Saturday, July 25, 2009

Last post before QBL: Far from Folksy!

Well I’m off  tomorrow to teach a workshop on Working in a Series at Quilting by the Lake.  There is no lake, alas – but the new college where the workshop is to be held is on a hill, so there should be good views and lots of fresh air!!  Two things I really love.  Plus excellent facilities including a/v back up which is really great.  Having taught quiltmaking at the continuing Education Centre at the University of Georgia for many years I was  spoilt by having any audio or visual device I wanted available at any time…so workshops in windowless hotel conference rooms where there is nothing available except tables of the wrong height is extremely frustrating.  I’m also thrilled to be asked to teach at Penland next year – an arts and crafts school near Asheville, NC with a wonderful reputation. (and great a/v!)

I’ve always worked in a series myself.  I found I had such a tendency to try to put all my ideas about something into one piece with such a chaotic result, unbalanced, unfocussed, full of knight’s move right brain thinking that you needed anti-nausea pills to even look at it!   Splitting up the ideas across several quilts really helped.  Plus it meant I didn’t have to reinvent solutions to problems all the time.  If I came across a neat way to solve something I could use it more than once – obviously, though,  not ad nauseam (again!).

Though working in a series is not a new practice for me, therefore, this actual workshop is.  It’s going to be really exciting working with people who are prepared to push themselves beyond making one piece in the style of the current instructor.  There is an awful temptation to do that when you take a workshop and it’s quite natural.  I see it as a normal developmental step.  But then, as Picasso said, you have to reach the stage where instead of borrowing another artist’s ideas and just using them for a short while before borrowing someone else’s,  you steal them!  You take them away and make them completely your own! Expand them, develop them, improve them.  You know if you borrow a sweater from someone, they’re not going to be thrilled if you change it – but if you sneak if out of their wardrobe when they’re not looking……you can cut it in two, insert another colour, throw it in a dye bath, shorten the sleeves, cut down the high neck…etc etc and then it’s your creation!!!  So my workshop will definitely be about “stealing”! (and please don’t worry if you’re just coming for fun!! that’s a perfectly legitimate and worthy goal!!)

Actually T. S. Eliot, a poet I’ve always loved, said something very similar:
One of the surest tests [of the superiority or inferiority of a poet] is the way in which a poet borrows. Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different than that from which it is torn; the bad poet throws it into something which has no cohesion. 
Eliot, T.S., “Philip Massinger,” The Sacred Wood, New York:, 2000.)

As an interesting corollary, Eliot went on to say:
A good poet will usually borrow from authors remote in time, or alien in language, or diverse in interest.
Those of you who watched the recent Bravo Fashion design show will have seen clear examples of when to “steal” (from different cultures and times) and when not (copying a runway dress from a current wellknown designer).  These are some of the ideas we’ll be discussing in class. 


What the class won’t be is folksy!  Why does the popular press still begin virtually every piece on art quilts with some reference to your grandma or days gone by?  Here is the first page on an article published this last week in Athens magazine, a nice glossy magazine with some beautiful pictures  including about half a dozen of my quilts to say nothing of my somewhat less glossy phyzog!  It’s great to be in print though! and the rest of the article is just fine – I only wish I lived up to it!!!

I’ll be posting again after QBL – and with luck with have some pictures!

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

Friday, July 24, 2009

Shadowing Still

I’ve been reading a book by Alan Bennett, the British playwright in which he says:

“Always beneath the play you write is the play you meant to write; changed but not abandoned  and, with luck, not betrayed, but shadowing still the play that has come to be”.

That seems to happen so often in art, you have this wonderful vision in your head – I see a dramatic castle in red, or a cool green landscape, or a strange ominous juxtaposition of industry and nature… and then the tangible reality in front of me that develops on the design wall…fights me…says “No Jagged Red!- too unbalanced!”,  or “those the cool greens  are too blah or too blue”… or the cooling towers or pumping stations  sit there bland and placid in their fabric haven instead of lordly and threatening as I had imagined…

But sometimes, there is no “betrayal”.  Instead an interesting quirk appears, a fabric I’d forgotten about is tried, and adds depth and texture way beyond its unassuming appearance at the end of a dye session.  In fact it’s often the unpretty bits, the places where I simply wiped off the brushes, or spilled the dye when reaching for a fly swatter, or forgot and left under a bush for 3 weeks (yes that did happen! what a find!! better than truffles! and no pig necessary).  Those ugly sisters who actually turn out to add the spice to the mix. (yes! a mixed metaphor!).

