O, February


Oh, February: temperatures fluctuating up, down, as much as 40 degrees, Chicago either altogether devoid of snow or receiving light dustings that quickly melt or morph into slushy rain, and days of anemic grey light, barely enough to partially illuminate translucent abaca in the middle of the afternoon. I feel like celebrating every time there is, like today, a few wee moments of sunlight.  Indoors, there is a closet now, a proper little room complete with new flooring and baseboards, custom shelving already in use. The physical work did indeed release some words: I’ve been moving between construction and writing and a few days off here and there, for real-time with friends, a gift day at my local salon from Himself, and a guest talk in a friend’s writing class.


I’d thought it was a grad class and quick-prepped accordingly; it turned out to be a required freshman undergrad course. Those carefully blank, but easily readable deer-in-the-headlights faces were utterly familiar to me from similar undergrad courses I taught way back when. I admire my friend and all her colleagues immensely for their relentless efforts, each and every semester, to draw new groups of new students out into the beginnings of adult discourse.


Having spewed out the other side, I see academe now as a raucous, rushing stream flowing through a bed of rocks, eventually pushing boulders aside, but creating new blockages in the process. Students, the unchanging water supply: a bit more or less, a bit varied in temperature from year to year, season to season, but elemental, constant, in motion. Faculty, staff, administrators: fish, waterbugs or clinging plants tossed by currents, the food chain utterly dependent on the water. I can go back, dip in my toe, and it’s the same as it always was. It never benefits from its plethora of manmade dams and never learns that it doesn’t;  it needs a huge sweeping flood to clear it out and alter its path, but actual changes occur as slowly as in all the rivers I’ve known: an imperceptible inching, this way and that.


I’ve moved on into a sea, maybe a great lake, one that occasionally, randomly churns up forgotten bits from within its depths. A small action like building a closet can bring unexpected results. This old steamer trunk has been with me since I was in my twenties; loosely lined with fabric, it’s been a renter’s portable closet. Emptied, it re-revealed stone lithographs, added when I decided not to edition the book I’d made them for. They made me smile: we all carry baggage. It’s pleasing and amusing that some of mine contains buried goddesses.


This weekend and Monday:  the final editing and sendoff of all the current text-based projects, and then, and then, and then: back to the studios!




I slogged through the first half of the text-based projects, but words were not only not flowing, I struggled mightily to maintain even a trickle.  Yesterday, I gave up, put the writing on a back burner and began the first part of the second batch of house projects: building a closet in a small, oddly-shaped nook that we carved out around the chimney when we did all the building upstairs. It will house things we need to keep on hand that are currently taking up space inconveniently in numerous locations; I’m calling it a linen closet.  The first task was to sand down the joint compound, something I dislike doing immensely, particularly when the sanding screen is attached to a cumbersome shop vac to minimize dust, and I need to become a contortionist to reach the corners.  After a comical, dust-mask-wearing, sweaty day, that bit is done (and it feels good). For the next few days I’ll try writing in between applying coats of paint, and hope that satisfying physical work will somehow release the word-flow.



Deadlines for you and me

I took an extra day in the studio to deliberately use up all prepared pulp, in order to force myself to focus on the writing I’m doing now, and had to clear the studio to transform it into a painting station for the next house projects.  I felt sad and a little anxious, and had to keep reminding myself that I was only clearing up for a week or so, not a semester.


Here’s what emptying the paper studio did for the bindery.

But today’s quick blog is to let you know about two important dates: February 11th is the deadline for the Penland summer class lottery, and February 15th is the deadline for Penland summer scholarships. I am so looking forward to being there this summer: just to be in the wonderful Penland environment again and in the mountains, but also because 2 1/2 weeks is just the optimum amount of time for this class. Ample time to try techniques, experiment, develop projects and collaborations!

So apply, apply, apply, please!  I’ll go do pretty much the same thing.

February Flow


These are tests I am excited about, but the why doesn’t photograph well: yet.

Hello, February! A groundhog out in Chicago today would find nice diffused white winter light and soft fluffy snow gently falling.  I’ve had a sweet productive work week and after one more (odd )session today, I’ll hit a natural pausing point. Sunday, I’ll ready the studio for some ‘meanwhile’ projects that can happen while other work goes on, and then it’s time to focus on that other work.


A fridge and a fridge: winter is wonderful for keeping pulp fresh for extended periods: three 5 gallon buckets stayed very cold, enclosed in pink insulation scraps.

January was an entire month of almost no admin, except a wee bit by e-mail: a lovely long breath of fresh crisp air.  But admin really never ends, so a couple of days of keyboard action will commence on Monday, then I’ll move on to my next two house projects.  My reward will be more useful, pleasing space and more sweet studio time (I postponed the project I have slated for my backyard kozo, so that’s to look forward to).


This part of the bindery is an armature-building station for awhile.


Paper studio configured for double-pulp, small-sheet day; below, adjusted for stack dryer unloading the next day: 12 hours to thin flat sheets.


In this new, extended way of working, I’ve ‘finished’ nothing – though several pieces were  stopped at certain stages to become new, improved class samples.  My studios are absolutely wonderful but still small, so there’s always a pause to clear out after one process and set up for the next.  As we draw closer to spring and extended light, I’ll have a mass dyeing session that will complete these and other new projects. I’m not only making experimental pieces, but am also exploring known processes in greater depth, and testing new processes, materials and equipment (and doing a lot of thinking as well).  Today’s photos: random views from the past wee while.

Detail: thin, crisp, rattly, strong dogbane.  I beat the seed hair at the same time as the bast; the seed hair was tougher and took much longer to break down while the bast overbeat, resulting in a stringy pulp like flax or hemp, and beautiful striations in the finished sheets, but the color is more accurate in the photo below.
Some, definitely not all, of what went on in 3D.
Following up on a happy accident: look at that texture!