Posts Tagged ‘textile techniques’

The Mighty Mitochondria

Saturday, February 22nd, 2014
Detail of Microcosm

Detail of Microcosm

I get all kinds of commissions, from very large (17 feet), to very small (6×12”). Sometimes a client simply wants a piece that ‘looks like’ one I’ve already made, but most projects are far more complicated. I rarely turn one down though. Thinking back, some of the most memorable, cherished and not, moments of my art career came to me via commissions.

So, just before Christmas 2013, I got a call from the wife of a retired Professor of Biochemistry who was about to enjoy his 80th birthday. Knowing of my interest in the sciences, she wondered if I might create a wall piece to celebrate her husband’s research in mitochondrial biogenesis. Now I had heard of mitochondria in my Science courses, ummmm…. literally back in the last century, but couldn’t, at that moment, recall a single thing about them. My right brain raced as we discussed practical matters like size, shape and timing.

Then I thought, what the heck… that’s what Google is for, right? And I love abstracts. Thus began the steep learning curve from mitochondrially-challenged to mitochondrially-knows-just-enough-to-make-a-wall-hanging.

Just so all that knowledge doesn’t go to waste, let’s get up to speed on mitos. They are small, really small: less than 1 micrometer in size. They live inside most of the cells of living organisms. They are often described as “cellular power plants” because they generate most of the cell’s supply of energy. Electron micrograph photos show globular forms filled with parallel strands (threads! Yes!), and either alone or nestled amongst others of their kind. They can both divide and recombine. The reasons scientists are interested in them are many – with implications for health, aging, growth and even memory.

Some of this was coming back to me. Could it be my own mitochondria were dancing?

Here is a single mitochondrion.

I’ve always trusted in my ability to rise up to the occasion, however happy or dire. For this project, as with most others, there was research – reading, gathering images, making rough sketches, pondering techniques. I drifted off at night thinking about possible layouts.  After a few weeks, it was time to commit to paper. With a few attempts and some tweaking, this was the result:

A coloured pencil sketch of Microcosm

A coloured pencil sketch of Microcosm

The colours came from electron micrograph images of the interiors of cells. I wanted to show all the energy at the moment of division, so one of the mitos broke out from the border. The dark background provided an atmosphere of mystery while also creating a foil for the bright neon colours.

I sent the drawing off to the client with bated breath. Normally after viewing a first attempt, the client comes back to me with all kinds of suggestions and changes, but not this lady! … It was a solid ” GO FOR IT!”

The next challenge was technique. This design was quite different from recent work and would require more attention to the strong clean lines, to stand clear from all the background details. For the solution, I harkened back to 2002 and 2009, recalling two series of Seed designs I’d made with the same sharp edges (image below). Great! A precedent!

SEED - KENTUCKY COFFEE 2003 17X25

Kentucky Coffee Seed 2003 17×25″
Here I used a collage technique that provided a nice crisp contrast with the background

I cut the globe shapes in fabric, leaving the edges bare and crisp, filling in the centres with other fabrics and clippings. Once the globe shapes were done, I added the interior strands using strips of a semi-transparent print. They looked good but a bit washed out. Would couching a contrasting yarn around them create more contrast? Oh yeah! And it was pleasant, meditative work, not at all the chore I had anticipated. The design did change somewhat – it always does as I’m working on the real thing. That bottom mito needed to be whole, not cut off.

A real closeup

A real closeup, since you asked….

Then came the finishing: backing, batting, quilting, sleeve…. Ta-da!!! Six weeks after that first call, “Microcosm” was delivered, rolled up in a cardboard box we hoped would escape detection until Presentation Day, in early February.  The final word?  Instant recognition, and very well received.

MICROCOSM 2014 36X19S

Microcosm 2014 36×19″ Fabric wall hanging by Lorraine Roy

 

 

Terra Silva: A Return to the Roots

Friday, February 7th, 2014

Hello Everyone!

In starting this new post, I am reminded of the way we were taught as children to begin confession in true Roman Catholic style. “Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. It has been _____________ since my last confession.”  At this point, we either said “last week Thursday”, easy to recall since our whole class was herded in weekly, or, later in our lives, we made it up (erring on the most recent option, hoping God wasn’t keeping tabs). Well, I must say in this new age, I can look at precisely when I wrote my last blog post and it has certainly been a long long time. Tabs are being kept, and it ain’t pretty.

Hey, it’s not as if nothing was happening! In fact, there was just too much going on to know where to begin. I love writing and I miss it!!! And… mea culpa. Here I am once again, hopefully in the driver’s seat, time-wise.

