Monday, December 12, 2011

Collecting The Sparkly Bits : Chicago Holiday, Part II

There is something so satisfying about taking bits of color and texture and artfully combining them to make a whole that is so much more interesting than any of the elements involved. As the puzzle comes together, the brain plays lovingly with the new combinations to find meaning and story to amuse and delight itself.

That combination of bits is a great part of all the arts, as in the creation of a piece of jewelry, or a painting, or a woven piece of cloth. It plays into the creation of each new memory of time well spent. It is ultimately the formula of an interesting life.

A finely crafted day is especially wonderful when the bits and pieces include the experience of wonderful art. Those details double the fascination for me, and helps to create memories that enrich with the retelling.  One of my best reasons for wanting a city life in retirement is to be surrounded by the possibility of falling into art.  I like the serendipitous nature of the hunt. Knowing that it is all around me, on the street and hidden behind walls, a day in the city is a scavenger hunt for something I've never seen before, or a deeply loved favorite that I intend to revisit. Some of the findings will come from previous announcement through the media, and some will be by fortuitous accident. Every trip to Chicago has a mixture of these elements, and stumbling upon the unplanned feels like the universe is complicit in my pleasure.

The completed bracelet from last month, a labor of love and about forty hours of work. Don't know that I'll ever wear it, but who would buy it?

Such simple unassuming parts as tiny glass beads or over-sized rhinestones (rivolis). Here you see the beginning stages of adding the fringe. After sewing about seventeen different fringes between each rivoli, others were sewn around each of the beaded bezels and then around the edge of the beaded base to achieve that sumptuous fullness seen in the finished bracelet.

Self portrait of a couple off to have a city adventure
 on a festive Friday evening.

The big city is full of big street art. Tribune plaza has hosted Cows on Parade, "American Gothic" farmers, and now, Marilyn.

A view that we never really saw in the movie or the famous photos. This is the very heart of town, just over the Michigan Avenue bridge north of the Chicago River. She draws much attention, some controversy, and frankly was more beautiful than I thought it would be. She seems to embody the bold energy and excitement that you feel when you stand in this heart of American culture.

Just like last year, one of us took great advantage of the tree-house-like space of the window seat. Looking in from the perch...

...looking out on the night (at Wabash and Wacker, and the Chicago River).

Saturday we went in search of culture at (among other places) The Chicago Cultural Center. Formerly the main branch of the city library, the building was designed in a long gone era of fine craftsmanship and bold investment in public wealth. This was a palace for the people of the city. It is still awe inspiring.

A grand entrance serves as a gallery of amazing tile work.

Newly restored to grandeur, the Tiffany dome.

Beside the beauty of the building, the Cultural Center hosts fascinating free art exhibits, often with a more controversial, modern, or local provenance than the Art Institute. As usual we were not disappointed. The outstanding current exhibit, on view through April of 2012, is "Write Now: Artists and Letterforms".  
The trifecta of enjoyment was completed when we stumbled upon a festival  sponsored by the local public radio station, WBEZ91.5, called "What's Your Art: Celebrating the Art Centers of Chicago." In the huge ballroom-like Yates Gallery, were about twenty booths and activity stations, with enough live art to keep you busy for hours if you cared to immerse yourself in talking to all the artists. In addition to getting a sales pitch to buy hand blown glass from some enthusiastic local students, and a great talk about camera lenses with a local photographer, I had a linoleum block print custom made for me for free, and watched (although I sorely wanted to participate) an "impromptu" communal dance with knitwear.

Getting ready for the reveal...

Just like children's flip books, we each got to choose which head, body and feet went together to create our unique character.

Laid out on the floor covering the center of room was a zigzag of knit tubing (the kind we all made as kids on one of those spools with nails) connecting about 100 knit and crocheted hats of every imaginable style and color.

At the designated time, the dance leader gave a few quick rules of the dance, instructed the volunteer participants to don a hat and the music began.

What good is a giant hat dance without a rousing brass section a la New Orleans and Mardi Gras?

The Man waits patiently. Because I am not dancing
 he knows we will leave sooner than later.

