Sunday, December 13, 2015

Time Out for Sketching

Vase of dead flowers, sketch from life
I have all but finished quilting the Turtle Spirit quilt I have been posting about most recently. I had to put it away when a multitude of guests came to town last month. Fortunately, I only have a tiny area of quilting to finish, and then I can bind it and start on the next one pinned to my working wall.

Now it's December, and the holidays are once again upon us. My father-in-law died just before Thanksgiving. While it was a sad occasion to lose this wonderful man, he was 91, and had lost his quality of life. The funeral and Thanksgiving feast turned out to be an extended and joyous family occasion, a rare time when all were able to be together. I am truly thankful.

I am also so grateful for my weekly artist group. In the midst of all the difficulties life has to throw at me, my weekly meetings with Gail and Jill are a godsend. I cannot recommend more strongly setting aside time each week to meet with like-minded people, no matter your passions. The synergy created in a well-curated group is magical and, while there is never any pressure to do or make anything in our group, I always want to have something I am making progress on or something new to show. It keeps me on task the rest of the week.
Poppies in my garden, sketch from photo

That said, with all the eldercare in the last months before my father-in-law died, I haven't had a lot of time to make art. Sketching does not take a lot of time or preparation. Yet, I haven't succeeded in recent years in making it a daily practice.

Two of my artist friends, Susan Shie and Jill Milenski, are inspirational in their sketching practice, and I am motivated to return to that level of fluency. For her birthday, Jill got our friend Gail the book Art Before Breakfast by Danny Gregory. Gail, who had never drawn at all until last year, literally drew her breakfast, which she shared as her "homework" during our last get-together. It is a wonderful book for anyone who thinks they can't draw. Gail is getting fabulous results, and her latent talent for drawing is emerging,

At our last get-together, I had my sketchbook and tried some different drawing tools. Jill had some book-sale books with lovely photos to draw from, so I picked one, and went at it. It only takes a minute. It's a practice I want to make a daily one in the coming months.
Reference photo for sketch
Italian Doorway, sketch from photo

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

A Way With Line: Quilting

Turtle Spirit is quilted with standard quilting thread
as well as perle cotton and embroidery floss.
By Gayle Pritchard, 2015.
Fiber artists are a rare breed in the fine art world. They are often asked why they work in fiber vs. painting on canvas. I have one answer to that question: the quilting line.

As an element of art, line and implied line play a crucial role as a building block of any composition. In an art quilt composition, unlike a painting (unless you are Robert Rauschen-berg), you have an additional layer of line to consider. The quilting line as stitch is functional; it literally holds the layers of the quilt sandwich together. As the layers are quilted, a shallow relief forms, creating slight contrast on the surface with line and shadow. As a compositional element, this shadowed relief adds a layer to the composition that is missing in painting and other flat media. Quilts are not quite sculptural, but they are not flat, either, and this is why I love to make them.

This second layer of line should be a planned part of a finished fiber composition. The quilt top can be finished and still be completely transformed by the manner in which line is applied in the form of quilting to finish the piece.
In Turtle Spirit, for example, you can see how the grid formed by the quilted line, executed here by hand with perle cotton and a darning needle, constrasts with the circular pattern of the underlying African fabric used for the side panels.

Grids of lines run across grids and circles;
tufts of embroidery floss change the color and
texture of the underlying fabric

As in any artwork, the line created by quilting leads the viewer's eye around the composition, creating emphasis and contrast. Additionally, it can be used to flatten areas, causing them to recede visually while simultaneously drawing attention to the adjacent area. I have spent my career playing with these contrasts, and I love it still.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Basting an Art Quilt

Turtle Spirit layered with backing &
batting: it's ready to baste!
I'll admit it here and now: I'm old school when it comes to handwork. Although I use my sewing machine strategically in constructing my compositions, I confess I much prefer the rhythm of handwork. That is why I baste my compositions by hand in preparation for quilting by hand. It's how I do things, and I like it that way!

First, as you saw in my previous post, the backing fabric was prepared, (I had to piece it to make it wide enough for the widest parts of the quilt top) stretched tautly and taped in place right on my floor. Next comes the batting layer, and finally, the quilt top smoothed onto the batting, creating what is fondly known as a quilt sandwich. I trim off the excess batting at this point and save large pieces for smaller pieces.

Wear a thimble to protect your fingers!
I "spoon-baste", which is to say I use cheap thread, a large-eyed needle and a thimble on my right hand, and with my left hand, I use a large old spoon to catch the tip of the needle as I baste. I always start in the middle of the piece and baste outward from there, top to bottom, side to side and corner to corner in long stitches. This keeps all the layers smooth, and prevents any bunching on the back.
A well-basted quilt will never give you problems down the road. Skimp on this strategic step, and you will have hell to pay later on. That is a lesson you only need to learn once!

I use my hand as a guide for how far apart to make the basted-thread rows. I work my way across the surface of the quilt top until everything is firmly held in place with my basting stitches. I finish by running a line of stitching around all the raw edges of the quilt top.
Use your hand as a guide for how wide to make
the basting rows.
Ready to quilt. The layers of this basted top will not
shift around while I quilt it.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Building a Composition

Turtle Spirit II, in progress
by Gayle Pritchard
In my previous post, the central panel  of Turtle Spirit II was finished. By showing you the piece on my working wall here, I hope you can get a sense of how the finished composition was built, piece by piece, literally.

As I mentioned before, I sew my compositions in sections on a tear-away backing. This makes it easier to work with the sections on my sewing machine, and it allows me to join unusually shaped edges to each other with ease.

