Friday, November 14, 2014

Make a Bird of Poetry

Found poems and art started our class last night at Arlington Center for the Arts. That reminded me of an installation I'd read about, poetry re-imagined as a flock of birds. Tonight I tracked it down: Virginia Fitzgerald:  

You too can make a Bird of Poetry


The idea of words taking wing: would that work with my Elder students, I wonder? I shall sit down and try some prototypes. Just as soon as the studio is cleared of scarves, cards, and small art, all ready to launch for the holidays.

Found poetry collage

The Arlington Center for the Arts collage class started last night making cards.
Barbara: blues and yellows this term

They each got a card, a page from an old children's mystery, and 30 minutes.
We talked briefly about the steps involved: how to get past the page to the words that moved you; how to step from there to a ground that supported your text.

My class sample

What felt odd quickly morphed into delight in their talented hands.

Nancy: complex found imagery

An assignment that felt odd quickly transformed to intriguing in their capable hands.

Caroline: wolves, dense surface, imbedded questions
 Each card reflected the personality its maker.

Judy: ocean colors, vistas
 The goal: relax, work fast, leap past the tired monkey brain to joy.

Beth: rich colors, warm heart
 I think it worked.

Deborah: direct and yet unexpected
 "Is this what the Valentine's workshop will like?" 
Yes, but with lots of pink and red, hearts and flowers.

Kathy: tiny window, rich view
 These folks are a joy. They support each other. They work hard.
Appreciating the results
Wonderful, creative women.  
So much talent, such different voices.
One more week together. The term has flown by.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

In the Studio

layered prints on reclaimed cotton
One whole day to work. A gift. The studio is hip deep in fabric and paint.

There's a chair there somewhere
 I am making scarves for the holidays. Each is unique intersection of time and opportunity. The fabrics range over a collection of years: silk charmeuse dyed by a local artist, kimono found at an estate sale, high-end jacquards from designer close-outs, plus vintage linens I've over-dyed.
In progress

Because apparently I cannot work in a linear fashion, I also find myself printing. 

Plus I'm hemming up some scarves from a black sheer I bought a year ago from a local designer. I hope to print these this weekend on the big print table in Lowell.

And to fill in the cracks? Shibori-dyed vintage napkins. After cleaning out the basement this fall, the 1920s workbench converted nicely to a dye station. I'm on my second batch of shibori-style dying. This means lots of stairs. The dye station is in the basement (two flights down);  the tub (washing out) is two flights up. The laundry (final wash), is in the basement. The ironing is back up on the third floor. I suppose I could move that, but I do try to keep at least the kitchen and living room work-zone free. Piles for classes, yes. Ironing board, no.

Here's the next two batches of napkins, ironed:

Electric Blue and Blue Violet on Rayon/cotton blend

Same colors on 20" square linen/cotton blend
All for Open Studios in Lowell come December.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Free Form Collage

Experiment with shape and line
My students continue to amaze me.
Prints and bits
After six weeks, they still bring their full attention to class, diving into assignments.
We've made stamps and stencils, printed with gelli plates, abstracted from images and developed themes. I learn so much from their different approaches.
Miniatures in progress
 This year I've encouraged the students to work on multiple pieces simultaneously. This is a stretch, especially at the end of the day. But it frees you.  You no longer need to find  to find The Right Answer. Instead, many answers appear.
Lollipop Tree series inspired by vintage fabrics and 1800s textbook
Stillness and fascination with texture

Thumbnails from photos
The class is so full of ideas it makes me giddy.
 Wolf and Spirit theme

Experiment with lines and layers
They bring so much to the class. They encourage each other, and challenge me. Transformative Thursdays, for all of us.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Elder Art: Collage

Scraps from my studio become art supplies
I brought a pile of autumn-hued fabric scraps to my art classes this week.

Adding leaves to a painted ground

Folks were surprised  that fabric could be an art supply. They loved the colors, the textures. Several noticed the silks and the remnants of hand-dyed table cloths. This is the generation that treasured those linens. 

This student, usually hesitant, often disappointed, loved the process.

a rich scene

For the Alzheimer's patients, however, tasks remained discrete. Think about it: gluing is made up of many steps. It requires a sense of what is possible in the immediate future, and that's just what Alzheimer's robs away. 

