Saturday, October 17, 2020

Value studies can be fun!

Value studies - the easy way I really like making several different value studies when I have decided upon a sketch, but I must admit it is a little tedious to shade them in by hand. So, I like to do them on the computer..... First you have to have a nice clean copy where all the lines join up (no gaps! the colors would bleed through) Then scan this sketch into your computer. Here's a series of steps from a simple sketch through to variations. I open the sketch into Photoshop Elements (this is a fairly inexpensive photo imaging program that many people like). There is also GIMP, a free download. And I'm sure several others that I don't know - but if you do and can recommend! please...write a comment! Then I click on the two little squares right down at the bottom on the left hand side that show the foreground and background colors, and I select a dark value. I don't care what color is it, I usually get as close as I can to a neutral grey. I find it easier to begin with the darkest value, and I never use more than 4 different values: 3 is fine too: white, black and one or two greys. Then I click on the little paint bucket - it's about 6 little icons up from the bottom of that left hand side group of tools. Then over to the sketch with my bucket now full of black paint! and I click where I want the image to be dark: Hmmm or would it look more interesting if I inverted (Ctrl-I, command-I) those values: Actually that does look pretty sharp...but I'll save it and maybe even print it out to look at more later...but I think I'll go back to where I was and add some medium lights: .....and then some medium darks.... .... maybe more? No, I think I went too far...let's try again...hmm quite like this one!
See how addictive it is??? and how much fun....and a perfect way to design a quilt, not only in values...but easily translated into color too. My Dyeing to Design class ( begins by explaining how to dye a greyscale...and then make a small quilt just using values from white to black. The assignment teaches so much about the importance of value. The class also covers low water immersion dyeing, gradation dyeing, arashi shibori and several different kinds of screen printing. The class is organized around the five elements of design that we use in art quilts: value, color, texture, shape and line. Love to have comments!!! Do please step in with your favorite way of shading your value studies. And, if you have been, thanks for reading......Elizabeth

