Monday, March 16, 2020

Creating Depth in two dimensions...and how to overcome cabin fever!

Elements and Principles:space: deep or shallow?

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!
edgeoflightIn 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.

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're getting cabin fever - already!!! and we've only got 5 months to go...consider an online class.
the academy of quilting has some really good ones, and there are about ten different ones you can take with me personally.... I'm really interested in design and getting a strong composition from the start, and very happy to critique/evaluate your sketches or work as you take the class.  Think about it!
Happy to answer any questions in the Comments area...or email me directly:
elizabethyork100 AT

And, if you have been, thanks for reading! Now for some space!


Monday, March 2, 2020

Learning makes you feel good!

Have you looked in the mirror recently and seen your mother?

(or your father?)

Well, I have the answer!!!


It gives you immense zest for life when you can feel learning taking place.
And you'll soon forget about the person in the mirror!

There's actually some science to back this up!!
well sort's a bit of a goofy site, but the little video is hilarious and laughing creates endorphins too!
  I love learning and it always makes me feel good.  and....learning leads to happiness, and the happier you are, the better you learn.  It's all to do with the endorphins of course.

but...what to learn??
Well you could learn something new...take a look at what your local community centers have to offer, and art centers etc...there's nearly always a lot going on.  Don't be afraid that you won't be any good!
Of course you'll be no good!!! you've never done it before!  Also please don't think you need something magical called "talent"!!  yes, to get really really good at something very difficult - whether in music or science or athletics - you need the right kind of body and mind, the right kind of upbringing and excellent coaching and masses of persistence....BUT enjoy learning, to learn something new in just about anything is a real boost.  And teachers are very happy to help and they don't expect you to know it and be an immediate success!
Ferrybridge - Quilt made after 20 years of persistence!
Well, having said that I have run into one or two people who gave up on me after ten minutes because I was not immediately brilliant at what they were trying to teach me...but that does tell us more about them than about me.

Martin tried to blow me off!!
What makes a good learner?  Willingness, enthusiasm, alertness, an open mind, and a sense of humour!!

Dancing Trees
Now if you live in Athens, GA...or thereabouts, come and learn watercolor with me at the Winterville Community Center......or you could learn aikido there too!  or Zumba!! or oil painting.  you can learn to swim at the YWCO   or a whole multitude of things at Lyndon House or OCAF or many different kinds of dancing downtown!
Mike...still dancing at 97!!!!!

okay I know it's very unlikely that you live here! But I'm sure your community has all kinds of things to offer.
and you can also take classes on line...I teach here and have new classes starting all the time - last week was The Great Scrap Quilt!  And this week it's abstract art for quilt makers...
Join me in learning!

and, if you have been, thanks for reading.
Do write and comment on what you have been learning recently and the effect it had upon you.


Saturday, February 22, 2020

The Scrap Quilt

I've always loved scrap quilts....
and I've always loved "making" fabric out of little bits....

sometime ago I made this piece:

Diamond Pane
 I always liked it....and when it won an award at our local annual art show...I started thinking....
hmmm ,that would make a very good online class.

The fun part about this quilt is actually making the fabric which looks just fabulous by itself even if you don't cut it into shapes - like diamonds, or triangles or squares.

Highlands, Fall
 Sometimes I've just put together specific colors in the Diamond Pane..."making" the fabric whenever I had enough scraps of fabric in that particular hue.
Other times, I've just chosen  colors - as in May - that reflect a certain season.
In Highlands, Fall, I worked from a photograph actually matching the colors....and then made "dark" and "light" fabric....

The technique for "making fabric" is perfect for a scrap quilt tedious cutting, very little to buy - you just use your scraps!!  No matching or tracing etc...just happy cutting and sewing and ironing and enjoying seeing the results!  Then you can think whether to just use it as one solid I did in Highlands, Fall...or insert verticals as in May, or cut into shapes like in the Great (Pink) scrap quilt below...

The Great Scrap Quilt (pink)

And Sometimes I've also used the "fabric" as just a part of a quilt.......many uses!
Actually I once made a tank top out of it, and sold it at a fashion show before I could get a picture!!!

