Saturday, February 28, 2009

Art and Fear

I have a dear friend who is also a weaver.  I think all of us artists who use weaving for a medium need a friend who is in the same boat.  This evening we were climbing a hill overlooking Abiquiu talking about the challenges of being a tapestry artist and I mentioned that I was reading a book called "Art and Fear".  Maybe we operate on the same wavelength, because she said she was also reading the same book.  (Art and Fear: Observations On the Perils--and rewards-- of Artmaking, by David Bayles and Ted Orland.)  The opening quote by Gene Fowler, "Writing is easy: all you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until the drops of blood form on your forehead" was an indication to me that this book might have something to say to me.  Sometimes I feel like that at the design table--or when I have a design that I have worked with for a long time and then am trying to figure out the colors.  I need to read this book again... and remember that all the things I'm afraid of can't possibly be worse than actually trying to make the art.  It doesn't really matter if I get into those juried shows, or if I sell any of it at all, or if I even finish the piece, as long as I start.  Starting is the thing.  The authors of this book propose that we make the very human connection that as artists we consider art equals self, and when you make flawed art, you are a flawed person (p. 7).  So that is when I come around to not starting the work.  If I can't start, I can't fail.  But the extension of that is that if I make no art at all, I am not a person... and that I can't accept.

I was telling my friend Conni how proud I was this week at getting the Harrisville loom together (see prior post).  But that the fear crept back in when I looked at the cartoon I'm working on for my first piece on the loom that is now together (a cartoon I'm certainly not certain about!) and I went back to just being glad I got the loom together.  I'm going to think about this one this week as I spend three days at the loom at my teacher's studio starting tomorrow.  Maybe the starting is what I need to focus on to start with.  Start.  Begin.  Be a Nike commercial (just do it).

Some of the fear is about TIME.  It takes so long to finish a tapestry that I'm afraid to call a design ready to begin.  If I start it and I hate it once it is on the loom, it could be a very long haul to get to the end when I can start another piece.  But honestly, I have only once cut a tapestry off the loom unfinished... 

This photo was taken today during a morning hike near my house.  The petroglyph is a deer dancer according to someone who knows a lot more about rock art than I do!  That was the hike before the one to the top of the hill overlooking Abiquiu.  I am a peripatetic fiber artist to be sure.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Now this is progress!

I am very very proud of this photo (well, not of the photo, I'm not a great photographer especially when the camera is sitting on the top of a rickety ladder... but of what it represents.) This is a Harrisville Rug Loom... you know, if you're a loomy person--the loom Peter Collingwood designed (the weaving world will miss you Peter now that you're gone!).  My grandfather used this very loom for about 15 years to weave rugs using the shaft switching device (which I painstakingly removed today--sorry grandpa).  He and my grandmother recently moved to Connecticut for health reasons...  And, drumroll please, I inherited the loom!  

This loom is sweet.  You have to understand that I've been weaving on a Rio Grande loom made basically of 2 x 4s for years (lots of swearing when the fell line wasn't even which was always and the pieces came out lopsided--amazing what you can fix with a steamer).  This loom has the tension bar on the back that you can raise to the top and run the warp over.  Then as you weave you lower the bar instead of turning the warp beam and your tension NEVER CHANGES (so they tell me, I don't believe it yet).  And it is a countermarche loom.  I've always wanted a countermarche loom... maybe just because they seem so exotic.  I climbed under the loom to tie it up tonight and realized it really isn't as exotic as I thought.  It is pretty straightforward... perhaps that is because I'm weaving tapestry and I only need two harnesses to go up and two down at a time--then switch.  Surely I can make it do that!

Before I forget, the reason I'm proud of this photo is that the loom entered my house in a bazillion pieces.  It has been laying in various corners for a few weeks now waiting for the Rio Grande to make an exit.  I put all those bazillion pieces together by myself.  The process entailed a lot of contortions, some heavy lifting (the beater weighs about 40 pounds--geez!  I found out after hefting it over my head that the weights come OFF the bottom of the beater), and more than a little bit of swearing.  But here is the part I'm really proud of--there were no trips to the ER, no 911 calls, no head injuries, and I did not end up crushing myself or my dog under the very heavy pieces of hardwood or hardware.  The loom is now together, and believe me, it isn't going anywhere!  Now I can hope for the miracle of a tapestry on the loom just as soon as I finish the dishes.

Monday, February 16, 2009

I'm coming to a question...

I started a new piece this week at my teacher's studio.  It is big and more complicated than what I've done before and I spent 3 or 4 days working just on the color with his help.  Yesterday I started the piece with a lovely purple "background" (if there is such a thing in a tapestry) and today I started putting in some colors that I thought were a reddish rust and brown (our words for color are horribly inadequate!).  Turns out when you mix these colors and put them next to a deep purple, you get a rather orange effect.  I'm withholding judgement on the whole thing... but if I decide I don't like it, the 48 inch square piece is going to seem really really LARGE!

One of the other apprentices in the studio today was working on a piece and she said, "I'm coming to a question" meaning she was going to need a little help soon.  But I thought it was a great statement for how I feel lately. Or perhaps how I've felt for about the last year.  I feel that I'm coming to a question and I don't know entirely what the question is and I only have hopes about what the answer might be.  Still, "coming to a question" doesn't seem like a bad place to be right at the moment.

