Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Scotland, QN and personal vision

Three things today.

First, the answer to the question everyone is asking: YES!! I’m in Quilt National 2009!

And now I have to fill out a very welcome number of forms...the most enjoyable form filling I've done in ages!

What’s most exciting is that the jurors chose one of the black and white pieces about which I was a little uncertain since they are much bolder and more graphic than work I’ve done in the past. I’ve made about 12 of them now – you can see several on the Buildings page on my web site.


It’s always difficult when the Muse leads you off onto new ground. I find it very hard to judge my own work either objectively or subjectively!!! Usually I have to put a piece away for months so that I can see it with “fresh eyes”. It's great to know it's good enough for QN!

Scotland – here are some pictures!

Pauline Burbidge and my excellent travelling companion Julia in Pauline's studio. you can see more of Pauline's work on her website.

This is Eilean Donan castle - taken from the window of our room at the Bed & Breakfast we stayed at!!! of course it was pouring with rain - atmosphere laid on specially for us!! absolutely magic!


A lovely little town, fabulous views across the loch - and a great bookstore!

I'm attempting to run away with an Andy Goldsworthy sculpture!! This lovely pine cone is in the Edinburgh Botanical Garden.

Finally, this is the new UK National Patchwork Museum in my home town of York - well worth a visit. they have both traditional and contemporary work - no pictures allowed alas. My favorites were the Burbidge and the Kemshall......and a 300 year old anonymous quilt - so softened by time that it was like a delicate frail leaf...

Personal vision

A propos of what I was writing about yesterday : “What struck me overall about all these artists was how clearly their work relates to their own personal and specific experiences”…

I came across this statement from Edward Hopper: “Great art is the outward expression of an inner life in the artist and this inner life will result in his personal vision of the world”.

Discovering your own voice is a result of really getting to know how you see and how you feel about what you see. It is a result of very thoughtfully watching yourself watch and react – and it takes time and practice. Like everything else – daily practice is best. Making your art (as do the artists I wrote about yesterday) based on your own personal experience will lead to honest, valid and individual work. Your own expression – as identifiable as your handwriting.

(Actually, I have lousy handwriting…a sort of demented italic….the nuns despaired of me… but … it’s identifiable!! On a good day, anyway..)

And if you have been, thanks for reading!


Monday, September 29, 2008

Visiting Artists’ Studios

I’m back home from an excellent trip to Scotland and England; I’m greatly inspired by all the beautiful landscapes I saw, but especially by the studio visits I made.
I was lucky enough to be invited to visit Pauline Burbidge’s studio and Elizabeth Brimelow’s studio. I also saw the Tracy Emin retrospective in Edinburgh and, by the way, here’s a brilliantly scathing review of the show. Also, a complete contrast …..the Lowry centre in Manchester,UK.

Both Pauline and Elizabeth make quilts inspired by landscape.
Pauline lives in an idyllic setting in the Berwickshire countryside in converted old farm buildings. Lots of black and white patterns everywhere – the whole interior is an art piece. It must be lovely to be able to make one’s home a work of art – every time I see an artist doing that I feel cowardly about the conventional beige carpet we have!

Pauline showed us pictures of Applecross – a gorgeous area in West Scotland – views for miles over lochs and mountains.
She then showed us her sketches, and then the quilts she has made based on the images – just enough detail to capture the scene. As my friend David Wood (with whom I also stayed on this trip) said “it’s important not to be too obvious!” However, since he was Damien Hirst’s
art teacher I don’t know that he always got that point across to his pupils!!

Elizabeth Brimelow also abstracts from nature to create her stunning work. She focuses more on the texture than on the overall chiaroscuro of the landscape. And the texture she creates is amazing: hand stitching, machine stitching with big loops and swirls – it really conveys the idea of the piece. Though I do remember, once having a piece in the Houston show where I’d deliberately (as if one could do it by accident!!) fed 2 and 3 strands of thread into the machine needle to create loopy texture…the piece came back with the comment by the juror that I needed to improve my machine quilting!!

Tracy Emin: well the critics panned her! And there were some weird and gruesome objects – I don’t think we’d get into a quilt show with used band aids etc…but the blankets with stitched text (large felt letters) were well crafted and quite fascinating to read and study. She conveyed her ideas clearly and the formal aspects of composition were well served. There was a gripping interview with her mother where they discussed the pros and cons of abortion and child rearing– the mother is so honest and open with Tracy. She stated she prided herself on giving Tracy and her brother great freedom….but Tracy pointed out “and look where it got us” and around you is the proof of just where it got her…..rape, rejection, abortion and squalor. No I wouldn’t want to take a piece home!! But she definitely got me involved in her struggle.

