Friday, December 31, 2010

Chitlin' Circuit: My Studio



Stanzas: Mixed Media Art Quilts by Karen R. Davis @ Iroquois Library Community Gallery - November 2011.

Upcoming Solo Shows

Wayside Expressions Gallery

September 2012

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Juba Jive

Crazy weather! Yesterday it was in the 50s...the overcast kept it cool and it was wet and gray but still I thought I'd make the best of the day and go into the studio.  Its been five weeks since I last laid eyes on the place! For the first hour I sat and and relaxed in order to get re-acclimated.  After solving all the problems of the world I then got busy doing my favorite avoidance activity...rearranging.  I reduced the display area to gain more work space.   Unlike at the basement, I have my portable o2  when in the studio which I sometimes forget that I'm wearing until it falls off a chair or I feel the tug of the tube as I attempt to move around...but it hinders me from moving gracefully (ah! like I ever did without it!) so finding the ideal arrangement is on-going.   The furniture has remained light weight and easily movable.  What I gained was a card table that I'm going to use for overflow items, like containers, paints, rags, etc. which will keep the paint/print table clearer and I can more easily lay the portable at one end without it getting in the way.  Also, I'm only going to keep one quilt up for display except for when I'm actively participating in open studios.  With the extra wall space I'll hang fabrics that I've either completed or are in progress.  

The studio space behind me that I had considered moving into some months ago is now occupied by a fashion retailer for the divas, skinny divas at that.  The shop is only open on Fridays and Saturdays so I didn't meet the new tenant.   A couple of spaces near me have become vacant and when I showed Moriah the one I would consider, she confirmed it was too small even if I streamlined.   I knew that but I just wanted to be hopeful since it would save me some cash.

I'm going to refrain from assessing 2010 but to sum it up, the first six months were great with some dings and the last six months were less than great with perks.    2011 is my Golden Jubilee year since I am FIFTY as of today, so "JUBILATION"  will be my operative word to carry me through the year.  When all else fails, express joy.


Monday, December 20, 2010

Remembering where I left off...

DSCN1727 DSCN1729 DSCN1730This is what I was doing last (the same fabric, 3 layers) in the studio before Thanksgiving, followed by pneumonia and a short stay in the hospital.  My lungs are not quite clear but I'm feeling well, but going just a little bit stir crazy.  The grandkids have been here and the Beloved is on vacay and with the touch of a click, holiday shopping is over.  Hey! just writing this out and I'm getting perked up! This week the only major endeavor I'm facing is grocery shopping for Christmas dinner.  Grocery shopping around the holidays is my coal mine.  I've got a list, I'm on a mission, I'm going in...thats the mental fortitude needed to get this task accomplished.  And you know its bad when drivers with disabilities are fighting over parking spaces!


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

I'm sitting in the house,

looking at the clock, can't even, can't even tell the time.....  

thats the way the blues comes and art making going on here...i'm just coasting until it thaws out and warms up...


Decluttering the mind, body, and spirit

My winter hours will be very irregular at The Beauty of Holiness Studio as I'm hoping to return my focus on quilt construction rather than surface design on cloth. For the winter months I'll work mainly from The Basement Workshop at my mother's which will afford me the opportunity to take naps and rest when needed.  Since the weekend I've been on a z-pack to fight the bronchitis, and although I try to avoid making major decisions when I'm not at my best, I started questioning the wisdom (once again) of maintaining the studio at Mellwood seeing as to how the next 3 or 4 months my usage will be very low. Subletting is an option.   The thought of moving all that stuff out wears me down.  If I feel the same once I'm completely recovered then I'll know for sure. Regular readers may know how I tend to overthink a decision, so just excuse me typing out loud so I'll better informed or not ;) 

I've put a notice up for the winter hours under the page tab at the top: The Beauty of Holiness.


Meanwhile here is the attempt to bring order to my art-making practices by taking a queue for Jane Dunnewold which I mentioned in the post below:

What:  Two quilts that measure 40.5" x 18" to complete the 3 quilts for the Crowbonics Series.

Fabrics:  Cottons, sheers, paper, wool batting, stabilizer, matte and metallic threads

Techniques: Writing African American spirituals, text, African symbols on cloth to convey the adaptions and change in the diaspora experience.  Paper and sheer lamination to combine images/text/symbols as an additional layer of meaning.  Screen printing, fusing, and machine quilting.

Tools:  African American Spirituals that have to do with flight. Adinkra symbols that speak to God and strength and endurance.  Symbols from Afrikan Alphabets by Mafundikwa paired with symbols that I create spontaneously.  Paper with the writing I did in Laurie Doctor's workshop and selected images photos I've taken or Ade has taken.  Screens, some used with fluid medium.  Paint, foil, if it enhances the final images.  Various markers and inks for writing on cloth.  Seashells for writing on cloth.

Theme:  I'm using Crows as symbol for African Americans and  "bonics" to denote communication.  I selected Crows for an Audubon exhibit as a way to connect James Audubon to the mother he never knew.


Also, a new page tab has been added at the top for postcards I want to sale.  This is the last of them until next summer if I make any more even then.  A few pieces of older and larger pieces are on the way also before the end of the year.


