Strawberry Fields Forever

Abstract art enables the artist to perceive beyond the tangible, to extract the infinite out of the finite. It is the emancipation of the mind.
— Arshile Gorky

I LOVE abstract art! It attracts me and pulls me like no other form of artistic expression.

Last week the assignment was to take a landscape image and abstract it. 

I started with a simple sketch, drawing the long stretched-out triangles of the rows and filling them in with dark pencil strokes. I was feeling silly so I invited some personalities in by adding eyes to the mountains in the background.

 

 

I had a brand new pack of watercolor pencils I couldn't wait to try, so I cracked them open and began playing.

I experimented with different amounts of water and brushstrokes, starting with more expected landscape colors and then moving on.

 

 

 

Who says a landscape can't be red and yellow?

Instead of piecing individual mountains as I first planned, I found this black and white strip of triangle shapes, which was a more pleasing symmetrical shape across the top of the image. As I was sewing the mountains to the red and yellow rows, I began singing the Beatles' song, "Strawberry Fields Forever."

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So many quilts ...

So many quilts, so little time...  My head is full of images, flashing at me like there's a strobe light in my brain. Flash! Bright green. Flash! Yellow. Blue. So pretty. Flash! Shapes in amazing patterns. I want to capture them all!

I have been known to rush to my design wall when an image is especially compelling. Quickly, I move whatever is already on my wall to make room for the new inspiration.

A peek at one small area of a large art quilt during the quilting process. This monster will take weeks to quilt and several months to finish, as I will work on new quilts in between the task of hand stitching the binding, the sleeve for hanging, and the label. Whew!

A peek at one small area of a large art quilt during the quilting process. This monster will take weeks to quilt and several months to finish, as I will work on new quilts in between the task of hand stitching the binding, the sleeve for hanging, and the label. Whew!

And that's part of the problem. I have something like 15 quilts in my studio in different phases of construction. I am most excited at the beginning of a new quilt, when the possibilities seem endless. Piecing is fun, absorbing, but sometimes frustrating, like a jigsaw puzzle without a plan. Then comes quilting, when I fall into the flow of long beautiful stitches.

 

When the quilting is finished and it's time to do the binding, or facing as the case may be, I drag my feet. I have to admit that the closer a project gets to completion, the harder it is for me.

The final tasks of hand sewing the binding, the sleeve, and the label usually wait until a deadline is hanging over my head. Those are the late nights you will find me stitching and whining, stitching and whining. But that's a story for another day. 

Music music music

Images of music are swirling through my head these days. I've got so many I want to piece! Keyboards, whole notes, half notes, quarter notes, eighth notes, the staff, treble clef, bass clef, guitars, sheet music, etc. 

I sketched this recently and have been piecing it bit by bit -- It's tricky because the keys require "set-in seams."  I've had to discipline myself to learn more difficult methods to get the results I want -- not easy!  My inclination is to "go with the flow" and improvise when I come up against a piecing dilemma.

First I figured out the shapes which must be pieced together to make one "key" in the keyboard, and I chose the values (colors) that would give it depth and perspective. However, after looking at them laid out nicely on my cutting board, I realized I didn't really know how to piece this thing together!!!

FORTUNATELY, I was in the middle of an online class with Lisa Call, titled "Intentional Piecing."  I SOS-ed for help and Lisa had the answer right away -- I needed to learn how to piece a "Le Moyne Star."

If you are interested in learning this technique for set-in seams yourself, you can find instructions online. Lisa sent me to this one:  http://www.artquiltmaker.com/blog/2011/10/tutorial-lemoyne-star/

 

 

 

WORK IN PROGRESS -- Here it is on my wall today in rough form. I will post the completed piece once I have it done. In my imagination, I'm seeing a series of big quilts filled with music images, from multi-colored keyboards to expressive quarter-notes moving up and down on a wavy black and white staff, and a variety of music symbols. In the process of making these, I hope to "loosen up" the piecing so it becomes more abstract. Ultimately I would like to make art that makes you think of music, without actually showing recognizable images of music symbols or instruments. This could take a while, but I'm eager to give it a go!

Back from the Crow Barn

This post was written June 11, 2016 and saved into my drafts! I just realized it in time to post it before another month passes!!! Oh well... this is a work in progress! 


I just returned from three weeks at the Nancy Crow Barn in Ohio. I was in Sets and Variables I, II and III with Nancy Crow for the first two weeks, and New Color Mixing for Dyers with Carol Soderlund for my last week.

Whimsical sculptures are scattered around the walkways of the Crow Barn.

Whimsical sculptures are scattered around the walkways of the Crow Barn.

