First Quilter in Space

Discovery-shuttleToday Karen Nyberg is launching to the International Space Station, and according to this NBC Science article, will be the first quilter in space. The article brings up some interesting complications of sewing in space including the challenge of keeping the work still because it wants to float and having to watch for stray threads that could get in someone else’s eye. Also you can’t take dyes or paints into space, but perhaps use available food like ketchup?!

This story reminded that while Nyberg might the the first quilter in space, her’s won’t be the first quilts in space. The shuttles were wrapped with high-tech quilts for thermal protection. I heard a story about this on NPR last year, then when we visited the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum at Dulles Airport, I could see them on the space shuttle Discovery.

Above the Discovery they had all sort of the satellites and space probes hanging from the ceiling, and I took lots of photos thinking that someday I might want to draw them or use them in some artwork.


Now it’s all coming back to me, as I’m just now thinking how to make a un-quilt-like quilt for a show called Radical Elements. For the show I had picked the element “Curium” and was thinking about doing some figurative work about Marie Curie, for whom the element was named. But the size and material restrictions have me flummoxed as to how to do this.

Yesterday I read that Curium is silvery-white, tarnishes slowly, and glows red in the dark. It’s rare and used to make electricity for satellites and space probes. Thus my new fascination with space, satellites, and these photos from last year.

Now, how to fit in Marie Curie’s bicycle, another element I wanted to include in the piece? I’m also thinking about all the “firsts” she accompolished – First woman to win a Nobel prize, First person to win two, First person to win one and then have her daughter win another!

Also I like this quote by her, “Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained.”

By the way, if you like reading quotes, you may like to follow Karen Nyberg’s Twitter account as she tweets from space for the next six months. Susan Shie alerted me to this nice tweet she posted to her three-year-old son. It’s a YouTube version of  “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” by Jewel.

p.s. omg, after watching the song above, I just thought to follow Nyberg’s Pinterest account and found she’s created a pinboard called “Hair and Space!” I will have to think about this idea for a while.

Panbanisha and the Ghost Bike

It’s not often that something I create is controversial. Or perhaps I should say, misunderstood.

Earlier this month, in memory for Panbanisha the famous bonobo who knew language through years of growing up in a conversation and story-rich environment created by her human caretakers, Russ and I created

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American Visionary Art Museum


The American Visionary Art Museum is an wonderful place — three buildings of fantastic architecture dedicated to self-taught artists who follow their internal compass. The gift shop filled with art books and vintage toys and gimmicks was alone worth the trip around the Baltimore harbor on a rainy day.

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Mother’s Day Gift from Mom

Talking to my mother on Mother’s Day, she mentioned that she had recently written a memoir for her college class reunion. I asked if she’d send it to me. When the email arrived, I realized I’d been given a wonderful gift — chance to know my mother better in a different time and place. She said I could publish it, because I thought others might be interested in these memories of college life in the late 50’s.

Washington University had an awesome reputation for a young, naive woman like me in 1958. We began with Freshmen Camp at Potosi and then rode buses back to stately Macmillan Hall with its paneled walls, well-worn wood floors, and creaking stairs. From the window of my third-floor room, I could see the post-WWII faculty housing across the drive. My possessions were minimal: a manual typewriter, lamp, clock, dictionary, clothes for a year, hatboxes, and head-sized hair dryer. In the hall was a phone for receiving inside calls, and pay phones were downstairs…

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Inspiration Fortune Cookie for PechaKucha #6

It’s great to get these little messages now and then to keep you going. Thanks Little Tokyo, our neighborhood Japanese restaurant, I needed this!

All week I’ve been trying to get ready for PechuKucha #6 at the Creamery Arts Center. I’d kind of planned on presenting my 20×20 images of artists’ portraits done in iPhonegraphy, but had to widen it to just iPhone portraits in general.

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Keep Your Head in the Game: 7 ideas for keeping your mind on creative projects

After hearing the phrase “Keep Your Head in the Game” at a meeting, I spent the weekend thinking about what it meant to me. I suppose it’s probably a sports term, but the phrase reminded me how I’m sure that my subconscious mind can work on creative projects, event when my body can’t.

This list isn’t really about time or project management. It’s a list of some techniques that I use to try to “keep my head in the game” — to keep my brain working, thinking, and developing ideas for creative projects or problem-solving, even during times when I can’t physically work on them.  Using them, often later when I do get back to working in body and soul on that delayed project, I’m gifted some new ideas or insights that help move the project forward.

