Sunday, September 24, 2017

Never A Dull Moment

Writer's block is something I have heard about but never had it happen to me. I think it is because I am forever thinking and coming up with new ideas. There is never enough time to write it all down. Now that I am quilting it is even worse. I am always working on something new and longing for more time to finish.

Some days I envy people who can work on one thing at a time and never stray away. I confess that I have tried that a couple of times myself. I was not successful with it because while I was working on one thing another piece of fabric was calling to me from the rack.

I love it when people ask me, "Soooo what are you working on?" I hesitate and take a deep breath. All kinds of projects run through my brain quickly and I figure out which one to say. Of course, I am always working on two or more things. Sometimes I have to put one up on the design wall and look at it for a long time, while I figure out either what to do next or what is not working. So while that was is hanging on the wall, I keep working on something else--glancing at the design wall every now and then.

Deadlines seem to be like little creatures chasing me through a forest thicket in the dead of night. I awake knowing what I want to work on and then I realize that the quilt on the design wall is due by the end of next week. So I switch my thinking around and get to work on the deadline piece while pushing the other one aside. Booooo.....

So now I am working on yet another new quilt. The idea for this quilt came to my mind but it was only an idea. I had not designed it or anything. Then last week I found out that it was due by Friday.I shifted into overdrive. Once I got the idea together I got stuck trying to figure out the background. Now you know how I feel about showing my work in progress. I know that I am always going to change something and I am not sure you will understand that. Here goes nothing. It started like this. 

I saw this wonderful faux leather fabric the other day and knew right away that I wanted to use it to make the shoes. I have also been looking at this fabric with the musical notes on it for a long time. This was going to be a great opportunity to use it. It is going to be nothing short of a miracle if I can finish this thing by Friday.

While I was working on this my mind kept slipping to some black and white fabric that I bought at Mary Jo's last year. I have been trying to ignore it because I know that I have other deadlines. Finally I gave in a little and made a background hoping that it will leave me alone long enough to finish Friday's project.

I think that appeased the idea for a minute. However, I woke up this morning thinking about it again. Now it is a fight with what I want to do and what I have to do. I am sure what I have to do will win this one. Sorry lovely black and white idea.

Moving right along with the Friday idea. Just the right fabric was in my stash for the jacket. I can't wait to get back to it today. If I can make the head in two days then I may make it. 

But wait- I still have to go grocery shopping, attend the family reunion, cook a lot of food so we can eat at the reunion and clean for a big event at my house, not to mention keep my grandchildren in the middle of any or all of that. Well anyway, I have the body/suit almost finished. There is never a dull moment around here.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Inspired by Her

I have been exploring what inspires me and I found women to be the number one inspiration. I look at the work I have done and I always  feel like it is overwhelmingly feminine. I find myself saying that I need to do some men to balance out what I have. One day I was watching this video of Bisa Butler talking about why she is drawn to work with men images.  As I listened to her, I realized that I am drawn to work with women.

Why? The first thought I had was because my mother died when I was young and I was internally seeking to fill that void. I think that is true. The second thought I had was that so many really great women have been in my life and influenced my thoughts and actions. That is very true as well. Lastly, I thought that women are the largest subject of my work because I can relate so wholeheartedly to their pain. And that is the biggest reason of all that I am inspired to create work that gives women a voice that I think we so desperately need.

We seemed to be hard wired to fall down and get back up, while making very little fuss about it. I remember hearing someone say about Mammograms that if men had to suffer something as uncomfortable as that - another method would be quickly devised. Then I heard much talk circulating about how uncomfortable a prostate exam was. I stress WAS. Now men can get a prostate check through a simple blood test. No more probing. Wow, we are still being pressed into a flat iron without the heat.

I explored some of that inspiration in the book "Inspired by Her". I talk about many of the great women who inspired my life from my friends mothers, my sisters, my teachers and my cousins. I realized that their stories and my stories merged. I have felt their pain along with my own. I have felt their complexity along with my own. I have rejoiced and cried along side so many of them. 

