Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Tapestry Diary: from Lent to Easter

Last week I shared with you my excitement about my daily practice of collage and where it might be leading my work.  Today I want to update you on my tapestry diary, which I began late in November 2015 at the beginning of Advent, which is also the start of the church year.  In my diary I am following the seasons and colors of the church's liturgical calendar.  I intended for this to be a spiritual practice of sorts, in which for at least a few minutes a day I would focus on the meaning of the spiritual season and the sanctity of time generally.  I confess that many days my focus has been on the practice of tapestry technique as much as anything transcendent.  

The color for the period of Lent, like Advent, is purple.  During Lent I continued to practice various tapestry techniques, mostly hatching (horizontal lines) and pick-and-pick (vertical stripes).  I did an exercise that Kathe Todd-Hooker calls "spider" by combining the two techniques to make a large cross shape in the center.  I acknowledged my birthday by using purple ribbon and silver thread for that day (above the cross and under the A).  As I have been doing, on days I was away from my loom I inserted a white strip of matboard to fill the empty warps temporarily. 

For Holy Week, the week before Easter, I decided that I would weave the word Hosanna (conveniently, it has seven letters), the word that the adoring crowds shouted as Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.  I challenged myself to weave the letters without a cartoon, and I did so, though the letters are rather crude block capitals until the last two days, when they became crude lower-case letters.  At the start of the week the letters were the green of the palms the crowd waved in the air; by the end of the week the letters are barely distinguishable from the gray-purple background.  It seemed appropriate in light of the story of Holy Week for the Hosanna to die out at the end. 

This past Sunday we celebrated Easter and the start of a six-week white season in the calendar known as Eastertide.  All through Lent I wondered how to weave this section.  How could I use tapestry to indicate the significance of the holiest day in the Christian calendar?  How to show the radically new beginning and disruption of old rules and assumptions that the Resurrection represents?  And not least, how to make a large white section interesting visually?

I decided to weave a half-pass of dark gray between Holy Week and Easter week, indicating with a sort of dotted line the permeable membrane that separates life before Easter from life after Easter.   For Easter and the few days since, I've used white linen thread and silver metallic threads.  On the first day, the far left, I used too thick a weft bundle and the yarn didn't completely cover the gray warp.  Since then I'm using only one strand of white linen at a time and that is working better, but in keeping with my original rule about not ripping out, I left the first day as is.  I'm inserting small shapes and diagonal lines in silver that I intend to carry throughout the season.  (Sorry they're not more visible in the photos.) I have some other ideas for how to disrupt the old diary grid and conventional techniques as well.  Stay tuned! Soon I will have to advance the warp and what I've done up to now will be rolled to the back of the loom.  

P.S.  For another look at a truly spectacular and inspiring daily practice, check out Penny Berens' yearlong adventure in embroidery

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Collage: a daily practice, and more?

I have undertaken two daily art practices this year:  a tapestry diary and a daily collage.  They are both much more rewarding than I expected!  I will update you about the diary next week; today I want to share some of the collages and my thoughts on where they might lead.

I have always been more of a collage-ist than a sketcher.  I like the unexpected juxtapositions of content, scale and texture that can occur, and I prefer "drawing with scissors" to drawing with any other implement.  For my daily collages, I set the bar low:  work small and fast, with my existing stash of handmade and decorated papers and other materials. Usually I spend no more than 15 minutes on each collage, and they are the second thing I do in the studio each morning, after the tapestry diary.

At first I used half-sheets of typing paper as my substrate, 5 1/2" x 8 1/2", and glued them into my sketchbook.

I soon felt hemmed in by that small format, so I expanded to the full size of my 9" x 12" sketchbook.

Annunciation 2  1-23-16

After a few weeks, I began to notice a few things:  that I enjoy irregular edges, having elements that hang off the sides or intrude into some kind of implied margin.

Wild Thing?  2-1-2016

I often reflect my morning walk with the dog, responding to the weather or the season.  This is my visual rendition of the spring peepers I heard one foggy morning.

Spring Peepers/Predawn Fog  2-2-2016
For years I have wondered what would be the visual equivalent of the dawn chorus of birds singing their hearts out (aubade in French).  Here is my collage, using a painted polka-dot background:

Aubade 2-29-16
Sometimes the day's news works its way in.  One morning the front page of the New York Times presented a grid of color photos that astronaut Scott Kelly had taken during his year in space.  I was struck how much these little compositions resembled the patterned scraps of paper I had in my stash, so I cut the photos apart and re-arranged them, interspersed with squares of my paper.  I enjoyed trying to find papers that echoed the patterns and colors in the space photos.  It's hard to tell apart them apart, isn't it?

I'm noticing that many of my compositions reflect my current interest in illuminated manuscripts.  And that's one of the coolest surprises for me--to be able to look back at these daily pieces and notice some aspects of personal style that emerge.  The way to make better work is simply to make lots of it; a daily practice allows you to do that. 

