchild only to realize that he/she isn't especially photogenic.  Not an easy realization but necessary.  

You may not see any more studies of this particular landscape; like many a grandparent, I have to come to terms with what I love isn't of interest to anyone else.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Open Letter to E

A week ago, I received an email from E to which I did not respond.  E, this entry is for you:

Dear E,

You sent me an email about the two hours I spent painting almost every morning while we were on vacation.  In looking back on your email, I feel ashamed.  I am ashamed that I've allowed you to think that I do this as a matter of course in my "at home" life.  That is not what happens.

As an example, today D had to leave early for an appointment.  He wasn't here for most of the morning so there was no one to distract me from painting for two hours without interruption.  He didn't need to be here as I did a great job of distracting myself.  First there was a shower followed by cleaning two bathrooms' showers and a tub.  Laundry came next. Tidying the studio took a great deal of time because I've been working on several projects, and the morning was gone.

You see, E, I haven't continued working as I did on vacation.  Like you used to do, I've developed a habit of scheduling appointments for the first thing in the morning and have a habit of doing chores before doing anything else because I worry that the chores won't be done if I wait until afternoon.  

Now I say, "So what if they don't get done?"  Grab a small piece of E's courage and change my self-imposed schedule.  It was easy to do on vacation - it wasn't my house!  But since I spent only 2 hours painting, if I did that here, like you I would still have time to "take care of business".

Thank you for that letter.  I didn't deserve it, but you have made me think about why I don't and what I can do about it.



Let's see if I have something to show tomorrow!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

1913 Farm - Water Color Study #1

Last week I wrote about the two sketches I did of this subject. Tonight I have the first watercolor study.  There's not a great deal to say about it, but it is very, very light - not unusual for such a study.  However, it does make it difficult to see:

Very little detail work has been done yet, but I did include the windows in the farm house so one could both identify it and find it.  The reddish roof is a nearby out-building.  The orientation of the house isn't accurate, but it doesn't worry me in this first pass.  

The colors I used for the distant mountains are not as I'd like nor as well applied as I'd wish.  The farthest range was originally so light I could hardly see it even when it was wet so I changed the color.  That one looks almost grainy and spotty.  The middle and the closest mountains are too close in color to make out the difference between them.

While the trees are all right, I didn't do very much to distinguish them.  My plan was to go back in after the paint dried and add definition, but there wasn't enough time.  The same is true of the field.  

Oddly enough, I think this study has elements of both sketches even though that was not a conscious decision this morning.  Right now I am using generic pieces of paper I had prepared (cut from a larger sheet and taped to my foam board) after I finished working on the studies for the Mews.  I did that so I wouldn't have to face that chore when I'd really rather paint, but now I feel compelled to use them correct proportion or not.  

Before I go on, I'll tear and mount sheets proportionally correct even though they might be smaller than the final painting.  All and all, I am enjoying this exercise, but I don't think it is a terribly exciting composition.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Haste Makes Waste

Last night I held up the quilt I had - almost - finished at Quilt Camp and discovered the mistake I made when hurrying to complete it.  It was Sunday, and we leave Quilt Camp by 4:00 so I buckled down to work as soon as we got there in the morning.  First I sewed the blocks into rows, and by lunch I had sewed the first four rows together into a unit and the final three rows into another unit.  Then I took a break and ate lunch.

After lunch thinking the end was within my grasp, I quickly sewed the two units together and turned my attention to preparing the two borders.  Even though I got distracted for a while, I did make good headway and managed to cut and sew on three sides of the first border.  By the time we headed for home, the knowledge I hadn't completed the entire project had stopped stinging.  It was so close to completion I reasoned that I could safely expect to get it all ready by next weekend.  That's when I have class at the same quilt shop and would therefor be able to turn over the quilt to the machine quilter.

BUT, last night I found that I had sewed the second unit (of the bottom three rows) to the first upside down!  Now I have to take the borders off, un-sew the two units, re-sew them the correct way, re-sew the first border, prepare the second border, and sew it on after checking that everything is oriented correctly.

That's why haste is such a waste of time!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

A Pitcture is Worth . . . ?

After spending three days at a Quilt Camp, I am happy but tired. Instead of trying to write an entry worth reading, I post a photograph of the vegetables we purchased at a local farm stand recently.

Such beautiful colors - maybe I'll have to paint them some day.  Until then I'll relax and write more tomorrow.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Two Views of the Same Subject

You have seen the stages through which "Behind the Barn", a watercolor painting based on a shed-like structure behind a barn at Perennial Pleasures in Hardwick, Vermont, passed on its way to becoming a finished painting.  You've also possibly understood that for me as an artist, a painting is never really complete - that I continue to see things I should have done as well as things I might have done.  

