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taking photos while respecting privacy

August 12th, 2014

I am often asked about how I take photos to use in my art quilts.  This can be a slippery slope and I am always mindful of people’s privacy.  Despite the fact that many people tell me they know someone in one of my quilts, I have never found it to be the case.  This one, for example:

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I cannot begin to tell you how many times someone tells me they know a person in this piece.  Mostly, the man with his arms crossed.  If this is the person everyone thinks he is, that guy sure gets around.  But so far, I have not had anyone place him in the city where this was shot.

What inspires me to snap a photo is usually body language.  I walk around with my camera looking for body language that tells a story, invokes a mood, or is so universally identifiable that anyone looking at the image will know exactly how that person was feeling.  Faces are interesting to me, but body language says so much about these people we do not know.  Look at the photo above, can’t you get a sense of what sort of person each of these are without even getting a clear look at their faces?  That is what attracts me.

How do I take these photos?  Mostly from a distance.  I have a small but decent camera that has a telephoto lens built in.  I set the camera at the highest resolution possible (listed in my camera menu as superfine or SF).  This means I fit fewer images on a card (the memory card I use will hold about 200 of these high res images) but it also means I can shoot from far away and when I upload the image and crop in close to the figure, I don’t loose the resolution I need to blow the image up without losing detail.

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Here is a good example.  I was standing a fair distance away when I took this photo.  I loved the man’s body language, with his arms outstretched and his feet firmly planted.  At this distance I often cannot even see clearly what I am getting, and as I have mentioned in this blog before, sometimes I am surprised to find I was getting a dirty look or in one case, the finger.

But this image was originally over 8 MB which means I was able to crop in close to the man on the bench without sacrificing detail I was going to need.  Here he is in fabric:

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The other thing I am always aware of is either abstracting the face enough that it is not recognizable, as I have done here, or changing it so it isn’t even the same person anymore, as I did with this photo:

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The woman in the red hat was far enough away that I was able to take the photo without her being aware of the camera (or me, I suspect).  But after a little fabric magic, do you think she would recognize herself here:

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Unlikely.  What I needed from the photo were the basics I don’t want to reinvent–the perspective, the proportions, the light and shadow.  What I was able to do on my own was a face in profile and sandals on her feet instead of sneakers.  But even those I do with a photo as a guide.  For the feet, I did an internet search for shoe sites and found a pair of feet in sandals close enough to what I needed, in the case of her profile, another image from another place served well enough.  The result is a compelling image of a woman who doesn’t exist in real life, so I can’t be embarrassing her by making her image part of my artwork.

Most of all, I am always mindful of when I might be stepping over a line and invading someone’s privacy.  If I am spotted, no matter how great that shot might have been, I put the camera back in my pocket and walk away.  Often, I will stand with my camera and wait for the right moment, sometimes I will “stage” a shot that allows me to get what I want–this usually involves my husband (if he is with me) standing off to the side looking slightly irritated while I take his picture, but I am actually taking someone near him with out being detected.  Sneaky?  Yes.  Rude?  I don’t think so.

Having a camera with me most of the time means I am able to capture moments when I see them (although the shots that got away probably still outnumber the ones I get).  The camera slips in and out of my pocket, or is around my neck while I snap a photo while appearing to just be resting my hand on the camera.  Because it is the unaware, ordinary moments that I want to capture, as soon as someone is aware of the camera, the jig is up and I move on.

Always keeping in mind that I want to respect the privacy of the people whose images I use, I am still able to get what I need without stepping over any boundaries.

do what you love, love what you do

August 9th, 2014

Sometimes, in the rush to finish pieces for exhibitions, commissions or publications, it is easy to forget what you want to do and why you want to do it.  That is why my next planned project is just for me.  I decided to put together a solo show and market it to museums, and unexpectedly (wonderfully) I was able to book it for next year even before I was finished with the pieces.  Win win.

More importantly, however, is the fact that I decided on the theme and the size and the technique because these pieces only had to please me.  When I embarked on this project earlier this year (and put it aside for a few months while I completed an unexpected but very interesting commission) they had no where to go.  They were just for me, like a large series–so far I have about twenty pieces and photos for at least thirty more.  Not sure yet when I will stop, but for now I am really enjoying the process.  And in the end, isn’t that what it is all about?

We forget while caught up in deadlines and details why we do this.  I forgot why I like working relatively small.  Now I remember.  This week alone I have completed two figures (that doesn’t mean the PIECE is finished, I am making all the figures first).  I like that they move along quickly, that I don’t have time to get tired of any one image and that I see results right away.  Some people like to spend a year on a single project.  Not me.  We are all different and have different working styles.

Want a sneak peak?  Ok, the two figures I made this week:

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I love this woman.  I took her photo while she waited at a bus stop in Brooklyn.  I can feel the weight of her life in her body language.

mother and baby

This one was a funny story.  I walked past this woman on the phone and wanted to snap her photo.  So I said (loud enough for her to hear) to my husband “hold on, I want to take a photo of that fountain over there.”  He replied, “what for, can’t you get a better picture of it from over there?”  How not to get the point!!  But by then I had the photo.  It wasn’t until I got it home that I saw she had a baby–that tiny little foot sticking out and the tip of the little head.  I loved this, like a modern Madonna and child–madonna on the cell phone.

One of the things I am trying to do these days is to tell the story behind each photo with as little detail as possible.  Broad strokes, I call it.  Here is the face of the Madonna of the cell phone:

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I think she is so lovely.  And I am particularly pleased with the unexpected fabric in the hair.  For me, that is the fun!

Do what you love, love what you do.

garden photo shoot, behind the scenes

July 30th, 2014

About a year ago, we had a very exciting day when This Old House Magazine came to photograph our magnificent garden.  I can call it a magnificent garden because I didn’t have anything to do with it, except having the good sense to turn the project over to the very talented Robert Welsh of Westover Landscaping.

I wasn’t allowed to say anything until the article was published, so I had to keep it a secret until now.  But since the garden and the front of our house appear in the August issue of This Old House Magazine, the cat is out of the bag.

Having been a commercial photographer (back when we still used film, remember those days?), I was not unfamiliar with photo shoots.  Oh, yes, they sound glamorous, but there is a lot of tweaking and fussing and waiting.  Still, when it is all going on in your front yard, it is pretty exciting.

The writer, editor and photographer showed up early–really early–in order to get the light when it was low in the sky and cast pretty shadows.  First, Robert’s guys made sure everything looked tip top.

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Then the “styling” took place, where to place the cup, where the chairs would be, all those little details that make the shot look perfect.

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The the real fun begins, including all the cars that slowed down to get a glimpse of what was going on…

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Every shot was meticulously considered…

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While the photographer looked at each shot on his computer to make sure he had captured what he wanted.

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I can’t show you the professional shots, those don’t belong to me, I can only show you what I shot that day…

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all in all a very interesting experience.  Check out the final PROFESSIONAL shots in this month’s This Old House Magazine

Aug-14-cover

art and problem solving

July 25th, 2014

When I was in school (as my kids always say, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth), math and science wasn’t really taught to girls.  Yes, we were in the classroom but we weren’t really encouraged to pursue math or science as a career.  Many women of my generation did, and I applaud them for that, they were pioneers.  And many female artists started their lives in math and science.   Interesting.

When I used to teach beginner quilting I got a lot of math teachers in the summer months.  They loved the geometry of the quilts, and the rulers were their favorite tool.  Why does quilting and art attract math and science folks?  I think it is the problem solving.

So back to cute little buck toothed me in school–math was not my favorite subject, because I had to understand WHY I was using these formulas and doing these calculations.  Why do I need to find the area of a rhombus?  How many times did I ask “who came up with Pi, and how did they figure that out?”  only to be told to go back to the lesson.  In grade six the teacher was showing us how to solve some equation or another and I raised my hand and said I had a faster way to do it (for me math was all about logic and relationships).  He replied that it might have worked in that case, but it wouldn’t for others.  So I challenged him.  We did several more equations, I always finished first with the same answer.  Then came the instance that we arrived at different answers.  He concluded that was the proof that my way didn’t always work.  But someone looked it up in the back of the book and I was right.  I was sent to the principal’s office for being obstinate and my mother was called.  When she got there and the principal told her why, her response was “THAT is why you called me down here??!!?”.  Good old mom.

When my high school aptitude test came back it was math front and center.  I scoffed.  No way, I am going to find a career that doesn’t involve any math at all.  Ha.

Fast forward through all my past jobs (that did require math) to today when I am a working artist.  Artists are great problem solvers, I am always amazed at what artists are able to figure out when they hit a wall.  I think the reason for that, and the reason I didn’t respond to math the way it was taught is the same thing–artists are visual and math isn’t taught that way.  I do math in a very visual and logical way, I actually draw little diagrams and fill in the numbers.  Artists SEE differently from other people, and that is the way artists approach challenges and solve problems.

This all occurred to me this morning while working on a piece for a commission that is outside my dimensional comfort zone and has presented some interesting challenges I don’t normally face.  Consequently, I had issues to overcome, and found myself drawing my silly little diagrams and filling in the numbers.  That is when it hit me, what I do does involve math, and logic and for me the solution is always visual.

So what is the point of all this?  I needed a break and now I have no excuse not to get back to work!!!!!

 

what galleries want (I think…)

July 16th, 2014

Dolores Miller asked in a comment on my “setting goals” post why I felt my work wasn’t gallery appropriate.  Let me start by saying I never actually had a gallery tell me anything specific, so my thoughts on the subject are purely conjecture.  And if there is a gallery out there that would be interested in my work, please do get in touch!

For the most part, art is a very personal and can often be an emotional investment.  What one person responds to another might not even look at twice.  But even different kinds of art that sells in galleries seems to have one thing in common–at least and in my opinion–it is universally appealing and emotionally neutral.

This is not meant to be a negative comment, I visit galleries often and see lots of fantastic artwork –but landscapes, abstracts, geometric work, pen and ink drawings–are appealing to look at (and live with) and have a wide audience.  It is probably no surprise that offices hang lots of abstract art (often quite good abstract art) and waiting rooms are filled with ocean and woodland scenes.  No one finds them offensive, they are peaceful and relaxing and emotionally neutral.

I find it interesting that people say they know me as the artist who uses homeless people as her subject.  I find that interesting because although I have depicted homeless (or homeless looking) people in my work, I have only done it three times in a fairly large body of work.  Maybe what people remember is a wistfulness, a sadness, or perhaps an introspective quality to the themes I choose.  That isn’t an accident.  These are the images that appeal to me.  When these appeal to others, I am thrilled.  But my art may not connect with everyone and may make some people uncomfortable.  I get that.  Galleries don’t particularly want that.

Telling stories is something I like to do in my art, but when art requires the response and involvement of the viewer that connection with a potential buyer might not be as straightforward a sale as a beautiful abstract or landscape.  It saddens me to know that many people do not buy art emotionally but because it matches the sofa, or fits in a particular spot in the living room.  That makes art with themes like mine a tough sell.  Galleries aren’t looking for the tough sell.

Is there place where my work would be a good fit in a gallery setting and appeal to the clients who purchase there?  I am sure there is, I just haven’t found it yet.  If and when I do, that will be great.  I just am not spending the majority of my time looking for it.

changing objectives, setting yearly goals

July 11th, 2014

Now that all the excitement of the release of my new book and appearance on The Quilt Show is dying off (what a fun ride that was!) I am back to normal around here.  I am working this summer on a large commission piece that needs to be done soon, and that has kept me from working on my upcoming solo show, and alas, from spending time writing blog posts.

Today’s topic is one I have touched on before, but I can’t stress how important it is–setting goals.  That means both long term and short term goals.  Over the weekend we went to a lovely party at the home of friends and there I met an interesting woman who consults to small businesses and she said something that stuck with me.  Often, objectives need to change.

Let’s start with long term goals.  What do you want to achieve making art?  Do you just want to do it for yourself, make it into a business, show your work, sell your work, teach?  The question is the same regardless of your field–where do you want to see yourself in five years, in ten?  Once you have an overall goal (an objective) you can plan your short term goals as stepping stones to get you there.

But objectives can change, and probably should, as you move along in your journey.  My long term goal used to be gallery representation.  I now know that goal may be unrealistic and unobtainable.  It does not mean I will stop looking for gallery representation, but it does mean it is no longer my primary objective.  Why?  I have come to understand that the kind of work I do is not necessarily the kind of work most galleries look for or sign on, and I do not want to compromise what I do or how I do it, even if it means I won’t sell my work in a gallery.  Hard but honest evaluation and requires a reboot of long term goal.  What is my current long term goal?  Not sure, still formalizing and crystallizing.  But, objectives do sometimes need to change.

So what about short term goals?  These are easier.  Some may be part of the larger long term plan, others may just be in the moment because I am not sure where I want to be in five years goals.  Either way, A-OK.

For many years I have set myself an annual goal.  This is usually not in January when my annual goal always seems to be to eat healthy and lose weight (HA!), but often about this time of year, when life is a little less stressful and I can go for long walks by the water with my little buddy Yendrik and clear my head and think.  I think a lot.  I consider it part of my career strategy.

