ELAINE QUEHL, Quilt Artist, Teacher, Dyer, Designer

Saturday, February 23, 2013

What Are You Not Doing This Year?

I've been thinking about the year ahead.  What do I really want to do?  What do I need to NOT do so I have the time to do something else I really want to do? Well the big thing I am NOT planning to do this year is have a solo show, or even apply for a solo show for a future year. As you may know, planning a solo show in a gallery or museum often requires you to apply and plan at least a year, and often two or more years, in advance of the actual show. After quitting my day job in 2008 it became very important to me to branch out in all directions in order to set up the best scenario for making a living as a full-time artist and teacher. The result was that between 2009 and 2012 I had four solo shows and one joint show. Showing in the City of Ottawa art galleries was one of my best experiences, but I do not want to do it again until I have a new body of work to show. Because I am teaching and travelling a lot, it will take some time to amass that much work. My dream is to one day have an all-hosta show, but that means I need about another 10 pieces, and I hope my interest in this series will sustain me that long. Time will tell!!! The bottom line is that I am now in a place mentally where I can wait, and where it is OK to say no to certain opportunities. Sometimes we have to say no to certain things in order to have the time and resources to do other things that are more important to us, and sometimes we have to say no for our own well-being. What are you saying no to this year that will enable you to meet another very important goal?

This week I did spend a lot of time in the studio finishing my old oak tree, which at the moment is named "Invitation" because of the welcoming bench beneath it. The first time I met this oak tree in the Ottawa Arboretum, there was a pastel green bench beneath it, beckoning visitors to stay a while and enjoy the massive canopy of oak branches. It was early spring when the leaves were barely budding, so the tree was dark and stark, like in the finished quilt. You can see a close-up of the bench in the second photo. I did cut a curve between sky and land, to make the dividing line less stark, but in the end it seems that most of that curve ended up behind the tree, leaving the line still a bit too strong.

Invitation, 2013
Invitation, Detail, 2013

One thing I will be doing this year, is having the following work, "End of Days", travelling in SAQA's Metaphors of Aging show. I was thrilled to find out two weeks ago that the piece is one of 39 quilts accepted, out of a total of 160 entries, to travel in this show. The two venues so far confirmed are Festival of Quilts, Birmingham and Johannesburg Quilt Festival, South Africa.
End of Days, 2012

On the other hand, I also learned in the last couple of weeks that none of my three entries (below) to Fantastic Fibers at the Yeiser Arts Center in Paducah, Kentucky were accepted.  Only 54 of the 700 entries (a very competitive show) were accepted, and mine were not among them.  
Curtain Call 2, 2012

Red Stool, 2011

Red Stool Macro, 2012

That means I now have three works I can use to apply to other shows.

I feel that I get better outcomes by sending a few pieces a year to juried shows internationally than by having a solo show locally.  I think a solo show locally can be very important when you are trying to establish yourself as a serious artist in your city, or if you are trying to make a living selling your work. However, to expand my teaching I need to have my work out in the world. So like previous years, I will continue to enter juried shows, although I may enter fewer this year. One other thing I will definitely not be doing is having a work in the Canadian Quilters Association's National Juried Show. Very simply, I screwed up and missed the deadline because it was a bit earlier than usual this year. I feel that this is normally an important venue to show at as a Canadian teacher who makes the bulk of her living in Canada.

Another thing that is happening here in my world is that we've adopted a new kitty. Isn't she pretty? Poor thing almost froze to death on New Year's Eve, before Cat Rescue Network found her and placed her in a foster home. We applied to adopt her, were approved, and she came to live with us today. She is supposed to be a companion for our dear old Kissabelle, our only remaining cat. Unfortunately, today, Kissabelle is NOT amused by the scent and sight of a new cat in HER house. We will have to tread carefully and introduce them slowly.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Inspiration from Yesterday's Class

I've been doing a lot of teaching locally this winter.  At least one workshop per week.  Yesterday I had another great day teaching for the Ottawa Valley Quilters Guild. The class was "Liberated Radial Piecing".  You cut and piece a radial design free-hand without measurements or rulers. Being without a ruler, especially if it is your first time, can be extremely liberating, but it can also be very anxiety-provoking. This class was up to the challenge!  Everyone took the concept and ran with it!

