Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Sign of spring

I went to Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden on Saturday with my friend DeLane. I needed to take a few more shots of the exhibition, because we are going to be making a CD of the show and all the pieces in it to send out to other potential venues.

I hadn’t spent much time with DeLane recently, and I also needed a break from some of the stresses in my life and from the miserable weather we have been having here in North Carolina this winter. The snow and cold don’t bother me at all; I rather like them! But I really hate the gray skies and the cold rain and the slogging through the mud. On Saturday, the skies were Carolina blue and the temperatures mild, and it was a great time for me to practice shooting outside with my new camera.

In manual mode. Shiver.

I shared with you in a previous post about my lack of experience shooting in anything but auto mode. But I’m determined to master manual mode, and to try to improve my photos technically. I want to understand how I can adjust my camera to deal with different lighting conditions, and how to change my depth of field so that I get some things in focus and others out of focus. So, after reading about these things online and in my camera’s manual (sigh), I headed out.

The shot above of pussy willow tree branches is an experiment with trying to get a shallower depth of field by using a smaller f-stop (or aperture, how much light the camera letting in) and a faster shutter speed. I guess I am learning something!

I have always loved pussy willows. Such lovely texture and fluffiness, and a sure sign that spring will return, even if the skies are still gray. Did you know that the fluffy buds are called “catkins”? They reminded me of a sweet song we used to sing when I was little. I don’t know if my mother taught it to me, or if we learned it in kindergarten. It has a simple melody, one or two notes for each line, that gets higher and higher until the end, when you slide down on the meows and joyfully shout the last line. I never fail to hear it in my mind when I see a pussy willow.

I know a little pussy
Her coat is silver gray
She lives down in the meadow
Not very far away
She’ll always be a pussy
She’ll never be a cat
For she’s a pussy willow
Now what do you think about that?
Meow, meow, meow, meow,
meow, meow, meow, meow…

Monday, February 22, 2010

Tomorrow’s the big day!

It’s almost time for the last ToteTuesday online auction to benefit the American Cancer Society! You can see everything that is going up for auction on Virginia Spiegel’s blog today. Bidding opens Tuesday, Feb. 23 at 11 a.m. CST, and closes at 2:00 p.m. You can find out the opening bids at 10:50 a.m. CST.

ToteTuesday 1, 2 and 3 raised $9,004; Virginia’s goal is to raise $13,000 total. She’s already raised $190,000 for ACS in the past few years through Fiberart for a Cause, an accomplishment that ranks her among the top individual fundraisers in the U.S.

My little Pink Rose quilt, made to honor my mother, a breast cancer survivor, is part of this auction.

NOTE: I’m pleased as punch that this little quilt sold, four minutes after the auction started, for $350, more than the “Go for the Gold” bid of $300. The bidding was started at $99. And even more pleased that it went to a fellow artist, and art collector, Tomme Fent. Virginia Spiegel has now raised more than $205,000 to ACS since 2005. And wow… all of that money came from donations of fiber art! 

Friday, February 19, 2010

Mutual admiration society

Jewelry designer Beth Hemmila of Hint Jewelry has a post up today on her blog about my work! I posted about her on January 10 after I discovered her marvelous jewelry, which she sells though Etsy and talks about on her blog. Beth makes the point in her post that the internet and social media sites are connecting artists and art admirers in wonderful ways we could not have imagined even a few years ago:
“Having Hint Jewelry Design out on the Internet invites serendipity into my life every day. Like a kid at a gigantic show and tell, I do something, post it on Flickr, Facebook, or Blogger, and if I'm lucky, magically someone sees a part of their heart in it. They reach out to connect, and I get to join in the fun of looking at art together.”
So true. That coming together is probably the best part of blogging for me. I love connecting with people all over the world to discuss art, quilts, and the ideas and emotions behind them. I am so happy to have you all as part of my community, even if I’ll never meet most of you face to face. 

I bought some of Beth’s lovely charms for my daughters’ Valentine’s Day gifts – they are lovely little creations, and my daughters loved them. Today I splurged and bought the little beauty above for myself.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

ToteTuesday 4: the Big Finale!

February 23 is the last ToteTuesday fundraiser of Fiberart for a Cause's 2010 fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. Virginia Spiegel and contributors to this event have already raised more than $9,000. The goal is $12,000. My Pink Rose art quilt is part of next Tuesday’s finale.

I made this quilt to honor my mother, Eleanor Carter Brubaker, who is a breast cancer survivor. You can read more about my piece, and some of the amazing goodies up for auction on Virginia’s blog. There will be a lot more fiber-art totes and individual artworks in this auction; they will all be revealed next Monday, Feb. 22.

Virginia’s efforts in the past few years have raised more than $190,000 for the American Cancer Society. Amazing!