Monday, October 5, 2020

Space in Quilts

. Space? Not outer space! Space in your quilt designs. It's fascinating how using deep space versus shallow space can vastly alter the image. Many 20th century painters explored varying space...David Hockney in particular enjoyed flattening and deepening and even reversing! Traditional paintings (prior to the late 19th Century) usually portrayed a sense of depth or 3-dimensionality – foreground, middle ground and background. Once cameras were invented, painters began to explore ideas other than the reproduction (however beautiful) of a specific person or scene. Many painters chose to flatten the space in the picture as they wanted to emphasize the idea that a painting was just that: a painting. It does seem ironic that after the struggles of painters in the Middle Ages and Renaissance to develop depth in their work, just a few centuries later artists would be eschewing such pictorial ideas!! In fact, some of them even pushing in the other direction with reverse perspective such as David Hockney has played with. Most traditional quilt patterns don’t involve ideas of depth: their abstract designs were well ahead of abstraction in the fine art world! (Which, of course, the Whitney eventually realized with their show of the Gees Bend Quilts a few years ago!). So for art quilt designers today there is a choice – shallow space or deep? Do we want to convey the illusion of deep space or not? If we do, there are a number of devices by which this can be done. People ask me about perspective; I personally rarely use it to indicate space – but I do, however, think it’s important not to get perspective wrong unintentionally. Quilts that have a lot of perspective drawing are of a much more controlled style than I am interested in. If you look at books on linear perspective drawing, all the illustrations look like blueprints rather than art. However I do think it’s worthwhile to read a couple of articles or books on the subject and work a few examples, so you have a sense of the different kinds of perspective (one point, two point etc), how it’s indicated in a reproduction, where the horizon or eyeline is and what effect that might have upon various 3D objects in your design. Apart from actually using perspective there are a number of tools you can use to indicate depth - and these are the ones that most artists do use. Overlapping: if we see a picture of an apple in front of a box…we “know” the apple is in front, we don’t think that the apple is behind the box which has an apple-shaped hole cut in it! The same for a man in front of a wall. or a tree in front of a lake. Overlapping is one of the major ways by which we judge depth. Think about it when you’re driving around town!
Edge of Light In this quilt, “Edge of Light”, I’ve used overlapping to indicate the rows of cottages being in front of the water and the distant hills. I haven’t really used any other devices as my interest was in the way the far group of cottages caught the light, rather than distance or other concerns. Size: if we see a tree in the distance, it actually looks much smaller than a man right in front of us standing on our feet!! we don’t think we have a giant right next to us and a bonsai in the distance…our brains automatically compute – smaller therefore further away.
Ferry Bridge In the quilt on the right, Ferrybridge, I don’t mean to indicate that the terrace houses at the bottom of the quilt are larger than the cooling towers at the top, rather that they are a lot nearer – so they are bigger. This quilt also uses placement on the picture plane to indicate depth – the lower an item is on the quilt, the nearer it is to us, the higher it is, the more we read it as being further away. That's obvious, because if something is small and far away it's not going to be visible behind everything anyway. Our brains soon get used to figuring these things out. Interestingly, it is the brain's experience that does figure it out - it's not built in. If your brain was deprived of distant views from infancy, it would be much harder for you to see and understand this kind of depth. Colour can be described in 4 different ways: hue, value, intensity and temperature. Each of these can be used to indicate distance or closeness. Things that are further away tend to be bluer (as we are looking at them through all the moisture and dust in the atmosphere), the colours are less intense, the values are lighter, and the temperature is cooler (towards blue, closer things being toward red). You can see some of these colour changes in the quilt below (Overlook):
The amount of contrast and detail you put into an area can also indicate distance: more contrast, more detail..nearer the foreground – less contrast, less detail…the background.
In Greenhouses, the trees in the front are more detailed. The foreground of houses and trees is much more detailed and with a lot more contrast, than the middle ground of darker more amorphous shapes, and the distance of soft hills has very little contrast or detail. Of course in real life and in designing life, you wouldn’t just choose or use one device alone to assess distance, usually there are combinations. And, as you can see from above, you don’t always have to follow all the rules!! If you want to experiment with designing with space – consider foreground, middle ground and background: 3 distinct levels of space. Starting with the furthest point in the landscape and building forwards..developing more contrast etc. And, if you have been, thanks for reading! Now for some space! Elizabeth

Thursday, September 17, 2020

There ARE advantages!! Finding joy.


Life is very different right now...and it can be very frustrating...especially if you listen/watch/read the news!!! Between the virus, elections and climate change it seems hard to find joy.

Therefore, I suggest you turn your eyes away from those topics! And consider the huge amount that can be learned online.  I found a lovely little tutorial on a piano piece I'm struggling to learn by myself:

And there are you tubes on just about Everything!!

Here's one based on a lecture I gave at the local library:

and one on that very pleasant activity - ironing!

I'm using a program called Filmic Pro to make the videos for my online classes - and there are some really neat little videos about how to use it.  

But you know...there are actual advantages to being so restricted in one's life!!!

Both my daughters had horrible commutes to work (one in New York, one in Atlanta - cities notorious for traffic) -  and now they're working from home and have two extra hours to the well as less stress.

Cities are realizing that outdoor dining is much safer than indoor...and very popular! anyone who's visited Paris know that the outdoor cafes are immensely popular and busy everywhere...and so much better for people watching.

I used to work in a big health Center, they built a new one..I said make sure the windows open - oh no ,they said, the architects don't like that!!!  much better to have controlled air!! ha!! now they know that the safest air of all is....outside air!  

Another advantage: we're eating much more healthily, we get local produce (including mushrooms) delivered from local farms. Fast food is DEATH!!!  And as a Vegan I could rarely find anything palatable at the local restaurants anyway.  

Even the mushrooms are Socially distanced in the park!

I really missed dancing...but then discovered it is perfectly possible to dance at home.  Plus I get to choose the music!  No more hackneyed Country and Western for me, I never have to listen to that awful Possum song again!!  No more tired swing tunes from the 40s - you can swing to anything!

