Like so many bloggers, I dropped this, picked it up, dropped it again... but I miss it. I also need it to be my journal. While Ravelry provides a great system for keeping track of knitting and spinning projects and supplies, a journal will let me work through ideas and follow my progress. And perhaps create a sense of accountability for my making the effort to focus, in the limited amount of time I have, on the non-work related creative endeavors.
So I am committing to the following:
I am going to go through the categories provided by Typepad and the ones I have created and, like a good librarian, create a useful set that will let me and, I hope, my readers follow the development of various projects.
I am going to use this space to work out the management of my projects.
Interesting, even writing about the "management" of creative projects felt like a negative. My visceral response to "organization" and "management" is always negative, always a rejection, always an impulse to run away and escape. I have those words in quotation marks as a way of signaling how much more those terms seem to mean to me than any generic meaning. I just had a fleeting visual construction of "organize" come into my head, of stacked overlapping discs in differing intensities of blue with labels like "easy access," "control," and "restriction." I need to re-construct a meaning for myself of those terms into a wholly, well, creative meaning. I wonder if I can do that.
Romantic notions of creativity -- and that is Romantic with a capital R, referring to Romantic-era cultural constructions -- are of almost divine, certainly individualistic, and crazy-making origins of creativity. Artists were supposed to be rebels, devoted to deliberately shocking and offending the ordinary mainstream population. Art equaled deviance, a rejection of dominant sexual mores, and a devotion to destroying yourself through drug use. Your creativity was supposed to manifest itself in all aspects of your life: your home, your clothes, your love life, your family life, your habits. Daily routine was considered the antithesis of, and destructive to, creativity. And all that wild living was supposed to be public. It required an audience, consisting of the bourgeoisie you were shocking and rejecting, and your fellow artists, who confirmed your otherness.
A number of books on creativity, meant for those of us who just can't get out of our own way to make what we want to make, have helped me sweep away the remnants of this persistent notion of creativity. A couple still stick, but I am working on those. I found Twyla Tharp's book The Creative Habit first, I think. I read carelessly, and so don't often retain as much as I would like of what I read, but several points in the book have stuck with me. First is that her title was very deliberately chosen. In contrast to the Romantic notion of creative chaos, Tharp argues forcefully that creativity requires habit, or rather, structure. At one point early in the book she describes her morning routine, from the time she wakes up, preparing to leave the house, calling a cab, going to the studio, and starting work. She then defines the first step in the creative work of the day: calling the cab. If I remember correctly, she sees that as an act of structure (no, she is not going to hang around the apartment until she feels like creating) and as an act of commitment to going to (her creative) work.
At the same time, I do think Tharp is still working out her relationship to that Romantic notion of creativity. Here is a quote from the entry about her in Wikipedia:
As an interesting point, Ms. Tharp indicated that The Creative Habit is about cybernetics, especially in the several Greek-themed creative exercises, such as the Coin Drop; the Coin Drop, as an exercise in extracting ordered meaning from chaos, is derived from the astrological muse, Urania, in that random coins falling onto a flat surface can be used to develop pattern analysis skills. The astrological theme is, in fact, an etymological underpinning of cybernetics' tradition of "guiding a boat" by sighting stellar references in a dynamic and synthetic way according to ancient Greek navigation.
Say what? I remember her writing about routine, getting out of bed at the same time every morning, about calling that cab, about having an archival storage box for materials for each work. The Wiki article does not provide a citation for this statement. But maybe this interpretation helps exoticize what I saw as her message: Life is chaotic. To make things, you have to first make structure.
Even that last sentence truly gave me a sense of the creeps. My problem with structure is truly visceral. But I have had it with living with the irritating obstacles created by chaos. Maybe that is a place to start: not so much de-Romanticizing creativity, as de-Romanticizing chaos. Certainly in my life chaos is irritation, dirt, and frustration. Not the mystery of the cosmos.
But if my skin creeps at the mere words "structure," "organization," and "management," I need to come up with an approach to the irritation, dirt, and frustration (chaos) that will let me sweep it out of my way. Interesting: I don't want to say to gain control. I wonder if thinking about it in terms of cleanliness rather than control would be more productive.
