Saturday, August 27, 2011

I get blown over--and not by Irene

One of the things I love most about doing a really good craft show is seeing the work that my friends have done in the last couple of years since our paths have crossed. You see there are lots of good shows out there--sometimes I get into them, sometimes I don't. Sometimes my friends get into them, sometimes they don't. But what makes it interesting is that these wonderful people get into the shows because they keep pushing themselves to try new things. To take an idea and see where it goes--while still maintaining their essential focus.

Let me show you. First I stop at the booth of Renee Harris. Now it feels like I have known her forever--though it hasn't actually been that long. Her graphic images were always strong and always portrayed just that right space in the imagination. This year I looked at her booth--still Renee's work--but the images seemed a bit softer. There was something about the colors. Different but I couldn't put my finger on it. Yes, the image was framed--sorry about the reflection but I hope you get the idea.

What is it? I asked Renee. It looks different.

By now she has become fascinated using Japanese papers and upholstery fabric. She said she was doing almost no felting. Instead she loved using the upholstery fabric. She could manipulate it so that sometimes the design showed through. Sometimes it is almost hidden by the surface detail.

If you look carefully in this fish you can see the colors of the fabric shimmering in the water. From different angles bits of the hidden surface re-emerge. Hard to photograph all the detail through the glass--you really do want to see it in person if you can. They are absolutely wonderful. She told me how hard it was to learn to sew over the paper--the needles did not want to go through the surface. But so much fun to go into the studio and play with these new materials.

Then at home--yes, she and her husband do have the joys of a new puppy. What exuberance. Lots of embroidery here too. And check out the wonderful use of fabrics.

More of her work can be seen at her website:

Then it was time for me to move on the booth of Susan Hill. Now I will be to the first to confess that I don't know Susan's work as well as I would like. Sure I can recognize it but she is from Kansas City and our paths have not crossed that frequently. However, who could not be in awe of the amazing spaces full of light. As she told me each one is based on a particular story although she reassured me that you do not have to know the story to understand the work.

Just look at this piece. Wonderful isn't it. So exuberant.

It turns out she weaves her own tapestry fabric and then appliques other fabrics and designs on top of it. There are so many textures and motions. So much detail. I could study it for hours.

Just look at all the detail and motion.  She assured me that her work is framed in museum quality glass. Gorgeous. For more info check out her website:

I could have studied her work for hours but time was getting short though and I did want to see the work of Martha Fieber. Now I first saw Martha at this show in Evanston a number of years ago and fell in love with the art. So subtle and soothing. Embroidery that conveys her love of the natural surroundings in Michigan and tells a story.

This time she had a stunning piece on the back wall. The largest she has ever done, she told me. How difficult it was to work with such a large--for her--piece. The detail and the rhythm had to be just right. When she first finished, she said she would never do anything that large again, but... Isn't it lovely?

I think it might be twenty--maybe twenty four inches long. The key is examining all the detail she includes in the work. Just look at the care. So many tiny French knots. Such rhythm and depth in the trees. Never repeating but seeming to open up into another enchanted space.

Oh I do love her work. And she doesn't only do scenes from late autumn. Here is a detail of a lovely brighter day. This piece is just exquisite. Can you imagine the skill that it takes and the patience? Her website is

But now the show is opening. I must return to my booth and think about all I have seen. So much inspiration. So much design that conveys the message. I know that when I return home I will work with renewed enthusiasm having learned and observed so much. The show continues today and tomorrow at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL.

For more info: If you are in the area--do stop by. Talk with these and the other wonderful artists about their work. What do you think? Do you follow a favorite artist? What inspires you? Whose work blows you away--figuratively not literally please?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

the power of begonias

Today after I finished setting up my booth for the American Craft Exposition I took a stroll outside in Evanston. What a lovely town it is--wide streets, a feeling of openness, such promise of prairies and sky. The sun pouring down on me. What lovely plantings on the street I thought--such care to add color on the sidewalk. Then I looked again.

These were wax begonias. A flower I confess I have always found hard to take seriously. Not splashy like a tuber begonia. Not powerful like goldenrod or daisies. No--just seemingly ordinary wax begonias in classic pink.  But here they looked just perfect, don't you agree?

