Joy Unwrapped

Meet Joy Unwrapped..a tiny Christmastime sketch that spilled out my pencil.
There is nothing as relaxing as spending my time curled up on the sofa, drawing the day away. Preferring to discover what wants to emerge, I rarely have anything in mind when I draw. This is how I spent Christmas, and this sweet girl is what became of my efforts.  I have named her Joy.  

I think she presented herself as if to validate the part of me that stands back from the whirl-d around me this time of year.    Being one that prefers peace and quiet over hustle and bustle, her stoic posture almost surely reflects my withdrawal more than twenty years ago from traditional celebration.  Her silly hat and untied ribbons represent the part of me that believes we are each the gift we must unwrap in order to find true joy.  Her crossed arms reflect her firm stance in the determination to know herself beyond all distraction. 
But the real gift she brings me is the inspiration to create a series juxtaposing serious portraiture against whimsical  adornment.  I am not sure of the media I will use but it will be fun figuring it all out.

Happy holidays everyone!

A Night At The Opera

Entitled Maxine, this is one of my digital caricature paintings from the A-ha Studio series.
This year I was invited to audition my artwork for the Austin Lyric Operas 25th season fund raising event.  Five Austin artisans were chosen and I was happily among them.  It is always fun introducing the concept of art-quilts to those who have never seen them and this night was no different.  It was great listening to the responses (and requests for commission information) as guests took in the whimsical pieces I chose to display last Saturday evening at the opening of The Magic Flute. Thank you ALO guild members Jessica and Lissa for discovering my work and inviting me.   While a case of bronchitis is keeping me away from the shows tonight and tomorrow night, I'll be returning for Lucia di Lammermoor scheduled for Jan. 28th, Feb. 3rd and 5th, and Turnadot April 14th, 20th and 22nd. 

I must say Austin, when it comes to do it well.

Strange Folk

Entitled, Flutter-by, art-quilt  19"x37"
In my last post I introduced caricature as a way of also manipulating the photos I work with.  But because the subject of that post was more about incorporating my love of writing into my art-quilt pieces, I wanted to write a bit about the caricature process itself. 

Using portrait photos of very real people, I digitally stretch and pull them into exaggerated versions of themselves.  I then paint and enhance them digitally before printing the images on fabric.  Once printed, I use a variety of inks or paints to further enhance the image if necessary.  On the piece above I appliqued the pink cheek on the face from a piece of hand dyed fabric.  In a whimsical, fairy type piece like this one, a normally proportioned human face just wouldn't have worked. As with all my work, I plug in intuitively and let the image tell me what it needs.   The butterfly in her hand is three dimensional, as are a few scattered along the surface, and seem to have landed upon the art-quilt.  Designed specifically for a feeling of enchantment, my only regret is that I didn't make the hand as disproportionate as the face. I feel this would have made the whole piece feel a bit more cohesive.  Still the piece is a favorite among those that buy my prints.

Entitled, Friendship, art-quilt 22"x35"
While we're on the topic of 'Strange Folk' I need to share my latest piece (above).  Again this one incorporates my love of writing and use of text within my art-quilts. I had a great time designing these two beings.  On the larger figure only the face is digitally rendered and printed on fabric.  The rest of her is drawn and pieced from separate pieces of fabric.  The small figure however, was digitally designed from head to toe.  Only the tiny heart she holds in her hand was added as applique.

