Tuesday, May 31, 2011

May 2011-tapestry diary complete today

Although my tapestry work is in the doldrums right now, it seems, my daily weavings are progressing.  This year each month is being done on a separate warp, contrasting to the years 2009 and 2010 when I worked on one warp for all twelve months each time.  Each month also is not the same size or with the same method of marking the day.  I'll be warping a frame loom shortly to be ready to begin June.  I'll be away for a couple of weeks later in the month (more about that below) so I'll want to be able to take the loom along with me.

Here's the month of May, 2011.  Below it is the month of May, 2008--the one that got this whole obsession started.

May 2011
May 2008

The doldrums mentioned concern my seeming inability to move forward with designing for my tapestries in any meaningful way.  I haven't felt good about any of my work for quite some time now... in fact, as I look back through journals and notes it seems that the last piece I really was excited about was the one I call Leaf Dance.  

This one was quite different for me in that it was more abstracted than most of what I'd done before.  While it was still based in nature it was much more expressive of feelings about the shapes inspired by natural forms rather than an attempt at a more pictorial representation.

Try as I might I've just not been able to come back to the intensity of that piece.  I've struggled with many ideas over the past many months.  In fact, I was struggling while at West Dean last fall--I'd hoped to return from England with a fresh way to see my world and to respond to it.  But--it was only me who returned... same as I was before, facing the same challenges and uncertainties.  And here I remain.

But... I've got to work in the studio each day.  I have to be here in case lightening strikes--or in case I get an idea that may seem worthy to pursue.  I've continue to weave... the tapestry diary pieces, of course.  But that only takes a few minutes each day.   I've woven quite a few new samples for classes.  I wove the small piece that I noted in the last post.  I started (and have now stopped) a larger piece on my 60" wide loom.  I have a small piece underway on my teeny loom.  I've also done a floor cloth, made many drawings, and hundreds of photographs of the world around me.  Yet my ability to move forward into something that seems worthwhile is at a standstill.

I listened to an interview with Frank Stella when I walked this morning from the NPR program, "On Point" (May 25, 2011).  Near the end of the discussion Stella said that an artist has to work on something that matters to him:  He says about artists:  "... they all worry about what they're doing... quality is still important, how beautiful it is is still important... it has to look good to the artist himself before he's even willing to show it to somebody else."  He also said that (you) "... have to make something that you care about, if you believe in it enough, you like it enough, then you can communicate with others...."  That comment, that I have to make something that I care about, that I believe in, hit home for me this morning.  That's what's lacking in my work right now, I feel.  My love of nature and natural forms is still with me.  But I need to move away from depending on those for my compositional fodder-- I can enjoy my surroundings without feeling frantic that I have to "see" my next tapestry in each bit of my landscape.

I'm working again on the wool warp that I resleyed after cutting off the small tapestry noted in the last post.  I'm recycling a design that I did many years ago in batik form, an image from a quilt I have that one of my grandmother's made.  I've woven with this quilt as inspiration for three other tapestries, the largest one at 24" square (I called it Quilt Square, in fact).  Here's a detail from that:

I'm taking to heart something Archie Brennan said at the recent workshop:  "When in doubt, simplify."  Also in mind is another quote, interestingly also beginning the same way:  "When in doubt, make big changes." (Steve Aimone)

So... simplify I'm doing.  Making big changes, I'm doing.  Nature will continue to inspire me but my visual response to it will happen when it feels right--not when it's being forced, as it is now.  

Retreat times are coming this summer, one sooner than the other.  I learned last week that I'll be able to go to Lillian Smith Center again for a couple of weeks.  I spent time there last summer for the first time--that was the location of the red door that I photographed each day while in residency there.  I'll also be going back to Hambidge Center in late summer.  Retreat times always help clear my head and I'm hoping that the jolt of the time away that's coming up soon will be just what I need to help me move past this time of low creative energy.  Simplify, make big changes.  See what happens.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Private cutting off today...

