Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Questions one is asked......

Ellen Lindner asked me to answer the following:

1. What am I working on?
2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
3. Why do I write/create what I do?
4. How does my writing/creating process work?

Yikes!! ... 3 volumes later....

but here is the short answer:

After a year of travelling - seeing amazing places - I'm  mentally consolidating all I've seen...absorbing the images and seeing which ones "hold" for me. 
 Most of my quilts (even the abstract ones)  have been based on very early photographs:

Here's a typical sequence: the photo, the drawing, the quilt.

 I'm not going to tell you just how long ago I took that photograph!!  But it's in York, UK...not too far from the Kirk Museum (if it's still called that!) - a street close to the bar walls behind the museum.  I remembered the photo not only for the moment (apparently he'd never permitted a photograph before but I caught him unawares) but also the juxtaposition of boy, bicycle and old streets.

 Here's part of the drawing I made - I think there was more - but these things disappear!!

 And above is the finished quilt.  A typical process for me.    The boy is ghostly because of course he's long gone, the streets remain the same.....and glow with the freshness of sweet old memory.

It takes time for images to sink in:  I don't really know why this should be but I think it's, in part, because the younger you are the more impressionable you gets harder and harder (but of course even more important for an artist) to achieve those same fresh responses, the strong reactions, and also to lay down significant memories that stay with you for years.   At age six I could lie on the warm paving stones underneath the rose bushes in the local park and just watch the petals against the sky and smell the marvelous scent of the flowers....alas,  that's not really possible now!!!  imagine!! 
Also, the old city streets I made quilts about I walked every day for around 14 that's a significant amount of time:  almost 5000 days...I've not been able to spend 5000 days looking at Paris, or Western Colorado or the loess hills of SE name just a few of the gorgeous sceneries I've been privileged to visit this year.    But I do have the photographs, and the mental images and I am cogitating.......

So, if you have been - thanks for reading!!  Elizabeth ........  now back to the cogitation!

PS you can read Ellen's responses to her own questions on her blog. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

...and yet another class...

with some very talented ladies in Grand Forks - and the best laughers of any group I've come across!!
As a teacher, it's lovely when people listen attentively to information, but even better when they laugh  uproariously at one's jokes - such as they are!!!

We spent a couple of days on designing, then one day on completeling value sketches and choosing color schemes...and finally into the sewing...
Here are some of their designs:

What's lovely is how varied they are....nobody's looks like anyone else's at all...and each person can use the construction method with which they are most familiar to create the quilt.  I do think that the type of construction method you use should be something you're good at...and that the design should come first, and the method of construction second.  Also the quilting pattern should be subservient to the design, rather than a totally irrelevant display of quilting virtuosity!!!
I also like art to Mean be something that is important and meaningful to the artist - doesn't matter if it's abstract, impressionistic, realistic, hyperrealistic...but it should have the Artist's heart and mind and hand within it.

Here's an image from Grand Forks that I think would make a great watercolor!!!  And I'll always remember standing on the spot from which I took this photo with the mild October breeze, the warmth of the sun...and the laughter of all those lovely ladies!!!

And now up to the little quilt museum at La Conner, WA.  I had a show there last year but, alas, could not attend...however it will be much more interesting to see someone else's show!!!

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

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

On the Road...

One of the great things about teaching quilt workshops is all the amazing places you get to visit and the people you enjoy meeting.
This week I'm in Sisters, Oregon.
 It is an old forestry town now converted to a tourist place...very pretty with lovely hanging baskets of purple petunias, and lots of pretty plantings alongside the Western style shops.  The Sisters in question are three mountains part of the Cascade chain - which can be seen in the distance from the edge of town..within the town we're deep in pine woods.

I took the photo on the left on the way to breakfast this morning!!

And here's me teaching.....

