February 2010

Pants, or the lack thereof

I did muslin and cut out some pants.  The motivation for making these was that I had to give three talks this month.  And while I’m pretty flexible about what I’ll wear to lab, I still subscribed to the idea that when giving a scientific talk, one ought to dress as androgynously as possible.  Since my only pair of pants that fits is showing all the signs of being my only pair of pants that fits (read: holes), I thought it was high time I sewed some new slacks.

Then I got a bad case of the wintersleeps and the pants never got sewn.  I ended up wearing a nicer denim skirt for one talk and my gray wool sheath dress over a button-down shirt to the other (I’ll explain in a minute.)  And…lo and behold, it seems people still took me seriously as a scientist!  Who knew?  I think this says something good about the position of women in science, but not so good about the chances of these pants getting sewn.

And now I need to give a big shout-out to my lab bros:

Having no male siblings, it wasn’t until I got to this lab that I got to experience the expression-of-affection-through-constant-mutual-giving-of-shit that people refer to as “brotherhood.”  Although there are now a few more women in the lab, we are still definitely a band of brothers.  Last Friday it was our lab’s turn to give departmental seminar.  In a show of support for Emre (front row) and I, who were speaking, the whole lab dressed up in their best business formal-wear, plus bow ties.  (Hence me in my button-down and dress.)  Although we felt a little like kids dressing up in grown-up clothing, we did get a big laugh from our boss, and enough funny looks from the other faculty to make the whole enterprise worthwhile.  We also managed not to spill anything on ourselves.

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Letting go

What originally drew me to this image was the details: the bright orange barrier in the foreground, the shapes of the backboards, the subtle color in the trees.  But working on the painting I realized that these weren’t what the picture was about.  What makes it compelling is the dark trees against the brighter sky, and the long repeated horizontals of grass, pavement, grass, trees.  I may add some of the details back in the next layer, but to capture the atmosphere I had to let them go.

I feel a little nervous posting the next version of the big painting because its at one of those awkward stages where the parts don’t fit together yet.  I’d been dreading adding the cars.  Cars are always tricky for me because—like faces— their shapes are so distinctive that we pick up right away if they are a little off.  Also I find cars to be generally pretty ugly.  But the river of cars is the subject of this picture, so there was no avoiding it.

Overall I think they went in okay.  I tried to simplify them to a few basic geometric strokes, to keep the looseness of the rest of the painting, but still read as cars.  They look pretty drab here because they aren’t wearing their lights yet.  Also, you can see that all the depth and color relationships are off, with the orange cones and red scaffolding popping out and the focus of the painting— the ramps onto the bridge— still barely sketched in.  But I think it was good to put that red in because now I know what the rest of the painting has to fight against.  If at the end the red can be that bright but not pull your attention to it then I will have succeeded.

Obviously I still have a long way to go.

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Dreaming in Color

The big painting is coming along slowly:

Partly this is because all I really want to do these days is hibernate.  But, I have to admit that these muted browns and grays are starting to wear on me.  They seemed really evocative at the end of fall but now that the whole world is these colors they are a little less inspiring.

So I’ve starting thinking about the next series.  Something bold, colorful, and abstract, inspired by (among other things) Myrna’s fabric paintings, Sylvie’s abstract landscapes, and the fabric prints I always wish I cold find.

I’m also starting to think about warm weather sewing.  It seems cruel when the pattern companies post their spring dresses in January and February, knowing that we have a good four months of winter to look forward to.  Usually the spring frocks don’t do much for me but a couple of these Butterick patterns seem promising:

I feel like the empire line is a little low on this one (Butterick 5450) but the pleated bodice is really cute.

I think this is a great way to use a bold print (Butterick 5456).  And I love the back keyhole.

I never got around to making this Burda envelope pattern (7828) last summer but its still high on my to-do list.  Partly that’s because its drafted for a knit but I wanted it in a woven.  I have the perfect piece of olive green linen for it.

