Saturday, September 1, 2018

Having a Comeback

It's been a long time since my last post.  But I looked over the blog this morning and decided to continue, now that I am retired from teaching and otherwise am not committed to too much other.  Working on embroideries that I WANT to do is very satisfying.

My ground of choice is perforated paper.  Someone said to me that I chose that because it is easier to see.  I, on the other hand, will use a magnifier if I need one.  No, perf paper is my choice because it has constraints.  The piece may not be larger than 8.5" X 11.5 " that is 97.5 square inches, and, of course, it could be smaller.  At 14 holes X 14 holes to the inch, it is 196 stitches per square inch,  (Just a minute--I have to get my calculator out!)  So we are talking at a maximum of 19,159 holes.  (Please correct me if I am wrong.)  Now, since I almost always stitch in every hole twice in a project that is around 38,000 stitches.  Sometimes I stitch in the holes 4 times (counted cross-stitch, for instance) you can do the math on that.

Some of my work  is  counted cross-stitch, but back stitch comprises most of my stuff.  I very rarely do any other stitch.  It is the content/images and not the fancy stitches I know that I want to celebrate.

This work is called Papaver Rubens and is only partially covered with back stitch.  The background is a photograph of mine that I digitally manipulated for an appropriate look.

Above is a piece that is larger than 8.5 X 11.5, called Heartland. It's about 12" X 12".  I stitched together one full piece of the paper to another cut to the size I wanted.  It is impossible to tell where the one starts and the other ends.  I hoped it would turn out and it did.  I think it was helpful that the black disguised the attachment.  The gold paper hearts are appliqued on.  This was the first project that I used backstitch in various directions to show texture.

This last piece is called Cosmic Wind, one of my Moon Goddess series.  She is done in counted cross-stitch and is about 8" X 10".

I am glad to be back--I guess I really do have more to say!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Passions and Matting

Creativity is one of the cardinal aspects of my life.  I am a creative person and am so wrapped up h it and am so tuned in to my own creativity that it is hard for me to follow other people's rules of art, needlework and, yes, behavior.  I don't think of myself as willfully eccentric or willfully disobedient to my group's rules.  It's just that I must work the edges, test the boundaries, and find my own way.  There is really no other way for me to work.

It disturbs me to hear people tell me that they are not creative.  This, of course, is not true.  One of the definitions of a human is its creativity.  This latest encounter was with a framer who has been cutting mats for me for several years.  His name is Rey.  He is not an artist, he has told me, and therefore not creative.  As I have said before in this blog, creativity exists in every form of human endeavor.  (But my long lecture on this topic would have been out of place at the framing desk.) 

What was interesting about this trip to the framer was the security guard who was standing behind the framing desk keeping an eye on customers up and down the aisles of the big craft store.  His name plate said Honsecker on it.  As I was waiting for Rey to finish with another customer, I was going through the mat samples trying to find just the right color for my newest project.  I do my own framing, but I get mats cut to order.  Mr. Honsecker after a few minutes of my shuffling from blue to green to violet mats, started to be interested in what I was doing and giving his opinion.  The truth is that I had already settled on a dark blue mat, but I was entertained by his comments.  He liked the dark green mat, so I got out some other greens and shuffled them around.  After another ten minutes (the other customer was dithering something terrible) , Mr. Honsecker said that if  couldn't decide I should just go with a white mat and a black frame.  I guess I looked at him strangely because,all of a sudden he needed to walk the aisles.    I guess that white mats and black frames are really what sell the most.  A safe choice.  Not a choice I would make unless it were absolutely the best choice for my piece.  I appreciated Mr. Honeysecker's help and comments.  I liked his green choice, it did highlight certain areas of the work.  I just liked my choice more.  The other customer's business was finally concluded--white mats and black frames for her two pieces--and Rey came over and then we had the conversation about non-creativity.  Rey is creative in handling people, a skill I am sadly lacking.  By the way, the piece I had matted was the  "Barrett" sample in my previous blog entry.  This happened last week.

