Author Archives: Laura Foster Nicholson

Artistic “Expression”

I have been hunting for a way of manifesting a body of work which would be rigorous, exploratory, and pleasurable in the execution. I am into the third set of small weavings of faces and face-like items. (I wrote about Sad Mango a few weeks ago)

I supposed this was sparked by my adventures in the woods at Bloedel Reserve a year and a half ago. The trees were full of eyes, watching me with a benign interest. I have been struggling ever since to determine what to do about this perceived watchfulness.

Eyes of Alder (above) becomes The Man in the Moon (below)

I finally determined, after quite a bit of waffling, that I have a great interest in faces. I want to express that interest.  The challenge in weaving is (as always), just how to manifest the subject. And why even make them?  It took my head a long time to settle down over these issues and just allow me to weave simple faces, but full of expression.  I am working on economy of marks but full expressiveness.

Here are a few recent ones, (each handwoven, wool with cotton, roughly 6″ square).

Terseness, handwoven tapestry, 2018.

Skepticism, handwoven tapestry, 2018

Pain, handwoven tapestry, 2018

Wail, 2018, handwoven by Laura Foster Nicholson

Sanguine, handwoven tapestry, 2018

What is Drawing?

Drawing! Line + shape, form, color = drawing?  What separates drawing from, say, weaving?

I tend to think of drawing as line, and color as fill. Drawing as line, shape as form.

Sad Mango

Sad Mango, 2018. Handwoven tapestry, 9” x 8”, Wool with cotton

Drawing as line, form as the total. 

Weaving is a process with its own system of mark making. But I like to draw. I like to think I can use weaving as a drawing medium.

I am scornful of those who speak of “woven paintings”. Then why do I reference drawing when I am really trying to weave?

I think I am defining drawing incorrectly.

Really, drawing seems to me to be the term for outlining a form, an idea; it is exploration.

Anyway, I am in a maelstrom of overthinking process and content lately. All I want to do is draw. All I want to do is weave. I want to weave things I have not woven before.  I have been going back to the loom, making a fuss, stepping back, for many months now.

Today I decided to narrow in on, and so continue, a decision to focus on the human face, even if it is on, say, a Mango.  I wove off five quick studies of facial expressions, and kept them as simple as possible, trying to use direct and simple means to achieve, literally, expressions.

(these are raw photos, taken while on the loom. More later!)

cats on hand

designing with cats

I usually find that my cats are fairly uninterested in my world, unless it directly overlaps with their own in terms of being fed, getting the head scratched, whatever.

The two cats at my studio have recently begun piling up directly in front of my computer, begging for attention. My attention is focused there,  hence it is their main mission to distract me from my work so I will pet them.

This morning, after the usual frantic purring and thrusting activity from the grey cat, however, she settled back to rest and purr.

Later, I noticed that she wasn’t sleeping. She was intently watching the computer screen as I made changes to a design. Who knew? I have held cats up in front of mirrors as they demurely refused to acknowledge the image of the kitty opposite, so I had assumed that they simply were not interested in two dimensional representation.  My story is now being corrected.

Divination in the Dark

One of the nicer hats I get to wear is as a freelance designer, and I work regularly with Crate and Barrel.  Generally I meet with my person there twice a year, and she is incredibly creative.  I show her ideas, and she takes what she thinks will work off for sampling. Her input results in really beautiful and imaginative ways to make those designs into some kind of textile. We work on primarily pillows, throws, and rugs.

The drawback (for me!) is that she does not have the final word on what goes into the line each season.  A group of creatives from all of the various departments must meet up and select from among the samples. They choose things which will work well together in the stores, and later in homes.  This means my person and I might absolutely adore my pillow, say, but it still won’t go in the line if it can’t be reconciled with someone else’s sofa. 

A lot of expert research and thought goes into preparing for this, and a trend report is issued to vendors like myself to get us started along their path in the right direction.

I am currently preparing my portfolio for fall/winter 2019 (and here it is, the first day of spring 2018!). But the company is working against ever tighter deadlines. I have not yet received my trend report, and I will be up in their offices a week from tomorrow presenting my portfolio full of design printouts and woven samples for FW 2019.  So yep, I am working int the dark!

Much as I love designing textiles, right at this moment I feel at a creative standstill. So I am telling you about it all rather than banging my head against the wall.  I am waiting for their Oracle to speak any moment now.  Thanks for listening!

Below, find a throw in the current line at C&B, and my samples which inspired it.

Orion Throw, designed by LFN Textiles for Crate & Barrel

handwoven samples for Orion throw, LFN Textiles

Labors of love?

I have been extremely fortunate throughout my career as an artist, to pursue whatever I want to.  That is, unless I need money!  But when it comes to the money part, I find it almost amusing to consider systems of evaluation.

