The Robins

I have a thing for Robins. They are a symbol of the joy I feel in spring after the long, dark winter. A certain robin, the same one for 3 or 4 years, has raised, along with her mate, 2-3 broods every year. She builds her nest on top of a sheltered post on our open back porch. I lure her back to this spot with raisins. She and her mate show up in April, “asking” for raisins with a plucky stance as they gaze up at me through the glass of the kitchen door. In feeding them this occasional treat, I always remember my mother, who started this activity many years ago and derived great pleasure from it, as I now do. Both male and female are devoted and energetic parents.

It is now mid-July, and I think the Robins have moved on for the summer.

Double Vision

I’ve recently been inspired by the catalog from the Colorful Realm exhibit,  a show of scintillating silk paintings created by Japanese artist Ito Jakuchu, which was on view at the National Gallery of Art earlier this spring. (Click the first link in this post to see a great slide show of some of the works.)

Jakuchu completed these 30 large silk scrolls of (mostly) flowers and birds between 1757 and 1766. There is so much to see and learn looking at the images. I find it fascinating that Jakuchu sometimes painted pigments (mineral and/or vegetable) on the verso (back) side of the silk to subtly influence the color on the front. The excellent detail images in the catalog convince me that I can see these hints of color and tone peeking through from the reverse.

This intriguing fact floated in my mind as I began to work on several wool scarves. The thought occurred to me — what if I paste a different stencil on the front and back of the fabric — and then dip the pieces in indigo? Perhaps the images will combine in an interesting way when viewed from either side. And so an idea from a master silk painter of 250 years ago influences my katazome exploration.

This is a medium weight wool — so called “Italian suiting” (???). I knew it would be sturdy enough to paste on both sides yet soft enough for a scarf. After washing and drying it became very soft  (and did not felt).  I’ve chosen to use my water and spring stencils because they combine nicely.

After pasting the water stencil on one side of the wool,  I pinned the work to my carpet-covered table and allowed the paste to dry to a leather-hard state, i.e., still damp but not at all sticky.

I turned the pieces over and pasted the 2nd stencil (Spring).

After the paste was completely dry, I dipped the work in an instant indigo vat, but soon realized I wouldn’t be getting the depth of color I wanted with the wool (protein) fiber. So, I stretched and soy sized the scarves, and then gave them several quick coats of indigo pigment on the front and black (soot) pigment on the back. I like how the images mix in a soft-edged and subtle way.

Easing into darkness and light

I’ve been invited to participate in Grand Marais Art Colony‘s annual spring theme exhibit, entitled Rhythms of Darkness and Light. Participating artists will make new work in response to the theme. The show will be held March 23 – April 1, 2012. (NOTE: I’ll be teaching a katazome workshop at GMAC this coming summer.)
As I delve into this rich motif, I will share some of my process here. I’ll be working on several closely related pieces simultaneously, one of which will go into this show.

Playing with leaf bundles (as taught by India Flint in her marvy book) last week felt like the perfect way to begin contemplating the theme, allowing space for my imagination to simmer. My intention is to explore the use of these subtle prints as a background to imagery made with layers of rice paste, stencils, and natural pigments (katazome materials and techniques).

Beginning, there many images floating in my mind. A memory of a walk around my local pond near the summer solstice of 2010 is mingling with walks this winter where bare branches – subtle in color – and gray skies are dominant.

As you know if you’ve visited this blog before, katazome is a centuries old Japanese tradition. Sometimes it’s perplexing to explain  to people why I am so passionate about these luscious materials and labor-intensive, exacting processes. This article, does a great job beginning to explain it, within the context of an exhibit review. Have a look:  Beauty in all things