Saturday, May 31, 2014

Just do it

My cat has the first layer of spots and I contemplated another layer - camouflage for the camouflage - but then I realized that I was just adding it because it would seem too simple to others. But that's the point of this piece! It is about the apparent lack of depth and sophistication in a performing 'cat'. 

That said, and even though I know this is more about concept and construction than design,  I am starting to fuss. No matter how many times I get to this point it is always the same. I hate it whatever I am working on. The temptation to stop is overwhelming and too often I succumb. But not this time which must be a measure of how strongly I feel about this subject. It might also be a by-product of knowing that this is a series; I can always do a better job on the next one.

I have figured out how I want to add muscles to the cat in such a way that they are clearly differentiated but I know I will stall while doing that work. So I will alternate it with creating a complex but drab coat for the second cat.

For those readers who are unaccustomed to looking at pieces before quilting - they are larger and coarser than the final product will be. Stitching will create shrinkage. The final outline, which has more detail in the legs in particular, has been drafted onto the back of the piece and I will cut along those lines near the end. Also - that's a placeholder for the actual eye.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Spring veggies

Recipe report: After a long cold spring new veggies are finally arriving in our CSA box. This week there was a large bunch of radishes. Using them up could be a challenge because I can quickly tire of radishes in salad (unless it is potato salad). The manager of our CSA, Taproot Farms, posted a recipe for radish dip. We tried it last night and it was nice. It married the bite of the radish with the smoothness of goat cheese and yogurt. We had it with Mary's crackers but it would also be good with raw vegetables.

Radish Dip

½ cup grated radish
8 oz. fresh soft goat cheese
½ cup plain yogurt
½ cup fresh herbs (e.g. dill, chives)
zest and juice of 1 lemon
salt and pepper to taste

Grate the radishes and mix with all other ingredients. If you like a thicker dip, add less yogurt, and vice versa. Try making this dip with different herbs as they are seasonally available.

Our box this week also had fiddleheads (which we gave away), green onions, a large bag of mixed Asian greens, a bunch of asparagus, some huge over-wintered parsnips, lots of carrots and a bag of frozen yellow beans. The fruit box contained 2 litres of cider, a bag of Crispin apples, a jar of jam and a box of frozen raspberries. 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

My tribe

Earlier this month I attended the Studio Art Quilt Associates annual conference in Alexandria, Virginia. I had never considered attending before but I am now a regional representative for Atlantic Canada and wanted to attend the all-day reps meeting that preceded the conference. I had a great time at that meeting and the presentation that I made to the group was very well-received. But that's not why I am already considering going to the next conference which is far far away in Portland, Oregon.

What was special about my experience at the conference? Not me, for sure. I was sick and had to drag myself through the weekend. It wasn't the meals or the facility - they were standard mid-level quality. There were some interesting sessions at the conference but they weren't really worth the investment of time and money. The one thing that stood out for me was the people. I have never really understood the statement "It's the people you meet and the networking you do that makes it all worthwhile." because I had never had that experience. But this time I did.

Very few who meet me understand that I am a true introvert. I am using that term as originally defined by Jung. I could write my own definition of what it means but this article contains a good description of introversion as I understand and experience it. Note that the definition suggests that 25-40% of the population are introverts. My best guess, based on observation and conversations, is that 75% of the conference attendees fall into that category. It was not unusual for people to bring up the issue directly with statements like "I am an introvert." or questions like "Are you an introvert?" This led to meaningful exchanges about the challenges of the conference setting and discussions of coping skills. 

The majority of those attending understood just how draining the experience was for them, and by extension, for those around them. I think that's why I saw many instances of strangers caring for others. People were not isolated at tables or during coffee breaks. Careful and gentle approaches were made to bring every individual into the mix without overwhelming them. After hours there wasn't extraordinary pressure to join one group or another for dinner and socializing. Everyone was free to do as much or as little as they could handle.

I have organized and participated in many group activities, both professional and recreational, but I have never felt so much at home. I have found my tribe.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

No syrup for these pancakes

My friend Susan Tilsley Manley uses rust to create images by carefully controlling the interaction between iron filings and fabric using freezer paper stencils. She creates amazing reproductions of photographs using multiple steps to ensure that the darkest areas have the most exposure and the lightest the least.

Nathan Reilly does the same thing with pancake batter without the aid of freezer paper. He starts with the shadows, let's them cook a while, then adds batter for the mid-tones, and then the light. Make sure to watch the video of him making beetles. Then scroll down on his blog to see more collections and portraits.

Many thanks to one of my favourite bloggers, Sandy Donabed of Waiting for the Muse, for pointing me to the pancake man.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Seeing spots

One of the intermediate size cats that I am working on right now is covered in spots. I spent part of yesterday carefully cutting perfect circles out of my hand dyed fabric to apply to the surface. (I'm not sure now why I cared that the circles be perfect but that's what I did. I might change my mind later.)

I have some vague reasons for making spots but I thought it would be interesting to investigate how others have utilized them. As a zoologist, I am most familiar with spots on animals. They are used for camouflage. A good example is described in a story from one of my favourite books of all time, Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling. (Note that there is offensive language near the end of the original story to which I have linked.) In this instance the leopard acquires spots so that he can become a better predator. Hmmm. In other cases animals use spots to blend in to their environment for safety, as the giraffe and zebra use blotches and stripes in the story. Could that be the meaning of my spots?