And then this week I get an email from a good friend of mine who sent on greetings from a mutual acquaintance who is a needlework judge.  The greeting "Hi!   Hope to see a Bobbie Pilling entry from you just not framed in purple."  Yes, my 2014 entry has a purple mat and frame.  White and black is a much safer choice for judged events even if it does nothing for the overall look of the work.  Traditionally judges like to see black and white even if it dulls down the piece.  They are trained that way.  Well, I guess I just won't win the Bobbie Pilling Award again if it means a black and white frame and mat.  I do what I do with passion and with all of my being.  My pieces talk to me and tell me what they want.  They shine out with purple, blue, turquoise, and pink mats.  I must remain what I am and what I feel.

Mxied media with paint, embroidery, colored varnish, geranium leaves and blossoms.  !4" X 14".  A purple canvas mat.

Mixed media with copper sheeting, alcohol stain, embroidery, and paint.
13" X 16".  A painted silk mat in rust color to enhance the copper. 
Castlerig is an ancient stone circle in the Lake District
 of England. I have been there three times and each time an offering of flowers has been left at the base of the largest standing stone.  This image is how the stone circle affects me
and how it makes me feel and is not a true representation
of that lovely circle with its spectacular views.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

A Paper of Pins and Needles, Part 1

As an embroiderer I try to stretch out my wings and dare new places where I have not gone before.  I started working seriously on perforated paper fifteen or sixteen years ago, getting the hang of it, getting a fine feel for it, and getting to know its possibilities.  At this point I made around thirty quarter sheet and whole sheet samplers, some conventional band samplers and some slightly less conventional.  I tried out Hardanger on paper.  I made button samplers and other found-object paper samplers.  It was fun.  But the fun part was getting so many quarter-sheet samplers ground out in such a short time.  Though I was consciously exploring the medium, I did not have a tangible goal in mind.

 A sampler for my great-niece, Cassidy, about 7" X 10", 2007.  I penned in the pink hearts first and then stitched the band sampler.  The sixth band down is one of my Trellis Patterns for samplers.

I love perforated paper now for several reasons.  The first is that it is fourteen count and my old cataract-plagued eyes can easily see the holes in most lighting conditions.  The second is that with the normal 9" X 12" sheet I can't get too ambitious in my size.  For instance, with a piece of 30 count linen cut to 14" X 14", with a stitching area of 11" X 11" that's 121 square inches. It would take me, a fairly fast stitcher, more than three months working around two to three hours a day, to finish the work and there would be a lot of background showing.  With perforated paper, working at the same speed, I can finish a work in about three weeks.  Am I able to get the fine detail?  No, but I can get a lot of detail.  Typically nowadays, I work every hole in the paper for finer detail.  A third reason is that the finishing of the piece is easy.  I started working two holes in so that the outer set of holes, which may get a little barked up, would not show under the mat. 
 A quarter-page sampler, unconventional with glued on stars, painted and and then markered in gold.  The Trellis Pattern is between the two left bands. Sent to a friend, 2004.

The Sam and Linda Baty Sampler, 8" X 9".  A button sampler.  The perforated paper was purchased black.  After stitching I painted over it in yellows to give it some pizzazz. This was done before I started designing Trellis Patterns.

Yes, I mat all perforated paper.  Gives it a nice, contained look.  I can keep the piece from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune unframed.  The truth is, I have run out of wall space for new work and framing everything I finish would cost a fortune, even with my doing my own framing.

And last, what I love about perforated paper, I love the finished product, how it feels in hand, how there is no fuss in getting done--no blocking, no ironing, no stretching over foam core.  It's just done.
 A Daughter Is a Day Brightener And A Heart Lightener.  Barrett's birthday sampler, completed the last week in February this year.  This reminds me of a carpet page from an illuminated manuscript.  8" X 9", with wild silk and metal threads from India, silk threads, and 6 stranded cotton with gold beads (barely discernible in this scan in all the red-orange areas.  This has been matted with medium- dark blue.  No Trellis Patterns, but blackwork stitches.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015


I am going to gear up this blog again.  It's been a long time since I wrote to it.  Lots of stuff have passed through my life.

I have been thinking about the difference between a hobby and a vocation/occupation.  I have a friend who called what I do with threads and needles a hobby.  I was disturbed at this.  I am an artist and can be nothing else.  She may have been basing her words on the fact that she is a freelance consultant in the business world and earns a ton of money.  I, however, am a freelance artist and actually earn very little.  (I hope none of you ghost readers are too surprised.)  But I do earn.

I was hoping for a little more respect.

Above is one of my current embroideries.  It is called Ribbon Tangle and is six-stranded cotton on perforated paper, 8" X 11".  Yep, it is based on z-tangling.  Is there a market for an embroidery such as this?  I doubt it--especially at the price I must charge to compensate myself for the design time and the stitching time.  The materials are immaterial in that pricing.  Maybe 8 skeins of thread and one piece of paper.  I love this piece.

And I love to tangle, though I don't do it a whole lot anymore.  I would rather stitch the tangles that draw them right now.  Tangles are a hobby.  The stitching of tangles with thread and needle is my (sometimes) paid occupation.

What I have turned to for my hobby in recent months is making greeting cards that are little pieces of my art.  No two greeting cards are alike, but some are similar.  I made these two today using some of my own monoprinted paper, some origami paper, and a stencil from Hot Off the Press called Little Birdies.  The stencil has four birds and four wings, but I rarely use the wings.  Sometimes I sell my greeting cards.  But even getting bucks for them does not make the making of them an occupation in my mindHobby all the way. 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Surface Reflection

Surface Reflection, canvas embroidery, 9" X 6", congress cloth with six-stranded cotton

I don't usually do canvas work. But since I proposed a class for the American Needlepoint Guild's 2013 national seminar and was accepted, I did a bit.  I love working on canvas, but it takes so darned long.  I like to actually make the surface of the fabric rather than just decorating it.

The name of this is taken from the novel Surface Reflection by Iain Bain, one of my very favortie science Fiction writers.

This was done with four strands of stranded cotton.  Some of the water had four different colors in each needleful. 

The photo above is the original one I took in the winter of 2004 at the Blue Hole, Santa Rosa, NM.  The Blue Hole is a large spring with a constant temp and it has this wonderful color.  This is an unmanipulated photo.  The koi are of course not native to the pool, but added a bright touch to the water.

The photo is a manipulated one adding a bit of color to the reflected surface and the fish recolored.  The name of the needlepoint.

Since I had been researching the topic of creativity for a lecture I gave at the EGA 2012 National Seminar, I have been more cognizant of my own sources of inspirations and how I handle them.  It was a right-brain dominant moment when I saw the photos I had taken and also "saw" the finished work in my mind.  It was the left brain dominance in me that thought through the design and engineering of the work.  The right brain should work in yoke with the left brain for the most satisfactory results.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Exhibition Only

Shirley Kay, India Hayford, and Carole Rinard after the award ceremony at the 2008 EGA National Seminar in Louisville, KY.  India is a fine artist and teacher who lives in Casper, WY.  Carole is currently Judge of judges within national EGA.
                Albuquerque Fiber Art Fiesta is over for the year.  It is held biannually on Thursday through Saturday of the Memorial Day weekend.  This year’s was as fun, educational, shopping worthy, and user-friendly as ever.
                In 2013 the next Fiesta will have some changes to it.  We in Turquoise Trail Chapter and in Sandia Mountains Chapter have to get together and write our ideas down, to codify them into guidelines for us to follow in succeeding years.
                One of the changes that we two chapters will have to make is to have a part of our exhibit that is non-judged.  This has been mandated by the AFAF committee (I am told--I have not seen the actual paper on this), along with several other points of action.
                My problem is this:  national EGA has a certain high reputation to maintain for excellence in needlework.  Within EGA, I am told by my friend Carole Rinard, pieces that are for exhibition only and not for judging also must go through the jurying process.  This means that all pieces must conform to that high standard.  Only-for-exhibition pieces are for the chapter members to show off their pieces that have won national honors and prizes, for instance a Bobby Pilling Award winner would be an exhibition piece, an EGA National Exhibit ribbon winner, or even an historical piece of quality work that has been passed down through a family would be for exhibition only.  Pieces that have already won more prestigious prizes than AFAF gives would be what might be shown.  It would specifically not be for people to exhibit poorly done pieces, old pieces, and damaged pieces.  
Shirley Kay, Carole Rinard, and Karen Schueler at Glorieta, NM, the Rocky Mountain Region Seminar in 2006.  Karen is the finest and best fiber artist I know.  Carole is a fine artist herself, but is also a great judge of needlework