I only hope the solemn look on the ladies is concentration and not despair!!!  They worked really hard and produced some super designs...I set the parameters tightly at first emphasizing major important points in creating strong composition - like unity with variety - and then gradually broaden the variables.
Here are a few of their designs:

I think there's a good chance at least one of them will find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow:

If you have been - thanks for reading!!!  and please do make comments...also I'd be very interested in any topics you might suggest for the blog...  thank you!!  Elizabeth

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Best Place to start a design… directed by Sherlock Holmes…

 A lot of people like to begin their quilt design with a photograph; I have very often done that myself.  It’s really hard to begin with just a blank page when writing or a blank canvas when painting – so I wouldn’t expect quiltmakers to be any different.  Why should they have to begin with a blank wall, an empty cutting table and all their fabrics neatly stashed away according to color in drawers, shelves or boxes when artists in other media don't?

However, when it comes to choosing that inspiration,  I find many many quiltmakers do not know where to begin.  They have a beautiful folder full of gorgeous photographs, but they don’t know which ones will lead to a good design.

 Now I must say upfront that in ART there is no way that you can get it right from the outset!! Unless of course, you’re filling in a paint-by-numbers picture, or following a quilt pattern.  There are no guarantees.  And if you really want guarantees, if you really want to know that every single minute of your effort, every piece of cloth and stitch is going straight to a perfect end then I suggest you do stick to the patterns that someone else has worked out for you – there are lots and lots of wonderful ones.  But if you have an adventurous creative spirit – as I suspect most of us do! – then I know that you’re willing to take a few risks…..and many many famous artists have told us over and over that without risk there is no original art.  So you’re in good company!

Let’s look at some steps you can take in choosing a photograph or other inspiration source that will help you to focus on what is important, what might be more likely to work out well.

Elimination is the key
As all good detectives know (beginning with dear old Sherlock of course!), it’s a great help to eliminate things.  Narrow the field to the likely candidates.  If the reason that you chose the inspiration picture is totally based on any of the following, and nothing else, then I would eliminate it.

Color is not important at all – any color can be changed. Keep the gorgeous colored pictures in a separate “color inspiration” folder.

Value isn’t important, you can develop a strong value pattern on any background. E.g. a white wall can have all sorts of enticing shadows cast upon it…a sky can have clouds and nuances, stacks of white boxes can have light, reflected light, cast shadow, shadowed sides, side horizontal to the light source, side vertical to the light sources….

I don’t even think texture is the key, since you can add it too…unless your piece were all about a specific texture in which case I could definitely see beginning with it….

Subject too is largely immaterial – a good artist can make an interesting design out of any subject, in fact that’s one of the important things about art – helping us see the beauty and design that can exist anywhere.  The same is true of poetry: think about the poem by Rose Fylman that we all knew as kids: It begins: “I think mice are nice”!! 

Size – I have not found the size of the source material to be of any concern, small images can be enlarged, large ones made small.

Medium: again no problem, designs can be developed based on any medium that you can translate into a simple sketch: photos, paintings, fiber art, sculptures, theater…film, tv.
Incoherent jumbles of many different random objects.  Sometimes by using your crop tools, you can find some areas that will work, but as a whole these are very difficult to work with.

So, having taken out all the photos that related more to the above concepts, what does that leave us??

Lines and shapes and the relationships between them.   
And this is the key.  Look for pictures that have good interesting shapes, that are fairly clear (a few lost edges will add to your design so don’t worry about them), and where the relationships between those shapes is an interesting one.  These are your likely candidates.
Spread them out so you can look at them all together, which ones pull your eyes and your heart?  Eliminate the ho-hum ones. 

Now you should be down to a very few….are there similarities between them?  Can you take one shape from one and add it into another? Are those shapes strong and interesting – by interesting I mean not a stack of straight sided boxes!!  Great for organizing your files, but BORING in art work!

I would then sketch out the main shapes in those remaining photos, then continue your search for the perfect starting point with the sketches ONLY.  Soon, I think, one will stand out…and if it doesn’t, if they’re all equally brilliant – well then you’ve got perfect ideas for several quilts!!!

If you have been, thanks for reading!!!  And any tips or comments you’d like to pass on….I’d love to read them!!   Elizabeth

The "What the Hell?" award.

I was reading an interesting book about jurying for piano competitions. The author felt that when you have three jurors together they tend to give the awards to the tried and true…not the person who’s doing some experimental work, pushing their ideas and their musician ship further, but rather the person who adheres to the currently accepted ideas of what is correct in piano playing.  Furthermore he felt that they tend to judge by things that are quantifiable: i.e. speed, accuracy of notes and tempi etc. 

