ELAINE QUEHL, Quilt Artist, Teacher, Dyer, Designer

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Inspiration While Working Through the Bucket List, AKA Venice 2016

For the last 5-7 years I`ve been working on my travel `bucket list`. I turned 55 this month, and so it was time to see the Venice I have always wanted to see. First thing I have to say is that even in September Venice was packed with tourists! Take a look at the crowd on this bridge near the Piazza San Marco! There were tourists wielding selfie sticks everywhere. And boy was it hot! 32 degrees most days.

We didn`t let the heat and crowds spoil our trip! While we paid a brief visit to some of the top (and crowded) tourist attractions, we spent most of our time away from them, in less touristy areas. Below you can see how busy it was at the Piazza San Marco.

We visited a couple of islands in the Ventian Lagoon. First up was Burano, which was once a major site for lace-making. The houses there are all painted in amazing colours. Many of the islanders were fishermen, and the brightly-coloured houses helped them find their way home when they returned to the island.

This lovely house even had laundry to coordinate with it!

This little cat drew quite a crowd of tourists to watch him or her being mesmerized by the fishies in the pail.

We also visited the island of Murano, known for its production of Murano glass. I love glass, and yes it was amazing!

Away from the vaporetto (water bus) stop, the island was quiet and peaceful, and at a certain point in the afternoon the reflections on the canals were amazing!

So of course this trip will boost the inspiration I need for making some reflection quilts.

I always photograph cats and dogs when I travel. We caught sight of this beautiful cat through the garden gate of a home.

While the main cathedral at Piazza San Marco is crowded, I had read that a good substitute is the Basilica I Frari. It is packed with original works of art by the masters. And it was very quiet. This photo is taken from the outside.

Madonna and Child by Giovanni Bellini, 1488.

St. Jerome by Alessandro Vittoria, 1564.

In the midst of all the religious art at the Basilica I Frari, the sculpture below stood out, and I haven't been able to forget it. It is a monument commissioned to honour Doge ("duke") Giovanni Pesaro, the 103rd Doge of Venice. It was created in the years 1660-1669 by B. Longhena, M. Barthel, and B. Falcone. I can find very little written about it, but it sure strikes me as relevant to the current day. While virtually all art of the day was created for the church, I almost read this one as social commentary.

Isn`t this an amazing reflection? It rained that day and when the sun came out it reflected the orange wall into the water. We explored many back alleys and neighbourhoods of Venice.

This is probably one of my favorite shots of Venice.

Venetians love their dogs! I saw dogs riding in gondolas, a dog that took up a seat on the bus, and this little dog sat on his mothers lap through dinner in a restaurant.

This week I am recovering from a lot of walking, nursing my Venetian cold,  and prepping for my last big teaching trip of 2016: the Cherry Tree Quilts Retreat in Summerland, British Columbia. This is the fourth year I have taught for this shop. 

Friday, September 9, 2016

A Week of Experimentation

I am happy to share that over the past week I've had an opportunity to experiment with some ideas. During our vacation on Grand Manan Island, New Brunswick I got inspired by raindrops on leaves. I set a goal to learn about how to create the look of raindrops on fabric. Turns out that it is quite easy. I simply googled "drawing and painting water drops". There are numerous art sites that explain how to look at a waterdrop. No wonder I love them. It is all about the hi-lights and shadows! My first experiment involves fusing raindrop shapes to a piece of fabric to make the drops look "raised". Then I went at them with Prismacolor Artist Pencils to add hi-lights and shadows. I must say I'm very pleased so far. I'd also like to try a few different techniques and see what else I can come up with.

I've also been enamored with boats and reflections on water of late. My idea was to dye some pole-wrapped shibori in a marine sort of colour, experimenting with different widths of stripes. I tried different strings and tried varying the space between each round about the pole. So far so good, but I think the next step is going to be to paint in some of the white areas with whatever colours are reflected in the water, probably using thickened dyes to paint with.

