Sustainability in Artmaking

I’ve been conjuring spring, spinning yarn from which I’ll form floral designs to embed in felted scarves.  The yarn is fluffy, barely held together with minimal twist and lots of elements spun in — silk fibers, silk fabric strips, curly locks, kid mohair roving — to evoke the variations of flowers and flower buds.  I do the work in the minutes here and there as well as in solitary, peaceful hours in the studio that so often feel like some sacred time apart from the rest of the rush of life…

For much of the past eighteen months, overlapping the time that I started writing this blog, I’ve been taking care of our little granddaughter half-days during the week.  Choreographing my life around this sweet commitment has required flexibility and has led to many discoveries.   Because I longed to be within arm’s reach of her when she was a tiny infant, and wanted to use her nap times productively — and quietly — I learned how to spin art yarn using a drop spindle.  This new skill has energized my felted work, as I fuse the hand-spun fiber with feltmaking in all sorts of ways.

Every choice in life presents some compromise.  Not always “either/or,” sometimes this can be “either/and.”  Long studio days are infrequent right now; but my palette now includes lots of pastels, seen with new eyes, and inspired by all those hours gazing on a precious grandchild’s face.   In this chapter of life my mantra repeats: First Things First.  I have a lot of faith that my most important work — whatever that work may be — will get done, if I can quiet myself enough to work mindfully.

For years, our family has been a member of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Organic Farm, Village Acres.  Throughout the year, we get farm notes that help us feel connected to the daily concerns and details on the farm; and that inform us of what may be in our “share” box that week.   In reading about the careful management of “our” organic farm and all of their efforts to nurture sustainability, I am reminded of my own efforts to create a sustainable art practice.

So many issues are similar:  planning what and how to plant reminds me of my figuring out how to structure studio days; soil enrichment reminds me of being mindful of the physical demands of feltmaking as well as considerations for maintaining my art resources; the organic way of growing food reminds me to consider how “green” and non-toxic and unwasteful every aspect of my artmaking process may be;  the ups and downs on the farm (too much/too little/sun/rain/heat…) remind me to be resilient in my own work, and to have a can-do attitude; the business model of our well-run CSA, reminds me of how I want to do the “business of art” in my own life: personal, fair to all involved.

The “community” aspect of our CSA incorporates giving back to the community in many ways: by offering a convenient, local pick up location in town, and by including a variety of other locally-produced organic foods for sale at the weekly pick-up; and by hosting a yearly fundraising harvest event, to which members donate goods and services for a silent auction, that raises money to subsidize those who cannot afford to pay the membership costs.   Throughout the year, I donate some of my best work to local non-profit groups for their silent auction fundraisers, and it feels so good to be able to nurture the community through donating art work.

In considering additional venues for my felted work, I think about sustainability.  To “etsy” (online handmade marketplace) or NOT to “etsy” has been on my mind.  I don’t currently sell my work online, but people will contact me via email after seeing an image on my website/blog.  We’ll email back and forth, and I’ve sold work in this personal way.   It’s always thrilling — as if a piece of my artwork has come to life! — when I know that my work has connected with another person in some way and has moved them.  With a lot of art work, the artist knows the piece is good.  But with some work that’s experimental or very personally meaningful to the artist, any sense of whether the work is “lovely” or will be appealing is lost.  Objectivity doesn’t exist.  In order to sustain work at this depth, artists have always needed patrons so that the artists can take risks and creative leaps.  Patrons are another facet of sustainability.  Sometimes patrons are able to support artists in a material way; other patrons are more like muses whose encouraging presence is a source of sustenance.

To me, the definition of “craft” involves a level of skill that allows one to successfully achieve a certain outcome — more than once.  In artmaking, one aims to create something splendid; my sense of “craft” connects with understanding how this splendid creation happened and being able to do it again.  In mentoring other artists, I encourage them to think in terms of sustainability.  Even and especially in tough economic times,  beautiful and well-made art is cherished. Being a feltmaker and crafting one-of-a-kind scarves to keep people warm synthesizes practicality with luxury.   (I joke that I’m saving the world, one scarf at a time…) When I’m in the midst of focusing on studio work these issues of sustainability recede — and for a time  disappear altogether, in that transcendent “flow” that is at the heart of what sustains artmaking.

Published in: on April 20, 2011 at 8:18 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Few More Photos of the Sampler Felt

The sampler yardage is fully dry, and the weather is overcast but good enough to take a few photos outside.  I think these photos show the variations on the “Mimosa” motif better than yesterday’s photos — work always photographs better in natural light.

