This is the first of many posts that will feature the creative process for a particular piece of art or a group of works. I will be explaining some or all of the following: how I conceived the idea, how I created the piece, how I decided on the title, and perhaps some other parts of the creative process, including how I resolved a problem.
I had been creating fiber arts for many years. I worked on a 4-harness loom and created tapestries on a huge frame loom. I used batik, patchwork, stitchery, and macramé. Sometimes I even spun my own wool yarns and dyed them with natural dyes such as onion skins and lichens.
At a fiber arts exhibit, I saw two great crocheted works. One was a sculpture of a bull dog made from stuffed crochet pieces. The other was a crochet box that had been "bronzed' the way parents used to have baby shoes electroplated.
When I was young, my grandmother, or maybe my mother, taught me how to crochet a lacy edge on a handkerchief, but that was as far as I had gone with crochet. However, it seemed like a medium that would be great for creating unique fiber pieces.
I took an evening crochet class to learn basic stitches. I followed some patterns just so I knew what I was doing, but I never used patterns thereafter. I created crocheted pieces to add to tapestries, unusual crocheted wall hangings, and unique clothing.
For "Where Sky and Water Never Meet" I stretched unsized, unbleached canvas on a frame. On the back, I lightly drew a circle with pencil. Then, I started to make crocheted pieces from unbleached cotton thread. As I completed pieces, I stitched them onto the canvas, keeping them wavy, but somewhat horizontal and within the circle. I left a blank area purely for design purposes.
As I progressed, if an area seemed blank, I would create a new piece. Or if one area seemed to have a higher relief , I would create a piece to balance it.
After I completed all the crocheted pieces, I made additional designs on the canvas within the circle with stitchery.
At that time, I was "into" white or neutral colors. Everything on this piece was an unbleached white. I liked the effect of only the textures and shadows creating the design. I placed the completed piece in a silver metal frame that fit over the canvas stretchers.
I had been teaching art for many years. Most of the time, I taught grades 6, 7, or 8. Some of the younger students were still drawing pictures of the outdoors with an inch or two of sky at the top of the paper and the ground on the bottom with an open space between. I often walked students to a window to point out that the sky appears to be touching the ground. If they were drawing a seascape, the sky would appear to touch the ocean.
This piece was round, like the earth. The crocheted pieces reminded me of clouds and ocean waves. The open space between the top and the bottom sections of crochet and stitchery reminded me of children's drawings, therefore I named it "Where Sky and Water Never Meet."
"Where Sky and Water Never Meet" was shuffled from exhibit to exhibit, stored in different rooms in my house, made a move to another house, and was left in a dusty attic for a while. The natural white had become a dingy gray with dirty spots that I couldn't remove.
I mixed some strong blue dye and painted it on the top of the canvas, allowing it to run toward the bottom. I then turned the canvas unside down and did the same on the bottom, allowing the dye to run toward the top. With the canvas flat, I brushed dye on the crocheted parts and more on the canvas, leaving some areas undyed. With multiple applications of the dye in some places, I was able to create several shades of blue. I chose blue because the title indicated sky and ocean. Thus, I was able to keep the title yet give the work a new look.
I had liked the effect of white on white, but the blue dye added a depth to the piece that wasn't there before. And it looked even better when I reinserted it into its silver frame.
My father, a pianist and organist, gave my older sister her first piano lesson when she was seven. I was four and begged to learn the piano, too. Finally, my father gave me my first lesson when I turned five. By age eight I had lost interest, but my parents insisted that I continue with my lessons. Maybe I would have been more interested if my father had allowed me to learn popular songs instead of classical pieces. It may not have mattered, because I was a terrible piano student. During summer months when I was supposed to be practicing, I would disappear with other neighborhood children, playing in the woods. During the school year, I would beg off by claiming I had tons of homework, or a headache or stomach ache. Although it was my father who gave me lessons, it was my mother who dealt with my refusal to practice. We had many altercations about it. There were times when my father was so angry at me for not knowing the piece I was supposed to have practiced, that he sat next to me on the piano bench with a paddle, making me practice for hours until I learned the music. At times, I got a good swat. Twice we held recitals in our home. My father played the piano and organ. My sister and I played the piano. My father had found a piano piece for six hands which my mother played along with my sister and me. I had to practice the music for my performance for months and months so I wouldn’t embarrass myself or my family. For one recital I played the “Minuet in G,” which I had to learn by heart. In order not to go crazy, rehearsing the same piece over and over, I’d let my mind wander elsewhere. Then suddenly, I couldn’t remember where I was in the music. I begged to be able to take art lessons or anything else. Finally when I was in fifth grade, my parents signed me up for ballet, but I still had to play the piano. I was in that awkward preteen stage, so after two years I lost interest in dancing, too.
