Mission Statement

This blog journals my quest of art, whether it is a piece of work that is inherent in nature or one created by artists known or unknown or that I created myself. During this search, I have come to appreciate the magnificence and generosity of God who in his infinite wisdom surrounded us with exquisiteness everyday...everywhere and inspired our human spirit to create beauty that feeds our bodies and souls. Come join me on my journey to find art through my travels and my own creative endeavors. Maraming salamat.

All rights to all posts and contents on this blog, including photos and artwork are reserved by jojo sabalvaro tan.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Crewel Embroidery

An Avon Products  Crewel Kit I did in the 70s
As a child, I learned  the embroidery arts in Home Economics in school where we would practice the various techniques using DMC cotton floss on linen handkerchiefs. I was always so proud of my work no matter how it turned out. I think it was the enjoyment I had in doing embroidery work. Later, under the tutelage of my dad's eldest sister, Auntie Columbia, my embroidery horizon broadened to include crewel, cross stitch and bead work. As an adult in the early 70s, I picked up again on hand embroidery as a hobby and worked with cotton floss, yarn, pearl cotton, ribbon and beads. The embroidery arts kept me entertained at home, work,  doctor's waiting rooms, hospitals,  airports, hotel rooms and most every place I went since the materials you need were so easy to tote around. I gradually gave up embroidery as a main hobby and shifted to quilting and painting when I retired since I now had the luxury to sit and sew and paint to my hearts content without having to deal with my hectic work schedule. Besides it was getting harder and harder to get the thread into the eye of the needle as my eyes began to show signs of aging. Gradually, I embroidered less and less.

I was so inspired, after viewing the Bayeux Tapestry in France, to take up crewel embroidery again. Crewel Embroidery is a decorative form of  embroidery using wool and a variety of different embroidery stitches following  to a design outline on the fabric. It has a history stretching back to the early Middle Ages. It was used in the Bayeux Tapestry, featured in my blog In Bayeux - art, architecture and embroidery.  After we visited the cathedral in Bayeux, just across the street , we saw a shop selling crewel embroidery kits of scenes from the Bayeux Tapestry. To me they looked like faithful interpretations of the scenes on the actual Bayeux Tapestry, including the colors used. I seriously contemplated buying a kit but could not decide right there and there. Instead, I picked up the shop flyer in case I decide to order online. Here is their site showing some of the kits they have on sale - Bayeux Broderie.

Once we got home, I was very tempted to order a kit from Bayeux Broderie but was dissuaded by my perceived hassle of ordering from abroad and having it shipped here.  So I searched the Internet for another crewel embroidery project I would be inspired to tackle. During this search, I rediscovered the wonderful kits of Elsa Williams who was very popular when I was into crewel embroidery in the 1970s.  I decided that I would like to work on one of her kits.  I ran into great difficulty finding a project since most of the sites carrying her work appear to be out of business or out of stock. I resorted to Ebay where I was able to pick up a vintage crewel embroidery kit called Paul Revere. The finished embroidery is designed to be mounted on a stool which was included in the kit.

Considering how prolific Elsa Williams was in needle arts, having produced hundreds of crewel, cross stitch, needlepoint and other traditional embroidery kits and designs, there is little out there on the web about her life. She wrote several important books and a syndicated column,  hosted a popular PBS TV show on the subject and  taught correspondence courses and at her school, The Elsa Williams School of Needlework. She also opened shops In New York, Palm Beach, Southampton and Nantucket selling her kits and needlework supplies and where needlecraft classes were taught as well.  And now. it seems that none of her designs and kits are being produced so if you really want to work on an Elsa Williams design, you will have to look for vintage kits in sites like Ebay and take your chances.
Elsa Williams (1912-2011) was largely credited for the renaissance of hand embroidery in the mid century, after it experienced a sharp decline with the introduction of the sewing machine, Without realizing it, she must have been my  main influence in picking up embroidery again as a hobby in the70s.

This is the kit I bought on Ebay

I have now mounted the fabric on an embroidery frame and sorted all the wool yarn. All that is needed is to make the first stitch, Let's see, where do I begin?? I think I'll start working on this on New Year's Day...I hope to be able to share with you my work as I go along and more importantly, the finished product. Please check out this particular  blog post for updates. 
Threads sorted, fabric mounted!