Published in: on April 17, 2011 at 3:04 pm  Leave a Comment  

Sampler Felt: Mimosa Theme Exploration

My studio is brimming with mimosa, despite the raw, rainy weather outside: In an attempt to figure out how to evoke the softness and opalescence of mimosa flowers, I crafted a table-full of yardage.  Using merino wool and silk, I created about two dozen variations on the theme.  Sometimes I focused on carefully layering and arranging the fibers to look just like the pink mimosa blossoms images I’d researched online; other times I just played with fiber.

The original layout was approximately five feet by two feet; after wetting and working it thoroughly, it was about three feet by fifteen inches.  I placed three layers of different colors of merino and white merino/silk roving for the base.  For the different mimosa flowers I used wisps of different colors of fiber and varied the design with elements that included my hand spun yarns, curly wool locks, dyed silk fiber, white tussah silk, hand dyed silk fabric strips, and snippets of green prefelt.

I often cut up sampler yardage and use the cut portions to make cards, but this piece I’ll most likely leave whole.  My intention with this experiment was successful: several of the mimosa motifs have the soft, puffy, shimmering quality of mimosa flowers. And I think I figured out how to create the sort of “neon” iridescence I’ve been working on this spring. Now I’m looking forward to adapting the techniques that were “hit and miss” on the sampler, to create long, luminous “Mimosa” scarves.   The images show how very much like mimosa flowers some of the dry, fluffy fibers look before being wet and worked; as well as how organic some of the felted images appear.  I have more experimenting to do, to learn how to maintain more of the softness and delicacy of each flower throughout the process.   In future explorations with this motif, I’ll use thinner layers of fiber.  By using less fiber overall, I’ll need to work the fibers less.  And the finished pieces should retain more detail.   That’s my theory.In the coming days, I’ll hope to share some images from this Mimosa series…

Published in: on April 16, 2011 at 11:00 pm  Comments (1)  

Adventures in Feltmaking: “Sampler” Yardage

When I’m experimenting with new fibers, a new technique or a new design, I’ll often create a table-full of what amounts to “sampler yardage,” combining this and that all over with no particular plan in mind other than to find out how things work and why.   I’ll embed elements in different layers, place assorted fibers on top of each other and next to each other, let things flow off the edge and entwine.  It’s a form of artful playtime.  As the process evolves and I work the fibers, I can see how this experiment is going.  Almost always, I learn a lot from the things that happen that I could not have planned.  It’s well-spent studio time.  Much of this yardage goes into my stash of “pre-felt” scraps for surface design work.  Sometimes I’ll cut out parts of the sampler yardage that are interesting little compositions, and glue these felted shapes to blank card stock — one can never have enough hand-crafted cards to give as gifts and as a way to say a heart felt “Thank You.”   It might be daunting to think about doing a whole scarf in an intricate flower motif — branches of forsythia and weeping cherry tree blossoms and mimosa have been on my mind.  A lot of feltmaking instruction, a lot of what you read in books, is, understandably, focused on producing something.  But focusing on process instead of product by creating a sampler in which one aims at a sort of nature study of the subject is not so daunting.  What seemed difficult is transformed into play.  What seemed as if it might take forever and be complicated becomes a form of meditation that takes you out of time.  You find a way to work that is so wonderfully just what you want to be doing that it feels like no effort at all.  There’s so much I long to do and to express in feltmaking.  I know I’m in good company.  There are so many felters out there who are in love with this craft, and the ways of our connecting and sharing about our work are blossoming every day.


Published in: on April 13, 2011 at 1:01 am  Leave a Comment  


Here are some pansies offering a tutorial on color theory…

Published in: on April 12, 2011 at 5:12 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Creative Instinct

A robin has been working on a nest that was built last year on our front porch.  The spot was good for the birds: nestled under the porch roof’s overhang and therefore protected from rain, on top of the broad support beam for the roof and against one of the exposed joists it is well-protected from wind.  The spot is not so good for us humans: above the main entry way for our home!  Last spring, in an effort to dissuade this robin from living above our entry way, we removed the nest as soon as she started building it.  She built it again immediately.  We removed it again.   Finally she dazzled us by building, in a frenzy of effort, a beautiful and sculptural nest: large, wrapped in layer upon layer of winter-bleached grasses and twigs, padded with leaves.  How could we resist?  We left it, she had two successful nests and we got to enjoy watching robins all spring and into the summer.  There was some daily clean up to this arrangement.  Worth it!  Here is the nest this year.  It is still beautiful after a long winter and windy start to spring.  Now she’s fixing it up again.  And this year she’s a welcome tenant.  Hope her work sparks your creative spirit, too.


