Tokyo Towers

I know for my online Japan Journal, I should probably first show you the pretty photos of snow-covered ancient pine trees in Nikko, but I have to start with the funky stuff first – because it’s my nature, and also I have a project deadline approaching, lol.

Always ready to have a project in pocket, I was happy to have something for my brain to gnaw on during this recent trip to Japan and decided to revisit my Wish You Were Hair series. What could it be I wondered? What hairstyle would express how I felt about visiting Japan this time?

At first blush, this is the scenic view of a drive-by in Japan. Some traditional house, farm fields, etc.

But on closer look, I started to notice antennas on the top of each and every house. As I took more photos of electrical poles, wire and cell towers, I reminded myself how our personal visual editing system is constantly removing things right in front of our eyes, but the camera can show us of what is really there.

There is this:


and this…

Thinking about all these antennae and electrical lines, it makes me think how dependent we are today on the internet, phones, and at the most basic level, on electricity. But having survived a week-long city-wide ice storm and electrical outage a few years ago, I’m always reminding myself how fragile this lifestyle can also be.

Closer to Tokyo, I started to get more photos of all kinds of unique cell and radio towers, and wired buildings crammed together.

These were all shot out of a moving van on a rainy day, so excuse the blurriness. But maybe it sets a mood also?

Tokyo Disneyland and neighboring cell tower:

Tokyo Tower:

How do you get from Point A to Point B on an art project? I’m not sure of the best answer, but in this case, I took an overwhelming 242 photos (and Russ even more!) of electrical lines and cell towers in Japan , then didn’t look at a single one while I was drawing sketches like this on the plane home.

Now to just fit in some more stuff I feel sentimental about — like those 540 stone statues of Buddhist monks I drew near a temple in Kewagoe!

It’s all about energy


Lately it seems that the word-making part of my brain has gone on early holiday. Or maybe it’s honing so many short tweets has hampered my ability to string together a paragraph. Oh well, less words, more room for photos? Not really true on the web, but here’s the photos:

View of my studio as I was working on the Wish You Were Hair series of quilts. These are quilt tops pinned to design boards just before quilting. Wish I could retake this with my new auto-timer photography trick and run into the photo, but the moment has passed.


For backings, I use batiks that seem to carry the same colors and theme as the front — for one reason because as I roll up the quilts to sew on them for hours and hours, I can enjoy the fabric. I try to keep good psychic energy going throughout the making process, and continuity of color is one of the ways. If I get in a bad mood or have trouble while working, I try to leave for a while or change the music, or change my thinking. I want nothing but good energy to go into my work. Stitch patterns are like handwriting – you can sense the emotion driving the writer.


Since I haven’t gotten these on the website yet, you may not have seen the finished quilt – “St. Louis – Wish You Were Hair.” Kind of my nostalgic look at being a kid in St. Louis and remembering trips to the Gateway Arch by the river, and eating at the only floating McDonald’s on a river boat (now gone.)


Speaking of energy, here’s an alternative — riverboat driven by flower power. Notice the swoopy loops of stitching in the background. Today I’m going to focus on getting some more photos of background patterns, so it may be another day of evaporated words.

“Quilts – Art with a Q” at the Fries Museum


Quilting the ice is what I was most worried about. I finally decided that I that I wanted a swirly, skatey pattern, and was thinking about how ice skates leave those white scratches in the ice that get covered over and over.

What was that term that Jason Pollen used for layers and layers of drawing marks made on top of each other, like on an old chalkboard menu where yesterday’s image is ghosted behind? Can’t remember, oh well.

The skating marks slowly transform from swirly to crackly at the bottom, where PaMdora’s skate blade precariously balances. Not sure how successful that was, but it was an interesting experiment.


Here’s the finished quilt, Skating On Thin Ice — it’s 42″ x 61″. Today I have to ship it off to The Netherlands along with another winter-themed quilt for a November-March exhibition at the Fries Museum. For a couple of weeks now, I’ve been stressing about how to do the shipping, but this morning got it worked out with the museum register. She was very nice, and told me that some of the hundreds of quilts — both traditional and contemporary — were already arriving at the museum.

Little swatches


Usually I think that once the quilt top has been designed and cut out and pieced together, it’s all downhill. Not in a bad way, but a sort of you-did-the-work-and-climbed-the-hill-and-now-you’re-on-top-and-ready-to-sail-down-on-your-sled/bike/snowboard-squealing-weeee kind of downhill. Mostly it’s like that, mostly it’s easy, fun and satisfying. But there are usually a few places that require some tough choices, a bit of nail-biting, and a lot of faith.

