Friday, February 26, 2010



airport wheels I do hate it when people say: “Oh, I loved the pieces you used to make; they were so nice!”
You know how artists get virtually branded? Oh yes! that’s a “so and so” you say as you spot their work.  It’s comfortably familiar; you can recall other such pieces by that artist and have a sense of their overall oeuvre (or “body of work” as it’s called now – never use one syllable when four will do). You may even feel as if you slightly “own” that artist, you have such a good knowledge of their work.  As human beings we always feel more in charge if we can predict things, there’s an uncertainty that many do not welcome when things look different.  Whether in our art, their art, or life in general!

And if you don’t recognize the work by somebody whose style you know well, you feel somewhat cheated.  They had the temerity to change! “Good Lord! I would never have guessed that X would have made that!” (which always sounds rather disparaging).

On the other hand, if the work seems too repetitive, I find I cease to respond to it.  The sense of “knowing” the artist and their work is poor recompense for the loss of the surprise and wonder at some thing new and fresh.   Yes, I know who made it, but I find I don’t want to spend any time with it at all.  I want some  development; I want to see how that artist would treat a different concept, situation, shape or colour challenge.

And looking at change from the point of view of the artist?  You have an idea and explore it, say a dozen or even twenty times;  the particular problems of that type of piece become  easier and easier to solve and one day you find yourself almost into mass production.   I remember one artist telling me that she made – and quilted! – backgrounds by the score and then when she felt the mood coming on her, attached a few elements to the front of the piece.  I think if that’s happening, the game is over!  something has won but it’s not the artist’s unique talent, ability and vision!  

I don’t want to see an artist repeating themselves, I want a new exploration with every piece, though not so great a change, that I cannot see the progress.  I wish the same thing for myself: inching (or even footing! or yarding – why can’t we do that?!) forward.   One journey  not a series of disconnected jumps, but neither a march in place.  We are not making widgets! 

How d’you feel when you see one of your favorites changing their work?  do you celebrate it, or deplore it ?  Is the change fresh? or disconcerting? let me know!!!

And now, back to the not-widgets!  - and,  thanks for reading. Elizabeth

PS – the piece at the  top?  Hartsfield Atlanta airport, Gate 29, concourse E.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Setting Parameters

steelyardfrieze 300

Have you ever found it difficult when you’ve come to the end of a piece, or series of pieces, to know where to go next? 
Where do I start?
There are a number of strategies that get me going again.  Looking at inspirations…I’m one of those horrors that rips out magazine pages when they’re reading, applies sticky notes to book pages, or strips of tissue when I can’t find the  stickies, or worst of all – simply piles up open books and magazines in a medieval morasse! 

But one of the things, I observe, that really gets me moving is to Set Parameters.  I noticed this when (in the good old days!) people would commission me to make this or that: it has to be a certain size, colour, content and mood…… immediately I would feel energized:  loads of ideas,  drawing, painting or cutting up and collaging away. 
There are times when I do better with an external hard drive, it seems!

So that’s what I’ve been doing recently…Setting Parameters.    (Interestingly, I notice in at least one of her gorgeous books, Nancy Crow  has lists of parameters up on her studio wall).
First I decided on the size: a group of smaller pieces that related and would look good hanging together.  I had loads of huge long drawings of various industrial sites…here’s one from Canada.  this drawing is 6’ or 7’ wide.   I have been making very wide pieces like this but looking at it as I’d drawn it on several pieces of paper, I thought hmmm…doesn’t need to be all one piece…

total_sketch_hamilton_72ppi So that was my Inspiration start….then I said to myself: “okay, missus, come up with four designs based on this, each one should be 27” square, and they should all be made from this pile of fabric you just pulled out”.  I find if I give myself clear order, something is more likely to happen – must be that Convent School upbringing! (Bar Convent, York if anyone is interested!!).     Out of about a dozen rough sketches, I came up with three I really liked, so suggested to the management we change the number to three!    Then while making those three, I thought, you know, some of these three pieces have some really nice details…okay! you must make 3 more that are such and such a size, with these particular fabrics, and done in a particular way.  And, d’you know, I’m off and running!!!

Goodbye!   (and, ifyouhavebeen, thanksforreading!!)         Elizabeth

PS what gets you moving?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Thought for the day…





Where next?hmmm, gotta think….




