Kintsugi

2016 was a pretty terrible year for me. I experienced heightened anxiety that randomly started in April and it was August before I realized it wasn’t “just going to go away.” I spent another two months adjusting to meds before I realized how impaired I’d been. I cannot tell you what a relief it is not to have to worry that my body is going to dissolve when I go out though.  The meds do not “take the edge off”: they provide a sort of prosthetic skin.

So, when I got a commission in November, I was a bit cautious, wanting to understand what the person wanted, especially as it was for a usable quilt and I’ve not made anything other than strip quilts for a couple years.

The person wanted a strip quilt, as I’d done before and color preferences were for green, blue, and purples. So, off I went.  When I make strip quilts, I try not to think too much ahead. I just work with the colors I have in hand and make sure they work next to the colors around them.

This is good therapy for me. It’s useful for me to not overthink when I’m creating and let’s my subconscious do the driving.  I noticed as I got about half way, that it was no longer straight on both sides, so I added a sliver of orange/red, inspired somewhat by Leonard Cohen’s death and his lyric about the cracks being where the light shines in. That is why I call this quilt Kintsugi.  It’s about being made of pieces and mending the broken or wonky parts when we need to. It’s about letting all the parts of ourselves exist in harmony together, even if they seem disparate. We contain multitudes and we are star stuff.kintsugi

Decay, Disintegration, Distortion

Charity Janisse recently posted a picture of rusted metal on Twitter, which got me thinking about decay. I realized that I tend to focus on themes of vitality in my work and working on the flip side could be interesting.

flame-1024x1024

Flame taken by Charity Janisse and posted in this online article.

 

Then Lorie McCown came and gave a talk about her work to my quilt guild. She uses a lot of textiles in her work with frayed edges. Boy did she get me thinking about disintegration (as well as making your mark). You can find some great detail shots of her work on her Instagram account here.

And I’ve been talking to people who do computerized generative art. I think it was Anders Hoff who got me thinking about distortion when he posted these.

 

So, when I found myself with a week with one kid who was going to be gone from 9-4:30 every day, I jumped on the chance to work on a series of 5 panels which I dubbed “Obsessive Stitching 1-5”.  My initial idea was to work with all over patterns, as I had done in the Trajectory: Escape Velocity initial and final panels, but after two days of that, I got bored.

Here is day 1 and day 2.

 

I had hoped that the above finished panel would be more buckled (as it was promising to do below and like the panel from day 1), but it smoothed itself out in one dimension, while warping the shape!

Day 3. Here’s what happens when I do the same thing over and over. I have to change it up. This one needs more quilting, but I wasn’t able to finish it in one day.

 

Day 4 I decided to go back to the all over pattern and not worry about distorting the fabric. I was focused more on accentuating the pattern that the dye had created and adding texture. I used two metallic threads (black and red) in one needle (one eye, not two). Here is the result. It’s very subtle. I am quite pleased with how this turned out and think I might add some beads before I call it completely done.

By Day 5, I was exhausted, had run out of food, and had other things to attend to, so I only had a couple hours in the studio. I decided if I worked small(er), I might be able to get something substantial done. Initially I was going to make coccolithophores in space, but that seemed too daunting by Friday afternoon, so I switched to jellies instead. This picture is a bit of a cheat because I only made three jellies the first day. Also, the tweet is misleading. There are 12 jellies on that panel.

All in all, I have to say it was an interesting week. I rarely get concentrated time like that to work, and certainly never 5 days in a row. Working only with hand dyed panels felt very different to me. It is certainly a way to more easily incorporate organic patterns into my work. I also don’t usually focus on the stitching. That has typically been a way to just hold the thing together and add color. Using stitching as way to get to texture was very satisfying, especially as I think of my work more and more as 3d.

I look forward to playing more with stitching and themes of decay, disintegration, and distortion.

 

Beth’s Garden (Dragon)

A dragon in the style of a crop circle in a garden.

A dragon in the style of a crop circle in a garden.

When Juan first approached me about the dragon quilt I finally finished this year, I was surprised that someone was interested in such a highly personal piece for themself. In fact, I asked him what it was he was interested in.  He told me that dragons were really significant for him and his wife, who died two years ago. He was also interested in the spirals.

So, I told him that I could probably modify the design and put it in an affordable price range and off we went! This was truly a co-mission. Juan gave me lots of personal details and I tried to weave them into this piece.

At the beginning, I was thinking of this as Beth’s dragon, but as time went on, I realized it was Beth’s garden.  Beth was a gardener (and quilter), and I wanted the base to be produce prints.  I checked with Juan to make sure there were none she hated or if there were any that needed to be included. Beth loved potatoes (and Juan still does), so I had to include those. I didn’t have any in my stash, but when I asked around in the quilting community, someone generously sent me more than I needed so I was able to make the back with potatoes too.

I used the same stencil for the dragon, but arranged it differently. You can see that I started with a more similar layout in the first tweet, but felt the second layout was much better.  Juan’s dragon is in a garden, not a field.  It’s much more intimate than mine.  

