Monday, February 9, 2009

Working Process: design and color

Some time ago, somebody asked me to go through my working process in a little more detail.

I began Industrial Landscape #6 with quite a complex diagram.

I had sketched a portion of the steelworks, then done a number of different value studies.

I decided to go with two that were complete opposites and alternate them in a series of 5.

I began by deciding on the first four lines – the edges of the piece…

I wanted this quilt to have a very horizontal look to it..

I tried four repeats, five and six to get the right balance – five looked good.

I think it’s really important to take your time at this stage.

The next step is the colour scheme. There are lots of different ways to derive good colour schemes and in my workshops we spend some time on getting good ones. I think it’s very important to decide on a scheme and stick to it – not to allow oneself to keep diving back into the stash to find some neat stuff you just fancied using!! Every time I do that I end up having to take it out again because it overpowers the rest of the piece! From my reading of painting books, I’ve learned that a good painter will lay out a palette of colours at the outset.

It’s not just a case of choosing a lovely colour scheme – but the colours chosen should relate to the meaning of the piece. Colour is both effective and affective. People choose many things by colour! Not just clothes, but cars, mp3 players, flowers, furniture, cats and yes, artwork. Colour affects mood – a somber grey waiting room with brown and black furniture and pictures of grizzly bears will definitely sober the patients – unbelievably this is what my dentist has chosen!

Colour also references culture, geography and history. I grew up in a grey rainy stone environment – consequently I find neutrals restful and comfortable – a Californian or a Trinidadian would just find them dreary! If I made a quilt about Trinidad and chose a “Yorkshire” colour scheme that would add a different layer of meaning to the piece – and vice versa. Directors have done this with film for years – suddenly switching to black and white or chiaroscuro to lend an effect. The wonderful Jeremy Brett BBC Sherlock Holmes series are filmed in the browns and blacks so beloved of Queen Victoria after her consort’s death. But what if you filmed Sherlock in Dayglo? What would that indicate? So – the colours of my current quilt were chosen to underline the heraldic “coat of arms” look of my sketch perhaps bringing out the nobility? (or not?). something to ponder…

Back to technique: I paint or dye all my fabrics. I use a technique that uses little water (and thus no salt) ( I live in a drought ridden area, plus we’re on a septic tank) for the immersion dyeing as I don’t want flat colours – I never liked flat colours in painting, so I surely wouldn’t want them in a quilt! I also like to paint the fabric, or do shibori or screen printing.

I teach workshops covering all the techniques I use – here in my home studio by arrangement with small groups – and occasionally out in “the field” (i.e. the big wide world!) if the facility has sufficient sinks etc so people can enjoy themselves with colour and not have to line up for water, or carry buckets for miles. So I’ll be doing a full dye/paint/screen workshop next spring at Coupeville, Whidbey Island. In July this year, in my Arrowmont class everyone will dye their fabric before they make the quilt. (more details on Tuesday).

I think it’s very economical and efficient to dye the fabric for each quilt, and then use it all up - unfortunately I can't do that!! Jan Myers-Newbury told us that’s what she did; she said her stash was only a short bookshelf in size!! Our mouths were open in awe at such restraint!!

Having got my palette of fabric laid out, and my sketch handy I then proceed to block out the piece on the design wall. Of all the steps involved in making a quilt, I’d say this takes the most time. As you put each element up, it affects all the other pieces already in place and it’s good to evaluate that step by step. It’s a matter of constant adjustments of size, shape and value to get the perfect balance of all the elements – even with a good sketch.

So here are a sequence of pictures....gradually adding elements, and frequently taking things away!

As you can see I have my first four lines marked out, and then the back ground sewn together and in place, now I begin to add elements.

I really think I liked the piece best at this stage because it looks something like a dance!
Dancing steel mills? there's a lovely image and contrast....note it down!

And now I have most of the elements from my sketch.....

That’s the stage I’m at now with this piece, I’ll post the completed quilt when it’s done – but it’ll take a while! At present I’m beginning to think I’ve got too many things going on, so I shall try abstracting them one by one and see if it makes the piece stronger – I always like space to breathe!

So…back to work!!!

And, if you have been, thanks for reading.



Jackie said...

Oh my! I've had a glimpse inside your head! Step by step. It seems to be clear and since I'm ready to begin a piece, why don't I try it? Thank you for sharing so clearly. Through seeing these steps, I also understand more of what you've written before about composition. Thank you!! Thank you!! I'll print it out right away and save it.

Barbara Strobel Lardon said...

I too was thrilled to see your process. It is looking fabulous, now it will be interesting how you edit, what you edit and how you finish it.