take from everywhere, then make it your own

January 31st, 2015

It has been some time since I wrote a post, mostly because I was out of town teaching–in the warm and sunny southwest–ahhhh.  Home in time for all the snow and freezing temperatures.  Great stay inside and work weather.

Today I want to talk about taking classes and buying books.  Don’t get me wrong, I WANT you to buy books, take classes and watch online videos about different techniques from a variety of teachers.  But I always caution students to remember that each teacher presents her technique in the way she (or he) has found that makes the most sense to her (him).  Since we are all different, we all do things differently–and that is true for art techniques, as well.

There are many well known art quilters (I don’t like that word, but that will be the topic of another post) whose work I greatly admire, but whose process makes me want to scream–I just couldn’t do what they do the way they do it, it would simply drive me insane.  The things they fuss over seem much to detail oriented for my taste.  However, often people will ask me how I have the patience to cut all those little pieces of fabric–but that is the process I enjoy.  That is the point, it is all about personal taste and working preferences.

Which brings me back (as I often do) to finding your voice, which is related to this discussion on taking classes and reading books.  Part of discovering who you are as an artist is deciding how you want to work at your art.  Often in my classes, people will ask “is it ok if I do that a different way?” and my answer is “absolutely”.  When you take classes, read books and watch videos (like The Quilt Show) keep in mind that it is not only ok, it is better if you take a little from here and a little from there and throw out the rest and add in what makes sense to your working style and the end result you desire.  I find that even a teacher whose end result isn’t what I do may have a tip or a trick or way of doing something that I like and will incorporate into my work; and even those teachers whose work I adore will do things in ways that make no sense to me.   Absorb it all, keep what works and replace what doesn’t with ideas from other teachers or your own ideas.  This is part of making your work a reflection of you.  It is not only recommended, it is critical to your growth as an artist.

So take it all in, and then edit.  There is no right or wrong way to make art, it is only a function of what works for you and what you enjoy.  Remember that if this is another source of stress in your life, you probably don’t need it.  The process should be enjoyable from start to finish, it should center you and bring you peace.  That means finding a way of working that incorporates all you have learned from others and what you prefer in the end.



exhibition reception

January 12th, 2015

Just a quick post to thank everyone who came out last night for the reception at the New Rochelle Library to hear me talk and see the exhibition.  It was so wonderful to see people I hadn’t expected to be there, and I really do appreciate your support.  Thanks to all of you!!!

If you are interested in the exhibition of my work but didn’t get there yesterday, the works will be on display in the library lobby until Feb 6.  The library is at One Library Plaza in downtown New Rochelle, NY.

new rochelle library solo exhibition

January 6th, 2015

If you are in the area please join me for a talk and opening reception at the

New Rochelle Library (downtown New Rochelle, NY)

Sunday January 11 from 4 PM to 6 PM

for a solo exhibition of my work entitled

Captured in Cloth, Fabric Collages of Leni Wiener.

Yesterday I hung the show at the Lumen Winter Gallery in the lobby of the New Rochelle library.  So I thought I would share my thoughts about organizing and hanging a show.

This is the second time I have had an exhibition of my work here, many libraries like to show local artists’ work which is a wonderful way to see what people in your town are doing–and to get your own work out there.  So one of my constraints was what pieces I had available (not traveling) that hadn’t been at the library a few years ago.  That limited my selection right from the start.

My theory about showing work has always been that the more breathing space you can provide each piece the more important it looks.  This goes back to my days as an art photographer when I entered a photo exhibition.  We were all given three walls, each measuring about (I don’t really remember) maybe 8′ wide.  Money was tight and paying for professional enlargements and frames was not something I could do for a lot of pieces.  So I enlarged only six pieces, put them in much larger white mats with frames and hung just two on each wall.  Other people had 8″x10″ or 11″x16″ or larger framed the size of the photo with no mats, and layered on the walls so the space was filled with photos.  I took first place.  To this day I am convinced that it had less to do with the photos I showed, but more to do with their presentation.  Important lesson, but enough reminiscing.