                Why would someone not want a piece she had done not be judged?  A nationally certified judge, whether from the EGA, the American Needlepoint Guild, or from NAN would write down valuable comments for the stitchers on how to improve their work, what was good about the current piece, and what was maybe not so good. 
EGA, ANG, and NAN are guilds in the medieval sense of the meaning of guild.  People would bind themselves to a guild to uphold the highest standards in the land.  Work that was not up to guild standards would not be sold (or shown) under the guild name.  Above all, these national guilds are teaching bodies.  We teach only to the highest standards.
AFAF is the place to show our very best stuff.  As the Fiesta grows and gets a wider reputation for excellence, this only helps the standards of our chapters within the guilds.
So I am a little concerned that AFAF rules and regulations may run into and conflict with EGA guidelines for exhibiting.  We will see what is going to happen in the next two years before the next Fiesta.  Hopefully we can get things straightened out.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Conscious Artist

Draco--beaded embroidery on black velvet.
     The other day at the Sandia Mountains stitch-in, I heard someone call someone else “artistic.”  It has gotten me thinking about the differences between being artistic and being an artist.  I think I have been artistic all of my life, but I have only been an artist, a conscious artist, for the last ten years or so.  That is the key word, “conscious.”  After being an embroidery teacher for almost thirty years, after teaching color theory for twenty years and design theory for fifteen years, it was only ten years ago that I started calling myself an artist.
            It was ten years ago when I joined two other artists, Karen Schueler and Emily Holcomb, in a group that met every Wednesday that I began to strive to be more than artistic, and to be an artist. It was in Wednesday Group that I consciously began to do art as opposed to just designing embroidered pieces for me to teach.  Before that I had been in many art shows and had won prizes for my work, but I was principally a teacher and not an artist for art’s sake.
            A conscious artist has certain characteristics:
            Creativity--probably the essence of art and being an artist.  I cannot imagine an artist without imagination and the ability to create things from her own mind and soul.
            Independent thinking--along with the compulsion to work, an artist must have intelligence and must be able to work independently.  I don't mean a genius with a sky-high IQ, I mean someone who thinks, plans, and figures things out.  Artists are often very articulate about their work.  They explain things to their viewers and to other artists. 
            Problem Solver --Doing art can be like solving a puzzle or a problem. Artists who do many commissioned pieces are better problem solvers than anyone else I know.  I like to have a problem or two in each of my pieces.  If I don't have a problem to solve, then I am being redundant.  To me that is standing still and not improving.  I like to improve and learn something in each piece.
            Vision--an artist sees things in different ways from other people.  An artist can often see right into the heart of the matter.  An artist can see things from the back or underneath; she doesn't look at things, she sees into them.  And an artist can see the motives.  This is a talent that comes naturally for some people, but it can be taught to some degree.  The hardest part is that an artist must bring this vision to the ground fabric and convey it to the viewer.
            Emotion-sensitivity--an artist feels things very deeply and she can be very sensitive to the potential emotion of a subject.  Sometimes artists work without emotion and create wonderful pieces.  But a work of art that has some emotion behind it is especially wonderful.
            Builds Bodies of Work--this is also known as integrity or internal consistency.  In every art class and every drawing class I have had, it was emphasized that artists should create bodies of work.  That is, pieces that are related in some way.  Bodies of work can be related by theme, by medium, by color, shape, or even emotion.  An artist can work on several bodies of work interleaving them, as Picasso did.  Building integrity, internal consistency, and working in bodies of work tells the public and art critics that the artist is mature.
Artistic integrity is that an artist is true to herself.  For instance, I could not seriously do a piece a la Monet.  Monet had his own work, his own subjects, his own style and they were and are among the best that the world has seen.  But for me to copy a Monet in needlework, or even try to copy his exact style, would be a farce.  I must do my own work in my own style.
6 Pot Garden--transfer ink on cotton/poly mix with silk threads.