Janice Liddell wrote a beautiful play called "Who Will Cry For Lena." When I saw that play I realized that it is so important that we tell our stories. No one can do it for us and we are the best ones to do it. Our stories are important. If we don't tell our stories the younger generations will think that what they are experiencing is new and special to them and their circumstances. They will wrongly think that they are the only ones that have ever gone through what they are going through. They will think that there are no answers for us. We have not been taught to share our stories but that has to change. Otherwise others will think that nothing can change and it can. That change starts with us, speaking up telling our stories whether it be in prose, short stories, plays, novels and of course pictorial art.

I first started with my hat ladies. It must have been because those were some of my earliest memories of strong women in the church. Women who dressed so lovely and wore awesome hats that I looked up at as a young child. 

Then I think I wanted to show that we rejoice. We really know how to rejoice. We dance, we celebrate and we leave our pain on earth sometime and fly above it all. So I did a lot of dancing work.


That brought me to the next book "The Women Who Fly" which gave me the chance to talk seriously about some of our falling down and getting back up. I encourage women to first acknowledge that your story is important, to you, to me, to young women, to men and believe it or not to the world.


Let's tell those stories ladies!!!! Let's inspire each other!!!! Let's hold each other close!!!!

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Inspiration Everywhere 2

It has been a week and I have done nothing but watched myself. I felt like I was standing outside my own head trying to figure out what was inspiring me. Some years ago, I heard someone (I want to say it was Isaac Hayes but not sure anymore) say that whatever your work is -you should be an expert in that. You should study and learn as much as you can about what you are doing.

So I since I was quilting, I jumped in. I figured I was least adept at color therapy. I studied what I could find on color therapy and realized again that it lacked something for me. I studied the differences in how cultures used colors. That is when I found my true color inspiration. Don'ts get me wrong, I'm not throwing the baby out with the bath water.  Some of the basic information about color is helpful; like which colors work well with other colors etc...  I found a feeling in colors that with the right placement made it feel like music. It was like a syncopated beat that repeated itself in my design. I moved away from the quiet soft spoken quilts that played classical music in the symphony halls. I wanted color to dance the Fanga and Yabara dances in my quilts. I wanted the drum to carry the bottom heartbeat of the rhythm with indigo and navy blue. When I wanted them to spring into movement I added bright yellows, golds and especially orange. Color plays an important part of my inspiration process. 

Then shapes. The realization of how shapes effect us goes into my process as well. It is not something that I think through but when I put it up on the design board and walk away, it hits me. I say to myself, maybe a few circles will lighten the feeling or more bold lines will stabilize this picture. Not to mention the triangles, squares, and so on.

I don't want to say that I watch everything but I do. I watch people (all ages). I watch cars, nature, fashions, shoes, food, sports, hair styles, musicians, musical instruments, door knobs, art in public places, how the furniture is laid out in a room, tea cup or mug, everything. The trick to watching everything is to not look crazy doing it. Ha ha ha ha. Look and then look away. Get real quiet so people don't realizing you are studying things.

And most of all give credit to your own experiences and make beautiful pictures of your friends. Like I do. It may seem like I am all over the place but really I am enjoying doing the pictures I want to do and making my own statement.


Sunday, August 27, 2017

Inspiration Comes From Everywhere

I woke this morning expecting a miracle. And I can truly say that I got so many miracles that I can hardly count them all. The top of my day started with someone asking me where do I find my inspiration.

She went on to say that she is constantly looking for something to make a great art design and is always coming up short. I explained how I came up with "Expect A Miracle".
But it made me think all day long about my inspiration. I once thought that I had no pictures in my head. When I was a teenager I dabbled a little into art. I graduated high school thinking that Interior  Decorating was just what I wanted to do. I didn't know that I needed to know something about it before I went on to college to study the subject. When I got to Georgia State University the advisor explained that Interior Decoration was beneath them. She explained that I would have to take Interior Design or that I could go to a Junior college to take Interior Decoration. So I stayed at Georgia State studying art. The classes were impossible and I could not keep up. I eventually began to believe that there were no pictures in my head.

It seemed that all the other students just picked up a pencil and drew whatever they wanted. I would think and think and think some more and still come up with nothing. It was a long time before I realized that I did indeed have pictures in my head but I was denying them because they did not fit the script. What script you ask? The script of the teacher and the other students around me. The script of the movies and tv shows, and maybe even the script of society.

