Category Archives: Commentary

Demystifying PhotoShop

This year I’ve vowed to get better at photography. No more crooked or bowed photos of quilts. My spare room now is accessorized with a tripod and lights.

I’m a few weeks into an online class in PhotoShop Elements. I know there’s cheaper/free photo editing software available, but the issue for me is always learning how to use it. My class has already been useful as I clean up and straighten quilts in old photos.

One fun task was abstracting a photo. This is sometimes known as posterizing an image. I know some software will do this automatically, but we’re learning the layers way, which gives more flexibility. I’ve been experimenting with photos from my last year’s Around Here posts.

These abstractions get even cooler when you invert them.

I’m beginning to know enough to become really dangerous.

 

2 Comments

Filed under Commentary, Techniques

Artistic Endeavors – Humanae Project

Brazilian photographer Angelica Bass’s work in progress aims to “record and catalog all possible human skin tones, highlighting true tones rather than clichéd colors. The 2000 image-strong initiative is a series of portraits, all with the exact Pantone® tone of the subject pronounced in the background; the color extracted from an 11×11 pixel sample of the subject’s face.”

“Humanae began as a final project when Dass was completing her Masters in Art Photography, in April 2012. She started with photographs of family members in Brazil; and within the same year, she made announcements, attracting more participants. Later, the photographer was able to travel, capturing images of women and men in Madrid, Barcelona, ​​Winterthur, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Paris and Chicago.”

Dass explains her project in her TED talk. Further descriptions and explorations of her project are here and here.

What a great way to show there’s just no one “flesh” color.

7 Comments

Filed under Commentary

Artistic Endeavors – Wear A Matisse

I came across mention of the American Textile History Museum in Lowell, Massachusetts, and became excited about a possible road trip, but alas, it has shut its doors due to budget deficits. My interest was piqued by an article on Saatchi Art’s blog,  “Modern Artists and Their Textiles, “which talks about the museum’s 2015 exhibit of 20th century artist-designed fabrics.

Picasso, Calder, Dali, Matisse, and even Warhol worked with fabric companies along with many other artists. The TextielMuseum Tilburg in the Netherlands held the same exhibit in 2014. The exhibit is now at the New Lanark Visitor Centre, Lanark, Scotland, through April 29, 2018. Here’s a link to a short video about the exhibit. The individual designers aren’t identified, but you can get a feel for the clothing made with the fabrics. Fred Butler published a frustratingly unlabeled photo heavy post about the 2015 London showing of this exhibit.

Here’s just a few items that appealed to me.

According to the introduction to the Artist Textiles: Picasso to Warhol exhibit, “many turn-of-the-century artists looked for ways to make their work less elitist and more appealing to a broader audience. Like [William] Morris they discovered design, and in particular mass-produced textiles, as a means to achieve this…. Before the Second World War, many artists, mainly from the Fauvist, Futurist and Constructivist movements, turned to textile design. Like graphic design and book illustrations, printing their designs on fabric was a logical step. … French Modernist artists Raoul Dufy and Sonia Delaunay as well as Russians Liubov Popova and Vavara Stepanova were pioneers of this trend. They sought to eliminate the distinction between fine and applied art. ”

Apparently there was a vogue for such textiles in post-World War II United States. They showed up in scarves, draperies, upholstery, and clothing.

“In the mid-1950s, an ambitious collaboration between a textile company and artists produced to the ‘Modern Masters’ series. New York-based Fuller Fabrics released a line of Picasso prints, quickly followed by ‘Art by the Yard’ by Joan Miró, Fernand Léger, Marc Chagall and Raoul Dufy. Even Pop artist Andy Warhol turned his hand to textiles in the early 1960s, designing food-related patterns that have only recently become widely known.”

Fun Fact: Picasso wouldn’t allow his designs to be printed on upholstery fabric as he didn’t want people to sit on his work.

Sonia Delaunay is my favorite artist who worked in textiles. Not only did she design fabrics, but she turned her hand to rugs and even clothing design. She doesn’t seem to have much in this exhibit. In fact, she is one of just two women in the show.

I don’t know if today’s artists are actively seeking to eliminate “the distinction between fine and applied art” in branching out beyond museums and galleries. In fairness to them, I suspect their names don’t have the same cachet as Picasso’s did in the 1950s. It seems celebrity name franchising is more the norm – athletic shoes and the like.

14 Comments

Filed under Commentary

The Thread From H-E-Double-L

My nemesis was lurking in my threads box waiting for the day I would need a glittery silver thread.  That day arrived when I chose a galaxy for a Chinese Year of the Dog quilt challenge. I’ve never owned a dog so I don’t have a burning desire to capture my fur person in fabric. I’m OK with dogs, but don’t turn to mush over them.

