Saturday, May 30, 2009

Adinkra Cloth II

I finished the second of two adinkra cloths this week. It has the same symbols and basic colors as the previous one, but I used a different dyeing technique and different colors for the stamped grid and symbols. You can really see the differences when you see them side by side.

Adinkra is a technique in which sacred symbols are stamped on a cloth in a grid pattern. There are over 100 adinkra symbols, so each cloth carries its own message based on the combination of symbols used. The technique originated in Ghana and was traditionally used for funerals (adinkra means “goodbye”). Adinkra cloth is now used for a variety of occasions.

Traditional adinkra cloth from Ghana

I first came upon adinkra symbols 10 years ago when I saw some at a rubber stamp store. I was drawn to them, and when I learned about the meaning behind each symbol, I became even more intrigued. I didn't pursue doing anything with them until I saw a photo of an adinkra cloth in a world textiles book. That inspired me to create my first adinkra cloth.

My first adinkra cloth

Since then, I have created numerous adinkra cloths. Many of them were created as gifts for friends and family. I have created cloth with a healing message for sick friends, as a blessing for a new home or baby, and with thoughts of love for a wedding or funeral.

Wedding Adinkra created for a friend

I have also created adinkra cloth that helps me accept and make sense of disturbing events, both personal and in the larger world. As I explore the world of adinkra, I find that my cloth is moving away from the traditional grid pattern, and I have enjoyed incorporating adinkra into my artcloth.

Adinkra from my latest series

I share my interest in adinkra with others through workshops in which participants create a personal adinkra cloth. They reflect on themselves and their lives and create a cloth with symbols that are meaningful to them. The stories behind each person's cloth are amazing. One woman created a cloth in honor of a son who had dyed. Another created a cloth that reflected the growth and transformation of her life's journey. They truly are sacred cloth.

If I have piqued your interest, I am teaching a 2-day adinkra workshop this July at the Majestic Ranch Arts Foundation. Participants will hand-dye the cloth, learn the most common adinkra symbols and then design and create their own adinkra. For more information, visit my website.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Morning Pages

Many people are familiar with the book, The Artist's Way, by Julia Cameron. I first learned about it a number of years ago when I was living in Chicago. The book focuses on freeing up your creativity, no matter what your art - painting, writing, music, cooking! I was very good about keeping morning pages and artist's dates for a long time. For those unfamiliar with the book, Julia recommends writing down 3 pages of stream of consciousness thinking first thing in the morning. She says that getting all that "stuff" out of your head clears the way for creativity. She also recommends making an artist "date" with yourself once a week. That is time to do something fun and spur your creativity. Chicago had lots of great places for artist "dates".

I fell off the wagon a few years ago, and haven't kept up with either. A friend of mine gave me a copy of The Artist's Way last summer and I finally pulled it out and decided to work through it again. (Yes, Diana, it has taken me this long to get to it! Everything in it's time.)

I must admit, it takes discipline to get back into the routine of morning pages, but I am committed to sticking with it for the next few months. It really isn't as hard as it sounds. You just sit and write whatever comes into your head, even if it's something like, "My cat just attacked my feet.", or "I don't really want to do this, but I said I would, so here I am." What I find is I spend most of the time writing about all the things I have to do. It almost becomes my to-do list for the day. I suppose that's not so bad - if I write it down, I don't have to worry about forgetting it.

I have also committed my Friday afternoons to artist dates. I'm teaching a class downtown on Friday mornings, so I decided I would use Friday afternoon to visit galleries, walk on the river, see the sights. I'll share some of my Friday experiences here.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Adinkra Cloth in the Making

I have been working on two commissioned adinkra cloths this week, and just finished the first one. For those who are not familiar with adinkra, it is a technique that originated in Ghana, in which symbols are stamped on the cloth in a grid pattern. Adinkra cloth was originally used for funerals, but has become a prominent part of Ghanaian culture.

