First, let me set the record straight for those family members who wonder if I ever walked a hill or took the Sag Wagon on this 420 mile cycling ride across Iowa with my brother and Touring Cyclists of St. Louis: YES, I rode every mile, the heat and hills were formidable, but I never stopped pedaling (except for food and rest)...and we had a fantastic time with 16,000 others. Of course, the RAGBRAI 1000 mile training regimen is to thank for this, but I learned things in the process, too: 1. when training, I would come to little plateaus, (my hip hurt at 500 miles), but as I kept riding, I would ride beyond it, and go up to the next level of fitness! 2. Just like my ride across Europe so many years ago, I got leaner and better, until you realize that riding could become addictive and there was a part of me, that frankly didn't want to get off--ever. 3. Organization is crucial--and maybe means survival. I had to keep the same things in each pocket each day AND I had to have a method of doing things in the same order when I took down my tent and packed each morning at 5AM. 4. Water is more important than food (a bottle of electrolyte water an hour in Iowa July weather)--and you don't really realize how depleted you are until you stop. This may just be me, but I was never hungry until I stopped in front of the pie stand. 5. Talk to people--it makes those hills easier, and people have lots to say--I met an inspiring 81-year old man. He was in great shape, a wonderful talker, and I only wish I had gotten his name. 6. Goals are good. It would have been easy to say, "No, I don't want to ride in 90% humidity and heat, and camp in wet tents, and eat strange food." But then I wouldn't know that I'm really strong, and really should take more of those forks in the road that look harder. Ride ON!
I've had my Gilmore 8-harness loom for many years. It is hefty and can take up half of a living room if given the chance. I weave when I can. And at present, I weave when I want to create a special gift, or I'm wowed by a new pattern or yarn color, or I just need new dish towels. Weaving is like any technique or craft: those who are really good at weaving are artisans possessed with a zeal that pushes them forward to perfection over many years of practice and study. I have always admired Madelyn van der Hoogt and believe she is a weaver who will go down in history (hey!). She can make the hardest warp seem workable, and she spent almost 30 years editing the Handwoven and the Weaver's Magazine, in addition to weaving and teaching. I went to Coupeville, WA on Whidbey Island to attend her Weaving II class, and immediately understood things that previously seemed foggy or mistake-prone. Plus there were 30 looms--each with a different pattern. We spent the week making samples on each of these looms and listening to lectures in the morning. It was one of the best classes I've ever taken. Here are some of the patterns I tried below. I now have so many things that must be woven and tried again on a whole new level!
Note: All bolded words are linked.
Slow Fiber Studios in Berkeley was founded by Yoshiko I. Wada in an effort to teach worldwide textile techniques. She has written beautiful books regarding Shibori. The word "shibori" incorporates a wide ranging set of practices from Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan, China, India, and a few from Berkeley! I love the indigo practices in Japan where 1000s of knots are dyed to create patterns on cotton and silk. The methods we learned were using polyester, heat, stitching and dye. First we learned about folding paper. Each fold was folded twice and pressed with a hot press. We created 2 copies to make a form. We tucked the polyester into the form and pressed it. Next we used fabric dye painted on paper. To make the polyester folds permanent, presses at 400 degrees were used to break down the fabric chemical bond. Our other method was to stitch folds into polyester, press and dye them-- achieving more intricate fabrics. Here are some of the projects I made and saw in the two-day workshop.
Another textile exhibit at the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco! Is it just me, or is the museum becoming a textile museum? Regardless of the museum changes, I am really thankful to see the De la Renta exhibit. He trained with Balenciaga, Balmain, and Lanvin fifty years ago. His techniques, color, attention to detail and grace are mesmerizing. His garments make you realize how rare certain techniques have become. He made all of his dresses light and airy to wear while including bones, and multiple linings--a true artist. You get the sense that De La Renta really loved beauty. You feel his charm and dedication to gorgeous things just walking through the space. In one room movie screens (a' la David Hockney) show De La Renta's gardens in upstate New York as a backdrop to a room full of soft lawn cotton dresses printed and woven with flowers. The walls are covered with green fabric cut to look like a hedge. It may sound over done, but walking through it feels like a wedding. Every room has a theme. The descriptions are good and many times the dress owner is listed (Balmain, Reagan, Vreeland, Wintour, etc)
There is always art to inspire just when you're turning in circles in the middle of winter. I went to a former Tesla car dealership building in Menlo Park to see an exhibit using LEDs...and walked into a beautiful world of images and movement. I was totally enveloped in fomenting flowers, grasses and Japanese images of old. There were descriptions, but as an outsider, I kept wondering how they were built. "Cold Life" was a wall of glass and 3D rendering of a tree/mandarin character of "life" that grew over 20 minutes. I think there were butterflies. I could have watched it for hours. Another room was filled with 3D flowers going through a life cycle, with changes affected by the viewers' standing in the room. Another room had graphic renderings of wood block prints from the 16th century, with each 36"x24" flowing from one to another...it made me think of a large pack of cards in motion. There were also beautiful waves of water across another wall, reminiscent of moving Hokusai prints.
