Thursday, September 10, 2015

Lillian Smith Center, I miss you already! And I haven't even left yet.

Day ten ends here at this wonderful place.  The light is getting lower... still not dusk but getting there.  Or as Bob Dylan might say, "It's not dark yet, but it's getting there"

Times of leaving home and family are bittersweet, whether I'm going to a retreat like this one or to teach a class.  Then the times of leaving the place I've been are also bittersweet.  I love being at home but I also love times away when I can see things anew, spread out, make messes and inconvenience only me if I leave them where I stopped working for the day.  And my work places can spill over into living spaces.  No TV.  Internet here at the Center in my cottage but that's a new feature since Piedmont College has taken over the place.   That's not often easily available in places I go to teach or have retreats--hasn't been before here at Lillian Smith Center.  Maybe that's a good thing.  Every minute of time I'm spending on the computer searching for what the particular oak tree was that I found leaves from the other day, or reading, posting, sharing and commenting at Facebook are more minutes away from the "real" work I need to do.

I'm not quite sure why I was called to do the work I do.  However, I realized a few years back, with tears falling as I came to a recognition in myself, while talking to a dear friend when he revealed he'd finally realized he was "an academic" and that was OK.  Suddenly, at that moment I realized I'm an "artist" -- always have been whether I knew or acknowledged it or not -- and that's the work of my life.  No... as I've mentioned before... I'm not an artist who's the once in a generation type.  Like Georgia O'Keeffe or like Frida Kahlo.  No, I'm only a person who has finally, as she nears the end of a sixth decade of life, realized that what makes me happiest and feeling the most purposeful in the world is when I can look around me and try, as best I can, to record the world that I see.  And only hope that some of reverence and awe I feel about the sacredness of being able to exist in the world might show in my work, whether it be drawing, painting or my tapestries.

This morning I had a beautiful gift from a tapestry friend.  She was kind enough to write me about a recent Facebook debacle.  I'd posted a rant about a current candidate for the 2016 presidential race who'd made yet another, in my mind, particularly ludicrous statement.  I was then so mortified that I'd gone ballistic like I had.  I was taught, as many of us are, "If you can't say anything good (kind, positive, etc.) then don't say anything at all." Well, I don't always keep that adage in mind.  I certainly didn't this time!  The next day after having it bother me all night,  I posted an apology for the raving post, deleted them and declared I was going to deactivate my FB account.  I had many lovely and kind words from many folks encouraging me to stay around and so I decided I would do that.  And just zip my lip when I read something I find particularly upsetting.  But as a result of this I'm taking kind words to heart and appreciating them so much.  Here's one of many lovely thoughts sent my way...

Elizabeth Buckley, wonderful tapestry artist who lives in NM, wrote this to me:
"As artists we need to be very protective of our head and heart space, our way of tuning in and being present to our environment and to the sources of inspiration, of beauty, and that to which we respond in awe.  How we are able to make the world a better place through our artwork, our teaching, our keeping alive another way of viewing and being present to life--all of this is dependent on our ability to stay connected and clear, tuned in to the pulse of life beneath the chaos and negativity.  I think this is so crucial now more than ever." (italics mine...)
This was such an affirmation of what probes at my spirit all the time... there is a pulse of life beating always in the world, in spite of our human conceits and frailties.  Elizabeth put it so beautifully.

Then, back on Facebook later today I saw a post by a wonderful writer, Candice Dyer.  She'd posted Mary Oliver's poem, Wild Geese, which I'd never seen before.  The poem seemed to be to touch a bit on that very indefinable I'm seeking when I look at the world around me, particularly the small parts.

Thank you both Elizabeth and Candice, for today's affirmations and inspirations!  And thank you, world of north Georgia, for having such a beautiful place to exist within.

Photos from today:

Finished this drawing of a hickory nut I'd started last night.

Saw mushrooms pushing up through the gravel when I walked...
... found a cluster of eight poplar leaves on the road as I walked... Fibonacci again.

Photographed a couple of the many beautiful pine cones in the yard.
Became entranced with gravel.
I've gotten the car loaded... this is just a preview of the rest of the stuff I put in afterwards--and more tomorrow!

Later this afternoon I finally took time to sit in one of the rocking chairs on the Peeler Cottage porch where I've sat many times in the past and drawn or painted.  Here's a sketch from several years ago:

And here's what I did today:

 These are in a "tree" book I got from Alice Schlein in late 2011.  It's a handmade book with one of Alice's beautiful photos of trees as the cover.  Most of the drawings and paintings I've done in it are of trees.  I love the book and it's almost full now.  I have some notes from meetings at the back of it and I'll probably gesso over those to be able to use all the pages for images.  Once I use those it will be time to get another of Alice's books!