Please consider taking a look and bidding on something; it is a great cause!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

In search of better photos

I am attempting to set up a primitive photo studio in my house. I need to be able to shoot projects in progress, and finished work. Until now, I have been shooting my finished pieces outside, and my how-to shots inside under regular lights. Sometimes the results were okay, sometimes not. My goal is to shoot consistently good quality photos.

I decided to use a section of my interior hall near my studio. It is dark (no windows, since all the rooms in the house branch off from it), so I can have better control over the kind of light I project onto my subjects. And I simply don't have space for the setup in my studio.

For advice on setting up to shoot my quilts, I took a close look at Holly Knott’s website. Holly is married to a photographer (Andy Baird), and together, they have dedicated a section of her website to helping aspiring quilt photographers learn how to take better photos of their quilts. It is called “Shoot that Quilt!” and it offers some terrific advice and links. 

I started by setting up a folding table against the wall. I built light stands using 2x4 pieces of lumber and metal shelf brackets screwed into the bottom to make four sturdy feet, following Holly’s instructions. I bought a cheap tripod for about $20. My biggest investment was the 30W "Trumpet Top" bulbs by Tabletop Studio ($30 for two). They got screwed into cheap clamp-on reflector lamps, and then were clamped onto the light stands. They are moving around a little bit, which worries me. So tomorrow, I'm going to add some nails to the light stands in a few spots, so the clamps won’t slide around.

For my finished pieces, I plan to move the stands into my studio and hang my work on my design wall. For the how-to shots, I made a little three-sided ”stage” using white foam core, so the light would bounce and be more diffused on the subjects.

Within minutes of placing the stage on the table, my cat Max decided that he was my first subject. He hopped right up and got himself ready for his first photoshoot. (If you are a regular reader of this blog, you may already know about my photogenic cat who loves to pose for the camera doing funny stuff. If not, you can see lots of shots of him here.) And a funny video of him here.

While he snoozed under the warm lights, I got some nice photos of him, probably the best lit and detailed I have ever taken:

On to quilts. Here are two photos of the same piece. The first is a shot taken more than a year ago. The quilt is the start of a second version of my Round Red Barn (with more detail; all the stones are cut out separately). It’s not bad. The second shot I took today. The colors are much more accurate, especially the red of the barn siding and the grays in the stone foundation. They look much yellower in the old shot. Notice how much the bottom green fabric is unevenly lit in the earlier shot? It is much darker on the right side than on the left.

I have a confession to make. I have always used the Auto setting on my digital camera. People often comment on what nice photos I take, and are amazed to find out how little I know about the technical side of photography.

I aim my lens, compose my shot by zooming in or out, and click the button. About the only feature I do know about is my macro button, since I use it a lot in my attempt to get closer, closer, closer to my subjects. But I don't know diddly-darn about depth of field or F-stops, shutter speed or ISO (except to know that I should know something about them if I want to control how my photos look). I almost never consult my camera manual.

There, I have confessed my sins. Now it is time to learn. Knowing something about composition, color, texture, line and shape helps me take nice shots. But I think learning the technical stuff will make my photos even stronger.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Hannah Teter’s Quilt

My husband, who works for  Street & Smith’s SportsBusiness Journal, just alerted me to a story where his world (sports) and mine (quilting) intersect!

Hannah Teter, U.S. snowboarder and 2006 gold medalist, is sleeping every night at the Olympic Village under a quilt created by Amp Energy Juice (part of PepsiCo) that features Teter and images from the village of Kirindon, Kenya. Teter, who helped design the quilt, started a charity dedicated to the village, and raises money through a maple syrup business (Hannah’s Gold Vermont maple syrup) to help the village with water filtration, a sanitation system, and housing.

USA Today’s website has a photo of the full quilt. From these photos, it looks more like a hand-painted comforter cover than a quilt; I can’t see any quilting!

Hannah plans to auction it after the Winter Games to raise more money for the village.

These photos are courtesy of Amp Energy Juice.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Happy Valentine’s Day!

It’s almost Valentine’s Day, so I thought it the perfect time to share a little pinkness with you. These are some of my favorite blocks from my very pink quilt, Pink Petal Party (the subject of my first book/pattern pack, released by C&T Publishing in October of last year). Consider it my little valentine to you!

I hope you have a wonderful weekend with the ones you love!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Red Coleus ready for SAQA Benefit Auction

I just finished my small piece, Red Coleus, for the Studio Art Quilt Associates (SAQA) Benefit Auction.

This year’s auction will begin on Monday, September 20 at 2 p.m. Eastern time. Each piece will start at $750, and go down in price each day, to $550, $350, $250, $150 and $75. Last year, 235 members donated quilts that raised $47,325 for SAQA.

