Sunday, March 1, 2015

Elements of Design: creating them on fabric....then using them.

My Dyeing to Design online class starts this Friday: March 6th (it's with academy of quilting).
This class is a really broad review of different ways of creating value, color, texture, shape and line.....on fabric...and then how to design a small quilt using those fabrics.

When you're designing a two dimensional art work you only have (believe it or not!) five things, known as elements, to arrange ......and they are value, color, texture, shape and line.
 However juggling five things at once isn't easy.

So I thought it would be fun to write an online class where we look at the elements one by one.
First creating them on fabric - using a variety of different surface design techniques (low water immersion, arashi shibori, screen printing with dye) - and then designing with them.

In the Value lesson, we mix dye concentrate (once mixed you've enough for the whole class...and for several months more experimenting if you wish!) and then make a set of fabrics of 8 or 9 different values - tones - from very light to very dark.  You know how you can never find more than 2 or 3 different values of a single color in commercial fabric?  And if you buy graduated hand dyes, they're in those dinky little packets tied with a ribbon - and Not Cheap!!
It's much better to learn how to do it for yourself!
Then I discuss how to use value in designing a quilt - and you make one too..

In the Color lesson, you can dye many different colors...but then think about choosing a good color scheme for a quilt...and  then make it!

In the Texture lesson, you learn how to make those marvelous arashi shibori patterns on cloth - in an easy way!!  This lesson alone is worth the price of the entire course!!  I used to make this fabric and sell (well not dinky beribboned packets that's not my style!) chunks of it...but now I think it's much more fun to teach people how to do it.

In the Line and Shape lessons, you learn how to create these elements on cloth by screen printing with thickened dye. And then make quilts...

The whole course is designed to make you think about and become familiar with the use of the different elements of design.  It also shows you exactly how to create those elements and then how to use that fabric in a quilt.  So it covers a lot of ground.  It's fun....and educational!!  I love learning and I hope you do too.

Of course I like having fun as well....and best of all, feet up thinking about what I've learned..along with a nice cup of tea.

If you have been, thanks for reading!  Elizabeth

P.S. I'm happy to answer any link on the side bar at the  top of the page.

Monday, February 23, 2015

A Little Dissonance

"Do you mind a little dissonance?"said the piano teacher as we discussed how to play a certain phrase.
I said I loved it - and realized, in saying  that, that the same principles hold in all the arts.  In pictures (whether made from paint or fiber*) we call dissonance "edge" , in pictures that move (i.e. films) it's known as dramatic tension - but it's the same phenomenon in all.  Even in a romance we would be bored silly if the heroine's romance was perfect from start to finish!  Boy meets girl, they fall in love and ride off into the sunset is pretty dull after all!!  no no we want girl meets boy, they fall in love, then Something Happens and all is in jeopardy, but with a courageous effort from somewhere, all is resolved!   Look at Dickens and the trials and tribulations his central characters went through in order to achieve their Great Expectations - which of course always turn out to be different, and nobler, as a result of the trials endured.  Classic Greek drama too.  And in cooking!!!  if all the tastes and textures are the same, it becomes so bland...even if all the colors are the same.  At the convent school I attended for 12 years - yes 12 years martyrs have done less time! - we would have grey mutton with white fat, white and grey lumpy mashed potatoes and cauliflower boiled down to a pinkish grey mush....yes even, I mean especially! - in food we need color and contrast! I learned about contrast early!

What purpose does the contrast, tension, edge, dissonance serve? why do we need it?    there area number of reasons.  The Greeks felt that in order to be completely satisfied by the drama we needed to feel different (and strong!) emotions when experiencing it.  Keen interest, horror, anger, despair, relief and finally joy.  Running an engine at all its different speeds gives it a good work out!
Eating a meal with different tastes, different oral textures, even different temperatures is so much more enjoyable.  Contrast not only draws our attention, it enervates us.  It tunes up our senses and our emotions.  it makes us feel and see and hear so much more clearly.  it is much richer an experience than the bland simpering sweetness of the Hallmark/Kinkaid variety.

How is the dissonance/tension achieved?  In music you can contrast rhythm, color (with different keys), timing, legato vs staccato notes, single versus many notes etc.  Now do these things sound familiar?? Oh yes:  contrast in values, contrast in color, contrast in shapes both positive and negative, textured versus solid fabric.   It's all the same principles in art quilts.

