Sunday, August 10, 2014

Aspens, ants, and evil monkeys!

Where did this month go?  I’ve never taken a three-week hiatus between blogs, but I know I was focused on making art!  I buckled down and have been working furiously on finishing three ongoing projects that need resolution.  One of them is a large-format commission piece that features aspens in the autumn showing golden leaf clumps in the canopy.  The understory is a nice olive-y green color with a few fallen aspen leaves, while the canopy is solid golden.  When I work with aspens in art pieces I remember being mesmerized by them during my trip to Colorado after graduate school. 
My father took me there in October 1995, and the images are still vivid in my memory.  To make the tree trunks I pulled out my box full of shoelaces and old macramé cord.  I wrapped them with a yarn that has a lot in common with a friendly shelter dog.  The yarn was destined to become upholstery fabric, but it ended up unwanted and tossed outside with the trash.  A friend of mine saw it, rescued it and gave it to me.  It gives me extra pleasure to know the history of my materials, which gives the combined piece a richer character. 
The crocheted yellow clumps were made using yarn I dyed last month, combined with an assortment of materials drawn from my yellow remnant box.  I feel like the piece is finally coming together.

As I work on projects, I feel like all of my deadlines are falling around October 1st.  Another ongoing project I have described before involve a series of bigheaded ants for permanent exhibition at Wonderlab.  I have the colony ants completed, but the queen is the final character I need for closure.  She’s coming along nicely!  Her legs are all made out of predominantly reclaimed materials - reclaimed baling wire, wrapped with a partially used skein of red-brown yarn from my collection.   
The antennae are made from Jim’s old guitar strings.  I like the deeper ‘E’ and ‘A’ strings the best because they are the thickest diameter wire.  Maybe I need to encourage him to play his guitar more.  I’m definitely running out of material—the queen needs her antennae!

The third major project that I have taken on involves the Sounds of South, the choral group at Bloomington Highschool South that puts on musical performances.  This year they’re producing Phantom of the Opera.  Tommie is part of the group, and I now see how enormous an undertaking these performances are!  A huge amount of preparation, construction, painting and groundwork go into the professional product they produce.  One of my tasks is to convert a happy, smiling Gundt monkey sitting on a black box into an evil little cymbal-playing monkey on an ornate music box.   
Somehow I managed to volunteer to transform the little guy into his role.  I have a ways to go, but I have removed the stuffing from his face and replaced it with wool.  I needle felted more wool over the facial structure to sculpt a look more consistent with the production monkey.  I still have to add the skin, i.e., some maple tree bark-dyed fleece to the monkey’s face and replace the stringy fur with some fake fur.  My friend Cappi Phillips generously offered to donate material that should work out perfectly—thanks Cappi!  I also dug out my gold paint and fancy trim to transform the music box into something more ornate.  This should come together shortly.

Last, I want to mention the wonderful, cool weather of late July and early August.  That allowed many enjoyable dinners outside on the veranda, grilled and otherwise.   
I even had a cherry pie that Jim and Tommie baked while I was apparently too busy to notice!  The pie was in the oven while I was downstairs in the art studio just before dinner.  They slipped it out and onto the veranda without me knowing or smelling anything!  It was a wonderful surprise, although as I think about it, one pie in three weeks seems a bit low.  I’m sure something will turn up soon.  I do have a big project, though, which will intercede into my art world.  This week I need to put away my art stuff and don my French maid’s outfit to transform the house into a presentable place for a reception.  Then I’ll smile and pretend the house always look like that!  Along the way, many bags of things will go to the recycle center and much Windex will be consumed.  It’s all because the three boys will test for their black belt in Taekwondo on Saturday the 16th.  Jim’s brother Tim, his wife Bobi, and Jim’s mother will all visit for the test.  Afterward we’re having a reception at 4pm in our back yard, catered by the Owlery and BluBoy from downtown – come if you’re in town!  I won’t promise a pie, but there will be lots to eat and drink!

