Raising Cain And Blisters

Bill and I spent last weekend at Woodlanders, an annual gathering of rustic furniture makers held at Shake Rag Alley Center for Arts and Crafts in Mineral Point, Wisconsin. Bill has been going to this event for several years, but this is the first time I’ve been able to accompany him. We got to see some old friends and made some new ones, including a few of the winged variety.

It’s a stretched to say we raised cain, but we did our share of whooping and hollering during the boat race, in delight over the automatons in Judy’s studio, and in appreciation of an impromptu symphony of PVC instruments.

We both tried to earn our keep by teaching some short sessions. Bill taught how to make homemade soda pop, and took a variety of flavors for folks to sample. The people who don’t like rhubarb didn’t care for rhubarb soda, either, but there was great appreciation for strawberry-rhubarb, lemon-lime-hops, ginger-cherry, root beer, and the pièce de résistance, rose petal soda. I had fun teaching a couple of short sessions — Image Transfers on Wood and More and a Creativity Cram Session.

We both also had a chance to take some workshops. Bill made a floor lamp with Todd Kingery.

I spent Saturday in the Blacksmith Shop working with David Eagan. This was totally different from any kind of work I’ve done before.

David took us through the whole process, from building and maintaining the fire in the forge (I loved the forge), to making hot and cold cuts, shaping and twisting steel to make hooks and hangers, and to applying a finish with beeswax.

By the end of the day, I’d managed to raise one pretty good blister on my hand. It reminded me of all the beginning kayak students in our previous life. When everything is unfamiliar and just a little hazardous, it’s not unusual to latch onto your tools with a death grip. Even when you know it’s not the most effective way to use them, it’s hard to ease up.

That’s the main reason I took the blacksmithing workshops. It’s good to do something a little out of your comfort zone now and then. I needed that reminder to take a deep breath, think things through (oops on that one), and make each stroke count.

Funny how much blacksmithing is like embroidery.

What have you done lately to raise some cain and maybe a few blisters?

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Head In The Clouds

If you don’t believe in brownies, you should see my studio. Only a regiment of fairy folk could have created the chaos that now reigns in my studio. Or one slightly distracted fiber artist.

I’m preparing materials for two upcoming events, including a 5-day fiber camp for kids that comes later this month at the same time as the deadline for a big set of teaching proposals for next year. With preparation and development tasks happening simultaneously, my beautiful mind feels not so beautiful. When I should be counting class kit elements, my mind wanders to “what ifs.” And I find myself staring out the window with my head in the clouds.

I used to chide myself for this undisciplined behavior. But as it turns out, it can be a good thing. According to the New York Times, researchers now say:

A wandering mind can protect you from immediate perils and keep you on course toward long-term goals. Sometimes daydreaming is counterproductive, but sometimes it fosters creativity and helps you solve problems. 

Did you notice how much that cloud looks like a lightening bolt? Or how the negative space between the clouds looks like a heart? And I think that dragon is about to chomp the top off one of the pine trees.

I’m back now, but only for a few minutes. Today is my day to do errands in town, which includes picking up some class materials. And while I get lots of good ideas behind the wheel, it still takes studio time to develop those ideas.

Development is not glamorous. It only looks like magic because you don’t see all the false starts and bad middles it takes to come to a good ending. I seldom take pictures of those stages. That’s not because I’m trying to preserve the mystery of it all, but because I’m so busy trying to figure out what the heck to do next I forget to pick up the camera.

Maybe I could get the fairies to start taking pictures. What would you have them photograph?

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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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What’s Hot?

When I start talking “seven iron” I don’t mean golf. That’s how many irons I have packed for my classes at Bead & Button. It’s time to play!

Next week when the irons cool off, I have some other exciting news to share. In the meantime, I’m thinking about how we could build a miniature golf course in the back yard using the irons that didn’t make the cut. I hope you’re enjoying some summer silliness, too.

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Full Moon

This time of year, I love waking up at dawn with bird sounds and sunlight streaming in the window. I’m not quite so fond of waking up in the wee small hours to the light of the full moon. It isn’t as bright tonight as when snow covers the ground, but it is beautiful outside.

It was a night like this when I got to thinking about a variation on Moving Pictures, an image transfer jewelry class I’m teaching this year at Bead & Button. The Friday class is sold out, but there’s still room in the evening section that was added for Wednesday, June 9.

The class celebrates the ladies of silent film. For fun, I made a cuff bracelet that celebrates Twilight, a contemporary series of books and movies. The teenager who mucks horse stalls for my neighbor got her hooked on the books, she passed them along to me, and we all went to the last movie together. We plan to see the next installment when it comes out at the end of June. That is, if I live that long. Vampire gnats attacked again yesterday while I was weeding, and the blood loss was severe.

I’m thinking I need to make a Gone With The Wind cuff, too. When I was a kid, that classic made the rounds of movie theaters about every 10 years, and I got to see it on the big screen. We didn’t go to lots of movies, so it was a big deal — and a wonderful memory.

At 4 am, ideas like this are almost as dangerous as infomercials. I’m starting to think I need jewelry to celebrate both The Rocky Horror Picture Show and The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai.

