Saturday, December 31, 2016

Happy End of 2016!

I finished weaving my 2016 tapestry diary today.  Here's the way it looked earlier this morning:

Later this afternoon--off the loom!

Here's the next stage, clipping wefts and finishing warp ends. 

And my 2017 tapestry diary warp is on a loom that I can take me when I travel this year.  I'll begin it tomorrow--I don't know yet what I'll be doing throughout the piece--other than a day by day marking with separate shapes.

For warping, I have the loom propped up on a few yarn boxes at one side and with the legs holding up the other end.

Happy New Year to come!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Hambidge Days

Fisher Studio--where I stayed early in December.
I had an opportunity to go to Hambidge Center for a week in early December and I seized it!  I'd wanted to photograph some of the burned woods in north Georgia as reference for the current tapestry that's underway.  The afternoon I arrived and after checking in, I drove to Taylor House where I'd stayed this past summer.  Christine Jason, the Operations Manager at Hambidge, told me there'd been controlled or back burn done in the woods near the house.  While there, I photographed some of the burned areas and collected charred sticks to use for drawing.

Woods near Taylor House

Next morning, Christine took me on a drive along Patterson Gap Road to see the back burn portions there and both of us took lots of photos.  I also collected more burned sticks as well as some scorched earth to use for painting.

Over the next four days I made drawings and paintings from the photos I'd taken, using the charred sticks to draw with and and also the earth pigments I'd collected and processed earlier in the summer both at Hambidge and Lillian Smith Center.

Some of the collection of charred sticks and twigs I used for drawing.
Overview of inside Fisher Studio with some of the work on the walls.
Before I left on Sunday Jennifer Garza-Cuen wanted to set up a similar photo shoot that she did with me at the Mary Hambidge House last December.  Turns out the day was overcast--just what she wanted.  Here's a selfie I did while I was waiting for Jennifer to get her camera set up at the other location.

Although the drawings and paintings I made while I was at this residency will probably not turn into tapestries as they are, the information I was able to gather about the way the forest floor looks from the burnings will help me resolve the final parts of the current tapestry.

I've now reached the half-way point and I'm beginning to make transitions into ash and charcoal colors.  Another couple of months on this one, I think.  I'd like to finish it before I leave for Penland in early March.

Now... a bit of holiday update. December is always a exciting, busy, stressful month for everyone and our family is not an exception.  This year, flu decided to add to the excitement and it's hit me with a wallop, starting Thursday before Christmas --and is still dragging me down.  I'm up and about most of the day now but still feel pretty lousy.  I'm looking forward to 2016 ENDING on a healthy note! 

Sunday, December 4, 2016

A new tapestry is underway

I began this tapestry with a small snippet from a portion of a small painting I did while at Lillian E. Smith Center earlier in the fall.  Now it's growing into a much larger image in the tapestry cartoon.  The finished tapestry will be approximately 60" h x 28" w. 

Here are a few details of the piece:

I wrote about the visual appeal of the strip I cut from the small painting as part of this post.  I've tried several other ideas from the drawings I made while at LES Center--but I finally decided to work with this strip which, as it was cut apart from the whole, became an abstraction of density of leaf litter.

Here's the strip.  I've turned it 90˚ as I'm weaving it.  There is a portion being added to it of equal width that's not being shown here since it's still in the designing stages for color:

I set the loom up and began weaving early in November.  Little did I know when I began working on the tapestry that it would offer a way to express some of my deep distress and sadness about the ravages of the wildfires throughout the southeast over the past months.  The tragedy that's unfolding in the Great Smoky National Park and the communities of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge from the wildfires compels me to make a visual statement of some kind. And now... just in the news, another terrible fire, the one in Oakland, California where many lives have been lost.

Fire is both a gift and a burden.  Fire has been with humans for thousands of years, and many myths and legends involve fire.    It isn't a simple gift, however.  Responsibilities come with fire and there's the burden of learning to live with and manage fire as best we can.  Use it for good and respect its power; these tragic events over the past few weeks remind us of the burden.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive

You've got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative
Don't mess with Mister In-Between

... at least that's what Johnny Mercer wrote back in 1944.

Well, these days it's harder and harder to Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive but I think it's time to try.  The Negative simply doesn't work.  Mister In-Between, that old fence sitting son of a gun?  No need to mess with him (yes, gotta be a "him").

But before accentuating the positive, I will mention the very negative and tragic events that are happening in the Great Smoky Mountains.   Wild fires have been going on throughout the Appalachians for weeks now (in spite of practically no national news coverage about it).  Many of the fires that have now reached thousands and thousands of acres appear to be of "human origin" (read vandalism, carelessness, or out-right stupidity).  

