Monday, September 18, 2017

Two mediums, one imagination

Looking back over the last few years as to what was the greatest help to me in learning to create better compositions for my art quilts, one of the most important things was learning to paint.
 And, latterly, learning to play piano.  There are a number of factors that apply to all creative endeavours......  many goals and techniques that will transfer from one medium to the other.  

One of the things I've learned from piano lessons is the importance of contrast: loud vs soft, fast versus slow, staccato vs legato.....all of these things occur in the fiber arts too!  Without contrast, whether it's of value, or shape, or opacity, or quality of line, color, edge quality and so on, a piece rapidly becomes boring.  Imagine the one note Samba all at the exact same volume and aural quality - ugh!!! and how many quilts have I seen that looked just like that...b...o...r...i...n...g!

One of the attributes I love in watercolours is transparency and  the sense of mystery that this conveys.   Transparency is (relatively!) easily achieved in watercolour painting,

and I think it should be possible in quilting too.  I used a lot of transparent elements in Gathering Storm (below).  And in Electric Fields (detail below)


gatheringstorm72dpi



















                         

   electricfields
                                      
 

 I also used a lot of contrast...of value especially in Gathering storm.....whereas in the cooling towers the values are similar but I have contrasted soft edges within the markings on the towers with the hard edges that outline the towers


I do love dyeing and screen printing and have the stash to prove it!  I find screen printing especially magic, as you lift up the screen, you have really little idea (well, I have little idea!) as to what amazing image I will reveal!

I particularly like to overlay prints and also have developed some ways of printing with various cut out shapes sticking on the screen, then picking them off  full of dye, reversing them and printing with another colour.  All very messy and so much fun!!  The more imperfect the print, the happier I am!

IMG_2737
This is a detail of the screen printed base layer of the piece I’m about to start work on;  I’m thinking of layering more with organza, and maybe some opaque elements too.  We’ll see where it goes!  I’ve got some good rich saturated colour for the focal area, and need to achieve a greater range of lights and darks..sticking with my urban theme.


overture72



One of the other things I just love in music are the spaces...it was said of one pianist that while he missed many notes, his pauses were wonderful!  Well in watercolor the space is the white paper....  I’ve not often used white much in quilts – apart from the black and white series I did a couple of years ago (example on right).  Modern Quilts use a lot of white to great effect.

Negative space is very very powerful in a quilt... and I have always had a great awareness of the negative space and the quiet areas -  so important in a painting  - in music, in poetery, even in stand up comedy.   
 
And so…. What are you up to??  Is anyone else so foolish as to try to apply learning from one medium to another?    How well did it work?
And, if you have been, thanks for reading…………………Elizabeth

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Modern Quilts




Warm Light  (37" x 53")




This early quilt of mine is going to Quilt Con which is the Modern Quilt festival...now I'm not sure where or when!!  It's a display that SAQA organized.    But I'm very pleased to have a quilt being shown there because I'm very attracted to Modern quilts - well the best of them, that is!!  Like any other "style" of quilting, there's good , very good, okay, ho hum and downright poor!!!

I think the Modern Quilt movement is very encouraging...the work is often very refreshing and reminds me of the blankets, and similar strong fiber works, that we see from Peru..made hundreds of years ago.  There's an elegant simplicity to them, an economy of style that really celebrates fibre.    I am so glad that the movement was started!  Now my quilt actually predates that movement by some time....but it languished unshown for many years in my "library"....which is art books and quilts!  And it's a room with a view too!  Now what more could you want?

However, one thing is happening in the modern quilt world that isn't so good.   And that is that lots of "easy" "modern" quilt patterns are being published....the quilting companies are commercializing things yet again.....I remember one time I was teaching at a place where there were other teachers...and, at lunch, I asked a student in another class about her class: "how is it going?"...and she said fine, she liked the teacher...but she had had to buy a whole lot of extra equipment to make the particular patterns and it  was all getting a bit tedious and expensive.

