Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Breaking the Rules

It has been said that great artists break the rules. However, the reverse is not true!!

“All great artists break the rules, therefore breaking the rules will lead to great art!!”

Yeah!!! If only! Illogic does not rule however much the spin doctors would like it to!

I think if you look at many forms of art what you’ll see is that (apart from a few amazing geniuses, usually born to genius families and occurring about once in a hundred years!) really good artists have all spent a lot of time learning the basics of their profession. Once they know the theory and the techniques so well that they have become second nature, then they can begin to bend things a little to make a particular point. Take for example, Rubenstein’s playing of the Chopin nocturnes (wonderful music – I’ve worn out 3 copies!!) – if you actually sit with the music as he plays, you’ll see he takes all kinds of liberties with the timing. This is because he knew Chopin’s music so well, and the spirit of the music, and also the requirements of the playing of the music that he knew just exactly how much torque and rubato he could use to bring out the sweet melancholy of a particular phrase.

Because an athlete understands the mechanics and physics of a particular movement through excellent and lengthy training and repeated experiences, then he can explore a different way of accomplishing the same feat. Because the painter knows what it necessary to make a painting effective and endlessly intriguing, then he can bend those “artistic guidelines” in the interest of expressing a particular idea. For example, it’s generally accepted that the most important areas of a 2D visual piece be somewhere around an invisible line about 2/3 from one border and 1/3 from another – the so-called golden area not slap bang in the middle, and not on the edge.

But, if you wanted to make a piece about feeling like a target, then you might want to put yourself right in the middle of the piece…you would know that that might lead to viewers not seeing anything else in the piece and you would know strategies to overcome that. On the other hand you might be feeling as if you were right on the edge, almost disappearing – in which case you could put yourself right on the border – just creeping in…or walking out (depending on your theme!)…and again you would know how to compensate for the lack of balance such a composition might have. You would be using your knowledge and experience to enable you to go against some of the accepted guidelines to further your main idea.

So!!! Don’t break the rules thinking that might make you into a great artist!!

Break the rules when you’ve become a competent and experienced artist! And then you might become a great artist.

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


PS the picture at the top is of a dear friend, an artist, who is "breaking the rules" at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park and creating a wonderful mixed media sculpture!

PPS - Please check out the blog store for price reductions!

And Check out Small Art Showcase for new work from several artists.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Why a quilt?

When I was in York (UK) last September, I visited the Quilt museum there. It’s a new museum in a lovely old building (St Anthony’s hall) – a building I’d walked past a hundred times as a child but never been inside.

The Quilters’ guild of the British Isles have done a super job of converting the interior into 3 galleries, shop, meeting area and loos (of course!). One of the quilts I saw in the show was quite mysterious and intriguing – it was painted and dyed with lots of nice stitching on top! So I asked for the maker’s book as a Christmas/ winter solstice gift: The Painted Quilt by the Kemshall ladies.

It’s always hard to get right back into creative work in the studio after a rambunctious holiday (!) so I thought I’d begin with a nice cup of tea, my feet up and dip into my new book. ( I am actually in the studio so this definitely counts as creative work!)

The Kemshalls begin their book by answering the most frequent question posed by the NQL (non quilt lover) when seeing a quilt with a lot of surface design: “why a quilt, why not a painting?” The Famous Critic had also asked that same question: “Can you justify the medium?”

I think there are a lot of answers to this question. The Kemshalls give answers that ring loud and true. They state that dye or paint on quilted cloth behaves quite differently from canvas, or paper or wood or any other rigid substrate. There is something unique about the effect that cannot be achieved in any other way.

And it's true! Stitching on the cloth creates amazing surfaces…and you can add stitching at any stage in the process. Pauline Burbidge (who also had a stunning piece in the museum) frequently paints the quilt surface after stitching… pigment applied lightly with a brush held horizontally (as in dry brush work in watercolour painting) over an uneven surface (which those poor painters on canvas rarely have!!) skims and colours the highlights, leaving the valleys in the base colour. It’s an amalgam of the rubbings (on coins etc) that we loved to do as kids, plus paint and colour. As quilters we can control so many more elements than a flat surface artisan!!

The detail above is of a quilt called Castle Loch - I painted disperse dyes onto textured papers before transferring the colour to the fabric.

I have several times completed a piece and then overdyed the whole thing:

The quilt above was green and brown originally and I overdyed it blue - much improved.

Nobody asks painters why they paint on canvas rather than paper, or linen rather than wood, do they? The painter chooses the surface that is technically appropriate for the work and sets to! I think as long as quilters are stitching into the surface – are making the best use of the amazingly versatile medium that we have – no further justification is necessary.

