Category: Mixed Media

What shall I call it?

Lately, my heart has been feeling heavy. There’s too much uncertainty and chaos in the world. Most of the worries are out of my control. I know I just have to be patient and watch it all play out.

So I step away from the news to find some peace. That’s what I’m trying to do anyway. My ever present comfort is the bird feeder in my backyard. I can see if from every window on the backside of my house.

I’ve been observing the summer birds arriving and hanging out again. They’ve been away for awhile. The red-headed woodpecker is back. And this morning, I saw a male and female pair of summer tanagers. The indigo bunting was here this week too. And, oh yes, the sweetness…this season’s first bluebird nestlings are almost fledged (ready to fly).

This is where to focus when you’re heart gets heavy. Stop, listen, and watch  the birds. Maybe even be inspired to make a new quilt. What shall I call it?

Allow space for things to happen

The past few months, I’ve been working in front of my computer. At times, it felt like slow movements; a nagging … “get it done, get it done.” At the same time, I was reading books and paying attention to how I felt. My feelings were: why the hurry? Give it time. Don’t rush it.

“Don’t rush anything. When the time is right, it’ll happen.” – Anonymous

I’ve been trying to give myself space. I didn’t make my mental deadlines public, because I wanted to work in a comfortable way (yes, those deadlines kept changing). I didn’t want the added burden of external expectations. I’ve done that before and failed. Creativity isn’t a place to rush. However, it is a place to attend to.

I could have literally spent 8-10 hours a day working on producing my next online class. Instead I gave it time to process. Since the time I started working on this (yes, its been awhile), I’ve run into technical and software issues. And, the online hosting platform I was using announced they were shutting down. (Stop. Re-group. Time to go down a rabbit hole of research.) Disappointment and hurdles can slow you down.

I didn’t give up though. I just gave myself patience and space. If it is meant to be, it will be. Breathe.

There have been times that I pushed myself to perform and found my health was affected by it. I’m older and don’t want to live like that. I think many people are feeling this way. Covid gave us all a time to really slow down. Now as things are returning to normal, many of us don’t want to go back to our old ways. It’s Ok. Its actually healthy to step off the treadmill and meditate.

Above all, it is important to be aware of how you feel toward what you are doing. Step back, check in, and reflect. Is it important to you? If yes, take time for it. If no, then let it go. Along the way, remember to be kind to yourself. It’s ok to allow space for things to happen.

What you make others see

Recently someone asked me “What does it mean to you when someone says ‘artist’?” I thought I knew, but then as I thought some more I questioned my ingrained beliefs. My first thought was a creative person, but is that really what I thought? I have always been a creative person, but there definitely was a time that I truly wished I was an artist!

I think society leads us to believe that a true artist is much grander than just someone who creates. I’ve definitely remember carrying the imposter syndrome with me when I’ve attended some art shows. I’ve have felt a level of snobbery when someone looked at my art work, turned up their nose and walked away. I have even experienced rejection from art guilds which outwardly excluded certain media (e.g., photography or textiles) from their exhibits.

I guess this is why I’m so proud of Bisa Butler and her textile portraits. This past year her colorful fabric portraits hung in 3 gallery rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago. Her work proudly displayed near artwork of the world’s masters, Matisse, Rembrandt, Picasso, Kahlo, etc. Bravo for breaking (many) barriers!

So is it the media or the perceived skill level? Some might argue that Jackson Pollock didn’t use skill making his paint splattered canvases. But, Pollock is a highly regarded “artist.” So perceived skill is not what it takes to make someone an artist.

Another issue is that many people think the word “artist” means painter or visual artist. When people ask me what I do, I tell them I’m an artist. Do you know that a good majority of the time their response is “What do you paint?” Hmmm? What limits their view? Why aren’t they including musicians, potters, photographers, authors, cooks, etc?

Awhile back, I wrote about the limitation of classifying an artist based only if they sold work or not. Using “professional artist” as the definition is another argument that has little value in defining the word.