Red Coleus is about 12" square, and is a quilted wholecloth painted piece. Here’s a detail shot:

Here’s a link to the page where my piece is displayed with the others that have been submitted so far:

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Laura Wasilowski presses on

Last fall, I met Laura Wasilowski at International Quilt Market and Festival. (She’s shown above reading a copy of Lyric Kinard’s book, Art + Quilt.) Last week, she came to speak and teach at the Charlotte Quilters Guild. I have not laughed that hard in a long time! What a joy she is.

Laura sings (“a selection of tunes from the Chicago School of Fusing Bond Fire Songbook”) and makes jokes through her slideshow, and her sweet nature and sense of humor add so much to her presentation. And her work is equally uplifting. Many are visual puns, or tell stories that reveal the humor Laura finds in every-day events.

Laura’s coming to teach at North Carolina Quilt Symposium in Charlotte June 3-6, and it will be great seeing her again. (Just a reminder: You don’t have to live in North Carolina to attend this great event. There are lots of fabulous, internationally known instructors teaching at symposium, and out-of-towners and out-of-staters are more than welcome!)

Today, Laura posted on her blog about the little embroidery pieces I’ve been working on. When she was here, I bought some of her hand-dyed threads to use. I could have bought one in every colorway; they are luscious! You can see her post here:

Make sure you click on the photo of beautiful threads and follow the link to the hand-dyed fabrics, threads, patterns and art quilts on her website:

Monday, February 8, 2010

Red Coleus in progress

Here’s my new piece, which I am calling Red Coleus, in progress. I still have to do some shading on the brighter pink area, but it is getting close. This is the piece I started this weekend while doing demonstrations of painting on fabric at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden during the opening of Fiber Art Optons’ exhibition. (See previous posts for details.).

This piece is 12" square, and will be donated to Studio Art Quilt Associates for their annual auction to raise money for the group.

Win a pack of my orchid notecards!

My publisher, C&T Publishing, invited me to post about the Fiber Art Options exhibition, “Orchids: Sensuality Stitched,” on their blog. Leave a comment there, and your name will go in the drawing to win a pack of my orchid series notecards. Here’s the link to their blog:

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Sunday at Daniel Stowe/Debbie Langsam

This is the main entrance to Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden. This photo was taken last Thursday, when they still had a bit of snow on the ground. By today, it had finally stopped snowing and raining, and the sun actually peaked out a bit. We’ve been having some very uncharacteristic weather for North Carolina this past week!

With the slightly better weather, we had more visitors at Fiber Art Options’ exhibition today. Nancy, Debbie and I were on hand to do demos and walk-throughs for “Orchids: Sensuality Stitched.” Here is Debbie explaining her process to two garden visitors:

Debbie (Deborah M. Langsam) creates her fiber art pieces using several different techniques, but is perhaps best known for her photo mosaics.

This is one of her pieces in the show using this technique. It is called Orchids Squared: Purple Passion.

Here is Debbie’s description of this piece:
From a distance, this photomosaic gives an insect’s eye-view of the “landing platform” and surrounding structures attracting pollinators to orchid flowers. The mosaic’s “tiles” are half-inch square orchid and orchid-related images collected and printed by the artist on fabric. (A key to the photos is on the back.)
Debbie collects copyright-free images (or gets permission from the photographers) and then uses computer software to build her mosaics. Images are carefully chosen to correspond with different values, from solid black (or very dark purple, in the piece above) to very light. All her photos for this piece are orchids!

Here is the same orchid done in black and white. It is called Orchids Squared: Black and White Symphony.

After creating her mosaics, Debbie prints them out in sections on fabric sheets she runs through her printer, then carefully stitches them together. Precision is important so that the tiny images line up perfectly. Then adds batting and backing fabric and quilts the piece along the edges of the tiny photos.

Debbie’s third large piece for the show is called Aerial Roots (below). Here is her description:
A silk background highlights the sensual beauty of these sinuous structures. But beauty is only part of the story; aerial roots attach epiphytic orchids to their substrates, maintain water balance, and produce sugars for the plants through photosynthesis.

Can you tell from Debbie’s descriptions that she is a scientist? Her academic specialty is mycology (the study of fungi) and she taught for many years in the biology department at the University of North Carolina – Charlotte.

These days, Debbie and her husband Joal run Barking Dog Chocolatiers. They take no salaries, and donate all profits to local charities, including SupportWorks, a nonprofit organization in Charlotte that helps people find and form support groups and research medical information. Having taste-tested their wares, I can highly recommend their chocolates. Try the Hearts-a-Poppin’ dark chocolates for Valentine’s Day – they have Pop Rocks inside!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Saturday at Daniel Stowe/Nancy Cook

Today, four of the seven members of Fiber Art Options were at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden for the opening of our exhibition, “Orchids: Sensuality Stitched.” We did walk-throughs of the show (that’s Grace Howes guiding a group through, above) and demonstrations.

