Thursday, October 30, 2008

Simplicity, style and personality

The view from my window and the ideas in my brain this morning!

Style is like your handwriting – when you write you don’t think of the calligraphy but rather of what you have to say. The same is true in quiltmaking . (once you have learned to string the letters together!!) The important things are to feel strongly and richly but see simply and clearly. Think of some of the paintings that remain in our mind’s eye for ever: Hokusai’s Great Wave. A strong clear idea…nothing extra. No cute details!

Color is also very individual. Although, people see colours somewhat differently having slightly different physiology their preferences and choices are very individual and personal. You could probably take each of the 5 elements (line, shape, value, colour, texture) and each of the ways in which those elements can be organized and see strong individual differences. One person likes thin lines, another prefers a very heavy edge. Another prefers shapes and blocks of colour. One works in squares and triangles, another in bold diagonals. Some like big pieces, small like small. Some like muted colours, some work in limited complementary schemes. Some like lots of texture, some plain colour. Think of the quilt makers you know and love and observe their preferences.

Can personality be read from these choices in the same way handwriting experts purports to be able to tell what kind of person you are from your handwriting? Do optimists slope forward and pessimists lean back? It’s interesting to speculate and certainly some general themes are evident. You can definitely get a sense of how careful or bold a person is – but “reading” a design beyond such generalities would be an impossible task because of the huge number of variables. However, to look at a quilt of your own in process and ask “ what does this quilt say about me and my view of the subject?t” is worthwhile.

Are we saying what we feel about the subject and are we doing it in the simplest way? Often the most striking work is the simplest. One magnificent simple idea - where you say “that sums it all up”!. Where you remember the piece for a long time…

Omit the superfluous – for it is!

Describe only the essentials – i.e. the essentials for you in your response to the object. One person could look at a tree and see blocks of colour, another the individual leaves, another the lines made by the branches. Some like to look up as if they are sheltering beneath, others like to see the tree across a meadow, others like rows of trees, others like their trees espaliered. Others want to see flowers or fruit. It is what you see, and wish to make a piece about, that is important.

But: make it beautiful and make it simple!

Pick out what is important and arrange it well!

I very often start with a sketch of all the obvious elements in a scene – but as I block the quilt out on the design wall, then I begin to simplify. Not only would it make the piece boring if I put everything in – but it would weaken my message. Only those things that really stick in my memory, the “abiding qualities” will I choose – well…in an ideal situation!

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

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Finding the right fabric

Have you ever head one of those days where you’ve got a wonderful (well, let’s hope!) idea for a piece, and you’ve dyed a great chunk of fabric that’s just perfect for the background – and then when you get it up on the wall, you’ve nothing to go with it?

That’s happened to me so often, you’d think I’d be used to it – but no….I’ve been struggling with this piece for days. My original inspiration was a steel mill seen across a great depth of choppy water (Lake Ontario – looks more like the sea than a lake). So I shiboried a super bit of water fabric:

I don’t want to use it for the whole background, because I want a horizon effect…so I’ve tried a light value and a medium value with it: but they don’t really look right

Using the same dark fabric at the top isn’t a good solution for it would reduce the depth significantly. I realized that last night in bed when I was looking at the night sky and thinking “yes, Carlson is right” even at night the sky is lighter than the land….(or water – because although water reflects the sky it also adds the water into the mix which darkens the value)….so even if I do a night scene I want the fabric above the horizon to be lighter.

So it looks like another day of trying to find the right value!!! And that’s just the background!

Meanwhile I’ve begun to cut out my fascinating little complex mill shapes but I’m also trying to keep my eye on the overall composition. Carlson is my sensei at this point:
“There probably never was a picture that was poor because it lacked detail or subject matter; rather the opposite. Bad paintings are usually so overloaded with useless detail that the essentials are obliterated”.
In my workshops when I stress Simplicity and Economy as being of major importance in composition, I definitely get some blank looks!! But getting the basics right in the simplest and most elegant way (mathematicians will agree) is the key.

