Sunday, October 16, 2016

New paintings and quilts at Lyndon House Art Center, Athens, GA

This coming Saturday, Oct 22, 2016 will be the annual art fair at Lyndon House Art Center in downtown Athens.
it's going to be a fabulous day with over 80 individual artists, lots of live music and, yes, food!
The best of Athens come out for this occasion....and the artwork will be very varied in price and type so as to suit everyone.

I have a bunch of new paintings and some new quilts, also some older work that will be for sale for ridiculous prices!   Something for every wall, and every pocket..  Please come and see!
The fun starts at 10 am and if I know anything about events at Lyndon House, the parking will go pretty quickly....of course there will be considerable turnaround during the day...but the early birds get both worms and parking!   Lyndon House has also arranged with all the nearby businesses and organizations for extra parking, of course.

Here are some of my new paintings  and a couple of new quilts:

 This is a 12" square acrylic...we have a pond in our neighborhood and I love to look at it in many different lights on my daily walk.
$100.  I hope to have 3 more little acrylic landscapes by Saturday...they'll make a nice set!

Watercolors range from $25 to $150...depending on size, age and whether framed or not.
This painting on the right and the one above are two of several I've done of the UGA golf course...I took some Canadian friends round there earlier this year - had never been before!  And the grounds are lots more photographs to work from...

 Our summer trip to the south Carolina coast had me inspired by the the shadows you get in the early morning and late in the day.....

below, more dunes, palm trees in the wind and a storm brewing - quite prescient as it turned out!
Painting the studio
Another stormy sky.....

More hydrangeas, and some Black eyed Susans...

A very bright light day where the sun dazzles...

 Imagining some of the golf course trees in the winter...there are lovely little copses of trees standing on slight rises.....
also did a painting of the pond at the golf course....which I don't have a picture of ....yet!

Looking out from the art room window at Athens Academy with a strange chiaroscuro sky....
The view from an upstairs window in early those delicate yellow greens...

A tiny little abstract based on autumn foliage...

And a very little quilted wall hanging:

And here's a medium size one...yes it IS a quilt - or fiber collage as some prefer to call these "art quilts" that hang on the wall.

Thank you for working your way down and looking at all the pictures!!!  I hope to see you at the art show.....if you can't come, and are interested in any of these pieces, please just write to me - my email link is on the side bar near the top.
Also, all comments are received with great delight!!! 
If you have been, thanks for looking!!  Elizabeth

Monday, October 10, 2016

The Proliferation of Online Classes


I'm swimming my way through the proliferation of classes online and I'm wondering what other people's experiences are like.   As you know, I've been teaching (mainly different aspects of design, but also some surface design) online for a number of years now..maybe seven years....and I also have a private online master class.  Meanwhile, I've been taking online classes myself - not in quilting - but in several other things.   So I've been thinking about some of the pros and cons of the online experience.

From the teaching point of view I really like having personal contact with the students...which I do in all my classes...just writing lessons and then putting them out there with no discussion and no feedback seems very sterile to me. And with the lessons I've taken in other subjects, they are nearly always computer driven, and since I always have questions - I find that very frustrating! Especially when the computer makes a mistake!  Online lessons that don't have teaching feedback are no better than reading a book - and a well illustrated book is often easier to use - you can flip back and forth ...slow there etc.
Research shows  that two things are key to learning: practice and feedback.  The non-teacher present learning situations are therefore going to limit one's progress.

 Start date: Some classes run for a specific period of time, others you can start whenever you want.  I like the flexibility of starting whenever you want, though that might make problems for
 student/teacher accessibility or for discussions between students all moving forward as a cohort through a sequence of lessons.
Inter-lesson intervals: I also would like to be able to move forward to the next lesson at my own pace - sometimes more quickly than they plan, sometimes more slowly.  Some programs allow this, others don't.   I was very put off recently by a language learning site that required you to sign up for 3 months, but the amount of material that was offered I knew I would get through in just one month! Three month sign up for one month access to material didn't work for me.

Continued Access 
 Sometimes you get to the end of the course and you'd like to take a break and then review the material again....I was very miffed when  a site that promised I could do that at the end of the course completely reneged on that promise!  However, I can see that unlimited forever access could be problematic for the teaching agency....what I've done with the master classes of previous years is allow access for at least a full season after the class has finished.

 There does seem to be a usual rate of about $10-$20 per lesson where there is a "real" teacher available for feed back....and that seems very fair to me...but where the whole program is computer driven I feel that this would be too high.  A recent series of bridge lessons I surveyed wanted $15 per videoed lesson - no feedback available.  On the other hand,  most painting DVDs are in the $20-$30 range...BUT you have them for ever and you can freeze one frame and work from it in the studio.
Piano lessons with one teacher via Skype are quite high: about $75 per lesson.  And, remember, ANYONE can say they're a piano teacher, there is no professional license required!