Monday, December 17, 2012

2012 Christmas Card

Madonna and Child 2012 (after Rafael's Colonna Madonna)
by jojo sabalvaro tan
watercolor on 140# Arches paper
This year's Christmas card was inspired by a poster I spotted at a bus stop in Den Haag (The Hague) when we were there a few weeks ago. The poster was for a special exhibition of Raphael's work at the  oldest museum in the Netherlands, the Teylers Museum in Haarlem. Raphael is an Italian painter and architect during the High Renaissance period and was a contemporary of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. I have done a few paintings based on Raphael's work, one of which I chose as the image for our Christmas card a few years ago. Needless to say, I am a great fan of Raphael's work. His simplicity in composition and clearness of form appeal to me. Beside, I really love the renaissance period of art. The message that it imparts to me is we have to look back in order to move forward to achieve even greater things. And I also like the fact that religion and faith had a big influence on the flourishing of the renaissance period.

We had fleetingly considered tearing off the poster from the bus stop so I can make my version  the painting of Raphael featured on it. Since none of us were delinquents at heart and mind, the idea  left our thoughts immediately. I was sure I would find the same painting on the Internet somewhere. But as luck would have it, one of the stores we went to had little versions of the same poster that they were giving away. So I was able to take home one of them as a souvenir.

The poster at the Den Haag bus stop
Raphael painted a number of Madonnas and became known as a Madonnierre (painter of Madonnas). His Madonnas exhibit gentleness, intimacy and a sense of humility. Here are some examples of Raphael's Madonnas:

Madonna Conestabile, 1502 or 1503

Alba Madonna (1510)

As my Christmas tradition, I paint several Madonna and Child images throughout the year and choose a favorite for our annual Christmas card so I suppose I can afford a little self-indulgence and  refer to myself as a Madonnierre  I consider the old masters my personal instructors, by studying their paintings and history and interpreting their paintings I learn so much about technique, color mixing and composition.  With the painting for this card, I started as usual with a cartoon (sketch) on parchment paper, shown below, which I later transferred to watercolor paper once I was satisfied with the general sketch.

This time, I applied a wash of raw sienna all over the painting to give the entire painting a sort of golden glow (hopefully). I let that raw sienna base coat dry completely before I base coated the rest of the colors. 

Then, I added the shadings and details ...

Below is the completed painting side by side with the poster which was my inspiration piece.

And here is the 2012 Christmas Card. I had the card printed on a 6" x 8"flat photo card stock in a matte finish. The  colors turned out a little darker than the original but I still like how it turned out. I found out that most recipients of our cards like to frame them or put them on display. As a flat card, this one is ready for framing or for display as a mini poster.

2012 Christmas Card of jojo and rudy tan from original watercolor by jojo sabalvaro tan
Front and back view printed on heavyweight 6" x 8" smooth card stock in a matte finish

We bid you peace, love and joy this Christmas season and in the coming year. May God's blessings be with you always.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

In Bayeux - art, architecture, history and embroidery


We had very limited time during our road trip to Northern France and Belgium so we had to really whittle down our list of must-sees from a long list of towns, museums, sights and churches we wanted to see. What made it easy was the decision to concentrate on UNESCO World Heritage sites and allowing each of the four of us traveling together to make a choice of the one place they wanted to visit.  So on our list of must-sees were the abbey of Mont Saint Michel, Vieux Bassin in Honfleur, the old walled town of Dinan and the Bayeux Tapestry in Bayeux in France, For Belgium, we chose the Van Eyck Altarpiece in Ghent, the Grand Place in Brussels, the old town of Brugges and the Butte du Lion in Waterloo. Along the way for rest and lunch stops, we chose places that had UNESCO world heritage belfries and St. Therese's pilgrimage sites in Liseux. Our original list also included the World War 1 and 2 battle sites but these were scratched due to time constraints....maybe next time.

