No Boundaries

Vermont is certainly lucky to have a spirited and energetic Surface Design Association Rep.  Under Karen Henderson’s leadership, and with the generous sponsorship of the Rae Harrell Gallery, we just concluded a wonderful exhibit featuring a variety of works by our talented members.  Rug hooking, weaving, collage, knitting, art quilts and more adorned the walls of Rae’s beautiful gallery for six weeks in late summer.  The turnout was impressive at both our opening night and the artist’s walk through a few weeks later, and both evenings were highlighted by sales of our members’ artwork.


Members of the SDA’s Vermont chapter pause before the exhibit opening in August.  Pictured are Betsy Fram, Hillary Harrell, Rae Harrell, MJ Russell, Judy Dales, Karen Henderson and Eve Jacobs-Carnahan.


MJ Russell and Marilyn Gillis with some of Marilyn’s recent works.



Karen Henderson speaks about her work during the Artist’s Walk-through — note also Rae’s beautiful stash of hand-dyed wool for rug-hooking.

Please visit our blog for more news from this dynamic group!


Not-Quilting . . . by the Lake

There’s no lake at the mid-summer “Quilting by the Lake” conference in upstate New York – at least not since its early days at another college campus.  And despite spending a week at a quilting conference, I actually did not bring my sewing machine!

I enjoyed my week of surface design exploration with Jane Dunnewold tremendously however.  I’d heard Jane speak at the International Quilt Festival in Houston and had participated in several of her lectures and demos there.  But there’s no substitute for getting your hands dirty during a week of surface design.

Actually, there’s no excuse for that either!  Jane is appropriately diligent about studio safety practices and made sure that we did not end the day with dye-stained hands. The light winds and 90+ temperatures dried our fabrics quickly in between steps, while the cicadas hummed in the trees and we enjoyed our spacious air-conditioned studios.   I’ll have to confess that I use most of the techniques in my work already, but the flour paste resists were a great discovery and could be the technique to get past a stumbling block in a series I’ve long considered but never started for lack of the “right” fabrics.

Jane is one of if not the most organized instructors I’ve ever met and she always made sure we completed the preparatory steps in time for the next steps in a process that we’d learn in the coming days.   Other than short breaks for meals, just across the ravine from our classroom, we worked diligently in our studios for at least forty hours that week.  What a great way to spend a “vacation!”

Silver Linings

Today I am thankful for first-class upgrades, mechanics, moving walkways, in-flight internet access – and moleskine.  It’s been many, many years since I used moleskine on my ballet slippers and I still harbor less-than-fond memories of those after-school lessons.  I’ve been enduring blisters for the past five days from walking several hours after not having worn my running shoes for months, so I picked up some moleskine at the drugstore last night.  Today, that moleskine and those running shoes helped me to make my connecting flight after mechanical problems delayed my first flight over an hour. With two minutes to spare, I was seated in my original seat on my original flight after having been temporarily rebooked by the gate agent (which I confirmed online during my first flight – ahh, the wonders of technology!)  The very short mechanical delay on my second flight gave me just enough time to make the flight after all, with a few minutes extra to settle in and count my blessings.

I’ll confess that I spent a few minutes on the first flight being a pessimist – just sure that the next flight home wouldn’t be for eight hours or more, that I would run out of cash and starve to death in the airport, etc.  I was grumbling about my sore heels, the mechanics that hadn’t done their job last night, and so on. But in the worst case, my rebooked flight would have been only a 2.5 hour layover, and I had my tablet pc, I touch, cell phone, printed task list, sketchbook and notebook handy.  There was actually a lot I could get done in the airport if I approached this as “found time.”

The events of the day reaffirmed my relatively new commitment to David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” systematic approach.  Having my task list (printed, and also available on my tablet) and internet access gave me focus for the two-hour flight, when I was able to complete most of my weekly review and clean up my email in-box.  Once the minutiae were under control, I had time for sketching a few new art quilt designs, and planning my studio time for tomorrow.  April is transition time in my studio, when I wrap up quilting and mixed media/ acrylic painting projects and begin setting up my open air studio for fabric dyeing/ surface design and encaustic painting.  David Allen tells us the ability to shift focus quickly and seamlessly is critical to success in today’s world, and today I’m pleased to say I’ve demonstrated that principle.