The fires have been raging throughout North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee, stretching resources thin.  Firefighters have come from all over the country to help battle the fires.  The extended drought conditions of the Southeast combined with the fall leaf season, plus several recent days of high winds and the fires have been extremely hard to contain. 

On Monday, November 28 fires that have been burning in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park since around November 23rd spread rapidly down the mountains to the tourist towns of Gatlinburg and nearby Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.  Evacuations began on Monday night as the fires began to surround the Gatlinburg and thousands were quite literally fleeing for their lives in practically a gridlock of cars (if you've ever been to Gatlinburg you know there's a long strip of street with wall to wall tourist oriented businesses and very little in the way of exiting until you pass through the downtown area). 

Bill May, the Director of Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts located in Gatlinburg, was among those being evacuated.  He stayed as late as he was allowed and posted a few photos of what was happening at Arrowmont to his Facebook page as he was leaving.  He was able to get back to the campus yesterday and posted other photos.  With his permission, here are a few views from Arrowmont over the last three days.

This was taken around mid-day on Monday, Nov. 28.  The fires were still miles away and everyone was expecting that the town would be safe.  The smoke and ash was very much evident, however.
As Bill was leaving he was able to capture this quick view of one of the dorms at the campus in flames.

Here's what he found the next day.  One of the two dorms that were consumed in the flames.  A maintenance shed with tools and supplies also was lost to the fire.
But Arrowmont is mostly intact--the view this morning!  Arrowmont's extended family of creative people have determined that the school will rise from this like the Phoenix.  Below is a link for donations to this effort.
Here's what was posted on Arrowmont's Facebook page today, November 30:
The fire destroyed three Arrowmont buildings – Hughes Hall Dormitory, Wild Wing Dormitory and the maintenance shed containing tools and equipment. All remaining structures on campus are secure. Information regarding additional smoke and heat damage is not available at this time. Power and phone service is limited.
“All Arrowmont personnel are safe,” says Bill May, “We have received many emails, phone calls, texts and social media posts expressing support and concern for Arrowmont and for the people in our community who have suffered loss. We are very grateful for our local and national community and the outpouring of support. Hope is not lost. We will rebuild.” Bill May is appointing a recovery team to assess damage and plan for the rebuilding of lost structures. We will inform the community when more information is available.
Arrowmont has received numerous requests regarding donations to support the recovery. To make a secure donation online, go to and click the “donate” button. Send checks to Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts, P.O. Box 567, Gatlinburg, Tennessee, 37738.
A link to news coverage of this is here. 

There is much rebuilding to do not only at Arrowmont but throughout the larger community of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge--as well as other areas in the Southeast that have been devastated by these wild fires.  And there is much sadness about the injuries sustained and especially for the several lives that were lost in the fires.   

Positive note?  Well, it's raining here right now.  And I hope it is at Arrowmont, as well.  And also everywhere over the thousands of acres in several states where there's still a wild fire burning.

Phoneix, Appalachia! 

Friday, November 11, 2016

Working with students... a way forward

I began writing this post earlier in 2016 and was waiting until I could add photos to it before publishing.  However, I'm going to continue it now and post with out the photos because it describes positive things.  I, for one, could use some positive thoughts right now following the election.  Teaching and making art are a couple of the ways I hope to make forward motion toward a more hopeful future.  Is this burying my head in the sand?  Perhaps.  But I have to keep anxiety and dread, despair and hopelessness at bay in my mind, as best I can.  Staying busy doing the things I love and that I'm somewhat good at is the way I must proceed for now.  So... here goes... thoughts about working with students!
In 2016, I've been able to visit and share about my passion for weaving in seven different places in the Southeast.  The students I've worked with range in age from young college students to retirees. All of the people I've encountered in the classes and workshops are excited about their discoveries in weaving, no matter what their age.  This was so heartening to see and I hope their excitement will turn into a continuing passion for learning about textile techniques and creating works in fiber methods.  Of course, I hope that at least some of that creating will be in tapestry--but whatever they pursue will be grand as they'll be expanding the ranks of people carrying forward traditional textile techniques and making them their own. 

In March, I visited Berry College students who are part of the Viking Creations enterprises.  Joy Johnson, who works with the Berry students, loaned me one of the old Berry tea towels with the Dogwood motif, so I could examine it.  I wanted to be sure that my understanding of plain weave inlay (or laid-in as it's sometimes called) and what had once been woven was the same.

