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Friday, May 26, 2017

More Insect Inspiration


Over the course of several years I have managed to collect several butterfly, moth, dragonfly specimens that met their demise due to natural causes of one sort or another. And I decided to take a look at these hoping for some inspiration for the sixth in my weekly series. These are all showing their age and lack of professional preservation techniques so, as I moved one butterfly aside, its tightly curled proboscis detached. There was my image for the week: a lovely, simple spiral shape. But I had to complicate it a bit with some research that reminded me that, under an electron microscope you can clearly see that this is a hollow tube (sometimes a double tube) and that the spiral is not a neatly rounded shape but curves tightly in on itself so much so it almost knots at times. 


The proboscis comes in many lengths as well, sometimes very short, sometimes extremely long, reaching far into a flower. What an amazing little tool to have attached to one's face!

That same week I was whining about the coolness of the spring that meant few insects were out and about and so I sought to literally uncover some under last year's leaves. And there, of course, were the ubiquitous roly-poly bugs. I chose one unlucky specimen to be examined more closely and discovered, with research, that it was neither roly-poly nor a bug. 


It looked exactly like a roly-poly to my uneducated eye but it didn't seem to want to roll up as those bugs from my childhood had always done. It was instead an entirely different species that goes by the exceedingly unsexy name of woodlouse or European Sowbug (Oniscus asellus). And it is not an insect at all but one of the few crustaceans that live on land. I had already suspected something amiss in this area when my guy did not stop at the requisite three pairs of legs for insectdom and instead wiggled seven pairs at me when I turned him over.

So technically this woodlouse does not qualify for my series but, since I am making the rules and most folk think it is a bug, I created a block in its honor:


One of the aspects that intrigued me about this creature was how its shiny shell became almost translucent at the edges and so I fused shiny strips of organza over the gray that do not show up so well in a photo. I also paid homage to those seven pairs of legs, but one of the most fascinating aspects of this woodlouse is the antennae that are never still and that are jointed in two places like the legs. 

These guys, who originally came from Britain, are actually of benefit, unlike many other of the imported species.They help plant materials decompose, adding to the fertility of the soil. They do not bite, they do not spread disease and they even lay their eggs in a pouch like a kangaroo's and carry them around until they are "born"--an all around pleasant non-bug.

I am linking this to Nina's Off the Wall Friday.




Friday, May 12, 2017

Of Dog's Ears and Seascapes

In looking back at my now-and-then postings over the last year or so, I noticed that I was under the misapprehension that I had written about the pieces I had completed. I live with them for so long as unfinished processes that I feel I must have told their story. So today I am taking a step back in time to remedy the situation.

In 2016 I finished this piece in the series I have been working on using raw-edged applique, hand sewn to a background.

It began with a piece of snow-dyed fabric that hung on my design wall for a while until I saw a direction to take. Perhaps all my weekly walks on the beach help me see water everywhere and led me to add some water to it, and playing with various orientations brought me to the What If moment of trying to change the traditional landscape orientation from horizontal to vertical. I had also been reminded that being able to change perspectives is a great gift that was only reinforced by trying to see the world through the eyes of a then six-year-old grandchild. And changing perspectives can also help you see the essence of things, and sometimes the truth of things. 

So I dyed and printed the fabrics and began happily stitching those undulations in the middle. When I got to the lighter blue on the right (perhaps the sky) and the light brown on the left I felt the need for more texture and so the stitching became a bit more complicated.



Both of these fabrics were printed with oatmeal resist and I wanted some subtle texture--and it is indeed subtle. I wondered whether it was worth the effort but I have finally decided that it adds just a touch of shadow texture that is enough.

I also fused some brown shadowy pieces to the main curved piece to give it a bit more definition and finally added beading for a touch of that water/sand sparkle. The piece (28 x 20") is called "Seascape."

As I write this, I am also thinking of those of my artist friends who believe you should never explain anything about your work, even or especially the process, that the viewer should be allowed to approach it fresh with no preconceived notions or limitations. And this is indeed what happens when a piece like this hangs in a gallery (and it did make it into the Regional Juried Exhibit at the Newburyport Art Association in Newburyport, MA!). But I often find it enlightening to hear a bit of the story behind a work. And, as I read over my comments here, I realize that even more is happening in this piece for me that I have not discussed, so there is still plenty of room for each viewer to connect with it in his/her own way.

Oh, and the title of this post: I had been meaning to write this all week but there was no time and this morning when I finally had a morning at home I was procrastinating with a variety of tasks that got more frivolous until I found myself brushing the dog's ears and realized I was looking for ANY excuse to not sit down at the computer. 

