Thursday, January 26, 2017

I like #3

Last week I was hard pressed to come up with things I liked, but on Thursday afternoon just a couple of hours after publishing last week's post, several things popped into mind, due largely to conversations with other bloggers about their I likes!  So...

1. I like other bloggers!  I'm pretty antisocial in general, preferring often to stay in or hang out with just a couple close friends, but I love the interaction with other bloggers.  Everyone has something fun or thoughtful to say and it's fabulous to meet/interact with people who have both similar and different experiences to you!

2. I like storybooks.  I really like almost all kinds of books, but for this week I'll stick with story books.  We were always a big reading family and my mom kept lots and lots of our books.  Apart from a few favorites of mine, most of them now reside with my sister since she has kids.  I love reading to them, and Anna has just learned to read so now I get to hear her read back to me whenever I visit.  *swoon*  My great-grandmother was a nursery school teacher in the 1920s and 1930s and we've also been lucky to inherit many of her story books.  One of my favorites is A House is a House for Me.  It's a rhyming read-aloud story full of absolutely fabulous illustrations of all sorts of houses. In the last section it goes a little abstract and starts making you think about all kinds of things!

3. I like Judith Roderick!  She's an art quilter from New Mexico who I know through the SAQA New Mexico group.  She is a professional silk painter, and for the last many years she's used her beautiful silk paintings to make quilts, many of which are embellished with buttons and other things.  I really love her birds, especially this one and this one and this one She's also a lovely lady, lots of fun to be around.

4.  I like technology.  Some of my favorite things about it are really basic-  for example I really love being able to have a shared grocery list with my partner, and I really love being able to set reminders for things I'd likely otherwise forget.  I love having my hands free bluetooth in my car.  I have pretty bad cell reception in my studio but I love being able to talk to my mom on my morning commute.  I love audiobooks and podcasts, both of which are so much easier with my phone.  Of course, like most people, sometimes it feels like a struggle to find a balance, but I definitely come down in favor!

5. I like brightly colored hair!  Last summer I dyed the under half of my hair bright pink.  I love the color peeking out and the fact depending on how I wear it it can look like a whole pink head or completely "normal".   After initially doing it at the salon, I had been touching it up myself which though effective was messy and the results always wound up a bit splotchy.  Earlier this week I went back to the salon to have it re-done, this time in alternating swaths of pink and purple, and it's so fun not to have yucky roots or splotches anymore!

Thanks as always to LeeAnna for keeping us going with these posts!

Friday, January 20, 2017

New Quilt: Conformational Change

This was actually my last quilt of 2016, but I'm just now getting around to blogging about it now.  I finished it over the holiday break at my mother's and was racing against time as it was for a show entry due January 7th.   The show is called Structures and is put on by SAQA NM.  A lot of people are doing buildings, but I think there are also lots of botanical structures and things like that.  As a scientist, it seemed like a great time to do something about microscopic structure.  I'd already done a cell structure quilt, and it wasn't eligible for this show, so I thought I'd do something about protein structure.

For those who don't know, after being made proteins fold into a distinct 3D structure which depends on where they are inside (or outside) the cell, what their purpose is, and what kind of amino acid sequence they have.  This protein conformation is critical for the function of the protein, and tons of biochemical processes in the body are driven by changes in protein structure, a process called conformational change.  This conformational change can be initiated by all kinds of stimuli, and the change itself is usually very subtle but sufficient to induce the next step of cellular signaling.  Cool techniques, especially X-ray crystallography, have allowed scientists to measure and define these structures in many cases, really furthering our understanding of basic cell biology and molecular basis of disease.

As a vision researcher, I picked a retinal protein called rhodopsin.  Rhodopsin undergoes conformational change in response to light and is the protein that starts the signaling cascade that leads to vision.  My original idea for my quilt was to use very light colors and ethereal fabrics to make something very abstract and graphic.  Not until after I finished the whole thing and it turned out very strange did it occur to me that abstract and graphic don't really go well with light and ethereal, but alas.

Anyhow, I started by cutting shapes representing the seven transmembrane domains of rhodopsin in both it's inactive (left) and active (right) conformations out of different colors of fusible-backed organza.  I then fused them down to a giant piece of shimmery white organza and layered for quilting.  Perhaps you can see on the right side an extra light pink piece on the top middle.  When rhodopsin undergoes conformational change in response to light, a new protein called transducin (represented by the light pink piece) is able to bind, thus initiating signal transduction.