Let’s start with recent news. Last month, after a four month wait since applying, I was awarded a generous grant to pursue a project very dear to my heart. The grant is the Ontario Arts Council Franco-Ontarian Arts Grant for Established Artists, and it is meant to help artists set aside time and resources to creating a body of work.

 

SNOOPY DOING LORRAINE’S HAPPY DANCE

For my project, I propose to create an exhibition inspired by the world beneath the earth’s surface, where roots meet the soil. Most of us are completely unaware of the millions of organisms that work the soil. In fact, soil life accounts for a much larger living mass than that which exists above ground, just as roots can outweigh and outsize the visible part of the tree. I have always been fascinated by the science of soil, and it has been the subject of much of my latest work.

In my search for inspiration, I recently became aware of the work of Prof Suzanne Simard of UBC. Dr Simard is studying how microscopic fungi act as a communication interface between one set of roots and another, creating bridges between various tree species to share resources. The network works much like the neural networks of our own brain. Through her work, we are learning that trees in a forest do not compete, but in fact cooperate with each other and share resources. This gives a forest more resilience and stability against adversity like disease or climate change. In every forest ecosystem, there are certain Mother trees – older, larger specimens – that serve as anchors for a large grouping of younger trees around them. When Mother trees die, they slowly release their stored nutrients and resources to all the trees in the network. Click on the image below for a wonderful video of Prof Simard, talking about Mother Trees.

Professor Suzanne Simard explaining her research

This research is a rich source of inspiration, both visually and conceptually. Also, it will be relevant to all who love trees and nature, and who care about the environment. I have been in touch with Dr Simard – she is eager to share more information and is excited about the exhibition. In fact, she invites me to come and see first-hand what she and her students are up to in the lab and in the field. Of course, I am saying YES!

So, here I am right at the beginning. Dr Simard sent me half a dozen papers and articles to read up on, and I’ve acquired a textbook for which she is a contributor. Happy to share this journey with you, along with all the digressions and distractions along the way.

Always yours,

Lorraine

Blue Fissure #1  12×12″  2014

The value of working in Series

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012
Escarpment #13 2009 24x24"

Escarpment #13 2009 24×24″

“The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature.”
Joseph Campbell

Way at the start of my art life, all my passions were directed at exploring techniques and trying out new materials. I wondered how any artist could deliberately limit herself to one particular subject for two consecutive pieces, let alone an entire series! The infinite possibilities were too exciting. How could I possibly choose one over another? What if I missed out on something even better? And truly, the textile industry marketing machine is built on distraction, with new materials, techniques and equipment introduced every day. Overwhelmed and scattered, I began to realize there were fewer and fewer satisfying and tangible results for my constant industry. It was time to rethink the value of limits.

For me, this realization preceded a beautiful turning point. Now, I rarely do one-offs. Nearly all my new work somehow, either formally or loosely, fits into some kind of series. I want to write here about the value of working in series, not from a curator’s or collector’s point of view (because this is well covered in many excellent articles already), but from my own experience as an artist. How does it work, with respect to my creative path?

Perhaps I am predisposed to working in repetitive mode. At our family cottage, my favourite activity is to walk the very same 45 minute trail from our property to a rocky shore on the opposite side of the point. I do this at least once a day, at different times and in all weathers and seasons. While walking, I might mull over whatever is foremost in my mind, or just watch for butterflies. Each step is a rhythmic motion, a heartbeat, that carries me from one thought to the next. Invariably, by the time I reach the end of the point and back, some insight reveals itself that would not have come otherwise. For me, this trail provides a consistent platform from which to frame and recalibrate my inner world. Over and over, on the very same trail, I never fail to find something new.

As in life, so with art. A subject chooses me, and so the trail is set. When I first moved to the Niagara Escarpment area eight years ago, I found myself observing how the layers of unyielding rock supported certain vegetation and trees. What a rich vein of imagery and ideas to draw on! And so my Escarpment series was born:

Escarpment #1  2008 23x32"

Escarpment #1 2008 23×32″

The first pieces I produced really primed the pump. I loved working on the rock imagery in collage and appliqué, and I loved the results. Fresh ideas began to suggest themselves. With each new step, my thoughts turned to the metaphoric value of these images, like Triumph over Adversity:

Triumph  2011  30x40"

Triumph 2011 30×40″

No single piece in a series can possibly tell the whole story, and why should it? In this piece, I can tell the story of Courage:

Courage  2010  24x24"

Courage 2010 24×24″

In this one, I can talk about time and memory:

Between Now and Then  2009  36x48"

Between Now and Then 2009 36×48″

Or I can simply have some fun with colour and materials:

Escarpment #16  2009  24x24"

Escarpment #16 2009 24×24″

The possibilities are endless, series within series, and all kinds of spinoffs. Each piece is a step, like a sentence in a paragraph. It leads to the next, and so on, until the thought is complete. Sometimes it takes only two or three pieces. Other times, as with my ongoing Hawthorn series, the conversation continues intermittently for years and years.