1. Walk around and look.

Even when you’re not working on a project, it helps to look at it frequently. I keep projects up on my design wall for weeks, sometimes months, occasionally walking by and looking at them from different viewpoints. This could apply whether you’re working on a painting, a graphic design, a sculpture, your garden, or part of your house you are wanting to improve.

Research shows that exercise and movement is good for the brain, and it’s hard to have new ideas when you just sit in one place or look at something from the same angle all the time.

Get up from your desk to look. Look for something that’s broken that you can fix later. Look for something ugly you can improve. Look for problems and what causes them. Look for surprises.

Or you could take a walk in your neighborhood or down a street and just look for things are that beautiful, wonderful, or noteworthy. Because sometimes something totally unrelated to your project will inspire you to add a new element to your project, something you didn’t plan or expect, but that can make the project better and uniquely yours.

2. Make notes or sketches.

While you’re walking around looking at stuff, it’s good to take notes in a notebook, in your day planner, in your moleskine, on a napkin, on your mobile phone. My notes are pretty scribbly, and sometimes they are just doodle drawings. But I can look back at a doodle drawing and instantly remember the time and place I did, who was there, and what I was thinking at the time.

Later when you need material for  your blog post, action plan, or turning a sketch into a final drawing or work of art, those notes or doodle drawings are invaluable.

3. Take photos – lots of them.

Photos help record things as they are, so taking photos over time and studying them can help you to see how there have been changes in places/projects you want to effect. Photos help you to see details that you’ve forgotten, or to see things are they really are, not just how you remember them. A series of photos over time can help you see if you are improving something, or if you have made a mistake, at what stage to go back and re-direct.

I organize my photos in different ways for different projects using Flickr, Aperture, and iPhoto. Other good possibilities to collect and save photos according to projects or themes are Picassa, Pininterest, Tumbler, and Instagram.

4. Use mobile devices.

Mobile devices such as smart phones, pocket cameras, iPads and tablets are great for quickly recording ideas or notes on the go.

A main point here is to spend some time when in a relaxed environment learning to use the device, so that when you want to really want to use an app or tool, you are ready. If you wait until a high-stress situation when your project depends on it, it will be difficult to both learn how to use it and get the results you hope to achieve.

When I’m learning or considering using a new device or app, I imagine what for what situations it would be useful or fun to use — and then practice, play, experiment!

The other important point about mobile devices is to be sure you can get your information out of the device. Smart phones and iPads have lots of apps that allow you to draw or edit photos. Just make sure you can email them, sync them, or upload them to your Flickr, Tumbler, Blog, iCloud, Dropbox, or Facebook account. Or know that you can download them to your computer hard drive to study or print them out on paper.

Because many of the apps I use are drawing, art or photo-related, it’s a big part of my criteria what photo resolution or what drawing file format that app will be able to export so I can use it later on another platform.

5. Build a bridge.

This is a technique that I learned from Twyla Tharp’s most excellent book The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It For Life, one of my all-time favorites. The idea is that large creative projects cannot be done in one sitting or connected time period. So when you are preparing to end a work session or work day and you will not be able to finish, don’t work until you are dog-tired and out of ideas. Stop a little before, at a point where you can see the next immediate step.

Then when you come back to the project the next day or next week, you know exactly where to pick up and getting working again. You’ve built a bridge for yourself, so that you can move into the next work session without facing a writer’s or artist’s block.

6. Keep the project open.

If you have the space, it’s very nice to be able to leave a project open and ready to work in a different room or different part of your desk. I like to do this because for me, out of sight is out of mind. I need those visual cues to keep my brain working on something. A visual cue can also be small, like leaving my sketchbook open to a page I want to remember or small sketch on a post-it.

7. The brain is the best mobile computer, use it.

Back to using mobile devices, we’ve got the best one with us all the time. The brain is the best mobile computer ever!

There are precious minutes everyday, when we’re stuck somewhere, trapped by circumstances or waiting for something. These are great times to work on creative projects in your mind or to stretch your creative mind, play with it, and experiment. Write a poem in the shower.  Make up a joke during a meeting. Imagine a cartoon while you’re stuck in traffic. Imagine taking a photo at the post office. Write a one-act play in the grocery check-out line…


If you have any more tips for Keeping Your Head in the Game, please leave a comment. I’d love to hear them!



Inspirations from the Japanese Fall Festival

It’s the time of year that I sometimes work on art for the Japanese Fall Festival. I don’t do it every year, but over the past decade have designed many posters and t-shirts, so looking back through my files, you can see sort of a snapshot progression.

I often return to Japanese wood-block prints from around the 1800’s for inspiration. There I often find originality of compositions and stylization of forms of nature that I need to reinvigorate my work. I love the way flat shapes are filled with complex patterns, and depth inside the picture frame is created not through shading, but by scale, color and composition. I also like the way images seem frozen in a moment of time, and yet at the same time tell a story by selective use of people, objects, and landscapes.