And now, back to that wall! and Lord what a complicated mess it is! No wonder I can't figure anything out!

If you have been, thanks for reading!! Elizabeth

PS: here's the view out of the window....very distracting!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The importance of Good Values!

While it takes a trained eye to detect 10% values in an image (from 0% black (i.e. white) through 10%, 20% etc upto 100% black (dead black!), most of us should be working with 4 values: light, medium light, medium dark and dark.

Here is a nice value scale from Toad Hollow

One of the first steps in improving composition and increasing the elegant simplicity of a piece is to consider value. As you arrange the pieces of cloth on the wall, look at how the different values are arranged. Just as in a living room you don’t want all the chairs in a clump in one corner and the lamps in a clump in another, so should you integrate and balance the value blocks. If you squint up your eyes when you look at great paintings you’ll see how the artist does this. We tend to see the lightest values and the darkest values most readily.

After you have blocked out the design on the wall, you can take a photo and desaturate the colour in Photoshop to check on the value pattern. It’s important to get the largest value shapes balanced and in an interesting pattern before you worry about the highlights (like building a house – get the main structure right first). The big elements are the light, medium light, medium dark, and dark masses (shapes).

Here is a picture of a quilt I made called “Where Bong Trees Grow” (from the Owl and the Pussy cat, by the way – I don’t manufacture equipment for the smoking of funny tobacco!).

Now here it is desaturated: You can see how the lightest values form a kind of loose S shape through the quilt which helped to give a strong and interesting basis to the composition. The dark values also join up to make an intriguing shape.

If your Main Idea is about Light or Atmosphere then it is very helpful to consider the direction of the light and how it affects the value of the objects upon which it falls.

John Carlson in his book Carlson’s Guide to Landscape painting (from your public library) describes a clear way to record values in the landscape. Look to see how perpendicular the object is to the sky. Those objects that are at right angles (90°) to the source of light will tend to be the darkest, and those that completely face and reflect the sky (180°) will be the lightest. A good way to see this is to take a piece of white card and look at it with a strong overhead light …if you stand the card up it reflects far less overhead light than if you lay it down flat where it reflects the most.
I don’t know that I was altogether that literal in following this guide in A New Day, but when I desaturate it, I can see I was fairly close:

And here it is in full colour:

So – in considering values, consider the light source and also think about the pattern the values make. You don’t have to be completely realistic – but, if you want people to stop and stare, you do have to be interesting!

And , if you have been, thanks for reading!


Thursday, October 23, 2008


A propos of yesterday's post, someone sent me this lovely picture of a fence!!!

and now I'm rushing off to the Smokies!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Making things more interesting with equations!

One of the things I struggle with – both in my own work and in other people’s – is boredom. It’s very important to keep things interesting and there are several ways of doing that: contrast and variation being the most important. You can use contrast with any of the basic elements of design: line, shape, value etc. and, on a meta level, you can also use it with the way that those elements are organized into a design. That sounds overly academic! But it’s not meant to be…rather I’m trying to come up with an equation into which the design problem of “b – a – w – ring!” can be slotted. Boring was the one “dirty” word my girls were not allowed to use! – I didn’t care about any of the others! So you can see I feel strongly about it!

OK. For some examples: I could take a photo of a fence cutting across a meadow…and transcribe that fence perfectly onto my design sketch. But if the individual poles (lines) are all the same height, it would be less interesting. If I insert some contrasting lines – a little shorter, a little taller, a little fatter, a little skinnier, a little crooked…it becomes much more interesting. If I also alter the rhythm of the repetition of lines (rhythm being one of the ways in which we organize the basic elements) by increasing and/or decreasing the spaces between the poles then the fence becomes even more interesting.

I couldn’t find a quilt with a fence that I remembered! But here is a picture of a quilt called Beehive I made some time ago. I’ve tried to consistently vary the vertical lines that occur throughout the piece, while at the same time keeping them related to one another. Every vertical line has its own personality but is also clearly related to its neighbours. Even the tops of the buildings are all a little different, but also clearly of the same family.

