Friday, December 27, 2013

Providing Space For Possibility

I've been thinking a lot about that lately.

Carol here, opening a discussion on how we can open up a space for possibility.

I am smack dab in the middle of a huge purge and reorganization of my home.

It started out innocently enough with me wanting to clean out my studio.
It was cluttered, packed with useless ("I might need that one day") items that are easily accessible.

Why keep all of these things in my studio when I can pick them up locally for a few coins when I need them?
I understand that I need some of them  in front of me for inspiration but I was/am sick to death of a packed, cluttered work space!
When I am in the middle of a project (or two), my work table is always cluttered - but with purpose.
And that type of clutter is easily dealt with after a project is completed.

It's the ever present clutter that haunts me.

I truly believe that it inhibits creativity and restricts inner vision.

In short, it cripples my ability to bring concrete form to my creative voice.

With all of that in mind, I began the arduous task of picking through decades of "precious" items.
Some of them were easy enough to part with. They no longer fit my idea of suitable art supplies (to me anyway), my color preferences changed or I was no longer interested in completing that particular project.

But what I did notice was that the longer I worked at cleaning out my space, the easier it got to toss the items to the "throw away" or "donate" pile.
And, when that happened, I felt that a weight had been lifted off of me. I could really feel my spirits lifting.

I believe that I was opening up space for something new, something fresh in my life.

I didn't want to allow the past, in the form of clutter, to hamper future possibilities.

The action of purging the studio fueled a passion to do the same thing throughout my home.

At the end of the day, the pain that I feel is an odd comfort.
It tells me that I am doing a good thing, that I am putting in the important work it takes to create not only a physical space that invites creativity and inspiration but I am also creating that same space within myself.

I did not plan on this being a New Year's resolution. It just happened to be this time of the year.

If I was one to make resolutions, I'd resolve to continue to simplify my life, my home and attitude.
For they have become much too cluttered.

I hope that you all continue to invite inspiration into your life.
A good place to start is to create a space for it - open yourself up to possibility.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Permission to do Nothing

Liz just wrote about keeping it fresh, and I can't agree more. Kristin here, and I just had a wonderful artist date with a friend that left me inspired to work. I blogged about it on my own blog.

But sometimes I'm NOT inspired to work, and it's always a struggle to find that balance between pushing oneself to keep going, and giving oneself permission to take a break and feed the soul in other ways. Maybe it's because it's the end of the calendar year, but I am always prone to making lists and plans between Thanksgiving and New Years and stressing about how much I wanted to do versus how much I actually did do during the year. And of course Christmas has it's own lists so adding art projects to that doesn't help anyone.

My plan this year has been to give my self permission to work on everything except my artwork (not having any pressing deadlines helps a lot!). Then, come the day after the day after Christmas, I will clear away all the wrapping supplies, the debris of present making, and the cookie recipes, and I will once more focus on my art. I the mean time, I've knit up several presents for family members and a few things for myself. I've made a good effort towards a tree skirt I've wanted for several years but which has been at the bottom of the priority list, and today I cleaned bathrooms that were long overdue.


Merry Christmas and best wishes for a creative and productive New Year ahead!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Keepin it Fresh

Happy Holidays from Liz!

One of the challenges of being a full time artist is keeping our work fresh. Fresh for both myself and the viewer. It is so easy to get stuck in a routine and not notice anything new. I was thinking about this because a friend asked about a restaurant nearby. I had no clue it was there. I drive by it all the time but I can't eat there because of my food allergies so its presence doesn't even register in my brain. As a matter of fact, if you ask me what restaurants are near my home or studio I can't answer because I simply don't know.

Many artists I know find that visiting museums helps them generate fresh ideas. For others it is being outside. I find those helpful too but my favorite way to keep fresh is by taking classes well outside my main media. Classes outside of my comfort zone. For years I have attended Art and Soul which is a national mixed media art retreat with classes from every genre you can think of! Painting, journaling, assemblage, stitch, book binding, jewelery, encaustic, metal and more. I love this retreat and now even teach there.

