Night Shifts

My late mother-in-law sometimes used to say she was tired because she had “worked the night shift.” On her restless nights she put in long hours of dreamtime serving food, pouring drinks and cleaning up after a full house.

Night Shift by Donna Kallner

This piece incorporates a picture of her behind the counter back in the days when her night shifts were worked awake instead of dreaming. Night Shift is part of the Night Vision collection showing through June 29 at the Ed Gray Gallery in Calumet, Michigan.

Night Shift detail by Donna Kallner

I work the dreamy kind of night shift sometimes, too. My fingers may feel stiff from holding an imaginary needle, but I usually have a clearer image of how to stitch the story I’ve been working over in my unconscious mind.

That seems to be what happened Saturday morning. After a week in Minneapolis at the Surface Design conference, I was surprised to wake up rested and raring to go at 4:30 a.m. I think my mind had finally finished tidying up a few loose ends.

My post-conference workshop with Lanny Bergner gave me a lot to think about. Going into the workshop, my intention was to learn to integrate wire mesh with the fabrics I use already, thinking the wire would provide greater support for larger mixed media constructed vessels and possibly also to support freeform looping.

On the first day of the three-day workshop, I made the piece below from the brass mesh pictured above.

Despite differences in “seaming” wire mesh versus layers of fabric, the construction concepts were comfortably familiar.

On Day 2 I made two more small vessels.

This one is stainless steel mesh patterned with a propane torch.

This one is brass mesh with a contrasting insert of anodized aluminum mesh.

At the end of Day 2, I asked Lanny for some advice on where to go next. Left to my own devices, I might have veered off to testing seaming alternatives or surface textures I could very well play with on my own. He suggested that on Day 3 I work on a larger vessel. That was a good plan. I also wanted to keep playing with ways to curve the seam lines. That’s where I ran into trouble.

I made one choice after another that kept drawing the form in more and more. Creating curved lines in the metal mesh is a great challenge, but doing so shifted my focus away from the form itself.

After I get back from teaching in Michigan, I want to model more of these vessels, working more simply and larger and with my focus on producing pieces that work from 360 degrees. I need to resist the seduction of the mesh’s transparency until I’ve done that. I suspect I’ll find more clarity in the making. I usually do.

This class was just what I needed when I needed it. Lanny was great to work with, as was everyone in the room. I have tons of ideas to mull.

It’s almost bedtime again, and before I lay my head on the pillow I have just one more thing to clarify for myself: Unless I follow through on the work that began in the the workshop, it was just three pleasant days where I played with different materials. It’s up to me, now, to work out if or how these ideas fit into my own work. And while some of that gets worked out on the night shift, most of it gets worked out in the studio.

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Chips Take Wing

No, I’m not flinging cow pies in the studio. I’m working on a piece called Night Owl, and want to use looping to create the wings. So instead of reaching for fabric to “audition” ideas, I reached for my bag of ChiPs.

I wrote about ChiPs last fall. These are things I could accurately call by another name that starts with C and ends with P, but choose not to. Instead of pitching my failures into the circular file, I tuck them into a heavy-duty zippered plastic bag. The uglier and more unsuccessful they are, the less resistant I am to cutting them up.

With a few snips and a scattering of ChiP fragments, I can see where and how I want to start the looping for the wings. I might even use a few of the fragments in the piece.

On Earth Day I wrote about other recycled materials I’m using in work for an upcoming show. After watching the video below about cotton production in Central Asia, I’m even more reluctant to reach for that bolt of muslin.

White Gold – the true cost of cotton from Environmental Justice Foundation on Vimeo.

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Drive Time

Drive time is when I get some of my best ideas. My daily commute is just a few steps between the house and the studio, so I only get a serious drive-time groove on about once a week (it’s a 52-mile round trip to the supermarket and library). So when a teaching gig is within driving distance, I actually kind of look forward to that time in the car.

To be more specific, I look forward to the drive home. On my way to a workshop, I’m still running through mental checklists and watching the clock. But after the job is done and those obligations are fading in my rear-view mirror, I’m glad to have time for some quiet reflection.

My first thoughts are usually about the class and the students. The drive home gives me a chance to ponder the great ideas students come up with. Thank you, Lona, for the oilcloth inspiration! I’ll be testing it this week.

On the drive home, I have time to savor conversations and connections made with my hosts. My Fargo host sent me home with ideas about applying millinery techniques to vessel construction, a loaner copy of The Tarim Mummies, and a new-found fascination with chemistry inspired by the group’s current project, The Elements: The Periodic Table in Fabric. And it it weren’t for Kim, I probably wouldn’t have taken a single picture during the workshop.

As the miles and the hours pass, my thoughts shift from what’s done to what’s next. This time, my homeward bound thoughts sorted through work in progress for an upcoming show. After some time away and a chance to reflect, I’m content to move forward with a boro-influenced celebration of renewal. There are stories I want to tell.

It’s possible that a few images sowed in my brain on the Fargo trip will be translated into this work.

There are times when my head feels like a grain elevator that’s overfull. A nice long drive gives me some time to shift ideas around.

How does drive time fit into your design process?

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How Do You Get A New Point Of View?

Do you go for the aisle or window seat? That is the question. It might be nobler to sit where you don’t have to crawl over strangers if you’ll probably have to go to the potty. But sometimes it’s worth bypassing Starbucks and keeping your legs crossed to sit by the window.

There are times when life itself feels a bit patchworky. Wouldn’t it be nice to view it from a window seat to see how it all connects?

On a less philosophical level, I have a new method to try for getting the Window Seat view of work in progress. In a video I saw recently, Helena Hernmarck did a soft shoe across the breast beam with either binoculars or a monocular (held backwards, I believe) to get that perspective on a tapestry commission. (To see the video, follow this link to browngrotta and click Video in the right hand column.)

I often use my digital camera to help me “see” work in progress from another perspective. For example, I shot this mineral-printed fabric with a frame of indigo-dyed fabric laid around it to get a better look before it goes up on the design wall (which is still occupied by something that should be done but isn’t).

There are other ways to change the perspective when you look at something. You’ve probably had someone tell you to put a piece down and look at it from across the room to get a fresh point of view. I’ve trooped entire classes into conference center restrooms to look at the reflection of their work in a mirror. But wrong-way binoculars was a new one for me.

What do you do to get a fresh perspective on your work?

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