Day Fifty-Two: Everything Else

July 14, 2014

Making art is not my hobby. It is the profession I chose (or perhaps it chose me) at a very young age. It is all I have ever wanted to do, minus the brief “girls can do anything” phase around age seven during which I believed I could realistically be an acrobat, dancer, musician, astronaut, lawyer AND artist all simultaneously. As a profession, art making requires so much more than just making. It is a job I love, but it is still a job. There are exhibitions to propose, and grants to write, and emails to respond to, and artist statements to generate, and resumes to revise, and bios to expand or contract depending on the specific destination, and a website to (barely) maintain, and opportunities to research, and new work to document, and pieces to ship, and receipts to file, and goals to set. It is—at the very least—a half day of work every week.

In addition to the work to support the work, my making time competes with the realities of summer. My schedule is—theoretically—fully devoted to painting and stitching, rather than the ever-expanding demands of the school year. Now, though, there are swimming lessons and three-day weekends galore, and every personal appointment that was put off during the Fall and Spring. I absolutely love summer, but I have no idea how or why it is disappearing so quickly.

All of that being said, I did indeed make actual progress on the actual studio work today, painting the first two layers of one last necklace draping over the edge of the bathtub. It is all the progress I have made on this piece since last Thursday (though I did knock out another 350 French knots while visiting my husband’s family in West Virginia over the weekend). I hope to post the finished final necklace tomorrow, and perhaps a candle or two underway, as well. This seemingly never-ending painting stage is slowly approaching completion.

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Day Fifty (and Fifty-One): Finished (x 2)

July 10, 2014

I never have a specific end goal in mind when I start a new French knots piece. As the first stitches fall into place, a plan slowly materializes and I narrow down my colors and fill in the spaces until I see where it is guiding me. At some point as it is approaching its logical conclusion, I identify the precise number that will signal its end. For the “big” pile of French knots begun simultaneously with the quilt, that number was 4500, and today I reached it. It is now complete. At least, the fun part is complete. It still requires trimming with froo-froo lace and backing with batting and mounting on a frame, like my other French knots pieces.

4500 French knots

4500 French knots

I also (finally) finished painting the cluster of five beaded necklaces. Ground shadows and clasps have found their rightful homes, and the necklaces appear (hopefully) to exist in the space, rather than hovering slightly above it in a plane all their own. I have no doubt that more touching up will still happen in the future, but for now, I’m content and beyond ready to paint the last few objects into this imagined scene.

The final(ish) pile of beads.

The final(ish) pile of beads.

Of course, neither of these pieces is really finished at all. Each completed step is a little victory, though, on the way to the completed whole, and the excitement of beginning again.

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Day Forty-Nine: Physical Demands

July 08, 2014

I can almost hear my yoga and pilates teachers speaking directly into my brain, lecturing me on my posture as I paint.  Instead of balancing my two sides, I hold the same stance indefinitely: perched on my left hip, legs bent to the right, leaning on my left hand, painting with my right hand. I try to vary myself, alternately stretching each leg or—crazily—attempting to reverse the position and make a mirror image of myself, but I always revert to my old faithful original position. In an ideal world, I would have a giant easel holding a giant movable wall with my work pinned to it, ready to be raised or lowered as needed. But, it is not an ideal world (in many ways), so as long as I am painting those pesky beads at the bottom of the piece, the floor is my home. And, all of this is complicated by navigating around my ever-expanding abdomen as I am in the process of making not only a new quilt, but also a new human.

It was nearly ten years ago when I had the first inkling that I would one day require bifocals. A student witnessed the moment I adjusted a dye bottle’s distance from my eyes to read its tiny print; I think she was equally horrified by the event. I still have not given in to my eyes’ demands, but practice a constant glasses-on/ glasses-off dance as I paint. For the close-up details, glasses come off. When I am ready to step back and evaluate the whole, glasses come back on. It is only a matter of time before I forget where I am in the dance and accidentally crush my spectacles while trying to force myself to change sitting positions.

As was my goal for yesterday, I finished painting the beads today. Mostly. They still need clasps, other metallic details and—most importantly—shadows to ground them to the surface on which they sit. A few hundred more French knots happened, too, during the necessary breaks from the physical demands of painting.

The pile of beads, so close to completion I can almost taste it.

The pile of beads, so close to completion I can almost taste it.

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Day Forty-Eight: The Holiday is Over

July 07, 2014

Liberty Parade in Todd, yard work, potluck, farmers’ market, grocery store, drugstore, an eventually fruitful mission to locate and purchase a water table for my child, more yard work, World Cup, cooking, cleaning, swimming, barbeque. Oh, and a few hundred French knots just for fun.