The sett of the towel appeared to be around 30 to 34 epi, with a very fine linen warp and the inlay with a cotton that was just a bit larger.  I decided to magnify the whole process so that it would be easier to demonstrate the method.  It would also be quick for the students to work through the whole dogwood motif and so I set up a practice loom for 10 epi to take to Berry for the workshop.

I left the loom with the students to finish off the rest of the warp.  A few weeks later,  I returned for the loom and was able to see the first of the towels they'd woven on their loom with a 30 epi sett.  (The students have now gotten the Berry Dogwood back into their production line--you can read more about it in the latest issue of Shuttle, Spindle and Dyepot.  Here's a link to the Berry College Weaving Facebook page.)

A week after I was at Berry, I visited Penland School of Crafts to spend a day with Mary Zicafoose's spring concentration class.  Mary had invited me to visit to show the students about setting up a frame loom for tapestry and to introduce a few of the techniques I use in my work, as well as to show examples of my tapestries.  We got the looms set up the evening before our full day of work, we spent the next day with meet and separate and hatching on a small sampler,  then I showed my slides on the following morning.

On my way home from Penland, I stopped at Warren Wilson College to visit the weaving studio and see what the Fiber Crew students had created with the small tapestries they'd begun when I spent a couple of days with them in January.  I was very impressed with the little tapestries they'd finished that were going to be part of a larger hand painted and handwoven linen fabric to be displayed in their library.

Later in the spring, I had a visit at my studio from the students in the weaving class at UNG.  I invite Jo-Marie Karst, who teaches weaving at the university, to bring her students to my studio each semester.  I also usually visit them at the school for a presentation or demonstration,  and I did so a couple of weeks later to show a Power Point about the Berry College student industries and their progress to bring back the Berry Dogwood motif to their weavings.

This fall semester I was invited to make a presentation to the students in the Appalachian Art Class in which I showed Power Points of both craft resources in the southeast (including the schools like Arrowmont, John Campbell Folk School, and Penland), and also images of my tapestries.

This year I've also had the pleasure of working with people who want to learn about tapestry in short workshops.  In February, I went to Raleigh for a brief workshop at ArtSpace with about a dozen people.  In May, I visited the Appalachian Arts and Crafts Center for a workshop, again around a dozen folks.  And in September, I shared about tapestry to eleven people at John Campbell Folk School.

All in all, I think there have been about a hundred people with whom I've shared my love of weaving during this year in classes.  That might not sound like many--but when you consider what a small field hand weaving is (with tapestry being just a teeny bit of that small field) and how many others these individuals may also share with... on and on it goes!

Breath deeply, think positive thoughts, weave tapestries, teach about tapestries ...  and move ahead! 

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Friday, October 28, 2016

When in doubt, make big changes...

So said Steven Aimone in a workshop I had with him a few years back.  If I remember that, I usually find a way forward with something I've been struggling with.

In fact, I knew I'd written about this before and did a search through my blog for the phrase and saw it in a May, 2013 post.  I'd forgotten Archie Brennan's bit of advice that I also mentioned there: "When in doubt, simplify."
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)
 Over the past several days I've worked with many drawing/paintings and have been happy with some and not so pleased with others.  Yesterday, I spent most of the day re-examining them, deciding some were OK and those that weren't, I worked on.  I over-painted, washed away, reassessed and finally gave in to using white gouache on some to go back to lighter areas.  I just haven't yet found a light enough earth pigment to do what I want.  I'd wanted all of the work on these pieces to be from natural sources--but, after all, I'm the one making up the "rules" to follow.  And I can choose to change them if I want to.

The biggest change came with a large watercolor piece that I described in process in a previous post, the one on which I sprayed acorn dye over leaves as a starting point.  I just wasn't happy with the end result and yesterday morning I decided to try to wash off some of the dark area that I'd gotten from the iron/rust solution.  I took the painting to the cottage and ran water from the outside faucet all over it.  Nothing budged! At least I know how permanent that stuff is now.

All I could think of was "when in doubt, make big changes" and the biggest change I could make (other than ripping the paper to shreds and reassembling it--and yes, I thought of that) was to use white gouache to cover some of the dark.

And that's what I did.  While the paper was still quite wet I laid it on the porch and began to paint with the gouache and a large, flat brush.  Within about 20 minutes I had this: 

And I'm much happier with the image now.

The other large piece is OK, too.  Here's where I left it yesterday afternoon... didn't do any other work on it except to once more look at it from a different orientation:

I have one other idea to work on today.  It's my last full day here and I'll need to pack up the studio later in the afternoon.  But I want to begin (and maybe finish) one or two more things.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

More experiments today!

