August 2013

Hobbies new and old

I know, I know: the last thing I need is more hobbies.

#1: Dye

I picked up a couple packets of fabric dye several months ago when they were randomly on sale at the art supply store.  Living in a small urban apartment with a communal washing machine though I couldn’t find an appropriate time or place to try them out.  But when we were up in Vermont last week with my family I found a free afternoon and an old pot in the shed and decided to give it a try.

These three fabrics are all pretty good quality but the colors never really sang for me and I just couldn’t think of anything I really wanted to sew from them.  One is wool, one some kind of rayon (i think) and one a ponte knit, so I mixed the plain and poly brown i-dyes together, added some salt per the instructions and off I went.

It was all very eye-of-newt.  I put the ponte in the longest and first, then the rayon, then the wool (briefly).  After cooking each one I moved it to the washing machine, then ran the whole thing on cold, and dried them.  Although the instructions were decent they didn’t say anything about how to move the hot wet dyed fabric to the machine (I managed to dye the edge of the machine in the process— good thing I didn’t try this at home) or what to do with the used dye (in true Vermont fashion I covered it up and put it back in the shed.)

Verdict: I think the results are ok.  I managed to move some fabric form the giveaway pile to the might-use-someday pile.  I think the most successful was the rayon knit which went from a kind of cloying clay color to a nice warm brown.  The wool I am thinking of re-dyeing black to try to get a warm gray.  The ponte might make a dress or may still just be a muslin.  It was a fun afternoon but I don’t think this is something I’ll be doing regularly.  Not least because I am going to run out of room in the shed at some point.

#2: Necklaces

I was in New York a couple of weeks ago and, finding myself with a few hours on my hands, I set off as usual towards the garment district.  But since I was feeling rather satiated with fabric and also since it was about 110° F I popped into a little (air-conditioned) bead shop that was on my way.  An hour later I emerged with two agate pendants, two lengths of lava beads, two lengths of dyed coral beads, and some beading wire.   Then I had to wait a few weeks to scrounge up some satin and hemp cord (for the pendants), some closures and crimp tubes, and some small hematite cube beads that made their way to the shopping cart with the closures.

The other night I finally sat down to assemble my necklaces and it was just as much fun as I thought it would be.  Not to mention making me feel like I’m about 12.  The plastic packages of beads remind me of bonbons, the tiny crimp tubes and pliers remind me of building electronics at work, and at the end of the evening I had several nice shiny new necklaces.  Did I mention shiny?

I also learned a lesson about drape in assembling these.  The first time I made the hematite necklace I pulled the wire nice and tight before crimping it.  This resulted in a very stiff necklace with none of the drape and movement that makes it shimmer.  I had to rethread it 2 more times to get it right— I coiled the beaded wire twice before pulling the wire tight— and the result is almost an inch of ease when the beads hang straight down.  So there you go: in order to bend you need space between the beads, or between the fibers in a fabric, or between the molecules in the fiber I presume.

Verdict: potentially dangerous.  I can see making these for gifts, or for open studios in the spring, and I can also see myself sinking hours and dollars I don’t have into looking for cool beads online.  Please believe that I tried to resist this hobby for a while.

#3: Painting.

I worked on this one a bit more Friday night.   Which was a mistake, being both tired and grumpy (my rig at work decided to break at 4:45 that afternoon).  I went to bed convinced it was hideous and the next morning it looked slightly less hideous but still not great.  The problem is that the drawing is off, which is easier for me to see if I tip it on it’s side, and the car at the far right in particular doesn’t match the perspective of the rest of the scene.

I don’t really know what to do about it because the paint is quite thick and it will be hard to change the angle of the car.  Should I push forward and try to finish it or should I stuff in somewhere in the closet to mature?  Maybe I am just not feeling the love for gray paintings these days.  I have some ideas for more colorful ones but I had wanted to finish up these small stashed canvases before buying new ones.

So that’s what I’ve been up to, not to mention muslining some patterns for fall, trying out recipes from my new website crush,, and— ahem— trying to get this paper finished at work (which would be much easier if my rig were working).  Oh, and trying to pay attention to my boys of course.


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Slow going

The advantage of reworking an old painting is that a lot of the problems have already been solved.  The drawing, for instance; the basic geometry.  In the last two “refashions” the overall light wasn’t bad so I could have fun working on the surface texture without worrying too much about the bones.

Starting a new painting from scratch has been slow going.  The reference image isn’t easy: there aren’t too many different values, nor a clear source of light.  And all the darks are in the details and high frequencies.  I’m also struggling a lot with the taxi on the far right.  Somehow I can’t get the perspective right.

What I like about this one so far: the texture, the Morandi-like palette of warm grays, the decision to omit most of the details from the front sidewalk.  The cars need shadows and the values need punching up.  Playing with the value histogram in photoshop made me think that maybe just darkening up a few details might do it.

In the meantime I am thinking about working more on these two:

These are both acrylic, started over a year ago and always intended to be underpaintings.  But Joey decided he liked them.  (Fact: there is no better compliment you can get as an artist than having a toddler like your painting.  Even if he mostly likes it because it has a train.)  And they are now both hanging on the wall over his bed.  I’m a little leery of messing with them because what if he doesn’t like them as much afterwards?  I can deal with critics but I’m not sure how I’d deal with my two year old’s disappointment.


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Painting refashion

After the move I found myself with a bunch of canvasses I didn’t really want to put up on the wall, and it occurred to me they might be good material for refashioning.  (I like the idea of refashioning a lot, but haven’t tried it much myself.)  These two paintings were both from 2008, the first year I started oil painting in earnest.  I think I spent many weeks on each of the original paintings, and a few hours on the refashions.  I was glad to see that my range of expression had expanded.

I think the main difference between the old (left) and new (right) paintings is a massive increase in contrast.  Contrast of scale, of value, of texture.

Anyway, I think I get now what’s so fun about refashioning.  The pressure is low because you’re not using new materials.  And that frees you up to try new things.  Here I was playing around with bringing what I learned from abstraction back into landscape paintings.  I think it’s a good start.


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