Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Online Inspired to Design class starting this Friday.....

.....my online Inspired to Design class (the class that lead to the book!) is starting on Friday with academyofquilting.com.    There are lots of reasons for taking an online class...here are a few!


1.  They are usually much more affordable than real life classes.

2.  They allow you much more time to think and experiment that real life classes as typically there is one lesson per week and the entire course  is spread over 4-6 weeks.

3.  You don't have  to write notes in class!! You can just download them already written out for you.

4. You can read and understand at the speed best suited to the way that you learn.

5.  You can "go to class" whenever it suits you! Anytime of the day or night!  And stay for as long or as short a time as you like.

6.  You don't have to worry about the tediousness and cost of travel, or of finding board and lodging.

7.  You don't have to haul all your stuff, only to find you've left one key thing at home!!

8.  There are usually more people in the class than there would be in an actual class so you get to see a much wider range of work....and there is a wide range of skills..from beginners to quite advanced folk.  We learn so much from seeing the work of people both more and less skilled than ourselves.

9.  You can try out something with little investment of cash or time that you think you might be interested in but are not really sure about.


1.  Now some people feel that online classes aren't as good because they're not sociable..but I have been surprised and delighted by how people have formed friendships within my classes, sometimes leading to emailing each other (though of course only if both parties desire it) - and sometimes finding that you have a kindred spirit in the same town whom you never knew!
 You can make a real connection with people online...as a teacher I was nervous about this to begin with, but I've now learned that I can really get a sense of the person and what they need from me as a teacher.

2.  However, some folk find they really do need to get away from the worries of the home life - and certainly that would be a good reason to take an actual class at a workshop away from home - and you never know I might see you there  too!

There are also so many advantages to learning new things - it's beginning to be very clear that as we get on in life two things will ward off the deleterious effects of age and time - especially on our most important organ - the brain!!  One is exercise, physical exercise.  The other is learning new skills.  Remember the Chinese proverb: Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.

I'm happy to answer any questions you might ask - just pose the question in the Comments, or you can write to me directly - there's a link on the side bar.  And all comments are good - I always read them and comment back - when relevant.

And now to work on my learning for the day....two languages online, and piano!!! Yowee!  I may never grow old at this rate!

As always, if you have been, thanks for reading!   Elizabeth

Friday, June 19, 2015

The analytical approach to spontaneity

I like the idea of improv - but ...with pencil and paper...
I'm not one of those that would happily cut up great wodges of fabric and rush to the design wall and back, frenziedly pinning and unpinning..
Even less would I want to cut up millions of pieces, sew them madly together, then cut them back up and race back and forth to the wall and then sit staring gloomily at them for hours waiting for inspiration to Strike!
 Though I have tried it....and, like the head banging against the brick wall, it sure was lovely when I stopped.
But I have found  that I can happily improv on paper...sketch after sketch, just black and white, giving myself a few rules each time...
Rules? you say, Rules??? But the Great never use rules!!  oh no??  think about improv humor, think about improv in music - they're all about structure....

The first steps in improv in music?  "play only the black keys, designate one key as the "home key" and keep returning to it, set up a basic rhythm...and repeat"  You're playing in a pentatonic scale - only 5 things vary - so repetitions occur basically with or without you thinking much about it since you are limiting yourself.
Second step: play only white keys - now there are 8 things that can vary - but again the advice is to have a "home key" to which you return.

Painter, Amy Sillman says that improv comedy in which she's trained to try to improve her painting, isn't so much a comedic form as a responsive one.  Responsive to the verbal and the body language of the other performers.   The product is language - with which we are skilled..   we know what words go together to make coherent sentences, and how to make associations from one word (or sentence) to another.   The performers also learn to make connections and lead-ins....it is a learned verbal art form, well practiced in the classroom before being taken out on the stage.

 So rules....or perhaps "guidelines" would be a better word...are very helpful in improv, because without some structure and some limitations there would be chaos.   The improv performers are not only skilled in awareness of the audience and each other, but also they solicit the structure, the initial "shapes, lines and colors" from the volunteers.  They observe the "values and  the textures" as the ideas are suggested to them.
And then they juggle them, bouncing the ideas from one to another, flipping them forward and back, making associations, turning  them inside out.  Just as two musicians improvising together might begin with a specific melody (or pentatonic pattern), then begin to augment, to repeat, to reverse, to speed up or slow down, to embellish etc .

And so I shall go back down to my paper and pencils again and give myself a starting point and a few guidelines and when I have 20 such improvs....and only then will I decide which I should translate into fiber,  for our craft of quilting is slow and laborious.  A little akin to the sculptor who works a small model in clay, but then later has it cast large in bronze.   Would the sculptor begin with large chunks of bronze pouring  them at random into moulds?

