Sunday, March 16, 2014

- Show Your (needle)Work

Austin Kleon gave a great keynote at the South by Southwest (SXSW) conference in Austin last week, much of it focused on his newly published book entitled Show Your Work. He said, among many other things, that it can be as important to share the creative process as the end product. Well, I've been taking up the challenge ever since by posting new/old material to the blog and pinning pictures onto Pinterest.

Since the post on my family sampler (A Closer Look) has been getting a fair number of hits, I thought it might be a good idea to look back on my needlework roots, which have been growing for 50 years. Sadly, much of my work has been lost, having been given as gifts or simply worn out. But there's enough to make a go of it.

My mother and grandmother used to make tablecloths and pillowcases from kits with large blue cross stitches printed on them. At age 7 or 8, I got my first kit: a whaling picture, which I completed and gave to my godmother. All I remember of the details is thinking it was incredibly cool to combine two colors of floss to make the crests of the waves in the picture.

At the same time, my more fortunate cousins were being introduced to counted stitch embroidery. Their father was Norwegian and so they learned much in their travels, eventually gifting my mother with this piece.

But needlework options were limited in the American market (at least at the stores I went to), so I continued on to crewel embroidery and began a long association with Elsa Williams kits.

Dated 1968, when I was 12

It wasn't until I went to college in the 1970s that counted cross stitch made a splash in the states. I duly made a replica of the Wren Building at the College of William and Mary ...

Dated 1976, when the Bicentennial helped renew interest in needlework

and began the "Chase Sampler" which was based on a piece in the holdings at Colonial Williamsburg (it also became my wedding gift to Don, albeit in somewhat incomplete form).

When I graduated from William and Mary, I got a job in a local needlework shop, then moved on to a library assistant position at Colonial Williamsburg. That's when my work life truly got interesting. I'll conclude with a Colonial Williamsburg News article published in 1981 and leave for another day my more recent adventures in needlework.

- Williamsburg Memoir: Mixed Media Collage

In the thirty-some years that we were in Williamsburg, we lived in four different houses. This mixed-media collage entitled Williamsburg began with a wonderful ramble through the hundreds of (unorganized) pictures we have taken. I created two piles of potential images: exterior shots and pictures that evoked the years we spent in each home.  As I worked, Don would look in from time to time, shaking his head trying to figure out where I was headed. Me, too. But as so often happens when I'm writing, the project began to direct itself.

I began by making the houses using some pretty unorthodox processes. Since I didn't have any "perfect" exteriors to work with, I scanned pictures of the roofs, doors, windows, and siding for each house.

110A Harrison Avenue where we spent our first years as newlyweds

Then I cropped and scaled the various elements until I had fairly compatible images to work with. The end results were printed onto matte photo paper using an inkjet printer, then coated back and front with matte acrylic medium (which is more transparent than Mod Podge).

127 Wilson Circle where we became a family when Meghan and Melissa were born

Next I cut out roofs, windows, doors, and siding with an Exacto knife, inserted the chosen photographs behind each window, and gingerly tacked everything together with small bits of tape.

260 Nina Lane where the girls spent their school years & home to epic Christmas trees

Finally, I machine-sewed each house onto repurposed white cotton quilt pieces (not a real quilt, a store bought, machine-made quilt ... which is why it was in play for repurposing). I trimmed away the excess quilt material, edged the top, sides, and bottom of each house with permanent charcoal gray marker, and sealed each piece with another coat of acrylic matte medium.

303 Hempstead Road where we survived the teen years
and finally wrote GTT (Gone to Texas) on the door after retiring

After which I confronted a very large (16" x 20"), very white piece of foam core board. Talk about a blank page! A new search ensued for imagery to place behind and alongside the houses. Eventually I came up with a map of the Williamsburg area from a Colonial Williamsburg Journal to serve as the base. Because it wasn't quite large enough, I added dictionary pages with the words "Williamsburg" ...

 and "Virginia," a hand-drawn map to our house at Wilson Circle ...

a garden plan and "Home of the Month" sign from Nina Lane with a description written when Meg was in elementary school ...

"You'll know it's my house when you see it
because on the front of my house there is a big garden. It has lots of
flowers and has little and big plants. There are also vegetables and fruits."

and a key from I-don't-know-where with moth wings from our Texas garage (a metaphor for flying away from Virginia?) completed the stash ... most of which was liberally dabbled with thinned-out acrylic paint to unify the background.

In the end, I called it a success when Don said the collage brought tears to his eyes. It's a wonderful life we've led ... with the promise of much more to come.

Postscript: After reading this post Don asked, "Why didn't you include the thing under the Wilson Circle house?" My response was, "The keyhole? I didn't include it since it was one of those craft store things that I kinda regretted adding after the fact."  But then I thought about it and remembered I tucked something behind the keyhole: a tiny picture of the dollhouse made by Don's Dad when the girls were little.

So here it is, with thanks to my favorite editor for saving me from myself ... as always.

- Stumbling on Happiness: Altered Book Collage

Altered books and mixed-media collage have fascinated me to the point of buying numerous books and browsing through countless Pinterest pins. Two books have been particularly useful: Altered Book Collage by Barbara Matthiessen and Mixed Media Collage by Holly Harrison.

Trying my hand at creating my own collages has been gratifying and humbling by turns. I've decided to blog about two of them that made it to completion ... others have had less fortunate outcomes.

Stumbling on Happiness was created using a book I gave to my Mom the year before she died. I began the collage after we moved to Texas, so the title seemed apt. It has two sides representing the two places I most love: the Outer Banks of North Carolina and the Hill Country near Austin. The flags of each state informed the background colors for the two sides of the book. After priming the book with gesso, I used Mod Podge to attach a page of "joy" from the Library of Congress Subject Headings and the title of the book onto the spine.

I began with the North Carolina cover, weaving strips of blue handmade paper, lyrics from James Taylor's "Carolina In My Mind," and red paper from old book covers (one of the perks of being a former librarian).  I added a sea star from Melissa's wedding, sand and shell from Avon, a sprig of dried grass, a tag stamped with the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, and a bit of needlework that I made many years before of an architectural element found at the apex of many OBX beach cottage rooflines.

The Texas cover featured the same blue handmade paper and strips of red, with lyrics from Walt Wilkins' "Trains I Missed," which became my driving-through-the-Hill-Country-to-work anthem. The rusted star was clipped from a garland I purchased in Gruene, the flowers were picked and pressed at our first (rental) home in Wimberley, the scissortail flycatcher was cut from a Melanie Fain notecard (see below for more on her artwork), and the needlework was from the same long-ago piece with stylized Galliarda (aka Blanket Flower), a wildflower found in both Texas and North Carolina. 

However, I have no illusions about the final product: while it gives me great pleasure, it also makes me appreciate how much time and practice goes into truly accomplished mixed-media collage ... or any  artwork, for that matter.

Now this is art: a hand-painted etching of a roadrunner by Melanie Fain. She has a wonderful link on her website about her etching process, which makes me appreciate her artistry all the more.