Friday, May 30, 2014

The Painter's Keys

 "We live our short spans in the vortex of a miracle, and while we may not be the center of that vortex, it is magic to be anywhere in there." (Robert Genn

For the last few years, I have subscribed to a free, twice-weekly letter from painter and teacher Robert Genn. It arrives in my inbox, and begins with a friendly "Dear Heather", although I have never met him. The letter is always deeply thoughtful, discussing various ideas, issues, and techniques relevant to any artist, not just a painter. If I want to, I can link back to his website and find out what other people think, and find all kinds of images of art. There is nothing for sale, except maybe his doorstopper of his book, a collection of his letters from over the years.

These letters, and the website are incredible acts of generousity. As his daughter Sara says in yesterday's post:
Dad's dream has been to reach artists of all stripes -- individuals with a common joy, journeying in this life-enhancing, inexplicable affair of the heart. He wrote, "We have no other motivation than to give creative people an opportunity to share ideas and possibly broaden their capabilities -- to get more joy and understanding from their own unique processes." With this dream in mind, please forward this letter, or letter of your choice, to someone you think might find it of value. If one, or many, chooses to subscribe, we will exponentially widen -- as a diverse and generous community of worldwide artists. "To float like a cloud you have to go to the trouble of becoming one."
The last year of letters has been especially open-hearted and generous, as Robert chronicled his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, and how an artist continues with the knowledge of imminent death. He talked about philosophical matters, and also practical ones. He described how he continued to paint while bedridden, with a horizontal easel, and how he edited his work so that no inferior paintings would survive. His daughter Sara, also an artist, began to share the writing of letters. She is just as insightful, and brings the contemporary perspective of a New York-based artist.

Robert passed away on Tuesday. His letters will continue, with Sara writing once a week, and also posting a favourite previous one of Robert's.

You can read the whole post here, and also subscribe to the twice weekly letters.

Thank you Robert - you made the world a better place.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Look What Washed Ashore!

Photo: James Emler
Video coming soon.

Seeing Red

I have finally transferred the design for the hamster wheel to cloth. This time I took the first stitches with colour - red silk - rather than the dark brown that makes up most of the stitching. The critters have red tongues and eyes in Louis Nicolas's original, and I will respect his odd vision!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Circle of Giving

Thanks to the bountiful community in which I live, an Ipod has been manifested! James put a notice that I was looking for one on the Gabriola Facebook page. We didn't hear anything until Kathy, proprietor of Artworks and all-round amazing person, had bumped the post to the top of the page with a supportive comment, and right away we got a call. A newcomer to the island had been unpacking and found an Ipod she wasn't using, and she very generously donated it to the project. Woo hoo! Thank you Pam!

And, as it happens, I found a CD on my shelf that I had picked up at the Free Store on Lasqueti and never listened to - the "Relaxing Natural Sounds of Okinawa". It had the perfect track of ocean waves and bird chirps. I can easily upload it to the Ipod, adding a layer of sound to the many stitched layers of cloth. Thank you to the anonymous person who gave the CD to the Free Store!
This is my second attempt at an Ipod cozy. The first one wasn't organic enough for my liking. Also, you can see that I added a Canadian maple leaf badge to the front of the pack. Canadians once had a reputation for being polite guests in foreign countries, with our maple leaf patches on our backpacks signalling our good manners. Those days are gone now - I guess it became known that our manners are no better than anyone else's.
I did put a kitschy nationalistic postcard in the window pocket of another one of our country's symbols, a Mountie, speaking with two blond children beside a field of tulips that grows in front of the Parliament building in Ottawa. Story has it that the tulip bulbs were a thank you gift from Holland for sheltering the Dutch royal family during World War II. It's another connection in a whole backpack of connections. This piece is really about the great circle of giving.
The sashiko scrap on the right hand strap is a recent gift from the elegant Mrs. Mandu, sent via Jean-Pierre. (They both live in Suzuka, Japan.) Mrs. Mandu has an antique shop and museum, and I am very fortunate to be the occasional recipient of some of her treasures. Jean-Pierre wrote this comment, which I will include in my artist statement for the show.
"Many of the pieces of fabric used in this project were received over many years through a process of gift-giving with Japanese friends.  The giving of gifts, even small gifts, in Japan is an endless activity.  One gives a gift and then receives a gift in return and then one sends another gift in return of the return gift and then receives another gift and so-on and so-on...  The chain of gifts is a manifestation of the relationship of the people involved and can last a life-time.  In this piece, it seems that the scraps of fabric have found another incarnation.  Heather's  friends in Japan will be very happy to see it and I believe that the pleasure it brings them is a fine return-gift."
The little quilt you saw in previous posts is tucked inside. Just a few more finishing touches and the whole piece will be ready to send to the museum. 

Monday, May 19, 2014

Ebb and Flow

Last year, on World Oceans Day, I went for a walk along Tinson Point. It was one of those late spring days where the weather shifted from sun to cloud and back to sun every few minutes. The tide was on its way out, leaving trails of moisture in the clefts and crevices of the sandstone beach. I was struck by the erotic tension between the rock and sea, the push/pull of solid and liquid, and the sculpted evidence of that eons-old relationship.

