Thursday, December 29, 2016

Christmas books!

We are a bookish family, but even for us this was a Christmas heavy in books given and received.  I am thrilled with the reading I'll be doing over the next several days and weeks.

Most of these books I have yet to really look into, but I can tell you a little about the three I've begun so far.

I am most of the way through Weaving a Chronicle, by Judith Poxson Fawkes.  It's an absorbing account of one weaver's evolution in technique and style, her commissioned pieces and the pieces done for her own purposes.  I love the effects she achieves using inlay techniques with linen warp and weft.  It's not traditional weft-faced tapestry, but it is really beautiful.

Judith Poxson Fawkes, Homage to Flax, 67" x 73", linen inlay, 1998
For this piece Fawkes traced actual flax stems, from her own garden, with their seed pods directly onto her weaving cartoon. She remarks on the irony that she chose to depict the hemisphere of the earth in which flax is not currently produced and speculates that perhaps she was subconsciously wishing it would return to the Western hemisphere where it was once plentiful.

I am nearly finished with Conversations with David Foster Wallace, a series of interviews with the now-deceased writer.  He was a very smart, thoughtful guy best known as the author of the novel Infinite Jest.  His thoughts about the writing process, the creative life, and the limits of irony will resonate with artists in many media, I think.  I have bookmarked so many passages; here are just a couple;
Writing fiction takes me out of time. . .. I sit down and the clock will not exist for me for a few hours.  That's probably as close to immortal as we'll ever get. 
This is exactly how I feel while weaving tapestry, as if I'm out of time.

Elsewhere Wallace, like Grayson Perry, talks about how post-modern irony has reached a dead end.
. . . it seems like the big distinction between good art and so-so art lies somewhere in the heart's purpose, the agenda of the consciousness behind the text.  It's got something to do with love.  With having the discipline to talk out of the part of yourself that can love instead of the part that just wants to be loved.  I know this doesn't sound hip at all. . . .Really good work probably comes out of a willingness to disclose yourself, open yourself up in spiritual and emotional ways that risk making you look banal or melodramatic or naive or unhip or sappy, and to ask the reader really to feel something.
For this tapestry weaver, this remark seemed especially relevant:
If an art form is marginalized it's because it's not speaking to people.  

On the top of the stack of new books is one my son read and pressed on me.  Richard Rorty's Achieving Our Country.   Though it was published in 1999, it is startlingly on point for our current social-political climate and is actually a best-seller on Amazon at the moment.  Rorty, who died in 2007, was an academic philosopher whom I was fortunate enough to take a class with while I was studying English at the University of Virginia a million years ago.  This short book is a series of lectures, so while it's thoughtful reading, it's not impossibly dense or hard to follow.

Right after the election, you may have seen this quotation from the book make the rounds on social media:
members of labor unions, and un-organized unskilled workers, will sooner or later realize that their government is not even trying to prevent wages from sinking or to prevent jobs from being exported. Around the same time, they will realize that suburban white-collar workers - themselves desperately afraid of being downsized - are not going to let themselves be taxed to provide social benefits for anyone else. 
At that point, something will crack. The non-suburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking around for a strongman to vote for - someone willing to assure them that once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen and post modernist professors will no longer be calling the shots...
One thing that is very likely to happen is that the gains made in the past forty years by black and brown Americans, and by homosexuals, will be wiped out. Jocular contempt for women will come back into fashion... All the resentment which badly educated Americans feel about having their manners dictated to them by college graduates will find an outlet.
 Amazing that this was written in 1998, huh?

I'm only partway into the book, but Rorty writes about how Walt Whitman and John Dewey's small-d democratic vision for the potential of America has much to offer us today.  Rorty decries the cynical despair of the post-Vietnam left and calls us to believe in the potential of our country to still achieve its high ideals of liberty, justice and equality for all, despite the sins of our past.  It's fascinating and timely reading.

