Saturday, November 21, 2015

Gazing into space and thinking...the way to be happy.

Neither waving, nor drowning but thinking......

The most often asked question to a quilt maker is: how long did it take you to make that?  and then...."oh you're so lucky you're retired you have all the time in the world! "
Would that it were so!  But those of us who are lucky enough to be retired and to be reasonably healthy (of course many aches and pains and so on of which I shall say absolutely NO more...not wishing to indulge in an "organ recital"!!)....those of us who are retired and energetic are finding that the best thing in the world, the greatest happiness, is having  the time to learn and practice new creative skills.

Winston Churchill wrote:
"The way to be happy is to find something that requires the kind of perfection that's impossible to achieve, and spend the rest of your life trying to achieve it."

Making art and making music are probably the best examples of an activity where perfection is impossible, but trying to reach it is wonderful.
Sport?  well - maybe when young!  For it does require a certain physicality!
And I definitely include arts like cooking and gardening!

So, given that, why are so many artists focused on making things for other people?  Making things to sell (which is a very difficult thing to be successful with), or making pieces to be accepted by a show - with all the constraints therein: size, date, number of layers, where the stitches are or are not, or making things for the latest group "challenge"??  Is this really the way to be happy?  is this is the best use of our art?
And, more importantly, is this a way to improve your art?

I see people boasting on the social networks that they did a "happy dance" ( an overused phrase anyway!! Please, eschew ALL clichés on your way to "nail" it as you "step upto the plate" while "jumping out of the box"!) because they got into a certain show.  But sadly I don't see them telling others of their delight in engaging in learning and developing and gradually improving their art. 
And most show acceptances are so meaningless:  perhaps one third of the art is inspiring,  but two thirds were merely  lucky.
Why do we even think of using acceptance/rejection as a measure of happiness?    

And also...why does how long it took you to make it matter? And why does it matter to the questioner?  What are they expecting to hear?  Well, it took three hours, therefore if you have three hours frree on Sunday afternoon you could make one too??!!
And, yes I know the clever answer of "three hours and 20 years experience", which neither addresses the heart of the matter nor is encouraging to the questioner. It's just clever, and it's been said so often, it's now a CLICHé!!

So please, make it or learn it because it makes you happy to do so and because it's thrilling to progress a little nearer to the dream.

If you have been, thanks for reading!   I appreciate it!   Elizabeth

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Giving presents!


We're getting near the present giving season again...and I've already got it all sorted out!
I decided to give each of  the grandchildren 3 things:
something sensible (clothes usually - incredibly LARGE ones!),
something sweet that they'll enjoy (yes, Mom has given the okay) and then..
.an start their own personal art collection.

When my girls reached 21, I didn't give them jewelry or a bright red sports car (ha!), but rather a painting by the artist of their choice (local, living... not Picasso or Monet!).  Art lasts for ever.   The ring I was given for my 21st wore out in a few years...most people don't even remember what they were given to mark an important anniversary.

Many presents that children get these days are quickly used up - one way or another: broken, out dated, shrunk, eaten...but a good artwork will live on.


 I think it's important to introduce young people early on to the idea of collecting art; it's an important habit to have.  Much more important than collecting shoes, or movies or popular music or having the latest fad thing everyone else has.

There are so many things to be gained from an art collection.

 When you move apartments, or houses, you can be instantly at home once you've hung your favorite art pieces on the wall.
 Art that will not only make you feel at home, but also make you feel good in some way every time you look at it.
It will help you remember a favorite place or person or pet,.
It will add beauty,  it may make you laugh. It will make you feel better!


Now what else but Art (and yes I include music!) will do those things?  Some may say - well "maybe a million dollars.." but in fact studies show that once you've got all the basics taken care of (and, yes, that is important) beyond that more money does not make you happy.  Look at all those miserable millionaires you know!  Does the Trump ever look happy??

Introducing children to beginning an art collection by giving them paintings, or sculptures, or photographs and so about something they already love.. will attract their attention and their joy.  Their love of the object, even if it's a doleful basset hound or a "don't mess with me" cat, will spread  to the art work and in that way they'll begin to see the value of having art.  So many homes I go into have only calendars and doctor's appointments hanging on the walls, it's so sad...when art can enrich our lives so much.  Begin early!!

