Thursday, October 23, 2014

Designing a tapestry

I have been working on a cartoon for awhile. I finally had it ready to go to the printer for enlargement today. Since I have moved since the last time I had an enlargement made, I had to find a new print shop. Technigraph in Santa Fe is a great place and I certainly missed them for awhile this morning. I got some quotes, one of which was way over $100 and would have taken the rest of the week. I have a 6 x 18 inch drawing that I need blown up to 24 x 72 inches which is 400%. Technigraph would have done this in 10 minutes for $12.

Turns out FedEx Office will do the job for $8.55 in 5 minutes. Here they are! To be honest, that 72 inches looks fairly daunting.
I design in a lot of different ways. Ideas accumulate over time and eventually some of them come together into some preliminary sketches. I also take a lot of photographs of patterns and colors I see and carry a little sketch book with me to jot down ideas when they hit. I know that I'll never remember them later. My design tools include a camera, tracing paper, pencils, colored pencils, collage, Photoshop Elements, collected images, and time.

Once I have a design I am happy with, I copy the whole thing onto one sheet of paper.
And then you go hunting for someone who has a large format printer.
I am going to weave this piece on my Macomber. I weave all my big pieces on my Harrisville Rug Loom, but for several reasons, this piece gets booted to the Mac. I know she can do it, but I also know I am going to miss that warp extender on the Harrisville.

With yarn still to be dyed and warping to do, it will be awhile before weaving commences.

If you'd like more information, here is an old post with photos of what I do from here.

And a video I made about attaching a cartoon when weaving on a floor loom:

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The thing about teaching tapestry

I was in Golden, Colorado last week teaching a Color Gradation Techniques for Tapestry class at The Recycled Lamb. The thing about teaching a four day class in a great yarn store is that there are too many opportunities to buy more knitting yarn. I have been banned from that practice until my stash gets smaller (mostly self-imposed), but they had wonderful undyed knitting yarn. And I looked at it and looked at it and thought, heck. I could buy this white yarn and make whatever colors I want. Color Gradation in knitting!

But the class was about color gradation in tapestry. The students did a fantastic job. They came from Alaska and Nevada and Washington and Golden. They were funny and committed and just enough crazy to make the whole week fun.
I'm showing them how to fix a float on a great example of shaped pick and pick.
I like to bring a few challenging examples to each class and see if anyone bites. I love this meander pattern and Dora did an amazing job doing it in a pink gradation.
Another exercise we continue to work on is creating transparency with color blending. Kathy did a great job with this one. I was convinced these colors were going to be wrong when she started. I even told her so. Good thing she didn't listen to me.
There were hachures...

And there were exceptionally attractive rhomboids...
And there were many discussions along the lines of, "why on earth you would want to weave from the back?"
It was a fun week.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Dyeing with acid wool dye... it is all in the folks festival T-shirt

Dyeing season.
The time of year when the cars get evicted from the garage and the plants get a healthy drink of slightly acidic water (they love it--alkaline soil around here). The season of sore backs, scalded toes, and mottled surgical scrubs, stolen souvenirs from various hospitals over the years. (They were worn home after certain incidents involving fluids that shall remain nameless. Nothing like taking your good khakis home in a bag and being pretty sure you can never wear them again...)

I am a dyer. I love the structured nature of dyeing with acid wool dyes, that I can replicate the colors I make (except the errors--can never get those again), that the math is simple, and that the combinations are boundless. I definitely admire the natural dyers. Their work seems much more complicated than mine. But I'm hooked on the synthetics. The color gradations are fantastic.

While dyeing the last few weeks, I took the liberty of shooting some video. It was simply meant to give you a flavor for what dyeing is all about. And if I can do it, so can you. Enjoy! (And I swear I am NOT drunk in that out-take at the very end... I just get some weird fake southern accent thing happening when I'm being a goof. My apologies Nana.)

For full screen, push the square icon in the lower right corner of the video window. Or push the YouTube button to view it there.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Self-talk with sticky notes

Sticky notes are a grand invention. Did you ever have that moment in the morning where you're pretty sure you're dying. Multi-system organ failure at the very least and you need to get to the hospital immediately. Then you remember.

I finally got smart and started leaving myself a note. Stops the panic immediately. We should use sticky notes more often.

And in a somewhat related story, the Colorado sales tax struggle continues. I put it off as long as I could and then I got out a dry erase board and a pad of sticky notes and put a major step on each one. Unfortunately my procrastination led me to 4:30 pm Friday afternoon when it would have taken a whole tanker-full of margaritas to get a tax professional on the phone from either New Mexico or Colorado. I tried both. Then I drank the margaritas. Just kidding.
It was wine.

