4 January, 2024

A quiet leap: Transitioning to new media in my art practice

2024-01-04T14:44:51-06:00An Artist's Life, Gallery Exhibitions|1 Comment

At a dinner party with friends a few nights ago, someone suggested that we go around the table and share something we did in the past year that the group might not know about or might be surprised to learn.  One friend had joined a new musical group and another started teaching Spanish to elementary school kids. For a moment, I blanked on what to talk about because I really feel like I didn’t do anything new this year. I’ve been teaching, keeping up with my Etsy shop, doing shows. The same things I do every day.

But then I remembered that the thing that has been quietly changing this year is the kind of art that I make. For more than I decade I have been designing fabric, and I still love doing that a lot. But I really took a break from that this past year because fabric projects were not really calling to me. I didn’t feel motivated to tackle a big sewing project. I didn’t have the need to create those pieces.

Many years ago now, I stepped away from the fabric art center that was my entire life. There were lots of factors that came in to play there, but when I called it quits, I not only stepped away from my job, but I removed myself from that community as well. I needed a break; not just a rest, but a separation.

In August, after 3+ years of taking classes, I finished my Book Arts Certificate from the MN Center for Book Arts. It’s a program that they administer to “certify” artists in a study of book arts techniques. I think of it like a mini Masters Degree. I took classes which I loved (boxmaking, marbling) and ones that I did not love (letterpress).

I found that I wasn’t as interested in making art as I was in the experience of being a beginner again. I needed to ask questions and make things that were ugly and didn’t work and just to try new things.

I gradually learned enough skills in book arts that I could start to incorporate some of the fabric techniques that I love. I marbled paper and carved stamps to hand print in repeating patterns like the sea turtles (left).

My weekly embroidery class students got me thinking about what kinds of embroidery stitches I could do on paper instead of fabric. I explored and sampled all kinds of stitches to see how the thickness of the threads in each stitch and the threads traveling across the back of the paper would influence the stitched pattern on the front.

I learned to make my own bookcloth. I’d used bookcloth in several classes to cover both books and boxes, but being a person with a love of fabrics, I was immediately discouraged by the lack of fabric options. I could only find a handful of solid colors. So I printed my own Spoonflower designs on cotton lawn and peel and stick wallpaper and used that to cover books and boxes. Then I tried embroidery on bookcloth made from some batik fabrics to make small journals that were really a fusion of fabric and paper techniques.

And finally I put some of this new work out in the world. It’s one thing to share photos of all of these experiments on social media, but it’s another leap to take the photos and enter something new in a juried exhibition at a gallery. That’s what I did. And that felt brave.

When I tried to describe to my friends how it felt, I said to imagine that you have played the clarinet all of your life and then decided that you wanted to learn the trombone and you just played your very first trombone solo at a concert. (There were a lot of musicians in the room.) To someone looking from the outside, it might just look like art is art. But to me it felt very new and unsure.

The three pieces at the top of this post are all ones I exhibited this year. I did so a little bit quietly. I talked about them a little in my newsletter and I posted a little on social media, but I didn’t really talk about the intention of taking my work in a completely different direction: a fusion of fabric and paper techniques. Saying that goal out loud seemed a little too much of an “announcement”. So I just sat back and waited to see how people reacted and how it felt to watch people interact with these pieces.

One of them won an award. Another was dismissed as being “too fine art”.

It’s January and my business task for today is to work on setting goals for the upcoming year. I am procrastinating a little bit by writing this post, but reflecting is an important part of setting goals and I basically gave myself a year off from design challenges, fabric designs and garment making to try something else. I think the experiment is a success. I have another embroidered paper piece that has been accepted into an exhibition in January. I’m teaching a class making coptic bound sketchbooks in February. A college student reached out to me over the holiday break wanting to connect with other paper embroidery artists. And I am thinking about more classes combining hand embroidery with paper components. That sounds like the start of something interesting.

28 September, 2023

Rejections are part of the story

2023-09-28T10:37:51-05:00An Artist's Life, Gallery Exhibitions|3 Comments

Sometime a piece of art kind of takes on a life of its own. This year for the MN State Fair Fine Arts competition, I entered a piece called Growversight. It’s one of a series of boxes I’ve been making all about the theme of detours and unexpected obstacles, plans that go awry, timelines that slip, and projects that run into snags outside of one’s control. Red is often a color used to communicate a stop and the theme of the pieces in this series is to talk about things that stop momentum from going forward. So each is made in an analogous color to red, to sort of play with the idea that these ideas were not quite a hard stop or an end, but more the idea of things that were in the way of progress.

I call this series “Portmanteaus”. The word portmanteau refers to a suitcase-like container or two words that have been joined together to form a combined meaning. Each of these boxes carries a story, just like a suitcase, and leans in to the idea that every story has an internal or personal version and an external version that you tell to other people. Each piece in the series has something going on inside and outside the box. I love puns and wordplay in my work. For Growversight, I created a paper flower that is pushing off the lid and crawling out of the box. It’s a nod to an oversight, or problems you ignore that just keep growing and growing.