Published in: on April 12, 2011 at 5:10 pm  Comments (1)  


Why are we drawn to some colors, repelled by others?

This question is at the heart of an art exercise, “Forbidden Colors,” described by art educator/therapist Peter London in his wonderful book “No More Secondhand Art.”   I adapted the exercise for a course I taught years ago, “Creative Renewal,” that was a series of ten workshops.   In this adaptation of “Forbidden Colors,” an assortment of crayons — lots of crayons! — is passed around the studio, and students are asked to look through and each select just one crayon: their least-favorite color.  What color would that be for you?   The rest of the exercise, with guidance in the form of questions, time for facilitated discussion, and several drawing exercises, is an exploration of why the “Forbidden Color” has been rejected.  And the exercise involves each student doing all of the work for that workshop ONLY in his/her chosen “Forbidden Color,” — that least favorite color — all the time guided to become mindful of what the color means, how it came to be rejected.  In the process, this unwanted color is often reclaimed.

When I did the exercise myself, in advance of leading the workshop, several colors competed to be my “Forbidden Color.”  Mustard yellow?  Pale grey?  Pallid pink?  I chose the pink crayon.  And as I worked, for hours, completing different drawing exercises using only that pale pink crayon, I discovered why I had rejected the color: I thought it was weak, fluffy, overly feminine, drained of real color, not serious.  And so I had avoided using pink in my work.

Reclaiming pink, I saw the color in a new way.  So much tender loveliness: flower petals, sunrises, the blush on peaches, babies’ cheeks, puppies’ tongues.

Recently I’ve been working with a lot of pink fiber, exploring layering pink merino with other colors and fibers to create thin, opalescent and glowing felted scarves; felting very feminine scarves with pink roses as the motif and ruffled edges cascading all along the lengths of the scarves; hand-carding pink fiber and strips of pink silk fabric to spin funky art yarn that is pink — and is also very expressive!

There’s been a lot of research about how and why color affects people.  Topics include Color Therapy; Crystal Healing; Vibrational Energy of Colors; Chakras.   Culturally, fashion experts like Pantone unveil their color “Forecast” for the season ahead.  Is this forecast just a way to get us to think our clothing is out of date?  Is it a way to get us to rush out and buy new things in the “hottest” colors?  Or is it on a more subtle level, a cultural response that is as holistic and organic as it is a marketing manipulation?  Do we yearn for soothing honeysuckle pink in a springtime of difficult times?  Embrace Lipstick Red when the economy just won’t rebound and we’re heading into another cold winter?  I suspect that color trends reflect both: marketing and a deeper longing.

Published in: on April 12, 2011 at 2:06 pm  Leave a Comment  

Lavender and Green Nuno Felted Scarf — Almost Dry

I couldn’t wait to take and share pictures.  Even though the ends of the scarf were not fully dry and even though it’s a cloudy afternoon, I set up outside and tried to capture the nuances of color in this mid-length (54″) nuno scarf.

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Published in: on April 11, 2011 at 5:40 pm  Comments (1)  

Start of the Layout for a Lavender Green Nuno Felted Scarf

When I teach feltmaking, I encourage students to take time, to really slow down, in selecting which fibers they’ll use.  Sometimes if you just take the time to assemble colors that look right, the design seems to create itself.  That’s how I’m feeling about this nuno felted scarf.  Suzanne Morgan’s hand-dyed silk fabric is the inspiration for the colors I’ve chosen, and in working on the scarf I’m using the very organic range of colors on the silk fabric as a guide for how I place different colors and fibers.  When the silk fabric is this lovely and the range of colors I’m working with seem to balance my state of mind, the many hours it takes to complete a nuno scarf are among those “magic hours” in the studio.  You cannot rush art; and among the arts, fiber art is among the naturally “slow art” forms.  More when this scarf is done.

Published in: on April 10, 2011 at 4:34 pm  Comments (2)  

Lavender and Green Nuno Felted Scarf

I’m working on a nuno (wool and silk fiber on a base of silk fabric) felted scarf today in my favorite colors: shades of leafy, spring greens and a range of lavender and purple.  In the design, wispy layers of merino and dyed silk fibers interconnect to form a vine motif.   Here are two photos of the start of the process, with more photos and info to follow…  The first photo shows the wonderful silk fabric, hand-dyed by Suzanne Morgan (Presence is her business name) and the second photo shows an array of merino wool and silk fibers from which I’ll create the wispy surface design.


Published in: on April 10, 2011 at 4:20 pm  Comments (3)