Until next week,

Martina Celerin 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

I’m Back in the Studio Weaving!

Life has settled down a little bit.  I’ve been able to carve out chunks of time to weave in the art studio.  I decided to launch into a piece for my upcoming “Looking at Water” exhibition as I’ve maintained progress on the rest of my projects.  It seems that every time the weather gets hot and humid I start thinking about cool Canadian lakes and birches.  It’s a source of comfort, thinking of my Canadian roots and travels north.  Looking at birches is meditative for me, in part because it brings back memories of my Grandmother.  In Pinery Provincial Park on Lake Huron I would collect pieces of driftwood, freshwater clam shells, pieces of birch bark paper and polished great lakes beach stones. I used these to make her little collages to use as ashtrays.  On the birch tree piece I’m making, I still have to create the birch tree trunks and leaf clumps but I’m really pleased with the woven canvas that I’ve created.  
 I also spent a little time this week dyeing yarn.  That’s less meditative, but it’s part of the art to produce the colors I need.  I currently have two ongoing commissions that require yellow yarn for different reasons.  The first includes a path that will require bright yellow and purple flowers.  The second is a commission that will feature autumn aspens.  The yellow yarns will go into the leaf clumps that I will crochet.  Having several different colors and texture of yellow yarns adds depth and structure.   
My commissions are pretty diverse, so while I’m working on birch trees I’ve also been advancing my big-headed ant commission for Wonderlab.  Right now I’m working on the super major.  I have completed the head and abdomen, and now I need to flesh out the structure that joins the two.  The queen will be the final piece for that insect collection.  As I move all my projects forward, I keep reminding myself that I need to focus on the ‘Looking at Water’ exhibition I’m scheduled to display in October.  I’m feeling some added pressure because I sold five pieces in Des Moines that I would have used in that collection.  Between travel, commissions, and readying the house for an Open House in mid August to celebrate the boy’s advancement to black belt, a lot has to happen in the next few months!  
 Also on the horizon is the Fourth Street Festival on Labor Day weekend.  We have monthly meetings to orchestrate the show and everything is coming together.  This year’s T-shirt design, a tribute to the late Jim Kemp, looks amazing.  Kyle Spears did a great job creating a layout for the art and bringing the project together.  On the family front, we celebrated Jacob’s twelfth birthday.  
 Tommie baked him a peanut butter cup pie, which was wonderful.   
Ever since we started grilling fish in North Carolina, Jacob has taken a real shining to grilling.  We’ve managed to outfit him with a new grill, chef’s hat, and an apron with grilling tools.  The weather has been pleasantly cool so we’ve been able to have many meals out on the veranda.  I’m hoping that Jim and Tommie can keep him supplied with fish!  
 The only bad news to report is that I didn’t get another pie after Des Moines.  I know we bought lots of tart cherries at the farmer’s market, but now I see that they’re in the freezer!  Jim seems to think that just because I finished one pie (raspberry) on Thursday I don’t need a fresh pie on Saturday!   Sometimes I just don’t know what he’s thinking. 

Until next week,

Martina Celerin

Sunday, July 6, 2014

To the Des Moines Art Festival and back!

The tomatoes are done!  I had a wonderful trip out to Iowa, which gave me lots of time to needle felt the rest of the tomatoes I needed for the piece I’ve been envisioning.  I’m in a hurry to finish up pieces because I had such a great art fair in Des Moines.  Now I need to replace pieces and expand with some new pieces for an exhibition that I’ll describe in a minute.  In Iowa, the weather didn’t cooperate as well as I hoped, punctuating the show with some pop-up thunderstorms.  
 The patrons still came out to support the artists, though, which I appreciate and respect.  Our visit to Iowa began in Iowa City to see friends we haven’t seen in sixteen years.  We stayed with Ute and David, Jim’s friends from a previous life.  Their two boys are the same age as ours, and we all just clicked beautifully as if we’d been visiting for years.  After a delightful dinner, a good night’s sleep, and a wonderful breakfast we were ready to set out for Des Moines.  Setting up the booth took us longer than usual due to frequent interruptions from the rain.  On the bright side, that gave us plenty of chances to stop into our favorite vegetarian coffee shop, the RitualCafé.  
 In spite of the weather, or perhaps highlighted by it, it’s clear that the show is extremely well organized and administered.  It ran like a well-oiled machine with lots of happy volunteers. There were always people ready to help, from directing us through set-up to squeegeeing the streets to help keep a dry surface between rains.  What impressed me most, however, was the reliability of the patrons.  When the rains came they scattered, but they popped right back into place when the skies cleared.  I really like the feeling that my art is well appreciated; I certainly feel that way in Des Moines.  
 In the end, seven pieces found new homes.  I also managed to break into the local television and print media, appearing in three videos that you can access online.  Click here, here, or here for the links!  My sons Jacob and Tommie appeared in some of the videos and were terrific in the booth with explaining my techniques and materials to patrons.  I just love sitting back and listening to Jacob expound on my work, and he seems to love doing it.  We also managed to find some time to walk through the Pappajohn sculpture park, which was the backdrop for the show and very close to my booth.   
My favorite piece there is an amazing sculpture by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa.  It is built from fused metal letters that you may walk into and experience from the inside or outside.  We also experienced the newest sculpture, which looks like a rainbow of panels built into a circle.  I took a nice family portrait from the center of the piece.  While I was busy, my family managed to sneak off to do some sailing on Grays lake close to Des Moines and hit the local water park.  Unfortunately, heavy downpours cut short their adventures.   
The show ended early when the organizers watched severe storms developing in the area.  My crew broke all of our records for both take down and packing the trailer, which was all completed in an hour.  Certain my art was safe, dry and protected for the drive home, I completed my tomato felting project as we drove through the hills of Iowa and the fields of Illinois.  
 Now I'm nestled back in my studio thinking about my upcoming exhibit, “Looking at Water”.  One of the pieces I’m envisioning is a large format beach piece where the sand and shells lie in the foreground, the water and waves fill the mid-ground, and the sky is in the background.  One truth that everyone who has visited the beach knows is that one invariably brings home sand.  To capture that concept in my piece, I’ve spent some time coating the frame for my beach piece in sand.   
We got home from Des Moines on Monday evening, which was just in time for me to slip off to the Tuesday Farmer’s market while the boys did TKD.  I brought home some red raspberries, hoping against hope that they might be transformed into a victory pie.  And sure enough, a pie appeared!  It must have been a good show!

Until next week,

Martina Celerin 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Weaving Water and Reclaiming Re-Shirts

I’m working on an exhibition in October called ‘Looking at Water.  I have been distracted by family projects, such as our trip to North Carolina and a family gathering in Michigan, so the weaving sat unfinished for some time.  I was so excited to get back into my studio earlier this week and start work on it that I released the piece from the loom before I finished weaving the sky.  Argh!  I hate that sinking feeling in your stomach when you know you’ve done something silly that can’t easily be fixed.  When life gives you lemons you have to do something.  Jim has been bugging me to try a wall piece where the background is needle felted instead of woven, and this seems like the perfect compromise.  I’m actually getting excited about it!  The woven part has a lot of movement that really is consistent with water.  The sky will be felted, allowing it to be smooth and softer by contrast.  I’m hoping to add some felted and dimensional clouds to the piece.  I’m excited about trying to pull it all together. 

The new piece will feature a dock.  I’ve stretched the woven part into the frame and I’ve layered on to a mock-up of the wooden structure.  This helps me get the scale right and the paper pieces are a good template for cutting the boards.  
 I’m creating the wooden parts out of the last of Grandpa’s army blanket pieces.  To make them look like sun-bleached wood I’ve been needle felting grey-white wool onto the shaped blanket pieces.  I was pleasantly surprised during the process as the olive green blanket crept through to the surface to make kind of a greeny-brown color.  The color just clicks for me as a good dock material.

