There’s More than One Way to Skin a Cat

All work by student Beth Worrell.

 

Photo with overlay, no manipulation.

Photo with overlay, posterized photo.

“There’s more than one way to skin a cat.” How many times did I hear that from my mother just about the time that there was a hitch in plans and it was time to regroup and try again? I always thought it was an odd thing to say, as she really did love most creatures (with the exception of rodents).

I have used the expression myself many times in class. Almost always it is when a student is having a problem and, rather than staying locked to my technique, we head off exploring other options until we find what will work for them at that time. I’ve been in classes where there wasn’t room to explore. I didn’t like that and I try not to subject my students to that either.

I do have one exception: posterized photos.Every now and then a student shows up with a photo that they have run through the posterize adjustment in Photoshop. If they have an untouched photo I always encourage them to use that instead. I have a strong belief that we as humans have a better idea of where to break the values to create the pattern. We certainly know better than the computer what OUR level of comfort is when it comes to how much detail we are willing to cut. (I even have an exception to the exception, I’m looking forward to seeing how a future student works with her posterized and color tweaked photo.)

There is nothing more rewarding than when a student that was very hesitant at the beginning of class discovers that, yes, indeed they CAN see the value changes and now have the confidence to go on and create patterns without the aid of the computer.

Now, many of you might say “Wait a minute! You said on The Quilt Show that you use a computer.” Yes, I do. But I am always in charge of the decisions. The computer is only a convenient way to trace without the expense of printing a large photo. Considering that I have created work that is 3 x 5 feet, that is important. I am able to print out my pattern on letter paper, then take it to

FedEx/Kinko’s and enlarge it to a max of 36” on the short edge to whatever else I need because the paper is on a roll.

The reason I don’t teach on the computer is because the initial set-up can be expensive. For the computer method you need, at a minimum: Photoshop Elements, a tablet with stylus, and a laptop for class. As with most things there is a learning curve, including getting the eye-hand coordination between the stylus and the line on the screen. But if you’re just trying it out to see if you enjoy doing it, all you need is a sheet of Dura-Lar, a Sharpie®, alcohol, Q-tips and a photo.

Now, back to skinning that cat. I Googled the skinning of a cat, and it turns out it can be traced back to at least 1678, though it was made popular by Mark Twain in 1889′s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. And the cat?  That just might be referring to a catfish. Which I have seen skinned.

 

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The Why

I’m a working artist. I love to sell my work, but that is not the reason I make art. I make art to touch another human soul. Today, the favor was returned by the employees and clients of Colorado State University Veterinary Hospital. My heart was filled to overflowing with the stories and thanks I received during the takedown of the show.

I loved hearing the stories about the groups of ladies that came in just to see the art, the client who used my business cards to keep his mind occupied while he waited three hours as his furry companion was being cared for, the employee who found the hidden messages in the quilting and then encouraged clients to look for the writing. The visitors in the lobby didn’t just walk by—they engaged with the animals and, by extension, with me.

I understand that often there was a desire from the public to touch the art. Rather than be upset, it made me smile that people were so intrigued. Although these are not the comfort quilts that you wrap around your shoulders when you need a hug, they still worked in the same way, giving clients and employees a virtual hug as they passed by.

I am happy to have the crew home, where they will soon grace my walls again. It has been a little quiet with them gone. And yet, I wish they could have stayed at CSU and continued their work as therapy animals. So there will be another group of therapy animals doing their magic in the waiting area of the CSU Veterinary Hospital during November and December of 2017.

Time to think about who will be in the next therapy group. I have a deadline.

Who is your therapy animal?

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It’s So Easy to Fall off the Blogging Wagon

You might be wondering where I’ve been if you only check this website and blog. If, on the other hand, you follow me on Facebook or even on Instagram, you know I haven’t dropped off Mother Earth. I’ve just been a little under the radar for the last six months getting to know the newest studio muse.

