Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Sometimes, you've just got to have fun!


Now don't laugh at me...but sometimes it does you good just to have fun...and I have had fun!!  A friend had given me a box of stretchers (the pieces of wood you slot together to make the basis for a screen (for screen printing) or for a painting)....well I have LOADS of screens for screen printing.....so didn't need more...

....and then another friend gave me several yards of canvas   (very handy to have friends cleaning out their studios!)....and I thought let's make some canvases for painting!  I love the new square paintings that are so "in" right now...and I really like the look of cats, they have so many different colors to their fur.  And our life painting group only meets once a week...whereas I can get photos of cats any time!!

Plus, I soon discovered that my knowledge of using acrylic paint, of putting images together, of enhancing color, of matching color, of cropping to get a good composition etc etc - in fact all the things you need to know to become a better artist in any medium - including art quilts ( Of Course)
has been immensely enhanced by this very refreshing exercise!  

I began with the rather demure kitten at the top...I think I only had 3 tubes of paint, for some reason the rest were in the car (yes, I keep a bag of every different activity I attend in the car - ready to go! - it's a great system if you have a big enough car!)....so she's not all that colorful...but I was very pleased with the expression.
And then came Freddie posing for his mug shot!  I think he looks a bit like a rabbit - must be a cross!!


Thistle, the house cat - glaring at me daring to paint him.  It was a challenge to create interest in his large dark brown blob of a body!  But you know - when I'm teaching designing art quilts, I always suggest you don't use one chunk of dark fabric for a large dark area, but instead put together lots of bits of similar value but varied colored fabrics...and that idea works well for Thistle.  I also deliberately chose a complementary color to his golden ruff.

Can't you tell right away that Hermione is THE boss cat in her house?  There are (at least) 2 other cats and two dogs (yes, I'm going to try them next!  but will have to get some glossy paint for those wet noses!) in her house but she is The Queen of that castle!  Again I'm thinking complementary - rose versus olive...and bringing that background color into the cat....having a complementary background color will always make the central subject sing.   And it's very good to have all your colors spread throughout the piece...not just blue in the sky, red in the roofs, green in the grass...but everything popping up everywhere - Unity -  right?

Only young but I think she'll grow up to be rather a particular cat!  Now I was beginning to think about blending color - I didn't even realize you could do that with acrylic!!  It's amazing how much you can learn just digging right in, putting  the music on full blast!  (Bebo and Cigala and yes I groan along with them!)  I was thinking about how I could use the contrast of hard and soft edges to convey the sense of the soft fur against those sharp eyes!

And here is the next one in progress...an old guy relaxing on his laurels!!!  I ran out of the small stretchers so now I'm into bigger canvases so it's taking a bit longer...I'm experimenting with a different kind of brush stroke on this one....

So if you're bogging down a bit with what you're doing now, consider a different medium and subject for a while..something light hearted...you can get more practice in the basic design activities and not worry too much about Having to Get it Right!!

And if you have been, thanks for reading...yes I'm the one out stalking the neighborhood cats  with my camera!!


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

the Best way to improve.....

Don't forget if you're in Athens, GA to come down to Clayton St tomorrow night! October 1.  6-8.30
to see a show of parallel paintings and quilts...

The watercolor

The quilt

Meanwhile, having got the show all delivered and set up, I turned to other things......and......
I was talking to a 17 year old boy last week - since I left the university I rarely have a chance to talk to people in this age group and it was lovely to get back to it - especially as he was very polite!
But talking to him about a number of different activities (reading, typing, swimming, dancing, speaking a foreign language, music, learning, drawing etc), I realized that he kept coming back with the same refrain:  "I wasn't naturally good at it, so I gave up". Sadly he may well have tried these things but been laughed at by his peers...or even parents or teachers.

Of course few of us are "naturally good" at anything!  And those that appear to be, are generally speaking the product of homes where that particular activity has been encouraged, taught and stressed from a very early age - so early that they don't remember a time when they weren't engaged in it.
Yes it would be lovely to grow up in a bi- or even trilingual home with highly artistic or musical parents who had us drawing, painting, singing and playing at an early age with lessons in skiing and skating and swimming and tennis, and lots of books being read and discussed, and computers with fun typing games - oh yes! that would be really lovely!  And then we could be so happy because we were "naturally good" at an amazing number of things!