If you're interested, my new class about this way of making scrap quilts is going to start next week - Feb 28 at

I do like the idea of a class where the supply list is "what you have in your stash!"

And now back to my stash and my machine!
do write and tell me what you think about these quilts!!!It's always good to hear from you.

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

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Why buy art?

A painter friend of mine yesterday was telling me that she was working hard to get shows all over  town....various public buildings and so on.....and I thought ""Oh I should be doing that...."
but then..."why?"
Why?  Probably the most likely reason why is to sell!  Perhaps to encourage people to take classes.....or maybe for self-validation?
But does having a show like that lead to sales?  Generally I would say no, especially when it comes to expensive items like quilts.

“Many admire,  few buy”  seems to hold more strongly for quilts than for paintings. Quilts are very accessible and when you have a show you get lots of oos and ahhs and how lovelys….people never walk around with a silent puzzled look on their faces!   So why isn’t the work rushing off the walls? What are the reasons to buy and own a piece, and what are the reasons that people actually don't do this?

Many people just don't even consider owning a piece of art though they will definitely fork out a goodly sum for flat screen tvs and cell (mobile) phone bills. Their homes don't even contain a velvet Elvis!  There may be a few school or wedding photos, a calendar or two and that's it.  And yet, a work of art you love and have carried around with you through the years, makes a home instantly when you move to a new place.  The first thing I did when I moved (well the second one! the first was make a cup of tea...except for the memorable move when there was a power outage and the movers couldn't get the king sized bed up the narrow stairs and had to hoist it on a ladder through the bedroom window...we encouraged them and ourselves with several large Scotches - that's what it takes to get a couple of men on a ladder with a large bed!)..the next thing after tea was to decide where the art work was going to go and then it felt like home.  A much loved work of art not only beautifies a home, it can be a home. (or airport! below - at hartsfield-atlanta, gate 27, concourse E)

Some people of course just plain don't have the money - though I think if you add up entertainment and splurge shopping and eating out for a year, you'd be surprised what the amount came to.  If you'd bought a piece of art you'd have something beautiful or fascinating for ever -  instead of extra inches on the waistline, forgettable movies seen that were a waste of time, and clothes you no longer like.    And a work of art can be saved for before you choose, or paid for in installments...

Why is a work of art not considered for a major anniversary gift or to mark a very special occasion?  Why do people buy their children jewelry or a car when they come of age?  I bought paintings for my kids' 21sts!  Cars wear out, jewelry only comes out on special occasions, art is there beautifying your home every day. And it never gets a flat battery!

Some think if they had they time they could make something similar so why should they buy?!  But actually it's very difficult to copy another's work - I've seen several attempts - believe or not people have proudly shown me their copies of my quilts! - but the copies never have the elan, the freshness, the zest and the harmony of the original work.  I think it's even harder to copy an art quilt than a painting.  The mark of the hand is so much more evident.  Plus  the amount time it takes one to learn the trade, develop the skills, design the work and make it is usually vastly underestimated.

Exploding sewing machine!!!

What is different about those who do buy? They are the people who value beauty - and the expression of feeling.  For them to buy a piece, the work has to speak to them very personally, intrigue them, pull them back to look time and again.  And having been fascinated in this way, they have to believe that it would be good to actually own this piece, that it would then be theirs to enjoy each day. It's important to learn that art can be savored, it never gets used up!

It's great to have original art at home, it's even more of a life-savor at work!  I can think of several ex-colleagues I might have done in were it not for the peace and beauty of my art-filled, door-closed office! Especially abstract walk...which I find very calming....this was one of my favorites....

My good painter friend, Mary Porter, says: “It’s really all about energy. (A work of art) is about energy. A good (art piece) gives you energy, feeds you spiritually. It tells you things—something new every time you experience it. Not in words, but on a deeper level. But you have to quiet your mind and observe.” Listen, feel, think….and consider!