Very interestingly,  self taught artists  have always been very aware of the need for tension - think about jazz, think about the "who'd a thought it" quilt makers of Oakland and Gees Bend fame whose work lead to exciting new developments in art quilts in the '80s and '90s.   They were less bound by the "rules", less concerned to be following them, and more interested in the actual Impact of the work.
As Picasso noted to be able to paint like a child but with the knowledge of the trained artist was the way forward, the goal in art.

Does it work if the whole art work is dissonant?  Well....a protest song maybe....but generally if it's all dissonance we'll turn it off, tune it out.  So we don't want too much, we want a little tart salt, a little bitter lemon, a little vinegar on the chips (fries to y'all!).  The contrast in sound, or sight or taste or feel makes each component much richer.

I'm always looking for good topics, topics that are central to making exciting art work, for my Master Class (there is a significant waiting list for  the online version by the way, but do email me if you are interested.  Also there are just a couple of places left in the Actual version to be held on Cape Cod this June, email ambasatrvl AT for details).  I think it would be fascinating to see how we can introduce dissonance into our fiber pictures, our art quilts, using some of the ideas I've learned from music and the other arts.   I shall sit down with my laptop and a nice cup of tea and do a bit of cogitating on this one!

Consider adding dissonance!
And, if you have been, thanks for reading!    Elizabeth

* It's curious, isn't it, that if the artwork is made from paint it's called a picture and if it's made from fiber it's called a wall hanging.  And yet, most pictures are also hung on the wall...and art quilts are really pictures (whether abstract or representational).  I think I might refer to myself as a maker of pictures in future!!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

A Live Master Class: the synergy of actuality!

Seeking inspiration - I'm the one on the left!!
My online master class has proved amazingly popular - and I would really like to thank all those folk who were/are/will be in it! (I do have a waiting list by the way for 2016 - and there's an email link on the side bar).
 The master class is year long class and is  based on a private paid subscription email/blog. 
Assignments are sent out monthly - they're very open ended and address different design issues
 and some are just fun!   I’ll describe an “exploration” or directed exercise – 
nothing as limited as a specific project,
 but rather a set of instructions for a design (or designs), each month exploring a different 
concept, issue, topic or idea. 
You can make a quilt any size.  I won’t restrict your imagination!
 Quilts can be representational or abstract or somewhere in between. 
Which is usually where I am - somewhere in between!

Much of  my focus and input is on helping the students learn how to critique and evaluate 
their designs, and the quilts at every stage of construction.  
I believe in clarifying the strengths and the weaknesses, 
and suggesting solutions for the latter.  It's really important to be both constructive and specific.
Telling somebody "that doesn't work" without explaining WHY it doesn't work, and HOW one might
 fix it is simply an exercise in frustration.  And I did experience several classes like that myself
 until I saw the light!  
 And  decided instead to educate myself in the arts, as far as I can.

Since the online Master Class has been so popular, and since I know that a lot of people really love to 
take an actual class - to get away from home and immerse themselves totally in the Art of Art quilts
for a few days, it was decided to hold a Live Master Class this June at Falmouth, on Cape Cod.
There are just a few places left in this Live Master if you're interested, please contact
Linda Gallagher at           
 Linda is a travel agent and she can give advice and assistance re travel, accommodation etc.

It will be a whole week (8-12 June) of Master Class. 
 Several different assignments will be presented and the design issues involved discussed. 
 Each morning will begin with a description of  the assignment, 
and/or a Power Point lecture relating to it, and (where appropriate) a demo. 
After a delicious lunch (right there!), I will given lots of one on one advice all afternoon.

Both actuality and virtuality are,therefore, available!!  See you in class!
And, if you have been, thanks for reading.......Elizabeth

Monday, February 2, 2015

Reality versus Actuality: the battle of the classes!

In the old days to talk about the battle of the classes meant the serfs versus the nobs...... then the middle class rose and we were all middle class!! For a we're going back to serfs and nobs (them what have the loot!)....however, that's not what this post is about!