The childhoods of Picasso and Mozart and the Williams sisters and many others such are well known and you can see how the access, the encouragement, the teaching and training began right from the minute they could hold a pencil/racquet or plonk out notes on a keyboard (not at the same time of course!)

It's been said many times:  the way to the famous musical performance venue,  Carnegie Hall...is "practice, practice, practice".    And, while you won't get good at doing everything by practicing,  I think it's pretty clear you will get much better at your practiced activity.  I doubt Mozart was very good at tennis, and I don't think Picasso or the Williams sisters could form a musical trio!  Be interesting, though, wouldn't it?

With something like art and art quilts, the best way to "practice" is to keep making work of the same type - focussed practice .  (I'm sure that's true of other activities but I don't have much experience of them.)   Working in a series, whether it be a series of serves, of sonatas or of serigraphs, develops one's abilities tremendously.  You can become very good at what you do if you specialize.  That's why you don't go to a rheumatologist for brain surgery!

Working in a series is also very emotionally satisfying.  You're not scattered around trying this idea you saw there and that idea you saw here, you're looking inside yourself:  finding out what really really draws you in, what subject, what format, what focus makes you feel really connected - to yourself, to your art, to your subject.

it just so happens (!!!) that I have a short course focussing on Working in a Series beginning this week with the Academy of Quilting  and I do have a book out - with the same name - published by C&T last year, you can order a signed copy from me, or go to your local independent book seller, or Amazon. Do think about the class though...you don't need any prior experience.  Also it would be helpful for other media..other than quilts.    It would be lovely to see you in class!  Please feel free to use the Comments section of this blog for any questions, or email me privately (link on the sidebar).  But whether you're interested in the class or not, do think about the importance of practice next time you feel those words "I'm not naturally talented" about to pop out of your mouth!!!

There's the old story about the famous pianist who was approached by an admirer after a concernt: "I'd give an arm and a leg to be able to play like you", said the fancily coiffed admirer.  He replied: "Madam, I gave 40 years of my life!".   Now you don't have to give 40 years to improve!!  Really, it does start working in the first couple of weeks.....give practice a try!

And, if you have been, thanks for reading!   Elizabeth

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A local show: the many benefits

                                         (yes, it's a quilt!)

 In nearly every town there are lots of places to show art: local art centers, public libraries, small galleries, restaurants, doctors' offices etc.
 It's a really good to get your art out there, maybe sell something, probably not...but you will always benefit in many other ways.

1.  Firstly, it's a really great way to make you finish work!! so often I have a piece almost made and then run into a problem, meanwhile another piece is calling out to be worked on and the first one is put aside..yet another unfinished object circling the orbit of the sewing rooms.....

2.  A show forces you into the next step too:  Not only to actually getting  the work finished but also to prepare it for  showing.  I have quilts and paintings stacked up...no sleeves on the quilts, no threads nipped off neatly, photographs not taken, rods not cut, paintings not matted, backed and framed etc etc.

3.  Organisation!
I do so envy those people - though I think they are Very Rare - who have an idea, make the fabric, cut it out and sew and quilt and finish the piece. Back it, photograph it, cut the hanging rods, make a cute little - well labelled - cloth bag for it and place in neatly on a rack somewhere.  I have rooms with quilts spread out on the floor as I hunt madly for The One that someone (finally!) wants!!  "I'm sure it was in here somewhere."  The noodles are all labelled, alas with the names of quilts long gone!!  I think there was a system here one time - now was it chronological, or size-logical?  or something else?

4.  Letting others see your work and realize they have an Artist in their midst!! 
 Having to live up to something, really does make us reach higher.


5.  Seeing all the work hanging beautifully in whatever facility you've persuaded to show it.  It's a real thrill!!

6.  Also as you see the work, the stronger pieces and the weaker ones make themselves known, and you can also spot those places where if only you'd added something or, (more likely) taken something out, the piece would have been better.
You see the work with new eyes when it's hanging in a gallery.


7.  And some really places print up nice postcards!!  And (icing!) have an opening!!

OKAY!!  so did I take my own advice??  well...come and see:

So, for those of you that are in or near Athens GA....the opening is
Thursday October 1st: 6.00-8.30pm 
 at Aurum Studios, 125 East Clayton 
in Downtown Athens.

I have 4 new quilts, 3 about Athens, Ga and one landscape....and lots of watercolors!

If you have been reading, thank you!  If you are planning to come, I look forward to seeing you there...no nice cups of tea alas...but there will be a drop of the stronger stuff and a few good nibbles!!


ps - all comments will be read and cogitated upon with considerable relish!!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Colour: the big attraction

Like it or not, color continues to be the big seducer. So many people respond "the color" when asked why they like something, or when they reflect on what attracts them.  I wonder why?  Why is it important for us to see in color?  I couldn't find any obvious answers on the net...yes there are plenty of studies on which colors make us Buy or Consume the most!  As you might imagine more psychological studies have been aimed at advertising than anything else.  There are also some "color therapies"!!  Red will make you feel sexy, green calm, yellow energetic, grey depressed etc...presumably Damien Hirst figured that polka dots in many colors would attract a lot of mixed feelings!    But it's hard to see how color helps in survival...well, yes, perhaps at the traffic lights!!  

However, whether we know why or not, it is important to know that the colors we use in our work should be thoughtfully chosen.  It really doesn't work to just slavishly follow "local color" if you're working from a particular photograph - whether representational or abstract.  Sometimes the local color (i.e. actual color that the landscape or whatever really is) is gorgeous, but often it's a little dull and predictable.  Few of those city scape quilts that I made actually reflected the real color of the cities - which were mainly grey.  Not that I don't love grey! (see below!)

  Using a lot of different colors at once  does not constitute good color practice.  Think about it in terms of interior design – only one thing worse than beige beige beige is red yellow green blue brown and pink in one room!!
In the same way that a composition is strengthened by harmony within shapes/lines and textures, so is color harmony also something to be sought.  
Here's an example of what not to do (actually it looks a LOT worse in real life!)
 Had I entered it into a show, I think I would have got the “most use of colour prize” !!  I have pink and red and orange and yellow and purple and turquoise and ultramarine and brown and black and white!  A great example of what not to do!  I do have some awful dingy beige  pieces in there too....I think somebody told me it was always important to add beige!!  

  It’s a great idea if you can discipline yourself (sadly something I’m not very good at!) to cut a small swatch off every fabric you own (that’s a different color) and work out a scheme from the swatches.  I usually do this with the whole chunk of fabric which means the studio looks like a tornado came through flinging fabric into the air.  You do need to see the color on the fabrics in real life though to make a good decision.  I'm not good at imaging a color scheme...I like to get the fabrics all spread out and see if they are both harmonious AND interesting.  Now that's a delicate balance:  too much harmony is Dead Boring and too little is jumbled, confused and unattractive.  But if you have the fabrics all spread out...you can see which way the balance is leaning.  

The first solution to consider for a color scheme that looks boring is actually not adding more color, but rather increasing the value range.  That, plus the addition of a little spice of a saturated color, might well be enough.
If the opposite is the problem: an eye shattering explosion of color, then the answer is to begin by removing the screamers!!  Then decide which color you have most of, which secondary color is its complement...and then remove all the other colors.
e.g. if there is a lot of blue, then you could keep all the blues, and  the complementary yellows, peaches, ambers and oranges, but remove the reds and the greens and the purples (which might look very good together in a second pile for another quilt!).

As most of us know there are really a limited number of generic colour schemes: monochromatic (one color), analogous (several adjacent colours on the colour wheel) and complementary (colours opposite to one another on the wheel). (split complementary is the same only you add the colors adjacent to the opposites).  Yes you CAN take 4 colours that form a square or rectangle on the wheel but it’s difficult to make a harmonious scheme doing that so I'd advocate against it, unless you're devising an advertisement for sugary cereal!

flora and ferra k
I love monochromatic – there’s nothing better for really giving a crisp result than one colour and white:  and I’ve used it a lot  - especially black and white.

A monochromatic scheme is also great for setting a mood .  Here’s a quilt all in greens giving a soft woodland mood.
And another:   

And grey has been another favorite – grasping the softness of a misty morning:
    I spent a whole year on grey!!  

An analogous scheme gives a soft rich mood – 3 or four adjacent colours on the wheel can be  so luscious.  Think redorange/ red /red violet – how sumptuous!  Or turquoise/blue/blue violet – cool and marine.  Or yellow/yellow-orange/orange – so tangy and fresh!  Yes you can almost taste those colour schemes!  it’s good with an analogous scheme to add a touch of a complementary colour as a minor note, a 7th note!  This can really pull your eye to the focal point.  In the largely green piece above you can see how I’ve a tiny touch of pink in the windows..
Complementary schemes: blue/orange, purple/yellow and red/green – and all the ones in between – yield a more complex harmony.   It’s important to make one of the colours dominant, however, in order that there’s no Battle of the Colours!  The choice would relate to the theme.   I have used the purple/yellow scheme many times, especially in the night scenes I’ve done.

