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Category Archives: Art

In The Garden

By | Art, Color, Composition | 4 Comments


This painting is On the Balcony of Eugene Manet’s Room at Bougival by Berthe Morisot, 1883. Berthe, along with Marie Bracquemond and Mary Cassatt, was described by a prominent French art critic as one of “les trois grandes dames” – the three great ladies – of the Impressionist movement.

She grew up in a well-off family in Bourges, France, and from an early age, took painting and drawing lessons with her sister. Their art teacher brought them to the Louvre, where they could “learn by looking”, and copying the great works to advance their own skills. And while her sister married and ended her art career, Berthe persevered, and in 1864, at age 23, she exhibited at the prestigious Salon de Paris – the annual exhibition of the Académie des beaux-arts in Paris.

Here is her painting Lilacs At Maurecourt, done in 1874:


She had paintings accepted for the Salon for six more years, but in the year she did this painting, 1874, she broke away from exhibiting at the traditional French art establishment, and joined the Salon-“rejected” Impressionists, which included Paul Cézanne, Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. She married Édouard Manet’s brother, Eugène, so unlike her sister, she was able to enjoy a married life and continue her art.

Here is one of my favorites of her works, Doll On A Porch, 1884:


She was considered an excellent colorist – able to use color to create depth and space in her work. And her fellow impressionists considered the composition of her work (how she arranged the elements in a scene) outstanding. She focussed mainly on domestic scenes, painting what she saw around her, every day. And she mostly did plein air painting – painting from looking at the actual scene in real time, rather than making studies and drawings to paint from in a studio.

So on this lovely, hot and humid summer day, I hope you enjoy these paintings of Berthe’s, look around you, and see what ordinary, everyday scene might just make a terrific rug design. Or go out and look at your garden!

Clouds In The Sky

By | Art, Color, Composition | One Comment

image clouds1

When you are hooking a sky, adding in a cloud formation or two will add depth, movement and interest. I took the photo above yesterday, and thought it would be interesting to run the photo through waterlogue, an app that simplifies both line and shading. Here is how it came out:

image clouds2

It’s not that much different, but it does make me think that three shades – white for the bright highlights and a choice of much paler blues than the surrounding sky (to suggest a cloud’s transparency) or pale gray to add volume – would make a cloud shape better.

Of course, the white is where the light is hitting the cloud most directly, and the shades of color or gray would go opposite the position of the sun, even if the sun is not actually in your design frame.

In the first skies I hooked, I would just add a nice little blob of white in a blue sky:


Well, that’s ok, but clouds can offer more opportunity than that. I think I can do better than that.

Let’s look at another cloud formation – this one a painting by England’s renowned landscape artist John Constable (1776-1837):

image John Constable

A “Cloudscape”, like this Cloud Study by Constable, is a painting or rendition where the clouds are center stage. But any time you hook a sky, you can add mood. Bright sunny day, or storm on the horizon? In our real lives, we look up at the sky countless times to see what the weather is bringing us. That is part of what adding a cloud to your hooked design will add to your work.

There are beautiful rugs of sunsets I’ve seen, and sometimes, like with this Judith Dallegret design hooked by Debby Palmer of Hadley, MA, where the clouds are hooked in a more stylistic than realistic way, as part of the design:

image Deb Palmer Storms at Sea

Deb was the person who told me about the “Cloud Appreciation Society”, (online at https://cloudappreciationsociety.org) where you can look at hundreds of photos of clouds from around the world. Clouds are amazing things to pay attention to, whether in a hooked piece or just up above your head in the sky.

And if you’d like to get a better sense of how to go about drawing a more realistic cloud formation, there are good “how-to” sites online, like this one from naturalist and artist John Muir Laws:

I just heard thunder and looked up – yup, there’s a wall of dark gray clouds headed our way…

The photo of Deb’s rug is hers and hers alone, and used here with her kind permission. And this and other Judith Dallegret’s rug designs can be found online at www.gohookit.com.

28 minutes

By | Art, Color, History of Art | One Comment

image Childe Hassam

This wonderful painting is Celia Thaxter’s Garden, painted in 1890, by Childe Hassam. That’s pronounced “Child HASSam”, for those of you (like me) who want to know how to say it right.

And of course, Celia’s garden was on the New Hampshire island of Appledore, one of the Isles of Shoals. Hassam spent more than 30 summers travelling out to the Isles of Shoals to paint, and Appledore became quite a famous artists’ colony. And I just signed up for a rughooking retreat this coming Sept. on Star Island, another of NH’s beloved Isles, six miles off the NH coast! Whee!