Instead, I'm reflecting upon a recent internet discussion on whether or not teaching art quilts is becoming less popular - or rather, whether taking such classes is becoming less popular.  Last May  I was at QSDS (Quilt Surface Design Symposium) - one of the very first of such venues started by Nancy Crow in the Art Quilt Year Dot.  Back in those days you practically had to stand in line overnight a year before to get into a class. Therefore I was quite surprised to note that the week I was teaching there were only 5 classes, of which only two had actually "made" the other three had very limited enrollment and probably (I really don't know for sure but it was suggested on the contract) the three teachers of the small classes accepted a reduced fee.  I also saw a similar thing at another classic venue later in the year.

There are a number of factors for this - most discussed already at length on the 'net....but one thing I think is that in so many ways we're now living our lives on the internet.  Let's face it traveling is NO Fun.   When I as a respectable prim old lady  coming through the "pre-check" lane still have to put up with hands down my pants (I'm not kidding!), the under wiring of my bra thoroughly examined, the bandages on my broken ankle removed,  my hands scoured for gun powder residue and my little "spot remover" pen taken away (!!), then you know it's getting bad.  Furthermore, much of this is either unnecessary or ineffective or both.

So there's the discomfort, and the expense of the real classes.  And the time involved - people say where are the young folk??  The poor sods are working every minute of the day, Americans work longer hours and take less time off than any other so-called civilized country!

Online classes, however, are burgeoning.  They're inexpensive, do not require travel, or vacation time.  You can "attend" whenever it suits you and they're surprisingly congenial.  I've been teaching online now for several years, first with Quilt University and currently with and there are numerous other venues.  I also have a year long master class involving monthly assignments and a lot of critiquing that I run myself.

I've discovered that I really think of the people in the classes - especially those who pop up again and again (thank you!) -  as friends, I feel I know them.  And they get to know each other.  And it's lovely just to go online and see what everyone is doing...and they can ask and I can answer questions a lot more easily than in a Real classroom. And I believe in real (though short and to the point) critiques - this is how we learn.  Because these are done on the internet, you can read and cogitate instead of having to react straight away as you would in a real life class.  Much more comfortable, and more effective because you can think through the suggestions that are made.

So I don't think taking classes is becoming less popular - but WHERE they are taken has changed.  In the same way that where we shop has changed, where we "borrow" our library books has changed.

And talking about online classes....I just happen to have one starting this Friday!!
It's called Inspired to Design and it's with  It's a really great intro to designing your own quilts based on photographs - your own - or others.  I say others because I do not advocate simply copying a photo -  not very creative and also there can be copyright problems.  But using a photo as a starting point for a design, and then adding in what you feel you want to emphasize, is just fine.  And creative.  So, if you'd like to be Inspired to Design.....then check out the class!
I promise you won't need to get your underwires examined!!

And, if you have been, thanks for reading!!  As always.....Elizabeth

A quilt cut up!

First...the cut up quilt!

Here's the original version:

It was a good quilt but a little bit too wide  - well over 5 ft which made shipping difficult and expensive...also I never really cared for the far right hand hand.

So I cut it up!!!  This must be about the twentieth quilt I've cut up one way or another, it may show that I'm slow to make up my mind, or that I'm inordinately reckless!!

Eniow.....(I'm trying to get this good looking word adopted by Spell Check - so far Spell Check is winning!)...eniow  here are the results:

and......just a little fellow:.....(15 x 21)....(different camera, different lightly).

So tell me what you think....I'm wondering about slicing a bit more off the bottom of the big one!!!

And then I think I've got a couple more rolled up that could probably use a bit of a trim....hmmm...will have to get them out and see.....

off for a bit of cogitation with me cuppa tea!

If you have been, thanks for reading!  Elizabeth

Friday, January 23, 2015

Drawing is a technical skill not an inborn talent

Every time I teach a class and suggest people make a quick value sketch before attacked fabric with scissors, there's always some poor soul who sadly regrets not having a talent for drawing.
Well there are something you are born with - like long legs, or red hair (I have one but not the other!! though I guess red hair is achievable!!)  and there are some things you learn as you go along.  Like learning to drive, learning to eat with a knife and fork (though I feel like my grandson will never master that!), learning to read and learning to write.  Learning to write - hmm - isn't that a bit like - er - drawing????  You copy shapes, right?  What is drawing? Copying begin with simple ones, copying printed ones, and then gradually get more complex and make up your own.  Is anyone born who is able to write without any instruction?