Back to the fence: I talk a lot in my workshops about starting with a Main Idea – or a “spine” as Twyla Tharp calls it in her excellent book The Creative Habit (this link is to an interesting review of it, next week I'll write more about what I got from the book). Once I have made the fence more interesting by altering elements and organization of elements, then I like to consider my Main Idea and see if further alteration would help to bring out that idea. For example I might be wanting to show the beautiful curves of the land, so soft and mellow . I could make the fence curving and soft and mellow too – but if my piece also includes the curves of the land, then making the fence more of a contrast to that will make the land softer and curvier…..Contrasts bring out differences! A warm colour in a cool palette will make the cool look cooler – a little pink glow of light on a snow scene makes the snow colder and crisper. A blue light might just make it look dreary!

Contrast and Variation!! I’m all for it!

And, if you have been, thanks for reading.
PS Tomorrow I’m headed up into the Smoky Mountains looking for mellow blue curves with hints of orange colour!! And weird spikey fences!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Road to Improvement

I’ve been reading a number of books and blogs lately about how to improve in the execution of one’s art – whatever medium – and the consensus does seem to be that Drawing is an essential basic skill.

Robert Genn (Canadian art blogger par excellence) states that it has long been said that progress cannot be made without a good grounding in the basics. ( I remember a prof of mine making a lovely Freudian slip when he described this as a “good grinding in the basics”!). Genn describes the basics as: drawing, composition, value, colour, and depth. Without these, he feels, it’s unlikely a piece will turn out well except by a fluke. He notes that while there is a reluctance to plough through basic exercises the time spent on them is so well invested that it will save time later on.
He quotes George Eliot: "Genius is the capacity for receiving and improving by discipline." I must take note!

Here is David Bellamy ( a well known British painter with numerous lovely books on watercolour) on the importance of drawing:

“The foundation of [artistic endeavours] is the ability to draw”.

He advocates practicing at every opportunity, carrying a sketchbook everywhere, and feels that sketching is so fundamental it will “free you from the shackles that hinder development”. Sketching will “advance your work infinitely more” than taking another workshop, looking at books and magazines or watching videos. “I cannot emphasize how important it is to continually strive to improve your drawing”.

The importance of sketching before approaching the medium – cutting out fabric, smearing juicy splotches of wonderful colours across paper, kneading the clay – is because it forces you to actually LOOK. I love the light on the trees that I can see through my study window – but before I rush to the design wall with fabric, I need to observe exactly how the light works. How is the light actually shown? How many values? How many colours? Is direction of the light important? How do the lines and shapes intertwine? Do the dark and light areas form distinct masses? Are there any rhythms that are subconsciously affecting the way I see the scene? How do I see depth? Does the light change, or the colour? Or the texture? If I make myself sit and sketch for a moment then I can answer all these questions – and many more I’m sure.

The second important result of sketching is that you can then rearrange things! Yes, sometimes MN (Mother Nature – or more likely MaN….) gets it wrong. There’s an awkward tree in the wrong place, there’s one solitary tree when a clump would look better, there’s a STOP sign in the middle of the rural scene, there’s a shiny new plastic building in the middle of the beautiful old time worn stone ones.

As Charles Reid says: be careful how you place the outlines….there is nothing so discouraging as a bad composition at the very start. Do most of your “changing” in composition before you begin…when [the composition] is just blocked in.

So…I’m heading outside with pencil and sketchbook and hope!

And, if you have been, thanks for reading…..


Saturday, October 18, 2008

What to do when it’s not working out?

What do you do when things are just not working out?

First thing I think, is to take a break so that you can come back with a (slightly!) more objective approach. Sometimes it’s helpful to work on some thing else for a while, another similar piece, or something completely different – maybe even a completely different medium.

