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

Monday, June 19, 2017

Taking a break







 However pretty the garden is...and it's looking great - we've actually had rain this year..and have found a spray that actually keeps the deer away but is not obnoxious for humans - however lovely home is....sometimes it's good to get away from all one's myriad activities and take a complete break.....
 So I'm leaving behind my lovely "Mister B" (i.e. my old piano!) and piano inspired quilt beginnings....I love black and white!!!  (despite all those pink flowers above, I don't think I have ever made a pink quilt!)....
 ....and also taking a break from the current mini class I'm teaching and filming  - small sections only - for illustrations for the next online class I'm writing (it will be Fall before it's done, probably late Fall).....
(meanwhile of course I have seven other classes running with the academy ).......
Here are my willing victims selecting their fabrics!  sketches are already done....one lady called it her "map" which I think is a great term.  The map shows you where to go, in large terms...it doesn't get into tiny details of how many steps you must take, every little signpost along  the way, potholes and traffic lights and so on....so my victims will follow their maps and hopefully arrive at wonderful quilt destinations!

but - meanwhile - I'm off with my Magical mystery tour companions to explore Idaho and Wyoming.....and, with luck, come back refreshed and raring to go on all these activities!

When I'm not actually so focussed on these (and several other!) activities, I find that I get many more ideas about what to do...things that just pop up in my mind - and (with a bit of luck) get noted down (I usually just send myself an email - I lose little bits of paper! ) to be cogitated upon further at a later date. Never forget to listen to your ideas and note them down!

If you have been, thanks for reading...and I hope that you are all enjoying - or planning  to enjoy - taking a break!   do write and tell me about it...and let me know why you think it's important too.
Elizabeth




Monday, June 12, 2017

Drawing is Rarely a Gift

st ives crop
So often I hear people say: "Oh you're so lucky, you have such talent!"    Well......no......for nearly every skilled activity there's a background of  specific training!  Even so called "perfect pitch".   I remember reading about some famous musician -" his parents discovered he had perfect pitch at the age of three."...now how would you discover that???It's not something you stumble across your child doing!!!  you must have been testing or training in some way....

Take drawing: when I was a child, there were one or two in my class who were (apparentely)_ gifted at drawing...but as I look back I realise that they spent all their time drawing!  You do get better at things if you practice a lot.....especially if you have a few guidelines.

 I can’t draw “naturally” or “intuitively” ....in fact I can't think of anything very much (that I would want to write a blog about!) that I can do without having learned in one way or another.

 In my life I’ve only met one or two people who appeared to be able to “just do it” but even with them, on further enquiry, it was usually the case that they had been drawing for years and  also had had access to some instruction, however informal. For most of us, therefore, drawing is a skill that we can learn in the same way that we learned how to cut quarter square triangles and half square triangles and decided which we needed for any given quilt pattern. Like anything else, being able to draw involves a series of basic steps and a lot of practice. Furthermore, as I’m rapidly discovering, it requires constant practice to even maintain what little skill level one can attain!

