Super high-res (800 dpi) image at archive.org!
I recently dug up, scanned and restored this cartoon I drew in 1984 for the Uni High yearbook. It makes me nostalgic not for school (for which I still carry much resentment*) but for the glorious escape drawing provided those years. There were no art classes at Uni while I was there, for which I am eternally grateful. While my liberal friends are mostly “arts education” boosters, I owe my survival to Art staying beyond the reach of school, teachers, and institutionalization. School ruined math, literature, physical exercise, social interactions, and pretty much everything else that could be beautiful – thank doG it didn’t ruin drawing too.
*Dropping out of the University of Illinois at the end of my Sophomore year was the first Great Decision I ever made. My second Great Decision was freeing Sita Sings the Blues and dropping out of Copyright. I’ve only made two Great Decisions in my life, but they’re plenty. Dayenu.
Today’s embroidermation features a rotoscoped dance outtake performed by Reena Shah about 7 years ago for Sita Sings the Blues. Theo coded the stitches and the animated sin wave loop background. This is designed for larger quilts, but this version is tiny as it was stitched on our embroidery machine.
I sewed the 16 panels together like so:
The cycle is actually 13 frames long – an annoying number for animation. The final 3 frames are repeats so it could be a 4 x 4 square. Finished size is 16″ x 16″.
Last weekend Theo and I visited Central Missouri to look at a quilt plotter. We brought our own design to test. Here’s a video:
And here’s our finished test quilt:
Theo did all the stitchcoding, and made the graduated spirals in Mathematica.
This certainly gives us a lot to think about.
The source animation (a vector file sequence) was adapted from my short segment for the upcoming feature film “The Prophet.” That will definitely not be rendered in Embroidermation, but the Tree of Life is such a classic, traditional embroidery motif it was just crying out to be used in this test.
In addition to stitchcoding, Theo hooped and ran the machine on all 96 frames, and then he made them into a flipbook.
Theo hand-stitching 96 embroidered frames into a flipbook
Because he’s crazy, that’s why. He even crafted a copper rig to cut out the frames precisely, and register them for photography (he photographed them too).
I ran an inversion on yesterday’s horse Traveling Salesman Problem animation:
Again I had to take out a few stray lines manually. Here’s the same white on black:
Yesterday’s negative image and today’s positive image together:
The positive image has only 2,000 points, so it was faster to process. It’s still denser than the negative image (background) which has just under 4,000 points but covers a lot more area.
Here are both with contrast on grey:
and in yellow and blue on magenta:
Really this is Quiltimation, the result of our embroidery/quilting/trapplique techniques. Here’s a single frame without all the .gif
compression 8-bit color artifacts:
The trapplique technique was a lot of work, requiring multiple hoopings for each frame, as well as precision cutting and placing. We probably won’t do more of that. Our next project is more traditional embroidery with just one color of fabric and multiple colors of thread. Whole lotta math required to make this work, which is fortunately Theo’s department. Meanwhile I’ll stitch together these 12 frames into some sort of viable wall hanging.
Adding to my post below titled Embroidermation: test 1, my co-lunatic Theo Gray shares an animation of the Chinese Postman traveling every path, instructing the machine how to stitch the design:
And here is a screen shot of what he did in Mathematica to get there:
You may have heard I’m working on this movie, and I am, but my contract prohibits me from blogging about work-in-progress. All the more reason to blog about my super-exciting other project that no one is paying me for and is motivated purely by madness and my crazy Muse: I want to make an animated quilt. Or rather quilted animation. Or embroidered animation, because the most common quilt plotters are actually embroidery machines.
I’ve already ranted about the shameful state of embroidery machine software. Having just bought a fancy new Brother machine that came with Brother’s “top-of-the-line” software, PE Design NEXT, I can now say the situation is worse than I thought. Not only is the software crazy expensive, it’s also woefully inadequate for automated line drawing conversion. More on that in a future post; for now I want to describe the steps required to make a single frame (scroll down to see it).
I began with an animated cycle I made almost two years ago: the Ziz. Automated digitization of one frame of that design, in color, for embroidery, is well beyond what PE Design NEXT can handle, so I started by just asking it to do the outline, monochrome, in a simple running stitch. That was also way more than it could handle, so I went back into Flash and simplified the design:
Then I imported a frame into Adobe Illustrator and “merged” everything to eliminate background shapes.