I think I understand the concept now after four tax classes, but the bureaucratic steps are what are tripping me up. You know the type. You can register and get licenses online if you have them mail you (yes, snail mail) a letter ID. Okay, but the only way I can request a letter ID is if I've filed taxes in CO before. I have done that, but the address is years outdated and I'm sure the new residents of my old house are going to be thrilled that they have the opportunity to file my taxes for me when they get my letter in a few days. I am sure I'll never see it. I'm just hoping the skunks don't decide to file for me. They might be smart enough. I really thought when I pushed the NEXT button that the taxation authorities would give me a chance to indicate what address the letter should be sent to. I was wrong.
Those four columns are for each of the tax entities I have to deal with. We are only talking about sales tax here. Keep in mind that most of my business is service-based and the amount of sales tax I will be collecting will likely not take you out to a fancy dinner even once a year. So if you're buying a physical product from me and we're standing in the state of Colorado, believe me, I've researched the tax structure. The tax is real and I'm sorry, but you'll have to pay it.

I think Richard the tax guy at CDOR is going to get a visit from me on Monday morning. Maybe the guy who actually collects the tax from people can make some sense of it.

Sadly, the effort it takes me to pay it probably far outweighs the amount of effort figuring out HOW to pay it entails. Maybe I should just send a check for $100 to the state once a year and be done with it. Can I do that? Richard?

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Desert Horizons with Joan Baxter

Ghost Ranch. It is in the Piedra Lumbre near Abiquiu, New Mexico. It is a place that lives deep in my heart and it was also the perfect place for some serious learning.

I was there all last week taking a workshop with Joan Baxter. If you don't know who Joan Baxter is, look her up NOW! just as soon as you finish reading this blog post. It was a tremendous and rare opportunity to study with a true master.

I was challenged. I pushed myself. I laughed. I cried a little. I wanted to dig deeper. I did.

I learned a lot. I filled a notebook with notes and design ideas.

When I left, my world was bigger than it was when I arrived. For that I have Joan to thank... and myself. I was ready for it. I wasn't as prepared as I would have liked to be, but it wouldn't have mattered. I would have thrown everything out in the first hour anyway. That was the scary part. That first day when I suddenly felt like I was standing there naked. Like I knew nothing. Like I had to start over and build my whole self again. Turns out that isn't the case, but it was a frightening place to be for awhile.

Joan brought this yarn. It was gorgeous; it is no longer made; and she let us use it anyway. She is working with the fantastic people at Weaver's Bazaar to make a similar yarn.
She also brought the whole palette from Weaver's Bazaar in 18/2. This is a yarn that I am very interested in. I have used little bits of it and am looking forward to the day that a shop in the USA carries it and I can get it a bit easier. It will be soon.

The mix of these two yarns was wonderful... and very different from the yarn I am used to using. These yarns are thinner than the singles I use now and that allows for more color blending. The combination of a thinner and thicker yarn does change the way the bundles reflect light and how the colors mix.
The light there changes all the time. Sunrise and sunset were particularly fascinating as the colors of the sandstone cliffs changed. The deep red glowing stone looks very different at sunset than it does in the fierce light at mid-day. I wandered around a lot at the beginning and ending of the days watching the light change on the rock and through the cottonwood trees along the bosque.

Joan's work is grounded in landscape, narrative, and place. Being able to study with her in a place that has been familiar to me over most of my life was very helpful. Using the stories in my head and the feeling of the Piedra Lumbre in my bones did inform my choices and my designing.
Her work is full of transparency and mystery. She tells stories, often using multiple timelines in the same piece. One of her most recent pieces is a collaboration with a choreographer. The tapestry is gorgeous and when installed, there is a dancer that looks like it is moving right in the tapestry, projected onto and through the work.

Joan is from Scotland and her home clearly informs all of her work. Water, boats, kilts, deep colors, and old places find themselves in her pieces. That sense of place and use of landscape was a strong message as we learned the simpler things of technique and color. I started to wonder where my own starting point was. What am I grounded in? Where is the story of the piece I am struggling to design? What does it mean? Once I started to find some questions and a few answers, I was able to take steps toward a piece of art that I want to make.
I knew many of the other workshop participants. They were a talented and committed bunch. We worked all day and then had a program each evening. We heard about Joan's work and shared some of our own. We heard about various projects Joan has completed and the people and stories she has worked with in her career. These images and conversations were fascinating and a vital piece of the experience.

The sampler that I wove while there is not important. It was informative and I practiced some new color skills. What was important was the process. Looking at Joan's work. Looking at other tapestry artist's work. Talking about technique and color and design. And spending time sitting still and looking. There was no moon that week and the Milky Way was brilliant. I stood on the pitch dark path watching Cassiopeia climbing as the Big Dipper headed toward the horizon every night... dancing around the north star. And in the morning I greeted the dawn with sun salutations facing the iconic Peternal, the mountain Georgia said god would give her if she painted it enough.

On the last morning as I left Ghost Ranch, I stopped at the Billy Crystal* cabin hoping to capture one last moment of a tremendous week.
 That is when I cried a little... hoping that the experience could continue at home in my own studio... wishing I had more time to learn from Joan... wanting more clear space to walk on the earth without distraction...
As I drove north toward Chama I started to feel better. The road up over the Continental Divide was a long tunnel of brilliant gold. 