When taking a new class, as a student I am pushed to learn techniques that are completely foreign to me. As a teacher I get a chance to remember just how a student feels when they are trying something for the first time. It is usually really uncomfortable for me. It is a win on both fronts because it helps me to be a better teacher. Many times I never use the exact technique I learned in a class but there is always a nugget that I bring back into my textile art. It might be something as simple as a new color combination I have never used before or it might be a bigger slap upside the head a-ha that brings about dramatic changes in my approach or thinking.

These photos are from a recent book making class. We begin by spreading paint with wild abandon. I find it so freeing to create these colorful pages. It is only paint and paper so there is less stress and that sense of freedom and joy painting helps me with my fabric surface design work.

It is natural that because I take so many classes that I also teach a wide variety of classes. I teach quite a few textile based classes of course but I also teach visual journaling, book binding and jewelery too. I admit to being a bit of a technique junkie and I love them all! Well, except soldering. I am not a fan of soldering. I find that by mixing these various classes in with my textile based classes that I don't get bored teaching the same thing over and over. It helps me to keep my teaching fresh. It also exposes me to the influence of a wide variety of students. I always learn from my students.

What do you do to keep your work fresh? I would love to hear your opinion.

Friday, December 6, 2013

taking notes

I don't keep an official sketchbook any more. You know the one with lovely fully colored pages, textured backgrounds, delicately drawn objects and patterns and etc. I did for a while, but in the end found that it was better for me to extend that kind of energy on my stitching. Natalya here to give you a peek at the plain and simple...

Earlier this week I finally got to see an exhibit that I highly recommend to any lover of textiles, The Interwoven Globe. It's at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC until January 5th. I came with camera fully charged only to discover the no photo policy.. Luckily I had my trusty well worn sketchbook with me. It turned out that I was happy not to be focused on taking pictures and being able to just absorb the beauty and information around me and take a moment to jot down a few details that really interested me.

None of these doodles are of any importance, the details just caught my eye and asked to be noted. Perhaps someday they will find a way into my art or not... This simple sketching works for me. It's just enough to jog my memory. How intricate is your sketchbook?

Monday, December 2, 2013

Beryl here, been in the UK visiting family.

I've been experimenting again ! This time it's velvet, the dark kind, laid on top of batting and machined stitched eight rectangles. I then painted each rectangle with gesso then gold leaf, rubber stamped an Indian wood block image with acrylic paint in center of rectangle. Looking for a layering effect I found some fine polyester sheer which I laid over the leaf image then machine stitched around it in black thread. Still mulling over the next step !!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Collage Fodder

Carol here.

My husband and I have been rusting fibers for several years now.

I love the color and texture that the rusted fabric offers.
I've made several wall pieces that began their life as bits and pieces of different rusted fabrics and fibers. It's a great base to build wonderfully textured art on.

This formula also works for felted backgrounds.

After working on the last two projects (Kindle cover herehere and needle case here) that had felted bases, I decided to use the same approach for a collage that I have in mind.
I wanted to create a palette of rust fabric on which to hand and machine stitch.

I am approaching this project much as I do most of my projects - with an open mind and a vague plan.
My vague plan is to felt the base, hand stitch on top of this, then add a machine stitched image over that.
I must admit I'm a little nervous about risking the hand stitched base when I add the machine stitching.
But my "fly by the seat of my pants" attitude is that I can always redo the base...just make another one, right?

So far I've felted two small pieces and managed to get some hand stitching done on each one.

I've also machine stitched a copyright free image (that I re-drew) on one of them.

I haven't done any free motion machine stitching (or would this be free motion embroidery?) in a long time.
As soon as I began stitching this small motif, I remembered how much I loved doing it!
So I definitely will be doing more of this.

I have one other section almost completed and I'll show more next time.

I hope that you all are creating every day.
You gotta flex those creative muscles if you want to keep them!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Bricolage Explorations

I recently just finished a class in abstraction with a focus on bricolage. I didn’t really know what the class was about when I signed up but I knew I wanted to learn from Karen Khoury.  I love Karen’s art which is difficult to describe. Karen works with paint but not in any traditional format. She creates art that is both sculptural and 2D at the same time from paint sheets that are rolled and folded much like fabric. 

