Monday, May 24, 2010

Re-igniting the Creative Spark

Repair • Hand dyed fabric • 10" x 8" • ©2009 Jennifer Libby Fay

A few years ago, hmm, maybe more than a few, it's difficult to keep track, I decided I wanted to do some more handweaving. I took a break from weaving for about 5 years when my work as a product designer gave me lots of chances for travel and adventure. Things were settling down though, so I thought I would get back into it. A workshop at the Mendocino Art Center was just the ticket, I thought, and wouldn't it be fun if I enlisted my friends in this endeavor? I asked fellow textile artists and good friends Dotti and Joanne if they had any interest. Sure enough there was a fabric dyeing class scheduled for the same week as the weaving class. We signed up, booked the bed and breakfast, got the supplies together, and a couple of weeks before we were scheduled to leave—the weaving class was cancelled. Since I had marked out the time and paid for the room I decided, what the heck?, I'll just take the same class as Dotti and Joanne. I'll never use it, I said to myself. I hate dyeing. All those heavy pots of boiling water. No siree, not for me.

From left to right: Me, Dotti and Joanne in Dotti's studio

Well this type of fabric dyeing wasn't like any other I had tried and after a couple of days I knew something BIG was happening. The technique of dyeing on synthetic fabrics with disperse dyes was, for me, a perfect combination of my love of fabric and my training in graphics and fine art. It involved painting, composition, marbling, and drawing. I could sew or not sew. AND the dyes must be set with heat, but you use a heat press—no boiling water!…I loved it. Dotti and Joanne and I went in together on a heat press and dyes. Dotti graciously offered to keep the press in her studio and let me use it. She ended up sharing her studio with me and I know that that act of kindness is as important to my journey an artist as all the workshops in the world. Having a place to work and an encouraging and knowledgeable person to talk to is priceless to an emerging artist. I am forever grateful to her.

Dotti Day's studio • San Rafael, California

So the years went by and life brought me to Northwest Arkansas where I have my own studio at the Fayetteville Underground. My room looks very similar to the one I shared with Dotti and I often wish she was at the other end of the table to talk to…this week I am in California and I get to visit Dotti in her studio tomorrow. I am very excited to see what she has been working on—and I'm pretty sure we will make some art together.

My teachers, Jason Pollen and Lisa Grey are giving a workshop this summer on marbling on synthetic fabrics with disperse dyes. If you are interested the info is here (scroll down to Re-igniting the Creative Spark) and Lisa has written about it on her blog here.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Working Big

2-13' x 2' fabric panels drying

Remember the old mind teaser, Which is heavier, a ton of feathers or a ton of bricks? Well, I can tell you, a ton of wet fabric is the heaviest.

Phase two of my commission to create 11-13' x 2' fabric panels for the restaurant, Hjem (pronounced yem), that is opening in early June upstairs from the Fayetteville Underground is complete. A person can learn a few things from working big, so I offer you these observations on the process.

When I first got my studio at the Underground, I thought it was huge. After all, it is twice as big as the one I shared in California. For this project space was a consideration because I only have room for three panels to dry at a time. That meant after three panels were marbled or painted I had to wait. Waiting for fabric to dry ranks right up there with watching grass grow. Do something else while you wait, you say? I looked around the studio and every available surface, including parts of the floor and all of the chairs, were covered with fabric, supplies and tools. After pacing around the table a few times it occurred to me that glaring expectantly at the fabric wouldn't make it dry any faster so I went and had a cup of coffee. The next time had to wait I called a friend and we had coffee together. Bonus.

Proportion must be considered…and considered again.
Of course proportion must always be considered but when working big the distance from which something will be viewed enters the equation. Small details can't be seen when far away and may even muddy the design. Exaggeration is often necessary because what looks huge two feet away can look great 13' feet away. Michelangelo's David is one of the most famous examples of this. I am sure there are more detailed explanations but this one came from Wikipedia:

"The proportions are not quite true to the human form; the head and upper body are somewhat larger than the proportions of the lower body. The hands are also larger than would be in regular proportions. While some have suggested that this is of the mannerist style, another explanation is that the statue was originally intended to be placed on a church façade or high pedestal, and that the proportions would appear correct when the statue was viewed from some distance below."

However, I must say that when you are standing there looking at him the last thing you notice is that his hands are too big…but that's a story for another day.

Working big is physically challenging—yards of fabric to hold in one hand, gallons of water to carry, standing for hours days at a time, it adds up. Of course the work is lovely to do, exciting and challenging and fun. It is wonderful to be engaged in the process and thinking about the each step as it comes—but in the evening it means sore muscles and sometimes anxious sleep. Will it all work? Will I make the deadline? Thank goodness I had help along the way. In addition to Camilla who helped with the marbling, many of my studio-mates and a few building maintenance people were called upon to hold this or that.

Sore muscles aside, there is a freedom that comes with working big that I really enjoyed. Movement comes from the shoulders instead of the wrist. You can step into the action; your whole body gets involved. It feels good. It makes me think I would like to work on a series of large pieces. I am impatient to explore all of these new considerations. If any of you have experiences or thoughts on the subject of working big I would enjoy hearing them. Please feel welcome to leave a comment.

As soon as the Hjem fabric panels are up and the restaurant ready to open, I will post photos so you can see the results. Maybe you'll even come for dinner sometime!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Think Big

Fayetteville Underground • Studio 11 • 5/6/10

This was my studio on Thursday night. I was prepared for the 800 to 1000 people who attend First Thursday Fayetteville. Every month new work goes up in each of the Fayetteville Underground’s four art galleries and a craftperson is featured in the craft gallery. We host a reception and have open studios. It is an exciting evening—lots of talking and smiling.

(Readers of this blog will be pleased to know that Megan sold three paintings on Thursday night and she was not alone, other artists, including yours truly, sold some too!)

Fayetteville Underground • Studio 11 • 5/7/10

This is what the studio looked like early Friday morning. The usually casual atmosphere has been interrupted by a flurry of activity. I received a commission from the new restaurant that is going in upstairs. Hjem (pronounced yem) means home in Norwegian and will feature Scandinavian influenced food and a casual yet elegant style. We can talk about the food scene in Fayetteville, Arkansas another time, but just know that this will be a welcome addition…

The restaurant walls are brick, the floors wood and there are lots of windows. That’s where I come in. I have been asked to make fabric panels to frame the windows and some yardage that will be made into a roman blind. The panels are about 13 feet by 2 feet and there are lots of them.

11-13' x 2' Fabric Panels
The studio is overflowing with fabric and tools and activity.

7' x 2' marbling frame

I built a frame to hold the marbling fluid. When I say I, I mean Michael, the building manager who happened to walk by as I was taping the two by fours together (don’t laugh, it would have worked) and offered to hammer in some nails for me. His payment, a six-pack, has been delivered.

To marble the panels I need help as well, so Camilla, beautiful wife of above mentioned restaurant owner, agreed to assist. We can do three panels at a time—there are 11 in all—because that is how much hanging space I have.

Setting the dye with a heat press

After the panels dry the dye is set with the heat press.
Only part of each panel is marbled, I’ll show you what happens next when we meet again.

Until then, think BIG.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Every Day We Paint is a Victory

Where Stranger's Dreams Cling • 30" x24" • ©2010 Megan Chapman
Click on image to see more paintings in this series

My friend Megan says I need a new blog post. She is ready to move on from Blue Oyster Cult. I listen to Megan. She knows things.

She knows about Fayetteville, Facebook and blogging. She knows about painting and photography and music. Music is her muse. It seems to enter her ears, travel down her spine and release through her hands onto the canvas. Since her studio is just down the hall from mine at the Fayetteville Underground, sometimes I get to witness this extraordinary process. It is inspiring. Inspiring because, even though I just made it sound like magic, it isn’t. Megan shows up and she paints. Day after day after day, she goes in her studio and makes art. Sometimes it flows, sometimes, well, it doesn’t, but she shows up anyway. I believe this is central to her success. I used her motto as the title of this post: Every day we paint is a victory. I love that—so much so I made up my own modified version: Every day we make art is a victory. It’s a victory over fear, over lethargy, over indifference.

What I did this summer from Megan Chapman on Vimeo.

Last month Megan had an experience that has already become legend at the Underground. She got a call
from the gallery on a Saturday evening, “There’s a woman here who loves your work but she says these are too small, do you have anything bigger?” Megan went to the Underground, opened up her studio, spent time with the customer, a first time art buyer…and the woman bought nine paintings. Nine. It makes me smile just telling you about it. Nine. I recommend reading the story in Megan’s own words.

So that brings me to her blog, Megan Chapman’s Studio Blog: Ideas about making, marketing, selling and talking about art. If you are interested at all in the business and process of art this is a must read. You will find invaluable information, insights and tips. Start here, at the beginning.

Megan told me that historically April hasn’t been a very good month for her, but she set an intention that this one would be good. I don’t think she had any idea what “good” could mean when she imagined it, but isn’t that the best way?—set the intention then give up expectations and remain open to what may come.

So here we are in May…what will happen next?