Its a lot to think about, but my lesson is that we must embrace and encourage a wider view of the word. As a dear friend said, there’s a spectrum to all of this. We have big name artists who we recognize as masters and a range of artists that are lesser known. There’s also the artist that no one ever thinks of or knows; the one who creates amazing art and never shows it to anyone.

I guess there never will be an agreeable definition, but I say embrace them all because:

“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.”   (Edgar Degas)

Process of learning

Part of what I have to do to create my artwork is to take photos of birds. I have some drawing skills but not enough to feel confident about drawing freehand. My college education is in wildlife biology. So, I personally like what I do to be as accurate as possible in representing the species I’m featuring. This is why I rely on a camera so much.

The screech owl piece I finished last week was generated using this photo as a starting point. I took the photo during a public event for an animal rehabilitation facility. These events are great ways to raise awareness and money for the organizations. But, they are also great opportunities to get photographs of animals you may never see in the wild. You don’t even have to be that great of photographer or need a fancy camera. This photo was taken using my cell phone.

Judges/jurors of art shows don’t take to kindly to artists submitting work where a photo by someone else was used to inspire the art (yes, even if the photographer gave permission). It falls within the messy business of copyright law. Copyrights are a tricky thing. This is why I’ve decided to source my own reference photos.

Its just another layer to the art I create. I have to practice/improve my photo skills and seek out opportunities to capture the images. It is all part of the process of learning.

Tenacity to Embrace Fear

Between the holidays and trying to complete several projects, this has been a full month for me. I mentioned a few weeks ago that the company which hosted my online classes is closing down in April. I’ve been thinking about what to do next. I’ve been researching different platforms to work with and I’m pretty sure I know which one I will choose.

February is going to be a month of catching up and creating things I can share with all of you. I was asked to join 3 other women for an art exhibit next year. So I’ll be in my studio creating art. I was honored to be asked to join these women. We all work in very different mediums, so it should be interesting to see the results of our combined efforts.

Over the past couple months, I have had several ideas for working in a series. This exhibit opportunity will give me a reason to work on what has been flying in my head. I received grant money last year to purchase a new camera. I am using the camera to photograph birds to create a bird textile art. The screech owl here is my first piece in the series…(note: you’ll be seeing more of him this year).

You probably can see that I don’t like monotony. I always want to try new things and grow. However, the older I get the more I realize that its difficult to stay on one path too long. Life is always throwing zingers. It is hard to look back to a year ago and realize all that I was doing then is very different today. You have to be ready, flexible and willing to face the uncertainty. That’s why I titled this new owl piece “Tenacity to Embrace Fear.”

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See “The Messenger” at
5th Annual Birds of a Fiber Exhibit
January 27-February 28, 2022

Pacific Northwest Quilt and Fiber Arts Museum
703 South Second Street
La Conner  WA 98257

Never one way to do anything

Last month in my newzletter, I explained my desire to engage more with my readers who don’t live in my local area. For a variety of reasons, this year has really grounded me to my local community. I exhibited locally this past June and have been focusing on teaching live workshops at a local creative space. My blog posts tends to be more about the mental/emotional aspects of being a creative. I don’t usually show too many how-tos here. I’ve been thinking maybe I should change things up the next few weeks and see how you like some occasional insight into my process.

So … let’s talk thread painting… one of my favorite things to do. The butterfly image is an example of a before and after of thread painting on a fabric known as “quilters cotton”. Quilters cotton is fairly lightweight and flimsy. And if you’ve ever tried to sew on it, you might notice that it starts to draw-up (pull in). You may even notice that the stitches don’t look very neat. So how do you apply such dense stitches onto this fabric without making a mess?

Stabilizers.

By definition a stabilizer is “a thing used to keep something steady or stable.” With lightweight fabrics we need to add something to the fabric to make the material more “stable” and less likely to draw-up. What’s fun is we have lots of options to choose from.