This one might work as a transitional piece.  It’s another of those “I never would have looked twice” patterns.  This time it was Trena’s version that made me take notice.  I think I’d probably wear it more as a top though, than as a dress.

I still haven’t dared to put away the winter fabrics.  I’m still hoping to finish a few skirts and some pants before the season ends.  But I have  a couple of cotton prints I’m really looking forward to sewing.  These are both from Gorgeous Fabrics:

Hmm.  Maybe these are less colorful than I thought they were.  I’m trying, ok?

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More ribosomes!

I spent most of Saturday finishing Wendy’s painting.  You might remember the small ribosome painting I did for her website, which is now up.  Check it out.  But she also wanted a larger one for her office.  I actually started this back in Vermont in October, but felt that it looked a little more Grateful Dead than I was going for.  I wasn’t sure quite what to do about that so I stashed it next to my supply shelf and moved on to other things.  Here’s the Grateful Dead version:

When I saw that the website was up I figured it was time to go finish the painting.  The challenge here was making the ribosomes relate to the background.  I wanted them to pop but I also wanted the background to hold it’s own. The solution I found was to break the background into chunks of similar size to the ribosomes.  I used a slightly toned-down white and overlaid it on the background I had already painted.  With only one color to work with I got to play around with different ways of applying the paint: thick and thin, letting it run with excess solvent, rubbing it on with a rag and off again with a brush.  Here’s a close-up of some of the texture:

Oh and I should note that although the little pink and blue lines may look like squiggles, technically they are messenger RNAs.  At least Wendy recognized them.

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My favorite outfit

And this is why my keeping a sewing blog is a complete and total fraud.  I’ve been reading sewing blogs for about a year now, and they are all written by stylish, talented, opinionated women who have been passionate about fashion from a very early age.  From them I’ve learned about fabric choice and fitting, about how to choose shapes that flatter different body types, about what is chic and what is not.  Or anyway I’ve tried.

I, on the other hand used to loathe dressing up for piano recitals, refused to try on a single dress when my summer camp took a field trip to a local formalwear boutique, and my favorite outfit as a child was a pair of pink ribbed stirrup pants with matching oversized pink sweatshirt.  (To my credit, at least I realized that this was not a flattering look on anyone.)

And despite much reading about how style can be a form of self-expression and build confidence and self-esteem, my favorite outfit today remains this one:

Let’s see:

  • Cargo pants: back of a truck in Italy, circa 2000
  • Black fleece: Land’s End Outlet, 1996
  • Flannel button-down (bought when flannel shirts were cool!): Kohl’s Department Store, 199..2?

And the reason this is my favorite outfit is because if I’m wearing it it means (1) it’s Saturday, and (2) I have the whole day ahead of me to do art, and (3) the absolute last thing on my mind is how I look to anyone else.

Hope you had a great weekend.  I sure did!

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Intimidated

I stretched this canvas over a year ago before realizing that— at 40″x40″— there was no way it would fit on my easel.  Since then I’ve been trying to hide it behind the bike rack in the studio and hoping it would magically disappear or that something would occur to me to paint on it.  When I took this picture of the Queensboro bridge last fall I knew I’d finally found the right image. But it’s taken me a while to build up the courage to start.

I’ve played around with a bunch of different ways of starting paintings: a line drawing in thin paint, a true black-and-white value sketch, or just starting in on whatever part was most interesting to me.  But I think what I like best is to start with a kind of an earth-tone sketch like this.  Just a little bit of color helps me see what’s close and far more quickly.  I remember one of my painting teachers telling us that “color is space” and thinking that she was just being a fruity oil painting teacher.  But now I think I’m starting to get what she meant.

I’m pretty pleased with how the underpainting went.  I think this has a nice looseness that comes from the fact that my brushes were pretty large and also that the computer with the source image was sitting behind me.  So I couldn’t look at the source and the painting at the same time.

Of course I am still intimidated by this painting and although I started it 2 weeks ago I’ve been too nervous to work on it more.  I’m hoping this weekend I’ll be less of a chicken.

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