So if you have an original intention, it can change…Let It!…shifting the point of view,  literally or metaphorically, can give a truer, stronger vision.  Looking at some of Margaret Bourke White’s photographs  I realized how thoughtfully she organized her images, not accepting the initial idea as presented.  A very low horizon makes the towers look so tall, or lining up the generators shows the rhythm of the engines…even the dreadful photographs from the concentration camps show by her use of the enclosure of the men with the timbers of the bunks a visual hint as to their imprisonment.  Ghandi is balanced by the spinning wheel of life – O Fortuna!  

So often people bring to workshops a single photo they’ve taken of their central idea.  But don’t just fix on one view!  A fixed viewpoint can be so limiting – in many ways on many levels.  If change happens, it doesn’t mean you’ve abandoned the idea so much as enriched and developed it into a probably unpredicted but fuller result.  The shadows bring the painting and the play to life ….

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

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Landscape/pictorial or abstract/geometric: some random thoughts about Quilt National 2009

I’ve been  taking a look at the 2009 Quilt National catalogue – some wonderfully inventive pieces – so wish I could have seen the show…and while the underlying composition for over half of them remains abstract/geometric (either random or regular repeated geometric shapes pieced together), about a quarter of them are pictorial – often botanic, or landscape with very different compositions demands.

I don’t think one style or the other is easier/more difficult. Each has particular challenges. An abstract/geometric piece may have a pre-ordained basic compositional structure but the artist needs to establish an idea or theme – most do! A few don’t!! There are always some pieces that you think “how in the dyepot did that piece get in there?”! Whereas, those pieces that are pictorial or landscape in nature have a much more obvious central idea but the artist has to make more design or compositional decisions.

All work is stronger if there is a specific center of interest. The center of interest relates to the overall theme for the piece…thus in an abstract piece if the theme is texture, that texture should make you want to touch and feel (no! you can’t!! but oh boy you want to…) in the same way that you want to stroke sueded silk, bounce your hand on a crew cut, or run your fingertips over a tree trunk. If the theme is a polar landscape, the harsh monotony and immense distances should be so evident you feel a chill on the warmest day.

I find an all over pattern much less interesting to look at – I think oh nice! But feel I have quickly “got it” and am ready to move on…it’s a much more difficult to be successful in this mode.  Harmony yes, repetition yes….but always with some variety, repetition of the same note gets very boring….vary the height, or width, or angle, or sinuosity of the shape…slightly. Much more interesting!!! That’s why the African American quilts drew everyone’s eye when they first saw them. Think of all the variety and movement in Rosie Lee Tompkins work.

I find it hard to understand why some folk keep on making the same bland repetitive work when there are so many ways of keeping people interested. Areas can be brought to life by the use of contrast – of hue, of value, of intensity, of detail - is a monotonous regularity enough??  Having said that,  ignoring this guideline can work if your theme – is “look how many of these there are!” – in which case you have to keep the scale large so that the viewer can be lost in the immensity of it.

High contrast will make an area appear more important; therefore the reverse is also true. But several pieces had their areas of highest contrast away from the most important element…and it wasn’t till I read the statement that I caught the meaning of the piece.  Avoiding this isn’t too difficult if you can stand back and say to yourself “okay what am I really wanting to convey here?” – how exactly am I doing that? the answer shouldn’t be in the statement but in the piece itself! Use contrast! Of any element.

I also like to see a piece that includes a variety of  density of details…whether a landscape or a geometric. If you’re showcasing squares with interesting things going on inside them, have some that are quiet, and some that are really busy. Several people accomplished this and it makes their pieces much more exciting.

