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Creating Contrast

I’m taking my boys home to Texas this summer for a couple of weeks. I’ve been incredibly homesick and ready for them to have a taste of where I came from. These two California boys need to experience rural living, dogs, fields, southern accents, neighbors separated by more than a wall, real barbecue, stifling heat and humidity and some lake life. I love San Diego, but Texas will always hold a special place in my soul.

So, when an old high school friend asked me if I would make a quilt for her, I jumped at the chance. Aside from being flattered that she would want something of mine, I loved the idea of designing something inspired by this beautiful lake where I spent many days swimming and boating and even having a few waterskiing adventures.  That said, when I was spending those days at Lake Texoma, paddleboarding wasn’t a thing there.  So when my friend told me it was her passion and she wanted a quilt of her paddleboarding on the lake, I loved that it combined a hint of the California lifestyle themes that I often do with my Texas home.  And since it was another quilt that involved a water theme, I knew I had to pay attention to the differences between my tropical style and the more earthy, woodsy feel of the landscape in that area. My quilts may often have simpler layouts, but my MFA in set design doesn’t allow me to make sweeping generalizations–water isn’t just water.  There are California beaches, Florida beaches and Texas lake beaches and they are not the same thing.

I will share other aspects of the design process for this quilt in other posts, but for today, I want to share the things I did to make this particular quilt read Lake Texoma and not sunny San Diego.

I’m including these three quilts, side by side to illustrate my points.  I know they are often subtle things, and maybe to some people, it doesn’t make a difference.  But it does to me.

  1. Color Palette: All three of these quilts are strip quilts and have similar water and sunset colors.  Strip quilting is a technique I use frequently to build the background.  I like how it allows me to use lots of different fabrics and also creates the feel of a horizontal landscape. The colors in these quilts are similar, but I made a few adjustments to each one. I used thin strips to create the octopus quilt, which, coupled with the gradated colors (light at the horizon line and darkening as it gets to the deeper water), creates more depth. I picture this scene way out in the vast ocean somewhere, far away from land. In contrast, the manatee quilt in the middle is the brighter, clearer shallow waters in Florida where the manatees live.  I also used larger blocks of fabrics which makes it feel closer, but still kept the horizontal lines. Contrast both of those with the lake quilt. The water in Lake Texoma is much darker, and though I didn’t want to go too dark and murky, I wanted to show that it’s more green than tropical turquoise. My ratio of greens to blues was much higher in this quilt, and even the prints were not quite as fantastical, which gave it a little more of a realistic look.
  2. The trees and grasses: These details are what solidify a more specific location.  The octopus is out in the deep ocean, so I gave no hints of land being anywhere nearby.  The manatee quilt got some land and a few palm trees flanking the sunset, plus the grasses that are a part of that natural environment. This, coupled with the larger blocks of color, gave it a more close-up, intimate feeling.  The lake quilt needed Texas trees.  Very different from palm trees.  I added a couple of those large oak trees and also grounded them in some land because there is never anywhere you are on that lake where you can’t see land.  I also added a few grasses which would be a part of the environment there, but kept them more natural looking.
  3. The animals.  I mean of course these have to be different.  But, I try to be consciously different. Fish live in all waters, but I didn’t just want to throw in any old fish.  The octopus quilt has a fantastical feel to it.  The octopus is sending up the sea stars which, when they cross the horizon line, turn into the night time stars.  The mermaid is pushing the moon into the sky and the sun is setting, giving the whole thing a magical feeling with everything in motion.  So, I stuck to more magical looking creatures–the amazing diamond print octopus, all the stars and the mythical mermaid. For some reason, fish just seemed out of place and too banal. No offense to fish! 😉 The manatee quilt was supposed to be fun, sweet scene with these beautiful peaceful creatures going about their daily life.  Of course it needed little fish! It’s like the manatee and the sea turtle needed their little friends nearby to create this perfect Disney-esque setting.  I researched the type of fish that would be found in those areas and that’s the style I created.  Cute and colorful and several different sizes.  Lake Texoma has lots of different fish, but in order to really drive home the fact that it was this particular lake and certainly not any kind of ocean, I added one of the more recognizable fish–the fun, visually interesting catfish. Ain’t nobody from Texas that doesn’t recognize a catfish!  I also added a rainbow trout and some other little fish and a duck.  All things very common to this area and all things that say “lake” and not ocean.  (Not that there aren’t trout in the ocean….but it has more of a lake feel to it.)

So many things are interchangeable and I don’t have to always make such specific decisions on every piece that I do.  But, I feel like I need to have a clean thought process through my work or else it just gets diluted and everything starts to look the same. Muddy, like the bottom of that lake.

To read more about the quilts pictured above, click on these links:

Octopus quilt, “Connected”

Manatee quilt

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“The Best Way Out is Always Through.” Robert Frost

This past week has been a painful one for me and I was not feeling the desire to make cute little sea creatures of any kind. I felt like I wanted to express the darkness that I have often felt going through these difficult times.  I love words and I often look at poems and quotes and other writings to see if I can find a phrase or a paragraph or a song lyric or something that seems to capture how I feel in a way I can’t seem to express.  I often use these quotes as inspiration for art pieces, although it’s not usually the intention at first. But, when I find a beautifully crafted phrase that strikes a chord deep inside me, then my natural reaction is to have some type of visual image pop up in my mind, and then I sketch that idea.  This natural flow was a little out of order today, but it still resulted in the beginnings of an new art piece.