Script/Portal 1-28-16

Illuminated MS  1-26-2016
And some mornings I don't have anything specific in mind . . . I just dive into my papers and grab things that seem to speak to me and start gluing them down.  Maybe adding some paint or some writing here and there. 

Questions, 2-19-16
I'm having a lot of fun with these.  They feel very spontaneous and free compared with most of my work which is exceedingly thought-out.

I began to notice that what with all the pasting of paper down on each page of my sketchbook, it was beginning to bulge.  So I started slicing out most of the page and gluing or sewing in a new, usually smaller page to the remaining stub.  For these photos I have slid plain white paper behind the collage for clarity.


Terrorist attack in Brussels 3-22-16

I couldn't resist the temptation to see if some of these little pieces might, with judicious cropping, be suitable as small, 4"x 6" tapestries.  So I placed a 4 x 6 paper viewfinder over some of the collages to see what would happen:

Annunciation 2, cropped

Spring Peepers, cropped

Aubade, cropped
Questions, cropped
What do you think?  Would any of these make a good miniature tapestry? Do you have a daily art practice?  Let me know in the comments below.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

What's looming. . .what's loomed!

I don't know if other artists experience this, but every now and then, after I've had several projects in process for some time, suddenly the planets align and I finish two or more projects on the same day, or the same week.  I don't plan it that way, it just happens.  It's fun but kind of spooky!  Why do things line up that way?

I'm finishing a scarf commissioned for a friend's birthday:

And I'm set to finish two projects related to my membership in the American Tapestry Alliance, a terrific outfit that educates, connects and informs tapestry weavers not only here in the US but abroad as well.  ATA's member newsletter, Tapestry Topics, is published quarterly and features articles written by members on a specific theme.  The theme of the next issue is "Imagery and Weaving:  Why Tapestry?"  What a great question!  It's been a wonderful experience, reading and researching and most of all figuring out exactly Why do I choose to make imagery in this particular medium?  It's been a long time since I wrote the sort of critical paper I used to write in college and grad school; I've felt rusty and gone through about four drafts.  I'll often suggest to students who are beginning to develop an idea for a piece that they write about it, and I usually get some surprised push back:  "I'm not a writer!  I want to work with my hands, not with words!  What does writing have to do with it?"  Trust me, it helps immensely to clarify your purpose and theme.  In writing this article, I now have a clearer idea of why I weave the way I do, and how it fits into the overall scope of contemporary tapestry weaving. 

ATA is also sponsoring Tapestry Unlimited, their 11th international, unjuried small format tapestry exhibit.  The show is open to all members and work is limited to no more than 10" in any direction.  Everyone's work will be hung in an exhibit (at Convergence!) and published in a catalog--two powerful incentives to whip something out (as much as tapestry can be whipped out).  I decided to weave a small section of an image I had in mind for the next piece in my Mary series.  This one includes my mother's face in the foreground, based on her high school graduation portrait, and Mary's iconic face in the background, with an area where they overlap in the middle.  I have to say I'm pretty happy with how this turned out.  Maybe I'm finally learning how to use tapestry techniques to say what I mean.

Here are some progress photos:

At this point I decided I didn't like the Munchian look to Mary's face, how it got so narrow toward her chin, like that figure in The Scream, so I ripped it out and redid that diagonal angle on the left side. 

I also started doing the eyes, the hardest and most important part.  I think I unwove and rewove the eye on the far right about four times.  You can also see I redid Mary's eye on the far left.  Timely advice from my good friend Terri kept me from re-re-doing that eye. 

I really like the way the eye in the center worked out, seeming to share characteristics with both Mary and my mother, which was my intention.  I also like the way hatching (those horizontal stripes in the center) worked to create transparency in the overlapped area. 

And here's the finished piece:

Well, the weaving is done.  It has been cut off and rested overnight.  Today I will tackle tidying up the back and dealing with the warp ends.

If you look carefully you can see that there's another tapestry visible through the warps, behind the Mary one.  That's the sample I wove in Rebecca Mezoff's workshop in Atlanta in January.  Here it is, upside down as it's been rolled completely to the back as I advanced the warp. 

Here's a small cautionary tale for you tapestry weavers out there:  I had so much warp left on the loom after the workshop it seemed a waste to cut it off, especially when the warp was nearly wide enough for the Mother/Mary piece I had in mind.  I could easily add 8 warps to each side to make it wide enough for the new piece, right?

Well, it did work out, more or less, though I wouldn't recommend it and it wasn't pretty.  It was tricky getting those additional Texsolv heddles onto the newly added warps without disturbing the existing warps and heddles.  And then, of course, I had tension problems--hence the weighted film canisters dangling from the back, to put extra tension on loose edge warps.  And the pen stuck under a warp at the top.  There was a pencil up there under some warps too; as I said the whole setup was pretty ugly by the time I finished.  But when I cut the tapestry off, it seemed to have done the trick.  Stay tuned!