All was created by teamLab, a collective of "ultra-technologists" based in Tokyo who believe digital technology can expand art. They have been doing this since 2001. Quick, I must learn more about 3D graphics! Thank you Pace Gallery! note: All Italics are linked.
I've rejoined the Textile Arts Council at the DeYoung Museum, and attended the perfect presentation today, "Zero Waste Fashion Design" by Holly McQuillan. See her website here . With my new dress form, I'm ready to try new pattern making techniques, so her introduction came at the perfect time. She takes clothing design inspiration from earliest clothes: the kimono, toga, and early pants. The focus is to make clothes out of whole cloth, and not throw anything away. It is a beautiful idea, and could save as much as 80 billion square meters of fabric from landfills annually, if the fashion industry adopts some of her methods. She lectures next at schools in New York, London, and Copenhagen. I loved the way she incorporated bits of her New Zealand childhood into her descriptions, and made beautiful embroidered "markers" on the silk crepe de chine and wool garments. And I like the her mode of brainstorming: she first takes a 8 1/2"x 11" sheets of paper and cut it to visualize the 3D garment in miniature. You took can design out of whole cloth, using her online patters and referring to her new book -- here.
note: All Italics are links.
I read thirty-plus art books in 2015, as I continued my search for information about oil painting, creative clothes, and the history and future of art. Of all those book reviews captured on Goodreads, my best finds are these five books. You can see the full list of books read HERE
Bright Earth: Art and the Invention of Color-by Philip Ball. Published by University of Chicago Press, c2003.
Wow, this is the book I have needed for years. Ball reminds me of John McPhee; when they take on a subject it is an all-inclusive ride. Ball is a chemist and an excellent writer with a wonderful understanding of art. He takes apart color history going back to the Greeks and Egyptians and provides information on so many artists, painting and dying techniques up to the present. He includes a whole chapter on Blue, another on purple. He describes how colors were used in the renaissance, how alchemists created colors, and continues on through the 19th century to the present. Even though Ball is British, he answered all color questions for me --did the greeks have a bad sense of color, where did quinicridome come from, why was Matisse a fauvist, how does Munsell compare to Itten, are all paints today truly synthetic, how is enamel made, when did they stop grinding lapis lazuli for blue, what is a water-based oil, how did the color field movement develop...all questions except, how did the Pantone color system start? I still don't know, but he does describe the "Colour Index International" of 9000 pages listing all the colors manufactured today. There is a wonderful bibliography of 125 books on color, a useful index and notes. And what is happening to color and painting right now? Everyone is looking for the newest technology to try out, as they always have, says Ball, with many examples including Turrell's use of light. Ball ends with a quote from Van Gogh, "The painter of the future is a colorist such as has never been seen before." This is a faith-restoring book.
Oil Painting Techniques and Materials, by Harold Speed. Republished by Dover, c1987.
Speed wrote this book in 1924, and if you can gloss over Chapter two where he rails against the current impressionists, you can move on to very useful chapters on how to train yourself as an oil painter. He tells you how to approach painting, how to concentrate, how to create a portrait, and how to view the masters (Velazquez, Vermeer, Rembrandt). He spends a whole chapter on tone values, and two chapters on color, plus a couple chapters on how to construct and compose a painting, and how to think about inspiration for a painting. This is a small, very useful book. A classic.
The Art of Impressionism: Painting Technique and the Making of Modernity by Anthea Callen.Published by Yale University Press, c2000.
Another amazing book on painting technique! Callen explains how Impressionists broke away from the Academy with new, brighter paints (as they were invented), new methods of capturing light by getting out of stuffy brown/green studios, the addition of white to their lighter palette, the rejection of light from one 45 degree source (creating flatter views in landscapes), the rejection of certain "grounds" varnishes, and frames, and the invention of tubes and bladders of paint for portability. I am simplifying. This is a very complete book that must have taken 5-10 years of research and tracking to represent so many artists and their work. It puts context to techniques that we still use and learn today, not knowing their origin or benefit. Callen is a retired art professor from Australia.
Classical Painting Atelier: A Contemporary Guide to Traditional Studio Practice by Juliette Aristides. Published by Watson-Guptill. c2008.