That's sad!  I see all quilting, but especially a new young type of quilting, as a way to help people realise their own creativity...while it's often good to start with a simple pattern to get your feet wet... after that you really don't need to be printing out complex templates - or worse yet buying expensive ones - when you could be designing your own quilts and using your brains to work out how to put them together!

so....I thought...well I want to write a class that addresses that!
The class is aimed at anyone who is interesting in modern quilting...what is it? how is it defined?  how can I learn to make one?
AND, most importantly, how can I learn to design my own modern quilt? 

 Well... do check out my class...it covers all those topics....it starts this Friday...but doesn't matter if you're a bit late starting....
it's at the Academy of Quilting - online of course...very convenient!   
It's called Mod Meets Improv....because not only does it cover modern quilting and its design, but also it introduces you to Improv methods - no templates!! Freedom!
 
Happy to answer any questions about it....(email link on side bar)....and would love to have your comments:  do you like Modern Quilts?  What do you think about the movement?
What d'you feel about commercial patterns being pushed so hard?

as ever, if you have been - thanks for reading!!!  Elizabeth

 



 

Thursday, August 24, 2017

How it came about...

Black and White, No Grey

 A few folk have asked me about the quilt above and how it came about.....
Well, it all began with the one below:

Edging Into Line

I always loved this little quilt and am glad it's gone  to a good home!
I took a photo of the building, somewhere in "Shakespeare" country in England some time ago..
Now the quilt isn't an exact copy of course...I never do that...I take what interests me, add more and rearrange, simplify, omit what is not of interest etc....but I had the sketch and the idea on the design wall for a long  time.

Then one day I was packing in a hurry to go off to teach a class at Arrowmont (super Arts and crafts school in TN, thoroughly recommend it)....and at the last minute I thought: oh I need to demo a quilt from the start for this particular class....what fabric shall I take?  didn't want to mess around for ages choosing out colors so thought - I'll just go with black and white.

So that limitation both made my fabric choice very easy...and I think made the quilt a lot stronger and more elegant...limitations are good!  Too much is always too much, I think!

 I put the little house together in the class and when I got home then had to figure out the background...  I wanted something to really set off that black and white but not detract from it at all.
This gorgeous blue I'd just double dyed with 3 different blues caught my eye and I loved the idea of  black and white taking center stage (for once) and color being the supporting cast!!  An edge of luscious color just really appealed to me.  When I get the colors right I can almost taste it!

So then, of course, I had to go on and make more black and white quilts with an edge of color:

The Strength of quiet Windows

I thought I'd like to be more abstract though and not tied to a particular photograph....the above quilt is a real beauty and will be shown in Decatur, Atlanta, Ga in September at Different Trains Gallery

along with about 8 others (not all black and white though!).
On Strength of Quiet Windows I got REALLY carried away with all that hand stitching you can see in some of the "windows"...hand stitching is so beautiful, so evocative....

Having done that one, it was time to make something for Quilt National and I got really carried away and pieced a huge wide quilt - it was practically the whole wall in the studio... about 10 feet!

Remembered Lines

This time I focussed on getting a lot more push pull with the black/white lines....don't know if any half-timbered building ever had such crazy stuff going on..but isn't it wild?  Love it!
Well, it was way too huge to enter.....so I thought  hmm I'll just take a bit off on the right, and a bit on the left....and put those pieces  together, add in what's needed....and get a bit more of a wiggle on the top....and ...voila!....
the quilt at the top of this post!
Remembered Lines was accepted by QN and sold to a collector right out of the show which was great! I needed that design wall space for something else....

So now you know!  I love to hear the stories behind the work...do comment and tell me yours!

And if you're looking for a class with lots of personal help with critique....email me...I may have the class just for you!   There's a link on the side bar....

If you have been, thanks for reading!  Elizabeth



Sunday, August 13, 2017

Abstracting from Abstraction


 
Contemplating abstraction.....
This Friday, I'm starting a new class with the academy of quilting   
on abstract art: More Abstract Art for Quiltmakers.  It's quite different from my first Abstract Art for Quiltmakers class in that it looks and the history and development of the movement as a whole...and includes many new different ways of devising designs.




