Thursday, May 28, 2009

Domestic Goddess

Artist book page, For Sadie Jane by Gayle Pritchard

I seem to be in the third week of domestic duties, and have one more to accomplish before June ends. It is so hard sometimes to escape life's responsibilities and just do what I want (or need) to do on any given day.

I don't really want to escape life, of course. I love entertaining, hanging out with friends, being with my kids. I do not love cleaning the house, grocery shopping, filing insurance claims, or keeping track of bills.

I have had more energy in the past month than I have had for a long time. This is fortunate, because my head is spinning with ideas, and I am able to do a little bit of artwork most days, even when other responsiblities interfere. As I mentioned in my last post, however, such times are trying, and definitely call for juggling finesse.

In the meantime, I am keeping busy in my journal any chance I get, jotting down ideas so I don't forget them, sketching pictures of things that occur to me, and working through solutions to problems. I would rather be doing more, but eagerly await the quiet days in my studio and my office that are sure to come my way soon.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

It's a Juggling Act

Altered Book: A Circus Act by Gayle Pritchard

After being away for a week, and without internet access, I feel overwhelmed with 'tasks.' Does that ever happen to you? It's unusual in this day and age to not be online. It reminded me of how much easier it used to be to keep track of paperwork and other such tasks. I could allot one day a week, then ignore until the following week what was still on that list. No more!

This week I hit the ground running, as I prepare for an onslaught of visitors this weekend. As I have written previously, in my priorities list, family comes first. This weekend is no exception. The house cleaning had been put off and put off, but this seemed a good week to tackle it, since I have two guest rooms to prepare. Shopping takes up more time than it used to, as I travel to several stores to find what I need at the right price.

My new in-laws will be here for dinner Friday night for the first time. On Saturday, the family women gather at my house to make preparations for a baby shower on Sunday. The shower is to celebrate the impending birth of my third grandchild, so it will be a festive affair. In preparation, I painted ladybugs last night, the theme of the party. The ladybug quilt I am making will have to wait until June, but will be ready by the time the baby comes.

Truths, oil pastel painting and collage by Gayle Pritchard

To tell you the truth, I love the activity. I love making things with my hands, thinking up ideas for the baby shower, preparing the house for guests. I weeded the front garden on Monday, and remembered how much I have missed playing with my plants.

All of these activities, 'tasks,' make me feel alive and engaged. Yes, I need to get back to my studio. Sometimes, though, time away helps me gain perspective, and makes the work I do seem less like a task, as I remember to find my passion again.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Home is Where the Art Is...uh Heart Is

One of my little collaged paintings
I am on the road tomorrow morning, early. I love beginning a long drive before the sun is fully up, then watching the sky change color as the morning sun emerges onto the landscape.

When I travel, I like to bring along a portable "art kit". I have one my friend Lois made for me. It is currently back at her shop for repair, so frequently have I traveled with it. That little bag, which has a top flap and measures, closed, probably 6" x 9", has been to Mexico six times, all over the west coast of Ireland, the beach in Florida half a dozen times, and numerous other places.

It holds a small watercolor paper block, paintbrushes with built in water containers, transfer pens, collage papers, drawing pencils, a small tin of watercolor crayons, small pair of scissors, a pencil sharpener, small pieces of fine sandpaper stapled to a piece of matboard, a wax resist crayon, small container of "yes!" glue, and several other things I can't remember without my list.
Oil pastel and watercolor collage, sketched while sitting on a beach in Mexico

Yes, I have a list. I teach a class called Trains, Planes and Automobiles: Techniques for Traveling Collage, so I really need to practice what I preach. Be prepared for art. Any place, anytime. I encourage my students to plan ahead for creative work while traveling, and to make a list of their favorite art supplies, so they can figure out a way to travel with at least some of them. As for me, I try not to go anywhere without a least a journal and some collage materials. I am a "found object" junkie. Often, bits of ephermera I find during my travels go directly onto a matboard collage surface, or into a composition in one of my journals.
My favorite journal, which is all but full, is one I handmade years ago. It has a hand bound Japanese stab stitch binding, is thick and full of a great weight cardstock. It is full of writings, collage, and on-the-fly experiments, like, what would happen if I iron this photo transfer onto that oil pastel covered photograph? Cool! It works!!
I covered the open spine with folded playing cards prior to stitching the covers in place. In addition to being colorful and pretty to look at, they serve as spacers for the journal pages. That way, when I want to add junk I find that has some dimension to is, it doesn't prevent the journal from still laying flat.

So these are my thoughts on this Monday, my birthday, as I plan for a road trip. Plan to make art this week!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Unexpected Pleasures

Green Bear is never far away

I only have time for a quick post right now. That's because we had a Green Bear emergency today. My grandson awoke to find that Green Bear's tag had come completely off, and his beans were leaking.

When he first became attached to his bear, my husband had the brilliant idea of purchasing identical ones as back-ups. It was a good plan, as we are now onto bear #4. Number one's tag is completely gone and he is beyond repairing. This morning's emergency was #3. He can still be repaired, and is probably good for one more round.

I had planned to work in my studio all day today, but the "emergency" took precendence. For many artists, one of the most difficult struggles we face is the balancing act between studio, home, family and obligations. Entire days can go awry when our best-laid plans are interrupted. For me, though, family comes first whenever possible. When my grandson needed an emergency green bear repair, everything was dropped to make it happen.

Today I am making plans for a trip out of town next week to visit my new grandbaby. I am trying to finish up loose ends in the studio, pack, find some portable work to bring with me, while squeezing in time for a salon visit and errands. I did accomplish two things this morning. I finished the new baby's "birth outfit", simultaneously creating a prototype for my line of Magic Baby baby clothes.

This outfit was made from the clothes my daughter wore in labor. Our new little grandbaby was born on the biggest full moon in sixty years, so it seemed an appropriate symbol. The skirt has an elasticized top edge, and is open in the back. I decided to design it to hang free, instead of stitching it to the onesie. This way, the onesie can be worn with other clothes, and the button on the back of the skirt can be moved to grow as the baby grows.

As my grandson watched me sew today, he said to me, "Grandma, you make the coolest things." He's four. How can your heart not melt at that? I try to make things with him all the time, and we talk about "using our imagination" when we are creating things, especially when we are improvising. Whether any of my grandchildren become artists or not, I hope they will learn from their granny to stay in touch with the creative parts inside of them.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Creating Layers in Art Quilts

The beginning stages of my piece, I Hear Voices

I use a lot of photographic techniques in my artwork, not because I am a terrific photographer, but because I work with layering. Using personal photographic images connects well with the intimate nature of my artwork.

I am not the gifted photographer in my family. My husband, who took the self-portrait in the I Hear Voices photograph, is amazingly talented, and very creative in his approach. My daughter, editor of photography books for Lark Books, has one of those very fancy, professional cameras, and creates the most amazing imagery. All of this is lucky for me, because I always have a source for imagery, and people who can help me manipulate the images for my own purposes.

I have taught Polaroid transfer techniques for many years, after learning how to do the process using my (okay, our) slides at the Cleveland Institute of Art. I bougt a Daylab, Jr. and went to work. Since Polaroid is discontinuing the manufacture of the film, I am desperately seeking new sources. I recently joined a group I found online, The Impossible Project. They are in Holland, and are trying to keep the film production going. I hope they are successful.

Chris, my Polaroid transfer on paper

Princess of Dun Aengus, my Polaroid transfer on paper

Now that spring has arrived, I am really itchy to do some cyanotype printing. Cyanotype printing is a very early photographic technique that has not changed much since it was developed in the mid-1800s. Chemically treated paper or fabric is exposed to sunlight and whatever objects or transparent images are placed on top serve as the 'negative.' While I have often used this process to print objects, I really like to utilize photographic negatives for the technique.
Cyan print on cotton of pebbles. I used a color photograph my husband took, enlarged it on a photocopier, then printed it onto a plastic transparency.

For the quilt shown below, I asked my husband to take a series of "body parts" pictures for me: ears, eyes, hands.

I used a cyan print of my hands, which was then layered with sheer silk organza, in the center of the piece.

My Hands Don't Look the Same Anymore, art quilt by Gayle Pritchard

Now that I have my garage studio space set up, I think I will do some more prints. Would you like to see how it's done?
Cyan print on watercolor paper. This greeting card is available in my etsy shop.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Old Friends and Art, Part II

Some of the Ohio Designer Craftsman Best of '09 artists

Friends and mentors are rare gems. Friends and mentors who are also artists are the jewels in the crown. Because the work of an artist is done in isolation, friends and mentors who understand are crucial.

I had a chance to spend time with both at the Ohio Designer Craftsman Best of '09 exhibition opening on Sunday. Although Deborah Melton Anderson was not in the show, she came to the opening. I hadn't seen her since before her husband passed away. In addition to being one of the sweetest and kindest people I know, she has also been a mentor to me, perhaps without even realizing it. When I first joined the Art Quilt Network, in the course of listening to the other artists speak about their processes, I learned about image transfer techniques from Deb. I had learned to do chemical transfers and cyan printing in college, but hadn't tried transfer paper. I didn't know how to use it, where to get it, or what I could do with it. Deb, an early pioneer of the process, was so patient with my questions, and provided me with all the information I needed. I cannot imagine my artwork without the layering process of photographic transfers. I am grateful to Deb for her sharing spirit.
Mary Helen Fernandez Stewart, Susan Shie, Gayle Pritchard, and Deborah Melton Anderson at the ODC opening. Photo by Susanne Gregg

I also first met Mary Helen Fernandez Stewart at the Art Quilt Network. Another kind and gentle soul, Mary Helen could always be counted on for encouragement and a joyful spirit, despite her own health struggles. An amazing artist, she organized an international traveling exhibition in which I took part, and made sure to share with me that the prime minister of Australia had commented on and enjoyed my artwork. She had an amazing piece in the ODC exhibit, inspired by her Australian travels.
Australia's Kookaburra, Mary Helen Fernandez Stewart

I met Susanne Gregg a few years ago, through Susan Shie. My husband and I had moved to Florida five years ago, because he was unable to find work in Ohio. Ultimately and fortunately, we were able to move back to Ohio, into our same, unsold house. At that time, Susan, whom I have known since we were both students at the College of Wooster, was nanny to her newborn granddaughter, and living in the Cleveland area during the week to do so. When we moved back from Florida, she invited me to participate in an artist's group she was part of. Susanne was in the group as well, and we all hit ot off when we met. Luckily, Susanne lives nearby, and has become one of my dearest, most supportive artist friends. Her artwork is an inspiration.
Detail, Apothecary, by Susanne Gregg. Photo by John Seyfried.

I met Susan Shie on my first date with my husband, back in the late 1970s. He is a musician, and he brought me to the Needle's Eye in Wooster, Ohio, a Friday night musicians' jam session. The Needle's Eye was the communal house Susan lived in at the time. We have stayed in touch over the years. Like many of you who have had the privilege of spending time with Susan, I always feel supported and encouraged by her. A lifelong group-maker, she has a magical way of bringing women together, and helping them to find their way. I cherish her friendship, and her artistic mentorship. I have never met anyone with a truer voice, or a more committed work ethic. I was so proud that both she and Susanne won awards at yesterday's exhibition.

Susan Shie with her award-winning piece, Food Scales. Photo by Susanne Gregg.
At the opening, I reconnected with artists Carole Pollard and Sue Cavanaugh. I met Tom Muir, another award winner at the show, and a metals professor at Bowling Green State University. I also made a new artist friend, Laura Barnhardt Corle. Both Tom and Laura know a mutual artist friend, Steve Smith, a professor at Findlay College. He and I went to the same high school, and he was a friend of my older brothers. When our high school art teacher, Jane Diller, retired, we participated in an exhibition in our native Van Wert in her honor, in which all of her former students who had become professional artists participated. Laura also knew my high school friend and fellow fiber artist, Tracy Ruhlin, an active member of Ohio Designer Craftsman, and art professor at Findlay College who died a few years back.
I know this post is full of names and links and memories. I think it's proof positive of my point: the network of artists and mentors are a close-knit group, even if that is not apparent to the rest of the world. As for me, and I honored to know all of you, and grateful for all you do.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Old Friends and Art Are a Great Combination

Susan Shie with her award winning piece The Food Scales / Justice: Card #11 in the Kitchen Tarot

I spent today in Columbus, Ohio attending the opening of the Ohio Designer Craftsman Best of 09 exhibition. I drove there with my longtime friend and fellow artist Susan Shie. We had arranged in advance to meet another friend, artist Susanne Gregg and her friend, Carole at the opening. Since both Susan and Susanne had artwork in the show, and both were award recipients, it seemed the perfect day to attend with them.

