Category: Mixed Media

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.

The Messenger

Have you ever had a feeling that you foresaw the future? The word for this is prognosticate, meaning foretell or prophesying the future. Every so often I observe this connection in myself. It’s a bit of a crazy feeling because I don’t tend to go around predicting the future. Yet sometimes I look back on events to embrace that maybe I had some subconscious premonition. Let me explain by first sharing my artist statement for “The Messenger.”


  • “Hawks are considered messengers from deceased ancestors, deities, or other guides. Their intense gaze earns them great respect. I met this red-shouldered hawk at a hunting and fishing trade show. Once able to fly, the injured bird was now tethered to its handler’s gauntlet. With strong hollow bones, wings, and feathers, its large body (lighter than you would expect) is uniquely adapted for flight. Yet, there it perched, staring at me, unable to escape its captor. How would the courier continue with its dispatch while shackled in this auditorium? I took its memory home with me and decided to help it flee. When you are ready, courageous Messenger, fluff your feathers and spread your wings. It’s time to share your revelations; be free.”
    – Nanette S. Zeller (June 2021)


The Story:

I realized a few years ago that I needed to take my own photographs to use as inspiration for my art quilts. I like using birds in my art, but lack the patience and equipment to take photos of them. So I “kinda” cheat, by visiting places that have birds who will be models for me.

In early 2020, I found this red-shouldered hawk (right) at hunting trade show. The bird was part of a local rescue which rehabilitates injured animals. It obviously was use to the attention of people and kindly (anthropomorphic) let me take it’s photo.

I wrote the artist statement after I completed the art quilt “The Messenger”. If you look at the photo, you could see what I was thinking about when I wrote the prose.

Flash forward nearly 2 months, I found myself at another event with a different rescue group (nc-claws.org). I was able to take plenty of new bird photos from this event (i.e., more art quilts coming soon). I learned that whenever possible this group returned the rehabilitated animals back into the wild. They were releasing a couple birds last Saturday and I was selected through a raffle to release (following some training) a red-shouldered hawk. Is that serendipitous, or what?

This is not the first time I’ve had precognition. I just don’t always understand why. What I do know this time is the red shouldered hawk is trying to tell me something because it once again is The Messenger.

Freeing up space.

Mid-July! We are definitely in the dog days of summer. I try to get out a little in the morning, but by mid-afternoon I prefer to find activities to do inside. The other day I spent a little time sorting things in my studio closet. I really need to do some heavy sorting. Over the years, I’ve collected enough supplies that I could create new things for a couple years and still not need to go shopping.

I find it a bit overwhelming sometimes. What do I work on? I have many work and personal projects to consider. I think setting priorities for these projects are some of my hardest decisions. I want to do something fun, but I need to do something for a class, gallery or upcoming exhibit.  Oh, then there’s that project I just saw advertised in social media advertisement!! Wow … I would really love to do that too! Choices, choices.

The challenge is finding a balance between it all. It’s hard, but I’m doing my best to avoid shopping for new things. I have to really evaluate what I’m admiring. Is it a need or want? Will I use it? Should I save my money instead?
[Uhm?? Did I actually just write that? Did I forget about the 60-tube set of gouache paints I bought during the Amazon Prime Day Sale  — Sooo…Let’s just emphasize that I’m trying to be aware of what I buy.]

To me, unless there’s a specific need, acquiring new art supplies is another distraction.
But isn’t it fun to treat yourself to that pretty fabric, yarn or thread (or paints)? Yes! it is!!
What helps me rationalize my acquisitions is to lighten the load of things that no longer serve me.

Where I live, the schools face financial hardships. We’re fortunate to have a local arts council that supports music and art in the schools. So, on an on-going basis I cull my stash. Any art supplies I no longer need/want get put in a box that will be donated to the arts council for later distribution to the schools. I’ve met many creatively resourceful art teachers who love these grab bag style donations. And, I love the fact that I can lighten my stash and help enrich the life of a young student. If you feel burdened with your collection of things (or if you’re moving and need to down-size), maybe seek out charities in your community who would love to have the items you no longer find useful. Freeing up time to create, sometimes means freeing up space.