Lucky for me, the library has these movable walls that I could configure in whatever way I wanted.  So I decided on this arrangement:

wall configurationEach of these lines is a wall, and of course each wall has two sides, which gave me eight walls to fill.  I liked this arrangement that felt like two small rooms in a gallery space (the exhibition before me had the walls in rows that people walked in and out of).  To me it felt intimate and invited viewers to move in closer to see the work.

Next I made a list of which pieces would go together on which wall, thinking about similarities in size, color and theme.

  • #1     Sightlines all together on one panel
  • #2     After /icy perch/in the moment
  • #3     jagged, old woman / original afghan girl/man with dog
  • #4     Bittersweet/old man/Brandon
  • #5     Out in the Cold/Empty Chair/Strangers who Pass
  • #6     Parade/discourse/in her footsteps
  • #7     graces/tracksuit/ shifting tide
  • #8     Fading light and Secret

This meant when I arrived to hang the exhibition I already knew where everything would go–I was able to put the pieces for each wall in front of that wall, and then hang them.  Went pretty fast (with the help of my friend, Sandra).

When I left the signage hadn’t been added (the library does that) which will make the walls look less empty, I am sure,  but here are some photos:

as you enterfirst wall on entering

room oneroom one looking in

room one other sideroom one other side

room two frontroom two looking in

room twoone side

room two other sideand the other

back wallback wall.

Simple, lots of breathing space and I am happy with how it looks (you can also see how small my work has gotten in the past several years).  It is always interesting to see my work hanging in a space other than my studio or my house, and particularly when it all hangs together like this.  If you are around, please join me this Sunday.

And think about asking your local library to exhibit your work.

Fiber Art for a Cause

December 31st, 2014

I am always happy when I can use my artwork to “give back” and support a worthy cause.  This year, I am honored to have been invited by Virginia Spiegel to participate in “The 100 Fundraiser to Fight Cancer” to be held on February 4, 2015.  The idea is unique and pretty simple.

Virginia invited 100 artists (some pretty heady company, I must say, and I am blown away to be included) to make a piece to donate to the fundraiser.  The first 100 people to donate $100 each will be sent one of these pieces, chosen at random.  The goal is to raise $10,000 in one day.  Pretty cool idea.  Here is how it works:

1 Day – 100 Artists – 100 Patrons – $10,000
Wednesday, February 4, 2015
Opens 10 a.m. Central

1. On February 4, the first 100 people to contact beginning at 10 a.m. Central will be given a link to donate $100 by credit card directly to the American Cancer Society through Fiberart For A Cause. (Please note your donation to the ACS will be credited through the Forest Lake Area Relay For Life.)

2. Each donor will receive an artwork from one of the 100 generous and talented artists listed below. Assignments of artwork will be made using a random number generator. Artwork may appear on artists’ websites or other social media before the event. See also our Pinterest board.

3. The artwork may be any size as long as the minimum retail value is $100. Artwork smaller than 8″x10″ will be mounted to 8″x10″ or 9″x9″. The artwork will contain fiber and may or may not be stitched. The artwork may or may not be made specifically for this event.

3. Each artist will receive her/his patron’s e-mail address to arrange shipping. Artwork will be shipped directly from the artist. Please note this is an international roster of artists. Please thank the artist for not only donating the artwork, but also shipping it to you.

4. Each artist would love to receive a low res photo of the artwork in situ from the new owner. This is not required, but the best photos may be shared here after the event.

Questions? Contact

Special Note: Our goal of $10,000 will make Fiberart For A Cause’s donations to the American Cancer Society a nice even one-quarter of a million dollars over the years and FFAC will be happily retired.  Virginia deserves a huge thumbs up for all her efforts to raise so much for such a good cause!

The 100 artists are:

Carol Larson
Susan Lenz
Eleanor Levie
Susan Purney Mark
Jeanelle McCall
Judy Momenzadeh
Susie Monday
Carol Moore
Gail Myrhorodsky
Fannie Narte

Kathy Nida
Karen Stiehl Osborn
Frieda Oxenham
The Pixeladies – Deb Cashatt and Kris Sazaki
Valarie Poitier
Yvonne Porcella
Cate Coulacos Prato
Daren Pitts Redman
Wen Redmond
Sue Reno

Lesley Riley
Karen Rips
Lora Rocke
Kristin Rodriquez-Girod and Janelle Girod
Beth Schillig
Norma Schlager
Susan Friedman Schrott
Sandra Sider
Cheryl Sleboda
Carol Sloan

Lura Schwarz Smith
Mary Ruth Smith
Kay Sorensen
Sherrie Spangler
Virginia A. Spiegel
Cynthia St. Charles
Terri Stegmiller
Melanie Testa
Jeanette Thompson
K. Velis Turan

Larkin Jean Van Horn
Mary Ann Van Soest
Gordana Vukovic
Terry Waldron
Judy Warner
Laura Wasilowski
Vicki Welsh
Leni Levenson Wiener
Kathy York
Vivien Zepf

Judy Gula and Eleanor of MeinkeToy:
Our Safety Nets
in case of unforseen circumstances.




All that brings me to my piece, entitled “on the edge” (finished size 12″ x 12″) just completed and added to the pool:

on the edge  Leni Levenson Wiener 2014I hope you will consider this great opportunity both to own a fiber art piece by one of these amazing artists AND help the American Cancer Society at the same time.  Win win!

my wish for you in 2015

December 30th, 2014

As we rapidly approach the new year, I want to wish all the readers of this blog a very happy and productive 2015.

My hope for you all is that you find the time to be creative, without feeling guilty;

that you set goals for yourself and strive to reach them;

that you come to understand it is ok to spend time doing what you love just because you love it.

I wish you inspiration, patience and most of all, success (however you measure success).

May you collect lots of fabric,

spend may relaxing hours at your sewing machine,

feel proud of your accomplishments and

continue to grow as artists.

Happy New Year!

non-original art that the art world accepts as art

December 19th, 2014

This topic was still in my head today while the brain was getting some blood circulation.  That got me thinking about lots of examples of art (well accepted in the history of art) that are not “original” but no one challenges whether or not they are true art.  In no particular order:

  • Jasper Johns American Flag
  • Joan Miró’s The Tilled Field, inspired by Hieronymous Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights
  • Claude Monet’s Le déjeuner sur l’herbe, inspired by Édouard Manet’s Le déjeuner sur l’herbe
  • Duchamp’s overturned urinal
  • Devorah Sperber’s Mona Lisa done in thread (and then a tailor shop in Beirut that stole the idea and did it with larger spools and hung it in their window).  How is that for a copy of the copy?
  • Roy Lichtenstein’s Bedroom at Arles, inspired by Vincent Van Gogh’s Bedroom at Arles
  • all Lichtenstein’s comic book pieces
  • Paul Klee used pictorial symbols and signs like arrows, letters, musical notation, ancient hieroglyphs and the art of children in his work
  • Ellsworth Kelly used geometric shapes in repetition (which look like quilts)
  • Greek canons for sculpture of human form were employed by every artist in ancient times
  • Claus Oldenberg sculptures of enlarged every day objects (lots and lots of them)
  • Jim Dine Hearts
  • Renaissance art inspired by the Greeks and Romans (after all, art in the Renaissance was all about revival of classical art)
  • Tattoo art inspired by art of other cultures
  • All things Starry Night, Marilyn, Last Supper, The Scream, The Kiss and Mona Lisa
  • The Saatchi Gallery’s show entitled “inspired by Picasso”
  • The new Romanian Soccer Stadium that was inspired by Brancusi sculpture
  • Dior fashion New Look inspired by Picasso, Modigliani, Renoir, Cezanne and Gauguin.
  • The famous Mondrian dresses of the 1960s
  • Paul Gaugin’s Spirit of the Dead Walking, inspired by Édouard Manet’s Olympia (another copy of the copy, because……)
  • Édouard Manet’s Olympia, inspired by Titian’s Venus of Urbino
  • Monet starting an entire art movement called impressionism
  • Dada starting a movement characterized by mocking and inverting all art that preceded it

That is only a start, there are lots more examples.  My point?  That art does not (necessarily) (apparently) need to be original to be ART.  It is expression, intention and execution that makes art art.  Inspiration, outright copying in another medium, copying for the sake of commentary or expression are also valid ways to make art.  There is a fine line between this concept and plagiarism, derivative art, or outright copyright infringement, but all the above have been well accepted by the art world and have become icons in their own right.

And don’t even get me started on conceptual art…….another day another post!

what makes art original….and does it need to be?

December 18th, 2014

Someone recently mentioned to me that art that is not completely original is not real art.  That immediately brought to mind Andy Warhol, who made a career of lifting commercial images and the likenesses of celebrities.  My next thought was the Mona Lisa and all the iterations of her over the centuries, including the moustachio’d ML by Marcel DuChamp, and the silkscreen of 30 ML’s by Warhol himself.  How about all the cross pollination between Picasso and Braque?  Or Modigliani’s work based on African masks?  I am sure if I taxed my brain I would come up with better examples, but it is already 4:00 in the afternoon and that is when my brain calls it quits for the day and clocks out.

The next thing I thought about was my own work.  Although I mostly work from my own photos, there are instances when my work is derived from a photo by a friend or relative who has given me permission to use it in my art.  Does the very fact that the photo was not mine to begin with make the resulting artwork less original and therefore not ART?  I hope not.

The slippery slope here is that although most serious artists do not need to be told not to lift someone else’s creative endeavor, even the most famous artists DO.  Some do it as commentary, which becomes more and more common in the days of conceptual artworks.  Some build on it as inspiration.  But the question remains, when is it ok and when is it not ok?  I guess the simple answer is when the first artist files a lawsuit against the second claiming copyright infringement.  But this is more than a copyright question, it is a question of whether every single thought surrounding the artwork must be completely original for the result to be considered art.  And frankly, that seems close to impossible.

We are influenced all the time by lots of things around us, not just other artworks.  Some are obvious, and some are subliminal.  We cannot even be sure ourselves whether or not our subconscious brain is holding onto something stored in deep memory when we think we are having an original thought.

And what about our own artwork?  One could argue that working in a series, or using the same format or a similar piece to something already in one’s body of work is not original and therefore not art.  Does a technique need to be truly original for the result to be art?  If that is the case, much of what exists in the world isn’t even close to meeting the criteria.

No conclusion, but something to think about.  I am not sure I can encapsulate into a nice clean definition “what is art” but I do think the word “original” isn’t necessarily a part of it.

So I will close with these two pieces of mine you have seen before.  Can you tell which would be considered ART because it is completely original and which would not make the cut?  Does it matter?


sarlat and private world

evolution of a voice, revisiting and revising…..

December 5th, 2014

Readers of this blog know that a theme I discuss over and over is voice–finding a voice, developing a voice, letting your voice evolve.  I thought I would share something with you that might help illustrate how a voice can remain consistent but still grow.

Many years ago, I took this photo in Hong Kong:


For those of you who remember the discussion of how I get the “random” photos I use, here you can see my husband looking very bored but complacent so I could get the shot I really wanted–that woman with the umbrella in the front of the frame.

Back in 2009, I used this photo to make this piece I entitled “Market Day, Hong Kong” which I was never happy with, never exhibited or showed anywhere.

market day hong kong 26 5 x19  2009

The face wasn’t refined enough, the colors were too much and that goofy curve at the bottom didn’t do anything.  But I loved the photo, so a year later in 2010, I revisited it again:

old woman 2010 9.5 x 9

At this point in my exploration, I was focusing on faces, and using value to execute them in unrealistic color.  I didn’t hate this one, and have exhibited it a few times, mostly I use it when I teach as an example of value vs. color.

But this week I decided I still had not used this photo to its full advantage and revisited it again.  Here is the figure, I am not 100% sure how it will be completed, but you will see that the theme of my work is unchanged since the first one in 2009–in fact the photo is still the same one that inspires the work:

asian woman

So let’s look at just the figures side by side (thank goodness for photoshop!):

side by side

And let’s talk about the changes from the first in 2009 to the second in 2014:

To begin with, over the past year or so I have been experimenting with distilling each image into as few “brushstrokes” as possible–using the fewest number of fabric pieces to tell the story.  This simplification is most evident when looking just at the color alone, and the overall number of fabrics used.  It is not immediately obvious, but look at the shadow and highlights in her jacket–in the new version there are two different black on black fabrics used, but the contrast is so subtle that the overall view is more graphic and less fussy.  My new goal is to explore and celebrate the body language rather than every little detail.

I have moved back to realistic skin tones in the new one, not that I have abandoned the idea of color vs. value, but because here I am telling a story and that story didn’t require unusual color.  I also realize that the original didn’t work because the color change wasn’t consistent–either all realistic color or all not–but there is a beige base and purple and blues for the skin, and the resulting image is confusing.

The face has changed too.  In the first version, as was closer to the photo, the face is straight up and looking forward.  In the new one, the face is tilted down ever so slightly, exaggerating the curve of her back and making her look older and more like she is leaning on that umbrella rather than just carrying it.  This is a subtle change, and deviates from the photo (remember the photo is your guide not your master) but I think heightens the story I want to tell.  In addition, I think the fewer pieces of fabric in the new one are clearer and have greater impact than the original which sort of disappears into muddiness.

The plastic shopping bag is now depicted by a single fabric–which makes it less of a focal point and more of a supporting character.

I loved the original umbrella (in fact it was the only part of the original piece I did like) and amazingly still had the same fabric in my stash (old stash fabrics never die, they just keep getting smaller!).  But this time I made the umbrella larger and straighter in the frame, which also gives the impression she is leaning on it.  Also subtle, if you look at the two umbrellas side by side you will see that they are constructed differently, the second having those folds of fabric that occur when the umbrella is closed (represented using the back of the same fabric) rather than the stripes merely going in a different direction on the first.

Do I like the new one now?  Yes.  I think she is more compelling, her face demands attention and she has a strong presence that the first one lacks.  Will I still like it a year from now, or four years from now?  Maybe, maybe not.

So as embarrassed as I am to show you the older version, I hope you will understand from seeing them side by side how a voice can grow but still remain consistent.


why color matters

November 25th, 2014

I have talked a lot in this blog about the importance of value, because without value there will be no dimension, no shadow and no contour in your finished art quilt.  But that does not mean color isn’t important.  So the following illustration from something I am currently working on.

Most often I start with a color palette in mind, either because I like the color composition in the original photo, or I immediately know what colors will look right and set the right mood.  Sometimes it is because there is a particular fabric I want to use.  Occasionally, I go through two or more iterations before I am happy with it.  Such was the case with this woman.

In the original photo she is wearing a yellowish shirt.  It amazes me how often the strangers I photograph did not dress appropriately for my artwork when they got started in the morning!  This woman had beautiful caramel colored skin, and although I started out with tones similar to those she was wearing, I didn’t like the result:


Although I did like the way the shirt looked on its own, i felt it blended in too much with the skin tones and made it hard to distinguish where she ended and the shirt began.

Next I went blue, thinking this was a fabric I would like to use:


I liked the color, but felt it was too bright to be consistent with her pensive pose and therefore did not set the right mood for the piece.

So I went into the red tones:


Although this photo is a bit out of focus, I think you can see the idea.  I like the red (especially as the blue fabric I chose for her pants has a little red in is), but the lighter tone in the highlights blends in with the middle tone of her skin.  This doesn’t work for me at all.