Comments? I'd love to know what you think.
I'm off to the studio to make more art...after a nice cup of tea, of course.
If you have been, thanks for reading!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Time management: Five steps.

On the last day of my live workshops I always have an open discussion about anything people want to ask - some strange things have come up!!  Unexpected things  that's for sure! for example one group that wanted to hear all about personality theory - now what that has to do with quilt design?  I don't know but I was happy to talk a little about that and then segue into how that related to one's art work!

In the last workshop, a student asked about time management.  This really is a key issue these days when it comes to actually producing something as a result of your creativity.  We are all pushed for time!  The number one reason people give for not doing  ANYTHING - is lack of time.

Years ago a book was published called "How to Live on 24 Hours a day" - unfortunately I've not yet had time  to read it!!   Arnold Bennett.  It's actually a free download from Amazon along with other self help books by Bennett.
"straightforward, vigorous, pungent" says  the New York Times!! Sounds more like manure....but!!

Actually I did start it, but didn't really come across anything very new - after all it was written about a hundred years ago.  But it's always interesting to see how the same issues bedevil us across the ages.= - we do have all our modern appliances...but we still don't have enough time!

HEALTH and PRACTICE are the two things we need most to improve our skills - whatever they are - quilting, cooking,  croquet  or canasta - if you want to get better at it, you need to practice.  In order to practice you need time.  To have the energy and creativity to practice you also need to be in as good health as you can manage.

So, time management.......

There are five steps:

1. Take data.  Write down everything you do for 3 days and see where the time is going now. Particularly note where someone else is wasting your time for you!
Also make a note of your diurnal rhythms i.e. is there a particular time of day when you are at your sharpest?  Or mellowest?  Some activities require a clear focussed mind, others only require time.  You don't want to waste your "best time" on mundane stuff!

2. Make a list of all your activities - including those that appeared on the data sheet from step 1 - AND - the activities you would like to do if you had time for them.

3.  Prioritize list 2.  Obviously the necessities of day to day living have to rank high, also those things you do to improve/maintain your health (usually exercise of some kind).

4. Work out a reasonable daily or weekly schedule....and implement it.  Keep taking data so that you can see where things go wrong - maybe your schedule wasn't that reasonable...or maybe other people are needlessly using your time for you.  Make the Most Important things from your priority list as unchangeable events that have  to happen almost every day.  But you choose what they are...don't let anyone else choose for you!

5.  Address the areas where your schedule is not being followed.  Consider each one as a problem that you can solve e.g. phone calls that go on for ages - either you can schedule them when you can also engage in a simple activity, like cooking or cleaning, or stitching.  Or, you can cut them short:  "Well, I won't keep you any longer, I"m sure you're busy" is a very good exit line!

Even if you can only harvest 30 minutes more a day from carrying out the above five steps...that will gain you 182.5 more hours in a year - more than enough to make another beautiful quilt!

If you have been, thanks for reading!  And do please comment with your own favorite time management ideas.  Elizabeth

Wednesday, October 28, 2015


So think your quilt is looking like wallpaper?
(and there are an awful lot of them out there, believe me!!)
I love showing poorly designed quilts in my workshops ....but daren't get away with it online!!
(apart from my own...I have a lot of "dogs", there's no doubt!!!  (apologies to any canines reading this blog...but do please comment!).

What can you do to improve the design?
Here are three tips to avoid producing any more wallpaper!

 Think about adding a focal point...I like to think of a quilt design as being like an opera... there is the lead singer, the star - the Tenor...He stands out, he's towards the center of the stage (unless he's singing mightily while dying of suffocation in a tomb of course!!), he's bigger, bolder, louder and spotlit!
Sometimes there are one or two or even three other singers engaged with him in varying melodic patterns i.e. interesting and varied auditory arrangements...and we can create the same thing visually.