Every student needed one-on-one attention to get anything glued to paper. Then, the collaged image didn't hold together in their eyes. "It looks like blobs. There's too much white."

 So we backed up and worked on the processes that made sense to each person.
Trimming a rough edge
Adding leaves to a painting
A bit of green linen for ground
Adding color to the background
One woman painted the tree's edges green.  I handed her a brush with orange paint on it, and she carefully over-painted all the leaves.
a second layer of color

 Then she painted the trunk orange. And smiled a huge smile.

I come home to world news and this work seems so small. But it requires time, attention, patience, creativity and quantities of love. We could all use more of that.

 "Your class is a constant in a sea of change," a director assured me. "What you do makes them happy. We see the effects for hours afterwards."

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Alzheimer's Art: Pumpkins

This is my favorite time to teach painting. Subject matter is everywhere, rich with color and memory. Last week I hauled pumpkins to all my classes.  Even the most hesitant residents were inspired.

 These first two are from a class in a long-term care facility. Both these paintings took two sessions to complete, and were worked in watercolor.
I love the circles of orange and yellow.
watercolor by Long-Term Care resident

Then I took my pumpkins to the Alzheimer's class. The pace slows down here. Last year we "grew" the pumpkin from the middle section out. This year I had them draw the left then the right outside edges, then we slowly added the curves inside with orange. Then they set to work filling in the segments. While painting, scraps of memory came up: carving pumpkins,  trick-or-treating."My mother never let me go. She said I was not going to go begging from door to door."
Each mark is a struggle, though often a satisfying one. 
 The ability to "fill in" areas becomes harder with Alzheimer's, and eventually disappears.This resident is at the edge of that transition.

 This resident loves hearts and delicate designs.
 But even better than the work was the conversation afterwards. I lined the pieces up and we looked at them together. "Which do you like best?" one asked me. "I like them all together best. The whole is better than the sum of the parts. They make each other stronger."
"That's the right thing to say," another answered. "You want everyone to feel they've done something worthwhile."
Knock-me-over-with-a-feather time again.
A good day.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Alzheimer's project: a Garden View

One of my employers asked for a project that was "anything fiber." She showed me pieces in the Assisted Living art room.  I could tell they had been made by more fully functioning hands and minds. How to bring the same processes to my Alzheimer's patients?

With Alzheimer's groups, abilities are all over the map.  I  wanted everyone, even those at the far ends of the spectrum, to feel success.

The Concerns that Shaped This Project

  • Impaired vision.  Alzheimer's can make it hard to interpret shapes. Dark objects on a light ground made designs easier to "read."
  • Arthritic hands. Don't assume people can (or can't) use scissors. I cut out leaves and flowers  defined enough to satisfy some folks, but loose enough to encourage others, who could, to "edit" them. Also, I brought my good fabric scissors.
  • Immobility. For many, movement is a struggle. After considering several ways to  make the project collaborative (rotate the pieces among students? Work together in the middle of the table?) I borrowed from the quilt tradition, and  pre-cut background squares to distribute.
  • Unreliable short-term memory.  A surprising lesson has been that gluing can confuse Alzheimer's folks. Too many steps. So I pre-fused all fabric and brought my own iron, then pressed each collage as it was finished.
  • The blank page problem. An empty page stops folks. To guide participants, I adhered "stems" to each block beforehand. This also embedded an over-all design, so the pieces worked well together.
  • Life in a locked ward. All those walls. I wanted this piece to feel like a virtual window.
I tested the idea with another class. Biggest discovery: The most mentally adept worked carefully, trimming shapes and perfecting placement.
More impaired students filled the page and finished quickly.
So I prepared lots of materials and brought at least two background squares for each artist. On the big day, each person completed at least one square. The most impaired artists finishing three pieces each. I wrote their names down on the pieces as they finished.

Several folks stayed afterwards, to look at the finished pieces. They marveled at how good everything looked together. We talked about different ways to organize them.  Amazing. For me, perhaps the most satisfying moment.

The next week, I sewed the squares together, fused and stitched the result to batting, then backed, bound and labeled it. I took the piece to a long meeting, where I embroidered the residents' names.  A sleeve and wired board readied it for hanging.

 It will look even lovelier when winter sets in.