little boxes

Not the Malvina Reynolds song, but the output from my laser over the last several days. See:

I am planning on teaching a class at Northampton Center for the Arts in the fall – Fabric Collage and Art in Boxes. Because I have become very fond of making small art, and then putting it in a box for better presentation. My friend Matt gave me an entire 4×8′ sheet of plywood, precut into sixteen 1’x2′ sections, so they fit into my laser cutter. Since they are cheap, I feel perfectly happy using them for testing out patterns and making prototypes. Since the plywood has a nice finish, I also feel quite cheerful about the end results. I am rich in plywood!

My affection for containers, and for smooth stones, seems to have deep roots. My grandmother had several boxes of stones she’d collected over a long life. When I was invited to choose something from her possessions after she died, I picked an owl shaped with a handful of peculiar stones in it, some dated. My mother has at least one jar of stones that sits in her window to catch the light. I have a clear plastic bucket full of mostly nicely rounded stones from beaches of New England. My daughter Alice has a series of Mason jars filled with fossils and samples from geology field trips.

Update

Things I have done since January 23, 2021

  • got my COVID-19 vaccination shots! I can hug people again!
  • accepted a commission for a piece for a friend’s parents
  • found work as a teacher at a micro school, two days a week, maybe a dozen kids, ages 6-14
  • addressed 35 years of paint on the dinghy my father designed and built, as a start to refinishing it
  • reached the one year mark for playing my guitarlele, and celebrated with a concert for a dozen children, all waist high or shorter
  • taught two Making Tiny Art classes for the Northampton Center for the Arts one online, and one (loosening restrictions and vaccinations) in person!
  • worked on a class description and syllabus for a fabric coloring and collage class for Northampton Center for the Arts
  • cleared off my desk twice (but you couldn’t tell right now)
  • went to see my mother in another state for the first time in sixteen months, hugged her a lot
  • mounted an exhibit of my work at the TDBank lobby in Amherst, MA
  • had people over to dinner, gone out to dinner and had a pique-nique at a dear friend’s house (hugs all around)
  • mounted an exhibit of the Daily Project in my dining room
  • helped a friend with her father’s terminal illness
  • answered questions to for the Northampton Center for the Arts Featured Artist spotlight(!!)
  • reserved a dumpster so we can get things out of the cellar so the mason can fix the (non-weight bearing) wall that is composed of melting(?) bricks
  • applied for a mentorship (I would be the mentee)

It’s been a while – what have you been up to?

#DailyFeb2021

Hey Friends! We are half way thought January 2021 (I know, it feels like another damn decade, but no, it is just that full of incident) and it is time to think about, and make your plans for, doing something daily in Feb 2021. I have posted these “rules” before, for Feb 2020, and Feb 2019. I’ve been recruiting friends for almost as long; from Clevermanka.net, and Jenny Crusie’s Argh people, as well as anyone else who is inspired by seeing it here or on Instagram.

Below are some images from #dailyFeb2018, #dailyFeb2019 and #dailyFeb2020:

February, as we all well know, is the longest month. The Romans did us a favor by chopping days off it until it felt as long as July, but since it has only 28 days this year, it is technically shorter by two or three days than any other month we have.

Since we are going to do something daily, picking Feb to start seems like a good plan. And yes, we are going for daily, which is why we have The Rules, outlined and explained below.

In order to keep from being overwhelmed, we have Rules, and the Rules are what we must have:

  1. we must have A Very Low Bar
  2. we must have Very Clear Boundaries and
  3. and we should aim for Quantity Not Quality

Let me explain.

A Very Low Bar: The purpose of an absurdly low bar is to invite anyone and everyone to step over it, to prove, in fact, that anyone and everyone can step over it. Having stepped over it gives you a little jolt of accomplishment, which is a good thing, and encourages you to do it again. We are after that tiny jolt of encouragement that comes from doing the thing. That will propel you to do it again, and again, and again, which is practice. So choose something you have tools for. Choose something that you can set up quickly and clean up easily (or set up in a corner somewhere that won’t be disturbed). Lower the threshold for doing the thing as much as you possibly can. To that end, it is perfectly legit to lay in a stock of things before Feb 1 – like pre-cut paper, sharpened pencils, the paints for this February’s palette, or all the ends of sock yarn you have on hand. Get a little excited about this process!

