Monday, November 13, 2017

Improvisational Piecing Inspired by Kuba Cloth

Kuba cloth is one of two very distinctive types of cloth made in what was known as Congo, and now is the DRC. Typically two colours of raffia are knotted into a burlap-like base fabric, resulting in complex patterns of woven and slightly raised threads.
Kuba cloth designs are often worked on the diagonal, which is one of the reasons they appeal to me so much. Their imperfections are another aspect of their charm. And it is quite common to see one part of a design "collide" with another, as though two different people had been working on it.
I have admired these very graphic pieces of cloth for sometime, but it was the photograph below that inspired me to work with some of the shapes. It's from the book African Textiles by Christopher Spring, and is a sample that can be found at the British Museum.
I have worked with it once before, on a smaller piece, and returned to it this week while thinking about ideas for a piece I have committed to make for the Vancouver Island Surface Design Association (VISDA). The theme of this particular exhibit is "Pathways". And all those diagonal lines running between the rectangular blocks look just like pathways to me.
I started by making two types of units - rectangular block units and strip units - using the fabrics I'd chosen to bring with me to New Zealand.
I began joining them together on the diagonal. Knowing that the finished piece needed to be 12" x 60-72", I squared off the bottom and side corners to 13" when there were enough pieces joined together to do so.
I thought about squaring it off at this point, and might still do so, but felt compelled to keep adding to it a bit more before deciding whether or not that's what I want to do. For now it's spending a little time up on my design wall before I decide what to do next.
This is very much a work in progress, but I like the way it's going so far. The questions I'm asking myself now are: Do I want to add other design elements next? If so, which ones, and how can I keep them on the diagonal? Should the join between the first unit and the second be a horizontal line, or should it be on the diagonal too? Does it look better upside down than in this orientation? How will I work this so that the whole piece is balanced? Will it need another unit pieced a similar way at the top of the work? This way of working - asking these questions and considering the possible answers, weighing them and then moving forward to see what happens next - this is what I love most about improvisational piecing. I may have an idea where I'm headed, but I can't know the outcome at the beginning. It is very much a conversation that takes place between me and the fabric, me and the design. Each piece made this way is an adventure of sorts. I have to be prepared to fail spectacularly (by my own measure). Still, it is now my favourite way of working.

Monday, November 6, 2017

More Inspiration Photos

While the class I'm taking with Lisa Call has moved on to composition - and I will too, soon - I have continued taking lots of photos that look at line and shape. I feel I'm looking so much more closely at these elements, and learning so much in the process. I don't want to rush past this too quickly. Photos are one way to keep a record of what I see and what I think about it. Sketching is another, but more on that later. Here are some of the photos:
A rock formation at Castlepoint. Undulating curves. Sumptuous is the word that comes to mind.
A plan tree where some of the bark has come off. This is about texture as much as about line and shape. As is the rock formation above.
Tropical leaves of some sort - I don't know the name of the plant, but I know I like those curvy edges and the vein pattern and the secondary pattern that is formed where the edges overlap one another.
I was playing ball with Griffin the other day and happened to glance down at the it, and at the lines and shapes that resulted depending on how the ball had landed. I took a whole series of photos of these. Most interesting.
                            
The lighting on the hull of this boat is not good, but the lines are beautiful. I am reminded of how often I have looked at boat plans - those graphic line drawings that are plans for boat builders - and wondered about spending more time investigating them, and thinking of including them in my work. Boats are such an apt metaphor for life, for living, and being by the sea and in a boat are two of my most favourite things. Note to self: Time to do a little more research in this area. Some sketches. Some reading. And then some stitching.
Sunrise at Castlepoint. Sky lines. Beach lines. Horizon lines. Sand lines.
A ten minute walk from Emily and Michael's home is this marina. Multiples of masts reflected in the water, with the curved shapes of hulls in between. The next time I go back there I will take more close-up photos. That's when I can best see the details of line and shape. That's when I'm surprised by what is in front of me, what I could so easily miss, if I were to limit myself to the big picture.




Monday, October 30, 2017

Sketches - Inspired by My Travels in Africa


I've embarked on a small project while I'm in New Zealand - to create a collection of "sketches" inspired by my travels in Africa. The parameters I set for myself are that each one will be 6" x 6", use raw edged fabrics, and be hand-stitched. I've completed the first five, and am experiencing that thing that sometimes happens when you don't know at the beginning where a piece will take you, but try out the possibilities as they occur to you, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, but the process itself, the scope for serendipitous surprises, is so engaging that the whole enterprise is a delight. 
These are the fabrics I chose to bring with me to New Zealand. It took me longer to pack these than to pack my clothing. Which explains why I have no warm cardigan with me (I was coming to summer, I thought), but just the right number of fabrics to make these small pieces. They are what my daughter refers to as "enabling constraints", and for someone like me, who is too easily overstimulated by endless possibilities, they serve as a scaffolding on which to build my work.
I begin each "sketch" with a piece of fabric 7" x 7", back with a piece of low-loft cotton batting the same size. For the first one I chose a piece of rusted fabric on which to build. Actually, truth be told, I started at first with a plain white fabric, but it was too daunting, so I switched it for the rusted fabric, which made a much better starting point.
Thinking back to my recent indigo pieces, I began overlapping different sized rectangles. I was thinking of the tropical trees found in some parts of Africa, and of the oceans on three sides of the continent, of the natural state of this massive land mass, before it became so populated.
But it looked too blue. Not African at all. So I added a hit of orange - thinking of the warmth of the sun, of how truly hot you can be even at the ocean. (Remembering a day in Dar es Salaam when I suddenly realized why people were walking so slowly, and I could do nothing else but return to my hotel room where a fan turned slowly overhead, making barely perceptible changes in the movement of the air, but still, it was better than being outside and moving about.)
I liked the orange but I wanted to give it a more major role. I wanted it to undergird the rest of the design. So I removed the first bit and replaced the dark greeny-blue with orange and black. This fabric made me think of the many people walking along the roadsides just about everywhere, along roads just that colour in fact. So I added the feet. Which could be my feet as I travelled or the feet of the people I met who walk so far every day just for water and firewood.
Still not happy with that blue. Too plentiful. Too available. Not the story for many, many people. So I made more changes such that the predominant colour of the piece it orangey-red. Much better.
But I want the sky in there too - a sky that is this clear hot blue. I'm thinking of the sky over the desert in Namibia - white sands and blue sky. So I try another strip and like it better.
I add one more detail - the leaves - somehow they represent hope for me. Hope that the lives of the women I worked with are at least a little easier than they were when I met them. Hope that the world doesn't give up on Africa, that new ways are found to work with the people so that things change "slowly by slowly" in a good way. And then, when I'm happy with the placement of the fabrics,  I added the next layer - the stitching - which includes a few personal symbols. And I added the solid black facing, and once mounted on a small black canvas, it will be finished.
 Here's the second sketch.
And the third. Each one has a story behind it, a narrative that develops as I'm working, and it helps me decide what to do next, what details might still be added, what works and what doesn't. In the process I'm remembering so many of the experiences I've had, little things that had slipped into the back of my memory without me noticing it and now are being recalled again as I work. This is good, and I'm looking forward to seeing where it takes me next. Right now I'm thinking that there will be sixteen sketches in total, but that could always change. I guess it will depend on how many stories are waiting to be told.

