Sunday, December 26, 2010

There Will Be Hippos!

So what's with the hippos, you ask? And maybe you are thinking: strange obsession. And yes, interesting ones (hippos, not obsessions) are hard to come by, and it takes a lot of looking and travel to acquire them. You mostly see plush toys for babies, or tacky, mass produced resin sculptures. I have had to gently cull the collection over the years of some that came as well meaning gifts, but weren't quite up to par. Others that were truly wonderful were too large or too costly to have. They live in every room of my house, in just about every form and material you can think of, and yet, if you weren't looking, you might not notice them. (What's that saying about the elephant in the room? Well these aren't elephants.)

I rarely meet other hippo lovers in person, although I am aware there is a hippo society so large they hold yearly conventions all over the U.S., and yes, there is that one new friend who professes hippo love, too. But simply: we don't know why we fall in love, do we? And if we all fell for the same things, it would be a mighty dull world. For some reason a purple and white floral stuffed guy (who was sent packing when the giver eventually went) started the obsession way back in my Penn State days, and I've been on the continuing hunt for thirty-eight years now.

This year's hippo story is entwined quite neatly with this year's road to self discovery. It all started with my desire to make a journal of a different sort. For a number of years, the International Quilt Festival had showcased a category of quilts that were the size of letter paper, and recorded the maker's year long exploration of themes and techniques. By the time I found the courage to participate in the project, the rules and format had changed, and I decided I didn't really need to enter a contest to do the good work.

I wrote a proposal for my Designing Women that we should each adopt a theme close to our hearts (mine, a given), and that each month the group exploration of surface design techniques would be made into these small wall art pieces. More quilts, less time and stress, more learning. The first month of the project was based on improving our nascent machine felting skills. This is that quilt (based on a nature photo) and I was quite happy with the results.

Silk and tulle on hand painted cotton, secured with needle punching

Layers of roving being added like paint

Fully fleshed out with wool and silk roving; machine quilted and bound.

But overall I had a growing discontent with technique driven design. I was feeling scattered and uninspired after so many years with no real foundation in drawing and design principles. It all felt empty and a bit fraudulent. And so I backed out of the very project I had created for the group, to pursue the idea of learning to draw as an honest basis for my future design work. And of course that has led me here, on the cusp of the New Year, to sketching classes and journal projects both personal and universal.

And so, among my many goals and plans for 2011 are these:

1. Be a participant in the Sketchbook Challenge. If you aren't yet aware of it, check it out right now, it begins the first of the year and you want to be there.

2. Take Jane LaFazio's next level sketch and watercolor for journaling, which starts in late January on the Joggles website. Check it out here.

3. Work each week on a watercolor journal of Hippo Friends, so that I can begin to document my fun and meaningful collection, and perhaps get some insight into my attraction.

4. And just perhaps, when I have drawn enough hippos, (and other things of interest in my life,) I will be ready to return to the quilt journal project, and continue exploring wonderful techniques in textile surface design. My guild's next show is in 2012. I could be ready for that.

Hmmm. Twelve months of hippos. Sounds like a calender in the making.


  1. Your hippo quilt is very original and truly gorgeous (and that's not a given with the subject - not that I would want to insult hippos here!). I've never met a hippo collector before! I hope to see hippos drawings here soon!

  2. I've always been attracted to textiles, quilting and embroidery so it was interesting to see your working process. I think working on your drawing skills will be fun, you've got some interesting projects and goals to look forward to.

  3. I love your hippo quilt journal page - and hope to see more of your art on paper and fabric.

  4. I've never been very interested in textiles, but met up with Shirley (the very one whose comment is above me!) at the Houston Quilt Festival in November and it really opened my eyes. I cannot believe how beautiful some of the work is. This hippo is just stunning! This is more of a painting than a quilt in my eyes.

  5. love it, and I really like the way you show the different steps in pictures and how it all comes alive. I love working with textiles when I need some "me time to just relax, more like therapy" and Im so not good at it, but this sure gives a lot of inspiration to keep at it.

    Beautiful work

  6. It makes sense, of course, that the hippo society should be large. I think you did a beautiful job on the hippo. It looks like a painting - pursue painting and the sky is the limit, I think. When I see chefs on line with cakes, I think they are artists - their medium is cake. You too are an artist already. But I understand being dissatisfied and moving on - I am the same way .. I think that means you are creative.

  7. Oh wow! I simply love the process of the entire project. The coloration is perfect and very artistic. :)

  8. love your work! very creative!