And if you are still reading--and not off brushing your dog's ears, thanks for the company!

I am linking this to Nina's Off the Wall Fridays.


Friday, April 28, 2017

Of Birthdays and Butterflies, Part 2

And now to begin at the beginning of my birthday project (a weekly 5-inch square on a tan/brown background somehow related to my insect investigations).

Week 1
Ever since I discovered a Brown-hooded Owlet caterpillar on the golden rod in our field in PA, I wanted to translate those colors onto fabric. The moth it becomes is basically all tans and rusty browns but the caterpillar has visual impact, as the art jurors would say:


 And here is my first attempt at translating the insect world into fabric and thread:

And whether or not this piece succeeds artistically, it did accomplish another of my goals--to spend some time carefully looking at a creature and then translate my discoveries into something tactile, using my hands as a way into my aging brain.

Week 2
Displaying the end result of this week is an exercise in humility.  The Horned Spanworm has quite a distinctively shaped caterpillar but is a very quietly colored moth that got more beautiful the more time I spent with it.

Being short on designing time, I decided to just do a sort of crop of the wing. I wanted to include part of that brown splotch at the bottom that looks like the wings were dipped in mud, a contrast to the web-like patterning that becomes like some ancient writing moving from deep brown to a ruddy gold that almost shimmers in the background.


Perhaps I will like this better in a few weeks.


Week 3
So I moved on to another moth that has a hidden surprise as so many moths do. The Modest Sphinx--I love the names (here the juxtaposition of a mythical beast known for its strength and even viciousness with modesty is a surprise in itself)--is a somewhat unassuming gray moth until it spreads its upper wings a bit revealing regal purple under wings.



Since my goal had never been to reproduce the insects realistically and I felt the problems with the Horned Spanworm may have been from my following the photo too closely, I moved toward the abstract, toward trying to capture an element I found significant. 

Week 4
While I was working on the Modest Sphinx, I happened upon what looked like a lightning bug on the back of our house that puzzled me as it seemed to have arrived much too early. Since it was content not to move around much in the cold temperature of the day, I got to look very closely at it. Later I identified it as a Winter Firefly, a species of firefly that is around all year, is active in the daytime and does not flash. But what interested me most was its tiny feet that ended in what looked like heart- shaped toes. Sure enough those heart shapes are one of the characteristics of fireflies.

But all this investigating got me interested in insect legs and the proper names of each part that end up being similar to ours. The largest and often strongest part at the top is the femur, the lower leg that is sometimes the longest is the tibia, and the "foot" is the tarsus, made up of varying numbers (usually 4 or 5--but the numbers and their variations between the three pairs of legs is significant in identification) of tarsomeres, the last of which is heart-shaped in fireflies. And I could go on--the top of the leg attaches to a hip joint called a trochanter which fits into the coxa.

The legs can be the ickiest part of insects for insect avoiders so I wanted to de-icky them somehow.



And there is a month of my life laid out in the space of a blog post. Thanks for sharing the month with me!


I'm linking this with Off the Wall Fridays--Take a look!







Friday, April 21, 2017

Of Birthdays and Butterflies

Having reached an age on my birthday on March 17 that I should be able to do what I want, I began a series that follows an interest of mine since I first became aware of life beyond eating and sleeping. One of my first memories is watching bees visiting the hollyhocks that ringed my sandbox and I have been fascinated with things that creep and fly ever since. And in the past couple of years I have begun to look closely at all the tiny creatures that inhabit our world--and to try to remember their names and idiosyncrasies. I began to think that translating what I am seeing into fabric and stitch might help my memory and my observation. So I challenged myself to make a five-inch square each week based on an insect.

I am now on my fifth week--more on the first four next week. And this time I focused on a butterfly I photographed a couple of years ago that is strangely called the Red-spotted Purple, even though the red is more orange-red and the purple reads blue and black with maybe a shimmer of purple. But this butterfly looks entirely differently when seen with wings open or wings closed (I could make a connection at this point to how differently we look when we are on guard or relaxed, but I won't).


























And here is my abstracted version of the Red-spotted Purple cut by a horizon line with colors of the underwing forming the sky and those of the dark upper side suggesting the earth: 



It was concept to finished five-inch square in one very busy week!


This is linked to Off the Wall Friday so check out what others have been accomplishing this week.



Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Carpe diem but which diem?

