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!!!

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