...no party thrown but I'm happy to have this piece off the loom anyway.  I'd begun it after my hand accident and have worked on it, off and on, for about a month and a half.  It was originally intended to be twice as wide but I made the "executive decision" to end with the first side of the design only.  I often make changes and modifications along the way when weaving tapestry but rarely take the somewhat radical step of cutting the design short.  But I felt I could do so since the cartoon was designed in a way that it could be cut short without making it look truncated.

I'll talk about why I decided to change the design and cut it off shortly.  First, here's the drawing on which the design was based and next are several of the designs along the way to making the cartoon.  These are scans and/or Photoshop iterations the drawing.  I'd sketched the tree trunks in the yard of the cottage where I was staying at Lillian Smith Center during the retreat last summer.  Like I mentioned in an earlier post, I've worked with trees in some way through several tapestries now.  I'd wanted to do a piece in which the verticals of the trunks were emphasized... no limbs, little indication of space, just variations of placement of the vertical marks.

For the tapestry design I chose a bit of a paper weaving in which several of the copies were cut into strips and interwoven.  The value of the different copies I cut up was different so the resulting paper weaving had differences in tones... I liked the effect so I zoomed on only a few trunks.  

I cropped further for the cartoon to include only the four trees that are sort of centered in the design.  And I began weaving with the cartoon turned 90˚ since I wanted to emphasize the smoothness of the edges of the trunks.  

So, here's where the challenges began.  First off, I was using a wool warp sett at 6 epi.  That was number of ends per inch that a wrapping of the yarn indicated (I thought).  I didn't realize the spacing would actually be more than that when the warp was under tension on the loom.  

Next, I was finding it quite tedious to continue to try to see the results by turning my head sideways to look at the progress.  Now, I've woven many pieces in the turned direction.  But this time around it was a major annoyance.  It felt like I was fighting the whole way.  So, that discomfort with the piece combined with the too-loose sett caused me to decide to end sooner than later.  

I woke up this morning determined to finish this piece today and cut it off.  I've now done that--here I am about 5:45 p.m. with scissors in hand, camera on the tripod, timer on and ... snip and click!  Or click and snip... either way both the photo and the cutting off got done.

Here's the piece laid out on the rug, warp ends flying this way and that.  It's 11" w x 29" long; I'm going to wash it and block it so will see how much shrinkage there may be.  I believe that it will be fine as a small study from the tree drawing but the next piece on the loom may be quite different... don't know yet what that will be since I don't have the design in mind.  I'd thought I might weave the same cartoon only up the warp.  But maybe I'm through with trees for awhile now... or perhaps they're through with me.

BUT... resleying tomorrow!  

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Wonderful workshop experience!

Just a week ago today I was still at the Archie Brennan & Susan Maffei workshop!  Seems like a month has passed since then since my week has been quite busy.  But I'm finally having time to go through the photos I took during the workshop and post a few of those to the Tapestry Share blog.  I won't repeat myself here about those--just include the link so you can leap over there if you want to.

Here's my loom with the piece I wove just about done.

I had a wicked, wicked, wicked sinus/allergy/cold/something during the workshop and I felt like crap most of the time.  My tapestry design, unfortunately, reflects the state of my being during the week.  Even though I was feeling puny for the few days I still feel I came away with new inspiration and knowledge--something I find in every workshop I've taken with Archie & Susan.

This was my fifth time to study with them, the first being in 1994 when TWiNE (Tapestry Weavers in New England) sponsored a retreat at Harrisville, NH.  Everyone who has a workshop from me knows that I frequently say, "According to Archie...." or "Susan says...."-- and I make it clear to anyone who will listen that I consider them my tapestry gurus.  So I was happy to have the time with them last week--even if the time wasn't as "quality-ladened" as it could have been if I'd felt better.

I was excited to learn that the long-awaited series of DVDs of tapestry instruction they've been working on for awhile is now available.  I bought a copy and have watched several parts of a couple of them, so far.  It's a fantastic learning aid and I'm happy that it's available.

By Sunday and the end of the workshop I was feeling somewhat human again... here I am at the wetlands bridge at Camp Mikell... the day was just a glorious one and a great way to end this chapter of study with Archie & Susan!