Before: the Ziz above is comprised of many shapes. Even though they're not visible on the surface, vector files know they're there, adding unnecessary complexity.
After: "merged" in Illustrator.
I gave it no fills, only a 1pt stroke. PEDNEXT read it as several hundred separate shapes, with thread cuts between each; it wanted to start and stop every few stitches to cut threads, even with all the outlines abutting each other.
Clearly we had to convert the design into one continuous line, which PEDNEXT can’t do (it can sort of do it with bitmaps it traces itself, but it’s terrible at auto-tracing. One should be able to trace in a better program and get it to work with those vectors, but it’s biased against vectors for some reason). It’s an old math problem called the Chinese Postman, a variation on the more famous Traveling Salesman. The Traveling Salesman visits every vertex in the most efficient path; the Chinese Postman travels every path.
Fortunately my Significant Other and co-lunatic in automated embroidery machine experiments, Theo Gray, was a founding developer of Mathematica software. Just one morning of his fiddling with the files yielded exceptional results.
This was an .eps file in Mathematica, brought into Adobe Illustrator, exported as .wmf for Brother's software, and again as .png to be visible on this blog. It is a single line with many points, tracing over itself efficiently.
Then PEDNEXT refused to read the resulting single-line file, even after it was converted to .wmf (windows metafile – the ONLY vector file PEDNEXT accepts. It doesn’t accept .svg, .eps, .dxf, .ai, or any other vector file. Just .wmf. Which is what you’d expect from $2,000 embroidery software, right?) Thinking the line was too long, we broke it into smaller segments and imported them as separate files. Through a tedious process of elimination we discovered there was just one teeny segment PEDNEXT refused to read. We pinpointed it to two points (perfectly normal points! the files are fine, we have no idea why PEDNEXT doesn’t like them), deleted them from the master line, imported to Illustrator, exported to .wmf, imported to PEDNEXT, saved as .pes (Brother’s proprietary format) on a flash drive, and got it into the machine. And finally:
This took 8 minutes to stitch at 700 stitches per minute. Design area is about 8" tall by 10" high. I'd share other details like how many stitches it is and how much disk space it occupies, but I don't have them handy because PEDNEXT is windows-only and the windows machine I've been using for this is at Theo's house.
It's not real until a cat can sit on it.
This represents a huge step towards my dream of embroidermation. It took us a long time and much obsession to get to this single frame. Further tests with PEDNEXT will determine whether the whole 24-frame sequence can be automated, or if there are bugs in every new frame import. Meanwhile I’m even more committed to supporting EmbroiderModder2, a young FLOSS alternative to existing inadequate overpriced embroidery software (crowdfunding campaign coming soon!). I hope Brother supports it too – their machines are great, with better software who knows what people could do with them.
Update: see the Mathematica code and an animated gif of the stitching here!
That’s me! Getting some local press for my art quilt show, which opens Saturday at Sleepy Creek Vineyards! Details and directions here.
We went back to Sleepy Creek Vineyards to rearrange some things and hang Earth, Fire and Water next to Air/Nude. This is the first time all of my 4 Elements quilts have hung next to each other.
Speaking of Sleepy Creek, I finally tasted their tomato-jalepeño wine, Winey Mary. Yes I thought it was a joke too, but it actually exists and is actually made of fermented tomatoes and jalepeños, not grapes. And I actually liked it. Not as a wine – I don’t really like wine, or beer, or any alcoholic beverages – but as an unusual and strangely tasty sensory experience.
You can try some at the official wine-and-cheese opening (cash bar, buy some local wine!) is this Saturday June 15, with a screening of Sita Sings the Blues at 8pm.
The quilts will be hanging all Summer. Whee!
Today we hung quilts at Sleepy Creek Vineyards. Official wine-and-cheese opening (cash bar, buy some local wine!) is this Saturday June 15. The quilts will be hanging all Summer though.
The small “This Land Is Mine” quilt is double-sided. Here Death watches over the bottom of the stairs. Symbolic?
Bargain (Ten Thousand Dollars) and Nude, along with a larger This Land Is Mine quilt (one-sided)
Shiva Natraj and the Shedus
More at the show – come check it out!
