From the Woods to the Sea

A Tapestry Weaving Retreat with Joan Baxter

With my travel sketchbook and camera in tow, I wandered down the old dirt road to the sea.  The autumn sun was casting a soft amber light upon the trees as it made it’s journey below the horizon.  The woods suddenly parted and I found myself in a private secluded bay with little waves gently crashing upon the sand.  I climbed up onto the old crumbling jetty and sat on a rock, watching the golden sky fade to dusk.  An overwhelming sense of gratitude and awe washed over me.  I was here in this place of beauty and tranquility, where the woods meet the sea, and about to enjoy five whole days of everything tapestry weaving with one of my most favorite tapestry artists, Joan Baxter.

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From the time I met Joan, I felt as though she were a familiar friend, like perhaps maybe she was one of my beloved faculty members from college. She greeted me warmly as she laid out a dazzling spectrum of her gorgeous hand-dyed yarns.  The room we would be using was dark and cozy, surrounded by forests and near to the retreat center’s chapel.  It was in this room, with my fellow tapestry weavers, covered with yarn, books, looms, and bobbins, and fueled by Joan’s tutorials and evening talks, that my imagination sprang to life.

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How do the places and landscapes we hold dear to our hearts change with the passage of time?  This was the question Joan Baxter asked us to ponder over the months leading up to our workshop.  Compiling sketches and photos of our favorite place at different times of the day, we were asked to do some color studies.  Using our own yarn, and some of Joan’s, we played with colors of different values and hues.  We also had some of her samples to inspire us.  Joan is a magician when it comes to playing with and mixing colors…

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A sampling of Joan’s beautiful samples…

 

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And here’s mine!

During the day, she gave tutorials to small groups of us on how to create dots, flecks, and color blends. She really inspired me to become more bold with my weft colors, and to understand how to carry consistent colors from one area to another, like with a reflection on water or creating transparency.

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A tutorial on weaving dots.  Joan enjoys simple weaving equipment like wooden frame looms and pipe looms…

 

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More dots and flecks (and check out that beautiful bobbin!)

For this theme of the passage of time, I chose to visit a small lake by my parent’s house.  I visited many times over the summer, always drawn to the sparkle of sunlight across the water and the forest that surrounded it’s shore.  It wasn’t until the fall, right before the retreat, that I noticed a lone tree that stood out from the others.  It had transformed into a brilliant golden yellow, and I had an a-ha moment: This tree would be the focal point of my composition…

 

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I thought I could weave an entire tapestry in five days! I must have been crazy.  The only tapestry I ever wove in five days is the size of a small photograph! Joan encouraged us to not weave for more than four to five hours a day, so as to not strain our eyes. So we went for walks, mingled and chatted with each other about our ideas, shared books and tips, were treated to several of Joan’s inspiring slideshows, and were fed three meals a day by the retreat staff.  The food was simple and nourishing and I loved that.  I found the simplicity and humbleness of our accommodations to be the perfect backdrop to focus on my art and my time with my new weaving friends.

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The view from my bedroom window…

And I noticed my idea for my tapestry was beginning to change and be shaped by the beauty of the retreat center grounds.  I was particulary inspired by Joan to think differently about how to weave water.  I’ve always woven flat, mirror-like reflections, but Joan encouraged me to think about time transpiring and how I could create that.  I began going down to the little bay to observe how ocean waves would rise and fall.  Sometimes I’d go down to the pond and throw pebbles to watch the ripples fan out.  I realized I wanted to capture the multi-dimensional appearance of those ripples moving across the water.  This was my sample of that idea…

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This sample was meant to try the techniques of carrying one consistent color throughout the water, capturing the light and shadow of a water ripple, the lines of a labyrinth underneath, and one of my trees golden yellow leaves (which ended up looking like carpet from the 1970s)

I’ve always been drawn to labyrinths as a symbol for personal and spiritual journeys.  I was so excited to see the retreat center had a lovely and simple one created from mowed grass and some shrubby trees.  I also knew I wanted to incorporate this symbol into my final design as well, perhaps underneath the water’s surface…

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So after a few days of observing and sketching, I had a pretty solid idea for my Time inspired tapestry.  When the last day of the retreat came, I was sad and yet also eager to get back home to try some of my new ideas and techniques I had learned.  I also had a new appreciation for myself as an artist, and the endlessly inspiring life we artists can live if we just open up to it.  It was an unforgettable experience to learn from Joan, and also it was the first time meeting some of my fellow members of the tapestry group TWiNE (Tapestry Weavers in New England) who hosted this event.  While I still haven’t started the piece inspired by this workshop (I know! I know! I’m getting to it!), I’ve noticed how my design ideas have shifted and finalized in my mind.  I feel ready to at least do some sketching and get the loom warped, and I guess I need to do a few more samples, too!

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My favorite weft blend, I love admiring it just on the bobbin…

 

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A postcard of Joan Baxter’s weavings showing her use of dots

If you get the chance I highly recommend taking a workshop or retreat.  It’s a fantastic way to meet and be inspired by other artists, form amazing connections, and learn a new thing or two!

Keep creating!

~Laura

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2 thoughts on “From the Woods to the Sea

  1. Jill

    Thanks for posting this! I had not known about Joan Baxter…her work is amazing. Your photos make me want to run to the dye pots… : )

    Reply
    1. lauralunastudio Post author

      Hi Jill! Isn’t her work just incredible? And you know, she told me all about her dye pot set up; it’s a two burner camp stove right outside her studio door! She dyes when the weather is nice. I appreciate how her tools and methods are so simple and affordable, and yet her work is exquisite. She showed me that it’s more about the artwork and the artist’s skills than the equipment used to make the art. It’s definitely inspiration to go make something beautiful!

      Reply

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