This is a good painting to look at while letting the right side of your brain interrogate the left side. Do you like it? How do the main lines (“the bones”) balance each other? Where are the darkest and lightest areas, and the most colorful? Remember the “rule of thirds”, using a tic tac toe grid to consider compositions? Where do the “thirds” fall on this painting? And intuitively, what emotions come to you from this painting?

But the real point of this entry is to send you all a link to a film made by the North Carolina PBS station about Childe Hassam and the Isles of Shoals. It’s 28 minutes long and I’m posting it at the beginning of a weekend, hoping you will have time to enjoy it soon. It’s about this great American painter, about impressionism, marine biology, American art history, putting together an art exhibit, about sunrises and moonrises, and yes, about the Isles of Shoals.

So maybe while I am out walking my dog you can settle down with another cup of coffee and watch it – it is well worth your time. Here is the link:

And many thanks to my friend Dev for sending it to me. The painting above is in the collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City (www.metmuseum.org) and if you want to know more about the hooking retreat on Star Island in September, go to www.starisland.org or contact Pam Bartlett at The Woolen Pear, online at www.redhorserugs.com.

And enjoy this beautiful spring weekend!

Hooking in the Great Outdoors

By | Art, Contemporary rugmakers, Creativity, Making rugs | 3 Comments

image Susan Feller

Today is the first warm morning we’ve had for a while – and I’ve been saving this blog post for a nice warm day! A while back, I came across a group of rughookers called the Plein Air Rughooking Artists, and was enthralled with the concept of this group.

“Plein Air” (pronounced “plen air”) is French for “in the open air”, and this group practices just that – giving rughookers an incentive to experience working outdoors with no pattern, just bringing their supplies outdoors, and then sketching and hooking directly from what they see, smell, and hear right in front of them. You can do this on your back porch, or go to a special place and set up your hooking there.

Above, you see a photo from Susan Feller, one of the group’s members, showing her rughooking set-up for some plein air hooking.

As soon as I heard about this, I wanted to know more, and had a nice chat with Lori LaBerge, who is the informal leader of this fairly informal group, and moderator of their website.

Lori wrote, “Plein Air Rug Hooking Artists was established to give rug hookers the opportunity to experience how working outdoors with no pattern can improve one’s artistic abilities. One learns to look closer, to see, to touch, to hear, to smell. One learns to focus and discover new subjects to work with. Those in the group have the chance to show their work to the public through the group’s website and all are welcome.”

Here is one of the plein air pieces from a group member. It is “November on the Petitcodiac Marsh” by Patricia Winans from New Brunswick, Canada:

image plein air group

The choice can be made to hook from one’s porch or venture into fields, woods or mountains for a day out. Just start with what you see! And what a great idea for an outing with a few hooking friends! Lori made this list of suggestions for what to bring:

Cell phone
All hooking supplies (frame, scissors, hook, backing material)
Sketchpad/ notebook, pens, pencils, marker
Variety of wool colors
Portable chair
Sneakers/hiking boots
Fingerless gloves in cooler weather
Water bottle/snack
Bug spray

So you’d need to choose what wool to bring. Personally, I have two baskets of wool worms, and now that I think about it, I bet I could find the right colors to hook almost anything from this highly portable part of my stash!

Here is another plein air piece, “Pin Oak” by Jean Ottosen from Saskatchewan, Canada:

image plein air group

Lori added that another way to experience the outdoors is to sketch outside and take notes on weather conditions, temperature, lighting, textures, etc. This information can be used later to create a hooked piece in a home or studio setting. And even if you were mostly sketching, you could bring along your basket of worms and do a lot of color matching and selection while the scene to be hooked is right in front of you. This, in itself, would be a wonderful study of color.

The Plein Air group is centered around their website, which includes photos of members’ work done outdoors and work done in studio from sketches. Enjoy browsing through the site. You can easily choose to join – no fees and only one piece a year required to maintain membership – or work on your own. Spring is a great time of year to start a new venture.

Here is “Coleus I” by Lori LaBerge from North Carolina, another plein air piece:

image plein air group

Contact Lori LaBerge at lorilaberge@gmail.com if you have any questions. Both she and I would love to hear the experiences and results of those choosing to give plein air hooking a try. If there is enough interest, Lori may set up a page on the website showing work from those inspired by the plein air idea. I am definitely going to talk to a few hooking friends to plan an outdoor hooking adventure – what a great way to celebrate the coming of spring!