Austin Kleon, in his book Steal like an artist , quotes Gustave Flaubert:
Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.
But leftover Romantic affect has me balking at the idea of being regular and orderly -- how staid! I have found another possibility though in Mari Kondo's The Life-changing magic of tidying up. The last one has been discussed ad nauseam in popular media, but I am taking from it just the image of breathing freely, with a weight taken off my chest. I do not get a creepy feeling in response to that.
I still have a head full of discussions about art, color, craft, and books. This time, instead of a book about color, I want to talk about a mystery I am reading. All the books in this series are well written, and I really enjoy the characters. This latest novel is about art, and I am increasingly distressed about the representation of art and artists in the book.
The novel is part of Louise Penny's Inspector Gamache series. This latest one is titled
The Long Way Home. If you don't want spoilers, don't read any farther, though I do not yet know how the story ends. The only part of the story I will give away is a very well-known fact of art history that the characters -- including art school faculty and students, and the sophisticated art-loving friends -- don't seem to know.
An major character in the series, a painter, has gone missing. The novel is about the search for Peter by several other major characters who live in Three Pines, the village in Québec province that appears on no maps. Almost everyone in the novel is in the midst of ongoing, incessantly narrated existential crises, even Henri, the German Shepherd. As they look for Peter, they trace an evolution/revolution that has taken place in his artwork during the year of his absence from Three Pines.
So far so good, although I began to roll my eyes at the repeated narration of the aforementioned angst.
But here we have a group of sensitive, cultured artists and art lovers, and a third-person narrator, who say complete nonsense about art. While looking at a canvas of Peter's that is radically different in all ways from all his previous work, his artist wife Clara points to one stroke of green paint and declares that is where the revolution in his work started. Never mind that he has turned to landscape after despising it for years, that he has turned to wild clashing color and distorted perspective after years of painting precise detailed magnification of items in cold neutrals. Never mind that he has traveled the world looking for places of mystical power to paint in his new style. Now they marvel that his new work seems to involve "an alchemy of the real and perception," as if that were not true of all art.
Perhaps what distresses me most is an element of the story dating back to Peter and Clara's days in art school (and here is where the spoiler comes in). The art school, apparently, adored Peter's precision and technical brilliance, and did not know what to do with Clara's creativity and installations. And so when Clara's (and other students') works were not selected one year for the annual juried exhibition, a temporary instructor at the school (who the main characters know is mad based on his self-portrait) displayed those works in an exhibit he called the salon des refusés. Clara and the others are mortified by this display, and the instructor is fired.
Huge problem with this. Every single one of the students and teachers at the school would have known that the historic salon des refusés, in 1863, exhibited works by Manet, Coubet, and Pisarro after they had been rejected from the juried Paris Salon. The emperor of France decreed those works should be exhibited in the same Palace of Industry as the Paris Salon. Thousands of people toured the exhibit. While some ridiculed the paintings, it kicked off the independent exhibitions that brought the Impressionists their fame and importance.
So really. Would a young radical artist be offended by having her work be the key item in a salon des refusés? Would the administration of the school be so shocked they would fire an instructor, and assume he was mad? And would it take most of the novel until the sophisticated art-loving characters realized the instructor meant this as an honor?
Mind you, this book is not written in the casual slap-dash tone of a novel that might refer to art in passing. This carefully written novel is all about art and artists, and takes on a tone of traditional high-culture adoration of the "artistic spirit." I still want to know what happened to Peter, so I am not going to abandon the book. But it seems that while the author is not ignorant about art and art history, she assumes her readers are.
One of the moth mysteries has been solved. I moved the coffee table and discovered holes in the wool rug I bought, um, 24 years ago in Pittsburgh. (My housekeeping skills are the worst. Guess I need to move the coffee table when I vacuum, huh.) Anyway, it's a goner. I was trying to figure out how to dispose of an 8x10 rug when a friend suggested cutting it up so I could put it in the trash bin. I wonder how long it would have taken me to think of that. So this afternoon's entertainment will take place on the driveway, starring Rob on her knees with a utility knife.
