Monday, 29 April 2013

Quotes: Stompin' Tom Connors

Stompin' Tom Connors lyrics to The Singer, 1977
Stompin' Tom's hat pattern © Karen Thiessen 2013
Stompin' Tom died in March. He was Canada's troubadour for working-class folk. His Ketchup song was my favourite of his repertoire.

Friday, 26 April 2013

Week 65: Adobe Illustrator

Asian Sock 1 © Karen Thiessen, 2013
Ordinary ephemeral objects hold potential. Asian Sock 1 is derived from a "support device" that most folks throw away once they bring it home from the store. Can you guess what it is? I photographed it, traced it in Adobe Illustrator, and then went to town radically transforming it and then putting it into repeat. I had so much fun that I created several patterns inspired by this mundane object.

My "book learning" of AI has stalled– it's been a while since I followed a lesson from the manual, but I continue to learn new things that are so exciting that I am compelled to play with them at length before returning to the book. It's all good.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Studio Series: 8 Stripe 1

8 Stripe 1 © Karen Thiessen 2013
I'd been mucking about with collage for a few years when I finally made one larger than 2" square that sang. 8 Stripe 1 is an 8 inch square canvas collaged with papers that I have collected or "prepared" with colour copies of my textiles, collages, and drawings. If you look closely you'll see snippets of my Forgiveness #5 quilt. This piece was made and exhibited in 2008 and continues to be among my favourite collages.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Quotes: Cassavetes

Cassavetes quote illustrated by Karen Thiessen
Herringbonish 3 pattern © Karen Thiessen, 2013

Friday, 19 April 2013

Week 64: Adobe Illustrator

Burr Oak Leaves © Karen Thiessen, 2013
Whenever I am at my busiest, ideas for new or existing projects come to me. Years ago I started a Russian Mennonite material culture project that I had to set aside when my career became way too full. Over the past 10 years I've been able to develop parts of my Menno project in short spurts. 

The simple Burr Oak Leaves repeat pattern is a test-run for another pattern that I am just beginning. In the past few weeks I've shared tidbits about Russian Mennonite material culture (doves, wheat, mulberry leaves) and here's another one. In Chortitza, Ukraine (near Zaporizhia) stands an oak tree believed to be eight hundred years old. It's huge and it's almost dead thanks to poor care. This tree is important to Ukrainians and Russian Mennonites alike. Chortitza was the site of the first Mennonite gathering in 1789. A staff person at the Mennonite Heritage Village in Steinbach, Manitoba confirmed my suspicions that the Chortitza oak is of the Quercus robur species (English oak). There are two decendant trees planted within the MH Village grounds and they just sent me a photo of three of the leaves. The moment I received the image I started playing with it and shivers ran down my spine. I am working with a link to my history, probably the farthest link to my Russian Mennonite material culture. It will be a while before I have something to share, but in the meantime, the Burr oak is close in appearance to Q. robur, so this will do for now.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Studio Series: Notebook

Notebook © Karen Thiessen, 2013 
In 2011 I was thrilled to take Sandra Brownlee's Tactile Notebooks and the Written Word workshop at the Contemporary Textile Studio Co-op in Toronto. One of the first things that Sandra asked us to do was to cover our notebooks so that they would be a pleasure to hold. I brought two stitched textiles to cover my book. The base fabric was pieced with fabrics that I dyed with onion skins and then hand-stitched. The patch was fabric from a favourite shirt that I bought while in university and then densely hand-stitched. Prior to stitching, I over-dyed this fabric in an onion skin dye bath.
Notebook © Karen Thiessen, 2013 
 The shirt has stories to tell, but my lips are sealed.
Notebook © Karen Thiessen, 2013 
 The notebook feels good in the hand and is a pleasure to use.
Notebook © Karen Thiessen, 2013 
On one day of the workshop we were asked to record our walking motions in our notebooks and then to stitch the results. I walked slowly down the 401 Richmond staircase with a black Tombow marker in hand, traced my motion onto linen fabric and then couched the tracing with red embroidery floss. 
Notebook © Karen Thiessen, 2013 
On another day we mixed PVA glue with sieved soil that we had brought from home and then coated notebook pages with our fingers. We added marks with gesso. The soil painted pages feel a bit like sandpaper.
Notebook © Karen Thiessen, 2013 
Another exercise was to coat pages with sumi ink. Sumi ink has a particular smell and if you add several coats, the page shimmers with a beautiful sheen. When I  got home I decided to keep the notebook in my kitchen where I continue to keep a record of fruit and vegetable stickers.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Quotes: Leonardo da Vinci

Da Vinci quote illustrated by Karen Thiessen
Rooster Comb 2 pattern © Karen Thiessen, 2013
Inspiration often comes from ordinary places – this pattern is derived from the outline of a rooster's comb that I photographed years ago while on vacation in Bali. Casanova was the resident King of Cock-a-doodle-doo at our Penestanan guest house and each evening staff asked female guests to put him in his hand-woven cage for the night. Apparently this particular rooster responded best to women. I quickly learned that although they are handsome, roosters aren't exactly cuddly.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Week 63: Adobe Illustrator

Seahorsey II © Karen Thiessen, 2013
When I was a textiles student at Sheridan and then at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design I saw the potential of using programs like Illustrator and Photoshop to generate patterns. Mostly I yearned for this when I was hand-drawing my designs onto acetate for very large screens with which I'd print the patterns onto many yards of fabric. As I designed various iterations of the pattern and then drew the designs onto acetate, I dreamed of a faster way to test my ideas. Canadian art colleges lag behind the U.S. and U.K. when it comes to technology. OCAD and Sheridan acquired digital printers for fabric only in the last five years and NSCAD still doesn't have one. NSCAD does have a state-of-the-art digital loom that was acquired while I was a student there, but I'm a flat-pattern person, not a weaver, so it didn't enhance my education. I acquired my Photoshop skills after graduation, and I'm still teaching myself Illustrator from books and trial-and-error because no courses are offered where I live. 

Now I'm fulfilling my dreams: Seahorsey II is derived from a motif that I cut from black paper while a Sheridan student. I traced the motif in AI using the pen tool and then went to town playing with various pattern iterations. I guess it's better late than never.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Kanbara & Thiessen

Hey look what my husband surprised me with! One of Bryce Kanbara's Flyers now hangs over our bed. On the bed is a functional quilt that I made a few years ago. I dyed and printed most of the fabrics before (and after) machine-piecing them: the dark squares were pieced first and then over-dyed. Jacqueline Harris from The Quilting Connection machine-stitched the quilt using a pattern that I designed.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Quotes: Georgia O'Keeffe

Georgia O'Keeffe quote illustrated by Karen Thiessen
Holey Cross pattern © Karen Thiessen, 2013

Friday, 5 April 2013

Week 62: Adobe Illustrator

Mulberry leaves © Karen Thiessen, 2013
For me, the mulberry leaf is another symbol of my Russian Mennonite culture. In the early to mid-1800s there was a Mennonite silk industry in Russia (present-day Ukraine) that was displaced by other industries only to be revived in the 1920s when textile supplies were unavailable as a result of war. Silkworms feed on mulberry leaves and then spin their cocoons. One day I'll share more of my research into the Mennonite silk industry that I conducted from 1999 to 2002. In the meantime, you can read a fictional account of it in Sandra Birdsell's book The Russländer.

I live in a city that is populated by mulberry trees tucked away in alleys. During mulberry season my hubby and I go on after-supper mulberry-eating walks. Last summer I pressed a fresh mulberry leaf in one of my sketchbooks. I scanned it and imported it into Adobe Illustrator where I traced it and then put it into repeat. The negative spaces are rather nice.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Lent 2013 Drawing Practice Update

 Day 37 Drawing of Royal Gala apple © Karen Thiessen, 2013
A few weeks ago I shared my Lenten practice for 2013: to draw a three dimensional object every day (no drawing from photos or from my imagination). I did and I was surprised by both the process and the results. Above is my best drawing of the batch, a Royal Gala apple that I drew on day #37. It was my first attempt at using coloured pencils and I am pleased that it actually looks like an apple. For comparison, below is my drawing of a glue bottle on day #2. It's a timid outline, but I had to start somewhere.
Day 2 Drawing of glue bottle © Karen Thiessen, 2013
Each day I monitored my thoughts and feelings before, during, and after drawing and I recorded a few notes below the image. As I drew, memories of first year university drawing classes flashed before me. Day by day I learned to relax and enjoy the moment. On average, I drew about 17 minutes a day. Some days I simply did not want to draw, but I did anyway. Each day I found myself scouring the house for something different to draw.
 Day 32 Drawing of ear © Karen Thiessen, 2013
At first drawing ears was rather difficult. Ears are like a mobius strip of planes with few hard edges to define them, so they rely on a lot of shading. Above is my second attempt to draw ears. One lesson that I learned during my Lenten drawing practice was to slow down my eye and look closely. Sometimes this required that I do a quick drawing first before I settled down into a more detailed and accurate drawing.
 Day 44 Drawing of fig © Karen Thiessen, 2013
One day I treated myself to some fresh figs. Above is my first try at drawing on oatmeal paper using my watercolour pencils with a wash and a layer of Prismacolor pencils on top. It's an okay drawing, not necessarily great, but good enough.

Aside from one drawing in the sketchbook with oatmeal paper, I mostly drew in a 9" X 11" sketchbook that I abandoned years ago after I discovered my favourite 8" X 8" coilbound sketchbook format. Lent is done for 2013, but there are 33 pages left in the sketchbook, so I have resolved to continue a drawing practice at least until I've filled it. Once that is complete, I'll assess whether to continue.

By the way... as of today I've practiced yoga 815 days in a row since Lent 2011.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Quotes: Labour

No Labour No Bread design © Karen Thiessen, 2013
This quote has "Mennonite" written all over it in more ways than one. In Russian Mennonite culture, each home had one or two Sprüche hanging on the wall. Sprüche are wall hangings or plaques with moralizing quotes or Bible verses like "Unser taglich Brot gib uns heute" (Give us God our daily bread). My parents are modern, so their plaques read "When life gives you lemons make lemonade" and "No labour no bread," among others.

Wheat was a major crop for Mennonites in South Russia (present-day Ukraine) and the first Russian Mennonites to migrate to North America in the late 1800s brought with them Turkey Red Wheat. When I visited the graves of my great-grandparents (and their fellow Mennonite cemetery neighbours) to take grave rubbings, I was surprised to see a number of variations of wheat engraved into the head stones. The wheat in the above image was taken from a rubbing from one of my great-grandmothers' graves that I then traced by hand and then imported into Adobe Illustrator to trace digitally.

The above image is a tongue-in-cheek twist on the "No labour no bread" plaque hanging in my childhood home. Mom & dad's version shows a man threshing wheat by hand (it's based on an old Canadian coin). Once upon a time, if you wanted bread, you had to make it yourself. Today most folks just go to the grocery store and pick up a loaf.