It helps to begin by collecting small works (as in water dipping toes) fact many of my first art pieces were traded, then I bought small "within-budget" works.  After this introduction, you move to the stage of knowing the pleasures of owning and you actively begin to look for work.
  If you've never owned anything beautiful you don't know quite how much fun it is!
So...think about it: if you buy, why do you?  And if you don't, why not?
Let me know in the comments!!!  and, by the way, if you have been...thanks for reading!  Elizabeth
PS...there are other reasons for having a show of course...which I'll come back to in due course...since this blog is already WAY too long!

Saturday, February 8, 2020

The art of being fresh

A New Day

D'you remember when a guy being "fresh" was considered...well...a little risky?

And of course, that's what you actually always kinda hoped would happen??!!

Because being fresh gives us something of a thrill!
well perhaps not the kind of thrills your mother would like you to have...
being fresh in your art work is also a thrill.

“Don’t let your art look contrived!” said my friend as we viewed my latest efforts.  I knew exactly what she mean as I love work that looks fresh and spontaneous – while all the while being the product of great thought, balance, compositional control and probably years of practice and the result of many attempts to achieve this effect.  It’s like the actor playing a part in a long running stage play – every performance must be true, valid, dynamic and effortless.  Most great performances (whatever the medium) have this quality – it doesn’t happen as a result of being very young, very drunk and  (one thinks!) very spontaneous!  it’s practice that counts of course.  Practice, practice, practice and then letting go and being in the moment when faced with one’s medium.  I’ve been reading a very revealing book about the performance of tennis  (Open by Andre Agassi)where he demonstrates over and over the validity of this observation.

It's true in music too, my pedagogue says "just relax and let loose and be spontaneous" - with a chopin nocturne!!!!  phew.   it will take a lot of practice...but he knows that a good performance has just that quality of spontaneity, like you just dreamed it up right then and there.

The problem of being too contrived occurs frequently i “Clumsy, Hollow and Contrived” wrote critic Januszczak of de Lempicka’s work where, according to the critic, her attempts to copy Cubism,  and to fake much more knowledge (according to the writer) than she had of that particular art movement were. 

Januszczak writes about deLempicka adopting a style and attempting to use it even though she didn’t understand it and had nothing to offer it in terms of her own imagination.  This is a  problem evident in many a clone quilt! 

Following the inspiration of “primitive” art is a tightrope that many have tried to walk.  And often been  commercially successful, but alas the result of a such a strong source of inspiration leads to one producing contrived art.  Inspiration plus development and work, not mockery and thoughtless reproduction, is required.

The opposite of contrived work is work that has variety, unexpectedness, bold strength not wimpy efforts, and has a clear impact on the viewer. 

I was listening to a talk on creativity recently.  The speaker said that while everyone can be creative much in modern education squashes it!  Most 5 year olds think they are creative, hardly any 17 year old do!  But we can get back into the creative takes practice!   Your first ideas will be based more on memories...yes memories of your own, or other people's art work, your next ideas will be more likely to be your own and novel, but perhaps not very interesting, however if you keep pushing it more and more then the ideas come that are both new...and fresh...and beautiful.

So please don't give up when you have created the first design for a quilt, or done one value study for a painting, keep working, trying different possibilities...this is where the real work of art takes place.....give yourself a number - say a dozen different ways of depicting a tree, or a car, or your first love...and then stand back and evaluate...and I'm sure you'll find that you're getting fresh!

And, if you have been, thanks for reading!
Comments please!!  I love them...and will respond.   Elizabeth

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Is saleability important?

As artists we are driven to make work....but what to do with it once it's made?
Like many fiber artists I have a storage unit piled high with work...
of course all the "pretty" ones, like the one sell fairly quickly.
But that leaves everything else...if you can't sell it, do you

store it?
make it into something else?
give it away?
hang it in your own home?
or if all else fails:
destroy it?

Recently I was asked if, when I was a juror for a well known quilt show,  I chose work that I knew would sell.  Well I don't know what the other jurors had in mind, of course, but the saleability of a work was the very last thing in my mind, never even considered it.  And, of course, when we make work (unless we are being VERY commercially minded!) we're not thinking about a sale.  Rather we have in mind making strong and beautiful work, that conveys the message, the idea, the thought, the feeling that inspired us.

