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.

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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.

 

Between the stars and sand

Sometimes you just need to go back to the basics. April and May have been incredibly busy and incredibly stressful. I was able to finish projects that just needed grunt work, but the creative part of me was inaccessible. That’s when I remembered “strip therapy.” At this point, I can’t remember who talked about it, but I’m pretty sure it was one of my internet quilting friends. I thought to myself, I can’t organize my thoughts around anything, but I can sew strips together. Furthermore, I was recently inspired by Carolyn Friedlander and Mark Lipinski to try Modern Quilting and focus on “Slow Stitching.”

Strips sewn in pairs and arranged for inspection

So, I dug into my scrap drawer of strips I’d already cut and sorted them by color and then by size since I don’t always use the same width. Then I started sewing colors together that I liked. I paired strips and arranged and dragged some more strips out and sewed them together and voila, I had a quilt top big enough for a baby (which I told my friend I’d make last year).

So, I’ve made my first practical quilt in two years. And it helped me break that block to some extent as I have started phase three of Trajectory: Escape Velocity.

Baby quilt done in the Modern Quilting style

What do you do when you have a creative block? How do you get back to work when your mind is just spinning?

Pictures of the quilts from SfN14

I have put all pictures of the quilts I had at SfN14 into a Picasa Gallery which you can also find in the Quilt Galleries link at the top of the page.  Many of these are still available, so please ask if you are interested! If you did not make it to the convention, many of these were not posted here before.

The only quilt which did not make it into this gallery (yet) is Synaptic Coral, which I’m including as thumbnail in this post.

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And please, if you have thoughts from SfN14 or neuroscience related thoughts or links you want to share, let me know. I love to talk about this stuff!

Report from the trenches of SfN14

I am having an amazing time at the Annual Society for Neuroscience Convention. As one of six artists exhibiting this year, I feel enormously privileged and I’m thoroughly enjoying chatting with everyone there about brains and beauty.

I am trying take some notes about things that have particularly captivated me. Here is what I’ve collected so far:

Someone suggested making a series of quilts that changed as you went into a house/building with the theme of evolution. I thought that doing a series from the microscopic to the astronomic would be pretty exciting. Oooh, in that case, the size of the quilt could even change. Anyone want to commission me to do that? 😀

 

Had an interesting chat with Fiadhiglas from twitter about her flavor of synasthesia. She was telling me how different colors evoke different emotions for her (if I understand correctly). It got me thinking about the effect colors have on moods.  Still thinking about it.

 

Talked to the nogginnw.org people about neuroscience outreach. They do enrichment classes for at-risk youth and incorporate art into the curriculum. Nothing short of brilliant.

 

arco_iris56 stopped by my booth today and later tweeted this incredible brain print picture that made me think of thumbprints and now my brain is all happy and fizzy.

  Met a man with a tattoo of a neuron he’d imaged on his forearm (incredibly gorgeous tattoo) and also has purkinjee neurons on the back of his neck (see this tweet).

Finally, two of the official bloggers are interviewing the artists and here are there interviews with me.

Katiesci’s (from twitter) writeup is here.  Shelly Fan, also from Twitter, posted my interview here.

And now I’m falling asleep. Until tomorrow!

Another synapse quilt and a blood brain barrier too!

I have neglected to announce here that I will be in the Art of Neuroscience Exhibit at the annual Neuroscience Convention in Washington, DC from Nov 15-19.  Greg DunnLia Cook, Megan McGlynnMichele Banks, and Kathleen Childress will also be there. There are two sessions open to the public, the first is on Saturday, the 15th, from 11 am to 1 pm and the second is Tues, Nov 18 from 3-5pm (I believe).

One of the things I love about creating art in the neuroscience field is how wide open it is.  I can choose any number of things to focus on, from experimental subjects (like jellyfish and octopuses) to data (as in the action potential graph I did) down to the matter on a microscopic level.  These two quilts were inspired by images that were taken under a microscope. If the green one looks familiar, it should. It was inspired by the same image that I used for the black and white synapses.  The second picture is my rendition of a blood brain barrier inspired by this image by Ben Brahim Mohammed.

If you are looking for more pictures, I have posted a bunch on Twitter. (note that not quite all the pictures/videos here are my quilts, but most of them are.) Please feel free to ask me questions!

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Storytime

One of the goals I have with my art quilts is to try to convey a sense of story. With that in mind, I want to show you the path my mind took to get to this quilt.

One of the images I came across when looking at pictures of neurons was a picture comparing galaxies to neurons.  I am pretty sure I saw that after I saw a picture of city lights compared to neurons. I thought, wow, that is awesome and tucked the thoughts and images away.

A few months later, I was at the Hayden Planetarium listening to the dulcet tones of  Neil deGrasse Tyson croon about the universe. Relaxed, I let his words wash over and through me as I watched pictures of stars, galaxies, and planets move overhead.  And then I thought “what if the universe were a brain? and what if galaxies were neurons?” And, “what if the ocean was a brain? and jellyfish were neurons?” I almost leapt out of my seat, ready to go play, but stayed tethered to watch the rest of the show.

Life got hold of me. It took me away from the sewing machine for a bit. But still I noodled with this idea of stars and galaxies being neurons.  Then I saw a picture of neurons that seemed like they could be shooting stars and I knew I had to make shooting neuron stars, but how?  One day, I walked into a sewing store and there before my eyes was this iron-on thread. I had found it! I knew how I was going to make my shooting neuron stars.

 

Shooting Neuron Stars

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.

Neuroscience themed quilts

I have been working on some neuroscience themed quilts and thought I’d post them all here, rather than making a separate post for each one.

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This one was inspired by this image of Josephson Junctions neurons.  I used angelina fibers for the fuzzy parts of the neurons as well as the blue sparkly background and then I stitched over the neurons with a shiny non-metallic green thread to give them form.

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This wild woman was inspired by work on facial recognition. I can’t wait to play with more “faces”! She has a novelty yarn for hair that is just stitched in a few places so it hangs freely.

The next two were attempts at visual metaphor. I’ll put them behind a cut.

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