The beginnings of the fabric layout. Lots of little pieces. I love how the layering is beginning to add depth.

Many years ago I worked on a sweet little show called La Pastorela.  It is a centuries old Spanish play about the shepherds journey to Bethlehem as told in the Gospel of Luke. I got the chance to design and paint the scenery for a production of it that took place in The Adobe Chapel in Old Town, San Diego. It is a primitive show, often performed as it would have been hundreds of years ago in Mexico in chapels just like this one, and this director wanted to keep that same historic feel to the look of this production.  A few days ago I came across my rendering (pictured above) of a backdrop that I designed and painted for that production.  It is an image of the mouth of hell. In keeping with the tradition, I created the paintings in the style of primitive Mexican folk art, so the images were kept simple but fun and colorful and a little fantastical.  When I saw this painting again, I was immediately struck with the emotions of the last few years and thought about what it means to stand at this proverbial mouth of hell and still move forward towards something better.  What exactly does it mean to survive?  I knew right away that I wanted to created a quilt piece very much like this painting.  But, something was off.  Something was missing.  Hope was missing.  Much of my art work is about triumph in some way, whether large or small, and this painting was missing the triumph.  I have sketched a few ideas in the last few months that explore the idea of the light at the end of the tunnel.  As I was thinking about what it means to pass through some type of trauma–or a gaping mouth of hell–I had the idea to combine the two images and make the light at the end of the tunnel only accessible once you’ve faced this demon.  That light doesn’t always come easily, and there are so many scary things before you reach it. But, it is doable.

The new sketch. I wrote down three quotes that stuck with me, but the Robert Frost quote is the one I felt best captured the concept.

I did a separate sketch of the rendering, incorporating the two images together and then began assembling the textile art piece.  I built the center of the mouth with the sun and the sharp teeth around it like a type of primitive bear trap.  The stitching is really going to be essential on this piece, although the layering of the fabrics has already created a beautiful depth to the piece. I need more red batiks to finish, so stay tuned and watch how I use a layering technique to realize this design.  Despite this being a frightening image, the concept is truly one of hope and triumph.  Of walking past the things that should kill us, or in the very least, stop our progress, to a wide open hopeful life full of choices.

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“Little by little, one travels far.” J.R.R. Tolkein

Leah took this beautiful photo of the nursery all ready for the new baby. So lovely! The pillow on the left is also one I made for her and I will be posting about it very soon.

Oh, this quilt.  It will be the subject of several posts because there are so many aspects of what I do that are captured so well in this project. Custom orders can be so tricky, as I have mentioned before. On one hand I have to at least partially assume (or hope…) that the customer chose me because they want my signature style and so will hopefully trust me to just do my thing.  However, any time a person seeks out custom work, it is because they already have some idea of what they want (or don’t want) and they want you to make it happen. This can be difficult when you don’t live in that person’s brain, and no amount of sketching and exchanging photo ideas and color palettes can 100% portray all those thoughts.  I am never more anxious about mailing off a product than when it’s a custom design.  I just want the customer to be happy and to love what I did and ideally, to feel like I exceeded their expectations. It can be stressful!

When Leah contacted me about this custom crib quilt design, I was excited, but also a little terrified.  First of all, she is a photographer and creating art for another artist can be a blessing and a curse.  I know other artists appreciate my work, but they also have a more discerning eye and often a strong idea of what they want.  She was no exception.  Second, this quilt is very complicated.  Most of my work is a single scene, so my research stays pretty focused and the layout isn’t the most difficult part of the journey. This quilt was a collage of many of the places her and her husband had traveled to together.  So, not only was it a complex layout and design that required researching many different places and landmarks, but it also held great sentimental meaning.  I didn’t want to create a flat, lifeless version of these vibrant locations they had actually visited in person.  I wanted to do justice to their memories. Third, I tend to work in bold, vibrant colors.  Leah asked for a softer palette with pops of color here and there.  I have to say, subtly is not my strong suit! But, I took this as a great challenge and looked for the opportunity to learn and grow and do something I don’t normally do.  And I’m so glad that I did.  And fourth, and perhaps the most intimidating part of this project, is that all these things I just mentioned had to come together not just for the quilt itself, but it was for their very first child!  So, not only was it sentimental because of the subject matter, but also because this quilt would be the big thing she did to commemorate the birth of this sweet baby girl. Her first child, with all the emotions and expectations and hopes that come with preparing for such a once-in-a-lifetime event…so absolutely no pressure whatsoever! And as if there needed to be more pressure, this quilt would be arriving in time for the baby shower and would be unveiled there to all of her friends and family. And to add more to the suspense, even though she knew I had shipped it, her husband kept it aside and didn’t let her see it until the baby shower.  So….I was VERY relieved to find out that she loved it! The last thing I wanted was for her to feel let down at that precious moment.  Thankfully, all went well, and I couldn’t be happier with the way it turned out.

I will go into more detail about the process next time.

Leah is an amazing photographer. The photos in this post are ones she sent me. You can see her work at leahrhiannephotography.com

 

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Strong Women “Keep Going”

My phoenix rising from the ashes. She is unwavering in her determination to fly again. Read the blog post about this one.

