Wednesday, December 27, 2017

My Studio - De-Cluttered and Re-Organized

I just finished reading the blog of my good friend Anne Rayner-Gould, in which she tells the story of how her well-planned gift-giving and holiday food-making plans for Christmas were waylaid by a dramatic change in the weather in her corner of the province. I had a good laugh, because a similar thing happened to me. Only in my case it was illness that resulted in a change in plans, and in me waking up at home alone on Christmas morning. I was up long enough to greet the morning - and what a spectacular morning it was, with a few more inches of snow having fallen overnight - before crawling back into bed with a good book. But we'd had our youngest and his family through a few days earlier, and my sister-in-law to stay for a few days, so I didn't feel I'd missed out at all. My Sweetie drove his sister down to Duncan on Christmas Eve, and was back home in time to do a little present opening together Christmas Day evening. Not to get too philosophical, but it does seem that this happens with great regularity.. We make plans and we give ourselves deadlines and we think it's all going to work out just as we had imagined. And then, well life happens. In my younger days I would have found this frustrating, but nowadays I just chuckle. Anyway, that's why you didn't hear from me last week. But things are now on the up and up.
Much of my life over the last 2-3 weeks has been spent de-cluttering and re-organizing my studio. I had no idea it would take so long. But here it is - almost ready to greet the New Year. My space is an L-shped area in our basement. You come into it from the door on the right. When I first started working down here, I used the smaller part of the room - the part that's in the shadow in the background, and the "family room" occupied the larger part of the "L". It was dark with wood-panelling, until I painted the whole thing white a few years ago. But the children are all long gone and I now occupy the whole of it. In pride of place (of course) is my Bernina, set into an old oak desk (I used the drawer for it to sit in) that was an early purchase when we first came to the Comox Valley almost 25 years ago. It housed my older Bernina for many, many years, and has only recently been replaced by this model.
Here you are looking toward the door through which you enter the studio. The oak table has been supplemented by two Ikea tables on trestles. The one on the right is often occupied by a friend who comes over for a "sewing day", while the one on the left is leaning against my new photography wall. There is another smaller table at the end of the room, which is my desk, with a filing cabinet to the left of it. The inspiration board above it is also a long-time fixture, but I think its days might be numbered. To the right of that is a small design wall.
I have two Ikea cube units which contain all my fabrics and most of my supplies. Up until a couple of weeks ago, most of my colourful fabric was visible. But I made an interesting discovery when I came home from New Zealand. The sight of all that fabric was terribly distracting, and I actually missed my limited supply of fabrics from which to choose. So I added enough baskets to those I already had, so that the beautiful colours are no longer visible. I'm busy putting labels on them all, so I can still access them easily, and selling or giving away the fabric that I've culled from my "stash". It remains to be seen how this new-to-me system will affect my studio practice.
The smaller part of the room still needs a little work, but I'm almost there. There are a few too many boxes and bags of things, and my library needs to be reduced still further, and I'm thinking that the quilts draped over the quilt rack (and blocking the large design wall) might need to be rolled and stored like most of the others are, and the rack itself may need to go. And I definitely need to find a way to store the smaller framed works that are completed, while making them accessible to anyone who comes by. Because once the new Comox Valley Artists' Guide is published, a studio visit could happen "by appointment" at any time.
I have to tell you that this has been a massive project, but somewhere along the way this year, I've come to understand that I need to treat my creative space with the respect it deserves. And coming down to a clean studio, with the work I'm currently pursuing close at hand, while the rest of it is tucked away in an orderly manner, is terrifically liberating. When it's done, I will be free to move forward with my textile art and discover where this wonderful journey will take me in the coming year.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Sketching - How It's Become Part of my Art Practice

I am a new convert to sketching as part of my art practice. And a very reluctant convert at that. I think it was the idea that other people might see my scribblings that I found so daunting, or perhaps it was a throw-back to fears of "not doing it right", learned in some long-ago classroom, or maybe it was seeing all those books about "artful sketchbooks" You know the kind - filled with so many beautiful paintings that they are a piece of art in themselves. Whatever the roots of my reluctance were, I've thrown them over. I've dabbled with sketching before, but I think I can safely say that I now see it as an essential part of my art practice.