On the beach in New Brunswick I picked up the most beautifully-coloured mussel shell. Silly me, I did not keep it. That is OK because this is how I remember it. Part of it was purple and purple-blues, and part of it seemed a butterscotch colour. So I spent a fair bit of time choosing a palette like this and cutting out squares in various sizes to make another quilt with free-hand curves. The blocks will be in various sizes and have lots of movement

Finally, I also experimented a bit with screen printing. You may recall that back in July I took a class on Screen Monoprinting on paper. This past week I applied the same principles to fabric. While we used silk paints on paper, I used fibre reactive dyes on fabric. I painted the liquid dyes on the screen and left them to dry. Note, the liquid dyes do not seep through the fine mesh of the screen. I should have taken photos of the painted screens but I forgot.

I was really just playing with colour. This was just a rough start to my experiments. With paper we used wall paper glue to screen the dried silk dyes. With fibre reactive dyes on fabric I used thickened print paste (sodium alginate). I pulled the dyes through the screen with my squeegee using water thickened with print paste.

I was able to get two prints from each screen. Still a few glitches to iron out, like how to keep the screen from slipping or moving while I'm "pulling" the squeegee. I need to work on my setup. I need to pull out a proper table to do this on, and not just on the edge of my washing machine. I also need to determine just how much thickened print paste is needed to "pull" each screen.
I find my screens a little too small. By the time I tape them to make sure I have a clean crisp edge, I'm only left with a design space of about 8" x 10". Think I'll invest in a larger screen, but first I better figure out what I want to use this method for. Reflections is one idea.
It's been a long time since I've had the chance to do this much experimenting in a single week. I'm pretty excited about it! Stay tuned!

Saturday, September 3, 2016

A Little Detour into a Week Long Escape

Last week I had another little "vacation". I had offered to look after my sister's dog while she went on vacation. This is my niece "Sunny". This gave me a quiet (more or less) week in Waterloo, spending time finding out how it would be to take care of a dog full-time.

One thing I'll say is that dogs sure are easier to give vitamins and pills to than cats! This dog eats ANYTHING, including her own poop, if I don't get to it fast enough. She's a bit of a nervous nelly. One day it got quite windy, and I had the windows open, and some papers blew off the cupboard. Well, that threw a monkey wrench in our week. While relaxed the first two days, she got quite jumpy. Dogs need routine I understand. I lead anything but a routine life. The first two nights she stayed up late with me. Eventually she said, "to hell with this" and headed upstairs to her own bed by 9 p.m.

During my "vacation" I spent a lot of time with my Dad (now 92) and took him off to his audiology appointment.

So I might add that I was in "home territory", the area I grew up in. I had not visited the St. Jacobs Farmers' Market in a long time, way too long, but I sure had a good time that week. Lots to see and do and buy. The best hummus comes from this market!

Did I mention here that I have been dreaming about a "She Shed" (garden shed) as a sort of refuge? I've fallen in love with the idea and especially the look of "shabby chic" furniture. Whether or not I ever end up with a "She Shed" as a retirement project in a few years, I started collecting a few items at flea/vintage/antique markets. During my week I got to be a "tourist" at times, and visited at least seven markets/shops, some of them twice.

What did I come home with? This wonderful shabby primitive bench! Isn't it a killer? This one made it back home to Ottawa, but some of my purchases are still in my sister's basement. I have a small car.

Had to have this "shabby" wash cupboard, which I realized my sister's white hydrangea would enhance nicely! I borrowed her antique "milk glass" vase (belonged to our grandmother) to give it a romantic look. Oh, and I bought this multi-tiered cake plate at a vintage market. This little scene makes me very happy :-)

This curved window, reclaimed from an old building I'm sure, is now sitting on the shelf in my studio. This was photographed in my sister's basement, with it sitting on top of the shabby table I scored.

And look at this adorable "chippy chair" I got for $25. It's a really old and strong plank chair.