No, not fun but necessary, I guess.  At least that's what seems to happen for me.  I need the time to experiment and play and try things... but this is indeed work for me.  I don't particularly have fun not knowing what to do next.  Or wondering whether I should try something or not.  But I've come to realize that this is the way I have to work.  Try something.  Don't be (too) afraid to mess it up.  And even if it totally is a failure--what's the cost?  Some material costs and some time.  Not a big deal in the long run--and compared to other things in life.  Right?

Anyway!  Here goes with today's experiments.  First thing this morning I cut up a painting I'd done one one of the first days here:

As I started rearranging these parts I noticed that two were particularly interesting to me:

I can see how these two sections might be potential tapestry designs... maybe a diptych?  And woven large, say 24" wide X 80+" or so?  And woven at 6 epi so that I could work with large bundles of weft, perhaps.  More to think about now after taking the leap of cutting up something.

Later in the day I took a couple of earlier paintings to the larger studio to work on with earth pigment.  Here they are before:

And here they are after:

I've also done a few other things today, including submitting an online entry to an exhibit.

And late in the afternoon I sat on the porch after taking a walk and though about what I'm trying to do while here and with any of my seeking of images.  Here's the first page of the journal entry about that:

More to come in the final few days while here!  I hope that some tapestry works will result from all of these experiments.  But if they don't, that's OK.  They'll come as they will, I guess.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Day Eight of Experiments

Oh my, time flies when you're having fun!

Well, mostly fun.  Sometimes fun.  Most of the times, though, these experiments are fraught with me wondering if I'm doing what I need to or should do to find a way forward with my images.  And the images I make will (at least some of them) become tapestry designs.

So here are some of the experiments--some wonderings along the way:

So, yesterday I began this large drawing on 300 lb watercolor paper using a couple of pieces of partially burned wood from the fire pit:

Fire pit here at Lillian Smith Center

A couple of "tool for drawing" I pulled out of the fire pit.

My wondering about this drawing is "What am I wanting to show here??"  I started with bold marks using the charcoal tools and then added grays by using a water-filled brush.  Not much time was spent with composition for this quick drawing but there were some things I liked about it so I though I'd take it to another stage.

Here's where I left it yesterday afternoon:

This morning I decided to work with some of the acorn dye I've cooked for three days and the rust solution that's been developing over the past couple of days.  I used a 22 x 30" sheet of 300 lb wt. watercolor paper to work with, taking some leaves from the yard and spraying over them with acorn dye.

Here are leaves laid out to be sprayed with the acorn dye...
... and after initial spraying with dye...
... and now the leaves are removed and the acorn and rust mixture is added by pouring it on...
Here it is after working on it with a brush for a few minutes.
Later in the afternoon I worked on both this and the painting I'd started yesterday.  Here's where I left both of them today:

Yes, I flipped it over... in fact, I worked on it from all directions today.  I kind of like it this way.

Here's the leaf painting that I started this morning, now with earth pigment added.  I need to do more work with it but like it pretty well, so far... at least, parts of it.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Experiments continue...

I'm doing several things during each day... all leading somewhere, I think hope.

I'm still working with earth pigment processing.  I now have 13 colors ground, sifted, mulled and stored in small jars.  Here's what I have so far--these are from what I collected at Hambidge in July and in the past days at Lillian Smith Center.  I have a few more colors to do and will get them done tomorrow:

It was chilly here today; low 50s by mid-day but the studio where I'm working didn't really warm up.  Here's my solution--fleece vest, hoodie with hood up, coat, scarf and dust mast (for the earth pigment, not for warmth's sake).  Plus, rubber gloves.  So wrapped up that way and moving around while grinding, sifting, and mulling the pigments kept me plenty warm enough!

I'm also cooking the acorns I smashed up yesterday.  They've been in the crock pot quite a long time now--from noon yesterday to around 10 p.m. I turned the pot back on today about 8 a.m. and will continue to cook on low until 10 tonight.  The recommendation in the Organic Artist book is for three days in the slow cooker so I'll continue tomorrow.  Here's what it looked like earlier today.  The bit of paper I'd dipped into the dye shows some of the color that's developing.  It's very similar to the black walnut but has a bit of difference in the warmth of the color.

Yesterday afternoon I dipped more papers into black walnut dye to tone it.  And I drew on one of the sheets with a bit of charcoal from the fire pit, using a hickory leaf I found in the yard as the model.

Later in the evening, I used some of the earth pigment to enhance the color of the leaf.  The yellow ocher color of pigment I'd found at Hambidge earlier in the summer was perfect for the beginning of this little painting, I think.  I'll work on it more tonight with some of the newly made pigments.

The Center is glorious with the early fall colors and it's hard to keep focused on the studio with views like this just outside the door.  But I keep trying!