Monday, September 7, 2009

The Cutting Off Ceremony

Well, after 7 months and a lot of weaving, unweaving, weaving and unweaving my tapestry is ready for the big snip. 

I was able to spend a lot of time on this project for the last couple of weeks and it shows.  I wanted to finish before school started so I pushed through the last week to insure I did.  It was worth it, I can’t be more pleased with the results. 

It could have been finished a couple of days earlier but I was not pleased with the last corner.  After 7 months of work I wanted the last inches to be as well developed as the rest of the piece.  I had filled in the top right hand corner but it was too much wall without any definition. I thought it would be okay when I was weaving it because I thought my initials would fill in the space adequately. I knew once it was finished that I had to do it again.  It was too much gray.  It would have shouted “where are the bricks?” every time I looked at it if I had left it.  So back I went before I did the row of half hitches.  It was the right thing to do. 

It was fun to work out the perspective, it really became apparent as the cars got smaller and especially as I was developing the wall.  That was where I was able to really bring the scene together.  It took some time to figure out the right sequence but after a few tries I think I got it right. 

This has been a great learning experience. I find myself looking at things differently because of this piece.  I was driving down the highway the other week and I noticed that instead of seeing the different colors of the trees I was seeing blocks of color.  I now see a bit of what Cezanne tried to capture.  I can see why he was so influential for so many artists.  I think my trip to the Philadelphia Museum of Art to see their Cezanne show was very helpful in my own visualization. 

In addition, doing it in grayscale was great. Once the color was not an issue I could see so much more detail.  It is quite interesting to see how intensity changes when the hue is not an issue. 

So now my loom is bare and awaiting the next project.  I am still thinking about City Life even though I found myself frustrated as I struggled with the faces of the figures in my test pieces.  I think I have an idea of how to make it a bit easier.  Right now the scene takes up the lower 2/3 of the tapestry with the buildings set to rise above it. I think if I increase the scene to 3/4 or even more I will have more space to work out the faces.  Working in 9 epi will also help as it will give me more warp to work out the details.  So I am back on track with that.

In the meantime I am also starting a smaller piece for the ATA 2010 biennial.  The theme is Enchanted Pathways. I have a photo of a dilapidated building that I took at Peter’s Valley that I think will work well.  I will tell you more about it as I work out the details. 

I still have plenty of work to do on the Philly cars before it is ready to go on the wall so both tapestries will have to wait a week or so.  The hand work is calling me. I need to sew down the warp and add the bias tape for the rod and weights at the bottom to keep it straight.  The weaving may be done but the finish work is where it becomes a professional piece. 

I can’t wait to show it to my study group tomorrow.  How fun that they can finally see it in person.

Friday, August 21, 2009

My Travels with Mom

They call it the Emerald Isle, a good name for the ocean of green that is Ireland.  The view from our motor coach was all verdant, rolling hills tidily outlined by the sturdy rock walls that delineated the countryside.  No tall rocks, no hard angles, this is an old land, one that has been worn down by millennia of wind, rain and the creatures that tread it everyday.  For my mom who was born in Tucson AZ and spent most of her life in So CA it was  a wonder to behold.  She is used to green in January that turns brown by early June and stays that way through Christmas.  She just couldn’t get enough of the scene, she kept exclaiming on the beauty of the flowers, the bright colors of the landscape and the water; that really amazed her, water at every turn. 

Our adventure started with a red-eye out of Newark with a stop in Heathrow London.  We dropped our stuff in our room as soon as we got to Dublin and rushed downstairs again to do a city tour. Unfortunately we saw little of it since were could not keep our eyes open long enough to look around. 

Disaster struck on the second day when mom tripped on a lip at the entrance of the hotel and pitched head first down two steps. She injured her face, shoulder, arm and leg.  She was more angry than hurt as she kept saying, “I’ve ruined our trip on the very first day.”  A trip to the doctors assured us that she had no broken bones or head injuries. Nonetheless I did not let her fall asleep that night until around midnight and I slept fitfully waking several times throughout the night to check to see if she was still breathing. 

The next day poor mom’s eye was swollen completely shut and the rest of her body was a mass of bruises.  The problem with that was that it was her good eye that was closed.  She was sore, angry and scared but determined to keep going. I did not even think twice about this as it was what I expected from her. I’ve been hearing the same thing over and over again when I tell my friends the story. They all say they are not surprised to hear that.  They now know where my determination comes from and that “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”   I agree, she is a trooper, nothing stops her from what she wants to do.