The Plein Air Rughooking Artists website is at www.pleinairhooking.com. Thanks to Lori, Jean, Patricia and Susan. All photos are copyrighted, and used with their permission.

A classic motif

By | Art, Design | 2 Comments

image metmuseum

What comes to your mind as the most traditional rughooking motifs? Animals, whether a dear pet or a lamb or bunny? Perhaps a sailing ship? One of the best candidates is probably the basket of flowers. Above you see an embroidery sampler, made by a British needlewoman named Frances Boyce, in 1780. The 20″ x 20″ piece is silk embroidery on linen. It is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York.

I fell in love with this 240-year-old piece when I saw it. It is such a straighforward presentation of this classic motif. It has only the slightest shading, but look closely and you will see it. I’m not sure about all those cross elements surrounding the flower bouquet…though some of them show incredibly ornate stitch work.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see an exhibit with dozens of rugs, quilts and samplers, just of baskets (or vases) of flowers? I grant you that these might not be the rugs that win “best in show” prizes, for there is not the surprise or “wow” factor that other rugs provoke.

And of course if you look at paintings and other arts, the basket or vase of flowers is as old a subject as you will find. Here is a Delft tile from about 1620:
image delft

In this one motif, you could travel around the world and back in time through the most ancient of artwork. I think it would be fascinating to see all the individual ways this subject has been interpreted. We create (paint, embroider, quilt or hook) those images we can find sustenance and good cheer in looking at. And nothing is as delightful as a bouquet of flowers – one of the easiest ways we can bring the beauty of nature into our homes…

Delft tile photo courtesy of ancientpoint.com and Frances Boyce’s embroidery courtesy of the Metropolitan, online at www.metmuseum.org.

One Small Moment

By | Art, Color, Creativity, Design | No Comments


Today let’s look at an artist working in a different area of fiber. Emily Barletta is based in Brooklyn, NY. Her most recent work is in the medium of hand embroidery on paper. Her wonderful work, above, is called Untitled 131. And while she is working with needle and thread instead of a hook and wool, her sense of design and color would be right at home in rughooking. Here is another of Emily’s works, Untitled 53:

image Emily Barletta

Emily wrote that much of her work addresses the scars left behind from day-to-day living. “There is the constant push and pull of light and dark, the violence that exists in the natural world, and the uncontrollable effects on the psyche when faced with the necessity to survive. What I am trying to do is keep a record of these things. By hand sewing on paper, each stitch becomes a mark focusing in on one small moment.

Here is her piece Untitled 138, which I think is just lovely, and so balanced in both design and color:

image Emily Barletta

She writes, “I can create a tiny intersection that slows down time and records it. Whether it is only using blood red threads, or playing with landscape colors, the needle allows me to create a mental space slower than the rest of the day. A space in which I can put the needle into the paper, pull it through, taut, and start again, creating delicate worlds that are softer and kinder…

I also love some of the works, especially this one titled Horizon, that Emily has created from felt, thread and glue:

image Emily Barletta

Here is a close look at Horizon:

image Emily Barletta

Wonderful! One moment at a time, one stitch at a time, one loop at a time… I think we have a lot in common with Emily, as we put our creative and healing spirits into material form… and I thank her so much for letting me show some of her work here.

Emily Barletta has a BFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art, 2003. She has received a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in Crafts, and a Pollock-Krasner Grant. Her artwork has been regularly exhibited at galleries and museums across the country. You can see much more of her work on her website, at emilybarletta.com. But, for this moment, here is one more of Emily’s works, Pelt, made from crocheted yarn. First, a photo of the entire piece:


And now a close-up view of it:


Emily’s work and her photos of it are her own, and protected by copyright. Thanks again, Emily – your artwork is wonderful and your thoughts inspiring.

A Woman Sewing

By | Art, Creativity | 2 Comments

image adamson

Another in my series of paintings of women, absorbed in their handwork… This portrait is called Summer Sewing by Dorothy Adamson, (British, 1894-1932). The woman is absorbed in her work, and the painter used the sunlight from the window to illuminate the scene, though the sunlight is shaded by the curtains. The spots of color are in the flowers, the woman’s sweater, and the piece she is sewing. All else is shaded and neutral. It took me a moment or two before I focussed on the two dogs keeping her company.