In fact, I've discovered the very best music to dance to is........ Bach.  Try it!!!  

I was missing I took my Bach to the Park!  and a group of us...8 feet dance to Bach every wednesday morning - you are welcome to come and join us!  If you hold your breath and ask them to hold can even get a quick hug too!  Bach and hugs!!! This is bliss!

I have ten online classes right now with  - I asked the Dean to make them all available, you don't have to wait to join a class. 

Also, while playing around with the fabric I had at home (although I did sin a bit with online ordering from Mood fabrics in New York!) I came up with a really neat idea for a bed quilt.  Ever so easy, also illustrates all the basic design principles.  I'm filming it now...will let ya'll know when it's done.  It will just be a short fun class, maybe 3 lessons.

So very many ways to find joy.

Please write and tell me what you have discovered...the positive side of our trying times.

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


Friday, September 4, 2020

decluttering in the time of the plague

 oh my Lord are you fed up with decluttering??? I know I am!

at first i thought...stay home and stay safe ...what a wonderful chance to do the death cleaning I've always wanted to achieve!

BUT that was before I tried to tackle the clutter in a house where 4-6 people have lived and collected and collected and stored and stored for 31 years!!  A house with not only at least two large closets in every room, but also masses of roof space!!

However, sometimes amidst the clutter you come across things you'd forgotten about!

i found all the antique quilt tops I'd collected many years ago...I do want to finish one of them!  it's a raucous orange!!  which will look wonderful in my blue North facing bedroom...

the best way to judge the age of an old quilt top is by the fabric...I think this one will be mid 20th century

.but that leaves me with about 5 I'd like to a couple of dozen feed sacks...and a stack of blocks!!!

Making clothes and quilts from feed sacks became popular in the depression's a good article about it:

The top below, however, is made from old shirts cut up...another way for women to be creative even though their resources were extremely limited...

I like the little funky mixes of fabric.

The tops are laid out on a queen size bed by the new air bed!!! LOVE air beds!  I shall never buy a mattress again...apart from anything else you can move these so easily.  and about a tenth of the cost...however..don't invite your daughter and her partner and her large dog to play and sleep on one all together!!!! pffffffffffff..........

An old grandmother's flower garden pattern...many of the flowers are feed sack material...these are hand stitched...

Here's another really lively one...I love the way the rather severe blocks seem to float on the flowers!!!

The one below is small but very elegant in its crispness...probably a little older.just one little hole though...

And this one never got finished!!  it would have been huge!  but I kinda like the fact that the center is now off center!!!!

So if you're interested, contact me at elizabethyork100 AT yahoo dot com...
but also please comment on what you have done with these fascinating old tops..and also if you know what the feedsacks and old blocks actually sell for right now....I'd be most curious.
and what you found when you were at home de-cluttering thanks to the virus!!

and so...back to death cleaning!!!!not that I'm planning on dying imminently!

and, if you have been, thanks for reading...
take care!!  but remember to have fun too....

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Critiqueing one's own work


Unexpectedness is a great way to attract attention!

The last time I taught a class I asked for suggestions for an upcoming blog.  When later I read through the suggestions I was surprised by how many people mentioned self-evaluation as being important.    

As a first step, I'd suggest really training your eye by critiquing other people's work.  The problem with critiquing your own is that it's really hard to be objective.  When we look at the piece on the wall we see not only the actual pattern of shapes in cloth but also all our hopes, beliefs, intentions, inspirations etc.  It's very difficult to shut off those.  Especially if you're learning how to evaluate the strength of a piece.

  Therefore, I suggest getting together with friends and bringing examples to the get-togethers of Truly awful work (in your opinion) and fabulously brilliant work.  Take images from the internet, or from books or magazines.  You're not going  to be publishing these, your comments will go nowhere but the group!  So don't worry about that...but when you show the others the work and make your comments you have to totally justify and say why you think the piece is Awful, or boring, or exciting or fabulous. Gradually you'll learn ways of expressing these things...and you are training your's like wine tasting!!  you've  got to have the wine!