Painting over the centuries has evolved from a craft using ground minerals with copying tools-- to a secretive art of methods on canvas -- through to today where there are many splinters and schools of thought using a wealth of digital and manual tools. There were very few good books describing painting methods until today's "Atelier" movement. Ateliers provide 1-on-1 teaching much like that provided in historic guilds—the MOOCs of the art scene. Aristides describes how to paint with oil traditionally, in detail. It may be overly wordy, in this age of videos. I could only judge this when I read the color chapter (chapter 4), where every nuance was described -- things some people learn just by smushing paint and holding it up to the subject. This is so different from the last generation of painting where the method of painting was less verbal, and advancement was tied to universities. After I understood this book's approach I loved the historic examples used to explain hue, value, and pre-painting sketching. Aristides is very good when comparing the contemporary "alla prima" approach to painting with the more historic Flemish and Venetian methods. Aristides is a painting instructor based in Seattle.
Women in Clothes-by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits, Leanne Shapton, Donora Hillard-Hare. Published by Blue Rider Press. c2014.
50 questions about your clothes surveying 690 women around the world. There is no telling whether Heti used the survey data or not. Strange and comforting reading at the same time. We can remember what we wore in kindergarten and the high school swim suit that fit oddly. Clothes have meaning to everyone. We choose them. Clothes are required. This book is dense and long, with very interesting art photos throughout.
Luckily, the holidays are for dreaming, for sitting, reading, walking in the snow, and looking at the sunset. I had the good luck to stumble upon an small, out-of-print book titled, "To Paint, Is To Love Again" by Henry Miller. Miller used painting as a way to replenish his senses, when he was tired of writing.
He brings us back to the importance of life and seeing: "A picture… is a thousand different things to a thousand different people. Like a book,a piece of sculpture, or a poem. One picture speaks to you, another doesn’t… Some pictures invite you to enter, then make you a prisoner. Some pictures you race through, as if on roller skates. Some lead you out by the back door. Some weigh you down, oppress you for days and weeks on end. Others lift you up to the skies, make you weep with joy or gnash your teeth in despair."
And he appreciates painting, reminding me that there is no time like the present to paint. If you're depleted in one area, switch to another form of expression: "To paint is to love again. It’s only when we look with eyes of love that we see as the painter sees. His is a love, moreover, which is free of possessiveness. What the painter sees he is duty-bound to share. Usually he makes us see and feel what ordinarily we ignore or are immune to. His manner of approaching the world tells us, in effect, that nothing is vile or hideous, nothing is stale, flat and unpalatable unless it be our own power of vision. To see is not merely to look. One must look-see. See into and around." May 2016 be filled with painting times.
OK, I am set for awhile. There is no better way to realize your humanity, than to spend eight days in NYC. The people and vast subway system almost overshadow my purpose: to discover new things and absorb the city and its art. Limitations are realized; biting off small chunks is hard. I wandered through The Cloisters, Whitney, Soho stores, MOMA, the MET, Guggenheim and the garment district. I wish I had spent some time sketching in the galleries, but overall, they are crowded. I will do this in San Francisco. Textiles-wise, the garment district remains intact, despite the new designer-as-entertainment focus. B&J Fabrics was filled with amazing fabrics. Mood Fabrics is still useful, and I purchased a new dress form there! How frustrating to discover I cannot absorb it all or walk from 86th to the tip of Manhattan anymore in one swoop. I'm a flaneur who stops often for snacks & refreshment, pah! Luckily Nathaniel was the best guide on his days off. He knew how to turn this ultra-sensory squash into a spectacular memory!
We've come a long way from reading Women's Wear Daily in the high school library. This is the first year all fall fashion shows (well, spring 2016) were featured live on clean, beautiful websites with the ability to pin and zoom in on each piece in the collections. My favorite experts and editors are now supplemented with bloggers. Cathy Horyn reigns with her killing, exacting viewpoint, and the new breed of bloggers actually get into the shows and wear the clothes and are hilarious - take Leadra Medine. I read Net-a-Porter, Business of Fashion, style.com, and Fashionista, but this year I've finally arrived at a front row seat without frustration. I can watch all the shows-- its ESPN for Fashion! The number of designers still multiplies, so there will always be too much to see and I'm still not able to try them on. No matter, the beautiful ideas keep me coming back season after season. My favorites in New York this year were, Narcisco Rodriquez, Anna Sui, Peter Copping, Altuzarra and Karen Walker. And then they moved to London, Paris, and Milan. My favorites there were Alexander McQueen, Etro, Valentino, and most of all DRIES VAN NOTEN. And which outfits would I most like to make, revise, try on? They are here !
note: all links are italicized.
I went out with a grand plan to paint many things this summer. Most everything conspired to make the number of finished canvases fewer than expected. I even painted a sign for the front of the cabin, weeded, painted bookshelves, and read many books on painting instead. I think I paint for beauty, and landscapes are beautiful. I also love capturing the personality of someone I know in a portrait, taking those parts that remind me of them and leaving the rest. I don't want to lose the skill of painting, but I've got to find something that gives me more of a voice. Some creative paint/textile endeavor that stands up and really speaks what I think in a unique voice. This is probably a common thought process among painters or artists--so goes the search. TBD. Until then, here are two of my paintings from the summer.