However, I do think it is very helpful in any type of visual two dimensional art to be able to draw, not brilliantly, but adequately i.e. good enough to be able to use one’s drawing as a guide for making a quilt, or a fiber collage or a textile work (however you like to call it!).
So, here are some steps and tips I have found helpful from both books and a few drawing lessons:
black steps YSP
1. What?
The first step is to decide what you are going to draw! What is the best way of finding your composition? I think it’s helpful to use a Viewfinder or crop tools. You can actually buy cardboard frames with clear plastic in divided into 4 or 9…or you can make one – with or without the plastic..or you can simply cut two L shapes from card. I find the Ls easier when working from photographs because you can adjust the frame size. If you are working live, whether outside or in, then a Viewfinder you can hold with one hand is easier: simply move the frame (usually a rectangle, but whatever you want the shape of the piece to be) nearer or further from you. Most of us are used to doing this with a camera, so we already have helpful experience of this step. Sometimes I’ll take out my camera and just look through the lens to find an interesting composition.
2. Beginning.
On a piece of paper draw in the first four lines: the outside edges, in the same shape and ratio of sides to top/bottom as your view finder or crop tools. Then, very faintly, indicate the “horizon” line, the line that is level with your eyes as you sit or stand. For example if you’re looking at a sea scene, the level of the sea against the sky is the horizon line, the end of the street in a street scene and so on.
3. The edge connections.
Then make little marks (dashes or dots!) where the objects within the scene, whether trees or bottles or kittens,  intersect with those first four lines. This makes sure that you get everything into the drawing that you have selected in your view finder or crop tools. I know if I don’t do this I invariably run out of space!! It’s easy to see the half way mark on the view finder (vf) and the half way mark on the scene. For example if I like through the vf and see the edge of a roof. Where does that edge intersect with the frame of the vf? Is it half way up the left hand side? A quarter of the way from the top? As quilters we’re used to eyeballing these kinds of distances.
So if the roof line intersects with the vf on the left hand side, at ¼ of the way down from its top edge then I make a little mark on my paper at the same point i.e. 1/4 of the way down from the top edge.
A tip. Make sure you always hold the vf in the same place by lining it up with something. I find it easier to spot, for example, a chimney in the top right hand corner, and a Stop sign in the bottom left hand corner.
Of course it’s easier working on a flat photograph with the L shapes and that’s what nearly everyone does!! In that case I usually make a photocopy of my photograph so that I can draw on it exactly where I positioned my L shapes.
I actually use this exact same procedure of looking for half way points, intersection points etc, in cutting out shapes freehand for a piece when I assemble a quilt.
4. Two dimensions is easier than three.
If you’re working from an actual scene as opposed to a 2-d photograph, it helps to reduce the 3 dimensional scene to only two. How d’you do that? By closing one eye. Before you do that, look at an object in front of you first with just your left, then just with your right eye. See how the object jumps?? That makes it very difficult to draw, because your drawing is only in 2 dimensions. So close one eye if you find that everything keeps jumping around!! Which one to close? Your less dominant one. Actually I have found it helpful to simply wear an eye patch than to squint up at the drawing, but most people squint! You can choose!!  As an aside I used to drive down to the pub  for lunch when I was working in Easingwold, UK with a one eyed doctor in an antique car!  It was hair rising, for he had no depth vision, and no cares!!
5. Look at what you’re drawing.
As you draw, look frequently at the object you are drawing if you want it to be accurate. Though one teacher (can’t remember if it was Hans Hoffman, someone of that ilk) – used to make his students look at an object in one room for 5 minutes, then sprint back to the adjacent room to actually draw it!! He felt that that improved visual memory!! It certainly would improve one’s level of exercise!
6. Continuous assessment.
Continually assess whether you have drawn the major lines correctly…it’s like piecing a traditional quilt, if you get one triangle in backwards it throws everything off.
7. Elements (line and shape) only.
As you draw the contour lines, don’t think “boat” or “roof” or “bottle”, think instead “this line goes from ¼ of the way down the left hand side across to a point about halfway across and 3/4 of t he way down the rectangle (or square). Just think about lines going from point A to point B. Like little trails on a map.
Sometimes it’s easier to think about drawing the negative shapes – i.e. the spaces behind things, while focusing on them you are less likely to be distracted by the actuality of the object.
roofs connected 8. Angles
If the lines are angled, the easiest thing to do is to hold up your pencil against the view or the photograph and line it up with the angle…then, holding it carefully in the same position, mark that angle on the page. If that doesn’t work for you, then you could use a protractor. I like the nice big ones. Or…when working from a photograph, you can line up (i.e. make sure that the verticals and horizontals on both photo and sketch paper are all exactly vertical and horizontal!) the photograph adjacent to your sketch paper and put a long ruler on the angle on the photograph, such that it protrudes beyond and onto the correct place on the paper. I use this for cutting out correct angles too. I simply line up the sketch with my fabric and continue the angle out from my drawing to the cloth. Try it, it works!!
9. Major shapes first.
Get the big shapes and the longest lines in place first. Details are far less important, don’t even think about them until all the big stuff is in place!!! No you can’t mess about putting in all those little windows yet! This is also Very True in designing quilts. And don’t think about shading or colour yet either!
10. Light and Dark.
Before you start shading, decide where the light is coming from ….if you’re inside, set up a single light source, if working plein air the most interesting times to go out and draw are early or late on a sunny day – because of the nice long shadows! Having shadows creates depth and adds to the value range. If you take a picture of nearly any quilt, scan into photoshop and increase the contrast (Image-adjustments-contrast), it will improve it. Why? Because you increased the value range. What increases the range? Light!
If you are working from a photograph, look to see where the darkest darks and lightest lights are. What was the direction of light in the scene? You don’t have to necessarily follow this (Rembrandt didn’t always) but it’s better if you use light and shadow thoughtfully.
It’s easiest to spot the very darkest values first, so start with those. I think it’s helpful to have a little value scale (even if it’s just 5 values: light, med light, med, med dark, dark) drawn out on the side of the paper to refer to. Do the darkest darks, note where the lightest lights are and reserve those. I often put a little pencil dot in them so I know “don’t shade this!”. Then look for the mediums. Do make sure you have a good range of values. If you look at our very best art quilters you will see that in all their major works, there is a great range. And remember the Photoshop experiment!! Push the light values lighter (if you’re using a pencil simply erase) and the dark values darker.
11.Maturing on the wall.
Finally, when you feel you’ve finished the drawing, pin it up on the design wall to mature for a few days or weeks…if there’s anything untoward it will make itself known! Believe me!