It’s important to keep me (the viewer) in the picture! And this can be done by nudging me back if my eyes start to stray…e.g. don’t have lines that lead me out of the picture, but rather lines that pull me back in. Include some mystery…so I’m leaning forward to look more closely. Slow me down with curved paths, rather than straight lines that zoom in…then out. Remember Hundertwasser’s opinion of straight lines: "The rigid, straight line is fundamentally alien to humanity, life and the whole of creation".  How right!

Allow me to saunter through your piece … to take a slow visual walk. Don’t block my journey with a barred fence across the way, or a door or window you can’t see through. Windows that give a hint of what’s inside – or outside – are much more interesting.  It’s even better if I’m invited to try to solve a mystery….this is especially true with narrative pieces – just what is happening here, what is around that corner?  You don’t have to spell out all the details…a person will keep looking longer if they have to complete some of the information… It’s not necessary to indicate every leaf on a tree…unless you are aiming for a hyper-realistic effect. A few will convey the idea. …hyper realism doesn’t work as well in a quilt (or a painting for that matter) as does softness and suggestion.

I think it’s also important not to have strange things happening that don’t relate to the theme…towers that grow out of heads, or people with half bodies – even the bust of Beethoven had a little stand!  Things like that distract one visually away from the main idea.

I find I’m attracted to pieces that have a lot of movement. These are quilts that include vertical, horizontal and diagonal elements. Rhythm and movement activate the eye and brain as well as the body! And it’s more interesting if the geometric shape isn’t completely spelled out..but rather is slightly hidden or disguised. This is where Paula Nadelstern’s work is so very clever – your eye is fooled constantly by her hidden edges!! (Paula wasn’t in the ’09 QN show, she was preparing for her solo at the Museum of Folk Art, NYC – a show well worth seeing!).

It’s difficult in quilts to avoid the cut out, pasted on look…..the nature of appliqué whether by hand, machine or gluepot..puts one at risk. But there are ways to get around it: overlapping, cutting through (there were some marvelous cut through pieces in the show) and losing the edges into the surrounding background by equalizing values.

Varying values is so important: light and shade can indicate mood and drama. The most successful pieces used this well. A piece made of overall mid values is more difficult to see, especially when so many QN viewers are looking at the catalogue and not the actual show. When you’re designing a piece, squint, or put the camera out of focus (or reduce the pixels) and you can get a better sense of where the values are…and develop a more interesting composition

Shapes should intertwine, not just stop when one ends and another begins…much less interesting and also less harmonious. Again this is why Nadelstern’s work is so strong. She keeps your eye flowing onto the next shape by clever use of a consistent element – like an underlying color or form.

Balance is another key factor. There shouldn’t be that much difference of mass on any of the four areas (right, left, top, or bottom). This will make it feel like it's leaning or top heavy and a few pieces were guilty of that. It’s fine to do this, however, if it relates to the central idea.

Well I didn’t even get to colour!! This is already too long…but you can see just how much you can learn and appreciate from the perusal of a good catalogue! Run out and get the Quilt National one today!!

If you have been, thanks for reading!! I look forward to your comments!


Monday, July 20, 2009

The preliminary sketch – to do or not to do…


Sometimes I think maybe I’m just lazy or indecisive when I spend days messing around with little sketches, making tiny adjustments, cropping, resizing, altering the ratio (landscape to portrait – wide wide? or long and skinny?), trying different values – a night sky?, light from the right or the left? Keep that building in place, or lose it? Blend the colours of various objects, or make them very distinctive?......well you see how my mind goes! I end up with piles of paper lying across the study floor..(I do try to reuse the reverse side!! And then eventually shred it for the compost pile, so hopefully I’m not being too environmentally insensitive)….sooner or later, however, I find one image stands out. I’m looking for the one that best fits my original idea, and is the strongest and most interesting visually.


I think it is very worthwhile to make these sketches, though I notice few others do (or at least they deny it when I ask them – like people used to deny studying before an exam!! Even when they’d swotted all night!) . Away from denial and back to rough sketches: I would never try to go anywhere without a map, and I think trying out ideas on paper is really helpful. For me it’s not time wasting. There are always so many judgments to be made in making a piece anyway – and getting up and down to the design wall, pinning, standing back, “oh, ghastly!”, rushing to the wall, unpinning, flinging that piece of fabric aside!! Or worse yet, having cut a hole in the middle of a favorite bit of fabric the exact right size, deciding no….the value is wrong, should have cut it from the other side! That wastes time, energy and fabric!!