The most important thing about a work of art - which you'll notice immediately you go out surfing on the 'net - is whether or not it attracts your attention.  D'you want to look at it for more than the standard 3 second glance that most images create? d'you lean forward, and hit Ctrl + to see it better?  D'you want to "pin it" or save it in some way?  D'you want to come back to it later to look at it again?  These are the key hallmarks to a successful piece.

All the rest is the nitty gritty of how the artist achieved a successful work...those "principles" we've all heard about?  They are the means by which the artist caught and held our attention.  They've been derived by critics and teachers looking at artwork that has stood the test of time figuring out what characteristics  those artworks have in common.

Some are technical: unity/harmony, variety/tension, rhythm/movement, balance/proportion, economy. 
Some are more emotional: does  the work make us feel? Is an emotion created within us?  whether it's delight, or despair - does the work affect us?  what is the artist communicating?  
or is the emotion we sense one of boredom?  this piece is boring, it's empty, it's been seen before.  As human beings we are definitely hard wired to be attracted by something novel.  If the quilt or painting or piece of music is the 17th, or 70th or 700th iteration of something we've seen/heard before, it's not going to have much effect on us.

If the piece is interesting but somehow doesn't feel quite right, the problem is likely to be something technical.
If  the piece is boring, the problem is likely to be that the artist is not able to communicate something  to us...possibly because they have nothing to communicate...or that they are so inarticulate that they have failed to do so but more likely the former.

Once you've developed your critiquing  skills on other people's work, it becomes easier  to see your own and judge it.  BUT to aid the transition, put your work into the same format as that which you used for others' work. ie. if you looked at all the images on line - on your computer monitor, then put your work up there.  If you printed it out...then print it out.  Also I strongly recommend having more than one piece to look at at a least 3 is good.  And that has the added benefit of having you make more work!!  More work is always one of the best ways of improving in anything.

And now I shall go and make yet another cup of tea, I'm sure it will be better than the last one!
If you have been, thanks for reading!
And do - please! - comment!      Elizabeth

Friday, August 7, 2020

How to be creative in stressful times

A reader asked a very good question in response to my last blog...and, as i think many of us are experiencing similar problems, I decided to write an open letter in response.

She wrote:

I'm having difficulties I don't remember having before the pandemic.
 am paralyzed by too much time, too many choices.
I feel untethered and aimless.
Even when I have all the supplies  for a project, I still can't get going. 
In the evening I feel excited about what I'll do in the morning, but come the morning, I just don't have the creative energy.This isn't like me. 

Reading this I had a lot of different thoughts.  Some of the problems described often occur occasionally, but many of us are experiencing something like this now as a result of the situation we are all living in right now, especially here in the USA.

We are all under a great deal of stress: the result both of fear of the virus, the uncertainty of the future,  and frustration with "them" - i.e. those who could do something about it, and don't...or won't...  Other countries have shown the way, we know what to do to alleviate the problem...but we're not doing it. Actually, I find this creates more tension in me  than the virus itself. We're not all acting together for the benefit of all, but rather infighting.

I think the first step is to address the very real threat of disease and sickness and assure yourself that you are doing all YOU can to be safe...and for your loved ones.  Then say to yourself: I am doing ALL I can, therefore I need to stop reading the news, watching tv or listening to the radio about the virus or politics or global warming etc etc!!

This kind of hot air news with more and more people saying the same thing, but nobody actually doing it is very depressing and it gradually gets you down.  Research has definitely shown that listening to bad news is depressing!

Second, be sure you're getting enough exercise, when we're at home or close to home all the time, it's difficult...but lack of exercise definitely affects mood and drive.  Again, research shows exercise - any kind - here's me dancing by myself!!! - improves mood.  

Third...having eschewed all bad news and started sure to do some good deep relaxation each day.  It's suggested  that right after lunch is a good time.  You can call it deep relaxation, or meditation, or mindfulness...they all involve totally relaxing your body and mind.....ten to thirty minutes. (the cat is optional!)