Square after square of pinkness against the soft grey of the locust trees became a pattern. A dance between the froth of the pink and the grey locust trees. What a daring combination.

Then I started to look some more. In the central square there were impatience--another flower that I just don't grow.  Yes, I am a bit of a flower snob I guess. But here the simple color in seemingly random fashion filled the space with an unexpected lushness.

The planters overflowed with sweet potato and some dark vine I did not know. Again so rich in texture and fullness. There was something so complete here.

What does this tell me about design and the power of repetition? Why did this look so right and perfect?

I confess I don't know the answers yet. But there is something so human in the repetition and the detail. The feeling of texture. The richness of the life they show. And there is also something so wonderfully simple in the ordinariness of the flowers. Maybe these plantings remind me of quilts--I don't know. Something so simple in their humbleness that when knit together sours with a color and emotion. Or am I reading too much into them? Should I just enjoy their beauty for beauty? Does it even have to be explained?

Monday, August 22, 2011

step by step

In just two hours I must start packing for the American Craft Exposition in Evanston. Oh I am not in the mood to do this. The fair is at least a 16 hour drive away. Just as you are almost there--you get to drive through Chicago. Ugh!!! Why did they put all the interstates converging on downtown Chicago. What a slow slow mess that is. Then off load the van and set up.

Now once I get set-up I will be glad to be there. The show is lovely. One of the best in the country. I always feel that it is a privilege to get in. The volunteers are simply splendid. They do everything and then some to help you. So kind and well-organized. And I do love being right by Lake Michigan. It is so huge, such powerful waves. Wonderful rocks along the shore line. An inland ocean without the smell of the salt water. Already I have one customer who has said he will be there hunting for another wall hanging. Nice. I didn't do the show last year--others hopefully will also want new work.

But for now I must get organized. Stay calm. Finish up the new placemats--a bright fresh green that will add just the right accent to the stack of placemats. Customers do like to have a selection to choose from. Clean up the brand new quilt--I have named it ancient light. What do you think?

I can't wait until I can get the reaction of the customers and other artists to the new line. Do you know the excitement of showing new work?

Then take the seats out of my van. Yes, I can lift them--barely. Check my lights for the display--make sure they work. And pack the van--slowly but surely. Trying to decide what to take--no room for pillows this time--but I think I will take the purses. I do have lots of eyeglass cases--they should sell well. Remember my order book. So many things to do. So methodically. I have done this before. I must just be sure and steady.

Remember that the longest journey begins with the first step. Calm and thoughtful. Make sure I don't forget anything. And then drive--go west quilt maker--go west. This is a journey to do one step at a time knowing that I can do it--without thinking of the overall big picture.

And you--how do you prepare for a big craft show? Or a big trip?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

the new kitten

I know I haven't published a new blog post for a few days.  Don't worry I have a good excuse. You see, my DH and I decided we just HAD to have a new kitten. There was this little grey kitten advertised at our local shelter--so cute. I was immediately in love. And--for those who don't already know--I do have the best DH. So if I wanted it, yes, we should get it. The Animal Shelter--a very good animal shelter--was also delighted. For no reason related to either the animal shelter or to Tonks--she had been at the shelter for half of her entire life--and she was going quite bonkers in her cage.  I mean, the shelter tried so hard to keep her entertained but there was only so much they could do after all. Cute though isn't she?

But what we didn't know--until we got her home--was that not only was she  glad to get out of her cage--she ran wildly around the house for hours just stretching her legs after all--but that having been in that cage for half of her little life there was just so much for her to learn. What could she do? What should she do? Every fly or wad of paper was a new adventure.  Her first attempts to jump up on the sofa were quite funny, actually.  Almost-- but not quite--and she would slide off onto the floor. (Yes, I am a cat lover and I would rather cover my sofa than not have my cats on it.) What was safe? What was not a good idea? So much to learn all at once?

And this is where the blog actually begins talking about quilts and not kittens. Yes, I really do make quilts--if only to support my love of cats.   For I just got back from a craft fair where I got told over and over again how they were going to make a quilt just like mine.  I always get told this. Then I just got an e-mail from a lovely woman who had actually seen my quilts--she was trying to make her own wall hanging for her living room only it was much harder than she thought. Where to begin? She had a vision but it was harder than she thought.

