Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Free spirit: a warped, and unwarped, approach to art

So here's the first tapestry done, and to my amazement, it did not explode when I clipped it off the loom. I tied off warp threads in twos, to one another, removed the stay ties at the sides, and the piece was still a rectangle, yay. It's about 14 inches tall, 10 wide, title: Flower Gardens. I still have to finish off the warp threads to attach them to the back, and decide how to back and mount the piece for hanging.

Intent artists will note references to Van Gogh and to Georgia O'Keefe. No, seriously, the bottom part where the brown and ivory homespun rows are, refers to VG's reed pen drawings of fields, and the top bits with little clouds and blue areas refers to one of O'K's later paintings, a giant one of clouds. But in general, it's an experiment in using all kinds of fibers and learning about their textures, and the technicalities of working with a home made loom without tensioning devices.

Anyway, pic for your enjoyment. Comments invited as always. This is the start of a series and anything I can learn, as a beginning tapestry maker, is welcome.

About reed pens: I used to make these and give them to students in my drawing classes, together with samples of home made walnut ink I'd made, a la Van Gogh, very exciting. I love making art materials, rather than buying factory made items.

Easy to make reed pens: you cut pieces of grapevine (around here it grows wild, easy to find), about ten inches long, (depending on your hand size, mine are big so I need a big pen) make a diagonal cut across each end, so that the pen has two "nibs", one at each end.

Let it season for quite a while -- cut this year to use next year -- then you can dip them in walnut ink for making wonderful brown ink drawings. You don't worry about exactness with this kind of tool, just about expressiveness. Take a look at Van G's early drawings for examples of how he used it -- largely stippling techniques, since the reed pen doesn't hold ink like a regular nib. Great for stubble in fields.

Students of William Blake's Songs of Innocence will remember the Child referring to making a song, etc., and the narrator in taking the advice to write, making a "rural pen." A rural pen is a reed pen. So when you make them, you are in a long line of artists and poets and mystics.

Making walnut ink is another easy one, if a long process. Around here are a lot of wild black walnut trees, and the squirrels obligingly knock down the nuts. They have a green outside layer, a bit like a tennis ball, and the nut is inside, but you don't have to peel or try to crack them or anything difficult like that, in order to make the ink.

Take a great big container, I use the one I make jam and pickles in -- remember that black walnuts are food, no problem with using a kitchen pot for this -- and boil handfuls of them endlessly for days and days until they give up enough dark liquid to work for ink, put in a blurt of vinegar to set the color, pour off the liquid, but filter it several times to get the sediment out of it, and you end up with bottles of walnut ink for painting and drawing, or in fact for dyeing fabric a lovely brown. The Indians used it for a permanent dye, with the accent on permanent.

Do not, definitely do not, set any of the walnuts or liquid down on anything you don't want permanently dark brown. Take a cue from an artist friend who set down a bag of cooked walnuts on the back step when the phone rang, and came back to permanently brown concrete steps. Don't put your hand in the liquid, not harmful, just permanently colorful. But do enjoy making your own ink.

And it's organic, so you might want to keep it in the freezer if you plan on waiting months to use it, otherwise you will have a very interesting mold on top of it and a truly powerful aroma all over your house.....ask me how I know this...I make this ink once every few years, a little going a long way.

I have some in the studio, and I suddenly realize this will be a good dyestuff for the handspun yarn. So my eagerness to share the ink info with you has led to a good idea for me, yay. This is what happens when I teach workshops. I come home with all sorts of great ideas that came up as I was talking. Who says you can't learn anything with your mouth open?

Speaking of tools for spinning: I have hand carders on the way! via a knitting website, I have got hold of two antique carders which are being shipped this week so I can use them for processing my fleece and retire the little animal slicker brushes which are very tiny and take ages to use, though they do work. As usual I'm teaching myself carding, via a couple of YouTube videos, same as I learned to play flute, and use a drop spindle, and understand the spinning wheel and a lot of other stuff.

I read a list of how to simplify your life today and thought, gosh how dumb this is. On the list was: stop watching tv, get off the internet. Most of my current learning is from those two sources! not to mention my many contacts with the outside world. I think it may depend on how you use these tools.

It's not everyone who uses animal slicker brushes to process fleece, though, come to think of it. Or uses picture frames as looms. Or embroidery hoops as papermaking molds, or shaving cream as a base for monotype making.

HP is doing okay these days, wonderful to get out onto the patio in this good weather, not too hot. And amazing how much material for his use has come out of my art studio -- disposable gloves, shaving cream, gauze, cheesecloth, vaseline, to mention only a few. I don't mention to his doctor and nurses where I magically produce this stuff from.....and the sheepskin backrest is cut out and ready to test out tomorrow before I figure out how to fasten it to the chairback. I don't plan on telling anyone it's from a 46 year old coat.

Heck, I have friends younger than that coat. Friends? I have congressmen younger than that coat....


  1. You continually brighten my days!

  2. Hmm. Reed Pens, Walnut ink. Will hafta have a go at this. I love making my own stuff as well. My little group refer to me as the queen of recycling. In fact I think I'm just frugal by nature. Love the tapestry and the way you personalize the artists with their initials. Thanks, yet again, for the inspiration. Luv ya!

  3. Catching up on a lot of posts - all of them delightful in many ways - your accordion jokes will go to Barry as he heartily loathes the accordion. Barbara gave him a lovely blown glass accordion ornament for the Christmas tree which was too funny.

    Your tapestry is beautiful - I can almost feel the texture when looking at the photo.

    Your garden, and everything - loved catching up.

  4. Ahhh, Liz ... the tapestry is wonderful! How exciting - that moment of release from the loom!

    When I first read of your inspiration I thought, "Yes! There is O'Keefe's Hibiscus!" LOL! Wrong - but see how just the mention of a name brings a personal subjectivity to the way one views art? I know it came to mind because a few years ago I did a tribute series - "Study of Hibiscus and O'Keefe".

    When I chose the following quote as one that I used in the series I could have also added "my friend, Liz, is a working artist and the ultimate personification of O'Keefe's philosophy. In fact, if Liz were older, I would assume that O'Keefe learned it from HER!

    "I feel that a real living form is the natural result of the individual's effort to create the living thing out of the adventure of his spirit into the unknown — where it has experienced something — felt something — it has not understood — and from that experience comes the desire to make the unknown — known ... I in some way feel that everyone is born with it ... but that with most of humanity it becomes blasted..one way or another. "

    I remember you mentioning the walnut ink years ago - and love hearing about the reed pens you fashion. It brought back to me the "mimosa" ink that we made as children. We'd pound the fuschia tinted fibrous blossoms to release the juicy stain. Then we took the supple stems, "feathered" the ends into a paint brush and went to work making "forever art" on the driveway (much to my parents' chagrin!) We also made "living child art" on our bodies that was much the topic of conversation at Sunday School the next day (and for weeks after!) (these memories became poem fodder years later!)

    See ... your works do exactly what art should do - stir thoughts, feelings, memories, emotion!

    Thanks, Liz!

  5. Oh,! I meant to add a suggestion for attaching the sheepskin pads for HP: Velcro (which now comes in all shapes, colors, sizes, strengths) would allow easy removal for washing. Just a thought!


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