Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Evolution of a Fantasy: Beth Wheeler

Beth Wheeler is so generous and humble and I am pleased that she is sharing her work and her creative process with us here at Subversive Stitchers: Women Armed With Needles! In 2007, according to her bio, she was released her 45th book. I admit that I sat with my mouth hanging open after reading that tidbit. I can't begin to come up with enough to fill half that many books. One would be good! And here's Beth, taking time out of her busy days of creating her art, putting together tutorials, books, and taking her place in the duo Sipsisters with Lori Marquette. I do hope you'll accept Beth's invitation to visit her site on May first for the great unveiling! I can't wait, especially she is giving us a sneak peak and insider info on her creation. -- Dawn

PHOTO:  Shrine to the Gerberas, in the collection of Nora Jones, is a small art quilt designed for Tote Tuesday, Virginia Spiegel's 2010 online auction to benefit the American Cancer Society.

May 1, 2010 my new show will open at the Universalist Unitarian Church Gallery in Fort Wayne, Indiana. There will be approximately 25 pieces in the exhibit—all based on childhood memories.

The exhibit is a tribute to my mom, who passed away May 23, 2009.

As an only child, I was often in situations where the grown-ups were doing or saying something “important” and I had to be quiet. This was not easy! About the age of 5, I began telling myself stories, making up songs, or carrying on conversations with some wonderful creature to entertain myself.

The pieces in this exhibit are snippets of those occasions, as I remember them.
PHOTO: Whispers On The Wind started it all. This small art quilt will debut in the Rust-Tex Collection exhibit at Quilt Festival in Chicago April 16–18.

Each piece begins as a memory fragment, such as Whispers On The Wind, above. One spring day my grandmother, mother, and I went to the farm of a relative to see the spring wildflowers in the woods. I was mesmerized by the delicate shapes and colors of the various blossoms, but was disappointed when Grandmother said they couldn't go home with us: “They’d be unhappy away from their home in the woods and would die.”

I quickly grew bored of looking at flowers that wouldn’t be in a vase in my room and wandered off, sat on a log, and imagined I could hear fairy voices on the wind. Their voices were soft as whispers and they spoke in a strange language.
PHOTO: Tote-Tuesday-Padfolio

How do you design a visual of a memory? For me, digital collage was the answer. I could combine elements extracted from photos and clip art to express the feeling experienced in that one moment so long ago.

Arranging the design elements on Photoshop Elements workspace is one thing, but placing them on a background that helps explain the memory, is artistic, and adds to the visual story without overwhelming it is quite a task.

I use Photoshop CS4 or Photoshop Elements 8 for Mac and a Wacom tablet to cut this photo of my cupped hands out of the background, convert it to black and white, and place it on an empty workspace in Photoshop.
The fairy was also extracted from a larger image, but I used a different method, so her outline would be less smooth, adding to the ephemeral effect.

Together, the hands and fairy begin to suggest a story. To further express the magical nature of the fairy, I might reduce the opacity of her layer, to make her seem less concrete.

Since this will be printed on rust-dyed fabric, however, I'm a little reluctant to reduce her opacity too much, for fear she'll fade away into the rusted elements on the fabric.

The 8 ½" x 11" test print reveals a lot about how this will look printed 24" x 30". The hands need more definition, which I added with a Sharpie marker on the test print AND the fairy needs to be flipped so she is looking at the person belonging to the hands. Facing away suggests she is not engaged with the person and I want to convey a feeling of communion between the two.

The final 24" x 30" layout shows the fairy in the correct orientation, in a conversation with the person—as illustrated with the screened-back image of the ancient language.

Once printed on rust-dyed fabric, some color will be added with my new formula for Earth Safe Finishes fabric watercolor paint in matte and sparkle finish. Stitching will be added in monofilament thread, to add texture without adding color that could overwhelm the composition.

Hand beading and stitching will complete the composition, which will then be hung by a free-form hanger made from cold-forged refrigerator tubing from a retired refrigerator (this suggestion from my friend and long-time colleague Barbara Matthiessen).

The exhibition pieces are coming together and I‘m considering adding hand-painted and hand-dyed backgrounds. Please visit my blog "Thread Society" on May 1 to see more photos of new pieces for the exhibit.


Anonymous said...

How fascinating to see the composition and story process like this. Thank you for sharing.

Lois Jarvis said...


Beth Wheeler said...

Thank you for letting me ramble Dawn! I just made the first large-format print and an making adjustments in preparation for the final print. Yahoo!

Jeanelle said...

So very inspiring Beth.... just wonderful and thank you for sharing.

Collage Picture Frames said...

I must agree your collage and the story behind it are an inspiration to us all.

Seeing how each effect is created and the thought process as to why you did it a particular way and the choices you made are fascinating.

I have never tried printing on fabric and this is the second time today I have come across that method, so I think that's something I will have to try out.

Cheers for sharing,

American Quilter's Society said...

Thanks for leaving your blog site for us to read, it's a great blog. Check our facebook page on Friday to find out the winner of the Blog-of-the-Week!

Everything is beautiful; keep up the good work ladies!


Sally said...

I bought the photo artistry book when I first came out, and I'm pretty sure I've memorized it, but haven't tried it yet. However, I've developed a 15 month circulum for a small group from my traditional quilting guild on "art quilt explorations" to help us develop better skills in creating and executing art quilts. I think it will make me better, and I think it will force me to try and to learn many techniques that fascinate me but which I haven't done yet. Keep inspiring us, Beth!.

Sandra said...

I've joined you...mouth hanging open, that is. Incredible artist and loved being introduced to her and her work.Many thanks.

Laura Krasinski said...

Beth your work is amazing.. Love the rusted pieces.. Would love to take a class from you sometime.. missed you in Wisconsin a few months ago..

Jean M. Judd said...

Absolutely fascinating work, Beth. I've been using Photoshop for years, but not in actually making my artwork. You've shown just a bit of what could be possible. Thanks for sharing!