My original colors of organza, though blue, were way too light, so I wound up having to paint them before fusing down.  Then I discovered that not all polyester organza is created equal and managed to melt through a bunch of sections down to the batting and had to figure out how to patch them.

I decided to quilt straight lines in multiple light colors radiating out from each transmembrane segment to emphasize the graphic nature and the slight differences in the angle/position of each segment in the active/inactive conformation.  Across the middle I quilted a representation of the lipid bilayer that makes up the cell membrane.  I think the strong horizontal at least gives the piece a little bit of focal point.  Finally, I bound it with a wide binding of light blue organza.  Technically speaking, this was a huge pain in the neck, but I wanted a see-through effect so you could see the quilting through the binding.

Because there's no opaque fabric on the top, just the shimmery organza, you can see the batting through the quilt. In the picture below, I'd finished all the straight line quilting and decided to wet/block before doing the background.  It looks sort of dark and grayish because when it's all wet, the green fabric I used for the backing shows through a bit.

As it turns out, this wound up being a bear to photograph as well.  My dad and Mike both struggled with it, the shiny organza made light reflect weirdly when using his standard flash set up to get even lighting, then when he turned them off even the slightest unevenness in room lighting was reflected in weird shadows on the quilts.  Finally, most of the pictures were either really greyish in cast or looked washed out (like below).  Finally I decided it might go a bit better if I put it on a black background and moved it to a slightly different location.  I'm so grateful for all the time they spent trying to get good pictures!

Conformational Change, c. 2016 Shannon Conley, 39" x 43"

This isn't one of my favorite quilts, largely I think, due to some unresolved design issues in my head, but it finished ok and I hope it gets into the show!

What do you guys do when you have pieces which are unsatisfying?

Thursday, January 19, 2017

I like #2

This has been a pretty overwhelming week for me but I'm determined to keep liking things!  Practice makes perfect I think.  So without further ado:

1. I like (loooove) my dogs.  Anyone who follows me on instagram (im_working_on_a_project) knows that my feed is about half dogs and half quilts.  Right now we have three all rescues; a small grouchy shih tsu named Missy, a pitbull mix named Bentley, and a chihuahua/heeler/corgi mix named Bullett.  Missy is a daddy's dog- if he's around she will not tolerate anyone else.  You can see her barking madly because I got too close to the chair they were sitting in.  As soon as he leaves, she runs all around the house looking for him, then she comes and makes friends and wants to sit in your lap.  She is, incidentally, the only dog I've ever known who doesn't like to be petted.  Strange, but we love her all the same.

Bentley is large and drooly and is a very people dog, unless they're trying to come in through the front door.  If we come through the back door or the garage it's no problem, but anyone coming through the front door is subject to crazy barking.  He firmly believes he's a lap dog, and loves to snuggle.

A photo posted by Shannon Conley (@im_working_on_a_project) on

Bullett is smaller and cuddly; sadly he's often pushed out of the way by Bentley in the demand for loves.  He especially likes to have his belly scratched and to sit on top of the sofa back.  Sadly he has a penchant for trashcans so if ever one is left accessible you'll come home to garbage strewn everywhere.

They all love to sit on the giant poof in my studio (which is not always quite this messy), and it's always a race to see who gets there first.

Coming home to them just make everything so much better, provided you can get through the door without tripping over them.

2.  I like beading.  I don't do a whole lot of it, but right now I'm having a blast picking out beads for the eyes on my current mammal quilt.  Unfortunately a lot of my favorite beads seem to be a bit big, but I'm determined to use my stash and not buy new ones.  Let me know which beads you like best for the bobcat eyes!

3. I like digital design.  I do a lot of my quilt designing in Adobe Illustrator and sometimes Adobe Photoshop.  I also really enjoy doing print materials like signage/postcards for quilt shows, and have been having a good time learning Adobe InDesign.

4.  I love handwriting, calligraphy, typography, and hand lettering including that done with new (digital approaches).  I'm always exploring ways to put text in my quilts.  Some of my favorite instagram accounts fall into this category.

A photo posted by Type Gang (@type.gang) on

What have you been liking this week?

Friday, January 13, 2017

Portrait of the Kids Part 2

Last time I showed how I painted the flowers and kids in my new portrait quilt, and today I wanted to talk about how I finished it.  Unfortunately, my in-process picture taking really slacked off after the painting steps.

The bottom half of the background started with a piece of fabric that was some sort of cotton poly blend thing with light brown specks that was masquerading as linen.  I drew the porch lines with brown sharpie, heat set, and then mixed up some watery grey paint and painted over them, so the cracks wouldn't look so much like harsh lines.

The shadows are all done using layer after layer of painted and cut organza.  The organza was really shifty (of course) and it was really a mess trying to line everything up enough to get it all lightly glued down.  The top half background started with a yellow piece of cotton over which I layered several pieces of light blue organza to give a bit of depth.  I wasn't sure what I wanted in the background, the original picture was completely full of bushes all the way around the whole picture, and I knew I didn't want that.  I started with some light green tree shapes cut out of organza which helped but still was fairly boring.

Next I cut out a bunch of leaves and stems out of organza and tulle and layered them on along with another layer of light blue to cover it all up.  I liked that quite a bit better, but the transition from the top to the bottom half still felt a bit abrupt.  I finally decided to insert a piece of brown organza and quilt a little wall right at the edge of the porch.  I don't have a picture of that, but you can see it in the final pictures.  One of the interesting things you may notice about the above and below pictures is that the dark sides of the flowerpot switched.  In the original images the profusion of bushes made light and shadows come from all over the place.  But I realized once I had this assembled that in the pared down version the light was mainly coming from the left, so the dark/light sides of the flower pots needed to be flipped. I couldn't just turn them over, but I did wind up just painting some light and dark paint over each one.

After quilting the whole thing I had to decide how much to crop it.  My mom and I discussed it back and forth for a while but finally decided to crop a fair amount so that the kids were really front and center.  There was no need for so much empty sky and porch.  But after that was done, it felt a little small so I decided to do a portrait finish.  I've done this with several of my pieces now and I like the framing effect it gives without feeling like a traditional border on a contemporary piece.  Of course it does mean quilting a whole second quilt, but for something small like this it goes pretty quickly.  I auditioned several colors, but decided I liked the plain red best, so I quilted it to echo whatever was going on in the nearby parts of the main quilt.  As a final step I put a bit of white paint on the bubble wrap to give it some extra dimension.

And here it is all finished.  I gave it my sister for Christmas.  She really liked it and was very surprised, so I think my mission was accomplished.  It was so wonderful to be able to surprise her!

4th of July 2015, c. 2016 Shannon Conley, 31" x 35"

Have you ever done portrait quilts?  I think this one turned out pretty well, especially since I didn't have to do faces!  Thanks to Mike for taking all the final pictures.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

I Like #1

My friend Lee Anna does weekly I Like posts which she publishes on Thursdays but adds stuff to all week.  One of my goals for 2017 is to be more positive and I think I like posts would be a good way to help do it.  I'll be back with more quilts on other days, but here's a summary of things that have been positives for me lately.

1. I like my family!  Coming off the chaos of the holidays into the very busy but much less bright flavor of January I'm reminded how lucky I am to have a family I'm so close to!  Hooray!

2.  I like blooming plants!  I don't do well with outside plants, but I love houseplants, and most of my prettiest flowers seem to come in the winter.  Right now I have a fun Christmas cactus and bromeliad blooming in my studio!

3. I like Anatomy Lab (I had a picture but this doesn't seem like the place....) !  I'm a pharmacologist and cell biologist by training, not an anatomist, but I've gotten more involved in anatomy teaching in the past year and it's so fun to work hands on with students and learn something new.

4A. I like stickers.  In common with my sense of style (which heavily emphasizes glitter and pink), my great enjoyment of stickers reminds that in many ways there is a first grader still inside me trying to escape.  My lab members will tell you there's a whole folder of fun stickers in my office and any time an experiment goes well, a sticker goes in the lab notebook.  Recently I've started jogging again with my sister, and she sent me a lovely pack of Charlie Brown stickers to put up each day that I jog.  Such a great motivator for me!

4B. I like....not jogging, but the feeling I get afterwards and the playlists I play while jogging.  The playlist I usually jog to is one I made a couple of years back and is pretty eclectic.  I pretty  much included anything I enjoyed that was peppy.  It's about five times longer than my runs, so I don't get repeats very often.  Yesterday I had, among other songs, the Fraggle Rock theme song, Regulate by Warren G, 409 by the Beach Boys, Telephone by Lady Gaga, Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under by Shania Twain, and the Disney Color Song.

5. I like singing!  Our church choir is small but mighty and I love traditional choral music.  I don't have a very good ear, but I can read music after many years of playing the piano.  I've been the only alto in our choir for many years, and over time I've gotten better at finding those notes in the middle of chords and I've come to appreciate the harmony that comes from choral music.

6.  I like quilting!  I know, I know- seems kind of a duh thing, but I really enjoy the quilting part of quilting.  It's especially fun when, like now, I'm quilting something through only a single layer of fabric (rather than the many piled fused layers my work sometimes has) and when my threads aren't breaking and a good playlist is on (not the jogging one).  Here's a quick look at what I've been quilting lately; much more on it later of course.  It's only shiny because I'd just sprayed it with water to start getting rid of the blue marking pen.

I hope you all have a week filled with some things you like, and many thanks to LeeAnna for suggesting this idea to me.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Christmas Quilt for Becky

Back just before Thanksgiving I decided I'd make a quilt of my niece and nephew for my sister as a surprise Christmas present.  They are so very very special to me.  I'd had this fun picture of them I took over 4th of July 2015 pinned to my wall for a long time, and figured it'd be great to interpret as a quilt.  It really captures their fun playing (popping bubble wrap) and didn't have faces, making it much easier for me! I was really sorry not to blog about this as I went along, but that's how presents often have to be!

I decided to adopt a technique I learned from Esterita Austin at IQF a couple years ago.  I'd previously used it on my seed quilt, and have found it to be an excellent way to do painted quilts.  In brief, you paint on parchment paper, cover the painted surface with mistyfuse and a layer of organza, then iron.  The paint transfers to the organza and can then be applied to a quilt or whatever.  There are two really great benefits to this approach (over simply painting fabric).  The first is that parchment paper is much easier to paint on than fabric.  The brushes slide smoothly and the paint is so much easier to apply without weird bleeding.  Second, and more important for someone like me who doesn't draw well, is that you can put the parchment paper over a photograph on a light box and use it to guide color placement (standard but important disclaimer- do not do this if you don't own rights/have permissions for the photograph).

Here's what it looks like on the light box.  You can see the printed out (full size) picture underneath and the skin I've already painted on the parchment.

I painted each section onto the parchment paper separately, doing all the skin/hair first, then the clothes/shoes, then the flower blossoms, leaves, and pots.  That way I could mix up the many different shades of blue/red/tan/whatever all at once and not have too many colors going at once.  These are all painted parchment paper.

And here's what they look like after being transferred to organza using the mistyfuse.  In the one of the kids, there's a bunch of extra organza all around the figures which I trimmed away before applying them to the background.

It was fun doing the painting until I got to the leaves (which were very tedious).  As a result, many of the leaves don't have any paint at all, but the ones that do give some depth.  Next up, making the background and assembling it all!

Friday, January 6, 2017

2016 Wrap-Up and Looking into 2017

I've really enjoyed reading the 2016 recaps and 2017 plans/goals/resolutions that abound in the blogosphere, so I thought I'd dump my thoughts into the fray.  2016 overall felt like a really hard year for me, and 2017 is going to be the same way, but I think this is about my attitude more than anything else.  Especially when I look objectively and see how many really wonderful things that happened in 2016.

On the quilting front, even though I didn't blog nearly enough, I did finish several main quilts, 3 of which belong to my ongoing "series" (in air quotes because they're sort of loosely defined), as well as lots of littler side projects.

Topography II-Crest Trail, c. 2016 Shannon Conley
Anonymous, c. 2016 Shannon Conley

Eucharistic Prayer C: Convergence, c. 2016 Shannon Conley

On Dahlias, c. 2016 Shannon Conley

Lux Venit, c. 2016 Shannon Conley
These last two are so new I haven't even blogged about them yet.  So stay tuned for more in-depth posts.

Conformational Change, c. 2016 Shannon Conley

4th of July 2015, c. 2016 Shannon Conley

Now looking forward.  I'm not much for regular resolutions but I do have some goals for 2017.
 1.  Improve my overall outlook.  I used to be a super bouncy cheerful extremely enthusiastic person.  My friends will tell you that when I get going on something I still am those things, but over the last few years I've steadily fallen into a default position of cynicism and irritation.  What a tragic way to approach things!  I kept thinking 2016 was a wretched year, and let external factors sway my emotions and attitude to an excessive degree.   I've decided though, that I can't help anything become better if I radiate negativity.  I need to actively change this attitude.  One thing I'm going to adopt is a weekly "I like" post here.  It feels like a concrete way to force myself to acknowledge good things I see and do and hear.  My good quilty friend Lee Anna has been writing these posts and I love reading about things she's enjoying.