It has taken me this long to process the photos. I had kind of (completely!) forgotten about them until James unearthed them on his computer and started formatting them. I looked over his shoulder and said "Ooh, I like these. When did you take them?" He couldn't remember, so he checked the code on them and realized that they had come from my camera.

Here's just a few - I took over 100 pictures that day, and have whittled them down to two series, called "Ebb" and "Flow". These are from "Ebb".

Gabriola has the most amazing sandstone beaches, formed during a volcanic eruption millennia ago, and the sea has been sculpting them ever since.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Front and Back

 The little quilt of Japanese fabric stitched up quickly. Above is one side...and below is the other.
 The little patch with the turtle was made in a katazome workshop at Maiwa about 10 years ago. It sat quietly in the stash, waiting for its chance - and I think it is happy in its new spot. (I think the colour is off on this one - it looks a little too cyan.) I really like the way the hand quilting shows up. The whole piece measures about 30"x44". I had one inch of binding left over, whew!
And finally, here's a shot of that quilt I made a couple of months back, this time with no dog on it. The colour is a little wacky on this one too, but the block on the far left of the second row from the bottom looks about right.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014


James caught me pinning together the layers of the little quilt that will go inside the backpack. I had a piece of quilt batting that was exactly the right size, and I used up lots of odd bits of cloth. It went together like it was meant to be.

Monday, May 05, 2014

"Field Trip" Backpack in the Making

This backpack once held emergency supplies for a child affected by the tsunami that hit Fukashima in 2011. I am altering it for the upcoming "Field Trip" exhibit at the Maritime Museum in Victoria.
It is a bright peacock blue vinyl and an absolute marvel of buckles, clips, pockets, zippers and even a matching Ipod Nano case.
My proposal said I would cover the backpack with boro cloth. Attaching fabric to plastic is not so easy.
But a roll of double-sided Nitto tape, used by picture framers, seemed to do the trick, combined with a judicious amount of Aleene's Tacky Glue in areas of fabric-on-fabric.
I cut off the plastic straps and will replace them with cloth straps and adjustable snap closures. Apparently the backpacks will be worn by children as part of the interactive exhibit, and I think little hands would find the buckles too cumbersome to manage.

This patch shows the North Pacific Gyre, a phenomenon caused by ocean currents. You may have seen pictures of the appalling floating island of plastic that accumulates in the gyre. The gyre brought debris from the tsunami to the British Columbia coast, as well as radioactive particles from the Daiishi nuclear plant meltdown. The ocean, which seems so vast, actually connects Asia and North America.

Next steps (after making the new straps): Create a child-sized patchwork quilt from scraps of cloth that my friend in Japan has sent me over the years. Fold some origami symbols of protection and clip them on to the handy rings. Manifest an Ipod Nano from Craigslist or the thrift store and download the sound of ocean waves onto it. Have I forgotten anything?

***Check out Jean-Pierre's comments below - very interesting history of this type of backpack.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

The Workshops That Boggled My Mind

First workshop at the Poetry Yurt: 5 participants, quiet, lots of space and light
Second workshop at Artworks: 11 participants, espresso machine nearby, tight space
Forgive me for not writing sooner, but, truth be told, the experience of teaching threw me for a loop. In fact, it sparked an existential crisis that came as a complete surprise. I woke up the day after the second workshop and the question "How do I know who I am?" was looming in my mind. And continued to loom, for a week.

Not that I have that question resolved or anything, but I have realized that a complete change of one's self-perceived role in life every now and then is probably a good thing. I had no idea that I was so completely sheltered in my comfortable routine of working when it suited me, exploring esoteric ideas in stitch, dwelling on philosophical questions posed by needle and thread, and rambling on about such things in this blog.

Demonstrating how to do a running stitch for a complete beginner is another matter all together. Suddenly I was supposed to be an expert, which was a very unfamiliar feeling for me. (Those who know me well may scoff, given my inclination to spout the answers to all questions, all the time. The thing is, I do that just because the answers are there. I certainly don't feel like an expert, given the corollary that "The more you know, the more you know you don't know.")

Teaching requires a very different attitude, and even though I did lots of preparation, and had taught the workshop a few times before, I kept being surprised when people asked me questions like they thought I knew. Most of the time I did know, and could explain, so I'm pretty sure none of my participants guessed that inside I was panicking: "You're asking me?"

I guess that all my efforts over the years to dissolve my ego have begun to work. The experience of teaching served as a good shake to my self-image. I'm not sure where I should go from here, but I'll keep moving, remembering the Anne Patchett quote I use as a signature on my email:
"Sometimes not having any idea where we're going works out better than we could possibly have imagined."
P.S. Many thanks to the wonderful workshop participants, who taught me more than they could guess, and to the Gabriola Arts Council and especially Kate Wood for organising the Isle of the Arts Festival.