It’s also clear that when new art (whether in music, or in painting or in fiber art) is first made public, it is frequently misunderstood, underestimated, ignored, disparaged (“my five year old could do that” – somebody actually said  to me that of a quilt design once!!), even condemned.  There is, it seems, a distance between fashionable norms (of any art form) and the artistic challenge.  Would the work of some of our most innovative and inspiring art quilters have even been accepted a few decades ago?

I know when I go to a quilt show, or look at a book of quilts, I see an Awful Lot of Predictable work…and very little that actually shows me something different.  I’m sure there are many reasons for this that relate to the quiltmaker, the publishers of magazines and books, the tendency for the market place to always dilute ideas so that the greatest number of people can understand and therefore BUY!   But also I wonder if the jurors aren’t to some extent to blame too.

Why are the winners so predictable?  I think that there is a tendency for the hierarchy within the quilting world to both represent and defend the prevailing aesthetic.  People say “oh it doesn’t matter who the jurors are” – I think they’re clearly wrong…and the more jurors you have, the more you will skew the results towards the present norm.  And the weirdoes and iconoclasts who might try some ideas that disturb the quilt world (remember all the furor about a skeleton quilt a few years ago?) face significant  prejudice.

 Furthermore, many of the jurors of the more traditional shows are “trained” to follow a specific standard.  Which seems totally bizarre!   If they are following a standard prescribed by some “authoritative body”, they are not even making their own judgments!  And so we continue to pursue the status quo.  The pianists go faster and faster, the quiltmakers make tinier and tinier stitches, or buy machines that make sure that their stitches are as machine like as possible!!

 Perhaps there could be a category for Different Quilts.  We’ve got landscapes and cityscapes and abstracts and florals and other nature themes, and now we have “modern” quilts, well what about “Different Quilts”?  Quilt that really challenge us, quilts that break the rules, and appear to develop their own rules.  Quilts that can’t be easily categorized, that are not very comfortable.  Quilts that might appear ugly at first sight, but then you remember them and have to go back and have another look.  Dystonic quilts, awkward quilts, odd quilts – but still having their own internal logic.

Can we get away from the Tame?  Will the jurors take some risks too – and stop worrying about fashionability, decorum, taste and general acceptability? 

Can we have more quiltmakers who will transfix us with their sheer force and uniqueness?  Yes there are a few out there – and I’d love for you to nominate them in the Comments!   I would definitely put people like Dorothy Caldwell into that category.

The Kiss of Death for any creative person should be that Awful “Viewers’ Choice” award – the award that goes to the most easily digestible pretty pap in the show!!  Instead let’s have a “What the Hell?!!” award!

Well I’m off to consider my WTH piece…with a nice cuppa tea of course!

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

PS I just noticed that for some weird reason my blog of last week never got uploaded!!  So apologies - I'll put it up next week.   or maybe the week after I'll be traveling it will be good to have something "in the bag"!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Making Life More (than) Bearable

I came across an interesting quotation from Kurt Vonnegut (A Man without a Country):

“If you want to really hurt your parents, and you don't have the nerve to be gay, the least you can do is go into the arts. I'm not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven's sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possible can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”

The quotation set me off cogitating – well it doesn’t take much as you’ve probably noticed (!) but it definitely posed an interesting question viz:

How many reasons are there to practice an art?

It makes you a more interesting person
For one thing, have you noticed how those people who practice no art at all are boring and lifeless?  And how engaging and fascinating those are who do practice some art form – no matter what. ( Educational background is not particularly relevant here, especially with today’s artless curricula.  Yes there are great art classes in the private schools, but that’s not where most of our children go…and of course I’m off topic..not difficult for me with my knight's move thinking....But just notice how those who sing, dance, play an instrument, write, draw, paint, quilt, mess about with bits of metal or stone or wood…etc are really fascinating people. Being creative makes you more alive.