So the vacation continued with Mom slowly changing colors from red to purple to claret to yellowish green.  Her face was a source of fascination for everyone on the bus throughout the rest of the trip.  It did slow her down but only slightly.  The worst part for her was that she wasn’t able to climb the Blarney castle and kiss the blarney stone.  Well who knew it was at that top of the castle?  I just assumed it was on the ground possibly on a hill or cliff after all it is a stone!  No, it was up a long spiraling staircase.  So I climbed it and kissed it twice for the both of us.

Doing things twice became my job for the rest of the trip. I carried both cameras to take pictures for the both of us and went to the places she couldn’t get to.  We did fine.

As I mentioned in the last blog I took along a small loom to practice with on the bus. I was able to do some weaving as we traveled, it worked out well since it was much easier to weave while we traveled than to read.  I was not only rewarded with some practice time but I met another tapestry weaver and piqued the interest of one of our younger travelers.  The weaver, a Canadian named Pat does 3D tapestries.  She told me how she planned the darts before she starts the project so that when it is finished she can mold it into the masks and clothing she creates. I was amazed that she was able to visualize it let alone create such interesting objects. 

One of our stops was a whiskey distillery where they gave us a tour and then allowed us to sample the whiskey.  During the sampling they asked for volunteers to partake in a contest.  Can you guess who volunteered?  Yes, how could I not?  And I won!  The contest was to taste three whiskeys and match them with the bottles they came from. Of course it took the entire sampling to do it (grin) but I correctly identified each.  One tasted of peat from the cooking process and another was sweetened by the caskets it was stored in.  They had originally aged brandy and the wood absorbed the sweet liquor only to release it into the whiskey.  What did I win? Well a sample bottle of whiskey, of course.

So Mom continued to improve, our trip brought us to the Waterford crystal factory, several castles, a folk park and the Cliffs of Mohar.  I enjoyed traveling with my Mom and we got along remarkably well.  Who knew we were so compatible?  Perhaps that means that there is hope for me and Sarah eventually.  We returned to NJ, took a short jaunt to Washington DC for a fine meal at a wonderful restaurant and I put Mom back on the plane home on Thursday of last week.  We’ve talked since then and Mom tells me that her doctor has given her a clean bill of health from the fall.  We both heaved a sigh of relief and then got down to discussing where we will go next year.  We are talking about Italy.  I am easy, I am ready to travel at any time. Just tell me where to go and when to be there and I will be ready, passport in hand.  I love an adventure and we certainly had one in Ireland. 

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Oh, so close.

It is exciting when you see the finish line on a project.  It is also hard to keep from being impatient to be done. This is the time when it is easy to get sloppy, to say, “oh, that’s good enough.”  But now it the time to be even more careful.  Now is the time to make sure it is finished well. 


I am about 5” from the end of this long, long project.  I anticipate that I will finish it before classes start so I can switch my concentration to other thing.  This has been a good, creative summer, one that I have enjoyed.  Yes, I am still teaching both online and face to face but it doesn’t seem as onerous as last summer.  Perhaps I am getting the hang of using my time well and enjoying the slow pace of the season. It is not necessary to have whole swaths of time to myself, it is enough that I know I will have time almost every day to weave.  Sometimes it is a few hours, sometimes I am lucky to get one hour.  But whatever time I have I take it for what it is, time. 

As I work on my samples for City Life I see that I have set a whole new group of challenges.  I am sooo not satisfied with my first attempt at faces but I have a plan to help me improve.  I will be on holiday with my mother for the next couple of weeks and in anticipation of a lot of time on a bus I put together a small (10” X 14”) loom that I am warping to the specs of the large tapestry.  I plan to use it to practice faces, necks and hair.  I think I can work on quite a few small faces while we are traveling from one place to another.  It will be small enough to put in my backpack and work on in the tight space of the bus.  It certainly is better than reading, that’s for sure.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Summertime and the weaving in easy

There is nothing better than having time to do some real weaving and the summertime is the best time for that.  Being in academia I am lucky to have three months to kick back and really concentrate on my tapestry.  Which is just what I have been doing. 

7-12-09 Philly Cars

It is really starting to look like a parking lot as you can see.  I am starting to work on the linear perspective of the wall and trying to get those bricks integrated.  It is not really visible in this image but I am using the flying shuttle approach on the vertical lines of the individual bricks while working out the diagonals between the rows.  Hopefully they will be more visible in the next go round. 