It is very hard to sit and really think… as psychologists (and many others!) have discovered.  If given a choice between a task that involves hard thinking and one that does not require it, nearly everyone will choose the latter.   Such mental “laziness” has been around for a while: 18th century British portrait painter Joshua Reynolds stated:  There is no expedient to which a man will not resort to avoid the real labour of thinking”.

It’s actually pretty scary to realise this, since our ability to think has long been touted as one of the attributes that differentiates us from a worm!  Psychologists suggest that it is because we prefer the familiar (i.e. predictable) to the unfamiliar.  This certainly seems to be true in art  with more approachable and familiar works being the ones accepted into shows at every level from the local art center to the great museums of New York. (there was an article in the NYT recently about how the big museums are choosing the old predictable crowd gathering artists to exhibit).

Of course, as usual, advertisers have exploited this concept long before the rest of us really thought about it! (after all thinking is hard, right?).   If you listen to ads (and don’t do it for long!), you will notice just how often things are described as being easy, quick, simple.   I don’t think there’s a quilting magazine on the racks that does not have one of those words somewhere on its cover!!  to say nothing of the dieting and beauty magazines!! And the politicians always seem to get more votes if they offer simple easy solutions: my way of fixing this will not hurt, you will not have to make any effort, vote for me!

We are all hardwired, say the psychologists, to look for easy answers  - perhaps because of our caveman roots!!   the trouble is, that if we slip slide into this we will go round in circles because they are oh so familiarly comforting! I’d better get into the studio and do some Long Hard Thinking to try to figure out the solution the the problem I set myself  in the above picture!!

Remember Joshua!! Get those little grey cells exercising! Let warning lights appear when the words “simple” “easy” “quick” flash up!  Choose the hard thinking route!

and, if you have been, thanks for reading!  Elizabeth
PS ALL comments most gratefully received – and if you have to think about it, all the better!

Friday, February 19, 2010

No Sale! Eschew safety in art!

So things aren’t  selling?  This is what I hear (and read) about all kinds of art these days.  When the economy slumps, people either don’t have the spare cash for art, or fear to relinquish any spare cash they have – there being a lot of wise virgins out there!  though not, alas, at the top!383214-R1-E023

Even the  poor soul on the right came a cropper!

Do you feel as if you’re hanging upside down with your eyes popping out of your head?

BUT!! though it may not feel like it when you’re in an awkward position….if it’s No Sale in every direction - shows, galleries, websites, blogs etc, then what an opportunity  to experiment!    There’s no pressure to make things to sell because they won’t.  So now let us try out some of those weird and wonderful ideas that have been appearing from time to time within the forests of our artistic cogitations; let’s slash out with fuchsia and bronze and viridian and the heck with taste! 



There’s no point at all in thinking what might be acceptable to a punter, making nice and approachable art, in any price range.  I see some people are making smaller things in the hopes that….well don’t!!! this is the time to try your hand at monstrous work!  to throw caution to the winds, because it isn’t doing you any good.  There’s nothing to lose. If  they won’t buy a decent sized piece for a thousand dollars, there’s no reason to think they’ll take pity on you and buy 10% of the decent piece for a hundred. So let’s all go wild!

If you’ve been investing your time in building a body of work to show the enchanted public and all the art galleries are closing and there’s no where to exhibit, then this is the time to ease back on the throttle, have fun and take a class in something completely different.  This IS the time for Yes You Can!  because there is nothing to lose.

No more Safe Art!! wow, just think!! Watch out Quilt National!

and, if you have been, thanks for reading!!  now , after the obligatory cup of tea, please go to your studio and do something Wild and Daft and Wonderful!!  Elizabeth

PS and then send me a picture!! 

Monday, February 15, 2010

Colour: a personal history

There are many different ways of looking at colour in art work.  It’s important first of all to have some idea of what the artist intended by her/his choice of colour but also we should be aware of all the nuances that occur in our own experience of colour.  Colour affects us on so many different levels: perceptually, realistically, theoretically, symbolically and emotionally – even historically and culturally.

However, despite this heavy load of meaning, many of us  use colour rather “intuitively” – I know I usually have…but now I’m thinking I might be able to improve my intuition a little! I also have tended towards a pragmatic approach using whatever fabric was available,  saying to myself – well if what you want is not in the stash, then use something else!! Use your imagination, woman! Not a very thoughtful approach. (but a typically Yorkshire one!). So I need to be thinking about it more and there are fabulous examples in art of extraordinary colorists from which I can learn mightily.