Colour:  an excellent servant, a poor master!

And, if you have been, thanks for reading!  Elizabeth

and do let me know WHY we need color!!

Monday, August 31, 2015

Abstracting Design and Designing Abstraction

Abstract Art: some find it really exciting, others come out with a trite phrase about their 5 year old and think that they're being smart!!!  (Oh my pet hate is the overuse of trite idioms!! please...never EVER tell me I stepped upto the plate and nailed it!  Those things break when nailed!)

I love the variety of abstract art, and how it all came about, and all the different kinds of ingenuity that abstract artists have devised...and I'm starting a new Abstract Art for Quiltmakers class this Friday with  the Academy of Quilting  (AQ)  - please check it out if you're interested.

One of the things that I do in the class is show how one can be inspired by a great artist, without copying from them.  I had an email recently from someone who is very inspired by a certain artist but hesitates to use any of that artist's techniques or ideas, lest she be accused of copying.

I think we can be strongly drawn to someone's work and then, by carefully analyzing exactly what it is that inspires us, take just that element and then incorporate it into our own work.
For example you might say "oh I love Elizabeth Barton's Red Shift series of quilts"....
then, ask yourself what is it about them I really like?  is it the color?  Then...go for Red.
Is it the shapes and lines?  just make a line drawing of one of the quilts and see how those elements are used.  Or is it the high value contrasts?  Can I use such contrasts in my work?

Is is the different textures that are utilized?  or the overall way of organizing the work?   Or the complexities of depth and devices such as lost edges??  (if you're interesting in those concepts, by the way, and not familiar with them, those are the types of design strategies I cover in my online master class, a yearlong commitment...write me privately if you're interested in more details of that.  There's an email link on the sidebar.)

Every artist has always been influenced by art that has gone before, even if it's negatively: "The Famous Quilter (FQ) doesn't believe in straight lines therefore I shall only use straight lines."
"The FQ eschews all pastel colors, therefore I shall see what I can do with pastels"  etc...

If you look at early developments in abstract art, you can see how the ideas and imagination flowed from one artist to another...each one taking (abstracting) a particular idea and then changing it, amplifying upon it, being intrigued by it and then creating their own work.
In the AQ class, we look at the work of women abstract artists - I fervently believe many of their menfolk took their wives' ideas and enlarged upon them!!

We can abstract elements from the work of artists whom we find totally inspiring, then use them and make them our own.  It used to be a vital part of art school training that one copy the work of the Late and Great in order to learn their technique, to benefit from their ideas.  Now such copies are not to be used as original art, of course, but they are a great way to learn "how" to do it.   You can't expect to make a masterpiece at your very first go, nor should you be expected to!  But you can learn.......

You can also learn how to make a decent cup of tea!!!  I've shown quite a few!!  And now to enjoy one....so, if you have been, thanks for reading!   Elizabeth

PS   I'm having a lot of trouble hand stitching these days...and you can machine stitch just about everything, except that nowhere does anyone talk about doing anything but hand stitching on the quilt sleeves...I'm wondering (as a non fuser...so I don't really know its strength)...could you FUSE a sleeve onto the back of a quilt?  Is anybody doing this???   

Monday, August 24, 2015

+ feeling......

A couple of people asked in the Comments (of my blog) last week (love comments - thank you!! and thank you to Janis for the links - most enlightening - I had no idea all those QN 15 shorts were on You Tube)
..yes!, a couple  of people asked me "well just how do I get the emotion into a quilt?"

Actually the answer is fairly straight forward...but I do think it's a good idea before practicing the techniques  to look and see how the Great Artists of all time got emotion into their work...search the internet for art- you can google things like The world's 100 great paintings etc and come up with a lot of work.  Or go to the website of many of the large museums, several have now had their best paintings carefully digitally photographed at high levels of resolution so you can really examine them.  As with anything new, always begin with clear classic examples.....

For example:

what emotion would you see in Mary Cassat's mother and baby paintings?

or here:

What emotions do you think Picasso was trying to convey in Geurnica?

and what do you feel when you see this painting?