As you can see the dark element of the asphalt has lightened up quite a bit and is trailing off into the lighter surroundings.  I think I will continue the line all the way up the piece wandering back and forth just to give it a visual continuity.  I think it makes more sense than just letting it disappear. 

What I am pleased with is the shadowing between and below the cars, especially on the left hand side.  In this image they scan quite nicely.  The cars themselves are starting to come together and the whiter windows (although hard to see here) are showing up well using the highly polished DMC. 

In the meantime I am trying to work out how to do figures for the City Life tapestry that is next up.  I expect to get to it by the fall so I am continuing to sample.   

Shawn and SoL

I am working on this image of my nephew Shawn posing with a street performer and boy is it difficult!  Not only is is very small but it has a lot of detail, especially in the performers costume (I am losing the flag, I don’t like it).  But the hardest parts have got to be the faces which are proving to be quite a challenge.  I had the performers face and chest done but the weft was too thick and it was way too ribby.  So I spent my Tuesday study group time ripping it back out.  Right now I have an arm and chest back in place and I think it looks better.  I want to get a bit farther before I publish it so stay tuned…

So I am working hard weaving, unweaving, weaving, unweaving etc, etc.  By the time I am ready to do the real tapestry I will be much more confident about the different elements. I think if I had not done the sampling I might have given it up as too difficult. But now I think I will be ready for it when the time comes.  So until the next update don’t let work get in the way of life.  Find time to do what you love.  For me is weaving, what is it for you?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


I was lucky enough to meet two of the most talented tapestry artists last weekend.  Susan Martin-Maffei and Archie Brennan came to Medford Leas NJ to give a talk about their work.  These are dedicated artists who weave every day for 8 – 10 hours.  To say I was impressed is a complete understatement.  All I could say as they showed us their work was WOW.  I know that they have decades of practice between them but I thought to myself, “I would have to live to 150 to be as good as they are.  What a treat it was.  I came home and just had to sit down and weave, I was so inspired.

I have been able to really get some work done on my own tapestry over the last month.  Ah, summer as an academic, is there anything better?  I have passed the midway mark and although I had to lay in another line of twining to try to halt the drawing in, I think it is going well.  Tell me what you think.

Imported Photos 00114 

My traveling loom is free of the hot dog stand and being prepped for something that makes my stomach twist, people.  I am most concerned about the faces, I want them to look realistic but I only have an inch or two for the entire face.  That means only 9 warps for two eyes and a nose.  Not too much to work with.  However, I have been able to master everything else, I think I can do this too.  It make take a lot of putting in and taking out but eventually I will probably work it out.  Here are some of the images I am working with.

I am not one who likes to spend time sampling but I can see the benefit of it here.  I will be able to practice on the small loom and work out the process, then when it comes to the real tapestry I will be much more confident.   At least that is the plan..

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Time Marches on

As I continue to enjoy the extra time from school to work on my tapestries I start to see the cars emerge a bit quicker.  This week I redid the car on the right.  I thought the top looked too broken up, it just didn’t work.  The gray area in the middle was supposed to be a sunroof but it just didn’t scan well.  So I took Betsey’s advice and simplified. 

6_1 tapestry I know the concept of K.I.S.S. (keep it simple stupid) but I find it hard to stay simple.  I like to mix it up.  However sometimes mixing it up just makes it look like a big mess.   I think that is what is happening with the central area, the one I have been worrying about pretty much from the beginning.  I was trying for subtle changes in coloring as it moved away from the viewer but it was not subtle enough, I don’t think. Perhaps when it is completely surrounded by other shapes and colors it will come into focus but I doubt it.  However, as with all things it is a learning experience.  What I am seeing is how one shape can dominate the entire canvas.  Perhaps if it wasn’t so dark it would not overpower the rest of the shapes but right now it does.  I will need to ask Betsey and Rita what to do to bring it into balance.  Perhaps they will have some ideas.

In the meantime, since it is quite difficult to take a 7’ X 4’ pipe loom back and forth to the study group, I am working on another project on my smaller loom  I have a vision for a city scene with people in it.  For now I am working on sampling parts of it.  I am presently finishing one of the vending stands, as you can see - a hot dog stand. 

Hot Dog Stand 6_3

I am working it in embroidery floss both for its saturated colors and for its sheen.  I like how the colors mix and how they stand out from the background.  The final tapestry will include this object, people, and buildings.  When I complete this object (it is almost done now) I plan to tackle the scary stuff, the people.  I will keep you updated. 