Like all good things in life, the Escarpment series led to another, my Fertile Ground series. And I trust that eventually, by keeping to my trail, new ideas for series will grow, either building on the ones before, or shooting off on other tangents entirely. Working in series is a rhythmic, organic process that resonates with the pulse of nature. I feel the music of the Universe within me, with every step.

Do you like working in series? How did you start, and what are you working on now?

Fissure #5 2011  24x24" - another tangent!

Fissure #5 2011 24×24″ – another tangent!

 

SOUL

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

During workshops, one complex topic that always arises is the issue of copyright, or, more specifically, the moral implications of imitating the teacher’s personal design and style. Takes on this issue vary wildly, so I am going to speak here about my philosophy about teaching and outreach. In a future blog post, I will talk about image theft and copyright, because that covers a slightly different aspect.

Years ago, I took a one-week papermaking workshop with Tootsie Pollard (now deceased) at Haliburton Summer School. She was a lively little lady (Tootsie comes from tout–p’tit, meaning tiny-little in French), as round as she was tall, and full of binnes (French Canadian for beans ;) ). Over the years she had developed a method of pulling thread grids through paper mulch to make elegant lacy papers. She even used this technique to make installations, which, because of the size of elements involved, was a true tour-de-force. The real magic is that she unstintingly shared every detail about her own research and technique. For a full week she offered her personal from-scratch recipes and methods, with no worry that perhaps we might take this information and become better-known, better-paid, and better-equipped for her signature forms than her, the humble artist who inspired it. Feeling honoured but horrified on her behalf, we broached the subject. This is how she replied: “When I teach my technique, I want it to go out into the world because I know that somewhere, somehow, it will come back to me in a different form, and then I will learn from it.” What a wonderful way to be! I loved this lady and I have since used and taught her technique in her honour, but the most important result of the class is that it helped form my own ideas about teaching and outreach.

Lace Paper from recycled paper

Artists in all mediums face a difficult path – the balance between honest artmaking and income, especially in cultures that do not fully support it, is a challenge. Becoming established is the result of years of exploration, experimentation, and physical and financial investment, to build a unique style and process. This is why some artists jealously guard their secrets, even to the point of patenting certain techniques. The huge investment in time and energy is easily diminished in the wrong hands, or, at the other end of the scale, can be taken to broader commercial success that does not benefit the artist who did all the ground work. It would be painful to me if participants in workshops took to copying and selling my work and imagery as their own, without permission or acknowledgement.

So, it all boils down to trust. Like Tootsie, I don’t hold back in showing all I have learned so far. In 15 years of mining this technique, I am still finding new ways to use it! When I teach it, I know participants will eventually ‘branch’ out in their own way. One of the beauties of this technique is that it can be mastered with simple equipment and inexpensive materials, yet the results, like painting, are always innately beautiful and very much linked to the maker’s personal voice and imagery. Of course, at the start, samples and designs will to look like mine. In fact participants might wish to use my work as models for their own personal growth, or for their own homes and as gifts. Plus, they might even teach the technique to others. I encourage it! I learn from what participants are doing during and after workshops – new ways of juxtaposing colour, or modifications of stitching, design ideas, and so on. It’s like the flame from a candle, igniting an infinite line of new candles, so that the light is never extinguished.

Soul is not a ‘vapour’ that floats away from the body when we die: Soul is what we leave behind in our actions and in their tangible results, and in the memories of those whose lives we touched. The light from my candle was sparked from an infinite number of others who came before. I believe eternal life results from passing it on, while we are yet fully grounded on this earth.

So this is where I stand with teaching. I try to show everything I know so far. I encourage everyone to play with it, enjoy it, and take it to any level that provides excitement and accomplishment. I want them to pass it on, and feel the inner peace and joy that comes from letting go and trusting in the wisdom of the universe.

Lace papers from a workshop, with thanks to Tootsie!