Working some of the main problems out on paper ahead of time means that when you come to actually blocking the piece out on the design wall, the big decisions are made…and now you can address the little ones more easily. You know what values go where, the placement of the big shapes and the overall colour scheme. Never try to solve the details before you’ve got the main bones in place!!
“What type of doorknocker will we have?”
“But we havn’t decided if it’s going to be a castle or a chalet yet!”


                                  I find I can get into a much more meditative mood when blocking out the piece on the design wall, if I’ve done the more distractible (let’s try this! How about that? What if I…?) casting around for possibilities on paper ahead of time and have a working plan to base the piece upon.

This method doesn’t mean that I lose spontaneity, in fact I think I probably gain it. I have the main idea, the general structure of the piece already in mind, and so, as I glance at the sketch and cut and place those big pieces on the wall, I can make little ad hoc adjustments, serendipitous additions of colour, or soften the lines as I go along. I don’t like blowing a sketch upto full size and cutting templates, by the way, that does tend to make a piece look a little rigid and forced.



Another advantage of doing sketches ahead of time is that with a pencil and paper you can allow yourself to be more experimental. The time and the fabric involved are minimal! What if you cut it into 3 pieces and rearrange it?? This is easy with a pencil drawing…a little daunting with a large piece of fabric!!

It’s also helpful when it comes to working out machine quilting ideas…at this point I’ll make some copies of the sketch so I can try out different possibilities.

So, take out your pencil and paper! We’re going to make a quilt!


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

PS – after my blog on dyeing a couple of folk asked if I do dye and screen printing workshops here in my studio – answer: yes! If you’re interested email scenario is a small group of 3 or 4 friends who come together – that way you can share the travel costs, double up in hotel rooms, and enjoy being together. Cost? $100 a day per person (for 2009) which includes all chemicals (fabric is extra). I provide just about everything! Including a simple lunch in our beautiful terrace garden!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Dyeing in the heat

One thing that summer in the southeast is really good for – dyeing!  all that free heat and humidity!  Also, I’ve not had a chance to dye in 2-3 years because of the drought – every drop of water has been carefully used..but now, (though us sceptics are being what we are!) the drought is pronounced at an end.  Its dying has led to me dyeing!

As a consequence of not getting the dye gloves on for 2-3 years, I had some old dye concentrate brooding at the back of the little dorm fridge I keep in the dye studio….hating waste and liking experimentation, I thought I’d use it up on some dye painting – I used it fairly extravagantly but was gratified to see it still works at 2 or 3 years old!


As you can see it’s a weentsy bit pale, but if you want pale, why not use old dye?  at the top is an ‘07 mocha (a good year for mocha I might add!), then an ‘06 fuchsia (mellowed by 3 years in the barrel) and at the bottom a 2 year old turquoise.  These are MX dyes.  I generally mix in a 5Tdye+3Turea+16oz H2O concentrate though occasionally stepping it up for screen printing.  I chuck that lot into a nobbly bottle in the fond hope that the extra turbulence caused by the nobbles will aid mixing!  When in doubt, use your nobbles!

More and more I like to use dye painted fabric in my quilts, and got a several nice lengths: that’s still that well-aged fuchsia, by the way.    IMG_1619 IMG_1618
Then I got carried away, mixed up some fresh dye and over the next few days produced several nice pieces of shibori – I’m going to be teaching a workshop at QBL on the 26th and will take these with me in case someone is interested in buying – I’m not sure how much to ask for them though, so if anyone has an idea – please comment.  They’re 1/3 yd, a very high thread count quality cotton: Testfabric 419.  I like the high thread count because you get nice crisp lines and less fraying.