Sunday, December 5, 2010

Learning Curves, Week 4

DSCN1719 Img012

Learning Curves is getting back on track after Thanksgiving week.  I made it to class (class is how I'm referring to each book I'm working with in the Learning Curves) but not on the days designated.  Like today (Thursday, 12/02/10, the day of this writing) I'm working with all 3 books on digital art.  I have continued to reference Visual Language (Benn & Morgan) in creating lines and shapes.  The 2 images above are small cloth samples.  On the top one I cut out random shapes from book-cover plastic (similar to contact paper) and stuck it on the fabric to use as a resist and then dye painted over it. The image directly above is with the plastic removed and then dye painted in the white areas.  The cloth sample has been washed out and dried here.

The Image Transfer Class (McElroy) didn't go this week.  I did order the Transfer Artist Paper and its on its way and succumbed to a Lutradur purchase.  I have 3 weights of it and the extra light offers the highest appeal...I'm thinking it would pair well with silk organza in a statement on transparency or where transparency could impact the overall visual.


Jane Dunnewold will be here the end of January and will have a show at the Hite Gallery on University of Louisville's campus and is preparing new work for the show.  Here, on Jane's blog, you can see how she has written and defined the parameters for her forthcoming works. Here is Jane's schedule for her Louisville agenda. 

When I'm stuck on a piece, I pick up a journal and begin to ask questions and provide answers while actually sitting in front of the quilt/fabric.  When I first started doing this I was going to dedicate a journal by year, then by the series, then by location...but what I really do is just pick up whatever journal is close by, thus loosing continuity in writing about specific pieces and making it difficult to have the writing become reference material because my notes are spread throughout journals.  The one dedicated journal I have is a technique journal that I glue I glue samples into rather than how the designing of a quilt and the message of the quilt are related and what I did to get there. 


Img062 Img063

 I washed out the last of the fabrics I've been layering (images directly above).   Dunnewold limits the variables in order to self-impose focus and I'm going to join her in this journey for the next couple of weeks as I return to Crowbonics.  My next post will go into details.


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Penny Sisto, Artist Interview


Rose-Haven, 2006

Davis:  Describe your childhood as it relates to your art making and creativity? What were your influences?  And how do you think growing up in the Orkney Islands influenced you as an artist?  How did living in East Africa influence you as an artist? And likewise for coming to the United States.

Sisto:  Our wee croft (farm) was at first glance an ‘art-free zone'...that is until you looked carefully at our layers of warm clothing...each one made of hand-woven fabric, spun from  yarn from our flock of sheep.  Each skirt or jacket was carefully pieced and sewn by hand from second hand clothes bought or traded for at the Market where we sold our butter, eggs and cheeses.

Even my knee-high stockings were hand-knitted using the same pattern I still knit socks with on four needles. Thick those socks were, and scratchy, but warm and since the yarn was filled with lanolin, they were shower and sea-proof!

I drew, always I drew...drew the faces of my family and animals...drew the wild seas and skies covered in storm clouds...but, unlike children here, I didn’t own colored pencils nor paints, but drew in an old biscuit (cookie) tin lid filled with dry and sifted sand, or drew with a sharp stone on a slate-board.  This means of mark-making taught me the im-permanance of all things, which has proved a valuable life-lesson.

My first taste of actual painting came at age eleven.  A German tourist who came to paint the myriad of sea-birds for which our island (North Ronaldshay) was famous.  He saw me drawing in the hard sand-pan left by a departing tide and when he left for home, he dropped off his paints, canvases and brushes on our doorstep. I used those paints, watering them down for a year until the marks they left were barely discernable!

East Africa was an artistic awakening. The earth was bright red and ochre with a strong perfume.  All my life this color had been my favourite. I felt that my whole life had pointed me towards Africa.

The plane from England stopped first in Uganda where I got off, smelled the air, bent and knelt on the red earth and wept for joy. I was finally in a world filled with warmth, color, bright sun...that ochre earth is where my heart began to come alive.

That was the first place where I was greeted with open arms.  The Maasai women wore plaids and beads of every hue.  They, like myself, saved every cast off scrap be it of plastic, tin or fabric and re-made it into Art. They were walking Altars of beauty and gratitude.

Living Water

Living Water, Faces of Faith Series, 2009

Davis:   What are some of your memories growing up with engaging art?  When did the interest become an engaging one?

Sisto:  My first experience of Art tugging at me was when I saw my grandmother’s hair which was bright auburn, reflecting like a fiery halo around her in the sunlight beaming through a window.  I tried to draw it in the ash on the hearth.  I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t pulled by some inner need to scratch down the sights and   feelings of my world.

Davis:  What led you to your choice of medium(s)?  And what/who were your influences in those mediums?  And how do they relate one to another, if so?  What other mediums have you attempted?

Sisto:  Fabric was all that was readily available to me as color. We saved every scrap of cast-off yarn    and fabric, re-working it into quilts and smaller items such as washcloths. I had little knowledge until I attended a one room school at five of the existence of Art outside of the many books in our home.

I would pour over my grandfather’s  Book of Martyrs,...each gruesome detail carefully rendered in pen and ink drawings.

The first ‘real’ painting I ever saw was an old Victorian print of a seaman telling tall-tales to some enthralled children.

I have tried in my middle years to use some acrylic paints but find the colors stiff compared with fabrics.

In Kenya I made collages from colored and dried leaves of banana trees and eucalyptus leaves that turn deep reds and oranges...these were mediums used by the Maasai women to create ‘paintings’ to sell to tourists and when I came to the U.S., I adapted this technique using torn colored paper from magazines. I love this, as it is free and also is recycling, and paper is a fiber!


Collared, Slavery Series, 2006

Davis:   Describe your daily art making practices.  Include how you approach  design and ideas.