Getting ready

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

For the past few days, I’ve been preparing workshop materials for my two one-day classes in St Marys (for the Piecemakers Quilt Show) coming up on Friday and Saturday. I like to have fresh demonstrations ready for every workshop I teach… it keeps me challenged and allows me to try out new teaching techniques. My workshops have changed a lot over the years as a result of constant experimentation. I always tell the participants they are guinea pigs for all my crazy ideas.

For each workshop, there at least three hours of preparation, even if I’ve taught the subject dozens of times. I always have new samples to show and lots of finished work for people to see. I’m working on expanding my subject matter as well… more workshop options are coming up!

I have no idea what the facilities will be like at the Centre in St Marys… it’s always a creative challenge, setting up in new spaces…. let’s hope the lighting is great and the coffee is flowing!

This coming weekend I will also present a slide talk and trunk show, “The Sylvan Spirit: Trees as inspiration for textile art”. It will take place at the Pyramid Recreation Centre in St Marys at 7pm on Friday, April 27. The entry fee is $5, and everyone is welcome! I hope to see you there!

Workshop at Royal Botanical Gardens, 2010

WORKSHOPS AND BREAKING NEWS!

Saturday, February 18th, 2012

Hello there,

Been a long time since my last post. Good reasons for that, including the fact that at this very moment I am working on a new website, soon to be launched. From that moment on, I will be able to do all the updates, all by myself! Welcome to the New Age!

So, for now, below are my latest upcoming events. On my new website I will also be able to provide links to the Application forms and supply lists for my workshops… but for now, just email me and I will send them to you as attachments.

Thanks, and see you soon on the ‘other side’!!!

Lorraine

Lectures and Presentations
“The Embroidered Tree: My Journey with Science and Art”
for the Plant Agriculture Lecture Series offered by the University of Guelph, Guelph, ON
Friday, April 13, 2012 at 3:00 pm
This free event will take place at the Arboretum Centre. This is the first time a textile artist has been asked to do this kind of presentation!
“Stitching the Sylvan Spirit”
Lecture and trunk show, as part of The Piecemakers’ Quilt Show
St Mary’s, ON
Friday, April 27, evening Time to be announced.
Workshops
Basic Net Collage – Two one-day Workshops
April 27 and April 28, 2012
Location: St Mary’s, ON
Please click on the link for more information or to register.
BASIC NET COLLAGE WORKSHOP – A Two-day workshop
Saturday, May 26 and Sunday, May 27, 2012 9:30-4:30
Location: Dundas, ON
Please reserve early to avoid disappointment!
Contact me for more information.
Upcoming Workshops in Edmonton, AB and Vancouver Island, BC …. October 2012….. details coming up soon!

Embracing imperfection

Monday, March 14th, 2011
CAN SPRING BE FAR AWAY?
First, the News of the Day: I’ve been asked by the Janome sewing machine company to be the Featured Artist for their booth at the upcoming International Quilt Festival in Long Beach, California slated for July 28-31, 2011. The theme this year is The Four Seasons – right up my alley! I will post more about this exciting event as the date approaches, and will let you know what I decide: should I go in person this time? It seems that my work shows up in many of these Quilt extravaganzas, but the maker (me) never seems to follow. Let’s just say, maybe it’s time.
On Perfection/Imperfection:
Many many times, viewers of my work make the comment that I must be a perfectionist. While I know this comes from a good place with the best of intentions, I find it incredibly puzzling. Without even looking hard, I see dozens if not hundreds of flaws: threads hanging, yarns in less-than-ideal positions, colours and contrasts that don’t work that well, stitching that could have been more in keeping with the lines…. not to mention lack of classic balance and ignoring the rules of design with predictable results. Just off the top of my head, I can think of all kinds of improvements to make in even the best of my pieces.
But I can let that be, and I’m not shy about it – I might even say that in some cases I allow these imperfections to flourish. Below is an excerpt from an interview I did a few years ago with Dr Bernie Herman, in answer to his question about how I feel about imperfection in my work:
“I humbly believe my art is a microcosm of what is happening each day on this Earth – that each piece I make captures (in the best way I can) one moment in a continuum of moments. It is not perfect but it buillds on previous experience, and is a step to the next level.
Just because one individual piece is not perfect does not mean it has less value. On the contrary, it has much to offer someone who is truly observing and searching – the mistakes, the inconsistencies, the omissions, the triumphs and failures – they are all there, plain to see. Each viewer enters it, contributes to it, and grows with it, in his own way. The viewer is a co-creator with the artist. This would not happen if the piece was perfect. The static state of Perfection is death for the soul.
Take the processes of Biology. A static grid could represent the orderly and mathematical process of cell division. But, during this process, even if everything proceeds as it should, surprises can happen at any point. How species adapt and evolve to deal with these surprises leads to their eventual wins and losses. Winners pass it on to the next generation. This is what drives evolution.”
Nothing moves without change.You could even say imperfection is BUILT IN to the DNA of life. And this fleeting moment is what I look for in other artwork too, not only in my own. The works I admire most contain within them a welcome mat, a place where I can cozy up and ride along with the maker. It is not about answers, but about intriguing questions that spur my imagination and challenge my preconceived notions.
So, no, I am absolutely NOT a perfectionist. Allowing and embracing imperfection and mistakes is how I evolve within my own work. This is what I want to pass on to viewers: I want to let them in, I want them to join me in my journey. I don’t have all the answers, but I believe that together we can explore those exciting questions, combine our strengths, and grow along together.
Till next time…. Lorraine