IMG_1626 IMG_1621  IMG_1623IMG_1624IMG_1625  IMG_1627IMG_1620 IMG_1622 

Talking about dyeing, I thoroughly recommend buying the dyes from Prochem(east coast) or Dharma (west coast) and following their excellent instructions!   You don’t need a cookbook and the dye companies know better than anyone how to achieve the best results. Also Pauline Burch has a huge amount of very good information on her website.  Beyond those 3 sites if you have any questions, I suggest you devise your own experiments! you’ve nothing to lose!  So when I first wondered about how long I could keep dye concentrate, I used it fresh, 1 day old, 1 week old, 1 month old and 3 months old – on the same fabric and made myself a poster of the results.  And yes, it loses strength but very very slowly….and of course some colours weaken faster than others.  For dyes are not all the same chemical coloured in different ways!! They’re all different chemicals with different ways of behaving!!  
When I wanted to use less salt (we’re on a septic tank and I wasn’t happy about pounds of salt going into the tank or the garden) I did an experiment with three colours on the same fabric with and without salt.  Made a poster.    Then I could see that salt evens out the colour (less of a mottled look). 
I also tried experimenting with wet versus dry fabric in  low water immersion dyeing – made no appreciable difference.  Prewetting does make a difference however if you want to compress the fabric, especially if you are compressing to resist dye. (as in shibori).

So if you have a question that’s not on any of those website – set up your own experiment!  Remember to always have a control so you can tell if there’s a different between with/without whatever action, substance or condition you’re assessing.

And now I must make something delicious using shibori!!  Feel free to comment – I love comments!  And if there are questions that set me to cogitation, all the better!  If you have been, thanks for reading!


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Art and Agony of Entering Shows


I’m sure when I’m not blogging you must imagine me crouching over a smoking sewing machine whipping out amazing pieces! would that were so!  Actually, the smoking bit was all too real a couple of weeks ago  when my old  Bernina decided to blow its circuits.  I’ve never had a machine start sending out smoke signals while I was zooming along before…quite dramatic!

  But no I’m not always productively engaged….the business of being an art quilter takes nearly as much time as the sewing.  Yesterday I decided to complete a few show entries…they’d been piling up for a while (i.e. I’d been putting it off!).  After about 6 hours I think I had four of them done.  First, we  switched from slides to CDs.  Now we’re switching from CDs to online.  Nobody has the same format – not that they did for slides!  One would want an arrow at the top of the slide, another a red dot, the next  place wanted the red dot  on the bottom…have you ever tried to move a red dot? 
For a while I had my name and the date printed on the slides …thinking it would be neat and clear.  Of course they always wanted the name on the left if I’d had it printed on the right…so then I had to black out my name in order to rewrite it one inch away!   I was always too stingy to send a whole page of plastic slide holders, so would cut out a strip – invariably snipping off the end bits, which then had to be mended with tape!

Along came CDs – should we have 72 ppi, or 96?  (96?!).  Or maybe it should be 300?   or perhaps some combination?  And size? 5 x 7, or 4 by 6?  or something else?  Or, size would not be mentioned but “if not correct size, application will be disregarded”!   yesterday one form instructed me in paragraph A that the maximum size was 48 x 48, and in paragraph B that it was 60 x 60!
How should  the file  on the CD be labelled?    some easygoing shows sensibly required a simple  “name of artist, name of piece”…but one I remember had a complicated formula involving my name, the size of the piece, the date, the medium and the name of the cat!  Plus  everything in between. With hyphens - - -

Then they required artist’s statements with the entry! And resumés!   I thought I could make that easier by writing out standard versions of each that I could just print out – Alas no!  A specific number of words would be required…shorter and shorter until finally I was driven to rewriting the paragraph with a sort of Russian accent, omitting all the definite and indefinite articles: “quilt is beautiful, will hang on wall so wonderfully!”  Once I devised an egregiously wordy, fulsome and nonsensical paragraph based on some benighted art critic laying on the artspeak : “the unexpected way the formal issues are addressed by the juxtaposition and confabulation of adherent forms yields a pathologically perfect pointillism to the Renaissance surrealism embodied within the layers of meaning”.  I remember having to tape record a text book years ago, I got so bored with it, I kept changing accents and dramatic roles switching from Professor Punctilious at the Podium to Lola the lush leaning over her lime and vodka….