Monday, May 25, 2009

Learning from Rita and Betsey

5-25_tapestry  I am a very lucky person to have two very talented teachers.  Last week our study group met at Rita’s home.  She has been in Florida for the last few months and it was good to have her back.  As soon as she saw my sample piece for City Life she pointed out a few areas that needed my attention. 

I took her suggestions and started incorporating them into my tapestry and surprise, surprise it improved it immensely.  She talked about having to work the diagonals and curves in regular steps to smooth out the transition.  That made sense; when I started paying more attention to this while working the cars in my big piece it was much better.  She also showed me a different way to sew the slits.  Although I had used the technique before I didn’t use the same color thread so I didn’t like it. This time I used the same color thread as the edge I was sewing into and it made all the difference in the world. To be fair, I had been using the technique that James Kohler showed me but I think my gaps were too large.  This caused the slit to show more and  look less professional.  I think I will use both depending on the color changes and locations.   It’s nice to have options.

I spent a lot of time working and reworking my pieces this week but I think the time was well spent.  As I see the images grow I see that learning how to create professional tapestries takes time and practice.  I suspect that it will take years to get to the point where I feel confident about my work. 

People ask me if I plan to show my work but I can’t see that happening for quite some time.  I know that I’ve learned a lot in the last two years but not enough to go up against real professionals.  Also since I am interested in larger canvases I know that I won’t have a body of work to draw on any time soon.  Oh well, I am not doing this to exhibit, just to learn and enjoy my new craft. 

What is nice is that now that summer is here I have more time to learn and enjoy.  Ah, I love academia.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The cars are finally starting to emerge

It’s been a while since I last posted.  I’ve been busy putting all my Spring classes to bed.  Now that I’ve finished them I can get serious about weaving. 

I started doing just that this week.  As you can see, I now have two cars and a third outlined.  I photograph it in two parts and then put them together.  It usually works out well but this time the photo's don’t exactly match.  No matter, you can still see the image.  The second car was much easier to do than the first one was.  I can now see how the shape needs to look as I weave it.  Makes it easier to know where to start and stop. 


I am so enjoying the process.  Building an image line by line is almost like magic.  I see a shape emerge out of where I stop and start the lines of wool, I make decisions on how to use the color and I see the way the colors react to each other.  For example, the light shining on the windshield of the second car was made using a highly polished DMC that almost vibrates.  It really gives the glass a reflective texture. 

Learning to really see the lines, colors and shading of an image is a hard process, it takes time and practice.  I see the work of friends like Susan of Susan Cohan Gardens, LLC and I wonder how differently her brain works than mine.  When we visit museums or gardens I am constantly amazed at how she sees things.  I learn from her every time we explore visual culture - natural or human-made. 

I am lucky to also have the creative vision of my mentor Betsey Snope.  I see her work grow from week to week as we meet in our study group and I am envious of her skills. Yes, I know, she has been doing it longer than I have but I still wish I had her practiced eye when it comes to color blending and shaping.  Hopefully time and repetition will give me the tools to make images that are close to hers. 

I took a tour of some blogs this morning.  Some are instructional and others are inspirational.  All give me the desire to get to my own work and try to develop my own voice. My feeling is that as I concentrate on my work through the summer I will start to see improvement in my technique and vision.  At least that is the plan.  We shall see if it works out that way. 

Monday, April 27, 2009

Working the asphalt

Although I haven’t posted in the last couple of weeks, that does not mean that I haven’t been working on my tapestry.  As you can see it is coming right along.  I was worried that the center dark shape was too dark but I decided that with the shading of the other shapes this


one is fine being dark. I am breaking it up with puddles so I think it will work when the piece is finished. 

I am just beginning to work on cars on both sides so it will be interesting to find out if I learned from the first one.  Hopefully it won’t be as frustrating this time.

What I am really pleased about is how my spacing is so much better since I put in a line of twining. It didn’t fix everything but it certainly did improve it.  This is the reason I like our study group so much.  I learn something from everyone in the group.  It is great to draw on the different experiences each group member has had and to examine their work.  How great it is to have that access. 

So school ends in the next couple of weeks and I will have more time to work on this.  How great it  is going to be to have all that time.  I am looking forward to it.   

Monday, April 13, 2009

Automotive progress

This week I wasn’t as motivated as I would have liked.  My weekend, the time I usually get the most stuff done, was full of activities.  I spent time with my Pitney Bowes friends and spent time at the Jenny Holzer show at the Whitney.   Both were well worth the time.