I try to keep politics out of this blog, and I will strive to do that in the new year, but I just had to share this.

I hope that your holiday brought you what your heart desires, and that you enjoy the chance to curl up with some good reading in the new year, if not before!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

random thoughts from the studio at Christmas

Yes, the studio is a cluttered mess, and wrapping paper and ribbons have invaded. . . but there are twinkle lights!

On the wall on the far left you can see a rough collage of the design for my next Mary tapestry, on the theme of Mater Dolorosa (Sorrowing Mother).  I have started sampling yarns and colors for this piece with the Churro yarn I picked up at Tierra Wools in November (and some other yarns).  I'm weaving the face sideways and really enjoying that, putting in the lines for the eye and the mouth with soumak.  Excited about the possibilities.  Still hunting for the perfect rich light browns for the skin tones though.. . . and thinking I need to use a finer yarn for the soumak.  Stay tuned.

I want to share with you a poem by Rachel M. Srubas that was included in an Advent devotional I read last year.  Even if you aren't Christian, or are but aren't particularly interested in Mary, I think the message of Mary's strength empowers all of us . . . .

So be it

She has a secret,
though she shares it with heaven and earth.
Heaven imparted it to her, the curving earth cradles it,
neither judges her, and neither calls her a liar.

Fear flew from her like a flock of startled birds
and left her capable of greatness.
All that remained for her to say was so be it.
She said it, and meant it, though she was young.

Why say no?
Why protect yourself from risky blessedness?
You may not be as young as she,
but so what?  So be it, for God's sake.
Try saying it, try meaning it.

Don't just watch her go.
Follow her.
Emulate her urgency, her clear sense of direction.
You have your own heaven-given secrets and capacities,
your own map of the territory that will lead you
to the magnificent life you could live.

My warmest wishes for the peace, joy, hope and strength of the season to your and yours!  Thank you for keeping me company on this journey.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

New classes in the new year!

I'm excited to announce that starting in January I am offering five new classes at Southeast Fiber Arts Alliance in Atlanta.  Last summer my series of classes on design elements was well-received, and students requested more classes along those lines.  The cool thing about these classes is that they apply to all the fiber art media.  These are not classes in a specific technique.  Last summer we had garment sewists, quilters, collage artists, weavers, and makers of all kinds in class and it made for a very rich discussion.  

Hint:  these classes could be the perfect gift, for you or for that creative person you know.  You can register for just one or two, or for the whole series at once.  See the links below to register.

On January 15, kick off the New Year with Discover Your Daily Practice.

2016 tapestry diary, (c) Molly Elkind
Just as musicians practice every day, many visual artists have discovered the power of a regular daily practice--of  journaling, sketching, collaging, photographing, painting, embroidering, weaving. . . the possibilities are endless. If you want to see dramatic progress in your art- or craft-making, commit to a daily practice this year.  Even if you are already a working artist, taking a few minutes each to day to do something outside your usual medium can bring surprising joy and insight.  This is time to play with no expectations and no pressure to produce, show or sell.  You will be amazing at how many ideas you generate and how what you learn along the way will improve your making in other areas. In this two-hour class, you will find out what has worked for other artists and take the first steps toward discovering what YOUR daily practice could look like.   Click HERE to register. 

On January 22 join us for Art Critique 101.  Critique can be a scary word, but there is a method widely used by art teachers and museum educators that takes the fear away.  Learn how to observe, describe, interpret, and finally evaluate a work of art--your own or someone else's--in a truly constructive way.  We will practice these skills on work by contemporary artists.  If you wish, bring one finished piece of your own work for gentle, constructive feedback.  Click HERE to register.  

gallery view at Intertwined, SEFAA-sponsored juried fiber show.
Jim Arendt's Totemic Figures in foreground. 