And so to back up a little and share some family stories - we spent a few wonderful days visiting with family in Michigan.  Scott and Cathy Drummond flew in from California, Tim and Bobi Drummond came in from New Mexico, and Haley and the new baby Arya from New Mexico were there when we arrived.  Arya is walking with confidence and quite an independent thinker.  Scott introduced the boys to a new game called Boxcars.  They’ve been enjoying that ever since.   
We enjoyed a nice walk through the Bay City craft fair with Aunt Lois, and the boys enjoyed archery and badminton.  They also drove around on Miss Daisy, Grandma’s golf cart, which Arya found very entertaining.  Meal times were big and busy, especially the night we had pizza on the patio with family friends the Gibsons (Ben and Kathey) from next door.  The weather was beautiful—cool with low humidity and very few bugs. 

The drive back from Michigan was a great time for me to felt some tomatoes.  I’m going to revisit a piece I made a few years back called ‘Homegrown Tomatoes’.  It featured sixty-seven individual tomatoes of all varieties, shapes and sizes.  I really liked that piece, and while sixty-seven sounds overwhelming, it isn’t so bad if they’re done a few at a time every few weeks.  I giggled as I placed some of my felted tomatoes on the garden tomato plants in the back yard.  I took a picture and posted it on Facebook.  It seems that I have both skeptical and gullible friends!

Yesterday I did Art Fair on the Square here in Bloomington, which is a delightful regional show.  I decided to do it with my Re-Shirts rather than my large-woven wall pieces.  My shirts were very well received, with lots of people excited about the style and the fact that they were made from reclaimed and recycled fabrics.  I’m pleased to report that many of them went off to new homes.  I also enjoyed watching people’s faces when they realized that I do the three dimensional wall pieces they’ve seen elsewhere.  “Oh, that’s you!” was a phrase I heard many times.  I also had to assure many people that I was not moving away from doing wall pieces, and that making my art clothing was my hobby.   
From a practical artist perspective, I was thrilled that we were packed up and driving home within a half an hour of the show ending.  That’s an absolute, all time record that will never happen with the wall pieces!  At home I was treated to a celebratory dinner of flatbread.  We had cheese treasures from Williams cheese factory in Pinconning Michigan, including beer cheddar spread, along with Bruschetta and aged Gouda from Trader Joe’s that we picked up on the drive home from Michigan.  A bottle of Red Silk shiraz from Australia topped it all off.  This morning I woke up to the smell of baking pie.  It made for a very decadent Sunday lunch with a second cup of coffee!

Until next week,

Martina Celerin 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

From Topsail Island to the Sounds of South

The past two weeks have just been packed.  I spent a lot of time on volunteer work, making skirts for the Sounds of South musical theater group that represents Bloomington South High School.  Tommie is a new participant, and the first performance will be Phantom of the Opera this fall.  A large parent support group is needed to put on the productions.  I’m helping sew costumes.  What landed on my lap was twelve show choir dresses, and I was asked to create seventeen knee-length skirts based on the measurements provided.  I had to rip a lot of seams to get my starting material.  I supplemented what I had with white fabric from the recycle center, old tablecloths and the boy’s old Taekwondo outfits to fill out the blank underskirts.  And the best news is:  they’re all done!  All week long I did nothing but sew, sew, sew.  The weather cooperated, allowing us to have dinner on the veranda.  The dining room was converted to the sewing room and I left all the scraps and tools lying about for the week.  When I laid the seventeen skirts together they make a delightful Jellyfish!
Now they hang in the closet until I have to give them up. 

Also this week, Tommie went to Washington, DC with his eighth grade peers.  He had a great time while we followed the events on Facebook.  They visited all the monuments, museums and even hit a dinner cruise and Six Flags amusement park.   
Jacob did a sailing camp on Lake Monroe and had a great time on the water.  Jim’s long-time friend from Michigan, Roger, came to visit this week.  The visit culminated in a dinner out at the Owlery on Friday night.  Jacob took a great picture of us inside (you see his friend Niki and Roger (and their Fedoras) next to the window.  Everyone had a great time, including Jacob, who got to learn some programming from Roger during the week. 

We also fit in our annual family vacation to Topsail Island.  We rented a house right on the beach and indulged ourselves with fresh fish, nice wine and beach activities all week long.  This year we traveled east in our van.  That was nice, especially passing through the Blue Ridge Mountains on the way.  Jacob and I rented beach bikes with huge tires and rode the ten miles or so into Surf City on the sand.  Jim and Tommie went on a deep sea adventure and came back with some nice snapper.  
 They also did some surf fishing, catching bluefish, pinfish and sharks.  Jacob took up skim boarding, zipping along the beach or launching himself over the surf.  We all enjoyed boogie boarding or looking for fossilized shark’s teeth—I think that was Jim’s favorite beach activity this year.  
 Everyone enjoyed the grilled fish we found at Mitchell’s and Surf City Crab seafood markets.  We discovered the joys of match-light charcoal and learned how to get hot coals.  This year we enjoyed tuna, swordfish, grouper, and snapper.  And of course we had to have the dessert that says you’re having a good time, a fresh fruit pie!   
The berries weren’t ready for us because of the cool spring so we ended up having a peach pie.  I can’t wait for the tart cherries to appear at the Farmer’s Market!

Until next week,

Martina Celerin 

Sunday, May 18, 2014

May showers bring rhubarb pie for Mother’s Day

The cool May weather has kept me inside most of the time.  Still, I’ve been having such a great time working on my ants.  I borrowed a giant book about ants from Mike Hogan (thanks Mike!) and I spent most of Mother’s Day sitting on the comfy sofa, examining the fine structural details of big-headed ants.  It is important to me to understand how an organism works to begin to understand which features are most relevant and must be included in the sculpture.  After my session with the book I started working on the major worker ant.  I began needle felting the body, adding lobes and structure, cutting away and molding surfaces that aren’t just right, and honing in on the body I want.  I’m working from 2D images to create a 3D structure, so sometimes it's a struggle to wrap my head around how to synthesize the 3D image from the flat picture.  The next phase is to attach the arms and antennae.  I made the anterior limbs, but the second and third pairs were just too big.  Instead of trying to fix those, I just started over on those features.  The good news is that the large legs I made will be “just right” for the larger supermajor caste that is next on my art agenda.  I still need to create the all the facial features too, but I feel really good about my progress.  If I have any concern, it’s that the number of images available for the supermajor and queen big-headed ant are limited.  I also borrowed the genus resource book from the IU library—I hope that’s enough.  E.O. Wilson, I need you!

I have two other big commissions in the background.  One is on hold as I wait for fabric swatches to arrive to personalize the piece.  But I’m enjoying the wait - I  like sitting next to the piece in the art studio and having it keep me company.  As I work, I get to glance up at the path trailing off into the distance.  Sometimes it’s really good to just let a piece sit and ferment for a while before launching into it again with renewed enthusiasm.   
My other project is a large format commission of fall aspen grove.  I spent much of this week in the studio wrapping aspen tree trunks appropriate for the foreground, background and middle distances.  There is a size and tint gradient for the trunks as they recede into the distance that I try to capture in my tree pieces - that takes special care.  As I got deeper into the canopy construction, I realized that I probably won’t have enough of my hand dyed mohair boucle.  That means the dye pots will come out in the next few weeks.   
On the bright side, I did find some perfect yarn at the event when the Monroe County Civic Theater cleared out two of their storage lockers to downsize their years of collected props and raw materials.  Thanks MCCT!  I had fun sifting through your treasures!!