More Words About Words

Meet the women of the A-ha Studio.  These are whimsical 17"x17" art-quilts that incorporate words and imagery. In previous posts I touched upon my passion for writing. Word-play is as much a part of my creative voice as is the imagery I like to express.  This is evident in my a series entitled Women of the A-ha Studio.  Creating caricatures from both vintage and modern portrait photographs, I have given these women not only a unique presence but an introspective voice to match.
Many of the perspectives these pieces depict come from my own journey as well as my background in counseling.  I think the ability to look upon our life with humor and gratitude for lessons learned is the evidence of true personal growth.  My hope is that the characters in this series reflect the same.  As wit mixes with a bit of wisdom, my goal is to lend a perspective of hope and humility to our sometimes all-to-human condition.
 Planned as an ongoing series, here are just three of the pieces I have recently finished.  Some of these hang independently, while others are grouped into one piece. Yet even those connected in a group manner will be finished separately, each portrayal bound with their own 'limits and boundaries'.  Having facilitated individual as well as 'group sessions' in my work with women's issues I feel these pieces lend themselves wonderfully to mimicking that dynamic.
Anyone working in the addiction recovery arena will relate to most of the messages conveyed in this work.  I have a great affection for both the colleagues and clients I have met in my life that remain dedicated to a quality of life beyond sobriety or co-dependence.  This series is my nod to that work and that choice.  Recovering individuals are among some of the strongest people I have ever had the privilege of knowing, and I truly enjoy creatively celebrating their courage and tenacity.  I also know that sometimes what is obvious to others is often unrecognizable to the person living in the midst of dysfunction.  To those, perhaps one or more of these will offer a bit of enlightenment in a non-threatening context.

Words are just symbols, pointing, as imagery does, to those places inside ourselves beyond words and images.  I believe they are the mile markers on a journey waking us to higher and higher states of consciousness.  My artwork is simply a contribution to that cause.

Houston Underground Arts Show

Stephanie Leinard founder/host of the Houston Underground Art Show
For the past three years I have had the pleasure of having my work in the Houston Heights Underground Art show hosted by Stephanie Leinard.  Pictured above with her own unique art and artistry Steph is a generous and gracious host.  Offered each fall in the historic Heights this show is a wonderful venue that gives each artist the opportunity to visit with guests one on one.  As soon as I get the dates for this years show I'll let ya know!

Photo Reference Art-Quilting

Sometimes photos are only used in my work as references.  In the case of this art-quilt I came across a photo of my sister sitting in her garden proudly displaying a basket of her roses.  I loved the pose and knew I wanted to paint it.  This piece was hand painted on white cotton fabric then bordered with batiks and turned over to Connie Hudson for quilting.  Connie is an incredible long arm quilter and I wouldn't even begin to quilt a piece as large as this one on my sewing machine.  While there are women who do, I am not that gifted!

This center panel of this piece was drawn and colored in with colored pencils and also painted with diluted fabric paint.  The butterfly's on the border were appliques on.  When my dad saw this piece he claimed it immediately.  It hangs in my parents spacious den softening a massive brick wall that well supports the largest quilt I have created to date....(or ever plan to create ever again!)
Another photo reference piece is one where I painted my three grand kids peeking out from a tent fashioned from sheets and blankets draped over the dining table.  While this was drawn from three different photos of the kids, and there never was a tent, I thought it made an interesting composition.  I used black Tsukineko ink on white cotton fabric to draw/paint this image.  And while that was years ago I have yet to quilt the piece.  Not everything I begin holds my attention long enough to get finished.  But I think part of listening to where an image wants to go also includes stopping when the inspiration wains. Seeing if I could draw the grand kids this detailed on fabric was the challenge for me.  Quilting it just wasn't as important.  My first two photo reference pieces were created the first year I got into art-quilting.  They were also the first pieces I ever submitted into the Houston International Quilt Festival.  Accepted as finalists these pieces were of celebrities whose influence or commentary greatly affected my generation.

Entitled, Fifteen Minutes, art-quilt.
Entitled Fifteen Minutes, this portrait of Andy Warhol and the smaller portraits within this piece of Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor, done in Warhol's style, speaks to his famous prophecy about everyone finding their own fifteen minutes of fame.  With 'reality TV' now flooding the airways and the rise of 'celebrity status' without the  once necessary talent that Liz and Marilyn brought to their craft, it seems Andy got it right. 

This as well as another piece, simply entitled, The Beatles, were done with India ink, allowed to set for 24 hours, then ironed washed and ironed again before piecing and quilting. Both were jurried into the IQA festival as finalists and ushered me into the quilt-art world.

While it was fun drawing these, they were a big part of my learning curve in the quilting department.  I came to art-quilting from an art background...not a quilting one.  So my quilting skills were very lacking at the time.  The extremely simple stitches on these pieces prove that I have indeed come a long way since these early days.