You want to clear your head from all the backward looking thoughts that are actually irrelevant to the issue so that you can clearly see what you have actually got that it’s front of you. You want to be able to lose all the connotations – as in “I really like this bit”, “this was the fabric I bought for this piece”, “I spent hours putting this section together therefore I have to keep it” or “I gave up a lot to reach this situation”.

Then I think it’s helpful to go back to your original goals. What was it you really wanted to say, portray, achieve? Which parts fit with that? And which don’t? Separate them out - don't be afraid to remove large chunks!

Have you got two conflicting ideas going on? Maybe what you have should be divided into two.

I did this with Shadow with 6 Diamonds and Sliding Edge – originally they were all one piece:

I can't get them to line up right - but if you do it mentally (!), you can see there was way too much going on.

Or have you strayed away completely from your original idea? This is fine – if you know where you’re going!! But not if you don’t…if you are losing direction, the piece will show it – because it will lack unity.

Check your value patterns – the deepest darks should create an interesting shape overall as should the brightest lights. It’s often easiest to see this by either squinting, or by taking a photograph, putting it into Photoshop and desaturating the colour. When it’s in black and white the value pattern becomes quite evident.

Having checked the values and other obvious design principles, the next thing I do is to take long narrow lengths of batting (wadding), white cotton or even strips of white paper (this is what Emily Richardson does), and I use them as crop tools to find the sections of the piece that are unified, satisfying and clearly on the message. One time I had to crop a piece down to about 1/3 of its original width!! As a whole wall, a piece that was about light coming though a window was way too big…when I cropped it down to window size – the original intent was much clearer.

Sometimes when you’ve tried everything, you just have to scrap it! Don’t think that many many brilliant artists havn't had to do this! They’re always finding other works on the back of museum canvases….If, with a clear head and the best will in the world, you havn’t been able to make it work maybe it’s just because the whole idea was flawed in the first place. Take it down to the thrift store!!! Begin again anew!

And, if you have been, thanks for reading!


Thursday, October 16, 2008


Above is one of my first pieces.....
and below is one of my latest...
you can see the amazing results of practice!
or....can you?

Oh how I resonated with today’s Empty Easel article by Lori Simons about Motivation.

Like her, I continually tell myself “do something every day even if it’s just one stitch”. And actually that does work..if I do one stitch, or move one item on the design wall then more times than not I’ll do a second and a third. I am better about hand stitching than machine stitching …because I’ve not yet learned how to machine stitch while sitting with my feet up relaxing with a glass of wine in front of the telly!!

So often, though, there are continual interruptions: the phone, email, the spouse, the children, the cat, the plants suddenly droop, I go into the kitchen and forget to take my glasses off and actually see the fingerprints and crumbs!!

You really need to be a strongly self motivated person to be a free lancer – whether it’s in visual arts, literature or any individual business endeavour. I used to work for Them and They would say: “Thou shalt be at work by 8am; thou shalt see one person per hour for 6 hours per day and complete all electronic paperwork by 6pm and then thou shalt leave because thou won’t get paid for working overtime”!!! and I did…well more or less! It was lovely to leave that and think never again will I have to get up in the dark..never again will I be cooped up in an sealed tight over air conditioned building when it’s a totally brilliant exhilarating day outside, never again will I have to sit through interminable meetings while people misunderstand each other, ask the same questions over and over or argue over the placement of a comma!

But now I find that I have to have a new boss: if one wants to progress in any art, or any sport or any anything – it doesn’t happen because you’re a nice person thinking “good thoughts” about art, it only happens if you apply yourself to the task. Every book I read about improving in art says practice practice practice. The secret to attaining one's goals is Doing It – over and over…

Lori Simons states that she uses her earlier experience in motivating others to motivate herself. She has found Fear to be a great motivator: if I don’t do this then bad things will happen. However, as an ex-psychologist (is that possible? Maybe I’m just a lapsed psychologist!!), I know that positive consequences upon a behaviour are far more likely to increase its occurrence than negative consequences upon the absence of such a behaviour.

So instead I write out my To Do list daily, then assign a little reward to each item – well sometimes a fairly Big Reward actually! But the principle is the same! So now I’d better go and earn all my chocolates, cups of tea, chapters in the latest novel, sudoku games and email checks!!!

And if you have been, thanks for reading! Elizabeth

Monday, October 13, 2008

From the image to the Art

It is the artist’s task to help/make the viewer see the beauty in things that they might well have missed.

This is true regardless of the image that is the starting point.

Still life: whoever looked twice at an old bottle? Morandi helped us to see the nuances of shape, line and relationships with his many bottle paintings.

Who would have thought that drinking straws and paper cups could create immensely beautiful installations?

Tara Donovan at the ICA in Boston (winner of the MacArthur genius award this year) shows us the beauty in everyday items.

Dominie Nash shows us the amazing pattern and structure of a few items including a pair of left handed scissors in a jar on a table.

Monet showed us the varying light on haystacks – pretty ordinary looking things one wouldn’t normally give much time to…

and if you look at photographs of the actual scenes that Cezanne or Van Gogh painted you’d be amazed at how ordinary and prosaic many of them are.

You don’t have to go to Venice to find wondrous ideas, they are as close as your driveway..looking down the street!

It is good to approach the scene, however, with an idea in mind: the interlocking patterns of the objects, the tenderness of the light, the balance of shapes, the munificence of man or nature. Always begin with a focus arising directly from your feelings, impressions, inspirations. Don’t just think oh this looks pretty I’ll copy this one. In my workshops I’ve noticed the most successful pieces are the ones where the quiltmaker has had a really strong feeling about a particular aspect of the photograph she brought to the class. (guys are welcome by the way, they just havn’t showed up yet!!)

In his book, Carlson’s guide to Landscape Painting, John Carlson suggests an interesting idea: that one take a scene – such as a landscape. You could also do this with a still life, or a photograph of a marketplace. First, sketch an unplanned straightforward copy of the image. Then make several more sketches emphasizing different aspects of the scene: e.g. in a marketplace you could make a sketch of the pattern of the cloths covering the booths, or you could focus on the people, or the produce, or the interweaving verticals. In a landscape you could make a sketch focusing on the trees, or on the sky or on a house or cottage, or the flowers, or on the people in the landscape. What you will gradually discover is that when you focus in on making one thing the main area of interest, the piece as a whole becomes stronger.

In this photograph taken from the window of the hospital where I used to work in Leeds (St. James for anyone reading from Leeds!), what interested me was the way the colours harmonized so beautifully, the many different shades of grey from warm to cool within the city.

And so I made this quilt: City of Mists:

But I kept thinking about all those rooftops and chimneys...and made another piece focussing much more on the interaction between roofs and chimneys, and between chimneys themselves:

In the picture below it was the intimacy of this little passage way and set of steps that intrigued me - but at first I wanted to focus on that stunning gate! what a wonderful idea to paint it red.

and here's my quilt:

looking at the same image with a different emphasis, I wanted to show the stone steps so worn by time, the thousands of folk that had trudged up them - this ginnel is in Whitby by the way.

So - as artists we have a duty to help others see these things work to work!!!

And, if you have been, thanks for reading!


Sunday, October 12, 2008

Some days are just too nice to be inside

One of the bonuses for living in the South is the proliferation of days - especially in Fall and spring (two long seasons here, miraculously) that are just too nice to be inside. So I've been outside all weekend enjoying the fall colour from our Acers (aka Japanese maples); we've planted a lot of them over the years. The drought has taken some, the deer nibble the edges and some bug or other eats the leaves too...but their colour and form are so spectacular that it's worthwhile to have a crop of babies coming along ready to plant in the "holes".
She Almighty has definitely come up with some great compositions and colour schemes this Fall.

It's inspiring, but also daunting!

And now, it's back to the design wall and t he sewing machine!! Ready to enjoy another wonderful day tomorrow.

I promise something more profound as soon as it gets cloudy and rainy!
but then, maybe this is profound...hmmm....
and, if you have been, thanks for reading...