What a whirlwind! As always, I learned more than I could take in. Art was everywhere – in our surroundings at the barn itself, in magnificent shows such as "Material Pulses: 8 Viewpoints" at the Riffe Gallery in downtown Columbus and "Mastery: Sustaining Momentum" at the Dairy Barn in Athens.

Art filled each day as we designed, cut, pieced and critiqued our work. Our fabric was our paint and our rotary cutters were our brushes. We worked with figure/ground, high contrast, medium contrast, low contrast. Darks. Mediums. Lights. Neutrals. Glowing. Flat. 

The design exercises focusing on color and value, glowing and flat are fascinating! It's exciting to add a new color and/or value and watch it change before your eyes and do something unexpected. As Nancy says, just when she thinks she's understanding a color/value interaction, "BAM! It knocks you sideways in a way you never saw coming!"

It was an honor and a highlight of the trip when Nancy invited us - her students - to attend the opening of the show she was curating at The Dairy Barn on Friday evening, May 28. Entitled "Mastery: Sustaining Momentum," it features stunning work from 12 master artists who have studied with her over the years. Artists such as Judy Kirpich, Marina Kamenskaya, Margaret Wolf, Gerri Spilka and Coleen Kole were there, and we soaked up the atmosphere. 

Helen McBride Richter in front of her quilt, "Thirty Four?" at the Dairy Barn show, "Mastery: Sustaining Momentum."

Helen McBride Richter in front of her quilt, "Thirty Four?" at the Dairy Barn show, "Mastery: Sustaining Momentum."

What a magnificent show! Nancy's driving goal is gaining the recognition from the fine art world that large-scale, machine pieced art quilts / fiber art are indeed FINE ART and should take their place in MOMA and other art museums and galleries around the world. That goal is beginning to take hold with the magnificent work being exhibited.

Nancy Crow's newest series, entitled "Riff" was inspired by train tracks from her childhood.  – At the Dairy Barn Arts Center in Athens, Ohio through November 2016.

Nancy Crow's newest series, entitled "Riff" was inspired by train tracks from her childhood.  – At the Dairy Barn Arts Center in Athens, Ohio through November 2016.

My husband deserves an award

I think my husband George is the one who deserves an award!

 

I totally neglected to blog about The Best of the Valley quilt show last month! I remember quickly posting to my friends on social media (FB) and that was it. Well, I was excited to receive First Place and Judges Choice awards but the best part was the look on my sweet husband's face when we turned a corner at the show and there were my quilts with the ribbons on them. I think he may have popped a button or two.

 

That's what made the day especially great. It was like he received the awards too, for all the times he's patiently waited for me to finish "one more thing" in the studio. (There's always "one more thing!")

Not your grandmother's quilt store

"No! It can't be so! "  These were the words of quilters around the city when the news broke: Strawberry Patches was closing. For good. 

After 31 years, Suzanne, is closing Strawberry Patches and retiring with her husband, Bill, to Kansas, where they will be near their kids and grandchildren. She shares about it here: http://patches.typepad.com/

After 31 years, Suzanne, is closing Strawberry Patches and retiring with her husband, Bill, to Kansas, where they will be near their kids and grandchildren. She shares about it here: http://patches.typepad.com/

I bought my Bernina virtuosa from Suzanne, the owner of Strawberry Patches, in the summer of 2000, followed quickly by the cabinet when I realized how much simpler it would make things.  I learned how to quilt there -- My sisters-in-law had talked me into starting a little quilt while I was visiting, and I had brought it back home with a borrowed sewing machine. The closest quilt shop was Strawberry Patches, and I began to take my little quilt in at each stage, not knowing what to do next. I remember holding it up at the cutting table, and how they would give me gentle suggestions - how about a narrow strip of red here? Or a dark blue here? And I would come back again the next weekend with more questions. I was an insatiable novice and they were my gateway to a world I'd never experienced before. It was a time of healing for me, as I'd just been through a stressful time, and wanted nothing more than to hang out with other quilters, taking classes and talking about fabric, thread and types of batting.

I never was a traditional quilter: I was drawn to art quilting from the start, and began creating my own designs. I ordered books and combed the internet to see what other art quilters were doing. I began to travel to workshops and art quilt retreats to learn from my favorite artists. But I would always visit Strawberry Patches to pick up extra fabric or thread, to browse the shelves bursting with colorful fabrics and check out the new quilts on the walls.

Strawberry Patches has been my touchstone, a place where I took those first halting steps into a world that has given me more than I can express. I will miss it very much.

To read more about Strawberry Patches:  http://www.strawberry-patches.com. 

in-ter-est-ing....

I was home for a visit and did a double-take when I looked out the window of my old bedroom. 

I took this photo. See any similarity to the small black and white quilt in my last post?

View from the bedroom window where I spent my adolescent and teenage years.

View from the bedroom window where I spent my adolescent and teenage years.