I learned that bricolage is a characteristic of much postmodern art...also learned a lot about what exactly postmodern art is. Bricolage simply means working with materials readily at hand. Altering them to meet your needs or using them as they are. The DIY and indy-craft movement are also examples of bricolage. It was a great class that gave me permission to follow my instincts and stretch my creative boundaries.

As an artist who works a great deal in collage, I realized that as my art has improved I have been working up to the more honest and authentic style of bricolage. When I started creating stories in fabric and paper I would spend quite a bit of time shopping for the right elements, fabrics and images to tell the story. Over the years I have learned to simply create with what I have on hand.  There is still the temptation to just go shop for something rather than make it myself or use what I have but I have learned that having less control often results in a better piece of art. 

 This piece about my grandmother is a great example even though I didn’t realize at the time I was working in Bricolage as well as collage. The rather loud and not quite matching background fabric is from one of her evening skirts. My grandmother owned her own advertising and printing business and every evening when she got home from work she would change into her evening wear. She had quite the collection of long skirts and was quite fond of both Hawaiian prints and velvet.  I used this orange and yellow skirt with the curving velvet trim because it spoke of her essence and quite honestly, it was available. 

Quite a few times I considered a shopping trip to find a better fabric but that would have taken a lot of time that I didn’t have…and quite frankly I really have enough fabric!  I stitched the orange flower embellishments with silk roving and thread I had on hand, pulled shell bits from my collection and mixed up beads I already had. I even used a bit of orange kitchen lace (aka plastic mesh from fruit and veggie bags) because I had it and it was the right color.

A wonderful example of bricolage is the work of El Anatsui a sculptor from Ghana and Nigeria. I have spent a lot of time examining his huge piece that hangs at the Denver Art Museum. Using the metal wrappers that are found on the necks of bottles tied together with copper wire he has created a fabric based on the Kente cloth from his homeland of Ghana. His huge sculptures are breathtaking. You can see more of his amazing work here.

The piece I started in the class isn't quite finished but I promise to show it as soon as it is. It is quite the departure for me and I am very excited about it. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

My Next Series

Kristin here. Working in a series works for me. First it was houses with roots, then it was The Army Wife, and next up will be Security Blankets. Of course, that doesn't mean I can't go back and create more houses or army wife related works as inspiration hits. But, for now, I'm moving on.

My work seems to moving more and more towards social commentary. If I can pull it off, I like that. I've never been too tied to one technique or "look," so if I can have a theme or approach that is consistent, I think that's good.

Something I did last week is not tied directly to my Security Blanket series, but is related in terms of social commentary. I went to the US Capitol and disassembled a flag for a little while. It was my protest  by way of metaphor of the way our leaders have been tearing apart our system of government. 

My timing wasn't great, as I staged this on the day Congress voted to end the shutdown and to raise the debt ceiling. However, I have plans to incorporate the flag parts into a textile project for an upcoming exhibit. It's all conceptual at this point and I have no real idea of how it will come together, but I'm very much looking forward to the journey.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

what inspires...

Where do you draw inspiration as an artist? Natalya here to tell you where I get mine...

If you take a peek at my art you'll see that obviously I am very inspired by architecture. All sorts of architectural styles from Romanesque to Baroque to Modern, with many things in between. I am especially inspired by architectural signatures that certain cities have. Such as New York is usually instantly apparent in a snapshot. Other cities maybe a bit more difficult to recognize: it is Paris or is Prague? Some cities have almost a color signature, Venice anyone? Or St.Petersburg? I could go crazy here... so I stay focused on just two cities for now.

And it's not just the structures that are inspiring, the textures too. Dilapidated or shiny new.
a wall in St. Petersburg
rainy steps at Lincoln Center
But you know what else inspires me? And feeds my architectural work at the same time? Nature. Yup, the greatest architect there is. Take a look at these recent photos I took and see how much architecture is in them.
city streets?
parks commission?
city blocks?
What inspires your art?

