This is a significant date for Southern Ontario, for the SAQA (Studio Art Quilt Associates) organization and for me personally. It represents the beginning of an unexpected change in our lives: Ontario was on the brink of closing down many non-essential businesses and events and its citizens going into self-isolation, and SAQA’s first international conference was on the brink of opening in Toronto that coming week. All was rapidly changing.
As I made my way down the Niagara escarpment to work at the Jordan Art Gallery , I saw before me a compelling site:
It was an image that would not leave me and percolated through my thoughts until early October. (Meantime, SAQA held its global conference in virtual time – one of the first organizations to do so via the Zoom platform. It was an amazing success offering its prearranged conference speakers and chat rooms for registered participants. So, although there was much disappointment that our organizing efforts had to be rearranged and travel plans cancelled, we still “met” and shared each other’s experiences, knowledge and talents. The Jordan Art Gallery closed its doors until May, but continued to “open” to the public via its website. As an aside, we sold our Fenwick home that weekend and bought a new townhouse in Ridgeway. The start of another chapter in our personal lives.)
The image was “larger than life” which in my mind commanded a scale beyond my usual. I had saved an old “throw” that had enough porosity to allow for needled felting. It measured just enough for SAQA’s call for entry themed/titled “Light the World” https://www.saqa.com/events/saqa-calls-entry, which I had thought about as well over the summer. Now was the time to begin with a deadline of November 30. I had not entered a needle felted piece, so this would be the first, and it would incorporate stitching through layers. There was also a scurry of improvising as my 12 inch square sponge was not going to offer enough underlay for working up the piece. Hastily, I peeled away the covers of my 4 flat outdoor sponge cushions and laid them out, side by side. They nicely fit my fold out table width-wise and the 60 inch width of the work.
As with all my other needle felted works, the ground composition is laid out with wool, then the detailing layers comprise various silk fibres and other plant and animal fibres to add texture, colour and light – lots of it in this case to work with the image which I put through Adobe Photoshop to enhance the blues and contrast of the original photograph. The composition nicely fit the “x 3” rule.
The above images show the work progressing in its early stages from something flat in both colour and dimension. As contrasting colours and materials are added, the image and impact should, with some luck (for I believe it is only a select few works that have a magical property), begin to “appear.”
As the work progresses, it is both exciting and disappointing. As with any artwork, there is continual problem solving and a switch between observing, rendering and tedious work. There is endless needle punching involved, first securing with a single needle, then using my spring loaded, 5-in-one punch to work with the texture and against it. By the time all is completed, I will have worked over the surface more than a dozen times. With the smaller works, I also flip the work over and needle felt through the back layer as well to secure in both directions. I am not sure if I will with this piece.
After many hours working on the sky formations, it’s time to return to the foreground. My handspun is invaluable for outlining the tree formations and beginning work on the vineyard. I have run into a roadblock with the mid-ground skyline. As the tree formations extend into the sky background, I will have to stop to work on the Toronto and surrounding area skyline. But just how to go about this work is foremost in my problem solving mind.
Using my Publisher program together with some mathematical calculations, I am able to generate an exact skyline. The remainder of the work is my own rendition; however, I feel it important that the skyline be recognizable as what it is. Colour and eventually light will be important, as well as the profile. The skydome is really prominent. See below the steps from felting the long blue skyline to cutting then felting in place. I can now go back to build the tree tops that overlap into the skyline.
My next posting will cover the foreground as I build up texture, colour and light. It is amazing how much the eye begins to see as the work progresses.
Several weeks have gone by, but I have been busy. With the November 30 deadline for this submission looming, my focus was on completing the project. Days of adding detail and texture, working on the composition itself and stabilising to a quilted backing (repurposed, bed protector quilt). Below you can see the dramatic cloud formations taking on more dimension and contrast. The top layer of felting is now being stitched through to the backing to stabilise and to add a 3-dimensional effect.
The foreground was an especially detailed portion of the piece requiring both the application of fibre variations for texture and colour, but also the overlay of handspun yarns which required invisible stitching to anchor securely. Here you can see the sewing pins anchoring the top layer to the backing ready for stitching. The reverse is just a recycled, quilted cotton bed protector.
The quilt is nearing completion with just edges to finish before photographing. I set up my new photography studio for this large needle felted work. Using the tip from SAQA to use insulation panels, I took 3 side by side, covered them with stretched canvas. This method allows you to use sewing pins to hold the work in place. Below is the final work, 45 inches high x 58 inches wide.
It was submitted to The Grand National call for entry “Crossroads” with the following statement and biography. I have a price of $3,500 on it.
Corona Premonition, March 13, 2020
For Southern Ontario, March 13, 2020 signifies the end to large gatherings, closure of non-essential services and isolation. My needle-felted artwork is based on a photograph which I took on that symbolic day. This premonitory view of a “corona” cloud formation above 17th Street descending the Niagara escarpment, over Lake Ontario and distant Toronto also captures a physical crossroad leading into an unawakened vineyard. 17th Street itself leads to old Lakeshore Road which runs the circumference of Lake Ontario. The work is a metaphorical crossroad intersecting the “normal” and the “pandemic” landscape.
My fibre and textile artwork explores nature and its ecological fragility. Educated in fine arts and interdisciplinary Canadian Studies provides me with a rooted knowledge; my lived experience in the Fiji Islands, New Zealand and Canada, my career as an educator, and my travels, prompt me to create and share these perspectives.
Update: The artwork has been accepted into the Crossroads exhibition and will travel Canada over the next 2 years.