Monday, July 23, 2007

Detours: More on the Wildlife

A quick pic of the baby bunnies. We actually think there may be 3, but we don't want to move them around or leave them uncovered too long to really investigate. We saw the mama perched on the nest last night, so we're relieved that she's taking good care of them, and that she's safe. We see a lot of dead rabbits on the small highway that runs behind our house, and lately we worry every time that it's our mama.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Whirlwind Tours

I'm in a manic phase, spinning from one project to another but unable to finish anything. I love the energy of these phases; I hate the inability to focus or concentrate, and the feeling that I have to hurry, hurry, hurry to get everything done before I crash. It doesn't help that I've taken on too much at my job (as usual, I'm interested in the cutting edge projects, but managers have yet to catch up and see exploration & research as a valuable activity; instead, they want to see results--a new product!--yesterday).

I took Friday off so that I could step back, take a deep breath, and not think about my job, but instead focus on what I consider my work--those activities that challenge me and make me feel fulfilled, like drawing, journaling, quilting. I enjoyed the day off, but never did get my job off my mind. I did manage to create a padfolio for my daughter (unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture of it before I gave it to her). These are quick and fun, and I would have made more this weekend except that I ran out of peltex.

Out of the scraps, I made this fabric "hidden treasure" box. It, too, was fun and easy, but now I have to figure out the treasure to hide inside. I want to add more embellishments to the outside, too.

Update on the wildlife situation: yesterday, we let the dogs out for their bathroom break (they're so bored in the house they've taken to chasing each other through it; I feel like my kids are little again: "stop running in the house! get away from that plant!"). DP noticed them sniffing at something and when she started yelling at them to get into the house, I ran to see what was up NOW. Turns out Ma & Pa were teaching the babies to fly. There are three little ones, and flight training is fascinating to watch. Ma & Pa sit on the fence and cheer the babies on; these little guys spend a lot of time hopping around the yard and occasionally beating their wings like crazy, lifting a few inches off the ground, before crashing into it again. The whole family finally managed to traverse the length of the backyard in this fashion, alternately cheering on, flapping, crashing, and hopping. When they reached the back fence, the little ones were relieved to realize they could perch on the fence railing that's 2 feet or so off the ground. One sat there and refused to move any further. This one managed to make it all the way to the top of the fence (though it took a while with all the fits and starts). I'm guessing the process is made more difficult by Ma & Pa having done such a great job feeding these little guys; they're quite chubby, as you can see.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Detours: Wildlife

We've had an incredibly wet summer here in Central Texas--over 40 days of rain so far, and it doesn't look as though it will stop anytime soon. This is good news for the drought; our lakes are finally filling back up, the aquifer is replenishing, and the best news is that we haven't had to deal with the miserably hot days that usually stretch endlessly before us in June, July, August, and September.

All this rain is not such good news for my DP, who is a homebuilder and is now behind schedule on all her homes. Nor is it good news for some of us who live close to nature. We're in a suburb, and the only thing that separates our backyard from a greenbelt and a creek is a wooden fence. Normally this isn't too troublesome; occasionally we hear a small animal screaming at night and know that a more powerful animal has attacked. An armadillo once wandered into the garage where I was sitting; I politely but firmly told it to go away, and surprisingly, it did. Another time, we were spectators to the sight of a hawk swooping down on a squirrel in one of our trees and carrying it off. I'm not sure I'll soon forget the sound of that small animal screaming. Then there was an episode with a possum that I still can't bring myself to talk about.

Over the last couple of weeks, though, we've had entirely too many encounters with wildlife. We're usually notified of the presence of something non-domestic by the dogs. They get excited, they run through the yard with their noses against the ground, they lead us to the intruder and, depending on the threat level, either attack it or notify us of the need to attack by barking verociously. That was the case recently, when our little Lhasa Apso, who once tracked and cornered an armadillo as big as she is (with 6" razor-sharp claws), let us know that something wasn't right at the corner of the house. I peered into a small hole and realized I was staring at a huge, coiled-up black snake. I screamed and ran, and I'm pretty sure the neighbors thought another small animal was being abducted. When I went back to peek a few minutes later, the snake was gone. It took me hours to get over the willies.

Unfortunately, I was running late the next morning and went flying out the door and almost stepped on the snake. This time he looked much bigger. I hoped that was because I was much closer, and not because he was growing at some astonishing rate. He slithered off into the bushes and hasn't been seen since, but I'm still paranoid--I peek out the door before opening it, then run to my car.

At least the snake incident was short-lived. We've recently discovered that we get to be surrogate moms to lots of babies in our backyard. Somehow, the air vent on the bbq smoker got left open, and a pair of finches built a nest inside. The vent is low to the ground, and our 3 dogs are fascinated by the sound of baby birds screaming their little heads off. I have no idea how long it takes finches to grow up, but I hope they do it quickly.

