Beth Markel

“D’nugly” is the contraction for “Damn Ugly”

Posted on September 28, 2015 by Beth Markel

Art is therapeutic.

Sewing is therapeutic.

Journaling is also therapeutic.

You would think with that much therapy I’d be better adjusted!  I think, in this media day & age, that it’s quite easy to simply put on a “facebook” front for people.  Photo-shopped pictures show “perfect” people in magazines, and people do exactly the same thing with their own photos when they post to the world.  While there is absolutely nothing wrong with putting your best foot (or face) forward, it’s not always realistic.

Here’s the crux of my dilemma:  I could write about how for the last couple of weeks I’ve worked on some very cool and sexy color combinations for blocks I’m teaching, or how I’m turning an artistic eye to our back patio & gazebo, OR I could tell you the truth about how absolutely frustrated I am with a project that is NOT coming together!

SAQA is Studio Art Quilt Associates.  Great organization, lots of creativity, lots of knowledge, lots of opportunities to be challenged.  One such challenge, which I feel very strongly about is “Concrete and Grasslands” and how man and nature meet, coexist, juxtapose, or interact with each other. 

Having grown up in the Midwest, summer drives meant miles and miles of corn fields or soy beans, potatoes, beans, or a mix thereof.  Visiting my grandparents meant miles and miles of cotton fields, orange groves and berries.  The buzz of bees in the strawberry fields was the sweet hum of early summer.  Corn, taller than my dad, waving in the summer sunshine and heavenly breeze was idyllic to me.  Now when I drive north in my area there are these beautiful farm fields with absolutely monstrous, hideous, downright UGLY, concrete wind turbines.  Woob.  Woob.  Woob. The persistent and deep thrumming of the turbine rattles my soul.  They are lethal to eagles.  I loathe them.

So when this challenge from SAQA came along, I felt very strongly about it.  I only really want to work on pieces, or make art, that I feel very strongly about – what moves me, what intrigues me, what do I want to express or provoke in others, what do I feel joyful about?  Because of my strong dislike for these concrete monstrosities, I thought I’d make something edgy or thought-provoking.  Buildings at night.  Grays.  Moody.  Maybe some text.  Wholly, a darkish, contemplative piece about the juxtaposition between the concrete towers & other man-made structures vs. the grasslands or, in my case, the farmlands below.  What I now have are at least 4 different iterations of ugly, and one colossal, epic fail.

So a girlfriend and fellow artist turned me on to TAP paper, a Lesley Riley creation.  It’s the next generation of photo transfer and it’s a fantastic product!  Kind of pricey – think $2/page – but worth it for the right project.

This would turn out not to be the right project.  I started with photos of buildings, some local, a lot I’ve taken, some famous, as I have that life-long love affair with architecture.  The TAP paper worked great, and originally my plan was to superimpose buildings together at night, clustered such that they ran right up to the grasslands and stopped, not being allowed to enter, as it were.  OK, too dark & waaaay ugly. That didn’t work.  My first goal for this project was all surface design.

Grasslands, too dark


Failing that, next, I thought I would try some of the great photos cut into squares, being a quilter at heart.  Get the circus tent ready, because what I ended up with was HIDEOUS!


6" Squares...utterly ugly


Again, I love architecture, but hate the wind turbines…so finally, I thought I would simplify and piece some of the damnugly turbines and do a split piece where the grassland was the horizon and about 20” below into a field of green with a couple large flowers, and 28” of turbines corrupting the sky.  OK, it’s official.   REALLY HIDEOUS.


I love the concept that this challenge presents.  As mentioned above, I have a life-long interest in architecture, but I also feel very strongly about the concrete monstrosities in our farmlands.  I abhor the woob, woob, woob, which deeply disturbs me.  Can I express this in fabric?  Apparently not!

Am I discouraged?  Maybe more frustrated or disappointed that I can’t seem to convey my feelings in fabric.  I didn’t want an abstract piece that was evocative or suggestive of how I feel.  I think I wanted what my original vision was for the piece – darkish, gray, moody, perhaps some text.  Nancy Crow told me once that artists who don’t succeed often get in their own way – or second guess themselves…maybe that’s what happened.  I had a vision of one direction but didn’t like the outcome, or could not pull it off, so went in another direction.  20/20 Hindsight, I should have attempted another moody piece.  I got in my own way.

It’s easy to gloss over our mistakes or struggles in an effort to hide our blemishes, but I would rather be authentic and forthright.  It isn’t always pretty, but it will always be truthful, and I believe that art should be truthful to be meaningful.

Make something today.






Lynn on September 28, 2015

I really like your approach to the buildings in your first attempt. Not so much the grassland.

Lynn on September 28, 2015

My comments got cut off! I, too, was intrigued by the topic, had an idea, but didn't get excited enough to bring it to fruition. The window of opportunity closed. Here's to more ideas and more persistence in the future - for both of us!

Arja Speelman on September 28, 2015

Thanks for being honest. However, I think you gave up too soon. I actually think your first idea could have morphed into something wonderful! You can certainly use parts of it for another project anyway. I am also working on something for Concrete and Grasslands but its not going to be done in time. This stuff happens. Your post reminds others how much thought and work goes into just the idea, then we still have to create it. Great post!

Janis on September 28, 2015

Beth, I have to tell you I did the same exact thing. Fortunately I started early enough in the game that I had time to recover from my failures and finally produced something I was pleased with; however, I couldn't believe the mess I made at every turn. Finally, I cut everything up , set it aside and started over completely from the beginning.I blogged about it too:

Suzanne on September 29, 2015

I feel your distress regarding windmills invading farmland. We just got back from a trip to Scotland, and the giant windmills were shocking. I should be used to them, since I live in CA. You may have actually captured the feeling of those machines perfectly, because they are most definitely D'nugly!! Then again, I think your first attempt would work, if you cut the green area to about 1/3 of what you my opinion, it's the proportion that throws it off.

Regina Dunn on September 29, 2015

Been there. Done that. But for a different challenge. My piece is still folded up waiting to be cut up into ATC's or something else. Sometimes the picture in our heads just can't seem to come out, but when it does, it is so gratifying. Thanks for sharing.

Kathie on September 30, 2015

Just wanted to say I appreciated your thoughts and why you felt your pieces didn't work out. But I do agree with others who think the images of the buildings had possibilities. The transfer has a dark, eerie quality, at least as it looks on a computer screen. I've had more than one of these experiences. I'm working on something currently and can see a number of ways it can go wrong. So I'm in the midst of deciding where and how to start.

Claire on November 23, 2015

Sharing successes AND failures is important; thank you for doing so. I love the juxtaposition of all the famous structures. The thing that jars me in the first one is the absolutely straight green line. Other thoughts as I was reading: It is hard to make something beautiful when you want to say it is ugly. And the piece is worth making even if the entry period is over.

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