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.

Spaces and Places at Gallery Marlin

One of the reasons I was anxious about doing this show was the challenge of the spaces. Gallery Marlin is a new corporate gallery in the reception area of Marlin Company, an agency that specializes on the food service industry and had invited me to do the first in a series fine art solo shows.

Marlin Company is a corporate sponsor of the Springfield Regional Arts Council who has generously offered to host this series of solo shows with all gallery commissions from sales going directly to the non-profit SRAC. Marlin did not ask me to focus on food, but it wasn’t a problem for me to find a lot of food and kitchen-themed quilts and drawings in my work. I guess home is where the heart is!

I like the urban loft-like feel of Marlin’s offices inside an old ice house that I wrote about in this blog post, located above Brick City — which is the Art & Design HQ for Missouri State University.  At first I didn’t anticipate the challenge that skinny spaces, brick walls, low floating walls, and brown and green interiors would present, but all these parameters eventually pushed me to work in some new directions.

As I was making “Cheese Curls – It’s Hard to Do Just One,” I felt the background was a tad dull, so I studied photos of the Marlin offices and began to incorporate architectural elements of the space. The concrete columns, tiny windows, floating walls, and art furniture added a new dimension and allegorical associations to the work, reminding me that creating a sense of Place is a big part of telling a Story. But more on that in a later post.

Notice the unusual spread of goodies on the ice house table. Marlin was creative about providing a spread of unusual party food for the opening reception last night. Inspired by my quilts there were cheese curls, pretzels, mini toasts and jam!

Putting a show and event together is never the work of one person. Many thanks to Russ, Stephanie, Ellen, Don, Leah, Weber, Judith, and Michael for their encouragement, ideas, and contributions throughout the past weeks.

Kudos also to Ellen for keeping me on task for all tasks from invitations to price lists. Because Ellen kept me on schedule, I actually had some time to play around with some smaller framed pieces in the final week, including finishing up “Teeny Bikini Martini”  (12″ x 24″) that I created for a skinny brick wall.

Although I had my camera in my pocket the entire evening, unfortunately I didn’t remember to take any photos. I wish I had a few photos of all the friends, family, and artists who were there last night. Thank you all who were there in body or spirit!

If you weren’t able to make the reception, the show will be up for a good part of this summer, so stop by during regular business hours to see the gallery. If you’re in the neighborhood, you may also view Watercolor USA Honor Society Small Works Invitational (June 10–August 5) in the Missouri State University Brick City Gallery – 215 W. Mill St., Springfield, MO 65806 on the first floor of the same building.





Kitchen inspired Stitching

For all my foodie friends out there, here’s a food art alert. I haven’t been blogging lately because I’m focused on developing some new work for a show themed on Food.

High-brow, low-brow, you know I love both kinds of food. So there will be some junk food, some fine dining, and the usual cast of aliens, animals and impossible hairstyles thrown in for good measure.

For inspiration, I’ve been studying my retro cookbook collection and recently acquired another 1961 gem by Peter Pauper Press, illustrated by Ruth McCrea – the same team that published Simple Hawaiian Cookery that I blogged about on Thanksgiving.

When I looked through my previous work, it surprised me how many quilts had food or kitchens in them. So it seemed natural to agree to do a show based on food. However it’s not set in a typical gallery setting, so I’m having fun experimenting with new color schemes, sizes, and techniques.

More coming soon as this show opens in mid-June. If you’re local (Springfield, MO) and want an invite, email me your mailing address. If you’re local and into art and food (and yoga), you may already be on my list.





Occupied with Octopi, part two

Or perhaps I should have said, Preoccupied with Octopi. This is the second of two blog posts about making a big quilt featuring PaMdora and an octopus. The first one is Occupied by Octopi, part one.

Part Two

While I’m working on a drawing of my idea, I am also going through my collection of fabric developing a palette. Sometimes I just throw fabrics on the floor, but eventually I may pin wads of fabric to the design wall. In this case, I want the octopus to glow from a dark background. If the abstract pattern and palette looks good, I feel I have a good backbone on which to build the final piece.

The way I work on the design wall is similar to how I work on the computer. I pin all my reference sources around the edges of my work space.

This is the pattern that I’ve printed from my drawing. I used to tile dozens of 8.5 x 11 pieces of paper and tape them together to make patterns. Now we have  a large format printer, but this design still took two tiles. Since big patterns tend to slip off my cutting table, I like to use old irons to hold them in place.