Sisto:  I awaken at about 4:30, a habit formed in my decades of dairy farming!  I love this time of day as the world is still silent and I go right to the studio and begin the day’s work.

I think that I have little or no sense of design. I know what I want to put down, but I generally, fail miserably.  I can ‘see’ it, see just HOW it should be, but the earthly colors seldom match I dye and overlay and fabricate.  Even with all of this effort I fail more than I succeed, but Art is something that goes on despite ones better judgement! HA!

Pink Fish, Immigrant Series, 2007

Davis:  Artistically speaking, what challenges do you face and how to you (plan to) overcome them?

Sisto:  My biggest challenges in my work are my own lack of talent and finesse, my bad sewing and my lack of sophistication and knowledge of HOW to make Art.  I have never taken the time to learn as I have needed to put in the hours every day to make enough art to live on.  This is both  a freeing thing and a burden. I think most artists who live by their artistic endeavors feel this.  Alas, I have no plan to overcome these challenges!

Davis:  Do you work in series? Or does each piece stand alone?  Share your reasons for either approach.

Sisto:  Oh this is such a great question!  I LOVE a Series...I love giving myself the permission to delve into and live inside a group of works for an extended period of time.  Now, in that series you try to strive to make each of the pieces good enough, or strong enough to stand alone.

As a pattern of Life, I THINK in ‘Series’.  By that I mean that I approach life as a series of questions and curiosities.  For example, I sat down outside a McDonalds (my fav eatery) with an interesting-looking young Traveller, and I asked him all about his painted jeans and his wee black dog.  It became a 3 hour-long conversation about his travels and about Life in general.

That conversation led to a few days of just wandering around by myself sitting in strange places to see and feel what a life of just sitting on the ground brought into my mind. Then I made a group of quilts about sitting, just sitting.

Davis:  Share the milestones that mean the most to you as an artist.

Sisto:  Oh, the first milestone was my rebelling at age seven from piecing a nine-patch I had been set to  sew. Instead of doing that I made my first portrait quilt of a young Tinker (Gypsy) who had come to our farm . I still have that first ‘real’ quilt.

The second milestone was when a beloved friend sculptor Ewing Fahey sought me out as she had seen a newspaper article about one of my Vietnam quilts.  She walked into the milk parlor where I was doing the afternoon's milking, and in her wise and gentle way she pointed out to me that perhaps another person could milk cows, but only I could make Penny Sisto quilts!

Davis:  Whether it is the intent of an artist to become an entrepreneur, artists are thrown into the role the first time someone wants to purchase something they’ve created.  What advice can you share that speaks to the business side of art?

Sisto:  Lordy I am the world’s WORST person to ask.  I am terrible at pricing...the only time that I ever got good prices for my work was for a few years when a wonderful gallery in Santa Fe sold all that I could make.  Then the woman who owned it sadly died and the person who took over Thirteen Moons Gallery told me that she was not interested in selling my quilts.  So my advice is do NOT approach it as I did but educate yourself and join with other artists who can mentor you.

Flying in a Pink Dress
Flying in a Pink Dress, Immigrant Series, 2007

Davis:  Some White Artists voice apprehensions about creating work that borrows from other cultures.  What do you think accounts for your own abilities to reflect and speak to other cultures in your art work?

Sisto:  Again, I am probably the wrong person to speak wisely about this. I think there are two pathways to becoming Universal in the depth of your Being.

One pathway is to become so wise that you are Every-one.  The second path is to become so small that you become No-body.

I did not choose this second way, it was handed to me at birth. I grew up in a house with no mirror save for my grandfather’s round shaving mirror tacked to the door in the downstairs room. He was almost six foot seven and so no other person in the house could see themselves in I had little idea of how I appeared, and to this day I feel uncomfortable looking in a mirror or at a reflection of myself.

I was told that I was Nobody, should not even have been born, had no place...and so it was easy to become almost invisible .  There was pain in this BUT there was also immense Freedom.

If my chores were done, I could do as I pleased the rest of the time.  I would vanish overnight on what I called Sunny-Mooners.  I would leave as the sun rose, row away, find a wee cove or shore, play, walk and explore, greet the moon, sleep and  arrive home with the new Sunrise.  I never remember a question asked, and there was never a word spoken of it.

So I find that I can assimilate easily and find comfort in any place where I find myself.

Perhaps since I am Nobody, the other side of that is that I can be Anybody.

Perhaps though I am simply too stupid to realize that we are not all One.

Davis:  You spoke of your recent pieces in a joint show with Ann Larson Adamek as being the most biographical series you've created to date.  Describe how that series came about and what it was like for you.

Sisto:  I am now 69 and  two months and so am living on borrowed time!  It seemed a good idea to put down some of the old Selkie stories my Gran always told so that I could look at them through a Crone’s eyes.

I admire Ann and thought that it would make a wonderful show to have her beautiful Water-colors mingle with the Selkie quilts.

I loved sewing a few of them such as ‘Skate’, which shows my big old farm boots, and ‘Rowing to School’ which has my pram-dinghy shown in it. Some of them came harder.  It was strange to look back and see the journey through the guise of the Selkie stories.  Perhaps the Selkie story belongs to all women, or to all persons who find themselves alone on a land that is not theirs, in a life which remains a wee bit uncomfortable.

Davis:  What are your future goals and what should we be on the look out for you in 2011?