Wednesday, October 2, 2013


Beryl here. What do you do when you have time in between projects for teaching, commissions, book and magazine articles ? I was taught a huge lesson when I was at college doing my City & Guilds creative embroidery course; the in between time should not be viewed as down time because if you view it that way it's hard to snap-out of it and to get inspired again. So instead of taking my foot off the gas I put the pedal to the floor and start work on small books, play and feel free to do what ever comes to mind. It doesn't matter if it doesn't work out as expected or dare I say it, if something might normally be viewed as a mistake, there is no such thing !!!!!

These books are little note books, the smaller the better. Pages are slapped with paint, stenciled, stitched, photo transferred images, lots of modeling paste plus lots more techniques, just feel free to let go and have fun.

Some books are just individual pages worked on and then bound together to make a fat book. The great thing about these is that even when you think they're finished they're not, you can just carry on, then where do you stop !! Try it.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Stitched Felting

Hi all - Carol Sloan here.

I love hand stitching even though I don't normally do a lot of it.
But recently, it seems to have taken over my studio table.

When I visit my friend (and group member) Liz Kettle in Colorado, I love to play with her felting machine.
This year I thought about it before I went out there and wanted to create a couple of base pieces to stitch on at my leisure.

Well, you know how that went...I got so involved in the creation of the small piece that I quit working on everything that I was supposed to be doing!

I wanted to make a cover for my electronic reader for a couple of reasons.
One- because I hated looking at the plain black vinyl cover.
And two, because I could.

I love handmade items like that.

So I used the machine and felted down a few pieces of silk, torn scarves, roving and bits of this and that.
Good friend that she is, Liz let me pick out thread to use too!
I added a lot of mine when I got home too.

Once I started stitching, it became a tiny obsession.
I spent hours (lots of them) stitching on the cover or thinking about what I would do next.
Well, I guess that I thought more about what thread or what color I would use next as opposed to what I would do next.
The doing part seems to work itself out when I get out of the way.
Here's a few shots of the completed cover.

I decided against adding beads since I would be holding the Kindle in my hands while reading.
I figured that the beads could become a problem if they were in the wrong place.

And, I was ready to finish the project as I had another one calling to me.

Now, where is that rusted fabric...?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Gallery Show Follow-Up

Kristin here. A few months ago I posted about preparing for a solo gallery show. I am proud to share that the show has been up for three weeks now and has garnered lots of positive response in our small community. It's kind of amazing how much placing everything thoughtfully in a clean white room elevates it!

I'd say overall it has been a great experience. And while a few things didn't go quite as planned, most went off without a hitch. The September shows always come after a two week "clean-up" period at the art center. I was hoping for a freshly painted gallery, but alas, it was the same as always. One of the artists on the gallery committee came to the rescue with a Mr Clean Magic Eraser though. If I make a "gallery kit," I'm going to be sure there's one of those in it.  

I marked the pedestal for the mannequins before the break and told the committee chair that I'd be using it on it's side. Alas, no plug was made for the bottom, so one side is completely open. However, a quick trip to the fabric store for something white to drape over it remedied that (and gave me a chance to get some sticky Velcro dots to artfully arrange a few apron strings on two walls).

I take the blame for the last omission -- I forgot to include my name on the vinyl sign for the show! Luckily, we hung the show on a Monday and the reception wasn't until Friday, giving me plenty of time to get my name made.

The reception was well attended and it was lots of fun to talk to everyone about my work. Bonus that the Watercolor Guild who was showing in the hall Galleries traditionally pays for all the cheese and crackers so I only had to pitch in a little for wine. I'm definitely signing up for September again if I do another show!

I think the best part of this last month has been the artist talks. I really enjoyed talking about my work to  viewers and answering their questions about inspiration and technique, as well as commiseration on the lives of military spouses. If I'm lucky, a few doors have opened because of this. I'm trying to be that combination of patient and proactive in waiting on a possible loan opportunity, and sending proposals to potential galleries in other cities. The whole process has been a little intimidating, but so worth it. I can see it getting easier with time too.