I’ve been obsessed with Harriet Tubman lately.  I love tough girls, and she had to have been one of the toughest. I love Susan B. Anthony, Joan of Arc, Princess Diana, Queen Elizabeth I and Sacajawea.  I listen to Janis Joplin, Stevie Nicks, Bonnie Raitt, Miranda Lambert and Pink. And of course my mother…my biggest influence, and my sister and other amazing women in my family.  I saw a girl on a motorcycle today waiting at a stop light in her sleek leather pants. Red helmet, sweet black ride. I wanted to be her. Badly. Learning to ride a motorcycle has always been on my bucket list. I think it’s because the last few years have had me questioning what it means to be a strong woman.  A feminist. Which is a word I haven’t always related to because where I grew up, it often had a negative connotation.  A femi-nazi.  As if all women really wanted to just be men and/or wanted to live in a world without men.  And being a feminist must mean you don’t want be with a man or have one hold a door open for you and your days were spent bashing them.  As a mom of two young boys, it worries me that they will be seen as the bad guys for just being men. I don’t think turning the tide the opposite direction is equality. I have come to understand that the true definition of feminism is that I have the right to think and feel and pursue whatever I want. And if that means I want to cook pastries and raise babies, I can do that.  And if I want to be a CEO or play hockey, I can do that, too.

When I started making quilts as a business, it was really important to me that my more feminine quilts be just as bold and strong as the more masculine ones.  It also became important to me to bridge that gap and use such interesting combinations of colors and prints that both men and women would be drawn to just about any of my pieces. Since I started out making surf-themed crib quilts, I made a point of keeping the surfboard themes in both my girls’ and boys’ quilts, just making minor changes in the fabric choices…mainly adding more fuchsia to the girls’ quilts. I looked at what was already available out there and the boy decor was surfboards and vintage cars, strong prints and bold colors and the girl decor was inevitably flowers and bikinis. No, thank you. I love flowers, don’t get me wrong, but I felt it was time to portray those cool surfer and skater girls that I had seen ripping up the waves and tearing up the skate park.  Despite me not being great surfer and a worse skateboarder, as a more athletic person, those are the girls I could relate to more.  Nothing against Disney princesses, but there was plenty of that.  I wanted to bring a different powerful dynamic to my work.

She is her own woman, looking out over her limitless domain on a cloudy day, at peace with herself. The manager of her own destiny. The decision-maker in her own life and the chaser of her own dreams.  Maybe she’s a mermaid, but she’s a badass mermaid.

I sketched a lot and worked hard to create feminine designs the rivaled they boy stuff in the cool factor. Yes, I still use mermaids and flowers and feminine things.  But, I try to create powerful designs with those images.  As women, we are both feminine and strong.  Soft and tough.  Bold yet compassionate.  That’s what I want you to see when you see my work. I want you to see life and movement and passion and struggles and darkness and despair and triumph.  That’s what I see in myself.  All those things rolled into one person.  And many many people.

 

I started out with the surf quilts, and that led to creating other ocean-inspired designs. I’ve since branched out into desert landscapes and mountains and wildlife and so many other things.  Even when I’m designing a basic flower, I want that flower to embody how I feel about other women and about being a woman myself. So, even down to the simplest notecard, my designs are full of strength.  You may never know the thought behind each of my pieces or who may have inspired them, even in some small way, but know this…behind each work of art that I create, there is ALWAYS the influence of some badass woman who kept going.

“If you hear the dogs, keep going. If you see the torches in the woods, keep going. If there’s shouting after you, keep going. Don’t ever stop. Keep going. If you want a taste of freedom, keep going.” –Harriet Tubman

 

More of my strong feminine designs:

“I believe a strong woman may be stronger than a man, particularly if she happens to have love in her heart. I guess a loving woman is indestructible.” ― John Steinbeck, East of Eden
My surfer girl sunset.
This was for another amazing tough woman I know who is a business woman and also conquers the lake on her paddle board regularly.
Fearless flowers.
One of my surfboard notecards. Strong colors but feminine touches in the print.
This little octopus has stories to tell!
Mermaids are often girly, but the vibrant colors and her independent nature definitely make her a tough girl.
I love these wildflowers. Strong shapes and colors and design with a sun full of feminine sparkly Swarovski crystals.
It may be a simple heart, but the strong diamond print background gives it a little extra power. Hard geometric lines against the soft curves of the heart. Very symbolic.
There’s a blog post about this amazing she-wolf.
Touches of fuchsia bring a fun feminine element into this abstract surfboard.
her face…so determined. Wild mane flowing in the water. She knows where she’s going.
Even my jewelry is more rocker chick than quilt diva. So is my hair.
I freehanded the outline of the girl looking out at the wave there on the right. I love that image–of the surfer preparing to go out, reading the break. I also put her in a summer wetsuit because I get tired of the girls always being in a string bikini when most of the surfer girls I see aren’t.
I did a whole blog post about this girl and this design. Check it out under “The Calling”.
Now, this is one of the few I’ve done with more pastel colors. It’s also also more traditional style, which is unusual for me. But this collection of prints had the texture of denim…a little worn looking but still bold and colorful. I really loved them all and put them together in one quilt. I love the very simple design of the single surfboard and the sun on top of the squares and rectangles.
The poppies! I also did a blog post about this one, but I still love how bold and strong this design is. It’s flowers, but they’re powerful with their red color and proportion to the sky and grasses.

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What Brings Me Joy.

