March 3, 2017

Art and math do not mix

I have to start this off by stressing I have the luxury of being a stay-at-home mom whose kids are now grown (though one is home after college graduation and trip meant to kill ME to Asia for a month, but that's another panic attack story), so I do the old fashioned job of keeping the house Monday through Friday.  Unsolicited, my husband, who works an executive job about 11 hours a day, often two weeks straight if traveling, kicks in before I even get up on the weekends AND he cooks on the weekends.  Seriously cooks.  So my "chores versus creative time" is a mess of my own doing.  Some things never change.  The cats keep using the litter boxes that I have to scoop.  Dinner doesn't take long to cook, but it always means making a mess that I have to clean up.  Repairs around the house need to be managed, and it's my responsibility since I'm home.  The problem is that with a big house and constant chores, it's really, really easy to get out of the habit of doing anything creative.  What a shock to see how long it had been since I posted to my blog.  It isn't that I expect anyone to read it - it's all about catharsis for me - but still!  The lack of activity here is a testament to the lack of activity in my litter-boxy studio.  Time for a new plan of action!

Today I put "studio" time on my calendar, actually treating it as if I were having a meeting (like in the oooold days when I wore a suit and had an office and business cards).  If I put more of what I need to do on the calendar, it will give me more direction for the day, plotting chores time, errands time, and make a mess time.  Today was more about making a mess.

Husband Harold has always liked my quilts and actually looks forward to attending events like the Road to California show every year with real enthusiasm.  He also really loves the same modern prints and bright colours that I do, so he was very happy when I handed him my copy of Kaffe Fasset's "Country Garden Quilts" and ask him which one (that didn't have any curves!) he would like me to make for him.  I should have torn out pages 28 & 29 first.  O.M.G.

This quilt is made up of a million pinwheels, which means a zillion triangles have to be cut from dozens of fabrics, then reassembled in as close to perfect stupid little squares as possible.  Four of those stupid little squares made of two triangles get assembled into one larger square and you have to hope and pray every stitch is straight and the squares are actually square.  Curse pages 28 & 29!  The instructions are NOT for the faint of heart, for the person who needed a tutor for math in 7th grade when we had to do math using dreaded fractions.  I can do it now, but trying to do it with questionable instructions to begin with, boggling my mind, resulted in a lot of mistakes and the usage of all of the bad words that I know.  And I have used them all with gusto.

This is what the stupid quilt is supposed to look like.


The instructions are a little confusing.  I can build furniture from Ikea in the blink of an eye, so you KNOW these instructions had to be a little wonky.  The directions for cutting fabric didn't make a lot of sense and are contradictory to most of what is taught in quilting class that I could find on my beloved YouTube or other web sites.  All I wanted to know to begin was what the heck size fabric square do I need to start with to end up with a pinwheel of a specific size.  This is what I had to do to get an answer to that question (and then I add extra to compensate for waggles in cutting).


I drew pictures.  I cut out practice pieces using scrap fabric and assembled them to experiment with size.  Then I found the Missouri Quilt Company website and video that explained how to do the math you see on this notebook page.  None of that helps with simple counting, though, as is demonstrated by this pile of useless pieces that are the extras because I'm soooooo good at counting.  

My charming husband asked, "Can't you just use these for another quilt?"  And I asked, "Do you think I'm insane enough to make TWO quilts made up of a zillion triangles put back together to make one big piece of fabric?!?"

I think tomorrow I'll paint something.  Maybe I'll make some more of my calling cards.  I don't use as many bad words.  Then I'm going to send all of my extra triangles to my sister as a surprise gift to add to her stash.  Good luck, Lisa!  xox

July 9, 2016

Practice Does NOT Make Perfect (yet)

The last few weeks were disastrous for trying to get any artwork done or even going back to my beading class.   I knew I wouldn't make the next class because of family birthday plans, but was thrown for a loop when my father died that night, having only learned from a Facebook post by his family member that he was in serious trouble medically.  After weeks of drama, there were the additional distractions of a failed irrigation system in a drought (we cut back a lot, but are trying to keep trees alive), finding that we had a leak in our pool that could have resulted in the electrocution of my future son-in-law and then a bee hive and swarm that showed up right after (thank goodness!) our July 4th barbecue and fireworks show, along with working on a destination wedding just four months away.  The plumber did as much as he could to fix our irrigation problem before the bees got too grumpy, I managed to get a bee guy out within the hour, and postponed all of the repairs to the pool and yard until next week.  Harrumph.  I am totally buzzer-phobic, so I'm glad this was resolved quickly.



