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!!!

Friday, December 27, 2019

What can we learn from the Gees Bend quilts?

Our local art museum (GMOA) recently had a great quilt show...the quilts of Mary Lee Bendolph (1935-)
Mary Bendolph is one of the original Gee's Bend quilters, an example of the African American movement in quilting that began in isolated small communities where there was a supply of fabric (usually offcuts from a factory) and not much other industry.  (Oakland in CA was another area where this kind of quilting spontaneously appeared).
The ladies of Gee's Bend - a small town in a bend of the Alabama river between Alabama and Georgia - began a Freedom Quilting Bee, a craft co-operative,  during the 1960s.

Quilt making took place between planting and harvesting periods during the year when there was not so much field work and the ladies got together to sew and chat and sing and support one another.

Mary Bendolph learned more traditional patterns the Log Cabin variation above (usually known as Courthouse Steps)...but gradually began to develop her own style.  This was much more dynamic and experimental.  Experimentation was the key - don't just copy a traditional pattern, play with it!

Cut it up and rearrange it, try a different orientation, add on another strip!
don't be afraid to be bold and strong.  sometimes that is just what is necessary to make a statement.
And the pieces became more and more individual:

How inviting and encouraging this looks - commanding a whole wall of the gallery! Obviously nothing else could hold up next to its vigor.  So don't be afraid...don't be timid...let the colors and the shapes sing.
Work large and confidently.

Begin with one idea, then enlarge it as you go around...and around...note how the sky and the sunshine blazed their way into this quilt!

More sky...but overall a cooler palette and a more controlled outcome...d'you prefer that? or not?

well actually it was a rather cool rainy day outside, but very pleasant...I love the winter colors here in the south-east:  here are a few more picture of the area around the museum - VERy different from these vibrant quilts:

so - tell me - what do you learn from the Gees Bend quilts?  There are many many more examples on line of course...and a beautiful giant catalogue from the first show that travelled around the country - I saw it in New York several years ago...great to have this one right on my doorstep!

And, if you have been, thanks for reading!!!
Love to have your comments.....

Monday, December 16, 2019

from Photo to artwork

so Ellen asked me if I copied the photo literally when making a quilt or a painting....

I never did copy anything literally.

With a quilt I would take the photo, and make a sketch of it..a simple sketch, no fancy drawing!
the sketch I always found was sufficient for me to follow in cutting out the shapes and sewing them together.

This quilt is actually black and white!  it's about 16 x 24...I monoprinted the fabric with leaves from the's appliqued.

For painting - here's a recent example:

Here's the photo....
what attracted me is that beautiful limning with light.......

I did 4 little value studies...
to determine the placement of the biggest shapes...

and then painted the back ground

Next some of the big shapes.....

I actually rather liked it at this stage....very simple very loose!!!  but felt compelled to "finish":

In my online class Inspired to Design with
and in my book of the same name...I go through the steps of sketching and making a quilt based on a photo.  The class is available "on demand" i.e. whenever you want it!  and the book is available as an "e-version"   - does sound a bit medically unhealthy!!! - but the publisher sent me a copy and actually it's not bad at all!!

so now you know!!!
Do let me know if you have any questions, or comments...always happy to answer them...
and, if you have been, thanks for reading!!


PS don't forget to celebrate the Winter Solstice by buying yourself something nice!!! I'm kinda hankering after a red cashmere sweater!!!!

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Time Management for quilters and other artists

Nolde (photograph by me of the original which is in the GMOA in Athens, GA)

Do you ever feel as if you are trying to rush forward against a high wind and making little progress?
Because there just isn't enough time!

Elsie wrote to me last week that she had read that you can  - and should - always find time for that which is most important to you.

but how?

People often ask me how I find enough time to do all the things I are a few suggestions I've worked on over the years..some might work for you, others won't I'm sure..many you probably already do!

don't be a nolde-noodle!!!!