Be well.

P.S. If you read the last post and wondered about the dinosaurs, I would like to offer proof that there IS a coelophysis quarry at Ghost Ranch. But you must go find it for yourself. The search is half the fun.
*Part of the movie City Slickers was filmed at Ghost Ranch. The cabin they built for the scene at the end of the movie when they ride into the ranch is still there. I have always called it the Billy Crystal cabin.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The time it takes

How do you reconcile the time it takes to weave a tapestry with the fast-paced consumer society we now live in? How do you switch between the slowness of the practice and the rest of your life? (Spoiler: I don't have the answer.)

Tapestry, like any art, takes space to create. I think you need a certain head space especially for designing. But the weaving can also go all wrong if you aren’t paying attention. And if you’re worrying about the next article or class or that you promised Sally Jane you’d help out with the committee to save the spotted toad but you really couldn’t give a flying fig about the little critter today, it may not go well with your tapestry.

Actually creating that mental space is the thing. I will admit that I have not been particularly successful at this in the last year. In fact, I have been an abysmal failure. I think you have to start with the mental space and then create some kind of practice where you just do it. Every day.

I am at Ghost Ranch near Abiquiu, NM this week. I am here to learn about time. This is a place that I have come back to repeatedly since I was a little kid. My parents brought us here every summer. I took wonderful classes once the instructors were persuaded to let a kid in. A couple summers I worked with Felipe Ortega, the Jicarilla Apache micaceous clay potter. He was the first person who told me I should be an artist. (He also told me I shouldn’t go to college and that just wasn’t going to happen in my world… but eventually I came back to the artist part. He was right about that.)

This retreat center has been run by the Presbyterian Church, USA for many decades now, but the place has layers of history which include Georgia O’Keeffe, cattle rustlers, First Peoples, and dinosaurs. When you’re someplace where you can actually see dinosaurs (coelophysis if you care)… well, that is quite a marker of how big time is.

I took a hike early this morning up to Chimney Rock. This inscription was at the top.

Our lives are a brief flash of brilliance. Chase your dreams.
I wrote this for me. But maybe you see yourself here too.

Happy dreaming,

Speaking of time…
This Mirrix Weave-Along warping is taking forever! The warp went on okay, but there are about a billion heddles. I’m thankful I threw in a couple extra spools for someone on the trip to who I’m delivering a loom. She is going to have to order her own. I need them! (Serves me right for warping at 18 epi, 10 inches wide. Should have followed Claudia’s instructions.) If my math is right, I need 270 heddles for this warp.

I tried valiantly to finish putting the heddles on this morning at the campground, but the flies drove me to the library. The campground is a little too close to the horse corral.

You can see the whole Milky Way here. When was the last time you saw the Milky Way?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Weaving along with Mirrix

There is a lot going on lately around here. More than I'd even like to think about. But one of the things I have been determined to catch up with is the Mirrix Weave-Along #14. I have never done a weave-along but Claudia caught my attention with this one. We are going to learn to use two shedding devices at once on the Mirrix to weave at two setts. Of course this is possible without using a shedding device, but being able to use two shedders at once was more than I could stand. I signed up.

I got my second shedding device for my 22 inch loom. I decided to use this loom because it is an older one with the plastic clips. I can install the new wooden clips I bought and then take the plastic ones on and off. I somehow thought getting the wooden clips on would be really difficult--thoughts of disassembling the loom, losing little parts, not being able to get it back together. Nope. You just slide out a couple of bushings. I didn't even need a pair of pliers.

Claudia recommended warping at 12 epi. But she said we could go for 14 or 18, and being the over-achiever, I dug out my 18 dent spring (never been used of course) and the skinniest warp I had and started warping. It sure takes a lot longer to warp 18 epi than 8 or 10! But determined to catch up, I soldiered on with the help of a little bit of wine. Hopefully not enough to impair my warping judgement though. I don't want to have to redo this thing.

Noteably, I have finished the glass of wine in this photo and I have just begun warping. Due to the move or perhaps my chronic disorganization, it took a little swearing hunting to find all the parts of one loom. Oh yes, I could find the springs of one, the shedder of another, the rods for a third but unless you find all the parts for the same SIZE loom, you're hosed. I finally did.

Stay tuned for the evolution of this particular adventure. Considering I'm off for some teaching and then a Joan Baxter workshop in New Mexico in a couple days, I may be hard-pressed to catch up and stay there. But I'll give it a go. At this moment, a little gremlin is muttering in my ear, "what weft do you think you're going to use at 18 epi? Huh?" The angel on my shoulder is murmuring, "you'll figure it out. This studio is full of yarn." I am not sure which one is right.

(Yep, Joan Baxter is in the USA right now. Some of us are lucky enough to be in one of her workshops. I. Can't. Wait.)