When I was around twelve, my mother took a part-time job at a department store. She worked until 9 pm two week nights. My sister was in high school and involved in afterschool activities, so she usually arrived home long after I did. When my sister arrived home, and later my parents, they would each ask if I had practiced. I don’t understand why they believed me when I said that I had. They couldn’t get me to practice when they were there. Why would I do it when no one else was home? My sister eventually took organ lessons from the high school’s music teacher and later from a church organist. My parents never suggested I take lessons from anyone but my father. They may have been embarrassed that I played so poorly or perhaps they knew it would be a waste of money. So I took piano lessons one week and organ lessons the alternate week from my father. Although I was basically a good kid, I was somewhat rebellious, more passively than overtly. Taking lessons from him was probably not a good idea. I ended up resenting my father for forcing me to take lessons and my mother for forcing me to practice when I had little interest in music. I ended up disliking my parents, my father in particular, for many years.
One day in the middle of my senior year of high school, during an organ lesson that was going badly, my father threw up his hands, and yelled, “I give up.” It was one of the happiest days of my life. My music lessons ended that day.
To this day, I don’t play an instrument. I don’t mind listening to a piano, but I detest organ music.
My friends, relatives, and fellow bloggers are either Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, atheist, Wiccan or followers of other assorted philosophies. I hope you all enjoy the winter season and holidays, each according to your own beliefs and traditions.
You may enjoy this You Tube video which is all-inclusive:
Earlier this year, I found some photographs my father had taken. They were about 30 years old. (My father died in 1982.)
I digitally enhanced my father's photo (right) of the holiday exhibit at Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh, c.1979, to create holiday postcards for my 94-year-old mother and used the same image for postage stamps for the cards.
Creating Christmas cards for my mother from my father's photograph was about the extent of my holiday activities this year. A long time ago, when my family was going crazy with gift-giving, we all made the decision to give gifts only within our immediate families. I admit it was one of the happier days of my life. I had always felt so stressed around the holidays, trying to complete projects at work, decorate, shop for gifts and groceries, plan menus, bake and cook.
Now my husband and I choose something we need for our home and something for my elderly mother, but nothing extravagant. She likes sweets, so I always buy her cookies or chocolates. This year, I also purchased a sweater and some smaller items (such as socks and underwear) that she needed.
For the past few years, my mother has not enjoyed big family gatherings. All the people and noise are too much for her. Until last Christmas, I used to roast a turkey or ham after arriving home from work (12:30 to 2:30 am) and make a complete holiday dinner. We packed it in containers and took enough food for the three of us to her place. She lives 45-60 minutes away (depending on weather) so that was easier than driving to pick her up, then back to our house, then take her home and drive back ---three to four hours of driving.
We used to call my mother "Mrs. Clean" for her spotless home. Over the last few years, she was not as neat as she used to be and would forget where she put things, but was doing okay on her own. But in 2007 when we took Thanksgiving dinner to her house, despite calling her several times that week and earlier that day to remind her we would be there, the house was a mess. Every dish was sitting in dirty dishwater, something had boiled over on the stove, garbage had been left on the sink, there was a sticky mess on the floor ---it sounded like walking on masking tape in the kitchen ---the bathroom was a mess, and the dining table was piled high with junk.
We had arrived about an hour before we expected to reheat the dinner, but it took us 3 hours to clean everything just so we could cook and eat. On the way home, my husband and I decided we were never doing that again.
We talked to my mother's doctor about her apparent dementia and finally convinced my mother that she needed in-home care. The helper takes care of personal needs for my mother and also does housekeeping, so my mother's home should never again be like it was that day.
However, last Christmas, we started a new tradition. We eat holiday dinners at Denny's.
It's the only place open on Thanksgiving and Christmas, so it was our choice only by default. But it works well for us. I don't have to shop for groceries or cook late at night. We don't have to pack dinner and carry it with us. We don't have to worry about my mother's house being in good order.
We plan on arriving at Denny's around 2:30 or 3:00 pm to miss the lunch and dinner crowds. Since I go to bed around 4:00 or 5:00 am, I order breakfast. My husband isn't ready for a big meal, so he orders lunch. My mother orders a full turkey dinner and has enough to take home for another meal. We each get what we want with almost no fuss.