When one is engaged in a craft based art, a frequent question becomes, “How long did it take you to make that?” With the idea more time spent, the more value obtained, rather like the electrician’s bill.

But here is the thing.  The craft is essential, a mark of something finely considered, made via a deep experience with methods and materials. It has value, unless you compare it with goods made in China or other competitive places and sold en masse at low cost outlets.

Your average audience is not equipped to contemplate the difference between skillfully (albeit hastily) stitched pretty things, and your MFA differentiated specialty. Your loss.

When I speak to folks about why some of my work is so relatively expensive (heck, I am not world famous like Mr Picasso), I can only offer up what my vision of art is.

Art is the magic. It is whatever helps the maker to transcend everyday vision into something so meaningful that it takes your breath, or it reiterates your dreams, or it projects you to a different dimension of being.  

Your questioner, then, can base her decision as to whether or not to purchase based on any of the following:

how long it took you to make it. This must inevitably be valued at less than her own hourly value at her profession.

or, the relative value of the materials you used (not silk? Why not?)

or, trend. (Sigh)

or, the near orgasmic experience of looking into a world which has real meaning to her (regardless of artist’s intent!)

I write this tonight as I am spending time stitching closed sachets, made of fabric digitally printed to my own design, derived from highly labor intensive tapestries, and stuffing them full of glorious dried lavender.  Deep pleasure in the making.  Hardly worthwhile to make, based on cost of materials and minimum wage.  Selling at $20 each, a huge expense, and a relative loss.  I am paying you to buy them: the scent is true glory and magic.

animated objects

Sad Mango

Sad Mango, 2018. Handwoven tapestry, 9” x 8”, Wool with cotton

When I was very small, riding in the backseat of my father’s big Chevrolet, I started digging away at the rather worn upholstery. I dug out a piece of foam cushioning, roughly in the shape (I was sure) of a little Scottie dog.  I pocketed it and treasured it as a toy, but it disappeared. No doubt my mother found it and tossed it, not recognizing its significance.

I always seem to animate, or anthropomorphize, inanimate objects, and it gives me a great deal of pleasure.  Lying on the sofa post-nap, I gaze out a bare branches and find faces. I make dolls out of humanoid kinds of objects — clothespins early on, now seedpods and finials. I was about to cut open a mango a few weeks ago and noted its sharp vertical fold, with a brief v-shaped indentation two thirds of the way down, and found a face.  Accentuating that with a marker, I was no longer able to cut it open, so watched him shrivel away sadly on the sideboard until it was time to bury him gently in the compost.

Today, I decided to make a series of portraits of my found friends.  Weaving them is, as always, a translation. I consider these portraits to be sketches, 8″ wide by roughly 10″ tall.  More to come!

Looking for Vision

alder eye

Bird Marsh, Bloedel Reserve

Bird Marsh, Bloedel Reserve

For me and for many people I know, 2017 has proven, so far, to be a year full of dread.  The hope and creativity I reaped from an artistic retreat at Bloedel Reserve on Puget Sound last October remains a fragile flame to protect from howling winds of change around me.  I am grateful, so lucky, to have had the opportunity for that beautiful and thoughtful time, just before the election, to focus on what was important to me as an artist, and to sharpen my ability to see, and to manifest what I see in my art.

My work for many years has been more about pleasure, contentment, finding the good in my world.  It has felt solid, providing a vision of beauty as a way of making sense of what is important to me. That no longer seems to be enough.

weaving a river

Weaving a River

I recently began a weaving which, in spirit at least, felt totally new to me.  Some of the visual techniques are familiar, some  are stretching, as I struggled to manifest something deeply felt and ineffable.  I have decided that it is the world of the feeling and the spirit that have meaning for me now. How to show them?  

As I was trying to focus on how to go about the new work, I was doing my morning crossword and hit upon a clue to both a word, and to what I was thinking about: “river of forgetfulness”.  Aha. It resonates.

Crossword clue

New York Times Crossword Clue

The resulting tapestry refers to the sad, longing eyes in the alder trees which watched after me on my daily walk through the woods.  They were growing around a gloriously evocative bird marsh at Bloedel Reserve, and the knots where limbs had been were all eye shaped.  This image spoke so strongly to me I knew it was a big metaphor.

alder eye

the watching alder tree

I know it seems to be a dark work.  It hurts me to look at it.  The silver river winds among the watching trees, trying to distract from what they are seeing.

River Lethe

The River Lethe, 2017
handwoven textile 34″ x 27″

targeting with the kaleidoscope in clothing design

Like many designers, I have been having a load of fun with the recent kaleidoscope apps available everywhere. Like a funhouse mirror, they can be amusing;  refining them into a usable design and actually applying them to product can get into more skilled and rewarding work. Here are a few things I have culled from my designs at PAOM.com.