And one should always keep a little questioning in the back of the mind: what else could I make this fabric do? What would smaller, bigger, looser, tighter, thinner, fatter, open or dense stitches do? What would happen if I layered? Or cut through layers? Patched or distressed? Painted, dyed or discharged? Did techniques in reverse order? Tucked or pleated, cut holes in it – what else could I do??!!!

Think (horizontally only!) and Play.

And if you have been, thanks for reading!


PS - Please check out the blog store for price reductions!

And Check out Small Art Showcase for new work from several artists.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Inspiration Notebook

The Inspiration Notebook

I teach mainly design and composition workshops... (occasionally I’ll do dye/dye painting and screen printing workshop too especially if I can do it at home because of schlepping all that stuff!!). In my design classes I’m teaching how to come up with designs, how to manipulate the elements into an interesting composition, how to block it out etc….but first you have to come up with an interesting idea!

I have always suggested that people come with an “inspiration notebook”.

I ask them to start collecting pictures, photographs, ideas, sketches – anything – and put them into a notebook.

(I use sheet protectors then I can just throw anything in there). I find such a notebook works better for me than a formal sketchbook which tends to end up with other information in it too e.g. phone numbers, series of photoshop commands, envelopes ( have you ever noticed - the vital piece of information is usually given you when all you have on hand is an envelope!!) etc etc. I also like to sketch on separate pieces of paper so I can pin them up on the wall and I frequently photocopy them and try out different value arrangements. So a notebook full of sheet protector pages works better.

Here are some typical recent pages:

These sketches are from an idea in the middle of the night regarding water and steelworks - you can see the finished piece (for once there IS a finished piece!) on my webpage.

The picture above was from the black and white series I worked on last year - see the Buildings page on the website - I made 2 or 3 pieces based on sections of the above...then I thought it would be really interesting to make a screen print from this idea...I took a big screen and painted the above image on it...it printed up really interestingly - havn't used it yet though!!! Then I thought, hmm, wonder how it would look with reverse values....and got the above sketch...and then...got no further - yet!!! Maybe a path to be followed another year.

The photo in the middle came from a book (I'm sorry I've forgotten which one), two things there appealed to me, not yet acted upon.... one was the gorgeous colour of the plaster - no wimpy white for those folk!! and the other the great variation in textures....these ideas are slowly simmering!

I rarely make something exactly as it is in the Inspiration Notebook...but it sets the vehicle rolling....!

And, if you have been, thanks for reading!


PS I’ll report on the Stephen Pressfield Book: The War of Art - as suggested in a comment on the last post – or possibly you’ll never hear from me again because I’ll be working too hard too blog!!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Initial Inertia

Grid Light

Across Old Town

I've put a couple of new pieces up on the blogstore - and rearranged the others a little; I'm still thinking about keeping one of the In the Garden pieces for myself though!

However, today my topic is "initial inertia" - what I'm referring to is the problem of starting. I used to have a tank of a car which took about a gallon of gas just to get moving but once that thing was rolling it would keep on going for a long time!! Working in the studio is often like that...just getting started on something can be very difficult, but once you're into it it's not so hard to keep going. As I said the other day, some artists, particularly writers, will leave a little "start" for the morrow as they finish each night. Maybe one sentence in the typewriter" "on a dark and stormy night on the West coast of Scotland"...is a tried and true first sentence!!

Twyla Tharp (The Creative Habit, a book I really recommend) writes "creative people have preparation rituals linked to the setting in which they choose to start their day...[and by ] putting themselves in this (particular) environment, they begin their creative day". In medieval times, it was believed that if you put yourself in a pious position you would feel pious! So I guess, putting yourself trough a particular series of steps begins the creative dance. Twyla Tharp rises very early at the same time and goes straight to the gym to begin her creative day.
Getting into the environment definitely helps....trying to begin when you are sitting (or worse yet, reclining!!) on the sofa reading a book is much more difficult. Easier to say, by 9am (or whatever) I have to be In The Studio! being in the creative environment will help you to feel in a more creative mood - it's all conditioning!!

A routine definitely helps. According to Michael Kimmelman in his fascinating book The Accidental Masterpiece (full of little inside stories about artists), Chopin would begin his day by playing Bach preludes and fugues. Beethoven took a walk with a notebook in hand. Chuck Close talks about the importance of having a routine: "knowing what to do is crucial because I'm naturally lazy. A routine is what keeps me from going crazy. It's calming".