Nancy G. Cook demonstrated how she inks her pieces with Tskuineko inks.
Here are her three large pieces for the show:

I absolutely love the minty green color in this one, Rhythms: Stems and Leaves. On one of the tours I conducted, there was a Belgian woman with two young children. Her young son (probably about 5 years old) was very enamored with this piece because it was his favorite color: turquoise. Interesting that he called it turquoise and not just blue, or blue-green, I thought. He took me all along the hall and asked me about lots of the pieces, and made interesting comments about them.

I told his mother that she might have a budding artist on her hands. Not many kids know specialized words for colors, in my experience. The visual ones learn words like “chartreuse” and “maroon” earlier than most. Her daughter loved my MOO cards, and was having a hard time deciding between two, so I told her that she could take both home. It is great to see kids interested in art.

Nancy based this piece on my photo (below), cropping in on just the top section of the photo, and changing the color palette.

This is Nancy’s Orchid Rhythms: Petals. Nancy is usually more interested in plant buds, stems and seeds than in the blooms. In this piece, she focused on the gorgeous patterns and color on one orchid’s petals. This shot does not show the magnificent lines of stitching.

Nancy starts most of her pieces with hand-dyed fabric by Heide Stoll-Weber. She makes detailed drawings of the subjects from photographs (or actual plant samples scanned in on a scanner to her computer). She creates stencils from freezer paper and irons them to the fabric, then uses Tsukineko inks to shade in areas, making them darker or a different color than the background. Her pieces are heavily machine quilted with “hand-guided machine quilting,” with her feed dogs down, guiding the needle in both straight lines and curves.

One of the things I love about Nancy’s work is that it takes you up close and personal with parts of plants that you might never notice at first glance. In her Rhythms and Buds you can see that in this orchid, she was interested in how the buds grow out of leaf structures that look like little canoes.

Grace took this photo of me starting to paint a new small piece that will be donated to Studio Art Quilt Associates for their fund-raising auction. It is based on a photo I took of a red and green coleus leaf.

We are going to be back at Daniel Stowe tomorrow, so I’ll take more photos then. I’m going to try to post some shots of each member’s work in the next week, so that you can learn a little more about their work, processes and techniques.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Hanging the “Sensuality Stitched” exhibition at DSBG

Today was an exciting day! We hung Fiber Art Options’ show, “Orchids: Sensuality Stitched,” at the Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden (DSBG). The photo above shows us almost done with hanging and arranging the pieces.

Here’s how we started (see photo below). We put all the pieces on the floor, and moved them around until we liked the pairings. All the pieces needed to be hung on this one hall, which is directly off the main entrance area. Some of the Daniel Stowe folks came by to admire and offer their opinions on what should hang where:

Here are some of the signs I designed that will hang with the exhibition. They will introduce the idea behind the exhibition, tell about the group, and explain the techniques we used.

P.J. Howard was our primary ladder climber (and doesn’t that light right over her head look like a little halo? She really is very angelic, but with a wicked sense of humor!). That’s Grace’s piece behind her, which references the bassist for the band KISS (Gene Simmons’) tongue.

Here’s Nancy Cook filling out a commission form (below). All of the pieces in the exhibition are for sale (the range is between $100 and $2,500) and the forms are an agreement between DSBG and the artists.

After all of the pieces were up, we stood back and decided if anything needed to go higher or lower, or be moved to a different spot. We tried to mix up the pieces (so that they were not grouped by artist) and to ensure that their placement complimented each other. Here is (from left:) Deborah Langsam, Grace Howes, and Nancy checking out the placement.

And here is the hall, almost done:

After that, we moved out into the main area to arrange the seven smaller pieces. Each one of us had done one 12 x 18" piece based on the same orchid species, a white Phalaenopsis with pink stripes. It was amazing how different each of these pieces were. Again, all were placed on a sheet on the floor and moved around until we found a pleasing arrangement.

Then came the measurements and the math, trying to place everything up on “the cube,” a moveable display. That’s Cynthia Klemmer, DSBG’s Director of Education, on the left, in purple. She stayed with us until we had the whole show up, and has been incredibly helpful and great to work with every step of the way as we got ready for the show.

There are even live orchids in the hall with our work!

For more information on our pieces, our processes, and our hanging systems, please visit the Fiber Art Options blog,

And come see us at DSBG this weekend, Feb. 6 and 7, from noon to 4 p.m. each day. We’ll be doing walk-throughs of the exhibition and demonstrations. We’d love to see you!

Want to go?
Feb. 6 through March 14, 2010
Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden
Belmont, NC