Once we had decided on colors and symbols, the first step was to dye the fabric. I often like to use a grid pattern in the dyeing, because it works well with the stamped grid of adinkra symbols. For this cloth, I used blue, blue violet and violet dyes and created a soft, abstracted grid. Each color was applied by hand to achieve the grid.

The next step was to stamp the grid lines that separate each section of the cloth. Traditionally, a comb dipped in ink would be used. I have never had much success with that method, so I created a stamp with a hot glue gun. The lines are not completely straight, so it has an organic look, similar to that used by dragging a comb across the surface. In most of my other work I have a very loose approach, but for adinkra, I usually do measure to get the grids and lines even. Stamping the grid is actually the most time consuming part of the process because of the measuring involved.

Once the grid was complete, I carved the stamps with the adinkra symbols. In Ghana, the traditional method is to carve the adinkra symbol out of a gourd. I take the modern approach and use stamp carving blocks, available from Speedball, Dick Blick and Nasco. These blocks are very easy to carve with linoleum carving tools. I already have a number of adinkra symbols carved, so for any given project, I usually have to carve only a few stamps. The stamps do wear out from use, so occasionally I have to carve a new stamp when one is not printing a clean image anymore.

Before I begin stamping the adinkra symbols, I always take a few moments to quiet my mind. I focus on the recipient of the cloth, the intended use for the cloth and the symbols chosen. I create a mantra of sorts related to each symbol. As I stamp, it becomes a blessing for the cloth and the recipient.

Check back next week for photos of the second cloth in this series.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Design Explorations with Flour Paste Resist

One of my favorite resists to use on a silkscreen is flour paste. I mix up a paste with flour and water, and apply it to the silkscreen with a brush or squeegee. Sometimes I leave it as is, other times I use various tools to remove some of the paste before it has completely dried. Most of the time, I screenprint with thickened dyes. I used black paint on this screen, because I am continuing my design explorations. I created a stack of designs just from this one screen. I'll share a few of them with you here.

The screen above was brushed with flour paste, then I used the handle of a brush to scrape in the swirl design. Ideally, the flour paste would partially dry before creating the swirl design. But I was impatient the day that I created this screen and didn't wait long enough. The result was the flour paste seeped back into the areas where I removed it. I knew it wouldn't print as I had intended, but I decided to try it anyway, just to see what it did. Here is what the print from it looked like:

Not very exciting, and not a very distinct swirl. If I had waited for the flour paste to partially dry before creating the pattern, the swirl would have printed, and the flour paste would have resisted the background. I made a few prints with it and then photocopied them. I reduced them, and duplicated them and came up with the following textural patterns:

After printing the screen and before washing it, I photographed the back. This is what it looked like:

I felt this had some possibilities, so I played with the image in my PhotoPlus software. I used a special effect that defines the edges.

From there, I enlarged to get the spiral shape below.

This was pretty interesting, but I wanted to play with it some more, so I made photocopies, enlarged some, and used a black marker to color in some of the areas. Below are some of the designs that resulted.

I didn't intend to create a fish on this one. I just started coloring in the sections and when I finished, this is what I saw! It's amazing the diversity of designs that can be created from just one screen. I'm not sure yet which I'll use, but I have a lot of options!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

12 x 12 x 122

BECA Gallery in New Orleans, Louisiana is holding an exhibition next month by 122 artists all working on 12 x 12 canvas. Each artist will create four 12 x 12 canvases. I agreed to participate because I've been meaning to create a series of smaller pieces, and I realized that having a deadline would ensure that I did!

I normally work much larger and with loose, flowing fabric, so this was a new frontier for me. I must admit, in the beginning I did feel a bit constrained by the small size. However, once I got into the creative flow, I was filled with ideas. I am creating a series of textile collages on the canvas, incorporating screenprinting, stitching and metal leaf. I've already finished 6, with 4 more in the works. Below is a preview of the series I am creating. I'll have my website updated with more photos in early June.