Kirstin, one of my students in the 6 day "Dye Happy" class I taught two years ago appeared at class with a most scrumptious assortment of hand-dyed, hand-patterned  fabrics. She has been using all the methods she learned in that class (flour paste resist, stitch resist, clamped and pole wrapped shibori). I was really happy and inspired to see this.

I think, most impressive, was her Mokume Shibori piece (below). This is a method of stitch resist shibori that is very labour intensive, requiring you to stitch rows of running stitches 1/4" apart across the entire piece of fabric. The rows of stitching are then pulled tight, and the fabric is placed in an immersion dye bath.  After the dyeing process, the stitching is removed to reveal the patterning. I had a lot of trouble getting this one to work for me. Please take the time to click on the photo below to see an enlargement.  It is IMHO just absolutely gorgeous! 

The next time I teach this class it will be under the name "Dyeing to Quilt", and it takes place at the Haliburton School of the Arts the week of October 21-25, 2013. The link to the class and registration information is here. We decided to put the word "quilt" in the title to ensure quilters would find it in the course list.

Mara's liberated radial design was coming along nicely, and I really love the hint of green in it.

Sue's was coming along nicely by the end of the day as well.  Colours reminiscent of the Southwest!

In the last couple of weeks I've dyed A LOT of fabric to fill out my stash better. The cotton portion of the store came with me for this workshop in case anyone needed a certain colour (they did!). 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

A Story about Quilts and Healing

In my last post I forgot to mention that there was a winner for the hand-dyed fabric!  Laura McGrath of North Carolina, US, won four fat quarters.  She requested an assortment of the golds/greens/browns that I had showcased on my blog in this post.  I was happy to oblige, although I forgot to take a picture of the selection I sent!

By my deadline of midnight on Friday night I had not received a post about the above book.  Yesterday I had a post from Daphne in Ottawa with a story about Quilts and Healing.  At the moment, it is the second-last response to my post called Stuck on a Certain Fabric. Because I liked her story and she was the first to post, I decided to award the book to her.

If you would like to find out more about this book you can do so at the following posts, where I went into more detail about it.

Textile Arts as Women's Therapy, Part 2
Textile Arts as Women's Therapy

In the mean time, today I received a very moving story from a reader, who wishes to remain anonymous, but wants to share her story about quilts and healing.  I am happy to share it here.  I'm sure you will agree that it is an amazing story, and one that warms the heart.

My youngest son - in his late teens right through to his mid-thirties - was addicted to crack cocaine and we spent so much money and time trying to find the cure - getting him help and into treatment centres, both residential and non residential - none of which "worked".  These years were torturous - I nearly went mad trying to figure out what I had done, or not done, to cause him to be so severely unhappy with his life that he had turned to drugs and alcohol.  I lost contracts, I lost weight, I really did go a bit mad and tried to buy a gun to shoot the dealer, I would wait until my husband fell asleep then drive around downtown to try to find my son, (I knew my husband would stop me doing so),  I had many thoughts of driving my car over a bridge or hitting something large, I cut myself off from everyone I knew, I attended all kinds of AA meetings, and nothing seemed to make me feel less guilty or any better about my life, my relationship with my husband suffered and it is only because I am married to such a caring man that we made it through, every day I beat myself up with my guilty thoughts.

I was new to quilting at that time and one day, when he was in his early twenties and off at college, I pulled out fabric - black and white squares - thinking of my life as black and white - then I thought about all the arguments my son and I had had over these black years, and I pulled out colour to represent his moods - red for anger, blue for sadness, green for his love of the outdoors, yellow for the spark of light I saw in between his relapses, and I made a log cabin quilt to represent how much I loved him and to keep him centred and know that he was always in my heart.  I drove down to his college and gave him the quilt telling him this was all I could do for him.   I didn't think that he was very impressed or thankful for the quilt. After that things got worse and he was at times homeless, sleeping in shelters or sofa surfing in half-way homes, sometimes I didn't know where he was and I watched the morning news every day and called the police to follow up on any deaths or stabbings wondering if it was him.  Life went on like that for many years.