1.  Always have a diary - digital, pencil, fancy, home made - doesn't matter....but always.  So easy to forget appointments etc.

2. Plan out each day - yes yes I hear you groaning from here!!!!  but you can plan in "down time" "relax time" or "zoning time"...that's fine.
but if you plan the day, you'll notice that for most of us there are actually 16 hours! and that's quite a lot!!!  The plan should be based on your to-do list...if you have a lot to do then prioritize (A list, B list etc or whatever method you like).
A lot of time is lost between tasks if you don't have them listed and prioritized...
Big projects should be divided up into manageable sections - this of course is easy for quilt makers for every quilt is a Big Project...but with several steps, many steps, along the way.

3.  One trick I've learned is that if you have several things to do, always do the one you LEAST want to do first...everything will seem easy after that!

4. Another is that for a Big Project, the first step can be just getting out Everything you need.
For example, couple of days ago I had to put together an adjustable bed that came in kit form...and I had been putting it off a couple of days knowing what a pain it is when "some assembly is required"!
so my first step (before the cup of tea!) was to lay out all the parts in order, and get the tools organized...and the instructions clearly to hand.  And I'm not "allowed" my cuppa until that first task is done.  It's strange ...but seeing it all laid out like that, almost makes you want to take that first step...
for quilters, having some place that you can leave Everything out ...ready to go even if you just have ten really helpful.

I think of it as being like Initial that it's always harder to start moving than to keep moving...I remember my first car - a 1948 Rover for those who are curious! - took about a gallon of petrol (gas) to start moving...but then it might roll for miles!!!

5.As you go through your day, notice where you "lose time".  This is one of the most helpful ways to improve your time management.  We all have different ways we "lose" it...and some we might not want to change!!!  e.g. walking around the garden to see what flowers just opened up etc...that's actually a good way to use time!  But having to go back to the grocery store for one item which we probably could have done without...well......or checking one's email every five minutes...hmmm
computer games are a big user of use them wisely..especially the ones with 30 second adverts.  UNLESS you stand up and do some push ups or squats during that time!!!
Make an especial note of time lost due to other people USING up your time.  People who want to stop and talk for example...just keep moving...very slowly....yes, it works!!!!  have a big smile on your face at the same time!!  Like they say, learning how to say "no".

6. Batching - don't do jobs, chores, errands etc in bits and pieces...stack them together in one batch.
for example, have one time a week for errands, drive to the one furthest away and plan an efficient route home calling in on all the others.  Don't go up and down stairs with one thing at a time, pile them all at the top/bottom and take all together when a bunch of them. Run machines when they are that unloading is more efficient.  Cook enough for 2, 3 or even 4 days.  Everlasting soups are a great boon!

7. Filing systems - can be a nice filing cabinet, or just a cardboard box that happens to be the right size...don't leave papers lying around....then you lose time looking for them!  And talking about pieces of paper - the old idea of handling a piece of paper just once is really helpful. Read it, make notes on it, file it or shred it.  If it requires a phone call do it right away so you don't lose time thinking about whom you have to call and why.
Emails: I try to answer right away, so I don't have to waste time going back several days later, rereading rethinking etc.
also pet peeve!!  don't "reply all" if it's a group email and that's not relevant...then YOU are wasting someone else's time!  Yes ! those seconds add up!

8. Don't do what does not need to be done! Now this definitely varies from one person to another.  e.g. I HAVE to make the bed! can't stand the look of an unmade bed, for another person that doesn't matter at for them - don't make the bed!!!  While it's good to patronize truly local businesses, if it's just a big box chain, then order on line - much more efficient.  If you like shopping, then do it as entertainment, but if you don't...don't waste time doing it.  When I had teenagers at home, I PAID them to do the grocery shopping!!! As you go through the day, think "do I really need to do this?" or "do I really need to do this every day?"  You can save a LOT of time by NOT doing things!

