I’ve mentioned Robert Genn’s twice weekly newsletter before – much of what he writes is great cogitation material. (do sign up!!! it’s free, short and easily deleted - would that more in life was!) Yesterday, for example, Genn talked about how lucky fiber artists are in that they work with shape, not line, and moreover, moveable shapes!!! Imagine trying to move a piece of paint!
I try to emphasize shape over line in my workshops, it’s difficult to make an strong composition from lines alone and yet many people try. In most two dimensional visual arts we are only playing with five variables: line, shape, value, color and texture. Robert Genn quoted the watercolourist Ted Kautzky: “Subject matter is not nearly as important as the arrangement of the elements into a pattern. ” When I teach a workshop I emphasise making a value pattern of the Shapes in the sketch. The sketches are usually lines, and if you are looking at a sketch like this:
what you are seeing is dark lines threading their way around a white background….but is that what most people are thinking of making? NO. They are trying to translate those lines into shapes in their minds and assess whether or not this is an interesting composition/arrangement.
It’s much easier if you shade in the values so you can see SHAPES, after all we cut out Shapes from fabric – not long skinny lines! (apart from Eileen Lauterborn of course!)
To the right was one possibility for shape arrangement….and from this I made the quilt Flora and Ferra (below left).
On the right above, I reversed the values….and that led to the quilt below: 5 Mills Rampant ….(thinking it looked somewhat heraldic!) in which I played with the same shapes, but alternating reverse values.
Look for shapes not lines….if your subject matter yields only lines, then look for different inspiration, suggest Genn. If you look at the inspiration (whether in reality or in a photograph) through the wrong end of binoculars or with squinted down eyes, it’s easier to see both shapes and values. Try to forget you are looking at boats in a harbour, or flowers in a vase…think of the objects only in terms of their shapes. Notice how the shapes vary in size and regularity…the odder the shape the more interesting! Notice how one shape interlocks with another….Dominie Nash, the art quilter, does this very well. As does Milton Avery, the painter.
Robert Genn considers that as fiber artists we have a real advantage over painters when it comes to composing our shapes – so let’s do it!!
And, if you have been, thanks for reading!!! Elizabeth
Great food for thought.
I had an assignment for an art history course that required reducing an image down to two steps, line, then shape.I struggled a bit on what exactly was being asked of me. Your blog piece helped tremendously with helping me deconstruct an image. The illustrations you provided on reducing what you see into line, then shape, were great!
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