 While abstract painting seems to be something people love or loath, there's a tremendous tradition for abstract work in quilting....
if you thing about it, most of the traditional quilting designs were abstract.    So in seeking new ways of designing quilts, I thought it would be interesting to see what the world of abstract art as a whole could suggest to us.
A good way to begin one's study of anything is with some definitions....what actually constitutes abstract art?  Abstraction can vary from ideas (shapes, colors ,relationships) abstracted in part from the real world, or it can be an attempt at a pure depiction of emotion. Some say abstract art is about nothing!

Many artists, in many different mediums, quiltmakers amongst them, deplore the idea that any mark they might make in their work actually represents something. But human beings are wired to make connections, discover resemblances and relationships and also to project meaning onto experience. 

Furthermore, would you actually want to communicate nothing about nothing anyway?  If that were the goal would the result be considered simply as  "decorative pattern-making" (as has been said by critics in the past)?  Even so,  I feel sure the makers still had the goal of creating beauty.  And abstract artists would say that their work is not about decoration, rather they feel that it reflects “hidden metaphysical truths” or emotions.


In contemporary art quilts, artists have taken traditional quilt ideas - squares divided and rearranged, strips added, sections cut and rearranged – and developed them further. Often they have exaggerated the “mark of the hand” by cutting the shapes out freely so that the normal curves and meanders that occur when you do not use a ruler are much more evident.

I have found it great fun to abstract ideas from abstraction and in this class show you many ways to do it!


Think of a painter as a choreographer of space...let us be choreographers of pieces of fabric...arranging them in a beautiful dance...

If you have been, thanks for reading!  All comments read carefully....and answered (if I have anything intelligent to add that is!).   Elizabeth

Friday, July 28, 2017

Working from a photograph




the photo: York, UK.  

the quilt: cathedral



Starting to make an art work with a photo is so looked down upon is because people often do a very bad job of it . Not only quilts! but paintings too.
They follow the photograph too closely (warts and all) and end up with an overly literal piece that shows the warts very well and not much else. This kind of work often looks exceeding stiff and lifeless. But I don’t think that work that comes from a photo HAS to look that way, and it seems to me it’s just as good an inspiration as any. Wherever you begin, you’re unlikely to come up with the perfect idea or image at the first try. There’s always considerable orchestration, presentation, refining and distilling needed to be able to gain even some semblance of that golden idea floating in your head. Have you got golden ideas floating in your head? I know I have in mine!! Oh! would that I could realize them!

Here are some points I’ve found helpful when starting from a photograph?
1. The best photographs of course are those that you take yourself because you were inspired by a particular scene; there was something about it that made you want to keep a memory of it. If you can, write that down when you take the photo! Even if you don’t use the photo to make a quilt, it will add to your pleasure of the photo itself to read your notes. And if you do make a quilt design, then you can look at your notes and compensate for the distortions that the camera makes, or thing things that it misses: the atmosphere or brightness that you observed but couldn’t quite capture in pixels. So often I find that what entranced me was the light, especially when it suggests some magic place ahead.

In the photograph above, what was of interest was the way the cathedral soared over the medieval houses and Roman walls.   Even though not evident in the photo, what I remember from being in the countryside around York was how immensely high and present the Minster is and that's what I wanted to bring out in the quilt.   My memory did not involve the contrast with the Roman wall/gateway...now it could have! but I decided that was for another quilt.....

the photograph: the old guildhall in St. Helen's square, York

the quilt: Guildhall


When you’re looking at the inspiration photo preparatory to sketching out some possible designs, think first what it was that attracted you. Then think “how can I bring this out in my art quilt version of this picture?”. If it was the freshness of the spring day…then it’s unlikely that your photo has captured the freshness very well…but it will have the main shapes and values of the scene and it’s up to you to figure out how to use color or value pattern or texture to indicate that freshness. Think: What colour is fresh? What texture is fresh?

