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Week four of my painting class... I neglected to include some details of the artwork that I'm working from for my second attempt at painting in my on-going painting class. It is a 1921 piece by Bernhard Gutmann called Fish Houses, Monhegan.As I continued working on this piece, right side up this time, I found myself getting very frustrated and I realized I'd made a mistake in selecting this painting to work from. It's entirely too busy, too busy for my novice level and too busy for my taste level. I like large simple fields without a lot of detail or compositional elements. I guess that's why I like the sky, the water and the building on the left. You might be asking what made me choose this one in the first place (for heaven's sake). Well, I was drawn to the rough texture and loose detail, but I guess even loose detail is too much detail for me. Lesson learned. So, there I was making a mess and getting confused when my instructor Maureen came over and turned it upside down again. This is to force me to just see shapes and not get caught up in detail. Here is what I ended up with by the end of class, upside down... And right side up...a little more detail taking shape. I will give this painting one more go at the next class and then I'll move on to something simpler...I hope.
My painting class continues and I learned a lesson in the importance of focusing on shapes when painting landscapes and a trick in how to do that - paint upside down. No, not painting while standing on your head, though that might provide some interesting lessons in how to amuse your classmates, but rather turning the picture your are working from upside down. This forces you to see only the larger shapes, without context, to avoid getting caught up in focusing on the details too early. I'm afraid I neglected to capture a shot of the painting I'm working from (I'll provide that next week) but here is my painting upside down and what I saw as I was painting it.I really felt very foolish and incompetent while doing this. The only parts I felt good about were the larger spaces, the sky, of course, is easy for me, the bit of water and the buildings to the right and left. I felt the top part was a hot mess but I was having fun slobbing the paint on. Then, at the end of the class I turned it right side up and voilá... Mind you, this is mostly under painting so it's missing a lot of detail, though I'm already liking the sky, water and those buildings. I didn't realize while I was painting that the lower center vertical shape was a man, currently with no head. Details, details...c'est la vie. If you look closely, you will see some blotchy spots. When I was gathering up my things at the end of class, I prepared my canvas for transport by putting a layer of plastic wrap over it but then was worried about it sticking. I lifted it off and sure enough it did stick to some wet spots, lifting off some of the top layer of paint revealing a different color underneath. Oops! I showed it to my instructor Maureen and I think I startled her when I explained what happened and that I liked it, it created an interesting texture. She agreed and I think she even learned something new, too. After all, this is the kind of thing we textile artists do all the time...add color, discharge color, embrace the happy accidents. Stay tuned for the finished painting. I'm not promising that it will be good so...
I took another pass at my Pears painting in class last Friday by adding more layers to the under-painting. Working with acrylics is such a different experience than working with textiles. Acrylics dry fast! Rendering them unworkable. The first day of class, our instructor Maureen had supplied us with an acrylic retarder which, when poured on top of and blended into acrylic paint, keeps it from drying out so fast and prolongs its working time. We were on our own for the second class and I thought I had purchased the correct product, a blending medium with the word retardateur in the French translation, but it wasn't the same at all. So, I was at a disadvantage struggling to keep ahead of the drying paint and mixed the colors as best I could. Despite it all I'm happy with the results... SAQA Spotlight auction during the 2016 SAQA Conference in Philadelphia, PA on April 1st. I'm liking this direction and want to take it even farther. How about you? In what ways do you find yourself pushing and stretching yourself and your art?I enjoyed mixing my own colors and layering them to achieve color, shape and texture. It was very interesting. And challenging. One of my reasons for embarking on this painting journey is to stretch my abilities in how I work with textiles in my artwork. I'm already accustomed to using textiles as a painter uses paint but instead of blobs of paint, I use bits of fabric to recreate my imagery. But, in past work I've used an orderly structure of horizontal strips which is wonderful in creating depth as with my impressionistic landscapes like Tranquil Marsh - Wild Iris. It's a difficult and meticulous process that, if so desired, can help one develop a galloping case of OCD. Which is why I turned to abstract work as with my Infinity series. It's still meticulous work but not as exacting. I can improvise more with the color, shapes and lines until it feels right. So, after my first painting class, I tried a small landscape, 6 x 8 inches, with a looser, semi-abstract feel. I tried layering smaller pieces of fabric in a less structured way, a more painterly way. This piece is Horizon II, the second in a new series which lies somewhere in between my impressionistic landscapes and my Infinity abstracts. I made this one to donate to the upcoming
