Monday, August 20, 2012

The Challenge of Balancing Technique with Simplicity

How difficult it is to be simple. (Vincent van Gogh)

dyed silk drying on the porch

I love dying silk. The colors can be so intense. The resulting fabric is sometimes so beautiful I often feel it should be framed as a finished piece. Instead, I use dyed silk as a jumping off point to create other more complex pieces of art

detail of silk gauze ,wool and embroidery


I use a process called nuno felting.Silk gauze and wool are combined by forcing the wool fibers through the silk with a barbed needle.The process involves a lot of hot water, soap and friction too.
It results in a messy studio that smells like wet mittens.

layers of red silk gauze and dyed wool

This vessel combines a dizzying array of techniques.I started by weaving a basket with dyed reed,then I created a nuno felted wool painting. I wove a  tapestry using acid dyed  silk gauze torn into strips. I used the resulting fabrics to cover the surface of the basket. I intend to add dimension with surface embroidery.Whew!

detail of tapestry woven with torn strips of hand dyed silk
This week I changed direction. I dyed silk using a Japanese technique called shibori.I liked the fabrics and patterns so much I simply fused the layers together in compositions I liked. No felting, no weaving, no complicated embroidery...just dyed silk... 

Shibori dyed silk on wooden support

I liked the resulting compositions, but it was very difficult to make myself agree that they were indeed, finished works
Shibori dyed silk on wooden support

So this week I learned that while I enjoy complex techniques that employ all of my skills and concentration, I was surprised to find that simplicity can be every bit as challenging.I believe it's important to find a balance between both ways of working

See more of my work at

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Side tracked by symbolism and my paintbrush

 Last Spring I meant to begin a new sketch for my “Re-Weaving Mythology” series.  Instead a woman and her white heron appeared out of the end of my paintbrush. 

I  finally finished the painting last week and decided to put it in the members’ exhibit at The Rehoboth Art League. Their entry form insisted on a title so I toyed around with a name.
The title of your artwork is often the only glimpse your audience has into what you were thinking when you created the piece.  Sometimes I have the title before I begin.  Occasionally, I don’t have a title until forced to come up with one to hang next to the painting on a gallery wall. Then I am compelled to examine what motivated me to create a particular piece.
Sketch-Dreaming of Miami-Pastel on paper

My new painting wasn’t part of my Re-weaving Mythology series.
Maybe I should begin another series based on my affinity for all things tropical. 
I have been meaning to weave 
Dreaming of Miami for sometime now anyway.
I tried several titles for my White Heron Woman based on derivatives of Belize, because I love Belize and the foliage reminded me of the Jungle there.
I tried  Secrets in Belize then I tried  Making Friends With Belize. The title Making Friends with Frida popped into my head.
 I greatly admire the work of Frida Kahlo and I realized the foliage in the background referenced her paintings, which often used tropical foliage and animal symbols to convey her messages. As you know, Kahlo’s life was filled with tragedy and unhappy consequences, and much of her symbolism was dark.

Frida , and dyed silk on my loom and ready to be woven
I have to look at my work for a long, long time when weaving. It progresses inch by inch across the loom and dark imagery in such large doses would make for a long day.
 I chose instead to fill my work with symbols of hope and possibilities for happiness and redemption, options that are available to us all.

“Making Friends with Frida” worked for me as a title for the painting on several levels. Heron’s were the Iroquois’ symbol for wisdom and considered a powerful omen for good. The Japanese tradition of creating one thousand origami cranes as a message for hope and healing was also in my mind when painting the white heron.  
 If you visit the exhibit at the Art League in Rehoboth, DE, you will read “Tropical Secrets,” on the title card… and you and I will know the secret…make friends with your inner Frida,
 embrace peace and happiness. 

See more of my work at

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

My Path to Weaving (or how I got my superpowers)

Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.  -Theodore Roosevelt

Sometimes when you are going through a rough patch, some well meaning but bumblely friend will say something like, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.  This causes you to fantasize about giving your friend a little smack…

I have another friend though, who says having trouble gives us Superpowers, and Yay!  Superpowers.  So here’s a little story about how I got my superpowers.
A couple of weeks ago I hurt myself, not terribly, but it kept me from weaving.  So instead, I made fluffy little silk flowers and small, embroidered wool paintings.

  They were happy and bright and I liked them.  So I created an Etsy shop to sell them
 The whole process reminded me of how important it is to be flexible as an artist and willing to create things no matter what else is going on in your life. It took me a long time to acquire the superpower of flexible artist, here’s how it happened...