And as I looked at the compositon – the arrangement of the painting’s elements – what impressed me was the strong triangle, made up of the sewing woman, the cloth she is working on, and the two dogs…

I could not find out much information about Dorothy, except that she was primarily an animal painter. So it is not by chance that the two dogs in this painting are so well portrayed. She specialised in game dog studies and exhibited widely from 1915 until her early death at the age of 40. She was elected to the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours and to the Royal Institute of Oil Painters (1929).

Here is another of her paintings which I liked quite a lot, just titled Goats:

Adamson, Dorothy; Goats; Walker Art Gallery; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/goats-98481

Adamson, Dorothy; Goats; Walker Art Gallery; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/goats-98481

I grow more convinced that the best painters and artists are those who truly understand light, and their paintings, etchings, rugs etc. are brought alive by their skilled use of light and shadow.

Summer Sewing was sold at a Christie’s auction in Edinburgh, in 2003. And Goats is in the collection of the Walker Art Museum, in Liverpool, UK, and online here.

Fog and Mist

By | Art, Color | One Comment

image fog

This painting is Westminster, by Giuseppe de Nittis, painted in 1878. I picked it out to illustrate some thoughts on how to hook foggy scenes. I once had a very long conversation with Emmy Robertson about how one would hook fog, and ever since, it has interested me. We vowed that if either of us hooked a foggy scene, we would remember to send it to each other. I haven’t done one yet, but it is one of those projects on my “list”, maybe to do in a small size so I can feel free to experiment, without a huge commitment of time.

But this painting of a foggy London view of Westminster Bridge can point the way. In fog, the nearer the object, the more color and hard edges it has. And the further away an object, the more leeched of color and softer it becomes, until it seems to disappear into a gray silhouette, barely to be seen.

Here is another nice painting of a foggy scene, also in London (capital of fog). This one is by Rose Maynard Barton, from 1894, called Big Ben:

image Barton fog

Again we see the nearer objects having more contrast, and here it is really only the central horse that is quite dark. The row of trees and the line of carriages get increasingly blurry until they just fade away into smudges. Lights are reflected, on the wet street.

How different a shade of brown wool would you need to hook the buildings furthest in the distance, compared to the sky that is the background? Not too different, I think.

I know this is not exactly a mainstream hooking topic, more of a “theory of hooking” subject, or perhaps a theory of color issue, I suppose. But isn’t it interesting!

OK, here is one more foggy scene, from Claude Monet. He does not really go in for the browns and grays that others might use, of course, but in his Monet-way, it is still quite monotone. This is Monet’s Waterloo Bridge, Effect in Fog, painted in 1903:

image Monet

Well, if you have done a foggy scene, please let me know. And if you would like to watch an artist using watercolors to create a foggy scene, here is a link to an interesting video of painting fog, by Sterling Edwards. It’s about 12 min. long, but you can skip the first part, where he introduces the tools and brushes he uses – but it demonstrates the principles quite well:

And greetings to you all, on a sunny, clear and bright day in New Hampshire.

Painting with Wool

By | Art, Color, Contemporary rugmakers | 5 Comments

image fibich

It’s the coldest day of the year so far, and probably the coldest day of this winter. So when I saw this photo of Mary Michola Fibich’s hooked piece, above, the yearning for spring and flowers about brought tears to my eyes. It is titled Tulip – ‘Menton’.

Mary is an artist and art therapist who lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. For years, she sold commissioned watercolor paintings of flowers. In 2006, she writes, “after having two sons, I was looking for a new form of art that better suited my life. I had always collected antique hand-hooked rugs. I decided to try the craft. I was fortunate to find an excellent teacher, Katie Puckett, in Florida where I lived at the time. Katie and all the women in my North Florida Rug Hooking Guild offered endless lessons and encouragement.” Here is another of her works, called Poppy – ‘California/Golden’:

image fibich

Mary writes, “After learning the techniques of primitive and fine-shaded rug hooking, I decided to try to recreate one of my watercolor paintings of irises with wool. This rug led me to my new passion and the style I use today.”

Here is her Iris ‘Siberian’:


Mary writes, “Art has always been around and within me. I love viewing art and listening to what the artist is saying. I love making art and hearing what I need to be told.”