So, we are enjoying a relatively stress-free holiday season.
As I write this, it is bitter cold. The temperature on the porch is 2 degrees F. It is very windy; the wind chill is minus 19. I'm always happy when Winter Solstice arrives, because it means daylight will last longer.
My husband and I got into the habit of walking late at night after I arrived home from work in the wee hours of the morning. That was especially nice in the summer because it was cooler then, but at this time of year, the weather can be brutal after midnight.
When we can, we walk in a park in the afternoon, but because I get up so late, we often arrive when the sun is already setting and end our walk in the dark. Thus the longer days will be very welcome.
In response to the writing prompt, “Describe a favorite Winter memory” onMama’s Losin itblog:
I’m not sure why this day sticks in my mind as one of my favorite winter memories. There was nothing remarkable about the day. Perhaps it was the nearly-perfect peacefulness of that afternoon that made it memorable.
My husband and I used to walk at a local park on a walking/biking lane on a road that encircles a large lake, a five-mile walk around the circumference. Since my husband walked much faster than I, if we tried to walk together he had to mosey at, for him, a painfully slow pace, or else I became totally exhausted, trying to keep up with him. Thus, from where we parked, he started clockwise around the lake and I walked counterclockwise. I knew it would take him about 50 minutes to return to the starting point, so I walked for 25 minutes, then turned around and headed back to the parking lot. Near the end of my walk, my husband met up with me and we ended the walk together. But most of the time we were each walking alone. On one early winter day, it was raining when we left the house, but temperatures were falling. We dressed warmly and took our rain ponchos with us.
The park is so large that several of the main roads were normally busy because they are the only way to travel between the surrounding suburbs. Sane people were in their warm homes watching the local NFL game on TV, resulting in almost no road traffic. Because of the rain, we seemed to be the only walkers on a normally-crowded trail. The clouds were low. Fog was rising from the lake. Everything was muted and grayish blue. It was beginning to get dark, even though it was barely three o’clock. Instead of being depressing, the entire world seemed to exude an achromatic hue that created a feeling of repose. I noticed some goose droppings in the walking lane and soon I heard Canadian geese flying overhead. They formed a V just below the clouds. When their honking faded, all was still. About ten minutes after I started to walk, the rain changed to huge white flakes that seemed to float in slow motion, like feathers. It was warm enough that the snow melted almost as soon as it hit my poncho or the ground. By the time I was ready to reverse direction, water dripping from my rain gear had soaked my jeans from the knees down. My toes were cold under wet sneakers and socks. Snow was beginning to accumulate on the trees that lined both sides of the road, creating a lacy pattern in the branches.
When driving, I always listened to the radio or a book on tape. At home the TV blared at me. There was the constant din of traffic, the refrigerator cycling on and off, the furnace powering up, phones ringing, the cat meowing for her dinner. At the park the quiet stillness was intoxicating.
My response was chosen as the "writing of the day" for 12/14/08.
Writing Prompt: Nuts In what way are you a little (or more than a little) crazy?
One-Minute Writing of the Day:
I'm such a packrat. I'm afraid I'm going to turn into one of those people that they find dead, with newspapers piled to the ceiling and only narrow pathways to get through the house. In my case, I only rarely pick up a newspaper, so it will be books, clothes, art supplies, and file folders filled with all manner of useless stuff.
A few days ago I set out to clean a very small dressing room. I started on costume jewelry. Considering I rarely wear any of it anymore, I thought I could rid myself of most of it. But all I threw away were the single earrings with no partners. I saved everything else for relatives, eBay or flea markets, so it's not really gone. Yeah, I'll be on the news when they have to take a bulldozer to my house to remove my body.
My husband used to talk about wanting a motorcycle. Because I couldn't afford to give him a real one, I painted one for him. Later, he admitted it was better than the real thing, because he couldn't kill himself on this one.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime."
Although we usually think of Mark Twain as a novelist, during his lifetime Twain was known mostly as a travel writer for his many books on travel, including: Innocents Abroad, Roughing It, Life on the Mississippi, A Tramp Abroad, and Following the Equator.
Until the summer of 1999, when I ruminated on Chicago I thought of wind, frigid temperatures, and Lake Michigan. Now, I think of cows.
I knew Chicago had acquired a few COWnnections throughout its history. A cow allegedly caused the 1871 Chicago fire. The Chicago Bulls had scored big in the city. Stockyards were once a ‘mooving’ force in the area’s economy. But that summer, there was a new perspective on beef in Chicago.