After a three-day stay-cation in honor of the holiday, it was a return to studio reality today. I had hoped to be able to post a picture of the completed pile of beads at the end of the day, but I was thwarted by a particularly stubborn strand of blue beads that simply did not want to be painted well. Perhaps tomorrow I will be victorious.

500 knots.

500 knots.

Currently 3730 knots (and counting).

Currently 3730 knots (and counting).

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Day Forty-Seven: Beading Beady Beads

July 03, 2014

Luckily, today I still approved of the decision I made yesterday to paint in the basic structure of all the beads in the pile before bringing them to life with color, highlights and shadows. I also realized that I cannot actually count, and the four necklaces I had declared were, in fact, five entangled pieces. I began sorting them with color today, and now two of the five are virtually complete and one is halfway there. I anticipate tomorrow being a day of rest. Or, more likely, a day of not resting at all but enjoying the holiday with my family and friends.

The beaded necklaces, slowly coming to life.

The beaded necklaces, slowly coming to life.

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Day Forty-Six: A Whole Mess of Beads

July 02, 2014

I thought it would be a good idea to paint the skeleton structure of the tangled bead mass representing four strands piled together, rather than finishing each necklace in succession. We will see if tomorrow I still agree with myself when I attempt to sort the beads back out with four different colors of paint.

Four necklaces piled together, waiting to be painted further.

Four necklaces piled together, waiting to be painted further.

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Day Forty-Five: Stitching Blindly

July 01, 2014

Luckily, I have made so many French knots in my life (several hundred thousand would be a reasonable estimate), that my hands generate them automatically. I need only glance down when the needle is puncturing the fabric to confirm the location of each knot. Today, I made about two-hundred of the most stressful knots of my life as I watched the US fall to Belgium.

In the morning and early afternoon, I continued painting beads. I am slowly picking up speed with this endeavor and am starting to see a light at the end of the painting tunnel. Two necklaces are virtually complete, and a third is underway.

Necklace number 2, virtually complete.

Necklace number 2, virtually complete.

Necklace number three, just begun.

Necklace number three, just begun.

 

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Day Forty-Four: Lying and Cheating

June 30, 2014

As I have said before, I am a terrible verbal liar. I cannot even begin to imagine how fiction authors generate imaginary existences. And yet, I have absolutely no trouble whatsoever telling visual lies. I change objects’ true colors to suit my needs (like the purple-turned-teal star lights). I grow and shrink objects. I add and subtract details. I enhance the lights and the shadows. I defy gravity. I invent characters.

Really, my studio practice—in any other situation—would be evidence of my absolute moral decay. Not only do I lie, but I also cheat. I use my camera, my computer and my printer to do the work of my eyes and hands. I create stencils as insurance and assurance that proportions will be just right. And today, I used a circle template—probably a remnant from my early days in design school when we were still literally cutting and pasting—to mimic the mechanical production of beads.

The first set of beads, nearly complete.

The first set of beads, nearly complete.

The second set of beads, just begun.

The second set of beads, just begun.

One necklace is now 95% finished and the next has just begun. I am working my way around the quilt in counter-clockwise fashion, painting this house’s imagined former life as I go.

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Day Forty-Three: Another 150

June 29, 2014

Three hundred French knots.

Three hundred French knots.

The knots begun yesterday have now doubled in size.

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Day Forty-Two (a day late): 150 Knots

I am in awe of single parents. After a mere 24 hours of solo child-wrangling, I am exhausted. Granted, that 24 hours did include a four-hour round trip to attend a shindig in which the coleslaw must have been spiked with Red Bull and the secret ingredient in the baked beans was espresso, but still. Clearly I was delusional on Friday when I speculated that on Saturday I would begin painting the beads. I did not even look at the piece in progress, the theoretical subject of this blog. I did, though, manage to produce 150 French knots, in ten-knot increments as I trailed my fickle toddler from room to room and toy to toy and book to book in the morning.

150 French knots.

150 French knots.

French knots are a meditative undertaking for me. My hands make them automatically, freeing my mind to count repeatedly to ten and wander in between. The knots I make are absolutely, completely, entirely and only themselves and only about themselves. They are freed from the weight of imagery. Their existence is self-referential. I make them as a physical embodiment of my own questions about the value of, well, making. Has a painter ever counted her strokes and assigned value to a painting based solely thereon? Doubtful. How is the value of an idea quantified?

These teeny tiny French knot clumps (as opposed to the thousands composing my “big” French knot pieces) spring from a friend’s request to trade knots for her homemade pickles. I was happy to knock out 250 quick knots during flight layovers and received 4 quarts of the world’s best pickles in exchange. It is the ideal end result of my knotting endeavor: the work of my hands being traded in kind for the work of another’s. I am now envisioning a series of 100 pieces, ranging from 100 to 500 knots, in tiny frames and hung in a grid. Even when I work small, I somehow find a way to work big.

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