The other morning the dogs ran out into the yard and immediately had their noses to the ground. I knew something had been there during the night, and I prayed it wasn't the snake. They sniffed and trailed and wandered in circles, and then they found something and were frantically pawing at the ground. DP and I yelled at them and ran to see what it was; 2 tiny gray rabbits were lying in the grass. One was injured and one was dead (no doubt both the victims of the dogs), but there was something still moving in the hole they had dug them from. We glanced in and there was another little head waving around, it's tiny baby ears still plastered back on its head. We covered the nest back up, put the dogs in the house, and spent the rest of the day fretting about baby bunnies. What if the mom didn't come back? I checked the Web and found out that it's almost impossible to keep baby bunnies alive without their mother's milk, since there's no good substitute. I noted the signs of starvation and hoped we wouldn't see in our babies. I also calculated they were between 7 and 10 days old, since they get fur at 7 days (check) and open their eyes at 10 days (not yet!).

The next day, the furry little critters (we now saw that there were two) were packed tightly in their nests, and they didn't show any signs of starvation. We were fairly certain Mom had stopped by to feed them. It seems that the mother rabbits don't stay with the babies, since this might draw predators. Instead, they typically hide out of sight, but where they can keep an eye on--or at least get to--their young. Sure enough, the dogs were nosing around the storeroom, which is about 30 feet away from the nest. I think she's staying under there for now.

So, two sets of babies, a missing snake, and three dogs that have to be watched carefully every minute they're outside ("get away from those babies!") and watched carefully every minute they're inside ("get away from that plant!").

I'm exhausted.

Happy Trails

I'm back to freewheeling, and there are no pears in sight.

It did occur to me that my pear pieces may NOT actually constitute a series, despite the fact that they share a common theme. I've been looking at series and they seem to share more; color palette, mood, etc. That means that "creating a series" gets added back to the to-do list, but it's now at the bottom and has to work its way up just like everything else :-)

In the meantime, I wanted to do something with all the batik scraps that have been building up, so I followed the suggestion in Art Quilt Workbook to create a "wonky" piecing. This is a modified log cabin block that I love doing because perfect measurements and seamlines aren't required.

I made the block and then sliced it into 4 triangles, then added the center piece. I wanted something calm and serene to play off all the energy of the fabrics, so I added the hibiscus applique in the center. I think it will be nice when I'm finished; I just haven't decided whether to add an additional border around the outside.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Season's Last Fruit

I've finished my 3rd mini-art quilt in the pear series. I'm pretty sure this is it for the pears. I just can't imagine creating another pear piece. This one took a very long time because I had no idea what to do with the actual pear, which was one that I stamped and painted a few days ago. I spent forever arranging and rearranging fabrics, selecting, putting back, adding, editing. This is what I finally came up with. It still needs to be blocked (which I've never done), and I need to add a sleeve (which I've never done) or tabs (which I've never made) for hanging.

In between pear quilts, I finished the sunflowers quilt. I'm very happy with it, but I still have to block it, too, and figure out how to hang it.

I really am proud of myself for doing the three pear pieces. I know I'm a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of girl, and sticking with a theme has been very hard. But I do feel as though it forced me to stretch and apply myself in ways that I don't normally.

I may come back to the pears periodically, just to keep myself limber. For now, though, I'm off to other adventures.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Breathing Room

First, a brief aside. I was flipping through a back issue of Somerset Studio as I enjoyed my coffee this morning, when my eyes lit upon this phrase: "the gift of curiousity and desire." I sat and contemplated this for a moment, and realized how profound it is. Curiousity and desire sometimes feel like the bane of my existence, because they're always driving me forward--sometimes in a thousand different directions. And yet, what would my life be like without them? Curiousity and desire allow me to see wonder in what might otherwise pass unnoticed; to seek new experiences and knowledge; and most importantly, to feel joy in both learning and creating. I feel truly blessed to have been given this gift.

This past weekend was crazy busy, and this week has been even worse. I was in an intensive training class for three days, and then came home in the evenings to continue working on the tasks I couldn't complete at work because . . . I was in training. I've been working 12 hours a day or so, but I still needed some "me" time--time for what I think of as my "real" work--not the job that pays the bills, but the work that feeds my soul. Anyway, I was only able to snatch 5 minutes here, 20 minutes there. One night I stayed up until midnight sewing, and paid for it the next day, but it had to be done.

So imagine my surprise when I finally had time to take a deep breath and look at what I had done in the past week:

1) Added borders to a convergence piece that I put together a while back.
2) Carved a pear stamp, stamped pears onto fabric, and overdyed.

3) Played with melting crayons onto paper and then adding acrylic; I have no idea why or what to do this, but I love the look

4) Drew a rather awful but somewhat entertaining sketch of one of my dogs (I think he looks like a middle-aged man wearing a sweater).

5) Rolled some fabric beads and melted some angelina fibers.