At least with slides and CDs the rest was fairly easy, write a check,  fill out a form (usually printed with vital information on the back which you didn’t discover until just after you’d sealed the envelope) and into the mail.
Yesterday I attempted 2 online entries – I say attempt because I have no idea if they “worked” – what I do know is technical writing (as in clear instructions on the website) is a lost art, Visa cards from Amazon don’t work for the generally used payment system, and going round in circles on the computer doesn’t use up as many calories as it should.  I always felt you had to be comfortably off, middle class, educated and literate to enter shows (which limits the entries tremendously), now I realise you need to have access to tranquillizers before you start, and a good hairdresser to cover the bald spots when you’re finished.  And I mean finished!!

Enough ranting! where’s that sewing machine?!

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

Monday, July 13, 2009

Beginning art quilting

Shelly wrote to me this morning:

“I am a beginner quilter, and am just starting out in art quilting. 
I wanted to ask how you started in art quilting?
How did you get to be where you are today?
Do you have any advice on how to develop my art quilt skills?
I haven't entered any shows yet, is this a good first step? ”

Like most people I started with traditional quilts which is a good place to get the nuts and bolts basics of the actual construction learned.  You work from a pattern so don’t have to worry about composition, but you do have to consider colour and value and texture, piecing or applique and quilting and bindings.   It’s good not to have to learn too many things as once.  Once you have those skills, they will transfer to the more difficult field of art quilts.

Some think art quilts are easier because you’re not following a specific pattern, and you don’t have to make the points meet etc…however while it’s easier to make a bad art quilt than a traditional quilt, it’s much more difficult to make a good one!  You have to think, plan and critique a whole lot more.

Having learned the traditional basics, I became frustrated: 
following someone else’s pattern
working with commercial fabric.
So I took workshops with several well known art quilters: Nancy Crow, Elizabeth Busch, Emily Richardson, Jan Myers-Newbury – and even more workshops (about a dozen of them!) on various surface design techniques, particularly Claire Verstegen and Kerr Grabowski.

But soon I decided to stop taking workshops that were about a particular style – I didn’t want to be a clone of anyone…making derivative work is a very appropriate stage when you are just beginning, but once you have the knowledge I think it’s important to develop your own style.  This is the First Step.   Your own particular style comes from one thing: making lots of work and making it very thoughtfully.  Putting yourself into every piece.  What do I want to communicate with my work?  What is my preferred way of doing it?

I made 13 quilts, entered #13 to Quilt National and called it “Aiming High” – I think you should!  I was lucky enough to get the Rookie Award that year and it was downhill from there!!  (well, no, not really…but I wasn’t that lucky again for a while).  

Thank you, Shelly, for the question – questions always set one thinking and sometimes that’s a task!  Now I must rinse out my dye experiments so I can write about them in a day or so…

and if you have been, thanks for reading!  Elizabeth

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Return from Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts

I’ve been teaching for a week at Arrowmont in S.E. Tennessee on the edge of the Smoky Mountain National Park.  I drove through the park early this morning and it lived up to its smoky name – of course the “smoke” is the early morning mist rising up the mountains – a great lesson in atmospheric perspective as the curving blue hills are fainter and fainter in the mists!


The evening sky from the window of my room.

Arrowmont is a green oasis in the pretty  (lots of hanging baskets) but overly busy little tourist town of Gatlinburg.  Actually at 7am this morning, it was delightful!  I was the only one driving through the town apart from one lone jogger.  Arrowmont runs weeklong courses throughout the summer and for a month in the spring and fall too  and it’s a great holiday for those who don’t like to like on the beach developing their skin cancers!!  I’d always much rather be learning something new with kindred spirits, then broiling with a potboiler!

I had a great class; everyone was excited to be learning –  - some were experienced artists and some had never dyed or made a quilt before.  They designed, dyed gradations of several different colours, made masses of shibori and even dyed their socks! Then they blocked out their quilts on the design wall, and some were able to sew several sections together – one lady started 3 pieces – an achiever for sure!


Karen worked on two pieces: the left one had the theme of “What’s over that hill?) (the trees will have more branches before it’s finished!), and the right one will have the square and diamond notes of Gregorian chant…reflecting a particular piece of music.





