Monday, October 12, 2015

Alabama Spring (A Love Story)

Working as an artist is an ongoing exercise in letting go. For a week or a month or more, one piece is my world. I think about it obsessively, worrying over tiny details. Then the day comes when it is finished. I give it one last loving going over and then send it out into the world to be sold. Sometimes I am there for the sale and get to meet the person who buys the piece and hear why they are choosing it. Sometimes my work is sold through a gallery and I never know who bought it or why.

I’d like to share one special story with you - the story of a piece called ‘Alabama Spring’ from the time I first thought of it to when it was taken home and given a place to belong. I call it:

Alabama Spring (A Love Story)

In late March 2015, my husband and I were driving through Alabama. I was miserable and heartsick. Back in Ontario, we had just sold our house and couldn’t move into our new place until April. So we packed our stuff into storage and headed somewhere warm. We were officially homeless and feeling the effects of a very long, very cold winter.

Doug was driving and I had my forehead resting against the window, looking out at the trees whipping by in a landscape only marginally more hopeful than what we had left behind. Forest ran along either side of the highway, misty and mysterious. I stared into the grey depths, mesmerized by the repetition of tree after tree when my eyes suddenly snagged on a burst of impossibly vivid pink cutting across the vertical lines.

I sat up straight and said to Doug, “Did you see that?”

“See what?” he asked.

“That pink. Look, there it is again!”

And there it was indeed. For the rest of our trip through Alabama, we continued to see these shocking pink/purple tree buds that sang out from misty green forests like a siren. Later, I found out that we were seeing red bud blossoms, but at the time all I knew was that that particular shade of incredible pink was healing my winter weary heart.

That is when I had my first idea for a piece called ‘Alabama Spring.’ Here is the sketch that I did in our hotel room.

Alabama Spring, Sketch 1
I know. It’s messy. But see that snakey line moving from the lower right up across the vertical lines of the trees? That was the beginning idea. That and the title ‘Alabama Spring’.

Once I knew I was going to do this piece, I started taking pictures to use as reference, like these two:

Reference for tree bark and moss, Parking lot in Jacksonville, Florida
Reference for Red Bud, Birmingham, Alabama
Fast forward to August 2015. I am getting ready to begin my piece for Vogue Knitting Live in Chicago. I knew I wanted to do ‘Alabama Spring’ because I felt it was going to be a really special piece. I wanted to see if I could capture how surprising that color was in the depths of the forest.

So I made my planning sketch which helps me work out compositional issues and decide how I am going to ‘move’ the yarn.

Alabama Spring, Sketch 2
Still pretty messy, right? But there are a few new elements here that make it to the final piece. First is the composition - the five main trees are in place. I’ve also added the yellow dogwood to make the foreground a riot of small movement, contrasting the vertical lines of the trees in the background. And there’s that snakey branch of red bud in the lower right. Plus I added another burst of red bud to the left and behind the two main trees.

Next step, I coated a 24”x 24”x 1.5” birchwood panel with beeswax and went to work with the Peruvian highland wool yarn I had already ordered from Knitpicks. I ordered several pinky-purple shades so that I could get the color of the red bud just right. The color I ended up using is called ‘Lady Slipper’.

Here is the piece in progress:

Alabama Spring in progress
Here’s an insider’s secret. At this point, I still didn’t know exactly how I was going to do the forest floor. I wanted to created a feeling of a riot of blossoms - lots of little buds and flowers bursting out in celebration of spring. But I wasn’t sure how to do it. Doug was away at the time and I kept wasting our evening phone calls obsessing over what to do.

“I want to create movement,” I’d say.

“You’ll get it,” Doug would say.

He was right. The carpet of blossoms was the answer I was looking for and also the last part of the piece to be finished. I called Doug when it was done.

‘I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever done,” I crowed.

“I knew you’d get it,” he said.

Time was tight to finish ‘Alabama Spring’ by October 1st, the day we had to leave for Vogue Knitting Live in Chicago. I had to take photos of the completed piece, but the days before we left were all overcast and this was the best shot I could come up with:

Alabama Spring, September 2015

Vogue Knitting Live was held at the Palmer House Hilton in downtown Chicago. We parked nearby and had a fun time carrying easels and artwork through the busy Chicago streets. Friday was set up and things got going on Saturday. People were really interested in the artwork and the process to create it. We were having a tonne of fun talking to attendees and watching them react to the pieces.

Two vivacious blonde women stopped to look at the work, asked us some questions, and went back to looking at the work. More people came by and I got caught up in some conversations but noticed that the women were still there, looking at Alabama Spring. More people came and went...and yet the women were still there.

“It’s love at first sight”, one of the ladies said to me. “She has to have it.”

Again I was distracted by another attendee and Doug took up the conversation with the two women. He later told me how touched he was that Carole (as we now know her name) was so moved by ‘Alabama Spring’ that she had tears in her eyes. Wow!

It didn’t take much to see that ‘Alabama Spring’ and Carole belonged together. It had to be hers and I love knowing that my artwork has brought even a little bit of joy to someone. A bargain was struck and Carole picked up the piece at the end of the day.

Two days later I received an email from Carole that read:

Alabama Spring.... In Illinois! All of your hard work is being appreciated! It makes me smile every time I see it--


As a teenager, we would drive to Alabama with our folks for spring vacation to escape the muddy Michigan March weather. Your piece, with the hopeful limbs of redbud winding their way thru the forest in spring, reminded my sister and I of those treks.
Alabama Spring will be enjoyed for many seasons in our home, thanks to your talent and vision.

and included this picture:

Carole and Alabama Spring
Thank you, Carole, for your appreciation of my artwork and for giving ‘Alabama Spring’ a home. I hope it brings you many years of pleasure.