Happy New Year! I hope everyone has exciting adventures in store for 2016. I do! I have embarked on a new adventure - painting! I am a self-taught artist that came to art as a quilter back in the '90's at a time when quilting was experiencing a renaissance and quilts were being made for the wall instead of the bed. Quilters began pushing the envelope on materials and techniques while trained artists from other media discovered quilting as a an exciting new medium to explore as a platform for artistic expression. With such a convergence of skills and talent, the current field of quilt art is now inhabited with amazingly gifted artists of diverse backgrounds and skill sets which has inspired me to push my own skill sets and expand my basic knowledge of art. Soooo..., I am taking a painting class at the Hunterdon Art Museum with the extraordinarily talented Maureen Chatfield who is well-known for her abstracts but has extensive experience in all styles of painting. Since my own work focuses on landscapes, both impressionistic and abstracted, Maureen's class Painting the Modern Landscape seemed a great fit. I hope to take what I learn in this class and apply it to my current work with textiles. The class is filled with students from all artistic backgrounds. Some have studied with Maureen many times, others who have always been painting throughout their lives, are taking a class with Maureen for the first time, and those who, like me, are newcomers to painting. I've never taken a painting class in my life. I know nothing other than what I have observed on canvases I have admired in galleries, museums, in books and on line. In preparing for this class, I watched a bit of painting tutorials just to familiarize myself with the tools, materials and terminology. Because of my virgin status, Maureen had me start with a simple piece of fruit using acrylic. I found a few photos on line of pears and picked one to use, Two Pears by photographer Lupen Grainne. I liked the simple shapes, colors and textures.
Class began and the other students, some who had brought in works in progress, began to dive in. I stood there not knowing where to start and, after some guidance and gentle prodding from Maureen, I proceeded to work, tentatively at first but then I dove in head first into my painting. And, this is the result. This is just the under-painting, or so I'm told. They look a little funny without their stems, can't wait to add them. I was just getting the hang of mixing colors and layering while working on the aqua/green foreground when the class started to wrap up and I quickly mixed and through on the pink background. That's when I discovered the faster you work, the better. I invite you come along on this adventure into painting and see where it takes me and how it influences my work with textiles. One thing I've learned about myself already, when you're self-taught, sometimes you don't really know what you know and what you don't know. Some days I feel there are boat loads I need to learn, but I realize now, maybe I know more than I thought I did and that feels good.
The party's over. My first Quilt National has come and gone and I'm exhausted - still. But, now I can share with you Infinity, the first in my series of abstracted horizons made entirely of re-purposed silk saris from India and Nepal.
Quilt National, held at the Dairy Barn Arts Center in Athens, Ohio, is one of the most prestigious quilt art venues in the world. From the Quilt National '15 webpage, these are the statistics for this year's exhibition: "There were 689 quilts submitted by 378 artists from 44 states and 19 countries including 3 Canadian provinces. Jurors Rosalie Dace, Ann Johnston and Judy Schwender selected 84 quilts by 84 artists. The exhibitors represented 33 states and 8 foreign countries. In this exhibition 30 percent of the exhibitors are first time Quilt National artists." The jurors did an outstanding job and it is truly an honor to included among so many notable and talented artists in an exhibition of such high caliber.
Looking back, the weekend is now a blur of happy faces, stunning quilt art, long days and late nights. I have met lovely people and made many friends with artists whose work I have admired for years. It was a wonderful experience I will always treasure. Many thanks to all the hard working, dedicated staff members of the Dairy Barn, especially Dairy Barn Executive Director Jane Forrest Redfern and Quilt National Director Kathleen Dawson who really rolled out the 'red carpet' for us.
This weekend is the long awaited (by me!) opening of Quilt National, when I can finally reveal Infinity...but not yet. I have also been reluctant to reveal some of the other pieces in the series that were a bit too similar which I will reveal now...
