Things that make you smile

I mentioned before that I love Kelly because she never fails to make people smile.

Today I want to share this piece:

Life Study 16 quilt

Life Study #16 ©2011 Dahlia Clark 9 x 9 inches

This photo is set as the wallpaper when I start my iPad. So I see it…let’s just say many times per day. And yet, it never fails to make me just a little bit happier.

My Life Studies pieces explore the complexity of emotions in relationships, often in a playful way.

Life Study #16 is a very colourful example of a parent-child relationship. I think it functions as a rorschach test; between opinions of friends & family, and comments I have overheard at shows, there is no agreement on whether this piece portrays a sweet relationship, or an overbearing one.

What do you think it portrays?

Kelly – completed

Kelly - completed giraffe textile art

Kelly ©2013 Dahlia Clark 38 x 53 inches

The combination of the odd perspective, the compelling shapes, and the contrast of values makes it hard initially to identify the subject as a giraffe. Then when it clicks, she seems so gentle and approachable that you just want to reach out and touch her.
– a snippet of my critique of Kelly

Kelly - completed giraffe textile art close-up

Kelly ©2013 Dahlia Clark 38 x 53 inches – Detail

I have an interesting emotional relationship with this piece. It feels like I have created something that will go on to have a life of it’s own. It doesn’t belong to me, in a similar (but less intense) way that my kids don’t belong to me. I’m not sure if it is because it is “Kelly”, or because it is so captivating. Watching people look at this quilt is such a treat. It never fails to make them smile. It never fails to make me smile for that matter.

I am pleased to announce that Kelly is a finalist and will be shown in the International Quilt Festival, Quilts: A World of Beauty, in Houston this Fall. I hope she brightens many people’s days while she is there.

Kelly – in progress

In March I took a dye painting course with Hollis Chatelain at Asilomar in California. It was an incredible two weeks, with an abundance of hard work, wonderful people, and beautiful walks.

drive to big sur

I had dye painted before, but the instruction from Hollis was what I needed to be truly effective with it. Those two weeks were invaluable.

When I came back I began painting Kelly. I can’t thank my family enough for agreeing to survive without me for two weeks, and then supporting me in disappearing into the studio at every opportunity when I returned.

One of the most challenging parts of dye painting is estimating how much a colour will lighten or change when washed out. You can see how much the colours changed in this piece. First is a picture of it mid-painting. Then the same area after it has been washed.

giraffe being painted

giraffe painting after washing

Kelly – initial design

Have you ever had a moment stick with you so completely, that you knew you just had to do something to honour it?

giraffe and warthog, kenya

“hold on…just a little higher…”

It took more than a decade, but this is how my latest artwork began:

Many years ago a good friend of mine was working in Africa. Eventually I became frustrated with letter writing, and remarked to my husband that I wanted to fly over there, sit under a tree and really catch up together.

Wouldn’t you know it, we unexpectedly received some money. So we booked tickets to go to Kenya and Uganda, and meet up with my friend.

We arrived in Nairobi sleep deprived, jet lagged, and culture shocked. Trying to nap in our budget hotel was not working; the heat, traffic noise, and the lunchtime proselytizing in the park across the street were just too much to compete against. I suggested instead we get out somewhere, and do something to ground ourselves. So we grabbed a taxi and headed to the Giraffe Center, the closest nature area to the city.

The Giraffe Center breeds endangered Rothschild giraffes, and reintroduces them to the wild. Interestingly Woburn Safari Park in England also has a successful breeding program for Rothschild giraffes. I say interestingly because my father worked there when I was little, and I have many stories from there. Like the time he was converting a double decker bus for transporting giraffes, and cut out the upper level while he was standing on it. Which, admittedly, may well have been a better choice than cutting it out while standing underneath it.

Of course I have seen many giraffes, between Woburn, various zoos, and in the parks in Africa. At the Giraffe Center though I first had the wonderful experience of feeding them. Getting up close to the giraffes on the feeding platform was incredible. These gentle giants were the perfect ambassadors for our introduction to Kenya, and I have wanted to capture that moment in art since then.