Now I begin again.  Oddly enough, "Behind the Barn" is a painting that was begun a year ago and then put aside, and the new work on which I have embarked isn't really new at all.  I painted this view a year or more ago, and the result was phenomenally horrible!  I flashed it in front of Sharon's eyes and then promptly hid it in my bag where it stayed until I could tear it up (I don't do that very often).  This time I plan to try it again and at least begin it right.

I started with a pencil value sketch:

This first one is clearly more detailed than the second - primarily because it was the first and got more time.  I should take a photo of the pencils I used one of which is rapidly becoming my favorite.  It's a flat piece of graphite that is maybe 3/8" - 1/2" inch broad and doesn't have a point.  Most of the above drawing was done with that pencil.  The weeds in the foreground and the lighter portions of the background were done with soft-lead pencils: 2B, 4B, 8B.

Then this is the second one.  The change in paper size was deliberate as this is the long and narrow painting I originally planned for this subject.  Now I like both sizes and will probably start by working on both.  The first one strikes me as a simple landscape of a house and barn in a lovely setting.  The second view to me is quite different.  In this one, I feel the immensity of the landscape and the loneliness of the farm.  

It's like reading two different versions of the Cinderella story.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Behind the Barn

Last night I missed writing an entry simply because I was busy with something else and lost track of time.  This is being written a bit later than I had intended (after our walk this morning I thought I'd sit down and write, but other requirements got in the way), but at least it is being written!  

Before we went on vacation, I wrote briefly about a painting I had returned to after a year's hiatus.  Indeed, it had been started in Vermont in 2014.  By working on it in Vermont again, I had the benefit of critique from E and brother D.  I'd paint for a while, then put it up on the mantel, and ask for opinions.  Those two are good!  They view things differently, but each one points out things that can be improved.  Sometimes, I had already thought the same thing, sometimes it'd never occurred to me.  Since they have far more experience than I and since they've both done really good work, I listen carefully what they have to say.  Then I think.  

Here is what I took to VT with me this year.  

Here it is again at an intermediate stage.  D suggested I intensify the values of roof and sky on the left to define each better.  E felt the right of the building was underdone (my words - not hers).  I thought everything needed work!

I worked on it more and took it home.  It sat on the piano until it was time to go to class, and every time I went by I knew it needed more tweaking.  Notice that by this time I was talking about tweaks not work.  Significant difference!  When I went to class, Sharon made suggestions - more definition in the background trees and shrubs, deepen shadows in the rocks, and more color on the red barn on the right.  This is the now finished "Behind the Barn".

Of course, as I look at it now, I think . . .  if I just . . .  Put down the brush and walk away, Noel!

Monday, September 7, 2015

Nature's Art

Yesterday this blog was all about my art so I think it is only fair (and probably more interesting) to focus on Nature's art today.  These photographs do a poor job of showing the magnificence of this scene, but I certainly tried very hard to capture the lowering sky, the eerie light on the hills, and the double rainbow hidden in those dark, brooding clouds. They will give you some idea of what we saw.

Several years ago when I was still working in oils only, I spent several months trying to paint a partial rainbow at the south end of the lake.  It was a very different scene as the day was brilliant which is likely why we could see only the part of the rainbow that was almost touching the mountain and none in the sky.

In the photograph above, the double nature of the rainbow is quite clear, and the clouds are scowling almost all around it.  Really stunning!

Oh, how I wish I had the ability to paint this one!  The rainbow, the pink clouds among the dark, the pink light on the cliff's face, the shadow on the mountain, the reflection in the lake, and then the lake itself . . . just glorious!

So with my tongue hanging out in envy at Nature's work, I hope you will enjoy this pictures as much as I do!

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Sketchbook Work

Talking about vacation, what we do, what I think about it, the beauty of our surroundings - all that I have discussed.  Tonight I'm going to show you the sketches I did while away.

First these three sketches are all a combination of ink and watercolor.  The sketch "pad" contains rough watercolor paper sewn into a book with a leather-encased hard-core cover.  It is a pleasure to work in, believe me.  Because the paper is so rough, it doesn't lend itself easily to media other than water-based ones.  Using a fountain-pen isn't simple, but fountain-pen ink moves with water in the same water the water-based paints do.  Initially, when I sketched the barn up on the hill near where we stay, the plan was to create a pen and ink drawing only.  However, once I "finished" the sketch and was looking at it, I wondered what would happen if I added color.  I knew I would have to be careful not to stray into inked area with the watercolor because the two would blend together into an inky mess.

