Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Value: Markers

Since I'm not much of a painter, I've continued my value studies with the Munsell Student Color Set using my Prismacolor markers.
Prismacolor makes three different gradient grey color marker sets: french grey, cool grey, and warm grey. I have the french grey set. The cool greys clearly have a blue tint. Looking at the samples on my monitor I don't see as much of a specific color tint in the warm greys - maybe red, but if so it's very subtle. The french grey set clearly has a yellow tint - so at this low chroma it appears most like taupe. Though without any other color in context, the yellow is barely noticeable.

Like the value scale Deb Menz uses in her book, the Prismacolor grey scale is based on the percentage of black that is mixed with white. So the lightest marker is 10% and the darkest non-black marker is 90% and there are nine markers in the grey scale, plus black. As you might be able to tell, my 50% marker has seen better days. I should really buy a replacement.

One difference between opaque paint and the ink in Prismacolor markers is that you can build up layers of ink in such a way that the value and chroma change. These last two images are samples I made layering the 10% French grey and 20% French grey respectively. I found that by the fourth layer of the 10% French grey, the value matches the 20% French grey. So you can layer the 10% French grey to create two values between 10% and 20%.
I found that by the third layer of the 20% French grey, the value matches the 30% French grey. So you can layer the 20% French grey to create one value between 20% and 30%. Alternatively, if you want to make sure an area of grey is all one value, if you layer it at least four times it will be uniformly one value. This corrects the striped appearance I often get filling in blocks of color. I suppose I should do this test on every marker to see how dark it gets and how many layers I need to do to even out the color.
I also need to line up my other value indicies to see what Munsell values apply to which Prismacolor values and what Menz values apply to which Prismacolor values.

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Monday, November 24, 2008

Seeing Red

This value scale is from Art History by Marilyn Stokstad, which I'm reading with a couple of friends to make up for our failure to take art history in college. This value scale and some other basic tools to describe art are included in the Starter Kit section of the introductory material. For no particular reason that I can discern, values are divided into seven gradations including white and black at either end.

Stokstad's value variation in red uses the highest chroma colors from almost every value row on the 5R chart. For some reason it skips value 7/. From right to left: 5R 8/4, 5R 6/12, 5R 5/14, 5R 4/14, 5R 3/4.

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

How to Manage Daily Inspiration

I'm charmed by the design boards Lobster & Swan makes to record the things that inspire her each day, which I found via Design*Sponge. Really, I'm a sucker for anything date-stamped. These collages remind me of On Kawara's Today Series, which you can go see as part of The Panza Collection exhibit at The Hirshhorn Museum.

I clip pages from magazines that inspire me, but I don't keep them in any sort of order. They float around like leaves in my studio, fluttering in the wind from the ceiling fan. I wonder if I should follow Lobster & Swan's lead. Or file them by subject matter. Though it's rarely the subject matter that I find inspiring. Maybe file by whatever it is I find most inspiring about the image. But how many things have I filed away and never looked at again? I've seen people fill their walls with inspirational images. I did that to cover the ghastly wood paneling in my workspace in Indiana. Now my walls are white and seem to have been filled by bookcases and shelves.

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Quilt News

I will post this over at the other, more frequently read, nominally "group" blog as well, but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention these great quilt events here.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is showing Gee's Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt through December 14, 2008. In conjunction with that exhibit the same museum is showing Quilt Stories: The Ella King Torrey Collection of African American Quilts and Other Recent Quilt Acquisitions. The PMA is a great museum. I saw this particular Gee's Bend show at The Walters Museum in Baltimore. It's a definite must-see.

Also in quilt related news, Dear Ada shared some pieces from Sherri Lynn Wood's collection of Passage Quilts. These quilts commemorate and honor personal relationships, milestones, and rites of passage. You can read more about these quilts in the November/December 2008 issue of FiberArts. Ms. Wood conducts workshops for people "in transition." Quilting has been used as a means of working one's way through a tough time quite possibly since its inception. One incredibly moving example is Coralee's Mourning Quilt, a simple three-strip quilt with words and designs made with simple embroidery.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Textile Museum & TxtStyles/Fashioning Identity

On the Washington, D.C., segment of my East Coast Tour I went to the National Museum of African Art at the Smithsonian to see the TxtStyles/Fashioning Identity exhibit, which is on through December 28, 2008, and the Textile Museum. Despite having lived in D.C. for a couple of years I had never been to either of these museums.