I remember one assignment in particular. It was to draw fruit. The rest of the class drew pictures of all kinds of fruit. One student drew some neat pears on a white plate, one pear was cut and the knife was leaning on the side of the plate. That image was clearly not a part of my memory. So I thought I was a failure at art. Later I realized that I did have an image of pears. My grandmother had a pear tree just outside her back door. Tin buckets of pears would line her back porch in the fall. Sometimes we would have to peel and prepare them for making preserves, but I never saw them in a silhouette on a sole plate.

I did have pictures in my head but they were pictures based on my world experience and view. That realization helped me break out of my stagnation and create art that spoke to my visions. Then again it took me a while to isolate my own visions, give them permission to come out and give myself permission to be proud of them. I started paying close attention to my visions, my memories, and my views.

I started to look at the world with wide-eyed amazement like young children do. I watched everything. I looked at how the shadows ran along the ground away from the trees at sunset and how they hid within the leaves at sunrise. I was riding along the road one day and I noticed that the trees lining the road slanted towards the road on the right side but stood straight on the left side. Then I noticed that it was because the trees on the right were growing on a slight incline. I had never paid attention to that before. I know I will use that eventually in my art. That is how I get my inspiration, I pay attention to so many little seemingly insignificant things.

I looked at all kinds of pictures and I spend time just thinking about what I saw and what it exactly meant to me. I eventually quit Georgia State University and put art on the back burner. I didn't want to study the European great artists. I wanted to know about people that made art that looked like me and was about me. I wanted to draw my grandmother's house with her sitting on the front porch and the back porch filled with buckets of pears. I wanted to bring Aunt Clydie's house back to life. There was no place for that in the Georgia State Art department.

Big Mama's Porch               Aunt Clydie's House (with three other artists)

Eventually, I went back to sewing which turned into quilting. I didn't know that sewing would lead me back to art. I thought the traditional use of geometric patterns was fabulous. Someone said to me that you have to learn the rules before you can break them. I had no idea what that meant but now I understand. I learned that knowing how to do all kinds of quilts has added greatly to my making art quilts. I tried my hand at a few art quilts and liked it.

I went into my childhood memories and came out with some inspiration based on special times with my sisters and my father.  
                       Simple Play                                       
Fishing with Dad

 I thought of my friends and made quilts of them. I taught myself to do portrait quilts and made a series of African American History Makers.  There is much more I want to tell you about my inspiration and I didn't even get to the miracles of the day but I guess it will have to wait until the next blog post. Got to run.

Monday, June 12, 2017

One Month To Go

Last year about this time I started putting some pennies in a jar in anticipation of the first ever National African American Quilt Convention. .  Convention you say, why call it a convention? Convention means a large meeting of people who come to a place for usually several days to talk about their shared work. We definitely decided to do just that. We are going to convene and talk about our shared work. 

How exciting is it to think of the wonderful aura that is going to ascend over the Lawrence, Kansas when we all get there? It will be the first time that we all will be together and love on each other. Quilters have a special energy, a special calm and a love for fabric! We are going to bring that calm to Lawrence in July. We are going to share our bits of fabric and our experiences with each other.

Some of you may have wondered why the convention looks so different from other quilt conventions. It is like asking what is the difference between Al Green's music and Johnny Cash's music. Different people dream differently. Ms. Marla Jackson dared to dream of a day and place where we could express our experiences through fiber art. Now her dream has come true.

Of course this convention is open to all people. It is the National African American Quilt Convention because we need a venue to express our specific stories, our experiences and our way of relating to the world around us. There can be no denying that our experience in America has been unique. We are taking this opportunity to express that uniqueness. We want everyone to come and enjoy this quilt convention with us.

I was also offered a special opportunity to exhibit at this convention. I was just honored to have my name beside such great and well known artist as Faith Ringgold, Bisa Butler, Rachael Clark, Lola Jenkins, Sandra Johnson, Jan Hollis, Lori Triplett, Carolyn Mazloomi, Dawn Williams Boyd, Hollis Chatelain, Carole Harris, Valerie Scruggs, Valerie White, Sara Bunn and a host of other wonderful fiber artist and speakers.