WaWa body dress LFN

WaWa body dress LFN Textiles for PAOM

prairie dazzler hat LFN

Prairie Dazzler Baseball Cap LFNTextiles for PAOM

buzz star boxers LFN

Buzz Star Boxer Shorts by LFN Textiles for PAOM

prairie dazzler body dress LFN

prairie dazzler body dress. LFN Textiles for PAOM

I have spent the last six months re-evaluating just about everything in my life, from personal relationships, to how I spend my day, to what is the most essential part of my artwork.

It is a tedious task. You would think it would require an afternoon in an armchair, thinking; a few conversations with close friends; an analysis of the bank account. It certainly does, but it is so finely detailed and so incremental I can hardly tell when any progress is being made.

One of the more amusing things I have experimented with while considering the subject, was to take a number of things I had made, ranging from a small hand woven tapestry to a hand-printed tea towel of the sort I sell at the farmer’s market, to be entered in the “Open Entry” section of the local 4-H fair last week. When in Rome, I thought….

I thought it would be interesting to lay out a few things I spend my creative time on, to the kinds of people who are deeply involved in 4-H around here. I am sure we have a lot in common regarding topics like cooking, good vegetables, and what constitutes a well-sewn seam. It was, in fact, a sort of astonishing experience.

First of all, after paying my $1 fee per entry, I had my items examined by the intake crew. Hand-printed towel? I didn’t sew it, only printed it? Hmmmm. Let’s put it under fabric, hand-painted. OK. No mention of whether the design was original (why would it be?).

Second entry: the tote bag, made from my own design, quilting fabrics and ribbons.  Category: sewing.  Subcategory: totes.  Oops! I noticed just before handing it over that the stitching was far from perfect.  I had just been thinking about the wonderful design of my fabric.

Third entry: a hand woven tapestry of a butternut squash, in a nod to all the lovely vegetables entered around me.  Not mounted, so they could see the back, (I quickly surmised that, since it was not framed, it would have a hard time competing as Fine Art, so entered it under “crafts”. Of course.)

What a palaver!  was it stitched? no! painted? no! what then, woven? hmmmm.  Well, next year they guessed they better have a category for Hand Woven.  So it went into Crafts: Misc.

At this point I was thinking longingly of how relatively easy it had been to acquire an MFA from Cranbrook, where these distinctions might have been debatable but the world of definition was ever expanding.

Five days later, after a busy week, I returned early enough to see the exhibition and then collect my poor trusting entries.  The results were humbling.  In a world where every entry gets a ribbon (think youth soccer), I still was deftly and strictly judged.  All were happy with my cute printed (painted?) towel, which depicted a local kind of melon.  Blue ribbon there, and all potential factors deemed Excellent. The tote bag only got a red ribbon, as the stitching was “faulty”, though the colors were noted to be “nice”.

The hand woven tapestry?  Well, the judge felt that its usefulness was questionable, the finish so-so, the materials appropriate.  But it was “very cute” and had “nice muted colors”!

laura foster nicholson tapestry

Butternut Squash, handwoven textile, 11″ x 10″, 2014

At the end of this trial, I felt satisfied.  I had undergone a trial by my current peers in a rural community, and had been judged “good”.

The larger question remains, though.  Do I want to remain among people who are bemused by my activities, or do I want to return to an arcane community which holds great meaning for me but leaves my current neighbors untouched?

Cropping Imagery: LFN Designs for Kess InHouse

The art of cropping imagery to make it more interesting is a recent trend, a modern stance on meaning.  If an image was meant to be read in one, static way (think Mona Lisa), showing it cropped to an essential detail reveals a new way of considering it, sometimes with humor, sometimes surprise, but always it provides a different perspective.

Mona-Lisa-detail-eyes-cropped

I have been providing pattern or surface-design images to a few print-on-demand online companies for a while now.  All were new a couple of years ago, eager to get rolling, pulling in hundreds of artists in an attempt to have a wide range of hip designs for their fairly basic merchandise.  One company, Kess InHouse, in particular caught my eye, as they were taking digital images and blowing them up to the size of a bedspread or shower curtain.  I though, fun! I would love to have a shower curtain with my Leeks design on it! So I submitted a variety of designs and waited to see what would turn out.

Fun indeed!   Kess does a great job of making your designs into interesting products, but the submitted design is simply stretched to fit the format.   I find it interesting and amusing to see the results of this way of using an image: no matter what the product, the image is just made to fit, with sometimes no rhyme or reason: very postmodern! Here is a selection of items with my designs, to illustrate the point. All products are available at Kess InHouse under Laura Nicholson.