23 April 2007

Crop Circles and UFOs

So here's the art (remember art?) I've been working on lately. I finished the piece I blogged about last month, doing a ton of machine-quilting to begin with, while contemplating how on earth to tackle those four big blanks in the center. After a couple of false starts and do-overs, the pattern emerged: Crop circles. So that's what I'm calling it. You can see the hand and machine stitching I did by clicking on the photo to the left to enlarge it. Ditto with the detail shots.

I unearthed a fragment of striped Kaffe Fassett fabric that I thought would be perfect for the binding (I love binding with stripes) -- maybe a tad too bright, though I figured I could get away with it. Unfortunately, that fragment -- no more than 2" x6" -- was all I had. It's been discontinued, natch. But the Glorious Color web site still lists the stock number (NS-17, if you're curious), and with that I had a hope of Googling a source. Maybe some little fabric shop, somewhere in cyberspace, still had a supply. Yup; found it. But when they went to look for it in their brick-and-mortar store, it turned out they were out of stock, too. No, wait; they had a few fat quarters left, though it might not be quite the same color. A different dye lot, perhaps; a shade more muted, for sure -- and of course, perfect for my binding. Here's a shout-out to Mama's Log House Quilt Shop in Huntington, Arkansas. Lordy, I love the web.

Speaking of crop circles, I'm determined to deal with my UFOs (unfinished objects) this year. This last photo is the "after" of a quick-and-dirty quiltlet (maybe 15" x 18") I did several years ago to be sure I had the basics of fusing down before a workshop with Melody Johnson. I didn't put much effort into the composition, to put it mildly. So I fused on a few more shapes here and there, overlaid a couple of areas with scraps of dyed and discharged organza, and quilted the beejeezus out of the sucker (as we ladies say around the sewing circle). It's more presentable than it was when I started, which isn't saying a whole lot.

Doing the "Artist's Statement" is Less Fun than Doing the Art

I'm planning to enter a couple of pieces in the Columbia Stitchery Guild's annual show next month. They require an artist's statement, which I know some people dread and hate to do. But I approached the task confidently; I am, after all, a professional writer and editor. I figured it would take 15 minutes at most to string together some art-speak BS and ship it off. It turned out to be a lot harder than I'd imagined. To begin with, it's a pretty ambitious theme: Who you are, what inspires you, what your work represents. You don't want to come off as foolish or pretentious. You try to avoid clichés and pat phrases. You aim to sound creative and original because you are, after all, an Artist.

What I submitted is true (write about what you know), concrete (don't tell; show) and coherent (first person narrator, minimal artsy jargon). I feel more secure about my writing than I do about my art. Here it is. But dang... how did all those passive constructions get by the editor? And I see I used the word "gravitate" twice, which is once too often. As we say in our household, "the editur never sleeps." But sometimes she nods off a bit.

My work is inspired by the natural world in all its manifestations, and by human-built structures that resolve into interesting abstractions -- in other words, by anything that catches and holds my eye. The pictures in my “ideas” file range from Hubble telescope images of towering galactic clouds to electron-microscope photographs of cells and tissues. I carry a camera almost everywhere to capture the center of a flower, the veins in a leaf, a silhouette of tree branches against the sky, a pattern of cracks in a crumbling wall, moss on bricks, peeling paint, the geometry of windows and roof-lines.

As a journalist, I was trained to “get it right.” Writing fiction was difficult, because it meant giving myself permission to make things up. As a visual artist, realizing that my landscapes didn’t have to be literal -- that I could take liberties with how objects really looked, rearrange them, add elements that weren’t really there, play fast and loose with the “facts,” abstract-ify and invent -- was a profound and liberating revelation.

I gravitate to hand-dyed fabrics in part because they don’t impose (although they sometimes suggest) an agenda. I’m also drawn to the ethic of re-use, recycle and re-purpose, which lies at the heart of the quilting tradition. Several of my pieces incorporate worn denim, suede from a much-loved jacket, or damask from a family tablecloth. I enjoy altering commercially-printed fabrics, making them more my own, through discharging, overdyeing, painting or printing. Recently I’ve been experimenting with wool, which takes plant-based dyes beautifully, adds textural interest and is soft and fun to work with.

A given piece typically draws on a combination of construction techniques, including appliqué, reverse appliqué, and piecing. My decisions are based on structural integrity, aesthetics, and the simple matter of getting the job done. I often lie awake at 3 AM mulling design options and puzzling over the practicalities of assembly. I conceived my first wool hanging, for instance, in terms of reverse appliqué rather than piecing, primarily because I was concerned about the bulk that might result from sewing wool to wool. But the material proved surprisingly malleable under the needle, I liked the look of the resulting seams, and I ended up piecing more than I thought I would. In general, I gravitate toward piecing as a construction method. I appreciate the nod to traditional quilting, the reminder that I am working with fabric rather than some other medium, and the element of discipline, and perhaps left-brainedness, it imposes.