Having a fixed starting point from which to begin the day makes it much easier to start rolling.
One possibility, therefore, is to leave a deliberate starting point:
"Tomorrow I will begin by pinning all the elements together that are now loosely arranged on the design wall"...or "tomorrow I will begin by fixing the bottom LH corner which isn't heavy enough - I have 3 possibilities I could try: add darker colours, add a stronger shape, repeat what I've done in the RH corner". If you are "between pieces" and don't know where to go at all:
"tomorrow I will look through my photographs and choose an image that intrigues me and do 6 designs based on it" , or" tomorrow I will go out and take the photographs I've been thinking about".
Another possibility is to have a routine (like the dancer at the barre) with which you begin each day - it could be sorting out fabric, looking at books, looking over older pieces....I would suggest that it is time limited!!! I will do my creative routines and then I'll begin!

Have you any ideas for overcoming initial inertia?
if so, please leave a comment!!
And, if you have been, thanks for reading!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Quilts that never die

Good art lasts, it stays forever fresh and young –every time you look at it, you feel renewed.

Have you ever had the experience of buying a piece of art and just a few months later it’s sooooooo boring you just have to relegate it to the guest room – or even the guest bathroom!!?? I know I have, just come and visit my guest bathroom – art work wall to wall!!

A good art work will have something to say every time you look at it, and every year you keep it on the wall, it won’t date. Look at some of the quilts in the catalogues published in the 80s…some are just dreadful – oh so 80s!! others look fresh and new and could appear in the next Quilt National or Fiberart International and look completely right. Michael Kimmelman, the art critic, says the best art never dies, “ [it] holds death at bay”!

I think it’s a very helpful exercise to pull out all those old catalogues from the major art quilt exhibitions and find a dozen or so pieces that still look fresh and beautiful. Copy them, put them up on the wall and look at them everyday to see what you can learn from them. What is it about them that is so intriguing? It might be also educational to copy some of the corpses (!) and see what the difference is….obviously, some of what you see is going to be your own personal taste – but that’s fine, that’s what you’re developing.

Looking through my files I found 3 examples of quilts by other people that I love every time I see them:

Sondra Dorn

Dorothy Caldwell

Pauline Burbidge

Looking at these piece I can see that I'm drawn to squares!!! I didn't realise that before - two are fairly large, but the Dorn is quite small. I also like pieces that are very coherent - not chopped up into segments...and a lot of stitching - whether by hand or machine. Looks like I prefer a fairly limited palette and a sense of space, immense space. I could go onto list several more things, and each time it helps me to see what I should be focussing on. Not copying other people, but knowing my own taste well, so I can improve my critiqueing ability when I look at my pieces in process.

And three of my own pieces (there were more, but I couldn’t put them all up!!) that I like to continue looking at:

Looking at these 3 - which I've chosen because they're all older and still interest me after several years - I can see that I'm still at the stage of trying different things...I do like to convey a sense of place, I do limit my palette - but employ a large range of values and I also try to show light and space. but I could definitely be more focussed.......

Try this exercise!!! and see where it leads you!
And, if you have been, thanks for looking!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Are all loves old loves?

I just recently finished the third of my new industrial landscape pieces.

I was inspired by seeing the Hamilton Bay steel works across Lake Ontario (actually the Hamilton Bay) last summer…I had thought this was an whole new venture for me!! However, when I started putting together the web page “Industrial Landscapes”, I realized that I have always been intrigued by such images.

When I was growing up – in the beautiful old Roman city of York, England – a mere 2000 years old – every day I saw old buildings. The medieval ones were the most fascinating with their exoskeletons of timbering with plaster between – and there are many of those in York.
See my Buildings web page for quilts I’ve made about them.

I made a lot of quilts about the old streets in York too; many of the quilts were night scenes – or apparent night scenes I should say!! Actually they were based on memories of being “down town” (where I worked in my parent’s shop) in winter – past 3 o’clock and the sky was dark and all the windows in the old buildings glowing..

I also walked to school (founded in the 17th century!) along the Roman walls, going past the Minster......

(begun in the 10th century) and the largest cathedral in Europe, and past the Georgian terraces and old Assembly rooms (shades of Jane Austen!). My house was in "The Groves", old Victorian terraces – the area written about by Kate Atkinson in her book Behind the Scenes at the Museum which was so much the York I remembered it was uncanny!

York wasn’t all beautiful though, at the bottom of our street was the river Fosse which went right past the gasworks on its way to the confluence with the main river, the Ouse. I could see the gasworks from the attic window – the old gasometer going up and down – I have no idea why!!! Presumably when it was up it was full of gas! All is explained here
and there’s actually a picture of part of the Gasworks on flicker –I nearly fell over backwards!!

