Last time, I showed you some of the weather that was making news in our corner of the woods, at least news amongst those us who live here. The amount of snow we had this past winter was unusual, to say the least. And it’s gone on for quite a while. As I mentioned in my last post, we’ve had snow on the ground continuously since late November. As I write this, we’re one day into April. It was one long winter, that’s for sure.
But we’re coming out of it now.
In my last post, I showed you the last (I hope) notable snowfall, with huge flakes of snow, and I think you could get a sense, in the photos, of how much snow still lay on the ground in the middle of March. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve taken more photos, trusting that I was documenting the very slow, but nonetheless actual, retreat of winter and approach of spring.
Here’s what it’s been looking like around here.
Beautiful, no? On this particular morning, after a night of biting cold, the crust of the snow was solid enough to support humans, so I decided to take some photos from perspectives I couldn’t otherwise, the snow being as deep as it was. I walked out through the front gate, across the road, over the ridge of snow left by the plow, and into our tiny bit of field (two acres) on the west side of the road.
It was surreal to be able walk across the top of the barbed wire fence, barely lifting my feet to clear the top wire.
As I came home, I admired the huge mountain of snow that the plow and my dear husband, with the tractor, had left behind. It was well over my head, and a hazard to driving. In one’s vehicle, one had to creep forward very slowly out of the gate in order to make sure nothing was coming before venturing onto the road.
Luckily, we’ve had few lasting ill effects of the snow load on roofs, though this shelter in the corral now needs some work. It wasn’t until we began to use the door from the driveway into the shed (you can just barely see it on the right side of the shed, almost hidden by yet another mound of snow), because the gate into the barnyard was hemmed in with snow and ice, that we saw that the central post at the front of the shelter had started to buckle. It’s pretty much splintered apart now, but since this photo was taken all of the snow has come off the roof, so I think this rustic structure is fixable.
Not so, alas, the canoe. I came into the house one morning after my walk and said to dh, “You know, I think I should get the snow off the canoe. It looks pretty heavy.” He replied that that wouldn’t be necessary. So I didn’t.
The very next morning, as he brought me my cup of tea in bed, he told me I’d been right.
Poor canoe. Fortunately, it was pretty beat up and we hadn’t used it in years, but it’s still a shame to have lost it. Oh well.
We were much luckier than our neighbours down the road, whose garage roof completely collapsed. The centre of the roof now rests on the ground. I didn’t think it would be kind to stop and take a picture of it, so you’ll have to take my word for it.
The other thing I said to dh that day was that I thought I should start digging a path between the driveway and the outhouse. In past years, as the snow has melted, we have had a lot of trouble with our septic field. I thought that rather than waiting until we had a problem, it would be smart to be prepared. Dh said it wouldn’t be necessary. I didn’t argue, just started to dig. As I said to him, I really enjoy this kind of mammoth task that requires a lot of repetitive actions, determination, and time. These are also good things to find enjoyable if one wants to make a quilt or, say, write a doctoral dissertation.
I had to make my way between the eight-foot drift off the roof of dh’s shop on one side, and a mountain of snow he’d piled up with the tractor on the other. The shallowest part of the rock-hard barrier of snow between me and the outhouse was at about chin level on me.
It took me three days of digging, an hour or two at a time.
But I got there. And of course, because I worked so hard, we’ve had zero problems with the septic field. Waste of time, as it turned out. Dh was right. But what if he hadn’t been?
The melt has been sporadic but it’s happening. The most dangerous time of year for keeping one’s footing here is when we get a warm day or series of warm days after a heavy snowfall and the uppermost, unpacked snow melts into a lake on top of the packed snow underneath that has become ice.
The same thing happens on the bit of driveway between the house and my studio, so I have to be careful.
Right after I took the above photo I stepped forward one step and realized I’d seriously misjudged the depth of the puddle.
Good thing I was wearing gumboots. And that I didn’t drop the camera. And that I had dry jeans back at the house to change into.
As I write this, it’s now possible to walk on bare (if muddy) ground from the road right past the house and up to the barn. It’s coming, it’s really coming! But it’s not spring yet.
Right. That’s if for weather. Now for news.
In my last post, I showed you one thing that’s been occupying my time and how that turned out: my first submission of quilts to the National Juried Show of the Canadian Quilting Association. This time, I’m going to show you something else that has been a big leap forward for me and that has in the process eaten up a lot of the computer time that I would in the past have spent on creating blog posts for you to read.
I belong to the Fibre Arts Network, a group of art quilters from across western Canada. The group’s mandate is to raise the profile of art quilting as a fine art and to create exhibition opportunities for its members. Each of us has the responsibility to do what we can using our own local resources (galleries and other potential exhibition spaces) and our contacts, whether local or online, to network and to find ways to bring our art quilting work to a larger audience. The group encourages its members to learn the nuts and bolts of creating an exhibit, all the way from generating an idea for a theme, to setting out ground rules, to securing a venue, to soliciting entries, to receiving and organizing submissions, to hanging the exhibition. The results have been excellent, with several shows travelling to venues across the country for a couple of years before being dissolved, the individual works of art then being delivered back to their creators. That’s if they haven’t been sold during their travels, and many of these works ARE sold, which is wonderful.