I awoke this morning with amazing opportunities before me. But it was such a long list that I as usual could never start down all those paths so I had to choose. It was similar to a day a little over a week ago when I woke up to this:



We had not had our usual amount of snow so far this season and there was always the possibility we would not have more, but there were many things beckoning to me, urging me to choose them to fill the finite amount of time provided me each day. I did choose other things for most of the day, including the requisite snow shoveling, but by late afternoon I headed downstairs to soak some fabric in soda ash to prepare for snow dyeing. 

The next day I had two interesting pieces of fabric hanging on the line:


In the one snow dyeing I had done last winter I had been frustrated with washed out colors that did not have as much texture as I wanted. But these were quite successful. I had seized a moment and the right snowfall cooperated.

A snow earlier in the month, a very dry snow that I thought would not work, produced fabric almost as successful:


And the middle piece is the product of an experiment.The Feb/Mar Quilting Arts issue ran an article by Susan Purney Mark about a shibori process that used a wine bottle instead of the long tube I was usually used and this process was perfect for seeing what would happen with shibori snow dyeing. 


The result looks very good, but I am not sure how different it looks from the regular shibori process. It is worth another try at some point. Ah, but that will depend on the whims of the weather gods, who seem to have gotten a bit confused about the seasons this year, and whether I seize that opportunity if and when it comes.

And if you have chosen to read this, thanks for the company!

I am linking this post to Off the Wall Friday. Take a look at some interesting in process and finished work there.


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Frog or Prince

February always sneaks up on me each year and I suddenly realize I need to come up with something to slide under the dinner plate of my life partner on Feb. 14, as I have done for so many years past. I have been itching to use more digitally printed fabric in my work and, since I use this opportunity to try something a little new or to revisit a technique I haven't used in a while, I began searching photographs for some inspiration and soon came upon what I thought had some possibility.

Photoshop drained it of color and enhanced its textural qualities. The color was going to come from the funky hand-dyed fabric I would print it on, flipping the usual process of foregrounding the photo on a blank or neutral background. I found the print intriguing enough to keep going, adding two kinds of hand stitching and letting the the straight rows run off the bottom of the piece.

By Valentine's Day all was done, except for sewing the facing down in the back and adding a sleeve. These pieces are always small, this one 10 x 8", so I can actually get it reasonably finished in between my bigger projects. And so Tom opened the folder that protected it, looked at it for a minute and said, "Oh, I like this. Do you want to tell me about it?" 


Now I have confronted enough drawings from young grandchildren who proudly present me with something that I have no idea what I am looking at, and that question is always how I begin. So I knew there was a problem here until I realized he was looking at it sideways. On the third turn he had it right side up and began commenting on the design. There was still a problem. The piece was remaining abstract for him and not resolving into a bullfrog (actually one of the many bullfrogs in our pond last summer). 

Were you able to see it? I can see it immediately but I started with the original that was very clear and I knew it was there. So far I have shown this to three other people, all of whom had varying degrees of difficulty seeing the frog but then see it clearly after it is pointed out. I wanted to obscure the frog's presence a bit, as it is in the pond world, and I did succeed in doing that. But I am now trying to decide if I was too successful. Tom, on the other hand, has convinced me he likes it.

The title of this is Centered, something that may be as difficult to achieve as seeing a frog among the duckweed.

And if you are still reading, thanks for the company!

I am linking this to Nina's Off the Wall Friday.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Live Frugally. . .



"Live frugally on surprise," said Alice Walker, in one of my favorite poems. Today I went out looking for a little peace and found some on the Plum Island dunes:















But I found something else -- one of those moments of connection, of Wow! as I stood just a short walk away from a sleeping barred owl. I had never seen one before and it is a real presence in the woods.


The picture doesn't do the moment justice as I had come unprepared for this surprise and had to rely on the limitations of an Iphone camera. But the primary importance of this moment was not the recording of it but the feelings of wonder and awe it generated. Those terms were fresh in my head from reading an article in Orion by Christopher Norment, who teaches Environmental Science at SUNY Brockport and feels the most important element of his students' education is that they somehow experience a sense of wonder in their interactions with nature.

And that sense of wonder was certainly there a couple of weeks ago in a Massachusetts Audubon class I was taking as I held a just-banded blue jay in my hand until it decided to seize its freedom and fly.

But wonder and awe aren't just for nature. I have felt them strongly as I stand before a piece of art that makes me see just a little deeper or a little more clearly. I once thought that this should be a goal to strive for in my own work, but then I realized that, just as setting out to experience wonder is a fool's errand, so it is to try to create it. 

So I return to living frugally on surprise and know that when it happens, it has been a good day.