  • Interfacing: This material is attached to the back of fabric (or between 2 layers). Most commonly they are used in clothing construction to stiffen shirt collars or cuffs. There are interfacings that need to be sewn in and others that have a heat reactive (fusible) glue on the back that can be ironed in place. Every thread painter has their own preference. My go-to is Pellon 809 Decor Bond (fusible). It’s fairly stiff material giving me plenty of support and I can easily remove the excess material from the back of my work.
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  • Quilt batting: Think of the thread painting as dense quilting. Fuse or pin the batting to the back of your work and stitch. You may get more draw-up with batting than other products, but it has the bonus of creating a 3-dimensional (trapunto) effect.
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  • Canvas: A dense cloth used for boat sails, tents and painter’s canvases. Needs to be pinned or fused to the back of the fabric and draw-up is very minimal. It’s challenging to remove any excess, so plan to leave it in or add extra to stretch the finished thread painting onto a stretcher bars to make a finished art piece.
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  • Stiff Interfacing: A very dense, thick non-woven polyester material that does not flatten or distort with steam, example Peltex. Used most commonly for crafts, like purses, fabric postcards, etc. Used when you want a really rigid finished project.
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  • Embroidery hoops: Yep! just like the ones hand embroiders use. It’s common to find hoops that are 1/2″ thick in the hobby stores. However, the foot of some machines won’t raise high enough to get the hoop under it. I’ve find 1/4″ thick hoops work with any machine. Hoops that are 12″ wide (diameter) work best for most sewing machines. Note: when you use a hoop for thread painting, you want to the fabric in the hoop to be in contact with the bed of the sewing machine. Look at hooped fabric, one side looks like a drum and the opposite side looks like a tray. When thread painting, the tray side is facing up when we stitch.

I always encourage everyone to experiment. Try new materials and look at your results. Which do you like? There’s never one way to do anything.

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Want to learn more about thread painting?  Take my online on-demand course Paint with Thread to learn how. Learn at your leisure, with unlimited access to the materials.

Permission to play

Throughout my life, I’ve explored new ideas. I remember as a kid making papier-mâché masks. My mom taught me how to sew and crochet when I was 10 years old. I messed around with paints and drawing. In high school I “minored” in art and had the most wonderful opportunities to study Chicago architecture and stained glass. Special bonus in my youth were field trips to the Art Institute of Chicago, Field Museum and the Museum of Science and Industry, each captivating my creative eye.

Later in my life I became more focused in what I created. You may have even found me through my art; nature-inspired mixed-media textiles. Even though my art is focused, I still dabble in a lot of things. My love of wool is pretty strong. I love to knit and felting is addictive for me too. This week I took some time for creative play and made these felted bowls. (Do you ever take time for creative play?)

Sometimes I forget about the importance of creative play. I get focused on what needs to get done – NOW! I frequently push back on the idea of taking time for fun creativity. Sometimes I almost dread it, because I know I’m going to create a mess, which means I’m going to have to clean up too (more work- ugh!). However, I truly believe its an important activity to add to your life. The easiest way to proceed is to take a class … explore something new with the guidance of a knowledgeable instructor. I do this occasionally. (Pro tip: one of the perks is you won’t have as much clean-up afterward. YAY!)

Playing is a way of learning. And, if you let go of expectations, it can also be a mindful experience. Felting is one of those crafts that you almost have to let go of expectations. As I built the bowls, I chose fibers from my stash that I had no idea how they would react with the process. I also selected colors that I wasn’t confident would work together (e.g. purple and orange?).

My point is by playing without expectations we can be present in the experience. If it fails, so be it. If it works, bravo. But either scenario, we learn and likely improve our skills. Best of all we take time for ourselves and let go of the other junk that consumes our brain. I give you permission to play!