Photos will always be a part of my figurative art-quilts in one way or another.  But when it comes to drawing or painting portraits I have discovered that I prefer not to quilt them. A drawing of my daughter in the style of the drawing of my grand kids, (above) toured internationally a few years back and now hangs above her bed.  It was my first published piece and I'm glad that she has it among her keepsakes.  But equally glad to have discovered the way I prefer to use photos in my work today.  As in my American Family Album series, or the whimsical commentaries that evolve from digitally manipulated photos.  (Look for more of those from me in future posts.)

Words and Images

Entitled Fifty Years On , art-quilt 22"x36"
Entitled, Philboy, art-quilt31"x45"
While I think it's fair to say I became an artist with my first set of finger paints, I know that my love of writing was born as a young girl when I wrote my first poem.  Writing is as much a part of my creative life as imagery will ever be.  That is probably why I am happiest when I find a way to combine the two.  When commissioning a family piece think about combining words and imagery.  Because I spend a lot of time with talking with those clients wanting to tell a family story with their photographs, I am able to assist with phrases or words that might be relevant to the piece.  But just as often words, phrases or some times commentaries (as in the above piece) come to me while I am working on the imagery.  To the left is a childhood photo of my husband Phil that I fell in love with it the first time I saw it.  When I got into art quilting, and more specifically following my American Family Album series, I knew I wanted to do a piece based around this photo.  As I worked to restore and digitally alter the tiny black and white snapshot his grandmother had taken of him outside their New England home, the stories I had heard of his childhood reverberated inside me.  Happy, sad, proud and shameful stories, not unlike those most of us know, surfaced in my memory.  Phil had overcome much in his young life and as he got older he dedicated his life to the betterment of others. The phrase in this art-quilt reads: "Who we become is indelibly written upon the slate of our childhood."  These words filled my mind as I worked, and I knew they belonged in the design.  I also knew that the message conveyed a deeper truth than met the eye.... that no matter the circumstances we are born into, choice in the way they shape our lives is always ours.

Another commission piece I worked on was for a friend whose daughter was going off to college.  The mother wanted her to realize that the most important thing was where the journey, not the degree, would take her.  Filled with imagery and a phrase that kept this awareness in her daughters mind, this piece hung in her room until she graduated and now serves as a continued reminder from her mom for the rest of her life.  

The piece above was done to commemorate my fiftieth birthday.  Along with a childhood photo and expansive imagery I incorporated a favorite quote from Carl Jung, whose work was a huge influence on my life.  It reads, "Who looks outside dreams. Who looks inside awakens."  The inner journey has always been most important to me and because I have spent so much time in introspective work I like to express those discoveries in a lot of my artwork.  In a future post I'll share some whimsical ways I do this and introduce a completely different way that I use photo imagery in my art-quilts.

Commissioned Art-quilts

Commissioned art-quilt for Samantha Schuli
A 20 year career as a visual artist, I am mostly self-taught.  I began early on with drawing and painting, and briefly studied oil, watercolor, and pastel with a few classes here and there.  Later I played around a bit with acrylic and mixed media.  An amateur photographer since my teens, the digital age ushered in Photoshop and I was hooked from the start.  Leaving the traditional darkroom behind, I began to incorporate digital and mixed media in my artwork.  And while I had been brought up learning to sew, I never really equated sewing with art.  However that changed several years ago when I discovered the wild and wonderful world of art-quilts.  Here I was able to bring all my previous skills and a variety of media to this beautiful, tactile expression. Sewing brought something else to my work that I appreciate perhaps more than any other aspect; a connection to the grandmother that taught me to sew....and to make my very first quilt.

I still take time out to just draw, or paint.  My fascination with the evolution of my Winged Things series is a testament to the fact that painting is simply in my blood!  I even do a sculpture series using a blend of poly clays.  My original glass beads and pendants are also incorporated into some of my design work.  And while I make these pieces available in a variety of exhibits, I would have to say that art-quilting is the primary medium for my commission work. It just seems to provide a perfect arena for telling the family stories that beg to be creatively conveyed. So, while many of my Family Album commissioned pieces are considered "finished works" in and of themselves before I print them on fabric to be quilted and embellished, my clients have yet to prefer the 'before' imagery to the wonderfully textural art-quilt that emerges.  Then there are the commissioned art-quilts that have no reference to family or photos.  These are so much fun because the client has seen my work and  simply asks for my interpretation of a theme or idea they have.  This is reflected in the above photo of a commission piece I was asked to do on the subject of cactus and succulents.  Painting and art-quilting go hand in hand when it comes to my preference in creative expression.  I enjoy the ability to switch between the two or incorporate them both into my work.

