Thursday, July 21, 2016

Self Critique: first steps

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.    This is one time when the mote in the other person's eye is probably more helpful than the beam in your own!

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 succesful 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 is the 17th, or 70th or 700th iteration of something we've seen 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.

As a group or an individual 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

Thursday, July 14, 2016

The joy of everyday life

So what have I been getting up to?

........posing for our local - brilliant - photographer, Chuck Murphy.  He mainly photographs birds...but then, I guess, I would count as one ancient old bird!!

It's always good  to get your work out in public 
Although I'm very leery of hanging quilts in restaurants since I don't like artwork that smells of food,  I was very happy to take some work to the OLLI office at the university.  OLLI stands for Osher Lifelong Learning Institute and is an organization of folk 50+ who are interested in learning new things.  Curiously, the branch in our town is attracting a lot of attention from people looking for a nice place to retire because it's an amazing way to meet new folk and immediately get involved in (far too much!) stuff!

The left hand quilt, Bluebeard's Castle (named after the opera) is one of my Hamilton steel mill series, the quilt in the center is a view of Athens.  As you can see I'm color co-ordinated!!

Apart from that frisky pup, the paintings are watercolors - the two on the right are views of the pond in our neighborhood - I walk round there early most morning and it's fascinating to see  the same view over and over in different lights.  I've done a couple of quilts based on this pond too:


.....and there are a lot more paintings of the pond, which I won't bore you with....

I find that nearly all my art work is about things I see or experience every day....I'm currently engaged on a series of quilts - abstract - that are about what my day feels like rather than the actuality of physical detail - it's quite a challenge  but it's so worthwhile to be really in touch with what you're experiencing...instead of just racing through things...
well...on with the day!
And, if you have been, thanks for reading...and commenting!  I do appreciate the comments very much.


Friday, July 8, 2016

The juror vs the critic

 I've a lot of experience critiqueing (mainly in my online classes) and some (limited) experience as a juror and  I began to wonder about the role of the juror vs the role of the art critic.  Too often when faced with the yes/no response from a juror we tend to think of the juror as a critic…but there are actually many differences between the two.  The juror has only the y/n binary response sorting the quilts presented into two (metaphorical!) piles only...also we never know why one quilt was chosen, another rejected. Whereas the critic has a much broader role which may or may not (according to the critic, they vary) include indicating whether or not they think the art is “good” or “bad”.    Unfortunately, there are many jurors but few critics in the art quilting world.

Critical reviews are valuable to both the general public and the particular artist.  although some artists choose to disregard (or  consider invalid) a poor review, in fact, a thoughtfully written review, can help the artist gain insight into their own work,  and enable them to see it in both a wider  historical and  geographical/cultural view.  It’s hard to step back from an individual piece and see how it fits in with both one’s own body of work, and that of work being produced by other artists.

One of the goals of art criticism is to introduce the work to a wider audience – not just the art going intelligentsia, or the magazine-buying quilter, but everyone – all classes, ages, occupations and levels of society.  A lot of people out there still think of quilting as a bedding medium, not an art medium – they are truly surprised when it’s suggested that a quilt can hang on a wall! An art critic would act as a public educator: art can be paint on canvas, clay formed into vessels, glass hanging in light, fiber on a wall.  I met a well educated woman just yesterday who told me that quilting was a lost art because nobody hand quilted anymore!

Today there are many journals of art criticism offering a wide variety of reviews about art from many different angles.   We can learn so much about ourselves as well as increasing our art knowledge from looking at art, examining our reaction to it, and reading about the critic’s (hopefully more broadly educated) reaction.     I enjoy reading the short critical reviews in  magazines like Art in America, for example.   Some writers focus on describing the work – perhaps in ways I had seen, or perhaps not.  Others compare the work to other artists..which can lead one to follow a trail that broadens and has many side trails!  Some offer value judgments with which one might agree or disagree – but all the reviews make you spend more time thinking about the art.