Allow yourself an analytical approach to spontaneity and I think you'll have more fun, and will be more creative and less frustrated.

And of course, when thoroughly stumped, one can always go and make a nice cuppa tea.....
And, if you have been, thanks for reading!

I look forward to reading your comments...what is your creative process?  Do you give yourself any guidelines, any structure and, if not, how do you fare?  


Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Master Class on Cape Cod

This was the first time I'd taught a LIVE master class...and how wonderful to be working with so many talented people!!

I gave three short talks accompanied by Power Point presentations to introduce the issues and topics I wanted to address...then gave an assignment and the students set to work!

Silence prevailed in the large airy room as cogitation commenced in all quarters.

Sketches were mounted onto design boards and we went round as a group for evaluation and critique....noting strong points, indicated weaknesses - and why - and possible ways to fix them.

Then the construction of several tops took place...obviously there wasn't time to complete whole quilts as a new presentation and assignment occurred every 8 hours!   Though there was overnight thinking and catch up time.

We also had a quilt show at the local Chamber of commerce, the opening was very well attended and the quilts looked great.  They were hung with "command" strips which I'd never seen before...but I was quite impressed...when we took the quilts down there wasn't a mark on the wall.  Much easier than rods and nails.

Here are some pictures from the quilt show:

and a few of the many designs that were made - I think everyone went home  with at least a dozen excellent designs, and some had many more......they won't need to take another workshop until this time next year!!

It was such a good experience that there may be another Live Master Class in my future...meanwhile I'm going to expand some of the assignments into online classes for the academyofquilting.com - don't look right away though...it takes me months to put these classes together!
And of course I have a waiting list for my online Master Class.  Email me if you're interested.

and now...for a nice cuppa tea...if you have been, thanks for reading!   Elizabeth

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Cape Cod Cogitations


And here I am on Cape Cod enjoying the gorgeous smell of lilacs - getting my fill because they don't  grow in the South.  I'm having a few days off to admire the scenery and regroup before teaching the Live Master Class next week.  Reading some books about art...if you're not doing it - read about it, think about it, nay....Cogitate!!!  It's so enriching to read and reread books about art.   A favorite writer is Marie Roberts who said:     

"Intense feeling alone is not enough to make a work of art” 

Would that it were so!!  And yet how many  still hang onto magical thinking.  How many contestants in those (un)reality shows on tv, when asked why they should get the prize, state "because I want it SO much!"  Oh yes, but does wanting it So Very MUch mean that it will happen?  I always wanted to be able to speak and understand a foreign language, but how far d'you think I got just wanting?  And I Wanted As Hard As I Possibly Could!

Just wanting to create a wonderful symphony, an amazing novel, or a fabulous painting, or an award winning art quilt actually isn't quite enough!  However passionately you feel about it. And, however passionately you feel about the topic you wish to portray. As any writer will tell you, there's significant planning (look at J K Rowling who planned out the whole Harry Potter series before she began writing) and then hard grind.

An experience many of us have had is that the quilt just doesn't turn out as we hoped and imagined.  So what is actually happening when you feel that you can  see the quilt in your head but it doesn't come out right when you try to build it on the wall?  If I see a word in my head, or even a whole sentence (!) I can usually write it down.   If I see a row of triangles, I can draw them.  So what about that fabulous idea?   Well, for one thing, I actually don't see it clearly, rather I feel it;  I feel the emotion of it, but I don't see the actuality of it.  The feeling has to be translated into the elements that we have in quilting, viz: light/dark, color, texture, shapes and lines.  We don't have a little pot of emotion we can spoon out on the quilt.  The dye companies don't make "joy" or "melancholy" that you can brush on, or stitch on.  Imagine if you could though??   "3 yards of gaiety and a pound of wonder, please!"

Now the great musician can draw her bow across the violin strings and we can feel happiness and wonder in ourselves.   But if I drew that bow...I'm sure that wonder would not be the emotion my listeners would experience!  We need to know how to translate feeling into the elements we do have.   And we need the skill to do it well.  Alas neither is gained overnight, and definitely not achieved without a great deal of effort and thought.  And looking at how others have done it.

So we headed down to Provincetown - called Pee Town by the locals! - to check out some of the art.  And there's a lot of it, some good, some bad, as you might expect.  We were told by a gallery owner that the visitors to Pee Town didn't like fiber, but I did come across this little gem (alas did not get the name of the artist):

 And now to prepare for the class....
 If you have been, thanks for reading!   Elizabeth

PS  Do recommend to us any books about art that  you have found inspiring....the Comment box is open!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Why DON"T people buy art?