And back to the color musings--I realized that I have to dye more yarn for this piece.  I changed my color scheme--and believe me it had to be done.  If I didn't have such a great teacher and had run away with the scheme I originally proposed, the piece would be one big floor rug in a few months-- or a colorful dog bed liner of fairly expensive wool... so I changed  (and fortunately simplified) the colors, but that meant that I was using fewer of the colors I had dyed and thus will not have enough of them.  I love to dye and generally have been good at matching colors if I have to dye more, though I would prefer never to have two dye lots in a piece... especially because sometimes you can't see what weirdnesses that creates until the piece is done and on the wall.  Anyway, the suggestion I got today was to dye more yarn immediately and mix the old lot with the new (I'm using singles, 3 ply) ASAP.  Smart.  Very smart.  So it is back to the dye pots this weekend for me.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Color Struggles

I will admit it.  I have had very little formal art education.  I'm not completely sure if this is a plus or a minus.  In some ways I think it lets me think outside whatever boxes you learn in art school... in other ways it means I have to learn a lot through trial and error.  Right now I'm learning a lot about color.  And just when I think I'm starting to develop some skills in choosing and using color, I find that I really don't know what I'm doing at all!  

I think color is a frequently shifting and potentially difficult subject.  I also believe that this nature of color has a lot to do with our perception.  As humans we like to think that what we see is really what exists in front of us, but I know that this isn't always the case.  How often do we think we're seeing and interpreting something accurately only to find upon further inspection that our brains have created a whole that is radically different than the original?  I both love and hate this aspect of working with color.  I find it fascinating that a color can do so many things depending on "environment"... but also find that quality maddening when trying to use color "successfully" in a piece.

Saturday, February 7, 2009


I stepped off the loom a bit ago because I had some design ideas running through my head--some inspired by the amazing work of Barbara Heller and photos I had seen of her ghost series.  I got on the computer to see if she had a website and found many photos of her amazing work.  Then I stumbled across the Canadian tapestry network and was surprised to see my blog linked there (thank you whoever is responsible for that one!).  Well, that just made me think I'd better get busy and pay some attention to my blog.  But the bottom line is that I really need to get busy and pay some attention to my loom.  It is so easy to get lost in the online worlds at the computer and forget about the worlds I want to create in my art.  I start to dream about shows I want to enter and which works will be good for what venue, and forget that the real experience I am touching is at the design table and the loom.  Art, for me, is not about the show at the end of a body of work.  It is about the experience of touching something essential within myself and putting that out in the world.  It is easy to forget this when I get busy and flustered by the everyday happenings of life.

The Canadian tapestry network website will be a future source of inspiration and exploration as it is large and full of amazing work.  I'm glad I ran across it.  But for today, I must finish a piece I'm working on that was inspired by Anni Albers and her connection of text to weaving... more about that when I'm done with the piece.  I feel myself ready to finish this work and move forward with a more personal series dealing with the layers in our lives and how we hide and express ourselves (thus my interest in the "ghosts" of Barbara's amazing tapestries).

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Rest In Peace

I had a HAPPENING last week Thursday night at about 8 pm as I was trying to send an e-mail with an evaluation I had finished writing attached.  I was in denial that this event was imminent for about 4 days prior to it actually occurring.  The power of denial is truly very very large.  My hard drive crashed.  I have used my little Mac Powerbook G4 with the sexy titanium case for 4 years... and it was a powerhouse.  It never failed me (except when the disk drive stopped working, but I forgave it and bought an external drive) until Thursday when at 8:23 pm the hard drive crashed.  I said a few hail marys (and I'm not Catholic), turned the power off, let it "rest" for an hour or so while I had a glass of wine, and then turned it back on.  I got the spinning blue wheel of death.  I was later told by the computer technician that that means it doesn't recognize the hard drive.  But I was hoping it was just temporary insanity and I turned her off again and let her "rest" until the morning.  

Well, the spinning wheel of death was there again, so I carted her off to the computer doctor (really, their business is called computer medics--unfortunately all I came home with today was a body they drug up from the morgue).  I was gently and soundly reprimanded for not having my stuff backed up (she hadn't failed me before!  Why should I take time to back stuff up?) and told that the files were irretrievable and that I should start shopping for a new Macintosh.  This seemed a little harsh, but as today is Wednesday and I had people breathing down my neck asking for those lost evaluations (which I shall have to rewrite as soon as I finish the current glass of wine), I had to find myself a new computer.

And about the power of denial?  The computer had been slowing down exponentially for about 3 days and was starting to make ominous whirring sounds.  I did get a little alarmed at about 8:21 pm on that fateful Thursday and started thinking about backing up things... and then 8:23 came around and the chance was lost.

A few seconds of silence please for the dearly departed...  I really did love this computer.  I didn't have a cross, so I used three little goddesses.  I'm sure it is all the same to the computer.

And perhaps that will help me find the genius who is going to recover my data, eh?
The new MacBook that I bought today is still sexy and oh-so-Mac.  I love the Mac--the little icons that jump and look like they're three dimensional, the programs which are intuitive and don't require me to remember where things actually are, the plug-n-play aspect which doesn't require me to read instruction manuals... you can't beat a Mac.  This new Mac has something called a Time Machine which I really hope might help me correct some errors I made in the last 36 years.  

But being without a computer for 6 days opened my eyes to just how much time I spend on the thing.  Life would be simpler without this technology and we would have more time for watching the clouds.  Honestly, the first thing I thought when it died was, "thank god I don't have to work any more tonight."  

All I have to say in the final analysis is, if you don't have a backup for your computer, DO IT NOW!  I will be purchasing an external hard drive onto which I will place all the junk I want to sort through until technology changes so much I can't access it anymore... just in case this new machine decides to let me down one day.