Labyrinthine Dream

One of the things I discovered is that there is a big difference in canvas among different brands. I have used four different brands, purchased at local art supply stores and discount stores. Amazingly, my favorite was one that I bought a year ago at Big Lots. (for $5!) The canvas took the paint nicely, the corners were folded neatly and the wooden stretchers were very substantial. Unfortunately, the brand is not one I've seen at art supply stores, so I won't be able to obtain any more. Two of the brands were very cheaply made. The corners were so poorly finished, I wouldn't use them for the collages. Instead, I am using them for a series in which I stretch handpainted and screenprinted organza over them. The piece below was created with a flour resist, then several layers of handpainting and printing, and then paper lamination.

This venture into the small has been very fun. It is also rewarding, because they are a lot faster to complete. Instead of one a month, (my typical pace) I've been able to finish 6 in 3 weeks!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Night Blooming Cactus

When we moved to San Antonio 5 years ago, a friend gave me a cutting from her night blooming cactus. We lived in an apartment at the time, so I just put it in a pot and kept it near the window. It survived the lack of sun and a few bites from our cat, Sylvie. Then, when we bought a house, we put it on our patio. It started to grow a bit,but we almost lost it to a freeze the first year. Somehow it survived, and it has continued to grow. But ... it never bloomed. People told me how beautiful the blooms are and we anxiously awaited them. Each summer we'd say, "Is it blooming yet? No, not yet." Next year, "Is it blooming yet? No, not yet." We were very excited to notice several buds last week. Finally, we would get to see it in bloom! We've been watching the buds every day and last night we knew it was ready to pop.

Unfortunately, when they call it a night blooming cactus - they mean it. We stayed up until midnight and it still had not fully opened. It was beautiful, even partially open. There are still several more buds - maybe we'll make it for one of those. Anyone have a time lapse camera?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Art of Family

The San Antonio Visual Artists (SAVA) opened a new exhibit Thursday night at their Rivercenter Mall Gallery. The exhibit, The Art of Family, features works in a variety of media by artists of all ages. It is a wonderful collection of painting, pastel, fiber, and sculpture. Artists were required to enter the exhibit in conjunction with a family member. Some artists collaborated with family members. Others, like me, entered individual works with a member of their family. It was inspiring to see the family art connections.

When I first heard of the exhibit, I thought "I guess I won't be able to enter this show, because no one in my family is an artist." Then I realized that my home is filled with the artwork of family members and friends. My uncle Jerry was an artist and I have several of his works in my home. My favorite is a wood cut he did about 6 months after I was born. He died long before I pursued my art full time. I regret not being able to share that with him, but I feel that he is a part of me and has influenced my art career.

My sister-in-law's aunt is an artist, and we have a wonderful pastel we received as a wedding gift. I have always felt that the girl in the picture looks like my niece when she was a young girl.

And I can't forget my husband, who has also loved art since he was young. He used to do a lot of oil and acrylic painting, but he gave it up for writing. He has just started to go back to his paints. We have a number of his works throughout our home.

And, although her work is not represented in our home, another of my sisters-in-law is an artist. We've been asking for something of hers for years. She is a wonderful artist, but working full time as a high school art teacher, she doesn't have much time for her own creations.

My family goes beyond just the ties of blood and marriage. We all have our chosen family - close friends with whom we choose to spend our time. I cherish the artwork in my home that was created by my friends. As I look around my home, I realize that most of the art on my walls was created by people I know. Each piece has a story, making it so much more meaningful.

What story does the art in your home tell?

Friday, May 8, 2009

Design Explorations

I am always searching for new imagery to add to cloth. I have some favorite images that I use often, but there is always the need to keep my work fresh and new. Several years ago I took Jane Dunnewold's Personal Imagery workshop. It was a wonderful experience that provided many design ideas for creating images. Her book, Finding Your Own Visual Language, co-authored with Claire Benn and Leslie Morgan, includes many of the exercises from the workshop.