The octopus needs a lot of fabric, so I have to careful I’m not going to run out. It took a lot of fiddling with the patterns  to get it all to fit. You can see I’m playing around with colors for water in the background.

Just trying to make sure that I’ve got all eight tentacles covered! I did write one blog post about cutting this monster. It took me three days.

Like working a painting, I’m trying to keep the entire surface in mind. Each color choice affects every other part, so I’m just pinning things together and nothing is permanent. As I cut and pin, I also am constantly thinking about how I’m going to sew this monster together. Because of the many layers, it’s going to be technically difficult to quilt.

Starting to add the digital toys. Even though they are small, I want them to pop out to the viewer, so I’m using bright bits of turquoise. I’m also improvising waves at the top and sea grass at the bottom, and added that blue polka dot rock bed at the bottom to give myself a little more space to work.

Because I got in a hurry to finish this quilt, I didn’t take any photo of sewing the details. I usually sew the faces and small details on a Bernina sewing machine because I like the control it gives me. You can see me sewing another big quilt on my Bernina here.

After getting the octopus, PaMdora, and the digital toys sewn, I moved to a frame to finish the background with my Viking sewing machine.

This was one of the hardest pieces I’ve ever quilted. Because of the many layers and intertwining parts, I had to really concentrate and plan my method of attack to keep it flat. It may have turned out a little too flat — I would have liked a little more texture in the background, but we learn something from every project we do!

Looking back on the project, I realize it was challenging, but also lot of fun. I like making things like computers, old TVs and remote controls out of crazy patterned fabrics.

I barely finished this quilt in time to take photos and submit it to Quilt National. At the time I called it “Dancing with an Octopus” because I was in a hurry and needed a title. Since QN is strict about pre-exhibition photos on the internet, I never put any of this on my blog or website. By the time I found out this quilt wasn’t accepted, I had moved on to other projects.

The other day I realized I still haven’t put the final image on my website. Maybe one reason is I never really felt that title was right. Over the years, there have been so many great comments posted on PaMdora’s Box, and I get ideas and inspiration from all the input. So maybe you can help me out again. And thanks, all you readers who have stuck with me all these years — I really appreciate it!

Here’s the first post about this project: Occupied with Octopi, part one






Occupied with Octopi, part one

On a street corner outside a noisy concert, a friend pulled out her phone to make a call. I was shocked to see the front of her phone was shattered, yet she was still using it. When I asked, she started screaming at me.

“It’s just so easy to use this one. I have a brand new iPhone 4 at the office, and I just can’t bring myself to switch over. I just can’t deal with all this new stuff, having to keep up with the latest thing. I just can’t deal with it.”

I had to laugh because that was exactly what my last quilt was about — feeling underwater, struggling to keep up with the latest thing, and so many new tech devices, toys, and software being continually presented to me that I’m not sure where to direct my distracted attention.

Usually it’s not hard for me to title my work. The title is usually in my mind from the very beginning. But in this case, it was just a feeling I had and no words came to mind. I just drew.

An octopus.

Lots of them. Then I became a little obsessed with octopi, as I usually do when working on a project. Big ones, spotty ones, happy one. Looking at more photos of real octopi, I was amazed at the wide range of colors and patterns, the way their tentacles make such beautiful lines in the water.

I found this photo from our trip to Japan last year, and it reinvigorated my interest in drawing.

Randomly searching the internet, this image of an Austin-based band The Octopus Project came up and when I saw their electrical outlet heads, it made me wonder if I should draw the octopus with outlets instead of suction cups on his tentacles. (tried it later – no, too complicated)

It’s funny how when we are focused on something, the universe seems to drop little clues for us to follow. About that time Paul, the World Cup predicting octopus became popular. Then I heard this Beatles song playing on the radio and couldn’t get the tune out of my head for a week:

“I’d like to be under the sea
In an octopus’ garden in the shade…

We would be warm below the storm
In our little hideaway beneath the waves
Resting our head on the sea bed
In an octopus’ garden near a cave…”

Since the octopus was going to be handing, or rather tentacling me, a lot of high-tech devices, I decided to make him smart. I put a college t-shirt on him.

Next I started looking at old computers, phones, and electronic toys to line the bottom of the ocean bed – the “octopus’ garden.” Russ happened to walk into the studio one morning with this Prehistoric Laptop and I wrote a blog post.

Looking at photos of old swimsuits, snorkeling gear, and flipper feet was fun. I found some in this retro Jamese Bond Thunderball poster, but I wasn’t interested in the spear gun.

Here’s how all this crazy stuff finally starts to come together on my drawing wall inside my computer.

Tomorrow I’ll post photos of making this in fabric, because I need help thinking up a good title.

update: here’s the second post about this project: Occupied with Octopi, part two

Fiberart International opening on April 30th

Fiberart International 2010 opens at the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, NY this Friday, and I’m sorry I won’t be there. Well, I will, sort of — by phone.

Last month the Curator of Education for the gallery, Marlene Hamann-Whitmore sent a request to all the participating artists to call into a system that records a short message. During the exhibition, visitors to the gallery will be able to dial numbers on their cell phones and listen to each recording as they stand by the artist’s work.

Since we had to keep our message between 30-60 seconds long, I think it would qualify for an “elevator speech.” Here’s mine (we also had to provide a written transcript for the hearing-impaired):

“Hello, my name is Pam RuBert and my quilt is called “St. Louis – Wish You Were Hair.”

This is part of a series of quilts and drawings in which I morphed the idea of vintage post cards titled “Wish you Were Here” that people used to send from vacations to folks back home into crazy hairstyles that look like famous world landmarks.

While this may seem like a weird idea, I believe the true power of art is the ability to take us to new or unexpected places, to stretch our imagination or to tickle our memories.

As I stitch my quilts for hours at a time, the thread travels the surface, adds structure and texture, and is tied to thoughts, memories and dreams.

I was born in St. Louis and have nostalgic memories of visiting the St. Louis Arch and eating at the only floating McDonald’s in the world. It was on a river boat under the Arch and I made striped french fries and a purple hamburger as tribute to my “golden arches” meal.”

The show will be up at the Memorial Art Gallery from May 1–July 3, 2011, then will move to San Francisco Museum of Craft + Design, October 13, 2011 ­- January 15, 2012. It’s sounds like Rochester’s hosting quite a few fiberart related exhibitions through this spring and summer, so check out the MAG’s Fiber in Rochester webpage.

A side note: It’s sad news about all the damage and destruction that occurred over last weekend when a tornado hit St. Louis. But fortunately no one was killed, and all our friends and family are okay.

Alternative Life Drawing at Art Factory 417

I’ve been looking for a group that meets to do figure drawing and recently saw on Art Factory 417 ‘s facebook page that they were having a Life Drawing Spring Kickoff. Then I read further and saw it was going to be an Alternative Life Drawing session.

I wasn’t quite sure what alternative life drawing meant, but I’ve been wanting to see inside the building — it’s a big chunky building at the end of the College Street mural. And I like their mission statement…

“Art Factory 417 fosters the growth of creative culture by providing necessary accommodations for the success of visual and performing artists. It is our goal to empower the community through education, inspiration and opportunity.”

When I got there, I wasn’t sure about drawing people in costumes and masks, mostly because I enjoy drawing faces. So I started drawing the room and the other people who were drawing.

Then a comedy team called Mike and Gary showed up and did some silly skits with a tin-foil robot. More people wandered in. Some drew from the models, some just drew. There was music, a casual friendly atmosphere, and in between poses I nosed around a bit looking at some of the artwork on exhibit, posters, and shared creative spaces.

The last pose — sort of a ‘Bunny Goddess victorious over the Feeble Tiger Man’ was inspiring and fun. I’m enjoying using the big open format of the 8″x11″ moleskine, but it took me three tries get something that would fit on the page.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens next at Art Factory 417. Here’s their new Tumblr page.




Some more ways to help Japan

It’s been two weeks since the huge earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, and I haven’t written anything about it here. I must seem insensitive, lately only posting only idle-time drawings. But the truth is the amount of suffering and sorrow happening in the world right now has been overwhelming. It seems bigger than anything I know how to approach in writing or in art.

When I see all the images coming out of Japan — these are the most poignant I’ve seen —  I can’t help but remember when our studio flooded a few years ago. What we experienced was so nothing compared to what’s happening on the other side of the world right now.

I tend not to try to portray sorrow or pain in my art, because it only seems to make me spiral down. Somehow by looking for the small lights in dark days and recreating the world through drawings and poetry helps me to feel like like I’ve reversed that trend. That and trying to do something positive. In addition to sending money to international aid groups, here’s some different ways to help:

Comfort Quilts for Japan

Patchwork Quilt Tsushin is a well-known quilting magazine in Japan, and they have sent out a plea for comfort quilts. Comfort quilts are utilitarian quilts made for children, newborns, or adults that can help ease pain or discomfort in times of sickness or distress. Here is a blog post by Tanya Watanabe, a quilter living in Japan who has translated the message from the Patchwork Quilt Tsushin website.