And now, it's pouring rain here; it's not dark yet, but it's (really) getting there.  I've got to end my postings at this retreat time at Lillian Smith Center with a photo of the red door, of course.  Once again, thank you, Nancy Smith Fichter and Robert Fichter; John Siegal and John Templeton; Craig Amason and Piedmont College, and especially Ms. Lillian E. Smith, for a wonderful retreat center for artists.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Day nine? At Lillian Smith Center. Already?

And what a day it's been!  I walked first thing... spotted this amazing spiderweb along the way, filled with beads of moisture from the earlier rain:

Here's a closer zoom:

When I got back to the cottage and was having coffee before breakfast, Bill, who manages the grounds, came by to say that the men who were to install insulation in the studio were coming today.  Believe me, I know that when someone's coming to do some work, one should be ready for them!!  Down I went to the studio right away to get my stuff out of the way.  Since I'd used up the last of my canvas with yesterday's painting and pretty much finished what I was going to do there, I was ready to leave.  Here's some of the final photos in Robert's studio today as I vacated the place ... thanks again, Robert Fichter, for letting me use your studio for a week of intense work!  I really, really enjoyed it!

Taking down the plastic I'd put up to cover the wall and part of the floor where I very messily painted:

 Wrapping up my paints in plastic bags for the car:

Tossed out my leaf inspirations.  Be free, leaves!  Go become leaf litter!

This afternoon I've worked on finishing details of a tapestry I bought with me for that purpose.  I'm using overhand knots and stitching back the warp tails to the back of the tapestry, a method used by other weavers, including my friend, Pat Williams, on larger sett tapestries.

I trimmed these warp groups off after all were stitched down.

Here's how the edge looks at the front:

A nice finishing detail for acknowledging the warp, I think. Thanks, Pat, for this method of completion!

I'm drawing tonight, taking a finishing ends break.  Here's a hickory nut so far this evening:

More work to do with it but at least a start.

My daily reading has been this book that my husband loaned me (that his surgeon recommend for him):

We listened to an interview with Henry Marsh recently on Fresh Air... a remarkable person to hear speak about his experiences with brain surgery!  The book is quite good and when Thomas mentioned that we'd heard the interview to his doctor, he said, "I've read his book!  You should, too!" 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Eighth day at Lillian Smith Center--found the wall

Yes, I hit the wall.  I am tired and somewhat floundering... not totally discouraged yet but heading in that direction.  I didn't "find my muse" this morning as I walked, something that excites my eyes and that I feel compelled to pick up and bring along with me to work from at the studio. That put me in a grumpy mood to start the day.  Well, I said I didn't find something to work from but I actually did find a couple of interesting leaves but they were only calling faintly to me.   But I thought, OK... let's try something with them.

So I arranged them and photographed them, looked at them.  And the call was still only a faint one... not a loud cry, "Look at ME! Aren't I interesting!"  I dilly-dallied throughout the morning working a bit more on the oak leaves from yesterday before calling it finished enough and stopping for lunch while the paint on that one dried so I could take it down.

After lunch I took down the oak leaves and put up a new blank canvas... the last of the 6 yard x 60" roll I brought with me.  It was not quite a square--it's 52" x 58"--but I decided to design within that framework.

I decided to use a hickory leaf cluster I'd found a couple of days ago along with one of the finds from this morning... I wanted the yellow and yellow-green of the hickory to contrast with the red-orange of the other leaf.  I also enjoyed seeing the way the hickory leaves have dried a bit and taken on a sort of insouciance.

I began with a loose charcoal line drawing and then made changes several times by painting over with block out white and matt medium, then redrawing:

Here's what I wound up by mid-afternoon.  I'll work on it a bit more tomorrow.

As I was trying to decide what to do today I spent a little time walking around the grounds here at Lillian Smith Center.  I've taken quite literally hundreds of photos of the surroundings over the past few years I've had residencies here and I've posted about my times here in the past with many of those photos.  This time it seems I've not taken as many photos but have concentrated on looking and finding small things.  I've found leaves, obviously, since I've been painting those but I've also picked up pine cones and oak apple galls.  But today after lunch I decided to walk some of the stone steps I've walked many times before and take a few photos.  The sky was overcast so the stones and mosses showed up pretty well, I think.  This is a beautiful place, wonderful for contemplation.

These stone paths, steps and bench are within a few hundred feet of the cottage where I'm staying.  All part of the Laurel Creek Falls Camp for girls that Lillian Smith ran many decades ago. What a time those girls must have had here--in these surroundings and under the influence of such a remarkable woman as Lillian Smith

Monday, September 7, 2015

Day 7-Lillian Smith Center-Labor Day

And labor it is!  It's dang hard work trying to see and record a bit about the world around me.  Yet it seems to be something I'm compelled to do.  Over and over.  I mentioned the word sacred the other day in another post and I do indeed think that finding the sacredness in the small and seemingly insignificant world around me is what I'm trying to do.