Most critics feel that the phrase “art should speak for itself” is a cliche.  They suggest that art is strongest when it forces the viewer to engage with the artist.  The work should entice one into conversation, but not  be a direct obvious advertising-like statement that leads one to put up the shutters, rather than peer in through the window! (o yes the glory of the closely stitched mixed metaphor!)  Stay tuned!!!  I don't want to be hit in the face with the obviousness of your image,   I want to be intrigued enough to want to stay and figure out what is going on for myself…intrigue me, entice me, question me and pull me in…

A critic, of course, may have his/her own agenda.  Clement Greenberg was famous for his desire to drive a revolution bringing change and progress to the contemporary art world – he has been called the “Moses of the art world” – feeling that he was the one with the vital set of rules on stone tablets tucked under his arm….but today’s critics are less didactic though alas, often very dense in their writing.    Greenberg felt that one couldn’t intellectually determine one’s response to art: that one should follow one’s automatic response with bravado and nerve and then work hard to “determine the difference between good and bad”.    One of the exercises I have done in my workshops is to show very good and very bad art - (IMO of course!) - not stating what I think of  the work, allow a discussion to take place - if you think it's good (or bad), then tell us why....

 Other critics have sought to show the public the connection between a society, its culture and its art.   They feel that the art should communicate about that culture rather than adhere to specific aesthetic goals (which can often render the art as dated by “fashion” within the art world).   All seek to educate us, and to encourage us to spend more time with art.  I think that this is very difficult for today's quilters - how to hold onto the tradition and at the same time make one's work relevant to today's culture?  I find myself doing one thing or the other, and entering the work into different shows bearing in mind the particular bent of  the juror.

Criticism has been defined as using language to explore visual images: trying to clarify one’s thoughts, emotions and understanding about a particular work.   It should help us to see why we respond to this landscape, and not that one – when they may both be views of the same river.  Why is this one more effective than that?   From this kind of criticism, we can learn how to strengthen design, how to make better art, as well as how to understand and enjoy good lasting art – rather than art that is like candyfloss, a quick cheap flick of sweetness that soon grows stale. 

  The critic’s task is to put into words the effect that a work of art can have upon us.    Thus the importance of the dance of communication between artist, the critic and the viewer.  
I wish  we had more art critics writing about art quilts, and didn’t have just those yes/no responses, all of us -   art quilt makers, and viewers and collectors  - would be better served.
So, what d’you think? Can the emphasis be switched from sport (running races with people coming in first, second, third etc) to education (leading us to a broader understanding of what the medium is about and what it can do)?

If you have been.....thanks for reading…. all comments Very Welcome!    Elizabeth

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Constructive Ideas...or....gluephobia!

Ambivalence  48"h, 35"w

Recently I've been asked several times about construction - it seems like an awful lot of people are fusing these days and people want to know what I use.  Well, I've never really tried fusing...I haven't needed to...I don't know whether it's the type of quilts I make or my fondness for the stitch or my fear of glue!

I do always work from a sketch, not being fond of racing back and forth to the design wall like a retriever, but my sketch can be pretty rough.  However, it does mean I have a very good idea of which pieces are going  to go where, and the order in which they can be sewn together.
I usually have two copies of the sketch - one with the values  (light, medium and dark).  The value sketch is on the design wall next to where I'm blocking out the quilt.  Then I have a gridded line drawing that shows the shapes and proportions - it's on the cutting table.  The grid helps me to calculate the size of each piece of  fabric I cut out. I look at the sketch, calculate the size, add seam allowance, cut out...stroll to the wall and pin it up!

So you can see - for the quilt at the top of the page...once I'd pinned everything up and made sure all the proportions and values were correct, and it looked the way I wanted it to...once that was done, all I had to do was piece those strips together...then piece the strips...

My fabric is sorted by value.  and I never pull from my whole stash...once I've decided on a color scheme, I pull out all the fabrics I think I'll use and put the rest away.  Too many choices know what!! And, I'm not keen on quilts with a rainbow jumble of colors.

Electric Fields 34"h, 45"w

 I  think it's important that you should make work that you personally like!!!  Even if your friends and family think it's totally weird.  Yes, I've been greeted with many a puzzled look and a "well, what's it supposed to be?"!!!  You just have to plough on through that one!  The quilt above (currently in the SAQA show Concrete and Grasslands) was shown to 4 friends, two loved it, two hated it - so I guess - on average - it was deemed acceptable!  Statistically kidding apart, people definitely thought it was weird...until the perfect show came along ...and then they got it.