My Infinity series takes my work in a new direction into abstraction and minimalism. I haven't completely abandoned landscapes though, instead I focus on a single aspect of the vista, the horizon line stretching into infinity. To me it represents the point of transition, transformation and transcendence, the line where the past meets the future of infinite possibilities.
Above, Infinity II was made for my doctor as a way of saying thank you for taking such good care of me during my surgery last fall. Yes, I know, it does look a bit like a scar, but a pretty scar, which was my intention. This piece is about 36 x 25 inches and made with the same reclaimed sari silks and technique as Infinity. Infinity III I already posted in the previous post, Infinity and Beyond, as it is quite different in color and design.
Infinity IV, 60 x 43 inches, is currently in the Nurture Nature Center's 'Weather' exhibition in Easton, PA and runs until May 30th. Wind was my weather inspiration and it is actually a diptych but the size restriction of the exhibit was 60 inches so there will be more revealing to come for this one.
Infinity V, 40 x 26 inches, is the latest piece in the series but I have lots of plans to do more so stay tuned...
And, now I must go finish getting ready for my trip to Athens, OH and my first visit to Quilt National! I promise to post pictures of Infinity and the opening reception on facebook.
This winter has been short on daylight and long on snow and ice. It can't end soon enough for me but it has been a productive time. First, here is the third piece in my Infinity series. I haven't yet posted Infinity I or II because the first must remain unpublished until the opening of Quilt National and the other looks so similar to it, I don't want to take a chance. Number three is very different, so here it is.
I also just finished a commissioned piece based on a previous work, Moonshine. This one is wider and shorter but otherwise very much the same. It's actually much more the orientation I'd have preferred for the first but there was a size limitation for the exhibit, though I managed to achieve a sense of width with Moonshine. Anyway, meet Moonshine's cousin, Clair de Lune.
A discussion has come up among my fellow artists whose medium involves textiles, stitching and quilting as to what to call themselves. Art quilter. Quilt artist. Textile artist. Fiber artist. Or just artist, avoiding the word QUILT altogether. I understand why some of us don’t wish to use the word QUILT to describe their work or process, believe me, I’ve struggled with this myself. I understand but it saddens me. It saddens me that they do and it saddens me that they feel they must in order to deflect being stereotyped as dabbling in a quaint, domestic pastime or in less than esteemed ‘women’s work’ rather than being acknowledged as highly skilled and talented artists. It’s gotten to the point that some, when discussing the issue can’t even bear to use the word, instead, referring to it as “the Q word”. I have thought a lot about the issue and have arrived at my own personal views.
I see this as a greater problem, one that we all share as women. (Sorry fellas out there who use the quilt as a basis for your art but most of us doing this are women.) Historically, society’s perception of women and they work they do is not one of respect or esteem. Case in point, the secretary. Up until the early 20th century, only men held secretarial positions, a subordinate position but one that was respected and valued by the executive. It wasn’t until WWI when women needed to enter the work force that they started filling those positions. Initially, it was not a welcome change by the male executives of business and industry but, soon all secretaries were women and men would no longer consider seeking such a position as it was deemed ‘women’s work’. The work is still the same but the fact that women were doing it made it less valuable and respected. It got to the point that the word itself became a dirty word and secretaries all over began calling themselves ‘administrative assistants’ as if the moniker itself could garner more respect. I think they are fooling themselves. Our own government’s Cabinet is made up of Secretaries. How ludicrous would it have been if Hillary Clinton had insisted on being called the ‘Administrative Assistant of State’? About as ludicrous if we were to start referring to ourselves as Administrative Stitchers. For years, the word ‘nurse’ had a similar gender association but, thankfully, now there are many women doctors and many male nurses which has had a significant impact on the stereotypical image of the word, and the work, for that matter.
