Keeping Busy in the Studio

My new Crocs, the only shoes that fit right now but at least both feet are level with each other!

I can now take the stairs one step at a time with one foot on each tread…going down as well as up. Each weekday this week I have been in the gym working on the recumbent bike for one half hour and then doing some upper body work and boxing…..all finished by 6:30 am. It feels good to be back there.

And it feels good to be in the studio. I am using years of sketchbooks to harvest the things that I thought were important during my time there to use in the tiny books of sketches. It is so much fun to go though them and pick images of the little things. Here are some of the covers.

You see that one in the lower left? I made that for one my early trips down under to a basket conference in Tasmania. I bought that fabric because I thought it looked Australian. They did not think it did that much. Funny how we have preconceived notions of what looks just perfect. And I still think it does….mainly because of the colors but the pathway markings as well.

Here are more of those books opened up to show the things I was drawing.

I love that ant nest made up of leaves and the fierce green bottomed ants that made it. That was on the Katherine pages from quite a while ago. There is a William Ricketts page in the upper right. He was a strange one. Here is a picture of the sculpture I like the most of his. I call it Ricketts as Kangaroo. This one is at Pichi Richi in Alice Springs but my sketches in the book here are from his place in the Dandenongs near Melbourne. There are more sketches of Eucalyptus leaves than anything. Such great colors and forms.

Some of the books have quite a bit of writing in them and I got sidetracked reading the thoughts I had at the time. But so far there are six of the fourteen small books finished. When I get them all finished I will figure out how to put them in a container with the pigments coptic bound pages book. And maybe, just maybe it will be the last piece of work about Australia that I do. Hard to say that with so many of the watercolors left unused, but we will see what happens.

My trip for 2019 is pretty much all set now. My rides to various places are set on friends’schedules. Just flight and hotel arrangements to go. Hopefully the classes fill and then I can think about what to pack for students.

And just about an hour ago a South Australian newspaper insert magazine arrived with this picture in it.

These were several of the pieces on exhibit for the Waterhouse Art and Science Exhibition at the South Australian Museum. Thank you Madeleine, that was very thoughtful to send it to me. The awards went to well-deserving pieces…..some very complex.

There is not much else going on here. Art Group met last Sunday. We are such a diverse group of artists. It is always inspiring to see what they are thinking about and how that manifests itself in the work.

I am going to do some sewing next week. Lovely linen shirt fabric is on the way and I am figuring out how to sew that utility zippered carryall for tools. It will be a Chinese puzzle to figure it all out but I feel the urge to just sew something.

Til later.


More Tiny Sketchbooks in the Works

I am using my previous sketchbooks done in Australia as the source for these tiny books. It is easy to get lost in the memory of each page. Some of these are from spending time with Barbara Rowe at her condominium in Melbourne. See that teal tea pot there? I sketched this pot every time I stayed with her. The color, the shape and that carved open spout.  She has had it for years and always fixed me tea in it. Another memory of her is that first one on the left. Barbara is an extraordinary master of placing things together. It could be her ikebana training or she is just a natural. Anyway that was the largest green glass pot that held just a couple of stems of grasses. The way the light caught in the glass and colored the things around it and the way the breeze rustled the grasses as it swept gently through from the balcony ten floors up was so beautiful and quiet. I loved staying with her because of the quiet and gentleness of her and her things. One time she took a tangerine and used a bit of hand twisted daylily leaf to tie it up like a gift. Then she placed it on a bit of dried hard green grass she rescued from someone’s mower on the street and placed this arrangement in the center of the table. It was beautiful and that tangerine is sketched onto one of these pages.

