Beaches #2 hand dyed, hand painted, commercial cottons, bamboo, cotton thread
I used to think my day job as a software engineer and my artistic life were at opposite ends of the spectrum. But it occurred to me the other day that they are more similar than one might think. Although writing computer software is often portrayed as a scientific process, I can tell you, thirty years on in my career, that more often than not it’s the skillful and creative application of techniques honed thru experience. There’s always the delicate balance between creating a product that serves the customer, and the cost to the organization to build it.
In my artistic practice, I draw on a similar skillset – spending time up front to understand the goal before me, then using the techniques in my technical skillset to create a piece of art that serves the person viewing it. At various points in the project, I’m called upon to solve technical challenges in a way that fits within the framework I’ve set for myself.
Where do you find crossovers in the diverse areas in your life?
Before I begin a new textile painting, I have some sense of what I want to try to say in the piece. Sometimes I draw a rough sketch of the idea, or use my watercolour pencils to try out colours.
As I compose and construct the piece, I work intuitively, letting my eye and brain work together to tell me what colour and what texture to choose next. When I cut the pieces of cotton fabric, I let my hand guide the rotary cutter in gentle curving lines, each piece an organically shaped thin rectangle.
Often times I’ll reach a point in the piece where I think to myself – this piece is terrible, it’s not going to come together, it’s a mish mash of nothingness. When I fall into that state of mind, I take myself out of my studio, out into the main gallery area, where I can look in thru the windows to my studio, but with the long perspective. From this place, I can usually see the redeeming qualities of the piece, and gather up the courage to go back to the studio, and keep making.
Like so many things in life, looking at the situation from a different perspective makes all the difference!
My earliest memory of doing something artsy is from when I was in the eighth grade. I know, not all that young. My childhood was filled with time spent on the sea, sailing in my own small boat, and in my family’s larger one. I remember constantly sketching sailboats with the bow wave peeling away as the boat sliced thru the waves. In my art class in high school we did batik and so it was no surprise that the subject of my batik piece was sailboats. I can still remember the smell of the beeswax.
The piece I made languished in a drawer for many, many years until one day in the late 1990s when I needed a starting point for a work that was going to be part of a round robin project. I pulled out the piece, and handed it off to my fellow round robin participants. The image below is the finished piece.
What’s your earliest art or other childhood memory?
For many years, I wandered around in textile art land making a trail of pieces, feeling somewhat dissatisfied with each one, but not really knowing why. Nearing the end of 2013, frustrated with my scattered, indistinct voice, I stumbled upon the online classes offered by Lisa Call. In March 2014, I started Lisa’s class “Working in a Series” and my life (and my family’s!) hasn’t been the same since.
In the class, I chose the theme of a series (Balance), learned how to focus in on what I wanted to say, narrowed how I was going to say it, and produced a ton of work during the 12 week class. I learned new ways of looking at artwork, and at my own work in particular. The class curriculum, Lisa’s excellent support, and her strong encouragement to stretch well beyond my comfort zone, allowed me to make leaps I never would have made working on my own.
After the class was over, I felt like I had lots of material to work on, and plenty of ideas. I worked alone in my studio for about six months, but began to feel the need for connection and feedback. I decided to join Lisa’s year long online Master Class group. The members of the group are from all parts of the world, and bring a wealth of experience, and a fascinating diversity of styles. I highly recommend working with someone who can help you develop yourself as an artist, whether locally or online as I’ve done.
At the beginning of August, I went to visit a gallery and working studio called 100 Braid Street Studios. When I arrived, I was greeted by the founder and owner, Susan Greig. Susan gave me a guided tour of the gorgeous gallery, and the beautiful studios of the artists. Afterwards, we sat and chatted about and I mentioned to Susan I was trying to find exhibitions in the area where I could share my artwork. Susan kindly answered my questions, and mentioned that there was a studio currently available at Braid Street. I didn't take much notice as I wasn't looking for a studio.
