Monday, February 23, 2009

Learning by transfer

I decided to learn how to paint in watercolours in order to improve my knowledge of design, composition, colour, sensitivity to value, balance and proportion – all the concepts that you have to juggle when making art! Watercolour is difficult: with quiltmaking I already had most of the techniques (having sewed since age 5 – thank you to the nuns for all those embroidery lessons!); with watercolour I had to start from the beginning to learn the delicate dance of brush, water and paint.

City of Willows (detail)

What I have discovered from my watercolour journey, however, is that all the information that is so lacking in the art quilt world is right there in the painting world – there are numerous wonderful books – too many to make a list because there are nuggets to be found in practically every one. And it’s there for the taking! I’m hoping that the knowledge I learn in painting will transfer to quilt making – it certainly would be good if it worked both ways of course!! What’s so weird is that my PhD thesis was actually on the transfer of learning from one arena to another. I never thought that I would benefit personally from those experiments!

Actually, it’s often the case that you cannot learn the knowledge and techniques you require in the particular situation where you want to use them. Think of flight simulators….who would want a pilot in control of a plane doing the things to it that I did to a car when first learning to drive? My best feat was getting the car balanced on its chassis on a high kerb with all its wheels off the ground! Of course, if I’d been a trainee pilot, that would have been a good start!

City of Willows (46.5"w, 31/5"h)

Back to quiltmaking…like many folk I began with traditional quilts and got a good grinding (sorry! “grounding”) in following a pattern, being neat, length of stitches, piecing etc. But soon I realized I wanted to make up my own patterns – it was fine as long as I stayed within a grid and abstract repeated patterns…but once the windows, and then the houses began to appear, I needed to learn something about composition. I knew there was something badly wrong, Michael James said to me “You’re out of proportion” – well that was interesting but what to do about it? So eventually I headed to the art gym! Aka the library, the museums and galleries, the websites...(One I like is Empty Easel but there are lots of others.)

Jaunty Ladies (detail)

The beauty of something like watercolours is that you can try out a new composition, or a new idea about light and shade, deep and shallow depth of field, single versus multiple focal points, color schemes, overall formats and on and on – every day! A quilt usually takes a couple of months and that’s a long time for feedback…..we know that repetition is the best way to learn something, moreover - repetition over a fairly short period of time.

So I promise myself – practice practice practice! Repeat, repeat repeat – but mindfully! Thoughtfully! Knowledgeably!

And, if you have been, thanks for reading!


1 comment:

Jackie said...

"Mindfully, knowledgeably, thoughtfully'--well-spoken! I have another thought as well, related to this on-going conversation of evaluating our own work: Trust yourself. Express your personal vision. This doesn't mean to disregard or fail to master sound principals but to be true to yourself.