Thursday, October 9, 2008

Fiber is better for you than paint or glass!

Today I shipped out several pieces – two to the beautiful Blue Spiral 1 gallery in Asheville, NC where I’m lucky enough to be included, two to a new gallery for me: Art Access in Bexley, Columbus OH – a small but totally bright and charming place, and one on approval to a collector in the South West – so I had a busy day packing….(pictures of the 5 quilts are below)…and afterwards rewarded myself with a little surfing.

I came acrossNelda Warkentin’s site. She has an interesting page called “Advantages” that set me to thinking. It is about the advantages of choosing to buy, own and display fiber over other art media – or mediums (“media” being reserved for the press these days).

A glow of Expectancy (at Blue Spiral in Asheville, NC)

I’ve taken her points and added a few of my own – I think these are good ideas to have on the website and also to tell gallery owners and personnel.

A New Day (private collection)

One of the first things I point out to state or community officials dithering over whether to buy a quilt for a public setting is that people really respond to quilts. They are not overwhelmed by them as they are by most other forms of art. They relate instantly to them – recalling their grandmothers, or fabric they have bought themselves, or playing under quilting frames. For public money to be spent on art, it’s really important that you can predict that people will feel an instant relationship to the work.

Backstreet (at Blue Spiral, Asheville, NC)

A quilt gives the immediate connotation of snuggling down and warmth – the cognitive glow then translates to the wall hanging – especially when they see that quilts are made from ordinary cotton fabric with humble running stitches. Being unframed and thus clearly exposed in all their tactile softness and substance increases their immediacy …and at the same time if they’re afraid of people touching them it’s not hard to get them framed as places like airports have done with my quilts several times. (though I often thought they could have bought twice as many quilts with the framing money!!)


Roof Exuberance (at Art Access, Bexley, Columbus, OH)

With quilts it is so easy to see the “mark of the hand” in the stitching. People like to understand exactly how it’s done since everyone has at some time stitched something!! Thus they can relate in a tactile way to the piece in terms of their own experience and motor memory. They can also see that the level of craftsmanship is beyond what they (usually) can do and realize and appreciate the amount of work and time involved.

Some potential buyers might express concerns as to how long a piece will last. Since woven fiber fragments have been found in South America dating from at least 2,000 years ago, I think there’s little worry! Of course, bright sunlight or glaring spot lights can lead to fading…but firstly the art work doesn’t look good under those situations so I can’t imagine anyone who bought a piece would hang it with harsh spotlights. Secondly, sunlight would also damage most paper mediums, photographs, watercolours, prints etc. Thirdly, fiber can’t be broken! I have seen absolutely gorgeous glass vessels in galleries but daren’t even breathe or approach within my height’s distance in case I collapse on them! Maybe you glue them down!! You can get right up close to a quilt with no fear of it shattering!

Brighter at the Top (at Art Access, Bexley, Columbus, OH)

All art requires some care.. No medium is so completely trouble free! There’s nothing you can kick around the playground! Though maybe there’s some that should be kicked around!! (probably not a good idea to say that to the gallery owners, though!) Fiber is at least as tough as most other mediums.

Fiberart is easy to move. I love to move the art in my house around. I let a piece rest for a while, or hang it in a new place where I can come upon it unexpectedly. Then you see it all over again! It’s lovely! Try it!! The only problem is you do end up with a lot of holes in the walls!! I do get some criticism for that! (Can’t you make your mind up, it was perfectly good where it was! – yes, but I’d stopped seeing it.)

And those of us with large collections of our own quilts (!) all know that storage is actually very easy – a few years ago I was very surprised to go into the local drug store and see that they were selling lovely long brightly coloured plastic foam tube shaped objects! I didn’t expect to see quilt supplies in a drug store! Of course I bought the lot! As I was going out, the check out girl said – “why d’you need that many? Do you own a very big pool?” I replied “one for each quilt”…then she really looked at me funny!!