I’m tired tonight.  The kind of tired that has me eating cold spaghetti and hot cocoa at midnight. It’s the kind of tired that comes from sadness and loss and taking care of two amazing and active young boys, and thousands of ideas swirling in my brain every day, ALL day long, and making plans for bucket list items and taking up rollerblading at forty-seven and facing rejection and success, which oddly enough, can almost be just as stressful as rejection. As I snuggled into a big blanket on the sofa tonight and almost dozed off immediately, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I wanted to write a little first.

I’ve been archiving and cleaning up all my photos on my computer, and that’s allowing me to take a fresh look at my work.  I was trying to decide which piece to write about tonight, and since I don’t have a design of a black hole or a mental institution, I chose a favorite recent piece. Something a little more hopeful.

The finished banner. Read the fully story in my blog post “…and there was light”

I chose this one because when the client, who happens to be an old college friend, asked me to make this religious stole, he put his full trust in me to just make something beautiful and full of joy.  He had commissioned a large banner for his church (read about it here) and asked if I would use some of the leftover batiks to make a stole for him that was abstract and joyful. Those are always his words.  When he cut me loose to do my thing on the banner with only moderate direction he said:

“I really do trust you wholeheartedly. Do what brings you joy…truly. Do what brings this to life for you and I know it will be the right choice.”

You know, as an artist, there is nothing better than that.  To be given such trust and freedom.

So, tonight, this is what I want to share.  I love how the stole turned out.  I looked at the leftover banner fabrics and though the color palette isn’t exact, I immediately thought of a couple of Klimt paintings. The Kiss and Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I. I loved the overall gold look of the pieces and all of the abstract shapes and how he put them together. There is life there. I kept both of these paintings in view as I built the background for the stole.  The left side is tiny squares and rectangles all pieced together. I appliquéd more squares and rectangles on top to add depth and detail.  I liked the idea of the two sides coordinating and flowing together, but also being individual designs. Instead of just making two differing sides, I wrapped the squares and rectangles up around the neck and back down a little bit onto the right side, so even though there is a hard line separating it from the circles, it helps it to blend and look like one cohesive art piece.  And that’s truly how I see this stole…as and art piece. I kept the stitching simpler so it would just tie everything together and not distract. I love the colors and shapes and how it all came together, and did not want to take away from that at all.

The back of the stole.

The stole is only about 4 1/2″ wide so all the pieces are very small, which made for a lot of work! I truly did “do what brings you (me) joy” and I think it’s tangible. I backed it with a bold orange batik so that if it ever flips up, you catch another fun burst of color. I always think about the backs of my pieces.  Looking at the stitching from the back is a favorite thing. It’s not forgotten.  It may be hidden and only be seen by a few people who take the time to look, but those people always appreciate that extra detail. And it makes me smile knowing I’ve sent a little hidden gem out into the universe. I guess that’s the artist in me.

 

More Photos/Process

Let the layering begin!
So many tiny squares and rectangles.
I used a softer circular yellow sun batik for the background on the right side. I love the contrast of the circles and squares together.
All laid out, before the stitching began.

So much color and life and movement.
I used to sew clothes more often, so this gave me an odd sense of satisfaction, to not only create art, but to make a meticulously finished off wearable piece.

 

 

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Manatees, Moms and Methods.

People ask me all the time if I do custom work, and I feel there is always a pregnant pause, a funny look and a caveat to my “yes” answer.  Art is so subjective that it’s hard for me to do something custom. I can’t okay every fabric with you. I can’t FaceTime you as I place each ray of sunlight. And I can’t go back and forth making sure you are getting a precision replica of something that is in your head.  I am the artist, after all.  I need room to breathe.

When I make a piece on my own and then put it up for sale, you get what you get, and you know exactly what you’re getting up front. But custom work–there is an expectation sometimes that I will build exactly what you want. And believe me, I will try to capture your vision as best I can, but there has to be some trust there, and some desire for my fingerprint–my artistry.  I assume you have asked me because you’ve already seen my work and love my style.  So that should put us a step ahead.  My favorite collaborations are when the client gives a few specifics, like a general theme or a particular subject, and then says “go for it!”.  That was the case with this beautiful manatee quilt.

And to be honest, it wasn’t just any ordinary client.  This was for my mother and I knew she would love it no matter what. But I still didn’t want to phone it in…I wanted it to be extra special.  My mom loves manatees and asked if I would make her a lap size quilt (50″x70″) and her only requests were that it have a manatee and a setting sun, like one she had seen in a previous quilt. I love requests like that where I’m given a little bit of direction, but largely trusted to create what fancy ideas or forever swirling in my head.

Sometimes I have to think about a project for days, and sketch ideas, but I knew right away what I wanted with this one. The sunset over the water was already set, but I wanted to make sure that this looked like a manatee habitat and not like one of my typical ocean quilts.  I looked at lots of photos and came up with this idea to have the grasses and some fish and also a sea turtle.  Mom also likes my sea turtles.  I knew that the sunset, the manatee and the sea turtle would each be so visually interesting that the rest would just be enhancements.  A few palm trees, some grasses and some cute little fish would round it off nicely.

I started off with a strip quilt.  I love using strip quilts as a background for several reasons.  One is that I can gradate the landscape colors to create depth in the sky and in the water. Another reason is that it gives a strong feel of a horizon line, which is perfect for this type of image.  It also allows me to use lots of my scraps and that allows for me to use many, many different prints and colors to make up a larger block, like the water or the sky.  Much better than just a big piece of one fabric. The nature of the wax resist method used in making batiks means that most designs are only going to have about two to three colors. This means the prints will usually be bold and contrasting.  Throw all those bold, colorful prints into an area that is meant to be one thing, like a sky, and it adds movement and life to an otherwise plain space.  It is also a way of throwing in these hidden gems if you have just the right scrap.  For example, I love the octopus batik at the bottom of the quilt.  It’s a vibrant way of adding more sea life into the quilt without making another appliqué.