I am a member of the American Tapestry Alliance and the latest newsletter was just sent to members.  In it, Sharon Marcus has an article called "Strategies for Finding Your Voice in Tapestry."  The first suggestion she makes is to write about your work... a 100 word artist's statement describing the work.  She says to focus on "...what it is about, why it is important to you...."  As it so happens, these are two of the words I discovered I needed to think about while I was at West Dean to study for 6 weeks in 2010.  At one point it occurred to me that I needed to think about the WHAT, WHY, HOW of my work.  And I've been trying very hard ever since to do just that.

Several of my students have heard those words.  In fact, a class I taught at Penland a few years ago had that as the title of the course.  And I often bring those thought up when I'm teaching any course now.  What do I (you) want to weave?  Why do I (you) want to do it?  How should I (you) proceed... what are the technical points you need to be able to control.

All this said, let's get to today's labors at the studio.  I always walk the big loop of road around the Center when I'm here.  It's downhill as I start out and then turns into a gradual grade uphill on the way back to my cottage.  This time I'm here I'm particularly attuned to the leaves that are on the ground as I walk.  Those are what I've been working with for the past week.

On the walk today I found several leaves that were interesting and as I was near the cottage again, a branch of oak leaves was on the road.  I passed them by but then turned around and picked them up because I was curious about how many were in the cluster.  Fibonacci numbers are often found in natural occurrences and I though, wonder if there are five or eight leaves on that branch (both 5 and 8 are in the Fibonacci sequence),  and there were eight.

I pinned them up into a square I'd drawn and began work.  I decided to use a large square of canvas also and since the canvas is 60" wide (really only primed at 58") I tore a 60" piece and measured off a 2" margin:

Then I drew with charcoal--as I've done with the past image--and worked though a few stages to get to the painting point.  Here are steps for this one:

Initial charcoal drawing...
... then spritzed the whole thing with water.

I painted over it with white block out and matt medium.

Then I drew again.

I added color and did a selfie to show the scale of the leaves....

Before I left today I painted in the first of the shadow areas.  I'll work on this more tomorrow when I get to the studio.  And then start with whatever happens to find me tomorrow morning!  I hope.

As an aside... you might like to check out Jonathan Byrd's White Oak Wood:

Sunday, September 6, 2015

6th day at Lillian Smith Center

And the work goes on!  I collected several leaves as I walked this morning and decided to use them in enlarged versions on a new canvas.  Here are the leaves.  Five of them.

If anyone has been counting the number of leaves I'm including on each canvas you might have noticed on one canvas there is 1 leaf; and there are 3 on another; and now there are 5.  Yesterday there were 13 leaves I drew and painted, and a couple of days ago there were 8.   Maybe 2 tomorrow? Yes, I use Fibonacci numbers very frequently when deciding how many things to include in my images.  Not a "magic" solution to the designing, I know, but it gives me a starting place.

Today, I began with a new "blank" canvas and first thing I did was to measure off a 2" margin and made a freehand line drawn with charcoal to help me place the objects.  I tend to run very close to the edge when I draw so having a boundary marker is helpful for me.

The image area for this is 58" h x 39" w inside the margin.  The five leaves were pinned up nearby so I could refer to them as I worked.  I still haven't taken down two of the leaves from an earlier painting... those are still pinned above the canvas.

I began by drawing with a thick charcoal after measuring and placing the horizontal points for each leaf to be about 9" apart.  I work with some method even though it appears that I'm pretty haphazard with my painting.  I like to have a sense of the structure that's going to be the framework for the design. In the photo above you might notice blue masking tape at top and sides--those are marking the center of the area at vertical and horizontal points...more reference guides.

And then I begin... loosely doing line drawing with charcoal...

and after painting over the whole thing with white and matt medium, I drew again, refining a bit.

 I painted over it all yet again with the white and matt medium.

Next, I used paper towels and a stiff brush to wipe away some of the paint, drawing in a negative way.
 Bit by bit, layer by layer, I got to this point before I left the studio today.  I'll work a bit on it tomorrow.  It's coming along.

 Here are both of the pieces that were on the wall to work on today.  I added shadow to the one on the left--I put it back up this morning to look at, think about and maybe change somewhat.

This photo is closer to what the painting looks like.  The green and red-orange are so close to the same value that the photos don't really record what I can see in life.

Here at the cabin in the evening I'm working on drawing... yes, from leaves and other things I'm finding in the yard and on my walks.  I have these things to draw tonight: