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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.

 

time management

May 23rd, 2014

I hear a lot of talk about time management.  Oh, let’s be real, I hear a lot of complaints about time management.  Artists always tell me they just don’t have time to do their art.  For many who have jobs in the real world, time can be a precious thing.  But more often I hear this from artists who don’t have full time jobs or young children at home.  So what is up with that?

Years ago I had a friend who was writing a novel.  She had been writing this novel for many years before I even knew her.  Her children were grown and out of the house, and she had retired about two years before she complained to me that she just couldn’t finish her book because she didn’t have the time.  Really?  No, there are just too many things she needed to get done–the shopping, the laundry, cooking, errands.  I told her she managed to do all that stuff when she had a job, now she needed to treat her novel like a job and give herself a certain number of hours a day–whether it was one hour or eight hours–that were for writing and nothing else.  She told me that was impossible.  A year later, I had written and submitted my first book and she was so mad she never spoke to me again.  (Now, I get that a novel takes longer than a how-to book, but even so!).  As far as I know, she is still writing that novel.

The difference between this former friend and me was that when I get the contract for a book (four now and ready to do another) I treat it like a job–a full time job.  I get the stuff around the house and general life stuff done, too.  But a schedule I know I will stick with gets the job done–and I am proud to say in all four cases, my books were done ahead of the deadline.  But I am no super hero and I am not looking for a bravo.  My point is, if you earmark the time you get things done.  And by the way, I NEVER work after 4:00 in the afternoon, a lot earlier than quitting time in the real world.

Making art is no different.  If you want to do it, then you can make the time to do it.  Forget the beckoning TV, the laundry and the other siren songs that pull your attention away.  That is all more easily accomplished at the end of the day when you are no longer feeling creative.  (Or, if your creative time IS later in the day, do those things earlier during your less productive times.)  Set aside a certain number of hours a day for making art and treat those hours like a job.  You can’t call in sick and you can’t play hookey.

If you treat your art like a job and make a commitment to do it, you will be surprised to see how much time you actually have.  And while you are at it, stop feeling guilty about spending this time for yourself.  You have earned it.  If it is important to you, it is important enough to dedicate some time to doing it.

I cringe when people tell me they are spending money to take some workshop on time management or hiring a consultant who keeps them on track.  Good golly, that time would be better spend making your art!  I don’t usually quote sneaker manufacturers, but in this case it applies:

JUST DO IT!

 

what constitutes fair use?

May 19th, 2014

Let me preface this blog post by reminding everyone that a blog is simply one person’s opinion.  My blog, my opinion.  Don’t like it, don’t read it.  Usually, I avoid controversy in my blog posts (one post a while back did come back to bite me on the underside) but this is a situation that could have tremendous impact on what we buy and how we use it.  So here goes:

There is a situation that has been discussed a lot lately via the internet and in various blogs lately that I want to address.  I am not going to use any names, since I do not want to invite responses from those involved (but it is easy enough for you to figure out who the players are if you really want to know).

The situation, as I understand it, is as follows (I am not privy to all the details, I can only comment on what I have read in their respective blogs).  The author of a book received fabric from a fabric manufacturer for use in making the quilts contained in that book.  The manufacturer freely supplied this fabric with the full knowledge of how it would be used.  (As an aside, I will tell you that many fabric companies do this for authors, I have benefited from the generosity of several companies in the production of all four of my books.)  The publisher decided to make tote bags and used a closeup from a photo of one of the finished quilts in the book on those totebags.  What is relevant is the fact that the only fabrics showing in this particular closeup were from one manufacturer, and in fact one designer.

There is a trend in fabric design these days in which companies produce lines by various designers–and since I do not do this, I can only assume these designers are not on staff, they are hired as independent contributors.   I also have no way of knowing what sort of arrangement this company has or had with this designer,  and frankly it shouldn’t matter to any of us who purchase fabric.

So what happened that caused all this kerfuffle?  The designer felt the tote bags picturing her fabric were in violation of her copyright on the fabric.  (I wonder, if the tote bags were actually MADE from this fabric would she have been able to make the same threat?).  Fact is, the picture on the totebag was a closeup of a quilt the author made for the book, NOT a photo of the fabric alone.  Seems like a fine line to me, but I have never seen the tote bags so I can’t comment on whether or not I agree (not that my opinion matters anyway).  She threatened to sue the author and the publisher and demanded a portion of the profits, destruction of the remainder of the bags, and this is the part that really steps over the line–of the book as well.