Kelly initial sketch of giraffe

preliminary sketch for dye painting Kelly, 2012

My July newsletter contains an article about the Giraffe Center. If you would like to sign up for it you can do it here: newsletter

Go epic or go home

This was one of those mornings. I woke up with a migraine thanks to the wonderful ice storm. Then I faced the realization that there wouldn’t have been time to paint in the studio this morning anyway; the girls’ schools are closed because of the storm. In the midst of this, I received an email notifying me that two pieces I’d submitted were not selected for a show.

Of course, my first thought (not finished) was “Why do I bother…”

Later, once I’d had a very brief nap on the couch (thank you, My Little Pony!), and had a moment to think, I set to finishing that sentence. It wasn’t “why do I bother making art?”. I have a long list of reasons why I make art, and I’m pretty sure ‘to succeed in entering themed quilt shows’ isn’t on there. (Maybe the question should be “why do I bother entering themed quilt shows” – but I will save that for another day).

The real question is, “Why do I bother making art which doesn’t take my breath away, doesn’t completely wow me?”. When I have a piece rejected, I would like to think “well, at least I love it!”. But with these pieces, I don’t. I am very proud of them in some ways, and there are aspects of them I truly love, but overall, I don’t have a lot of attachment to them.

Up until now, I could make a case for being cautious, not overextending myself on any given piece – I was learning, feeling things out, developing in so many ways. Of course there is always more learning and development. But it is time to take more risks. To aim as high as I can, with each piece.

This is the new addition to my studio:

go epic or go home

Arrangement #5 – initial design

Arrangement #5 is inspired by the song Waiting for the beat to kick in, by dan le sac vs Scroobius Pip.

When I listen to this there is so much imagery that pops into my mind. My first thought was a random collection of silhouettes that represent that imagery, in red, on black. Then my mind went to the idea of streets, of a grid, with the silhouettes resting at various points on the grid. I was thinking of the art of Matthew Brannon at the time.

I started with a map of New York, looking for a grouping of roads that pleased the eye. What I found was an arrangement that looked like a pair of drums. I was sold. It was so striking, so full of energy and potential, that I ditched the idea of several silhouettes, and simply chose a pair of drumsticks to provide a focal point, balance the design, and strengthen the context.

Arrangement #5, sketch (2012)

Arrangement #5, sketch (2012) 12″x12″

I experimented further, thickening the lines, rearranging the drumsticks, etc., but none of those variations improved the design.  So it is staying as it began – except for the drumsticks which are a version 2 – the initial ones were these beautiful tapered shapes that sadly looked more like knitting needles.

Getting a jump on the new year

This past year I chose a word for the year, to help me focus.

This time, a word has chosen me.


It has been a time of transitions here, and likely will be for some time (or, perhaps, always – we don’t ever seem to embrace “staying the same”).  There have been many obstacles, bumps, and bruises, yet they have not become stumbling blocks.

Every day is a new opportunity to be fabulous.  To make the best choices, to choose the right priorities for available time and energy, and keep moving forward.

I keep a gratitude journal, daily, to practice viewing things in the best possible light.  Fabulous.

I am moving more of my drawing books and activities into the living room, and including the girls in what I do.  Fabulous.

I am using my energy wisely on a daily basis to further our family and household goals.  Fabulous.

I am making drawing, quilting, and furthering a project regular daily activities.  Fabulous.

I am more gentle with myself when I am under the weather, and remember to take good care of my girls’ mama.  Fabulous.

Best laid plans and all that

I laugh when I think back to my hopes for September.  I figured with daily preschool starting I could get so much accomplished in the studio.