As you can imagine, all of this work requires a high degree of professionalism and that’s another thing FAN exists to promote: thinking of ourselves as professional artists and approaching our art in that spirit. One of the main benefits of belonging to FAN is that ten times a year we publish a for-members-only newsletter. This is a substantial document, containing everything from calls for entry, FAN exhibition schedules, and individual show requirements to articles on techniques that FAN members want to share, accolades for members’ accomplishments, descriptions of experiences at workshops, and all kinds of other things. I mean, look at this one regular feature: isn’t this great?
Before I joined FAN, one member who was encouraging me to join told me that the newsletter is the best thing about being a member. And once I became a member and had access to the newsletter, I could see what she meant. It contains a wealth of information. More than that, however, the newsletter is a beautiful thing. It’s visually pleasing, well-organized, a model of professionalism in its design. And that feature, its professional, attractive appearance, is due to Alison Dean Cowitz (see her terrific art quilts here) a FAN member and graphic designer who stepped down at the end of 2017 after being newsletter coordinator for the past couple of years: she completely overhauled the graphic design element of the newsletter. She did a magnificent job and I hope she’s proud of it. It seems to me that Alison brought the newsletter into line with the degree of professionalism that we’re trying to bring to everything FAN does.
The new newsletter coordinator? Well, that would be me. See? There I am, in the bottom right corner.
Now, as you probably know, I have the background and education to make editing the written content of a newsletter a fairly easy job (not that I catch everything, as FAN members can tell you). I’m having a good time with the writing required as well. I’ve initiated a regular column for myself (because really, can you imagine my having the chance to write something and not taking it?) and am looking forward to hopping up on that soapbox periodically. Also, members often write in with details of something or other and ask me to work them up into a submission for the newsletter, and I’m happy to do that too.
But I’m not a graphic designer. I have enough experience in art to have some idea of what makes a pleasing composition, but that’s the limit of what I bring to the visual side of things. When Alison took on the position, the newsletter had been a Word document for years. Alison brought it into InDesign, the graphic design program in the Adobe suite of professional publishing programs that includes Photoshop. If you know anything about Photoshop, you know this is not a simple program: it’s very powerful, extremely flexible, and extremely difficult to learn to use. I had the chance to learn to use Photoshop while I was still working in the local high school. It baffled me and my pride took a beating when I saw how the adolescents around me mastered the basics with ease. After four months, I remember saying to the teacher, “This is really, really hard.” He laughed and laughed. InDesign is the same.
But as I’ve struggled and tussled and had headaches and wanted to scream, I’ve also come to appreciate how cool it is to be able to marry one’s words with a powerful visual format. And I’m starting to feel as if I have tools in my hands now that I’ve never had before. Here’s an example.
Below is a snap from my column in the latest newsletter, introducing a regular book recommendation column where FAN members can write about the books that have influenced them as artists. I've shown the top two-thirds of the page, so you can see how I laid it out. When I showed Alison my original draft of the newsletter, she said she liked this article but felt that a page full of nothing but text might be a bit off-putting (she put it more gently than that) and she suggested including an image of a book. Never one to under-do things, I chose some of my favourites from my own bookshelf and photographed them all stacked up. Alison was right: the added appeal from that one simple addition made all the difference to the page.
In order to make this page, I had to use my newly-acquired knowledge of how to choose the page style I wanted, add the background colour (that was Alison’s suggestion, too, to choose a colour that would be the same in every issue so people would recognize my column before they even saw my name), place the photograph, and wrap the text around it. That last part, to me, is magic. It’s probably a mere doddle to many of you, but I think it’s amazing. (Hm, I can see that my byline is a little too close to the title line; add more space next time. I have hundreds of thoughts like these as I work through composing each issue.)
I haven’t included the whole page, so don’t waste time reading the text. And the image is a little blurry because of the pixels per inch in the original document, and I see I forgot to get rid of the column guides and the return symbols at the ends of paragraphs, but you get the idea. Just in case you’re really curious about the books I chose, here’s the original photo:
Last week I sent off my third issue to be published in the members-only part of the FAN website, and I feel that I’m really starting to get the hang of the process. I’m spending less time making and trying to fix mistakes in using the software than even a month ago and have developed enough confidence to begin playing a tiny bit with design elements (putting a frame around an image! creating a coloured, dotted line! changing a background colour!) And Alison is giving me some tips about graphic design as well, all the stuff about making the appearance of the newsletter as appealing as possible, everything from choosing colours to breaking up blocks of text with images or lines or frames to creating balance on the page. It’s fascinating.
Do I resent the time it takes? Yes, particularly since it’s studio time and blog time that suffer. But whereas the February issue took me 43-1/2 hours to create (not that I was keeping track (cough)), the March issue took less than half that. I said to my Mum on the phone a few days ago that as I eye the approach of my 60th birthday next year, I feel lucky to have the chance to tackle something so demanding and engaging that helps an organization I believe in. It’s such fun to master something so difficult; I love a good brain workout. My only real beef about the whole thing is that because FAN is a small organization of about a hundred members, not many people see the result of all this work. Oh well.
I wish I could include here the link to the March issue, but I don’t have the right to publish the link publicly, not least because most of the images in the newsletter belong to other people. If some of you reading this are artists working with textiles and feel the urge to join FAN, you can! Go to the website and click on the “join” link in the top right corner of the page. Attending the annual retreat last fall convinced me that in this group I have found my artistic tribe, and running the newsletter has cemented the bonds I have with other members even further. Another reason to be glad I took on this task. If even one of you finds the same artistic home as a result of reading this post, I’ll be thrilled.