Rosie had to be “persuaded” to use the gorgeous piece of shibori fabric she made as the background for her lively dancing tulips!





This is just the start of Elaine’s cityscape, there will be a glittering bridge in the foreground.




Bonnie’s piece is about hope, she will be making the skinny white lines that cross through the piece in a dark colour.

Carol started on a series of mood pictures to brighten her office as vice principal of  Middle School – the tree lateIMG_1613r moved to the left of the house by the way!!  The beauty of blocking out your quilt on the design wall means that you can make these adjustments as you go along.  Always make visual decisions Visually!!!  I love the transparent effect of the peaceful smoky mountains…and the brightness of the quirky little yellow houses!IMG_1616


Patty worked on three quilts that she’ll hang together – contrasting the grimy factories and polluted cityscape with the freshness of the waterfall – she’s going back to the dyepot this weekend to dye some really pale blue for the splashing water at the bottom.



Susan and Carol both dyed up a storm!!

many people had not dyed fabric before, so they rushed down to Arrowmont’s art store to buy dyeing kits to take home with them!










When you’ve used up all your fabric, then start dyeing your clothes! what else?

(apologies to those ladies whose work I didn’t get a picture of)

and now to prepare for my next class which will be at Quilting by the Lake in Syracuse, NY in 2 weeks.   If you have been, thanks for reading!   Elizabeth

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Arrowmont Class Day 3

I'm blogging from Arrowmont School of Arts and crafts on the edge of the Smoky Mountain national park in Gatlingburg, TN. It's the 3rd day of class and so much has already been done!
On Monday everyone had to create 3 potential quilt designs from a variety of different inspirational sources - and amazingly at leat 3 beautiful designs appeared on everyone's design wall. We critiqued them as a group, examing how well they portrayed the theme or main idea, how harmonious they were, whether or not they were interesting and well balanced. It's iimportant too to show rhythms and echoes - in all the different elements that we play with in 2D work: viz: shape, line, value, colour and texture.

We then had a quick whiz round colour theory, a description of different colour schemes. I'm a cruel witch in class! and force people to choose a particular colour scheme, and a dominant colour - no cor blimey spilled paintboxes!!! Of course colour is so seductive, you want a little bit of everything - but nearly always a piece is stronger if you are a little bit restrained. After all who would want to eat a plate of bacon, chocolate, curry, peaches and lettuce?

Yesterday was dyeing day. This is always so much fun as it's mainly physical after the intellectual vigours of designing day!!! Everyone dyed a gradation sequence in their dominant colour, and a slightly shorter series in their secondary colours. Then little bits of accent colours. Some did larger pieces for background fabric, some immersion dyed, some dye painted and we ended up with arashi shibori - then you can really let the colours fly!

Today is blocking out. First we'll choose which composition is to be made, then grid it - I think that works better than blowing up to life size as it allows more room for adjustment as the paint goes onto the canvas - as it were. It's important to keep things fresh and lively, and if you follow a pattern too rigidly (and who wants to do that anyway?) things get tightened up.
After gridding, we'll pin up the most background piece and work forwards. I'll explain more about this in a later post.

One more thing about Arrowmont. It is a marvelously exciting place to come for a class because of the great mix of disciplines - plus many of the teachers are the leaders in their medium. This week we have Akira Blount here whose wonderful doll sculptures are in many museums and the White House. I am over dyeing a shirt for her - I just hope she likes the mottled look! We have Mary Todd Beam who has taken the Gold Medal at the AWS show several times, we have Fred Fenster, a master metalsmith. Arrowmont has been organizing workshops for many many years, beginning nearly hundred years ago with craft training for local people and gradually becoming national and then international in its scope. Sadly last year they were threatened by a proposal that the land be sold out from underneath them - to develop condos and a waterpark to increase the local tourist base - to compete with theme parks like Dollywood. This particular sale fell through, but the possibility is still there. They hope to renew the lease on the land next year for a few more years but really need to come up with a long term plan so that they are still providing great teaching and excitement in another hundred years. The options appear to lie between raising enough money to actually buy the land (currently leased from the fraternity Pi Beta Phi) or to raise enough money to move the school to another site - several other communities both in Eastern Tennessee and across the nation are immensely eager to obain such a jewel in their crowns.