For those, I make test swatches to try out new ideas or stitch designs and threads to see how they interact with the patterns and colors of the fabric. But then when it comes to the real deal, it’s still a performance that requires practice, attitude, and spontaneity.

How to be in two places at once


The editor at the last book I submitted photos to complained that my photos were not good enough, so I’ve been working on my photography. Something cool I learned this week was how to use the auto-timer on the camera. So I can set up the camera on the tripod, then run around to get in the picture. This photo probably give you a better sense of what it’s like to work on one of these quilts, since you can gauge the scale.

A couple days ago I finalized the design on the wall and started to fuse everything down. The fusing is only temporary, things almost immediately start to curl up and fall off. But it’s good enough that I can get in under the sewing machine and stitch everything together for good. Did I whine it took a lot of time to cut snowflakes. Now I’m sewing them, which could be worse!

Thanks to Virginia, Gerrie, Jeanne, and others for reminding me about Blog Action Day/Poverty. I missed it here, but their posts reminded me to get off my duff and donate to The Kitchen, a great local organization here that provides food, job-training and medical care to people in need.


Why Do they call them flakes?


Awwk! Yesterday I went crazy cutting out snowflakes. It will take me forever to get a real snow-storm going, but thanks for all the support. I can always count on you all to make me laugh. Love the orange pompom and hot pink snowflake suggestions. Actually I have an idea for a snowflake quilt that is full of HOT colors.


The snowflakes are helping though. What is it about them that makes things seem magical? Even though I feel tortured to come up with unique patterns, I am in in awe of nature who produces billions of these just so I can shovel the driveway. 🙂

Skating on Thin Ice


So here’s the final drawing, ready to cut into fabric. I always feel so much better when I turn the corner on a project and feel it’s headed in the right direction. You can see how I was working towards this in my sketches in this previous post.

An artistic project is a process, and it’s funny how my ideas can change during the process. I make the art, and the art changes me.

Originally I wanted to do something about how our dependence on technology that at times seems so fragile, how it’s like skating on thin ice and was planning to put words below the ice to demonstrate system glitches and technology failures.

But I was having trouble figuring out how to do words-below-ice imagery. So instead I decided to just use objects, and quilt patterns of skate-tracks into the ice instead of words. Then as I drew, the story came to be more about how with our eye distracted by technology, we sometimes we lose our way. PaMdora is off-balance even though the man in black makes it look easy. The dog with the GPS is trying to point the way. And the snowflakes become stars. As I was drawing the snowflakes, I was thinking about how people used to find their way by the stars.

Sometimes I guess we need to turn it all off and look at the stars.

Collages for the Creamery


When our studio flooded, a lot of framed art got ruined. Since the Creamery Arts Center has lots of odd spaces, I cleaned the old frames and designed some collages to fit into them for the show.


Here’s the finished quilts in the show, but for fun I included some framed pages from my sketchbooks to show where the ideas come from.


“Paris – wish you were Hair.” The old vintage postage from my collection is from 1904 and someone wrote their postcard message on the front of the image.


“Seattle, the Space Needle – wish you were Hair”. Haven’t done the quilt for this this idea yet.


Actually, I drew this idea for “Twin Bridge”, then happened to find the postcard that matched. ooohwaa!


We had this really huge frame, so I put my actual pattern for “Athens – wish you were Hair”, with alternations into it. There was a little extra room, so I added some sketches and graphic inspirations at the bottom.


This one I called “Elements of an Art Quilt” because I included a stitch test for “St. Louis – wish you were Hair” to try out the effects of different thread colors on fabrics (and left the edges unfinished so that the astute observer could see the top layer, batting and backing), some graphic research and inspiration images, a pastel pencil practice for stitch patterns, and a wad of thread I picked up off the floor of my studio.

The little drawing in the corner gives a clue what “King Tut” (a variegated quilting thread) is because I used the reference in the labels on the stitch test on the left.

Purple hamburger, striped fries


Lisa asked if McDonalds serves french fries for breakfast — I don’t know, I just buy Egg McMuffins and coffee. I don’t think McDonalds serves purple hamburgers either, but I think they look nice.

Actually striped french fries would be a good idea too. (this may not show up well in the photo, but they are orange and yellow stripes)

I had hoped to finish five new quilts for the next show, but a while back realized I could only do four. But there’s still a lot to do to finish those. And drawings, I’m working on framing those too.


Meanwhile all the quilts have arrived safely for the ThreadLines show at the MSU Art & Design Gallery.

Fortunately the gallery staff will handle all the installation, whew. I just did an interview with the Business Journal about the show and Susan Leslie Lumsden will be doing an television interview on Tuesday, so it will be getting lots press, yay!