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Order, Chaos, and a Productive Cough

There’s something oddly satisfying about hacking luscious, buttery Ultrasuede into bits. After spending so much time at the computer lately, cutting class components offered a welcome respite last week. 

But don’t think this level of order reigns throughout my realm. Here’s what my desk looked like one morning last week before I tidied. It’s time to clean up again.

Still, it’s a wonderful kind of minor chaos, filled with possibilities. I know students are looking forward to the classes I’m preparing for. And I always look forward to seeing what they do with the ideas and materials they find ready and waiting when they walk through the door.

When I walk into my studio, that sense of possibility is a balm for my spirit. I’ve been spending more time than usual at the computer working with formats that are new to me. That, of course, means making mistakes and false starts, then backtracking to fix things, and eventually starting over from scratch once I know what I’m doing.

I spent some time in the studio last week pondering this question: Why do I feel fine with mistakes and false starts in my artwork but not so much in the office? In my artwork, I know that time isn’t wasted, that it’s necessary to do that work to get to work that shines with possibility. It’s productive — sort of like the kind of cough that clears your lungs so you can breathe again.

In the office, it’s always been harder for me to get a sense of creative satisfaction out of mistakes and false starts. I guess I need to alter the picture in my head of what productivity looks when it involves a keyboard and mouse.

In the meantime, I find it oddly satisfying to hack Ultrasuede to bits. What do you do?

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On The Road To Oz

With so many ideas sprouting in my head these days, I wouldn’t be surprised to wake up and find tendrils trailing from my ears. I should have known it would be dangerous to offer Blooming Image Transfers at Bead & Button.

You see, it’s early May in northern Wisconsin. Except for a few narcissus, the only things blooming at my house right now are dandelions. And while I love the soft green of new leaves and the white of the trilliums popping out in the woods, I am craving color.

In the midst of this craving, I’m preparing materials for classes and the Meet The Teachers event at the biggest blooming bead event around. Each colorful element I prepare I like even better than the one before. I use my own digital photographs and my stock of scanned leaves and flowers to create transfers that will become jewelry. Some are realistic, some not so much. Even the Bootleg collage exercise I showed you last month is going to make a fun bracelet.

I know I should thin out the selection to make it easier for people to pick. But the riot of color on my computer and on my work table is sure putting a smile on my face. If only these flowers had fragrance.

What’s so dangerous about this, you wonder? Well, my pretties, just you remember Dorothy and the poppies on the way to Oz. I get so caught up in this field of flat flowers that I keep losing track of time. And with the hours of daylight growing longer, my sense of time is all out of whack. Supper may be late again tonight.

What kind of work makes you lose track of time?

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Behind The Scenes

March has been a month of catching up and looking ahead, planning, plotting and prioritizing things that can come off the back burner now. It scares Bill when he sees my to-do list. It’s not realistic, but that’s not because I’m too tight on time between events. It’s because I have so many ideas to explore, and I want to tackle them all right now. Picture me rubbing my hands together in glee.

Before I head out again on the teaching circuit, I do have prep work to complete so students can show up and have a great experience. And there’s a lot more that goes on behind the scenes that I can’t take credit for. The folks who manage the venues where I teach do a great job of organizing resources so people like me can just show up and teach, and students can just show up and learn.

Last week, Bead & Button added another section of the class Moving Pictures on Wednesday, June 9. The June 11 section of that class is full, so I’m glad to have another opportunity to present this fun bracelet project, which uses image transfers of ingenues from the era of silent films.

Bead & Button is a huge event. I picture their scheduling process as someting like Cirque du Soleil performers juggling beads instead of balls. They make scheduling look like performance art. Encore!

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Thank You, Mrs. Zawisza

It was the usual battle of bulk versus weight, but seminar supplies for Kansas City are packed and weighed. As usual, I figure people don’t so much care what I’m wearing as what they’re learning, so I pack light on wardrobe, heavy on class supplies. Everything fits, everything rolls, and I have five irons in my checked luggage.

A couple of years ago as I was on my way to teach in Nebraska, my flight from Green Bay boarded and all seemed fine. Then the flight attendant announced that the plane was overweight and asked for a volunteer to wait for a later flight. When no volunteer came forth, they made a man (tall but trim) in the back of the plane (probably flying standby), get up, gather his personal belongings, and exit the aircraft. I had five irons in my checked luggage that time, too. Sorry!

I’m off to the Missouri Art Education Association’s spring conference, where I present “Complete Fabrication” as the keynote address. I’m also doing an extreme sampling workshop (2 hours, 20 things you can do with inkjet heat transfer paper), an Art Tees demo, a Creativity Cram Session, and a new seminar called Snoping Color: We’ll be using transfer crayons, disperse dye transfers and Inkodye to explore how what you see isn’t necessarily what you get in a way that fosters the development of critical thinking skills.

The habits of art – observation, developing ideas, selecting from among choices, reevaluating decisions — are essential in critical thinking. Art classes give students opportunities to develop the habits of asking what if, who says so, why and why not — in and out of the art room. And techniques where things are not necessarily as they first appear – that’s just too good of a teaching opportunity to miss.

So as I sign off, I want to thank my high school speech teacher. Mrs. Zawisza, you made a difference in my life, and I appreciate it! How about you? Is there a teacher you’d like to thank?

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