Monday, October 23, 2017

The Elements of Design - Shape

It's pretty hard to discuss shape and line separately from one another, as most lines enclose shapes, so while I've put the photo studies of the two in different posts, they really should be seen together. I've been carrying my little point and shoot everywhere I go, and the following images are of some of the line and shape related things that have intrigued me this week. First off, a boat house, which is just about perfect to me - a house shape painted in some of my favourite colours. And look at those lines - horizontal on the siding, vertical on the door and diagonal in the window. The almost-horizontal
lines of the walkway up to the door complete the design of this much-loved escape cabin for the people who own it. I can almost imagine who they might be . . .
A seed-pod found on a beach in the north of the North Island of NZ - an extraordinary example of intriguing cross-hatched lines within a pleasing shape. I have no idea what plant this comes from, but it's exquisite.
More beach treasures, each a study of lines - lovely, curvaceous lines either inside a naturally occurring rounded shape, or else encloseing the shape.
I really have a thing for roof shapes. I fell in love these two older homes in downtown Wellington, improbably found on a side street, surrounded on three sides by newish modern buildings. Havana, on the left, is reputed to be one of the best restaurants in town, and across the road is Lighthouse Cuba, a repertory cinema of several small galleries, each furnished with a small number of art deco-type upholstered chairs and couches with little tables beside each one for your ice cream or glass of wine or flat white, so you can watch whichever movie you've chosen in ultimate comfort. We went to see Maudie - heart-wrenchingly good. I'm still mulling over the story . . .
Back at the beach (they're never very far away in this country.) here's a clump of recently washed-up seaweed. Are those curving lines, or are these shapes?
Another sort of seaweed altogether, found at the tide line (there's another line I could spend some time studying), in a lovely arrangement, forming a curve shape and with the rounded shapes of storm-worn stones nestled up along side it.
And the curves of the human form (shape), juxtaposed with the horizontal lines formed by the wood slats of the behind him. Yes, I'll admit it. I'm an unabashedly doting grandmother to this almost-two year old, and couldn't resist the temptation to use this photo in this post. After all, we did do all this research together.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Elements of Design - Line

The last week, as part of my course work with Lisa Call, I have been looking at the use of line in design a little more closely and a little more deeply. As part of this exercise, I took a short walk this afternoon  around the neighborhood of Kilburnie in Wellington, New Zealand. I arrived here to visit my daughter and her husband, and my 22 month old grandson yesterday, and as often seems to happen when you visit unfamiliar places, I had new eyes for seeing here and soon found numerous examples of line. First there were the yellow broken lines running down the middle of the road,
and letters painted on a fence, each one made of other broken lines, and of complementary colours in order that stand out unmistakably to passersby.
Fences are everywhere, each composed of lines formatted in hundreds of ways. Here a wide line is followed by two thinner lines, all the lines being cut to the same length, and attached top and bottom to two (almost) horizontal lines.
As I'm writing this, I'm realizing that the three examples above are all lines in things that are man-made, and contrast hugely with the organic trunk lines of pohutakawa trees planted outside a nearby school. Maybe the trunks are even more dramatic because they're juxtaposed with the lines of the street and the school.
The pleasing lines of these windows are more complex. Straight lines and curved lines. Lines that enclose rectangles and lines that enclose diamonds. Beautiful.
But straight lines can be found in nature, as well as in windows and fences and as street markings. Parts of this palm tree look like spiked lines radiating out from a centre, perhaps from a branch. Each one widest at the base and thinning until it ends with a point.
For some reason I find this sign particularly pleasing, warning drivers that they are approaching a pedestian crossing. Something about the perspective, I think.
This photo of the side of nearby house was the most complex of all, with horizontal lines formed by the wooden siding, cross-hatching on the climbing frame, simple straight lines and one single diamond in the stained glass windows, diagonal roof lines and vertical fence lines. Together they are in perfect balance.
And of course written letters and numbers are all made up of lines too. With hundreds of varieties of fonts available for use, or our own unique hand gestures forming them.
Griffin is showing me where I can find a lemon, just beside his home. It wasn't until I was choosing which photo I'd load onto this blogpost that I noticed the lovely contrast between the outside almost-but-not-quite round of the lemon and the check of his jacket. And then there are the horizontal stripes of his shoes and the vertical lines of the fence. Even the diagonal line of the sidewalk plays an important role in this shot. This was a most interesting exercise, and I will be following it up by looking at which lines I most like to use in my own work, among other things. I have a feeling I might be dreaming about lines tonight.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Three Art Quilts Move to Their New Homes