It's not easy selling art quilts, is it?
 At least I've not found it so....I thought at first that people don't buy fiber art because they think it's more difficult to clean - or will gather more dust....of course neither is true.  Think of a "dream catcher"  - nothing catches more dust than one of those!  And how often have you laundered a calendar or a poster?

Having visited several different homes recently - new acquaintances, I think people simply don't buy art at all.   Perhaps  the odd poster, or dust ( sorry, dream) catcher...but not real art.  Even the tallest walls are depressingly empty, around the windows might be fancy drapes with succulent valances, on the floor, beautiful Chinese or Persian rugs, quartz in the kitchen and the most luxuriant fittings in the bathroom...but no art.   Why not?

Why don't people buy art?

Like everything else there are probably lots of reasons but some of the chief ones I've come across are:

1. Money:  Real art (i.e. not a reproduction) is seen as being too expensive.  And quilts certainly are expensive - the amount of time it takes to make one, if truly reflected in the price, would make them monumentally expensive.  Nearly as much as a tv, or a computer, or a year's supply of phone cell coverage or a few month's worth of eating out.    And we know how much more important THEY are!

2.   Supply and Demand: There are a lot of objects and services out there competing for money.   There are all those expensive electronics to buy and then their service plans, and the extra insurance we all need these days (though sometimes I REALLY wonder about that!).  There are a LOT of things we can spend out money on!

3.  Hidden value: Few see the value of owning art.  You never  see people comparing the paintings or wall textiles they've bought.  At a social event, frequently everyone is whipping out their smart phones (very smart most of them because they make people feel instantly better about themselves for owning one!), or their iPads, trooping out to look at the new car ...and I'm sure in some places, their artillery! but rarely do you hear "oh you must come and see this wonderful art quilt I just bought".
Have you ever seen a tv program about owning art?  And yet look at how often all those other products are seen in adverts:  the cars, the computers, the clothes, the fancy houses, even the recreational drugs to be taken in the bathtub!  Society as a whole doesn't value art probably, in part, because big business isn't out there advertising it!

4.  Fear of looking foolish, uncertainty:   It's easier too to judge the cost of a car - if it's bigger and faster and shinier then we know it's worth more.  Hard to judge that with art work.  People are unsure of the value of a piece of art - whatever medium.  They worry that others might think they've spent too much, that they've been taken for a ride (and not in a big, fast, shiny car!)  The average perception of the value of something called a quilt is based on Walmart prices...craft fair prices.  
They're worried that they're making a mistake, they don't know whether or not they'll still love the piece in a year's time...  If you think about it, it does take quite a lot of guts to drop a grand on something that you're unsure of.  That's a lot of money for most of us to justify spending.  And most art quilts cost even more than that:  in a show like Quilt National, I bet there are very very few pieces that are not well over a grand.

5.  Lack of knowledge: most people have absolutely no idea how much a piece of art can enrich a room, how it can simply make you feel good to look at it.  When we make our art quilts we feel very good!  We've pulled it off, we've got our idea out there...in reality.  That's a great feeling for us.  But will it make others feel good to look at it, will it enrich Their lives as well as ours in having made it?
Is that so...and can we convince them that it is so?

6. Unconsciousness of the continuity that owning art work gives you.  this is especially true for those of us who have moved a lot in our lives...every time we've moved the first things I have unpacked and hung are the paintings and hangings; immediately our surroundings become home.   The dearness of the familiar composition is something that's hard to convey unless you've done this.

Alas, knowing why doesn't really help the cause....every art quilter I know has a cupboard full of the beautiful creations, all rolled up.....

how do you feel?  

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

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Seeing is Believing.

Many many artists these days, let's face it, work primarily from photographs and there's nothing wrong with this.   As a starting point.  But there comes a time when you MUST forget the photograph and pay attention only to the piece you're making - whether you're at the sketch stage or the blocking out of the quilt stage.

Adhering too closely to the photo leads to many problems.

1. Objects:
The photo is not necessarily a good composition.  the shapes and lines might well be in the wrong places!  Wrong in the sense of a good coherent, pleasing and Interesting arrangement.
Don't put the tree slap bang in the middle just because it was there in the photo!

2. Horizon Line. As it happens, the most common thing to have right in the middle is the horizon line - because  that's the way we look through the camera - holding it at that mid point to take the photo.
However a composition is invariably much more interesting if the horizon line is high, or low...not right in the middle bisecting the image exactly in half.

Note in the above photo, I've got a nice low horizon, and  the focal point is off center...but see how the camera makes all those deep shadows into one dark black?  in actuality, they were dark green, marroon, purple and blue... 80% and 90% black not 100% black.