Instead, I decided to do an outline of the Canus Major constellation, which contains Sirius, the dog star.  I FMQed glittery synthetic black organza to a piece of navy cotton, and then outlined the constellation using my mother’s tracing wheel and paper.

The constellation of Canis Major and nearby open clusters and nebulas.

My problems began at this point. I wanted to use a silver metallic thread over the outline, but had only a Sulky thread called Holoshimmer in the right color. Since I didn’t see this challenge piece as a work of art I had no intention of buying additional supplies. Holoshimmer it was.

Even after following the helpful hints on the Sulky website I had issues with the thread. I was using a jeans stitch to outline the constellation and that went OK except for one thread wrap-around that broke the thread. The real issues started with the zigzag edge stitching. Despite the vertical thread stand, stitching slowly, and 50 weight bobbin thread; the Holoshimmer insisted on wrapping itself around all the openings on my machine, causing the thread to break many times. I finally ended up hand feeding it through my tension discs to remove tangles. Never have I been so glad to see the starting point of a stitch line. The spool of thread is now in the trash.

Everything after that was anticlimactic. I sorted through my Swarovski crystals to find appropriate colors and sizes. and glued them on for the stars in Canus Major. Because the piece is so small I made a backing for it out of a painting experiment. I found that my Decor bond had lost most of its adhesiveness. I didn’t think it was that old. My mother’s tracing paper from the 1960s held up much better.

Finally, I stitched the black part to the backing at the corners. My plan to sew on some fabric stars was thwarted when I couldn’t find them. I know they’re in my sewing room … somewhere.

At this point I declared “Siriusly” done.

 

17 Comments

Filed under Art quilts, Commentary, Completed Projects

Artistic Endeavors – The Blues

One of my art quilt groups has an upcoming challenge to make a quilt with denim. I’m not too crazy about this one as I find denim hard to sew and the resulting piece to be heavy. Maybe I’ll pass on it. I don’t even have any old jeans to cut up.

Meanwhile, check out what artist Ian Berry does with denim.

This short video shows his painstaking, but technically simple process – denim jeans, scissors, glue.  Thanks to Abby Glassenberg for bringing Ian Berry to my attention.

6 Comments

Filed under Commentary

Artistic Endeavors – “Fray”

Occasionally I dip my toe into academic publications. My latest foray is “Fray: Art + Textile Politics,” which The New York Times chose as one of the ten best 2017 books about art. I saw the word textile in the title and put in a library request for it. I won’t review the book, which “explores textiles and their role at the forefront of debates about process, materiality, gender, and race in times of economic upheaval.” That’s too much academic talk for me, but it’s not surprising as the author, Julia Bryan-Wilson, is a Professor in the Department of History of Art at the University of California, Berkeley.

The publisher’s summary is at the end of this post, in case you want to find out more about the author’s thesis. You’re on your own if you choose to read the details of her arguments. With the exception of her discussion of Chile’s arpilleras, it was beyond me.

See the source image

Instead, I want to concentrate on some points the author makes about the acceptance of textiles in art and what kind of bridge exists between craft and contemporary art. The former issue exercises me on occasion, especially when I see almost no mention of fiber art in art related news media such as Art Daily.  In a year I’ve noted two such mentions – a Sheila Hicks exhibit and a piece by Robert Rauschenberg made of silk panels, though there’s been plenty of coverage for various installations and performance art.

So, why the blind eye to textiles? I want to quote from “Fray” and add my comments.

In recent decades, textiles have provided a unique challenge to these divisions [fine art, non-fine art] as more self-trained crafters are absorbed into the art market…the institutionalization of the Gee’s Bend quilts, which are now displayed in art museums alongside abstract painting and sculpture, is the most striking exception to the still generally intractable separation of objects not originally created for museums from the self-appointed realm of contemporary art (p. 6)

Bryan-Wilson talks about craftivism, which started in the early 2000’s as a leftist, antinationalist, or innovative handmaking movement to buy handmade items and boycott the mass produced products of big box stores.

…this is one of the most paradoxical aspects of craftivism – just as in [William] Morris’s day, when his fabrics became upholstery for the wealthy – which is to say that so much of the purported handmade revolution is really about individualized niche shopping, a way to guarantee the value and originality of a bespoke purchase. (p. 27)

Bryan-Wilson talks about the special relationship that handmaking has to ‘slow time’ as it “helps practitioners more fully inhabit, and decelerate, the present moment. ” (p. 261-262) I’ve seen many blog posts about slow stitching and I’m sure you have, too.

There’s a paradox in the business of selling time consuming “slow time” crafts on platforms such as Etsy. It’s hard to make a living wage given the time and material demands of such crafts. (p. 263) This thought echoes recent blog posts about Etsy’s way of doing business, which is now undergoing even more changes to raise its stock price.