9.  If there's something Big and sure to spend a little time on it each day.
So for me, that is art, exercise and music.  Even if I just spend 10 minutes on a quilt....that all adds up...and doing it every day means that I know exactly where I'm at and doing have to spend a few minutes getting into the zone....

So good luck with the Time Management! and thank you for the question Elsie.
I'm sure there are LOTS of other ideas out please, comment!! and tell me them.

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

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

The Art and Technique of Design: practice AND feedback

What inspires us to design?
To actually want to arrange beautiful shapes in a beautiful and stunning way..

 I’m not asking what images do we find lovely, intriguing and inspirational. 
Instead, I mean what is it that will make us sit down and make a proper job of designing an art piece?

 There are many “design guidelines’, with which I’m exceeding familiar  but in the heat of the moment, or very often, on my part through sheer laziness, I say oh what the heck and just plunge in!  And in nearly every case I am soon confronted with a mess.  So then I spend ages and ages trying to fix it and simply end up with an overworked mess!! I think this can happen in any medium, I'm certainly coming across it in piles of "waste paper" grow daily!

But, without play it's unlikely we'll come up with anything new.  The first ideas you have are nearly always too rigid, too glued to the original image, too predictable.  So, you must forgive yourself for that!  But then when the idea is good and fresh...then what?

esb apr 11 plein air a

Well while research show that Practice and experience are really's not just hours and hours of's also Feedback
We all need feedback, and the more informed the feedback the better.  I give  a lot of feedback in my classes, both in reality and online, but I realise I need it for myself too.  In my situation I’ve found it more helpful to get feedback from people who work in other mediums because they’ll address the compositional issues.  Another quiltmaker would be inclined to focus more on the stitching or technical issues.  
So I joined a plein air painting group.  My cogitations led me to the idea that if I came up with a good design or selection of colors while composing and painting in the fresh air I could translate those to a quilt design.  Now this is a keen group of people working in many different mediums: oil, acrylic, watercolor, pastel, colored pencil, sumi-e ink, photography, collage, mixed media and sculpture.  (so obviously they needed a textile person too!) The leader of the group drives around the area seeking out inspirational views and then we are all emailed with a time and destination!  It’s great fun and one is much more inspired to design in the company of others.  As well as not feeling like a blinking idiot sitting on one’s own sketching on a muddy farm track or  in the botanical gardens!

esb apr 11 plein air b

Everybody sets about the task with great seriousness, and because we will all share the results at the end of the morning, I find I set to with proper intention and am much less inclined to mess about.  Also there’s the added fact that the computer, email and scrabble games don’t work in the middle of a field of canola! I’ve learned a lot from being in this group.  It makes me really use the knowledge I have.

yes, I know...groups come and groups prepared for that...but look for all opportunities to be out there practicing AND getting feedback.
EVEN if the feedback is not necessarily good, e.g. one friend I ask always likes the work with bright colors regardless of anything else!!!...even then the experience of looking at the work with someone else helps you to be more objective...

And, if you have been, thanks for reading, I’m headed off to a grass verge somewhere!     Elizabeth
PS All feedback is sooooooooooo helpful…please, just hit the comment tag and speak!

Wednesday, October 23, 2019


Went to get my flu shot this afternoon...what a glorious day it is!!!  periwinkle sky, the leaves and red and orange and yellow and gold...burnt sienna, and permanent rose, and quinacridone gold...and those beautiful dye mixes of fuchsia and sun yellow....just shifting proportions in each dye bath...
color so beautiful and delicious you want to bottle it to drink all winter!!

I was thinking while I was waiting about a TV show where the dancers were being critiqued and  I was struck by how applicable those comments were to Art Quilts and to paintings , or any art work.
The most frequent criticism was that the dancer’s technique was flawless, but the performance lacked something.   And oh, haven’t we all seen quilts just like that? Beautifully pieced, neatly assembled, straight binding etc but just blah.  They don’t grab you.   Recently I’ve seen some exquisite pieces with tiny bits of painted fabric, lots of extra stitching, many details…but they’re dead.  Oh yes, beautiful, but on to the next one, this one’s a corpse.