Other animals use colour and pattern, including spots, as a warning mechanism. They are either advertising their toxicity or are mimicking another noxious animal. A good example is the common ladybug. It is bad-tasting and signals that fact with its red colour and black spots. Other organisms have capitalized on the association between pattern/colour and taste and have evolved the same pattern even though they are not similarly noxious.

Spider mimic of ladybug
Filled circular spots, regularly applied, are known to most of us as polka dots. This is a terrific summary of the role of polka dots in fashion. It is interesting to read that polka dots are still considered somewhat frivolous or playful - don't wear them to a job interview!

In art, as the article mentions, dots are mostly associated with the pointillist painters. When that style of applying paint to canvas was introduced by Seurat it was greeted with ridicule. The apparent simplicity compared to the complex action of mixing specific paint colours suggested that this was a "lesser" means of painting. The practitioners of pointillism were also criticized for their lack of spontaneity, whatever that means.

detail from Circus Sideshow, Georges Seurat

In recent times, Damien Hirst's spot paintings have sparked questions about whether simple circles of color in a specific arrangement are  truly 'art'. This has been compounded by the fact that he has only completed five of the hundreds of spot paintings his studio has produced. He uses assistants to create the rest, arguing that "Art goes on in your head."

detail from Dam 007, Damien Hirst

At this point, it seems to me that my use of spots is consistent with all of the above. I certainly have the camouflage and warning aspects in my thoughts. But I am also aware that spots carry a connotation of too much simplicity and paucity of meaning. I am particularly sensitive to the concept that my use of carefully cut and applied dots seems "non-spontaneous". Only time will tell whether I can find a balance between my intent and the viewers' interpretation.

For some reason when I think of spots this creature pops into my mind's eye. This is Ambystoma maculatum, the yellow spotted salamander which is common in hardwood forests in eastern Canada and the United States.


Monday, May 26, 2014

A different scale

As I continue to work on art quilts that will be six feet long I have been thinking about work on another scale entirely. Two large works of art have haunted me since I saw the first references to them.

The first is the planned memorial to those who died in the massacre in Norway on July 22, 2011.  'Memory  Wound' is a thoughtful and moving statement about the effect of the deaths on the families of the victims and the entire country.

The other is the Kelpies, a public art project by sculptor Andy Scott. Two horses' heads appear to emerge from the canals near Falkirk, Scotland. They stand 30 meters tall and are clad in stainless steel. Check out all of the links to learn more about the sculptor's process. I am dumbfounded by how anyone can think on that scale. I understand how they were manufactured based on smaller models. It's the vision to see and know that it will work when large that most impresses me.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Cat thinking bad thoughts

We coached a hill climbing clinic today (for cyclists) wearing winter tights, hats and gloves ..... on the last weekend in May.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Maybe a little good

Recipe report: The best asparagus ever.  I used fewer sesame seeds and dropped the temperature to 400 F to ensure that the garlic didn't burn before the asparagus was cooked.

I don't get much sewing done on weekends. They are usually consumed by teaching and coaching. Today I only taught a one hour indoor cycling class, down from two now that the weather has improved. But in the afternoon I went out again to set up a table at the St. Margaret's Centre so I could talk to people about cycling safety. I brought my bike, helmet and high visibility clothing and the Centre made copies of my handouts about helmet fit and bike checks. The main point of the day was to show people where they should put their bikes when on the road. I used my CAN-BIKE laminated "roads" and small toy cars to engage the kids (and dads).

If I was able to answer just one question today that might save a life then my afternoon was well spent. A cyclist died in Dartmouth on Thursday afternoon. We don't know the details but it looks likely that she may have snuck up on the inside of the truck that hit her. If that's the case she was extremely vulnerable - the truck couldn't see her and she couldn't tell that the truck intended to turn right across her path.

If you cycle, please remember to be seen and be predictable. When you have any doubts about where to be on the road, put your bike where you would put your car.


Friday, May 23, 2014

A new start

There has been a long break between posts due to multiple causes and distractions. First among the distractions was puppy Tock. He is now six months old and is willing to sleep while I work upstairs, after a little whining about not being included. He has been a dream puppy but even the most perfect creature needs some guidance in the first few months. I was also really really sick and had some significant responsibilites as SAQA rep.

But spring is now here and I am inspired. During a trip to Maine over Easter weekend I became consumed by the thought of a series which is somewhat based on the theme of the galloping cat of the poem. My mind was spinning with ideas for piece after piece. More than a month later the concept is even more firmly rooted in my consciousness. Right now it feels like something I could do for the rest of my life.

All of the pieces will be large - 6 feet or so - and will be shaped like a running cat but the form will likely be distorted in many ways. Think a basket, a ball, a writhing cat. I also have ideas for a transparent piece. My friends are teasing me that the one after that will be invisible.

I have done some quick and dirty mock ups and am satisfied that I am on the right track. I am now ready to do refined work on two smaller pieces - each 4 feet in length - to test ideas and construction techniques. These will still be maquettes because they will mostly be composed of commercial fabrics and I will do very little work on the surface other than stitching. If I like what I see I know where I will go from there.

There's nothing much to see yet but I have made many decisions. Here are a couple of tests for edge treatment and construction of one of the two cats. These aren't the fabrics or thread I'll be using with one exception. I did some zigzag stitching to secure raw edes using Superior MonoPoly. Nice stuff. In the darker color it will be very useful.