And so it goes, it is time to culminate the weekend's festivities with the original purpose of the trip, a yearly dinner dance sponsored by the Association of Iron and Steel Technology. Never the best of the trip, but the catalyst to prompt us to experience the rest. 

A couple of pink "cosmos" make the table and me more festive.

 Happy Holidays to all my friends and readers. I hope you have enjoyed our adventures together this year and that I will see you again in the New Year. If you aren't already doing so, I hope you will sign up to follow, and feel free to leave comments on this or any post.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Snapshot Interlude: A Chicago Holiday, Part I

Life is good, life is busy and fulfilling, but I am so badly missing the drawing track I was on. It was starting to become such a good habit, but has currently fallen by the wayside. First, however, I have promises to keep. And the promise to myself that as soon as I finish some of my lovely projects that have been patiently waiting for me to love them too, then I can go back to daily journaling of the ink and paint nature.

The first love of my creative life has always been textiles, and I have quite a few fabric-y things piled high in the studio. I am just this week completing (and I mean before the week ends) a quilt that started with an inspiring class in... 1999! Several times I almost called it quits, but I'm so glad I persevered, because I love it now. My guild's next show is in late March, and so I have set a rigid schedule to help me have a good showing there. I'm sure I will be glad I did.

So instead, this week I am sharing the first installment of visual candy of my recent trip into town to gather and participate in that good holiday vibe of early December. I always take the sketchbook and journals with me, but when there is a short time and much to capture, there is nothing like a camera. I love to see how much energy I can pack into my shots, and so share a bit of the excitement with you.

The Hotel Monaco, just south of the Chicago River is our favorite place to stay in town. They have just redecorated and the room was quite elegant.

The view from our third floor window took in the Trump Tower
 across the river. The crystalline blue makes it look
 like a computer-generated image to me.

In Daley Plaza, we drank hot spiced wine and ate gooey chocolate soft pretzels. Two "porcelain figurines" posed in front of the giant Christmas tree.

Hanging out at the Christkindelmart is a nice time to stop and look around at the dramatic beauty of the city buildings.

I love all the overlapping reflections and intersecting lines. Just a pop of red.

Always on guard and always on duty.

"Flaming Pigeons"
It was hilarious to watch them warming their "heinies" in front of the memorial flame in the plaza (especially since it wasn't a terribly cold day.)

An elegant Macy's Window foretold the exciting decor to be found inside. (Although it's still Marshall Fields in the heart of many locals, I am a Philadelphian, and the fabulous building reminds me of the Wanamaker's of my youth.)

Trumpets on State Street

The amazing tree in the Walnut Room restaurant

Real tree "skirts" along the sidewalks are always holiday festive.

Sometimes "The Bean" makes you catch your breath with how it appears as delicate as a bubble.

It is mandatory for tourists and locals to visit and take
 photos of their reflections.

When you walk under Cloud Gate (the real name of the artwork,) the reflections multiply and produce dizzying effects. If you aren't careful you can walk into the surface.

The girl behind the camera

The sun was beginning to set and we headed off to the Art Institute for our afternoon coffee at the Modern Wing.

Lines, textures, colors (and this was just a hallway out side the lavatories!) I think it would be a good start for an interesting painting or quilt.

Crown Fountain "spews" water from the ever changing faces
 on the two 50 foot glass block towers. (Well, not in winter; but in summer kids of all ages frolic in the water.)
Note the moon directly overhead.

Heading back to the hotel, the magic glow of the city at sunset.
The building on the far right is the Aon Center,
 previously the second tallest building in the city
(before Trump was completed.)
Hope you enjoyed!
Next time: a bit of the night, plus an arty stop at the Chicago Cultural Center.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Space Between

This morning they sucked up the last of my gathered fallen leaves, clipped vines, and denuded brown stems, to cart them off to the community composting field. I watched them earnestly through my front window until finally satisfied that I had put the garden to bed for the year, and could now move forward to welcoming the winter break.