As a juror I looked for work that was well designed and composed, was beautiful in how the separate elements were arranged, that attracted my attention - and held it (much harder!)...and which would, I thought, stand the test of time.  To attract attention, work needs to be strong and fresh, intriguing and novel.  To stand the test of time, it needs to be solidly and cleanly and surely put together - both visually and literally.

So no, I didn't consider saleability either of others' work, or of my own when making it....because whether or not something will sell depends to some extent on factors other than the above. and it was those things that were always my goal.
but have a cupboard full of quilts...or even a whole basement!!

What I have noticed, and I have sold quite a lot of work over the years...but there are still about 40 or 50 pieces languishing at the back of the studio!  unobserved and unloved!...
what I have noticed is that commercial places buy work that fits in with their interior designer's a hospital looks for something calming and soothing and optimistic. (yes we do have to overlook some perfect dreadful art that appears in doctor's offices!!! that could drive an artist to madness if viewed for very long!), the library wanted something that was energetic, the community center something that conveyed a sense of place...and so on.

The private buyer buys something that resonates with them in some way.  You can hear this when they tell you why they're buying a piece, the story they see about that piece and how it relates to them.  I remember one very spare piece being sold because the buyer said "it's for my wife, she loves the beach in winter".
A sense of place is a common reason for buying.
Another is the color...a piece was chosen recently because "I love orange and pink together on blue".

Sometimes a memory....
or, the mood or ambience created by the piece.

but that still leaves an awful lot of work to be disposed of!!!
so...tell me your ideas!
because I'm determined to get my pile down to less than ten before I make another quilt!!!!

If you have been, thanks for reading.   and please please comment...I need your answers!!!

PS...if you're still actually making quilts !  consider a modern/improv Mod meets Improv class starts next Friday at
Modern quilts are elegant, and pretty quick to make! especially using free cutting and improv techniques...and facing instead of binding.....  think about it!!!!

Monday, January 27, 2020

Bamboozled, but not bored, by color!

Don't be bamboozled, but above all, don't be boring!!
In anything!
The first step is to know your craft, whether it's visual art or music.
but the next step is how you interpret....
So looking at the photos above, it would be a mistake to copy any of them LITERALLY, in the same way that it's a mistake to just play the notes one by one, bong, bong, bong...when playing a Chopin nocturne.
Photos of Fall are gorgeous, especially where maples are involved.  almost certainly what attracts is the color - the pop of color against a dark background especially.

The realization is that it's the COLOR!
After all with trees, the shapes are really just verticals...well yes I do like dancing trees, but in these photos it was the color.  So then how can you "steal" that color from the photo and use it in your artwork?

Everybody loves color, everyone is seduced by it....everybody uses it...and a lot of people have trouble with it.  I remember one of my Dad's aphorisms (he was a mountain of walking aphorisms!!) was "Fire is a good servant but a poor master".  Well the same could be said of color:  a good servant, but a poor master.  Used well and your artwork is stunning, evocative, inspiring and satisfying.  Used badly and it destroys the art dies in a blaze of meaningless color! or withers for lack of it...

So when my boss suggested I write a color course, I was immediately energized...filled with ideas on how to help people understand and use color in their work much more effectively and meaningfully.

My color course (starting on Valentine's Day! at the covers a wide ranging of topics related to color but without getting into unnecessary technicalities like wavelengths and so on.  Nor do I spend a lot of time on dry theory or the history of discoveries...but I do take a general look at how artists and  scientists have used and understood color.  I think it's helpful to have a little background knowledge.

I examine the different properties of color - for example how to differentiate between  three reds or yellows... why they differ and why you might want to use one rather than another.
I explore several ways of deriving good strong beautiful color schemes.  How to create illusions and special effects.  How to create an atmosphere....
There's a unit on the meaning of colors, and how they affect (or don't!) us psychologically.
Lots of the one illustrated below...for I feel the best way to learn is by DOING!

Isn't it amazing what a difference the background makes? And also how often do you feel like you got the background color wrong?

Questions?  happy to answer...just email me
elizabethmasterclass   AT go to the academy  for more info.

And, if you have been, thanks for reading!

PS  Happy color day!!!