I got to thinking about the whole concept. How do you get to Carnegie Hall?


How do you make a quilt?


Start small. Make one area of the quilt that you envision over and over again until it has become what you want. Then make the next area. Study, read, observe. But always keep practicing.  Isn't this just  what Tonks is now doing? Practicing jumping up on the sofa over and over again until she can do it without thinking. Learning where she should go and where is not safe. Learning the signals of my voice. Good Tonks. No Tonks. Down Tonks. I think of the Japanese potter Hamada who--when asked how long does it take to make a pot--answered in all seriousness--a lifetime.

At least that is how I learn. And how I hope that Tonks will learn. Already she can make the sofa without thought. And even sometimes she just lies down and rests.  And you--my reader--how do you learn to make a quilt? What advice would you give? Any thoughts on taming the wild kitten?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

filling the square

Let's face it--quilts just don't happen. Designs don't just show up. There is a thought process and at least for me, understanding my thought process  usually comes after I have made the quilt. Or at least several in the same series.  Sure I have standard tricks. I make lots of sketches. Try out lots of different fabrics and designs. For me it almost becomes a jazz composition--one design dictates what the next design must become. Then I riff on that and circle back to the initial design. A complex dance of design and thought limited by techniques and the colors of fabric I want to create--simple and complex at the same time. For instance I wrote about creating this quilt HERE.

Anyhow, I love this act of designing the quilts and paying careful attention to the rhythms of the designs but I am also fascinated with the process that others use. What can I learn by talking with other artists? Picking their brains. At the Berkshire Craft Show last week-end I was really taken with the wall panels of Sheilagh Flynn. Now I have known Sheilagh and her work for a number of years--even had a booth next to her once or twice. You can read more about her HERE.

Her colors are lush and soft--the dreamy colors of shebert or foggy mornings--she does live near the ocean after all. Wonderful textures in her work. There is a consistent feeling that makes it recognizable. Sure she makes lots of lovely bowls and vases. Teapots. But this time I noticed the wall panels. Such simple designs--relying not only on the different textures of clay and the color she creates. Aren't they lovely?

But how--I asked her--did she create so many designs?  Each one so different but related. It turns out this is a great story and a slightly different approach. Easy she says. She thinks of it as filling the squares. She loves popsicles--couldn't you guess it from the lovely colors she uses? So she decided that she had to save the popsicle sticks and each night cover a popsicle stick with graphic designs. Only one or two per night. But isn't that such a wonderful idea? Wouldn't you love to see her popsicle stick collection? Aren't the textures delightful?

Now I am not sure I want to draw designs on popsicle sticks but I do realize that simple designs are all around us. For instance I look at this image of a window I took. Simple colors. Great textures. Should this be a new quilt? Hmm I will have to think about this. So many possibilities. And aren't the popsicle sticks almost the outlines of a jazz composition just like a square is?

And you--how do you create new designs? Do you ever think about filling the square? Do you fill notebooks? Or popsicle sticks? Do you take images of designs? Or do they just come to you?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

thoughts on set up, baskets and a gang of dogs standing on the lawn

Now anyone who has followed my blog knows that I don't really like setting up for a craft show. Sure I look forward to the show itself with nervous anticipation--will the customers come, will they like my new work, what will I learn from my neighbors. But set up itself can be a nerve-wracking experience no matter how well run the show is and how much help the promoters offer.

Such was the case this morning setting up for the Berkshire Craft Show. Now this is an absolute gem of a show that I have done periodically throughout the course of my career.  It is set in a wonderful public high school in Great Barrington, MA and sponsored by the teachers at the school to raise funds for different school functions--they actually included a list of all of their accomplishments in the info they gave us during check-in but I confess I have not yet read it thoroughly. Trust me though--the funds go to worthwhile causes.

The students at the school volunteer to help unload your van--they have to do a community project before graduation and this counts. What could be easier?

Of course the "problem" is that instead of standard 10 x 10 foot booths--all booths are nominally 10 x 6 feet. Now you can't really object to this--after all the school is not that big and if they did not have smaller booths they couldn't attract the diversity of fine crafts that they offer. But this is always the dilemma of this show--how to convert one's booth to the right size. Habits can be hard to break. And I haven't done the show for several years so I forgot how I resolved it in the past.