L.S. Lowry – a painter not well known in the USA but his work is enjoyed with great affection in England. A sad lonely man – he turned his feelings into paintings that delight with puns (a man lying on a wall smoking a cigarette in front of a smoking chimney!) and bring tears at his self criticism to the point of excoriation (The Man with red Eyes). If you ever go to the Lowry Centre be sure to watch the 20 minute documentary about his life – extraordinarily revealing.

What struck me overall about all these artists was how clearly their work relates to their own personal and specific experiences – whether these are experiences you would want or not. We must work from our own visions!!! Also, how dedicated they are/were – so committed to putting onto paper or into cloth the images and events of their lives that have given them joy or sorrow.

And , if you have been, thanks for reading!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Off to England and Scotland!

I’m going “back home” for a couple of weeks – flying into Manchester later today (well, tomorrow actually) and then driving up to visit my brother in law in West Linton, just outside of Edinburgh.
I want to go upto North West Scotland which all the guidebooks say is “the most beautiful part” and see some scenery – maybe get new Inspiration!! As long as the fog holds off.
I just read a light but delicious book by Alexander McCall Smith called “The Right Attitude to Rain” – about life in Scotland. So I’ll have to remember that! MCall Smith, JK Rowling and Ian Rankin all live in the same area of Edinburgh – some wag called it the “writers’ block”!!

I hope to get into Edinburgh to the Scottish contemporary art museum.

There’s a show of work by “bad girl” Tracey Emin who makes quilts (among other things) with bold statements appliquéd on them; they warn you: “A unique chance to see the first major retrospective of one of Britain’s most celebrated and controversial artists.This show contains works of an explicit nature.” !!! - well, we’ll see!

It will definitely be different from what you see at the latest guild show, or even Quilt National, that’s for sure!

After Scotland, we’re headed down to Sutton Coldfield to Great Aunt Dorothy – affectionately know as "gee ay dee" - and definitely a walk or two round the beautiful park that King Henry VIII gave Sutton. Can you imagine a head of state today visiting your town and giving the town a park?? Wouldn’t that be amazing?

And after Sutton, we’re going to visit artist friends of mine in Dewsbury – they live right by the Yorkshire Sculpture Park , a really great place to visit with Henry Moore statues in the sheep meadows and Anthony Gorman men in the woods!! Last time we were there we also saw some wonderful silver prints by Rachel Whiteread. This time we’ll see work by Moore, Goldsworthy, Turrell, Noguchi and loads of other folk!! Much it by walking around in a gorgeous park – probably in the pouring rain, but we’ll have the right attitude!!

The following day we’re going to visit Elizabeth Brimelow – she’s in my top 5 of favorite quilt makers. She made the famous piece (a detail of which is below) that the Nebraska quilt museum now owns.

And then we’re going to the Lowry gallery of course! A painter well known in England but rarely mentioned here. I had the privilege of hanging next to him in a gallery in the south of England last year – sadly didn’t get there – but here’s a picture – you can sort of see it!!! I have 2 small quilts on the wall facing you, and one on the right side next to the Lowry.

My last day in England, I’m going to my home town – York – where they’ve opening the new national Patchwork Quilt Museum just around the corner from where my parents had a shop in which I worked as a teenager! I was the worst teenage hairdresser in the world, good job I turned to quilting!

Finally I’ll be flying home 2 weeks today. I’ll not be blogging during these two weeks so be sure to check back when I get home as I hope to have some photos and comments on the art I’ve seen. Maybe even some adventures if I’m lucky!

And if you have been, thanks for reading.


Thursday, September 11, 2008


I had an email from someone recently asking me to describe my process. She wanted to know how I worked from a photograph to a quilt. In a nutshell, when I have an idea, I usually begin with some research, collect lots of images, do drawings and then cut out the fabric. (if you want a whole nut - then please take a workshop!!) (all puns are made with full cognizance if you were wondering!)

Last winter, when the leaves were down, I became fascinated by the wiggly dancer-like shapes of the old dogwood trees in our yard. Egon Schiele always painted trees as if they were dancing! So I took photos of several of the more anthropomorphic ones! I then copied the outlines onto fabric, cut them out and stitched them onto a very wintry quilt.

