My Mind This Week

We are having some beautiful skies this week. It is the Summer Solstice here, Winter Solstice down under where I see they too have exquisite sunsets happening. It seems I am more in touch with what is going on down there than here according to my facebook feeds. It is the shared frustration with our politics as well as our interest in the arts that keep us in touch. The fears of “otherness” has put deep scars in not just our two countries but the world as well.

Ever since the seventies in the time of “free love” I honestly thought that we were headed toward a more enlightened way of seeing. Naive at best. And maybe it is being an artist, caught up in my own passions to visualize an awareness and then wanting to share.

It was sad to see an article by the BBC about how the truly American expression of quilt making has become so divisive here in this country. Conservatives squaring up against those who use the quilt form as expressions of opposition to our present government. How can that be justified? Objects, large objects made from the very medium that covers our bodies and “protects” us has always been one of the most expressive materials to make us think. Just think the Aids Quilt to start, then the narrative quilts of Faith Ringgold and others like her. I remember being so impressed to meet the young woman who was making quilts depicting the threatened owls of the Northwest through deforestation.

It is the responsibility of artists to use whatever medium is at our disposal to make a point. Whether the viewer likes it or not is hardly the point. I made this one after one President Bush left office and we were in the middle of another one. It is titled, “Lost Peaces”. The base cloth scraps were from canvases I had painted and collaged about the peace and calm of tai chi movements. Onto them I shaped fragile paper birds starting with the dove of peace coming in from the top right only to be shot down and added to specimen drawers full of his predecessors. Each of them tagged on the leg with a small excerpt from a gardening book why certain plants need to be kept away from other ones so as to avoid contamination of species. It is also filled with rusted nails lined up like armaments. It hangs behind me here in the office right now and only had one public showing. A textile show in Asheville where it was kept off to one end away from those that were more about cloth and surface design.

I will probably take it to the landfill after removing all those wonderful rusty nails….but not yet. It seems more important this week after reading the BBC article.

On another subject this week I just want to give a nod to the women who have touched me in ways few have. I am thinking of only three right now. One who is always there at the end of the phone or in person to remind me to laugh. She is always there before I knew I needed her to be here to listen, just listen with a scotch in hand. Another called last night, again with scotch in hand. She lives in Canada and we have known each other since graduate school twenty years ago. Her call was to commiserate about our pitiful state of politics in this country and how we have allowed ourselves to become so fearful and easily manipulated. Of course they have what most of us would consider the ideal leader sitting in their capitol while we have whatever this is…a combination of all the worst when there is such an absence of integrity.

And another who my thoughts are with as she struggles with perhaps the final stages of cancer. I never knew her well but I wanted her to know just how much I needed to hear her answer to a question I had asked myself for years, “Am I doing enough and am I doing it right?”. I would ask every older woman artist that I respected if they were constantly nagged by that question. Most said they never gave it a thought. One time a friend and I asked an online ouija board the same question and after several minutes…it spelled out “maybe”. How silly was that! But this woman who I spent little time with and so admired her artwork told me, “Sandy, it doesn’t matter.” I stopped asking the question after that and wanted to thank her for her simple bit of insight that had escaped me.

My art group meets here this weekend and I am forever grateful for their willingness to talk and listen to the things that matter. This week they will see all the specimens framed and the journal I am working on. And they will also understand the deep importance of the Land of Lethe map still tucked into its blank journal waiting for words.

So finally in this rather rambling blog are more of the specimen journal pages.

One signature is finished and I am well into the next one. It has been a great distraction working on this, an imaginary place to go. It works like tai chi and some yoga stretches. You come away from it refreshed and ready to tackle whatever is next.

The next few days I will be sewing clothes. Taking two shirts or more to make one I would wear. Sewing up fabrics I just had to have from Dairings in Australia and throwing out scraps that at one time seemed important and now have no reason for being here.

Til next week. And if you have a friend who drinks single malt scotch, you have a good listener, a good friend.



Busy week outside of the studio but there have been some accomplishments based on last week’s blog. The Specimen Series now has the beginnings of a journal. On a shelf for a few years were two old pieces of wormy chestnut that had been cut into what could someday be book covers. They looked just right for some very old book that had been recently discovered. Also in the closet with some book board I found three pages, very large pages, of a paper I bought from the often elusive paper store in Asheville that has been out of business for more than a few years now. They were some sort of book page paper, creamy in color and smooth in texture. I tore them into folios and found they were perfectly sized for the covers with no waste. But I did have to shape them to fit the covers slanted corners in the upper right.

See the papers here folded onto the covers and then the close up of the corner.

The pages look all rumply because I soaked each folio and hung them to dry. I wanted them to look more the part of an old field journal.  After they were stacked and fitted between the covers I could see how much had to be chewed away to make the text block fit the worn down corner. So I marked how far to sand them down on my small belt sander and then further hacked away at them with a tool used for texturing clay work. Potters tools can be quite handy in a studio that uses paper as a main medium. A rough cheese grater might have done the same thing but that was in the kitchen….not the studio.

So I went to the first full page of eight three folio signatures and made this first drawing/painting for the Specimen Journal. I want this book to show the specimens in a more natural habitat…more like what the discoverer would have seen while out in the bush poking about. Here is the dragonfly laying eggs in a quickly assembled nest.

I am tempted to fill this page up with other observations he might have made while watching. There is a language along some of the grasses and flowing on the page. A language of marks that would only mean something to the writer or journal keeper in this case. I rather like how the dragonfly folds his wings back and extends  the lower body to drop eggs. On the sequential page I will have them hatching and then move onto another insect’s life. The empty space on this page bothers me and maybe one of the butterflies should be resting somewhere…maybe not. If there are twenty four folios with four sides each that is ninety-two pages to fill with whatever occurs out there in the bush. I likely will have to do a coptic binding as the wood won’t take much sawing and cutting to use some sort of strap binding. But binding it all together will be the last step. The pages need to be painted first just for ease of handling.