My first job was in a huge chocolate factory in the city, a lovely Victorian building with lots of windows, but also strange pipes, chimneys and gantries. And so, it can be seen that my interest in industrial buildings also dates back a long way.

Take a long hard look at the quilts you’ve made and see if you can spot those old loves and fascinations!
And, if you have been, thanks for reading!

Monday, December 15, 2008

How to stay focused

Don’t you get annoyed with those people who think you have an easy life because you’re an artist? And should even give your work away because all you’re doing is having fun?

“It must be so much fun!” I hear from so many people, “just relaxing with your sewing machine and design wall!” “How lucky you are to be able to make such beautiful things!”

Well, we all know that it’s frequently not fun, it’s often very hard to stay on task – when nothing seems to work, every thing looks ugly, every piece of fabric is too short, too creased, you’ve run out of water in the spray, when no colour looks right, when you’ve a million other thoughts in your head that you have to attend to. It’s also difficult to avoid getting caught up in distractions like “tidying the studio”, “checking email”, making a phone call, writing a note, watering the plant on the studio window, filing away papers, etc etc. But the only way to get there from here is by action! Plodding forward day after day…so it’s important to figure out how to do that! And telling yourself it should be easy because “you’re having fun!” and all you need to do is wait “till you feel like it” isn’t going to work! I’ve tried!!

I know no one but me will crack the whip! In fact most people would prefer I didn’t work in the studio…then I could do more things to, for, by, with or from (this phrase would be better in Latin!) them. So here are some of my whip cracking ideas:

1. Break up the activity into small units…I say to myself, just get one piece of fabric up on the wall..one shape cut out..even if you change it later…before you listen to the little distracting devil sitting on your shoulder!

2. Stay on task for a given period of time – the CD I’m listening to right now is t he last one Lorraine Hunt Lieberson made – a gorgeous voice and a super CD – the Neruda songs – and only about 30 minutes long…so I have to stay on task for that long!! I literally say – “you can’t do anything else till the record’s finished!”

3. a little reward – make 3 possible value sketches and you can have one 3 minute computer game!

4. Simultaneous vs consecutive: working on two activities at once….I have two design walls, so I can work on different compositions at the same time, or even better, having two (or even 3, or more!) pieces at different stages. Working a little bit on 3 different projects simultaneously will in the end get you to the goal of 3 finished pieces in the same time as doing them consecutively.

5. Setting specific working hours to be in the studio – this is hard…but the only way to get better is by doing more work. If it takes 10,000 hours to get good at something that’s 2.7 hours a day for 10 years!!! If you really want to get there, you’ve got to put the time in – just like a regular job.

6. Quit wasting time: It’s sometimes helpful to find out how time is actually being wasted. Since I’ve started blogging, I decided to give up Sudoku – which used to be 3 times a day after meals!!! I wanted to blog (I think it helps to clarify thought) but I didn’t want to subtract time from working on quilts…so something else had to go. However, I do think that researching – reading art books etc, gathering inspirations, trial sketches is not a waste of time.

7. Planning ahead…get a clear compositional plan and a clearly worked out colour scheme ahead of time. Then you don’t have to solve those problems once you’ve started working. It’s also helpful to have your studio fairly well organized. Not obsessively though!!! Because then you’d spend all your time maintaining it.

8. Lists! I’m a great believer in lists. I’ll always get much more accomplished if I’ve made a list before going into the studio, sometimes the lists look pretty naff: find the right fabric for the bottom left hand corner, sew two pieces together for the background, pull out all the blue fabric…but I find if I can work through crossing off as I go, I stay on task much better. It’s especially important to put things you really don’t want to do at the top of the list!

9. out of your head and onto paper: I use lists in another way too: if when I’m working I think Oh! I should get a dentist appointment, or Oh! I need to clean the window…then I just put those items down on a list to be attended to later…..then my head isn’t cluttered up with the “to do” stuff for non-studio time.

10. A hook for tomorrow: Something I read that many authors do: before you leave the studio for the day…leave out the piece of work that you want to start on the next day…so when you go in..there’s always something awaiting you.

11. Turn off the computer! And, having written that, I will! [click]

Friday, December 12, 2008

Quilt gives birth to sextuplets!

Have you ever had one of those quilts that just didn’t work because you put too many ideas into it?

Drying 39 x 58

Well, take heart!!