It is a real joy when someone sees something you have made, the end results of taking many, many bits of fabric and combining them in your own way, and responds to it favorably. I mean, it's really quite a risk, putting your heart and soul into something and then showing it to others. It never seems to get any easier. But when someone also pays you the compliment of wanting it to move out of your home and into their own, that joy is multiplied. So it has been with these three pieces. The blue and green piece is called "Majesty" and has been years in the making. I'm embarrassed to tell you how many years. In fact it was only as I was being admitted to Emergency some months ago that I panicked and thought "I absolutely cannot have a heart attack now - "Majesty" hasn't been made!" It's modeled after a watercolor painting by Dianne Bersea, called by the same name, and has been used with her permission. On Saturday I delivered it to its new home in Victoria, and I can tell you that I was enormously pleased, and they seemed to be too.
This photo of "Under the African Sun" was sent to me by its new owner, and I am honoured to see it hanging above the fireplace in his new home in Vancouver. This has long been a favourite of mine, but it's time to part with many of my Africa-inspired quilts, and a pleasure to see it being enjoyed now by someone else.
And this little bird flew away to its new home in Winnipeg, where I understand it's very happy. Which leads me to a bit of news I want to share with you. Next July - July 22-29/18 - I am going to be having a solo show at the Ladysmith Waterfront Gallery, called "A Sense of Colour". It's really the story of my progression from a user of subtle and greyed tones to a love of the bold and bright. And it's also an opportunity for me to say goodbye to some old friends and to give viewers a look at what I'm working on now, with the added bonus that 30% of all sales will go to the Widows Gardens Project in Southern Uganda. I will let you know more about this as the time gets closer, but if you're anywhere near Vancouver Island on those dates, I hope to see you there. And if you live farther afield, and would like to know more about which pieces will be for sale, please email me, and I'll be happy to fill you in on the details. 

Monday, October 2, 2017

Fibre Art Network Retreat 2017 - Lac Le Jeune

Way up the Coquihalla Highway, almost as far as Kamloops, is Lac Le Jeune. This gem of a place was the location for this year's Fibre Art Network annual retreat. Forty-four of us arrived at the well-appointed cabins on Wednesday of last week, and left again on Sunday, having made new friends and become reacquainted with old friends, and having shared our creative journeys with one another and talked textile art and visited galleries and discussed where we go next as an organization committed to promoting fibre art and each other as artists.
The trees and the colours and the light are all different at this elevation, from what we see at the coast. And we had time between various presentations to feast our eyes on it all. But what I enjoyed most of all, what stimulated me beyond belief, was seeing what art this group of creative individuals is making. I was blown away by the different techniques that were used and the subject matter of the works, and the adventurous spirit in which each person is pushing the textile art form in new directions.
We had the opportunity to visit two separate FAN exhibits - one in Merritt and one in Kamloops. The first was called Ekphrastic, and gave each of us who entered the opportunity to respond to a poem by a Canadian poet. The interpretations were so diverse, so interesting.
Here, Bonnie Rozander and Janet Harper are having a closer look at the piece by Terry Phillips. "Just how did she manage to do that", they're wondering. 
The artists here are Leah Gravells and Sara Judith, each of them responding to the same poem.
Linda and Judy take time to discuss their own current work. The retreat was such a great time of connecting with like-minded people. Other women whose lives are taken up with expressing who they are and what they make of this crazy world through the medium of textiles.
We're a motley group, many of us non-conformists who have balked at the prescribed roles for women of our generation, and who boldly keep on making the work that speaks of who we are and 
what we know of the world, and think to ourselves, "damn the torpedoes". It is an honour to belong to such a group.
By the time I came home yesterday, I was full to bursting with ideas and enthusiasm. I couldn't wait to get back to my studio, to keep on making my art. One spends much time on one's own as an artist - a necessary thing - but how good it is to gather with like-minded crazies on a regular basis, to get into a conversation with someone and realize that they too are compelled to create.
Yesterday we said goodbye to one another, but the nuggets of wisdom and vision we were given during the last four days will remain with us for a good long time to come. I'm writing it all down as fast as I can, before the memories leave me.