Blog

technology is great, until it isn’t

May 26th, 2015

For the past several days I have been having problems with this website, apparently I was hacked and by Saturday the site was toast.  My wonderful and helpful son got me up and running, except there are still some remaining kinks in the gallery section and my email.

I apologize to anyone who tried to access the site and could not, or who may have emailed me and I did not reply.  If you are trying to email and I have not responded, please email me at LeniW@optonline.net.

In the meantime, I hope to be up and fully restored soon.

finding the right fit for your goals

May 19th, 2015

In the past week or so I have been thinking a lot about how we each find the right fit for ourselves in the art world.  This has been a result of several discussions with other people–all independent of each other–that made me start to focus more on how our reality is molded from our needs and how that can be different for each person.

I guess it all starts with what we each see as our long term and short term goals.  I have talked about this before on this blog, the fact that every year I set a professional goal for myself and all those short term goals are designed to move me closer to the one long term goal.  Sometimes, in trying to achieve the short term goal the long term goal line moves closer or farther away, or can even be re-evaluated.  That was the case for me several years ago.

That one year I had decided to focus on finding gallery representation as a step towards my long term goal of regularly selling work.  During that year I researched galleries, looking at the types of work they represented and in the end I did not send out a single inquiry.  The reason was that I was able to determine, being entirely honest with myself (which is not always easy) that my work was not gallery appropriate.  It did not fit into the mix of any of the galleries I looked at–sometimes because they did not deal at all with fiber, but mostly because my work is not decorative, landscape/nature inspired, cutting edge or abstract.  My work is too personal and too emotional to be easily sold in a gallery setting.  Not to mention that figurative work (although I am happy to see is on the upswing in NYC) has been out of fashion for a while (which is not to say there aren’t lots of figurative artists in many media who sell their work successfully in galleries–their work is far and away better than mine).

So what are our options as artists?  Each of us needs to decide what is important and what we can live with.  Some people teach, some publish.  For many that is the way to combine the need to make art with a way of earning a living.  For others, sales are the more important motivation.  They look for gallery representation or consider vanity galleries, or they choose to sell at crafts/art fairs.  Others decide that exhibition opportunities matter more than sales.  I sort of fall between the first and last.  Finding a way to make money from what I do means I do not have to focus on sales (and the inevitable alteration of my artistic voice in order to do so) and can focus on opportunities to get my work out there, as in the case of my upcoming solo museum exhibition this summer.  Of course, giving yourself permission just to make work in order to enjoy the process and satisfy yourself can mean a decision not to chase any of these other options–and being ok with that.

In much the same way as an artist needs to examine and explore what is important and what is not important in order to find their artistic voice, so must they also examine and explore their options in order to decide where they fit in the art world.  Making that decision can help set short and long term goals, and can also bring the peace of mind that comes with knowing you are working in a straight line.

the “Q” word

May 17th, 2015

I love quilts, those traditional patterns in an array of fabrics that cover a bed are simply wonderful.  I make them occasionally (especially when a new baby comes along), I teach traditional quilting, I go to quilt shows to see what people are doing and the red and white quilt exhibit a few years ago at the NYC Armory gave me chills.  I still marvel at the beauty of a Baltimore Album quilt or anything Amish.  But I consider what I do a far cry from a quilt.

It is not an accident that I do not follow in the footsteps of many others who do artwork with fabric who call themselves “art quilters”.  The very word “quilt” always invites the response “it is too small to fit on a bed” or something along the lines of would I finish the quilt grandma never completed (the answer is an unequivocal NO).  I got so tired of the distraction the word quilt inserts into any discussion, that for a long time I have chosen to describe what I do as fabric collage.

Presentation and perception are both critical in the acceptance of fabric art as art.  Presentation, because if it quacks like a quilt (if it has borders and a binding and hangs from a rod in a pocket) it will be perceived as a quilt.  And if it is perceived as a quilt it is often rejected by the art world outright and without consideration.  Slippery slope.  And a hard nut to crack in the museum and gallery world.

Recently, the SAQA Board of Directors voted to have a SAQA booth at QuiltCon (the major exhibition of the Modern Quilt Movement) and a SAQA exhibition there a year later.  Mine was the dissenting voice (it almost always is, I can practically feel the collective eye roll on conference calls whenever I speak) because I don’t think this is the direction SAQA should be going.  Don’t get me wrong, I am 100% behind the Modern Quilt Movement, which is characterized by updating the traditional quilt designs by executing them in a new (hence, modern) way.  Anything that brings younger people into the fold and keeps all those quilt shops around the country in business is a win win in my book.  And I do think some of what the modern quilters are doing is art that stands apart from its quilting roots.