With the aid of a rotary cutter and a glass of wine (rather than scalpel and anaesthesia!), I was able to release 6 little baby quilts from the motherlode….(I love switching metaphors in midstream, don’t knock it!! It’s great mental exercise – 3 mixed metaphors a day and you’ve warded off Alzheimers…at least for a few hours!)…

and here are the little dears:

In the Garden 1

In the Garden 2

In the Garden 3

In the Garden 4

In the Garden 5

In the Garden 6

It’s surprising what treasures you can find when you begin to zoom in on a piece…I’ve become so fond of one of these that I may just have to keep it!! For the moment though, they are all up for adoption on my ebarton store blog!

And, if you have been, thanks for reading!


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Abstract versus representational

A well known and successful artist was heard to say that she didn’t like representational work because it held less of a challenge than abstract work. Abstract work, she felt, forced you to think more about what you were doing.
I love didactic comments like this because they really make you try to figure out what you feel about the particular issue under discussion!

I don’t think abstract or representational work is necessarily harder or easier – you can take a simplistic easy way or a much more thoughtful approach with each one. You could take an image and merely copy it, adding nothing of yourself – your thoughts, feelings, ideas about the piece. You could ignore the viewer’s journey of exploration of the piece – merely blandly representing something. Now that some thing could be a tree (representational) or a pattern you see in a fence (abstract)… what the subject is is secondary to how you’ve addressed it in the work. Great artists can make a great piece about anything whether it’s an abstract pattern derived from mathematics or nature or music, or an impressionistic piece about nature or human endeavour, or a very literal rendition of nature etc. It seems to me that the degree of difficulty isn’t correlated with the subject matter at all.

And, I feel, there is always a subject – I think it would be difficult to make a piece about absolutely nothing. There are highly successful quilt artists who make abstract quilts that are virtuoso expressions of the beauty of an balanced composition of pieces of fabric – as the piece of fabric are built up on the design wall, the artist considers depth, track of movement, balance, proportion, negative vs positive space, use of all elements especially value simultaneously. The quilt is about Beauty – it’s not about nothing – it’s about a total distillation and abstraction of beauty.

Kirk Varnedoe gave a Mellon series of lectures about Pictures of Nothing: Abstract Art since Pollock. (The description “pictures of nothing” was first made by William Hazlitt about J.M.W. Turner’s marvelous watercolours of skies and atmosphere.) Abstract art as we talk about it today really began in the early 20th century. The first abstract artists stated that they were trying to portray universal truths about the changes that had happened in the world secondary to the “War to end all wars” (which, sadly, didn’t).

A second wave of abstraction began after WWII with a different group of artists and a different intent. Their overall aim, according to Varnedoe, was to make work “out of ourselves” with no particular philosophical or social aim in mind. No one was making piece about nothing – there was always some content, however amorphous or abstract, in mind.

Greenberg (one of the leading critics at the time) felt that Pollock with his drip paintings had pushed abstraction to a new goal of “expressing the essential visual qualities of painting without any extraneous literary content”. In fiber, this might translate as demonstrating the visual and tactile qualities of fiber in and of themselves. And you could make a quilt about that. But whatever you’re making a piece about, your piece is always a painting, or a quilt, or a sculpture. It’s not a tree or a flower…. And its success depends on whether as a quilt or a painting or a photograph it conveys in an intriguing way the emotion/information/mood etc that you want it to communicate to the viewer.

Looking at the question whether or not representational work is "easier" from a different angle – whatever you’re making a piece about, and whatever format (representational, impressionistic, abstract etc) that piece is – if you want your piece to be successful, it’s helpful to adhere (somewhat!) to the tried and true guidelines. Whether you do this consciously or unconsciously, or alternating between the two (which I feel is the case with most artists) doesn’t change the fact that you are being guided by those principles. (Unless you are deliberately thwarting them of course, in which case you are still being guided!!).

Furthermore, a case could be made for the absolute opposite of the initial statement! If you look at art quilt shows and catalogues it is evident that more successful abstract quilts have been made than representational ones. How is that, if making a representational piece is easier? Is it because quilts have a strong history of abstract design upon which contemporary quilt makers can build? Is it that it’s easier to nicely judge elements like proportion, balance, harmony etc when one is already working only with shape, line, colour and so on? The representational artist has to translate her/his subject material into the basic elements to make a strong design. The abstract artist already has that step made for them. To discern the elements, to reduce to the essentials, and then balance and arrange them and create the feeling…now that’s hard!

I suppose it could be more of a challenge to convey feeling in abstract work…in that it might seem easy to paint “how I feel about the south western deserts” by painting a south western desert. However being successful with such a simplistic approach is not easy for one runs the risk of being exceeding trite if that is all you do. It is only if you can depict your impressions and feelings about the desert in a more abstract way that you can complete a successful representation that says something new and intriguing to the viewer.
So, you might be able to say that it's easier to make a trite clichéd representational piece than an abstract piece!!!

My conclusion is that neither one is easy if your aim is to push the limits of the medium and make a strong piece that will look better every day. Both could be "easy" if you are simply making a piece for fun - and there's nothing wrong with that either!!

So a big thank you to the artist who made this remark for making me think!! And read some more in Kirk Varnedoe’s book…now for a nice cup of tea and further reading…

And, if you have been, thanks for reading!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Critic’s Visit

Inveigling a complete outsider to come and critique your work as a group is risky but can be very enlightening! Everyone has to take a chance that their quilt will be the piece that is totally condemned by the Expert, or even worse – completely overlooked.

Egos shouldn’t come into this at all…we are all learning and the way to improve is not by continuing to make the same old mistakes. The critic is not criticizing you, but your work.

Not everyone can manage this separation of course: if a person is very sensitive or defensive, they’re not at a point where criticism of their work can be helpful. The critic in that situation would do best to be reassuring; the artist would do well to listen carefully to the criticisms of other people’s work rather than focus on themselves.

There are many benefits to listening to somebody with a good eye (or even two!) and a clear mind, who is both articulate and knowledgeable, speak about the work. It helps you to see things about your own pieces to which you might be completely blind – when we look at our own work we see not only the actuality but also the hopes, the plans and the associations. Some elements may appear larger and more important – because they have a special meaning for us. Other aspects we may have become so habituated to that we no longer see them at all. Furthermore, critiques are one situation where vicarious learning may be stronger: you can see another’s work (necessarily) more objectively than they can. To compare your objectivity to that of the critic can help you validate or sharpen your own ability to really see the strengths and weaknesses of a piece.

A critic that totally praises and gushes over every piece is not earning their money; neither is the one who merely describes the piece in front of them, nor one who just questions the maker as to what they meant by the work – though this can be a great starting point. The helpful critic will point out the good and the bad – will explain why the good is good and the bad is bad, and give you several ideas to try that might strengthen the existing piece, or later works. They should also help you to see where your work fits both into your own body of work and into the art world in general.

Here are some excerpts from a critique I took part in some time ago in which I think the critic made some very interesting and telling points. (the comments relate to many different pieces, only one of which was mine.)

• The method you’ve used (fracturing an image) is something of a cliché – there’s nothing interesting and unexpected about it.

• This quilt exemplifies the danger that it’s easy to be pleasing, but very hard to be imaginative and inventive.

• A souvenir of a known view, or image can be lovely – but ordinary.

• Pieces are better that are based on, but do not exactly depict, reality.

• Images are more electric and interesting when they disorient, or disjoint.

• Avoid being too charming, in being disneyesque, too soothing or ingratiating.

• Allow some edge to come through.

• If the fabric is too beautiful, you might be in danger of creating mere eyecandy.

• Work is more exciting where there are dissolves (i.e. not all hard edges, but some lost ones too)

• I see no emotion in this piece.

• Jokiness can be a cop out from making a declarative statement.

• Symmetry can dull exuberance.

• It’s interesting when you cannot exactly tell what an image is but if a piece is too fragmented, too broken up, then one tends to lose interest and wander off.

• If you’re using a mix of two very different mediums then there should be a justification for that.

• Extra stuff – like dangling strings, or uneven outlines, or things added on also needs to be justified.

• The urge to grid (the quilt aesthetic) can be a constraint – be careful.

• An opposition of interest between a distant and a close up view is good, intriguing.

• A lack of contrast is very passive and can be exceeding boring.

• A strong pattern of shapes that have feeling rather than specificity is powerful. Indefinite masses that interact with one another can provoke various associations and makes us work to understand the piece.

• Beware of gimmicks or conceits – e.g. borrowing from obvious sources and adding or reforming in some modern concept e.g. famous paintings in Dayglo colours – at best decorative, at worst diminishes.

• Pleasantness is a serious issue in many quilts….it would be important to push hard to make something no one as ever seen before.

It’s a long journey to become brilliant at something, but one step can lead to improvement.

And, if you have been, thanks for reading!


PS the quilt above is "April Rains' - hopefully not just eye candy!! - it's me looking forward to spring - already!!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Celebrating the Solstice

The best way to celebrate the Winter Solstice is with Art!!!