We look at colour in so many different ways. As quiltmakers most of us look at it in a rather pure abstract sense -  as in: “ I think I’ll make a blue and white quilt, or a red and green quilt”, before considering any other meaning of a particular colour.  I know I did that for a long time; my first few quilts were all blue and white, and then I went on to other colour schemes, just responding to the color purely in and of itself. I never though: How does red and green feel? Can I explore that? I was afraid that might be too complicated and academic an approach.

scarlettown But I did make about a dozen quilts that were all red – setting myself the task of “what can I do with red?”




cityofmists 72 pixels I went through a grey phase too…



and then a black and white one.



It would be interesting to look at your own quilt chronology and see if you did just the same thing! As quilters, pure colour in its most abstract sense is often the starting point.



petergate from slide After my monochromatic years I began to be interested in the effect one colour might have upon another – specifically purple and yellow…I loved the way the purple really made the yellow glow – now very often the quilts were fairly representational but the starting point for me was always that colour combination. I also wanted to play with the colour ideas. It wasn’t just one colour but the relationship between two colours…this is still a very absorbing idea and frequently for me a starting point. For example in Steelyard view, I was interested in how pink could relate to black…especially if I put the black in the foreground.

steelyardfrieze 300

Of course, in “real life”, colour is used in a much more representational way: the sky is blue, (well sometimes), so blue denotes the sky. If I want to make a landscape piece that was quite literal, I could use the actual colours of the landscape. cityofgarlicandsapphires In some of my big square Idea of a City pieces, what intrigued me was the patterning of the shapes within the city and so I didn’t focus on colour, just used pretty much what was there (i.e. local colour). It wasn’t the colour that turned me on, but the interaction of shapes and lines. I was using colour to both find and lose figure/ground relationships, rather than for its own sake.

Colour is also very much related to the medium upon which it is placed. In the fiber arts we have lots of possibilities!! It’s lovely to contrast a colour on a transparent fabric like silk organza with the same color used much more opaquely on a tightly woven cotton. And very interesting, though challenging, to take the contrast a step further onto a coarsely woven fabric like linen. I have played with those ideas too; I found after a while it was difficult to make the coarser fabrics engage with the more refined ones!!! But the allure of the transparent silk continues to beckon!! I also have enjoyed comparing colour on a straight weave fabric (I might be using the wrong term here, I’m not a weaver) with a twill fabric that has a slight sheen. That’s something I’m exploring now. Often when I’m dyeing I’ll put ordinary cotton, twill weave and a transparent silk into the same dye bath. The prospects of working those 3 fabrics together into a piece are quite delicious!

One aspect of colour I have not (knowingly) used is the symbolic meaning that is linked with many of them. Black for death, white for brides, red/white/blue or other combinations for patriotism etc. This way of looking at colour would occur more in conceptual pieces and I have seen “conceptual” quiltmakers use colour in this way.

I have, however,  used colour in an emotional context. Red for anger, deep purple for sorrow, yellow for cheerfulness and so on. This has happened more when I was in a specific mood and needed to express it by working with the colour that symbolized that mood often unconsciously. I can definitely look back over my quilts and link the colour stories to the emotional events of the time.

So…take a look at your own colour history…is your experience similar to mine? Or are you using colour very differently? I’d love to know!

If you have been, thanks for reading………Elizabeth

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Banners of Persuasion

shahzia I was very interested to view (alas only virtually) the exhibit of tapestries called Banners of Persuasion: Demons, Yarns & Tales  at the James Cohan Gallery in New York and London.  These tapestries and needlepoint canvasses were  designed by a number of internationally artists whose usual work is in other media.  They were handmade in editions of 5  over 3 years.