2. Improve my productivity.  I feel like I have a lot of wasted time in my life.  I think for me, this means being intentional about how I spend my time, whether it's working, or making art, or relaxing, I need to be actively choosing how to spend that time and not looking up and suddenly realizing I've been websurfing for an hour.

3. Keep making art.  My eventual goal is to apply for Juried Artist Membership in SAQA, and for that I need a fairly large cohesive body of work.  I don't have any desire to make things just to check a box though, so the end result is I need to just keep working and see where my pieces go.

Here's fingers crossed for a productive, positive 2017!

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Christmas Miscellany!

Happy New Year to all!  I hope everyone had a lovely time celebrating and spending time with family and friends.  We spent Christmas at home and the week after visiting family (awesome).  I have various miscellaneous projects to share from Christmas, and then two new quilts to share later in the week.  I love having a record of these small projects, it feels really fun to go back to them later and look.

For my Christmas cards this year I used a stamp I cut during a Jean Wells Keenan workshop this past spring.  I've never done much stamping or stamp carving, but I had fun with this.  It took me a while to get the printing right, but by the end I had it going well.  It was so fun to use different brightly colored cardstock and paint colors in all different combinations!  I did miss sending out a picture, but we just didn't have any good ones from this year.  Hopefully next year we will, as I love getting family pictures from others.

Another Christmas project this year isn't really mine and has actually been going all fall, but as it was a Christmas present for someone else, I didn't want to jinx it by posting it ahead of time.  This quilt was made by my good friend Trish (my mom quilted it for her), using all fabric she saved from making clothes for her daughter back in the 80s.  It was her first quilt, so I've been advising a bit along the way.  It turned out super super awesome, and I was majorly impressed.  I warned her at the beginning that a tumbling block quilt was virtually all y-seams, but she persevered, and it's fabulous.  I don't have the dimensions but it's a generous lap size- maybe something like 55 x 75 or so.  It was so fun to hear all the stories behind all the fabrics, and I know her daughter (the recipient) loved it.  

As has been my tradition for the last few years, I made Christmas ornaments again this year for some friends and family.  I wasn't sure what to do (even though I have a pinterest board full of holiday projects to try), but after cutting paper snowflakes with my nieces and nephews at Thanksgiving I thought I'd run with that idea.  Unfortunately because I couldn't just use white paper, many of them don't look like snowflakes exactly, but it was fun cutting them.  They were smallish (I think the medallions were 3.25 inches wide), so I couldn't get as much detail in the snowflakes as I would have liked, but I think they turned out ok.  A little more crafty and less sewy than I usually do, but something a bit different.  The backgrounds are just the little wooden medallions you can get at craft stores which I painted and then decoupaged on the snowflakes using some old matte medium.  As always I made a special ornament for Mike reflecting his interest (although I don't think he particularly cares about Christmas ornaments).  This year I did one from him similar to these only with a red Jeep on it, as he's taken up Jeep off roading this year.  Unfortunately I neglected to take a picture before packing away all the decorations yesterday!  Oh well, I'll get a picture next year.

My favorites.

Finally, I wanted to share a craft project my sister did over the break!  We did bunches of crafts, especially with the kids, but I forgot to take pictures of most of them.  I thought this was especially cute and useful though.  I don't know how many of you have Candy Land aged children, but trust me when I tell you the little game pieces you move along the path are really terrible.  They're large, very light, and extremely top heavy.  As a result, they are constantly tipping over, constantly getting bumped off their places, and in short make an already fairly boring game really really painful.  So my sister decided to make these new little game pieces out of leftover buttons, felt, beads and hot glue.  At the last minute she added the googly eyes and faces, and they're adorable!  They're big enough to easily pick up for the kids, but not at all tippy, and fit well on the game squares.  The felt makes them slide really nicely over the game board, and they were so nice to play with.  It took only about fifteen minutes, and I think it would work for any game with pieces that move along a track.

That's it for Christmas crafts, I'll be back later with a 2016 wrap-up/2017 plan and then back to quilts!  

Update:  I found a picture of the Jeep ornament!!