Post Conference Processing

How do you process the inspiration and euphoria that accompany a really great conference or workshop? Generally, I stitch, doodle, and write to sort things out. My sorting process isn’t as neat and tidy as popping envelopes into mail boxes, but it works for me. So I’ll write for now, then get back to the studio and stitch some more before I have to let go and finish packing for teaching at Northern Wefts next week.

Mail boxes at The Landmark Center, Minneapolis

Late Wednesday night I got back from my first Surface Design Conference. This biennial event was held in Minneapolis this time. As usual, I got wrapped up in what was happening around me and kept forgetting to take photos. And I took photos I don’t want to publish without permission of the artist or the person in the picture, and don’t have time to get those right now. So please conjure up wonderful images in your mind’s eye, do Google searches for links I don’t have time to look up right now, and add superlatives to every other sentence.

Jiyoung Chung exhibit at Minnesota Center for Book Arts

I had the pleasure and privilege of working as a volunteer at this event, so missed the first morning’s meet and greet. But I did manage to get a seat on the last bus leaving for gallery tours. The bus tour was a great opportunity not only to see the shows, but also to meet people and make some new friends.

The tours ended at the Nash Gallery, which featured shows by India Flint, Tim Harding, Barbara Lee Smith, Mary Edna Fraser, Linda Gass, and the SDA Member Show. In a small alcove off the reception area, I also found an art vending machine.

My biggest regret of the week was that I missed Pat Hickman’s keynote address Thursday night. But after leaving at the crack of pre-dawn for the drive to Minneapolis and a very full day, once I got to the home of the friends who put me up for the week I stayed put, ate their food, enjoyed the warmth of their company, and probably snored.

By the next morning, I was rested and ready to go. Stephen Fraser of Spoonflower and Faythe Levine of Handmade Nation were the featured speakers. Faythe made some points in a quiet, personal way that I hope, when I’m finished processing, will remove the phrase “I can’t” from my vocabulary.

At the box lunch meeting of the regional groups, I met some new people and re-connected with others. In the afternoon I attended a pojagi demonstration by Chunghie Lee and the Basketry Today lecture by Jo Stealey (note to self — remember to Google those names from Jo’s talk and repeat my encouragement to Stephen about adding some basic garment pattern templates for engineered prints).

SDA special interest group — Embroidery

One of my favorite hours of the conference was the meeting of special interest groups. I found the embroiderers and it was such a pleasure to share ideas in a small-group setting. Thank you, all, for letting me take a picture of your beautiful hands!

Friday night was the members’ Trunk Show and the DIY Festival, where local artists sold their work. There were also demonstrations (lace making and spinning, maybe more that I missed) at the DIY Festival, where I also saw the booth where volunteers from the Textile Center created custom art T-shirts, with proceeds going to the scholarship fund.

Saturday morning’s featured speaker was by India Flint, who ended her talk by unwrapping a silk bundle she dyed in her hotel room the night before using plant materials she found on a walk around where she was staying.

India Flint

Saturday afternoon, I attended Becka Rahn’s talk on Etsy. The first thing I did the morning I got home was to update the tags on the books I sell there. For her presentation, Becka wore a skirt made with fabric she had printed by Spoonflower from a photo she took in her garden.

Becka Rahn

In his program Transforming the Common. Lanny Bergner showed many of the jigs and tools he uses in his work with metal mesh. Lanny taught the post-conference workshop I took and did another lecture on Tuesday night — so much inspiration that I’ll have to leave that for another post.

Saturday night was the Fashion Show. I shamelessly snagged a front-row seat at the end of the runway, then took not one single photo. Sorry.

I wish Bill had been with me to hear Sunday’s featured speaker, Natalie Chanin of Alabama Chanin. Since that wasn’t possible, I think her books will be added to my library shortly.

There was much, much more. On Sunday afternoon after helping to set up Lanny’s class space (I was the workshop assistant), we got to a couple of galleries I missed on Thursday. We made it to Teresa Paschke’s show at Augsburg College shortly before the gallery closed, and that turned out to be my favorite of all the shows I saw.