So why should we bother to learn to draw? Because it is a basic skill that underlies many art mediums. If you can’t accurately put down in a pencil sketch what you want to have in your final quilt, then you have no good plan or map to follow. Without direction, no progress. Just yesterday I read in a painting magazine about the "Five Pillars" being the foundation of the Visual Arts: drawing, value, color, edges and composition.  So...begin your journey by sharpening your pencils!

If you have been, thanks for reading!  Elizabeth
and I look forward to the comments!!!

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Abstract Art for Quilters!

Anybody taking a look at the current   Quilt National exhibition will see that abstract art works very well indeed in a quilt format. And, while I love representational  quilts and have made many representational ones myself, or at least impressionistic, I do think that the medium is superb when it comes to abstract work.

I love abstract painting! I recently went to several shows in New York including the Whitney biennial and saw some wonderful work.
Any of these ideas could be "stolen" and developed! (I'm not talking about copying here  - that is not a very good idea  for very many reasons; I'm talking more about being inspired by a certain way that painter's structures work or a particular colour scheme, or a way that they have arranged particular shapes and so on)  Don't worry about "stealing" like this. As the piano teacher said to the student who was afraid to listen to Rubenstein playing Chopin because she didn't want to sound too much like Rubenstein, there is no fear of that! There is no fear that any of  us quilt makers will ever end up hanging on wall next to Rauschenberg or Diebenkorn or Clyfford Still or next to any of the great female abstract painters: af Klimt, Joan Mitchell, Bridget Riley, Elaine deKooning, Helen Frankenthaler, Lee Krasner, Alma Thomas.... just to name a few.

What??! You tell me you don't know anything about these painters! Well, now is your chance!
I have written two courses each of five lessons for Academy of quilting on abstract art: abstract art for quilt makers and more abstract art for quilt makers. The first course, abstract art for quiltmakers, deals only with women abstract painters  - and there are a lot of them  - and they are quite wonderful...... In my course I tell you little bit about each painter and at the same time I have developed a number of different exercises that will help you learn how to create abstract designs.   This course starts this Friday and if you're interested just go to the Academy of quilting website.

Meanwhile here are some goodies that I saw in New York a couple of weeks ago:  

 I think that all of Georgia O'Keefe's works can be viewed as being abstract.....she abstracts to the nth degree!!she takes the essence of the city or land scape...or the flower....and plays with the shapes and colors and their interactions to make a truly beautiful composition that also indicates such a sense of place.  I had not seen this particular city scape before....
this is from a fascinating exhibit in the Brooklyn museum of many paintings but also the clothes she made herself - all in black and/or white...incredibly fine and neat pin tucking and little architectural details:









she wasn't the only one to paint city scapes of course...here is an almost abstract by Ault:


Lee Krasner.....imagine this in a fine wool...or silk!!
 Picasso and a real sense of fun.....and gosh it would be so easy to cut up lots of little scraps and create images.....
 One of the Biennal "new" artists....acutally a collaberation called Kaya....more below.  These were free hanging, different painting on the back....and they were so rich....
but also...wouldn't that wrought iron make a super quilt hanging?   Away with stodgy old rods and sleeves!!!


 I hadn't heard of Jo Baer before, but I really love the way she extracts landscape elements  and makes wonderfully spacious compositions, rich with tranquillity.

And this last one is Carrie Moyer who often begins with a simple paper collage to work out her ideas.


I hope you're inspired and want to have a go yourselves!!  I know I am.....

And, if you have been, thanks for reading....
also I love your comments...and I'll do my best to respond...thank you!  Elizabeth

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Connecting with Content.