 In the photo above, what always interested me was the way that architects of old (in this case 18th century) didn't have the same monotonous rows of the cheapest windows they could find....but rather enjoyed using some of the variety....and of course the windows would reflect the importance or status of the rooms on that floor of the building!
so what I took from the photo, was the idea of different kinds of windows...I "abstracted" that idea from it.  Even though the building is all grey stone, I used a rich palette to reflect its rich history.


2. The camera photographs everything, it is omnivorous! No discrimination at all!!
Leave out all the extraneous “stuff”. You can always put some back if you need it for balance later on.


 I like to assess the photo and see if there’s anything that might be better rearranged. You know how you just want to move things around a little on a dining table, or in a bunch of flowers, or the furniture in a room. As a teenager I drove my poor parents wild because I was always seeking the “perfect” arrangement of furniture in my room – with lots of crashing and banging and dings and dents!! It’s a lot easier in a photograph! You can make a photocopy and cut out the relevant bits you want to move, or simply sketch them.

the photo: Cornwall farmhouse

the quilt


A camera tends to overaccentuate the lights and darks – especially the darks, rendering them as a heavy black when in reality they might have been a rich mixture of deep values of several colours.
so in the above piece  I focused in on the buildings tucked into the landscape...I let the landscape drift into the sky...I contrasted the building with the landscape both in color and in value....and while I used very rich shibori patterned fabric, I left out all those details of other buildings, the stream, the skyline etc

When you have used a few existing photographs as a starting point for a quilt and made some of the changes described above, it becomes easier to “compose” the photograph as you are actually taking it. I think “fresh” photos are best (like eggs!) because then you can remember your impressions of the scene and why you were photographing it more easily.

In summary,  the photo is where you start, not where you end up.  consider the essence, add in the memories, ignore the irrelevant...and make it as beautiful as you can!

If you have been!...thanks for reading….Elizabeth

Friday, July 14, 2017

Broadening one's horizons.....

The more I get into art quilting, the broader and broader my interest in art in general...
One school of painting that I never really "got", could never really grasp the idea or the principles behind the work is that of Abstract Expressionism.  Not that I don't like some of the work...I really love Joan Mitchell's and Elaine de Kooning's  paintings for example:

Elaine de Kooning: watercolor
I couldn't find any photos I had personally taken of Mitchell's work...but all you have to do is go to google images!  they're amazing.

I did take this one as you can see from the reflection!

One of my big puzzzles with AE is: how to know when it's "good".  And I think we often run into this...same thing with 20th and 21st century music...very difficult to judge how successful, how long lasting something will be  when people are really pushing the edges of an art form..In the early stages of a movement, there are no definitions, that's what is really so fascinating!  anything is possible...for a while...

When I wrote my online class on designing modern quilts, the first thing I did was look for a definition - actually an official definition came out a little after I'd written the class...but I was pretty close!

I had never seen a definition of AE before but apparently Arch Critic and Cataloguer Clement Greenberg did write one in 1962:

"If the label Abstract Expressionism means anything, it means
 painterliness:
 loose, rapid handling, or the look of it;
 masses that blotted and fused instead of shapes that stayed distinct;
large and conspicuous rhythms,
broken color,
uneven saturations or densities of paint,
[obvious] brush, knife or finger marks".

I love that phrase "or the look of it" - a seeming casual but carefullly thought out arrangement! 
I must admit I often try to cultivate "the look of it " myself!! 

Once you have a definition, you can begin to grasp the movement as a whole and form an idea as to what the artist is trying to do. so I'll be headed back to all those AE folk for a long second look.
But also, reading this definition, I can see just how easily one could apply some of this to quilt design...AND I don't think there are very many people doing this.

anyone looking for a new direction to take?  Consider AE!

And, if you have been, thanks for reading!  all comments Very Welcome....Elizabeth

Friday, July 7, 2017

With Your Own Two Hands: Working in a Series

I"ve recently been reading a fascinating book (With Your Own Two Hands: Self-discovery Through Music) by Seymour Bernstein - who was a renowned piano (not quilt!) teacher last century.
 In order to develop as an artist - no matter what the medium - it is important to know yourself well, your likes, your dislikes, your strengths vs your weaknesses.  For how can you make progress without this? And, as I get older, I discover that the drive to improve to make progress, in whatever one loves to do, doesn't go away.  We are all striving to be just that little bit better! I really think it's part of our genetic make-up ....of course for some it goes awry into a search for more wealth or more power - but that's a whole other issue!!