Once again, my surroundings feels stripped clean and new. Sunsets are more intense this time of year, maybe a change in the angles and the clouds, or maybe they just appear that way because their competition is on holiday. In any case, I treasure the occassional showiness of the earlier setting sun as a sign to stop and appreciate what is given freely by the world. It makes me turn a critical eye to the inside clutter. Time to divest, clean, and think about a new fresh color scheme.

The fire of a November sunset echoes the emotions I feel
 toward the new year to come.
This year we are simplifying our holiday celebration. We have decided to welcome the dark with lights both indoors and out, but dispense with the tree. Instead I created an evergreen display in the urn by the front door. It has already drawn notice, waves and good cheer, and that is the real purpose of this time. Connecting with others and our own personal gratitude.

Preparing for winter solstice with a bit of evergreen and bright red berries
Having recently written and thought about the successful conclusion of my "first" year in art mode, I have been pondering where I go from here. It is so easy to fall out of habits you try to establish when there has been more time in a life not doing than doing something. And yet each day only has so many hours to embrace the myriad goals and pursuits I enjoy. The one thing that stuck me most strongly in this evolution of my creative life is that I need to work on giving up the guilt. I need to fully embrace the philosophy of not owing anyone my time or life. That I don't need to be doing anything that doesn't bring me joy or fulfillment, or why I am doing it?

 Let me be clear here: we are not talking about responsibility to family or society, this is purely about my personal life goals and pursuits. As much as I am loving learning to draw, I came into that mode with a purpose: to give up the guilt about not doing it! To get passibly good at it so that I could use drawing as a basis for designing textiles and jewelry when it served me. Finding out that I loved to draw everday objects and scenes to document my life, or that I could actually draw passibly from imagination, well so much the better! But I was starting to feel that I could not just sit and meditatively stitch one loop into another because that was not "creative enough". Says who?

A new wardrobe of bead crochet bangles 
I decided it was okay to set aside my pens and journals for a break and return to some of my other obsessions like bead crochet, bead weaving and knitting. I also have been continuing to engage one of my larger goals from the past year, which is the development of my embroidery skills. I have taken three classes so far this year that were partially or fully about developing story and design through hand stitch (with or without applique). Thanks to Jude, Arlee and Sharon, and please check these links for the their wonderful new year's class offerings.  I will be continuing with all of their teaching and inspiration in 2012 as well.
In Arlee Barr's "FrankenStitch" class we have learned
 to embrace textural embroidery. 

My buttonhole stitch sampler is still at a stage far from complete.

The straight stitch sampler has made some progress, but will continue to be layered and developed.
This place I inhabit between my reality and my goals recently took inspiraton from a trip to visit family in Philly and Jersey. As I am normally too far from these people to see them more than once a year, it was so wonderful to have the opportunity for not just a visit to the close circle, but a bigger life event that drew cousins to celebrate a rite of passage. At once I was trying to accept the issues of the narrowing possibilites that age and age-related infirmities may impose on our options, and on the other, the endless opening doors of youth into adulthood. A cousins' eldest daughter was called to the Torah, and with the family and community gathered about in an inspirationally beautiful sanctuary, and with the help of her spiritual advisors and the cantor's angelic voice, she proudly and admirably took her place in the world of awareness of the "other". Her Bat Mitzvah project was involved with feeding the hungry in her own community. In addition to raising money and awareness for her local food pantry, she had collected donations of food that, made into beautiful gift baskets, served as centerpieces for the celebration that followed, and a reminder to the guests to be gratedful for our personal bounty. I thoroughly enjoyed my family reunion and danced my tush off.

Still life with party favors
Since returning home, I have completed my knitting project and pulled from the stash of UFO's a "blingy" wonderful bracelet with seed beads, rivolis, and drop bead fringe. I did some further work on the two machine quilting projects that I hope to complete before year's end, and pulled out the silk kimono from Jude's "Magic Diaries" class to work on. I was inspired by Melly Testa to join a December challenge project in "Rockstar Boro."

The linen stitch knit scarf truly looks hand loomed.