Monday, September 23, 2013


Liz Kettle here today. This morning when I joined my friend Cat for our daily walk we did something radical. We walked our loop in the opposite direction. We humans tend to be creatures of habit and Cat and I have been walking the same route in the same direction 4-5 times a week for about 8 years now.

It was amazing how different everything looked. The hard uphill parts turned into downhills and the easy downhills turned into never ending ups! We noticed so many ‘new’ things. Of course none of them were new. They were there all along we just didn’t see them from our walking direction.

It always amazes me how life and art echo and mimic each other. What applies to art always applies to life and vice versa. Sometimes we need a new perspective in both.

 I have had many opportunities recently to find a new way of looking at things. I have been letting myself get stressed out and frustrated because I can’t get done ‘right now’ all things I want to create (both in art and life). I have not been taking time to stop to appreciate and congratulate myself for all the things I have accomplished. Fortunately, I have a business mastermind group of amazing women artists and entrepreneurs who don’t hesitate to tell me when I need a re-frame.

In my artwork, when I get stuck on the progress of a piece I realize that if I stop and let it rest for a bit, let my mind open to the a re frame of  its purpose and intent, I magically get un-stuck.

What areas in your life might need a re frame?

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Reflections on s new studio

Like Liz, I've recently moved into a new studio outside my home. My husband and I are sharing a loft in a building of artists' studios in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

This is what the loft looked like when we moved in at the beginning of July:

Our space is about 26 feet square (and 11 feet high!) and we've divided it more or less equally between the two of us. After two months, we've almost finished setting up and settling in and I've learned a few things that I wanted to share.

1. Being in a building full of other artists working in so many different media is very inspiring and energizing. Our building has visual artists working in oil and acrylic paint, charcoal, wood, jewelry, decorative painting, ceramics, and more, plus there are a couple of film makers, and quite a few musicians. Even when you are working in your own studio with the door closed and concentrating hard, there is a low creative hum going on around you. Not loud enough to disturb, but enough to give you a sense of collective creation, almost like being in a hive.

2. For the first time in four years, I'm finding it a little easier to separate work and home. I've even started taking weekends "off", sort of anyway (baby steps, people). As a workaholic, this is huge.

3. If I need a tool or supply, it is where I'm not.

4. I have to guard against getting sucked into building politics. We're organizing our building to take part in a city-wide art celebration in November and some aspects of it are taking up too much room in my day and in my head.

5. Carlos and I haven't shared the same space before and we're adjusting well, but there's still an adjustment. We have to compromise about temperature, music, and other environmental factors, plus be respectful of each other's things and space. It's a work in progress!

6. Seeing other artists' work inspires my own. Color combinations always, subjects sometimes, and conversations without a doubt, are all feeding my muse.

7. Having all of my art supplies in one room for the first time in 12 years has made me realize that I have a LOT of stuff (too much) and duplicates or triplicates of too many things, so condensing and simplifying is on the agenda.

Do you have or have you ever had a studio outside your home? What are/were the advantages and drawbacks for you in that experience?

~ Jane Davila

Friday, September 6, 2013

Monumental Art

As some might have noticed.. I am attracted to huge recycled artworks. Natalya here, reporting this time from MASS MoCA in North Adams, MA. I have heard about this old factory turned museum for years now and finally made the trek to see what's it all about. What enticed me to make the drive? The Phoenix by Xu Bing. Was it worth it? But of course.

The museum itself is a wonderful collection of old factory buildings interconnected to form huge gallery spaces, a fun museum shop and a restaurant. It would be interesting just to wander through even without all the great art. There is a Sol LeWitt retrospective there that I didn't get a chance to see, but no worries, it's there till 2033!