3. Focal Point: Also when we compose a photo, we usually put the focal point right in the middle...but in a composition in cloth (or paint and paper), the design is much more interesting if the focal pint is NOT exactly in the middle.

4. Value: The values are almost certainly going to be wrong - it is well known that the camera tends to push all the light values into one Super Light value, and to put all the darks into one Really Dark value.
If you think about values on an 11 point scale : 0% dark, 10% dark, 20% dark all the way to 100% black, the camera will probably get the middle values: 40-70% about right - in that it will show them as being different....but it will frequently blur the 80, 90 and 100 % together.  Ditto at the light end of the scale.

5. The subject of the photo: The photo is only what the camera sees and not what you actually see (your Eyes are much better and you have Two of  them!).  Look with your eyes, then compare that visual memory to the image on the camera ( or these days for it seems every one except me still muddling along with a dumb one...) the image on your (perhaps not so?) smart phone.  Where is the sparkle?  Where is the depth?  where is the subtlety of tone?  Where is the sense that the air is soft and misty or sharp to the point of crackling?

6. Your own impressions: Nor does the camera view reflect what you feel, what you sense in the temperature of the air, the stillness or windiness, the smell, the sounds, perhaps even the taste.  A camera can't capture these...but you can take a quick moment to note them all.

7.  Make notes: So when taking the photo, don't just hastily whip it out, snap snap snap, barely even look at the scene with the Real Thing: your artist's eyes....instead look and look and look - capture it all in your mind and then take the photo, for reference.  Make a few notes on a scrap of paper if you can.  I usually carry a pencil and a few 3x5 cards with me when out for a walk.  It's amazing how often you have Great Thoughts when walking!

8. Color: On the other hand....a photograph can tell you something about the color of the objects in the scene, because it just images what is there.  It doesn't label the colors as our brains do - frequently incorrectly as it happens.  Look at the tree you have just photographed - see how many different greens there are?  often the leaves will go from very light, almost white to very dark tones.  If  the sun is warm, or there are reflections from a warm toned object, they'll show those overtones too.  And vice versa with cool tones.  But what does the brain do??  Leaves are green...all the way round!  Look at an orange sitting in a sunny window.  Our brain says oho that orange is orange all over....but - no - really look - see how it's almost white where the sun hits it?  see how the underside reflects the color of the window sill?  see how there are blue shadows, and green shadows?  This is even more noticeable if you can get a naked person to sit in a sunny window!!  I guarantee you'll see practically every color there is - but probably NOT beige!

 9. Rose colored spectacles: If ever I see another quilt with a bright blue sky, a bright green tree, a bright red barn, bright yellow chickens, brown fences, purple and pink flowers, I shall have to search out those rose-colored glasses again - long retired and used only for the sake of my stomach when eating school dinners (I went to a convent school where the usual fare was grey mutton, grey mashed potatoes, yellowish grey swedes followed by grey rice).  Ugh......

10.  Color is light, light spreads: Trees are rarely (if ever) a solid viridian green, fences are rarely a solid brown etc.   Just look and see!
And if the sky truly is blue, that blue is usually reflected (to some extent) in anything that is in any way glossy that is facing towards the sky.

yes Seeing, really really really Seeing...can lead to Truth!
and you know the adage:  Truth is Beauty!
If you have been, thanks for reading....and do please comment - I promise I won't put those rosy specs on to read your comments!


Thursday, May 14, 2015

A Magazine Interview and a Divided Quilt

No, the Magazine interview isn't about the Divided Quilt!!
 But it is about the quilts I've made - and not chopped up! -  plus a very nice interview I had with Rose de Boer, the Editor.
 The magazine in question is Quilting Arts Magazine.
The June/July issue is coming out on May 26 - alas I'm not a cover girl (well that was hardly to be expected with my hair!) but my quilts are on more than one page...somewhere inside!  So, do take a look!

And the quilt I divided up??

Well...here's the story.  I need two gifts for two ladies who have been very good to me, and they are good friends....so I was wondering what to take them...and then I had the idea of cutting a quilt into two and giving  them half each!  It's not a very big quilt...originally about 18 x 24...but I always liked it and it's travelled around quite a bit - time it got a good home - or Two Good Homes!

Here's the original:

I love cutting things up and creating new things...and in my classes I'm always suggested people crop their sketches.  So often we put Far Too Much into one image.

So here are the two....tell me what you think!!

I hope my two friends with be happy with them!  And that they think these are more fun than a bottle of wine or a box of chocolates...though of course it does depend on Which Wine and Which Chocolates!

If you have been, thanks for reading!
Love the comments....please, more!