project – a baby quilt

if you’d like to see a collection of the paintings of 2009, please scroll down to the next post.  i had directed a gallery director here to see my work, and just told him to go to the top page, because sure i haven’t done any art for a few months, and wasn’t planning on getting it together for at least another week or so, after jim’s show opens and we can get back to normal.

but hey, shit happens.  it turns out that some people i know who’ve been trying to get pregnant finally did it, and so i just had to whip out my stash and start grooving on a design.  i’ve been collecting baby clothes for a baby quilt for several years now.  (i’ve also got the personal one to be made out of all of my grandson’s clothes, and that’s a whole nother project i haven’t even started to think about.)

for this baby quilt i started out at the thrift store, buying all the good-feeling cotton baby things i could find.  i went to last chance thrift store here in atlanta, and of course went on half-price monday, where most things were tagged at 99 cents.  an armload cost me nine dollars.  whoo.  it’s good to do fabric art.  there’s always a supply of fabric.

soft cotton baby things.  when i collected the first batch of baby things, several years ago, i got a wild hair and decided to take the rotary cutter to them.  so i have a whole bag of two or three inch strips of shoulders and sleeves, say, or leg and foot.  i’ve got whole strips of snap fronts.  all in cute little baby prints and lovely soft cotton fabric.

when i went out to the thrift store this morning, i got loads more baby clothes, and this time i’ve got them whole.  so i’ve got 4 head-to-toe suits that i could make into kids playing, if i wanted to (hands and heads are the only things i’d need to make up), and i’ve got a range of tops and pants, and even a little dress.  i also picked up a few baby blankets to use as something.

i have no idea what i’m going to do with it.  the quilt will be a crib quilt, which is 45×60.  i’m going to order the flannel back from dharma this evening.  i’ve got to figure out what in the world i’m going to do with the cut-up bits.  how many shoulders, how many feet?  hey, i could do a crowd scene with them, that’s one thing.  or i could somehow sew them together and strip them.  they’ll add lots of texture, that’s for sure.  and it’s probably best if i stick to zippers and snaps and never mind the buttons that would freak out any first time mother.

i was going to make the first baby quilt for my eldest younger brother, who has two kids at this point.  but they kind of like designer things, and if they wouldn’t throw out what i made, they certainly wouldn’t use it on the kids’ beds.   but this unnamed person who’s pregnant is an artist themself, and will appreciate my efforts better.  so i just have to watch out about going overboard with the design, and it’ll turn out great.


over on channel two

nov. 13, 2008

i’m preparing to do a grant application, and they want to know everything i’ve done for the last 20 years. so i went thru everything.

i’ve been a working artist since the early 80s, and tho i’ve gone in and out of the commercial world (cook, secretary, graphic artist) i’ve always made paintings and i never stopped. my brother calls it a vow of poverty, but he’s been selling mortgages, so hah. it’s not deprivation when you learn to live on nothing just so you can stay behind and make your art while everybody else puts their energy into a third party’s goals. it’s a calling.

i looked at the last 20 years of my work. how do you compact 20 years into 40 slides when your output has ranged from a high of 200 paintings a year down to 3? do you show evolutionary trends in your work, do you show phases, do you make an artist’s statement out of the represented work? there’s a whole politics and philosophy about grant writing that i instinctively do wrong, so i never get them, so i shouldn’t bother trying and just get back to work painting.


one of the things i was doing but never finished or continued was a series of paintings from when i was trying to cope with cancer. this was back starting in 2001. these paintings were coping paintings, inner dialog paintings, facing the hard facts of death paintings. they were ugly. i destroyed them when i’d had enough.

and they didn’t do me much good because tho i got the feelings out and expressed, i was too caught up in them to do more than scream incoherence in gaudy colors.

so i sat and looked at the drawings. and then i came upstairs to the computer and looked up “cancer” and “art”, and found a whole lot of very expressive, very raw, very unpolished statements of what it’s like to be stripped of all the social niceties that entertain us while we work like zombies.

it’s another worldview altogether. my work fit right in.

i thought back on a couple of my attempts, now painted over with peaceful scenes. i thought how i’d do those ideas now, after 7 years of living with death. and i came up with idea so compelling to me that i gessoed three two foot by four foot canvases, and am dividing my time between starting these new paintings, and finishing my novel, and getting around to all the work i have to do before xmas. now that my class is over (bye girls) i can turn my attention to various fabric production efforts. when i’m not writing or painting.

one of the paintings is fabric artlike because i’m going to cut out part of the canvas and sew in a bra that’s going to become part of the painting.

bra my kid, my model

another painting is going to be an anotomical chart woman on the canvas, with painted silk overlays showing her before cancer, after, wearing a wig, etc.

and i’m going to be annotating them with all sorts of commentaries on what i think about cancer and the cancer industry, etc. i won’t get started here.