Don't let yourself feel useless and tiny at the mercy of powerful forces!  Within our own spheres, there's a lot we can do to ensure happiness, creativity and productivity. (yes that's me on his hand!)
Four: More research suggests that getting out into nature is very it's rare that we'll have a chance to have a view like this!! (Maine)...but most of us will have access to some quiet and beautiful natural area.

Five  Social distancing doesn't have to mean social isolation; we need other people.
And we can meet with others, one or two at a time, a little distance apart, friend and I meet to paint and critique in our carport which has a wonderful through breeze.....

Six. Initial inertia. So having take all those steps to feel happier and more does one overcome that initial inertia of getting moving in the studio? Well, starting to move, overcoming the weight of the inertia requires a little more push than usual..a little more gas!

 Don't make the mistake of feeling that you have to wait for excitement and intuition etc etc to carry you gloriously into the task!!  many many creative people have written/spoken about how sometimes it's very difficult  and uncomfortable to get started.  So don't worry about thinking you have to feel tremendous excitement!  Also don't ever feel that everything you do has to be a masterpiece.

A good first step is to set a goal, it can be very small, in fact it's better if it is small.

Some writers aim for so many hundred words, composers so many bars (sorry! not drinks...but measures!), or so much harmonization.

A painter might say - I'm going to paint a very small painting every day...and take a full size sheet of paper and divide it up into little squares or rectangles, one for each day. A choreographer - some steps to the first few bars of a classical piece.

As a quilter, I would decide on a project:  say a small abstract piece, 16 x 10 made from no more than 12 different shapes fitted together.  I would say: okay at 10 am (after the early morning exercise!), I will be in the studio without internet access!!  I will roughly  sketch out 12 different possible designs and pin them up on the wall, and  then I'll have a cup of tea.

yes, you have to push yourself a little to get going...but once you're'll usually stick with it.

I would say to myself (when in the middle of constructing a piece pinned out on the design wall): okay, elizabeth, you have to get just one piece sewn into can stop after that, or keep going, but you HAVE to do that one....often (not always of course, but often enough) I'd find I was onto the 3rd piece before I realised.

Seven.  The use of time.  Many of us are used to schedules and many different activities and for some of us that structure has fallen away because it was externally now is the time to build one's own structure or time table.  It is very helpful to spell it out.  When you get up, go to bed, eat.  When you exercise, when you meet with a friend - zooming or car port!  or gazebo!  Time on emails and internet activities.  Relaxation time.  Studio time. Nature time.  Draw out your schedule, try it for a couple of days, then you can adjust it as necessary. The most creative people have the most discipline and structure.

Eight.  Accountability.  I find this helps a lot - having a critique session with a friend or friends - that's something you can do on Zoom and would be fun, or joining a class where there is a weekly requirement, promising to send somebody a piece for their anniversary.


I hope these ideas help.  Remember you are not alone, many of us are feeling this...but there is a lot we can do. I'd love people to write in Comments and describe their own ideas or experience!

if i get more useful cogitations (it does happen from time to time!), I'll add them and put revised at the top so you know I did!

If you have been, thanks for reading!!!  Elizabeth


From my readers...some extra possibilities:

1. Start with something easy, like following a pattern...that will help to grease the wheels!

2. Divide the day into segments, so you're flowing forwards always.

3. Leave what you're working on at an enticing point, so you're dying to get back to it!

4. Tell yourself you HAVE to stick with it 20 minutes, or so, before giving up!

5. Maintain your social contacts, albeit digitally, with frequent emails and "mini challenges", sharing ideas and work.

6. Say to yourself: now I have the time to sit back and appreciate small things - particularly in nature.

Thank you!

Friday, July 31, 2020

Isolation pursuits....Learning

I know many of us are staying close to home these days...and this may go on for a long of constantly reviewing the dire numbers...compulsively watching people spouting hot air on tv, or worriedly eating and drinking and stacking piles of toilet paper (for who know when it might be in short supply again!)...let's figure out what benefits there are to our situation.  For one  thing, think of all those dreary appointments and visits that you don't have to make!!!  There's so many things we do that really don't have much point to them, or, even worse, much enjoyment!

And there are so many things for artists and cogitators to enjoy....making art, observing nature, watching dvds about making art, taking on line art lessons (there are a lot of those!*), reading and learning.
Slow cooking, slow pursuits like embroidery....the quilt below is covered in little stitches in the of my favorite quilts to make, and to look at too.
Reading, going through old photographs and making digital copies before they fade any further, but thinking about the people and places and times depicted.
And learning learning learning.... improving and exercising those "little grey cells"!!!!

 I love taking lessons so much - especially one on one..but any lessons really - from a good teacher...not one of those frustrating ones that tell you everything you do is wonderful - I'm sure we've all been in workshops like first it feels good, then you think "I'm not getting anything out of this!"
Some, but not all, online classes have good feedback from the teacher.  I make a point of answering all questions from students very carefully and I can also work with you one on one if you so desire **.

Thinking about why learning is so good I realise I really enjoy learning new things, or - even more -  learning how to do/make those things I already do, better and stronger. I love learning more about art, and music, and more about learning itself.  I'm particularly interested in finding out the best ways to learn. Robert Bjork is very interesting on this - he's made lots of You Tubes.

And, yes, there's the 10,000 hours idea...but this number has been challenged on many levels.
If you haven't heard of it, a popular science writer summarized a number of findings on learning - (particularly with respect to music) and concluded that 10,000 hours of practice would make you an  expert.However, many researchers dispute this e.g.  Macnamara et al (2014) examined all the relevant research and concluded:
" deliberate practice explained 26% of the variance in performance for games, 21% for music, 18% for sports, 4% for education, and less than 1% for professions. We conclude that deliberate practice is important, but not as important as has been argued."

The original research was carried out by Ericsson, Krampe and Tesch-Römer in 1993 on violin students in Berlin. They noted that the best students had practiced around 10,000 hours by the time they were 20.  However to conclude from that research (as has been done)  that 10,000 hours is both a necessary and  a sufficient amount of time to become an expert is invalid. 
In 2017, Ericsson and Pool wrote a book about the limitations to the 10,000 hours idea **. (by the way there are a lot of negative reviews of this book too!).  One of the big problems with the 10g hours theory is that the variation of the number of hours the students had practiced was great, some of the better ones had done less than 10g, some more...10 g was only the average. And, there are other studies suggest that it takes 10 years  rather than 10k achieve a good level of mastery of whatever craft/acitivity you wish to learn.

And what does "practice" actually mean?  Making or doing the same old same old just doesn't cut it.  Everyone does agree that you need to push yourself further, take risks, make the tasks progressively harder, get lots of feedback about mistakes or weaknesses and then devise specific strategies to work on those.  As the athletes do.
People who are very honest with themselves about their work, and who gain good feedback - even if difficult to hear - (and believe me I've been through that!) -  do improve faster than those that keep repeating the same stuff.  Often it's when you hit that brick wall and struggle and struggle and really think about what you have to do to overcome it that you make the most progress.

The research on so-called brain games also suggests that it's not just using our brains that makes the differences, it's taking on ever more difficult tasks.  So, if you want to get anywhere, it's probably not going to be easy.   But are in good company!  If you learn a new brain game and then just settle into playing it over and over,  the brain begins to make things automatic. That doesn't lead to more cognitive strength.  which is why most "brain games" are completely pointless once you've got the hang of it.
NOW...we have the time to excuses!  No dashing around on all that mindless stuff!
We have the time to learn, to listen, to look, to absorb...let's celebrate that instead of bemoaning what we have lost.
So ...what do you think?   Is there a way to consider Isolation positively?
Please comment!!
And, if you have been, thanks for reading.   Elizabeth
*I have ten different online workshops with the academy of quilting - reasonably priced...and low numbers in the classes so you can get plenty of attention!
** I do private tutoring too.  Please write me: elizabethyork100 AT for more details.