I was in moo heaven when I visited the Windy City. There was a cow on nearly every street corner, grazing in each park, guarding each museum entrance. These were no ordinary cows. Over 300 simple cow sculptures had been transformed into works of art. They were bedecked, bejeweled, and somewhat bewildering to those who hadn’t ‘herd’ about Cows on Parade™.
The concept began in Zurich in 1998 where 800 fiberglass cows were credited with increasing tourism by nearly a million visitors. After seeing the Swiss cows, Peter Hanig of Chicago’s Hanig Footwear approached Chicago’s cultural commissioner with the idea of creating a similar display.
With the help of the Swiss government, the city imported over 300 sculptures. Ironically, many of the unpainted cows arrived in Chicago on April 1. Although their arrival had nothing to do with April Fools Day, it seemed a curious COWincidence.
Cows were purchased by companies or individuals who contracted artists to complete the works. The city purchased a number to be painted by artists who had submitted design proposals. Some were set aside for student artists.
I’m not sure why we find cows so COWmical, but they seem to instigate a COWllective silliness. The exhibit opened in mid-June 1999 with a celebration that included an a cappella group of lawyers in cow suits. (That must have been 'a line of bull.')
The promotion was expected to infuse $300,000 into the creative community and milk the talents of local artists. The city hoped the event would attract a stampede of visitors and between 100 and 200 million tourist dollars.
I admit I was skeptical. How many, I wondered, would make a trip to Chicago to see these whimsical bovines?
On Saturday afternoon, as I strolled the mile of Michigan Avenue from the Water Tower to the Art Institute, the streets were crowded with a herd of bovine admirers. I had difficulty taking photographs without cow lovers appearing in my view finder. These were not shoppers who happened to stop to appreciate the art work. They were there ---cameras in hand ---to see the cows.
Cows were greeted enthusiastically. Visitors talked to them and posed with them. They couldn’t help but smile at these humorous art works. Children climbed, petted and hugged them.
Heidi Kooi of the Chicago Office of Tourism told me very few of the sculptures had been vandalized. Most damage came from fans loving them too much. Several ‘substitute’ cows filled in for those that had to be removed for repairs.
And the sculptures were udderly fantastic. The exhibit shows that art doesn’t have to be serious. It can be fun as well as creative. Some cows displayed bright abstract designs. Many wore painted flowers, animals, or clouds. Some had been COWmouflaged in astroturf, mirrors, mosaic tiles, or gumdrops.
You may have guessed that my personal favorites were the ones that resulted from a mass outbreak of cow puns. They were titled “Herd Instinct,” “Moovies,” “The Milky Way,” “Moollennium,” “Cowch Potato,” “On the Moooove,” “Cow Sweet It Is!” and “Dairy-Go-Round.”
“Udder Romance” was a red and white cow dressed in heart-printed shorts and bunny slippers. “Stampede” had been covered in postage stamps. “Chi-COW-go” featured the city’s skyline on its flanks. “Moooonwalk” wore a space suit. Among my favorites was “InCOWgnito,” a cow wearing a mask and disguised in zebra stripes. The “Out of Cowtowner” sported sunglasses, Hawaiian shirt, camera, and backpack.
“Black and White and Read All Over” had been sponsored by the Chicago Tribune. “Holy Cow”, a tribute to the late Harry Caray, sat in front of the WGN radio station. Grazing near the Wrigley Building, “Double Moo” had been assembled from the front ends of two cows and painted in shades of Doublemint green. The Illinois Lottery sponsored “Lucky,” a cow covered in numbers.
Homages to famous artists were plentiful. “Moonet” had been decorated with waterlilies. “Guernsica” had been cut apart and reassembled into a cubist work. “Jazz Chicago! Merci Henri” displayed Matisse-inspired motifs. “Odalisque (Reclining Nude)” had been mounted up-side-down. “DaVinci Cow” floated in the O’Hare terminal on wings designed for Leonardo’s flying machine.
Even though recent theories discount the culpability of Mrs. O’Leary’s cow, “Don’t Blame Daisy” and “Summer Heat” obviously referred to Chicago’s hottest event. “Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow” included a leaver that could be pushed downward for a ‘hot time’ triggering a hind leg to tip a stool and lantern.
In my opinion, the cream of the crop was “Diamonds Are a Cow’s Best Friend.” That flirtatious bovine wore a pink strapless evening gown, high heels, long gloves, ‘diamond’ jewelry and a seductive blonde curl on her forehead. Marilyn would have been charmed by her look-alike.