* * *

many months later.

because there’s really nowhere else to put them, here are my completed breast cancer paintings.

a mother and daughter talk about breast cancer A+B

A Side – oil on canvas, breast prosthesis, prosthesis bra, hand-made and -dyed canvas skirt, 24×48
B Side – oil on canvas on polished stretchers, mirror, sterile gauze, surgical stitches, pink ribbon, pink wrist restraints cut from hooters sweatshirt

this double portrait functions as a dialog between the innocent, enthusiastic, optimistic perfection of inexperience – and the sagging, scarred, greying voice of what passes for wisdom.  it’s all the accumulated knowledge that i as a mother wish to pass on to my daughter, even tho she won’t listen – she’s facing in the other direction and is damn well going to make her own mistakes.

this painting is meant to be approached, touched, tried on.  you can poke the daughter’s bra and feel the spongy silicone of a fake breast, you can lift her skirt to see if she’s wearing panties.  her pose and smile invite you to touch her.  it’s the same with the obverse.  the mother’s face is a mirror.  you can go right up and stick your right breast into the empty side of the bra, and feel what it’s like to wear a prosthesis on the other side.  you can put your wrists into the restraints and tilt your head to show in the mirror, and feel the strain of the unfamiliar posture.

i especially wanted to drown the paintings in pink, because i have real trouble with the marketing of breast cancer, the industry of breastcancer fundraising, the politics of cancer, and pink just seems to symbolize the sickening-sweet polyanna  attitudes of those who’ve never faced death but would like to sympathize for a few moments.

the condescension of doctors

oil on canvas, gray washes on gesso, 24×48

a self portrait, i crouch naked, my wound raw, under the onslaught of medical advice.  this one has more anger in it.  it’s easy to get angry at the platitudes that drop out of the mouths of the medical profession.  well meaning, perhaps, but they are all attacks on individual autonomy.  if you listen to the doctors and do what they tell you, then you go thru a circus, all gaudy distractions and false hope, with treatments that leave you mostly dead.  the first step is to learn to see the advice as coercion, and yourself as the target of a megaindustry.  it takes real courage to listen to the little inner voice and step outside the cancer mill.


encaustic on masonite, linen and cotton string, teased-out cotton balls

this is one of my planet series of encaustic paintings.  i included this painting of my mammogram because it is such an orb, and its details are very similar to some of the moons of saturn.  the inside of our bodies is as wondrous as the outside of our womblike planet.

Thoughts on quilting a picture

some research:

i just ran across this wordpress blog about quilting.

and here’s another wordpress fabric blog

there’s also the quiltart mailing list

making a mark blog, getting famous now

about quilting by templates

about landscape quilts

here’s a rag quilt, something i should think about. unfinished seam allowances, oooh.

here is a real artist making quilts, beautiful

i’ve just joined a fabric webring, which i’ve never done before. loads of networking going on.

Surface Design
Power By Ringsurf

i’m researching how to do the actual quilting of the thing i’m contemplating. do i piece it together, do i applique it? what is appliquilting? do i have to zigzag them together? i’ve never used a zigzag stitch, and it scares me somehow.

i read a book about landscape quilting that had you sewing long rectangles in varying widths together to get a strip effect that you then pretty much cut into shape and sewed to some other piece of stripped fabric. it sounded like too much work.

i want to just rip this fabric into sthreds – which let me tell you, after however long iof mildew i can’t get out by washing in cole water with vinegar – and use the shreds somehow fastened down to a backing.

jim, of course, says glue it all down to some hard surface with gel medium and call it wall art. i still want it to be on the bed. but if i can’t get it to stop smelling, it’s going to have to be sealed.

i want to know how others have done it, and then do something different. i want to get all experimentl with it. however, it’s ripe-rotten old clothes and scraps of fabric. how much do i expect to do with it?

i’m thinking in my fantasies, that i want to put these different pieces of cloth in the blender and rag them all up, then use the different colors somehow like a slurry of paint, pouring it down onto some support material and fusing it to itself and the support. kind of like felting but also kind of like watercolor. would i use gum arabic as the medium? acrylic medium? some sort of polymer to soak the thing in, maybe heatset somehow? can i imagine a sheet of canvas with fabric lumps somehow glued to its surface but remaining pliable? i can see it!

again i wish i knew the chemistry.