Textiles are unique among art forms in that they move between high and low, between functional and artistic, but they

continue to be underrepresented within contemporary art history. These legions of hobby quilters, sewers, and weavers are in some measure responsible for the current academic and art-world interest in textiles, but … their actual work is often considered too mundane, uninteresting, generic … to itself cross the threshold of institutional visibility. (p. 33)

Bryan-Wilson talks about how different spheres of textiles – hobbyists, self-identified artists – are often in contact and inform each other.

…widespread interest in craft among everyday or amateur makers helps impel art – critical and art-institutional attention. Just as fine-art photography as a genre evolves under constant pressure exerted by the collective expertise of snapshot photographers, textiles as a field draws strength from a wide pool of self-trained makers who not only make up much of the audience for museum exhibits but also contribute to robust discourse around these techniques. (p. 273)

The surge of interest in crafts since the early 2000s has led to exhibits of some fiber artists like Sheila Hicks. While such shows might be a step in the right direction, many have tended to be highly formalist in nature, erasing the highly contentious…context in which many of these textile-based techniques first made their appearance within contemporary art. (p. 273)

I wish I could tell you Bryan-Wilson has some solutions in mind, but I found none in my admittedly hit and miss perusal of her book.

In closing I’ll suggest you read Barbara Brackman’s blog about quilts in an economic context. Her inaugural post talks about the romantic and nostalgic concepts about quilting planted by writers such as Ruby McKim, Nancy Cabot, Marie Webster, and Ruth Finley.

Brackman says: “Every one of those authors painted a false picture of the past by ignoring the economic and commercial aspects of women’s needlework at which she herself was succeeding admirably.” I’m looking forward to Barbara’s rants.

 

 

From the publisher:

In 1974, women in a feminist consciousness-raising group in Eugene, Oregon, formed a mock organization called the Ladies Sewing Circle and Terrorist Society. Emblazoning its logo onto t-shirts, the group wryly envisioned female collective textile making as a practice that could upend conventions, threaten state structures, and wreak political havoc. Elaborating on this example as a prehistory to the more recent phenomenon of “craftivism”—the politics and social practices associated with handmaking—Fray explores textiles and their role at the forefront of debates about process, materiality, gender, and race in times of economic upheaval.

Closely examining how amateurs and fine artists in the United States and Chile turned to sewing, braiding, knotting, and quilting amid the rise of global manufacturing, Julia Bryan-Wilson argues that textiles unravel the high/low divide and urges us to think flexibly about what the politics of textiles might be. Her case studies from the 1970s through the 1990s—including the improvised costumes of the theater troupe the Cockettes, the braided rag rugs of US artist Harmony Hammond, the thread-based sculptures of Chilean artist Cecilia Vicuña, the small hand-sewn tapestries depicting Pinochet’s torture, and the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt—are often taken as evidence of the inherently progressive nature of handcrafted textiles. Fray, however, shows that such methods are recruited to often ambivalent ends, leaving textiles very much “in the fray” of debates about feminized labor, protest cultures, and queer identities; the malleability of cloth and fiber means that textiles can be activated, or stretched, in many ideological directions.

The first contemporary art history book to discuss both fine art and amateur registers of handmaking at such an expansive scale, Fray unveils crucial insights into how textiles inhabit the broad space between artistic and political poles—high and low, untrained and highly skilled, conformist and disobedient, craft and art.

11 Comments

Filed under Books, Commentary

Artistic Endeavors – Color Generator

You may already know about color generator tools, or have a favorite one, but I found the Color Palette Generator for a hex color palette a fun way to pass a cold, snowy afternoon. What’s a hex color palette, you ask?

According to Dan’s Tools:

Digital color can be represented in a number of ways. The most common ways to represent color on the web are via a 6-digit HEX number, RGBA, and HSL (Support for HSL was added in CSS3).

  • Hex is a 6-digit, 24 bit, hexidecimal number that represents Red, Green, and Blue. An example of a Hex color representation is #123456, 12 is Red, 34 is Green, and 56 is Blue. There are 16 million possible colors.
  • RGBA is similar to Hex in that it has 24 bits for RGB color, bit there is an additional 8 bit value for transparency.
  • HSL stands for Hue, Saturation, and Lightness. The values are based on a position from the center of a color wheel. The value for Hue is from 0 to 360, representing the degrees on a color wheel. Saturation is the distance from the center of the color wheel. The L stands for Lightness, which represents the preceived liminance of the color.

So, in a nutshell, it’s a six digit number for a specific RGB color used with digital design. I gather it’s useful for working with PhotoShop. You can get a color map of about 1500 color chips from Spoonflower.

If you don’t care about all that, but want to identify the colors in a photo, paste in your photo on the Color Palette Generator and see what you get. Here’s one of my results. You could use the six digit number on each color chip to match colors for printing fabric.

 

8 Comments

Filed under Commentary, Techniques