I kept every image I created in the workshop and periodically repeat the exercises to create new designs. Right now, I'm working on creating imagery for a new series, inspired by the poem "Ten thousand flowers", which I wrote about in my last blog. As I work through the design process, I'll be sharing with you some of the techniques I used and show pictures of the results. The process is fun and serendipitous because the images created are often just a jumping off point. Images can be manipulated on the computer or recreated using different media, all in the search for that perfect design.

The image above was created by applying cooked oatmeal to a piece of white fabric (one of my favorite resists!). Then I painted on black dye, let it batch, washed off the oatmeal and scanned it into my computer. That is a great image as is, but it can also be manipulated in a variety of ways on the computer. I use the software PhotoPlus by Serif. I'm still learning to use the software to it's full potential, so the images below show just a few of the possibilities.

These images would all be great as a photo emulsion or thermofax screen to use as a textural element. Or parts of the image could be singled out, enlarged and manipulated some more.

Monday, May 4, 2009

10,000 Flowers

Looking at our wildflower garden yesterday, I was reminded of one of my favorite poems.

Ten thousand flowers in spring
The moon in autumn
A cool breeze in summer
Snow in winter.
If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things
this is the best season of your life.


I came across this poem about fifteen years ago, and was immediately drawn to it. It's interesting how my interpretation of it has evolved over the years. When I first heard it, I looked at it in more of a big picture way. Throughout my life, I have always felt that the best time of my life was where I was at then. I know it seems unlikely that life just keeps getting better, but in my experience, it does. While I have fond memories of the past and I may go through difficult times, I seem to have become more content, happy and peaceful as my life journey has progressed. I hope it continues that way!

When I read the poem now, I see it as a lesson in presence. That is something that has been an important part of my learning the past few years - the ability to just be in the moment rather than letting my runaway thoughts take over my life. As Eckhart Tolle says (paraphrased), "In this moment, you have no problems." It is hard not to be grateful and full of joy when you can stop the incessant thoughts crowding your head and be present with whatever you are doing. Hear the songs of the migrating birds, feel the cool breeze on your face, see the beauty of a cat reclined in the sun, savor the taste of a ripe tomato fresh from the garden, smell the aroma of fresh basil pesto - these are all things that give me joy. Yet I can't enjoy them unless I stop the thinking and simply be.

What does this poem mean to you? I'd love to see your comments.

Friday, May 1, 2009

The Ties That Bind

Last night was the opening for an exhibit I am in with 2 other local artists, Susie Monday and Linda Rael. The theme of the exhibit is Ties that Bind - three artists' exploration of physical, emotional and spiritual ties. Suchil Coffman curated the exhibit at the new Fiber Artspace Gallery in the Blue Star Complex. Suchil and the gallery partners did a wonderful job hanging the show - everything looks great! Below are some highlights. The show runs through June 27. The gallery is open Monday through Saturday from 11-6 and until 10 pm on the first Thursday and Friday of every month.

For this exhibit, I created a series of 5 pieces that focus on relationships that can both “bind” us and set us free, including our relationship with our mother, our relationship with our partner, our relationship with nature, our relationship with the world and our relationship with our God. I used African adinkra symbols to add an additional layer of meaning. These symbols represent a variety of metaphors and are traditionally used to create sacred cloth for life transition events in Ghana. Below are two of the pieces I created for the series.

One with Nature by Lisa Kerpoe

Connection with Spirit by Lisa Kerpoe

Linda Rael created a series of art dolls for the exhibit. Linda has a strong connection to nature, which is evident in her work.

Fairy King by Linda Rael

Compassionate Mother by Linda Rael

Susie Monday exhibited her art quilts. Nature and spirituality are continuing themes in her work.

Michael of a Thousand Eyes by Susie Monday

Art Quilts by Susie Monday

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