Monday, August 3, 2015

To stash or not to stash...that is the question

You know how so many of us have a stash - a great hoard of beautiful fabrics?  Some I know keep some of it hidden in the cupboard in the spare bedroom, or even the boot (trunk) of the car!
Some have it proudly displayed by color, each piece folded precisely.  Many have elaborate, elegant shelving systems - ah how I yearn for those! Some like me have Piles...yes Piles!  Some definitely more orderly than others...but still piles... there's the shelf piles, and the floor piles, and the table piles...and the migrated through to the living room piles....

So imagine my surprise when a very well known Famous Quilter (FQ) told me  that she didn't keep a stash at all!!  As she conceived of each quilt she made the fabric precisely for that quilt...and those quilts were Gorgeous.  And, as you can imagine, the colors perfect, everything working together to create a wonderful piece of art.  But think of the restraint that one would need!  and what happens when she dyes something  that doesn't come out right?  Does she condemn it to recycling?  or give it away?  She did say she had a small bookcase that had a few pieces folded on it.....

But there is definitely something to be said for conceiving of an idea and then making the fabric to precisely fit that idea.  I have done it occasionally and always been pleased with the results.  In the quilt below, I made up about 50 screens with images painted on them - all at the same time - with this quilt especially in mind.

I think it helps to make a coherent whole even though this was a very large selection of different images on the screens.   I did cut out many sections..of course I'd hoped I could just sew them all together!! but no...I wanted a bit from here and a bit from there was quite a pile of stuff left over...that wouldn't have pleased the FQ!!

In the quilt above, I made a lot of screens about water - using a limited palette but thinking of as many different line qualities as I could that would suggest water.

And in the one above here, I worked from a set of photographs of my brother-in-law's giant shed stuffed to the gills with old window frames, screens, bed springs, boxes, paint pots etc etc...
There was a lot of fabric left over from this one too...but I managed to put them together into another quilt!  The FQ would have been proud of me!

And I have made several quilts - like the one above - where I've just dyed one color, but in every different value and  temperature I could think of...and then used all that fabric for one quilt.

So - if you'd like to take a class where you first make the fabric...then make the quilt..I have just the one coming up!  It's with and it starts on Friday.  Tell the Dean I said you could have a place in the class!

Each week I describe a different surface design method - we work through the elements: value in Lesson 1, color in Lesson 2, texture in Lesson 3, Shapes in Lesson 4 and Line in Lesson 5.  You dye/paint/print the fabric...and then make a small quilt based on that week's fabric.

Low water immersion dyeing, arashi shibori, regular and deconstructed screen printing are all covered.

Thank  you - FQ - I still have my piles, but sometimes I do get organized and make the fabric for the quilt and it's a very satisfying start to finish process.

And now for a nice cuppa tea.....if you have been, thanks for reading!   Elizabeth
and please please do comment!  Love it!  Read them avidly! (with said cup of tea in hand of course!)

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

A workshop and a trip.....

I've been off the radar for a couple of weeks teaching and sight the Pacific North West..
many things...wonderful things!!  Maybe there will be watercolors and quilts as a result, but certainly a lot of great memories.

We visited the Olympic National Park.  Unlike much of  the coastline of the USA, the Olympic peninsula coastline is a national park protected by our forefathers long ago so that we all could enjoy it.  It was wonderful to see open beaches and natural vegetation, no endless hotels and condos (my mother used to call them condoms, perhaps she was right...), no hoardings, no fast foods and exhortations to consume +++

and  the Butchart gardens on Vancouver Island...which were steaming with people but enough flowers for all!

And I think both of these images could be simplified into pleasing compositions with good structure and focal points without too much manipulation.

The view from one wonderful home was awe-inspiring:

On pictures like this you really can't beat just to look and look and look....and not try to interpret..I think.  Especially with your feet up and a glass of wine!

And the workshop went so beautifully - everyone working away hard and all producing very personal and very different work - see below...
first the studies on paper...which meant that many went home with lots of ideas for future work...and then beginning on a fabric piece...
My goal is always to open up possibilities..different designs that you can achieve from one photograph, encouragement to try different value patterns, to consider mood and personal interpretation..and simplicity.  So I show lots of O'Keefe and Dove and Avery and Katz in order to inspire.
For the first time I had interpreted most of my lecture notes into Power Point presentations which made the design points so clearly and were much better to look at than my physog trying to explain design niceties!  

There was lots more work, I just didn't have good photos of everyone....
and now for a nice cuppa tea while I think about my own work!

There's more info about my workshops on my website, by the way.
And I start a different online workshop with the Academy of Quilting every  month.
Dyeing to Design (which covers many different kinds of surface design) in August;
Abstract Art for Quiltmakers in September.

If you have been, thanks for reading and looking!!   Elizabeth

Monday, July 13, 2015

Seven reasons to think first.....

"Don't be in a hurry to get your brush into paint" was told to students by the Old Masters.
And to quilters we might say: don't be in a hurry to get your scissors into the fabric!

Unless you really really know what your doing!

Well why not?
I think the big reasons are:

1.  You can waste a lot of fabric - great for the fabric manufacturers and the shops! but...not so good for you

2.   You are more likely to play safe with color, fabric and shape choices, it will be much harder  to be really wild.  We do tend to fall back on the tried and true - there's no doubt!  And, in a way, the more experience you have, the more likely that is to happen.

3.  "Art does not need to reproduce the visible," said Paul Klee, 
"rather, it needs to make visible the invisible." Imagination 
plumbs the well of experience, memory and dreams. This deep 
place is also where design is sharpened and style is honed. 
Without imagination, work becomes dependent on reality and 
lacks the magic of the artist's personality. Unfortunately, 
many do not trust their wells to be deep, and by so doing, stay 


Starting with scissors, definitely limits your imagination - for one thing you use only the fabric that is there....maybe your design would suggest a trip to your dye/surface design studio! 
 AND the fabric shop!  but not to replace something you inadvertently cut into and then couldn't use, but rather to make/buy something you don't already have (yes that actually is possible!).

4.  You can also waste a lot of time - if you haven't decided where the darks and light go, for example, you might try the idea with a light background all cut out with dark elements on top and then think "oh no it would have been better  the other way round", then cut out everything all over again so you can see it the other way.  If you had had a simple sketch that you duplicated and then shaded in both way it would have been easy to see.  Even easier if scanned into Photoshop and values inverted.

5.  You are less likely to achieve your dream.  So many people say "oh I have this great idea in my head, but when I cut into the fabric and pin it up on the wall, it never looks like I've imagined."
  That's because those imaginings are often largely amorphous (without shape), atonal (without values indicated), desaturated (few people, for example really do dream in color).

6.  When you're going to build a house or climb a mountain, it's very helpful to know the style of house you want to build, or which mountain you want to climb.  Seems obvious, right?
the same is true of a poem, or a piece of music.  For a poem you can't just start writing down random words "snipped" from the dictionary and expect a nice coherent, telling result.  And with music, random notes that are snatched from the air, sound like nothing at all.  They recently did an experiment in writing totally random music - no note could be predicted by the previous note...and they used all 88 keys on the piano.....the result was arid, formless, atonal, and utterly boring  - except to the mathematician who worked it all out!

Here is the link:

"the world's ugliest music" you don't want to make the world's ugliest quilt!

7.  and you know, those monkeys typing away randomly never did write a Shakespeare play!!

I really don't understand  the current mode in art quilting for  chopping directly into the fabric with no real idea or goal in you?

well, perhaps a nice cup of tea will help me sort it out!!
And, if you have been, thanks for reading!


PS my next blog should be from the Pacific North West where I'm headed shortly, teaching a workshop with a whole raft of new Power Point Presentations!!  I'm always saying "make visual decisions visually" and now I'm going to teach visual material visually too!

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Workshop on Salt Spring Island, British Columbia


If you have been thinking about taking a workshop with me and also would like to visit a really beautiful place AND get out of  the heat, the opportunity is on Salt Spring Island * (just off Vancouver Island in British Columbia) in just two weeks.

The class was full, but a couple of folk have, unfortunately, had to drop out for health reasons, so there are some places left.  July 17-21.  Five full days of workshop in a gorgeous location in a fibre shop full of mouth watering goodies!!  Stitches Fibre Art Supplies   have asked me to come and teach my signature Inspiration to Design class.  I've been teaching this art quilt design class for some time and have improved it and added to it  every time I teach it so that it's both enjoyable and very very informative.

The class is about working from an inspiration - usually a photograph, but could be a piece of music, or an experience that you had - and developing several different designs.  We explore different ways of coming up with designs based on the inspiration.  I use both exercises and detailed Power Points to show how this can be done.  Once several designs are generated then I show you how to evaluate them, how to spot difficult areas, and how to fix them.

I also teach how to choose an effective color scheme, and how color can work for you to make a beautiful, eye catching quilt.

Then I teach how to make the art quilt from the A4 sized sketch (regular copy paper size).  As you work on blocking out your quilts out on the design wall, I spend a lot of individual time with you with personal critiques at the level that you desire.  Read Clara's blog to get a sense of how I like to work:

Many people tell me that getting a useful critique is something they have wanted for ages and found it very difficult to get.

You do not need to be able to draw!!  Nor do you need to be a master quilter....since I approach the design, the evaluation and the making in a very individual way...whatever level you work at, I will help you move forward with your art.  I really like having all levels of expertise in the classroom.
The masters can show their skill, but also learn from the different ways of approaching the tasks that the new people often have - those with no pre-conceptions.  It's a great mix.

You do need to be able to cut out fabric!!  However, you could manage very well without a sewing machine if it's a pain to haul it,   just pinning everything together ready to sew at home - or bring your machine if you wish.

I'm happy to answer any questions....and the link to Stitches Fibre Art Supplies  will bring you to their website and contact information.   Since this is a beautiful store with lots of fabric and supplies, you probably don't need even to bring very much with you!!

Of course I do hope that a nice cup of tea will be available from time to time!
If you have been, thanks for reading......Elizabeth

*Stitches Fibre Art Supplies   1-877-537-8985
127 Rainbow Rd. Salt Spring Island BC V8K 2V5

Friday, June 19, 2015

The analytical approach to spontaneity

I like the idea of improv - but ...with pencil and paper...
I'm not one of those that would happily cut up great wodges of fabric and rush to the design wall and back, frenziedly pinning and unpinning..
Even less would I want to cut up millions of pieces, sew them madly together, then cut them back up and race back and forth to the wall and then sit staring gloomily at them for hours waiting for inspiration to Strike!
 Though I have tried it....and, like the head banging against the brick wall, it sure was lovely when I stopped.
But I have found  that I can happily improv on paper...sketch after sketch, just black and white, giving myself a few rules each time...
Rules? you say, Rules??? But the Great never use rules!!  oh no??  think about improv humor, think about improv in music - they're all about structure....

The first steps in improv in music?  "play only the black keys, designate one key as the "home key" and keep returning to it, set up a basic rhythm...and repeat"  You're playing in a pentatonic scale - only 5 things vary - so repetitions occur basically with or without you thinking much about it since you are limiting yourself.
Second step: play only white keys - now there are 8 things that can vary - but again the advice is to have a "home key" to which you return.

Painter, Amy Sillman says that improv comedy in which she's trained to try to improve her painting, isn't so much a comedic form as a responsive one.  Responsive to the verbal and the body language of the other performers.   The product is language - with which we are skilled..   we know what words go together to make coherent sentences, and how to make associations from one word (or sentence) to another.   The performers also learn to make connections and is a learned verbal art form, well practiced in the classroom before being taken out on the stage.

 So rules....or perhaps "guidelines" would be a better word...are very helpful in improv, because without some structure and some limitations there would be chaos.   The improv performers are not only skilled in awareness of the audience and each other, but also they solicit the structure, the initial "shapes, lines and colors" from the volunteers.  They observe the "values and  the textures" as the ideas are suggested to them.
And then they juggle them, bouncing the ideas from one to another, flipping them forward and back, making associations, turning  them inside out.  Just as two musicians improvising together might begin with a specific melody (or pentatonic pattern), then begin to augment, to repeat, to reverse, to speed up or slow down, to embellish etc .

And so I shall go back down to my paper and pencils again and give myself a starting point and a few guidelines and when I have 20 such improvs....and only then will I decide which I should translate into fiber,  for our craft of quilting is slow and laborious.  A little akin to the sculptor who works a small model in clay, but then later has it cast large in bronze.   Would the sculptor begin with large chunks of bronze pouring  them at random into moulds?

Allow yourself an analytical approach to spontaneity and I think you'll have more fun, and will be more creative and less frustrated.

And of course, when thoroughly stumped, one can always go and make a nice cuppa tea.....
And, if you have been, thanks for reading!

I look forward to reading your comments...what is your creative process?  Do you give yourself any guidelines, any structure and, if not, how do you fare?  


Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Master Class on Cape Cod

This was the first time I'd taught a LIVE master class...and how wonderful to be working with so many talented people!!

I gave three short talks accompanied by Power Point presentations to introduce the issues and topics I wanted to address...then gave an assignment and the students set to work!

Silence prevailed in the large airy room as cogitation commenced in all quarters.

Sketches were mounted onto design boards and we went round as a group for evaluation and critique....noting strong points, indicated weaknesses - and why - and possible ways to fix them.

Then the construction of several tops took place...obviously there wasn't time to complete whole quilts as a new presentation and assignment occurred every 8 hours!   Though there was overnight thinking and catch up time.

We also had a quilt show at the local Chamber of commerce, the opening was very well attended and the quilts looked great.  They were hung with "command" strips which I'd never seen before...but I was quite impressed...when we took the quilts down there wasn't a mark on the wall.  Much easier than rods and nails.

Here are some pictures from the quilt show:

and a few of the many designs that were made - I think everyone went home  with at least a dozen excellent designs, and some had many more......they won't need to take another workshop until this time next year!!

It was such a good experience that there may be another Live Master Class in my future...meanwhile I'm going to expand some of the assignments into online classes for the - don't look right away takes me months to put these classes together!
And of course I have a waiting list for my online Master Class.  Email me if you're interested.

and now...for a nice cuppa tea...if you have been, thanks for reading!   Elizabeth

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Cape Cod Cogitations


And here I am on Cape Cod enjoying the gorgeous smell of lilacs - getting my fill because they don't  grow in the South.  I'm having a few days off to admire the scenery and regroup before teaching the Live Master Class next week.  Reading some books about art...if you're not doing it - read about it, think about it, nay....Cogitate!!!  It's so enriching to read and reread books about art.   A favorite writer is Marie Roberts who said:     

"Intense feeling alone is not enough to make a work of art” 

Would that it were so!!  And yet how many  still hang onto magical thinking.  How many contestants in those (un)reality shows on tv, when asked why they should get the prize, state "because I want it SO much!"  Oh yes, but does wanting it So Very MUch mean that it will happen?  I always wanted to be able to speak and understand a foreign language, but how far d'you think I got just wanting?  And I Wanted As Hard As I Possibly Could!

Just wanting to create a wonderful symphony, an amazing novel, or a fabulous painting, or an award winning art quilt actually isn't quite enough!  However passionately you feel about it. And, however passionately you feel about the topic you wish to portray. As any writer will tell you, there's significant planning (look at J K Rowling who planned out the whole Harry Potter series before she began writing) and then hard grind.

An experience many of us have had is that the quilt just doesn't turn out as we hoped and imagined.  So what is actually happening when you feel that you can  see the quilt in your head but it doesn't come out right when you try to build it on the wall?  If I see a word in my head, or even a whole sentence (!) I can usually write it down.   If I see a row of triangles, I can draw them.  So what about that fabulous idea?   Well, for one thing, I actually don't see it clearly, rather I feel it;  I feel the emotion of it, but I don't see the actuality of it.  The feeling has to be translated into the elements that we have in quilting, viz: light/dark, color, texture, shapes and lines.  We don't have a little pot of emotion we can spoon out on the quilt.  The dye companies don't make "joy" or "melancholy" that you can brush on, or stitch on.  Imagine if you could though??   "3 yards of gaiety and a pound of wonder, please!"

Now the great musician can draw her bow across the violin strings and we can feel happiness and wonder in ourselves.   But if I drew that bow...I'm sure that wonder would not be the emotion my listeners would experience!  We need to know how to translate feeling into the elements we do have.   And we need the skill to do it well.  Alas neither is gained overnight, and definitely not achieved without a great deal of effort and thought.  And looking at how others have done it.

So we headed down to Provincetown - called Pee Town by the locals! - to check out some of the art.  And there's a lot of it, some good, some bad, as you might expect.  We were told by a gallery owner that the visitors to Pee Town didn't like fiber, but I did come across this little gem (alas did not get the name of the artist):

 And now to prepare for the class....
 If you have been, thanks for reading!   Elizabeth

PS  Do recommend to us any books about art that  you have found inspiring....the Comment box is open!