Let me show you the one that got away! At one of my two favorite antique markets (this one Southworks Cambridge) I found this delightful cupboard with 36 drawers. Someone had taken the time to paint it in white with all the drawer fronts in turquoise, and every knob in white. The price was excellent. I bought it, and then learned it would not fit in my car. It broke my heart to have to take it back and ask for a refund. It shall ever be the one that got away ...

You may think I've lost my marbles, and maybe I have! But I sure had a great time, and am going to find a way to incorporate these pieces somewhere in my guest room or studio so I can enjoy them, even if the "She Shed" idea falls off the radar. It's just not a financial or time commitment I can make right now. Isn't the fun in most things the dreaming and planning anyway?

So all of this distracted me and pulled me from feeling inspired about my work. I realize I have way too many ideas and way too many things I want to do. IT IS TIME TO NARROW THINGS DOWN AND FOCUS. Stay tuned as I do this! And have a fantastic Labour Day Weekend wherever you are!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Finding Inspiration in a Quiet Vacation

I'm happy to report that I've found a quiet and inspiring pause in my schedule. It began with a 9-day vacation to Grand Manan, Island, New Brunswick, Canada. The destination was chosen because I knew it would be peaceful and provide reflective time and inspiration.

We lucked out on weather! A vacation in the Maritimes is often (at least for us) accompanied by rain. We had beautiful sunny days for the first several days, as evidenced by these fluffy white clouds. Even though it was cloudy a lot in the latter days, we seldom found it raining more than a brief shower.

Seafood is always a welcome part of travelling in the Maritime provinces. We stopped off for lobster rolls, haddock and whole clams just outside St. Andrews. That was the first of many, many lobster rolls!

A walk to the pier in St. Andrews.

A look back at the picturesque town.

We dressed warmly for the ferry ride to Grand Manan Island. It wasn't as cold as we expected. Here you can get a glimpse of the shore of Grand Manan as the ferry approaches.

Such a beautiful day spent out on the deck of the ferry. Here is the pattern we left in our wake.

Oh, yes, and the other reason I chose this destination was that I fell in love with the quirky cabins and yurts at Castalia Marsh Retreat. This was ours. We had a beautiful view out over the marsh, and a lovely outdoor seating area to enjoy it.

The front of our cabin:

I have been drawn to the sight of fishing boats and reflections on water for a while now. Grand Manan provided lots of inspiration to photograph them. I hope to create some quilts inspired by these photos, but am seriously wondering what I can do that is different from what others have done? We shall see.

Not sure what these purple flowers are that were blooming all over the place, but an abandoned boat amidst them captured my attention.

As if Grand Manan wasn't quiet enough, we decided to ferry to a smaller island called White Head Island. Not one afternoon, but two! There I did some sketching, we collected treasures (shells, rocks, etc) from the beach, and mostly found we had the beaches there all to ourselves.

A few nights into the vacation we woke to the sound of rain on the roof. Our first thought was, "oh no, another rainy vacation". But no, the next morning we awoke to magic outside our door. I shot many, many photos of raindrops on leaves. It just so happens that this is another subject I've been developing an interest in. I certainly collected a lot of inspiration.

The spiders spun magical webs during the wet night, and they were coated with fine raindrops. I'm feeling inspired to make a quilt based on the spider web.

When it was cloudy, many days I found the sky an interesting turquoise, blue and grey. Reminds me of a hand-dyed fabric I dye regularly in those colours.

A week of peace and quiet amidst nature and beauty is just what I needed. Now that I'm not planning the next three teaching trips (the next one isn't until end of September) I can think and dream about work I want to make. But in the meantime, I have a bit more vacation coming up, in which I shall think and dream and sketch some more. I am finally moving past the big sketching block I developed in the last couple of years. I'm willing to take the risk now. Enjoying quick pen and ink studies with a bit of watercolour. Perhaps I'll share them in a future post.

I hope you are enjoying some peace and quiet in your life wherever you are.