And the other journal for holding thoughts and the map of Lethe is here. It is made of a thinnish pig skin with a simple stitched binding. The map is folded per the instructions I found on folding topography maps. Each section is numbered in case that might be important for referencing notes in the journal.

Here is the book:

One quarter of the map:

And the title corner:

I can put whatever I want on the map and so far of all things there is just two tall mountains drawn rather simply to represent our trip to China. Those tall old looking mountains that just appear rising from the Yangtze River. Funny how shapes of memories matter more than what might have happened there are more relevant.

Well that is where this week is. Tai chi, some yoga stretches, bit of treadmill with a rather dumb story on cd before wine and game hen later.

Filling Spaces – Boxing Things Up

This was the start of making those little roofed houses with clothes lines. I was using older stamps I had made for a limited edition book based on Thomas Wolfe’s quote about the “familiar” and a self portrait image with the dreaded blackbird bringing messages.

I used several small crow stamps that I carved as well. I was making houses to contain not only the images but the feelings as well. There was no need to have doors on the house. These feelings and the representative images are just always there, coming and going at will.

But I took all five houses, now called “Santuaries”, and put them behind glass in “landscaped” surroundings. Now the viewer and myself can be reflected in the glass and be part of the occupancy in the house. And I like the invisible barrier of a sheet of glass. It somehow “specimensizes” whatever is enclosed behind it. And I like specimens. They are meant to be examined, thought about, puzzled over.

Here are some of the finished ones.

These are all behind glass in deep wooden black frames now.

It seems I was putting things in boxes with special places for some time how. Like these four door treasure boxes based on a Chinese design.

Each section tells its own story, has a separate narrative that relates to the whole. And the center part that lifts out to unlock the other four sections has something that makes a sound. It communicates to the handler/viewer that something more is going to happen.

And this one. The Travelers Box. All about his collected memories and specimens collected in his pockets.

The Travelers Box was made to raise the question of whether we accumulate too many memories and then have to make a conscious decision of which ones to hang on to and which and therefore, who, to let go. I like the bits from his pockets next to his travel journey in the case. This piece sold at a book exhibition several years ago and I still like how it makes me feel when I see it. Do you see the image of the traveler coming home in his buggy behind his memorabilia? My travelers always seem to be men. I think they have more interesting things in their pockets. And pockets are so personal. More so than a purse or shopping bag.

Here is another one from the series of travel boxes I have in my office. This is Italy.

These boxes help me to only hang onto the bits that matter from a trip. Once the box is filled, all the things that didn’t make the cut can be tossed out. Sort of like distilling the journey to each place by making the appropriate size box after the culling has been done.

And one of my favorite series, The Curiosity Cabinets. I only have one left and it could be this one.

This next week my studio ceiling is getting repainted and I will probably get to that dragonfly.

Til then.

Bush Boro Book 2 – Finished, I Think

It is the end of April. The Bush Boro Book 2 is complete, or at least I am thinking it is. The color of the sunset the other night is similar to the colors of the book. It is an iron-filled sky with bits of brightness.

I chose eight folios and used six as the text block that gave me twenty-four pages to work on or at least be aware of as I stitched into them. The other two folios were used as the concertina binding/spine and the last one to act as back cover, foredge protector and tuck in cover. See below.

I never know how a book should be bound until I finish it. I like how this one can be opened and the whole “bush” explodes out.

All it takes is the release of the cover from the front spine flap. Here is more or less the title page. The one thing about working with these contact prints is that they are just lovely left alone. And most people do just that – let the beautiful image be the story.

I wanted more of myself in the book so chose to stay with the addition of prints. These are those small dry point etchings using an umber ink. They were trimmed and stitched to the page where there was not something just too lovely to cover up. The edges of the prints were toned with a watercolor wash. I worked on each folio individually but keeping in mind the previous and next one in the order I chose for them to appear.

After deciding on the binding format and using a three hole stitch with the knot inside the folio, I thought I wanted to drop the prints further back. So using my mix of cornstarch paste and PVA I brushed on small additional patches of the contact printed fabrics.

The final step was to create my own “tracking” through Australia’s bush mark using a watercolor I made from the soils of that country. In this case, Bachus Marsh Salmon, a cheery pinkish yellow ochre.

I was thinking of adding text in some way but decided it was more than I wanted or needed. Maybe the next Bush Boro Book will have text. There are enough of these folios to make another three books if I use this format.

But I could use all of them by tearing them in half and having them hinged in a way so as to make a long meandering path through the bush. And text could also meander along…..AND the whole thing could be flipped over to take another walk.

Binding that particular experience is going to be fun to figure out….maybe a small suitcase or back pack-looking thing….maybe a passport holder…..maybe….

This book like Bush Boro 1 feels good in the hands. I think that is essential in a book – that it feels good. It should be inviting to touch and require manipulation, more manipulation than simply turning a page. Anyway that is my thinking.

One more thing on my mind this week. I see there are more book releases on how to think creatively. Did we ever need assistance with that? Did we ever need to give someone else money to tell us how to assemble parts that are likely just sitting there in front of us. Sitting there with endless possibilities and little prompting required. Even if we made something totally pitiful in appearance at least it was ours, and not part of an assembly line of someone else’s ideas. I think that I am at a loss on this.

Or, I could join the fray. Get a couple sticks, one rock, some glue and for a fee tell you what to do with them. Maybe, maybe not.

Til later.