Very Clear Boundaries: This is a lesson from Twyla Tharpe’s book The Creative Habit , reinforced by personal experience, and even Orson Welles (“The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.” ) To this end, 1) you must put some lines around what you want to practice, and B) make that measurable. So choose a size, limit your palette, limit number of stitches you are knitting, limit yarn size, commit to buying nothing new, or using up all of a resource, do whatever you need to make the box you are creating around your project small enough to be a little constrictive, so that you can experiment with pushing at the edges without having to spend too much time finding the edges first.

Quantity Not Quality: To make that measurable, choose metrics you can see, and count, things that are strictly mathematical or true/false. Your metrics matter, a lot. “Make one nice picture” is useless because who says it is nice? “Use up all the paint I have” is a very good metric because you can tell when you’ve achieved it and also it is pushing you towards more using and making.

I will posting my work on my Instagram account, using the #dailyFeb2021 tag. Post your work too! Use the tag to boast about your own work, and see what other people are doing. Everyone’s friendly!

more rivers!

Three little ones – about 2×4″ – and one working on getting bigger – 4×8″

I’m figuring out how to draw the laser cutting lines right on the stitched material, so I am working in response to the stitching I have already done instead of carefully sewing the places I know will be cut out later. It is a small distinction, but it lets me work more fluidly in the early part of the process, with fabric and thread.

skills, materials, tools

I made this yesterday, and it took me two years, plus an afternoon.

It has been two years that I’ve been thinking about the ways I could make use of laser cutting in my work. It has been two years of getting a grip on the software and concepts, the capabilities and limitations of the tool and the materials it could cut. Each time I learned something, my vision of what I wanted to do got clearer.

And so I can make things like this now.

I feel like I am balanced at the top of whole new mountain – gathering my courage to descend into a valley full of ideas and projects.

Crit group or rubber duck?

Programmers and authors know for certain that some problems that feel intractable yield readily to being described to an interested observer. When an interested observer is unavailable, they can, and do, describe the problem to an inanimate object in their vicinity – a rubber duck, a stapler, etc. This is a known phenomenon, and many people have sympathetic ducks or other (toy) creatures on their desk for exactly this reason.

I am having what I am fairly certain is a rubber duck problem – I have finished two pieces using the same palette, and the same techniques, and I think (I think) one is kind of a hot mess, and one is a really solid piece of work. OR… it could be that one is a step towards more intricate work, and the other is too simple. OR … you get the idea. They could both be doing interesting things in different ways?

The biggest issue with my rubber duck, is that she doesn’t say much.

bear anatomy

I mentioned a while back I had been working on making a jointed bear. the plan was to use the laser cutter to cut parts, and then hold them together using some kind of pins or tiny nuts and bolts so the legs and head would move in realistic ways. I was inspired to do this while looking at Laura Mathews Instagram feed – she makes extraordinary articulated animals, and they look like such excellent toys, both to build and to play with.

I started the process with a drawing, and some reference photos, and worked out a first draft, but it wasn’t quite right, and I wasn’t sure why.

I am embarrassed at how long it took me to think to look at actual bear anatomy, especially bone structure and musculature.

I did not look for bear anatomy, because I thought I understood quadruped anatomy, because I have drawn horses for my entire life. Any quadruped I see, I can map it roughly onto a horse, and sketch out something that looks perfectly reasonable. But it is not, in fact, reasonable.

