Thursday, May 26, 2016

A trip to the galleries....

When I go to New York City, I love to visit all the art galleries...they're usually much less crowded than the museums...and, of course, are free!  And they have nice little "press releases" that give you lots of info.

On my recent trip I came across several artists whose work is very reminiscent of art quilts.

At Cheim and Read, down in Chelsea, there's a display of paintings by Juan Uslé.
Here's a nice little You Tube (sorry I don't know how to embed them)...alas I don't speak Spanish, but you can see some of his technique...

What's striking about the work (not all of it, but much) is how he's using quilt designs - basic grid structures, horizontal structures  as the basis of his paintings.
And imagine how beautiful those stuttering brush marks would be if interpreted with long stitches!!

It is said that those marks are based on his pulse, for Uslé describes his "sequential feild or territory of marks" as a "cardiogram".

Here are some of my photos from the show (which is up till June18).


Carmen Herrera is originally from Cuba but has lived in New York for many years - she is 100 and still working (there's hope for me yet!)...but wasn't "discovered" until she was about 90....
Her work is very clean and crisp and reminds me of Modern quilts (or what modern quilts should be!! - yes, some are, I know, but a lot arn't!).

Here's a picture of the gallery (Lisson) with her work: (and you can see a lot more if you click the link on her name (above) - including one piece (Green Garden) I could swear I've seen at several art quilt shows!  The "motif" look!

What fun to look out of the window of the gallery and see another Herrera outside on a truck!
Now we know where she gets her inspiration:


And then of course Polke (also down in Chelsea) who paints on commercial printed fabric...this is a detail of a huge painting  - again I think it would be really interesting to piece the red and white and then do big globby hand stitches over the top!!!  Might actually look better!!!

Here's a very fun Yout-tube "critique" of a Polke show:


Of course I did get to the "old Whitney", now the Met Breuer...I had to see the show of drawings by Nasreen Mohamedi, the Indian artist.  Well known in India, but I've never heard of her in America.
Alas, she died very young but the show has a lot of her work.

Here's an example:

This reminded me of the obsessive  hand stitching  - thousands of straight lines - by my friend Juliarose Loffredo Triebes... (alas no website).....
But it would also make a good machine stitching idea...I really like the way the objects are suggested so delicately by the tiny little curves.
What was really interesting about this show too were the drawings based on the photos she took - how she interpreted the photo....very sophisticated, very abstract....a good lesson for us all - don't be too literal!!

And now to the beach....I wonder if I'll find as much inspiration!!  Well, a machine quilting design based on alligator hide might work...(yes there are alligators - really!).  

And, if you have been, thanks for reading!!  Do let me know if you've seen any of these shows, or any other shows that gave you ideas for quilts......Elizabeth

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Inspiration and Power of Color

Sunset on Salt Spring Island

Have you ever seen an image (painting, photograph...) where the  selection of colors was so beautiful that you just wanted to eat in it, bathe in it, surround yourselves with it???

 Imagine getting INTO this sky....a magical place....

So many people, when you ask them what inspires them, say "oh color, colour, colour is what I love!" (no matter how you spell it!)...... the right colors really work to attract, nay, seduce!, people...


On the other hand, I've noticed that when I'm teaching, and ask people to bring images from which they'd like to work to design their quilt, the photos or prints etc they show me often have gorgeous colors and it's really hard  to get beyond that to see the "bones" of  the design.  Very reluctantly, some can be persuaded to photocopy the image into black and white we can really see what's what.  And some look great in grey...others just disappear into a moosh of flat nothing!!
It is hard to get beyond  color, its siren song is so powerful.....

Some artists are strong on color,  some on the basic design... a few can manage both. 
I advocate one step at a works for mountain climbing!  First, decide on the shape of the mountain!   Then go into color...and a lovely way to choose colors for a project is to work from those gorgeous photos you've collected over the years.

Color Immersion

But, one of the problems for our medium, when it comes to color, is actually finding cloth in the right hue/saturation/value/temperature - even knowing what to call the colors  is difficult sometimes!
If you look at the picture above, the turquoise on the left is in several different values...and it also shifts from a cool to a warmer blue.  The pink on the right goes from a warm orangey pink, through a slightly greyed pink to a blue-pink and then into mauve.  And then what color is that shadow?  What kind of a grey is that?  Is it important to the image?

I really enjoy analyzing the colors in an image - it's like tasting a lot of different wines!  There are so many subtle shifts in hue and value etc.    And so it was natural for me to try to learn how to dye all these different colors.   Now I don't believe in the blanket approach of taking every ingredient you have, working out all the mathematical permutations you can create, then dyeing them all and making a giant book of samples.  You know they tried that method when they were figuring out AI - artificial intelligence, and it actually doesn't work well.  It's much better to work from solving one problem at a time as you encounter it, and then adding that information to your body of knowledge, your working process.  

So in my Basic Dyeing for Quiltmakers class,
which just happens to start this Friday with   (!)
 I show you just how I do that.  Also I discuss the value of neutrals - those elusive greys and browns, and how to create them.  Learn how to create those seductive colors for's really magic!

Please ask any questions in Comments!  or email me - there's a link on the sidebar at the top....

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

Friday, May 6, 2016

What you're listening to...and....knowledge beneath the surface.

I was listening to a podcast with Julie Mehretu, one of the leading abstract painters of the 21st century.  She said that whatever she's listening to when she's working in the studio tends to get into her work.
 D'you find that happens to you?  it does to me, and can significantly affect the way a piece is going...
and sometimes even leads to mehaving to get rid of a piece very quickly because it has so many negative the one when I was listening to Schindler's List. (not that I told the buyer!). so hard....

Sometimes the work literally changes as a result of what I hear, other times, the work remains the same but  becomes imbued with the podcast or the story or the music I have going on at the time, so I'm finding I have to be careful of what I listen to!

I remember that Bluebeard's Castle, the opera by Bartok

 totally got into this piece:

Bluebeard's Castle

can't you just see it?

and I was listening to some very spooky music at Hallowe'en that got into this one:

Lavender Gothic

 Don't think many kids would be wandering up that path to Trick or Treat!!

I'm busy working on 3 abstract tops...I like to make a series of tops and then let them season for a while away from sight...when I get them out, it's like being able to see something for the first time and I can get a much better impression of them.  And since they're just tops, things are easily changed.

This one, for example, was horrible classhing colors...and I threw it into a blue dye bath:

Pump Court

I enjoy sketching and planning an outline, then a rather free form stick stuff up on the wall approach.  But I never do such a detailed sketch that I can't improvise a little when it comes to blocking out and sewing together.

I read a lovely definition of intuition the other day: Knowledge Beneath the Surface.
That's the clearest way of describing it that I've ever read.
In order to make art or play an instrument, improvisationally, one has to rely on that knowledge beneath the surface, embedded knowledge of keys and chords and composition and color theory and the whole nine yards. 

That's why so many of the best art quilts one sees in shows these days are made by people with art training...they have that underground knowledge.   They don't always acknowledge their knowledge however!    Both art teachers and music teachers (and probably other teachers too but I've not had experience of them) sometimes give the impression that one should just be able to come up with the right answer if you want it enough, if you stare at it enough.......if you practiced hard enough etc etc. 

So start learning!.....A little knowledge isn't  a dangerous thing, it's the start of a great journey, the culmination of which means that you have skills that you can use effortlessly.....
well...I hope! I'm looking forward to the day...

And now, I'm off the the Big City - New York!! - for a I won't be blogging next week, but I do hope to have some interesting new inspirations, comments, photos, cogitations etc...the following week.  and then I'm off to the beach!  and then the Smoky mountains...before hunkering down in my workroom for the indoor season here in Georgia that is otherwise known as summer!

If you have been, thanks for reading!  And do please comment - I love the comments - they keep me going!!  Elizabeth

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