1. Treat yourself to a small piece of fiber art!

I have some nice small mounted pieces for sale on my other blog, and my friends

Dominie Nash,

Linda Levin


Jeanne Williamson

have similar small works online…take a look!

2. Read about art! My favorite art books are those full of pictures with very little copy!!

So make a list of your top ten favorite artists and visit Amazon for a nice used copy of books about them! I love the used books especially if there are intelligent little comments in the margins, or dedications. I have one that has on the flyleaf something like “I bought this book for you, my dearest darling, knowing that you would love and treasure it”. The book had obviously never been opened!!! That relationship was obviously doomed!

Some of my favorite art books include a big German one of August Macke’s watercolors, Mary Fedden and Mary Newcomb, and the series of coffee table books on watercolours edited by Christopher Finch. In the fiberworld, I’ve loved Nancy Crow’s first book, Joan Schulze's book and many of the Telos fiber art books. And for some writing you can get your teeth into: Kirk Varnedoe’s books – I especially enjoyed: Fine Disregard - if anyone has an old copy they don’t want – please send it to me!! There’s loads more I could mention – in fact, 3 stacks from beside my chair!! Lovely lovely books!

3. Enjoy the art of being in the moment by a cozy fire, in a room lined with books, a glass of wine or a delicious fresh cup of tea (no stewed water!), good chocolates (oh, ( for you taggers)– ONE undisclosed fact about me is that I used to work in a chocolate factory! Look at the picture of the clock on a box of After Eights and imagine me finding that about 100 years ago and sending it down to the Art and Marketing dept…) – eniow , enough of that!....wine and chocolates, and crystallized ginger, and tea and mincepies with crispy apples slices!!

What are you waiting for??!!!

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


Thursday, December 4, 2008

Heavy Metal

I just finished another quilt in my Industrial Landscape series - here's a small picture of it above.
There'll be a bigger picture on my website when I can get it up there - at the moment there seems to be some technical difficulty at the server!! always frustrating!!
I became interested again in industrial landscapes after seeing the steel mills in Ontario, but as you can see from the website, I have made quilts about such landscapes before. Growing up in the north of England we would often pass Ferrybridge going up the old A1 and see those giant cooling towers. Also, in York, I lived just round the corner from the old gasworks - you could see the gasometer going up and down - not quite sure why!! there's a greater variety of shapes in an industrial landscape...and the different buildings are often connected together with strong diagonals. As we become increasingly built up and industrialized we must find beauty where we can!

The top half of this quilt is appliqued - I cut out the shapes and applied them to the background with a very narrow zigzag in a rayon thread that matched the colour of the fabric. The bottom half is quilted in a wave pattern - first with a purple thread, and then with silver (Sliver) - that's what the little white dots are! The quilt looks even more interesting in real life because the silver also edges the buildings which doesn't show up in the photograph.
All the fabric is hand dyed, the bottom piece is dyed twice, then over dyed with black after being twisted and tied onto a pole. The purple fabric has a lot of screen printing and painting on it.
The grey buildings are quilted with a zigzag stitch which gives them a lot of texture.
It's 41 x 42 inches...I'd like to have a go and making it again only much bigger!!

and now, back to the sewing machine!
oh! I called the quilt: Heavy Metal - it is derived from an image of a steel plant, making metal is a heavy industry - with heavy pollution, and the sound of heavy metal music fits the visual image of the plant!! there are probably even more meanings locked in too!

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

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

What the critic said

I think I had always had a rather Platonic idea of art and the art world….that the work that reached the top (like cream in a milk bottle) would be the absolute distillation of art perfection. And this may be true if one adds time into the equation…or truer….

though one has to remember all the wonderful art made by women over the centuries which was totally discounted. – however that’s a whole other issue!

But reading books like I bought Andy Warhol by Polsky lets one see that art is a commodity as well as an ideal, and frequently the commodity aspect is more important! (The link is an interesting interview with the author.)

A second aspect about art – especially I’m sure in the New York or the London art scene - is that Fashion definitely plays a large part. What’s hot is not necessarily what’s extremely good and lasting, but what is new and attention gathering.

As human beings, we love novelty. To some extent we are wired to pay attention to new stimuli in our environment – lest they be dangerous or very rewarding.

So a purple jacket in a sea of black will definitely stand out! I’m told purple is the “in” colour this year in London!! (not that I’m wearing it, I’m still working on the year before lasts “in” colour!) (I did find a purple quilt though! - it's at the top).