It’s actually very good for the brain!
There’s a vogue right now for “brain puzzles” to improve your brain.  These are actually a complete scam based on the suggestion (never proven, several experimenters have tried to prove this and failed) that they will help your brain, or prevent dementia.  They’re sold by the same people who sell you expensive creams to turn your skin overnight from skin with the gentle honest patina of age, into dewy youth!! And the reason those puzzles don’t work its because in doing them you’re essentially practicing the same skills over and over.  Suduko not only gets boring once you’ve figured out the main steps towards solving it, but also does not make those little bits of grey matter any more active!
BUT – any Art involves the constant learning of new skills, the constant development of new ideas, the practicing of new steps, new compositions, new raw materials, creating new designs.

It is much more rewarding being actively engaged in life, rather than passively watching others do things.
I always feel so sad when tv “specials” show people having a good time – at a holiday, or a party, a special event and they suggest to you that by watching those people partying you will yourself feel as if you too had a good time.  Vicarious living.  Art engages you with real paint, real cloth, real words, real raw materials, real discussions – you don’t need to watch other people having a good time (or more likely pretending to be having a good time for the cameras!), you can do it yourself!!

The creative life is not only bearable, but good
Well Vonnegut wasn’t always the happiest of blokes, so if  he found creativity to make life bearable, I would think for most of us, it would take the quality of life up from bearable into Definitely Good – something worth getting up in the morning for!

Your comments!
So, why do you think that practicing an art is good for you?  Would you agree with Vonnegut, or disagree?  Have you noticed a difference since you became an art quilter?
  Please do comment – especially creatively!! Remember what it can do for you – and it’s free!!  And, thank you so much for reading – if you have been of course!!!   Elizabeth
  ps  note the importance of a nice cuppa tea when practicing.................................

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Women Rule, or If Only Gandalf was a Woman!

Isn’t it lovely to come across a new artist whose work you absolutely fall in love with?Look to The Women!
My Abstract Art for Quiltmakers class (both real and virtual!) is based on the work of 20th and 21st century female abstract artists.  I chose female artists because, since their work is often not well known, it has a freshness and a vibrancy to it that pulls you in to look further.  After all, who wants to see another blessed soup can??!!  We all love something novel.

 There are many reasons why female artists are little known.  In her book Women, Art and Society, Whitney Chadwick explores several centuries of feminine artists. Even though excellent women painters have always existed, academies, such as the Royal Academy in England, preferred to relegate them to the subjects of paintings, rather than the makers of paintings.  Art history books, museum collections, auction prices etc all are evidence of a complete and utter lack of respect for work by women.  Alas, the lack of recognition was widespread: not just in art, but politics, religion – even sport – though that is certainly beginning to improve as people realize that intelligence and elegance are at least the equal of power and aggression.

Economics, as ever, have always been a factor: paintings by men have always sold for more than paintings by women.  And, of course, books by men were more likely to be published (consider Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell), and also musical compositions.  Sometimes the works would be attributed to men when they were actually created by women.  Undoubtedly the same pattern holds true for all the arts, sciences (look at the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA) and other areas of knowledge.

Whatever the psychological, social and economic reasons for this, it does mean that there is a whole world of work produced by women out there which is likely to be new and inspiring for us!  Alas, we really can’t change history – though, of course, as many have noticed, the writing of history is vey fickle and changeable.  We probably have never known and will never know the exact “truth” of most that has happened to human beings.  Our personal perspective always distorts, usually unintentionally – but sometimes very intentionally – but that’s another issue!

So, whenever you research art….whatever the era: the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Age of Reason, the Victorian paintings, modern and abstract art, post modern art and into the present day – look for The Women!!  Their work is strong, it’s tender, it’s fresh, it’s waiting to be discovered. Let’s create a demand for it!  And I’m still waiting for women to rule the world!

If you have been, thanks for reading!   Elizabeth

PS – I’d bet that far more women than men take online classes and far more women are active in pursuing more knowledge in retirement…..the men are in front of the telly, the women are learning!!!
As you know I teach online at the Academy of Quilting – I have several classes, alas no men (unless of course they’re masquerading under a female name!!!  Now that would be a nice reversal of  events wouldn’t it?).
If you’ve never taken an online class, by the way,  and would like to check one out free of charge, no obligation (as they say) – Ruth Arbee, the Dean of the Academy is running one right now: