Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Children's art: Pottery

SCJ bowl; Photo credit © Karen Thiessen, 2013
My 8 year old friend Sophie is a budding potter. She has been taking private pottery lessons from a neighbour and the results astound me. I was particularly smitten with the bowl in the above image and was sorely tempted to take it home with me. It's serving bowl-sized, about 12 inches in diameter.
SCJ vase 1; Photo credit © Karen Thiessen, 2013
 This is one of Sophie's early pieces and I love it too. 
SCJ vase 2; Photo credit © Karen Thiessen, 2013
To give you a sense of her development, above is a more recent vase. It is robin's egg blue and its gentle asymmetry is pleasing. The bud vase feels nice in the hand. If she continues to enjoy pottery, I am curious to see how her technique and aesthetic will develop. 

Monday, 28 October 2013

Wow power

Echinacea flower 
May this photograph of an Echinacea flower brighten your day. My hubby took it this summer and it's a wow image for me. I didn't adjust it in Photoshop: this is what it looked like. 

This past weekend I met one deadline and am now working on another deadline for next weekend. Natural dyeing continues to distract me from the immediate tasks at hand in the most wonderful ways. The physical labour of filling large dye pots with dyestuff and water, of tending the simmering pots throughout the day, of scouring fabrics, mucking out spent dye stuff, washing fabrics, and then ironing them is a welcome relief. Aside from the wonder of the colour changes of the fabrics, I think the physicality of natural dyeing is what I like best. It also feels like being part of a mystery, not knowing how the fabric will respond to the water and dyestuffs, and this unpredictability is what keeps me hooked. Soon my garage will be too cold to carry on as I have been the last four months and I will miss this daily rhythm.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Week 72: Adobe Illustrator

Oak leaf pattern 1 © Karen Thiessen 2013
Following last week's ghastly pattern, I decided to design a simple pattern with oak leaves that I found on an urban walk. I trolled the web hoping to learn the type of oak, but couldn't find a match. These days I'm smitten with the gorgeous shapes of oak leaves, each one offering its own unique topography. 

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Notice what you are noticing/ One thing leads to another

Mulberry leaf pattern © Karen Thiessen, 2013
It's cheesy, but I succumbed to the bucket list syndrome in April. It's a nerdy list: read certain books, learn the Roman numerals past 40, do a leaf collection, etc. Yes, I likely did a leaf collection when I was in public school, but that was a while ago. Early this year I noticed that I collect leaves that are significant to me or are simply beautiful. Above are mulberry leaves in a repeat pattern. I think they are "male" leaves and mulberries don't grow on those branches. This summer I discovered that one tree can have two different kinds of leaves. I collected the "female" leaves and will create a pattern with them at some point. Mennonites had a thriving silk industry in south Russia in the mid to late 1800s and this knowledge helped them survive in the early 1920s when all manner of calamity befell them. Silk worms feed on mulberry leaves and every farm was mandated to have mulberry bushes on their property to support the silk industry. Three out of four of my parents' properties had mulberry trees and when we were young my brother and I used to indulge until we were a sticky purple mess. I still like mulberries and enjoy going on urban mulberry walks when they are in season. 
Weeping birch; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2012
Birch trees have historical and personal significance. They were a common tree in south Russia and my Opa planted them on this property in Ontario to remind him of the home that he fled. His grandchildren (including me) loved to peel bark from his trees and that was a no-no. My brother is buried under this weeping birch. When I spot this tree in the cemetery, I know where to find his grave. I collect leaves each year to mark my visits with him. One day I'll play with these leaves in Illustrator or Photoshop.
Chortitza oak leaf bouquet; Photo © Karen Thiessen 2013
I have no personal connection to the Chortitza oak. Its significance is purely historic, but I do find the leaves to have a pleasing shape. I plan to play with them in Illustrator. This summer I visited a number of trees several times and took rubbings from some of the leaves and pressed others for later use.
Chortitza oak leaves; Photo © Karen Thiessen 2013
One thing leads to another. Now I look at trees and if the leaves are unfamiliar to me, I wonder what they are. My curiosity has been aroused. My interest in natural dyeing has been rekindled and all summer I was looking for Black walnut trees. I see a book of trees in my future as well as a leaf collection that won't look anything like the one I likely did in grade 7.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Hickory nuts

Hickory nuts & leaves; Photo © Karen Thiessen 2013
Over the Thanksgiving weekend my husband and I headed to the m.o.n. (middle-of-nowhere) for two family gatherings. During one family gathering, a cousin told me about the hickory trees on his property. Being slightly obsessed with natural dyeing with tannin-rich substances (like black walnuts) got me curious about natural dyeing with hickory nut hulls. After the gathering, dad told me that hickory trees grew in the tree line toward the back of the farm. Curious, my husband and I walked to the back of their farm and discovered all manner of trees, including hickory trees. We had only walked it in winter when the plant life was hiding its potential. Hickory nuts are about the size of a Canadian quarter and the hull peels off neatly into four pieces.
Hickory nut hull; Photo © Karen Thiessen 2013
I didn't take any hickory nuts home with me, but next year I plan to gather some and explore their natural dyeing potential. The hickory nut hull is a thing of beauty. I should have stuffed this one in my pocket.
Hickory leaves; Photo © Karen Thiessen 2013
The leaves are pleasing to the eye too.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Week 71: Adobe Illustrator

Strawberry season 1 © Karen Thiessen 2013
After a three month hiatus, I'm back to my Adobe Illustrator learning practice. Strawberry season 1 is neither my best nor my worst pattern: it's a warm up to the next phase. I drew this strawberry stem in my portable sketchbook one Sunday in June as I listened to a sermon. At breakfast that morning I had noticed that strawberry stems have ten leaves and are quite graceful when removed from the strawberry and flattened out. Strawberry season in Canada is over, but here's a reminder of warm weather as we enter the cool, cosy season.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Thanksgiving gifts

Wheatley sky; Photo © Karen Thiessen 2013
My husband and I ventured out to the m.o.n. (middle of nowhere) for the Thanksgiving long weekend. We were 15 minutes late for the first family gathering because of this gorgeous sky. We had never seen such clouds and had to stop at the side of the highway to photograph it.
Praying mantis; Photo © Karen Thiessen 2013
The family gathering was in a complex that featured an outdoor labyrinth. I walked through about half until I lost patience. The best part of the labyrinth is that it was home to numerous praying mantises. When I was a kid I found them to be creepy, but I don't mind them now (unless they are crawling up my neck like one did on the weekend).
Sassafras leaves; Photo © Karen Thiessen 2013
My parents have a few Sassafras trees on their property. The leaves are gorgeous in colour and shape.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Notes: %

• Only 20% are visual thinkers
• Only 10% are left-handed
• Only 3.45% are red-heads

What are you?

Friday, 11 October 2013

Studio series: Children's art quilt sneak peak #3

 Children's quilt detail © Karen Thiessen, 2013
The children's community quilt is close to being finished. I only have another 12 inches of stitching left before I take it off the frame. Then I'll add the hanging sleeve, binding, and label. I've put in well over 150 hours into this quilt so far. It is a labour of love.
 Children's quilt detail © Karen Thiessen, 2013

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Studio series: Natural dyeing with Black walnuts 2

Scouring water: Before & After; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2013
If you are new to dyeing fabrics and wonder about the importance of scouring fabrics before committing them to the dye pot, here's a visual of all the gunk that is in them in the above photograph. Washing fabrics in the washing machine is not enough: all the fabrics that I scoured were pre-washed. Fabrics contain oils, waxes, sizing, and finishes, from the manufacturing process and during transit they encounter more chemicals to prevent mold and mildew and insect infestations.
Scoured fabrics; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2013
Scouring removes the oils, waxes, and other chemicals so that the dyes can evenly penetrate the fibres. I boiled cotton and linen fabrics in a mixture of washing soda (sodium carbonate) and Synthrapol in water for two hours. Apparently you aren't supposed to use an aluminum pot with sodium carbonate because the combo reacts badly, but I did and the world did not end.
Soaking loose black walnut hulls; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2013
I started dyeing my scoured fabrics in the black walnut dye liquor (with rain water) and in a few days I'll see how it all worked out. Since starting the process I learned a few things. First: the green hulls of black walnuts yield a deeper dye than the brown hulls. Second: because black walnut hulls are high in tannins process the hulls/nuts below the boiling point (maximum 88ºC or 190ºF) if you want a warm, rich brown. Higher temperatures extract too much tannin and yields a dull dark brown (from Karen Casselman's Craft of the Dyer, page 64). Unfortunately I boiled the first soaked walnut hulls for 2 hours. I use aluminum pots for dyeing.

I've started soaking a second batch (11 pounds worth) of black walnut hulls in tap water with a little vinegar. I'll let this soak a week before I heat process it at the lower temperature of less than 190ºF.
Natural dye books; Photo credit: Karen Thiessen, 2013
These are my two dye books that I am using for reference. I discovered Craft of the Dyer when I was a NSCAD student. It's a great book, but I found that I had to read here, there, and everywhere to get enough information about dyeing with black walnut hulls. 

Monday, 7 October 2013

Studio series: Natural dyeing with black walnuts I

27 pounds of Black walnuts; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2013
It's October and that means that it's black walnut (Juglans nigra) season here in Canada. I've never dyed with black walnuts before, so I'm pretty excited to go through the process of collecting, separating, and dyeing with them. One evening I collected one and a half plastic shopping bags of nuts from the sidewalk and street under a nearby tree. I was sure to wear gloves because I had read that black walnuts stain everything they touch. To my surprise my stash yielded 27 pounds.
Black walnut nuts & hulls separated; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2013
The next day, with gloved hands, I separated the nuts from the hulls. The walnuts were easy to separate since many had been squashed by car tires or feet and most were beginning to rot. I used a garden knife to score the hull and it twisted easily from the nut. Then I broke each hull into small bits with gloved hands. The smell is pleasant. When I weighed the nuts alone, using a portable luggage scale, they were 9 pounds: one third of the total weight. In her book Craft of the DyerKaren Leigh Casselman indicates that the nuts can be used for dyeing, but they yield tan or beige. I'll pass on that for now. She states that the hulls yield the deepest colour (brown) that is always fast and true. Mordants aren't necessary to bind the dye to the cloth.
7 pounds of Black walnut hulls soaking; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2013
Karen Leigh Casselman suggests soaking the hulls for several days before boiling them to make the dye liquor. I collected rain water from our barrel to soak 7 pounds of hulls that I secured in an old muslin bag. Her instructions are basic and I'm ready for a more comprehensive dye book, so I've ordered J.N. Liles' The Art and Craft of Natural Dyeing. Unfortunately it may be three weeks before it arrives and by then I'll have dyed with this first batch of soaked hulls. I'll share my results in a future post.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Halifax: Unlikely Beauty

Blowers Street paint; Photo © Karen Thiessen 2013
My husband and I were in Halifax recently to visit good friends and our niece. The above building on Blowers Street has fallen into disrepair. When we lived in the city it housed an eatery called Big Life that served delicious vegan, wheat-free chocolate chip oatcakes. Big Life relocated to the Brewery Market where they still sell oatcakes and other goodies.
Décollage; Photo © Karen Thiessen 2013
 Layers of torn concert posters are beautiful.
Weeds; Photo © Karen Thiessen 2013
Have you ever tried to take a picture close to the ground on a steeply sloped sidewalk? Tricky. One day I'd like to learn how to identify weeds.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Studio Series: HFX sketchbook collage

HFX collage 1: 519 © Karen Thiessen 2013
During a recent trip to Halifax I made these collages. By chance we stayed in room 519 two years in a row. Once again I gathered free materials from around the city that I cut apart with scissors borrowed from the front desk. On this trip I discovered that weathered park benches yield wonderful rubbings. I also discovered that the benches in the Halifax Public gardens are all new thanks to Hurricane Juan, and new benches don't give good rubbings.