When you factor in one trip (mine), one conference to host (the hubby’s), one sick cat who sadly didn’t make it, two devastated kids, one new kitten, then another sick cat (sibling to the first one) who didn’t die, but required several days of force feeding and many vet trips to pull through…and then there is work.
I am, in fact, thrilled to be back at work after a long hiatus.  I love the challenge and the responsibility.  But 15 hours of preschool and 30 hours of work to do during just doesn’t compute.  
I am learning to be patient.  I am drawing, here and there.  I am chipping away at doing dye tests to build a solid understanding of mixing dyes (you can take the girl out of chemistry class, but you can’t take the chemistry class out of the girl; I am very proud of my dye lab notebook).  I will hopefully start chipping away at quilting Meditation #2 soon.
I also have had a good insight.  I am currently working on two very different series:
Meditations is a series of very simple abstract designs, where I can explore the principles of balance, unity, etc.  I am initially setting myself the constraint of only working with three lines, to focus even further.
Arrangements are music-inspired pieces, where I capture the emotions and situations of a song.  As I listen to music, I am always thinking “how could I represent this visually”.
The other day I had the breakthrough that where I am headed is the junction of the two.  My goal is to take complex emotions, relationships, situations, and represent them as succinctly and abstractly as possible.  Both series are working to lead me to that point.  In one, I can really simplify to focus and flex my design muscles.  In the other, I can explore the nuances that effectively tell a story.  One day I will be ready to combine the two.
I am glad to finally have that clarity.  I’ve been searching for it ever since I said (6 years ago) “I want to make art.  I really like these artists…”. 

What I did on my summer vacation

Initially, it was very hard to go without studio time over the summer.  I have adjusted, though, and in hindsight I think the forced vacation has helped me focus on the bigger picture of my art career.

I managed to squeeze in a fair number of hours of drawing and sketching, and I have developed a better understanding of what works for me, in terms of brainstorming and revising.  Plus now I have several ideas to start on in earnest:

Arrangement, sketch (2012) 12″x12″

Arrangement #4, sketch (2012) 12″x12″

Meditation, sketch (2012) 12″x12″

Arrangement #3, sketch (2012) 12″x12″

Meditation #1 was juried into the upcoming Fibre Content exhibition in Burlington (my first entry, and my first acceptance!), and I am pulling together entries to a few other shows as I type.  I am also applying for two grants.  One of them may well be a very long shot, but the process is helping me focus and see where I am lacking.  

After this latest revision I am finally happy with my Artist’s Statement:
In my art I capture the relationships that fill our lives and the emotions that colour our days.  I am inspired by the rhythms and patterns of nature and music, and I am always finding life and meaning in the simplest of shapes.

I work in textiles because it is complex, messy, and fun.  Just like life.  The chemistry and serendipity of dyeing fabrics draws me in, then I am challenged to improve them with further surface design, then ultimately the final layer of stitch.”

I am excited to share that I am headed to Texas in September for the first session of a 10-year Master Art Series with Hollis Chatelain.  It is such an incredible opportunity for me, an art class within the context of quilt making.

To everything there is a season

And this one would be summer, which means the end of school and preschool!

We have been working hard on some renovations in the basement; the walls have been repaired and a new concrete floor has been installed.  Once we are finished I will have a mud sink, a 4′x4′ work table, plus a long workbench.    I look forward to having a larger surface to work with.

We are also setting the rest of the basement up as a craft room; the girls and I have grand plans for messy summer activities.

In fiber art news, I took a quilting workshop with Hollis Chatelain, where I had a blast and learned so much.  I have also joined the Grand Guild of Fibre Artists, and look forward to the fun and opportunities!

Lastly, I have finished two quilts.  This first one was personally challenging.  I am drawn to this arrangement of lines, yet I found it so hard terrifying to turn them into a quilt.  Likewise using my doodles as the quilting.  That kind of fear usually indicates I am on the right track, baring my soul for others to view.

I see this as the beginning of a very intriguing series.  I have chosen to call the series Meditations both because minimalist designs such as these are a good focal point for contemplation and meditation; and also because the process of doodle quilting is itself meditative.

Meditation #1 (2012) 24″ x 36″

Then this quilt is the beginning of another series, Arrangements.  These are music inspired pieces; this one is inspired by the song I Have Not Been To Oxford Town by David Bowie.  I smile every time I walk into the room and see it; it captures exactly the sense of decay, despair, and bewilderment I was going for, with a touch of whimsy and lightheartedness.  The poor guy looks so despondent.

Arrangement #2 (2012) 12″ x 12″