The word is not the problem, it’s the attitude and mindset toward women and women’s work that is the problem, not just by men but by other women as well and by society at large. Today, there are a lot of women out there that don’t sew and, frankly, wouldn’t be caught dead sewing as they see it as something archaic and a nauseatingly quaint domestic activity of a bygone era. Along with ‘wearing hats and gloves’, it falls into the category of ‘thank god we don’t have to that anymore’! As we all know, historically, women roles were relegated mostly to marriage, child-rearing and domestic work but those enforced restrictions have been pushed against and huge strides have been made in the kinds of work and careers available to today’s women. But, as women’s choices have broadened, many of them deem the past domestic duties of women, namely the domestic skills of sewing and needlework, as being uninteresting, unimportant and irrelevant. Just as men would no longer seek secretarial positions once the role was associated with women, many of the women of today no longer seek to learn or value sewing and needlework skills because it is associated with a period of time when women’s roles were limited and the work they did wasn’t respected by men or society.
Hence, when I am talking to these women (and men) about what I do and I mention the word QUILT, it is associated with grandmas, babies and a quaint, frivolous hobby because of a perception it is only done by women of an older generation. Excuse me? An erroneous generalization on so many levels. Again, I say it’s not the word, it’s the mindset. There is nothing wrong with the word or the work. What’s wrong is an activity associated with women, older women, and with the ‘women’s work’ of a bygone era, garners no respect in our society. If the same work were associated with men and men’s work, we wouldn’t be having these discussions.
It’s interesting that some of the artists I’ve heard voice an objection or an aversion to using the Q word specialize in creating Commentary Art, art that explores politically or socially charged issues. If this isn’t an important political/social issue, and one that hits so close to home for all of us, I don’t know what is. I, for one, refuse to not use the word QUILT when referring to my work or my art. I think it is important that we push back against the stereotype of not only the word and work, but against the marginalization of the work that women do, historically or currently. Throughout history, the perception of women and the work that they do or did, in the home, the workplace and even as artists, has been marginalized and under-valued. It’s time to change that.
Finally, I refer to myself as an artist and I don’t wait to be asked about the medium. I say “my medium is textiles using a quilt construct. Technically, they are built the same as a quilt but with many broken rules to the traditional construction techniques and materials. I am trained as a quilt maker but now use my skills to create fine art.” Notice the words I use. Construct. Technically…built. Construction. Training. Skills. Sturdy words, rather masculine words to counterbalance any unduly, and unwarranted, delicate feminine or elderly image. It’s work. Just work. Work has no age or gender.
Then, I whip out my business card which is minimal. On one side is a picture (worth a thousand words) of my work, currently of Tranquil Marsh – Wild Iris, and the other side has my website. That’s it. Here’s what I do and here’s where you can find out more and contact me. Bada bing, bada boom.
Look what showed up in my mailbox today!
Back in August, I was approached by Machine Quilting Unlimited to write about my work for their Art Studio spot and, of course, I jumped at the opportunity. This, the January/February issue, is just hitting the stands and I am very pleased with it. First, my name is on the cover! I wasn't expecting that. I have a five page spread (nice!) and my images look beautiful, which is a relief since they are photos I took myself. I'm even happy with what I wrote!
It's a great issue with interesting articles. I especially enjoyed seeing Melody Randol's work and reading about her technique. 2014 was a great year for me and with this article in MQU, it looks like 2015 is off to a great start!
Here's a video of me talking about my piece Moonshine in SAQA's Celebrating Silver exhibit at the 2014 Houston Quilt Festival. At the time, I had no idea I was being recorded or that it was posted on You Tube. Surprise! And, a delightful surprise it was. I wish my talk had not been accompanied by Monsieur Le Frog de la Throat, though I managed to croak it out pretty well in spite of it... ribbit!
Celebrating Silver is a beautiful collection of quilt art, all of which you can see or purchase on the SAQA website. The catalog, a gorgeous hard-cover book, is available as well. I must thank juror Yvonne Porcella who selected an amazingly talented group of artists. I am so honored to be among them. And another big thank you to Nancy Bavor, the managing curator, for that unexpected and very sweet introduction (that's her wearing the silvery hair - it was Halloween!) and all her hard work in bringing this wonderful exhibition to life.
©Elena Stokes All rights reserved. Images may not be reproduced, manipulated, or used in any way without written permission.