She has the requirements for quilts and shipping instructions to Japan. If you are in the United States, she also has instructions for shipping by April 30 to Quilter’s Newsletter who is making a collection in Boulder, Colorado to ship in bulk to Japan, and the Quilter’s Newsletter call for Quilts for Japan are here. is also partnering with Mission of Love to send a shipment of quilts to Japan

And if you are in Europe, there is another collection point in France by Quilt Expo en Beaujolais.

Springfield Sister Cities’ Japan Relief Fund

We’ve been involved with Sister Cities for some 18+ years, helping with artist exchanges, festivals, and educational programs. One of our sister cities is Isesaki, Japan, and each time we’ve been to Japan, we’ve made a trip there to visit and stay with friends. We’ve also had many friends from Isesaki stay in our home here in Springfield, and last year we started the sister cities website which is coming in handy right now to publicize current fund-raisers.

Our sister city is near Tokyo and not in the one of the severely devastated areas of Japan. There was physical damage to buildings and only one death in the prefecture. But we hear from friends about the food rationing, power blackouts, bans on food and water, and in general the whole country is a mess because the transportation and deliveries everywhere are messed up, not to mention the fears about the nuclear crisis.

After 9-11 and Katrina, our sister city raised and sent money for us to put where it would do good – it was sent to the American Red Cross. After our local 2007 ice storm, they raised and sent $17000 to replant trees and later sent 9 master gardeners to help rebuild our Japanese Stroll Garden.

The motto of our local chapter is “Think Globally, Act Locally” and there’s already been a lot of local action. We’ve partnered with students from Missouri State University, Drury University, the Community Foundation to raise money. On Monday, at local restaurant Nakato Japanese Steakhouse will donate every dollar spent in the restaurant will go to Japan. And more fund-raisers are being planned.

If you’re in the area, come out to Nakato’s on Monday, or donate directly to the Japan Relief fund here.

Timid about Sketching in Public?

Kerry wrote me, “my friends and I took a brief online course with Jane LaFazio...about sketching/watercoloring in public…we did just fine…most probably because there is safety in numbers…your recent sketches have all been in situations where you were known…do you feel more pressure when sketching around people who know you vs people who have no clue who you are?”

I feel a lot of pressure drawing where people know me, because they want to see what I’m doing and there seems to be some expectation for the outcome. I guess I also have to fight my own exceptions as to outcome, especially if I’m just trying to experiment with new techniques or just try to get better at sketching.

When people know me…

When I am with people I know, I try to be sort of casual. I don’t start drawing right away. I watch the scene for a while. Then I pull a sketchbook out my purse and look through it, all the while watching for something to draw and thinking of a composition or what the mood feels like. A little later I get out a pen and start drawing. In the end people still notice, but if you do it often enough, I guess they get used to it and excuse you, kind of like they excuse or humor their friend who’s always texting or Harriet the Spy, who was always writing notes in her journal.

As a stranger…

When I’m a stranger somewhere,  I usually try to pick a place where I’m kind of hidden or not easily observed. I like that better because most people are afraid to approach a stranger and ask to see what they are working on.

At the same time, I think you have to be careful about their feelings because people don’t really like strangers staring at them, so I try not to be intrusive. It may be better to pick someplace were there’s a lot of activity that attracts most of the attention away from you. I also like drawing people from the back or side so they can’t see me.

I read one artist who said just pick a comfortable place to sit – it may have been Robert Genn of the Painters Keys, because he said then you can always look around and find an interesting scene once you find your place to sit.

Sketching someone by the pool

For the drawing above, I was sitting by a pool and wanted to draw the woman reading, but I figured most people wouldn’t want to be drawn in their bathing suit. So I started with the building and the tree behind her. That way it didn’t look like I was staring at her. I sketched her sitting in the chair reading a book at the very end, but I had allowed room for that on the page because that was the whole purpose of the drawing. In the end I was happy with the result because doing the entire scene instead of just the woman alone gave a sense of atmosphere of the afternoon.

A good place to see lot of nice drawings that people have done in public is Urban Sketchers. Artists all around the world contribute to this site, and there are also links to their personal blogs and flickr sites.