These annual goals can be lofty or simple.  Early in my art quilt career, I spent one year perfecting technical issues so my skill set was more professional.  Another year (and this was important) I built a body of work.  Until that point I was making a new piece for every call I wanted to enter.  But I decided that year building a body of work would accomplish two things, it would give me pieces to pull from when a call for entry did come along and (here she goes again) it allowed me to better establish my voice.  Body building (that is building a body of work) has been an annual goal more than once.  Objectives change, so does one’s voice–subtly, but it needs to be nurtured in order to grow.

Other years the goals have been more challenging.  Several times it has been to get a book contract, and that is always followed by finishing the book.  One year was spent focusing on booking workshops (I learned that year that a book does a better job of that than cold calls and emails).  One was spent working on gallery representation.  Another was spent working on new ideas for finishing and hanging my work.  Not all goals bear fruit, but they are all learning experiences and help keep and eye on that long term goal–or adjust accordingly.

So establish your long terms goals and think about the stepping stones you need to focus on year after year in order to reach that long term goal.  Or just think about something that really needs your attention and work at that until you establish your next objective.  And if it helps, here is my inspiration and thinking spot, Larchmont Harbour Park, where Yendrik and I sit and watch the water hit the rocks.  And we both think about our objectives (although his usually involve either another dog or a treat or both!)

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and my art quilt, Shifting Tide, inspired by a photo taken there…

 

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shifting tide 2011 L. Wiener 30 x 36  EM

 

art quilters value scale card

June 27th, 2014

Many of you have emailed to say you watched my episode on The Quilt Show and found it inspiring–and thank you all for that.  If you haven’t seen it and would like to see me talking about my technique for turning photos into fabric collage art quilts, check it out at www.thequiltshow.com episode 1413 (that’s me in the right hand column in the embroidered shirt).

While describing my technique I also talked about the Art Quilter’s Value Scale card.  This is something I developed to help me find the right fabric in the right value in the photo.  For many years I used (as many of you do) a red viewer–that piece of red plastic through which you view your fabrics to see their relative lightness/darkness to each other.  The viewer is great, to a point.  It doesn’t work on reds, pinks or yellows–for that you need a green viewer.  But more importantly, it doesn’t tell you which is the right value, only how the fabric values relate to each other.  So I came up with the idea of the card.

The Art Quilters Value Scale card is nothing magical.  It is simply a card with gradations from white to black through several shades of gray.

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So how does this work?

First, I use the side of the card with the small squares and slide that edge along the part of my photo or pattern I want to match.  Where the gray value looks about the same as the value I want to match (regardless of the color) I make a note of that number.

Then, using the larger squares I look for a fabric with the same value as the number I identified.  Not sure?  Not a problem, it is an art not a science.  The card helps you find the similar value in fabric that is in your photo or your pattern–regardless of color.  Simple.

If you purchase a copy of my book Pictorial Art Quilt Guidebook

Pictorial Art Quilt Guidebook

there is an Art Quilter’s Value Scale card printed in the back page, which you can cut out and use.  However, if you want an actual 5″ x 7″ coated card, you can order one from me for $5.00 (which includes shipping).  Just go to paypal and put the $5 in the account for webmaster@leniwiener.com and email me at leni@leniwiener.com (or from the contact page of this site) with your mailing address and I will send it out.

You can also order a signed copy of my book for $30 (also paypal) or you can purchase it from Amazon using this link.  For a look inside the book, take a look at the prior blog post.

 

pictorial art quilt guidebook–a look inside

June 16th, 2014

It is finally available, my new book, Pictorial Art Quilt Guidebook arrived at my house from the publisher last week, and from what I understand is now shipping from Amazon.  That means it will also be arriving in stores soon.  So I thought I would take you on a guided tour inside the book.

The book is divided into three sections.  Section one is called Setting the Stage, and includes a lot of information about color, value and print scale.  Color can be used to your advantage when establishing a focal point in any artwork, or to lead the viewer’s eye into and around the composition.  Most people are intimidated and confused by the color wheel–I don’t have one and I don’t use one.  Instead, I teach you to break down color into it’s “recipe” so you can figure out easily what other colors will work with it or act as the complimentary color to enliven your art quilt.

the-boy-in-the-banyon-tree-2009-emputting the boy in orange, the compliment of blue (which is the primary color of the rest of this composition) makes him stand out as the focal point of this artwork, and as the first thing the viewer sees.

Section one also includes information on value (almost more important that color when interpreting a photo into fabric) and what I think is an easier way to establish value than the red viewer I used to use.  It is a gray scale value card I developed and include in the book.  Learn about print scale (most people don’t pay attention to print scale but having a variety of print scales is just as visually stimulating as having a variety of values), using unexpected prints, and what to think about when buying fabric to build a working stash.

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using unexpected prints can add real visual interest to your artwork

Section two is the Step by Step Project.  I start with instructions for making a working pattern for your art quilt in a free downloadable program called GIMP.  Then I walk you through the cover artwork step by step, explaining changes if and when I make them and showing how to do elements that rely heavily on the working pattern (like the figures) or those that can be accomplished more intuitively like the tree behind them.  Even if you don’t want to make this quilt, reading through the steps will explain the process from starting photo to finish.  And if you do want to make it, the pattern (with all my notations about values) is included.

project oneThe children are built using the pattern as a guide but the tree is much more intuitive

Section three is where the guidebook comes in.  It is called Tips and Tricks for Common Elements and includes all sorts of things you will encounter when you make art quilts and how to accomplish each with one, two, three or multiple fabrics.  Trees, water, rocks, distance, animals, human skin tones, hair, lips and more.

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The final part of this section takes you through my depiction of the famous Afghan Girl by Steve McCurry (and used in this book with his generous permission).   Her pattern (with my notes) is also included in the book.

L. Wiener Afghan Girl from a photo by Steve McCurry

If you purchase the book from Amazon, please use this link: Pictorial Art Quilt Guidebook.  You will get a slight discount over the cover price and I will get a little credit from Amazon.  Of course, you can also look for it in your favorite quilt shops–soon if not now.

(and if you like the book, please take a moment to write a review on the Amazon website in the comments section of the book listing.  thanks so much!)

the power of professional groups, even in small numbers

June 8th, 2014

Those of you who read this blog know I talk a lot about SAQA.  SAQA (Studio Art Quilt Associates) is the professional organization to which I belong, and frankly to which I feel I owe my career in part.  I joined SAQA the same year I decided that fabric art was something I wanted to take seriously, and the connections and networking I have gotten through it has helped me enormously through the years.

Today I decided to have a SAQA get together.  I invited people in the NY region even though the region is the whole state of NY and that is a pretty big area.  More people RSVP’d then showed up, but there were about a dozen who came out on this lovely Sunday afternoon for chocolate desserts and bubbly (NY State champagne, of course).

I always enjoy the company of other “art quilters” and today was no exception.  A group of like minded people, together talking and getting to know each other is a very nice way to spend a few hours.  Some of these people I have known for quite a few years, since I was the rep in NY, others I have met along the way, and still others I met for the first time today.

There is a value to being part of a group who understand what you do, even though we all do something a bit different–some do multi media work, some dye fabric, some piece, well you get the idea.  But we all understand the basics and not having to fill in all the blanks and explain all the buzz words is very nice, indeed.

All in all a very nice afternoon.  But the involvement in a professional art organization is more than Sunday afternoon get togethers, it provides opportunities to network, to learn from others when a technical issue comes up, to exhibit our work, to learn about all sorts of things pertaining to our art careers.  It was SAQA that gave me the basics when I got started, in fact early in my career I had a very helpful critique from Sandra Sider, who was here today.  My experience as a rep led me to the PAM review committee, then the PAM mentorship committee, the Exhibition Committee and finally to chair that committee and serve on the Board.  Yes, I do give a lot of my time as a volunteer, the friendships, the experience and the knowledge I have gotten in return have been worth it.

If you are not a member of SAQA and want more information, please feel free to email me.  And if you are a member of SAQA, I encourage you to do more than just be a member, get involved, volunteer–you won’t be sorry.

free download of books by leni levenson wiener–important message

May 27th, 2014

You may have seen this somewhere on the internet, I did for the first time yesterday.  At first, I was simply upset that someone would provide a download of my books without paying anything for it–not something either the publisher nor I would be too happy about.  But then my son checked it out more carefully and the reality is even worse.

Apparently, some websites offer free downloads of books and movies and if someone clicks on the download button, they inadvertently install spyware.  In testing it for me, he even lost some programs (he is an expert, so he knows how to get them back).  They pull the information off Amazon or some other sites and display it with the cover, a description and a nice big “free download” button.  It all looks very professional and very official.  But please don’t fall for it, you will only mess up your computer.  I am sorry to tell you here are no free downloads of any of my books.  If you see it be warned, it is a scam.