After Drew passed away, my hubby was adamant that we needed to wait before bringing another dog home. I wasn’t sure how I would cope with that; prior to February 9, 2016, I had only been dogless for 24 hours in my whole life. This time we lasted six days. I checked the Boulder Valley Humane Society and many other rescue websites multiple times a day looking for the perfect replacement. Then one day the BVHS website went down and stayed down for more than 24 hours. I know—I was checking.

The morning the website came back up there was a listing for Roxy: Border Collie/Lab mix, 1-year old female. She had the most beautiful bright eyes, and ears that were huge! Most of all she reminded me of our dog Amy, who was the sweetest-tempered dog we’ve ever had. I put Roxy on hold and by 4 p.m. that day she was our newest family member.

The next day she climbed the tree in our deck, just like Amy would do. Only Roxy goes higher and is more agile with her climbing. She is excited to meet new people—strangers are only friends she hasn’t met yet. She loves the water, biting it as it cascades over rocks. She’s learning to swim, and she keeps a watchful eye on the running water in what she considers her fountain in the backyard.

Roxy is so affectionate compared to Drew’s aloofness. I often think she is the yang to his yin. I now awaken each morning to a dog snuggling up for belly rubs while I stretch before getting out of bed. And it’s not just me. Roxy will sit on Jack’s footstool to get his attention, or gently place her chin on his knee if he’s fallen asleep in the chair. Just today as we sat chatting with a neighbor on her front stoop, Roxy leaned in to get more loving and then promptly sat on Carol’s lap.

The job of artist’s muse has come naturally to Roxy. Her eyes are fascinating to study, so large and variable in color, looking anywhere from golden to amber to an interesting golden/green. The ears are huge radar antennas, twisting and turning to catch the slightest sound. Her silky black coat is the perfect blank canvas to try out any color I can come up with. In fact, the first two of the Rainbow Roxy series are finished: “Roxy Sings the Blues” and “Green with Envy,” which is October’s artwork in my 2017 “Animals with Attitude” calendar.

I started January by picking “Laugh” as my word for the year. With losing Drew, my brother Robert, and two cousins, Sanford and Mike, all in the first few months this year, I sometimes had to work at the laughter. Roxy has brought me laughter in spades.

This is the start of a beautiful relationship. Now to get back on that blogging wagon.

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Good-Bye, My Friend

Drew's first day as a Beasley, Dec 28, 2002

When we brought Drew home from the Humane Society, his older brother, Wiley, showed him around our small house. Then Wiley started to bark at the living room window. Drew stood there thinking about what he had just learned, and then turned, ran to our bedroom, and jumped up on the bed to see out the window. From that moment, I knew that life with Drew was going to be different from anything the Beasleys had done before.

Drew proved to be a handful at first, and we had some rough times, with Drew finding ways out of the backyard and jumping off the porch roof after he learned to open the door to the second-floor deck. With time, we all learned how to live together, but I’m still not sure who was doing the training. Unlike his prior brother and sisters, he was very independent and seemed to consider whether what you were asking him to do was really to his advantage before obeying . . . or not.

Taken during the photo shoot for Best Friend, Oct. 12, 2012

Drew quickly became my muse and was a driving force in my development as an artist. There was always another photo of him with some interesting facial expression or body language that fascinated me. I was never without inspiration. Trying to capture all the aspects of his personality inspired me to create 13 artworks of him.

Drew opened the world to me as his popularity became worldwide on Facebook. Whenever we had a new like, I would tell him what a famous dog he had become.

In May 2015 we learned that there was a potential mass on or near his kidneys. Knowing that anesthesia was hard on him, from his first dental cleaning 12 years ago, my husband, Jack, and I decided that his quality of life was the priority. So from then on he was spoiled to the best of our ability.