I eventually joined a group called Al Anon and worked through my guilt and sadness and began to understand that I didn't cause the addiction, I could not cure it and I had to admit that I was powerless to change him.  I eventually accepted the fact that he had a disease and found some peace within myself.     I am happy to say that he too found the right group and the right people to help him and he also has found a way to make peace with his demons and is currently healthy.

Two years ago he married and I have a beautiful daughter in law and a gorgeous grandson and the log cabin quilt is still with him and takes pride of place on their bed.  My daughter in law told me that part of the message on the label was part of their wedding ceremony. 

(I don't have a photograh of the quilt that I can send you but I can do so - it's not a work of art, but it did help me and obviously it helped him as this is the only possession he has from the past - everything else was sold or traded for drugs!)

So, that's my story and if you want to publish it I would ask that you do so anonimously as not everyone understands what addiction really is, and I also don't want to be labelled as the mother of a drug addict.   I'd rather everyone know that I love my son unconditionally and am proud of his success to overcome the struggles but I also acknowledge that it's a daily struggle, always close to the surface, but manageable at present and I would be most unhappy if people looked at him sideways, without trust or respect, because he so deserves to be understood.

I was new to quilting and had no idea how meditative and calming stitching can be.  Thinking back, the majority of the stitches held love but there was also a lot of cursing!

At different times in my life, while sitting in Intensive Care or hospital with my father, I knitted or did needlework - so needle arts are obviously (at least for me) a way of relieving stress and bringing some peace to my soul - and each stitch usually brings a hope for recover and love, of course!

Thank you anonymous reader for sharing this story with us today.  I'm sure you would also love the book.  I wasn't able to find it in Canada, so ordered the copy for the blog-giveaway from www.amazon.com.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Dyeing and the Studio

I am sorry to say that no one wrote me a note with a story of quilts and healing, so there was no winner for the last blog give-away.  I was surprised since I often hear these stories when I travel.  I have my own story, which I have shared in most of the interviews I've given, and the UTube videos on this blog.  So I'm not sure if folks felt it was too private to comment publicly (which I understand), or it was too much work for a book you might not win anyway, or the book wasn't of interest.  So I shall hang on to it for a future opportunity.

I'm home all winter, so trying to plan ahead for busier days.  Just take a look at the state of my studio!  There's that tree on the design wall that I just blogged about.  Stacks of fabric dyed and ironed, boxes with teaching material, and a tray of bark created for tree collage.

There's a messy stack of fabric that includes the snow dyes with too many white spots that I am going to overdye, and a stack of fabrics tried for backgrounds to the tree that now need to be put away (wherever "away" is).

I've been doing lots of dyeing!  I was low on dark darks, so did some of my favorites.  Those of you who have taken my new "Dye Another Day" class have created some fabrics just like this!

I also dyed a bunch of fabrics in one of my favorite combos at the moment: dark brown and purple.  This time I also tried adding brown (which tends toward the rusty reddish side), and it added a wonderful addition in the second last piece from right.  The piece at right was a happy surprise.  At the end of the dyeing session I had a bit of brown and some navy left, so combined them on a half meter.

I tried snow dyeing one more time.  This time I dyed two pieces of fabric on the screens I showed in my last post on snow dyeing.  This allowed me to spread the fabric out a bit more, in the hopes that there would be less white spots.  There are still lots.  Fabric at left used a medium concentration, fabric at right a light concentration.

But the colours bring back to my memory some photos I took in autumn at the Beechwood Cemetery in Ottawa (by the way, this cemetery is a beautiful place to photograph in any season). The pink hydrangea were just hit by frost and turning a bit brown.  I love the colours.  I wonder if I could use the above fabric somehow to create something like this? I think I might have to keep these fabrics, and thus my fabric stash continues to grow!

Stuck on a Certain Fabric?