Videos - too fast or too slow!
Surprisingly, although everyone says all students want videos, I have not usually found them to be very helpful.  If it's something I need to actually see I've found that on the video the action or position can go by too quickly, a clear series of photos or even diagrams would be more helpful.  And, quite frequently, the opposite is true, the person demonstrating on the video faffs around and I get bored waiting for the crucial bit of information!  When will she actually tell me the right key strokes?!!!!

 While there are a huge number of lessons out there, often none of them are exactly what you're looking for!  it would be good if one could contact the agency and say "how about making a class on this, or that, topic? "  However, when I have contacted the companies I've usually found that you can only email a salesperson rather than the creator of the lessons.   (But feel free to contact me if you have a yearning for something that you think I could write a course about!).

So...what are your experiences?  how would you like to see online classes presented?  What are you looking for in your classes?  Comment please!  or feel free to email me privately - there's a link up on the side bar on the right....I love to hear from you!

And, if you have been, thanks for's time for a nice cuppa tea, don't you think?

Saturday, October 1, 2016


Summer solstice

  You know how people come up to you at an art show and say "oh you're so lucky, you're so creative"? ( Luck? !!!).   As in: you were lucky you were born with good eyesight, where I have strabismus...
Then they tell you that they're not creative, sometimes sadly but sometimes almost proudly! How could one expect them to be creative when they weren't born with it?

And the truth is, they're right...they're not creative.  Why not?  because they're not creating anything - they're not trying to come up with new ideas, original images, make art, or landscapes or even great puddings. they have the potential to be creative?  Probably they do....though the amount of potential one has can, of course, vary.

These days cognitive psychologists have discovered  that measuring  "creativity"  only by output i.e. what one has created is not necessarily a very good way to research this slippery concept.  A much better clearer way is to think about one's potential for being able to create, how to define and use that.   The scientists should be measuring potential and not performance.

I went to a very interesting talk last week given by Dr Mark Runco one of the world's leading researchers in this field...sought after by a lot of big companies (yes the advertising agencies Of course and all those companies wanting to sell you things, but also agencies like the CIA - the dark side of creativity!). 

He said there were a number of key findings about creativity. For example, some of the recent findings suggest that the potential for creativity is not located in one particular area - all this right brain/left brain stuff is incredibly over simplistic.  When they put jazz musicians and a key board through an MRI machine they found that when they were asked to creatively improvise upon a simple melody, the whole brain lit up, and particularly the prefrontal cortex.  When you are being creative you are not using one particular part of the brain but rather networks across  the whole brain.  Which makes a whole lot more sense.

Intuition does work...but only if you have the "knowledge beneath the surface".  People simply don't know all that they know!!  So a famous artist can tell you that they're working totally intuitively as if  that requires no former knowledge but rather just the desire and courage to work with the particular medium at random because that's how it feels to them.  They could be completely unaware that they are basing their decisions upon a lot of knowledge and experience. There have been lots of experiments demonstrating this.

One of the most interesting things he  said was  that problem finding was more important than problem solving.  If you know what the problem is, you can solve it....but without that knowledge you just flounder around.  This is why it's important to be able to look critically at what you're doing and see just where things are going wrong.  Whether you're selling shoes, or creating an art quilt.

Csikszentmihaly had grad students in art, go into a studio where he had loaded up a big table with potential still life objects. They were instructed to paint a still life, told to take their time, and he would video them.  He used a stop watch to measure how long  it took them to start painting.
Some took 2 minutes then started painting, other spent ages playing with the objects. The time before they started working was correlated with the quality of their art work, the better artists took longer before they started painting!!!!
…he called this process problem discovery
The difficult part was finding the problem - what you do before you solve the problem is more important that the actual solving.  There are important processes at work…
He felt that the quality of the definition of the problem determined the quality of the solution.

Another area that the scientists have studied is that of significant age changes in creativity.  Little children seem to have loads of potential and come up with lots of ideas...let's try this, let's try that...until around 4th grade and then either brain maturation, or schooling or both begin to make them want to follow "the rules".   This is apparent world wide. Inevitable? Necessary? we don't know.

 Furthermore, although creativity is life-long, look at Georgia O-Keefe, Picasso, Monet, Matisse etc.
It's been observed that for adults aged  around 50-60s  flexibility or variation changes…
and flexibility is one of the key dimensions of creativity…how many ideas we produce, how original and how varied they are.
In late adulthood there is much more preference for routine and habit, doing things the way we always have, and there is a drop in the production of diverse ideas, a loss of flexibility.
But the loss of flexibility is not inevitable.  One can be motivated to make the effort to change one's attitude.
Runco has observed an “old age style”  which is simply that the individual changes the way they do things throughout their life…e.g. Picasso’s periods, you can see it in many creative artists…and it's a way to make the creativity last…change the way you do things…
Even though they were successful doing what they were doing they changed , and started to do something else…
Creative people follow what’s inside and relegate the extrinsic rewards to a  lower level. You might be externally rewarded for making the same successful thing that everyone knows and loves, but the creative person eschews that path.  They can and do change the way they do things…
You can grow more connections between your neurons…even though you usually see less neurons with age…the brain is most efficient around age 29…. this whole area is being much more researched now and they are more optimistic, that the nervous system can continue to develop and change.
The problem of rigidity as you grow older can be addressed by consciously deciding to do things differently, variation and diversity are good.    So there's some hope for us!

Well there was a whole lot more, but I don't want to hold you up from going out there and changing things!!!  After a nice cuppa tea of course.....
If you have been, thanks for reading.....    Elizabeth

Thursday, September 22, 2016

the art of abstracting......what is it? why is it? What do you see?

One of my many York quilts...

Many, many years ago I was employed as a  librarian at Rowntrees chocolate factory in York, England.
The Rowntrees were Quakers who believed in helping their workers in many ways....they built a theatre, a swimming pool, a whole village.  They also had two libraries in the factory  - a wonderful old Victorian building stretch for about a half mile. 
I worked in both the Lending library which had many books for all the factory employees to borrow, and in the technical library where we scanned all the daily newspapers, magazines, journals etc for articles relating to any aspect of the chocolate industry.  My job was to write the "abstracts" - yes, now we come to the point of  this post!!  I had to read the article and then note the key points, the most outstanding and important ones, that captured the essence of the piece in a very short paragraph.
And isn't that exactly what the abstract artist does? and why do they abstract?

Dark City

As artists we're all trying to communicate, but we want to communicated something new, fresh,  a diferent take on things...I think that's one of the (many) reasons abstract art became so popular. It was and is different , it's new, it gives us ways to  look at things  that havn't been done before....and that's very attractive.  You've all heard the cliche "same old same old"..usually intoned in a very boring manner!!  Well who want to makes boring art?   As I looked around a small art show yesterday, I felt I had seen every image before, everything looked So stale.
I also noticed perfectly awkward (now there's a nice oxymoron for you!) compositions that just screamed at me!! well I suppose that was a striking experience - but not one I wanted!   The colors also looked stale and flat...low saturation colors placed in low contrast situations are not going to look new and fresh.

When I got home I started reading the latest issue of International Artist and noticed that looking at really good art helps both to inspire and inform.  The paintings were of the same subjects I'd seen in the local art show, but they were alive and fresh.  One of the artists described how he had begun to feel that his work was getting stale and so he had pushed himself to seek new inspiration.  Now he did it by travel, which not all of us can do in actuality, but we do it with books and the internet, by studying different kinds of art. 

 Look at good abstract art and be inspired by it!  Try to figure out how it works.  You want to learn how to compose well and satisfyingly?   Then, learn from the best.  Art that has stood the test of time - it's now well over hundred years since abstract art (as art) began to be produced...there's a lot to learn from!

And, if you should be interested, I am starting a new class called More Abstract Art for Quiltmakers
this Friday at   
Take a look at your own work, or the work of other local art lovers, does it really catch your eye and give you a frisson of both awe and recognition?  Or is it stale and ho-hum?   And what is the difference?  What are the differences between the two kinds of art?  Can you work it out?  Can you apply it?  It's not just technique, though of course that is's also being creative, being original, being prepared to try out new things, even though many will not work.  Don't give yourself excuses!!  Time (alas!) is short!

And, if you have been, thanks for reading......
and do please comment - what do you see as you look around at the art world around you?


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Three roads to better work...

photo by Chuck Murphy

 Before I  begin on practicing....just in case you want to know! ...the photo is from our local OLLI  (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute)  office where those of us who practice art were asked to display our you can see I've definitely diversified a bit!  There are two quilts, four watercolors and one acrylic, to say nothing of a printer and a card file!  The quilt on the left is "Bluebeard's Castle"  from my Hamilton, ON, steel mill series (by way of Bartok - he chose the colors!).  The quilt in the middle is one of a series I've done of Athens, GA - a college town in the SE of USA.   The  right hand watercolors are both of the pond in the neighbourhood, a nice morning walk while I ponder upon the day's practice....
have no idea how that Yorkie on the left crept in...must have been having a whimsical moment!

Anyway, to the topic of the day:
I've been reading a lot of books and articles about practicing...these are mainly focused on athletic activities like golf or music, but I think much of what I read also pertains to art.

Let's face it: whatever IT is, you don't get better without practicing.  Of course your goal might not BE to get better...but I think for most of us (and definitely everyone reading this blog!) improvement in our art making is a major goal.

If you were to die tomorrow, would you rather leave behind you 200 hohum quilts, or 10 brilliant ones?  Think about it.....
And yet how often do we push ourselves to make something that we've not really thought about very much,?    Halfway through we become aware of its mediocrity but still we feel we MUST finish it.
I used to have this very foolish goal of making more work every year than the preceding year....but finally (and hopefully not too late!) have come to realise it's not quantity but quality.

And how do we achieve whatever it is we do??  I would say three  things:

1.  Time ...putting in at least an hour a day, but four hours would yield much more  progress.  give yourself time and don't resent it, enjoy it! It is very very good for you, and should be a high priority - don't allow excuses!
Getting enough time..may involve saying NO......(thank you, Sharon, for this suggestion) practice  saying:  "I'm awfully sorry...but".    

Practicing is  very calming....don't be thinking about finishing the product in time for the guild meeting  or to enter a quilt show, rather, enjoy the process, enjoy the flow...the lovely rhythms of cutting out the pieces, laying out a design, so satisfying.  And then gently one by one picking up two patches ambling to the sewing machine, sewing them together...then a slow saunter to the ironing board where everything is made smooth and lovely....and the pair now united join the rest of the arrangement!  Smooth, flowing, gently breathing like floating down a slow stream, letting your thoughts drift and your body relax....
Sounds good doesn't it????  Not:  Make Quilts Fast!  A Faster Quicker Way to Make That Quilt!
Short and Easy!  Notice how hard those words wonder we often feel in a frenzy!!

Do, please, give yourself time. Enjoy the practicing....

2. Thoughtful practice as opposed to mindless making.  You get nowhere learning a Chopin waltz while planning what to cook for dinner - believe me I've tried it!!  And creating a strong design for an art quilt whilst watching soaps on telly??? !! Research has shown over and over that we actually can't do two things at the same time...multi tasking isn't that, the brain is rapidly switching from one thing to another - fine if all you need is seconds on the task....but creative work needs more than seconds.
Think it through before you begin...what is your aim?  what is your process?

3.  Objective assessment - which could be lessons, or coaching, or critiquing.
We all need that objective help.
I'm still continually seeing work into which the artist has put a tremendous amount of time, but to the objective eye the arrangement of shapes is boring and predictable, the colors garish and often childishly literal: e.g. bright blue sky, bright green leaves on trees with solid brown trunks, bright blue know the sort of thing.  No coherent message, no real involvement with the topic, no fresh outlook........but hours and hours spent on fancy quilting!

Even advanced musicians get lessons and certainly beginner and intermediate ones do;
the athlete gets a coach, and probably a trainer too.
 Quilters might take a one day workshop where the teacher demonstrates a new technique....which is fun...but it doesn't help you move forward with your own work.

So, if you really want to improve....please think on!
and if you have been, thanks for reading.....
also: would you add anything to the above list in the search for improvement?  What has helped you the most to go to a higher level?  Comments! please.....


Monday, August 29, 2016

Working in Series....

I have a Working in Series class coming up with The Academy of Quilting  
and it lead me  to think about my own series that I've worked on over the years.
I've made an awful lot of quilts!!!  Thank goodness many have left home, otherwise, I'd have to move out for lack of space for myself.

It just seemed natural to me to work in series from the start...I think it's because I didn't have access to a lot of really fun workshops (time, geography, money, kids etc)....and I've always made quilts about my own life.

My first series was about Windows...coming from a dark Northern city, windows were always an important feature of a room.  In our old Victorian house in York the upstairs bedrooms had only skylights, but you could stand on a stool and stick your head out of the roof (literally!) and look all round.  I like the idea that the window frames the view...and when there's a slight breeze it's like this lovely little movie going on outside the window...leaves tossing up and down, shadows and shades...

BUT I also liked it when you walk around at night - in a city - and there are all these little vignettes of indoor life, especially interesting when seen from a train!  Reminds me  of the film "Rear Window"!!

so my first series was Windows, here's a typical example:

After I'd made about a dozen or so like this I began to put the windows into buildings:

I made rows of different kinds of windows and stacked them up together...I'd seen a building like this in my home town and thought it worked just fine!  also a lot more interesting to do than making the same window over and over...

Well then I thought about the night time windows I'd seen and did a series like that:

all the windows lit up at night and all sorts of  things going on inside!!!!

Gradually the building became more complicated and there were more of them:

and I was really getting into the idea more of a city, than individual windows...and in fact entitled a series of about ten quilts, each 60" x 60" Idea of a City.   Above is just one of them.

Well, then I started thinking about how many of the old building in my home town (York, UK) had t exterior many of these buildings are painted bright white and the old beams are quite black...creating elegant and intriguing black/white patterns:

so now those windows are almost becoming like woodcuts.... and very abstract..

while colour is very very seductive and I dearly love RED, you must admit that black and white is totally gorgeous!!  so clean, so bold, so I did a lot of black and white pieces.....

but then .....the Red really pulled me in...and I just (well!) saw Red!  I was involved in a series of very frustrating and tedious and argumentative meetings at work and seeing red was definitely the Emotion of the I got into the habit of going to the meetings with a bag full of red scraps....

What a great way to cope with hours of people yelling at each other! and me calmly stitching away on RED........

but when things calmed down I was still with the old houses and streets:

And then I read about the drowned cities....when Old Ma Nature really thinks we humans have totally screwed it up...(according to the old folk tales..) ....the cities get drowned...

and so began my Drowned City series...and that was a lot of fun...basically I'd taken a new surface design technique - arashi shibori ( a kind of tie-dye) and applied it to my city series....

And I did a LOT of those...maybe 20 or so...before I began to be intrigued by other kinds of buildings...industrial buildings have a lot of different shapes that you'd never see on a domestic building and that got me into a series of quilts about industrial buildings.
Here is a typical example:

Note - I'm back into black and white!!!

However where I live now there arn't cities or industrial building, there's a pond - and that's what I see every morning:

One of the reasons we came  to America was all the beautiful space there is here! now I'm enjoying creating a series of almost abstract quilts about the space and openness that I love....

I think  Working in a Series (and I've written a book about it) is a great way to further your talents and career as an artist, but it's also a lovely way to really explore something close to your heart.

Love the comments!!!  Do keep on making them.....
And, if you have been, thanks for reading!   Elizabeth

Monday, August 22, 2016

Spending money...

I used to think the best thing to spend money on was something that you could keep, hold in your hot little hand...and take with you always...something tangible.
But then you end up with a house full of STUFF!!

Lately however I've been reading and thinking (as usual!!) lots of cogitation goes on around here...
One of the books I've just read is The Practicing Mind
by Sterner and while (as with any so called self help book), there's a lot of padding and iteration of things we already know but havn't paid much mind to...reading these afresh does bring them to the forefront. 

Sterner reminds us of just  a few important things - but they are well worthwhile spending a little time considering. 

In the last chapter (of this very short book!), he talks abou the importance of spending time, effort and money on developing your skills and your knowledge rather than getting a bigger car, a fancier kitchen, another gadget for the studio, a newer and better sewing machine.  Improve yourself rather than your sewing room.

We are lucky in that the tools of our trade are really quite few and can be very simple - we don't need more in the way of objects.  We really don't need as much space, even though I do envy those gorgeous studios that people have!!  Slavering over the wooden floors, the space, the long moveable design walls, the lighting, the separate areas for cutting and sewing, the floor to ceiling windows looking out over the lake - well you get the picture!!  Oh yes and the infinity pool!!  And perhaps a grand piano seen through a doorway at the end of  the studio into the main house..but ...BUT....those are objects, surroundings, they are not  you.  They actually don't benefit you one iota, they don't help you to grow as an artist or a person.

Looking back over your artistic life, is it the acquisition of particular objects that really made a difference to your progress?  That stand out in your memory?
" Thank goodness I got the Super Swifty Nobble Bong!  it enabled me to finally get into that amazing Quilt Show! "
Or rather was it learning something new and then practicing it and developing your skills?
Getting to observe yourself in action as an artist, taking your time, bringing your feelings and abilities to the practice of your art (whatever medium) is so much more rewarding  than those rows of objects.
Take your time each day to enjoy what you know, what you can do...minute by minute, enjoy the practice.  And if you want to spend money, spend it directly on improving yourself, not your equipment, developing your knowledge and your ability to put it into practice.   The best sewing machine in the world in the most glorious studio will not help you to move forward so much as putting your own time, effort, practice and thought  into your work and yourself.

If you have been, thanks for reading!  Comments...please!!!    Elizabeth