Starting in February, we will take a deeper dive into three Design topics.  On February 12, we'll investigate More Color!  We'll start by looking at a PowerPoint that lays out basic concepts and terminology, and see some examples of masterly use of color in fiber media.  We will do some exercises with color harmony using the color wheel, but we'll go beyond that to explore the relativity of color, color's relation to value, and the importance of proportion.  Finally we'll consider the emotional content of color and touch on the challenges of working with color in fiber.   All that in 3 hours!  Click HERE to register.

Monoculture:  Trees, (c) Molly Elkind 
Closely related to Color decisions are questions of Contrast.  On February 26, join us as we Bring Up the Contrast!  Our eyes automatically go first to areas of highest contrast.  As artists we need to know how to use contrast thoughtfully to direct viewers' attention and communicate our intentions. We'll do exercises to explore the effects of "upping the contrast" in terms of value, scale, pattern and texture.  We'll also look at when low contrast may be what's needed.

Cardinals, (c) Molly Elkind

Finally, on March 26, come explore the potential of Collage:  Design Tool & Art Form. Find out why for over 100 years collage has been the quintessential modern and post-modern art form.  We'll look at examples of collage by fine artists and discover how design elements are used to make a visually engaging piece.  It's more than just throwing random stuff at a page with glue on it and seeing what sticks!  We'll practice by responding to several prompts and experiment with different materials. Last we'll look at how collage can be a way to develop designs for work in many fiber media.  Click HERE to register.

Mary (a sword shall pierce) (c) Molly Elkind
Please contact me with any questions.  Hope to see you in class soon! 


Wednesday, December 7, 2016

A day in the life

It's time for a WIP (work in progress) check-in.  This time I thought it might be fun to share with you "a day in the life" of this artist.  Yesterday, Tuesday 12/6, was somewhat atypical, in that I had no appointments, meetings or exercise classes on the calendar.  A blank slate!  And it was rainy--a perfect excuse to stay inside and work in the studio.

I kissed Sam goodbye at about 7 a.m. and headed downstairs.  I spent 45 minutes working on cleaning up the back of my tapestry diary.  I have tied off the warp ends in fringe on both ends, so it's stable at least.  Because I left so many open warps, it's not as simple as just trimming the weft tails on the back to about one inch.  I have to tack down those tails so they aren't visible from the front.  T-E-D-I-O-U-S!  Note to self:  no open warps on next year's diary!

The back.  The tails at the top are tacked down and clipped, and slits are sewn.

The same area, from the front

Then I wound the last of the skeins of dyed and natural Churro that I picked up at Tierra Wools in New Mexico last month.  I'm thinking of using these for the Mater Dolorosa tapestry that I have in the design stage.  Till now, I've chosen the yarn to fit the tapestry design.  This time. with this thick hairy singles, I'm going to have to adapt the design to the yarn.  That will be interesting.

possible palette for Mater Dolorosa

detail shot of collage in progress for Mater Dolorosa design.  Much work remains.

I fetched the PVC loom with the sample for my current, M3, tapestry in progress and decided there was enough warp on it to do some more sampling.  So I added a hem and wound butterflies from the yarns I want to try.

At 9:30 a.m. I headed to the office to work at the computer, fleshing out the classes I'm offering at SEFAA in the new year.  I'm really excited to share what I've learned about the value of a daily practice in  Discover Your Daily Practice, on January 15.  The following week, in response to requests from my design students last summer, we'll experience a non-threatening method of discussing and evaluating artwork, both others' and our own, in  Art Critique 101.  Three design workshops in Color, Contrast, and Collage will happen in February and March.  Click HERE for more information.  Registration will open in the next couple weeks--I'll let you know!

After lunch I wove for awhile on this piece, whose working title is M3 (for Mary/Mother/Me).  I like how it's going, but it is slow.

I wound the warp up to show the entire piece.  Soon it will begin to wind around the cloth beam! 
After the rain let up I walked Harry and then headed to the Y to swim laps.  For me nothing works so well to get out the kinks in my muscles . . . and my mind!

For me yesterday was pretty much a perfect day.  I am grateful.