Background 1

What a difference a fabric can make!  Sometimes you just need to get rid of the fabric that you've been stuck on because it isn't working. While it might be achingly beautiful (only fabric addicts like us would describe a fabric as achingly beautiful, eh?), it may not be the best fabric to give your work the maximum visual impact.  I spent two days in the studio last week working on this tree I began 1-1/2 years ago, but that just never got finished.  It is inspired by a HUGE, and I mean HUGE, and OLD Babs Oak tree in the Ottawa Arboretum.  It would take several people holding hands to encircle it.  I wanted it to look kind of abstracted, almost like a painting where you can see rough brush strokes.  Before I even started building it I knew it would go on the background in this photo.  But I think the background fabric is competing too much with the tree.  I also want to add a few longer roots so it isn't so uniform.  I had also thought I would include a bench under it, but the challenge now is to abstract the bench a bit.  I'm thinking a white bench.

Over the last few days I've been pulling out every possible piece of hand-dyed fabric that might work as a background.  That's a lot of work by the way.  Finding them in my huge stash, then pinning them to the wall, then pinning the tree over it, taking a picture, then doing it all over again with another background.  Then all the fabric needs to be put away again.  However, it is fun to have visits with fabrics I've dyed in the past :-))

I really kinda like this combination.  It is far earthier and coordinates well with the tree, although it doesn't project an image of spring, like I had hoped it would.  After all, it was a glorious spring day I met this tree.  I like the way the dark eggplant colour under the tree roots almost looks like the tree's shadow.
Background 2

The ground in this one is a different fabric than above, but same colour combination.
Background 3

I thought about using a complementary background.  Since there is so much earthy purple in the tree, orange might be just the thing to set it off.  Not bad.  At least it isn't a flaming orange, and has been toned down by butterscotch and soft brown.
Background 4

I liked the feeling of light coming through in this photo, so gave it a try.  Also not bad, but not the best either.
Background 5

I do like this combination as I think it does project a feeling of spring with the turquoise and chartreuse (yellow-greens).  
Background 6

My favorites are Backgrounds 2 and 6.  What do you think?

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Transitions by Soulplay

Spiraling Space and Cosmic Energy by Carolyn Gibbs

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending the vernissage (opening) of the latest show, Transitions, by Soulplay, a group of five fibre artists from Eastern Ontario.  Left to right, below, they are: Carolyn Gibbs, Barbara Carroll, Sharon Collins, Jo-ann Zorzi and Ann Dunlap.

I will tell you that my photographs could be a lot better! Quite ironic since I took a photography class only the day before attending this vernissage.  But obviously I wasn't on the right settings, and I often have this problem when shooting photos at the Mississippi Valley Textile Museum.  I think it has something to do with the mixed lighting situations (large windows that allow outdoor light, but equally competing indoor lighting) and my inexperience in these types of settings.  

I did capture a few good photos, and more can be seen on the Soulplay, website and the websites of the artists.  Links in the first paragraph of this post.  

My friend Sharon Collins is our local SAQA Rep., and also a member of my little goal-setting group. Her work is very much inspired by nature.  You can see her two stunning series here of the Four Seasons.

Sharon is also now working on a new Trance Series series inspired by hypnosis. Although many of the designs are abstract, I find this one almost has a landscape feel to it, or at least I see that because I see nature in things, and view the black designs at top almost like foliage.  I love the trip around the colourwheel too.

Jo-Ann Zorsi works with silk paper, and her new series on bridges is quite interesting.  Although the colour is a bit off in my photo, I liked how well the silver frame also enhanced this piece.

Nocturnal Voyage by Jo-Ann Zorsi

More nature-inspired pieces here:

Breaking Free by Barbara Carroll on left and Ocean by Carolyn Gibbs on right.

Barbara Carroll's work is more spiritual, depicting human emotions, both joy and sorrow.  I can see a little bit of Antelope Canyon in the background of this one.  In her last show she had a wonderful piece inspired by Antelope Canyon that really caught my eye.

A Glimmer of Hope by Barbara Carroll

New Growth by Barbara Carroll

I have a love of colourful Adirondack chairs, so Ann Dunlaps piece caught my eye.  The landscape part is masterfully done too.
Anglin Lake by Ann Dunlap

I understand Ann pulled off this major series of five panels just before the hanging of the show.  It really commands attention at the Museum.

The Peaceful Valley by Ann Dunlap

The show runs until February 23, 2013 at the  Mississippi Valley Textile Museum in Almonte, Ontario.  Definitely worth a drive to Almonte.