Thursday, September 20, 2018

Percolating, part 2: An old fence as muse

As I wrote last time, the New Mexico sky has been one muse for me here.  I'm about to find out how good a muse--or rather how good an observer/interpreter I am--as I warp up a small PVC loom and start a little wedge weave in DMC cotton floss.  Stay tuned on that.

Meanwhile I've been fascinated by the lines of an old fence I walk past every morning here on the path by the old railroad.  Our neighborhood used to be a cattle ranch, and I imagine the fence is left over from that.  I love how the posts are leaning and the barbed wire is making all kinds of cool lines and swirls and loops and is falling into disrepair on the ground.  These days, I like the idea of an open, permeable barrier much better than a solid barrier.

So I was telling a friend about this obsession and he gave me a sketchbook in a very cool format, 6" tall and 18" wide (!) and challenged me to fill it with sketches of the fence in the next month. Luckily there are only 12 pages--very nice watercolor paper pages that my rudimentary sketches don't do justice to--so this is a doable challenge.

I've been really enjoying taking this notebook and a few pencils and maybe some watercolor crayons out every morning and spending no more than 15-20 minutes messing around sketching sections of the fence.  Though I have put in a few trees and cholla cacti and wildflowers, I'm not really interested in capturing much of the landscape.  I really just want those posts and that crazy wire.

I am not a natural draughtswoman.  Collage is often my preferred design medium.  I have had no formal instruction in drawing at all. So I am learning, slowly, some pretty basic skills here.  But I'm also discovering some unexpected things with this experiment:

  • When I have to draw something I slow down and observe it much more carefully.  It could be that one of the chief benefits of drawing is learning how to really look.  (Duh.)  It's yet another meditative experience. 
  • The mark-making tools you use make a tremendous difference in the feeling of the final piece.  For me, pencils are too tentative and I'm prone to hesitate and try to erase.  I do better, freer work with pens or watercolor crayons I can't erase.  (Face-palm.)  
  • As I approach each day's sketch I consider yet another, better way to render the subject.  I understand now why so many artists sketch the same thing multiple times.  (Again, duh.)
  • The long narrow sketchbook format is surprisingly freeing, perhaps because it's such a good match for the subject.  It makes one decision, dimensions, for me.  I'm going to keep my eyes out for other unusual sizes and shapes.  
It remains to be seen whether these fences will make it into a tapestry.  Meanwhile I'm having a lot of fun.  

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Percolating, part 1

Our move in April from Georgia to New Mexico came at a natural break point in my tapestry work; I had just finished up two series of work for a show in Atlanta.  Since we moved, I've kept up with my tapestry diary, taken a wonderful workshop with Rowen Schussheim-Anderson, and shot loads of photos, but I haven't been weaving new tapestries until quite recently. 

I've been feeling so gobsmacked by the incredible landscape we're in that I feel I have to figure out how to respond to it somehow before I can do anything else.  As I said to a friend here, a potter and New Mexico native, "I feel like I need to get the landscape out of my system before I can do anything else."  She replied, "You never will."  

I have a feeling she's right.  I've identified several themes or subjects on my walks and hikes so far that seem to have staying power, and I want to explore them all in tapestry.  Right now, all at once. 

The first is the amazing, huge, ever-changing sky.  There's a saying that in the West the sky starts at your ankles.  

I'm already depicting the sky in a limited way in my tapestry diary, weaving a stripe that represents the color of the sky each morning.  When we moved, I made the tapestry wider (taller) to indicate the magnitude of the move and the "bigger" sky out here.  

Molly Elkind, Tapestry Diary 2018, January-March

Molly Elkind, Tapestry Diary 2018, April-August
But I want to do more with the sky.  I've got some sketches for a wedge weave piece that I envision fairly small, at 10 epi or so, in DMC cotton floss.  

I think I can probably just dive into one of these wedge weave designs fairly easily.  (Famous last words!)  I'm hoping to use the diagonal movement of the wedge weave to suggest the movement of the air and clouds somehow. 

I'm also thinking of using images of the clouds and sky in combination with other images.  Here's a photograph with a chalk drawing of a yucca seed pod superimposed.  This needs a lot more development, obviously, but it might have potential.  

Percolating, percolating. . . collaging, sketching, photographing. . . Next week I'll share another of the themes I'm pondering.  As always, comments and feedback are welcome!  Tell me what's percolating for you!