Another interesting aspect of this annual festival is that making outdoor banners for the event is kind of how I got started making fiber art and art quilts. I was trying to come up a with a way to make big outdoor banners — not signs – but vertical banners that would hang from posts — so I started experimenting with kite materials that could survive outdoor weather.

This was about 15 years ago, and they are still used every year at the festival. In the photo above that Russ took last year, you can only see the backs. The fronts are more colorful because they are appliqued color layers edged with black satin stitching. The black kanji above the figures was painted by a famous Japanese calligrapher who was visiting Springfield, and so I left room for him to paint in whatever characters he wanted, then we heat-set the paint with an iron.

Inspiration at Christine’s Studio

Last weekend we helped out long-time friend Christine Kreamer-Schilling at her studio Mosaica during C-Street Steampunk Loftwalk. Christine has been a working artist for years, doing public art projects, teaching workshops for kids, collaborating with other artists, and making and selling her sculpture and art furniture.

Since she works often with recycled materials, her studio is stuffed to the brim with shelves and tubs full of potential art-making supplies. She has an old building on Commercial Street that she’s slowly turned from a junker to a gem, and everywhere you there are interesting surprises.

I loved the look of these giant letters spelling out “more” down the steps, but wondered what it meant — until I turned around and saw the second part of the installation on the wall behind. JOY.

That pretty much sums up Christine.

In recent years, she’s made several trips out to Burning Man, and that’s brought a lot of new energy into her art. She’s the first one who introduced me to steampunk, and her idea to add a steampunk theme to the C-Street Loftwalk was an inspiration. The mix of Victorian and industrial-tech is a great fit with the electic nature of historic Commercial Street that is being revitalized by artists and art.

Here’s Christine moving a mannequin outside to advertise her open studio at the loftwalk – love the stripy tights and the colorful trim on her building.

The event at her studio was to get the community and other artists involved in a charrette to develop ideas for a steampunk fence she’s planning to build at the entrance of her sculpture lot — you can just barely see the entrance to that lot in the back of the photo.

Here’s an interview with Christine on KY3 and also on the Springfield Public Art blog — a Steampunk loftwalk and design charrette photo gallery.

Inspired by Hand Job: A Catalog of Type

hands-lettersThe other night I got a little crazy with the scissors and whipped up some hand-made letters for the header for the blog. I don’t know if it looks good, but it was fun.

I had been was looking through the book Hand Job: A Catalog of Type to find inspiration for a project I was working on and found much more than I expected.


It’s a great book showing the work of graphic designers and artists who prefer using hand-drawn letters instead of digital fonts — packed with sketches and journal entries along side finished drawings, posters and illustrations by 50 talented artists.

“Graphic designer and hand typographer Michael Perry has selected work that represents the full spectrum of design methods and styles. Whether you are looking to invigorate your design work or are just in need of a little offbeat inspiration, Hand Job will have you reaching for your favorite pen.” –Brunswick Street Bookstore

Then I stared seeing hands everywhere I looked…in my studio, in the warehouse, everywhere….


P.S. I forgot to say that another reason I really enjoyed this book as because in school as a kid, instead of paying attention in class, I used to spend a lot of time drawing signs and messages in letters that were little cartoons of snakes – each letter had a little head with eyes, vogue, and a mouth.

Eiffel Tower at Night & Drawing Inspiration from Photos

view by Alexandros Krasokeras

This morning I spent some time in Paris looking at the Fashion Museum and Eiffel Tower, in Tokyo looking at cherries blossoms in a park, and a panorama of Prague. You can too by visiting

Be sure to go fullscreen if you can. Some of the scenes move on their own, other you click and drag your mouse to move around. You can go to the world map view to pick where in the world you want to see!

Eiffel Tower – Night View from Tower Base in Paris

Update: I was just touring the Syndey Opera House on 360cities, when it suddenly occurred to me that I could use these panorama views for research and inspiration. While I was drawing and making my Sydey: Wish You Were Hair quilt, I used some of our old photos and memories of the place to decide what to include in the composition.

Sydney Opera House and Darling Harbour Bridge with Water Taxi in Australia

sydney-quiltBut experiencing this panorama could have given me some different viewpoints and details of the scene.  Also I sometimes hear other artists wanting to use others photos for source material for art, I don’t really incorporate other’s photos in my work. But I do study them for details and features of interest to later draw in my own style and perspective.

Do you use reference materials when you’re making art? Or do you just make it all up as you go along?