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Spring has finally hit the northeast and the snow and ice have been replaced by daffodils and onion grass.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. 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.




watch the quilt show, any episode, for free this weekend

March 20th, 2015

Today’s the day!   The Quilt Show, the web TV show hosted by Alex Anderson and Ricky Tims is making all it’s episodes FREE for the entire weekend.  You can enjoy lots of wonderful and informative quilt shows even if you are not a member.  While you are there, check out the newest episode with Cindy Needham–I met her recently while we were teaching in Arizona and her work is unbelievably gorgeous.  And if you haven’t seen it, MY EPISODE, #1413 it is there, too.

In addition, you will have a chance to win over $5000 in prizes, including the Grand Prize, a BERNINA 550 QE  plus:

  • Innova – Have your quilt professionally quilted ($500 value)
  • Superior Threads – five $100 gift certificates
  • RJR Fabrics – a Delicious Selection of RJR Fabrics
  • AccuQuilt – GO! Big Electric Fabric Cutter
  • Missouri Star Quilt Company –  $500 in Quilter’s Cash plus signed copies of Volume 1 of Block Magazine and Man Sewing Swag

It is snowing again in the northeast (we thought we were finished!) but where ever you live, what a great way to spend a weekend that is best spent indoors!

second article on we all sew

March 18th, 2015

A couple of weeks ago my article about finding your artistic voice appeared on the BERNINA We All Sew blogIf you found it helpful, please visit the site again today to see the second of three articles on the topic.  Today’s article defines the then things to think about when searching for your voice.

victory of sorts for artists

March 11th, 2015

Yesterday a court decided a song written by Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke was similar enough to one written by Marvin Gaye that substantial money damages were issued to Marvin Gaye’s heirs.  Some in the music industry claimed the “verdict could have a chilling effect on the future of songwriting” but I think this is a victory for creative people in all genres.

Although this verdict had nothing to do with visual art, the court was willing to recognize the similarities and protect the creative output of the original artist (in this case, songwriter).  This is a victory for people working in any creative field who are concerned not just about out and out copying, but the more subtle infringement of derivation.  That was the case with this song–it wasn’t a blatant repackaging of the original, but it had enough elements that overlap that it was deemed derivative and the copyrights of the original songwriter were protected.

Derivative art, which I have discussed in this blog before, is different from flat out plagiarism.  To copy an artwork and call it your own is a blatant disregard of copyright.  But a much more nuanced form of plagiarism is derivative work–work that may be original but is so clearly influenced that it forms a blurred line, ironically the title of the song in yesterday’s ruling.

In another recent music case, Sam Smith was ordered to share songwriting credits with Tom Petty for a song of his that was clearly derivative of something Tom Petty had written and recorded years ago.  I am not an expert in popular music by any means, but it seems to me that this is not a new phenomenon and there is a lot of derivative music out there.  These two recent rulings mean that songwriters will have to be more careful about what they call original in the future or suffer financial consequences.  The chilling effect this could have on the future of popular music is that songwriters will have to be much more thoughtful about their creative output.

Derivative art, like music, is not wholly original.  For most small potatoes artists like me, this may never help me if and when derivative art with my underlying signature rears it’s head–both sides need to be high profile enough and the stakes high enough to spend money to defend it.  But to me this sends a message (first to the music world which will hopefully trickle down to the rest of the arts) that derivative art is in fact, an infringement of copyright.


watch the quilt show for free, three days only

March 7th, 2015

I am a big fan of The Quilt Show, the web TV show hosted by Alex Anderson and Ricky Tims.  It is where I get to learn lots things from people in our industry.  If you aren’t already familiar with it, this is your lucky chance to check it out.

In honor of International Quilting Weekend, March 20-22, 2015, The Quilt Show, will make all of its shows #100-1513 –FREE for the entire weekend (just click this link).  That includes MY EPISODE, #1413.  For three days, everyone will have the chance to view over 200 shows, featuring some of the quilting world’s leading artists.

In addition, this year’s sponsors are contributing over $5000 in prizes, including the Grand Prize, a BERNINA 550 QE .  You KNOW I love my BERNINA–what an amazing prize.  Someone is going to be VERY lucky!

You will also have a chance to win these wonderful prizes:

  • Innova – Have your quilt professionally quilted ($500 value)
  • Superior Threads – five $100 gift certificates
  • RJR Fabrics – a Delicious Selection of RJR Fabrics
  • AccuQuilt – GO! Big Electric Fabric Cutter
  • Missouri Star Quilt Company –  $500 in Quilter’s Cash plus signed copies of Volume 1 of Block Magazine and Man Sewing Swag

As you may remember, I appeared as the featured artist on TQS in show 1413.  (It was great fun and I so enjoyed spending time with Alex and Ricky).  If you didn’t have the opportunity to see this show the first time around, now you’ll have a chance to see it—so check it out.  And while you are at it, take advantage of so many other terrific shows while you can for free, for just these three days.

Enjoy the shows and let your friends know!

what a difference a few days make

March 5th, 2015

It is snowing AGAIN in NY, but this time it doesn’t seem to be bothering me as much.  To begin with, my BERNINA and I have spent some quality time in the past two days, and now that I feel I am back on track and making progress, the weather doesn’t faze me as much.  I even figured out the solution to a problem that had been plaguing me, so all is good on that score.

The other reason is that rather than waking up to the finished storm, it is snowing now, that soft fluffy snow that sticks to everything and it is just beautiful (now I am happy not to go out, seeing it through the window is far superior to getting out and shoveling it!)

garden sculpture

My favorite garden sculpture, which looks lovely in all weather, looks particularly pretty this morning with the snow on top;

hummingbird sculpture

Look closely and you can see my snow covered hummingbird sculpture in the flower pot;

snow covered tree in backLooking out in back, the trees and the snow make a very pretty picture

back deck

But just so there is no misunderstanding, Mother Nature, this is it–it is pretty, I am enjoying it, I don’t mind being inside today, but enough already.  Bring on spring!