If you’ve read this far, you’re probably thinking this sounds more like a book report than the processing of an important experience. True. But it’s helped me organize my thoughts and get to this point:

  • I have a not-so-tidy pile of notes made about techniques, products, suppliers, and artists whose work I want to see. Those things are interesting and useful, but not what’s most important.
  • But what resonates with me is the stories woven in and around the work I saw and the people who make it, see it, and respond to it. 
  • For me, it’s all about connections, relationships and stories. The work may be abstract or representational, purely a response to the materials or overtly intended to convey a concept. But for me, it’s all about how it relates us to each other and the world around us.

So here’s my personal post-conference to-do list:

  • Further my processing, with a focus on the post-conference workshop with Lanny Bergner. I’ll post some of that as soon as I can.
  • Start thinking again about two areas of intrigue from a while back. I think I’m ready now for further exploration of Ancient Walls and Erosion & Excavation.
  • I’m setting some ambitious but realistic challenges for myself, much of it based on feedback from the workshop but mostly stuff I’ve known for a while but pushed to the back burner.
  • Stay in touch with some of the people I met. There’s a reason why our paths cross when they do. And I can’t wait to see how some of them process their own experience in Minneapolis.
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Local Color On Washington Island

Last week was my 5-day Local Color workshop at Sievers School of Fiber Arts on Washington Island. A wonderful group of students worked hard in the studio, played hard on our field trips, and made me proud by sampling without being reminded. That’s my gang, spelling out “Washington Island” in sign language at Percy Johnson Park. As a student many years ago in a class with Jo Campbell-Amsler, I had a magical day at this beach weaving on a willow backpack, eating Lunchables, and enjoying the company of another great group of women.

This time, my class took digital photographs around the island, printed fabric, altered printed fabrics with surface design techniques and image transfers, did sun printing and solar dyeing, explored disperse dyes, and celebrated island traditions like Burger Night at Karly’s and Breakfast at Sunset. I even managed to finish a chocolate cone from the Albatross without decorating my white T-shirt with any drips (which I would have called “surface design”).

Whether I’m teaching or taking a workshop at Sievers, I always come home inspired and energized. I spent part of yesterday afternoon reflecting on the week and doing the same homework I assigned to my students, to help me clarify and prioritize what I want to explore next. I have more ideas than I have time (sound familiar?). So I have to choose which to pursue now. I’m also choosing which to pursue later, and which to pursue never. It’s strangely satisfying to say, “That’s interesting, but it’s not me” and move on.

So now it’s back to the studio and back to work. Picture me rubbing my hands together in glee. Or better yet, picture me working myself like a rented mule (my students will get the joke). I have a lot of sampling to do!

How about you? What techniques or ideas are you exploring this summer?

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GIMP Learn-Along — Goals and Getting Started

It’s the first of February, and today begins the first learn-along on Two Red Threads. This month, we’re exploring The Gimp, a free software alternative to Photoshop for photo retouching, image composition and image authoring. If you’d like to learn along, you can download it here.

For The Record
This is not a tutorial — it’s a learn-along. In other words, we’re going to study this and try to figure things out and hope we can help each other along the way. I’ve already been stumped a couple of times. But I’m pretty confident that if we keep at it, the things that stump us now will make more sense soon.

I’m running Gimp 2.6.8 on Windows XP. Your version and operating system are probably different, and that may effect where and how things work on your end. So let’s assume that we may find different ways to achieve the same results, as long as we keep trying. You know my mantra: Whatever works.

Before starting to play with this, I thought about what I wanted to be able to do with Gimp (your mileage may vary). Frankly, I don’t intend to do all of my image manipulation on the computer. I don’t expect Gimp to replace what I can do with fabric paint and markers, working directly onto images printed on inkjet fabric. I still plan to crop with scissors and mix and remix image elements with raw edge applique. I like those processes, and I like the results. But Gimp’s “artistic filters” are pretty seductive…

One of my main goals is to be able to use the software more confidently when I need to improve images I’ve shot for workshop handouts. I’m inspired by how Robin Atkins uses Photoshop in this post to edit a photo of a beading sample. Keep in mind that juried shows or magazines may not accept digitally manipulated images.