It was rejected from the Fine Arts show. I’ve entered many times and been turned down far more often than I have had pieces accepted. That wasn’t unexpected. But then a friend told me about another show which was celebrating the pieces that were rejected from the exhibit. The theme is modeled after the Salon des Refusés, French for “exhibition of rejects”. The first was held infamously in 1863 as a response by artists being rejected by the Paris Salon, an annual show sponsored by the Academie of Fine Arts and the French government. Their protests were heard by Napoleon, whose office issued a statement that said “Numerous complaints have come to the Emperor on the subject of the works of art which were refused by the jury of the Exposition. His Majesty, wishing to let the public judge the legitimacy of these complaints, has decided that the works of art which were refused should be displayed in another part of the Palace of Industry.”

The theme was entertaining, so I entered the show and was accepted into the show, which was titled “Rejected”. We went to the opening and enjoyed the art in the exhibition.

The story takes a detour when I went to try to pick up my piece. And I mean literal detours. The gallery is situated in a place which is currently surrounded by extensive road construction and two large event venues, where there were police cars blocking streets and officers directing traffic. I spent 30 minutes driving in circles trying to find a place to park for two minutes to run in to the gallery. I finally drove to a dodgy parking garage a mile away and walked back to retrieve my piece, my quick errand now taking up nearly two hours of my day.

When I got to the pick up desk, a kind volunteer found the paperwork and my piece, but insisted that I chat with the gallery owner about their upcoming holiday market. “Your work would be perfect!” she said. Unfortunately, the gallery owner had a different idea. She looked at me, looked at my box, and said “No. That’s too fine art. Nobody buys that.”

Rejected once again. I appreciate the irony.

She went on to explain the ways that it was a bad fit, the wrong price, and my aesthetic completely unsuitable, while I stood tired and sweaty, with a puzzled expression on my face. (It was honestly pretty rude, considering it wasn’t my idea to talk about their holiday market in the first place.) I finally made an abrupt excuse and left, hiking the mile back to my car.

On the drive home, I realized that Growversight would now always have this story associated with it in my head like an imprint. Just like the theme of piece, the story grew while I wasn’t looking. So I decided that the piece should grow as well.

In light of its transportation issues, I decided that the original box needed a little cart to ride in. But you’ll maybe notice that the cart has four flat tires and a distinctive pattern embroidered around the edge. I love this piece even more now.I am curious to see if it will grow some more the next time it goes on an adventure.

4 October, 2019

Designing Fabric Workshop with the Museum of Russian Art

2019-12-18T11:40:02-06:00Gallery Exhibitions, Spoonflower & Fabric Design, Videos|Comments Off on Designing Fabric Workshop with the Museum of Russian Art

These are fabrics designed by students in my workshops at the Museum of Russian Art this week. I added a few detail photos from the work in the exhibition so you can see some of the shapes and colors that were our inspiration. I’ll be making an installation of origami dresses from these designs to display at TMORA along with with the exhibition so that people can see modern fabric interpretations of traditional designs. The students in my classes at TMORA were so much fun and I can’t wait to see all of these fabrics in person.

8 April, 2019

Thank you American Craft Council Show

2019-04-08T19:13:47-05:00Gallery Exhibitions, Out & About, Videos|Comments Off on Thank you American Craft Council Show

I hope that a few of you are visiting because you saw me or my work at the American Craft Council show and you wanted to know more! Thanks so much to everyone who attended: friends, visitors, return customers, colleagues, students, and people who darted-in-grabbed-my-card-and-moved-on-down-the-aisle.

I will have my Etsy shop updated in the next couple of days with all of the things you saw on display in the booth. I did a live video tour of the space; if you missed it on Facebook, here’s an encore (click Read More>>).

28 December, 2018

A Year in Review: My 2018 Design Challenge Entries

2018-12-28T18:32:04-06:00Gallery Exhibitions, Spoonflower & Fabric Design|1 Comment

I’ve never really participated in posting “something-a-day” challenges. The commitment of having to do something every single day just isn’t appealing to me I have discovered, especially when it comes to something creative. There’s not enough time to think about it and let it percolate, and it ends up just being a “do something quick so I can have it done”. So when I decided that I would participate in the weekly Spoonflower design challenge, I wasn’t sure I would stick with it. So I didn’t set a goal or make an announcement that I was going to participate. But I did. Every single week.

Wow. That’s a cool thing to have accomplished this year.

I mocked up a swatch of each design and made this slide show. (Note: If you are on the home page, you have to click the “read more” button on the this post for it to show you the video.) In parentheses you can see the design challenge theme for the week and at the very end, I made a collage of the top ten by number of “favorites” and my personal top 10 rankings in the overall pool of entries.