When Ms. Jackson asked me how many quilts could I put in an exhibit, I said twenty quickly because I thought I was going to do an exhibit based on quilts that I already had. Then I made the quilt called "And The Angels Cried" for the Emmanuel Nine shooting victims in Charleston, South Carolina. A light came on in my head. I should do an exhibit with quilts about "Woman Who Fly." Well I had forgot a little detail was the promise of twenty quilts. Oh well, I can do twenty I thought. Ha! Twenty new quality quilts are a lot. What was I thinking? Well, I have done it by the hair on my chinny chin chin. I can say that having my grandchildren underfoot while I worked has been an inspiration and a challenge.

The quilts turned into an adventure that I had not planned on. I first sat down and designed all the quilts. Some of them changed as I went along. I got into the groove of them and they took on a life of their own. They talked to me and we were collaborating a great show. The more I worked, the more they talked. The quilts took me to places that I had not planned to go.`We explored many of the situations that make women want to sprout wings and fly away. I realized it was too good not to write down. So I started writing in between sewing sessions. It got so bad that I didn't want to stop and cook. My husband was not too happy about that. All of the stories came after I started making the quilts. Some stories came easy as they flooded my consciousness. Some of the other ones I had to coax out of the subject who had endured such pain that it was hard to tell the story. The ancestors wrapped us all in a warm blanket and said that it was alright. Finally alright to tell.

I hope that you can make it to Lawrence, Kansas from July 12-15, 2017. We are going to have some fun, see some wonderful quilts, buy goods from some wonderful vendors, walking tours, riding tours, historic places, African American history, lectures, classes and workshops, good food and performances. Bring your dancing shoes. I'm bringing mine!

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Youth is Wasted on Young

Youth is wasted on the young was a saying that made absolutely no sense to me when I was young. Now I find myself saying if I had known that when I was young... I would have done so and so. I also say, "when I was young I had enough energy to do that but didn't know I needed to do it." The sayings go on and on now. Some of my older people knew that I was wasting my youth, so they decided to teach me things that would come in handy later. Thank God for that.

This morning I am remembering how many things my aunt patiently taught me when I didn't want to learn. Ms. Marie Carmichael Ponder was an awesome seamstress and I wanted to be like her. She saw something in me that I didn't know was there. I was that fidgety little girl torn between wanting to learn and wanting to go outside to play. I have vivid memories of her teaching me to embroider roses on some fabric. She would add those dainty little roses onto little girls dresses that she made. I thought it was such a waste of my time because I will never do this again. Silly me.

Aunt Marie's patience taught me patience in an unseen way. I was absorbing her way of being just by watching. So when I was making the latest President Obama quilt, her techniques came back to me. Those little french knots that I thought I would never ever ever use again came to mind. They were just the perfect thing to make the textured hair that I needed. 
Another thing she taught me was smocking. She would often put smocking on the bodice of the little dresses she made for us. It was not necessarily my favorite look but she was exceptionally proud of it. So when she decided to teach me smocking I was not happy. I couldn't tell her how I really felt about smocking.  I thought to myself how old fashioned it was. I quietly listened and then tried my hand at it. The level of patience involved in making that happen was way too much for me as a young person, but somehow I managed and even excelled. I chalked it up as another thing I HAD to learn but would never ever ever use. Although, I have gladly used many of the techniques she showed me in my quilting career, smocking was not going to be one of them. As the long story becomes short, I found myself needing some smocking.

My first modern thought was that I could just go to the internet and buy something with smocking on it, cut it away and use it. Oh well. The smocking on a little girls dresses ranged from $69 to $129 and was definitely not the color I needed. That idea quickly went out the window. So as I work on the smocking for an old fashioned dress on a quilt, I think of Aunt Marie. She was right. I would need that information one day. If I had known that I would have paid better attention when I was young. That saying goes with a lot of things I can say as I look back at my youthfulness.
I don't know yet if this is really going to work on that quilt but we shall all see soon.