While the Textile Museum is relatively small and out of the way, it is entirely worth the trip for its permanent exhibit The Textile Learning Center alone, and even more so if you fancy the current exhibition.

In hindsight I encountered these exhibits in exactly the wrong order. I should have started in The Textile Learning Center on the second floor of the Textile Museum. The exhibit The Finishing Touch: Accessories from the Bolivian Highlands, on through February 1, 2009, uses the vocabulary defined in The Textile Learning Center in its signage and in the organization of the pieces. The two exhibits are close enough to one another that it would be easy to go back to the TLC to refresh your memory. Having learned and applied your textile vocabulary on the second floor, you'd be ready for the main current exhibit Timbuktu to Tibet: Rugs and Textiles of the Hajji Babas, on through March 8, 2009.

Finally, while my first stop was the National Museum of African Art at the Smithsonian to see the TxtStyles/Fashioning Identity exhibit, I think you could get a lot more out of it if you had the knowledge base from the Textile Museum under your belt.

The brochure accompanying TxtStyles/Fashioning Identity exhibit was one of the most thorough I've found. It included all of the text from the signage in the exhibit down to the descriptions of every artifact. I love taking notes and drawing sketches in exhibits and this brochure had plenty of room for both and enough information that I could concentrate on sketching and noting my own impressions rather than copying down information from signage. Oh, how I would love every museum exhibit to have a brochure like this! Mind you, its dimensions were that of a vinyl record, so not exactly the easiest to carry around all day, but worth the effort.

From the children's guide to the exhibit:
TxtStyles/Fashioning Identity examines African garments, textiles, and adornments as communicators of coded messages. Messages of the age, gender, status, individual character, and group identity are transmitted in the colors, symbols, beads, costly materials, and patterns that decorate these textiles.
This theme ties in nicely with my interest in quilts with secret information behind them.

My favorite pieces in the TxtStyles/Fashioning Identity exhibit included the Man's tunic (jibbeh) from the Mahdiyya State in Sudan created in the late 19th century out of cotton, silk, wool, cotton batting, and dye. The tunic was pieced with floral and paisley commercially printed cotton, giving it the appearance of a traditional western quilt. The signage noted that armor for a man and his horse in the Mahdi Army was most often quilted in cotton. Silk might have been included in this piece because it is thought to deflect bad fortune. It is more customarily used in textiles related to wedding and birth ceremonies.

In addition to materials with special meanings, like undyed white wool having protective properties, the exhibit described a number of patterns with their own meanings. For example, the Woman's wrapper (haik) made by the Kabyle peoples of Algeria in the late 19th century out of wool, cotton, and dye depicted triangles and diamonds, both of which are protective motifs. Lozenge shapes ward off the evil eye. More specifically, the oyokoman pattern of yellow an green warp dtripes in a red field is identified with the Asante rulling clan and Ghanaian nationalism. Can you imagine a textile being associated with a U.S. political party?

I was also inspired by the textile techniques on display. A Woman's wrapper made by the Yoruba peoples of Nigeria in the mid-20th century out of cotton and indigo dye used adire (ah-deer-ray), a Yoruba resist dye technique. The blue background was covered with an orthogonal array of circles called "tops." Tops are a popular pattern made by twisting a comb into a cloth laden with starch resist to make textured circles. They look like very finely drawn spirals.

The idea of textiles as communication devices is also developed in The Textile Museum's special exhibit Timbuktu to Tibet: Rugs and Textiles of the Hajji Babas. From The Bulletin of The Textile Museum:
As social currency, textiles reveal a great deal about an individual's wealth, social status, occupation, and religious and ethnic associations, as well as a culture's values, codes, and social order.
The main theme of the exhibit is comparing textiles made by nomadic peoples to those made by settled peoples.

One story from the signage in the exhibition particularly resonated with me. In the Kuba and Shivran provinces of eastern Azerbaijan, many towns an d villages became known for producing rugs with specific designs or styles. The region came under Russian rule in the 19th century. As part of a program to "improve" local handicrafts (kustar), Russian authorities set about recording and "tidying up" traditional carpet designs. The state-sanitized designs were then redistributed throughout the villages of the region, making it difficult to know if the current design names bear any relation to where a particular rug was made. This faux-folk art is identifiable by its use of repeated colors.

This seems like a very similar process of homogenization as took place in the early 20th century in American quilt making that I've discussed elsewhere. To paraphrase myself, antique American quilts do not conform to the forms and techniques commonly accepted as "traditional" quilting today. The rules enforced by present day "quilt police" seem to have coalesced in the patterns and kits made available in the 20th century, much like the state-sanitized carpet designs distributed by the Russians in late 19th Century. What is commonly accepted as "traditional" quilting is really a set of patterns and techniques created by the quilting-industrial complex. These "traditional" patterns and techniques can be traced back to their owners, purveyors of 20th century quilt patterns and kits, like the patterns in Azeri rugs can be traced back to the state-sanitized patterns distributed in the late 19th century. But both of these sets of patterns are disconnected from their geographically and culturally specific origins. Additionally, this idea of making quilts or rugs based on centrally distributed patterns destroys the creative process in which women improvisationally created without patterns or techniques beyond those they shared with one another on an interpersonal level.

On a less historical note, I found the descriptions of the artifacts in The Textile Museum's special exhibit Timbuktu to Tibet: Rugs and Textiles of the Hajji Babas fascinating in their own right. For example, "An excess of details repeated from a prototype result in overcrowding." And, "A narrow field and multiple borders suggests a window looking into deep space lending a contemplative quality." Something about these descriptions strikes me as more subjective than I've seen in other museum signage. This is an exhibit of artifacts "drawn from the collections of past and present members of America's oldest rug and textile collecting society, the Hajji Baba Club." So I wonder if the owner's personal assessments made it into the signage or if the curators took more of an appraiser's eye towards the objects. While I don't find this type of signage particularly helpful in learning about the object, I do find it helpful in learning what appraisers think of when they look at these sorts of objects. As someone contemplating entering quilts into competition, these peeks at what might be going on in the minds of the judges is always fascinating.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Discussions of Value: A Comparison of Resources

To further my remedial review of value after my first failed exercise from The Munsell Student Color Set, I reviewed the sections on value in all of the other books I have that address color: Interaction of Color by Josef Albers; Your First Quilt Book by Carol Doak; Color for the Terrified Quilter: Plain Talk, Simple Lessons, 11 Projects by Ionne McCauley and Sharon Pederson; and Deb Menz's Color Works: The Crafter's Guide to Color.
The above picture shows one value exercise in Interaction of Color by Josef Albers. Interaction of Color is like The Munsell Student Color Set in that it is intended as a companion to class exercises. Interaction of Color is probably an advanced seminar on color where The Munsell Student Color Set is an introductory course. If I could ever get through The Munsell Student Color Set, I would love to work my way through Interaction of Color.
The above picture shows the entire value discussion in Your First Quilt Book by Carol Doak. Considering the broad scope of this book, that's actually a pretty hefty word count for a discussion of value. The book dedicates all of eight pages to color-related issues. So for one of those pages to be solely dedicated to value is pretty good. The patterns in the book are also fairly easy to break down into at least light, medium, and dark values, which for beginning quilters is fairly sufficient. Most of the diagrams in the book are black and white, which probably doesn't appeal to buyers like full color graphics might, but the benefit of grayscale diagrams is that they give you a lot more sense of value placement than potentially confusing pictures using actual fabric. If you're looking for an introductory quilt book, I highly recommend Your First Quilt Book by Carol Doak. If you're looking for an in depth discussion of value, this is probably not the one. But it certainly introduces value in terms of fabric choices clearly. It also describes the universal quilters' value tool: The Ruby Beholder. Essentially an easily marketable substitute for a piece of red cellophane, a Ruby Beholder is a transparent piece of red plastic quilters look through to filter out the colors of fabric in order to determine color. Of course, if you love red fabric, the Ruby Beholder is of limited, ahem, value. They have green versions out there as well, just for red fabric lovers.
The above picture shows almost the entire value discussion in Color for the Terrified Quilter: Plain Talk, Simple Lessons, 11 Projects by Ionne McCauley and Sharon Pederson. Considering the relatively narrow scope of this book, I am disappointed in the lack of attention paid to value. Essentially it includes two paragraphs and two exercises, one organizing fabrics into a value scale and another addressing relative value. All of the pictures are full color, which I think might confuse folks. Also, the exercises only use one hue. Arranging a value scale within one hue isn't really the problem. Trying to compare values among varied hues is the real challenge most quilters face. This book doesn't even broach the subject.
This is one of my favorite depictions of value from Deb Menz's Color Works: The Crafter's Guide to Color. Not only does Menz dedicate part of her chapter on describing color to the subject of value, she dedicates a whole chapter to understanding value. Most importantly, she uses color and grayscale images to illustrate value differences among different colors. She even has a diagram depicting the twelves hues on her color wheel with their values. Genius!

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