But the Phoenix, actually there are two Phoenixes and they are breathtaking. My pictures do not do them justice, but here's a taste. You can see them at MASS MoCA until October 27th, after which they travel to Cathedral of St. John the Divine in NYC. I am so looking forward to seeing how they will be displayed in such a different space.
to judge the scale look at the tiny 5"2" person in the right corner taking a picture
tail end of the second Phoenix with people for scale
talons of the Phoenix
tail feathers
paper model was so delicate
and made cool reflections in the glass case in a black room
A nice surprise was discovering another installation by Xu Bing, 1st Class. We haven't had a smoker in the family in decades, but boy, was the smell of cigarettes familiar, and I knew what was going to be at the top of the stairs immediately, while my daughters wanted to know what that smell was. The surprise for me was seeing the cigarettes arranged on the floor to form a huge tiger skin that changed shades as you walked around it. It's part of the Tobacco Project exhibit which explores some very interesting ideas.
there is the person for scale and the shades changing in the light
Reduce reuse recycle!!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013


Beryl here, I love to needle felt but don't do it the traditional way with wool roving, I use fabric with a design on it. At the moment I'm playing with a satin Chinese-type fabric, the colors and designs are so beautiful.

I lay the fabric on felt and using the Embellishing machine work from the front and then from the back. I love the distorted surface design it creates which also  has a wooly effect.

 Once I have a few different sheets of these I just cut into them and start layering them into a desired design. The next stage is to embroider and bead to my hearts desire, sometimes knowing when to stop is the problem.

So now I have an image which has come about by adding tyvek motifs and fabric paper panels, beads and brads. This panel is one of seven which will become a book (I think.)

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Testing, Testing, 1,2,3

Kristin here. I hang my show in a week, and I feel like I'm pretty much ready for it. So now I have time to move on to the next ideas I want to explore. One of the things I want to do involves making a full-sized sun-print of a person. When I get the chance, and have the materials, I try out a technique.

Plan A and B: The first try was painting fabric with slightly diluted, water-based, fabric paint, and then laying on it until the sun had wicked away the moisture and created an image.

Unfortunately, 45 minutes in the made me sweat, which affected the print in an interesting, but not appropriate for my purposes, way. I tried again adding a cloth underneath and a shirt to absorb sweat, and got much better results. However, when I washed the fabric, a lot of the luscious color washed out an the whole piece had a worn, scuffed, look I didn't like.

Plan C: The next thing I tried, was to use my husband as a stencil and spray fiber reactive dye around him. Dye creates a much richer color, but boy was it hard to wash off my man afterwards. Unfortunately, spraying dye doesn't saturate the fabric the same was as immersion, and the resulting fabric was very light after I washed it out. Not the look I was going for. Bummer.

Plan D: So, I mixed mixed the best of both worlds and painted my cloth with Inkodye, a dye that reacts in the sun, and used my hand as a stencil. Love it! But then when I tried to go full size, I dipped the fabric in the dye instead of painting it on (speed was of the essence), I laid my fabric on a cloth to absorb sweat, and I used a different fabric. My resulting print lacked the contrast of the test. 


Plan E and F: I'm learning and refining as I go. I'm pretty certain that I will actually use parts from each of my tests and patch together a pretty interesting image. I will try the Inkodye again with my husband (I need male and female parts) using conditions closer to my test. Depending on how that works out, I will probably also switch to small scale and print individual body parts as needed, using the Inkodye or paint.

Although none of these images are exactly what I want, I'm not frustrated. It's all part of the learning and exploring process. Each try teaches me something. Not knowing exactly how something will turn out is part of the adventure. It will all work out in the end, so I know the investment of time and materials is worth it.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Butterfly play

All summer long I've been focused on taking butterfly pictures.  I've done some other outdoor work -- birds and flowers -- but it's mainly butterflies.  While I enjoy simply printing as is, I often use them as springboards to other play.  In this case, I used the above photo as a base for the digital paintings below. 

The above is made by taking the photo, duplicating it, adding various effects to it like noise, and then playing around.  While nothing has yet turned into fiber work, I have lots of ideas.  I had hoped to put up some work based on another photo I took of a statute.  Maybe next month ... stay tuned!
P.S. I apologize for the obnoxious copyright info, but too many times my images have ended up on the websites of others.  I certainly don't mind sharing, but I do at least want credit.  :)