Artwork may grasp our attention because it’s a brilliant new insight into Truth and Beauty and therefore will probably last, or it may be startling because it’s extremely transgressive, or it may point up some political or religious factors that are of great current significance.

The critic whose talk I heard was pointing out that the lasting quality of a piece of art is only one of many factors (and not necessarily of the greatest importance) that will lead museums and galleries to want to show it. Galleries are businesses, they have to sell work and build reputations to stay in business. Clearly, part of the reputation is based on their ability to find art and artists whose work will stand the “test of time” – the work that will give lasting pleasure and garner longterm attention from those who see it. But the greater part of the reputation for most galleries is built on how long they can stay in business!! Which depends on selling.

There’s one other huge aspect to all of this, that permeates the art business and the business business and the academic business, and the political and entertainment etc etc and that is publicity and networking. Whom you know, to whom you can show the work.

So a successful piece of art, so the critic told us, (and it makes common sense) is one that is new and different so that it grasps attention but is also still within the current fashion interest, and that is shown in the right place, at the right time, to the right people….oh, and as an after thought…may stand the test of time and be reasonably well made.

And, if you have been, thanks for reading!


Monday, December 1, 2008

“Large devotion, small assertion.”

The above picture was taken last January in Canmore, Alberta where it got down to minus 40!! Brr..it's not quite that cold here but it feels like it!! An icy spectacular beauty.

So I've been engaged indoors...and while tidying up my Word files (at least better than tidying a real cupboard!), I came across my notes from a talk I heard about art quilts a few years ago given by a critic who writes for one of the major American art magazines. Her views on the place of art quilts (or rather lack of place!) in the mainstream art world were very interesting and I thought I'd summarise them here.

She stated that it was difficult to review art quilts in the general art context rather than the fiber art context and that many museums and galleries would tend do the latter only. Working in such a recognizable format as a quilt made it very likely that the work would be judged in that context – even more so if it was called “a quilt”. This would not be a bad thing or a good thing necessarily but would set a context for how the gallery owner, the viewer or the curator would judge the piece.

Surveying the art quilt world she felt that embellishment and the pleasures to be derived therefrom were apparently a primary concern in the quiltmaking world - lots of work that said very little. While this is a valid reason to make work, it is not currently fashionable in the contemporary art world. Contemporary art is particularly interested in taking people by surprise, looking at things in a different way, turning things upside down. This may be to convey a significant social theme, or it could be just for the fun of being transgressive! This is the current style, not a forever theme.

It is accepted that art can be made from anything (Julia Pfaff was on her way to a museum where she had a commission to do an installation and happened to see an uprooted tree…in a flash of inspiration! She installed the tree trunk and all the roots in the gallery)…so art could be made from fiber, or roots or trash just as easily as from paint and canvas. However, what the “art world” is interested in is that the work be provocative, assertive and startling - whatever it's made from. Thus, Ghada Amer’s embroideries are accepted into high fine art…not because they are embroideries, but because of the content of the embroideries – the social themes of war and injustice that she addresses.

One of the problems with art quilts being accepted and judged within the general art world is that the amount of work it takes to make a piece is seen in the art world as acceptable not in its own right, but only if it’s obsessive to the point of being excessive….for example: Polly Apfelbaum’s floor pieces made from thousands of pieces of velvet, stained or dyed and then cut out in flower and petal shapes. Here’s a You tube video of such a piece being installed.

The art world is concerned not with craftsmanship but with repetition.

Dorothy Caldwell's work (above) shows the obsessive repetitive stitches that are so intriguing to both the quilt and the larger art world.

Another issue with quilts is that many are mainly decorative in nature – in the art world this is not an edgy issue!! A comment on decoration is new and interesting, plain old decoration is just – well – decoration! This is not to say that anything is Wrong with making decorative and beautiful work – just that it won’t be seen as having any place in the leading edge of art work today.

A third issue is subject. Fashions come and go – sometimes abstract is in, sometimes it’s out! Currently the art world is more interested in figurative work. Therefore quilts that refer to traditional patterns, or are more abstract in nature would be less likely to be of interest – currently.

Fourthly, while the use of fiber is acceptable, it’s not new and startling if the fiber is used in a traditional way. Textiles are not good (to the fine art world) if they fit the expectation of textiles. Furthermore, the fact that the work has been executed in fabric rather than in some other medium is not of interest. While, the medium has to make sense in the meaning of the work, it should not be the justification of the artwork. (Despite the fact that painters can get away with making paintings about painting!)

In the next blog - this is getting too long - I'll talk about my reaction to what this critic said - please add your comments and I can address them!

And, if you have been, thanks for reading!