Too scared to go outside for another day or two (the suggested time to avoid the angry bee area by the bee dude), I figured I'd take advantage of the fact that the husband is out of town and have the house alone.  Time to start cutting out that quilt he wants!

It shouldn't be this hard or confusing.  I've been sewing garments and stuff for the house since I was a kid, plus I have made quilts before.  Not many, but I figured I'm experienced enough as long as it doesn't have curves or require crazy piece work.  Alas, I have been away from it long enough that it is NOT going well.  The directions are a little squirelly.  I love Kaffe Fasset, but someone did not do a thorough job of writing the instructions.  Some steps are left out, including one bit of information about how may pieces of a particular color of fabric to cut.  Yikes!

I made things worse by going on the internet and surfing videos for advice and finding a "shortcut."  The "shortcut" wasn't well executed by me, and so I made some costly errors.  The pattern calls for cutting about a trillion triangles and piecing them together to look like pinwheels, and then putting those pinwheels together to form the quilt top.  The shortcut showed how easy it was to just cut bigger squares instead of a bunch of little triangles, put the two bigger squares right sides together, sew around all four sides, then make two diagonal cuts and voila!  You open each of the four pieces and have four sets of the triangles together!  I did a lot of math to figure out the proper size of the squares.  OK, I thought I figured out the right size.  I was wrong.  Over and over again.  I have used all of the bad words in the bad word bank and wasted about a half mile of fabric.  I even practiced with ugly older fabric to test the process.  And test it again.  And tweak the needle position on my machine.  And trim the squares, sometimes ending up with a rectangle.  Or ending up with a square the wrong size.  Sigh. 

Time to crank on some good music, whip out the rotary cutter and start trimming the already cut pieces to make them workable.  At least I'm not just watching TV or having long, drawn out discussions with the cats.  And I'm glad to be doing something creative, even if I started out doing a bad job of it.  With practice, maybe I can perfect the pinwheel.

June 5, 2016

Another Step Outside the Comfort Zone

After more than three years of living in a town where I have yet to make any real friends (or much art, for that matter), I knew I had reached a point where I had to actually DO something to break out of this rut.  I found a little garden shop in a neighboring town that offers crafty classes.  Some of the classes are for the type of project I wouldn't normally be attracted to make, but I remembered an article by Julie Fei-Fan Balzer where she wrote about the value of taking a class like this, breaking out of the same old mold and pattern of redundant creativity. 

Making the call to sign up for the class and actually going was much more nerve-wracking than I expected.  Even after all these years, I still think back to the horribly critical art instructor I had in one of my first college classes, the beast who grabbed my sketch pad from my hands on the first day of class and wrote a big, fat red "F" on it.  Then there was the "beginner" classes I took with an established local artist, only to find that some of the others taking the class had REAL studios and shows...huh?  Not beginning, but very intimidating.  The day before I was to attend the first session, I really clobbered my foot and did some serious damage to a toe enough that I couldn't put on a shoe for a couple of days.  I was relieved that I had an excuse to put off attending for another week.  What a chicken!

This week, I butched up, packed up the supplies I thought I might need for this weekly one-hour beading class and marched right in.  What a wonderful, pleasant afternoon!  The class topic is "Beading Basics."  The course description included instruction in stringing, wire wrapping, crimping and other basic beading skills.  If nothing else, I'd learn how to repair a lot of broken jewelry.  After a little chatting, I learned that the instructor as well as another class instructor live in the city that I live in but, unlike my experience meeting residents so far, were warm, wonderful and welcoming.  I had a great time meeting these ladies, completely losing track of time.  Not that my verbosity distracted anyone from the clock, nope, nope, nope!  We worked until almost 2:30, an hour and a half longer than anticipated.  At the end of it, I had a fine beaded bracelet that I was proud to have finished.  Better yet, I feel like I've met some people with whom I could become friends.  After this class, I'm eager to try another, maybe the art quilts and fiber arts class.  Finally, like-minded souls in my neighborhood! 