The Bayeux Tapestry, listed as a "Memory of the World" by UNESCO was my choice. This combines my interest in history, embroidery and art since it tells the story, in embroidered scenes, of the events leading up to and including the Battle of Hastings on October 14, 1066 told from the Norman conquerors point of view. The work was commissioned in honor of William's victory in the battle by King William's half brother Odo, who is also featured in the tapestry, There is also a tradition that connects the tapestry as being worked on by William's wife, Queen Matilda and her ladies, although there is nothing else that connects the work to her. The tapestry, approximately made in 1092, is about 20" tall and 231 feet long is the longest piece of embroidery in the world.

The Musee Tapisserie de Bayeux
We viewed the tapestry at a former seminary, now the Musee Tapisserie de Bayeux, where it is on permanent display. Tickets for the viewing include an audio guide, which tells the story of the Battle of Hastings, as you follow along looking at the various scenes on the tapestry. We were lucky that it was not crowded which allowed us time to pause and inspect the scenes more closely. It was amazing to find the  historical context of the places we visited during this trip, such as Boulogne-sur-mer, Mont Saint Michel and Dinan, depicted in the tapestry.

Only 8 colors were used in the making of the tapestry. Mainly, blue-green, terra-cotta, light-green, buff and grey-blue with  some very dark blue, yellow and dark green. It seems that they would have had to dye the yarn in bulk even before they started with the embroidery in order to maintain consistent yarn colors. Most of the stitches were done in and outline stitch and a stitch now known as the Bayeux stitch,  an  Anglo Saxon variation of an ancient technique known as laid work. With this technique, threads are laid across the surface of the fabric and held down with another thread and a couching stitch. This is a most economical use of thread as very little thread is used on the reverse side.

I, particularly, liked the battle scenes and my husband was taken by the portrayal of the trees, Also, noteworthy are the depiction of the boats. For people who had no photographs to capture the moment, this tapestry was able to closely capture what was happening much like religious paintings and tapestries have been able to retell the story of the bible. The Bayeux Tapestry is unique in that it is actually embroidered and not woven like normal tapestries. I would assume that embroidery like this that commemorate important events was a common practice. Unfortunately,  none have survived intact like The Bayeux Tapestry.

Trees as depicted on The Bayeux Tapestry.
It seems the trees were used as a demarcation point for the start of a new scene.
The sailing vessels on The Bayeux Tapestry

For more information on The Bayeux Tapestry, please view the following sites:

http://www.essentialnormanconquest.com/story/who-created-it.htm Great historical resource about the Tapestry and The Battle of Hastings

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bayeux_Tapestry  or http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/fe/Tapisserie_de_Bayeux_31109.jpg
you can scroll through the entire Bayeux Tapestry.

There are some great books also, particularly David M. Wilson's The Bayeux Tapestry. The photography in the book is such that you feel can almost touch the stitches.

The Old Mill on a canal

After partaking of crepes and galettes for lunch at the nearby Le Moulin de la Galette and having pictures taken by the old mill on the canal,  we walked to the imposing Cathedrale Notre Dame de Bayeux. As we were walking we noticed  small bronze insets on the cobbled- stone streets  with a representation of the Bayeux Tapestry trees.

Bayeux Tapestry tree on bronze insets on the street

The Notre Dame Cathedral of Bayeux dominates the entire town by its massive scale. While it occupied a great deal of land, it was surprising that the cathedral only had a very small square in front. It was in the process of restoration so some areas of the outside were covered with  scaffolding. We were told that the cathedral was closed due to the repairs but when we got to the main doors, we tried to see if they would open and they did.

The dome and spires of the Cathedral dominates the Bayeux skyline

The Cathedrale Notre Dame de Bayeux

The front facade of the Cathedral with the red main doors. Notice how clean it is.

Once inside, we experienced the interior of the cathedral just as it would have looked in the 13th century. Most of the dust, grime and any damages had been cleaned and restored. The glorious stained glass windows captured the light magnificently. We spent a great amount of time exploring the cathedral. The Bayeux Tapestry was kept here through the 18th century, perhaps unveiled in part during the dedication of the Cathedral in 1077 in the presence of William the Conqueror and his wife Matilde. The cathedral was originally built in a Norman-Romanesque style and rebuilt in the Romanesque style after it was badly damage in the war of 1105 but as the rebuilding continued through  the 13th century the style  turned to the Gothic.
Interior of the Cathedral looking towards the main altar. Again notice how bright the walls are.