Sisto:  I hope that my neck, back, eyes and fingers hold together for a few more quilts!  In 2011 I’ll show again at the incredible Carnegie and it will be a show of Native American Stories.


Penny giving a gallery talk, 2006.


Monday, November 29, 2010

Learning Curves, Fall, Week 3

Monday:  I skipped class today and instead cleaned up images in Photoshop and then headed to The Basement and made several thermofaxes for printing.  The images came from the homework in Visual Languages (Benn & Morgan) on negative and positive space.


Also, I browsed through an older journal looking at my face sketches and discovered I was partial to sketching faces with the eyes closed.  I selected one that I would like to work with on cloth and will make some samples for painting and stitching.

Tuesday:  Woke up with a scratchy throat and apprehension and vulnerability...for years more than I care to count up, the week after TG marks the season of bronchitis/pnuemonia.  The unseasonable warm temps paired with sudden drops in temps is what my great grandmama called "fooler weather" and always admonished me to "wrap up" or at least put something on my head and around my neck.  In my youth though, in spite of the chronic asthma and sarcodosis in my lungs at the time, I still felt I had mind over matter and the benefit of my youthful energy that I didn't feel pressed to adhere to her folk wisdoms.  But as my mother still says "a hard head makes a soft behind".  

My goal is always to get through winter without being hospitalized.  I think my record since the early 80's is 2.5-3 years straight without having a hospital stay.  (So you can begin to understand or be reminded of my dislike of winter months.) 

Image Transfer (McElroy) is the on the agenda for today.  Since I'm still waiting to order some transfer mediums, I'm only going to read.

After Tuesday:  I just blew the rest of the week off and will begin again on Monday, the 29th.


The next Artist Interview is scheduled for posting on December 1st.  The Artist is Penny Sisto.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Learning Curves, Fall, Week 2

Monday:  I was not consciously in my art mind today but when I stopped by the studio to drop some things off, I plopped down and surveyed the room I left last week and tried to think about what processes needed to be done to which fabrics.  Feeling defeated, I dug out some black construction paper and begin cutting shapes out.  This is an exercise from Finding Your Own Visual Language (Benn, Morgan).  Image Transfer is on the agenda tomorrow.  


Tuesday:  The studio didn't happen. First, I had trouble getting out of the house, damp, wet, cold weather aggravates my mobility and breathing but did make it and after taking care of some business with my mother, I headed to Mellwood.  Made 2 attempts in heavy rain to get me and my stuff (I'm always carrying stuff from one point to another) gathered up to walk the 40 miles across the parking lot, I felt defeated and came on home.   Once back home, I reviewed the lessons for tomorrow's Learning Curve and watched Ricky Tims dvd on machine quilting.  Tims' method look cumbersome but worth it when decorative stitching is a definitive element.

Wednesday:  The chapter on Color Management (Hansen) woke up lots of dormant brain cells.  I spent one hour reading in front of the computer with PS Elements open...changed my computer monitor from a bright lime green to a neutral gray background as she advised and looked at color calibration devices on Amazon.  The prices are prohibitive and although all this is leading to wanting to create digital art into textiles, I'll have to work with what I have first to see where it lands inside my spirit.  This will be dinner conversation with Peter today.

Thursday:  LAFTA meeting was so inspiring that I left there and spent and hour in the studio just to touch up on the four small pieces pinned to the print table.  The piece below I painted in the white spaces with blue and red but I think the values will be too dark.  Will consider going back in with discharge paste.


Friday:  I'm getting ready to spend a few hours working from Digital Expressions (Tuttle).  The author provides a CD of images for working through the book as an option. The Madonna and Child are from Wikipedia and copyright free and the man is off the CD that comes with the book. 

Digital Expressions1 Gentleman1 Digital Expressions2

1st attempt didn't quite understand, 2nd attempt with Tuttle's image, and 3rd attempt w/ better understanding.



Next week is Thanksgiving and next Friday is the onslaught of shopper's day.  F.A.T. Friday will be an all day affair and I'm planning to be in my studio for the anticipated foot traffic.  I said I was going to do more holiday themed post cards since they move really well for me and I'll string some lights in my studio window, but honestly the holidays always feel like "peer pressure" to me and I've yet to convince Peter of retreating during them...but for me, personally, I'd like nothing better than to go to spend them in a cabin, lodge, in the mountains or at the edge of a body of water surround by nature, mutual love with family and good food, music, good movies, and an all day Scrabble tournament.  That would be holiday bliss.  Most of these things do describe what we do except for the change in scenery.  As much as I'm an urban woman, sometimes the sights and sounds are an onslaught to my senses...and I feel it most around holidays, even when I was a child I was weird about holidays.  What I remember loving the most is basking in the fun of family get-togethers for what seemed to me, no apparent was just what one did on the weekends.  I'm kinda half-way recalling a theory by John Blassingame who attributed survival through the harshest conditions and  the flourish of creativity by what occurred in the few hours of down time and gatherings in the slave quarters away from the watchful eyes of overseers.  In some strange way that makes me feel off-center, holidays feel intrusive and like those watchful eyes trying to market my soul.


Monday, November 15, 2010

I smoked and inhaled a long-arm machine and now I'm hooked!

Autumn for me is marked by time with Penny Sisto...a retreat, a revitalization, a re-centering in the art making as healing, yes.  The day was shared with Barbara, a watercolorist and dollmaker, and Gloria, a hand quilter and appliquer.  