The next step is to put the quilt together.  I pin the quilt back to the frame with the wrong side showing. Then I lay the batting on top and finally the pieced quilt top.  After it is all stretched on the frame and pinned, then I build the rest of the design.  This phase is all done with appliqués that I design and create myself.  I never use anyone else’s patterns.  Because the manatee and sea turtle were such focal points, I drew them out of paper first to make sure I had the proportions correct.  I admit, I fly by the seat of my pants a lot and often skip any kind of patterning. But this one required more precise proportions to make sure they were the most prominent figures on the quilt.  Once I got that correct, then I cut them out of fabric, used my handy spray starch and steam iron to turn the edges under on the appliqués and iron them flat, and then pin them into place.

 

 

 

After the quilt has been laid out and I’m satisfied with the design, then the appliqués get glued into place with a washable glue. This is my favorite trick! Plain old Elmer’s washable school glue. WASHABLE being the key word! I glue everything in place and let it dry thoroughly. I don’t overdo the glue–just enough to keep the piece in place. When the glue dries, I pin the whole quilt and remove it from the frame for the free motion stitching. The dried glue doesn’t gum up the needle and if you don’t use tons of it, it’s still very easy for the needle to permeate the fabrics. And then it’s all downhill from there!

Haha. Just kidding.  Another question I get asked frequently is if I do my own quilting.  Of course!!!  As an artist, all those thread details are half of the design! I create and build every single aspect of my work.  I would never give away the chance to do all the finishing touches.  The thread gives personality to faces and all the finite details that make the quilt unique.  Think about it.  I could always build two of the same quilts–same fabrics, same layout, same pattern.  But when you quilt freehanded, it is absolutely impossible to do two designs that are exactly alike. So, when you buy an original piece from an artist, you’re getting a little piece of that person that nobody else will ever be able to have.

I mean, nobody ever has more of a piece of your soul than your own mother, but I feel like my mother got something a little extra special here. Don’t we really just want our kids to grow up, use their natural talents and their hard work and their loves and their passions to create a life that makes them happy and brings joy to others? This was my chance to give a little of that back to a woman who has loved me unconditionally and has only ever wanted me to be happy and to feel fulfilled. And that’s exactly what I felt when I gave this to her. I like to think she thinks it’s amazing and doesn’t just love it because I made it like I did some thumbprint animal in kindergarten, but I’m sure that has a lot to do with it, too.

“Like a Manatee, I am peaceful, respectful, gentle, kind and self-healing.”  Jonathan Lockwood Huie

Simple, graphic lines can add so much personality to a little piece of fabric.
I little fish detail, basic enhancement lines on the grasses and a little scrollwork in the water–the combination of colors, patterns and textures pulls it all together into a cohesive design.
His sweet face is a favorite of mine. These docile, peaceful creatures are just so visually interesting.
You can’t see the gold metallic thread in the sunset sparkle in this photo, but it does!
I really love how it all came together.

 

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Derby Dolls, Here I Come!

So, this has very little to do with quilting, but it does explain a little bit how I roll.  Which, if you stretch it far enough, does relate to my art.  Because art imitates life or life imitates art or whatever.

I have been in a funk. Lots of life changes in the last few years. If you know me, you know I’m spontaneous. Which might be a nice way of saying erratic. Impetuous. Impulsive.  You get the idea.  I plan. Sorta. At times.  But I call myself “outline girl”. I have a general idea of where I’m going but lots of the blanks are filled in as I go.  I kinda like it that way.

I took my four-year-old to a beautiful skate park last week and decided I wanted to start rollerblading. I wanted to get some exercise and stop sitting on the sidelines eating protein bars while my boys had all the fun. To be honest, I have been thinking about it for while, but this week, that impulsive little bug hit me and I went looking for rollerblades I could afford.  I actually really want to skateboard, but thought this would be a good transition step. So, on my lunch break on Saturday, I went into a consignment store and lo and behold, there were a pair of used skates in my size for $28! Must have been fate. Which is how us impulsive girls think. I snatched them up, ran down the street to a second hand sports store and got a new set of knee and elbow pads and wrist guards.  I may be impetuous, but even I have my boundaries. Though I sorta forgot about the helmet even though I’m a nazi about making my boys wear them. I was so excited that after work, I ran home, changed into some cute workout clothes with long, fun patterned socks so I could look like one of those retro 70’s cute skater girls and headed for Lake Murray, which has a great flat (or so I thought it was flat…) three mile paved path around it.

Cute socks. Too blurry. Big legs from that angle.