I am fairly certain this does get easier/better-- here are my first attempts at painting my sons. I once attended a 3-day painting session with six others in Petaluma, and one artist was painting a gorgeous 5'x5' mural of her two sons and one daughter. It was a wonderful tumble of kids and personalities. Each day she felt she hadn't captured their spirits, and she would wipe it clean and start over. We couldn't see what she was missing, and we felt sad for her. There is a bit of that here--I am not entirely happy with these 24"x24" paintings--but with both sons at important junctures in their lives, I feel I have captured what I can for now. Luckily, for next time I have the expertise of Kelly Carmody (see her website here) to help me. I have learned since, 1) portraits don't usually include teeth, 2) most faces are turned at an angle, and 3) lighting on the person is from a 45 degree angle or northern exposure. So, I do this again and take out two more canvases when I can next get their attention. These are my first EYES! How shocking to really look at someone's eyes, paint them and then watch a painting leap to life. Finally, this was painted with tentative acrylic paint. Next time I start and endure with oil and it will be a richer, smushier experience benefitting all.
I spent four days in New York with my family exploring parks, streets, museums and galleries; it was all fuel for thought. Back after 20 years, it was heavenly to see the clean streets and subways, and to experience the High Line, the new Whitney Museum on the water, Central Park in complete springtime glory, Chelsea, Soho, and the best ramen in the world in Hell's Kitchen. Go back often.
It's all about cutting, draping, using the right textile, with an incredible understanding of movement and the human form. This exhibit at the Legion of Honor, titled "High Style" is a small traveling exhibit from the Brooklyn Museum (now housed at the Met) with shoes/hats/dresses from 1900 to present-- European and American creativity. Some of the muslin patterns were included (cut in half. Did they take apart the other half as pattern for the real thing?), as well as videos showing the layers beneath. No spandex here. I was inspired by the amazing folds, and consideration for form. And then there was the moire, wool on the bias, silk cords and a u-shaped pattern that was echoed in the hemline and the neck (U-shapes are Geoffrey Beene).
Here was my experiment: I found a portrait of Churchill by Sickert in the National Portrait Gallery. With so many different techniques exhibited there, this one stood out--3 strange colors, painted almost roughly, but somehow it captured Churchill. The room was filled with amazing detailed portraits, but yet this gave me all the information I wanted. Using this painting as a reference, I started out to paint my cat, Snuggles. I seemed to be getting somewhere, and I love the coloring, but didn't have the bravery to add more definition in the right way. This was acrylic and I will switch to oil in the light someday and do it again. I always remember Thiebaud saying in a lecture (at 91 years of age), "I'm always touching up paintings." And I like the quote by John Singer Sergeant--a portrait "is a likeness where there is something wrong about the mouth." The key is to keep painting (and to know when to walk away, I imagine). Of course I can always paint Snuggles again. She's very photogenic, and wouldn't mind another sitting. Even if I had painted the Churchill painting, I would never feel quite right about that middle shadow on his nose or his ear...
Capturing what I really wanted to say in this painting and writing about it is hard. I loved the evening, dressing up, being adults, talking, surrounded by old marble, and good music. I asked David to go with me to see a wonderful show of costumes by Jun Kaneko (here) and with that experience still in mind, even the dessert took on a colorful textile look. I tried to recapture it by sewing up a storm on muslin to show how the water shimmered in the glass, and even David's shirt rumpled with color. This is all sewn with browns and greys and is one of those projects you could continue to stitch and add depth to forever, until you've gone too far. A good lesson at any time. Life is tenuous, remember the moment. This measures 24"x 30." It is a painting just for me.
It is almost spring...and although I missed the whole season of wool weaving, I am ahead of the game on spring with this cotton weaving. To celebrate the sun, I wove a table runner from the classic, "A Handweaver's Pattern Book by Marguerite Davison." I chose fairly thick yellow, blue and white cottons with grey rug warp. The yarn cones were purchased years ago; I never seem to use it up, mainly because I always need to buy a couple more cones for a project to make it work. But it came out well, and we can use for Easter breakfast. I have enjoyed going back to these old patterns--and Schleelein is OLD, published in 1822.
I include Davison's version of the pattern here. She found it in the Philadelphia Museum of Art at Fairmont. Her oldest patterns are from the 1720s. Johann had a book of patterns and passed it on to his son Conrad in 1844. Looking at ship manifests, he may have come from Bremerhaven or maybe his son carried his patterns to the new country in the 1850s. I love the idea of recreating something two centuries old. Yes, I could design my own with "WeaveIt" (and I will--it's a wonderful tool) but there is nothing like using Davison's book to improve your skill level and understanding of the loom.