While there may be a little variation I think that most of us would come up with wonder, tenderness and grief (not necessarily in that order!).

So what did these artists do to show that?

In 2D art you basically have 5 things that you can manipulate:  value, color, shape, line and texture.

Let's take each one of these:
Value:  you can have an art work with soft gradations in value, or very marked sharp ones.
See how Picasso uses very bold contrasts of value to convey feeling, Cassat keep the value changes very soft.

Line:  note how Cassat's lines are soft and melting, Picasso's are hard, Van Gogh's are excited like exclamation points!!!

Color:  Cassat uses soft warm colors to show tenderness....and love ...Picasso used harsh black/white/grey contrasts....and van Gogh had a sharp complementary blue/yellow color scheme,  bright and scintillating.

Shape:  Mary Cassat's women and babies are rounded soft shapes that enclose and intertwine, Picasso's are harsh, pointed, jagged and rent with emotion.  Van Gogh's shapes  are spreading out in waves and circles radiating across the sky.

Texture:  again Picasso has a harsh bristly texture, Cassat's is so soft it feels like warm velvet.

I do go over some of these concepts in my two books: Inspired to Design and Working in Series both of which are basically about the application of the major principles and techniques of art to the design of quilts and available from me, your local independent quilt store or Amazon.
Or look at Molly Bang's little book:  Picture This: How Pictures Work  which shows these concepts very clearly in use in the telling of the Red Riding Hood story.

I hope this explanation helps to answer the questions!  Let me know what you think...and also I'm very happy to have topics suggested for the blog...sometimes all the cups of  tea in the world don't inspire me to anything except a trip to the loo!!

If you have been, thanks for reading.....Elizabeth

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Working from a realistic inspiration. A three step operation.

When you’re inspired by s/t realistic (rather than an abstract concept), and making art from it…it’s important, I think, to NOT try to simply reproduce it.
Whatever the medium.

The first step is selection, enrichment and organization/composition.
If you look at a landscape painted by Cezanne, or O’keefe or van Gogh and then see a photograph of the actual scene that inspired them,  you’ll see that they have both enriched  and systematically organized (rearranged to create a “composition”) that original view in order to create a strong painting.
This is just what we strive to do when making a quilt based on a real scene.  Whether it’s a landscape, a cityscape, a portrait, a still life or any of these, the art falls flat if we very literally copy what is in the photo or in front of us.

The second step is intention…adding in your feelings, your thoughts…
That’s when people say – “that’s just not what I envisaged”  - in their mind’s eye they saw it in enriched fashion, they enhanced the colors, omitted  the rubbish…etc.
And particularly in that they have not managed to include their feelings in the piece.
You could really love your little grandson….you could make a quilt that was a copy of the boy…a better quilt would show both the grandson and your love for him.
You need  to ADD what’s in your head  to the scene (or photograph) to create art.

The third step is even more interesting..
And that is – to deliberately address the medium you’re using.  To utilize the particular properties of that medium to make your image a work of art.  That’s why printing photographs onto fabric really doesn’t work very well – at least I’ve never seen them work well.  Printing photos onto fabric doesn’t use the medium.  Furthermore most people just print the photos as is…without  the two steps described.  While it is actually possible to enrich (though not the  ridiculous stifling unnatural super saturation popular amongst some photographers!  ), re-organization, actually composing, isn’t easy to do with most photos.

The glass maker will use the light shining through the glass to bring the art to life, the woodworker , the texture and grain of the wood.  The watercolorist will exploit the way that light can go through the paint and bounce off the surface of the paper.  The oil painter can use texture and richness of many different particles of color.
The quilter should use the particular qualities of fabric and stitching – the way the fabric takes the dye, the subtleties achieved by surface design….
The stitching – whether machine or hand – should really add something to the meaning and beauty of the piece…and not just be an incidental factor.

Constance Howard used to say that it should appear as if that artwork could not have been created using any other medium.

Yes, you can make good quilts based on real life inspirations (despite the abstract quilter diehards!!) but I think it’s necessary to follow these three steps to achieve that.

So – tell me what you think?  D’you consider these steps?  D’you carry them out?  Am I missing something?  Convince me!!  Meanwhile, I’m off for a nice cuppa tea….
And, if you have been, thanks for reading!   Elizabeth