My highest finish was “Brine and Barnacles” at number 22 of 576 entries. (That’s the humpback whales design you see up above in the header to this post.) I didn’t manage to crack the top 10, but I would like to! The design challenge that week was a limited color palette, which I really didn’t like: Navy, orchid pink, maroon and white and/or black. I love navy, but the other two colors were not in my personal favorite palette. So I was feeling unsure about this design (because it was really navy and white with a tiny bit of the others). It was a delightful surprise to see how well it placed.

My lowest ranking design was the one for the Kilim challenge. If you don’t know, a kilim is a kind of rug. I thought my kilim stegosaurus were pretty cute, but I don’t think it came across very well in the challenge voting. (You can also see them in the header of this post.)

What did I love?

Having a weekly challenge was fun. I always had one to think about and I could take the time to think about it. Spoonflower announces them about a month ahead of time, so sometimes I would work ahead. Most of July’s entries I did in one long afternoon.

I loved that I hated some of the challenge themes. “Gender Neutral Nursery Wallpaper” was super boring to me. The color palette for “Holiday Elegance” was awful (eggplant, burgundy, mint green). I wasn’t super excited about tacos or sloths. But I came up with something for every one of them. And it felt good to take something that was not inspiring me at all and to find a way to deal with it.

I’ve designed some things I am really proud of. Some because I just love the design (Leafy Sea Dragons). Some because they were really HARD to figure out the technical part of the repeats (Through the Emerald Forest). Some because they have been great sellers (Chasing the Sheep).

What did I not love?

There is a style that always makes the top 10 in the design challenges and I just am not in love with it. It’s not my aesthetic. But it is very popular and I totally can see why it is. So I had to keep reminding myself that I was designing things that made me feel good and that felt like they were true to my style, not things that were popular. The top 10 is about popular designs. And I don’t design to that popular aesthetic. It’s easy to feel discouraged when there is a “contest” involved and scores published. I think I could totally make my designs match that popular aesthetic and maybe boost my rankings, but do I really want to do that? Not really.

One of the quirky things I learned is that the scale that I would actually make a fabric design at and the scale that shows up in the design challenge voting are very different things. The piece of the design that voters get to look at is only about the size of business card on a computer screen, so if you make your repeat too small, it gets lost. I started designing things at much larger scale than I really would ever want them printed, just so they would make a great impression in the contest preview and then I scale them down to a more realistic size for actually making something after the contest is over. Not the most efficient process, but I think it shows off my designs more effectively.

What surprised me?

My pineapple salsa entry for the “Recipe Tea Towel” challenge was a total surprise for me. Honestly, I felt like I phoned it in on that design. I didn’t have an inspiration that was really calling to me. I had a busy and kind of stressed out week that week it was due. So I designed the whole thing at very nightowlish hours in about 45 minutes. It was a very quick cut paper design, scanned and assembled, and a recipe I knew off the top of my head. Instead of doing something clever with repeats, I just made one large pineapple to fill one whole side of the tea towel. It ended up being my number 6 finisher and is in the top 10 of my “most favorited” designs for all time at Spoonflower. Who knew?

I also was really surprised at the huge jump in sales/favorites/views/comments that happened because I was participating in the contests. That was an unexpected and much appreciated outcome. I more than doubled the commissions I made this year and I think it was directly traceable to the fact that I was consistently posting new designs every week. I LOVE the comments from people and I have connected with some other great designers and have had some great conversations in comments on IG and FB.

In a year (because of other reasons) that I had not a lot of other content to post to my social media channels, I always had a design challenge design to talk about. It maybe wasn’t the most varied content for my friends/fans/followers, but it was consistent. And I think sometimes that is a bigger challenge. It kept me from getting in to the cycle of not posting and then apologizing for not posting. Because every week I had something to post. Some weeks I could even turn it in to several different posts: I designed two circles designs and couldn’t choose between them or I asked for suggestions for some of the color limited designs.

Will I do it again next year?

I am pretty sure I will. The whole thing just had so many positives for me that I can’t see any reason I wouldn’t want to continue. I have participated off and on in the design challenges for many years, but never in any consistent way. That is fun, but I think the ongoing nature of doing it every week is really a bigger creative kick for me than entering a contest once in a while to see if I can “win”. I’d still love to make the top 10 sometime. A mosaic design I did in 2017 finished at number 11 in that contest. So I think I can get there.

Want to study them some more?

I put all of my 2018 challenge designs in a collection at Spoonflower so you can see them without the video slideshow if you want a little more time to explore or zoom in. I made most of them for sale. I have a few that I think need more work because I didn’t like the proof or something about the print needs a fix, but they are all there to view.

You can also explore all of the design challenge themes and see all of the top ten finishers on Spoonflower’s Design Challenge Page. If you are dreaming about designing fabric, I can’t encourage you enough to jump in and participate. I tell my students that the best way to get better is to DO IT. (It’s just like exercising, you have to do it and not just think about it if you want to see a result.) And finishing a design once a week is a great way to make sure you are doing it. You don’t have to submit it and participate in the contest part, but if you post it on FB or IG and tag me, I will check it out and leave you a comment.

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