And technique isn’t limited to sewing and assembly skills.  I think it applies to the composition too.  You can have a piece that is harmonious (no sore thumbs, no kitchen sink), that is well balanced, where the rhythms  and repetitions are appropriate and varied, where there aren’t any elements that are unnecessary – but they don’t come to life, they don’t fascinate you.  Like a room decorated by a run of the mill interior designer: safe, beige....

So I was interested to see if the judges would give any particular advice on how to jump beyond these basic levels.
One obvious necessity was that the piece should cause an emotional response in the viewer.  There was one dance where the audience went totally quiet, it was chilling – the dancer was able to create a raw emotion which all watching felt immediately.  I don’t quite know how you’d achieve this in a quilt!!  But I did once show a piece to 4 friends, two said they loved it, two hated it – and they wanted to argue!  Maybe that’s a start.   I’ve also read many a juror’s statement and one of the things they always mention is looking for a piece that creates a visceral response from them.  You have to try to put the feeling into the art work as the dancer put it into his dance.

Another judge made a comment about the emotion being revealed by the details: little compositional adjustments that bring out what you feel about the piece.   So your quilt is about a crisp fall day where you literally feel you can can you push the freshness, the fall-ness, the bounciness?  What details must you be sure to include?  You might think of the colours of fall, the temperature of fall, the intensity of the colours, the turning of the leaves.... shown by an upward movement in the lines and shapes.  The temperature in Fall is often  cool, but occasionally you’ll hit a warm burst of air in the sunshine – include that.  The air has more space – make sure you have that space and openness in the piece.

Sometimes the judges talk about forgetting technique in favour of pushing the performance?  How could that work in an art quilt?  Your piece is about raggedy lonely old ladies….d’you want the quilt to be raggedy?  d’you want to surround those old ladies with space?  The piece is about fireworks – should the colours explode screamingly off the piece even if the colour scheme is then a jarring one?
One of the dancers clearly wanted approval from the audience throughout her piece and was told  that the first approval for a work must come from yourself, not an audience, real or imagined.  Don’t think “will they like it?”  (though, sadly, quilt sales might be better if “they” do; decorative and cute being ever more popular than real, fresh and meaningful).   Instead always seek to satisfy your own standards, does it say what you wanted it to say?  For this you might have to look deeper into who you are, and what you want to say and your motives for saying it.
The judges defined the successful dancer as one who had beauty, quirkiness, athleticism, technique, who knew  who he/she really was and also knew exactly what they were creating.  Some goals to reach!  Might manage the quirk, not sure about the athletics! 

And onward, ever onward.... so, if you have been, thanks for reading.  Elizabeth
Oh! and comment…do please comment!

Friday, October 18, 2019

What is a "modern" quilt? What is "improv"?

People often ask me about "modern" quilts.
Are they actually any different from traditional ones?
 Where did the term come from?
 What is so special about them?

 And: what does "improv" or "improvisational" piecing mean?

Well all of the pieces you see here were cut and sewn together using Improv techniques...they're probably a little more elaborate than your average "modern" quilt - yes I got a bit carried away!!! - but if you look at just a small section of any of'd be close to a modern quilt...for example...just the lighter rectangle on the right hand side of the quilt below...would be considered modern.

Modern quilts have really revolutionized the field of quilting, bring into it younger energetic folk who are in a hurry!!!  and that's great!  I completely applaud the movement.
What I don't applaud is then trying to create and sell specific "patterns".....for the whole thing about being modern and improv is that you take a few basics...and then make it your own!

To find out a bit more about my thoughts and prejudices (!) and have a go on your own, consider my Mod Meets Improv class - and see you how go.  I think you'll enjoy it, plus you have unlimited access to me - which may or may not be a good thing!!!

I'd also love to read your comments about the modern movement....I promise to answer every one!!

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