Thursday, June 30, 2016

Constructive Ideas...or....gluephobia!

Ambivalence  48"h, 35"w

Recently I've been asked several times about construction - it seems like an awful lot of people are fusing these days and people want to know what I use.  Well, I've never really tried fusing...I haven't needed to...I don't know whether it's the type of quilts I make or my fondness for the stitch or my fear of glue!

I do always work from a sketch, not being fond of racing back and forth to the design wall like a retriever, but my sketch can be pretty rough.  However, it does mean I have a very good idea of which pieces are going  to go where, and the order in which they can be sewn together.
I usually have two copies of the sketch - one with the values  (light, medium and dark).  The value sketch is on the design wall next to where I'm blocking out the quilt.  Then I have a gridded line drawing that shows the shapes and proportions - it's on the cutting table.  The grid helps me to calculate the size of each piece of  fabric I cut out. I look at the sketch, calculate the size, add seam allowance, cut out...stroll to the wall and pin it up!

So you can see - for the quilt at the top of the page...once I'd pinned everything up and made sure all the proportions and values were correct, and it looked the way I wanted it to...once that was done, all I had to do was piece those strips together...then piece the strips...

My fabric is sorted by value.  and I never pull from my whole stash...once I've decided on a color scheme, I pull out all the fabrics I think I'll use and put the rest away.  Too many choices know what!! And, I'm not keen on quilts with a rainbow jumble of colors.

Electric Fields 34"h, 45"w

 I  think it's important that you should make work that you personally like!!!  Even if your friends and family think it's totally weird.  Yes, I've been greeted with many a puzzled look and a "well, what's it supposed to be?"!!!  You just have to plough on through that one!  The quilt above (currently in the SAQA show Concrete and Grasslands) was shown to 4 friends, two loved it, two hated it - so I guess - on average - it was deemed acceptable!  Statistically kidding apart, people definitely thought it was weird...until the perfect show came along ...and then they got it.

For the quilt above I pieced the two big background fabrics... the sky (background) and the rape field  (foreground)...then I appliqued the cooling towers onto the horizon and then layered various scraps of silk over the top to make them look beautiful...and no! they are not elephant legs upside down!!

And yes, the bottom fabric is all shibori - arashi shibori - here's a detail:

You can see I like hand stitching!! 
well, time for a nice cuppa tea, I think...
If you have been, thanks for reading...and not thinking about elephants!   Elizabeth

and....I look forward to reading your comments!

Saturday, June 18, 2016

From Folk to Abstract.....


Just got back from a great week at John C Campbell Folk School which is in a most beautiful part of Western North Carolina - they have a whole gorgeous wide valley to themselves, and I love to see the green space with the mountains beyond....the old, old, Smoky Mountains - some of the oldest mountains in the world, so very softly rounded and cloaked in trees....greeny blue waves going off into the distance..a great example of aerial perspective!

I was taking a painting class, and of course all the art principles are just the  same no matter what the it's always helpful to practice them over and over...trying to get that "knowledge beneath the surface" or "muscle memory" .......

Working with abstract design (which is really the best way to think of any design - shapes and values!!!  not mountains and valleys...) is a really great way to get to be a better artist.
And this week my Abstract Art for Quiltmakers class starts at
When I started researching abstract art to get some ideas for some abstract quilts, I was really struck by how nearly all the "Big Names" - the most well known abstract painters - are men.  Arn't there any good women abstract painters?  Well, of course there are - tons!  And so I decided to build this class totally around women abstract each lesson I describe the work of 2 or 3 of them, and then show you just how they created their abstract paintings.  I devised detailed steps for several exercises each week which will yield a bunch of new the end of  the class, your design wall would be covered with designs!  Of course you can stop designing and start any point you wish.  I'm in class pretty much all the time in order to help you.
Here's a quote from an evaluation from a previous class - and I've no idea who sent this in - but I was thrilled to get it!

"Imagine buying an E-book with both practical and inspirational design ideas and then discovering that it has magically added another room to your house, somewhere between your computer and your sewing room. Not only are the comprehensive instructional materials right there, you can go into that room at any time, day or night, and find your own equipment and stash waiting for you. Nearby are large tables where other students are working. You can look at each other’s work, hear everyone’s questions to the teacher, see the results of their research, and join in any conversation.
Elizabeth’s comments are helpful and encouraging and several times a day she is in this cyber-room, offering suggestions for improvement or links to relevant sites on the internet --- always being focussed on the specific interests and needs of each student. I have taken many classes in the “real” world and online, and I have never received so much personal attention.
Working at home, we have access to all our own fabric and equipment. We haven’t had to choose what to take to with us, drag along our sewing machines, pay for a plane ticket, or wait in long security lines.
The instructional materials are excellent, meticulously planned and illustrated. Because of the feedback from the teacher and the class, I actually have done the exercises suggested --- not the case when I read a book on my own."

Happy to answer any questions...and LOVE to have comments!!! please ...feel free...
anyone fancy a nice cuppa tea?  I'm putting the kettle on!

If you have been, thanks for reading!  Elizabeth

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Problem solving for the artist....

 The fiber artist at work:  There's a flurry of cutting and pinning up on the design board...there's sewing and unpicking and cursing, and jubilation and despair and discarded shards of fabric all over the studio floor.........
and then you come back the next day and look at the wall and the awful truth is revealed:

It's not working.....

We've all been what is the next step?
Alas, sewing it all together while saying "the quilting will help"....or "I might add some beads"...or lace...or, in dire circumstances, both(!!) does not work.

Does not work, even though sometimes the quilt with the most junk affixed to it wins the show!!!  A tour de force of fixology!
By the way: Just because a quilt gets into a quilt  show doesn't mean it's actually any good!  Quilts get into shows for a variety of reasons...yes, reason #1 is because it's a very good and striking design and beautifully made.  But also they get in because many shows are judged by photographs....and so what got in was actually the photograph, rather than the quilt.  Sometimes the jurors are told: you've picked the best...and they'll fill up half the gallery, now pick the next best, and the next and the next.
Also, jurors are human!!  (yes, it's true!) Some really hate a certain color, really love another color.  They all have prejudices and biases - no matter what they say.  Psychological experiments have shown for years that even if we truly believe we're not acting on our prejudices...we are.   The teacher unknowingly spends a little more time explaining something to the  pretty child, than to the ugly one.

So don't add "stuff" just because the prize winner at the local show had added stuff.....

Instead: diagnose...

It's very hard to solve  a problem when you don't know what it is!  That's why it's good to get an actual diagnosis when you go to the doctor's!!  (of course sometimes you don't get a diagnosis, but rather  the equivalent of extra quilting, or beads or lace !!  but that's another issue).

What is  the actual problem?  Why is this quilt "not working"? And, by the way, what does "not working" actually mean?  I must admit I really dislike this phrase...and the slightly upmarket version of it "it's not well resolved"  !!  Both are very vague and not in the  least bit helpful.

The function of most art work is 
  1. to attract your attention and  
  2. keep it.  

Diagnosis 1: it might not attract your attention, because it's plain boring!
Diagnosis 2: it might not keep your attention, because it's in some way distasteful for you.

To fix problem 1:
If it's boring, almost certainly you don't have enough contrast: contrast of any one or more of the elements that go to make up a design:  line, shape, value, color, texture.  It's helpful to work through these one at a time (and the most likely culprit, by the way, is value) to find the what's missing.
Contrast creates tension - tension keeps our interest.

To fix problem 2:
If it attracted your attention but then you really didn't want to keep looking at it, it's probably because it has no unity, no harmony, it's a chaotic mishmash of stuff with no clear message.
You don't have a basic structure, you don't have a focus, you have too many different elements.

Think of these 2 problems in musical terms:
problem 1 would be suggested by a piece of music that was one repeated note: the same note at the same speed and the same volume and the same degree of resonance.
problem 2 is the piece of music that's just a cacophony of sound - the piano piece composed by a computer that included every one of the 88 notes on a piano keyboard, in random order, each just once!

So...what d'you think?  What d'you feel is the function of art work?  The most likely problems, and the clear solutions to those problems???  Do they fit into the format I suggest...or are there other difficulties?  do let me know!!  After all, I'm going to have a nice cuppa tea......
And, if you have been, thanks for reading!    Elizabeth

Monday, May 30, 2016

Inspired to Design class

My Academy of Quilting classes generally start on the first Friday of the month...and this month the class starting is Inspired to Design.  It's the first class I wrote and probably the most popular - I was asked to write a book based on it after a few years.

My other design classes are  Working in Series, and Abstract Art for Quiltmakers and More Abstract art for quiltmakers.  I have enough "exercises" stored away that I could actually write and "Even More abstract art for quilt makers"!  But probably won't.

 I do have several other ideas for classes tucked up my sleeve - or rather tucked into a folder on the computer (!)  - the equivalent of a sleeve these days.  I'd also love to hear from you if there's a class you've always wanted to find ,but never have (email me at elizabethyork100 AT, if you have an idea you'd like me to consider).

I often wonder why I2D is so popular though...and I think it's because it's how to design quilts based on your own photographs..photographs you bring to the class because they have special meaning for you.
 I notice that when people buy a piece of my art, whether a quilt or a painting, they do it because they discover a connection with that art work and their own lives.  Maybe they visited that place (e.g. paintings and quilts of Iona all went to people who had been inspired by the magic of that little island).
 (I would have put a picture here but, alas, I'm at the beach on too slow of a connection......)

 Recently, my agent sold a quilt I'd made of Iceland - to someone who'd always wanted to go there.

And somebody bought a very minimal winter beach quilt...because his wife loved winter beaches!

I did once have somebody buy a small quilt because his friend had the same name as me!!  But I can't rely on too many of those sales!

I think that in order to make a good piece of art you've  got to be really invested in its meaning in some way (even abstract quilts have meaning..of course it's...well...abstract!)
If the piece is more of a technical exercise, how can it be strong?    John Singer Sargent painted oil portraits of well off people for a living, but his heart was in his glorious little watercolors - which are the  paintings we prize now.

So if you have some images of landscapes, or cityscapes or still lifes or anything (!) that  hold a lot of impact for you......and you'vw been thinking about making a quilt based on them - but not TOO literally - then consider taking the Inspired to Design class!

And now, I'm going for a stroll on the beach!  If you have been, thanks for reading!.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

A trip to the galleries....

When I go to New York City, I love to visit all the art galleries...they're usually much less crowded than the museums...and, of course, are free!  And they have nice little "press releases" that give you lots of info.

On my recent trip I came across several artists whose work is very reminiscent of art quilts.

At Cheim and Read, down in Chelsea, there's a display of paintings by Juan Uslé.
Here's a nice little You Tube (sorry I don't know how to embed them)...alas I don't speak Spanish, but you can see some of his technique...

What's striking about the work (not all of it, but much) is how he's using quilt designs - basic grid structures, horizontal structures  as the basis of his paintings.
And imagine how beautiful those stuttering brush marks would be if interpreted with long stitches!!

It is said that those marks are based on his pulse, for Uslé describes his "sequential feild or territory of marks" as a "cardiogram".

Here are some of my photos from the show (which is up till June18).


Carmen Herrera is originally from Cuba but has lived in New York for many years - she is 100 and still working (there's hope for me yet!)...but wasn't "discovered" until she was about 90....
Her work is very clean and crisp and reminds me of Modern quilts (or what modern quilts should be!! - yes, some are, I know, but a lot arn't!).

Here's a picture of the gallery (Lisson) with her work: (and you can see a lot more if you click the link on her name (above) - including one piece (Green Garden) I could swear I've seen at several art quilt shows!  The "motif" look!

What fun to look out of the window of the gallery and see another Herrera outside on a truck!
Now we know where she gets her inspiration:


And then of course Polke (also down in Chelsea) who paints on commercial printed fabric...this is a detail of a huge painting  - again I think it would be really interesting to piece the red and white and then do big globby hand stitches over the top!!!  Might actually look better!!!

Here's a very fun Yout-tube "critique" of a Polke show:


Of course I did get to the "old Whitney", now the Met Breuer...I had to see the show of drawings by Nasreen Mohamedi, the Indian artist.  Well known in India, but I've never heard of her in America.
Alas, she died very young but the show has a lot of her work.

Here's an example:

This reminded me of the obsessive  hand stitching  - thousands of straight lines - by my friend Juliarose Loffredo Triebes... (alas no website).....
But it would also make a good machine stitching idea...I really like the way the objects are suggested so delicately by the tiny little curves.
What was really interesting about this show too were the drawings based on the photos she took - how she interpreted the photo....very sophisticated, very abstract....a good lesson for us all - don't be too literal!!

And now to the beach....I wonder if I'll find as much inspiration!!  Well, a machine quilting design based on alligator hide might work...(yes there are alligators - really!).  

And, if you have been, thanks for reading!!  Do let me know if you've seen any of these shows, or any other shows that gave you ideas for quilts......Elizabeth

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Inspiration and Power of Color

Sunset on Salt Spring Island

Have you ever seen an image (painting, photograph...) where the  selection of colors was so beautiful that you just wanted to eat in it, bathe in it, surround yourselves with it???

 Imagine getting INTO this sky....a magical place....

So many people, when you ask them what inspires them, say "oh color, colour, colour is what I love!" (no matter how you spell it!)...... the right colors really work to attract, nay, seduce!, people...


On the other hand, I've noticed that when I'm teaching, and ask people to bring images from which they'd like to work to design their quilt, the photos or prints etc they show me often have gorgeous colors and it's really hard  to get beyond that to see the "bones" of  the design.  Very reluctantly, some can be persuaded to photocopy the image into black and white we can really see what's what.  And some look great in grey...others just disappear into a moosh of flat nothing!!
It is hard to get beyond  color, its siren song is so powerful.....

Some artists are strong on color,  some on the basic design... a few can manage both. 
I advocate one step at a works for mountain climbing!  First, decide on the shape of the mountain!   Then go into color...and a lovely way to choose colors for a project is to work from those gorgeous photos you've collected over the years.

Color Immersion

But, one of the problems for our medium, when it comes to color, is actually finding cloth in the right hue/saturation/value/temperature - even knowing what to call the colors  is difficult sometimes!
If you look at the picture above, the turquoise on the left is in several different values...and it also shifts from a cool to a warmer blue.  The pink on the right goes from a warm orangey pink, through a slightly greyed pink to a blue-pink and then into mauve.  And then what color is that shadow?  What kind of a grey is that?  Is it important to the image?

I really enjoy analyzing the colors in an image - it's like tasting a lot of different wines!  There are so many subtle shifts in hue and value etc.    And so it was natural for me to try to learn how to dye all these different colors.   Now I don't believe in the blanket approach of taking every ingredient you have, working out all the mathematical permutations you can create, then dyeing them all and making a giant book of samples.  You know they tried that method when they were figuring out AI - artificial intelligence, and it actually doesn't work well.  It's much better to work from solving one problem at a time as you encounter it, and then adding that information to your body of knowledge, your working process.  

So in my Basic Dyeing for Quiltmakers class,
which just happens to start this Friday with   (!)
 I show you just how I do that.  Also I discuss the value of neutrals - those elusive greys and browns, and how to create them.  Learn how to create those seductive colors for's really magic!

Please ask any questions in Comments!  or email me - there's a link on the sidebar at the top....

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

Friday, May 6, 2016

What you're listening to...and....knowledge beneath the surface.

I was listening to a podcast with Julie Mehretu, one of the leading abstract painters of the 21st century.  She said that whatever she's listening to when she's working in the studio tends to get into her work.
 D'you find that happens to you?  it does to me, and can significantly affect the way a piece is going...
and sometimes even leads to mehaving to get rid of a piece very quickly because it has so many negative the one when I was listening to Schindler's List. (not that I told the buyer!). so hard....

Sometimes the work literally changes as a result of what I hear, other times, the work remains the same but  becomes imbued with the podcast or the story or the music I have going on at the time, so I'm finding I have to be careful of what I listen to!

I remember that Bluebeard's Castle, the opera by Bartok

 totally got into this piece:

Bluebeard's Castle

can't you just see it?

and I was listening to some very spooky music at Hallowe'en that got into this one:

Lavender Gothic

 Don't think many kids would be wandering up that path to Trick or Treat!!

I'm busy working on 3 abstract tops...I like to make a series of tops and then let them season for a while away from sight...when I get them out, it's like being able to see something for the first time and I can get a much better impression of them.  And since they're just tops, things are easily changed.

This one, for example, was horrible classhing colors...and I threw it into a blue dye bath:

Pump Court

I enjoy sketching and planning an outline, then a rather free form stick stuff up on the wall approach.  But I never do such a detailed sketch that I can't improvise a little when it comes to blocking out and sewing together.

I read a lovely definition of intuition the other day: Knowledge Beneath the Surface.
That's the clearest way of describing it that I've ever read.
In order to make art or play an instrument, improvisationally, one has to rely on that knowledge beneath the surface, embedded knowledge of keys and chords and composition and color theory and the whole nine yards. 

That's why so many of the best art quilts one sees in shows these days are made by people with art training...they have that underground knowledge.   They don't always acknowledge their knowledge however!    Both art teachers and music teachers (and probably other teachers too but I've not had experience of them) sometimes give the impression that one should just be able to come up with the right answer if you want it enough, if you stare at it enough.......if you practiced hard enough etc etc. 

So start learning!.....A little knowledge isn't  a dangerous thing, it's the start of a great journey, the culmination of which means that you have skills that you can use effortlessly.....
well...I hope! I'm looking forward to the day...

And now, I'm off the the Big City - New York!! - for a I won't be blogging next week, but I do hope to have some interesting new inspirations, comments, photos, cogitations etc...the following week.  and then I'm off to the beach!  and then the Smoky mountains...before hunkering down in my workroom for the indoor season here in Georgia that is otherwise known as summer!

If you have been, thanks for reading!  And do please comment - I love the comments - they keep me going!!  Elizabeth