Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Translation across the senses.....

Boring!  Don't worry I gave it to Goodwill for somebody's cat!

I'm sure you've all heard about synaesthesia - those people who feel/taste or hear in color...
apparently this phenomenon is probably the result of a little wiring glitch so that there is spillover from one sense to another.
But cogitating upon synaesthesia set me thinking that cross over from one medium or sense to another is very helpful in design and especially helpful in solving design problems.

One of the biggest problems with many quilts (and paintings too for that matter) is that they are just plain boring - maybe I'm jaded of course having seen mediocre work! Something not being interesting enough is quite an issue.  The remark: "Okay, but doesn't grab me" made by the viewer.

  The Big Name was always talking about wanting to have her socks knocked off...don't know why it was socks in particular, don't recall that I ever even saw her in socks (maybe they had been knocked off!)...but clearly what she sought and valued was a quilt that was exciting, fascinating, compelling.
Compare this to a piece of music, that just drones on and on, never really seems to get anywhere, no high points no low points, no changes in volume, rhythm or speed.   Or think about a meal that is mashed potato (without stuff added!), boiled cod and overcooked may laugh but I'm sure we had this at least once a week when I was at school.      Or, what about that stuffy stale air  cleaner (so-called) smell you get in motel rooms?  It suffuses everywhere, it's bland and choking.
Or the living room all in beige.....or the overly matched outfit?  It surprises me how many people I see dressed in dreary droopy greyed clothing.....even in the mirror some days!!!

So we have an idea how we could fix the music, the meal, the smell and the outfit, right?   So, if you feel the same way about the piece you're working on pinned onto the design wall....then consider a similar solution?  Add some changes to the rhythms, throw in some spice, throw open the windows and peel and orange, take a bright scarf and a pot of rouge!

Color, variety in value, different shapes, movement and rhythm!
Do your quilts need a little spice?  A little syncopation?  A dab of rouge here and there?
Take a look......tell me some stories......!  the Comments box is open........

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

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Memoirs of a Serial Quilter

Somebody told me that there was a discussion somewhere about working in series and about how some people were doubting that it was possible to make a  series of representational quilts.

 Since I have always been a serial quilter,  (and have actually written a book about all the series I've work in) (and put together an interminable Power Point lecture which I would happily show you for a generous donation!)..I would certainly feel that it was entirely possible to make a series of quilts about anything at all, in any style, whatsover.    The most determining thing about doing so is that you are sufficiently interested in the topic to WANT to do it...something that drives you forward to explore the idea, and make another, and another and another!!

My very first series was all about Windows...I come from's often grey, the winters are long and the days are short, and we needed all the light we could were really important.  My current house now has twice as many windows as it did when I moved in!  74 to be exact - I'm not kidding!  so you can tell I'm a little nutty about windows.

Here are some of those first quilts:

I also did a series I called Idea of a City...there were about ten pieces, each 60" x 60", here are a couple to give you an idea:

And then there was my industrial series: I  must have made 8 or 9 about this steel mill in Hamilton, Ontario....

I also did a series about the old streets of York, and a more abstract one about memory called Red Shift,  and one about rooftops and chimneys, and one about landscapes I love, and one about my current town...and...and...and....
It's really great to work in a series, there are so many each one moves you forward to the next...
And, of course, it just so happens that I have a new class starting with
next week entitled Working In Series!!  The series can be abstract, or representational, or somewhere halfway in between....serial work is NOT limited by the type or content of the work. And, it's a really deeply satisfying way to work.
If you have been, thanks for reading!  And do write and comment about your own experiences as a serial quilter.....                    Elizabeth

Thursday, April 14, 2016

A teacher in the closet....

Emerald City

For the first time in my life I'm having lessons  in a one on one situation. While they're not art lessons, I think the experience of learning in a situation like this definitely translates to other activities.

 I'm the only student..and after about a dozen lessons,  I have realised just how wonderful it is to be the only student.  Would that I had had a personal tutor all along!  It's just amazing the progress you can make when the teacher is totally focused on your performance and no one else's.  Although, of course, a little intimidating at first being the sole focus of another's attention - or at least it looks like that!  The teacher could be mentally compiling a grocery list!

All At Sea

It's very hard and very slow,  learning in many group situations - I remember being largely bored in school as a child, reading a book hidden on my lap under the desk!  I did get very good at hiding books and reading!!  Even got away with it later on when, as a potential juror in a large court room, we were absolutely forbidden to read anything - as they interminably asked 100 people the same four boring questions!! it was a choice between going bonkers and reading illicitly!

Pond in Winter, looking East

I've often thought that I could make art so much better if I had a really great teacher constantly available...Nancy Crow in the closet, or Emily Richardson at the next table...maybe Cezanne offering suggestions from an armchair, or Hans Hoffman coming by every few minutes.  Do we learn from making mistakes? yes definitely...but not if we keep making the same mistakes over and over - then all we're learning is how to make mistakes.   And I have learned a LOT of them.

On the Latch

I don't know how one could get the same effect as that "teacher in the closet" if you were totally on your own...perhaps having frequent review sessions with oneself?  I know it's hard to stop and really look at what you're doing when you're in  a sewing frenzy and hoping to get the piece done by some deadline...but we  probably need to stop and look - and change horses in midstream (love mixed metaphors) more often? 

Anybody got any other ideas?  anybody willing to come and reside in the alcove of my sewing room?
I could make it quite cozy AND bring you nice cups of tea.....

If you have been, thanks for reading!  and do write and comment...I love hearing from you....

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

It's a matter of size....

Does size matter when it comes to quilts?

Generally speaking large has a lot more impact than small.  There's something so monumental about a simple design write large - look at Motherwell's paintings or Frank Stella:

As an aside, I so wish we could use actual images from the 'net of other people's art work in a blog without Getty or someone descending on us like a ton of bricks!  And, yes, one could write for permission, which may or not be granted, which may or may not take several days, and the muse has long gone! Fortunately, I took the above photo myself!

Look at the scale of it....if that were a little quilted piece about 18" wide and 5" high, would anyone look at it twice?

Many of our most well known art quilters have focused on large work made from  large shapes and lines very often in high contrast colors (as in the Stella above) and they do look good in a gallery.  The quilts, that is, not the quilters!!!  Though I'm sure they don't look bad!!

 Once I offered to help to hang an art show - all media - it had been judged by a professional from out of state who hadn't the time to say where the work should go.  At the last minute, the expert I was supposed to be helping also disappeared!  I was left with all these packages and crates and a couple of guys with ladders, hammer and nails!!  I had no idea where to begin, hadn't even seen most of the work.  A pro came by and I grabbed him "what do I do???" - he said "find one big piece to be the important piece, the focal point of each long the others in around it."
I did that...and it worked...but those Big Pieces literally did become the focal points, the meaning of that particular wall, the lead singer, everything else subservient.

And of course in our cities, we look upto the biggest building, or, at least, the there's a lot to be said for Going Large......

So, should  art quilts be large?  Should we all be Thinking Big?   When I suggested that this was "almost always" the case in one of my online classes, I immediately got several folk weighing in with Big support for Little quilts - quilts less than 12" on any dimension....apparently in both Europe and North America these miniatures are a real hit, often getting Big Prizes...but, I wonder, is this just because of the sheer incredible difficulty of making very complex designs exactly and obsessionally perfectly out of tiny little pieces.  Are these little quilts the bird's nest soup of the quilt world?  Precious because  of the difficulty with which they are created?   Well, what d'you think??   Comments, please!!