Bargain (Ten Thousand Dollars)
71″ x 31.5″
Cotton fabric, wool batting, polyester thread
Reverse applique and quilting
“Why are works by Marlene Dumas worth millions and those by the stylistically similar Chuck Connelly worth next to nothing? Because surplus capital in the hands of a small group of moneyed types decrees it so, by fiat. Disparities between surplus capital and “normal” market behavior…create two distinct “markets.” The high-end market just described is the seeking of surplus capital for true value, which lands on a work of art, because that work of art is perceived as unique, often in a highly arbitrary manner that disregards questions of esthetics and connoisseurship. The news is not that a Picasso is worth $100 million, but that $100 million is worth the Picasso!”
–Charlie Finch, A NEW MARKET THEORY OF ART
After reading this and this, I concluded that high-end art is a form of currency for elites. Art museums and critics encourage us peasants to believe the value in these “priceless art treasures” is based on utility (i.e., the more they cost, the more “genius” they contain). But the value of high end art is due to collectors attaching their surplus capital to it.
A million-dollar painting has all the utility of a million-dollar bill. Its value is created not by the artist, but by the collector. When a reputable collector puts a million dollars into a painting, another collector may buy it for more than a million dollars. The art market forms its own economy, with its own financial industry:
“During the 1980s, Charles Saatchi started to corner the market by buying up the inventory of one artist, such as Sean Scully, and then dumping the work en masse, presumably for economic gain. Now, collectors such as Daniel Loeb and Aby Rosen also assemble dozens of works by a single artist (Loeb has close to 300 Martin Kippenbergers), but they have so much money that art collecting is a game for them that mimics their larger financial speculations. Using a hedge model, these collectors are able to manipulate the valuations of their holdings based on their internal financial realities, not on any outside demand per se. That is what hedging is.” ibid.
(This explains the prominence of collectors at art events. I used to wonder why collectors were such a big deal. Wasn’t Art about the work itself? If anything came second to the work, wouldn’t it be the artist(s)? Why so much attention bestowed upon the collectors? In my naiveté, I thought it was just cynical and desperate ass-licking by arts organizations. Now I realize that collectors are the prime – or only – originators of high-end art value. Anyone can paint, but only a tiny elite can buy a painting for a million dollars.)
To recap: displaying a million-dollar art work is akin to displaying a million-dollar bill, but with a certain cachet (“disavowal“ was Pierre Bourdieu’s term) that is part of its price. But there are no million-dollar bills. That’s one of the reasons collectors need million-dollar paintings. When you own as much wealth as a small nation you can commission your own currency. Or better yet, pick and choose your currency from an enormous market of would-be currency designers. (The 1970′s board game “Masterpiece” hints at this; “value” cards are randomly paired with painting cards, an amusing sendup of the Fine Art World that was utterly lost on me as a child, although I did enjoy looking at the pictures.)
I wanted to make a quilt that looked like a million-dollar bill. Unfortunately the highest denomination bill I could find online at high resolution was $10,000. That’s painfully low, because
“increments of $100,000 are to today’s contemporary art market what $10,000 was in the 1980s and $1,000 was in the ‘60s.” ibid.
But that’s what I had to work with. In fact the $10,000 bill isn’t in circulation today. But it does look like “money” (unlike the $100,000 Gold Certificate) so in that way it fits the bill, so to speak.
Ironically (for ironic juxtaposition!) quilts are among among the most under-valued art forms. They also require more skill and time than almost any other art-making technique I’ve tried. The selling price of quilts seldom covers the costs of materials; quilters often prefer to give their quilts away. An “expensive” quilt usually costs more than the value of materials, but less than minimum wage for labor. I recently met a master quilter whose beautiful wall quilt, which took months of expert work and won many awards, was professionally appraised at $3,500. This is considered very high; had it not been widely displayed and won many awards, it would be “worth” far less. Betty Busby is an art quilter I admire whose works have broken through the “high” end of quilt prices into the “bargain-basement low” end of art prices.