Progress on lisa’s quilt

i took the significant step of rearranging the furniture in the spare room, in preparation for full-scale work on lisa’s 50×50 inch central panel of a queen sized quilt, using her family’s old clothes to recreate a favorite holiday scene.

i pasted enough kraft paper together to make a 52″ square, cleared enough wall space to put it up with blue painter’s tape, and then started drawing with a pencil.

i’d already made a watercolor painting of it, so the important contour lines were familiar to me.

the drawing, tho not exact, is good enogh to start on. because i can’t imagine the finished thing being exact, and i’m not going to waste my energy on it.

i plan on outlining all the major features of the scene, and then assemble the fabrics to have the same energy as each patch of scenery.

to that end i went thru all lisa’s fabrics and picked the ones i could use. way more grays and greens than i can have of other color ranges, but i’m going to make the effort.

i’m going to try to make use of the bit of fabric that has meaning – cuffs, collars, pockets. buttons.

i don’t know whether i’ll tear or cut or carefully cut to make up a patch of scenery, and i’ not sure at this stage if the patches will fit together when i go to assemble them.

but it’s a start.

Using pigments as dyes, treating canvas and paper like cloth

i was in utrecht and came across a booklet called painstiks on fabric, which is close to what i’m thinking i need to do with my paintings.

they use shiva (or markal) paintstik oil sticks on fabric, then heat set them.

the problem with this methdo of putting pigment on fabric is that there’s linseed oil – a drying oil – saturating the cloth, and over time the acids in the oil will rot the fabricand ruin the art.

i read something in one of those links above, saying that since this particular brand of paintstick is linseed oil and wax, and because the linseed oil is specially treated to be less acidic (by what process?), and because it dries on the fabric so quickly and is heatset – thus polymerized, dried, plasticized so quickly after being painted on, it has spent relatively little time being oily, and the remnant gets washed out after it’s set, and so it should be okay even tho the company hasn’t done aging tests on the effects. but it should be okay.

anyway, i haven’t tried it yet, and will, but i’m thinking oil isn’t the right binder for puting pigments on fabric. i’m thinking soda ash for cotton, and vinegar for silk. i’m thinking fiber reactive dyes.

i wish i knew the science.

see, i’ve had this idea for awhile now, and it’s been festering, teh way a painting might sit in teh back of our mind for a couple of years befoer you get around to making marks and finishing a painting.

altho i’m still thinking like a 2-dimensional painter on paper or canvas, i’m working like a fabric designer and sewing room monster.

you should see my new sheet set. wait here, i’ll go get a picture.

Project: bellydancing veil of helix nebula

i have taken practically forever to get around to a project i’m doing for a friend. sorry, asha.

asha is a belly-dancer of great renown. i recently offered to paint her a veil to dance with, and she immediately came back with the eye-of-god nebula, aka the helix nebula ngc7293 .

a silk veil. hmmm. now that i’ve finally gotten round to it, i am somewhat daunted.

i’m going to be working on a piece of silk that’s 4 ft x 9 ft.

the stretching and painting logistics give me the shakes. and how am i going to put a vast area of black dye down without horrible streaking and edging? we’re talking about 3+ square yards here – and putting the dye on all at once. jim’s solution (mask off the nebula and use a spray bottle full of black dye) – brilliant.

to begin wih, i don’t know how to do a nebula in silk paint. i don’t know what characteristics make something a nebula instead of a supernova, say. so i went to the hubble site and had a look at their gallery.

i have a glimmer of a clue how i’m going to execute this on silk with dyes. the only place i’m going to use regular water-based gutta is for the fixed stars. so i go thru and put dots of various sizes all over an 11×60 habotai scarf. my supplier is dharma. if i was being really realistic, i would first paint some red or blue or yellow and let it dry before dotting the area with gutta. then we’d get colored stars.

i’m going to use sugar syrup resist for the nebula. the places where it’s white i’ll draw onto the white and smudge or water down. the places where the nebula is reddish i’ll paint first with an orange and then lay down the karo.

and i’ll use salt for both the star field and for litle varations within the nebula.

the rest is a matter of figuring out how to get what effects, and how to end up with the right colors.

so i’ve done a dozen or so nebula scarves in the past week or so, as many as my poor tired back wil let me.

