A mess is just another creative opportunity

Every now and then the mess of fabric in my studio gets out of hand and I have a hard time finding anything - scissors, pins, rulers, the iron, last months bills. It is especially irritating when I'm in the throes of creating an artwork and I know there is this scrap of fabric that would be perfect, if I could only find it. 

So, I decide to clean it all up. I try to organize the pieces by sizes and colors, though not very carefully - I have quite a lot of very mixed up scraps. At least I get it all into my baskets and can start fresh. But this can take a awhile, and not necessarily because there is so much to clean up. 

The real problem is that I can't stop creating. 'Oh look at this piece!' I'll say to myself again and again, 'There's a nice mountain (or sunset, cliff, rock, etc.)'. And soon I am combining pieces into new artworks, right on the floor.

Fab scraps1

I usually pick up the largest pieces of fabric first and work my way down to the tiniest scraps. I tell myself I need to get rid of some of these smaller scraps. I may decide a piece is just too bland or has something about it that isn't going to work, like some sort of grid-like pattern or a large, straight line running through it - anything I'm fairly sure I won't want in my artworks. And then it comes down to size. But how tiny is too tiny? Some of my artworks are only 2 x 3 inches. Do I keep it all? No, it's too much. After doing this for nearly 20 years, I have had to let go of many of my scraps or my entire studio would be nothing but fabric storage. Still, I have to decide.

Here's a very tiny scrap, but I saw possibilities ...

Fab scraps2

Here's another one ...

Fab scraps4

The last few bits I am pondering over.

Fab scraps3

Eventually, I manage to get through it all. I'm sure I keep more fabric than is necessary but so far I have (just) enough room. 

The Resident Mantis

Praying Mantis

Not sure what this critter has to do with my art but these are the kinds of things that amuse me. This female praying mantis moved into my oregano bush last summer and lived there for at least a month. My husband named her 'Betsy'. We were delighted to have her. Praying mantis' have a peculiar way of checking out their surroundings and if you've ever observed one, you know what I mean when I say it seems as though they are acutely aware of humans and even curious. It may merely be a fear of being eaten but, as long as you don't poke them, they do not seem to be bothered enough to flee. They just twist that bizarrely cute head to look at you and then maybe move deeper into the shrubbery. One time I accidentally knocked Betsy off with a spray of water. She fell 15 feet to the ground below the deck and I felt terrible. The following day, however, she was back in the oregano.

She had started out very small and slim and I had no idea for awhile what sex she was. But she grew quickly and her belly swelled revealing that she was female. A few weeks later another mantis showed up and hung out for several days, maybe as long as a week. We suspected this was a male and this was finally confirmed when we saw them copulating. It was quite a sight! This went on for an entire day and then he was gone. Female praying mantis' are notorious, of course, for devouring their mates after sex but I've read that, actually, undisturbed in the wild, many males get away. We hoped he had. My husband had named him, too, although I can't remember what. Betsy stayed on for a couple weeks longer, growing ever fatter, and then she was gone, too. 

My art always portrays a natural setting of sorts, and so perhaps I can say that, even though I do not render drawings or paintings of the smaller scale life forms of nature (at least not in my fabric landscapes), I know they are there.

To view my artwork, please click here.

More inspiration

Sometimes just getting up close can reveal the most interesting patterns. I rarely see my husband, Chris, taking pictures of people, not even of me. Sometimes a nice view causes him to whip out the camera but what I most often see him pointing it at are the things no one else seems to notice. Fortunately, I love this stuff, too, and so together we admire the moss on a tree trunk, a pile of rocks or the edges of a puddle and such things. I suppose Chris could find a close up of a person's skin, hair or eyes also fascinating but, alas, he's not that gregarious.

Rocks and mud on the shores of Lake Tahoe:


Manzanita bark and moss:

Madrone Bark

Redbud leaves in the fall:

Redbud Leaves

Inspiring images can come from unsuspecting places:

Frog and his Skin2

Zucchini skin:

Zuchini skin2

Back to my Paints

Painting fabric, at least the way I do it, is a bit of a project. I need to paint outside because my studio is too small and I do not want to mix up the mess of paints with the works I'm creating. It would be a disaster. Each process must be kept separate. Outside, I need to set up my canopy (one of those big white tents you see at art shows). I need to be shaded while I paint. The paints dry too quickly in the sun, not allowing enough time for them to spread which is what I love about these water-based fabric paints. I never know what they are going to do. The colors move and blend unpredictably. It's fascinating.

It has been awhile since I've painted. All the wet (wonderfully wet!) weather we've had this year kept me from painting. So I got the tent up, the folding tables set out and the hose with a sprayer attached in place ... and then more rain came! That's fine. I still have tons of fabric. It can rain and rain and rain.

But I look for inspiration. As usual, I look for it in nature. I peruse photos, I hike around our land. There are wildflowers coming up everywhere now. And the moss is growing like small forests on the trees. New vegetation is fresh and bright. Here is a manzanita putting out new leaves - and they are bright orange!

Manzanita, new growth

Below is Redbud in bloom, behind which are deciduous oak trees now clothed in brilliant green leaves. Behind that are pine trees- the silvery gray pines and deep green ponderosas.

Redbud in Bloom

Why do I make these 'mountainscapes'?

"Why do you do this?" This can be a tough question for an artist to answer.

Since this is my first blog ever, I looked for ideas on the internet on what I should write about. One suggestion was to write about why I do what I do, that people interested in my work might want to know what makes me do this. I really had to spend some time thinking of an answer. I never thought about why I do this. I just create what I like. I could give the common reply that I have a need to create - art keeps me sane, it is my spirituality - and those things are true for me, but what I think might be more interesting is why an artist creates their particular images. For that tells the story of who they are as an individual.


Earth Silhouettes - that was the name I gave my collective fabric landscapes when I first started making them. They are a larger picture of Earth. The grand shapes of our planet that only nature could have created. I have become obsessed with making these. I can see now that they reveal a very deep part of who I am.

When I was about 4 or 5 years old (maybe younger, I'll have to ask), my father started showing me picture books about nature that included scary things like close-ups of spiders and weird sea creatures. I vividly remember the book about how the earth was formed. It had once been a fireball, and was later covered with volcanoes. Over time, it shot up huge mountains, spat out house-sized boulders and carved humongous ravines. It made me nervous. I lay wake at night pondering this unfathomable notion. Earth was an incredible place and I was in shock and awe. Sometimes I wish my father had waited until I was a little older but he did not. There are far worse childhood traumas that people have to deal with so I am not angry. My parents also showed me, in photos and in real life, forest covered mountains, rolling green fields full of wildflowers, craggy coastlines, alpine lakes. As well, my grandmother was a lover of nature. I saw pictures of her in Yosemite and among the giant redwoods in Sequoia National Park. She often talked about the TV shows she watched about wild animals.


All these images must've filtered deep into my thoughts. I remember, even very young, fantasizing that I was wandering through rugged, pristine, uninhabited lands. They were places both peaceful and impressive. I learned to feel comfortable there. Throughout my childhood, whatever else I was imagining, the wilderness was usually the backdrop. I think this helped to form in me a strong connection to the natural world.

There are other reasons why I love making these mountainscapes, other influences and experiences in my life. Perhaps at some point, I will write more on this subject.

To view more of my artwork, please click here. (707) 223-3037           © Kimberlee Ellen Brown 2016