Most of Bernstein's book isn't relevant to textile artists, but I think his core message is:

"Productive practicing is a process that promotes self-integration".

Well, yes...he does like alliteration too!!  That's fine!  I love bad puns and split metaphors and all those naughties of the writing world!

So what is practicing in quilt terms?  ...yes! the answer is in the title to this blog: Working in a Series.


remembered lines small                                                                            Remembered Lines (69”w, 41”h)
the above quilt was the 12th in a series of black and white pieces.


As a teacher, I am frequently asked about how one can develop one's own style.  We can clearly see that the Big Names all have it.  but how is it done?  does it just happen over time?  Or can you jump start it?
I wrote a class* (and subsequently a book) about how to do just this.....having your own style isn't some result of an unusual talent (if such things exist at all) or the eventual build up of patina (as it were) over time....no...you can work on developing it.
How?  by Practicing.  and how to practice as an art quiltmaker?  Working in A Series!
It is , however, important to figure out the right series, the right way, the right paths to take.
Yes, it is something of a road to self knowledge too, and it can be really absorbing and invigorating.



edging into line k
  I would define a series  as a  group or succession of related things – objects that go together.  They can go together in a number of different ways, some more meaningful than others.   In my series featured here (and yes I must admit to having more than one series!)  used the same  palette, the quilts were inspired by (but not copies of) timbered houses I had seen in England.  I found the drooping lines of the roofs fascinating in that as age and time prevail, the “man made” aspect of the building begins to echo more and more the natural curves of the timbers used.  I also got a little carried away by the abstract patterns created by the timbers, and in the 12th piece, repeated some of those elements several times – just taking the bits I liked and repeating them like a doodle!!


  A series of objects is related by a central idea –  My father always used to jumble up the slides when he gave us kids a picture show and while it was hilarious as successive images were shown: “here we are  on the beach, oh no now we’re in the marketplace, oh and the next one is little brother’s birthday and then the garden, and back to the beach and then another flower..”…hilarious – but confusing, jumbling, and frustrating because  you can’t get into the feel of the place or the idea.


I find that as I explore a theme gradually  I get  better at extracting the essence of the theme that is compelling to me.     Instead of skittering over the surface sampling a little here and there (yes! I love mixed metaphors!), it’s a richer experience to stay in one place for a while.  There are many reasons to do that: enhancing the experience, really getting to see the ideas, not trying to cram in everything at once, improving skills. 

While, working in a series  might seem hard to do if it’s hard to pay attention to one thing for a concentrated period of time, there are ways around !!!  In the same way that our eyes continually flick about so we don’t habituate and see nothing, I think attention can focus on a number of things, but one should limit the number….and keep the things related.


A series doesn’t have to be planned out all ahead of time, but I think certain parameters  either have to be set or will emerge.  If there’s no central idea, or nothing that relates one piece to another then it’s not a series. 
If you keep making pieces where you didn’t quite get the idea across that you wanted, but you then abandon that idea and try something completely different, I don’t think you’ll progress.  It’s practice (i.e. repetition) that “makes perfect”, not dabbling.  Research shows us that it is both practice and coaching or critiquing that leads to improvement in performance. Hence the benefit of working in a series (or practicing piano!) with some guidance from a teacher.

Some  feel  limited by only working on one series.  I totally agree!!  There are many examples of great painters, e.g. Gerhardt Richter, who work in different series simultaneously.  I definitely don’t want to “close” a series and in fact I’ve stopped dating my quilts because I don’t want to be chronologically constipated! 
   If you have been, thanks for reading! and do please keep the comments coming!! thank you.   Elizabeth

*This class is now available "on demand"  at the academyofquilting.com