Thursday, June 12, 2008

This Golden Afternoon - The Fairy-Tale world of Julianna Bright

If you've known me for any length of time, you will have heard me blathering on, at length, about the now-defunct but still amazing and life-changing band The Quails. This trio of three little friends Jen Smith, Seth Lorenczi, and Julianna Bright produced some of the most danceable and heartfelt queer punk music ever, earning them a coveted spot in my "favorite band" rotation of Sleater-Kinney, Le Tigre, and, um, Belle and Sebastian.

Sadly, The Quails called it quits in 2004, with Seth and Julianna moving to Portland, while Jen, a visual artist who toured with bands like Cha-Cha Cabaret and is widely credited with coining the phrase "Riot Grrl", moved down to LA to attend grad school at UC Irvine.

Since then, Seth and Julianna have been working on some charming little projects of their own, including their daugher, Evie, Seth's food writing (and making), their incredibly beautiful band The Golden Bears, and of course, Julianna's stunning paintings.

It might be reductionist to say that Julianna's use of obscure Victorian-era themes (she paints, as she calls them, "forgotten fairy-tales") and simplistic mediums (hand-drawing, goache) to fashion her images puts her comfortably in line with the values of steampunk, but I think it is at least safe to say that they share some of the same ethos: dedication to old-fashioned inventiveness and extraordinary, surprising beauty.
A regular at galleries that cherish small-scale, heartfelt pieces, her paintings pop off of the wall (and the printed page - see her entry for "Diary" in The Encyclopedia Project) with bright, crisp colors and fantastical imagery, mostly in creams, reds, and greens.
All are quietly beautiful with a disturbing undercurrent of tension - why is that woman tied up, and why is her bird-saviour feeding her? Is she being fattened up? Why isn't she being untied? Why is that couple , one of whom has an eagle's head, sitting naked in the mouth of a monster? They seem at peace, so maybe he's just keeping them safe? And what to make of the slightly menacing anthropomorphic characters, assorted scattered body parts, and strangely humanoid but not human figures with which her works are populated? One of my personal favorites is a portrait of a well-dressed couple, a gentleman rabbit in a waistcoat and spats and bearing a single flower, complete with root system, walking with his brightly-dressed wife, whose high-heeled boots, toy hat, and parasol are nicely set off by her teal plumage and the fish she carries in her mouth.
I want to know more about them - are they going visiting? The rabbit looks away, seemingly irritated, while the bird looks directly at the viewer, almost smug. The lyrical quality of Bright's paintings is matched by the dreamy, lilting songs of The Golden Bears, who recently recorded a series of lullabies based on children's stories belonging to her grandfather.
Like her paintings, the songs, filled with vivid imagery of ships in harbour, diffused sunlight, and life seen through antique mirrors, conjures a world in perpetual autumn: crisp, beautiful, and slightly chilly.
It is a peaceful and quiet place where you nevertheless must bundle up against the scary uncertainty of the outside world (in "This Golden Afternoon", Bright mentions that it impossible for her to make art, sing, or even sweep up leaves without having "demons about").
Sweeping tales built around a single image predominate (branches against the sky, sunlight filtering through a window, and frequently, the sea), or in one funny instance, a lullaby where she fairly begs her daughter to go down for a nap - "Sleep, my darling/sleep an hour/sleep just like a folded flower" - Bright's remarkably clear, soothing voice is given a perfect platform with these songs, a natural evolution from the acoustic protest-cum-folk songs that occasionally pop up in the Quails' catalogue.

Since becoming a parent, Bright has noticed that her work is beginning to revolve a lot around animals and birds and other child-appropriate themes that echo the work of fellow artist and mom Nikki McClure. Like McClure, she and Lorenczi frequently find themselves making art out of necessity (their album, Walls Without Walls, for instance, was recorded because playing the demo versions in the car was the only thing that would get Evie to stop crying).