Live life to the fullest

My life has been on overload this month. I can’t complain about any of it, but with the past 18 months of not much going on, this month is making me feel tired. Good news is October starts on Friday and I’ll be able to look at September in the rear view mirror and an emptier calendar.

I recently watched a Ted Talk given by Jean Shinoda Bolen. Her discussion of Liminal Time has been heavy on my mind.

Liminal time is a transitional period between events. Bolen focuses on our current transition between pre- and post- covid times. This threshold period between the two life events is called liminal time. Its easiest to understand in architectural terms, as the hallway between two buildings (liminal space). As you walk through the passage way, you transition from one building to the other. Its almost like being in limbo as you walk the corridor. Maybe you even have time to gain strength to face what’s in the next room.

This all resonates with me because I am transitioning again. Pre- and Post- covid for sure, but also soon to hit another milestone birthday. The questions on whether I have I lived my life to the fullest are weighing on my mind. I’m re-evaluating and looking for what makes me happy. What do I enjoy doing vs what I am doing? Its healthy to do regular litmus tests on your life. Check in. Are you happy? What could you change? What needs to stay the same?

My bearded dragon thread-sketch reminds me of the journey of the dinosaurs. Did they realize they were becoming extinct? I doubt it. I bet they lived life to the fullest. And, that’s what I plan to do, too; live life to the fullest.

Have faith in your dreams

Last week I wrote about fear and how it may affect us when we make art. Fear is an emotion. It is there or it is not. With fear we can either accept the proverbial lion facing us or take action to change the outcome. That takes courage.

To find the strength to conquer our fears, we must want something bad enough. Courage takes passion. When you work on your art and you feel fear, its important to reflect on where the fear is coming from. Is it fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of succeeding, fear of change? Do you know?

When I face fear in my projects, I’m reminded of the children’s story, “The Little Engine that Could.” Do your remember? The little train engine pulled out all his courage and said, “I think I can!” — That’s faith.

Courage and faith go hand-in-hand. When I face my fears eye-to-eye, I think deeply. Do I have the passion? Do I want this bad enough? Am I willing to put in the time? Am I strong enough to stay focused to complete the project?  I gain courage by deciding to have faith that no matter what the outcome, I WILL BE OK!!

When facing your art challenges, you must believe you will be OK. Don’t worry about what any else thinks or says. Drum up the courage and have faith in your dreams.

A different road

Imagine you’re driving down the road and you come across a barrier that keeps you from moving forward toward your destination. What would you do?

Life is full of road blocks where we suddenly have to change our plans. Sometimes these blocks are crushing to your character. That one “thing” we so looked forward to is cancelled. Sometimes these detours are like gut punches either sucking all the wind out of us or feel emotionally devastating us. [Hmm? I think we all can relate after this past year.]

So what do you do? The road is closed. You have to re-group and make decisions. Do you find a way around the obstacle? Turn around and go back the way you came? Or, just sit there waiting for the barrier to move? There are choices. You may not be able to change the situation, but you are in control of how you react.

Recently, I’ve felt a step (or 2) off my game. Summers in the south do that to me; even with air conditioning, the heat takes a lot of energy out of me. I’ve kept moving though. I kept showing up. I wasn’t at the pace that I’d like to travel and wasn’t on a road I originally planned. I tried to keep an open mind and I found new opportunities. I made gut decisions, just because I felt like it was the right thing to do. I put faith in myself and headed down paths that could be dead ends. Unexpectedly, I found new directions I never thought about. It’s been an interesting and rewarding few months.

Then, yesterday this lovely book arrived in the mail, “Creative Strength Training Member’s Exhibition”. Proudly standing guard on it’s pages is “The Messenger.” How is it possible that my work is published in a book produced by Jane Dunnewold? Because in January, I decided to sign up for her class. Then, when she opened up the call for entry, I submitted my work. My soul was telling me I needed a new direction. So instead of waiting for my life to change, I grabbed the wheel and I turned down a different road.