I was reading a very interesting article in the latest issue of International Artist the other day. The author of the article, Philip Miles, pointed out something that I have been aware of for some time both with my quilts and my paintings, and that is that when people buy them they do so because of the content. For example the quilt on the right sold because the person was familiar with the place...... And had very fond memories of it.


Other pieces sell because of colour - one very nice collector I know loves black-and-white - as do I as it happens.... I'm always trying to black-and-white paintings and black-and-white fabric and black-and-white clothes!
Other friends like to buy only red pieces .......

There's a lovely little anecdote about a farmer looking at Grant Wood's famous painting Stone City and saying to the artist:   " I wouldn't give 35 cents  an acre for that land."   He wasn't interested in the quality of the painting at all but rather on what it depicted......

Content, or sometimes colour, is what draws a person to look more closely at artwork.

Consider an art show: Nearly everybody approaches a piece more closely because of  the content  of your artwork than how well it's made. ( Except perhaps those nazi  judges everybody talks about!)
  Furthermore, as Miles points out, whether or not they will actually buy the piece depends much more on the content than anything else.

For example, I recently sold the following painting because the buyer said it reminded him of his mother's house.


They love to be reminded of happier times..... Places they've lived,  people they have known.... Holidays that they've taken - connections.  I have a friend who mainly paints pictures of her husband and she is surprised that nobody buys them...... Now I think a Painting would have to be unusually and extremely good for  you to want to buy an image of somebody else's husband!

So what do artists think about when they are deciding what to make....
I usually have an idea that intrigues me...something that's an interesting and challenging puzzle to think how to work it out.
And In painting, particularly, I want to focus very much on improving my technical abilities....... and certainly in traditional quilting we were all very focused on making the most beautiful stitches we could. 
I really enjoyed making a series of quilts about industrial buildings -  the very unusual shapes and forms really interested me...... However,  guess what? I was never been able to sell any of those quilts!   Nobody is interested in having the image of a factory or steel mill hanging on their wall regardless of how well it's done.    While people don't like a  complete lack of craftsmanship, they are much less interested in how well something is designed and crafted for its own sake.   The balance of the composition, the beauty of the stitch line it's not as important is the connection that they are making(Or not making) With the piece.     Or, Of course, whether not it will match the sofa!   I may think how wonderful a dress is, that is made in white wool, finely pleated in the most exquisite way - but I could never relate to actually owning such garment.

Businesses buy work that they hope will convey a certain mood..... For example cheerfulness and hope for a hospital department..... Or calmness and productivity in an office setting.

So this puts us in a kind of dilemma.  Does it mean that we should only be making work with a kind of content that we think will attract people?    Or, Do we really want a room full of quilts.... stored up.... With increasing technical skill... or paintings with  considerably improved draughtsmanship stacked up against the studio wall?

I think the answer lies in bringing the two together..... Is there a way that we can develop our ability to create a beautiful form while at the same time using content that resonates  - whether it be realistic, impressionistic or abstract.    Trying to develop technical skills that help want to communicate much better about particular imagery...... So perhaps not changing content so much as making it in richer and more satisfying way.   As Miles says you want the form and content to work together.
I think we do want our creations to go out into the world, but we also want to develop our skills I work on things that are meaningful to us.


A lot of people ask me about developing their own voice or style.... And, while predictable content does play a part in that, a consistency of form is much more important.   How  you set about creating your composition...and the way in which you carry it out.    For example you could style yourself as  the person who makes quilts about flowers..... But you could not be considered as having developed your own style if your   flower quilts were all done in different ways.

  Developing a voice is much more likely to occur if you use the same kind of technical skills whether it be related to design or construction in each piece.    It's how we express ourselves about the particular content and how we communicate our feelings about it.    Think about personal style as the way in which people tell you about the things that excite them.... What are the kinds of words they use? what are the kinds of expressions they have? what are the kinds of gestures?  In design terms, these would be the shapes, the colours, the value patterns, the textures, the favorite basic structures and so on. Do you talk about things in strong bold way, or do you put ideas across in a much more delicate unassuming manner?    Do you like hyperbole, or do you prefer nuance?    So I see style as relating much more to form than just the content itself .
Content, in fact, is just one distinct parts of  a personal style.

So going forward, Think both about what you want to say and how are you want to say it! And be consistently true to yourself.