Doubtless the urge to fill the world with beautiful images, delicious food, and gorgeous sounds is an effort to create the sort of world she and Lorenczi would like to gift to their beloved child, a desire to create a perfect nest that they can all snuggle into, warm and relatively safe from the kinds of forces that they railed against in their younger days. It's a nest we would all love to crawl into.

Check out Bright's illustrations on her website, and visit The Golden Bears Myspace page to hear the music that you'll have trouble tearing yourself away from.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Anne Dress gets dressed up

Currently listening to: The Golden Bears "Inspirational Lullaby", The Quails "When I Was A Lifeboat"

This week I've been tackling some of the 18 orders that I've piled up (from Capsule, online, and the custom dress party I had a few weeks ago), and the most exciting piece to come out of all this is a new silk shantung iteration of the Anne Dress, which I'm going to start offering on the site as part of my new Mignonette bridal collection. And to illustrate just how much work goes into making the darn thing, I made a little step-by step guide to the creation of the "Anne":

1. First, you cut out all the pieces. In the case of this version, it was 16 pieces. Whew. Then, you pin them together. Now comes the part that's actually fun: Adding on the ruffle. I love how, when it first gets going, it looks like a beautiful long ribbon on the front of the dress:

and then, as you go, it starts to look more like a bandolier:

I think this picture is cool because it's so symmetrical. It looks like an entirely space-age garment, I think.
Also for this dress I made a new kind of ruffle with a seam on the outside, which gave it a really beautiful line that I'm pretty psyched about.

2. Now it's time to put in the lining. In this case the bride-to-be chose a bright red heavy satin, which turned out gorgeously. For future Annes I might make it a dark teal though. ,
then the lining is added in and flipped inside out so that the ruffle stands up:

3.Now it's zipper time. The lining doesn't look half-bad. Hooray to me.

Now we step back to admire our work. The royal we, of course, unless you count the cats, who only care whether or not my sewing is disturbing their busy schedules of sleeping and licking themselves in various rooms.
4. And on to the sleeves. Here it is without sleeves, which frankly I kinda like. It's very flirty this way. Or maybe it's very Elvira. Either way, it appeals to the femme-fatale image I wish I conveyed.

The ruffle is doing all kinds of wackadoo things so it has to be pinned down and "trained" for the duration.

Ironing the sleeves is always funny because they look like scary, shiny metal gauntlets. * Actually I guess they don't, but at the time they did, which means I was up way too late the night before.

Now everyone knows that I cut fabric on the floor, using a taped-together ruler, and that my sewing machine table is balanced by an old towel. I don't actually like cutting on the floor, but my cutting table is currently being used by the actual Anne to create a scale drawing of the solar system, and she's so darn happy that I don't have the heart to move her.

Now the sleeve is set in and it looks kinda cute, mais non?
Now I iron it again, and then steam it and lint-roll it, all dressed in my fanciest sewing outfit, i.e. my pajamas, even though by this point it's probably 2 in the afternoon.

It is a testament to how much Anne must love me that I could look like this and yet she stays with me. Ah well, we must suffer for our art. And speaking of art:

Et Voila! 49 steps later, a star is born!

But first, the dress takes a quiet moment to contemplate its birth, which Anne graciously captures on film.:

What do you think? Do you like it?

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

yay! mp's dress is done and she likes it!

I can't wait to get some photos of her in the dress, but my lovely san francisco bride really liked the dresses that we whipped up (well, not exactly whipped, it took 2 months) for her! here's what she said:

"Dear Kpoene',

well we did it, and had an amazing wondrous time of it all. I wish I could have recorded all the compliments I received--on both dresses-so that you could bask in them. The yellow was so cute and I never knew I could have cleavage before...but it was darling.

Truly the wedding dress was perfect and it was a breezy day, it fluttered as I walked, and no marilyn moments....I will be sure to send you photographs. It was so fun to wear and absolutely perfect.

Thank you for everything!"

Gee. that makes me feel really special. :) Anybody else want a custom dress?