DSCN1682Me on the long-arm and Penny looking intently

This time it was all about the long arm.  My first real chunk of time using one other than a five minute demo years ago at a quilt show.  Penny was aware of the Crowbonics series, thus she had us select from a variety of Crows she loosely had sketched in order for us to use to construct our birds in cloth.  I selected these Crows because they appeared to be praying to me and my next Crowbonics quilt is called The Hymnal.  

Deborah, my sister, not knowing about the next quilt, said the Praying Crows reminded her of Matthew 18: 19-20.

The Crows are fabric snippets which have been placed on wonder under, cut out, then sewed on a background using the long arm.  I don't know if a long arm is in my future but I'm now more motivated to use one to complete at least one quilt.  

We were all witnesses to the corruption of Gloria...who prior to this day, was a NO-RAW edges appliquer and hand quilter.

And here is Barbara, the dollmaker, at the long arm.


Penny currently has a joint show with Ann Lawson Adamek at the Huff Gallery at Spalding University. Penny described her work in this show as the most biographical series she has ever completed. The quilts center on the the myths and legends that abounded on the Orkney Islands where she was born.  

Friday, November 12, 2010

Learning Curves, Fall, Week 1



Digital Expressions by Susan Tuttle is my assignment for today.  I almost forgot about doing my Learning Curves this morning.  I woke up filled with the joy of art date yesterday (which I will write about in a few days when I can come down off the high of it).  

I just stopped at page 19 right before getting into the projects which I don't have time to begin as I have 2 appointments today that require my energies and focus.  

Reading and working through 3 digital art books at the same time is layering the knowledge which so far is helping me to retain better.  I was a little apprehensive at first, thinking I should go through them in successive order.

The weekends will be snatches of time to review what I've already covered and to get a small jump toward next week's schedule.


Digital Designs by Gloria Hansen filled the morning.  A lot of terminology to best understand files and input/output of images.  Very generally, I knew the info at a surface level, but know that it is the type of information I will need to reference whenever I actually have the need to employ the knowledge.

Will review ch. 1-4 over the weekend and start the next few chapters and pick back up with a review beginning with ch. 5 on Wed.

The afternoon I started Secrets of Digital Quilting by Lura Schwarz Smith and Kerby Smith read to page 21.  The strongest imprint on me so far is knowing the difference between jpeg, raw, and tiff files...the ppi/dpi is still fuzzy but if I can hang on to dpi being output (printed) and ppi being what is visible on the screen then maybe the numerical understanding will become clearer later on.


I continued on dyeing and mixed  red, black and black cherry into print paste and used it to over dye 2 pieces.  I really had no rhyme or reason other than the delight in playing with colour today.  With results like these I had to force myself out of the studio today: (they both are still damp)

DSCN1678 DSCN1675

I did not get into Image Transfer today (Learning Curve Curriculum).  I need to order Transfer Art Paper (Leslie Riley's product) and Lazertran for cotton and dark fabrics which will have to wait.  


For the last few weeks I've been working with Intense Blue, Chocolate Brown, and Aqua Marine...I know by now the potency of the dye stock is on its last leg but I just hate throwing it out until I'm absolutely sure its a total bust.  Its has stayed in the fridge in attempts to keep it as fresh for as long as possible, but today I think I've reached my personal exhaustion point with the colours and I'm ready to move on into quilt design/construction.

Before I left the studio today, I put some time into mark making (one of the exercises found in Finding Your Own Visual Language).  These fast and loose sketches were made using a sea shell dipped in ink.

Img0552 page spread; the right side was the first one...lines and letters; the left side is pears and a banana still life..attempting perspective;

attempt at narrative; 

last one was an angel

At some point I might return to these pages and add some colour but for not the objective holds of just fast and loose line drawing with a sea shell.  

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Elmer Lucille Allen, Artist Interview

ELA Teapot_72

ELA Teapot, 4"wide x 3.75" height, (photo by Jeff Campana)


Davis: Describe your childhood as it relates to your art making and creativity? What were your influences?  And how do you think growing up in Louisville influenced you as an artist?

Allen:  I grew up both in the west end and the east end of Louisville. My grandmother lived in the east end and I spent a lot of time with her. She used to make dresses for me from flour sacks. I took my first class in sewing in the 7th grade at Madison Street Junior High School. I made a muslin slip with a scalloped edge by hand stitching. The first artist that I can identify with was Ms. Hattie Figg who taught painting at junior high. Crafts were taught in junior high school – shoe repair, printing, cooking, sewing, carpentry. I went to Plymouth Settlement House (west end) and Presbyterian Community Center (east end) where I was taught various crafts.

Davis: What are some of your memories growing up with engaging art?

Allen:  My first memories of art making was as a girl scout brownie. I sold the most girl scout cookies and my painting appeared in the Courier-Journal newspaper.  

Davis:  What led you to your choice of medium(s)

Allen:  I have been sewing since junior high so fiber was a natural for me. I made all my daughter’s clothes through college. I was re-introduced to surface design when I was working toward my masters degree in ceramics. I made stencil wall hangings for my thesis exhibition.

Davis: And what/who were your influences in those mediums

Allen:  I don’t think that I had a particular artist that influenced my stenciling. It was a technique that I learned in surface design and I took it to the next level and created a body of work. I was introduced to shibori dyeing by Amy Jacobs, a fellow surface design student.

Elmer Lucille in studio, stitching into silk noil, work by artist in background, (photo by K. R. Davis)

Davis:  And how do they relate one to another, if so?