After I left the studio, all I could think about was what a fabulous space and community Susan and her team have created in this site that was previously a winery. Susan's description to me of her vision for the space, and the ways she fosters connections to community resonated with me and I knew I had to find a way to be a part of this talented and diverse group of artists. Overnight I put together my artist resume, a letter of intent, filled in application forms, and emailed them off to Susan, knowing full well that there was a lengthy waiting list for studio space, as there has been since the opening of the studios.
A few days later, I became the newest resident artist at the studios, and participated in my first cultural crawl. I've been amazed at how my art practice has changed in the 6 weeks I've been working from my new studio. I'm so delighted that this treasure showed up on my path, and I'm excited to see where things will go from here.
Photo: Musings #1 6"x6", textile painting on stretched canvas.
When I decided to start working in a series, I needed to choose a subject that deeply interested me. I chose Balance. Much of my life has been a study, in one form or another, not so much about balance, as about lack of balance.
From not being able to say no early on in my career as a software engineer, to having my balance system damaged during surgery, the theme of balance has showed up over and over. Living with the inability to physically balance my body keeps this squarely in my daily consciousness.
In many ways, this lack of physical balance has been a blessing for me. It's forced me to slow down and look at what is important to me, to choose each day what is the most valuable thing to spend a finite amount of energy on for that day. It's given me a focus in my art, and a wealth of ideas to explore in my pieces.
In our every day world, balance is at play in a variety of ways. On many levels, from global to local, there is a need to balance the resources we consume with the quality of life we've come to expect. There is the ongoing focus of the balance between nature and the environment, and the impact of humans on these systems. For individuals, there is the balance between how much time to spend at work, and how much time to spend with family, where to spend the precious resources of time and money, when to balance the security of a child with their need to become independent...the opportunities for balance, and imbalance to occur are endless.
Where do you feel a lack of balance in your life?
I’ve just started working on Balance #21, after choosing a palette of pale greens, blues and greys for the background, and turquoise, teal, and deep blue fabrics for the foreground pieces. I have an idea of what the final composition will look like, but the piece is created row by row, responding intuitively to what is on the design wall before me. Each piece is individually cut by hand, each piece an organically shaped rectangle, custom shaped to the pieces around it. A variable number of these pieces make up each row. Each row is sewn to the previous row until finally the surface layer of the piece is complete.
After the surface layer is completed, a piece of cotton fabric is taped to a flat surface, then a piece of bamboo and cotton batting is laid on the cotton, and finally, the surface layer of the artwork is laid on top of the previous two layers. These three layers are then pinned together with safety pins so no shifting occurs during the next step. Once the layers are together, thread colours are chosen to suit the artwork and the work of stitching in the texture begins.
After the texture stitching is completed, there are several hundred thread ends to pull thru to the back of the artwork, knot, and pull thru into the batting layer to secure the thread. Next, facings, hanging sleeves and a label are added. Finally a piece of wood slat is cut to fit the hanging sleeve for the piece.
Welcome to my initial blog post! In keeping with my word of the year “Visible” I am shaking off my reluctance to be seen in the world, bravely dipping my toe in the waters of blogging. In upcoming posts, I plan to share my thoughts on the influences that inform my artwork, as well as give you peaks into my studio work.
From a young age I have been inspired by texture, colour and fiber in various forms; embroidery, beading, stitched linen work, and garment construction have all been in my repertoire. These have all been overtaken by working with textiles to create textile paintings.
In the late 1980s I ventured into the world of traditional quilting, taking a beginner’s class at a local shop. After taking a number of workshops from both international and local teachers, I came to the realization I didn't really like to follow patterns. I began to design my own pieces and now use a combination of commercially available cottons, and cotton which I have dyed, painted, batiked, and marked in other ways to create my own unique textiles.
I enjoy working in a series, which allows me to explore a theme in more depth than is possible when creating only one piece on a particular subject matter. Currently, I’m working in two series, Balance and Equilibrium. The Balance series looks at the ways in which balance affects our lives on a myriad of levels. The Equilibrium series explores ideas of multiple variables, and the interactions which take place to keep them all in a state of balance.