And now, back to the textile studio to torture those poor students some more!! If you have been, thanks for reading. Elizabeth

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Teaching at Arrowmont

No pictures I'm afraid as I'm teaching this week at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg, TN - just on the edge of the Smoky Mountain National Park. I drove through the park yesterday on the way here - alternating long vistas of blue mountains (aerial perspective at its best!) and cool green shades of rocky streams. Last night we sat out on the lawn and watched the firework display - I remembered Terry Hanckock's firework quilts! I don't think anyone has done a better one.
Tonight I'll meet my class and we'll begin by finding our their expectations, hopes, dreams and goals for the class - I'll make a long list and hope that it in some way reflects my lesson notes!
The topic of the class is "Coaxing the Muse". We are going to explore all the different ways inspiration can come creeping in - not just fireworks and mountains, but also bathroom floor tiles, roof patterns, music, and poetry, relationships and being on hold on the telephone!
I'll report when I can - about our discovery process!
Thanks for reading!!! Elizabeth

Thursday, July 2, 2009

I hope practice does make perfect! I’m waiting…

I’ve been doing some exercises in value studies to try to improve my composition skills.  If you have a strong composition worked out ahead of time, much of the work of making the quilt is done.   When you’ve made a few quilts, it’s not hard to figure out construction, quilting and finishing – after all that really is the busy work.  The secret of success is that strong composition.  I know many people compose their pieces on the design wall but I find all that getting up and down with different bits of fabric – different shapes, colours, textures, values etc – to be extremely arduous!  and frustrating!!
  “ Oh no! I tried 20 pieces of fabric here and NOT ONE looked right!”
Have you been there?  I know I have!

So what I’ve been doing is taking some of the photographs I took in Scotland last month and working out interesting value studies.  I don’t know if I’m going to start (or actually continue) a landscape series yet – it’s not a subject I tackle very often…though I have made a few:


Landscapes do offer broad sweeps of values and it makes it easier to assess the values underneath, unlike the industrial or building pieces.   



yellowmountain value study

                          Here is the underlying value pattern of this piece:  As you can see I have a large light area at the top with a rather boring straight line intersects with the middle values on the right.  With hindsight this piece would have been more interesting had I made that line more varied.  

When you examine the basic values (light, medium, dark) of a piece the work will be stronger if:
there is an unequal amount of light, medium and dark value
the shapes of the light, medium and dark areas are varied
the shapes have interesting edges.
It’s also good to have the most contrast between values in the focal area of the quilt – because such high contrast will draw the eye.

Let’s look at another landscape piece I made:  and the underlying value pattern:


overlook value study

Here I think the straight line is even more evident, especially as that is one of the highest points of contrast.  On the other hand, I do have a much better proportion of values: mainly mid values with a  moderate amount of dark and a small amount of light.  

Now to look at a photograph and to consider the value pattern BEFORE I start work!

uk 09 066 desat

uk 09 066 vlue

                  Several possible improvements are immediately evident:  the sky is a big rectangular chunk of pale  (apart from that one cloud) – so I think it would be good to deepen the value of the clouds and get more interest into the top portion.  Also it would be good to increase the size of the distant island and maybe deepen its value too.  Not much, just enough to see it as different from the sea.  There is a nice strip of light sea between the main light sea area and the sky that leads your eye out and it would be important to preserve that.  The round chunk in the foreground is not very interesting and it could be omitted, or  given  a bit more life.  The high contrast of the sea birds forms a very nice focal point.

I’m going to keep on practicing!!!  the program I’m using by the way to pull out the values is Photoshop, but it’s important to learn to do it by eye, so before I Photoshop the photograph, I do a rough value sketch to see if I’m getting it right.  Then I can get immediate feedback from the computer.  Practice plus feedback is the best way to learn. 

I’m also very happy to announce that I’ll be teaching a two week class at Penland next year (June 27-July9)…..and they have computers  loaded with Photoshop available for students !!  This is brilliant!!!  That will give so many more compositional possibilities.

If you have been, thanks for reading!   Elizabeth