Midwinter 44"w, 26"h

In the spring of this year, I remembered all the lovely may trees of my childhood. Their proper name is hawthorn. They don’t grow very well (sadly) here in the south – I miss them and lupins and delphiniums and lilacs and …and…and ….however I don’t miss being cold and damp all the time! I wanted to make a quilt featuring hawthorns and we have none in our garden so I went to the internet and printed out as many different pictures of hawthorns as I could. Then I painted fabric in a dry brush scumbling sort of way which left quite a bit of white exposed – yellow green and green dyes. I then drew the outline of the trees onto lots of pieces of “hawthorn” fabric and cut them out…I made a back ground of a gentle valley – and of course a few cottages….I wanted to contrast the more formal house shapes with those of the trees. I spent a lot of time arranging my village!!! Moving the houses and trees around to get balance and interesting negative space – also a flow of values.

Green Houses 47"w, 35"h

In the summer I remembered how 3 summers ago I had taken a photograph from the rooftop café of the Tate St Ives Art Museum. The people in the café were completely disinterested in serving us so I never got my cuppa tea. (and you know how important that is!). I later complained and they sent me postcards – but not of cups of tea….anyway I remembered the picture – how you could see the edges of the houses close to the bay caught with the sunlight, and the water so cool beyond. It took a while to dredge out the photographs. I used them to make full size sketches in pencil and then divided those up to find one section that just fit my memory.

Edge of Light 40.5"w, 24"h

So you can see – I usually start with a visual memory, track down the source of it, or a source, and work from that to derive several different possible compositions. Then I let those percolate for a while so I can find (or make) the most interesting design of the elements that compose the piece.

It takes a while…so I think perhaps a cuppa tea is in order….

And, if you have been, thanks for reading!


  1. P.S. yes, all the quilts are for sale - most are around $200 psf, email me for more info.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

What do you do to stay on track?

While most people say oh how much they love to get in the studio and work away all day diligently and how easy and how much fun that is…..I suspect it’s very different. At least it is for me! I find it very hard to stay focused and on track – checking the computer, making a cuppa tea, tidying up the studio, folding fabric, even housework starts to look like a fun activity!! I tell myself now come on you need to get on with this after all it’s supposed to be a hobby not a drudge!! And of course it’s true t hat there are moments, sometimes even long moments, where you’re flying along – rushing from the design wall to the machine, to the ironing board and the cutting table…but that’s only about 5% of the time. Like any art, there’s a lot of discipline involved and it’s important to learn how to motivate and activate oneself.

I do think it helps to have a specific place to work, with tools easily to hand and things fairly well organized. If you have to look for something chances are you’ll come across several hundred other really interesting things on the way!! Each one needing immediate investigation or perusal of course.

I also find that a To Do list – written out at breakfast time or the night before – works for me. This is not an Overall What Must Be Done In My Life list – but a simple list for that particular day: today I will accomplish the following……

I always try to tackle the thing I least want to do first, after that it is definitely easier.

And t hen, oh joy!, to cross off things is wonderful.

I also give myself little goals and little rewards immediately upon achieving those goals. For example – three difficult seams sewn and then you get a cuppa tea or a walk round the garden,

or four designs sketched then you get to play one game of Free Cell or 5 minutes of sudoku! By the way there is a really good downloadable computerized Sudoku game program. It does away with all the busy work and you get the pure fun of elimination – and it’s timed so you can allow yourself just 5 minutes, then tuck it away on the screen ready for the next reward period. It’s only for Windows, I’m afraid! – yes there are reasons for not owning a Mac!!!

I think having fairly specific Work Hours helps too – after all this is your job! The pay may not be much, and the benefits often negligible, but hopefully the job satisfaction is all!!!

Job Satisfaction and Overall Goal: I think it’s helpful to know what particular aspect of the work is really satisfying to you – and this may vary for different people. I know the money, the honour and glory, the companionship (at workshops and guild meetings) work for a lot of people. What turns me on I think are two things: one, when I hang a finished piece in my Quilt Hanging Place (there’s only one, I’m a window addict (as well as tea) and have punctured every wall in the house with windows!!