February 2011

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

First, here’s a link to a nice interview with me on the World of Threads Festival website. This International festival is a bi-yearly event that happens in Oakville, a town not far from where I live. I’ve been participating in it for years as an exhibitor, speaker, and juror. Each year it gets better. I am getting harder and harder to please with textiles, and yet last year’s showing just blew me away!!! So if you are a textile artist I strongly recommend that you visit the event if you can, enter your work in Common Thread exhibition or keep an eye on what’s happening there (even if you’re from VERY far away)…. I have a strong feeling that this year’s festival is going to be a knockout.

Also, I will be teaching a 3-day workshop in London, Ontario this coming May, as part of the Gathering Threads conference organized by the Canadian Embroiderers’ Guild. I suggest booking early for any of their events and workshops – they are filling up fast!

OK! Down to the day’s discussion.

The Gathering Thread interview stirred up some great topics and got them buzzing around in my head. This is why I rarely turn down interviews, especially those that go beneath surface. First of all, it’s flattering that someone, anyone, might be interested in what I’ve got to say. Heck, how often does THAT happen? And the other thing is, especially with the written ones, they cause me to really think about the reasons why I feel as I feel. Most of the time, space constraints don’t allow me to put it all in the interview, so I’m going to make a list and do it here in my blog.

Why I love my technique

The most important quest for any artist is to find a medium that resonates with her vision, her abilities and her personality. I love my technique. I do.

And after a lot of thought, I believe this is why: from start to finish, there is a lot that ‘just happens’. That is to say, chance plays an important role in the finished product. For example, although I have a huge, and I mean huge, collection of fabrics, I rarely have ‘exactly’ the right colour envisioned for the piece. Or it’s there and can’t be found, in spite of the relative order of my storage system.

So what’s a girl to do? Go out and buy new materials each time? Not an option… the nearest fabric shop is a good 20 minutes’ drive and in the heat of the creative moment I am not a good risk behind the wheel. SO – I make do. Yes, I make do with what I have. And this just happens to be the most important and salient and exciting part for me: the medium itself, the fabrics I have now, become part of a ‘conversation’. I am no longer the dictator.

This way, my process begins to record where and how I am at the moment, with the materials I have, with the machines, studio and life that I’ve got. Me, and my life, not ‘just me’. By pushing it just a bit further, by using scraps that are just lying around, cutting them in a random way, throwing them on instead of carefully placing them, sewing over them in unplanned patterns and lines, letting the raw edges fray, going for BOLD rather than FUSSY… I live in the moment, turn the ego off and experience a direct connection with the muse, no longer getting in my own way.

Letting go is exhilarating. It means accepting the risk of failure. It means overcoming obstacles in new ways. It means learning to live with and embracing imperfection. It’s the ONLY way to exceed my own entrenched ideas. Plus, no problem worrying about running out of this or that. I KNOW nothing is going to impede my creative energy.

I think all life should be like that … as in art, so in life. Or so I hope. As I explore this idea in my art practice, every day, I hope snippets of ‘letting go’ will drift into my daily life. In that way, art is definitely my teacher.

I know there are all kinds of great new products out there, glues and sprays and sparkly things, tools and machines and threads and storage options… There are all kinds of ways I might be able to ‘improve’ how I work, do it better, faster, quieter, bigger…. but I resist, for all the reasons above: those ‘things’ will find their way to me if they are meant to. Otherwise, I am fine, content and free of want.

That’s all for now… It’s winter, the most beautiful of seasons. Stay warm and we’ll talk again soon.