On the family front, we’ve been having delightful family dinners on the newly cleaned-up veranda, even when it was raining.  I did get the traditional rhubarb pie for Mother’s day last Sunday.  
 This year it was mostly rhubarb with a few strawberries mixed in.  The crust (and pie) was unusually good this year!  Should I hope for another while rhubarb season is still here?  Hmmm. 

Until next week,

Martina Celerin 

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Anticipating Mother’s Day

Each of my art seasons has a very different feel to it.  May is a transition time, when I plan and prepare for my summer art travel season.  I love working outside on the veranda on warm days, skirting fleece and pulling apart the clumps.  The spring weather is glorious; my art studio still has the cold chill of winter.  My art making activities are devoted to commissions, preparing for summer fairs, and thinking about how I’m going to pull together an October exhibit I agreed to do at the Convention Center. 

Right now I have four major projects that I’m trying hard to move along.  First, I was commissioned by Wonderlab to make a suite of bigheaded ants.  They’re installing a major new exhibit in November that features a colony of the striking creatures.  The ants fall into one of three castes, and I’ll make three of the minor workers, a major worker, a supermajor ant as well as a queen.  The ants are only a few millimeters long, but I’ll create ants to scale that range from six to eighteen inches.  This is a fun project, which means it’s moving along nicely.

I have also made great progress on my large format commissioned piece.  This features a stone path through trees in the foreground and background, and I have now completed and installed all the tree branches and trunks.  I’ve made a lot of progress on the stones for the path.  I make these by needle felting wool on to a chunk of Grandpa’s old army blanket that I cut into pieces.  I laid out in the flagstones in a satisfying pattern and needle felted them onto the path, which makes a huge effect on the weaving.  Next I’ll start creating the flowers and explode colors all around the meadow.  I’m hoping the person who commissioned me will send me some of their wedding chuppah to incorporate into the flowers.  It’s a rich purple and will both look great and make the piece more personal. 

My other projects will come together as I can find time.  I’m still moving all of my washed fleece through the tedious process of preparing it for weavings.  I’ve gone through three more bags since I last wrote but I have seven more to go.  Still, I feel like I’m seeing light at the end of the tunnel.   
The latest patch of dry, warm weather helps pull me out of my studio and onto the veranda to work.  I’m also starting a new commission piece that will feature autumn aspens in a large format.  I put in an order for a custom frame with Tom Bertolacini, my frame maker.  I’ll start moving into the details of that piece as my current projects wind down.  As I mentioned above, I agreed to do an exhibition at the Convention Center built around the concept of looking at water.  I felt really good about my exhibit at City Hall and Meadowood that I called ‘Portraits of Trees’.  Launching on a theme and exploring related ideas led me to pieces I would not otherwise have considered and created, some of which are special to me now.  Water is such an integral part of my life that I thought I would try to create pieces based on the beaches, rivers, lakes, and waterfalls that help me relax and rejuvenate.  I still remember conversations with my father about the two ‘elements’ (water and fire) that are so basic and meditative that I could stare at them for hours.  I’ll try to visit some of those places for the October exhibition. 

I’ll close with just a couple of notes from my non-art world.  Tommie and I spent a Saturday cleaning and spiffing up the veranda and now we've been enjoying meals out there - including bread (made by Tommie) and Canadian cheddar-broccoli soup - yum!   
Jim and I made it to our first farmer’s market Saturday.  Tommie was off at his Academic Superbowl event (his group placed third of fifteen teams in his event—hooray)!  Jacob wanted to sleep in, so we left him home.  We got coffee and hot chocolate to help keep us warm on a cold morning (thanks Marina at Le Petit Café!) as we bought strawberries, asparagus, honey, herbs in pots and a few other necessities.   Oh, and Jim made a delightful apple pie from the transparent apples at Grandma’s house, harvested last summer.  
 I’m hoping that Sunday, which is Mother’s day, will bring the traditional rhubarb pie.  I think that as long as I can get Jim back to the farmer’s market to ‘discover’ some rhubarb things will turn out well. 

Until next week,

Martina Celerin