I’m not sure how my husband felt about the barrage of “honey do” emails that I was able to send from 30,000 feet when he’d assumed I was offline for the day, but time will tell.  If he’s there to pick me up at the airport, I’ll know I’ve been forgiven.  If not, maybe my trusty running shoes and moleskine-wrapped heels will have to save the day again!

Highly Prized

MJRussell_Jan2011_Highly Prized | Flickr – Photo Sharing!.

January is a month for catching up . . . and branching out!  This year I’m experimenting with new media as well as textiles, but of course can’t resist integrating some of my previous artwork in new ways.  I’m a member of The Sketchbook Challenge, where January’s theme was “highly prized.”  Here I’ve collaged a digital image of my puppy (which I’ve also used in the past as a photo emulsion silk-screen) over a background of gesso and acrylic paints and highlighted with wax crayon, art pens, & markers.  As you can tell from the journal text, he was a bit of a wild child!

Do check out the Flickr site for The Sketchbook Challenge to see hundreds of images from other members of the group!

Encaustic is Enchanting!

A_R_T © Mary Jane Russell 2010

Last month I rediscovered printmaking and before I even had a chance to explore that further, now I’ve fallen for encaustic painting.  What’s not to love about the smell and subtle sheen of beeswax, especially when it encases layers of ephemera, scraps of other artwork, fabrics and other little treasures? It’s a great use for all those tidbits that we save (we know who we are!) — and a great excuse to collect more!

Today’s post includes a sampling of the pieces I made in a recent workshop with Elizabeth Kendrick at Studio Place Arts.  Julie Vohs of Encaustics from the Hallway Studio gave me tips on how to photograph these – the transparency and sheen makes it a bit tricky, so I resorted to a scanner.

The black and white piece is accented by an amazing deep, clear, cool red paint – and a small graphic image I designed from a photo of an art quilt I’d made years ago.  I love recycling and developing earlier works by making silkscreens from sections of the design, or in other ways such as this!

The pink hearts below seem to float in space, but are a section of printed tissue paper.  I love how the white tissue dissolves into the wax, leaving only the printed images.


The gold piece features a scrap from the printmaking studio, abandoned in the trash can by an anonymous artist.  Thanks also to Chris Gluck of Poker Hill Arts for sharing her amazing collection of dried leaves!






And you may recognize the final image as a artist’s proof from my monoprinting class a few weeks ago, reused in a new way.

Encaustic Monoprint © Mary Jane Russell 2010

Encaustic paintings, in progress © Mary Jane Russell 2010

PS- I’ve added new pages to my blog for images of my textile art and other media, so please feel free to browse those tabs above.  More images to come!

Layers of Lusciously Linear Lines

November is month two of the SAQA Visioning project — and my design focal point for the month is line.  I have been sketching daily-ish, remembering to try different designs featuring lines.  I recently attended Hollis Chatelain’s lecture about the similarities between drawing and quilting at the International Quilt Festival, and enjoyed the slide show of art quilts and her description of how each artist used design principles, including line, in each piece.  My small quilt for the month features many types and layers of lines – the luscious and luxurious marbling, the bolder graphic lines of a silk-screened image, and the sharp, angular quilting lines to finish it off.

Whew, it feels good to have this done as the month was just beginning when I finished!  But Melanie Testa has just announced her 30 Lines in 30 Days project … will I be able to resist?

Newsflash: “Linear Lines” and its companion piece, “Simply Shapes,” will be on display at the S.P.A.C.E. Gallery in Burlington, VT December 3, 2010 – January 29, 2011.

Been on an Art Walkabout lately?

It’s now an old family phrase, coined twenty plus years ago from the movie ‘Crocodile Dundee’ . . . and “walkabouts” have been part of our lifestyle ever since.  Living in Vermont and not Australia, we tend to use our car quite often for what we probably should call “ridearounds” — but I love it when I can get to a city with a great number of art venues within walking distance.   A good place to start is monthly art walks in a city near you, such as the First Friday Art Walk in Burlington, VT.