22 April 2007

Happy Earth Day

Jer and I celebrated Earth Day by taking a longer-than-usual walk on the surface of the planet. We picked up the Springwater Corridor trail at the foot of 37th Ave, just a few blocks from home, meandered along Johnson Creek for a while, and crossed the Three Bridges into Sellwood. Then we zigzagged from named to numbered streets til we hit Milwaukie and Bybee. We stopped for breakfast at the Springwater Grill, and were home two hours after we started out. According to the GoogleMaps pedometer, we did a shade over 4 miles. Easy. We're so blessed to be in a position, both physically and geographically, to get out there and casually cover ground the way we do.

In the last few days I've filled in a couple more blanks in my mental map of Portland. On my way home from lunch with some friends in SW on Thursday, I stopped at the Audubon Store on NW Cornell Road to buy birdseed and another couple of feeders for our rapacious backyard avians. Cornell winds through the hills -- it reminds me a bit of Grizzly Peak Blvd. in Berkeley -- before turning into NW Lovejoy in the city proper. So that's how that works; got it. Bonus: Caught a glimpse on the street of John Callahan, the outrageous cartoonist and actually pretty darn good singer-songwriter, who lives in the nabe.

Last night, Jer and I went to a faboo party just off Albina, in a pocket of North Portland we'd never traversed before. (Note: Any evening that involves raspberry martinis, mango-habanero margaritas, pear sidecars, cedar-grilled salmon, live accordion music and DIY rocketry is surely in the running for Social Event of the Year.) I now have a much better sense of the order, left to right, of North Interstate Ave., I-5, the Vancouver-Williams couplet, and Highway 99-E. I've pondered this area on a map, in the abstract, and thought "My, that looks confusing." Like so much in life, la-de-dah, it's a lot more daunting in the contemplation than in the doing. Now that I've filled in my mental map, I can certainly find a more direct route home the next time.

09 April 2007

Squirrel Wars and other Feeding Frenzies

Our friend Rita passed along an amusing and educational DVD called Squirrel Wars, suggesting that it might help solve our Easter bulby mystery. Well, yeah. It also offers a myriad of helpful hints on how to stop bird-feeder and other household predation. Stella Luna found it particularly gripping.

We've also been watching Planet Earth, another one of those grand, sweeping David Attenborough-esque series on the glories of the world we, as a species, are in the process of destroying. Jer and I are suckers for stuff like that -- nature porn; yum. So is Stella Luna, apparently. She's right there the minute we queue up an episode. It takes very little to get, and hold, her attention. She was particularly taken, the other evening, with scenes of predation -- sharks feeding on seals, tigers stalking a herd of ungulants, skuas swooping menacingly through a penguin rookery. And, porn or not, that baboon colony clearly got ol' Abs in the mood.

Speaking of the survival of the fittest, Chef Jerub has outdone himself lately. Pesto-crusted salmon with French lentil stew, asparagus; his adaptation of Nigella's roast chicken with garlic and lemon. Yeah, he's good. Every time I post about his culinary prowess I remember the caption that appeared under John when the Beatles first appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show: "Sorry girls, he's married."

01 April 2007

Believe it or don't

I discovered a few days ago that my little herb garden, where I've been happily toiling away for the last two growing seasons, is shaped exactly like an acoustic guitar -- two-thirds of a dreadnought, to be precise. It's bordered with mossy brick, so the outline is quite clear when viewed from above.

I couldn't fit this astounding revelation gracefully into the paean to spring I posted earlier today. But it seems like a perfect April 1st entry, even though, like the Easter bulbs, it's totally non-bogus. I've Photoshopped in a couple of lines to highlight what I'm talking about, but that's it.

Now I'm wondering about the previous owners of the house. Famous singer-songwriters? In the instrument biz, perhaps? Or just old folkies and music lovers like Jer and me?

It's kind of spooky, but good spooky, don't you think?

The Easter Bulby's been here

This is not an April Fool's set-up, I swear. Jer and I spotted this charming little scene on our walk yesterday morning. Can someone illuminate me as to eggzactly what's going on here? Maybe these are the kind of bulbs you plant if you want to grow Christmas trees. Well, at least we have it on tape, yuk yuk.

Okay, I'll stop. Clearly it's spring in Portland, and I've got a case of the giddies. I spent a while surveying what a friend referred to as "the emerging biomass" around our house. The little Japanese maple I planted a year ago is leafing out in delicate peach and pale green. The rose arbor needs pruning already. My tarragon didn't get the memo that it's supposed to be a perennial, dammit, but the other herbs made it through the winter in fine shape. The plum tree is dusted with white blossoms, and the chestnut leaves are unfolding like origami. Pretty soon the house next door will disappear again.
And, oh joy, the three hostas I stuck in the shady southwest corner last fall have finally poked their pointy heads through the sodden earth. I had my doubts, oh me of little faith. But spring really is about rebirth. That was far less apparent in California, where winter means more rain but temps seldom dip into the 30s. Of course it's even more obvious in regions not blessed with Portland's relatively mild winters. But we had just enough snow and sub-freezing weather these last few months, enough unrelenting it-might-rain days in a row, for the arrival of spring to feel like a real and profound change. This is such an exquisite, vibrant time of year. I could fall on my knees in gratitude.

And while I'm down there, I might as well do some weeding.