Having had so much fun with the above sketch, I continued with the same technique on the next one.  This was done looking directly across the lake at the water's edge cottages, the mountains, and the gathering clouds.  This is a view I've never worked on before, and it was more interesting than I anticipated.  Starting this sketch, I thought it would be merely an exercise in dealing with clouds.  Out came the fountain pen again so I could lay in a dark base for the clouds and, with a wet brush, pull the ink up into a blended, puffy-looking cloud.  Did that work?  Well, it's a beginning.  Anyway, I also became intrigued with the muted colors in the hills and water as well as the cottages nestled among the trees.  Few distinct details in this one as I was more interested in impressions.  I called this one a "Scribble Sketch" as I wasn't thrilled with it.

Then the final one was drawn the next morning during a rainstorm.  The storms come in from the south over the gap.  As I started this sketch, the clouds and the rain had not yet arrived at the camp where we were (a point pretty much midway between the south and north ends of the lake).  It was almost the same technique as the first two, but I pushed the experiment by using a fountain-pen with a sepia cartridge as well as the black ink pen.  Sepia is the color you can see in the cliffs (details in black).  It was a learning-thing; I won't do that again.  The sepia is too distinct, too warm a color for a rainy day.  Live and learn.  Then I did some other "new for me" things.  I inked in rain streaks up in the clouds - liking that a bit, I did some in watercolors over the hills and into the lake.   Finally, I splattered some of the same watercolor over the bottom of the hills and into the lake.  Those splatters may not show up too well at this size because they're not easy to see full size!  Another lesson - splatters might need to be a darker color of paint.

I had a good time doing these sketches, but what makes it even better is that I think I learned from the painting and even more from writing about them.

Friday, September 4, 2015

What a Vacation can Mean and Do

The last few entries have focused on the lake, the wildlife, and the weather but have said nothing really about what we do when we are there.  Oh, I may have mentioned a little though not in any depth.  When it comes right down to it, what one does on vacation is more important than where one does it, to my way of thinking.  Those activities are what make vacations relaxing, enervating, or rejuvenating.  I can talk about what each person did, but my discussion about what I did is the only thing that is really valid since I cannot put myself inside another's skin or mind.

For me, the freedom to sit and read and/or stitch is an important part of vacations.  Now that I am retired and have the time - even at home - to do those two things, they are not quite as important on vacations as they were when I was up to my ears with lesson plans, paper correcting, or reading for classroom purposes. But they are still an important part of my time; I would feel lost without the crutches of books and needlework so they are an important time of vacation.

So what is it that makes vacations now different from what they once were?  In thinking about this question, I realize that is the concentrated time to pursue a passion.  When away from home, the phone is no longer important.  There are no washer/dryers buzzing for attention.  Mailmen are not coming to the door, there are no appointments to be kept, preparations for meetings can be ignored, and spousal commitments are relaxed.  AND there is no television (OK, there is a TV, but no one even thinks about turning it on).  Even mealtimes are shared.

For me, this week of vacation allows me to sit and enjoy conversation with husband, sister-in-law, and brother.  Conversation!  How often do any of us have the time to enjoy a half hour of discussion with family and friends?  It hardly ever happens any more.  That exchange of ideas and that sharing of laughter with loved ones is very important to me.

For me, this week of vacation allows all of us to go off into various corners of the same room to paint or draw.  Every now and then, someone will make a comment or pose a question or ask for a critique, and we all feel free to throw out an idea, or possible answer, or put down the paintbrush or charcoal or pencil to gather and critique a work in progress.  There is total trust that even if the critique is not what we want to hear, it is both honest and thoughtful.

For me, this week of vacation means that my husband feels free to go off and follow his hobby in an area where he can succeed in finding what he is looking for.  It is knowing that the search for him, is as important as the "Eureka!" moment.  I know he is enjoying the search and is looking forward to sharing what he has - or has not found - with the rest of us.  I know that this is as relaxing and enjoyable to him as my pursuits are to me.  That adds to my pleasure.

Finally, this week of vacation means that I return home refreshed and recharged even if I have nothing to show for it.  I have spent my time walking, swimming, drinking in beauty, painting, reading, and reveling in the company of people important to me.

And I have the time, once home, to reflect and realize what I have experienced and what wealth that experience represents for me.  Can one be luckier than this?

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Rainy Day at the Lake

Early one morning, I glanced out at the raft in the lake and saw an unusual looking bird, but I couldn't identify it without binoculars even though it was quite a large bird.  This is what I saw.  It is a gull which isn't unusual, but we have never seen this particular type of gull at this lake before.  It is a black-backed gull, the largest of the gulls.  Quite a specimen, isn't it?   Maybe it set the tone for some striking photographic opportunities later in the day.

After our walk that morning, the day got darker and darker, and we got to watch it rolling in from the south end of the lake. 

You can't see the mountain that is often visible in the gap between these two.

In the above picture, I wanted to capture the mass of clouds that dwarf the mountains, and then in the one below, I wanted to see how the clouds lie among the folds of the cliffs.  And can you see that tiny blue triangle in the sky?

No matter what the weather is at the lake, it's always worth observing!