It began with an invitation to look at lines - all different sorts of lines. I drew 30 little squares on my sketchbook page and quickly filled them in, beginning with the simplest of lines and eventually including any sort of line that appealed to me. And I learned something from that simple exercise that I didn't know before. I could see which lines appealed to me, which called my name, and therefore what sort of lines I might want to consider including in my own work. Fancy that.
I began, somewhat trepidatiously, to use my sketchbook for other things. After all, it's MY sketchbook - right? So I can make up my own rules (or not) about what I can include. I limited myself to two rules only - the first is that I must sketch something every day, and the second is that I must use a black pen.  One day I was thinking about different symbols that might be included in an embroidered piece I am considering making. So I drew them in my sketchbook.
Another day I went on a walk specifically to spend time looking at the roof and window lines of nearby houses, and then I tried my hand at sketching them too.
On yet another day I was thinking about some of my favourite work by Paul Klee, and what symbols he used, and then thinking about how to include them in my own pieces, and learned that working designs to fit a curve appeals enormously to me. Only I didn't just think about it - I sketched these thoughts, so now I have a record I can return to at any time I want. And then out of nowhere came these strange almost-people like shapes. I have no idea what they're about, but I don't need to know right now. I just need to keep sketching and see what else turns up.
Sketches of leaves and ferns are not new to me, and felt like a safe bet after those weird people turned up on my page.
And then another day, it was almost time for bed and I still hadn't sketched that day. I looked around the room and my eyes fell on this little suitcase - a little leather suitcase I'd found on Cuba Street in Wellington and which told me it wanted to come home with me. So I sketched that.
This day's sketching was an extension of the idea I'd sketched earlier, of constructing shapes to fit a curve. And because I've sketched that idea twice now, I'm thinking it might be something I wast to explore further.
This was an idea for an installation piece which began with me picking up a long driftwood branch on the beach. What if I were to use this as a hanging rod for African fabrics - strips of them arranged around a photo or appliqué of the Bitengye ladies? The sketch, in this case, became a place to record an idea before it danced off into the land of forgotten thoughts. I don't know if I will ever make it, but that doesn't matter right now. It's the sketching of the idea that's important.
On another day I had my sketchbook down at Grassy Point on Hornby Island, and recorded how it felt to be there, as well as making a rough sketch of where I was and describing it all with words. 
And on it goes. And it's wonderful. And I can't imagine now why I was so reluctant to make sketching part of my art practice, just like the journalling that I've done for so very many years. It makes me pay more attention, and it helps me remember what it is I've seen and what I've thought. It feels a little like leaving markers on a trail - perhaps red ribbons tied to low-hanging branches - that show that I'm on the right path, heading in the right direction. I can't see where it's all going, and I don't need to, but I can see the next red ribbon, and that's enough to keep me moving forward on this journey.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Life in the Northern Hemisphere

It has been a bit of a shock to return to BC from New Zealand at the end of November. Driving home from the airport, I asked David if it was always this dark at 4:30 in the afternoon. It felt end of the world-ish to me. I even took a photo of it, and looked it up online, and it's true that we are about 8 degrees of latitude further north than I was degrees south in Wellington, and it is winter here, but still. How quickly one forgets about the sluggishness that settles in, in November, December and January. It's not always like this, of course, and there was one brilliant day last week when the new snow was visible on top of the mountains, but those days are the exception.
So what does one do? Well, I'm being kind to myself while I re-acclimatize myself to my Vancouver Island reality. I have spent most of this week tidying up my studio, and it's looking as though it will be another week at least before I'm well and truly finished. While I was away I took the brave step of listing my studio in the guide to artists in the mid-Island. This was a necessary step if I want to be included in the Spring Studio Tour, which I do. But it also means that I might have visitors at other times too, and I need to be ready for that. So a massive re-organization and tidy-up was called for.
I finished another of my African collages this week - this one is called "In Search of a Better Life". It's is the fifth in the series, and began with me thinking about all the different ways that people consider themselves rich. It might be in acquiring property, or in having produce to sell at the market. It might be in gold and jewels or perhaps as basic as feeling rich when we have enough food to eat. It might be in having the opportunity to go on adventures. I especially liked being able to use the footstep fabric which I purchased in Ghana. Other found items include paper beads, cowrie shells, buttons from Lesotho, a barkcloth painting from Uganda, and porcupine quills from Namibia. I'm keen to get to work on the sixth collage, and have been sketching ideas for that. 
And for those times I simply want to add stitches to fabric, I've begun another project - adding African motifs to my cloth "canvas", improvisationally. The batting is a wool blanket and is as delicious to stitch through as butter. The thread is #8 perle cotton. I'm not quite sure how this will develop, but trust it will tell me what to do as I go. 
I also wanted to let you know that while I was in New Zealand, my dear Sweetie was in Uganda. For those of you who have followed this blog for sometime, you know that I used to spend a good bit of time each year in Uganda working with a group of women in a sewing project. I want to report to you that they are still sewing, albeit not as much as they'd like, and many items were purchased from them to bring back to Canada to raise funds for the Widows' Garden Project that David is now involved with. He also had the opportunity to visit Rechael's Clinic in Kikagate, and it is doing very well indeed. So good to hear news of these women, who are never very far from our thoughts.