Stepping out of my comfort zone and taking this class might seem like a small task for some, but my fear of failure and ridicule have held me back for so very long.  This was a big deal for me and I'm happy I made the move, eagerly anticipating the next gathering.  Thank you, Beth and Libby and classmate Crystal for renewing my faith in friendship.

May 15, 2016

When Bad Instructions Lead to Bad Improv

When the creative juices have slowed to a snail's pace, I have no problem resorting to the use of a pattern to make something, anything, instead of just staring at my studio desk.  Over the past couple of years, I have added a few patterns for sewn and stuffed creations for help with my stifled creativity.  Tired of a blank brain on the art front,  I finally opened one of the patterns to look over the materials list and read through the instructions.  Just a few steps into the instructions, I noticed things like materials listed appeared nowhere in the actual instructions.  Then there were the confusing directions to do things like cut two pieces of ribbon followed by instructions about what to do with the middle piece.  Middle?  Of two pieces?  Huh?

The distraction of the obvious errors, including conflicting instructions and missing information, made me think that I should just move on to a different pattern.  Maybe these errors were an anomaly.  I opened the next pattern and began reading through those instructions as well.  They were worse.  I can't silence the my mental red pen and felt compelled to let the author know, without being impolite, that there were issues with the instructions that needed clarification before I got started.  It was hard to find a functioning means of communication with the creator, but we finally connected via email.  One of my questions lead to the creator realizing this was a big error in the years-old pattern, and the "clarification" for a different step that was still just wrong: 5+3+5 is never going to add up to 8.  Sigh.  At least I have years of sewing experience and figured most of it out by myself.

I got to drawing, sewing, cutting and stuffing and found myself enjoying getting messy with this silly project.  I question some of the steps, thinking that this just doesn't look right or thinking that I could save myself a messy task by doing some things out of order.  At least I'm doing something creative, even if it is editing instructions and poking myself in the fingers until I bleed.

I've done stuff like this a million times, so I just put on my smarty-pants and improvised on some of the instructions.  Bad idea.  Pants were not so smart.  The most thing to remember for future similar projects   (and should have remembered!) is not to gesso fabric that requires being hand-stitch later to avoid having to paint in nooks and crannies.  It's like trying to poke a needle through a sheet of plastic.  So I have the body of a bird on wire legs too flimsy to support its weight (even though I used wire one gauge thicker than the pattern called for) so it looks like a drunk on the sidewalk.  Do I bother to finish?  Throw it out and start over?  Or do I challenge my inner-Tim Gunn and figure out how to just make it work?

I say, "Start another project and hide the mess!"  Yup, I'll come back to this fiasco leter.





February 25, 2016

Trying To Get Back In The Game

I've been on jury duty for a few weeks now, almost grateful to have an excuse for all of the things I'm not getting done at home.  One of my new juror friends told me about her artwork, sharing photographs of the beautiful greeting cards she makes.  Looking at her work made me think about all of the supplies I have and am not using.  Again.  She asked about any web site I might have and so I confessed I had a blog, sharing the URL with her and almost hoping she never looks.  When I looked online myself to be sure I had it right, I was startled to see that it had been more than a year since I last posted.  Has it been more than a year since I sat in the studio?  No, but close to it.  As we walked to our cars at the end of the day, I committed to doing something creative over this long weekend (long for us, no court on Thursday and Friday).  Now to figure out what to do.

So I've cleaned out the litter box that is at the far end of the room, got two loads of laundry going and am about to sit at the desk and see what happens.  I need some good creative juju.  Artist John Whipple's assemblage speaks volumes to me.  That darned artsy block feels like such a burden.  Time to get my hands a little dirty and try to shake it off.