I was pumped. I sat in my car with the door open putting on my sweet new (to me) skates, listening to fun music.  It was a perfect Southern California evening—cool air, sun glistening off the water, ducks, people strolling. I almost bit it getting my skates on, because as I was tyring to get the second one on, the first one, with my foot in it, kept sliding away from the car and pulling me with it.  But, I won that battle and was all decked out and ready to go. However, I just HAD to take a photo of myself first because nothing happens if it’s not on Facebook, so I set up the camera on the back of my car and nonchalantly tried to take a picture without anyone noticing. I did it, but from that angle, my thighs look massive, but I digress. I grabbed my phone, turned on the music and started heading out. It quickly became apparent that I had not skated in a very long time.  I felt like Bambi on ice, and the road seemed really rough and my skates weren’t very smooth. I kept checking to see if something was on the road, but no.  I checked my skates…they looked fine.  I check again a few feet later and noticed there were cracks in the wheels on the right skate.  By the time I went twenty feet, I knew something was wrong. I turned around and look behind me, only to see a trail of broken rubber pieces leading from my car. I looked down at my skates and ALL the wheels—every single piece—had come completely off of the right skate and they were bare! And I had left a trail of bread crumbs.  So nonchalantly.  My plans were thwarted! I was pretty disappointed and tried to cruise back to my car, ignoring the path of destruction, hoping nobody would know it was me. Sigh.

Part of me was still determined to go find new wheels, but since I had left my shoes at home, I couldn’t go shopping for new wheels in just my cute socks. And by the time I got new wheels, the gates to the lake would be closed.  So, Amazon it was!  Instead of working out, I ate truffles and sat on my butt and ordered cute blue wheels, set to arrive on Monday (today).

The next morning when I arrived at church, I noticed one little piece of wheel rubber sitting on the roof of my car.  Somehow it had survived the drive home and to church the next morning and was just sitting there mocking me.  And then when I got home that night from work, I tried to carry everything up the stairs at one time and bit it on the first step, scraping up my knee, though barely missing the kneecap.  I almost took that as a sign to go back to quilting.  But I’m a rebel.

So today, I was a little burnt out at work, and knowing those cute little wheels would be waiting for me when I got home, I got all pumped to head back to the lake tonight, despite the fact that it was grey and cold and misting.  I didn’t change my clothes this time…figured my camo jeans and long sleeve shirt would be added protection from my inevitable spills. So I got home, changed my wheels (like a pro!), grabbed a few pieces of salami and headed for the lake. When I arrived, this little geese family welcomed me and I figured it was a sign. I did a repeat of the fun music and putting my skates on and attempting a photo, but my thighs still looked huge from that angle, so figured I would find a better spot on the path. And I headed out, classic country music station on my headphones, ironically Johnny Cash singing “I Walk the Line”. Must have been the shirt.

Now…a few things. First of all, what is it about a woman of my age rollerblading that was amusing.  Was it because I was decked out in my ripped camo pants, Johnny Cash shirt and aviators and it looked like I was trying way to hard to look too cool? Or was it because I still looked like Bambi on ice? Or is it because I looked too old and too unstable and they were just sympathy smiles? Or was it because nobody rollerblades anymore?  Which isn’t true, really.  Just maybe not at Lake Murray? But they’re at the beach all the time and yeah, it’s a little retro, but still fun, right? I got so many looks and smirks and smiles, but I’ve grown comfortable with being my own woman, so whatev.  And maybe it’s just because I looked really cute…one can dream.

Second of all, that path is not flat.  Nor is it smooth.  Why did I think it was either? I almost died on the very first curve that dips down farther than I was prepared for.  So half a mile in I stopped and Googled “how to stop on rollerblades”.  No joke.  I stood there on a patch of flat ground and watched two YouTube videos from Asha from SkateFresh teaching you how to stop on rollerblades.  Probably should have done this before I started. Although she really should have called it “how to slow down”, not “how to stop” because frankly, though both methods were quite helpful, neither brought me to full stop without a little extra work. I practiced the methods for a few minutes until I felt I could keep myself from crashing, and continued on. And you know what?  It worked! And I hit a few bumpy patches, and flailed my arms a little bit and I’m sure I’ll be super sore tomorrow, but I made it around the lake and it was super fun.

This is where I bit it. Like it was telling me I might not make it to 59 like this…

But third, I also learned that I really have to focus.  This is not a daydreaming activity.  At least not for me. Because I learned that as soon as I get distracted looking at the wildlife or the lake, I stood up too straight and didn’t lean forward and almost fell.  And then…I actually did fall.  Right after this woman on a bike smirked at me and pointed to her helmet and shook her head. And I wanted to tell her to MYOB, but I knew bad karma never ends well for me.  And maybe even thinking it got me.  But I stopped at this spot to get a photo of myself and I pulled out my phone and wasn’t paying attention and I fell backwards on the side of my butt! And it hurt. But nothing cracked. Nothing that I know of. And then I realized that I definitely need that helmet.  Of course, I wouldn’t fall forward and use my brand new gear. Thankfully I have a big butt, so that helped cushion the fall.

 

I’m not sharing the video, but here I am thinking I’m taking a photo.
Because I was giddy, which makes me silly, so I have my olympic speedskater pose. Does it make me look fast?

I finally made it to the end of the path where you have to turn around, and still needed that perfect photo.  It was cool and windy and there were these little posts there that were the perfect height for smaller thigh photos but no way to prop up my phone.  So I pulled someone’s half empty Starbucks out of the trash and used it to lean my phone against. But the wind was blowing and since the timer was on my phone it kept taking blooper shots.  And then I couldn’t stay in position without rolling, and it was a lot of work to get a photo, so I did a few silly ones, because by this point I was feeling giddy that I’d even made it that far!

I cruised back like a pro, got my skates off without incident (besides pulling the inner boot out by accident), came home and did 10 minutes of yoga stretches.  Out of necessity.  So tight.  Oh, and I Googled roller derby in San Diego and signed up for orientation for and the adult boot camp.  That’s right. Now I need a Derby Doll’s name….any suggestions??  I’m getting into a hot bath now. Going to watch “how to skate” videos on YouTube while I soak.