An unexpected consequence of the exhibit was that the horses from the city’s horse-and-carriage companies were not merely cowed by the colorful sculptures, they were downright terrified. Out of concern for public safety, horses were placed in a ring with a cow sculpture until they were comfortable with it. Chicago thus conducted the world’s first known sessions of cow therapy.
Cows on Parade™ ran through October 31, 1999 when the life-size painted and sculpted bovines were corralled for a cattle auction to benefit charities.
You can view more cow sculptures on another of my posts or via the Internet (see links below). Once you see the photos of the cows, you’ll be ruminating on Chicago’s bovine roots and thinking in cow puns, too.
After I retired from teaching, I worked for a temp agency for a few years. I liked the work ---mainly because it was ----well ---temporary. When an assignment ended, I could ask for another or request the agency not call me for a few days or weeks. I have many skills: secretarial, bookkeeping, and graphic design. Thus, I usually had several jobs from which to choose. I took into consideration the distance I had to drive, what I could wear, how many days or months the job would last, and how appealing I thought the job might be. I preferred close, casual, short-term, and interesting. I would accept almost any job, no matter how distasteful if it were for a few days. I can endure nearly anything for a week or less. The pay was usually the last thing I considered ---it was always low. Most jobs were wonderful. One of the best was as a receptionist in a hospital PR department. Everyone at the hospital was friendly and appreciative ---and I took advantage of the excellent food at employee prices in the cafeteria. One of my worst jobs, was also one of the best. I accepted an office manager position at an art conservation lab. As an artist, I learned a great deal and because of my skills, the company hired me apart from the temp agency to work on a painting that had been partially destroyed in a fire. I recreated a lace collar on the 200-year-old painting in minute detail. However, the company was owned by a couple with financial and marital problems. After ten months, the tension had made working there so uncomfortable that I requested to be removed from the position. That was the only job I left before my assignment was complete. I had one horrible job. It was only for a week to cover someone on vacation, so it was bearable. But the boss had a zillion rules about what one could wear and what one should or should not do. She didn’t trust anyone. So much information was thrown at me the first day of an assignment, it was nearly impossible to keep it all in my head. I kept a notebook of my tasks, where I could find things, and company policies. I added new information nearly every day. The notebook also came in handy if I were called back to the same company.
The following is a sort of “found” poem that I created from my notes at the last company I described above. For good reason, I changed all the names.
“Good Morning, Wilson-Williams Manufacturing Company. How may I help you?”
To save time, don’t ask how you can help someone. Just say your name. And forget ‘Good Morning.’
“Wilson-Williams Manufacturing Company. Dana speaking. Is that okay?”
Don’t say, ‘Dana speaking.’ Say, ‘This is Dana.’
Wear a suit, preferable gray, navy, or black. Only natural-colored stockings, no gray, navy, or black. No open-toed shoes. No sandals. No big earrings. Go light on makeup. No red lipstick. No black eye makeup. No strong perfume. No big hair.
Take the phone off automatic forwarding. Change the phones to day mode. Answer on the first ring. When you leave your desk, even to go to the restroom or on your break, take the portable with you. Don’t leave anyone on hold for more than one minute.
Make two pots of coffee. Resupply the break room with cups and napkins from the storage room. Feed the fish. Keep the fax machines and photocopiers stocked with paper. Water the plants. Make copies of this flyer about selling my house.
Drive to the post office to collect the mail. Give Nancy the portable while you’re gone. Mileage? We don’t pay mileage.
Don’t ever tell anyone I am not here, even if I’m not. But if John Mountain calls, tell him I’m out of town until next week. When will I be leaving? I’m not leaving ---except when John Mountain calls. If Mike O’Hara calls, put him right through. Transfer all others to my voice mail.
Type this. Don’t change a thing. Mistakes? I don’t make mistakes.
Prepare these for mailing.
Make sure every address label is exactly straight. Deliver packages to the Fed-Ex box. Give Pauline the portable phone while you’re gone.
You and I have the only keys to the supply room. Write down supplies you hand out and give me the list each day. Even for a pencil. If Joe Matthews wants something, he has to see me. He wastes things. Don’t let anyone else into the supply room. People steal. Lock your desk. Keep the postage meter locked, too.
Clean the break room. Run the dishwasher.
Shut down the phones at 5:00 but answer any calls in queue, even if it takes you past 5:00. Put phones on automatic forwarding and night mode. Don’t leave until everyone is out of the building, except for me and the executive officers. Overtime? We don’t pay overtime.