My painting friends are envious of the ease with which I can ship work to different shows and venues – of course that is an advantage for me rather than the collector…but collectors do ship sometimes.

Another advantage of fiber art that I’ve noticed when I’ve been in two person gallery shows is that soft fiber contrasts beautifully with hard mediums – like clay or glass. Fiber on the walls and clay on the pedestals looks great, much better than a mix of acrylic on the walls and glass on the pedestals.

There are so many advantages, it’s a wonder there are any quilts still for sale!

And, if you have been, thanks for reading!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Stale Art can’t even be toasted!

I’ve been reading a book called No More Secondhand Art by Peter London (1989). So much art seems to have a rather stale, derivative lifeless feel. A great idea, full of life, the sense of the moment and then somehow as you work it out in cloth it loses the spark. How to claim it?

John McQueen described his process in a poem that was displayed with his baskets at a show in New York.

Obviously everyone struggles with this: You go to a show ( I just went to a very good show at the UK National Patchwork Museum) and very little really moves you. And, at least 50% of what feels real, where you make a definite connection with the hopes of the maker, is the older work. There’s a piece in that museum that’s at least 200 or maybe 250 years old and it’s one of the most emotional pieces there. Of course age helps!! It definitely adds a patina! (Would that were so for bodies!!! That we became more polished and lustrous with affectation and pretence stripped away as the years go by. Though if you think about it, that does happen to the actual person, forget the aching joints, creak, groans and cracks!!!)

The importance of meaning, of zest, of catching and holding your eye holds true for all forms of art. Listen to the judges on those two dance shows we all love, how frequently they say – the steps are there, but the meaning is not, the emotion and the heart are not, the communication is lacking.

So what does Peter London have to say about “Secondhand Art”?

First – he asks a question: “why is it that dexterity, knowledge of art, and taste do not necessarily add up to what we seek in art?” What is missing? A good composition, a good colour scheme plus good craftsmanship are all necessary – but then how do we get life into a piece? How to achieve the fresh individual approach? The history of art shows us many examples of artists struggling with this: going off to the South Seas, looking at children’s drawings, working in isolation, trying mind altering drugs......


Peter London advocates getting into the activity itself as deeply as possible – playing, experimenting, discovering..

as Eva Hesse did in her little paintings of squares tumbling and reversing:

He gives some interesting suggestions: think about art as beauty but also about what it means, what is the meaning conveyed by your piece. The examples he gives are of looking at one of Monet’s haystacks – not just “a nice little picture of a haystack”…but more importantly the shimmer of the light, the glory of the sparkling constant changes of colour in the air. Meaning as well as beauty.

The bold black tree that dominates this painting by Bartlett forces the bright coruscation of sunlight into every sense:

London writes about the importance of an absence of formula. In art quilts we see that very clearly in the difference between quilts made from patterns, and those made from the imagination of the maker.

I think avoiding a formulaic approach can lead to the fresh and unexpected. This is something I love in paintings which I’ve tried to show with the following examples (drawn from internet surfings). I would be so thrilled if I could get some surprise into my quilts!

Mary Fedden's unexpected but balance grouping of objects whose essence is "seaside".

The unexpected angle, colour and multiple reflections of the de Laurentis painting:

Raise and answer the compositional question yourself, try not to look and see how another artist solved that problem. This might take some working out – but it will help you avoid the more expected resolution.

Another aspect that London emphases is that of meaning. To me this is best shown most clearly by simplicity and economy – look at the fragility and transparency of the dried flowers in Hirst’s little watercolour……

.the focus on atmosphere alone in the Katz painting.

see the economical lines of the harbour, boats and snow in Seahouses (also Hirst) in a wintry fog:

Cordova's lush and vital Greenness!

The brisk blustery sky and bleak trees and pond in Hockney's East Riding painting:

And this lovely painting by Casely that focuses on the power of steam with its sharp contrasts of color, line and value:

London does tend to give answers that are somewhat more expansive that this (!) but take his questions and bear them in mind when next you go into the studio.

And, if you have been, thanks for reading!