Allen:  The designs on my stencil works were made of patterns that repeated themselves. I made my designs. Shibori techniques are unique. I create my designs one stitch at a time after I have drawn the design on paper.

Davis:  What other mediums have you attempted?

Allen:  I have done woodwork, jewelry making, stained glass, ceramics et al. I have been doing ceramics since 1977.  I received a Masters of Art in Creative Arts with a focus in ceramics and fiber in 2002.

Davis:  Describe your daily art making practices. 

Allen:  I make art in some form almost every day. If I am not making art, I am making decisions about art for Wayside Expressions Gallery or for a committee for which I volunteer. I have served on many arts board throughout the city since the 1980s.  I also look at art journals, visit art galleries on a routine basis, talk to other artists, go to openings so that I can interact with the artists, browse the Internet for artists that are working in the same manner as myself. I keep a daily journal when I sit down to make art. I sketch my designs on graph paper then translate them to clay or to fabric. Additionally, I subscribe to journals and purchase books that relate to my art.


stitching detail

Davis:  Artistically speaking, what challenges do you face and how to you (plan to) overcome them?

Allen:  My challenge everyday is to do something that is pleasing to me

Davis:  Do you work in series? Why or why not?

Allen:  I always work in series because I want to perfect my ideas as I make the journey.  I prefer to work in series because I want to create a cohesive body of work so that I can exhibit when the opportunity occurs. I stitch my shibori designs at home or in the studio. All dyeing is done at Mellwood (at the artist's studio). I do not work on both medias at the same time but I do work on both of them several days a week.  I take a ceramics workshop on Mondays and Wednesdays and a fiber workshop of Tuesday. I think that it is important to work in an artistic environment. This is why I have a studio at Mellwood.

Diamonds by Allen, stitch resist shibori, 44" x 44" (photo by Ron Burgis)

Davis:  Share the milestones that mean the most to you as an artist.

Allen:  My first milestone was in 1997. I was asked when I was ready to retire what did I want. I said that I wanted to have an exhibit of my ceramics. This happened with the help of my immediate supervisor. This exhibit was held at Portland Museum. Virginia Marsh, a mentor and U of L ceramics professor, curated this exhibit. My thesis exhibition in 2002 was the first time that I had exhibited both fiber and ceramics. When I rented my first studio in 2005 at Mellwood, I knew that I was truly an artist. I think that all invitations to exhibit are little milestones along the way. This year, I have been in four exhibits – two juried, one group invitational and one two-person exhibit.

Davis:  Whether it is the intent of an artist to become an entrepreneur, artists are thrown into the role the first time someone wants to purchase something they’ve created.  What advice can you share that speaks to the business side of art?

Allen:  All artwork that I make is for sale. I do not think of my art as precious because I can always make another. The next work is always better than the previous one. My goal was always to share my art with a wide audience and to educate my community. I think that a one-day or a two-day show is a waste of my time. You may not know it, but I was an arts administrator before I became an artist. I like to sell work but I do not make work to sell. I do not do commissions.

If I were younger, I would have long range goals and a business plan.

I believe that all artists should be required to take a class in the Business of Art that includes taxes, book keeping, etc.

Since I am retired I do not have to sell art to make a living.

Davis:  I know that you’ve been curating the gallery associated with Wayside Christian Mission WCM).  How did that come about and what have you aimed to accomplish with the gallery?

Allen:  Five years ago, I was asked to serve on a committee at WCM to establish a gallery. The person who planted this seed was a person working towards a Masters in Social Work at the University of Louisville Kent School of Social Work. She got the first exhibitor who was Gayle Williamson for the April 2005 opening. Then she graduated. I took on the task of finding artists, getting the gallery walls painted, hanging the exhibit, sending out press releases, making yearly calendar, making sure that there was a reception, etc. Then in 2010 when the gallery relocated, I closed the gallery at Shelby and Market Streets at the end of February 2010 and opened the gallery at Hotel Louisville in March of 2010. There was not a gap.  I ordered the new hanging system that did not require placing nails in the wall. I have been able to show works by artists who were not recognized in the community. The gallery calendar is full through the end of next year. I am a volunteer who spends hours every month making sure that the gallery is ready for First Friday and the Third Sunday of each month.

Davis:  What are your future goals and what should we be on the look out for you in 2011?

Allen:  My goal is to continue to create ceramics and shibori works of art. I have been invited to exhibit in late 2011 in a group show at Patio Gallery, Jewish Community Center.  I prefer to have solo exhibitions where I exhibit both ceramics and fiber. I am satisfied if I exhibit at least once every other year. It takes me two years or more to create a body of new work for a solo exhibit. You must have an idea of where you are going to exhibit so that the work will fit the space. Most gallery walls are eight feet tall but some are taller and some are shorter; some walls are white and some different shades of color.  I make work that is 45 to 60 inches but prefer to make works that are 72 inches or longer.


Works by the artist are currently on exhibit at E & S Gallery, Louisville, Kentucky.  Details in the flyer below.

Download 2010 E&S Allen White Exhibit Press Release


 Article in today's Courier-Journal describing the first time Allen saw shibori being stitched. The First Time



Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Embracing the Season

In attempts to embrace the changing season I'm changing my routine to reduce my going in and out as much...appointing days to dedicate to learning and being in either the studio or workshops.  Warmer temps encourages me to work more fluidly than the colder temps. The colder temps encourage to stay put and focus even more.       

I'm re-committing to Learning Curves, my self-directed education program.  There is a tab at the top of the blog if you want to see which books I'm using.