I am pretty sure the dragon comprises both Juan and Beth. It is gold for the sun because Beth was Juan’s sun, but the tail is all Juan, with the sharp, glittery black band and dots. The head is Beth, with the circlet of stars and all the bejeweled flowers (that she probably grew in her garden). Also, Juan told me they met because she lived across a field from him. There is already wheat and flowers in the background, but I wanted to bring the feeling of the field more to the forefront.

I wanted to include a yin yang in this dragon and when I went to put it together, I placed the two pieces separated. To me, they represent Juan’s broken heart. He carries her in his belly. But also, I think she’s in his throat (the bejeweled flowered piece).
Although there are many spirals in this quilt, the three central spirals represent their children. The youngest is the shiny spiral at the bottom and the two on top of that are his sons.

I feel honored to have been chosen to bring this dragon to life.  It was pure joy to work on and helped me find my mojo again.

Liminal spaces, heterogeneous communities, and letting go of fear

A few months ago I was wanting to write a piece on living on the edges, in the liminal spaces. I started that post at least four times and abandoned it every single time. I could not make it cohere. It wasn’t until some time in the last week or so that what I was really trying to express had to do with where I felt most fully myself.

For years I thought I had no communities that I really belonged in, but what I’ve come to realize is that communities that are heterogeneous are much more comfortable spaces for me. I am not neatly defined by most labels (without qualifiers) which is why I thought I just existed on the edges, but I think what’s really going on for me is some sort of Venn Diagram. Forgive if I’m using the term incorrectly. I can’t think of a better analogy.

Finding the #sciart community has been nothing short of amazing for me. No one is out there with a ruler checking your scientific knowledge nor are they judging your art pedigree (no matter the format). We are all just excited about art and science and trying to express that in our individual ways. As I said to CartoonNeuroscience (on Twitter), it’s a way for me to start a conversation.

Finally, I was reflecting on wanting to let go of fear specifically as it relates to my art. I went to a meeting of a fiber art(ists) guild. I was so inspired! It made me realize that groups that represent more than one monolithic Thing are where I feel more comfortable and where I am more likely to not only be inspired, but also supported. As 2015 approaches, I say to the darkness, I have many questions and I want many beams of light to shine towards them.

In the spirit of the season, I’m posting a picture of the Deconstructed Santa I made last year. May we continue to ask questions and have interesting conversations.

Deconstructed Santa

Some thoughts on my creative process

As prompted by my twin sister and her blog post on her writing process, I am going to try to document a few things about my creative process as it relates to art quilts.

I am not good at following directions like a recipe or a pattern. This is why I’d be a terrible scientist. I’d never be able to reproduce my own results! I am good at improvising and cobbling things together, however.

I never know where to start. In order to orient myself, I have to pick up fabric, move it around, cut it up, move it around some more, and then start sewing. As I sew, I can start to see the path. I have only met one other quilter who works in this way. This method holds true for me whether I’m doing traditional piecing or art quilts.

The great thing for me about my current process is that the background is a separate element. I can make backgrounds and then let them sit in my studio until they speak to me and tell me what belongs on them (assuming they don’t tell me before that point).

When I started making art quilts in 2012, sometimes I would think, “ha, I am going to do that thing” and then I would go find “that thing” on the computer as clip art and I’d print out the shape, cut it out, and trace it. Then I’d have the element I needed as the focal point (for example, a starfish). However, these felt a little hollow to me and as I started to think about the possibility of selling, I knew I needed to move away from copying elements.

It was terrifying. I don’t draw well. I had no idea how I was going to translate images that I couldn’t even draw! Sometimes I make myself draw something (as I did for a skull), and then by the time it’s embellished I think, “ok, that’s not so terrible.” The key thing I’ve learned in this part of the process is that I don’t actually want to make a direct copy. What I want to do is capture the excitement that I see.

Having already done a few neurons before I tackled the Josephson Junction Neurons (see previous blog post) allowed me to focus on the colors and the interplay between them before I needed to worry about defining the neurons. I felt free to stitch the details over the shiny angelina without worrying about where each axon and dendrite fell. It is not my intention to produce an artistic rendering of scientific images.

I want my quilts to please the eye, to excite people, and make them wonder “what is that thing”? I love questions and my process works best for me because I can stop and ask questions along the way. All I need is an initial vague idea and then the wheels can start to spin. I don’t usually have a concrete vision in my head. I’m flexible to the process and love discovering what emerges as I go.

I would like to note that I’m still struggling to own the label “artist” for myself. I have virtually no formal art training (I took one private class when I was about 14 and I took one semester of art in high school with a teacher who basically gave me the message that I should give up and do something else). I sometimes have to look up theories on design composition or color. The excitement comes naturally, but everything else I’ve had to learn.

I also struggle with this idea that my art is “good enough.” I feel very strongly that everyone’s voice is important. There is room/time for everyone’s voice. Life is not a zero sum game and even moreso with art. I think we build a stronger humanity when more voices are represented. I know there are people who do better neuron art than I do (on a qualitative basis). I know there are people making art quilts much better than mine. Still, what I make is unique every time and I feel there is value in my work for that reason alone.