We learned to stop and smell everything on walks, and that walks don’t have to be done in the most direct route—wandering

Photo shoot for Sun Worship, Nov. 8, 2015.

is a good thing. Sometimes just standing in the sun watching life and talking with neighbors was a good day. Without my understanding what he was doing, Drew slowly taught me that it is OK to come home to a quiet house without a dog waiting at the door. I would find him asleep, first in his crate and later upstairs in his chair in my studio.

On February 9, 2016, Drew cuddled on his quilt with Jack and me and quietly and peacefully moved on to his next great adventure. As much as my heart aches, he did not leave a hole there, but rather he left it filled with love. Drew was an amazing and funny dog who has touched many lives in person and through my art. His memory will live on, especially when Susan, who never met him, keeps his picture on her fridge.

 

Good-bye, my friend.

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Heavenly Silk

There is a small but mighty fabric store in Boulder named Elfriede’s Fine Fabrics, after the owner. My first trip to Elfriede’s came not long after it opened upstairs in a building just off Pearl Street in Boulder. I marveled at the exquisite fabrics, wishing that my sewing skills were up to the level of the material. I left with empty hands.

Years later I ventured in again, this time in search of just the right fabric to complement the needlepoint of the Lascaux cave I had just completed. I was making a vest and needed fabric for the back and the lining. The front panels would be the needlepoint. Elfriede and I searched high and low. We found a beautiful Thai silk for the lining, but the fabric for the back eluded us. Then inspiration struck, and Elfriede brought out the most gorgeous golden cashmere she had been saving to make her husband a vest. It was perfect! And the most expensive fabric I have ever purchased . . . until recently.

A small section of the collection of quilting cotton in the front of the store.

I’m no longer scared to venture into Elfriede’s. The first thing you see is beautiful quilting cottons. Look a little closer and you will find Liberty cotton lawns, beautiful burnouts, and rayon knits to die for. But head straight to the back and you are in silk heaven. And it was there that I found just the right fabric for a small magpie.

The second artwork for A Shortgrass Revival at the Arsenal is a mule deer with a magpie hitchhiker. The mule deer came together with only one hitch. When I was creating the pattern, I inadvertently made the leg farthest from the viewer way too fat and long. Again it was another set of eyes, my hubby’s this time, that spotted the problem.

A corner of silk wonder in the rear of the store.

I have a nice stash of silks that I use mostly for eyes. There was nothing in that cache that screamed magpie to me. So I was off to Elfriede’s for a couple of quarter-yard cuts of shiny blacks or teal/blues.

The drawback of using fabric as your palette is you have to rely on the visual mixing of colors. So what might look like the perfect fabric by itself can change dramatically when placed with other fabrics in the artwork.  Not wanting to make multiple trips across town when the fabric color I selected in the store turned out to be not quite right, I decided to just buy a quarter-yard of anything that had possibilities. Except for the one silk that was over $50 a yard, of which I bought an eighth of a yard.

When I left Elfriede’s this time it was my pocketbook that was empty, not my hands. I hurried home with a small pile of beautiful fabrics, so much more than I needed for the magpie. In fact there is enough for a whole tiding of magpies.

And, yet again, Elfriede’s had the perfect fabric for my project.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Floating Bison or We Get by with a Little Help from Our Friends

Stitching the bison. Photo by Cynthia Souders.

There can be drawbacks to working in a room with just yourself and a dog. I tend to lose myself in a very specific part of the piece I’m working on, even to the point that I don’t see the whole piece when I step across the room. This happened with the bison.

What drew me to the photo initially was the reflection in the water. I loved how the water reflected light up to the nose and then the play of the beard dragging in the water. As I happily worked away for days on the bison, Drew offered no comments, despite being a frequent visitor to the loveseat across the studio from the design board. 

Area showing Thermofax screen printing on surface.

Thankfully, I participate in five design/critique groups, and members of these groups were instrumental in pointing out a number of issues that were not working on the bison piece. The biggest problem was that the bison appeared to be floating above the ground. Now if you’ve ever seen a bison up close, you know they are not prone to floating. They are massive, sure-footed animals that can make the earth shake if they take off in a run. A little more paint and shadowing brought the bison down to earth.

While attending another critique group, I saw how one of the members used silk-screen printing and stitching to depict grasses. This got me to thinking about how that might work in my artwork. After all, my pieces were all about the shortgrass prairie and the wildlife making its home there.

Beginning to stitch using the screen print as a road map.

As I left that meeting, I made a last minute turn on to I-70 and headed to the Arsenal again. This time it was to concentrate on photographing the grasses and other plants. My intent was to manipulate the photos and have Thermofax screens made.

A run of luck placed me in Monument with a friend who owns a Thermofax machine. Where would we be without friends?

Next up: the search for just the right silk.

 

Posted in Animal portraits, Challenge, Inspiration, New Art, Process, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Out of the Blue

Old homestead on the Arsenal

I remember back in the day when the phone was black, had a dial, and sat on Mom’s desk. When the phone rang, you hesitated to see if it was going to be one long ring or two short rings before you answered. Funny, I don’t remember now which ring pattern we were.

Awhile back I was working in the studio on a 20 x 20 inch piece for the 2016 calendar when the phone rang. I picked up the handset and hesitated to see what came up on caller ID. It said Rocky Mtn Arsen. I stared at that trying to place in my brain what I was seeing and searching for any memory that would link to the Arsenal. Nothing.

I answered, curious why in the world I would be getting a call from what I had to assume was the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge. For those of you not from around the Denver area, a little background is in order.

During World War II an area north of Denver was operated by the U.S. Army to produce chemical weapons for the war. After the war ended, a portion was leased for production of agricultural chemicals. Rocky Mountain Arsenal produced weapons during the Cold War and finally was used for demilitarization of weapons.

Mule deer and magpie friend.

Environmental cleanup began in the 1980s, during which it was discovered that bald eagles had set up housekeeping on the grounds. That discovery is what prompted the creation of the wildlife refuge after cleanup was completed. We now have 15,000 acres of urban refuge just north of the city that is home to herds of bison and deer. The Arsenal is also a popular place for birds.

Back to the ringing phone. It turns out that my Animals with Attitude 2015 calendar had made its way into the hands of Cindy Souders, who works at the Refuge. She was calling to ask if I could hang a show in their visitor’s center beginning the first of April.

I was thrilled she had searched me out and thrilled that she recognized Oliver as a burrowing owl! But I was disappointed because most of my inventory would be hanging in Fort Collins until the end of April. The pieces not already in a show were mostly African animals that wouldn’t be appropriate to the Refuge. We ended the conversation with the promise of an email and to keep in touch.

In an ensuing email Cindy mentioned that the July through September slot was open. My mind immediately began calculating how many pieces I could reasonably expect to complete and at what size before July. I called Cindy back and proposed that I make four new pieces of art, each 20 x 30 inches, from photos taken at the Refuge. She was thrilled, and so was I.

Bison along the driving loop of the Arsenal.

The next morning I made my first trip to the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge, which is not easy to find if you ask Siri for help. Siri and her friends Google and MapQuest will take you on a wild goose chase and ask that you park in a residential area, scale a tall fence topped by barbed wire, and hoof it across a good portion of the 15,000 acres. Instead, you should head to Dick’s Sporting Goods Park off of Quebec and then follow the signs to the visitor’s center just north of the park.

Of the more than 500 photos I took that day, I was confident that I had at least two I would work from for the exhibit. One was of a bison drinking melted snow along the road, and the other was a magpie perched on the back of a mule deer.

In the next post, you will see how critique groups influenced and improved my pieces.

 

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Taking Time to Breathe

Tiger Eyes and Spot Remover hanging at the Bas Bleu in Ft. Collins, CO.

It is amazing what a deep breath will do for your body and soul. Lately I haven’t been taking the time to really breathe. Instead I have been rushing from one hot spot to another just in time to put out the fire that is starting. Or at least that is what it feels like.

Take a deep breath. Feel your lungs inflate. Now exhale. Exhale every last bit of breath.

Since my last post there has been quite a bit of activity in the studio.

Wonderful start to students work.

The opening for Fiber Celebration in Greeley is May 1. Can you believe just how close that is? My Spot Remover and Tiger Eyes, which have been at the Bas Bleu in Ft. Collins, will be moving to Greeley for the run of Fiber Celebration 2015. This is the first show I ever entered back when all I did was needlepoint. Those first pieces were no more than 8” x 10”. Spot Remover is 36” x 60”. My how I’ve changed in the last 11 years!

Inhale. Exhale.

Mule Deer with a hitchhiker at the Refuge.

I’m not the only one who has been creating wonderful pieces in my studio. I’ve been teaching small classes on the art of portraiture. I also traveled to Albuquerque to teach a class, which was very enjoyable. There has been enough interest that I added a class at Golden Quilt Company in August and one at Lyons Quilting in September.  I will intersperse those classes with teaching in my studio for those wanting a smaller class.

Once more. Inhale. Exhale.

I am working on a new series for A Shortgrass Revival that will hang at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge July through September. More to come about that in another post.

Inhale. Exhale out the negative in your life. Now inhale all that is good. Fill your body until you can’t hold any more.

Patty Hawkins class in Golden, CO.

I was privileged to spend three days with the wonderful and talented, not to mention most giving, Patty Hawkins and 23 artists bursting at the seams with creativity.

My work table at the Patty Hawkins class.

I was reminded just how wonderful our community of artists is. How much fun it is to be around them. How giving of themselves and their fabric, as I cruised the room looking for the deepest, darkest blues and purples from other artists’ stashes. I guess it was a modern-day take on a quilting bee.

 

Just breathe.

 

Namaste.

Posted in Animal portraits, Contemplation, Inspiration, New Art | 2 Comments

Focus

Last year my guiding word was cultivate, and I had grand plans about how and what I wanted to learn. It made for a very busy and interesting year, running between classes and trying new techniques. As much fun as that was, by the end of the year I was feeling a bit frazzled around the edges. I increasingly found myself like Dug, from the movie Up, distracted by squirrels, or in my case pretty colors.

So this year the word is focus. I want to take the most useful bits I learned last year and focus on how to incorporate them into my art. I need to focus on what is going to help me grow as an artist and not on the squirrels around me.

Except for that one squirrel that just might make it into the 2016 calendar.

 

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Out with the Old

About 3/4 of the stash now moved to the bookshelves and out of the closet.

Every year our Christmas tree comes down on New Year’s Eve or Day. The stockings are put away, and the lilac bush in the yard is stripped of its lights. Some years the lights stay up a little longer because of snow or bitter cold. We have had plenty of that since Christmas, but we have also had a few beautiful, warm days.

When I pull out the vacuum to get the last of the tinsel up, it starts a rash of cleaning and purging. I assume it is a desire to start the New Year with a clean slate or make space for Christmas gifts we received. Last year it was the kitchen that took the brunt of the purging as I carted box after box of duplicate dishes, never used cordial glasses, and pans out the door.

This year it’s the studio that is being cleaned out. I have discovered a store that will take craft items for consignment. So boxes of books, fabric, yarn, needlepoint canvas, and other weird stuff that can’t be categorized has been dropped off. As tempting as it was to come home with new items from the store, I was able to keep myself to two items for less than $2.50. So far I’m ahead!

This is going to allow me to move the fabric I have in the closet out to the shelves in the studio. It means shuffling books into the closet, but as it was pointed out to me, I use the fabric far more often that I do the books. As a bonus it will be more accessible for students in my classes also.

I wonder what else I can get rid of?

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