Is it because quilts have so much utility (“use-value”) that they can’t get traction as high art? Is it because quilting is historically “women’s work”? Is it because quilting is often kitschy, popular in the middle-class Midwest that many aspiring art-worlders move to New York to get away from? Is quilting too white? (The now-famous Gee’s Bend quilters would be an exception to prove this rule.) Is it because many quilters are insane about copyright, going out of their way to restrict knowledge of their work?
Who knows. Meanwhile, here is a Ten Thousand Dollar quilt.
P.S. This sucker was a ton of work. The Muse made me do it. A master quilter I ain’t. Quilt appraisers would scoff because I don’t properly tie off and hide my threads, and because there are some puckers and pleats in the quilting. But if I billed the hours I put into this as an animator, I would invoice more than $10,000.
P.P.S. Bargain (Ten Thousand Dollars) will be on display at my upcoming Art Quilt Show at Sleepy Creek Vineyards.
Mark yer calendars! My first Art Quilt Show opens June 15 at Sleepy Creek Vineyards in hip, happenin’ rural-area-between-Urbana-and-Danville, IL.
Art Quilts will be on the walls June 15-September 15, 2013
Opening: June 15
Screening of Sita Sings the Blues: 8pm
Sleepy Creek Vineyards is three miles south of Oakwood, Illinois, just off Interstate 74 between Danville and Champaign, IL.
Address: 8254 E 1425 North Rd., Fairmount, IL 61841
Want to see the place? Sleepy Creek has a funny webseries you can watch right now! My favorite is episode 6, it cracks me up.
Update June 3: This is cool – it won the “Art Quilt” category!
Air/Nude is from 2011, and it remains my favorite piece of quilt artwork. So I’m reposting it for the Blogger’s Quilt Festival.
Air/Nude is 77″ x 23″ (yielding a life-size figure) unbleached cotton muslin, cotton batting, polyester thread.
She counts as “Air” in my 4 Eelements quilt series (my first large-ish quilts ever) because that’s what the model is wearing. Also, unless you look carefully you see nothing, just like air.
The photo above links to a super high res, 3,000-pixel-high version so you can zoom in on all the detail. These detail shots link to 960-pixel-high versions:
Evident everywhere is the influence of Leah Day’s Free Motion Quilting Project. In the section above you can see Free Motion Quilting basics like Basic Spiral, Pebbling,Feathers, Echo Rainbow, and Stippling, along with some of Leah’s signature designs like Brain Coral, Spaghetti and Meatballs, Flame Stitch, Ocean Current,Wormholes, Goldilocks, Chain of Pearls, Pebble Maze, Trailing Spirals, and Circuit Board. I started filling in the quilt on the right side, just over the foot where those very dense spirals are, and worked my way around counter-clockwise.
By the time I got to the head I had internalized many of those stitches, which became part of my vocabulary. It becomes difficult (and probably pointless) to say which patterns are “mine,” which are “Leah Day’s,” which are derived from vague memories of pen-and-ink shading patterns and old Zip-A-Tones, and which are simply failed imitations. (“Originality is failed imitation” – someone on Facebook. Bill Benzon, maybe?). Some of the spirally flame patterns I used in Fire return for a cameo here.
I had bountiful opportunities to try new stitches and patterns. As long as the negative spaces were densely quilted, it didn’t matter what was in them. I tried various hexagonal-based “snowlflake” patterns, like the one above. In the midst of my experiments, Leah posted this Icicle Lights pattern, which is much easier than hex-based ones. Below it is an homage to DNA molecules, and a “scaly micropebbling” experiment.
As you can see, the nude depicted is a real woman-person, not a professional model. Who was the model, you ask? Suffice to say I will not be sharing the “pattern” as open source code. You’re welcome to copy this quilt, but you’ll have to reverse-engineer it, or use another model.
Here’s what she looked like before stretching. Maybe vanity drove me to it – I may be a little saggy, but I’m not that saggy. The subtle white-on-white quilting technique relies entirely on shadow to reveal texture and outline, and only works if light hits the surface evenly from the side. The quilt was professionally stretched on canvas stretchers by 567 Framing. It took 2 and a half weeks, but was worth the wait.
Here’s “Air” leaning against the wall with her friends Earth, Water, and Fire, in my former apartment in New York City. I brought all these quilts with me when I moved to Urbana IL last Summer. Some of them will be in my upcoming art show at Sleepy Creek Vineyards – stay tuned!