There are 74 of them!!!)…well when I hang that new piece for the first time and look at it over the next few days or weeks and feel that it’s strong, it conveys the Main Idea I had and that it holds my interest – then I’m rewarded. The second prize for me is when I sell a piece to someone who then calls or emails and tells me how much it means to them, how much enjoyment and pleasure it is bringing to their daily life.

So, if you know where your satisfaction lies, then you can aim toward it. And what is wonderful for you might be very different from what satisfies me – and that’s absolutely ok!! Honestly, if having fun is your goal and you do have fun and never finish a thing that is absolutely fine!! You have met your goal.

And, if you have been, thanks for reading!


Monday, September 8, 2008


I’ve been struggling with watercolour today. I don’t know if I’ll ever get anywhere with this medium – I’m so heavy handed!!! It’s so much easier in fabric where if you get the wrong colour you can just take that particular piece of fabric away and try another one. But it’s amazing how much you can learn working in a different medium. Watercolour is a lot faster than fabric – that means you can make mistakes faster but it also means you can try out ideas quickly too.

Value is everything – you really have to know which value is going where and the lights have to make an interesting pattern in themselves, as do the darks. Otherwise it looks really dotty!! As do I when I tear out my hair in frustration! With watercolour there are two schools of thought – one says paint (or reserve) all the light values first, but a few people believe in getting the darks in initially and then balancing out the lights. Thinking about where each is going to go, planning it and then executing it is the key.

The other thing that you come to realize is the importance of limiting the colours. Having too many colours looks wrong with fabric, but it looks really Awful with watercolour – and the wrong colours together? Instant mud! (or worse…..)

With both mediums also I think it helps to start with the background and work forward – that is if you’re creating a sense of space and depth – which is another decision to be made early on in both.

Very occasionally I’ll do a watercolour of a piece before I make it – usually when it’s a commission, but generally I like different subjects – more landscapes with the paint, more houses with the fabric. Here are a couple of sketches I did for a pair of quilts for a church in Atlanta – they chose the red ones!

And with both watercolour and textiles there is going to be a lot of waste! The best watercolourists talk about practice practice and acres of paper…the same holds true with quilts – practice practice…then at least we can recycle or overdye that fabric!!

Nobody yet has asked me the way to Carnegie Hall......... A friend of mine was once asked and said she was very tempted to give the response we all know:

Practice practice practice!!!

And if you have been, thanks for reading!


Sunday, September 7, 2008

Show, don’t tell!

This is the advice given to beginning writers and is definitely applicable to art quilts! A piece should be About Something and that Something should be clearly evident to the viewer – even if they have to work at it a little!! Not too much, otherwise they’ll pass on to the next “masterpiece”! You shouldn’t need to look at the title to see what the piece is about, or worse yet – read the "explanation".

I've never understood why the editors of art quilt show catalogues ask for those descriptions. It is as if they assume that you weren’t able to convey your subject, whether literal or abstract, in the piece. The names of famous paintings from the past don’t have long names and explanations – they frequently just dryly announce the setting e.g. “Dedham Valley”, or the “Big Splash” – and leave it up to the painting to tell you what it is about the valley or the pool that so intrigued the painter that he had to make a painting about it.

I do think it’s very important to know what you’re making a piece about before you start making it. I can’t see a piece working well if you shuffle around some pretty bits of cloth till they look ok and then stitch (or worse yet, the “f” word!!) them together and then stand back and think "now, what is this about?"!!

So in future, if your piece is about the heat of a summer day – show it!! Use hot colours and glaring edges that bleed together, the sharp edges of the harsh bright light, the deep shadows...

If it’s about early spring in a valley – show all the soft greens, the rounded edges, the slightly hazy light that indicate that time of year.

But don’t write a laboured explanation!!! And don’t just throw elements into the piece at random and hope it will all balance when you get it together and you'll be able to explain it all in the description with some high sounding waffle!

Let us eschew the “descriptions” in catalogues and instead argue for a detail in that space, or – even more interesting – a small picture of another piece from the same series!

Let us Show, not tell!

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


Friday, September 5, 2008

Envy, longevity and dance

Envy: The University where I used to work has had a 3 day festival to celebrate the opening of the new Art building these last few days. I was in awe of their screen printing set up – acres of print tables!! A special hooded enclosure with high pressure hoses to wash out newly made photo emulsion screens, a dark room, hoods for mixing dyes, washer/dryer right there!!! And best of all a whole wall of glass looking out over grass and trees.