Real men buy fabric art

First Friday at The Bakersfield Art Center

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This is Jeff, a local musician who just purchased his first fabric art!  I was tickled that he chose one of the mug rugs I made for the "First Friday Art Walk." Dec 4 at the Bakersfield Art Center.

Finding your "voice"

 

Sometimes my voice is LEGATO (smooth, flowing) and other times it is STACCATO (sharp, rhythmic)

 

Developing a clear "voice" that identifies your work is the journey of every artist. We each have to go through the process to create a look and style that is uniquely our own. Some of us seem to find it right away, while for others it takes time.

I was in the second group. It wasn't that I had trouble "finding" my voice, it was that I was finding too many voices! I was naturally drawn to a variety of styles and had to experiment before I found my home. 

Voice and technique

The development of technique has been a large part of developing my own voice. Now I know that I am primarily a machine piecer, and especially enjoy the challenge of sewing curves. However, before I knew I preferred machine-piecing, I tried - and enjoyed - many other ways of creating fabric art (which will be the topic of a future post; stay tuned)! 

Two sides of the same voice

In my younger years I made my living as a performer, singing in clubs and touring overseas with different bands, including a USO tour to Korea, Okinawa, the Philippines and Guam. Before that, I was a music major in college and earned a degree in classical voice. So when I heard the word "voice" to describe visual art, I felt right at home.

The smooth flowing lines of the Serenity Series.

The smooth flowing lines of the Serenity Series.

As I was trying to define my own visual voice, however, I became torn between two styles that I loved equally. I had begun developing the "Serenity Series," with smooth, flowing lines. It was delicious slicing curves into fabric and sewing it together so that it appeared to "bend," even though it actually lay flat. (It better!)

The black and white energy of the Rhythm Series.

The black and white energy of the Rhythm Series.

Then there was another, almost opposite, side to my voice -- the sharp, contrasting linear shapes of the "Rhythm Series."  The predominantly black and white patterns seemed to pop and scatter across the surface, which was a counterpoint to the flowing, peaceful sense of the "Serenity Series."

I was torn about this dual presentation of my work, because I know how important it is to have just one style with which people can identify (Marketing 101). However, as I settled into both series, I began to realize that, just as voices in music could be alternately loud and quiet, sharp and smooth, rhythmic and flowing, my voice could do the same. 

If I put it in music terms -- sometimes my voice is LEGATO (smooth, flowing) and other times it is STACCATO (sharp, rhythmic).

Together they make up the whole of my voice.

I've got rhythm!

"Rhythm: The City"  ©Sharon Casey 2015 This kind of art would go well in a modern home, perhaps in a black and white foyer or kitchen with parquet floor. (Probably not a bedroom!)

"Rhythm: The City"  ©Sharon Casey 2015

This kind of art would go well in a modern home, perhaps in a black and white foyer or kitchen with parquet floor. (Probably not a bedroom!)

Detail of "Rhythm: The City" © Sharon Casey

Detail of "Rhythm: The City" © Sharon Casey

I love black and white.  Love it.

Allow me to introduce "Rhythm: The City," one of my first pieces from a series I began a few months before the "Serenity Series." When I look at this, I am reminded of the bustle of a busy city, so the subtitle became: "The City." Each piece has a main title - the name of the series - and a subtitle - the name of that particular work.

After several months of trying to decide which series to choose as "my work," I have decided to do both! And it has been a very freeing decision.  I am comfortable switching back and forth from the bold, flowing lines of the "Serenity" series to the bold, energetic lines of the "Rhythm" series. I love the freedom it gives me. It allows me to express my mood while I'm working, whether calm and peaceful- or - bouncy and energetic!

I am looking forward to continuing both series and seeing where they lead. Maybe there will be a marriage of the two at some point, as my work continues to grow and mature.


Note: This piece was made in early 2015 when I took "Working in a Series" with Lisa Call, an award-winning and prolific artist and instructor.  http://lisacall.com/

 

The treble clef -- a page from my sketchbook

Treble clef symbol taking form on my studio wall.

Treble clef symbol taking form on my studio wall.

I've always loved the curved lines of the treble clef. I remember drawing it over and over again when I was in high school. My binders and notebooks were covered with them. I was a music major in college, and studied music notation as part of my curriculum, so I got pretty good at drawing a treble clef. 

It's been a long time since then, but now that I am creating art it is natural that I return to one of my favorite symbols, the treble clef. I create abstract art, so you can see here that I was working on a way to use the familiar symbol in an unfamiliar way.

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I took the photo of this page in my sketchbook a few months ago, when I was actively working on the idea of a music series.

I've let the idea rest for now, because it needs to percolate more in my left artist brain. When it is ready to reappear, it will...