What are your goals for this learn-along? Give that some thought, and at the end of this post I’ll ask you to hit the comment button and share.

Getting Started
I’m working through the online user manual for Gimp and am through Part 1. Getting Started. I got a little lost and weirded out a couple of times in the first three chapters, and I think it’s because I still don’t have a sense of the big picture yet (paths? what paths?). It’s a little like reading Moby Dick: My eyes passed over some of it with little comprehension or interest, but I think I’m grasping the key concepts well enough to fake it (if not well enough to captain a ship).

It gets more fun when you reach Chapter 4. GIMPlite Quickies. This I could do. I learned to scale an image, got a little lost in Chapter 4.3, but felt good about cropping (love those handles), flipping and rotating.

My  favorite part was Chapter 4.6 Changing the Mode. Changing the mode to grayscale is a great way to see the values of the colors, even if you don’t intend to work in grayscale. But what was really fun was changing the mode to Indexed and using the Custom Palette. I chose Caramel, a 256 color preset, for my I Scream doodle. The process for this was

Image>Mode>Indexed>Use Custom Palette>Caramel.

Chapter 5. How to Draw Straight Lines helped me become more familiar with the tools. I just drew on the same image instead of a “blank drawable.” I must admit I had no success when I tried the first examples in Chapter 5.2 — “use color from a gradient” and “set the clone tool.” I could set the clone tool to a spot on the image, but never found presets like the Maple Leaves pattern. I was able to


But I’m not getting the smudge tool at all.

I learned to use the rectangle select tool in Chapter 5.2 and could fill it with the clone tool, selecting a color from the image. Burn and Dodge have escaped me so far.

As I said before, I have faith that what escapes me now will make more sense with continued study.

Words Of Advice
The “Undo” keyboard shortcut in Gimp is Control+Z. It’s much faster than finding the command in the menu.

As you work through Part 1 of the user manual (or any other time, for that matter), work with a copy of an image and preserve the original in a separate location. That way, if your alterations don’t suit you, you can start over.

When saving images in Gimp, the default format is Gimp XCF, which supports transparency and multiple layers so you can continue working on them. But you’ll also want to Save As to other formats like JPG, the compressed format usually used for images you plan to email or post online. This format loses data with use, so for other uses, you’ll want to Save As to a non-compressed format. I’ve been using Windows BMP for years. Here’s a peek ahead to Part 2. Chapter 6 — Getting Images Out of Gimp to help you Save As. This might help, too:

  1. File>Save As>
  2. Look in the lower left corner of the dialog box and click +Select File Type (by extension). (If you don’t see it, resize the dialog box or move it to show the lower left corner of that window.)
  3. Select JPG or BMP or whatever you choose.
  4. Follow whatever advice Gimp offers, which may include Image>Flatten Image.

And once again I’ll say it: I’m pretty confident that the parts I find confusing will sort themselves out if I keep working at it. It reminds me of one of my first jobs, where I asked, “Why am I doing this?” The answer went something like, “Because I said so and because this system works, but it’s hard to see until you get through the whole process and you may not understand until we do this again next year so in the meantime, because I said so.”

Posting Samples
I’ve set up a Flickr group called Fiber Artists Explore The Gimp for images from this learn-along. You’ll need a Yahoo ID to post, but it’s free and it’s easy and we’d all really, really like to see what you do as you work through this learn-along.

Finally, I want to remind you that it’s good to have some specific goals in mind when teaching yourself something that may be fairly challenging and/or well outside your current comfort level. Measure success by how well you meet those goals, and don’t get lost in how much you don’t know or compare your achievements to, say, your friend the graphic artist or your 9-year-old. To keep it real, I hope you’ll hit the comment button below this post and share your goals with the rest of us who are learning along with you.

Next time: How To Become A Gimp Wizard.

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