Never At A Loss With Found Photo's

Entitled, Masques Optional. art-quilt 36x36

Entitled, Beachwalk, artquilt, 24"x36"
In the last post I promised to offer a bit about my process, so here are some of my 'found photo' art-quilts and a bit about how I created the imagery.  The first art-quilt I created from a found photo was one I called Masques Optional.  A commentary on the option to explore the persona's we wear, and instead live out of what lies behind them.  An amateur photographer since my high school days, I began to manipulate photos the moment I was introduced to the dark room.  Playing with double exposures and "trick" photography captivated me.  One of my first pieces was a photo of my brother playing cards with himself as his opponent.  Given this fascination, you can imagine how my work was influenced once Photoshop hit the market.  I think that is why so much of my representational textile art begins with a photo I can't resist.  I always have a camera with me, and my kids will tell you that around our house the word "cheese" has little to do with food.

Entitled The Three Man Fish Band; Practicing Their Scales, art-quilt 30"x33"
When digital artists began to play with surrealism I was even more enthralled.  But with art-quilts, tiny little details within pictorial work can get lost.  So, while occasionally I create digital pieces that I know I'll never quilt, my found photo art quilts tend to only share one or two obviously altered images. The piece to the right entitled The Three Man Fish Band; Practicing Their Scales is a perfect example.  After digitally altering the colors I replaced the violinists instrument with a fish.  Then I did a bit of work to the background and printed three fabric pieces of the same image.  After piecing these together I began to paint them with fabric paint for added texture and depth. I then added inner and outer borders of batik fabric before quilting and embellishing.  This piece remained in my collection until my son decided it was his!  I still enjoy its whimsical nature.

Thread Painting

Entitled, Mermaid this is a detail photo of the larger 37"x42" art-quilt
In one of my posts I touched on my hand drawn quilts so I thought in this post I would expand on that a bit by covering my one and only thread painted piece.  While this remains a favorite among family, friends, and gets a lot of attention when exhibited, I am quite sure I will never do another in this style.  Not that it wasn't fun....but anything creative I try for the first time is fun.  That doesn't mean I want to keep doing it.  I think I just like to know what skills are in my repertoire. Trying new stuff shows me that.  I also think stretching oneself creatively is part of an artists work.  This piece was that for me at the time I attempted it.  The imagery was drawn entirely from my imagination on batik fabric with a dark, green/black mixture I made from Tsukineko inks. All of the other coloring was done with thread and beading. This was my first art-quilt to be published in an international magazine and that was fun.  Not as hard as it looks....If you can draw, color, and sew thread-painting just might be your 'thing'!

'Snapshot' Art-quilts

As promised earlier, here's a collage of a few more from my 'Snapshot' series.  Four of these were inspired by 'found' photos, and two from my own old family pics.  Each measures 12"x17", though I have cropped them here to display as a group for the blog.  The great thing about commissioning these little pieces is that once done, they make great art-prints. Often family members come together to commission my art-quilts, and then purchase multiple art-prints of the finished work.  This is not only a great way to share your commission but appreciated as unique gifts.  Many of my studio art-quilts are sold as art-prints.  I'll share more about that in my next post as well as some larger pieces that I have designed around other found photos.

La mia Famiglia

Entitled House of Maffei, art-quilt 28"x36"

Entitled  Italian Laundry
With modern as well as vintage photos referenced in my figurative work, I am fortunate to be surrounded by friends that travel quite a bit.  I often ask them to snap photographs that I can then manipulate for use in my artwork in a variety of ways.  The art-quilt entitled Italian Laundry, is a perfect example of doing just that.  When I was working on my American Family Album series I wanted to focus on our immigration from Italy in a couple of pieces.  Because my research for the series continuously resulted in lost tales and interesting stories, the old adage about hanging out ones dirty laundry kept creeping into my consciousness.  When I heard that a friend was traveling to Italy I specifically asked for photos referencing this subject.  I remember her surprise to find laundry hanging out in such a fashion everywhere she went.  From the poorest areas to the more affluent, she was not at a loss for subject matter.  This piece truly served as a grounding element for the entire series.

Interestingly enough she also snapped a picture of a street sign bearing the family name that, through the immigration process, had been manipulated and eventually lost to us.  Somewhere along the way, without an Irish ancestor in the bunch, Murphy had replace Maffei!  Only three generations later and no one had even questioned this obvious Irish name in the midst of our obvious Italian heritage.  When I began my research for this series I found old letters and photos in Italian apparently belonging to my great grandfather, along with his seaman book that recorded his entry from port to port.  I watched his name gradually change spelling from Maffei to Murphy as the years charted his travels.  The art-quilt to the right is my attempt to at least creatively restore our family name.  Among the imagery of laundry and an antique map of Italy rests a vintage photograph of my grandfather with his father and uncle, who I was to learn were seamen from Genoa.  Thanks to Nikki Vick for the wonderful images of laundry and the thoughtfulness to also snap a picture of the street sign bearing our long lost surname.

These family pieces still hang in my home and serve as inspiration for the commission pieces I offer others who also want to tell their own American Family Album story.

American Family Album series

Victor and /Frances, art-quilt, 28"x36"
Two more pieces from my American Family Album series..... In my previous blog post the little boy in the art-quilt entitled Maffei, is depicted above, all grown up.  When I consult with clients commissioning their own family art-quiilts I always make sure they are passionate about the imagery.  Often people bring me the highest quality photo they have of their subject, thinking this will work best for my creative process.  But believe me, I'd rather work with a less perfect snapshot and have the artwork truly speak to the heart.  My expertise in digital restoration can go a long way to helping those old photos.  And's art, much of the beauty is in the patina!  Personally, I love this photograph of my grandparents!  It was snapped prior to their simple wedding in Galveston, Texas, where they lived and raised their family.  My grandmother had been a very young widow with a small daughter.  Because of this she could truly relate to my own years as a single parent and we became very close, even living together for a time several years after my grandfather died.  I loved hearing her stories of their meeting and courtship.  My grandpa was wonderfully crazy about my grandmother and it showed!  I know that my idea of what constitutes 'a happy couple' comes from spending so much time around the two of them. My husband Phil is so like my grandpa in that way. When out of the blue he complements me for the tiniest things, I smile and think of my grandparents marriage.  Phil simply adores me...and I thank my grandparents for modeling that kind of love so that I could recognize it when it came my way.

My mother, portrayed in the next art-quilt, was the couples third and last child.  The central image in this piece was taken from a black and white engagement photo that always sat on her dresser along side a Navy photo of my father.  In the digital process of manipulating the central photo for printing on fabric, I purposefully chose odd, somewhat subtle hues of lavender, gray and green. Remember, this is art, have fun with the colors.  In commission pieces my clients have to trust where I take the imagery for the finished piece.  While I consult extensively with my clients before beginning, the photos speak very loudly to me during the creative process!   The ability to listen to where I am being guided by the work is central to my work, and I believe it is what makes my pieces so compelling.

Depicting my mother 'through the years' was my way of documenting the milestones in her life; childhood, confirmation, graduation, marriage and the last photo, from her seventieth birthday which was celebrated at the time I made this piece for my series.  There are a lot of creative ways to do this, but I wanted the central image to stand out prominently, so I chose a very simple straightforward approach with this art-quilt.  This piece is amazing in person and always receives rave reviews when exhibited.  Those wonderful 1950's style photos are so striking...but then so was my mom, so I know much of the excitement about this piece is because the subject is so captivating.  Recently I edited a video of my parents young years and each time my dad watched he would announce to anyone in the room "how beautiful my wife" was.  Indeed.

My hope is that these posts reviewing the American Family Album series helps those considering their own family commissions.  But I truly love it when someone shows up with nothing more than a stack of photos and treasured memories they want creatively conveyed. My best advise is this, don't over-think the commission.  Often the best part of my job is to assist clients through the process of coming up with the story that simply wants to unfold.  Personally I believe that it is those in the photos that primarily guide the creative process..... whether they are ever physically with me or not!  :)

Here's a few more from the series....