Here's a picture of the evidence. The rug is actually a gray blue... none of the books I have read on color have talked about digital images on smartphone cameras, of course. Now I want to know why they are so bad with color.
So I began going through the yarn stash and projects, most of them poorly protected. A lot of the yarns that were not zipped away are cottons or blended rayons, fortunately. I tossed a small semi-abandoned wool project that had been munched on, and took a skein of yarn near it, that showed no obvious damage, and submerged it for 24 hours.
This, however, will be a slow process with larger lots of yarn. I also have to figure out how to hang this to dry without leaving it out as a buffet choice for moths. I think what I will do is turn the fan on it -- that will encourage the drying will hopefully keeping it too windy for moths to land. I also put a little bit of a wool wash in it -- I don't usually use it, since it is scented, but we will see if the myths that scent can fool moths into not perceiving wool are true. Maybe the combination will help.
I now have to go through several other works in process, to see if they have been attacked. My small project bags are mostly just small fabric bags. I think I will have to keep those inside larger plastic bags I can seal, at least until I can (I hope) overcome the moth problem. With the rug gone, I think the only source of wool will be my knitting yarns -- oh geez, and my old wintercoats. I had better check on those as well.
Meanwhile, the wiseass moth who displayed itself inside a plastic tote? She's in the freezer.
I am going to take the projects out of that bag today, inspect the projects for damage and, if there is no visible damage, will do the submerge trick again, to kill larvae. I was very careless with these projects, leaving them lying around or in open baskets, and only putting them in the plastic tote recently. I will be especially sorry to lose the alpaca wrap that has been a couple of years in the making, but it would be my fault Meanwhile I will finish the spinning project I have on the wheel, and submerge that -- I don't think I have been careful about the unspun wool, and will have to do my best to kill whatever might have been laid in the roving. The collection of roving waiting to be spun is safely stored in a huge zippered plastic ... box? ... that curtains came in. You know you are a fiber collector when part of the pleasure of buying new linens is getting two items: the sheets or curtains or blanket and the zippered plastic container it came in.
Every so often I decide I am done blogging. Then, months later, I realize I am not. I have things to say, things to talk about, and this is probably the best way of doing it. So I am back. Busier than ever, since the indexing freelancing took off this fall, I will be teaching online for the University of Maryland in the spring, and oh yeah, there's the full-time job. I couldn't resist the most recent indexing job, or rather the money that will come in, and was tickled by the idea of teaching 1) an online course, 2) a course on collection development, and 3) for the iSchool at UMD. So bring it on! I do better when I am busy.
But that of course makes getting to knitting, spinning, weaving, and every other creative impulse very difficult. I would entertain the notion that sleep is unnecessary, but I quickly slip into sleep-deprivation pseudo-psychosis -- you wouldn't like me sleep-deprived. At moments like that I am reduced to puddles of tears by, say, red lights, and tend to forget how to do things like not walk into things. Or as Beatrice the Biologist says about not getting enough sleep,
The indexing job, however, will be done in 3 weeks. The on-line course will take a lot of work to design, write, and get up on the course management software, but again, that prep will be done by the time class starts near the end of January.
So with the winter break starting today, I am trying to divide my time between freelance work, trudging my way through the enormous house project, and fiber work.
First, this is what winter break looks like on my San Antonio campus.
The roses, as you can see, are very happy and some days it is still warm enough to eat lunch outside.
Second, HIC SVNT DRACONES
I know there are moths in the house. I vacuum them up when I see them. I put new yarn in sturdy plastic containers. Some folks mutter about plastic containers retaining moisture, but so far so good with new yarn. But today when I picked up a zippered clear plastic tote into which I stuffed two longterm projects that had been in baskets around the house .... there was a live moth crawling around at the bottom. And some casings. And some of the sandy stuff at the bottom that is, as the image puts it, moth excrement.
My first impulse was to put the whole bag, still unopened, in the freezer, under bags of frozen broccoli. It could stay there for a while. But I have done some readings, especially the wonderful old post at Moth Heaven, and I think what I will do is take each project out, see if there is any visible damage, and then submerge the project in water for 24 hours. By the way, Julia Farwell-Clay has moved her blog Moth Heaven here. She is the designer of a pattern I recently fell in love with, called Mork. Here is Mork.
To combat the concern about moisture accumulating in yarn stored in zipped plastic bags, I am slowly collecting zipped plastic bags that have cotton sides. The best of both worlds -- I can see what is in them, they are moth proof, and the fabric will prevent condensation. But while I have been careful about some yarn, I have been careless with others, like these two works-in-progress that were not carefully protected. So I am going to be examining, freezing/heating, and, if necessary, tossing yarn. Julia Farwell-Clay saves yarn and darns sweaters (apparently there is a reason she calls her home Moth Heaven), so I think that will have to become part of the arsenal as well. I just can't believe that moth's jaunty walk along the inside of that bag. The noive (as Moe, Larry, and Curly just said in my head).
Finally, if you are still looking for holiday gifts, please think about buying from artisans. There are craft markets everywhere this time of year, and plenty of artisans selling their wares on etsy and in yarn stores as well. So a shout out to Kim Bierly at Main Street Yarns, in Rebersberg PA, who makes it a point to carry the work of local sewists, potters, and other crafters along with handpainted yarns, to my friend Kawanna and her creative, original, and even special order Knits by KB, and to Bonnie Meltzer and her fellow artists at the markets in Portland, OR.
I always suffer from performance anxiety before an art workshop. I feel unprepared. I am still working on designs for the Albuquerque tapestry workshop, but I do think I am heading in the right direction with either the prickly pear photos or the agave. Today I am going to make myself some l-shape frame pieces from cardboard, so I can move around in the images and find the right spot. Another way to avoid trying to reproduce the photo. It's called, I think, a viewfinder frame, or at least that's what this online drawing lesson calls it. It helps separate elements of an image.
The cover of this edition shows what he does in the book. He demonstrates how colors look different depending on the colors they are near. Seems obvious, no? No. The book is spectacular, and to my horror I realized I left it out of my little bibliography on color. And there is a new iPad app out based on the book that is so absolutely cool it has made me think about buying an iPad, just for this app. That would make it a very expensive app, wouldn't it, but I am madly obsessed with it. OK, maybe an iPad mini. The app basically lets you interact with his color images and exercises, moving the color chips around to experiment with how colors change. A limited version of the app is available FREE, and the whole thing, basically the book, interviews with artists and designers, some 60 interactive plates, color puzzles Albers designed... I swear I dreamed about this app the other night.
Back to designs for the workshop. It occurred to me that I could play with colors a la Albers while studying curves in tapestry by doing some exercises with colors not in the geometrics that he uses in the book but with curves, stacking colors near each other. So I am going to play with colored paper to come up with a design, with one eye on the Albers book. I will post them when I have them. Meanwhile I am ordering the anniversary edition of the book. And adding it to my bibliography in the column on the right. But WOW do I want that app.
ETA: I forgot. Knitting. I am almost done with the first sleeve of the seamless Katarina. Stll hoping to have it done by the Albuquerque workshop.
OK. Multilingual index is submitted. Check already received (there are some publishers I love.) Now if I could only make Windows stop switching randomly between keyboard layouts. I usually do search the web in English.
Knitting: massive progress on the seamless Katarina. Nothing like stockinette in aran weight yarn for speed. I have finished the body up to the armholes. I cast on for sleeve #1 last night. I have not yet read far enough to see how I knit an already knit sleeve on to the sweater body for a set-in structure. I was struggling last night with a provisional cast on, and now that I have several rows knit I think the sleeve might be too wide. I will decide tonight if I want to make it narrower at the forearm. It has a provisional cast on because the original pattern then calls for you to pick up live stitches and knit a bell shape onto the bottom. Now that I think about it, I don't want to do that anyway, so perhaps I don't need the provisional cast on: I can just start with a garter cuff.
A month til the weaving workshop, so it is beginning to make me anxious. I visited the friend with the garden full of cacti and succulents, and took some of my own pictures. Here is a humungous close-up bit of one of those photos:
I like not only the curves but the light in this one. A simpler bit for a sample -- this is a four-day workshop, might be this little bit:
It becomes almost abstract. I have problems now though with the thorn in the center. But that is good. The problem with working from photographs is falling into a realist representational mode. I would rather this become abstracted in the design process. At the moment though that frond (?), leaf (?. What do you call one of these on a cactus?) looks more like a threatening thorny breast to me. But wait, this is probably the direction I would weave it, not the direction of the final piece. A lot of tapestry is actually woven sideways. That was a term that confused the heck out of me for a long time, until I realized what that meant was that the image was turned sideways. You still weave a piece from the bottom of the loom to the top. But a lot of shapes and lines are easier to weave from the direction you see in the second picture. Though perhaps not in this case.
Here is another try, my favorite this morning.
Though look how the number of curves increase with the focus on that interior line. I love it. A challenge in terms of the lnumber of curves, but again, the workshop can result in a sample, and this could be a longer-term project.
Still, I have to make sure I don't begin to behave as if I am reproducing the photograph. It helps to play with the picture some more with various effects or morphing tools in photo editing software. My plan is to learn to use Photoshop to do this. At the moment I play with Aviary via Flickr, but that is a pretty simple tool. But you can turn a color photo into a black and white, which is great for seeing value rather than color, or sepia-toned. You can blur, invert color (a very interesting way of playing with an image), and in some editors, you can "posterize" an image, which is a sort of uber-simplification of shapes and colors. GIMP is an open source Photoshop sort of program -- again, it has been on my learn-to-use list for quite some time. So far I play with the free ones online. Here are a couple of experiments.
I think this was "posterized." This actually would work well for a tapestry, in that it creates clearly distinguished color/value areas. Here is another: I think this was from Lunapic, or some such online site, their Fire Effect:
As I said, playing like this helps me overcome my kneejerk attempt to make the design like the photo. At the moment, after all this play, I prefer the very first photograph. Again, too much for a workshop piece, so I have worked myself into a complete circle today.
More to come.
I picked up Derek Jarman's book again.
It is a meditation about color, really, almost a stream of consciousness of his experiences, of what he has read, of an amazing about of experiential knowledge about color. I dip into it at night, before falling asleep, so the experience of reading it is dream-like. Last night I read about gray, and Jarman ranges from Augustine to Ostwald, who invented the gray scale. In my last New Mexico weaving workshop, we created grayscales in yarn, and -- color-junkie though I may be -- I have been imagining designs in gray.
My upcoming workshop in New Mexico is on weaving curves. The best way I have found to visualize the traditional structure of tapestry is to see a page of graph paper. All those lines intersecting at right angles. The challenge I aspire to is to work on that grid making it play ungrid-like tricks. How do you weave curves on a grid? It is really a form of trompe-l'oeil.
The pre-workshop challenge for me is to come up with designs with curves. Seems simple enough, but the imagery I have been accumulating is based on citiscapes and the geometric. Hmmm. Curves. Nature of course is a source of curves. So here is south Texas, I have come up with photographic images of agave plants. For example:
I particularly like the next one. Hmm, a sort of gray, isn't it?
Those are all from gardening catalogs. I don't like working from other people's images, so it is time to take my camera around with me. My discomfort with using other people's images has less to do with copyright and ownership -- though that is there -- but really it is the feeling that my images should be mine. At my last workshop folks were working from all sorts of pictures and were happy enough about it. One woman in the workshops I take here at the Southwest School of Art is fascinated by Klee, and makes tapestry after tapestry of his faces. The instructor was gently urging her to create some of her own images, and the the concept honestly simply did not register for her.
So I am taking pictures, not very good ones, that I will play with. I have some prickly pear next to the house, and I will work with some images of that. On my way to work on Friday I ran around the side of the house with my cell phone to see what I have there. So here is the first of the idea shots.
I have put my camera in my bag, and will keep my eyes open, and will take lots of photographs of things with curves. I may try to get to the San Antonio Botanical Gardens next weekend with my camera. And if I head up to Austin, my friend there has a passion for cacti, and has a few of these in her garden:
In addition to those urban right angles, though, I also fixate on letter shapes. I like letters. My favorite Dr. Seuss book has always been On Beyond Zebra, and, language-junkie in addition to a color junkie, languages that use other alphabets are always the most interesting. My problem with designing with letters though is that I don't want them to say anything. I want the shape, not the word. Very few words can sustain an image, in my opinion. I love erasures, palimpsests, designs that look like texts but when you try to read them they fade away. So I haven't had much luck with designs with letters. I do keep coming back to illuminated letters. I may need to work on an illuminated Dr. Seussian sort of letter. Or letters so big they no longer look like letters. Or letters falling off of pages. Erased letters.
And finally, knits. Not finally in daily life, since I have taken knitting breaks from my current indexing project, both a challenge and a pleasure, since I am working in Spanish and Portuguese. I finally... finally... get entrelac knitting, but only after taking Gwen Bortner's very excellent Craftsy class. The best Craftsy class I have taken, and by lesson two I had taken off, using a pattern and yarn I bought in 2004 when the book first came out. Three-dimensional thinking is not my strong suit, and I could not visualize entrelac. This is the pattern, the very famous Lady Eleanor. And now that I get entrelac, I can't even remember what the problem was. This is what I have so far. The yarn, of course, is Noro, with long color repeats that take entrelac to new heights. A poor picture, taken as usual on my desk with my phone. But you get the idea.
And even though I have my hands full, I fell in love with some Malabrigo Arroyo during my knitting get-together at a local yarn store. How could I resist this almost medieval combination of red with hints of gold:
Reader, I couldn't. Five skeins came home with me, and the plan is that they will become Joji Locatelli's cardigan Even Flow.
On July 24 I posted about how much I liked taking workshops in weaving. Ironic, maybe, since it is such an individual activity in modern times. Anyway, I committed to another workshop with Elizabeth Buckley in New Mexico, this time in her studio in Albuquerque. So I will be spending the first weekend in November in Albuquerque, studying how to weave curves in tapestry and experiencing a long weekend of true autumn weather.
Curves in tapestry weaving are actually trompes l'oeils. Tapestry weaving in its standard form is a grid of right angles formed by the vertical warp, held straight under strong tension, and the vertical weaving of the weft. A number of the technical challenges have to do with keeping those angles at 90 degrees, and some creative variations play with distorting it. How then can you weave circles and curves?
It is best visualized on graph paper. How would you fill in the squares and rectangles of graph paper to create a circles and curves? Here are some illustrations that show how it is done.
When woven, the impression is of a (relatively) smooth curve. The finer the gauge of the weaving -- that is, the more warp ends per inch, the smoother the transition of the "curve". So getting a curved look depends on knowing your warps per inch, and seeing how much your weft packs down. Here is an image of a curve being woven, from the tutorial by the Mirrix Loom folks.
As you can see, you actually weave AROUND the circle until you would have to start weaving on top of the curve. You weave a space for the circle, and then start filling it in.
You really need to know how much your weft is packing down though -- I am much more likely to get a horizontally set oval, unfortunately
Anyway, even if you want curves and not circles, this is the basic method. So now I need to come up with a design with curves for the workshop, which means turning my attention away from my gray-tones experiments, my "China Red" pictures.
And, of course, imagining 4 gorgeous days of Albuquerque fall weather, I decided I needed to knit a sweater. Makes even me laugh. So Kim set some parameters: it had to be something fast, which meant, she said, I had to promise not to start reinventing and tweaking the design. And it had to be from stash. I accepted the challenge! So I started the seamless version of Katarina in Berroco Vintage in the color Tidepool (of course). I worred that it is too plain -- stockinette in a solid yarn -- but it fulfills two goals: a very quick sweater knit at a larger gauge (4 stitches to the inch) and the first of the sweaters I want to do that have you knit set in sleeves right onto the body of the sweater. And it is already going very quickly. It is pretty much impossible to photograph, though I will try to do so outdoors soon.