This seems a bit grabby to me, and was probably meant to get everyone’s attention.  It did.  The publisher eventually worked out some sort of settlement (as far as I know the book is still available).  Maybe the tote bags crossed some line (I am not sure) but the book certainly did not.  During all the fuss the fabric manufacturer chose to remain uninvolved, which to me is unprofessional and cowardly.

The fabric designer is quick to point out that there was no lawsuit.  Little comfort, since the threat of a lawsuit was apparently front and center.  Whether or not this was a frivolous threat (or if a lawsuit would have been successful for this designer) is irrelevant–the author and publisher were forced to spend money to defend their position and work out an agreement.  As an author this terrifies me.  As a person who only uses commercial fabric in my work, it is of growing concern.

Someone told me yesterday that some fabrics now have a notice printed on the selvage that says “not for commercial use.” Although I will admit I have never seen this, I will also admit I don’t spend much time reading selvages, either.  How can one produce a commodity that is only ever used by others to make something else and then limit it’s use?  Does that mean we all run the risk of being sued when we sell our work if it contains one of these fabrics?  And even if we were all to start reading selvages, what about when we purchase fat quarters which do not contain the selvage or purchase a small enough amount that the full message is cut off?  At what point are we totally hamstrung by the limits of the materials we use?  I don’t really want to know what contractual agreements every designer has made with every fabric company.  I have enough on my mind.

Another person suggested we should all make our own fabrics, but I LIKE using commercial prints and don’t really want to get involved with dyes and paints and all that mess.  And, hey, who knows when some designer who developed a line of colors for that dye company might pull the same crap.  Oh, did I say crap?  Sorry, but remember I did warn you–my blog, my opinion.

OK, so I get that if the only fabrics that showed on the totebag were by one designer she might have felt that her “design” was being lifted and used without her permission.  Does that mean the rest of her actions were justified?  Not from where I sit.  Maybe I would feel differently if I designed fabric, but I don’t think so.

Life wasn’t hard enough before?  Now we have to worry about being threatened with a lawsuit if we use a piece of fabric?  Wow.

Remember, my blog my opinion.  Please don’t threaten to sue me!

 

 

earth stories at michigan state university museum

May 13th, 2014

For those of you who remember my blog posts about the creation of my turtles for the SAQA Earth Stories exhibit (for which I was thrilled to be one of the chosen artists but also the curator) I am now able to share it with you.  When the works are created specifically for a SAQA exhibit, we ask that the artists not show the entire work prior to the exhibit opening.

Just to refresh your memory, Earth Stories was developed in conjunction with the MSU (Michigan State University) Museum and was a call for consideration–which means artists were juried by portfolio review and given a year to complete the work in a specific size (it had to fit into a footprint of 72″ x 72″ or be at least 60″ on one side and 72″ on the other).  These are large pieces.  I know, because getting that guy on and off the design wall as it came together was no fun!

The concept was that each artist had to use a person or project anywhere in the world doing something positive for the earth as their starting point.  The resulting twenty four pieces span a wide range of earth-friendly projects and the work is really wonderful.

First, my final piece:

IMG_1202Entitled “it’s a shell of a problem” this piece focuses on both the helping hands of humans and the desirability of turtle and tortoise shells.  (photo by Jean Vong, NYC).

This detail, which has been shared on the blog before, as shown in Jean’s much better photo than my snapshot:

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This was the guy who got me to change my theme (and abandon the piece I had started already).  He is a plowshare tortoise (or maybe it is a she, I don’t really know).  I watched a segment on 60 minutes about the Turtle Conservancy and fell in love with this fellow–and knew exactly which fabric in my stash I would use for the shell pattern.  So here he/she is…

Finally, we each made a smaller (12″ x 14″) piece that summarized our chosen inspiration that venues can hang along with the larger pieces or all together (or in small groups, as shown at MSU) as they wish.  My small piece, a combination of hands and shell:

IMG_1206(photo also by Jean Vong).  This summarized it for me.

Some photos of the show now hanging at MSU Museum (Photos courtesy of MSU and taken by Pearl Yee Wong):

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my turtles at MSU

See that red arrow?  That is my turtle quilt.

The MSU Museum, located at

409 W. Circle Drive

East Lansing, MI 48824

will be featuring an opening reception on Friday, May 16 from 4 to 6 PM

Earth Stories will be on view until November 26, 2014

check out their website for times and directions