But - for the purposes of making art quilts, does one really need to be able to draw well?
The value sketch is just a rough road map, now you could draw an elegant map of how to get to your house from the nearest grocery store - or you could draw a rough sketch.  The latter would be perfectly functional - and that's all you need to plan out your quilt..
Here are some steps and tips I have found helpful from both books and a few drawing lessons: 

SubjectThe first step is to decide what you are going to draw! What is the best way of finding your composition? I think it’s helpful to use a Viewfinder or crop tools. You can actually buy cardboard frames with clear plastic in divided into 4 or 9…or you can make one – with or without the plastic..or you can simply cut two L shapes from card. I find the Ls easier when working from photographs because you can adjust the frame size. If you are working live, whether outside or in, then a Viewfinder you can hold with one hand is easier: simply move the frame (usually a rectangle, but whatever you want the shape of the piece to be) nearer or further from you. Most of us are used to doing this with a camera, so we already have helpful experience of this step. Sometimes I’ll take out my camera and just look through the lens to find an interesting composition.
when it comes to looking for ideas for quilts - I'll also do research on the internet.  I wanted to make a quilt with the outlines of hawthorn trees on it, for example - well they don't grow round here so I couldn't just go and photograph them (though that would be the best thing) instead I just searched for "images of hawthorn trees" and then made a quick sketchy copy of what I found.

The Beginning 
On a piece of paper draw in the first four lines: the outside edges, in the same shape and ratio of sides to top/bottom as your view finder or crop tools. Then, very faintly, indicate the “horizon” line, the line that is level with your eyes as you sit or stand. For example if you’re looking at a sea scene, the level of the sea against the sky is the horizon line, the end of the street in a street scene and so on.
Always begin with those first four lines - these are "grounding lines".

The edge connections.  Then make little marks (dashes or dots!) where the objects within the scene, whether trees or bottles or kittens,  intersect with those first four lines. This makes sure that you get everything into the drawing that you have selected in your view finder or crop tools. I know if I don’t do this I invariably run out of space!! It’s easy to see the half way mark on the view finder (vf) and the half way mark on the scene. For example if I like through the vf and see the edge of a roof. Where does that edge intersect with the frame of the vf? Is it half way up the left hand side? A quarter of the way from the top? As quilters we’re used to eyeballing these kinds of distances.
So if the roof line intersects with the vf on the left hand side, at ¼ of the way down from its top edge then I make a little mark on my paper at the same point i.e. 1/4 of the way down from the top edge.

I actually use this exact same procedure of looking for half way points, intersection points etc, in cutting out shapes freehand for a piece when I assemble a quilt.
And you use this same procedure when it comes to enlarging the shape onto fabric for your quilt when you come to cutting out.  So it's good to get in the practice!
Being able to do this eliminates the need for a full size cartoon when making a quilt based on a sketch.  his saves, time, gas, paper and pollution - what else could you ask for?!

Two dimensions is easier than three.  If you’re working from an actual scene as opposed to a 2-d photograph, it helps to reduce the 3 dimensional scene to only two. How d’you do that? By closing one eye. Before you do that, look at an object in front of you first with just your left, then just with your right eye. See how the object jumps?? That makes it very difficult to draw, because your drawing is only in 2 dimensions. So close one eye if you find that everything keeps jumping around!! Which one to close? Your less dominant one. 

 Look at what you’re drawing.  As you draw, look frequently at the object you are drawing if you want it to be accurate. Though one teacher (can’t remember if it was Hans Hoffman, someone of that ilk) – used to make his students look at an object in one room for 5 minutes, then sprint back to the adjacent room to actually draw it!! He felt that the exercise improved visual memory!! It certainly would improve one’s level of fitness!

 Elements (line and shape) only.  As you draw the contour lines, don’t think “boat” or “roof” or “bottle”, think instead “this line goes from ¼ of the way down the left hand side across to a point about halfway across and 3/4 of t he way down the rectangle (or square). Just think about lines going from point A to point B. Like little trails on a map.  
Sometimes it’s easier to think about drawing the negative shapes – i.e. the spaces behind things, while focusing on them you are less likely to be distracted by the actuality of the object.
thinking about objects in terms of shapes helps you to make natural and interesting arrangements much more easily.  If I gave you 3 triangles and 5 squares each of different sizes I bet you could come up with half a dozen pleasing arrangements very quickly.  If instead I said draw me a picture based on this photograph of 3 trees and five houses, I think you'd find it a lot more difficult.

8Angles  If the lines are angled, the easiest thing to do is to hold up your pencil against the view or the photograph and line it up with the angle…then, holding it carefully in the same position, mark that angle on the page. If that doesn’t work for you, then you could use a protractor. I like the nice big ones. Or…when working from a photograph, you can line up(i.e. make sure that the verticals and horizontals on both photo and sketch paper are all exactly vertical and horizontal!) the photograph adjacent to your sketch paper and put a long ruler on the angle on the photograph, such that it protrudes beyond and onto the correct place on the paper. I use this for cutting out correct angles too. I simply line up the sketch with my fabric and continue the angle out from my drawing to the cloth. Try it, it works!!

 Major shapes first.  Get the big shapes and the longest lines in place first. Details are far less important, don’t even think about them until all the big stuff is in place!!! No you can’t mess about putting in all those little windows yet! This is also Very True in designing quilts. And don’t think about shading or colour yet either!
Remember:  you generally put on your top and pants before adding earrings!

Light and Dark.  Before you start shading, decide where the light is coming from (or...Where you'd LIKE it to come from) ….if you’re inside, set up a single light source, if working plein air the most interesting times to go out and draw are early or late on a sunny day – because of the nice long shadows! Having shadows creates depth and adds to the value range. If you take a picture of nearly any quilt, scan into photoshop and increase the contrast (Image-adjustments-contrast), it will improve it. Why? Because you increased the value range. What increases the range? Light!
If you are working from a photograph, look to see where the darkest darks and lightest lights are. What was the direction of light in the scene? You don’t have to necessarily follow this (Rembrandt didn’t always) but it’s better if you use light and shadow thoughtfully.
It’s easiest to spot the very darkest values first, so start with those. I think it’s helpful to have a little value scale (even if it’s just 5 values: light, med light, med, med dark, dark) drawn out on the side of the paper to refer to. Do the darkest darks, note where the lightest lights are and reserve those. I often put a little pencil dot in them so I know “don’t shade this!”. Then look for the mediums. Do make sure you have a good range of values. If you look at our very best art quilters you will see that in all their major works, there is a great range. And remember the Photoshop experiment!! Push the light values lighter (if you’re using a pencil simply erase) and the dark values darker.

Maturing on the wall.  Finally, when you feel you’ve finished the drawing, pin it up on the design wall to mature for a few days or weeks…if there’s anything untoward it will make itself known! Believe me!

Anybody who can write their signature can draw - with practice.
If you have been, thanks for reading!  Elizabeth  

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Orthogonality of Art and Craft

It's fun to go out with a few friends and look for inspiration!  Before we set out yesterday, my little photography group (Magical Mystery Tour Photographers)   got together for an excellent potluck lunch (so love potluck meals!! a great invention) and chatted.  The old question came up from one of them: is photography art or craft?  A question we've heard so often in the textile field.  I expounded my theory that the two are orthogonal - i.e. not related in any way, but at right angles to each other.  Any art practitioner (I hesitate to use the word "artist" without actually defining it) can be low or high (skilled or unskilled) on either art or craft.  

Think about this in terms of quilting.  A quilter low on art but high on craft would make incredibly beautifully crafted quilts that were either dead boring or absolute reproductions of traditional work.
Like those Jacobean sampler quilts I've seen - appliqu├ęd stylized flowers on a dark background - every stitch and shape meticulous, copying the published patterns.
Whereas a quilter high on art but low on craft might make something that was extraordinarily creative but had lumps and bumps and unintentionally hanging threads and bits that didn't quite come together.
Somebody trying to make a quilt for the first time might follow a pattern from a book and have very bad stitching too!  The worst of both co-ordinates!
And the place where we all aim to be, of course, is high on craft: beautifully made work that is also incredibly fresh and creative and marvelously composed.
There is no either or or!!!  I can be tall or short, I can be fat or thin.  I can be tall and fat or tall and thin.  I can be good at mathematics and poor at languages or brilliant at both.   We always want to be good at everything of course!!  And we all know what it takes:  time, persistence and good teaching.

So, don't spend your time arguing whether it's art or craft, rather spend the time practicing!

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

Oh...and here's one of my photos:

 Below two quilts that this kind of photograph inspired: On one, I've added other colors (grey, brown) to the palette but kept with the branching movement of the lines.

And on the one below, I've used the palette and the contrast of skinny lines with larger dark areas: