Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Why Are So Many Teachers Inarticulate?

I don't know about you, but when I take workshops (not all that often these days), I'm often extremely frustrated by how inarticulate the teacher is.  and it seems to occur much more in art (painting or fiber) than in other mediums.

Recently I took a painting workshop, where the teacher did a demo every day and when asked why she painted a certain shape of a certain size or color, would consistently reply: "Oh, I just work intuitively!  I don't know why I did that!"  then she would take some white paint and erase the first mark - "so, why did you erase it?"  "I don't know, it didn't feel right!"

Other comments:  "I have no rule for compositions; a lot is intuitive, I feel it needs to be a certain way...I choose color intuitively....randomly – "   "I was  torturing myself for days!  "

That's no help at all to the student!  We have to learn to torture ourselves for days???!!

By contrast, when I asked the piano teacher (they go by the wonderful name of pedagogue by the way!  I'd love to be an art quilt pedagogue!), why he would play a repeated notes with several different fingers instead of just the same one over and over, he gave me a very good and full explanation.  (easier to switch fingers than to lift the first one - for those of you who are curious).

How can a teacher help a student if they don't know why they're doing what they are doing themselves?  Working by "feel" or by "instinct" is fine if you're in your own studio, messing with your own stuff, wasting your own fabric....but how can you convey that way of feeling to the student?
Maybe I'm a bit dim, but I've never been able to learn something from someone who can't explain what/why they're doing.

Also if you know WHY, then it's likely that you can avoid, or at least correct, errors - of course I have learned that I can go over an error with white paint!  Or cut out the offending piece of cloth from the quilt.  As long as I know which bits are errors, of course....

It's possible that the idea that you can work by "feel" "instinct" or"intuition" alone, came from the widely held belief  that some of us are born talented and some are not.  I must admit that when I was young I was always hoping that I would discover whatever it was that I had a hidden talent for!!!  But, as old age (sorry, I mean "maturity"!) encroaches, more and more I think it's education, practice, and coaching with articulate feedback for a significant period of time that makes the artist, or skilled performer (whether fine arts, crafts, music, athletics, debate...whatever it is).

We need the explanations....and we need the order to improve.  What tennis player would hope to learn to make those perfect aces by "intuition"?!!!

I'd love to hear from you as to your experiences....d'you find "intuitive" teachers to be inspiring? or frustrating?

And, if you have been, thanks for reading!

Elizabeth, AQP   (art quilt pedagogue!)

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Working process in designing art

 It's always interesting to read about artists' working processes, especially in regard to designing the artwork. There is some literature on art quilters' methods but a lot more on painters.  And just about any two dimensional design process can be translated into any 2D medium.   I've always found that what the "great" painters do/did to be really helpful and enlightening. Plus it gives me a great excuse to buy loads of luscious art books!

 Edward Hopper, for example, created a large number of drawings or studies for each of his oil paintings.  He experimented with different angles and lighting, and in very many of them he tried leaving different things out.  Once you start to do this, you can get an idea of what you really want to focus upon in your composition.  Any art work that tries to be about everything that you can see or remember or that is in the photograph is going to become confusing, even chaotic, and won't convey your real idea or emotion.

Hopper's paintings have everything unnecessary stripped away - only the most beautiful and expressive light, color and shapes are left for us to enjoy.  Paintings like this grab and hold your attention.

Most people work from photographs, especially quiltmakers.  It would be very hard to make a plein air quilt!!  So you do need to be very selective in what you use from the photo...the camera includes everything and gives most of it equal weight.   That's not, actually, how we really see things.  If you look at something, the object at which you're looking is in focus, but the objects around it are not.

Good composition is the key to getting people's attention.....and keeping them looking.  Daniel Gerhartz (the portrait artist) advises the artist to arrange the lights and darks in the composition to form interesting but fairly simple and obvious patterns that extend through much of the composition.

Jeffrey Hein says that merely copying what in in the photograph is "craft", but "adding composition and an intelligent idea" is art.

The so-called "rules" or "guidelines" are basically just the ideas that have worked in the past,  and that have lead to art that has stood the test of time.  As a round wheel usually works better than a square one!   However, it is important to understand why those guidelines have been so popular and how they actually work.  Then you know what you can change, and what might (if changed) make your work less interesting.

The next class I have coming up at is the class that lead to my book Inspired to Design and describes some of my working processes for my cityscape quilts plus a long hard look at those guidelines!

And, now for a nice cuppa tea...and then piano practice for I meet with the pedagogue tomorrow and there's nothing like deadlines for getting work done!

If you have been, thanks for reading!  Elizabeth

Do check out Through Our Hands on FAcebook, they are producing a wonderful online magazine.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Where are the inspiring people?

Who are the people to watch?

I'd love to have some website/blog links... to the people whom you think are the ones to watch.  People who are doing amazing things with art quilts/textiles/fiber collages (whatever they like to call it).

I find it very hard to keep up with what's going on in the field...the big shows are only every two years...and unless you actually go to them, or buy a pretty expensive catalogue, you have no idea what's going on.  And one of them actually bans people from putting  images out into the world ! - making it even harder to see the best of the best.

The magazines I've looked at don't always show the best work either, for various reasons...I guess they want to show Readers' Work to keep them buying the magazine, or things that are easy to make because they assume that's all most of us want.

And while it's lovely surfing the net to find takes a LONG time!

When you need inspiration, there's nothing better than looking at Really Great Work.  but where to go to find it?

If you want a great example of recorded music you look at the CD reviews, for Books we have various literary prizes (and no, the NY Times bestseller list does NOT count as literature! in fact frequently the opposite! the books are the cheetos of the book world.)

 If you look to see which quiltmaker has published a lot, it's usually the good teachers, rather than the amazing artists - yes occasionally these are one and the same...but by and large, if you're rushing around the country teaching you don't have much time in the studio making lots of great new innovative work...and vice versa.

You can get reviews of items that occur in multiples: like books, CDs, dvds, washing machines etc...but for art work, especially quilts which are almost invariably "one-off", how to find the best work?

Wouldn't it be lovely if there were a Quilt Review page in one of the national newspapers, so that every week we could see a Big Picture of something glorious?  I must admit I get very depressed when I look through various Pinterest files  online and see nothing but YouKnowWho knock offs!  Yes there are some exceptions...especially from countries other than the USA...but....

So send me your finds!!  
Whom do you find to be the MOST inspiring art quiltmaker?

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


Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Value of Workshops vs the Love of Learning

There's been some chat on the internet recently about the value of workshops - actual and virtual.  It was postulated that, in terms of outcome - i.e a marked improvement in the work of the student - most workshops were worthless.

It seems to me that's a terribly commercial approach.  We invested this time and money and where is the improvement in the product?  Nothing very obvious?  Well then, we wasted our time and money!!

What a  very strange way to measure the value of something.  So many things are missing, just for starters: what the student wanted out of the workshop!   I remember one workshop where one of the students said her reason for being there was to escape her very demanding family for a week!  So for her the workshop was successful the moment she got there!  Other students come to have fun, it's like a fabulous holiday, so much more stimulating than laying on the beach getting skin cancer and reading trashy novels!!

There are so many reasons for taking workshops that I really don't think you can use one single measure (marked improvement in the work) as any kind of indicator of the value of taking workshops.

This is very true of online workshops -  some people are there to learn technique A or B and I feel that for the most part they do just that.  Or, if not,  they realise that that  particular technique is not for them - always valuable to know which paths you don't want to follow! 
Some people are there because they live in a really isolated place or with unsupportive people, and here in the warm ether of the 'net they can find fellowship and learning.

Furthermore, most skills improve slowly with practice - I can't think of anything  much where you will get instant success in a very short period of time.  Unless it were something very simple and straightforward and not a complex task like making art.

Indeed, the idea that we can measure how much a student is getting out of something by  a single concrete measure is probably coming from the current method of assessment in school children - how are they progressing? well let's teach them three facts, and then test them: do they know those three facts?  yes or no.  Yes success, no Fail.  Are those three facts something they can and will use, something they can build on?  Maybe not...but they are something we can measure!

 And, as many of us have had forced down us, it's important to be 95% successful in our goals and then next year try to be 96% successful. and the year after 97%!  Is education really so narrow and black and white?  When employed by bureaucracy I very quickly realised I should set my goals to something easy to achieve, and very measurable.  I will complete 6.1 units per hour next year!!!  But that's not art, and that's not what we're teaching in our design and composition classes.

When I start a class, I always ask the students what they want out of the class...and while most of them do opt for the items mentioned in the class description, they do it in a way that's not directly and immediately measurable: e.g. " I want to know more about composition  so that I can apply it to my work and eventually see myself making stronger work". "I want to find my own voice". "I want to learn how to express myself in color and thread".   It's a slow process.

One thing you can do for yourself after taking a workshop is to try to list exactly what it was you gained, and how you will put that information into practice.  I'm currently taking lessons, I make lots of notes of the new information...and between each lesson I go over those notes asking myself how I can get these ideas and skills into my creative output.

I just took a week long painting course...surprise surprise my paintings were not significantly better at the end than the beginning!  hmm does that mean the course was a failure? But, what did I learn from making those paintings?  can I list everything new I now know and can apply in future, gradually practicing so that they become second nature for me too?  And then, then, my work will be better.  And what I learned from the painting, I can apply to the quilts...what I learn from music I can apply to painting, what I learn from quilts I can apply to life!!

And what if you want to learn to create beauty? How do you measure that?  How quickly can that be achieved?

Finally, just what is wrong in learning  for learning's sake?  Just for the pure simple pleasure of knowing more about something, of stretching our wings a little bit and feeling some slight mastery of a new skill.  The great happiness is that zing inside when you feel yourself able to understand or appreciate or do something you could never do before.

Onward and upward! Let's learn!
And, if you have been, thanks for reading.  And do please comment....what do you get from lessons and workshops?  How do you know if it was worthwhile?


Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Basic Dyeing for Quiltmakers


My class  Basic Dyeing for Quiltmakers   begins on Friday, January 8th. 
This class is with The Academy of Quilting, an excellent source for all sorts of different quilting classes: art, modern and traditional.  The courses are short: 3-7 weeks and are very reasonably priced.  I've found it an easy website to negotiate and the Dean is Always on hand to help - I think she never sleeps!

I've written several classes for the Academy, and one starts on the first Friday of nearly every month, I just sent a brand new one to her!  It will have to be checked and edited so may be a while before it's available...and I'll post more details then.  It's another design class, but with a lot of information!

However, the first class up this year is the Basic Dyeing class.

I wanted to approach dyeing a different way from the make 4000 little samples and glue them neatly into a note book school of learning to dye.  I find I'm really too impatient to be glueing all those bits, and the only time I took a class like that I was assigned about 10 yards of various muddy greens!!

It seemed to me that a more straight forward approach would be to address the properties of color and explain how to achieve each of them.

As we know color varies by hue (red, blue, green etc...), by value (light, medium, dark) and by saturation (rich intense color grading to very greyed out color).
So I thought, let's show people how to get - say - 12 different colors (12 steps round the color wheel), and how to dye a gradation of 8 or steps steps from light to dark, and how to dye 5 or 6  saturated vs greyed colors.    In that way, with just 25 (or so) samples you'd have an outline of how to achieve pretty much any color.  I'm a minimalist at heart - despite the clutter around me as I type!!!

I find that people can nearly always decide where a color would fall on the color can see if the green you want is nearer to turquoise than emerald, or nearer to emerald than chartreuse.  We've been looking at colors like this for a long time!  You don't need to dye 400 steps around the wheel to be able to do that.

You can also decide: is this dye color darker than that? or lighter?

And there are basically only two ways to make a color less intense, less saturated.

Also I wanted to minimize the number of different dyes you need to buy (6 in all) - very many dyes are simply mixes of other dyes...and you can certainly learn to mix them yourselves.

And I wanted  make the whole process as painless  and straightforward as possible, with the least exposure to dye dust (as an asthmatic myself, I'm Very Aware of that).

So I think I achieved all of that with this class!  There are five lessons: Mixing Dye solutions and dyeing gradations in black, Dyeing the three primary colors in gradations, Dyeing around the color wheel, Dyeing neutrals and tertiary colors and why you need them, working from a painting to figure out all the colors and then dyeing them!

Do give it a try!  I'm happy to answer any questions.....and Happy New Year to everyone!
Above all, good health!  Remember a nice cup of tea will solve a lot of problems....
And, if you have been, thanks for reading.  Elizabeth

Wednesday, December 23, 2015


Visiting New York City.....

So much inspiration!

Of course we went to (probably) the most famous fabric shop in the world!  Mood.
Mood is 3 floors of gorgeous fabric and is often featured in the reality show Project Runway...with Tim Gunn. Alas, we did not see Swatch - the famous Mood dog  - we were told it was his day off!!