I was a clay and glass artist in Seattle, with a studio and some modest success. My husband was in the Air force and when we were assigned to Delaware. I assumed it would be easy to start again. I would just hook up my big kilns and get to work.                                                                                                                             The kilns were never hooked up…I chose to “wait” to make art because we were going to move “probably next year.” I was very busy with our family and an unbelievable 5 years went by.I painted occasionally and took some classes and oh sadness, I quit telling people I was an artist.   

It was hard to find a direction 

I tried glass blowing and resin casting, figurative painting and basket weaving. I used my sewing skills to alter wedding and prom dresses for a local store.  I hooked up the little kiln and shrank my sculpture down to half its size.

I made fused glass pendants in my small glass kiln......not my thing really....
 I decided to make tiles. I made some sample boards and headed to tile companies with a “lookie what I can do” attitude. Tile companies liked them. Customers placed orders

one of my glass tiles
whew, I was a working artist again,(okay Artisan but why quibble?)
I was making things and people were paying me for them, Happy Day!  
I made glass tiles, porcelain tiles, tile murals for shower surrounds and back splashes.  It was commissioned work using the customers ideas.  I really dislike fabricating pet portraits, just saying... to be honest I became a little burned out on seashells and vegetables too, but it paid the bills and more importantly bought art supplies.      

Then the housing market crashed-no one was remodeling their custom beach houses, tile companies that had been in business 35 years shut their doors.  I was having a do-over again, but what did I want to do?What did I want to make?  ….not tiles. I wanted to work on my own ideas. I knew I wasn’t going to “wait” again, before choosing a direction.Then, I took a trip to NYC to look at some galleries. I saw a tapestry and I suddenly knew.  
This is one of my tapestries. Its woven from silk and metallic threads

 Tapestry,was what I wanted to do
I had taken weaving in college and dyeing too. I disliked the process….a lot.  In fact, I dropped my weaving class.  I thought about these things as I plunked down money for a small table loom, and bought some books on weaving. Then I jumped right into the whole hands-on learning thing.

 Holey-moley, on a figure eight warp, make one mistake and the whole thing has to be unwound to the mistake- six hundred yards of Irish linen - who knew….?  Weaving seemed slow, very slow… was this supposed to be so slow? 
I consulted a chat room for  weavers. Would I get faster?  
The answer came back…an experienced tapestry weaver can weave 15 square inches a day on average, on the sett (how closely threads are spaced) I was using.  Enjoy the meditative process. What? That's only two inches an hour in an eight hour day.

On my first weaving, I would weave two inches, then find a mistake and rip out an inch and a half.  (My job as a wedding dress seamstress gave me the superpower of not tolerating imperfection.)  
Meditative process my ass..…but then slowly, slowly flowers and faces and waves and ideas began to emerge on my loom and I was hooked…..
So now, when asked, I say I am a Tapestry Weaver in possession of other skills as varied as they are impractical, and I have the superpower of never waiting for things to be perfect before creating  new work! happy day

one of my  felted elves

You can see more of my work at

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Perseverance during a slow process

 This week I worked on a lot of pieces that required surface embroidery...a lot of surface embroidery, in a butt in chair get to work sort of way......

work in progress for a looong time
 My design process involves a lot of preparation at the beginning. I have a little glimmer of an idea and fool around with some sketches, or I might pick up a little shell, or pebble, or pod on a walk. I generally start by sculpting or casting it in multiples. Then the fun part  begins... I  choose colors, dye the  wool, and silk, choose threads, beads and techniques....such energy and excitement for a week or two and then.....well here is one of my favorite art quotes

Artmaking involves skills that can be learned....In large measure, becoming an artist consists of learning to accept yourself, which makes your work personal, and in following your own voice, which makes your work distinctive. Clearly, these qualities can be nurtured by others. But even talent is rarely distinguishable, over the long run, from perseverance and lots of hard work."         - David Bayles 

New Work Waiting to be Embroidered

 hmm... hard work sounds a lot like hand work...coincidence?
see more of my art at DeborahJohnsonArt,com

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Goddesses with Happy Endings

Today I'm working on several paintings from the same series. I'm interested in re-telling  the endings of myth's and stories that use the divine feminine as a central theme.Growing up I remember how annoyed I was as a female when goddesses, and other stories involving women had such unhappy visually I am giving them a do-over, a pass to be joyful, the endings I wished for, and the one's I want for my daughters. 
This is a weaving I'm working on.I'll add more photo's as the work progresses .This piece is titled "Ophelia Reconsiders" I'm weaving on a linen Warp with hand dyed silk and wool weft . I started this as a painting and decided I would weave it first before finishing the canvas,so I took it off the stretcher bars and placed it behind the warp....weaving gives me time to contemplate, and surprisingly the structure provided by the warp threads forces creative thinking in color and design choices.  You can see more of my work when  you stop by my website.