Several other artist friends were in attendance. Some are acquaintances, other artists whose work I have followed over the years. Still others are long-time friends. Not all had work in the show. In our field, it seems that artists come out just to see the work, and to be supportive.
It was a long day, so I won't write a long post tonight, but will fill you in later. It's an exhibit worth seeing, so check it out if you can. The show will also be traveling to other sites around Ohio, maybe to a location near you.
Susanne Gregg with her piece 7:35 a.m.

Friday, May 1, 2009

The Artist Grandmother

Now that I'm a grandmother, I have been making baby clothes again. When my own kids were babies and my husband was still in college, I had to make do with what we had. I recycled sweaters, coats and usable cottons to make all of their clothes. I started making quilts in earnest about the same time. The first Christmas we were married, I got my first sewing machine, a $99 Singer. I still have it. It's the machine I use to stitch paper.

When I was still living at home, I sewed on my grandmother's converted treadle machine. Having come very close to getting kicked out of Home Ec. in Junior High for making a bikini instead of an apron, it should have already been clear to anyone who knew me that I was going to follow my own path.

When my first granddaughter was born last December, I was thrilled. Although I have sewn several things for my grandson, I admit that making fancy baby dresses for little girls is a lot more fun than a Thomas the Train pillowcase. I made her this dotted dress outfit for her first Valentine's Day. I now own more baby patterns than I ever had when my own children were small. Of course, I never follow the pattern instructions. I prefer to use them as a suggestion, and proceed as I do when making my artwork: do something, respond, do something else; collage and layers upon layers.

Unfortunately, there is only so much time in any given week. Because I work at home, it seems I am always at work. Right now, at this particular moment in time, I am finishing a manuscript, updating my website, trying to get my etsy store up and running, watching my grandson two days a week, and trying to get artwork done in my studio. Add in the everyday duties like grocery shopping, paying bills, cleaning, laundry, and, well, my head is already spinning. I find it difficult to juggle it all sometimes.

I have two studios in the house, both upstairs. One is a writing room, with all of my research materials, files, reference books, and two desks next to the windows. The walls are painted my favorite blue, and the futon gives me a great place to sit and read. My friend Susanne loaned me an awesome square and very tall bookshelf. It is a life-saver; it holds a ton in a few square feet.

My art studio across the hall is another thing. It's too small and too crowded. With all the projects I have in progress, I have simply run out of space to store it all, let alone find anything.

My grandmother was very artistic. Even though I was still little when she died, I remember how she always encouraged my artistic efforts. And when she was able to finally have the time, she started making art and craft pieces for the sheer enjoyment of it. She was the only grandparent I knew, and I absolutely adored her, even though I only saw her a few times a year.

As a grandmother of two, with a new baby girl due in the world this summer, I cherish taking some time away from work to make special things for my grandchildren. With the new line of baby clothes I am in the process of designing, the hardest part is not making everything for them. I have told their mothers that the baby girls will be the recipients of my learning curve process; the prototypes go to them, or, as in the case of Baby E's Valentine dress, are designed for them. Some patterns are just too intricate and detailed to try to make and sell.

I finished this dress this week. Well, it still needs buttons and a label, so it's mostly finished. Look for it soon in my etsy shop. To avoid internal conflict, I purposely made it in a size that will not fit my granddaughter. Alright, yes: I have enough scraps to make another dress for Baby E.
My latest attempt to solve my space dilemma involved cleaning the garage, and setting up a workspace there. My husband's band-mate, David, loaned me a spare tabletop from his stash, and voilĂ , a work table.

I added another of my glass-topped desks, which will be a good place for a second cutting mat. I spent the day moving my paints and collage papers, tools and non-fabric work in progress there today. I hated to take the time to move it all, but it really was time well spent.

Now that spring has arrived, I have several warm months ahead. I will soon be good to go for cyanotype and seta prints, hammering, and messy atomizer painting. Can't wait!