  The gallery felt that although fiber “has faded as a primary art medium”, it has nevertheless often been explored by major artists throughout the 20th century.  They hope that this show will renew interest in the medium.

above: Shahzia Sikander: Pathology of suspension, 8”10 by 6”1”

gili I have a number of mixed feelings about the show (nothing new, I have mixed feelings about many things!).  On the positive side it is wonderful that galleries are supporting major fiber shows and that internationally known artists are using this medium; on the other hand I don’t feel that anyone in the fiber world as a whole would have considered that fiber had “faded”, though interest in it may have of course.  And certainly  while it has not been considered a Major Fine Art form probably since medieval times,  there have been many beautiful examples of fiber work from many different artists and in different countries that have not been valued by the “art world”.  However, if they are looking up now!  all to the better.

above: Jaime Gili, Zelada, (wool, silk tapestry) 8”2” by 7’

alan measles Another aspect of the show for serious cogitation  is the commissioning of artists from other media to design the work.  It’s fascinating to see how their work translates absolutely gorgeously to the medium – totally proving the point over and over that fiber is a wonderful and much undervalued substance for art making!    It is also very thought provoking to see what fiber can look like in the hands of an accomplished artist – these are heights to which we should aspire!
But…it is sad that they didn’t ask Actual Fibre Artists to design and/or make the work.  and why not?  Weren’t they good enough?  or did they feel they would not have had a high enough profile?

Above: Grayson Perry: Vote Alan Measles for God (wool needlepoint), 8’2 by 6’7

gary hume

Overall, it’s great that fiber is being recognized in this way even though it has been somewhat slid in sideways on the reputations of major artists…and it is wonderful to see how this medium can really blossom when amazingly talented, well trained and experienced gardeners try their hands at it.  Let us also see just what can be done and aspire ourselves  to similar levels.  I would love to see a gallery commission this level of artist to design art quilts, and then put on a show of “artist designed” art quilts AND “quilt-artists designed and made” art quilts – now that would be a Real challenge!!  for everyone!

Above: Gary Hume, Georgie and Orchids, 8” by 6”10

birds So…take a look at the pieces pictured here…and enjoy, but also Think!…Do visit the website to see all the work. 
And a thank you to  the James Cohan Gallery, NY and Banners of Persuasion, London for their courtesy in allowing me to reproduce these images.

If you have been, thanks for reading!


Fred Tomaselli
After Migrant Fruit Thugs
wool silk tapestry
8’2 by 5’4

Monday, February 8, 2010


One of the things I like to do is to photocopy pieces I really really love and then look at them all lined up and think what it is about them that grasps my attention so intensely.  If I want my work to have that effect, then I want to know how others did it to me!  How’d they do that?

I realize I’m drawn to work with a strong clear message, this is just my personal taste but it would be nuts for me to want to make work that wasn’t My Personal Taste, right?  Clarity of message mean that there should be no doubt about what I’m trying to convey.

Every time I’ve made crap (and believe me this has definitely happened! How else would I know about “extreme doggie makeovers”!!) I’ve tried to analyse why the piece was such rubbish. And, nearly always,  its because I’ve had too much going on and I’ve just launched into something without thinking ahead of time what I wanted to say. Without knowing what I want to say, I won’t know what words (elements) to choose. Some people can speak in tongues but not I!

So, for me, I should always make Thinking my first step.  Whatever the inspiration, I should determine what I want to say and how I want to say it and that will help me choose my language. Actually deliberately putting my message into words always helps me to be clearer in my own mind. And if I’m not clear to myself, how could I hope to be to anyone else? (This is something I’ve started asking people to do in workshops too, by the way,  and they have told me it really helped them as well).  I should know myself what is so special and significant about the inspiration (photo, place, imagination, feeling, concept etc) if I want to share it. If I say too much, my piece could get scattered and confusing. If, looking at the inspiration, several things really interest me then I should plan on a series which each piece in the series addressing just ONE of those things.

Take a look at these pictures:


There are several interesting things here.  The first thing that strikes me is the pattern of shadows on the lattice, so if I wanted to make a piece from this photo, I’d blur down the plant and really emphasize shadows and lattice, I might even eliminate the plant and the shelf altogether.  However, if you saw the plant first, the beautiful contrast of the red against the several shade of green then that should be the focus of your piece.  
Or, perhaps one could convey the sense of a cool place on a hot day?  This was a small corner of a very hot garden on a very hot day in August…in which case a third possible Idea comes to mind.  Three different quilts!


In the picture on the right (Kendal)  are many different interesting things.  What inspired me to take the picture was the outline of the chimneys against the sky…if I made a quilt about that I would eliminate a LOT of the other detail, the street light, the houses nearest to me (you can just see a wall on either side), the people, the road, the cars, the windows and wall details, and probably the depth…because none of that would be about those chimneys.