With no focal point - no center of interest - then everything is equally interesting, or equally boring!
I was ill in bed a lot as a child with little energy and I remember I looked and looked and looked at all the wallpaper in my room - a basket pattern, I wanted to find the one basket that had some different flowers in it! (never did).  As human beings we are hard wired to find the novel elements in our surroundings and investigate them.  They may be good to eat.....or good to run away from!

So create a focal point by having something a bit different in that area: different shape, different line quality, different size, different color etc.   And make it fairly easy for the viewer to find it by having it towards the center of the design. Furthermore, make it  obvious by its contrast with the areas around it which is how we normally see things  - whatever we are looking at is clear, sharp, focussed...that which is in our peripheral vision is softer, blurrier...

Another thing that will make your quilt more interesting is to increase the value range.
If you have any photo - imaging software on your computer, then simply scan in your sketch ...or a photo of your quilt, and increase the contrast in value.  In PSE you can find this feature under "Enhance"...  Making the darks darker and the lights lighter will make the whole idea bolder and richer.  You don't have any darks to make darker? or lights to make lighter?  well...that's probably why it's boring!   Create some!!  You ARE allowed!

Add variety, something different, something unexpected and edgy.  Imagine one of those Thomas Kinkaid snow covered cute cottages with the lights on inside...and there's a little figure climbing out of the window!!  Makes you lean forward and take what is happening there..I didn't expect to see that!!  There's lots of different ways to make things unexpected...Tracy Emin the British artist who makes blankets appliquéd with text.  She uses not only  strong personal language ...but she also exploits her dyslexia with strange bad spellings.  Not your usual bad spelling...but something that makes us have to take a moment to figure out the text.

And of course, if you really want to make wallpaper...please do!  It can be very soothing..just don't hang it above the bed of a bored sick child!

And now for a nice cuppa tea I think, cogitation can make you thirsty...
if you have been, thanks for reading!


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

I'm back home after a trip to Wisconsin - 3 little workshops in a row with outings to see the countryside (and cheese and chocolate factories - the staples of life!) between each one.

I'm working on a Long Talk I'm giving to the local "learning in retirement" chapter - I need to either shrink it, or learn to speak a lot faster!  The talk  accompanies an extensive power point about Abstract Artists, specifically female ones, though most of the things they talk about are universal. so the issues are not particularly feminist, rather the artists are less well known than their male counterparts - UNdeservedly so!

It's fascinating reading about these artists' practices; so many of their comments are directly relevant to art quilts and to the way I teach. My workshops in Wisconsin were really about ways to derive and evaluate designs - first on paper, then in fabric.

For example, Eva Hesse (1936-1970) always loved drawing.  She said that because it was more flexible and immediate than painting or sculpture, it was much more useful in developing ideas. She frequently worked with found materials: latex, cheesecloth, resin.  The forms she created were sometimes ordered, sometimes chaotic but the compositions were often worked out in drawing, or little watercolors.  (For images, just google "eva hesse images".)

She found  that,  while drawing gave her pleasure and satisfaction, it was also a very efficient way to work: 

 " First, feel sure of an idea, then the execution will be easier.” 

Drawing  is both a way of  working through ideas and a way to explore different technical issues.  Hesse found  that she could use the drawing to follow a chain of thought, a variety of serial techniques,  using repetition  as both content and form.
One of her favorite shapes was the square; in repeating squares, she could look at shape, negative space, and also the relationships between the squares.

 Hesse believed that “repetition does enlarge or increase or exaggerate an idea or purpose in a statement”.
These  "statements" or concepts also revealed the artist's feelings as well as their cognitions.

 Sometimes her drawings began with a grid which was fairly regular but then  the slight variations between the units would begin to  suggest resistance to enforced regularity - as happens in the improvisational approach to cutting out squares.   in using grids in a more flexible way, Hesse emphasized the mark of the hand, its variations and unpredictability and its beauty. 

Doesn't this sound like many of the exercises I give in my workshops?  Alas, like so many artists, Eva Hesse died of cancer at a very young age...I would love to have given her a pile of fabric to work with!

And now for a nice cuppa tea to soothe my PAC (plane acquired cold!)....if you have been, thanks for reading!


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 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!) 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 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 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 "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 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