But we did drool over some fabulous fabric:

yes I bought 3 yards of it...and some of the bright yellow polka dot in the bottom left....but not for quilts.  I find it really difficult to mix commercial and "hand-dyed " fabrics in a quilt.  I also like the idea that I designed the fabric for the quilt as well well designed the quilt...
but I'm hoping I'll look pretty snazzy in a tunic made of the Italian rayon knit I'm holding up!

The highlight of the trip, however, was a visit to the new Whitney ARt down in the old meatpacking district...very close to the Hudson river.  The location and views are tremendous.

I was very inspired by the Frank Stella retrospective show - lots of wonderful ideas that could be a starting point for abstract quilt design.

Just look at these:

The wall texts were some of the best I've ever read, really informative of the artist's process.
Stella said about  working in series: 
"In the Protractor pictures I had been as loose as I could get within a system that I'd kept to for over ten years.  Imposing that discipline on myself endowed all the early work with both benefits and drawbacks."

The Protractor series (that's one above: "The Damascus Gate")  was "rigorously conceived".  STella laid down clear parameters for himself involving the use of the protractor shape and some of its implied angles.  He was able to design 31 variations on this shape.  The curator wrote that this extremely systematic approach (which was during some of STella's early formative years as an artist) led to Stella thinking about his compositions as problem solving exercises.  Setting strict limits actually allowed greater creativity.  If you say to yourself "how many ways can I vary these few formal elements",  you can see how setting limits can force you into being very creative.  In the same way that a cook might have only the same few ingredients with which to make a meal on 7 consecutive nights - if they want people to enjoy the meals - they'd come up with 7 very different ways of preparing those ingredients!

As time went on Stella continued to work in of the ones he set himself was to make one painting for each of the 135 chapters of Moby Dick!   Think of your favorite book and what you could do!!!  

And, if you have been, thanks for reading!!!  Enjoy the winter holidays - "winter" (in inverted commas) indeed - it's forecast for 77 here, a mere 30 degrees above "normal".  Which I hope is going to be a bit of a challenge to all those flat-earthers out there!!!  But you never know.....happy holidays anyway!      See you in the New Year!         Elizabeth

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Master Class 2016

now that's a Working Studio!
I have a couple of cancellations for the Master Class on composition and design that I run on please contact me before the end of the year - in fact as soon as possible! - if you're interested.
elizabethmasterclass AT 

This year long class is based on a private paid subscription email/blog. On signing up, I’ll give you the blog address and send you an “invitation” to join.  When you’ve accepted the invitation,  your email address will allow you access.  
 I will send you the actual exercises/assignments once a month as an email attachment, and you will send me your images as email attachments, I will upload and critique those images on the private blog.  
 The students have told me that the critiques (which are supportive, constructive and anonymous) are the most important thing and extremely helpful.  It's especially worthwhile being able to see other people's work and read my evaluation of those pieces.  That way you get a lot of examples each month on how to address specific problems.

The assignments address typical design and composition problems and cover most of the areas where things can go wrong in creating your own designs.

The aim of the class is to help you strengthen your art quilt design skills and it builds on my other online and actual workshops. We won’t be addressing construction methods, it’s assumed you are already comfortable with a method that works well for you. 
 Around the first of each month, I’ll describe an “exploration” or directed exercise – nothing as limited as a specific project, but rather a set of instructions for a design (or designs), each month exploring a different concept, issue, topic or idea. You can make a quilt any size.  I won’t restrict your imagination!  But it will be important to address the main issue to which the exercise relates. You would certainly be able to carry out most of these assignments in a way that led to a series.

At the end of the year I ask students to assess what they have learned - here is a typical response:

"I learned:
-the importance of actually drawing out my ideas rather than thinking I can just rely on the picture in my mind;
-it is Ok to crop out the stuff I don't really like in a picture;
-it is Ok to move elements around in a picture to make a more pleasing composition;
-value is very important and I have to move beyond so many mid-tones in my work;
-that I need to value my own critique of a piece rather than worrying so much about whether others will like it;
-that I have created a checklist based on your assignments and comments that I can use to try to figure out what isn't working in a piece;
-that art comes in many forms and may be made in many mediums, but that the basic elements of design are common to all;
-the value of cross-training in other art mediums to help inform my work in fiber".

Please email me  if you're interested and I'll send you full details.  Thank you!   And a wonderful Winter Solstice celebration to everyone - however you enjoy drink and make merry!

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