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

Sunday, March 27, 2016

A New Class on Abstract Art

I have a brand new class starting this next Friday - April 1st - with the Academy of Quilting; 
it's called More Abstract Art for Quiltmakers

I enjoyed writing my first Academy of Quilting class on abstract art (Abstract Art for Quiltmakers) so much - and it's such a huge field, I thought I'd write another one.  The two classes are really parallel rather than sequential - you could take them in any order, or just one.  My first class focused on women abstract artists, so often overlooked and under valued.  I also made a long (and growing!) Power Point of their work - pity there isn't a way to give a PPP in a blog!  Or at least not an easy way for an IT amateur like myself.

So having dipped my toes with the water or rather paint! - for most of them did use paint !   with the first class, I wanted to go on and find out just how abstract art came about, who were the pionaeers...and...they weren't whom I thought!  Kandinsky always proudly presented himself as The First...but actually he wasn't!

Each lesson (there are five) looks at a different movement within abstract art, and from each movement I've extracted a number of different exercises so you can make lots and lots of designs!  From this one class you can probably come up with enough designs for about 5 years!!!

Not all designs are strong, of course, so it's very important to learn both how to generate designs, and how to critique them.  There's nothing so sad as going through the whole process of making a quilt and then finally putting it up on the wall and taking a good long hard look and realising there are significant design flaws, that somehow it just doesn't work, it doesn't match in any way the idea you had in your head.

You can design by drawing pencil on paper, or with a computer, or with paper collage, or with pieces of cloth...there are many ways.  I do a lot of designing with watercolors..but it really doesn't matter how you's having a systematic process that allows you to create what you want to create.

One of the many beauties of abstract art is that often a very simple composition can be extremely satisfying...and also give one great opportunities for the use of hand dyed or painted fabric and hand stitching.  The impact of these is often lost in more complex designs.

Anyway...if you're interested check out the class at Academy of Quilting!
I'm happy to answer any questions....or hear any suggestions for other classes...I usually try to write one new one a year...Each one is almost as long as the average quilting book, I've found, so it does take me a while.  I try to devise a class that is based on something I'm curious about myself, I don't want to do Quick! Fast! Easy!    Those are just not satisfying!!

And, if you have been, thanks for reading......and now for a nice cuppa tea and then to work on my new abstract quilt!!   Elizabeth

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

One a Day....

Some people appear to have both the fortitude and the time to spend hours in their studios. Alas, I'm not one of time is very broken up not only by calls on it from outside (as it were) but also by a restless internal clock that only seems to work for about 20 minutes!
So, often I worry that I will never get anything finished....however I've discovered a way to do it.

It struck me that if you're moving forward, even very slowly, eventually you WILL get of nature.  If you're not moving forward, you won't.  Simple physics!

So the rule is: One a Day.

When I'm in the first sketching phase of working out a new piece, I make sure I do one sketch a day - now it's great if I do more, but one a day is the rule.  In a month that means I would have around 30 sketches up on the wall from which to choose - and usually there's more..because, of course when you've done one and you're looking at it.. you think, hmm now I've done it that way round, but what if I tried it this way round.  Or, would it work better as a square than a rectangle?

Gradually over the month - or whatever the period of time is - I realise that some sketches are a lot more compelling than others, so then the duds get dropped into recycling...the rough diamonds (yes! I'm an optimist!) move onto the value stage.

In the value stage each of the sketches has to be worked in at least 3 different value studies, I don't let myself be satisfied with just one.   And the goal for the day....the value studies for one sketch.

Now I've a wall full of value sketches, I keep popping in and out of the sewing room - some have life, others, don't - off with their heads!!!  and gradually the keepers emerge.

The fabric is, I don't know about you, but pulling out all that fabric is the easiest part of the whole affair!!!  One could do that for ever!!!  Once I've got my fabric chosen, and arranged by VALUE (yes value not colour!), then I can see if I'm missing anything, or any stand out as being horribly wrong.

The cutting stage: again the rule is: one piece cut out per day, even if I'm dead on my feet and the house is filthy and the guests are coming down the driveway!!!  Get ONE piece cut out and pinned in place!

If the quilt has 50-60 pieces...then in 2 months all will be cut out - more or less...sometimes I just cut a chunk approx the right size and then refine it later.

The Sewing together stage is also One per Day, today's ONE is sitting behind me right now on the sewing machine awaiting its personal 15 minutes of fame!

And it won't take two months...because as they're sewn together they become a bigger chunk!  so at worst it will be done in one month...and sometimes you just get galloping along and everything is fitting together right...but if it's one of those sew a seam and take it out and resew it days...well at least one will be done and I'll be inching nearer the goal of the completed quilt top.

I like to make a few tops and let them mature in peace in the cupboard...when I take them out I'll see them with fresh eyes and decide which should be quilted and finished.

One a day!  it works....
now I must get today's seam done then I can have a nice cuppa tea......
If you have been, thanks for reading!
And do write with your work strategies...I'd love to know!!!   Elizabeth

PS My brand new class for starts at the end of next week; it's called More Abstract Art for my next post I'll write more about it.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Book Sale, the importance of road signs and 5 reasons for not finishing everything.

If you ever thought of buying either of my books....they are for sale - one day only I'm afraid! - on the C&T website.

If I didn't already have a copy of each one, I'd be buying them - they've got them reduced so much.

update: alas...the sale is over now....but you can always go elsewhere!!  

  Both are distillations (plus lots of pictures) of my real and virtual workshops!

And if you run into me having a nice cup of tea anywhere, I'll be happy to sign them for you!

 So, what have I been up to? 
I went up South Carolina, a very pretty drive from here through early spring countryside...getting lost several times (no GPS and definitely no smart phone - I like being untraceable!) since Georgia prides itself on saving money on road signs: "if we just put one at every other crossroads then we'll save half the cost"!!!  An evening lecture and a short workshop for a very nice quilt guild.

Now, back home,  I'm working on some new abstract pieces.  I think it's important to work in series because, really, that's the only way you get better at something - keep on doing it over and over. Yes it can get tedious at times, but if you keep your first attempts and then compare them to those 20 or 30 or even 50 quilts later, you will see significant improvement.  But if you make 50 different types of quilts, one for each technique you try out, or each possible subject then, while your technical skills are probably better, your ability to be creative in a fresh and inspiring way is not likely to have developed much.  Also your sense of really knowing the subject and being able to communicate something different, as the result of long study, to the viewer won't be any stronger.

You do need to dig in deep!

A practical reason for working in series is that you don't have to keep on reinventing things.  If your series requires you, for example, to make lots of arashi shibori - like Jan Myers-Newbury, then you'll get better and better and eventually amazing (as she is) with it.

I started out making abstract quilts then deviated into the cityscapes - they were so much fun and I had so many images and memories of the "old home town" (2,000 years in my case, so really old).  But now I want to see if I can be fresh and creative (well, creative at least!)  with abstract design.

I've given myself a few parameters within which to work: size, shape, type of image, kinds of fabrics, and I do at least 3 value studies per sketch before I begin.  I like a few road signs to know where I'm going (as mentioned before!).  I plan on making 6 tops and putting them away to "mature" as I go.  Several reasons for this:

1. When I take them out of storage, I will be able to look at them and critique them with "fresh eyes"

2. If I have several I won't feel inclined to have to finish ALL of them

3.  Stopping to baste, quilt and finish does slow down the creativity - the energy of "but what if I try this (or that) variation

4. It actually cuts down on some of the agony over getting it just right, feeling that there is something slightly wrong but you don't know what. And I'm all for cutting down on agony!

5.  There's a great satisfaction in seeing the treasures pile up in the closet!!

6.  When I have 6 to choose from - which to finish? - it's easier to discard the one, two or even three that simply are very humdrum.

How about you?  Anyone else work like this??

And now, time for that cuppa...if you have been, thanks for reading!   Elizabeth