So I changed the highlight tone and left the rest intact:


Now the highlights look right with the base tone of the shirt, the skin tones are distinctly different from the shirt colors and this starts to work.  It still isn’t right, but at least I am getting a sense of what it needs–for example, in the very first one, there are two lighter tones for the highlights and I think that is more effective.  Here I oversimplified.  So back to the studio to play with her some more.

Sometimes it comes easily, sometimes it takes a few different tries to get there.  This is definitely one of those times!

To all of you in the US, have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

being creative when you aren’t in the mood

November 19th, 2014

In this blog in the past I have addressed the issue of not knowing what to work on next.  Personally, I rarely have this problem as there are always dozens of photos in my computer files marked “up next” for me to choose from.  On any given day, I might select something different, but in the end those that are meant to be made probably are.

But what I haven’t really addressed in this blog, and have been experiencing lately, is finding it hard to get into the right head space.  This is a different problem from not knowing where to go next.  This can be a double edged sword, and in fact, a vicious circle.

When I am working on something and embracing the process, being motivated and getting positive results is not a real concern.  But my art is what I do to relax and unwind–it is the zen in my life–so when there are other things in my life that get in the way of that zen, it can impact greatly what I can accomplish creatively.

So more specifically, there is a lot going on in my life these days that has me stressed.  No, nothing horrendous, just the everyday stuff that sometimes rolls off my back and other times builds and layers until I am feeling overwhelmed and ready to scream.  This is exactly when I need to go into the studio and do something for me, but often once I get there I am too stressed out to work.

That is what happened to me this week.  Several times I said, “that’s it, I am spending the next two hours in the studio with no interruptions” but everything I touched didn’t go well.  Every piece of fabric I chose, everything I put together didn’t work.  Nothing was going my way.  It was extremely frustrating.  And in fact, it was making me even more stressed rather than the opposite.

That is where the vicious circle comes in–need to do art to relax, need to relax to do art.  What’s a girl to do??!!?

Here are some of the things I do when this happens:

First, I like to take long walks, usually with the dog (who is a great listener and never interrupts!) especially at my favorite place–the Larchmont Harbour Park.  This often clears my head and helps me relax.  Watching the water break against the rocks, watching the boats out in the distance.  Heavenly.  But mother nature did not want to cooperate this week, and gave us frigid cold, rain and wind.  Not the conditions under which I feel compelled to take a long walk.

Music can help, too.  Depending on my mood, I listen to different music in the studio while working.  I have very eclectic taste and so I have sobering music, uplifting music, music the dog and I like to dance to (yes, he is also a terrific dancer), and sing along music with a whole bunch of stuff in between.  Uplifting music helps.  Dancing music is even better.  (thank goodness no one can see into my studio windows–I hope).  When I am really overwhelmed, Navajo flute music by Carlos Nikai is the only thing that works for me.  When I feel the need for human companionship, I listen to talk radio.

yendrik dancing

Forcing myself to do something also helps.  When I get into this state, it helps to choose something from the up next file that will be easily accomplished.  Nothing that requires too much thought or too many changes from the photo can sometimes get the auto pilot in gear and once the final piece looks good, it starts me back on the road to success.  That is what happened to me this week.

I am working on my solo show for next summer and working on figures to begin with.  Their final resting place in compositions will come later, for now I am just making the figures themselves.  So it is easy to move from one to another without shifting gears completely.  I started on one that I really loved, but after two or three sessions in the studio she was not working.  I put her aside and started another figure, one that was simple and easy to create and I did in a relatively short time frame.  When I liked the way she looked, I went back to the other one and scrapped everything I had done.  I changed the color story.  I looked at her in a different way.  She became a different piece from where she had started a few days before.  But getting back in the mode made it work.

But the other secret isn’t such a secret at all.  The stress needs to be dealt with head on and eliminated.  Otherwise, I find myself having the same combative conversations in my head over and over.  Wine helps.  Off loading some of the combative conversations to my husband helped as well.  In the end, letting go of the stuff that was making me crazy wasn’t easy, but necessary.