I'm listening to Charlie Rose and noted panel discussing the works of Romare is the link...

 Romare Bearden

Also, would anyone like to have this book?  It is a small booklet of 31 pages with about 10 or so different projects like cell phone covers, basket liners, book covers, etc.  No drawing, just the first to want it in the comments will get it.

Quilters Get Organized 4237

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Six Years, but whose counting...?

There are 2 exhibits with November 1st deadlines which I've just given myself permission to not submit. My focus has been dye painting and screening and my muscles are feeling fatigued and I'm releasing the will to push myself the next 2 days.  I did make it to the Open Studios and many artists were in their studios which is always energizing but rest will be the focus for the weekend.

There are 10 pieces of dye-painted fabrics wrapped in plastic that will cure over the weekend, possibly until Tuesday or Wednesday.  I'm on the schedule to to do some campaign calls for Monday and will be at my Mother's for bit also.  Tuesday I'm on the schedule for a few hours to drive folks to the polls so I'm not sure when I'll return to do the wash out.  The piece shown in the post below had very little dye wash out but I dye painted it again yesterday with a chocolate brown.  Here it is before the brown was applied:


I'm sold on curing AND steaming.  

It dawned on me yesterday that I'm focusing on dark colours...for no apparent reason but if I were to go all hyper-analytical I would say because I'm dreading the onslaught of winter and the need to readjust my activities due to it getting dark earlier.  But really that would be over-reading the intent.  I think it boils down to 'I'm just dyeing dark colours', (insert shrugging shoulders)

My presentation at the Carnegie last Saturday was a lot of fun for me and hopefully for those who shared the morning with me as well.  What keeps coming back to me is the clarity in which I knew that art-making is a conversation with my body and I used the metaphor of it being a dance that allows me to explore my limitations and sense of freedom.  The surface applications on fabric is hip-hop and the quilt design and construction is the waltz and modern dance sequels. 


This was the last piece I did yesterday and I was tired and don't know where the face came from but right before I did the face I asked myself "what else can I do with the writing?"  I've been doodling faces on scraps of paper and looking back over my attempt at faces in old journals...I do think it'll be a long while before faces as a motif makes it into a quilt but I'm open.

November 4th will be my 6 year anniversary of blogging...for 6 years I've been typing out loud about my journey with the main focus being my own art.  I hope casual readers and dedicated readers of Seamless Skin find some nugget that moves us closer to kindred spirits that keeps and increases the use of the internet as a fully positive human one.  

Beginning next week I'm going to add a new feature on my blog with interviews of local artists.  I'm starting with members of Louisville Area Fiber and Textile Artists.  When I'm at meetings I'm overwhelmed with all the creative vibes and the group experience that I'm wanting the interviews to be the counter-part and allow me to connect and get to know members as individuals.  The first one will be with ceramist and shibori artist Elmer Lucille Allen (see the video below) who has an upcoming show with Valerie White at E & S Gallery.





Monday, October 25, 2010

The Rent!!!! too damn high...

This piece was dye painted last week.  This is the fourth layer of over-dyeing.  In this picture it is still wet so I know it will be a tad lighter once it dries.  The effect is full of intrigue and mystery and I can see it paired with a smoky gray and a deep red for speaking to the root of turbulence that life sometimes holds.


 I've been wanting to get that rich, saturated depth of colour that I see in some quilts.  I purchased a red piece of fabric from Nancy Crow and she said she dyed it 4 times with 4 different reds to get it. My piece batched over the weekend and I steamed it today and will wash it out tomorrow.

Last week I batched AND steamed to see if it makes a difference and I think slightly it does but since I was not doing a controlled test, its hard to say for sure.  I also was a little heavy handed with the dye powder too, again, not really controlled testing here.  I also think I need to get a tighter woven pfd to get the depth I'm seeking. 

Elmer Lucille reminded me that Ed Hamilton and Sam Gilliam along with Mr. Gilliam's older sister, Lizzie Miller, were in conversation last Thursday at the Speed.  It was 6 when she told me on her way out and I was still dyeing, so hurriedly cleaned up and made it over 15 minutes into the program.

I wanted to introduce myself after the presentation...I know Mrs. Miller from my days of working as she stays active in her church and wider community organizations involving human services.  I really would have loved to have a photo with Gilliam and Hamilton but folks swarmed the stage afterwards and I was physically beginning to drag.

Sam%20Gilliam%20Carousel%20Form%20II%201969_jpg SamGilliamLightDepth
These pieces are huge by Gilliam. He said this came about from a question he was asked by a bar mate where he hung out at the time who asked him "why bother to stretch your canvas before you know the painting is good".  I recall reading that he kept wanting to get away from the limitations of the "frame" during his retrospective show here.

The other statement I took away from the presentation was the need for the artist to be larger than their art by getting about in the world in order for the art itself to have substance, the ability to speak to the human state.  He felt that installation work has gone on too long and most of it lacks substance.

Hamilton still resides here in Louisville and one question he says he gets asked frequently is "why he never left?".  His opinion is, "if the work is good enough, it will be found". 

I never want to be guilty of over-romanticising the past, but one of the things they spoke of and Mrs. Miller validated about the early years here in the 50's was the comraderie and accessiblitity of artist in the community.  I wasn't born until '60 but I grew up being able to identify, even if I didn't know them, artists, poets (who I would come to know) in the community.  Is it the same today?  Not really sure, but it doesn't seem so.  