Here is Mary’s hooked Gerbera Daisy:


It is clear to me that Mary brought her painterly eye and talent to her hooking – these flowers, and Mary’s sophisticated yet simple portrayal of them, bring a breath of spring to me. Mary wrote, “I have always loved flowers and gardening. I continue to be amazed at the miraculous beauty of flowers and nature.”

Mary moved to Maine 8 years ago, and while she continues to hook, and run a rughooking business, she also has come back to painting. And recently she has fallen in love with needle felting. Here is one of her needle-felted pieces, called Lupines On Route 1:

image Fibich

Here is one more hooked rug of hers that I really love, called Dahlia:

image Fibich

Mary’s work was featured in an article titled “Painting with Watercolors, Painting with Wool” in the Spring, 2015 issue of Rug Hooking Magazine. And she has a really nice website at www.marymichola.com. On it, you’ll find some of her hooked rugs, watercolor/gouache paintings, giclée prints, greeting cards and some needle-felted art. And she has an etsy shop too, here. All these rugs and photos are Mary’s original work, so copyrighted and protected, and used here with her very kind permission.

Finally, here is a lovely quote from Mary that I found on her webpage: “I lay my hands on this wool. It tells me my name.” With that thought in mind, I might just make it to spring.

Learning to see, learning to draw

By | Art, Creativity | 4 Comments

image MJ draeing4

“Learning to See, Learning to Draw” was the title of the drawing class I took on Sunday at Boston’s Museum of Fine Art. And at the end of the class, I thought the title was just right.

I thought you might like to hear some details about the class. Karina Kadiyska was our teacher, and she was helpful and engaging as she led us through the class.

When we first arrived, Karina assembled a still life arrangement of five objects: two vases, a jug, an apple and a bunch of grapes. She told us to draw standing up, with your charcoal at arm’s length, and with your paper arranged so your eye-level was a third of the way down from the top of the paper. And she reminded us to regularly step back even more from your drawing to see it more critically.

Then she said, go ahead and try a drawing of the still life. Just give it a try, for ten minutes. And we did. Here was my first effort:

image MJ drawing1

I knew enough to remember to look at the size of things in relation to each other, but that’s all. It wasn’t terrible, but…

Then we gathered around Karina while she did a sketch. It was lightning-fast. She started by sketching the shape of the whole still life, as if it were all one object. She said, look, and think: if there were a clear plastic bag holding all the objects, what would be the outer lines of the clear bag? Mark off the “constellation” – the outer points of the assemblage. She drew a large triangle that framed all the objects. And working fast from there, she sketched, working from the largest object to the smallest. Then she slowed down and corrected as she went – measuring the relationship of the separate objects from each other, both vertically and diagonally. Look at the shape of the spaces between the objects, where do they overlap, how high is the bottom of the apple in relation to the bunch of grapes…look at the geometry of each object…

So we all went back and started over, thinking about that clear plastic bag, geometry, negative space, and mostly about the measuring and relationship of each object to each other. Here is my second attempt:

image MJ drawing2

If you look, you can see the “measuring lines” I added, to get the outer shape of the “plastic bag”, the horizontal line from the top of the grapes, across the jug, through the neck of the smaller vase on the right…

Well I could see the improvement. Then we did a series of six exercises, working only five minutes on each one, (ie, fast!), all using the same still life. These were really fun, and helpful! First, we drew the still life, but using your wrong hand! Easier than we thought! Then a drawing using only straight lines, no curves. That definitely helped in seeing the “geometry”. Then we did one trying to ignore the objects and just drawing the negative space between and around them. “Draw the air around the objects”, coached Karina. This was the most helpful of the fast exercises, for me.

Here’s my fast sketch trying to draw the negative space:

image MJ drawing3

Next we tried doing a drawing without looking at our hand or paper at all, just keeping eyes on the still life. Almost impossible! The last exercise was having the still life covered up, and drawing it from memory. And we did all know the arrangement pretty well by then!

Then we went back to our sketch and tried to finesse it, paying more attention to the geometry and spacial relationship, and adding more of the detail and a bit of shading. And really analyzed what was on a straight line with what else, horizontically and vertically, what created triangles, etc. Correcting this curve, making that line thinner, the apple smaller, this line thicker…Here is how my final piece turned out:

image MJ drawing3

Karina said that when we draw, we look at things differently than we do at any other time. And I think the biggest lesson of the class was that even trying to draw changes us, and changes the way we observe things – all for the better. And that is more important than how any particular drawing turns out.

Info on the Museum of Fine Art, and the classes they hold, are online at www.mfa.org.