To be technical, a horse is an ungulate. They walk about on their tippy-toes, and hide their (vestigial) thumbs up their legs somewhere. (Alice weirded out another visitor at the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology by crooning to a skeleton “ah my little ungulate, and where do you hide your thumbs…?”). Bears (and I realize this is a shock) are not ungulates. The scales have fallen from my eyes, and my bear models are hugely improved:

Also I am looking at all other mammals (squirrel, rabbit, chipmunk, cat), and also many non-mammal vertebrates (BIRDS!!! SO WEIRD!!!!), and thinking “whoa, that is not an ungulate either, I wonder what their bones look like???”

tl;dr Bears are not ungulates, and once you understand their skeleton better the models of them work SO MUCH BETTER. Also I think it hilarious that I was last month years old when I figured this out. There is always room for new knowledge. What have you learned recently?

distractions for a pandemic

Last year I signed up for Rebecca Mezoff’s class on weaving tapestry on little looms. She is a delightful teacher, and I enjoyed the class a lot. I was working on a loom I had cut from thin plywood using the laser cutter at Smith College – the first loom I made was too flimsy, and the next several attempts were respectively not cut all the way through, excessively burnt and off center. I decided I had enough things to work on in the fall and stopped weaving for a while.

With the pandemic and resulting directions to stay home, I have revisited the idea of tapestries, particularly weaving small, four selvedge pieces. After a good deal of thrashing about in the shop yesterday, I produced a prototype small loom with adjustable tension.

The “comb” parts came from one of the heavier failed laser cut looms. The rest is scraps and a large bolt scrounged from various bins. While I am pleased with myself for accomplishing this object, it turns out to be less than completely functional. The teeth are too fat to make a selvedge (a woven edge that does not need finishing) and the not quite deep enough to hold multiple loops of string for a string supported warp. I found these things through trial and error, and a series of false starts.

On the left, from top to bottom, my first, second and third attempts at weaving, along with another picture of the loom. Not shown, the various warp experiments that failed to stay in place long enough to weave anything. On the right, my first four selvedge piece, with a penny for scale. The side selvedges are spectacularly wobbly, but the basic idea is there, and I am pleased.

And I have ordered a Mirrix Saffron loom, because while I could indeed continue to work on this one, it will be so much easier to get going on a loom that is designed to do what I want from the ground up. And having had a lot of fun weaving, and a good deal of aggravation getting set up, I’m all about decreasing aggravation, and increasing the fun quotient.

I should likely talk about the Daily 100, and the creative project next time!

Bench Notes: printing from embroidery

I had an epiphany the last day of the North Country Studio Workshop, when I was captivated by the work in the print studio, and I came back to the fiber studio and looked at all the stitches we had put on things-that-were-not-fabric – the stitches made a raised surface that looked like it could be printed from.

I feel like I have been broody about this idea for the last three weeks, like a hen all spread out over her nest, protecting the eggs and keeping anyone else from looking at them too closely. Including myself; if I examine an idea in this stage too hard it just evaporates out from under me. Whereas sitting quietly with the tiniest beginnings allows them to grow, to gather steam and become big enough to work on.

These are tests, so they are fairly small (2.5×3.5″) I started with the process I am most comfortable with, using my sewing machine with #8 perle cotton in the bobbin. I worked with the piece upside down, which was helpful in part because that is the way the image will look printed. This is just the first two iterations, and some notes on what I think I want to change for the next iterations.

Notes:

  • the dots of fusible on the interfacing come through
  • stitching or not stitching the background does not seem to matter
  • the interfacing might not be stiff enough to hold the threads up, proud of the surface, enough for printing without the substrate carrying and transferring ink as well
  • wetting the embroidery slightly makes the ink soak into the threads, and provides a bolder print
  • except it also makes the ink soak into the substrate more, so there is more background noise

Next Steps:

  • find smoother interfacing, without the prominent bumps of fusible
  • try drilling holes in a stiffer substrate – chipboard or thin plywood
  • what difference does hand sewing make? I could use thicker threads working by hand than with a machine, but the line is not continuous
  • does a different type of thread matter? Nylon, rayon, linen are all on hand for testing

Sumac three ways

Sometimes I get stuck on a particular topic. The staghorn sumac berries were speaking to me. I finished the first one, with two colors of velvet providing depth and one variegated thread defining the berries. But!! I was not done! The second piece used one solid color of velvet for the body of the subject, and I added three different variegated threads to shade the shape. The third one I used heavy perle cotton in the bobbin, and worked upside down, over brown velvet. I used two related colors of thread to give lighter and darker sides.

There’s a modern, painterly feel of the first one, and it surprises me how much I like it. The second one has some delicate shading in it, but the background is … busy. The third one feels most like my usual work.

What do you think?