Addendum: When my brain doesn't cooperate on the creative side, I make business/calling cards.  I was reminded of steps I'd forgotten since it has been a long while (like using an extender with acrylic paints before using a brayer).  Listening to loud music and messing around with paints and papers and scissors was fun again.  While it is hard for me to avoid making comments both in my head and on my blog about how lacking my artistic skills are when I share, I am going to make an effort.  While I don't fancy myself much of an artist, I have found it handy to have cards with my name and contact information when someone asks for it.  So this is the extent of my creative session today.





November 14, 2015

Tempermental Printers Rule the Studio

Today, there was no Pinterest-cruising and no reference book cheating, just straight to the studio to fiddle around with ideas for the painting of Great Grandfather Ross.  Once again, the shadows cast from the window to the back of the painting provided inspiration (although the lines are all in a different place), so I quickly traced them before the sun moved much.

Today's studio lesson was all about printer abuse and neglect.  A couple of years ago, I spent too much money on a fancy Epson Stylus R1900 printer because an artist and author I admire uses one for printing her art.  Hoping one day I would also generate art worthy of printing, I bought the same printer.  It's very rude and overly sensitive.  Apparently, one must use up the expensive ink faster than I do, or it just dries up and the printer thinks it needs to be fed.  I don't think I've used this printer in two years, in part because it was packed up when we were moving and then I just didn't get around to making much art.  Today I fired up the beast at which time it told me that I needed to replace four cartridges.  Ugh.  At least I had those four.  Then I went online and bought a replacement for each colour since they're nearly impossible to find in an actual brick-and-mortar store.  At least it seems to be happy and working well.  I prefer a simple printer that remembers settings and does the same old thing every time unless you tell it something different.  This one seems fussier, assuming you are printing something large and fancy and glossy at all times.  I'm pretty tech savvy and have read the manual and clearly need to spend more time finding it's secret tricks.

With my husband out of town and nothing but time on my hands, I need to remember that I can work after dark.  For some reason, I always feel that I have to stop working as the sun is setting.  It must be my mindset from the days of having kids at home to feed and knowing I'd get the, "I'm on my way and will be home in an hour" call from my husband.  It's hard to get used to all of this free time.  Now I have to make good use of it.

January 9, 2015

The Artsy Resolution

My resolutions for the new year are not about diet, exercise, losing weight or any variation of those things (a never ending battle all year long).  I have resolved to 1) spend more social time with friends and family less time in solitude and 2) to get my artsy self back. 

Having fun with art is something I don't do well these days.  I read about so many successful artists (and I mean success in the sense of making a living) that are self-taught, learning from books, DVD's or taking single classes of instruction here and there.  I found a year-long online course with artists Carla Sonheim and Lynn Whipple (I am SO excited) and signed up, something I would have been afraid to do in the past.  The first lesson involves line drawing.  I completed the first lesson, and found myself muttering, "I stink at this."  The lesson reads all over the place that this is about having fun, relax, just go with it, it's not supposed to be perfect...but I still caught my inner critic speaking out loud.  When I was to pick a single subject and make multiple attempts at it, I caught myself scrolling up on the screen to see what the instructor's drawings looked like.  ACK!  Mine don't look like hers at all!  I must be doing it wrong.  Then I stopped myself and zoomed down the page so that I couldn't see her drawings any longer.  Really?  I still can't just relax?  This is going to take more practice than I thought it would, but I'm up for it.  I just need to tape the mouth of the inner critic shut.

I have decided that I'm going to give myself permission to try my hand at something another artist does that inspires me, not to sell it or claim the idea as my own, but to get back in the habit of making stuff.  Last week we had another of those crazy wind storms that absolutely trashed my back yard, leaving eucalyptus leaves and branches littered everywhere among the pine cone bombs that came flying down.  I remembered seeing pictures of painted individual eucalyptus leaves at bicocacolors.blogspot.com and figured I could have some fun experimenting.  I spent a good two hours painting, something I can't remember doing for ages.  Now my leaves look nothing like the artist's leaves, but I had focused fun, music blaring, and was happy doing it.


Tomorrow's exercise is to continue without self-criticism.