I've been trying to upload this post since Friday...the problem was the browser...Peter switched over to IE9 which is still in beta and Typepad doesn't support it yet...I'm using Google Chrome and the problem is solved.  I'm so very much an end user...I just want the computer to work the way I anticipate is should, ya know?!  

Every day for the last 2-3 weeks I've woken up to a different resolve about moving from my current space in Mellwood...take the other space, stay where i am, take the other space, stay, other space, stay, yada yada and on and on.  IF I do decide to take the space behind me, it will not be until the end of November.  The Tenant's Council is promoting the Friday after TG and I wanted to stay in my current space for it.  

Today someone cleaning out there space gave me a great desk that was on its way to the dumpster.  I had to move stuff around to accommodate it and today I was like, moving around the corner isn't worth it.  I was whooped when I finished and I really didn't do that much!  I relaxed enough to clear my head and think about "whats next?" creatively which lead me to writing on fabric.  There is a November 1 deadline I want to meet but I'm not sure I'm going to meet this one.  I hate to blow it but my focus is split this week over items that require my attention outside of art-making.  

The title of this post has nothing to do with what I've written...I just like saying it :).  I'm really tired tonight...sleeping in tomorrow is on the agenda.  Peace,


Friday, October 22, 2010

Some things in life are better when you share them. What are your favorite things to share with friends and people you love?

Also, I can talk endlessly about my art-making processes to anyone who stands still long enough.

TypePad Conversations » Answer this question!

Some things in life are better when you share them. What are your favorite things to share with friends and people you love?

I love to cook for other people. Pound Cake is a no-fail stand-by and I have a brussel sprout recipe that has converted brussel sprout haters...but I really like to try out new recipes and get feed-back.

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Talking myself through the dark...

Yesterday I set up a test for the 3rd quilt for Crowbonics because the internal eyes and hands were working on it in spite of me wanting to do something else externally.  The 2nd-2nd quilt (second attempt on the second quilt) is not close to being finished but that didn't seem to matter to my internal eyes and hands.  Not having the energy to protest or object, this is what I started:

DSCN1607 torn papers layered under a sheer after medium applied but not yet dried

It is a small sample...about 10"x17".   I left it to dry yesterday and tomorrow I'll soak it in a bucket of water and scrap off the pieces of paper that didn't adher to the fabric.  The result will be a fractured image.  I applied more medium and more pressure on the faces.  I want less fracturing on the faces. If it works, I'll repeat with a larger sheer that will be a part of the actual quilt.

I also worked with redeeming a failed sheer lamination by cutting out the pieces I liked and then sewing them together.  I also wrote over the laminated sheer with a fabric marker as I'm thinking about what it would look like if the same images are repeated on all 3 visible layers: the paper, the sheer and the cotton fabric underneath.  I know, I know, I'm rattling on and talking to myself and not considering how tedious it is for a visitor to my blog to make sense of what I'm talking about...but a part of what I do here is like talking myself through the dark...


Monday, October 18, 2010

Generally Speaking, nothing is happening...

I had a sweet tooth craving over the weekend and both attempts I made to satisfy it by baking just fell flat...first on Saturday I attempted an apple cobbler I found on too dry and I just wasted some really good apples we picked over at Huber's in Indiana.  Then come Sunday I made an applesauce spice cake and just as I was getting ready to frost it I took a pinch and discovered I had left out the SUGAR!!!!!!!!!!!  I was pissed very upset but attempted quickly to readjust my attitude by playing  Scrabble against Maven, the built-in artificial intelligence for the game...between endless losses and cups of ginger tea with a little honey (doesn't count on the sweet-tooth craving scale) I resolved that it was just as well since I'm not suppose to have concentrated sweets in my diet anyways. I'm really more of a salty snack woman than sweets but every now and then I hanker for some really good and worth the effort of indulging something-sweet.  I did eat half a Snickers (cheap but delicious substitute) today and now I'm good for about a month or two.

After running an errand with Mama today, I did make it to the studio...chatted with Janet and Elmer Lucille and mixed up 3 different consistencies of print paste and 3 dye concentrates.  I kept waiting for a definitive goal to strike.  I'm in a fuzzy head space which is typical after focusing on meeting a deadline (really does take a lot of mental focus for me to follow through).  I was informed today that the one coming up requires images to be in a format I'm not familiar with...EPS or PDF.  Of course I've heard of PDF, just have never created a file in pdf.  I had to google EPS format.  If I'm understanding correctly it is a format which can be created in Illustrator and newer versions of Photoshop.  Anyway there is a learning curve (joy ;/) but I also got a name of a local art photographer that is extremely I'll see what I can do first or either Ade, but I am only talking less than 2 weeks. 

Peter dropped in to visit me today while at Mellwood.  He helped me set up when we first moved in and dropped by one other time for short pop in...but today he was off from work and came and sat for 2 hours.  The mixing of dyes and print paste appealed to the scientist in him even if my answers were not that scientific sounding ;)  We are extremely supportive of one another even though art(ists) are a weird lot to him and test tubes and math is too concrete for me.  Politics, music and cultural histories have always been our common grounds.  Maybe when he is on vacation I could get him back to assist me with some dyeing and printing...just will not hold my breath.

*****If you're not doing anything Saturday morning, come over to the Carnegie in New Albany...I'll be having an hour long conversation about art-making with disabilities and grant-writing.  Its part of a 9 month long series that is a project by the Indiana State Art Council.