On the other hand, I could look at this picture and see all those different levels of depth, from the bushes and people in the foreground, then the nearer houses, then the distant one, and then the distant hills of the Lake District.  A quilt about all these depths would be very different.

Or….I could make a piece about the angles and shapes of that conglomerate of houses – see how they are all joined together in a fascinating pattern?

Or, I could make a piece about the colours…I love the way the green sort of flows through the piece like a river, getting gradually bluer as it goes back into space…

Once I’ve got my Single clear message, then I should think about how I can portray that. And again, this is where a possible series might come in. For there are many ways to convey, say, “the greenness of it”! some more literal, some more abstract, some relying more on shape, others more on line, or on texture…and I can explore them all – but not in the same piece! (I hope!)

Simplicity improves.

And now for a clear clean simple cup of tea! And if you have been, thanks for reading…Elizabeth

PS do please comment! Then I know you’re out there!! In the great void!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Intuition, continued.


I had so many fascinating comments on the Intuition post, plus Terry Jarrard-Dimond’s  thoughtful blog today, that I thought the topic worthy of further cogitation, if not agitation!

There have been studies  on intuitive behaviour, e.g. that shown by the police when they talk about “a hunch”, or a rock climber “intiutively” picking the best route.  They show that while at the time of making the quick decision they might not have been able to consciously state what that decision was based upon, when they were asked to think it through slowly afterwards they could recall the experiences they’d had in the past that were similar and thus had lead them to the behavioural choice they made.

Perhaps one way to learn how to be more intuitive  would be to experience many situations similar to the ones where you want the behaviour to appear quickly, effortlessly and apparently unconsciously.  Of course this is the kind of training used in many fields.  I don’t quite know why in art one would expect to be able to be a sensitive and efficacious artist without training.  Perhaps because in the latter part of the twentieth century there was a movement in art schools to throw out some rather stiff and rigid training practices.  But, they threw that poor baby out with the bathwater!  You will not have the intuition to perform a skilful act without having had the training.

I teach design, composition, color, developing inspiration, motivation and techniques of construction/quilting etc and now,I’m wondering, can one teach intuition? For intuition  is  not  a gift one is born with (despite Jung!), or  that if you put on the right music and smoke funny ciggies you’ll get “in touch” with!!  Of course that doesn’t mean people havn’t tried!!! 
Nor is intuition a  specific body of knowledge, but rather how you use that body of knowledge.

Basically I think there are two kinds of activity in art :
first: artistic activity that is a performance of something learned over and over until it becomes unconscious…until a motor memory has been established, in the fingers or the feet or whatever organ is involved!  Like a piano or dance recital.
second: artistic activity that is a response to a stimulus and leads to the creation of something new. (e.g. choreography, music composition, painting, art quilts).
I think intuition might play more of a role in the first, than in the second kind.

Where does one begin creating, for example, a musical composition?  It is almost always from a stimulus – this might be something tangible like the wind (think of Vaughn-Williams Sinfonia Antarctica or Mendelsohn’s Fingal’s Cave)…or it might be a brief snatch of melody overheard in the street, or created when running one’s fingers up and down the keys…it might be everyday sounds like Philip Glass’s “hum of the refrigerator”.

Intuition is not actually involved with the genesis of the idea: the genesis is a tangible stimulus (as above), or perhaps a thought, like wanting to make a piece about a certain event, situation or mood.  Intuition plays a role rather in the solving of the problem of turning the stimulus into an art form.

Hmnm, so maybe it could be taught…you would need to expose the student to many such problems initially.  For example: how could you make a quilt about
…………………………………….a bowl of cherries………………………… ??

In tackling a problem like this 3 levels of technique need  to  be learnt:
A: the techniques involved in developing designs from the bowl of cherries

B: the techniques involved in making a strong composition from those designs.

C: construction techniques.

Once the students had mastered working from small fixed concrete examples like this, then you could expand to more complex ones, say a larger still life where they had to “find” the part of the still life that was really intriguing to them.  Then you could go to larger visual experiences, e.g. seeing a barn dismantled , and  finally to abstract examples like a specific mood or feeling, or an element like a certain shape, type of line, colour etc.  ( I do think working from an element is one of the harder starting points which is why I wonder why so many folk begin a piece “with the fabric” – the fabric after all is  but a texture or a abstract element.)

