I was reading about the Canadian painter A C Leighton (1901-1965) and some of the advice he gave other painters many years ago and I felt it strongly applied to art quilts.
He emphasized that the true artist should really be working to please one person only: him or herself.
This is difficult to follow when you are not sure whether or not you’re making the right decisions in a piece.
I don’t think that you can always “trust yourself” if you don’t have the skills and information but,
once you have some basic knowledge…or, know where to get it then Please Yourself!
If you do work from your own heart it’s going to be much more valid, more honest, fresher, less stale.
Don’t ever follow trends! For example, I go through phases where only certain colours or colour
schemes really excite me..if I’m out of step with the fashion at that time – tant pis!
I may be passed over for a show or a prize or a sale…but I’m speaking in my own voice.
A C Leighton went on to say that it’s important to set a high goal, to feel like you’ve really achieved
something and not to aim for the merely pretty.
I have been guilty of the “merely pretty” from time to time…
thinking that such a piece might gain acceptance…but you know,
it rarely does. Overall it’s the individuality of a piece that stands out.
Bland pallid imitative work is often praised in magazines but
is never going to please anyone for long. I know when we’ve
bought (by mistake!) a sweet pretty painting, it soon means
nothing more than wallpaper.
Or worse, ends up sickening and cloying the appetite!
Leighton urges that one Be Oneself and bring real character to the work.
He advocates continually studying and gaining knowledge and skill in designing and composing work
and in the use of colour. The use of phenomena such as simultaneous contrast etc can help us to really
make a piece much stronger. There are many techniques out there that can aid in conveying the idea
much more effectively and it’s important to be aware of them.
Some of Leighton’s specific advice in this regard is particularly interesting e.g. he felt that "Edges must
be held by tone values, not lines." In quilting since we work mainly with shapes, this is much less of an
issue for us though it’s helpful to remember that we are working with shapes when sketching out a design.
I love what he says about colour because it’s something I’ve railed against !!
Especially when I see “Best Use of Colour Prize” going to some rainbow
hideosity!: "The use of reds, yellows or blues in profusion is not good art,
but if considerable grey is added, this softens their effect and shows
them to advantage."
Yes!!! And he goes on to note that: "One can live longest with the greys."
Be subtle!! Dye your own fabric and be sure to use neutrals in every piece.
Leighton stated that "Only top paintings hold interest for any length of time."
This is something I’ve been so aware of in my own collection of paintings.
The really good ones keep on giving you something
every time you look at them, the bland stuff is ending up in the guest room
or worse yet! The guest bathroom!!!
Some has even gone to the Salvation Army…..
Another bon mot: "The public cannot be expected to jury." The prize I most dread getting is
“People’s Choice”!! You know how it is always The Most Accessible piece that gets
this prize, a piece that too obviously panders to the public taste and the LCD!!
And finally he commented: "Don't do poor work, and if you do, don't let it out."
I try not to do this …that is one thing about quilts, if they don’t please as art, they will
be perfectly good as a lap quilt. I love to see pieces I made years ago hanging in people’s
houses…I sneakily take a look and see if they are still okay I get quite a kick of pleasure.
If they’re not, I suggest moving them to the guest room!!
Some of the best advice is that given by the old art teachers: Robert Henri: The Art Spirit,
Hawthorne on Painting, Edgar Whitney and AC Leighton.
And, If you have been, thanks for reading! Elizabeth
PS thank you for all your ideas for a title for the show of work that Dominie Nash and I
will have at FOQ in Birmingham, UK next year…havn’t yet seen the perfect one..but I’m cogitating!