If you have been, thanks for reading...... And I look forward with pleasure Reading your thoughts on this subject! Elizabeth

Thursday, May 11, 2017

A new approach to classes






We're trying a different approach some of my classes at the Academy of quilting.com.

Both my dye classes and my basic Inspired to Design class  (Upon which the book of the same name was based) and  has been my most popular class.... Are now available "on Demand".    Which means it can take them at any time you like.
 Once you have registered, you can start any time you like as soon as we have processed your registration. You have access to your registered class for  upto 10 weeks. While these classes don't feature a chat group, you can post me a question at any time or make comment, or submit an image and ask me about it whenever you like.   You could even tell me a funny story!

If you've never dyed before and want to learn how to do it in the most straightforward way without having to dte a lot of colours you really don't want then I really recommend  Basic Dyemaking for Quiltmakers.  
 I've taken several dye classes myself and was always frustrated by coming home with about 50 yards of some colour I didn't really want..... In one class we spent a lot of time making a notebook with little squares of fabric in it and the recipes that those colours ....but I found that I never actually referred to that notebook at all. And I got very frustrated cutting out all those little squares and then glueing them onto pages! As those who know me can testify, I am not very good with fiddly little details!
So, I figured out how to dye a Basic 12-step colour wheel, using the most basic dye colours I could lay my hands on and simply made a little poster for the studio that had those few recipes. From that basic color wheel one can figure out the recipe to just about any colour.
Also, I've changed the recipes so that everything is a lot simpler and more straightforward.
I don't use more than two colours of dye(Except very rarely) in the mix. Thus avoiding mud!
It always made sense to me, to identify the desired colour and then look up to see what dyes might achieve that, rather than dying all the possible combinations! That way you end up with a lot of fabric you don't want!
So I hope my way of looking at things makes sense to you and I particularly hope you have fun in the 5thclass where you choose a colour inspiration e.g. a famous painting and dye all the colours that in that painting. Make a comment or ask a question whenever you want!

My second dye class is called Dyeing to Design.   This one begins in the same way as the basic dyemaking class with instructions on how to achieved various basic colours and values in the simplest way but then goes on to work through the five elements of Design: how to achieve  colours, values,  shapes and lines and textures.    These are the five building blocks of design sometimes called elements.   
In terms of techniques, the ones explained and demonstrated are low water immersion dyeing, dyeing gradations, arashi shibori, Basic screenprinting and deconstructed screenprinting.
Each technique also leads to a small quilt and I discuss how best to use fabric dyed in that way within the quilt.

My third OnDemand class is my classic Inspired to Design class.   This is about how to work from a photograph or painting or any source of inspiration,   creating several sketches and designs and then making a quilt in a way that doesn't involve templates,  large cartoons etc, and which focuses on good design above all.    You get a lot of personal critiquing with this class - if you want it of course!

So do let me know if you have questions about any of these classes and if you taken them yourselves before and enjoyed them, please recommend them to others since they are now available to anybody at any time in any country!    The prices roughly $10 per class and some courses have four classes and some five.

Let me know what you think about this OnDemand idea....... All possible changes can be made... We are very flexible..... Except and it comes to knowing how to make a decent cup of tea!
If you have been, thanks for reading. Elizabeth






Sunday, April 30, 2017

No words necessary

 
Midwinter

 I've always been puzzled by the way some show entries require one to complete an artist statement especially as they don't require this for a mixed media art show.  Who wants it?
I doubt it's at the juror's request:  the couple of times I've been a juror, I didn't  look at the statements - or the title.  I did, however, consider the size of the piece...but that's a whole other matter!

What is the point of the words?  if the work cannot speak for itself in order to convey the artist's intent, then it is ipso facto a failure surely?  (hopefully the quilt above looks chilly enough without me having to go on and on about it in a statement!)

 We don't turn over a Picasso painting to see what he wrote on the back:  "Dear Viewer in this painting I was endeavouring to show the many sides of woman since I've had trouble with women all my life".  Actually, though, thinking about it - that might be kinda of fun to read!!!  Michelangelo : "oops...just couldn't quite get those two fingers to connect, but you get the general idea".....Matisse -  I mean Monet (where is my head?  thank you Renate!)  "I did wonder if I was seeing things a little blurry, and then I found out I had cataracts...I wonder how that will affect my painting? My intention was a botanical representation of those water lilies...but it seemed like they floated out of focus". Stuart Davis: "well it all seems like a jungle to me".  Mondrian: "Actually, it was a map to show where we were meeting tonight".