6) Pieced together a mini art-quilt from fabric I had painted, then machine-quilted it.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Sneaking Away from Pear-Picking

Going through my stash of beautiful batiks to create the perfect border on the 2nd pear quilt, I was reminded that I had originally bought them to make a convergence quilt (my life most often reminds me of that book, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. For those of you who have read it, you know exactly what I mean. Is it any wonder I never seem to get anything done?).

At any rate, I put together the convergence quilt top pretty quickly, but of course, it turns out that this is the easiest part. The hard part is figuring out where to take the piece from here. The borders make all the difference on a piece like this, and I also feel like I need to do something in the center--applique?--to break the geometrics up a little and give it a focal point. Or not.

I now have two of these converged pieces I've created, and I'm sure I'll set this one aside with the other one until some day when inspiration hits.

Speaking of inspiration, I guess it's time to go back to the orchard and the workbook and continue working on the pears theme. Speaking of pears, I'm hungry; I wonder if we have any cookies?

A Pair of Pears

I completed the 2nd mini art quilt in the "pears" theme. This one was easy, because the pattern, the colors, and even the idea of a batik border is pretty much taken right out of the book, Art Quilt Workbook. Chapter 3 is about working from photographs, and the authors provide a pattern of a pear with the shading and highlights included. This worked right into my drawing class this week, too, since we learned about shading and highlights. I'm anxious to draw something, complete with highlights and shading, and then create my own pattern out of it.

This was a good exercise because I learned a lot about creating and working from a pattern. The most important thing I learned is to follow the directions. I thought I would be smart and, instead of tracing the pattern onto tracing paper, simply copy it on the copier. That worked well for tracing out the pieces on the fusible web, but when it came time to place those pieces on the background, I had nothing to follow. I finally went back and traced the pattern, then taped it to the background fabric and slipped the fabric pieces underneath, placing them where they were supposed to go. Instead of saving myself time, I ended up taking twice as long.

In addition, I learned:
  • When you're trying to illustrate highlights & lowlights, don't use fabric with color variation; that messes up the plan.
  • Same thing for variegated thread

Another thing I practiced with this mini quilt was a continuous binding. I've been afraid of those up to now, and instead I've been binding the sides, then the top and bottom. I thought it was time to make myself do a continuous binding, instead (I know it's called something else, but I can't remember the name right now). It actually turns out that, once again, the continuous binding is easier than what I've been doing, and the results look much better.

I'm not sure I can create another pear piece; I don't really know why, except that I'm having a hard time thinking of things to do with pears. I think that's a failure of imagination on my part, so I'm tempted to stick with it and really push myself to come up with an interesting design. The next chapter in the workbook is on creating a collaged art quilt. Perhaps I'll hang out in the orchard just a little while longer, and see what grows.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

The Orchard

I've decided to stick with something for a while, to really focus and concentrate on improving my skills. I have a new-found sense of purpose and direction, and the self-discipline to complete a series. Ok, that's a lie. I have a new book.

I ordered Jane Davila's & Elin Waterston's Art Quilt Workbook, and it came in the mail a few days ago. I like this book because it not only presents information related to art quilt design, it also has exercises to follow. One of those is to make miniature art quilts to practice the lessons in each chapter.

The book suggests that all of the practice quilts follow a theme, and I thought this would be a good idea. I can focus on technique and design without having to also figure out what the theme of the piece will be. At first I thought I would focus on flowers, but a little voice in my head whined, "you ALWAYS do flowers. Do something different!" Ok, I thought, how about trees? I LOVE trees. I feel an affinity with trees. I'm glad I'm not a tree, because they seem so content to be rooted in one spot for years--decades, even. I, on the other hand, can hardly sit still for 5 minutes.

Anyway, as I was flipping through the book, I happened upon a lesson revolving around pears, and I thought, "hey! pears! I have pears (plastic ones), I can practice my drawing-class skills and actually draw pears" (we're drawing fruit next week in our last class session; I'm thinking of it as a sort of final exam, which is frightening and not very productive, but I tend to do that to myself).

So I jumped in and created a miniature art quilt around pears. It was fun, but I'm not sure how much more I have to "say" about pears. I'm going to try to stick with it though, no matter how much I wish I had selected trees as my theme.

Besides, I have a bigger struggle: all those back issues of Somerset Studio that were on sale for $2 have arrived, and I'm gorging myself on them and swooning over the ideas in them. I feel a sudden compulsion to create a travel-themed art journal about a trip I took two years ago. I really need to stamp something. I'm sure I'll expire if I don't immediately attach some embellishments to a painted surface.

But NO. I have to practice that self-discipline thing and continue with the workbook and with creating my practice, pear-themed miniature quilts. I want to see the evolution of my miniature quilts from something I don't particularly like (this one) to something I'm proud of and actually consider artistic, or at least well-designed.

Besides, I'm gaining a new respect for pears. It may be nice to just hang out in this orchard for a while.