Philly cars 4-13-09

However, this doesn’t mean that I wasn’t able to get some things done.  I am progressing upward working on the asphalt and trying to work out how to blend the different shades of grays and blacks.  I am not sure that they are going in the right direction.  I think the difference between the various shades of asphalt might be too broad.  I think they are too clearly defined.  I wanted them to blend more than they are.  Perhaps as the cars break up the picture plane it will come into focus better.

I am almost up to the next two cars (one on each side this time) so I will get another chance to work out how to get the light right.  The left hand car will be easier since I’ve worked out how to do the light on that side, but the right hand car will be all new.

So Betsey, how is it going, do you think?

Monday, March 30, 2009

Parked car part 2

Well, the more I looked at my first car the less I liked it.  It just had too much wrong with it to let it stay.  So, with a big huff I took it apart and rebuilt it.  It seems that that was my lot this week as my real car had to be rebuilt as well.  Imported Photos 00029Take a look, it is much better now, don’t you think?

Tapestry, at least for me right now, is all about weaving, unweaving and weaving.  I learn something each time I weave a new shape or object.  I find I don’t really see it when it is in front of me.  The only way I really saw the tire and the total shape was when I took a picture of it and then examined the photo.  A real lesson in how to assess the days work. 

My City life sample is going well.  That was a lesson in itself.  I put it on backwards and upside down the first time and didn’t see what I had done until I was almost done inking it.  Luckily I am not working on a continuous warp on this one so I could turn the loom around and reink it the right way.  I used a different color so I could see which lines I wanted to work with.  Much better.  I like the colorful umbrella and I am working for the first time on letters. These are simple letters on a vertical so they are going well for now.  I will let you see it soon.  

Monday, March 23, 2009

The first car is parked

This week I was off on spring break so I had a lot of time to work on my tapestry.  I needed the time too since that first car was a bitch.  I must have wove and unwove it about a dozen times before it looked close to the way I wanted it to look.  Imported Photos 00027See for yourself.I used wool for the body and DMC for the windows.

I think there are still some improvements to be made but am hoping with practice the next one will look better. 

Funny but I can see all the errors when I look at it here but they don’t seem to show up quite so glaringly when I look at the tapestry itself.  This is a good way to check my progress.

In the meantime I am sampling my next tapestry.  I am planning on calling it City life and it will be a street fair in NYC.  I am working on things like the people, a hot dog stand, a street performer and kiosks for hats, tchocke’s and the like.  It gives me something else to work on when I get frustrated with this one.  One is all about mixing colors and shapes and the other is about grayscale and shading.  I like moving back and forth between each.

But, alas classes are back in session tomorrow so my time will be greatly reduced.  It will just make me more enthusiastic when I do get time to work on them again.  So, I move from artist to art historian.  Ah well, it pays the bills and is much better than a real 9-5 job.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

So, here I go

I started weaving about a year and a half ago and am still as much in love with it as I was when I built my first Archie Brennan pipe loom.  I am lucky enough to have two very talented teachers and mentors, Betsey Snope and Rita Landau.  They are both long time members of the Wednesday Group and have quite a body of work to use as teaching tools.  I am so lucky.

Yei_Figures_Mounted_and_HungI am not the kind of person who takes things slowly so when I announced I was going to do a Yei figure tapestry as my first project they were dubious.  However I persevered and my finished product came out okay for a first try.  

Working in a limited pallet made me long for color so my next attempt was the rose you see in my profile.  I chose to take a Georgia O’Keeffe approach and concentrated on the interplay of colors on the petals.  It allowed me to explore shading, hatching and mixing colors.  Again, not too shabby.

Being the ambitious person I am I then decided that a simple portable pipe loom was just not enough.  I wanted to do something big, a real tapestry.  Something to hang on the wall and really make a statement.  Back to Archie I went, this time it was to get instructions for a 7’ by 4’ black pipe loom. I set it up in my spare room turned studio.  I love it. 

Warping Wanda  was not easy.  I damaged walls moving it around, I spent days struggling over crossed warp and shed sticks but eventually it was ready to go.  I am happily weaving away now on my inaugural image, a Philly parking lot in grayscale. 

Cars_Philly_crop  This week I was off on spring break which allowed me to get some quality time into my tapestry.  I will put up the fruits of my efforts soon. In the meantime, I hope you will enjoy reading about my journey as much as I am enjoying the process.  See you soon.