What Are the Duties of an Artist?
            A.  Originality is essential.
                        The EGA defines original, adaptation, and interpretation as follows.
                        Original:  An original work is one that, from the beginning, is solely the creative product of the embroiderer.
                        Adaptation:  An adaptation is one that is inspired by another source, modified through significant changes, and worked by the embroiderer.
                        Interpretation:  An interpretation is one that is from an existing design in which colors, threads, and stitches are selected by the embroiderer.
            You will find that these definitions are fairly stringent.  Outside EGA circles there are other definitions that also serve.
            Expertise in two or three unrelated media.
            A good artist, one who is well educated and trained, is able to work in two or three media.  I am not talking about needlepoint and smocking.  I am talking about embroidery and photography.  Or embroidery and printmaking.  Or embroidery and ceramics.  Each medium has its own rules, but the essences of the rules generally translate from one medium to another.  Design theory and color theory are always the same.  I am not saying that you should design and exhibit in another medium, just that you learn it very well and are able to navigate in it.
            One thing that ALL artists should be able to do is draw.  Drawing is one of those skills that can be taught.  I took my first drawing classes at Arapaho Community College in Littleton, CO.  Since then I have taken several more, but what I do most is practice.  Now I sometimes sell my drawings, but they are not the main thrust of my art--just my embroidery.  But my embroidery is much better now that I have the basic skills of drawing which include:   perspective, composition, scale, value, and proportion.  Yes, we can go to design theory classes and learn about these things, but a drawing class makes us learn them at a gut level.
            Drawing from life also helps us practice to be keen observers and analytical thinkers.  This helps in the process of self-evaluation and analysis.  It is from this observation that a lot of ideas for art come.
            To Thine Own Self Be True
            Have you ever heard the words, "Write what you know about?"  The same thing goes with art.  I know a young woman who had taken art classes in high school and college.  She started painting kachina pictures from the Hopi communities of New Mexico and Arizona.  This woman is from Kansas and has lived there and in Colorado all of her life.  Her neighbors saw her paintings and started ordering some to match the sofas in their rec rooms.  It is my opinion that this young woman, the niece of a good friend of mine who is a watercolorist, did herself, her community, the Hopi nation, and art a great disservice.  She could put none of her own soul into these paintings.  The kachina are religious paraphernalia of a another culture.  She knew nothing about the kachina she painted.  She did them in odd colors at odd angles on the canvas.  I hated them.  There is a good ending to this story.  Her aunt finally clued her in.  She has stopped doing kachina and is now in a couple of art galleries in Denver with her own work.   
            The story of this young woman has to do with the art term "authenticity."  An authentic piece of work from an artist is one that springs from "knowledge, skills, experiences, and attitudes of the artist."
            Continuing Education
                        An artist has to continue to improve.  One excellent way to do that is to take classes that will lead to new experience.  Take classes out of your area of expertise.  Take design theory from many different teachers.  The same for color theory.  By the way, design theory is more important than color theory.  Color theory is just one small part of the huge field of design theory.  Take a beginning watercolor class.  Take a jewelry making class.  I like to take photography, paper-making, and basketry classes.  Each of these can lead to new insights about embroidery, about the way real textures develop, about how colors darken and lighten on certain materials.  Take a pottery class.  But learn, learn, learn as much as you can.  An artist who slows down and does nothing new is a stagnating personality.
            Self-evaluation--This is also known as Reflection.  I think the hardest thing that an artist does is to self-evaluate.  I work and work on this myself.  Keep in mind that your most popular work, the one that earns the most praise and the most prizes, may not be your best work.  Only you can know this.
            One good method of self evaluation is to keep a newly finished piece unframed for a while.  Let it cool off.  Put it away for a month or two (if you have the time).  Then bring it out and pin it to your bulletin board.  Look at it at odd times from odd angles.  Think about its impact.  Think about the framing or other mounting.  What is good about the piece?  What could be improved next time?  Pieces that you dislike at first may turn out to be, a few months down the road, your favorite works.
            But self-evaluation has more to do with the artistic experience than just looking over the work.  Reflecting--looking into ourselves--makes works of art valid and full of depth.  Using life experiences and life emotion for artwork is part of what an artist does.
            What is an Artist?  An artist is a person who says she's an artist.  I am an artist because I declared myself an artist.  No one nominated me or voted me in.  I am an artist because I do art.  I do art because I am compelled to it.  I must do it.  Art is both the easiest and the hardest thing I do.  Being an artist is as easy as that.