But, back to the words? if we do NEED them, then it suggests that either the work isn't in itself successful....or that perhaps a quilt was the wrong medium for the idea.  I have sometimes wondered "why cloth?"  at times when I saw people trying to recreate a photograph in cloth, desperately trying to match up exact colors and include all details.....

If the work is valid and true: No words are necessary!

Can you imagine a sign in a gallery?

 PLEASE DO NOT EXPLAIN THE ART!

fSince I became interested in Abstract Art and have give talks about it - particularly about those long forgotten female artists (thankfully museums are beginning to catch up there) - people have often asked me to Explain a painting to them. 
But I begin to think that good art shouldn't need an explanation. The subject is either quite clear: a portrait of a person, scene or event etc...or, being abstract - then it's just that: Abstract!
 i.e. Addressing concepts, ideas, emotions for which we have no words.  Consider music.  Do you feel that the composer should give you a "composer's statement" before you hear a piece?
I was fascinated to read that the brilliant British pianist Stephen Hough said one of the reasons he loved music was because it did NOT need words....

So, what d'you think?  do we need the words?  The laborious explanations? Or should we just let the art and the music speak for itself...opening our eyes (or ears) and just absorbing......

If  you have been, thanks for reading!!!!  and thank you so much for commenting....
Elizabeth





Sunday, April 23, 2017

It's all about learning.


Sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits...
WE all hate waste!  I'm as bad as anyone else. I really don't like cutting into special fabric I've saving for ages,  the piece of fabric I just take out and stroke once in awhile. I'm so afraid I'm going to waste it; And so , it might sit there for years And  even start to get that thrift store smell!

And then, when my heirs are dealing with my estate, they will think "why on earth did mother  hang onto this all these years and never use it"?

I see this frequently in workshops, people will use the cheapest fabric. And I will say "why? when you have this beautiful bit of burnt orange in your stash, that would be perfect".
But, they say,  I would hate to waste it!  I'm saving my good stuff."
And  yet they have spent a lot of money coming to the workshop! And Will probably be going out to dinner that night, maybe even having a couple of glasses of water to recover!

Something else  I see:  a design blocked out on the wall..but the pieces aren't cut out rather they are folded up bits of fabric, sometimes the whole yard folded it up into  lumpy wodge... and we're trying to decide if it looks right! I don't know about you, but I don't really like lumpy wodges in my quilts!

How do I know all of this??   I've done it myself, a thousand times!

Do not disturb: I'm fixing to think about learning.....


Another situation that happens:  you have a design  - it is not quite right but you plough on any way, and you try a lot of different fabrics. You sew it all together, and then pull it apart again, you rearrange every section, you're cut out a big big chunk, you add a great deal of black in the hopes that somehow that will put it altogether ...and still its not working. Now many designs can be fixed and improved and this is usually best done at the design stage. But there are some that are just hopeless from the beginning.....  so have you wasted your time?  No! Not if you think about it in terms of learning.  You probably learned more from from that unfixable piece then you ever did from the one that went smoothly from start to finish. It's a case of altering our mindset so that we're not product orientated but rather learning oriented. It's better  to think it's not about what I can fix, rather it's about what I can learn.

Learning new skills is one of the most wonderful things that we can do-but it does come at a cost. We must use some of those precious pieces of fabric, we must use our time and our energy -  but aren't they worth it. Isn't it the amount of time and money and effort  expended worth the new skill and the new knowledge that we have required?

There are times when I feel I'm looking at things the wrong way...


Think about it which would you rather have?
A pile of the dozen quilts Nice but not special - they that all went together very easily without much effort on your part… or, perhaps only a few samples, but the knowledge  of how to manipulate colours and shapes and pieces of fabric in the way that creates something new and wonderful and allows you to express how you feel about some special experience? And, of course, what not to do!

Waiting...for it all to come together.....
Ask yourself which Really feels better: making something without thinking about it and not really learning anything new but having a finished product.. or  developing new skills and knowledge,  feeling yourself growing, becoming more "talented" (ha! yes! talent is perspiration expended not luck!!) and more knowledgeable.

It's important to look at things a little differently, and consider what is really important.  Material goods, or personal growth.   It really is all about the learning.

If you have been, thanks for reading!  and do please write in the Comments and tell me your learning stories.....
Elizabeth