The more experiences you have  had like this, especially in step by step examples with a good teacher and good feedback, the more likely it is that you could develop your own “intuition” as to what would work best in each of these steps.

I don’t think, though,  that at any point one should try to make a quilt (or a musical composition, or a dance) based on nothing!  Imagine saying to a choreographer, okay come up with a dance about nothing, from nothing, and saying nothing!! doesn’t make much sense does it?  I have never hear of art based on nothing.  Many great artists have said something equivalent to  “there is always a starting point”..  So, don’t ignore the Starting Point, the Main idea.

Interestingly, if one studies so-called “primitive” or “outsider” art, one learns that, as Terry says ,these artists have usually had a great deal of informal training and experience.  Furthermore, the interviews with the original Gees Bend quilters revealed a fine sense of how to make a piece balanced, unified and also interesting.  They were not hampered by trying to rigidly follow a pattern, trying to “get it right” according to some dry specifics as to what “right” is in quilting terms, instead they were making something beautiful and engaging and, yes, functional, from discarded fabric scraps.

And this right brain/left brain stuff?  well for one thing, it’s nothing like as binary an activity as that sounds!! The left brain is inclined to be more analytical: constantly evaluating and judging.   If you can slow down that activity, then  you can allow yourself  to freewheel through all possible solutions…but there will always come a point when those possibilities will have to be assessed.   So there is always a back and forth between the two types of cognitive activity.

I don’t think one would ever be hampered by knowing too much – so I don’t advocate quitting studying.   But you might be hampered by critiqueing yourself at the wrong stage in the artistic activity.   Remember I said I thought there were three different activities: design, composition and construction?  I think the start would be to put onself (literally or metaphorically – depending on the nature of the stimulus) in front of it, and then say okay I’ve got to come up with as many design ideas as possible.  So if your Main Idea was Dots, then just be as dotty as you can be!!!  Produce a plethora of points!

Then say…okay, now I have all these dotty ideas, I’ve got to move to the next stage: assess mode: which ones  look more promising?  How can I organize them into strong, fascinating compositions?  I want to come up with a lot of possible arrangements – free wheeling mode.    Then back into assess mode:   which compositions are working best, and how and why?  could I improve any of these?

I think it’s like so many things, you kind of walk your way through it over and over…knowing when to emphasize which skills (the free floating idea generating skills, or the analytical assessment skills).   At first it’s mechanical…and then it gradually begins to flow more.  But oh, it does take time!  so I won’t take up any more of it!

If you have been, thanks for reading!!   And thank you, Terry, for this “conversation”!

Monday, February 1, 2010


I’ve been thinking about the place of intuition in art making after hearing a friend who makes wonderful work wishing tuk 09 158hat she could work more “intuitively”.

Intuition is knowing or understanding something without having apparently thought about it. This could be solving a mystery (but don’t you just hate those cheap mysteries where the detective solves the crime through “intuition”!! Poirot would be turning in his grave if he had one, as would dear Sherlock). It could also be expecting rain or a storm..some people “intuitively” know a storm is coming. Or it could be in performing skilful acts without obviously consciously thinking through the steps.

Intuition is not a basic instinct, something we are born with, a basic survival skill. A baby will instinctively fear strangers…and when we are grown up all of us are put on alert by our nervous systems when there is something unusual in the environment. The senses say “change!” to the brain, and the brain then assesses the importance of the change. So even in that case, there is a cognitive connection between the input and the reaction. Some very basic inputs will lead to reaction without thought: pulling back one’s hand from a hot object – you can see how that would be important for survival. But I feel that all other inputs do actually go through the brain!  And human beings have the ability to prevent their reactions too – which means the brain.

It certainly is very easy to fall into habits…they are useful routines that save us time..and we might well not consciously be really thinking about them as we perform them, a habitual pattern – “what we always do”.  But I imagine all of us could, if we wished, slow the activity down and give a verbal conscious description of the processes.

Okay so where does this play in art making?