And some of these pages are from the garden between Janet DeBoer’s house and Gallery 159 out the back. Janet would be busy writing and organizing the Textile Fibre Forum magazine and I would have the quiet time in this space to pick up leaves and pods to record. I think that is called a shrimp plant that I also found in her yard. The pepper tree branch in the center of the picture is from the ride across Australia in 2001. I treated myself to a first class ticket on the Indian Pacific Railway and because I was a lone traveler, mealtimes found me filling in at tables made up to seat four. Luckily I was placed quite often with three sisters traveling together. When they saw my sketchbook they would pick bits of the bush whenever we stopped to look around. I do not think the peppers are edible but they were so delicate to draw with those lovely flowing little leaves along the thin branches. I had made a special book to take on this train ride for all the things I wanted to write about only, no sketching. I left it on the train and it was lost forever. But the sketchbook from that time brings some of it back. And you can not be down under without seeing and hearing a kookaburra.

The Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Cairns and then Melbourne and the work of John Davis seen in the most amazing exhibition of his life in art. All those fish made with muslin, sticks and asphalt. The catalog from that show is right up there with the one from Lee Bontecou’s retrospective in Chicago. Both heavy on earth tones. Both keeping you transfixed in place while you just look in wonder and appreciation that an artist can and did do this.

I wish there was more work like this. So much today is “showy”, colorful, and about being beautiful. It seems the materials used is what the work is about. And we can all look at it and say, “lovely”. And that is all there is to say.

We were having a talk the other day in the studio about this. If someone who makes lovely arrangements of Japanese bits and pieces into collages and then teaches a workshop in doing collage, I would guess that the students would bring to class all their bits and pieces similar to what the instructor uses.  And with a couple reminders from the instructor on good design basics, they would end up with pieces all looking alike. There would be bits of exposed Japanese writing, some beige paper, corrugated card board is often used, a bit of that rich dark red, but not too much, maybe an old piece of wood or an old paint brush, a smear of gesso, something tied down with raffia, you get the idea. And yes, some stitching somewhere.

But if just one person was different. What if the only thing she had that she loved and wanted to use was old plastic bread bag closures in various colors. They are not particularly pretty, so making something beautiful or “lovely” might be out of the question. But to me they seem so much more powerful because she has them for a reason. Some of them have expiration dates on them. Her work becomes about time, expiration, “daily bread” and says something about her as an artist. These little bits of plastic seem so much more powerful and important than the placing of pretty objects. And the work becomes quite likely unforgettable.

And once you see them in an artwork, you do not forget. I still remember a student in my class a good fifteen years ago whose husband told her earlier that month that he did not love her and was leaving after over forty years. He told her this after she had fixed his breakfast. She went to the kitchen and took off the bread bag closure that had that date on it. She used it in a book about her family life.

Anyway the conclusion of the discussion is that some of us look for meaning that simply is not there. Some do work that is just fun to make with pretty materials. And some of us can’t even pick up a bit of anything without the meaning being there first.

Okay enough. My foot is out of the boot. I am in crocs and art group is tomorrow.

Til later.


Australia Pigments Book Getting Companions

I like this arrangement for the table. It started a couple of weeks ago for the art group dinner. Each small pot got some mountain laurel. Now I am on to whatever I can pick in the garden. This morning yarrow and whatever this little maroon and golden bloom is, and just a bit of mint for green. It is nice to have them spaced along the center of the table instead of one larger bouquet.

The last of the coreopsis is in there as well.

And I decided to make the folios for another book of small illustrations about Australia. The edges of them were sanded to make them compatible with the pigments book by absorbing more of the watercolors from down under. I made over one hundred of them. Then I scored and folded each one at the spine. I learned to fold in both directions to make the creases work better for opening.

Then after just putting images on a page or two, I got out the Australian Bird Book. It was given to me by a book dealer in Asheville several years ago. She told me, “No one else will want it.” I loved her generosity and I love this book.

Originally I thought that the pages would all be coptic stitched together like the pigments one. But after doing the drawings/paintings on all four sides of each folio, I thought the fun of these is to be able to turn the pages. That would be impossible with a long string of folios.

So I decided to make fourteen (one for each trip to Australia) separate books of eight folios each.