Stained glass window
Beautiful tracery work

The Pulpit
One of the frescoes in the cathedral
The crypt with 15th century frescoes
I've kept a watercolor journal of this particular trip and here is one of my paintings and the picture I used as reference.

A view of the Cathedral dome and spires
My watercolor painting from my Travel Journal

It is great to see a Cathedral fully restored. I hope that these grand masters of architecture and art continue to be preserved for generations to come,  My friend Yogi and I decided that The Notre Dame of Bayeux would be a wonderful place for a wedding venue.... Perhaps, when my husband and I renew our vows on our 50th anniversary. But then again it is now a toss up between the Papal Basilica of St, Francis in Assisi. Fingers crossed.

A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral. 
Antoine de Saint-Exupery 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Marche Aux Puces de Saint Ouen (St. Ouen Flea Market)

A store display at the St. Ouen Flea Market showing the variety of items offered

Lately, I've been fascinated by the antique markets in Europe. I love the idea of hunting among seemingly discarded goods that may turn out to be a  treasure, not necessarily to re-sell but to have around your home as a memento or even an heirloom piece to hand down through generations. What I like about scrounging around in Europe as opposed to here in the States is that there seems to be a real appreciation of preserving the historical culture there. Granted, the European countries being so much older than the United States, there are hundreds more years of history and millions of beautiful items created for secular and religious purposes. It seems that everywhere in Europe there are antique and flea markets that open on regularly scheduled days.

We happened to be in Paris on a Sunday when the Marche Aux Puces de Saint Ouen, the largest and most famous antique and flea market in Paris (if not the world) was open and of course, we just had to schedule a visit there. We took the metro to Porte de Clignancourt on Line 4 and as we exited, we followed the crowds towards the large concrete overpass. A "Les Puces" (The Fleas) sign points in the direction we wanted to go. Along the way, you see hawkers of all sorts of items including knock off of designer goods - surprising since there were plenty of policemen in the area. There are also outdoor stalls selling African goods, clothing, shoes and household items. We chose to move on as our real target are the marches where the antiques are sold.
Walking from the Metro station to the St. Ouen Flea Market

Stall with African carvings

It is really overwhelming with all the outside stalls, sidewalk vendors and crowds but luckily the weather was extremely pleasant for late October, I am told that there can be as many as 120,000 to 180,000 visitors to the market on a weekend. There are 16 distinct markets with more than 2000 stores selling  art work, antiques, housewares, furniture, clothing, books, porcelain, jewelry and what have you. We finally got to the marches but had no real plan of attack. All we wanted was to soak in the ambiance of the place and look at the items being sold in case something strikes our fancy, So we decided just to follow one passageway into the next and meander through the stores that way. Here are some of the stores and items we came across:

Silver and porcelain
Fine china and collectibles

More items for the house
A store front display
Kitschy 60s stuff
Art Prints
Old Keys
A sign for a doll store
Asian and European antiques
As you can see, if you are looking for something, you are most likely to find it here and will be guaranteed a fine time doing so. I found the store owners to be very knowledgeable and helpful with information even if they sense you are only browsing. 

After a few hours of rummaging, our eyes were full but our bellies were grumbling, so we embarked on finding a place to rest and eat. There are plenty of cafes and bistros around and we ended up at a sandwich and pizza place owned by a friendly French Algerian guy. The sandwiches were really good and reasonable. 

Oh, and let me show you what I bought. When we were touring Northern France, I've been eyeing some French faience pottery by Quimper which features Breton figures on their wares. I did not buy any there. So I was excited when I spotted this cute little old plate at the market and at 8 euros, it is a worthy memento of both our trip to northern France and the Paris flea market.  I am happy!

The stall where I bought my Quimper plate

My Paris flea market find

Au revoir Les Puces de Saint Ouen.  Au plaisir de vous rendre visite à nouveau un jour

For more on the history of the Paris Flea Market, please visit http://www.discoverfrance.net/France/Paris/Shopping/Paris_fleamkts.shtml