You often hear artists say: “oh I don’t make a plan before I make art, I just do it intuitively”. They feel they are (for example) placing shapes onto a design wall without having apparently thought about it. It would be perfectly easy to do this – quick pick up a chunk of fabric from your cutting table and run to the wall and pin it up…quick run back to the table get another piece back to the wall and pin it up..and so on!!! It might work even better if you close your eyes while you are doing it! I think that would be art making without a plan or conscious thought. I think that would really be the ONLY way to make art without a plan or without thought.  Select the fabric from your stash with your eyes closed, cut out shapes carefully (no rotary cutters!), stick the shapes on the wall and no feeling around to see where the first piece is, either!   I do believe, in fact, that you can pay a large sum of money to take a class and do something very similar to this!   “How to become more intuitive in your work!”  Scrooge had a description for this!

But, seriously,  how many  “intuitive” artists are working exactly in this way? There are some problems in talking about intuition in art;  it’s not one straightforward thing.  Some people who think they are literally not making any judgments about how they place shapes on a wall (or whatever) are  actually operating “by habit”, following old patterns without really being aware that they are doing so. Their old patterns might be very good ones, based on a strong art education and years of experience. Or they might be quite bad ones based on doing what they have always done without ever assessing the value of it or thinking about any way things could be improved. For example a self taught tennis player who consistently doesn’t use her body in the most powerful way, or a golfer who has never been shown the most effective hand position on the club. Or the person who plays the piano “by ear”: they pick out a melody with one hand and then chomp away at some basic chords with the other. After they’ve played a few pieces, you realize that they all sound the same, because they don’t really know what they’re doing except trying to follow that right hand melody.

Going back to our art quilter standing in front of the design wall: Just because you might not be consciously thinking “okay I’ve got to place this piece of red fabric 3 inches to the right because I placed the last piece 2 inches from another piece and I want my distances between pieces to vary….” does not mean you are operating without conscious thought.

True intuition is based on years of experience. Experience both in what works and what doesn’t: where you have learned many times to select/avoid a certain solution or device because it always/rarely works well. Experience can lead you to a good basic design more quickly than if you reinvent everything right from the start. Intuition is not  instinctively avoiding – say – dividing your composition exactly into two because your survival depends upon it. That kind of instinct just doesn’t exist.

Real intuition ALWAYS depends upon experience, knowledge and sensitivity. The detective who has a “hunch” about the killer has unconsciously noticed that person’s awkward behaviour, or spotted some inappropriate element in a scene but hasn’t yet thought about it why the scene looks “odd”. A person who had never tried to assess the body language of a criminal, or the elements of a scene of crime who never be able to intuitively or otherwise find the murderer.

Good, workable, intuition is based on Something. That something is, I submit, a mixture of knowledge and experience. Not guesswork, and not blindly trying to copy something (like the person playing piano “by ear”).

One studies and practices art so that then one can let the more formal elements be dealt with at a less conscious level knowing they will be right. I descry those folk who claim to work intuitively when really what they mean is they don't think about it at all and havn't got any deep down automatic knowledge and end up making a dog's dinner!!!

I don't think you can skip the education've gotta get it, and then get it automatic.  It's like learning a piece of music, you've got to learn it SO well that when you play it you don't think about the notes and the timing but only about the feeling.

There’s no way you can go straight to expressing the feeling no matter how sensitive you are.

I also think that any experienced artist would say that while parts of the process of art making have now become more intuitive for them…the whole process (if the art is to be any good) is rarely, if ever, that smooth and unconscious and effortless; it's blood sweat and tears with nearly every piece..occasionally intuition and luck work ...but often they don't.  I used to think "when I'm a real artist, everything will go so well, there'll be no doubt, no multiple attempts,  everything will work perfectly the first time....." ha!!!  just talk to a few artists, or read their autobiographies, and the Truth is revealed!! No longer can we go off and sign a urinal!!

And neither could have Magritte – without the art education and experience that he had.

I submit there is no way to make good art without getting your metaphorical hands dirty – i.e. exercising the little grey cells.
you might do this in different ways:
planning it out before hand
planning some out before hand and then adjusting as the terrain unfolds
trial and error
etc...but that is for another blog!!
but all involve the brain! conscious thought...
which, I feel, is a Good thing!
otherwise, let us give all our cats paint brushes and sewing machines!!

If you have been, thanks for reading!!!  Elizabeth
PS There’s oodles of room below for your comments!