 

 

Positive ways

Life is a journey. You never know exactly how things will turn out. As much as you plan, there is dharma, the eternal and inherent nature of reality. What we plan is not 100% in our control. Through various turns or “twists of faith” we arrive in the present moment carrying with us what we lived.

I think we all can appreciate this after the past year. How many things did you plan for last year? How many plans were cancelled? Now that the scariest part of the pandemic seems to be over, we can review where we are.

I know I dealt with a number of disappointments this past year and now I’m pondering what’s next. What I learned over the years is not to give up. I keep putting things out there, hoping to see a nugget of return. Its obvious, I want my art to be seen. Not everyone does. Some people create for their own personal joy. Other’s make to gift. Its all good.

The more I make, the more I discover what brings me joy to create. What amazes me, is when when my heart is in my work, more people connect to it. Its a circle that I can’t force happen. So I just keep creating and putting it out there.

A couple months back I submitted 2 of my bird artworks to Martha Sielman (Director of SAQA) who’s working on a personal project. She wanted to create a book about fiber artists who are inspired by birds. Well, its kind of obvious that birds are one of my things and I do make fiber art (art quilts). So, I sent off a couple of photos.

Yesterday, I received an email from Martha, announcing that 2 of my birds were accepted for her book. It was such a long time ago that I submitted these pieces, I almost forgot about the possibility. I would be OK if my art doesn’t get accepted, but I’m also very excited when it is. This recognition gives me another affirmation to keep trying.  I encourage you to keep trying, too. Ask yourself “why do I create?” and “what do I want to create?” Discover who you are. Then go for it. Take classes. Mingle amongst your art supplies and make things. Take chances. If you want your work to be seen, share it whenever you can. Then let the universe answer in positive ways.

 

Holding you back

The “Cloth & Clay” exhibit at Campbell House Galleries closes next week. It’s almost time to take it all down and store it away for another opportunity. Why do I create? It’s because I have to. There is something in my DNA or maybe it’s just some off-kilter electricity in my brain.

I don’t remember a time that I didn’t create. I think my mom was blessed because as a young child all she had to do was put a new craft or book in front of me and I would be engaged for hours.

In high school, I was secretly embarrassed that I crocheted because that is what old ladies did. In college I had a classmate who, after I described my new passion for knitting, told me that I was “so domestic” [spoken condescendingly]. After graduate school I remember calling myself a “closet crafter,” because I didn’t want people I worked with know about my “non-professional” hobbies. These were my saboteurs.  Yet, I still would speed crochet an afghan in no time while watching tv at night. Now I’ll either knit or stitch to pass time. And, I focus deliberately on making textile art.

I’m still learning, refining and pursuing my skills. I continued even though some would have given up. For me it’s a passion, something in-grained. I want to keep learning and exploring. Even when I’m my own worst critic, I continue. What about you? Do you have a gut feeling about creating? Do you love making things? Would you call these skills your passion? Are you listening to your feelings and acting on them? Are you ignoring your critics (even the one in your head)? What’s holding you back?

Fix whatever is not working

So … there it is. Everything is hung and looking pretty.
The idea of creating an art exhibit sounds romantic. It is but, it’s also a lot of work to include creating the art and coordinating all the details (like when to hang, how to hang, reception details, advertising, etc.). As I reflect on all of this, I realize I have a wealth of knowledge. I’ve been involved with producing a countless number of textile art exhibits, including my own solo exhibit. I’ve learned quite a number of tips along the way.

With every exhibit, I walk away with more knowledge; What would or wouldn’t I do again?

It’s interesting that, whatever journey you follow, you have the opportunity to grow. It’s important to step back and review your accomplishments because it helps you reflect on what’s important. What might have been the answer to your life-long questions, may just be a stepping stone for the ultimate pinnacle. So, pay attention, keep trying and fix whatever is not working.

 

Cloth & Clay
June 4-25, 2021
Campbell House Galleries, Southern Pines, NC
Open Mon-Fri 9-5p  | Saturday, June 19  2-4p
(click image below for larger view)