For the quilt above I pieced the two big background fabrics... the sky (background) and the rape field  (foreground)...then I appliqued the cooling towers onto the horizon and then layered various scraps of silk over the top to make them look beautiful...and no! they are not elephant legs upside down!!

And yes, the bottom fabric is all shibori - arashi shibori - here's a detail:

You can see I like hand stitching!! 
well, time for a nice cuppa tea, I think...
If you have been, thanks for reading...and not thinking about elephants!   Elizabeth

and....I look forward to reading your comments!

Saturday, June 18, 2016

From Folk to Abstract.....


Just got back from a great week at John C Campbell Folk School which is in a most beautiful part of Western North Carolina - they have a whole gorgeous wide valley to themselves, and I love to see the green space with the mountains beyond....the old, old, Smoky Mountains - some of the oldest mountains in the world, so very softly rounded and cloaked in trees....greeny blue waves going off into the distance..a great example of aerial perspective!

I was taking a painting class, and of course all the art principles are just the  same no matter what the it's always helpful to practice them over and over...trying to get that "knowledge beneath the surface" or "muscle memory" .......

Working with abstract design (which is really the best way to think of any design - shapes and values!!!  not mountains and valleys...) is a really great way to get to be a better artist.
And this week my Abstract Art for Quiltmakers class starts at
When I started researching abstract art to get some ideas for some abstract quilts, I was really struck by how nearly all the "Big Names" - the most well known abstract painters - are men.  Arn't there any good women abstract painters?  Well, of course there are - tons!  And so I decided to build this class totally around women abstract each lesson I describe the work of 2 or 3 of them, and then show you just how they created their abstract paintings.  I devised detailed steps for several exercises each week which will yield a bunch of new the end of  the class, your design wall would be covered with designs!  Of course you can stop designing and start any point you wish.  I'm in class pretty much all the time in order to help you.
Here's a quote from an evaluation from a previous class - and I've no idea who sent this in - but I was thrilled to get it!

"Imagine buying an E-book with both practical and inspirational design ideas and then discovering that it has magically added another room to your house, somewhere between your computer and your sewing room. Not only are the comprehensive instructional materials right there, you can go into that room at any time, day or night, and find your own equipment and stash waiting for you. Nearby are large tables where other students are working. You can look at each other’s work, hear everyone’s questions to the teacher, see the results of their research, and join in any conversation.
Elizabeth’s comments are helpful and encouraging and several times a day she is in this cyber-room, offering suggestions for improvement or links to relevant sites on the internet --- always being focussed on the specific interests and needs of each student. I have taken many classes in the “real” world and online, and I have never received so much personal attention.
Working at home, we have access to all our own fabric and equipment. We haven’t had to choose what to take to with us, drag along our sewing machines, pay for a plane ticket, or wait in long security lines.
The instructional materials are excellent, meticulously planned and illustrated. Because of the feedback from the teacher and the class, I actually have done the exercises suggested --- not the case when I read a book on my own."

Happy to answer any questions...and LOVE to have comments!!! please ...feel free...
anyone fancy a nice cuppa tea?  I'm putting the kettle on!

If you have been, thanks for reading!  Elizabeth

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Problem solving for the artist....

 The fiber artist at work:  There's a flurry of cutting and pinning up on the design board...there's sewing and unpicking and cursing, and jubilation and despair and discarded shards of fabric all over the studio floor.........
and then you come back the next day and look at the wall and the awful truth is revealed:

It's not working.....

We've all been what is the next step?
Alas, sewing it all together while saying "the quilting will help"....or "I might add some beads"...or lace...or, in dire circumstances, both(!!) does not work.

Does not work, even though sometimes the quilt with the most junk affixed to it wins the show!!!  A tour de force of fixology!
By the way: Just because a quilt gets into a quilt  show doesn't mean it's actually any good!  Quilts get into shows for a variety of reasons...yes, reason #1 is because it's a very good and striking design and beautifully made.  But also they get in because many shows are judged by photographs....and so what got in was actually the photograph, rather than the quilt.  Sometimes the jurors are told: you've picked the best...and they'll fill up half the gallery, now pick the next best, and the next and the next.
Also, jurors are human!!  (yes, it's true!) Some really hate a certain color, really love another color.  They all have prejudices and biases - no matter what they say.  Psychological experiments have shown for years that even if we truly believe we're not acting on our prejudices...we are.   The teacher unknowingly spends a little more time explaining something to the  pretty child, than to the ugly one.