This time I just made the booth 10 x 5--that worked. But then what will fit into my booth? I don't want it to look too crowded. I decided I still wanted a large quilt hanging in the back--the promoters did give me a booth with a wonderful view down the aisle. Just look at the location--sweet huh? You can see it down the entire aisle.

Then I do want to get reaction to my newest piece--so that hangs on one of the side walls. What do you think? Nice combination.

Lots of my other quilts are folded up. You can see them there--hopefully I will have lots of customers who want particular colors and sizes. I can easily pull them out and make the booth look "busy". That is always good isn't it? I brought pillows--they get tucked underneath--not bad. Tomorrow I will put out the eyeglass cases. Not too many potholders--they take up space that I don't really have. Hopefully I will have to rearrange the booth several times during the show.

Meanwhile I am delighted with the quality of work at the show this year. It is always nice doing a show with other artists whose work I admire.  As luck would have it, my booth is next to Joanne Russo. Now for those who don't know her work--she makes wonderful very elegant looking baskets with great attention to detail. Just look at the sophistication of this woven wall hanging. Lovely, isn't it?

Look at all of the textures and materials she incorporates. I also love this tall elegant basket.  Consider the lines and rhythms that are formed in its design.

When I examine it closer I see that some of the shapes are actually hooks and eyes that she carefully incorporates into the design. How clever is that? If there are slow moments in the show, I know I will be studying her work more closely. There are lots more fun elements in it.  For more info check out her web site HERE.

Then finally as I leave the fair, I glance at the lawn in front of the school. Now I had read that they were going to have some of Dale Rogers steel dogs on the lawn but I hadn't expected this. A whole pack of dogs standing there in seemingly natural configurations.

Yes, those really are dog bone shapes cut out of them. Even though I am a cat person, I can't help but smile at this grouping!!! It must be a good sign.

Already  I am excited about the show. It runs Friday, Saturday and Sunday 10-5 in Great Barrington, MA. There is so much wonderful work here. I haven't seen the entire show yet--but I can't wait to walk the aisles.

And you, do you have mixed feelings during set-up? Do you check the show to see who your neighbors are? Do you anticipate the excitement of shows? And did the dogs bring a smile to your face?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

telling a story that has no words

Sometimes I have to make the quilt to determine what it is about. Sure I know the colors and mood I want. Those mystical colors of the forest--the greys and taupes which have no name. The unexpected warmth of the rusts and yellows. The feeling of light and motion juxtaposed against the dark lines. A jazz composition in fabric determined by rules and sizes--riffs that I know as I discover the whole.

Each day I come home from work exhausted.  Trying to get it done for the Berkshire Craft Show this week-end. So many choices. So much careful detail to the colors and potentials of the fabric. Make what I know. Then stop and think. This is a quilt I can feel but not see. I know it is about the woods. Light in the forest I call it. A good title. I can see the motion--not sure how to get there. What does it mean?

Gradually I sew it together. How to get this line. This beat of the quilt.

I pin it to the design board. Do I want the lines to continue--is that the answer or is it too regular? What is the quilt about? These colors--where do they come from. Each one dictated by the last one. Haunting aren't they?


I change the quilt. Move the right hand side down a couple of inches. Sometimes I think better by actually moving the fabric if you know what I mean? There is a story here--but I must discover the words for it.

Yes that is better--more unexpected. Creates new lines. Amazing what a couple of inches can do isn't it? Makes the story complete.

Sew the quilt together. Hang it for a day. Let it age into place before the final finish. Try to learn what I was doing so I can make the next quilt. The colors brighter than the snapshot I take. Not muddy but complex.

 I think of the motion and colors of the quilt. The hike up Stratton Mountain. The constant stride--up and up we climb. Through the roots and rocks. Noticing the colors of the trees. The light that changes as we reach the summit. I wrote about it HERE.Yes, maybe that is the origin of the quilt. Not that this quilt is about hiking or Stratton Mountain. This quilt does not have a story but a mood and feeling.