Longevity: I attended a lecture on Art History and realized why studying for an MFA really wasn’t for me!!! Somehow I couldn’t get excited about the decisions of a 12th century architect on which gothic decorations to use on his choirs, or even more esoteric – how much paperwork still existed that showed the cost of his choices!! A second lecture on symbolism in 18th Century painting was quite fascinating, however – I’m not sure if the artist Really Intended it, or the historian Deduced down to the last degree of deduction! But the lecturer made a good case for every object, line, colour and direction, placement of objects and people being completely supportive of contemporary political themes. (William Mount, painting at the time of the Andrew Jackson presidency). Every aspect of the painting was present for both compositional reasons and in order to emphasize a specific political message. Nothing arbitrary at all.

It was also quite fascinating to see how Mount had used the same compositional structure in quite a different painting. Firm infrastructure leads to longevity! Paintings that stand the test of time have a clear infrastructure. And, a strong structure with a balance of elements and clear relationships between the elements can be used several times. You don’t need to keep on reinventing the wheel – but you do need to do it once, at least!!

Dance: Following the Art History lectures, was a performance of the university CORE concert dance company. They poured liquid acrylic paint onto a large plastic sheet pegged onto the grass and 9 or 10 dancers in white clothes then slithered and stretched and rolled their way across it! They gradually turned themselves in multi colored beings!!! More fun than screen printing to decorate clothing or fabric? I wonder if I could get people to try it in my next workshop. First take off your clothes, now wrap this white cotton around you.....

Of course I forgot to take my camera..but you can download a brief video archive which gives some idea of the amazing versatility of the CORE company. (click on the left hand white arrow shape, just next to the loudspeaker symbol and the movie should start).

And , if you have been, thanks for reading!


Monday, September 1, 2008

Making Water

I’m trying to come up with different ways of indicating water – which I’ve made quilts about before but I want to do better. Some of the best quilts on water I’ve seen are those made by Pauline Burbidge.

John Walsh is a well known collector of water quilts though I’ve never been lucky enough to see any in an exhibit, I know he has some fabulous examples.

Gayle Fraas and Duncan Slade have made some wonderful pieces – fine delicate detailed realistic work – about water. And nobody else catches the light on the saltwater marshes like Linda Behar – with her multi thread embroideries. I hope to learn!

Previously I’ve usually indicated water by screen printing. I have a photo emulsion screen – actually of piece of wood under an electron microscope – that I’ve used in several different guises in quilts – it made really nice water at the bottom of the quilt Where Bong Trees Grow – after I’d screen printed first with pigment, then with dye, then discharged it randomly, then overdyed….that was a bit labour intensive!

Farne Islands also was screen printed – this time with deconstructed screen printing – where you draw or scrape onto the screen the image you desire then leave it to dry before printing with clear alginate. I also had a newspaper stencil screen – one of my favorite ways of making a screen – in that quilt. Here’s a detail so you can see how I tore the paper.

Another quilt where I used a torn paper stencil for all the background was Endless City.

I had a brief sojourn with disperse dyes - not my favorite because of the fumes, and finally I donated the heat press to an art school - but I got some nice pieces before I decided breathing was more important! Actually this one won a first place prize at Art Quilt elements when it was at the Sedgwick.

I’ve not made quilts from digitally printed fabric from photographs very often – but here are three examples:

I did make a quilt about waterlilies for a commission - I had a lot of fun with this one; as you can see it's a little different from my usual style - not a building in sight! And flowers!

But today I wanted to try other ways of indicating water. I made a nice little sample which I’m going to send Karen Stiehl Osborn for the Cancer auction that Virginia Spiegel is organizing (not finished yet so no picture, I’m afraid) – stitching the light on the water which came out quite well. I’m going to try a much bigger version of this as my traveling handwork when I go to England and Scotland later this month.

here's a little watery stitched piece I made last time I travelled to England:

I thought it would be fun to frame it and I sold several like this, but this particular one was my favorite so I gave it to a daughter! that way I can enjoy it whenever I visit her!!.

And then I thought of piecing in some giant waves…I cut and pieced long skinny bits…had them all ready to insert and took a break to feed t he neighbour’s cats (you never thought I’d mention cats!) – when I came back John said – “I picked up all that scraggly fabric you had on the study floor and put it in the garbage – it w as rubbish, wasn’t it?”

I’m thinking again about how to make water………..

And, if you have been, thanks for reading.