So don't add "stuff" just because the prize winner at the local show had added stuff.....

Instead: diagnose...

It's very hard to solve  a problem when you don't know what it is!  That's why it's good to get an actual diagnosis when you go to the doctor's!!  (of course sometimes you don't get a diagnosis, but rather  the equivalent of extra quilting, or beads or lace !!  but that's another issue).

What is  the actual problem?  Why is this quilt "not working"? And, by the way, what does "not working" actually mean?  I must admit I really dislike this phrase...and the slightly upmarket version of it "it's not well resolved"  !!  Both are very vague and not in the  least bit helpful.

The function of most art work is 
  1. to attract your attention and  
  2. keep it.  

Diagnosis 1: it might not attract your attention, because it's plain boring!
Diagnosis 2: it might not keep your attention, because it's in some way distasteful for you.

To fix problem 1:
If it's boring, almost certainly you don't have enough contrast: contrast of any one or more of the elements that go to make up a design:  line, shape, value, color, texture.  It's helpful to work through these one at a time (and the most likely culprit, by the way, is value) to find the what's missing.
Contrast creates tension - tension keeps our interest.

To fix problem 2:
If it attracted your attention but then you really didn't want to keep looking at it, it's probably because it has no unity, no harmony, it's a chaotic mishmash of stuff with no clear message.
You don't have a basic structure, you don't have a focus, you have too many different elements.

Think of these 2 problems in musical terms:
problem 1 would be suggested by a piece of music that was one repeated note: the same note at the same speed and the same volume and the same degree of resonance.
problem 2 is the piece of music that's just a cacophony of sound - the piano piece composed by a computer that included every one of the 88 notes on a piano keyboard, in random order, each just once!

So...what d'you think?  What d'you feel is the function of art work?  The most likely problems, and the clear solutions to those problems???  Do they fit into the format I suggest...or are there other difficulties?  do let me know!!  After all, I'm going to have a nice cuppa tea......
And, if you have been, thanks for reading!    Elizabeth

Monday, May 30, 2016

Inspired to Design class

My Academy of Quilting classes generally start on the first Friday of the month...and this month the class starting is Inspired to Design.  It's the first class I wrote and probably the most popular - I was asked to write a book based on it after a few years.

My other design classes are  Working in Series, and Abstract Art for Quiltmakers and More Abstract art for quiltmakers.  I have enough "exercises" stored away that I could actually write and "Even More abstract art for quilt makers"!  But probably won't.

 I do have several other ideas for classes tucked up my sleeve - or rather tucked into a folder on the computer (!)  - the equivalent of a sleeve these days.  I'd also love to hear from you if there's a class you've always wanted to find ,but never have (email me at elizabethyork100 AT, if you have an idea you'd like me to consider).

I often wonder why I2D is so popular though...and I think it's because it's how to design quilts based on your own photographs..photographs you bring to the class because they have special meaning for you.
 I notice that when people buy a piece of my art, whether a quilt or a painting, they do it because they discover a connection with that art work and their own lives.  Maybe they visited that place (e.g. paintings and quilts of Iona all went to people who had been inspired by the magic of that little island).
 (I would have put a picture here but, alas, I'm at the beach on too slow of a connection......)

 Recently, my agent sold a quilt I'd made of Iceland - to someone who'd always wanted to go there.

And somebody bought a very minimal winter beach quilt...because his wife loved winter beaches!

I did once have somebody buy a small quilt because his friend had the same name as me!!  But I can't rely on too many of those sales!

I think that in order to make a good piece of art you've  got to be really invested in its meaning in some way (even abstract quilts have meaning..of course it's...well...abstract!)
If the piece is more of a technical exercise, how can it be strong?    John Singer Sargent painted oil portraits of well off people for a living, but his heart was in his glorious little watercolors - which are the  paintings we prize now.

So if you have some images of landscapes, or cityscapes or still lifes or anything (!) that  hold a lot of impact for you......and you'vw been thinking about making a quilt based on them - but not TOO literally - then consider taking the Inspired to Design class!

And now, I'm going for a stroll on the beach!  If you have been, thanks for reading!.