For many years before it had a name, there were very successful fabric artists who were rifting on traditional quilt patterns and designs, so this is nothing new.  Even non-quilters like Ellsworth Kelly have flirted with art that invokes the quilt gods.  New package, new name, new exposure.  All great.  I guess my main problem with adding QuiltCon to the roster of SAQA venues is that it moves us in the wrong direction as artists.  It moves us into a world where all of what is done relies on the traditional quilt foundation, which makes much of the work more quilt transitional than standing on its own merits art.  And searching for new members at QuiltCon will require SAQA to accommodate a whole new population of members with different needs and focus.  And the name.  We need to move beyond the quilt perception if we want to make our mark in the art world.

I have been mostly silent on this blog about my removal as SAQA Exhibition Chair earlier this year.  The official reason is that I do not play nicely with others.  The real reason is that I desperately wanted to move us out of the quilt world and into the museum world.  One does not mean totally forsaking the other, but adding more and more quilt venues without spending the time and attention required to book exhibitions in museum venues is not the answer.  But not everyone deals well with change.  Change never scares me, I think growth requires (heck, it mandates) change.  Standing in one place while the world whizzes by is what scares me.

There is room for all of us to make what we want, exhibit where we want and call ourselves what we want.  For some, the association with the “Q” word is comforting and comfortable.  For me, it is an albatross around my neck.

I want to be perceived as an artist, not an art quilter.   That means the “Q” word is a no no for me.

 

tutorial

May 1st, 2015

In today’s we all sew blog, I have posted a simple tutorial that will introduce readers to my technique and how it works.  Check it out!

23. finished art quilt of a pear

deadlines can be a good thing

April 30th, 2015

For some reason, spring seems to be the time of year when my plate gets very full with things I need (or want) to get done.  No, it has nothing to do with gardening or anything like that–it may have more to do with bringing to a halt the inertia that sets in during a long winter.  One would think that all those months in the house would be a good time to be creative and get things done, but for some reason it does not always work out that way.

This winter was no exception.  Added to the horrible and seemingly unending winter, I was not well for part of it and consequently did not get as much done as I should (could) have.  But looming deadlines always push me to get motivated.  And this summer has a few of those.

First and foremost is the solo show.  If I haven’t explained the concept yet in this blog (or you missed it) it is this–a park bench and everyone who comes and sits on it over the course of a day, a week, a month, whatever.  These figures are freestanding, which is to say they do not have backgrounds, either figuratively (no pun intended) or literally–they hang out from the wall and cast their own shadows.  Even the bench is implied.  But the brain fills in the missing bench and  viewers are allowed to create their own environment as part of the story they imagine for each figure.  For example:

free standing hanging figure EM

Knowing that these figures (there are 40 of them) need to be completed and photographed has pushed me to work on them every day and really move through the workload.  I was working all winter, but not as efficiently or effectively.  Deadlines can definitely be my friend.

The other thing that is really important to understand about yourself is when you are at your working peak and how to plan your creative work around that time.  For me, I know I am most productive between about 10 AM and 2 PM so I try to schedule studio time during that time of day.  I also know that by 4:00 in the afternoon (although I blame it on the light) I am not as creative as I am earlier in the day so I use that time for catching up on emails and other things that do not require creative thought.  Just knowing that about myself makes a big difference in my creative output.

9:30, just about time for me to get into the studio and get some things done for today!!!

experimentation

April 22nd, 2015

Spring has finally hit the northeast and the snow and ice have been replaced by daffodils and onion grass.  With the renewal of warm air and blue skies comes my renewed efforts to complete the solo museum show–which I hope to have done in the next few weeks.

This exhibition represents a new phase of my development.  My idea was to remove the figures completely from their backgrounds, my continuing interest in depicting body language without the encumbrance of visual distraction.  How to do this has been on my mind for some time, and working through the ideas I had is, for me, in large part the joy of the process.

In this case, which is not always the way it goes, it all worked out exactly as it had in my head.  Yes, I did an experimental test and was pleased with the result.  Now to complete all forty figures the same way requires that I develop a system to move through them efficiently and effectively.  I am getting there.  Ten are done, thirty to go!

Standing still isn’t good for artists, we all need to keep stretching and testing the waters to move in new directions.  I know I talk a lot in this blog about finding your voice–for me that search has been the driving force behind my work, and the evolution over the past ten years or so moves (with a few jigs and jags) in a pretty straight line.  Without realizing it, I have really been examining body language almost from the start.  In the beginning it was figures as they related to their environment; then the environments were simplified and now the work I am producing is only about the body language of each figure without any distractions of environment at all.  I am pleased with where I am right now, but who knows where it will lead and where I will go from here.

The take-away today is this–push your limits, stretch yourself, think through where you want to be and how you might get there.  Then examine the materials available to you and what you can use to accomplish your vision.  Don’t stand still–keep moving forward.  And enjoy the scenery as you travel!

 

hug your local quilt shop today

April 14th, 2015

I was saddened to hear yesterday that Hartsdale Fabrics in Hartsdale, NY has closed.  Hartsdale is where I got my start in this business back in 2001.  The Headen family has owned and operated the store for 45 years.

In this day and age where there is so much available online (and often at a discount) I know many people shop the stores and then go home and find it cheaper online.  Quilting, although buoyed a bit in recent years by the Modern Quilt movement, is not as popular as it once was.  That means a tough business environment for all the family owned shops that cater to our needs.

But buying fabric online is not the same as touching it, looking at how the colors relate to each other (since screen resolution can be deceptive) and getting advice when needed from someone who knows the score.  I know there are lots of areas in the country where there is no other option than the internet but for those of you who check out the stores and then don’t buy from them, you are putting a resource you use in jeopardy.  Also jeopardizing the small shops are the “big box” sewing/craft stores which have their place but offer far fewer fabric choices than even a small quilt shop.  There should be room for everyone, even in a shrinking market–which is why we all need to support the small family owned quilt shops or risk losing them.

I do not want to see a world where I can’t find fabric except on the internet–and I live outside NYC where there are only a handful of store options within an hour’s drive of my house.  I like to see the new fabrics when they arrive, I like to feel the weight of them, see the true colors of them.  I like to browse the new books and the notions and the threads.  The personal service I get when I need answers about my machine (or just need to have it’s annual checkup) cannot be duplicated online.

Everyone of us who buys and uses fabric and thread needs to insure that this is not the end of an era.  We have to support our local quilt shops and make sure they survive these tough economic times.  If we love what we do we need to nurture those who allow us to find the materials we need to do it.  If you are lucky enough to have a local quilt shop–go buy something today.  Go show your support with your wallet.  And let’s make sure we don’t lose a valuable resource just to save a few dollars.

writing an artist statement

April 8th, 2015

Lots of artists are confused about what to include in an artist statement.   In addition, the process of writing one can help in the search for one’s artistic voice.  So today on the BERNINA We All Sew Blog I have written an article on how to write an artist statement.  It really isn’t as intimidating as some people think.

Check it out!!

don’t put off until tomorrow what you should have done yesterday

April 6th, 2015

Lots of artists complain about time management.  With our busy lives and many commitments, we all find it hard to make time to work on our art.  I was always the kid in school who did the term paper the weekend it was assigned, and even to this day I always subtract a month from every deadline just to build in some wiggle room.  Never was that so important than it turned out to be this weekend.  Here is what I learned the hard way:

one beautiful spring day

+ one gorgeous waterside park

+ one stone staircase

+one clumsy oaf (that would be me)

__________________________________

one broken right hand

It could have been worse–it is a hairline fracture and does not involve the knuckle (as the xrays first indicated).  Of course it was the right hand and not the left, but I can still function.  No doubt things will go slower and be a little trickier than they were three days ago.

My point–for the last two months I haven’t been feeling well and indulged in some “put it off until next week” attitude.  Now that I have used up some of that wiggle room, I didn’t plan on needing it again.  Any artist who enters exhibitions, publishes, or teaches knows that deadlines are not flexible and we need to make them work.  That means always trying to stay ahead of the game so the unexpected doesn’t bite you on the ass.

My upcoming career-first solo museum exhibition this summer has a deadline that is coming up–not fast but fast enough that taking off the six weeks I am told this will require to heal completely isn’t in the cards.  So I will muddle through.  Had I not given myself the minus one month final deadline I might be in worse shape–and maybe I will cut into that extra month if needed.

So take my advise, whatever deadline you have looming, always subtract a month from it and be prepared for the unexpected.  I am glad I did.

photoshop and gimp

March 28th, 2015

I am often asked how I use Photoshop and/or Gimp to make the patterns I use for my fabric collages.  Although there is some information in my book, I thought I would share some tips and tricks here today.

Adobe Photoshop or Photoshop Elements:

I actually use Elements, which is a stripped down version of full Photoshop; it does way more than I need it to do and is considerably less expensive than the full Photoshop program.  I am by no means a Photoshop expert (and there are plenty out there who are if you want to take a course).  But I use only a small fraction of what this program is capable of and therefore only need to understand that little bit.

In Photoshop (or Elements) I use the “cutout” filter.  Let me explain how that works.  The computer screen sees 256 colors.  The cutout filter will reduce the number of visible colors to only eight or less–and refers to them as “levels”.  That means colors that blend from one to another will be shown with a clear dividing line that is perfect for my purposes in identifying and using value to choose fabric.  But there is a learning curve.

First of all, for some photos simply applying the cutout filter to the entire photo works just fine and that is that.  But for most, reducing the number of colors so drastically means too many areas blend into each other and create a blob of color that doesn’t serve my purposes.  So I use the lasso tool (yes, that little icon on the sidebar that looks like a cowboy’s lasso).  I use the lasso to trace around a single area of like color (it takes practice) and then apply the cutout filter.  Anything inside the lasso will be the only area to which the filter (or anything else) is applied.  I can also lighten an area and/or bring up the contrast–just in that one spot.  Often I will use this tool to highlight specific areas and apply the filter a section at a time until I get the desired effect overall.  In addition, when doing the closeup of a face, I will often use the lasso to go around everything on the face EXCEPT the eyes, which will then not get the filter effect–leaving them clearer and easier to use as a pattern.  Trial and error and practice will make this work for you.  Remember to always save whatever you do in Photoshop with a new name so the original photo is never altered.

Advantages of Photoshop–

  1. the ability to fine tune the pattern by section by applying, say a level 4 (that is what the number of colors visible is called and levels go from 2 to 8) to one area but a 7 and then a 6 and then an 8 to other areas, customizing the pattern with exactly the level of detail you want exactly where you want it.
  2. a nice clean line of definition between colors/values that is easy to follow (although the result is sort of jiggy jaggy edges that I just smooth out when I trace onto the freezer paper).

Disadvantages of Photoshop–

  1. you need to purchase the program
  2. there is a learning curve before you will feel comfortable and get the results you want.

Enter Gimp.  I first started playing with Gimp when I was writing my latest book as the publisher wanted readers to be able to make their own patterns without purchasing a program.  Gimp operates by use of the same principles but the logistics and end result are a bit different.  I actually try both programs when I start on a new pattern, finding that the results are sometimes better with one than the other.  But if Gimp is all you have (the download is free) it works just fine.

In Gimp, I go to the upper menu bar to “color” and go down to choose “posterize”.  The photo appears on the screen in a box with a slider at the bottom and showing at a low level (3).  Using the slider I can move it one number at a time until the result looks like a pattern I can use (most often I am somewhere in the 7 to 11 range).  Then I save it using a different name (depending on your operating system you may need to go to “export” in order to save it as a jpeg,  If your operating system lets you save it as a jpeg from “save as”, you are good to go).  Again, either way changing the name when you save it protects the original photo.

Advantages of Gimp–

  1. very little learning curve
  2. ability to see the changes as you make them

Disadvantages of Gimp–

  1. color shift during the process.  For this reason I always print the original photo as a color reference–although even if the colors are wrong they are still in the right values.
  2. more difficult (although possible if you learn the ins and outs of the program) to isolate sections to work on one at a time as described in Photoshop
  3. less well defined edges (although certainly workable)

Once I have the pattern looking the way I want it, I use an online system to print them in the actual size of the finished art quilt.  www.blockposters.com is also described in my book, and although recently the look of the site has changed (and now charges for enlargements more than [if I remember correctly] six sheets of paper wide, otherwise it is free) it still works the same way.  Upload your image, which must be less than 1 MG and in jpeg format.  Tell the program how many pieces of paper wide and whether that paper is US or European size and whether it is horizonal or vertical.  The finished size comes up in cm, but it is easy enough to do a computer search in another window,  for example “57 cm= ? inches” and you will get the inch measurements.  Plus, the program will show the outlines of the pieces of paper, which means you will get the gist of the size anyway.  This takes you to a PDF you can print and/or save.  I do both the original photo and then the pattern in the same finished size for reference.

Having me make the pattern for you–

You may have noticed that I offer a pattern service on this website (click on art quilt patterns on the side menu) for $15.  For those of you who don’t want to fuss with these programs it is obviously an easier way to go.  You email me the photo and I will email you the pdfs of the original and the pattern for you to print from your computer.  But I will make the pattern as it looks right to me, and learning to do it yourself means you can tweak every little detail exactly the way you want it.  Still, if you prefer to just get to your stash and start making art, it is an option.  Interested?  Send me an email with the image and we can “talk”.

I hope this helps take some of the mystery out of the pattern making process.  It isn’t hard, you just need to jump in and play with the programs until you feel comfortable with them.