How scary it is to work without that safety net. But also fascinating. Where will it lead? Do you ever work like this? What do you think?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

the wind up

Now I am of course a Red Sox fan--after all I have lived in Massachusetts for years and years--so how can I resist rooting for the home town team. But my hidden secret--don't tell anyone--is that I don't watch the games--didn't even when we used to get TV. They take too long, if you know what I mean.

You know the routine. The pitcher strolls to the mound. Looks around. Kicks the dust a bit. Maybe winds up once or twice. A few signals to the catcher. Then the manager strolls to the mound. Confers with the pitcher. The routine starts again.  And again. Finally just when you have quit paying attention, there is the pitch. A strike. Or was it a ball. And the pitcher begins again.

Now I have had true fans explain to me that this is part of a dance. Where the action is. A game of psyching out the batter. This is what I should be watching.  But I just find it so so slow--if you know what I mean.

Of course I find myself doing the same thing when starting a new quilt. Especially if I like the new quilt. I finished scenes from a summer a little while ago. Even blogged about the it HERE.

As you may remember I want to make a series of these quilts using the thin pieces as accents for jury slides. And I want to have at least one more quilt done soon. After all I am doing not only doing the Berkshire Craft Show in about a week but then I have to drive to Evanston for the American Craft Expo--what was I thinking?

Working in series for me can be hard.  I can overthink the process and make a quilt that is too expected. Too defined. A quilt where the thin accents would be expected. Or I can start a quilt and get stuck. And I don't mean stuck as I have to sleep on it over night--I mean stuck as in no clue what I am going to do next. Put the quilt aside for months stuck. UFO stuck. Not good when I have a deadline.

Instead I must psyche myself out. Wind up. Make some eyeglass cases. Maybe some placemats--I do need some in gold.

Sketch and think. Make more eyeglass cases--at the last show I sold twenty--I do need a lot. After all they keep me in my booth. The money does add up. Sketch some more.

Then finally at the end of the day I start the quilt. So lonely the first pieces look up on the design board don't they? Will it work? I don't know.  I tell myself to make what I know. There is still one section that I don't have a clue about. Maybe it will come to me as I sew. Maybe I can experiment once I get more on the board. At least I will have something on the board to play with. Maybe I will need to make some more eyeglass cases. More sketches.

And you--how do you start a new quilt? Do you do a long wind up dance? Skuff up the dust on the mound? Clean the studio? Make something you know? What tricks can you share?

Monday, August 1, 2011

the quilts of Ann Brauer--August news

Can you believe how quickly the summer is going by? Already peak season in my daylily garden is almost over--always somewhat sad but as it winds down my attention turns to the late and very late daylilies upon which I can focus. Always gorgeous in their own right. Besides soon it will be time for peaches and tomatoes--what more can I ask for?

Meanwhile I am busily preparing for not one but two craft shows in August. The first one is the Berkshire Craft Show at Monument Mountain High School in Great Barrington, MA on August 12-14. For those who have never been, this is a charming small show with artists from across the Northeast displaying some wonderful work in the air-conditioned comfort of the high school. Do check it out if you are in the area-- Then later in the month I will be doing the American Craft Exposition in Evanston, IL. This is one of the few shows that I will gladly drive a distance to participate in. This time it is set in the air-conditioned comfort of the Gymnasium at Northwestern University right along Lake Michigan--do you notice a theme here? There is some absolutely amazing work from around the country and I am honored to be doing this show. The show runs from August 26-28 and is definitely worth checking out if you are in the area. For more information the web site is

I have added a few new images to my web site-- I am particularly excited about my quilt desert solitaire in which I used my fine piecing to accent the more free form background that I am known for. What do you think?   If I am not doing these shows I hope to be in my studio working but do call or e-mail me first as I also may be visiting an elderly relative who is trying to live by himself.

And now for the quilt of the month--this month the quilt is prairie sky. I love the bright image of the sun rising over the horizon. This quilt hung in the U.S. Embassy in Dili, Timor-Leste next to a work of Josef Albers for a year. The quilt is 40 x 56". For the next ten days the quilt which normally sells for $1200 will be $600 plus tax and shipping. As usual, it is available on a first come/first serve basis. At the end of ten days the price will return to $1200 so if you are interested, please e-mail me.

Thanks so much.  I hope I get to see many of you soon.