To the base composition, I have added two side panels of African fabric, each of which features one of my hand-made cyanotype prints appliqued in place. I already envision how I want to quilt these side panels with long, broad stitches in perle cotton, and can hardly wait to begin sewing them! Along the bottom of the original panel is a single piece of unusual striped fabric, to which I have pinned various fabric remnants to be appliqued in place. I like this method of working. It is the same process as when I create a paper collage. The elements are auditioned by placing them on the main composition where it is very easy to immediately see what does or doesn't work. The finished art quilt will also have an additional layer of design, which is the quilting stitch itself. Unless you make quilts, it's hard to describe how much adding that line to the surface of the piece can change the surface, directing the eye in unexpected directions. I can also later add additional layers of fabrics and surfaces, such as stitched and printed attachments, to further enhance and complete the composition. I can respond to the composition throughout each stage of the process, adding and taking away until the piece is finished. All of these potential features are in my mind as I place the elements for this layer of the finished work.
The base layer of Turtle Spirit II, almost done!

To the striped bottom edge of the top's center panel, I added a narrow strip of fabric to create a visual edge. Underneath, a section of African fabric matching the top central panel is repeated, edged on either side with an exciting fabric that has a directional design, and more snippets laid on the surface to consider for applique.

Considering future structural problems, I decide that the two bottom side edges need a fabric underneath them to make it easier to bind the finished quilt when the layers are assembled. (Trying to bind those shaped side edges is a problem I definitely wish to avoid!) I don't want the fabric I use to jump out visually, though, because I like the illusion of the sides being slightly shorter than the bottom central panel. My solution is in the next picture. Ignoring the purple and blue backing fabric, which will not show on the front when the piece is finished, can you tell what I added or changed?

Friday, October 23, 2015

Grounded Like a Turtle

Detail, Turtle Spirit, ca. 1995
I mentioned in my last post that I was finishing up some odds and ends around my studio. One of those pieces is a Turtle Spirit quilt. I had made one as a commission for a wedding 20 years ago, and a detail of it is shown at left. Turtle is a symbol of mother earth, fertility and feminine wisdom. You can see on the detail shot that I included embellishments representing rabbits as a wish for the new couple to produce the children they desired. Sure enough, two beauties came from the union!

In our family, we have long enjoyed Sams and Carson's Medicine Card deck. At our get-togethers, the spiritually inclined women gather around a spread, and take turns reading the interpretation to the seeker, spending hours discussing the wisdom uncovered to guide our paths. Since turtle is considered to be the personification of goddess energy, I find her to be a powerful symbol. She protects and invites us to go inside ourselves to connect and be grounded. I wanted my own Turtle Spirit quilt. After I finished the commission, I started one for myself and never got around to finishing it. Ah, but Turtle has reappeared in my life this year, and I am driven to finish the new piece and hang it on my wall.
Turtle Spirit by Gayle Pritchard
ca. 1995. This is the original
commissioned artwork.

For my Turtle Spirit, I began with essentially the same central panel, a turtle form cut from hand made shibori fabric, hand appliqued in place on a remnant of one of my favorite African fabrics. I then cut and pinned additional design elements in place on my studio wall until I was pleased with what was happening. If you look closely, you will see cut-out snippets of fabric as well as border strips used to make the design larger. 

The central portion of the new Turtle Spirit, shown above left, measures about 25" wide x 30" high, to give you an idea of the scale. If you examine the edges, you will notice the tear-away backing showing. I create all of my fiber collages on top of a non-fusible medium weight tear-away backing. It not only provides body while sewing, it also allows me to create shaped pieces that fit together like a jig-saw puzzle without making any patterns.

In my next post, I will show you how I built my final composition, beginning with this little panel. The piece is almost finished now, and I can't wait for you to see it! I can't wait to hang it up on the wall.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Wrapping Things Up

This pretty journal, just finished, is in my
etsy shop, NoMoonNight.
I have been finishing up unfinished work over the past month, and it feels good to wrap things up. I have a stack of tri-fold journals in various stages of completion, like the pretty shibori one in the picture. They have hand crafted fabric that is quilted, plenty of journaling pages and unique wrap closures, speaking of wrapping things up!

These make great gifts, by the way! I also decided to put together Tri-fold Journal Kits, and will have them for sale at NoMoonNight soon. I had them bagged with the instructions, and Gail and Jill in my artist group reminded me to put a picture on the front. Duh! Great idea, and that's what friends are for! My son Brian is helping me put a "how-to" tutorial together, as well, so stay tuned.

Here is a pretty tri-fold journal with hand marbled fabric
and a unique wrap closure. I have more journals in my shop.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Being Where You Need To Be and Other Plans

As John Lennon wrote, "life is what happens when you're busy making other plans." Planning, in and of it self, is fraught with danger, and life often simply does not cooperate.

And so, that is how my spring and summer went: plans gone awry as real life took over and went sideways. How appropriate it was that I picked an old circus book to use as a journal for the summer. Life has been like a three-ring circus! As a result of care-taking demands in this circus, I have not have much time to make art.
Sometimes, there is only time to juggle the many things you need to do. Don't be discouraged. Remember, this crazy time isn't forever. Do what I do, and squeeze art-making time into your day. I have been organizing, finding and finishing up already started pieces that don't require a lot of thinking time.

This is the "in progress" front cover of an assemblage I am finishing.

I am so grateful, too, that I have a supportive group of artist friends. We meet almost every week. It is something to look forward to, and an appointment to think, be and make art.