If you find yourself in Providence RI, look for these great scenes on Wickenden Street.  You’ll love the lemon cake at Seven Stars Bakery and of course, no visit to Providence is complete without a stop at RISD‘s museum and great art supply store!

Isn’t an art walkabout just the perfect combination of “artist dates” and weekly walks?  Share your favorite walkabouts, and we’ll make Julia Cameron proud!

Yowza Shapes!

In October 2010, members of Studio Art Quilt Associates began a new year of the Visioning Project.  I was hesitant to join, but am delighted with the progress I’ve made in just the first month!

If you’re not familiar with SAQA’s Visioning Project, it is championed by former SAQA President Lisa Chipentine and an advisory board consisting of Judith Content, Karey Bresenhan, Dr. Carolyn Mazloomi, Jeanne Beck, and Regina Benson.  Each member commits to a goal and develops specific plans to meet that goal during the coming year.  There are monthly conference calls if you’re so inclined to discuss your progress and challenges, but other members seem content to post their progress to their personal wiki page within the project’s wiki space.   Members support each other and correspond via secure messaging within the wiki space.

So what does all this have to do with SHAPES???  A part of my goal for the year is to make more art.  In addition to committing to making one full-sized art quilt or other piece each month, I’ve also chosen to explore design principles and elements through a series of small quilts.  It’s serendipity that there are twelve design elements and principles, so I get to focus on one each month — beginning with shape.

So, just in time to meet my 10/31 deadline – here’s my exploration of shapes, featuring machine applique over a screen print of an earlier art quilt, digitally manipulated in Photoshop to create a new image that I exposed as a photo emulsion silk screen. I screen printed that image onto a piece of hand marbled fabric.   Yowza!  Maybe this piece should be more about layers than shapes??? Next up, Lines.  November, here I come!

© Mary Jane Russell 2010

Off the Shelf Inspiration 

I met fiber artist Judith Reilly at a local quilt show this weekend, and was delighted to receive a copy of her Twelve Life Lessons for Creativity.  Judith is a fun and inspiring person, and seeing her list gave me the idea to begin my own collection of quotes and other snippets of inspiration.    For now, I’ll begin with listing a few of my favorite books here . . . but rest assured that I’ve also begun a notebook for specific quotes that I’ll post once they’re worthy of being called a “collection.”

Julia Cameron:

  • The Sound of Paper
  • The Artist’s Way
  • Finding Water

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi:  

  • Flow

Twyla Tharp:

  •  The Creative Habit

Eric Maisel:

  • Coaching the Artist Within
  • Creativity for Life

Stephen Nachmanovitch:

  • Free Play

Shaun McNiff

  • Trust the Process

David Bayles & Ted Orland

  • ART & Fear

I always watch for Julia Cameron’s latest works but am on the lookout for new books, authors, websites and email lists.  Do you have a favorite creativity book, author, or other source of creative inspiration? Please share!

Yet another Hobby???

I met a character yesterday — her name is Lyna Lou, and she’s a self-described “printmaking pusher.”  Actually, my fellow Studio Place Arts classmates and I dubbed her that – but she’s really just a very passionate and talented printmaker from northern Vermont, and a pretty fun person!

Monoprint images © Mary Jane Russell 2010


In hindsight I should have known I’d fall for this new technique/ medium because mono-printing, collograph, and nature printing aren’t that different from what I’ve done with fabric for years.  Yet I really don’t have to confess to a new hobby, just because it involved an etching press and paper rather than fabric, . . . or do I?  Unless Until I move the looms around in the downstairs studio to make more space, and start searching eBay for used presses, I think I’m OK.

For now anyway.

What are some of the supporting or ancillary mediums or techniques that you dabble in, while maintaining your primary artistic focus?  How do you recognize when a serious new path emerges, and distinguish it from a dead-end diversion? Oh, and for my own sanity check I should ask . . . how many “hobbies” do you have?