I foresee a roller derby quilt in my future. Seriously.

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The Calling.

Yeah, the waves aren’t that big in this photo, but those slow rollers are great to learn on. And easier to survive.

So….Once upon a time I surfed. Not well. But I did.  One summer I decided it was time to learn after living
in California for several years, so I did.  There are several reasons I hadn’t done it up to that point. For one, the Pacific Ocean is freaking cold, at least here in San Diego. And two, thoughts of crashing hard at my age, or sharks attacking or getting hit over the head with my surfboard and drowning always lurked somewhere in the background like that great white I was always afraid of meeting. But mostly, the water was too cold. However, I was often inspired but other women who surfed and did so many adventurous things, and I could not be left behind. Surfing is such a big part of Southern California culture, and many of my pieces have been inspired by it. Experiencing it first hand only inspired me more to create textile art that captured the magic of it all.

I just love the contrast and connection of these prints. Strong, bold flowers tie these prints together, even though they are so different.

This quilt is one of my favorite designs.  It’s very clean and graphic and each line and/or image is calculated. I only used the four fabrics and played with positive/negative space to portray this bold woman checking the break, listening to the call to come and ride the wild ocean waves. I like my girl designs to be strong and powerful, so I’ve always used bold prints and colors, just like I do in the boys’ quilts. When I was first designing quilts, I was struck by how many times I saw designs geared towards boys that were strong and bold and colorful, and the girls’ designs were always pastel and soft and flowery. I guess I’ve always been drawn to the stronger images and have always tried to depict that in my work.

This isn’t the original sketch. This was the one I created after I knew this was the design for these fabrics.

When I first saw these batiks, I knew I was going to put them together.  I loved how the four fabrics go together, but not really. They don’t match, they don’t exactly coordinate.  But something about them drew me to put them together. I stitched the quadrants together and then hung it up and stared at it for a couple of weeks trying to decide what the quilt would be.  One day I was flipping through my sketchbook and saw a sketch I’d done of a girl holding her surfboard looking out at the waves, like she was getting ready to answer the ocean’s call. I immediately knew that was the design.  I played with line and negative space, keeping it bold and simple. I loved the black fabric for her body because it had a tribal feel, and the electric blue plumeria in those thin lines looked like tattoos. I kept her cheekbones high and angled, her face turned towards the water but not too much so you can still see her shape. I added the flowing hair to soften her a little bit.  I did the free motion quilting in a simple design, following the clean lines of the shapes. I didn’t want to take away from the look of this one by adding too much stitching. I still love to look at this quilt.  Or at least the photos…it sold a long time ago to a man who walked into the studio, pointed at it and said “I want that one.”

Most of us are a combination of strong and soft.  I don’t think it always has to be two different things. She is both.  So am I. Though I’m sure she surfs better than I do.  But, I’m getting back out there this summer.

 

I don’t always do paper patterns, but in this instance I did. I laid out a block size I knew I wanted her to fill, and then drew her in place.

 

Then I sketched her in loosely. I just need her body shape because I find the human form very difficult to draw–it’s not quite in my wheelhouse.  The rest I could freehand.

 

Next, I cut out and laid in the fabric pieces, always turning the appliqué edges under on my quilts that will be washed.

 

And then it comes off the frame and gets all the free motion quilting!

 

The sun.

 

I chose a great vintage surfboard fabric for the back of the quilt. Typically something you would see only in mens’ Hawaiian shirts or decor, but girls can rock these boards, too!

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The Business of Selling Out.

Being an artist is an interesting dichotomy. I have an MFA in set design, and after seven years in the theatre departments of three different colleges, I have rubbed my fair share of shoulders with artists and I have rarely met one that doesn’t struggle with the line between being what he or she considers “a true artist” and “selling out” to make a dollar.  Or lots of dollars.  As artists, we want to only create things that are meaningful and inspired and born out of pain or suffering or joy or some extreme.  But we (most of us…) would like to actually earn money and not have to work as a barista and live with our mothers. (no offense to those who do either or both…)

My mother is amazing. And I would totally live her, don’t get me wrong. But I want to create and earn a good living doing it.  Is that too much to ask?  So, if I create things I know people will love and buy, am I selling out? Am I no longer a true artist because I made little sea turtle and not something with a political and/or social agenda?

The idea to create notecards was actually my mother’s suggestion.  These 5″x7″ textile notecards are the smallest pieces of art that I make so far.  They are the simplest and they are one of my best sellers.  They came about because my mother told me that she loves to buy things from local artists when she travels, but often winds of buying notecards instead.  There are two reasons.  One is that she is kind of done collecting things for her home unless it’s something extremely special.  (She’s already passing out the special pieces that she owns to us kids because she’s afraid we’ll fight over them when she’s gone.) But, even if she does find a special piece of art she loves, she can’t always afford an original.  Notecards are always affordable and easily framed and serve as a reminder of a trip or an artist or a beautiful image that artist captured. Because she is drawn to them so much, she kept telling me I needed to add them to my repertoire.