Naturally the first page of book one is a Eucalyptus branch and leaves. Here are some of the illustrations on pages in between the leaves and the hopping away kangaroo.

A couple of pages for the basket makers and a nod to why I was first hired to teach there in 1997.

And of course the cane toad.

I am also learning or at least trying to learn not to put each illustration in the middle of the page. It makes the book more active.

And I must say that it feels lovely and intimate in the hands. This is going to be a fun project for me to work on. And once eight folios are finished, just thread those needles and stitch them up. No covers necessary as I want the feeling of things spotted along the way in my travels down under.

And here it is tucked in next to the pigments book. When the fourteen small illustrated books are finished I think they would look good in a box just tumbling around the soft undulating pigments book.

Both pieces are very inviting to the hand. Both make me feel like I am there.

In the meantime the only parts of the novella Kind Gestures to put on the website are the final chapter and epilogue. By Friday I think it will all be there. Then if I am not escaping to Australia, I can go back to Oliver, North Carolina and see how the “girls” are doing. For now I am taking my distances where I find them.

Til next time.

Back in the Studio

I am back in the studio…even sleeping down here now. Lee needed his own bed and one time on that couch I could see why. So for now things are going good.

Stitching did not work on these small folios because the stitches had to be too far apart to keep the paper from tearing. In other words it was a dumb idea. So I got out my Japanese hole punch and picked the proportionately right size to make tracking marks on every one of the one hundred ninety-two folios. I was careful to make sure that no holes were punched in the fold.

Here are just the red ones.

The coptic bound book will start with this top one as it goes through all the colors of Australian soils that I have made over the years.

I am hoping that when all bound, the book will be hard to hold in my hands…..much like the memories and strong feelings for my time spent in that country.  Sort of thinking impossible to hold and always showing me something else as it flips about.

It took a while to do each page and then get the colors flowing nicely as they change from one section to another.

I think this is the order that they will be stitched. Probably a white thread but a soft green waxed linen might work better to support and not tear at the folds. After each page was painted I gave it a coating to help keep it strong. It was only a Thai kozo paper that I love working with.

Here is the punch with the color dots that I could not part with.

So they ended up here for now.

I am finalizing the trip back to Australia next year. I like getting the details all taken care of well ahead of time. Starting in Newcastle doing a workshop for Timeless Textiles in early March, then onto a few days in a Melbourne hotel for sightseeing. Catch the train to Halls Gap, stay on with friends when the workshop finishes, back toward Melbourne and Baldessin Press for those special few days of printmaking and book arts before catching the train down to Geelong to do a final workshop there in white line printmaking. All of this will take just under a month and I am so looking forward to being back in the midst of good times with good friends and super students.

Sadie is glad to see me back in the studio. She stacked a few stones from Australia. The two largest ones were given to me by an artist I met while staying at Baldessin Press last March. She had read my book and thought I should have some from her. Kim Evans is her name and her fantasy type drawings/paintings are simply stunning. Some are part of an exhibition going on now in Seattle.

Here is Kim’s view from her studio. Very lucky girl!

A beautiful wild parrot, a crimson rosella I think, flies into an open window of her studio to watch her work. Amazing and I was thrilled to be invited for dinner with Kim, her husband and another artist working at Baldessin Press before she was taking off to walk the Camino in Spain. Good times, good company, good memories.

And here is Sadie.

I think I will start stitching the folios tomorrow. It is a holiday weekend through Monday and Tuesday the window washers and a tree man come in the morning. Too much green too close to the house feels oppressive… some thinning is needed.

Later today I will have a single malt and visit with a good friend. For now I will return to Jon Meachum’s new book on “The Soul of America.” We survived McCarthyism before and he feels we can do it again. This time we have so much to clean up. The mess is getting worse each day with the selfish incompetency in government.

I sold this small boat after it came home from exhibition. It is going to a very good home to someone who really loves it. Can’t ask for more.

Til later when I get something done.