step one is to draw the nebula. these pictures were taken in my studio and show little bitty dots of water-based gutta for stars, and great jaggy circles of karo sugar syrup for the nebula

i’ve come back in with a brush full of water to smudge out those syrup lines.. the gray is really just watery syrup, and the dark is fully concentrated syrup. the sugar lines willl dry in hours to a shiny, soft clear, and the scarf will rustle like paper.

the inner circle resist is on the white sillk. the outer circle is on top of a yellow-orange swath of dye i’ve just put down. this way, the outer circle will be yellowish, and the inner ones will be white, because the syrup covers and resists application of dye. and when you add dye or clear water, you’re breaking thru the line of syrup, so the dyes will flow and etch in wonderful ways.

here is the scarf being worked on in the studio. i’m afraid the image has been reversed. i haven’t yet finished messing with the nebula colors.. they’re still mostly damp.

the tail ends of most of the scarves have the milky way on them, done in salt. it looks a lot more impressive with the salt than with the effect.

detail of the milky way. i’ve put the black on all at once, using a huge sponge brush. then blue and red got charged in there, and then salt sprinkled on for background stars. i stuck a bunch of salt in a double line where the milky way runs.

the salt is supposed to draw the color, leaving streaks and dark bits. when you use enough salt to melt a slug with black dye you get gray streaks and very faint darks. i want more than that, so i’m going to have to rethink.

this is two scarves ready for steaming. the top picture is the same scarf as we’ve been talking about, but turned over.

here is one, finished, yet still to be steam set. the syrupy areas are where there’s a certain graying of color – the yelow grayness in the southeast quadant right inside he red. that’s syrup, and the dyes will likely wash out when it’s set and rinsed.

i’ve put down dyes – mostly the primaries: lemon yelow, cyan, magenta. except that the magenta is way too cool so it’s been thoroughly fired up with loads of yellow aleady. i put down the dyes and then add clear water, making sure to violate the resist lines whenever possible. then i sprinkled salt on the darker nebula bits.

you can see where the blue has cut right thru the gray sugar resist line, especially at the top. but don’t these complete accidents just make the whole nebula effect? the happy accident. i’m always preaching this to students.

here is another first step, on a different scarf. you can’t see any flo of dye with the syrup because i put the dye on first. you can see a little flow of syrup out into the wet dyed area, tho.

this is the same scarf after dyeing. (but before steaming. it’ll look different when it’s been fixed and washed) i like the little blobs, but maybe in not so much of a pattern. i’ve seen similar little blogs in nebula clouds. i also really like what the salt has done to the outsie edges.

this was with a lot of salt, and a lot of flooding of the resist lines with water.

detail of the preceding scarf (a little fuzzy).

Lisa’s quilt – drawing

i have a 60×60 inch design to do, first step.

but before that, to learn about my picture, i’m going to do a practice picture, and play with how the colors lie in patches. i have to think about the colored fabrics i will be working with.

strange, when i was a kid, i used to while away the time in boring classes by taking my pencil to the black and white photos of presidents andinventions in our schoolbooks. all of my books would end the year with every photo marked up in pencil, a line surrounding each area of equal tone. that’s what i’m doing here in transferring a complex scene to fabric. i’m outlining areas of equal color, lightness, texture. then it’s all paint by numbers. or so you might think.

the photo and the fabrics to work with

above’s a picture we took in ireland. that’s the (other) rock of cashel, on cashel bay, in county galway, in ireland. it was a mostly cloudy day with a patch of blue. that yellow stuff is gorse in bloom, the green is new shoots of what looked like being iris in a field of old brown grass. in the back under the hill, that little blob of white, is cashel house, a great place to stay all round

surrounding the photo are the cut up bits of the photo of the fabric i have to work with (that my sister brought me – old family stuff that no longer fits). that’s the color range i have to choose from, and it’s not too bad a match. i hope i have enough of some things that look awfully skimpy to me at the moment. i may have to redye some of the fabric i have, but that’s cheating. i can spill coffee on it, however.

i painted the following – my first watercolor in seveal years – as a study of the design i’m going to be working with.

the watercolor study

at 10″ on a side, it’s a whole bunch smaller than the quilt top, which is (calculator) 36 times larger.

the next step is to do it on graph paper, or at least a larger contour sketch of the various fields of color in the picture.

and then i guess after that it’s a matter of cutting out rough shapes of the various color swatches, and then fitting them, and then figuring out how to sew them.

as usual in all my projects, i spend most of my time reinventng the wheel – figuring out basic steps over and over again. but it’s fun; i like it.