This bit of bling has been waiting patiently for a year for me to return. I think it will be finished this week.
This space between the years is filling up fast. Almost no break at all. But then I don't really want one. My years are too few, my loves too many. The colors of sunset are in that scarf, the colors of spring in that bracelet. I plan to fill the clean quiet space of winter with the color of joy.

Friday, October 28, 2011

They Say It's Your Birthday!

Today we celebrate our arrival at a full year on "The Journey." What a great year it has been. Yes! Yes! If you weren't here with us, you can check out where we began.

Sunrise on October 28, 2011
 A fresh new day in a fresh new year of art and journaling

Technically the journey started about ten years ago when I realized with great certainty that a change was required. That something important and necessary on the road to fulfillment had been left behind, that I'd been languishing on the wrong path.

By the time 2010 was halfway through, and many false starts abandoned, we reached the point of heeding advise from a fellow traveler on the creative quest: quit waiting for "retirement" to begin studying and making art, do it now! And so, I discovered my first online class, a very beginning exercise in color theory. There was very little interaction with fellow students or the instructor, a well know and talented quilt artist who paints whole cloth quilts, but still and all there was paint on paper, a fine text to reference, some "aha" moments, and a first step down the road.

Just in time for this new resolve, a brand new mixed media retreat was fashioned and brought to Chicago, "Create" by the magazine, "Cloth, Paper, Scissors." Knowing nothing of visual journals or mixed media, I was drawn to attend by the promise of something different than a quilt show, and the perky personality and designs of crossover artist, Melanie Testa, I signed up for a full day class in visual journaling. This was my breakthrough. I felt an instant connection and camaraderie with Melly and the type of art she did. I could understand how all my years of textile art experience could only be enhanced by learning to draw and express my own visions on paper first.

Pokey Bolton captured this photo of me making my first ever mixed media journal page in Melly's class. I later discovered I was the "poster girl" for the registration page for a number of Create retreats.
Melly offered her help as mentor to my next step in the process: using the blogging world to find my community and record my journey. Her ready assistance and support made it possible for me to begin attending a stream of online drawing and design classes in both textiles and mixed media, while starting this diary to chronicle the trip. It has been not only a way to reach out to others, but an invaluable reference tool for myself: to see how far I've come.

My earliest and most favorite drawing and painting explorations have been with my furry friends as inspiration.
So what has this year of blogging and art brought forth?

 A record of my travels so far.

 An appreciation for my own abilities (a bit of the self love I was lacking.) 

Expanding the skills to record what I see, create and share a story (visually and verbally), connect with strangers and through that connection become friends.

A link with the broader world of creativity and exposure to new artists and ideas every day.

Connections with lovely people from all corners of the world, from the next town over to places like Australia, Finland and Tunisia.

My growing stack of journals and sketchbooks, including handmade storage boxes and folders.
Some statistics will wrap up the activity of my year--

The blog by the numbers:

32 blog posts hit over 7700 times
65 public followers

A visual record on flikr:

a photostream with 23 sets, 297 images, and over 19,000 page views

The formal study of art and design:

at least 20 classes and workshops with 8 different artists

The media in which I record my art:

8 different journals/sketchbooks started

2 recycled paper storybooks created

2 collections of small watercolor paintings (totaling 32 pcs.)

2 boxes, 1 folder, and 1 journal cover from painted canvas 

2 lutrador hippo themed story books

Some of my favorite projects have involved drawing in my handmade journals and books.
 Textile art:

3 machine technique quilts (in progress)

3 embroidered panels (ongoing)

4 mixed media pieces (ongoing)

9 hand technique textile panels (woven-based, embroidered and quilted) (two completed and sewn to jackets)

My most recent painting, using a never-ending inspiration: my garden.

Looking back on all this mountain of productivity has both amazed and delighted me. It has shown what I am capable of, what I want yet to do, and where my next year is likely to go. And yet, if you asked me a year ago where I thought I'd be at this moment, my modest answer would have been that I hoped I'd be able to draw passably well. But life has brough me so much more than that. I wouldn't want to jinx anything by trying to define the future. I'd rather embrace it with anticipation and delight in all its surprises. I'll see you there, my friends!