But, here’s the problem.  It’s very difficult to create an original work–not a print–for $12-$15 and have it be profitable.  And since I am making a career of my art, I definitely had to make it profitable. Breaking even with a fun hobby ain’t gonna feed my kids!  It took me several attempts, but I finally found a process that works for me and is a mini version of the same process I use for my quilts. And at first, I could hear those old artist voices in my head saying I was selling out. I was making cutesy little tchotchkes to earn a few extra dollars and I wasn’t creating “art”. But I’ve learned a few things in creating these cards.

  1. Simplifying down to a very basic, clean, graphic design is not only more difficult than it may seem, but it is also a true skill.  Any artist will tell you that form and line and composition, no matter how big or small, is one of the keys to a beautiful piece of art. I have a tiny amount of space and time to catch your eye and make you fall in love.  It’s much more difficult than a piece you might stare at for a long time, discovering all of it’s intricacies. It takes an clever, somewhat calculated eye.
  2. Forcing myself to only spend a few minutes on each design makes me very frugal with my lines and I have to pay close attention to where I place the details. In other words, I have to edit. I have to keep the most important thing and scrap the fluff. I can do that with colors, patterns and the shape of the appliqué. All those things go into the creation of one 5″x7″ piece of art.
  3. Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned is that one man’s simple design is another man’s meaningful symbol. Maybe creating a flower is not such an emotional process for me. But, when a woman comes in grieving the loss of her husband and she sees an rose on a card that reminds her of him because he bought yellow roses for her when she had their first child–suddenly that insignificant (to me) little piece is going to take on a emotional meaning, and isn’t that what true art does?  It’s not up to me to spoon feed the meaning of my art.  I believe that often the piece of art chooses the owner. A person walks in and sees it, and past experience or a loved one or a special connection to a place or a person creates the meaning behind the art.  Yes, sometimes there is a story behind a simple design that I make. But that doesn’t really matter all that much if this elephant card reminds a woman of a once-in-a-lifetime trip she took to India with her mother.

I do think these little cards are special.  And I think they’re art.  Maybe art with a lowercase “a”, but “art” nonetheless. Am I selling out? Maybe just selling.

I’ve included tons of photos here of different notecards I’ve created in the last couple of months.  I try to have a wide variety and will write more about my process soon, but wanted to talk more about their significance today. Enjoy!

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She-wolf.

This girl. I struggled creating this one. Not because I wasn’t inspired or into it, but because I wanted to do her justice. The last few years I’ve really been exploring accepting all aspects of my personality and that led to the creation of a couple of art pieces inspired by the Rumi quote on the piece. This is the second textile piece I’ve made with this concept as the inspiration. I love strong animal images and knew I wanted to use a wolf to represent the “wild” part of this girl. Wild can mean so many things and I think all of those different meanings would be correct. As I thought about how to capture this duality of peaceful and wild and how we aren’t one or the other, but a combination of the two, I thought about this inner beast we all have.  In her case, this she-wolf.  Fierce and fearless, protective and brave, loyal and strong. I wanted this wolf to be as much a part of her as the sweet, loving, gentle, tame side. I drew a couple of sketches.  The first is on the left and showed her engulfed in the wolf, eyes peeking out from under the wolf’s defiant snarl. As much as I liked the sketch, I felt like I’d seen similar ideas and I wanted her to mesh into the wolf more seamlessly without such a defined line.  I redrew it, split more down the vertical center, and then shifted a few things so that it flowed into the girl instead of having a hard divide.  It’s hard to visualize a completed piece with a sketch that is so void of all the bold colors and patterns of the batiks, but I am a very visual person and can solidify (at least in my mind) to a large degree, how it will look with  the right layout and the crazy colors.

The original sketch
The final sketch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first step was to lay out the background.  I wanted to keep a vertical feel to the background so I laid out strips and rectangles 0f batiks to create that long, tall feel.  I felt the darker night sky colors would give her a more strong, bold look. Once the background was in place, I could start piecing together the she-wolf.  I wanted her to have long flowing hair and feminine features in juxtaposition to the choppiness of the smaller fur pieces and the fierceness of the snarling wolf image. The contrast enhances the concept of the quote.

I kept her simple, with bold lips and hair.
I added some colorful, almost cubist-style shapes to her face for color and interest and to portray more strength.

I also thought she needed the second ear, not present in the sketch. Something about the way the image flowed called for that ear to be there.

After the fabric pieces were in place, it was time for lots and lots of stitching! Here’s where I struggled a little bit.  Faces are always tough because you’re trying to capture a personality–a soul–not just a face or lips or a nose. All my stitching is freehanded so I was nervous to just jump in a start drawing not only one face, but two faces that were part of the same person but had different types of features. Wolf facial features are very different from that of a human girl, and I wanted to make sure I didn’t confuse them at all. Plus, I wanted to capture the defiant snarl versus the calm, peaceful acceptance and that proved to be a little tricky.  But doable.

These last photos are of the finished work, complete with Swarovski crystals spilling through her hair.  I wanted the human girl to have the bling and the wolf to be the more natural creature, like she’s headed to a rock concert and the she-wolf is defending her cubs. Except, of course, for the one large red Swarovski crystal lighting up the wolf’s eye.  I felt like that tied the two parts of her together in such a simple but powerful way.

This piece was amazing and intimating and bold and powerful.  Just the way I wanted it. Just the way that I want to be.

I really, really love the way the wolf-face turned out!
Close-up of the hair and lettering.
Peaceful and wild. Always two sides of the coin.
Lots and lots of crystals!
Love the cubist-inspired shapes on her face.
Ready for lettering!

 

 

 

 

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